I was going to write "a NIH* funded biomedical researcher", but it turns out that it would need to be more like "If I had $2.69-3.38 million..."
Figure 1. How I imagine biomedical researchers like Dr. Isis examine their grant monies. I need not remind everyone that Dr. Isis, of course, is way hotter*.
Before my ecology compatriots have brain hemorrhages and have to explain to their colleagues why blood is suddenly coming out of their ears, these grant amounts are not annual amounts but are probably the total award for the entire grant duration (yes, I know, ecology peeps, this is still beyond our comprehension, but hang with me....). For the edification of the non-NIHers who read my blog: NIH's website indicates that the R01* can be up to $250k per year or more* (this is the amount that goes directly to the researcher, the university F&A* goes on top of that) for 1-5 years.
To understand why I find this so deeply fascinating, you have to understand the differences between NSF funding in my field and NIH funding. To illustrate, I found a table on NSF's website with some basic funding rate information (there is also a report that makes very interesting reading as well). I have provided below the 2007 information for a few programs in DEB*:
|Organization||Mean Grant Duration (years)||Median Annual Size|
|Division of Environmental Biology||2.73||$87,439|
I would like to point out that these amounts probably include F&A, because that's how we NSFers roll. (For those of you checking up on me, I reported the program figures and not the cluster figures because I think the clusters include CAREER, OPUS, and LTREB grants which have different budget and funding criteria than normal grants).
In the spirit of full disclosure, I suspect that these numbers are on the low side (and the funding rates on the NSF website are on the high side) as they probably include all funded proposals through those programs - including workshop and conference proposals, dissertation improvement grants (DIGs), and Small Grants for Exploratory Research (SGERs). When I went through the Ecology program awards, attempting to weed out those types of grants, the average I got was closer $63,482/ year for an average of 3.6 years (though I have to admit my calculation is based on a small sample size....I am an untenured assistant professor after all and shockingly this is not what they will give me tenure for). If you assume 50% F&A on average, then the average net per grant annual research fund for an individual researcher in ecology is more like $42,000. This is a far cry from the $250,000/year net research dollars of our NIH colleagues.
My hope right now is that a few of my biomedical/cellular/molecular/neurophys peeps blink at our numbers like I did at theirs. I do not begrudge them their superior funds (I have to admit that I see the use of MRIs and not bleeding people with leeches as huge advancements that benefit me personally). My intent with this post is education. When NIH and NSF funded researchers coexist within the same department (as happens in Departments of Biology and even Departments of Ecology and Evolution thanks to the genomics revolution), sometimes things can get....weird*. We have different cultures, different research programs, different graduate student training goals, different philosophies for authorship. I think this is great. Each science has developed its own approach to facing the challenges of its discipline. The problems arise when these different cultures are forced to coexist within a department. My favorite quote from this bizarre little culture war was to the effect that ecologists were departmental parasites because "the NIH money we bring in runs this department". I obviously cannot argue with the money part of that statement, but does that mean there is really no need for ecology as was not so subtly implied? It is apparently a sentiment that has played out more than once as I know of more than one Department of Ecology and Evolution has been created because things got so bad that the university would otherwise completely lose ecology and evolution.
Figure 3. How ecologists and cellular/molecular researchers often get along.
One of the things I would like to do (hopefully with humor and grace) is to take advantage of the blogosphere to help communicate across this divide. I have been using DrugMonkey as a training ground, learning how this other culture operates and helping me to understand why my cellular/molecular colleagues sometimes yell at me. Perhaps I can return the favor (minus the yelling) for someone out there in a Biology Department who is fascinated by their bizarre hippie-esque, Teva-wearing brethren who can apparently survive scientifically on research funding scraps and still occasionally get papers into GlamourMags (no blind acorn jokes, please). In my Gulliver's Travels through the blogosphere, I have found that while many things are different across the sciences, we also have many things in common. Perhaps you will too...
*NIH: I think most of us know what this is, but I thought I would take this opportunity to draw your attention to the glossary I've constructed at the bottom of the post. For most ecologists, all you need to know of NIH is that it is inconceivably better funded than NSF and is generally (with exceptions) not interested in us.
*General Disarray came in this morning, saw the pictures in my draft and said, "Isis is going to be SOOOOOO mad." I am hoping that this blatant flattery will assuage the wrath of the gods.
*Ro1: the NIH folks have a variety of different grant types referred to with such intimidating names as R01s, A2s, and R21s. Ro1 is their main grant type. In ecology, we just call them...grants. Though, to be fair, we too have special names for some types of grants. We just seem to prefer cute acronyms (DIG, SGER - pronounced Suger, CAREER, OPUS)
*250,000k/year: okay this doesn't need defining, per se, but the NIH budget issues are quite foreign to us NSFer's so deserve a little discussion. My understanding from discussions over at DrugMonkey and BlueLabCoats is that $250,000 is the funding limit beyond which you actually need to justify your budget.
*F&A (facilities and administration). Also referred to as "Indirect Costs", the "University Tax", and "my money that goes to our crappy athletics department". This is the cut from a grant that goes to the university to reimburse them for research related expenses. Institutes I have been at were around 50%, but I have heard rumors of rates much much higher.
*DEB: Division of Environmental Biology. One of several divisions within the Directorate of Biology. Most ecology proposals will go through some program within this Division.
*weird is obviously not a technical term per se, but by weird I actually mean unpleasant, ugly or "not good".