Saturday, December 03, 2005

Money Crunch

So my Fearless Leader sent a rather bizarre email to the entire lab today. It is a Saturday, mind you, and I was still in a pretty good mood- yesterday was decent enough not to wreck it.

This email details the math of how she plans to handle the 20% cut from NIH. Apparently it kicks in as each grant goes into the new funding cycle. I have to give her credit that her grants are staggered by a few months, and she has several, so it won't hit us all at once.

I don't know why I say us. I'm still kind of a satellite member of her lab, but everyone has been really nice to me lately and treating me like I'm actually part of the group.

Anyway, I'm paraphrasing, but the math basically goes like this:

people + stuff = 100% of lab costs

since 100 - 20 =80%, and she doesn't want to cut any people, she has to cut stuff.

Ok, fine. But here's my perception of how the stuff breaks down:

animal costs ($$$)
high-throughput array costs ($$$)
everything else ($)

But her email doesn't distinguish, really, between these things. Granted, I'm using neither animals nor arrays right now, so perhaps she sent personalized budget emails to those people who are using the more expensive systems in the lab??? I certainly hope so.

Isn't it kind of a given that when going gets tough, you find the one thing that costs the most and cut that first? I guess if it were up to me, I'd think hard about getting rid of a postdoc, student, or technician, but in this lab, I don't know whom I would want to get rid of. There is no obvious choice.

Anyway my impression is that she wants people to learn how to share. As I mentioned before, of late there has been a lot of hoarding going on, due inefficient ordering of common lab stocks.

So I will be amused if we actually see any changes in behavior whatsoever, since we actually have a pretty decent, although very clueless bunch of people in our lab. I had a chat the other day with a grad student about the cost of hemacytometers. She seemed to think they were cheap (~$20-30 each). In reality, they each cost ~$90-200 each, depending on where you get them. And our lab has a habit of breaking the matching coverslips at an alarming rate.

This is the kind of thing I learned in high school. The first time I learned to use each piece of equipment, I was told precisely how much I would owe the lab if I broke it.

I'm astounded that kids are coming up through the system without learning the cost of doing research. Sure, I've met people who came from insanely rich labs before, and I wouldn't expect them to have ever ordered anything themselves.

But. Come on, people. If you're not teaching your students the value of your tools, it's your own fault when your lab goes broke. But it's especially sad for those of us who have been trying to plan our experiments so we never waste a drop of anything, to see so much carelessness compromising our work.


At 8:32 PM, Blogger Ranger of the West said...

I've been doing computational work for the last ~5 years or so, but got my start in research in a population genetics lab in undergrad. Although I wasn't responsible for ordering stuff I knew what the expensive stuff was. When I first learned how to do PCR, my hands would get all sweaty when handling Taq aliquots. One time I had a 96 well-plate PCR reaction fail and it was hard telling my boss. But the real important commodity in the lab were our DNA stocks - you can always buy more reagents, but a worldwide sample of human DNA is alot harder to replace.

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At 10:54 PM, Blogger BotanicalGirl said...

My Ex-PI had a ton of money, and my current one isn't hurting either. It has taken me quite a while to realize how much things cost. $250 for 100mL of RNA extraction reagent? Yikes. My pipettors I don't like, but I know we can't just replace them on a whim.

I agree though. A lot of students are coming through without any idea of how much each piece of equipment or reagent costs.

I hope your lab pulls through with the cuts. I wonder if ours is getting dinged as well...maybe that explains why we're writing two new grants...

At 9:26 AM, Blogger alamode said...

1) the cost of the people is very high, maybe 80% of the total lab costs,(unless its all undergrad assistants. It is by far the number one cost of doing research.

2) In general, the cost of the "stuff" is comparitively low, even considering animals and arrays.

So, to cut 20% is easy. Fire one/dont replace one postdoc or technician.

At 1:44 PM, Blogger ScienceGeek said...

$20-30? Does anything in research only cost $20-30? I'm surprised if anything I order is under $100.

I also get annoyed when people spend money frivolously in the lab since in the end if affects everyone in the lab. A person in my lab has a tendency to buy things and not use them and then when the product expires they want to buy more. I think everyone should have their own personal spending limit for the month and if they reach that in the first week then too bad. Although that doesn't bode well for scientific advancement.

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