A quick heads-up on an article that every young scientist – especially those fighting for or about to seek independent funding – should read.
That things are tough for the current generation of young scientists is not news. That competition in American academia has gone way beyond the levels that stimulate productivity and into something darker and arguably far less efficient is also, regrettably, not news. There are plenty of organs out there – TIR included – who have devoted a lot of time to commenting earnestly/bitterly/humorously/sardonically/pessimistically on this and related issues, but much of that content is no more than that. Just comment.
What makes Wayne Wahls’ recent Opinion piece in eLife so special (click HERE to see it), and why our readers should definitely take the time to peruse it, is that it not only diagnoses a problem (specifically, relating to NIH funding in the USA) but also pinpoints the source and additionally provides practical and actionable suggestions for remedying it.
The take-home points:
1. Optimal scientific productivity is achieved at a funding level of around $400,000 per annum. Above that level and efficiency drops and you’re into diminishing returns territory; below that point and you’re not as productive as you probably could be.
2. NIH funding is grossly skewed, with 40% of the money going to just 10% of the funded group leaders. Half of the NIH funding goes to just 2% of the institutions and 10% of the states.
3. Capping NIH funding at $1,000,000 per annum per group leader (more than double that productivity “sweet spot”) would free up sufficient funds to support approximately 10,000 (yes, ten thousand) other group leaders. This would undoubtedly impact on the careers of young scientists, many of whom would otherwise be reassessing their choice of career.
While Wahls article deals solely with the NIH and the American system, it’s a message that’s more broadly relevant, and something that should be debated, considered, and quite probably enacted. Read the article and see what you think.