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Science Careers Blog

James Austin: April 2011

On Monday, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) had bad news for grants recipients but good news for postdocs and graduate students with Ruth Kirschstein NRSA fellowships. NRSA fellows, NIH announced, would see their stipends increase by 2% -- not a lot, but not bad in fiscal times like these and very likely better than what NIH-grant-supported postdocs and graduate students, who would be paid from grants slightly smaller than they were last year, are likely to receive.

Following the announcement, I wondered how the increase would work for NRSA fellows who had already received their FY2011 awards. This includes not only new awardees but also scientists who won their fellowships in previous years (and for whom the FY2011 segment of the award has already started).

So I asked Megan Columbus, who works in the communications office of NIH's Office of Extramural Research, to explain. The answer is pretty much what you would expect; here's how Megan put it:
NIH will be revising all FY2011 awards already issued to-date to provide the increase in stipends for the FY2011 budget period. Once the revised award is received, the institution will provide the retroactive adjustment in accordance with its institutional systems/policies.
In other words, the raise is retroactive and the extra funds will be dispersed in accordance with your institution's policies. It could be a lump sum or a higher rate -- say, 3% higher than you've been receiving instead of just 2%, depending on your award date -- for the remainder of the fiscal year.

It's not a lot of money, but if you're living on postdoc or graduate student stipends it could make a big difference. 

A notice from the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) issued on Monday specifies the impact of the recently adopted  2011 NIH budget ago on NIH grantees and NRSA fellows, as ScienceInsider is reporting.

The 1% cut in the NIH budget will cause "non-competing" grants -- that is, new payments for grants that were awarded in previous years -- to fall by 1% at NIH institutes, except for the National Cancer Institute (NCI). Holders of NCI grants will see their existing grants trimmed by 3%.

The news is better for postdocs and graduate students with Ruth Kirschstein National Research Service Awards, whose stipends will increase by 2% across the board. The new stipend for graduate students will be $21,600. The new stipends for postdoc NRSAs are as follows:


Year

Stipend


0

$38,496


1

$40,548


2

$43,476


3

$45,192


4

$46,884


5

$48,900


6

$50,832


7 or More  

$53,112


ScienceInsider also notes that according to the NIH budget request for 2012, the number of new grants awarded is expected to fall to 9050. 9386 awards were made in 2010.

At MySciNet, Ric Weibl has blogged an article by Dan Berret at Inside Higher Education (access to the MySciNet entry may require free registration) about a vote by the University of Michigan Board of Regents that allow individual campuses to extend their tenure process to as much as 10 years. The extension is optional, with each college and campus free to decide its own schedule. The board passed the measure despite strong opposition by the faculty senate.

According to the article, faculty and other opponents of the measure worry about the long time to tenure. The measure's supporters note that the changing nature of scholarship, especially at medical schools, makes it difficult to build an adequate dossier in the time currently allotted; the time varies among the UM campuses and colleges. Opponents fear that expectations will expand along with the calendar. Critics are also concerned about faculty governance; the board approved the measure despite near-unanimous opposition by the faculty senate.

 As Weibl notes in his blog entry, there's much more to the story.

From ScienceInsider:

The Boston Globe
reports today that Harvard University cognitive scientist Marc Hauser, who is on leave after a university investigation found evidence of research misconduct in his lab, will not be allowed to teach at the university next year.

A few expert commentators have been in a huff lately about the choices being made by the best and brightest young Americans, and the uses to which their skills are being put. They're worried about a problem that's sometimes called "internal brain drain," where the best minds are unavailable to do the most important work even when they stay close to home.

They have a point, but I think they need to look at the bigger picture.

First, late last month, there was the TechCrunch essay by Vivek Wadhwa, the entrepreneur-turned-academic-thought-leader. In Friends Don't Let Friends Get Into Finance, Wadhwa expressed dismay that so many of his best engineering students (at Duke, where he has a visiting appointment) were entering finance and management consulting instead of pursuing careers as engineers. It's an easy choice, he admits, when Goldman Sachs is offering twice as much as the engineering companies.   

 
Sister site Science Insider is reporting the death of Yale University senior Michele Dufault in an accident at the machine shop in the Sterling Chemistry Laboratory. More details are available in this article in the New Haven Register.

In an op-ed in the Australian newspaper The Age, Peter C. Doherty, who (with Rolf M. Zinkernagel) won the 1996 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, argues that "rumoured" budget cuts in Australia are likely to send star Australian researchers into exile. The cuts to the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) budget, said to be in the $400 million range, "would be disastrous for Australian science, for the intellectual health and international stature of our leading universities, hospitals and research institutes, and for the personal futures of that bright cadre of young, enthusiastic researchers that has been nurtured here since the significant increases to funding that occurred under recent governments," Doherty writes. The loss of those young researchers that society has invested in would be especially damaging, he writes. "Lose the scientists and you lose the discoveries and the investment benefits that follow."

You can read the whole article here.

Sister site ScienceInsider has just put up an interesting post on NIH's efforts to prepare for a government shutdown -- without appearing to prepare for a government shutdown. Very cloak-and-dagger.