Kevin Hascup

Early Independence Award

Science Magazine ran an article today that I thought would be great to share with the readers of RateMyPI.com.

In 2011, the NIH started a program called the Director’s Early Independence Award.  This award was designed to fast track scientist directly out of graduate school to independent research positions, essentially skipping post doctoral research.  Recipients of this grant are awarded $250,000 per year for a total of five years to essentially manage their own laboratories at a host institution.  Host institutions are required to provide laboratory space and equipment, but the NIH advises against appointment to tenure-track positions.  This allows the awardees to focus on research without hearing the tick-tick-tick of the tenure timeline. 

This program started in response to the increasing age where researchers achieve a tenure-track position.  Currently, the median age to achieve research independence is 37.  Achieving scientific independence at such a late stage in life dissuades many young scientists from pursuing careers in academia and greatly reduces the lifetime earning potential of extremely intelligent individuals.

The biggest hurdle facing this program is helping transition awardees away from institutions where they earned their PhD’s.  It becomes difficult to gain a sense of independence when your graduate school advisors are just a few doors away.  After five years of going to them for advice, it becomes difficult to break that pattern and start standing on your own two feet. 

This is where RateMyPI.com can help.   By providing a portal to locate the best institutions and research groups to help progress your careers, we help remove the uncertainty of moving across country, or even out of country, for a career opportunity.

The 2013 Early Independence Award deadline is approaching.  Please visit the NIH website to learn more about this amazing opportunity for young scientists. 

Kevin Hascup

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5.8 Billion

Five billion, eight hundred million

We’re looking at an estimated 5.8 billion dollars being spent by the presidential and congressional races to buy your vote this year.  According to Time Magazine, the combined amount Mitt Romney and Barack Obama will spend on their presidential campaigns is 2.5 billion dollars.  I hope you love presidential mud-slinging commercials; there’s going to be a lot of them as we near Election Day.  I could spend an entire article discussing how the Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United changed the political landscape, but I’m trying to avoid putting my readers to sleep…unlike my previous blog posts.

It’s extremely hard to put 5.8 billion into perspective.  Especially for us living off of research scientists salaries.   But let’s see what else we could buy with that money.

15.3% of scientific funding appropriated by the NIH (30.9 billion) and NSF (7.0 billion) in fiscal year 2012.

We could send two more Curiosity rovers to Mars (2.5 billion a piece).  The extra 800 million could be used to equip them with flipper arms and circular saw blades to create a NASA version of Robot Wars.  Seriously, can someone bring that television show back?

Google could buy Groupon, again….and again (2.5 billion acquisition).  Maybe a third time if they offered a groupon.

A little more than a third of the cost of the London Olympics. 

We could fund 145,000 post-doctoral positions for 1 year ($40K each).  This would actually help provide the jobs necessary for President Obama’s mission to increase the number of scientists and engineers in the US. 

Apple?  No.  We’re not nearly in that ball park.  Current estimates put cash on hand at over $110 billion.  But give it a few more presidential elections and we might reach that mark.

Even though politicians will spend all this money, little attention is given to scientific topics.  Why?  First, topics like stem cell research and alternative energy are hot button issues that are bound to upset large groups of people regardless of how the question is answered.  Second, the majorities of politicians know very little about scientific research and simply don’t want to look foolish.  This might explain why the focus always goes to the ethics of scientific research rather than the actual implications of the research itself. 

While RateMyPI.com has no political affiliations, we would like to encourage you to turn off the television (or at least forward through the election commercials) and head over to AAAS.org for a breakdown of the presidential candidates Science and Technology platforms.  Let’s make informed voting decisions this election rather than allowing the politicians to simply buy our vote. 

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The Current Plight of the Research Scientist

I recently came across an article in the Washington Post discussing an all too familiar phenomenon of research scientists unable to find employment in neither academia or industry.  Currently, with unemployment hovering over 8%, jobs are scarce in a lot of sectors.  What makes it difficult for the research scientist to grasp is how can somebody have doctoral level training and not be desirable to potential employers?

The problem is two-fold.  First, academic funding has NOT increased to meet the demands of a growing research community.  Without federal grant funding, it is simply impossible to obtain a coveted tenure track position at a research institution.  A decade ago, those who chose to leave academia easily found work in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology sector.  That isn’t the case any longer.  More and more pharmaceutical companies are boarding up their research facilities in the United States and Europe and moving them into Asian markets for the benefits of cheaper labor and the ability to remarket their current prescription portfolio.

This current trend leaves many research scientist contemplating how to progress their careers. 

This is exactly why RateMyPI.com was founded — to give the research investigator better opportunities for success.  In this era of high unemployment and dwindling NIH funding, it’s more crucial than ever to make informed choices regarding your collaborators, employers, and employees.  These choices are often paramount to the success of your career.  Don’t become an unemployment statistic; let us help you achieve your career goals. 

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Scientific Misconduct Beyond the Unethical Scientist

The Scientist recently ran “Parkinson’s Researcher Fabricated Data” regarding the Office of Research Integrity’s finding of scientific misconduct against Mona Thiruchelvam, a former assistant professor at the University of Medicine and Dentistry, New Jersey. Thiruchelvam falsified cell count data reported in two federal grant applications (R01 ES016277 and R01 ES015041) as well as two published papers (Environmental Health Perspectives and Journal of Biological Chemistry). This data was used to inaccurately support the role of pesticides in dopaminergic cell death – the key neurotransmitter implicated in Parkinson’s disease (PD). While Thiruchelvam has agreed to retract the papers as well as enter into a voluntary exclusion agreement for 7 years, the results of these fabricated data have consequences beyond this one scientist’s career.

At a time when grant funding is scarce, Thiruchelvam beguiled both the NIH and the Michael J. Fox Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to finding a cure for PD, into funding this erroneous research. But, stealing money from other researchers is only the start. The scientific misconduct affects more than just the United States tax payers who ultimately foot the bill for academic research. Combined, both papers have been cited over 100 times. Countless numbers of collaborators, post-docs, and graduate students unknowingly used this fabricated data to support their own research. These are the individuals who have lost the most; the scientists who spent the better part of 7 years dedicating their careers to this line of research. Do you think Thiruchelvam considered the negative impact this would have on their careers? I think this question is as easy to answer as the validity of Thiruchelvam’s data.

Has this research affected your scientific endeavors?

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