Debbie Knight

Have pipetters, will travel…

In observation on July 15, 2011 at 4:12 pm

In a previous post “Fallout of the NIH Budget: Making and breaking research careers,” I wrote about Dr. V whose academic research career hangs in the balance as he waits to hear about the fate of his NIH grant proposals.

He submitted two proposals — one was a first-time submission, the other a resubmission.

These days, it’s the resubmission that has the best chance of getting funded — it’s been through a round of review and critiques, and the researcher has the chance to make adjustments (and improvements) to the original proposal.

I’m not saying the researcher takes these critiques graciously – there’s often grumbling (cussing, shouting, crying, pouting) by the researcher that the committee members don’t know what they’re talking about or that they didn’t “get” it. But a seasoned researcher knows to put those critiques aside for a while, let them steep (while the scientist cools down) before deciding how to address those critiques for the proposal resubmission.

To complicate matters, sometimes the committee members that reviewed the first submission may not be exactly the same for the resubmission. This can almost be like resetting the review process – the new members with their different perspectives might not agree with what the former members said. It can essentially result in “tanking” the resubmitted proposal. At the NIH, there are only two chances to get a proposal funded – two strikes and you’re out (back in the “old” days, it was three strikes).

Mid-June, Dr. V received word that neither grant proposal would be funded. This was his last chance at staying in academic research as an independent researcher.

So at the end of this month, he will pack up his pipetters and beakers and close out his own lab. He will briefly join another researcher in another department to help set up some biochemical assays before he bids adieu to academic research all together. While his official job title is still to be determined, he will essentially be a “glorified research associate.” He’ll get a paycheck, yes, but it’s not exactly the same as being an independent assistant professor.

He has a few irons in the fire – he’s looking into biotech companies as well as teaching opportunities. He’s even considering a career as a beer maker (he’s quite the brewmeister and vintner).

In the meantime, as I pass by his office with piles of  journals bound for the trash bin or his lab with bench tops bare, I’m deeply saddened. This will be a great loss to our research area, to the department , and to the university community.

I wish him luck in his future endeavors! But silently cross my fingers that my lab will have continued luck in obtaining grant funding (I call it “luck” because it really does depend on who those committee members are) and that we won’t be the next to go.

I hope the funding tide turns (and soon!) or there may be more former scientists out there building the better burger flipper — obviously a “boon” to the fast food industry, but not so much for the science community.

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  1. […] Dr. V’s last day as an assistant professor and independent principal investigator. I’ve mentioned him a couple of times in this blog. We gave him a good send off, complete with the local favorite […]

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