On the latest NIH soft-money kerfuffle
The commenter who writes as "lou dobbs" sent this link to a post Drugmonkey wrote about some things said by Francis Collins in an interview.
Basically, the relevance to postdocs is this quote:
But Dr. Collins said he was looking more at universities themselves, saying that the age bias actually originates with institutions that don't allow their younger researchers to apply for grants.
At first, I thought I couldn't get riled up about this, I'm tired, whatever.
....And then I started writing.
In short, I call bullshit. Nothing is going to change until the funding agencies admit that they have to take the reins.
1. Universities won't let younger researchers apply for grants.
TRUE. But they blame the NIH guidelines, the cost to cover salaries and benefits, and lack of lab space.
2. Faculty won't help younger researchers apply for transition grants, much less allow them to apply for their own funding.
TRUE. They claim the low rates of funding make it barely worth the time it takes for a younger researcher to write the grant, since that is time they can't spend doing the faculty member's already-funded projects. They also refuse to share their lab space to support a younger researcher setting up her/his own project on a bench in their lab.
3. NIH encourages younger researchers to independently apply for independent funding.
BULLSHIT. NIH guidelines match university guidelines. They require certain types of appointments, and they require that the university guarantees "support".
What this means in practice is that universities effectively ban postdocs from applying for funding, because they can't guarantee support to everyone whether or not you get the grant. It's just not practical.
NIH continues to reinforce the catch-22: you can't get the job title without the funding, and you can't get the funding without the job title.
It all seems backwards to me. Seems to me that the university should be allowed to guarantee resources IF AND ONLY IF the grant is awarded. Then the university isn't risking anything.
But NIH WON'T LET THEM DO THAT.
4. NSF is different, they allow younger research to independently apply for independent funding.
BULLSHIT. NSF has the same rules. They use the same university guidelines requiring appointments and resources.
5. This is true for everyone, so it's fair.
BULLSHIT. What really sticks in my knickers is that MDs can be "independent" a lot sooner, despite having MUCH less research experience.
They're allowed to apply for their own funding, because their salaries will be covered by clinical work whether or not they get the grant.
Does that make sense from a business perspective, if universities are companies?
Does it make sense in terms of research qualifications or potential for progress?
I'm not sure where Francis Collins thinks universities are supposed to get the money to pay PhD researchers' salaries, if not from research grants.
We don't see patients whose health insurance pays a fee. We don't sell a product that is available right now - that's the nature of basic research. Which everyonesays they know is important, except they certainly don't treat us that way.
Meanwhile, we're supposed to believe that it's some amazing privilege to work as overeducated postdoc slaves with no guarantee of future employment past a handful of years.
And families don't want to pay more for college tuition. There's more and more rumbling about online education and the end of the university as we know it.
Personally, I think science has been going to hell in a handbasket for a while. I wonder if Francis Collins isn't just helping to speed the process. Maybe these genome project type d00ds just want all research to be done in private Institutes? This article certainly seemed to imply that NIH wishes universities would be more like the Whitehead.
Lately I do wonder if we shouldn't separate undergraduate education from research centers. It seems nearly impossible to be equally good at teaching and research. In fact, I sometimes wonder if the two aren't mutually exclusive.
But I somehow doubt that would solve our funding issues. Unless it's actually the case that the bigger the university, the more money they waste?
....Yeah, I think that's probably true. In myriad ways.