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Seeking Your Input on Sustaining the Workforce Through an Emeritus Award

From enhancing diversity to supporting training in emerging fields, over the past three years NIH has continued to examine the needs of the biomedical workforce and create initiatives that will sustain the amazing work being performed by you, the extramural research community.

Our efforts place a lot of focus on trainees and early stage investigators through policy changes and new programs, but there are two sides to every equation. We have many well-established research programs run by senior investigators. We want to explore how we can help senior investigators who wish to transition out of a position that relies on funding from NIH research grants, and facilitate the transfer of their work, knowledge and resources to junior colleagues.  There are many high impact ways in which established investigators can contribute to science. I’ve written before about the importance of mentorship for example.

We have heard of interest in such an “emeritus award” from the research community, for example as described in a recent FASEB report on sustaining discovery in biomedical science,  and we are inviting you to join us in some creative thinking and contribute ideas on this topic. As stated in the request for information (RFI) published today, we welcome public comment on the following:

Community interest in an emeritus award that allows a senior investigator to transition out of role or position that relies on funding from NIH research grants

  • Ideas for how one would utilize an emeritus award (e.g., to facilitate laboratory closure; to promote partnership between a senior and junior investigator; to provide opportunities for acquiring skills needed for transitioning to a new role)
  • Suggestions for the specific characteristics for an emeritus award (e.g., number of years of support; definition of a junior faculty partner)
  • Ways in which NIH could incentivize the use of an emeritus award, from the perspectives of both senior investigators and institutions
  • Impediments to the participation in such an award program, from the perspectives of both senior investigators and institutions
  • Any additional comments you would like to offer to NIH

I’d love to hear your comments and while I always invite discussion on the blog, it would be best to submit your specific ideas on the NIH Emeritus Award through the method listed in the RFI to assure they are considered in our formal analysis. We look forward to your input.

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187 thoughts on “Seeking Your Input on Sustaining the Workforce Through an Emeritus Award

  1. It’s not that complicated: The best that the NIH could do in these times of need is to use tax payer dollars to support investigator initiated, competitive research projects peer-reviewed in study sections. Primarily RO1s and making sure that there is a pool of new investigators incorporated in every funding cycle. That’s it.
    We do not need to support more sequencing of panda bears, provocative stuff, massive networks of little productivity or simply dead wood.
    In good departments at leading institutions young investigators are typically mentored by colleagues with active federal grants, who do it mostly for free as part of their academic duties. Because common sense dictates that relying on individuals who have abandoned active research program could lead to a string of triaged applications and the destruction of the career of the new investigator.
    Teaching is a great option for those who want to remain engaged with academic life, but it should be supported by universities and colleges.
    Using funds that could pay for discoveries to support a sweet retirement for individuals who are not competitive anymore does not sound like a good idea. Unless it’s better explained.

    • PIs that are senior and productive should be considered in the same light as any other grant applicant. However, if they have been successful over some years clearly they have something to offer to those coming along. Grants that stimulate the relationship between productive senior PIs and those trying to make it work should be encouraged. At the same time aspirants do not deserve a break just because they are younger. The mentoring works well up to a point and then the grants must reverse roles for the younger co-pi to evolve into the leadership position; however, at that time the aspirant can not expect the senior PI to hand over all reins. Success is not real unless you have personally work and sweated for it.

  2. This seems like another “about face” (a la no A2, then A2 as A0). Many institutes phased out MERIT awards over the past few years, and now the emeritus award seems to be an effort to bring back such a mechanism.

    In principle, the idea of transferring resources (equipment, space, methods, knowledge) from senior investigators to junior, is laudable. The problem is the word “emeritus” conjures up images of graying folks who refuse to retire.

    Why not make this a junior faculty focused award? By that I mean the junior partner would have 100% control over the budget, and could choose to involve a senior faculty for minimal percent effort in the first 2 years of the project only. Then bake in expectations for transfer of space and equipment, retirements regarding senior authorship on publications by the junior partner, a clear arbitration plan if the elder partner doesn’t back off and let junior run the show, and you might actually have a mechanism that will result in transfer of knowledge and removal of long term emeriti from the grant applicant pool.

    What’s critical, is to stop this simply becoming another back door for senior people to get more grants, as in “aged PI doing a multi-PI grant with junior person to cash in on their ESI %ile bump”.

    • agree 100% with this comment. This has the potential to become another cash source for basically semi-retired PI’s who are waiting a few more years for pension and retirement to accumulate.

    • Paul – An application is only considered NI/ESI if both co-PIs meet the criteria. So your scenario (established PI getting the ‘bump’ in peer review scoring/ranking) does not happen.

  3. This is a remarkably bad idea that does not given the current NIH grant system enough credit for being able to handle such situations. A current grantee can already transfer his/her grant to an appropriate colleague (with the approval of NIH). In addition, the co-PI mechanism provides an even clearer path for this. There is absolutely no need to create a new mechanism. Senior investigators need to decide for themselves when to transition to other activities and institutions have an responsibility to assist them. Institutional mechanisms to encourage appropriate faculty members to phase out NIH-supported research and transition to other activities should be encouraged by the community, but this is not NIH’s responsibility. Instead of considering a new mechanism that has considerable potential of becoming an entitlement for senior investigators, NIH should use its bully pulpit to remind the scientific community (both investigators and institutions) that having senior investigators transition at appropriate times is essential to maintain a vibrant community.

    • Amen…….a geezer myself, pure greed could make me say that emeritus awards are a neat, respectful idea, but retired investigators have many alternatives as pointed out in the comments already. Become a senior sidewalk superintendent postdoc in someone elses’ lab, be a CoI, change the PI of the last grants to a professional person in the same lab……..

      The NIH could pay a distinguished emeritus to speak at a meeting, but what NIH should be doing is bringing NEW ideas into science to help dispose of dogma.

      • I commend you for saying what I think most junior to mid-level scientists feel is the right thing. There are many of us who have been struggling with funding. To have yet another way to extend retirement for senior investigators, that could be paid for by NIH is just not right. There are many in that age group who don’t want to retire, and that is fine, but let the R01 be a judge of that.

  4. I thought the NIH was all about project-based funding, one 5 year interval at a time. Why are you suddenly concerned about *transgenerational* continuation of research programs now? Why do Universities require incentives? Is this really about the enormous coastal Universities keeping their IDC money train going?

  5. Such a program should be assessed for its effects on NIH PI diversity. Those eligible for such an award are presumably predominantly white men. Any grant mechanism that specifically targets a non-diverse population should already be disfavored unless there is a clear and strong benefit to the community overall. But, it should also be studied who these senior PIs are likely to choose to carry on their legacy. Would senior PIs choose junior PIs that are at least as diverse as the existing NIH PI pool? Or would they be biased towards choosing a protege that is similar to themselves (in ethnicity and gender)? Studies indicate the latter would be statistically more common and thus this program would benefit a non-diverse population of junior researchers – in essence, older white male scientists handing over the reins to younger white male scientists. Has Dr Hannah Valentine, NIH’s Chief Diversity Officer, signed off on this idea?

  6. Your concern is admirable. But in the real world, people write hand over documents for the important stuff, attend the retirement party, shake a bunch of hands and go enjoy the rest of their lives. It’s called retirement.
    As for mechanisms for transitioning important parts of your research to younger PIs who are interested in carrying it on, there’s a mechanism for that too. It’s called collaboration.

  7. This seems like a solution in search of a problem. I totally agree with Jeremy Berg’s comment: there is already a mechanism for senior investigators to transfer grants to co-PIs that are more junior. Institutions also bear a responsibility to facilitate the transition of resources and expertise from senior faculty whose research programs are winding down to junior investigators that can make the most of them. At a time when most first-time R01 recipients are over 40, it’s stunning that a grant program directed at senior investigators is being contemplated.

  8. This seems backwards. Why not spend the money on increasing the number of R01s out there? Support the people that are doing the research after the senior researcher has transitioned into another role. I suspect that the source for this type of proposal is simply that “senior researchers” who have a louder voice in the community want the cash to do whatever non-research activities they want to do.

    • I agree that this sounds dangerously like another way for universities to milk the system, or a way to propagate the “old boy network”. However, I do think that good mentoring of junior PI’s by senior PI’s is extremely important, and it should be encouraged in some way, either by the universities or by NIH. Faculty mentoring has been suffering lately, at least at my institution, because the senior PI’s are too busy writing more grants in an effort to survive. What little extra time they might have had in the past for mentoring those outside their own lab has been eaten away. There are a few outstanding older faculty members who are great teachers and mentors, but they cannot pay their salaries with those activities. I do think we need to support people like that, and yes they are mostly white males, so it would have to be carefully monitored so that they would mentor ALL junior faculty in their department, not just a single protege. Also, this type of funding (whether NIH or institutional) should be used to support real mentoring, not just for people to sit in their offices and write more review articles. We have enough of those.

    • I’m over sixty, a R01 PI, and would benefit from this change but I think it is an incredibly stupid idea. The only people who would take advantage of this are those that want to continue their legacies by funding a junior colleague (or even a spouse) who they’ve trained and supported but would otherwise not be competitive on their own. This proposal also violates the fundamental principle that a grant is awarded on the merits of the principal investigator performing and leading the project from beginning to end. A person’s record of accomplishment and experience are not transferable.

  9. Sounds like a nice retirement package. If we want to stop those >65 getting funding, then have a strict upper age limit for applicants. Otherwise, the current emeritus system for transitioning off NIH support (i.e. your grant is not renewed) seems to work quite well!

    • Anyone who thinks that “losing your grant works quite well”, is devoid of basic human sensitivity and common sense. When this happens to you, I doubt you will feel that it “worked well”. If it already happened to you, you must not have been passionate about your research.

  10. It seems like the goal of this is to pay off older PIs to free up money for young PIs. The best incentive for an older PI to close their lab would be to give them less, not more, funding. Make the early stage investigator system more progressive and that should have the same effect without a weird perverse incentive that as you age, you can hold out so that the tax payer has to pay you out.

  11. With so many labs closing due to lack of funds, why fund closing labs to stay open? I think retirement is a natural life transition, best arranged by the senior PI and the institution. As others have stated, there are already mechanisms in place for the logistics of mentoring, collaborating on projects with junior faculty, etc. Please consider funding more R01s throughout the active lifespan of researchers, including those of us in mid-career who want to continue our research during these difficult times.

  12. A bad idea. Innovative science is mostly an affair of younger men and women. Whether we like it or not, good questions being addressed in a retiring scientist’s lab will be picked up by younger ones elsewhere; stale ones will disappear, inevitably.

    • I’m a later stage scientist but not yet 65.

      I agree with statements that the motivation for “Emeritus” status is good, but think that transitions to young investigators can be done through collaboration. More dollars for collaboration and consideration of transition plans can do the job.

      But here’s a point that must be emphasized: The implication that nobody who is older can be creative is wrong. Neither do I accept the concept that all young trainees are necessarily more creative due to their age. Verdi wrote Falstaff when he was 79, and Rubinstein recorded Schumann ”Carnaval” at 75, where ”there was no question but that it was a better performance [than the one he made when he was 65]”; he was still performing at 90 (I was there). There are plenty of young and foolish musicians and scientists, as in any other field, and who’s to say that some of them won’t wisen up when they get “old”?

      Sure, there are plenty of folks beaten down by the shortage of NIH dollars (which, as many point out, is the main problem), and it is a mental challenge to withstand and prosper in spite of it. Personally, I’m feeling more and more creative as I get older, and having more fun seeing how scientific impacts can unfold. So let me continue to pursue my first love if I am still here at 65 and still making the world a better place through my work!

  13. There is some merit to the goal of giving some relief to established investigators, in that for every junior investigator (ESI or NI) that gets funded with a score that is above the payline, there is an established investigator below the payline that is not getting their grant funded. I do think that bringing some balance to this is a reasonable goal.

    What is the percentage of first-time PIs successfully renewing their first R01, compared to established investigators renewing theirs. My guess is that it is a stark difference. That would be one indicator that the NI/ESI program is too aggressive/imbalanced. At the end of the day, good science must rule the day

  14. This is a bad idea. When funding is so decimal, you need to support young creative investigators more than anything else. Why create more mechanisms for senior PIs, who already had their good days? I suggest to cancel the plan

  15. I agree with Jeremy Berg. This is a crazy idea. You’re going to promote the success of junior investigators by… giving more money to senior investigators?

  16. You might as well just give the old people, who’ve had careers mostly based on cronyism, all the money and quit bothering with reviews and study sections.

  17. The real issue here is not only development of technology but translation. If you look at who is starting businesses from NIH funded research the majority are over 40. Perhaps an emeritus faculty could serve the role to provide a vision of what is needed in the field, pass on a few jewels they accumulated from experience, and develop a team not only to develop the technology but to commercialize it. Emeritus researchers may also be well respected and have a lot of contacts needed to provide resources to the new emerging business and technology. I think this could be a win win.

  18. Agreed that the last thing we need is a special mechanism to benefit senior investigators. What about giving this idea some teeth-make this the only pool of money available to PIs over the age of 65. Take these individuals out of the RO1 completely, and that will free up additional funds for a more diverse pool of junior and mid-career investigators.

  19. As an emeritus professor who still has two NIH awards, I still think this is a bad idea. Any senior researcher who does not mentor junior colleagues naturally does not deserve an award to do so.

  20. As a productive older academic with active NIH funding, and mentoring grants, I was dismayed to see a lack of open mindedness and the ageist commentary by colleagues at earlier stages of the life course. We need to support eminent scientists of all ages and not view the young and old in a zero sum game. Creative ideas that facilitate cross -generational collaboration and funding should be encouraged. These need not be pushing older scientists into retirement.Currently senior scientists mentoring in the framework of K Awards and Diversity supplements receive no travel benefits or salary support. Perhaps some modest support needs to be allocated to mentors as well as mentees. Grants earmarked for productive older scientists should be called wise elder scientist awards (WESA), rather than emeritus awards.Most eminent scientists are not eager to retire and science can benefit from their contributions. Newly created WESA grants may be of 3 rather than 5 year duration to recognize funders’ worries about long term support of of older researchers.I hope to see more responses with generosity of spirit.

  21. I’m one of those “old” guys with a large active research portfolio which involves lots of junior colleagues who are gradually securing independent funding in related areas of inquiry. I am MUCH more thrilled when they are funded now than when I receive another grant (not that I don’t like getting funded!). But, rather than an “emeritus” grant, how about recognition for this kind of generativity? As suggested by many who’ve already commented, an emeritus award that takes $$ away from the R0-1 pool is wrong; there are many mechanisms such as Co-PI or transfer of the PI to a junior person that are available and should be encouraged. Older PI’s who are not already concerned about the legacy of their work well before their moving to “emeritus” status are probably not investing in junior colleagues enough to make such an award worthwhile anyway.

  22. Retrieve the competitive K05 award mechanism from its current purgatory at NIH, and allow continuing renewals only if the PI shows (1) sustained and continuing peer-reviewed publications based on field-driving studies, and (2) success in the mentorship, particularly commitment to mentoring of new and early stage investigators from diversity subgroups to which NIH has assigned a priority. I think the idea of an ’emeritus’ award is not a particularly good idea, unless regular study sections also are making favorable judgments about (1) and (2). (The purgatory: NIMH, NIDA, and many other institutes have abandoned the K05 mechanism, failing to fully appreciate the value added. You do not need the ’emeritus’ mechanism when the K05 award is administered properly.)

  23. I agree with Anne Carpenter’s comments above, I am just not as polite anymore. Having witnessed the constant “Good Old Boy” system that bequeaths titles, chairs, honorary authorships, and institutional funding to “Crowned Princes”. It is not only anti-diversity, it is discriminatory. The study sections at NIH are already “conflicts of interest”.
    The NIH must honestly strive for a true MERITOCRACY, otherwise it is cronyism, entitlements, and passing on “legacies”. Please no more bequeaths NIH.

  24. I don’t think this is a good idea at all. NIH needs to invest more money in junior faculty who have “high risk high impact” ideas rather than find another mechanism to support senior established faculty who may not have very productive labs. There certainly are a few PIs between 65-70 yrs and older that have very active laboratories, but most PIs in that age group and above are productive only by collaboration, where the majority of the work was done in the lab of a junior faculty member and they are credited by co-authorship. I don’t see how an emeritus award would help promote science. It simply takes resources and the credit away from junior scientists whose labs are really doing the work.

  25. Many senior investigators, many UNDER the age of 60, have been forced to shut their labs in the last few years due to the draconian budget cuts and general lack of support for the traditional RO1. This is a true National disaster. It would indeed be nice for NIH to be sensitive to investigators that have devoted their entire life to research, only to be abruptly dumped out of the system due to losing their funding in the current single digit percentiling system. This is a horrible way to transition into retirement and most institutions are experiencing this same sad scene over and over. Younger faculty also need to realize that the magnitude of start-up packages today (relative to those 20-30 years ago) and many other sources of funding for junior faculty, not accessible to senior and/or established investigators, have made being a senior investigator an unduly stressful and thankless station in their career. More significant though, is for NIH to figure out how to keep an important, scholarly and active group of senior investigators who are still passionate about their research work funded. Junior faculty get the “New Investigator Discount” on their first grant. Senior faculty very much need a similar break now. A more appropriate “Emeritus” award, would be to keep senior faculty FUNDED, instead of creating yet another boondoggle for junior faculty to grab more funding from a senior colleague being pushed into “transitioning” out of research; in many instances against their true wishes. Many great discoveries from these labs will be left in limbo, not to mention the personal toll on the investigator, the co-workers in their lab and the institutional loss.

      • Your rationale is not only biased towards senior investigators, but it is unreasonable.

        There are many VERY passionate junior and mid-level scientists who have also had to shut their labs for the same reason. Senior investigators never had to worry about funding (at such pay-lines!) when they were junior faculty. On the other hand, things appear to have worked out just fine 30-40 years ago. You cannot compare start-up packages from 30-40 years ago to today. The expectations are different, the productivity is completely off-scale today compared to what it used to be. Also, funding your science is much more of a problem today compared to a few decades ago. One could argue that the older generation really got a free ride (Not just a discount!). You were never held to the standard of productivity and grant funding that are expected of the young investigators today. Now you wan’t the govt and taxpayers to pay for your retirement and because you just won’t accept that you need to retire. It is a joke.

    • It seems to me that if a PI has had multiple R01s over their career, has freezers full of samples and reagents, has a reputation that allows them to recruit great staff, and has the network of contacts and collaborations that is built over many years, then they should be in the best possible position to be competitive in the standard R01 pool. If this is not the case, then why would we give them more taxpayer research money?

  26. This sounds like a well-intended but poorly thought-out attempt to get more aging scientists to close their labs and free up money for younger investigators. The NIH already has a mechanism to “facilitate laboratory closure,” namely not renewing a grant. There is already a mechanism for passing on knowledge, namely “publishing,” and for sharing materials and donating equipment to other laboratories. If the transitioning PI wishes to contribute more to their institution, the institution should contribute more to their salary. In light of laws barring age discrimination, I don’t see how the NIH could craft a grant program aimed just at senior citizens or have the legal standing to bar recipients of an “emeritus award” from obtaining funding in the future.

    • I think you raise some excellent points. I am not a lawyer but I wonder if it is even legal to offer an award based on age alone. I would think not!

    • I agree. Proposal should be judged ONLY by the scientific merit. Not age, gender, institution, state, high ranking status, degrees (PhD or MD), or popularity level of the applicant (and co-I).

      It is disconcerting that the level of MDs in medical research is declining so fast and no measures are taken at the NIH. No wonder the research results translate SO POORLY from bench to bedside. What a waste of money.

  27. This is right up there with the BEST grants where the NIH is spending taxpayer dollars helping graduate students explore employment opportunities that are largely in the private sector. It also sounds like one of those lab meeting presentations where you have to stop and use the “F” word: FOCUS!

  28. What if you offered senior PIs 75K a year for 5 years IF they would not apply for any more grants during or after the award? AND the only eligible PIs would be those already NIH funded. Old guys like me would love a chance to slow down, work on just one project, and get our last people out the door. The bonus is that you would get us out of the R01 market. After 30 years of R01 funding, I would love to go out gracefully, not wait until I finally don’t have funding and get tossed out of my lab by my Uni.

    But it would only work if:
    1) you are already a funded, competitive investigator
    2) you promise to not submit any more grants
    3) the university promises to let you keep working even though you’re not bringing in the big bucks that feed the countess hungry administrators of dubious competence.

    • I think this is right on the mark. I’ve been on too many study sections where preeminent senior investigators are given far too much slack concerning an otherwise shoddy proposal. A smaller pot of money set aside would let all these folks compete against each other, while the rest of us have our RO1s judged on the content, not our legacy.

  29. So far, all the comments fully support age discrimination. How sad!

    Not everyone wants to retire. Not everyone becomes non- productive on his/her 65th birthday ! Everyone is different….

    Let’s harness the wisdom, experience, energy and creativity of our BEST senior scientists for research/training/mentoring and not throw them under the bus.

    • How is opposing a special handout for older scientists who have been the privileged generation for three, four decades “age discrimination”? How does that compute?

      • There should be special opportunities for scientists at ALL stages of their careers. There are plenty for starting Scientists,up and coming mid- career scientsts but none for senior scientists who are still active and productive. To oppose the possibility of including them is age discrimination in my book!

        • Wow, that is spectacularly clueless, Dr. Vitetta.

          First of all, in the words of Syndrome, “when everybody is special, nobody is special”.

          The point of the opportunities that are extended to younger scientists under the ESI designation, to the previously unfunded (under the NI designation) and to various other categories of PIs (under AREA, geographical underfunding policies, etc) is to redress inequality of opportunity. Combined with a desire to redress other imbalances that may have emerged as an inherent property (limitation) of the peer review system. These are done because from a policy perspective the NIH has (rightly, IMO) decided that diversity of the research talent is key to optimal advance.

          An inherent part of these “special opportunity” programs is that some other category of investigator has too large a slice of the pie. For, again, emergent properties of the system as we have experienced it. This initiative is motivated, on the face of it, by a recognition that too many >65 year old scientists have too much of the grant funding pie. Data presented on this blog (search for that neat little demographic youtube video if you are unfamiliar) show the change in age distribution over the past several decades and the increasing numbers of >65 PIs in the system. These are facts. And if these people are getting more of the pie, then there is someone other category of PI getting less. Again, simple truth and evidence based.

          Which of these things is “age discrimination” and which is not?

          Many of us would assert that for the generation which got their appointments with near-assurance within 3 years of finishing their PHD (see the NAS report “Bridges to Independence”), enjoyed long intervals of >35% success rates (closing in at 50% for experienced investigators at times, look it up) and were the very architects of peer review resistance to giving newcomers a chance *even during the doubling interval* to now cry “age discrimination” is laughable.

          Beyond that, “age discrimination” is from the perspective of a PI who thinks that she deserves NIH grant funding, just …because. I am not sure where NIH policy needs to respect this since their goal is to ensure optimal science output over the long haul. Or it should be. So yes, they should be interested in things like wise investments in the future (the last 5 years of a career versus launching a lab with 30 years ahead of it) and opportunity cost (of losing promising minds to non-research pursuits when they can ‘t get grants funded). They should be aware of, and responsive to, the limitations of their processes that work against their long term and broad goals. The inherent tendency of insider groups to retain the funding within their own group (based on age/demographics, University type, scientific sub-domain or research technique/approach, etc) is a clear property of peer review. The data clearly show that one such tendency has led to the gradual aging of the PI population as one demographic group has retained the lion’s share of NIH funding *across their entire careers*. Again, these facts are well supported by the data prepared by the NIH and reported in various places including this blog.

          The system up to this point has discriminated against every age group below this balloon group hired into faculty position in the 70s and 80s. So the stated motivation to assist this generation to move out of the funding pool is a good one. It is not age discrimination, it is *fixing* age discrimination that already exists and has worked against the current mid-career and early-career generations.

          I support the goal to redress this long standing age-discrimination.

          I do not, however, agree with the idea that giving MORE money to the retirement age PIs to bribe them into doing the right thing is in actual support of this goal.

          • Michael,
            First of all to call me clueless is both rude and Incorrect. Please don’t!

            Secondly. I stand by what I said . There should be COMPETITIVE opportunities for scientists at all stages of their careers (notice I said competitive) . So it’s not a handout at all and it would be merit-based….just like those for newly trained scientists.

            Third, I again point out that only 7% of NIH monies go to funded investigators over 65. That’s small although perhaps not unreasonable… fewer might apply. But 7% does not support the idea that this group is getting all the funding.

            4th, 65 year olds come in all flavors. The excellent ones (and there are many) who want to stay and who work hard and well should have the chance to stay in the workforce .Do not assume that all brains fail on one’s 65th or even 75th birthday. There are wonderful examples of some amazing senior scientists. ONE special initiative is not unreasonable for this group!

            Finally, I don’t believe I said that I “deserve” anything… except not to be discriminated against for age, gender or whatever characteristic you wish to select. I should and do compete for grants as actively as any scientist at any age. I work as hard and am just as productive. As long as I remain that way ONE COMPETITIVE opportunIity for senior investigators seems very reasonable. We are not proposing a handout here! I would just craft it a bit differently than suggested here.

          • I regret that I followed your conflation and did not draw a bright enough line to divide your assertions about age discrimination from the proposal of the RFI. This Emeritus grant proposal is not age discrimination. Period. It is not in any way suggesting that people of any age will be prevented from competing for grants with people of any other age. Clearly this is not their intent and under US law it is not clear that they could ever do so. It necessarily has to be opt-in. So you can keep on competing away, no worries.

            I allowed myself to be drawn into your concept of age discrimination which is a second issue. Again, your comments come across as spectacularly ignorant of funding reality within the NIH system. Now, perhaps you yourself are not ignorant and are indeed fully aware of all the funding distributional analyses that have been produced by the NIH and the odd NAS/NRC report. Your statements do not appear to accord with any fair reading of such data however. I do not particularly know or care, my purpose here is to address the assertion that has been made. It is a very old trick for someone who is in, or has been in, a privileged class to cry some version of “reverse discrimination” whenever there is even the slightest attempt to even out that privilege. Interestingly, I was contacted within the past week by a friend sitting on study section about what kid glove treatment the applications from the 60+ crowd receive. Anecdote of the day, but one that is intimately familiar to those of us who have been in the trenches of grant review over the past 10-15 years. A senior scientist in this thread has just related how program gave him a rescue extension on his grant when he was unable to crack 35%ile. Your apparent belief that NIH grants are awarded on pure competition and merit is….. idealistic at best.

            ONE special initiative is not unreasonable for this group! …ONE COMPETITIVE opportunIity for senior investigators seems very reasonable.

            What? Now you are in support of a special handout for the 65+ again? Which is it? Is it an open competition that you support? Or are you in support of the continued special privileges enjoyed by a particular scientific generation for their entire careers to date?

            Finally, I don’t believe I said that I “deserve” anything… except not to be discriminated against for age, gender or whatever characteristic you wish to select.

            Do you understand that there are many, many, many other investigators who can make this statement with considerably more evidence that they have in fact been discriminated against during the very decades over which your approximate scientific generation has been on easy street by way of comparison?

  30. What a terrible idea. I agree with Jeremy Berg and Mark Baxter, and I am over 50 but not looking forward to 60. Just make more money available for “regular” RO1s, and RFAs for important work. European colleagues note mandatory retirement ages.

  31. If this would be implemented as a way to actually encourage timely retirement (i.e. an UPPER age limit of let’s say 65) as a 3 year “golden hand shake” including a contractual agreement that the PI cannot run a lab anymore afterwards and has to give up all other federal awards (with a clearly defined large personal monetary penalty in case the PI changes his mind, and such penalty should be used by the NIH to fund a new investigator). One might increase the number of years they can receive such award based on how early they retire. If this turns into an extra three years (beyond the time when their last R01 runs out) then it actually has the opposite effect, prolonging the time that senior PIs stay active.

  32. But having worked for the NIH (and having endured countless hours of mind-numbing training session about rules and regulations), I remember that there are strict rules in place regarding discrimination based on the age of individuals … so not sure whether one can actually set an age limit …
    But what one could say is that instead of using the actual age of the investigator, one could base it on the number of years since receiving their PhD, first NIH grant, or something similar.

    • Age limits are silly and discriminatory. Merit worked well UNTIL there was no more money in the NIH bank. What we really need to do is spend more time raising awareness in Congress. Perhaps we are all too busy …competing for the last dollar?

      • Merit worked well UNTIL there was no more money in the NIH bank

        The fantasy of pure “merit” based evaluation of grant applications worked well for some, perhaps. But it is arrogance in the extreme, and ignorance of many investigations, reports and research findings, to believe that the NIH peer review system has ever been about uncontaminated merit.

        It is nearly unbelievable to me that anyone could be in this system longer than a few years and still believe it is about pure scientific “merit” and that only now that the budget is so tight relative to demand that somehow this perfect correlation has broken down. Certainly nobody who has served on study section more than once can credibly believe this.

        • I said it worked well but not perfectly. A study section can usually pick the top 20 grants out of 100. With three tries the grant writer has a good chance of getting funded. Lost of us were happen and less stressed. We certainly had clearer heads and more time to think.

          Now, I don’t think a study section can identify the Top 7-12 grants. It’s just not possible. You might as well put the best 25 in a hat and pull 8-12 out.

          Conclusion… More money allocated to research by our Gov. So we get back to 20% funding. That seems obvious

          • It is easy to be sanguine about “not perfectly” when one has been on the happy side of the imperfection throughout one’s entire career due, in no small part, to the accident of one’s scientific generation. The current round of 35+year old Assistant Professors struggling mightily to land their first R01 may see it a little differently. It is absolutely correct that pure merit differences between the top 7-12 and the top 14-24 grants are negligible or nonexistent. It is also correct that under such circumstances biases of the system are magnified, not reduced. One of those is the bias against new or early stage investigators. This is why the ESI designation was created, in recognition of this reality, no?

  33. I don’t understand this RFI at all….first, where is the money coming from for this program? There is not enough to go around and things have only gone from bad to worse in the last decade. I have far too many ESI and post doc friends making the K99/R00/ development award transitions struggle to get even high impact and well scored applications funded by NIH to not see another program put up for discussion when we are not doing the things we should be doing well
    Second, if you want to dissuade your pool of funded investigators who are retirement age from reapplying, give guidelines to your reviewers to discuss this and ask your investigators to address it in their Biosketches.

  34. Yet another amazingly bad idea from the House of Bad Ideas. American science ran like a rocket before young investigator discounts, minority investigator discounts, senior investigator discounts, director’s favorite discounts and every other imaginable diversion came up.

  35. Long ago software developers introduced the “hourglass” and “spinning beach ball” illusions of progress to distract users from the slow speed of computer operations. That’s what NIH does these days: piddling around in an effort to distract investigators from the fact that there’s simply not enough money to feed an oversupply of investigators. Neither illusion distracts and both irritate.

  36. I think that research programs do not out-last PIs. Each younger PI has their own vision for their research program. I have seen some sad situations when a senior person tries to have their program continued by someone else. Independence is the essential ingredient for successful R01 research. I agree with the previous comment, when an investigator is no longer scientifically competitive, study section will let them know.

  37. Being a senior scientist and having served on many NIH panels, I think thee is a real need for olde investigators to have access for funding to extend their research interests. Although I totally concur with giving grants to promising young investigators, there is much good science that comes from those experienced in the field. The opportunities for funding diminish with age, however, as I learned from many panels. So an initiative to offer emeritus scientists an opportunity to fund their research, but at a decreased level of funding, would be enthusiastically received by the reduced number of scientists who do NOT retire into the maelstrom bridge parties, football games and shuffleboard. Some funding to allow them to continue their work, mentor a younger colleague and transfer expertise would certainly be helpful to many of us that would love to continue in scientific research, but find funding levels and perceived age detriments to preclude them from competing well. I, for one, would welcome such a transitional award program.

  38. I am extremely concerned that “mid career” investigators are currently a generation left out in the cold. I belong to this group. The NIH First went away before I started my career, then R01s became impossible to obtain at less than 45 years of age without major prior track records, then NIH focused on the Early Stage Investigators, and now people over 65 are being considered for funding. I suppose many in my age peer group will retire without ever having had a major grant from the NIH and society never having really leveraged what we had to offer, intellectually. No wonder many in my peer group will consider moving to another country! Food for thought.

  39. Others have proposed a logical fix for the current funding situation: Create a tiered metric where funding is not all-or-nothing. Applications, like the exams we grade, are not graded A or F. Something like 100% of requested funds for 0-5%tile, 80% of budget for grants scoring 5-10%, etc (cut-offs can be decided by the powers that be). This would fund more labs in the end and keep projects that have had long-term investment sustained in some fashion. Seems to make sense while promoting a larger degree of fairness…

  40. I disagree with Ageing PI that there should be an age limit for obtaining R01s. Many over 65 investigators know their fields and people in them and have learned how to get science done in that field and thus remain highly productive. A generic rule that prevents them from getting funding would be a terrible mistake.

    That said, I am not sure if there is a need for an emeritis award. The only situation where I see this being useful is if a senior person loses funding and has been maintaining a large collection of reagents (mutant cells, pathogens, mice, etc.) that might otherwise be lost. In this setting, it would benefit the research community as a whole if NIH somehow provided funds to get these into a central repository.

    For those investigators who have maintained funding and wish to retire there are mechanisms to transfer existing grants. More money for R01s is the best way to ensure that those senior investigators who are still productive can pass along their knowledge and skills (e.g. to students and fellows).

  41. Did I read this correctly? “Ideas for how one would utilize an emeritus award (e.g., to facilitate laboratory closure)”. You want to provide a grant for someone to close their lab? Isn’t that what happens when someone’s last grant ends? This is not a good use of the limited NIH funds.

  42. I recall on more than one occasion a discussion in a review group about whether an aging PI was likely to live through the projected period of the grant. Perhaps NIH should provide some formal guidance so as to not discriminate on the basis of age.

  43. This is one of the worst ideas I can imagine. I think it should be acknowledged that there is still an older white men’s club of PI’s who are riding on their previous work and the backs of their younger colleagues that should simply retire. I believe the focus needs to shift toward sustaining early to mid- career PI’s who are struggling to keep their lab open with R01 renewals and new R01’s, given the extremely challenging funding environment. These are the invesitigators who have begun to make important contributions to public health but need support to take the next step to make even greater strides, and to grow their lab. Sustaining a research career has become much too tenous. For physician- investigators, the option of going back to clinical work for a guaranteed income to support a family has become more enticing, and are leaving research for that reason; especially since the salary cap doesn’t cover most physicians’ salaries. We are put in the position of asking our institutions to ‘cover’ the salary gap, at at time when they are being squeezed to demonstrate their department is generating increased RVU’s. The net sum is a negative environment from all sides.

  44. The awards should be based on the merit of the project, not the age of the investigator … peer review works about as good as it can if we apply it impartially … it would be good to “use” flexibility to transfer funding from older to younger or younger to older “emeritus” people or perhaps if a younger person has a grant – allow a “extra” amount for a senior adviser to stay involved in the work without impacting the current budget … such small grants are give to undergraduates to get involved in research and could be used for older emeritus as well … but the project you seem to be discussing seem distracting from the merit award system

  45. This sounds like a “Golden Parachute” (GP01) award. Let me rephrase the above as I heard it in my head as I read it as a member of the postdocylpse.

    We have tried to support young investigators. For some reason it isn’t working and the age of first R01 is >42. We recognize that we are hemorrhaging trainees and young faculty to industry. We are tired of trying. Your old/rich boss is going to retire soon and he needs our help too. Sometimes it is hard for your boss to go from having a grant to retiring with no grant at all. We think we can help by giving him a grant. We really want to give him the money but we don’t even know what he would even use the money for. Can you help us think of some justifications that sound reasonable?

    If you want to help people that are in a “transition out of a position that relies on funding from NIH research grants” then maybe start with “rescue grants” for the labs about to close down for a lack of funding. This would give the PI another round of resubmission in before disbanding an entire lab. Or maybe we should fund more K awards to give >20% of people a chance at their first faculty job.

    • Rescue grants exist. They are the R56. They are given out by program officials based on their personal interests and who they are friends with.

  46. This appears to be designed to continue the extraordinary advantage of a single generation of researchers at the expense of all others.

  47. If we really want to even the playing field, we would review all NIH intramural grants in study sections along with extramural grants.

    • Uniform review of intramural and extramural projects is long overdue.
      Why does NIH-OD waste time on nonsense like “emeritus grants,” rather than addressing the disparities in standards of intramural vs. extramural projects…and individual-investigator vs. center projects…and investigator-initiated vs. and solicited projects?

  48. Why not support the oversupply of postdocs or new PIs you have produced? Emeriti do not need support they have the institutes behind them and personal financial stability, they can either retire or collaborate.

  49. I am not sure what this type of award will accomplish. Older scientists who remain competitive should continue to get RO1s. Where is the need for another type of award?
    The key is to have more RO1 available for all competitive scientists. Anything else will be suspiciously viewed as a “solution” to a non existent problem. The key is move away from the current system where getting a grant has become in a significant part, a semi random event.

  50. I agree with all the comments above. This is a terrible idea. Plenty of mechanisms already exist for facilitating a transition between senior and junior faculty. There is no need for a new funding mechanism targetted at the upper end of the age spectrum. It is far more important to get the young scientists settled into their research careers, since these are the people who will bring new ideas to the table.

  51. I’ve experienced good seniority deserving a shot to continue being in the game and really bad seniority that exploits their position to keep the funding at the top, uses their funding to help out their friends and get access to other power bases, keep the junior scientists in a constant state of neediness, empire building, etc.

    As a younger scientist, another layer of seniority just seems counter-productive. In the times we are in, senior folks, who saw the largest funding increases in the history of sciences, may not be agile enough for a future of deep lean research where efficiency, high productivity at lower costs is now the norm.

    I was a part of transformational discoveries only to see the higher ups gobble up the funds, pick and choose who would get rewarded and step on those lower in the chain of command who actually made the discoveries. Thus, I found the academic hierarchy impossible to do what I did without being a threat to someone’s turf higher up the food chain.

    I recently started my own R&D company to diversify access to funding and shift efforts to services and products instead of the hypothesis-based research I used to love. What I learned was that sometimes mentoring comes in the form of a large network of informal relationships across specializations, institutions and industries that don’t come with pay, just one professional wanting to see another professional succeed.

  52. This Emeritus award idea seems like more rearranging of the deck chairs. Rather then inventing many specific new opportunities with a lot of rules and administrative burden, why not just have peer review be tiered? Assistant professors should be reviewed as a group, Associate professors should be reviewed as a group, and Full Professors should be reviewed as a group. That way, at least investigators are competing with others of somewhat analogous experience. NIH will be able to determine how many grants to fund in each category such that each rank is represented in a reasonable ratio (relative to how many years are represented in rank). There will be much less concern over “losing a generation” or forcing older investigators to retire. Everyone is competing against their peers, and the pipeline will remain relatively balanced regardless of the whims of Congress and the NIH budget. When the full professors can’t compete with their peers anymore, they will retire. The problem now is that they are competing with new assistant professors, which places the junior scientists at a disadvantage.

  53. The best way to maintain the scientific workforce is to a) revitalize the peer review process, which despite NIH propaganda is totally broken, b) fund more investigators by going to a higher percentile, even though it would mean more cutting of funded grants to get there, and c) limiting the number of grants/amount of money individuals can get. Those changes would help EVERYONE!

  54. This is a joke, right?! Ha! Graybeards passing the torch to youngsters who most certainly don’t have their own research ideas to pursue. Hilarious!!

    please tell me this is all just a really, really bad joke…

  55. I think the problem that those proposing the emeritus grants are trying to solve is the current “R01 or nothing” problem. This means that a valuable, but scope limited, project does not have a chance of NIH funding unless it can be bundled with other investigations into a classic three aim, million dollar plus total cost application. However, we all have interesting projects that could be done on a much smaller scale with total costs over three years in the 150K or so range. Often (honestly pretty much always) these are projects that could provide valuable training in research to undergrads, clinical trainees etc. If such grants were available (maybe by allowing R15 type awards to go to all institutions instead of just a limited number of non-research intensive ones), all faculty, very senior or not, could pursue projects with high training potential and can pass their knowledge on to the next generation at the same time.

    Further, NIH has alot of money going to very large group project and similar grants (CTSA, etc) which limits the funding of independent, investigator driven research through the R01 mechanism. I honestly think there needs to be a really honest discussion about the “bang for buck” of R01s compared to these large grant mechanisms. Most folks (even PIs of the large grants) that I know will acknowledge that these large grants are just not that cost efficient compared R01s in regard to actual deliverables.

  56. BTW, I think that the proposed idea of pairing a junior faculty member with a senior one for these emeritus awards is a very bad one. The junior faculty member needs to establish independence, and I do not see any value in hooking someone up to a retiring faculty member’s coat tails, no matter how successful the senior faculty member is. In every case that I know where this sort of thing happened due to events (a PI getting very ill or even dying and the project being taken on by a senior postdoc in the lab), the junior person failed. The most dramatic one was in a lab where there were two senior postdocs, one was chosen to take the project over, the other ended up losing their job. Fifteen years later, the one who took the project over was unable to get things published and can not get funding while the one left out in the cold is now a full professor with two R01s (working at a different university). Junior faculty really need to stand (or fail) on their own feet. Propping them up does no one (neither them nor the scientific community) any good in the long run.

  57. What about the people in the middle? “Wet science” has gone out of vogue and many productive (pre-emeritus) labs are going out of business. A lot of valuable reagents will be lost in the process, so maybe we should consider more sustenance awards.

  58. This doesn’t sounds like a great idea. In fact, given that it will use up valuable resources, it sounds like a bad idea. Departments are well aware of the importance of transferring retiring PIs funds, since it’s very much in everyone’s best interests to do it well. They already have solid mechanisms to allow it.

    This money should be kept in the pool that funds projects (the Rs). It’s not like the paylines are overly generous as it is.

  59. To read some of the comments from younger investigators here, older investigators are a bunch of dead wood selfishly occupying positions that should go to more worthy younger people. That is rather offensive. First, these are the people who built this scientific edifice and who labored all their lives to create a vital research community. Many remain extremely active, pursuing new ideas that derive from their wealth of experience, their successes and their failures, and the institutional memory they carry. If 7% of PIs are >65, given the natural attrition that accompanies age, I think that this cohort represents a significant portion of the research community.

    Why would such a person want to “transition” to something else? He or she may want to enjoy life. What prevents him or her from just retiring? Nothing really, but I would bet a major reason is seeing a life’s work just end. Perhaps there is someone at the PI’s institution who could take over his or her grants, perhaps not. If not, then everything just ends. The vultures come in and pick the lab clean. The techs find other jobs. Everyone shakes his or her hand at the retirement party, asks about the roses or trips, and it’s over. Consider if the institution had support to recruit a younger scientist to take over the lab after a couple of years transition period? This would maintain a certain continuity but would allow the junior person to still change direction as scientific knowledge advances, just as the transitioning scientist undoubtedly did more than once over the years. The junior person would also have access to all that institutional memory. Finally, what if the emeritus could actually work hands on in the lab, something most have not done in years? Due to his or her retirement plan, salary would not be needed, just some money for supplies. Most of us remember our postdocs as the best of times. All we had to do was experiments. I would think this might be an attractive scenario. Bonus points even could be given for choosing a junior person who increased the diversity of the scientific pool.

  60. This might be a useful partner mechanism to studies that should be done over long periods of time, for example to see if emerging imaging modalities can predict long term outcomes. In this case a senior investigator would guide set up of such a project, but train someone young to see it to completion. I think you need to think about providing long term support for work like this.

  61. I’m surprised by the negative tenor of comments. I think you make an excellent suggestion.

    It’s not uncommon to see a very effective lab led by someone almost ready to step down. At present no obvious mechanisms are available to achieve a smooth transition. There’s either some ad-hoc work around, or the lab maintains maybe a couple of years too long under the leadership of someone no longer very interested, and then crashes. Besides offering a cost-effective way of enhancing research, this sort of program could add an uncharacteristic level of humane graciousness to a fundamentally cruel system.

    • Couldn’t a senior PI who is almost ready to step down name a junior colleague as co-PI on his/her grants and then transfer them fully over at retirement? This seems like an existing mechanism for smooth transition that is perfectly workable and doesn’t require a special award mechanism.

      In terms of humane graciousness, we know what we are getting into when we take this career path. I don’t see any reason to single out senior scientists for a reprieve from the cruelty of the funding system. If we were going to target any group, instead of golden parachutes (GP01, thanks previous commenter) I’d rather see life preserver awards (LP01) given out for junior scientists who have been unsuccessful but close in R01 applications so they can keep their labs running while they strengthen their preliminary data and independent publication record.

      • I propose the X01 award, open to GenerationX scientists only. Also, let’s all go in study section and get rid of the oldsters and the young Millennial pups once and for all.

        (Hey, if the NIH wants to start generational warfare with this ill considered GP01 business, why should we sit back and take it? We fought like blazes to get into the system since it was so clogged up with these senior scientists who are now looking for a handout. They protected the heck out of their grant funding – see prior data reports on this very blog – so why shouldn’t we?)

  62. Being at the stage of life alluded to in the message, I heartily support the concept of supporting critical alumni with important past experience to pass on his/her sapiential authority and wisdom. Earlier remarks suggest that the extramural funding approach can cope with this, but sometimes (in fact quite often) people at my time of life are not able to find appropriate situations, either academic or educational where they have a “home” and the ability to interact with younger scientists who are sufficiently alert to the earlier problems and solutions. I am fortunate being at a School of Public Health, some of my experiences are found useful by a variety of people, and I give time (apart from formal teaching) to talk. e.g. I worked in Africa (I am strictly speaking an African American) educated in Southern Africa, and worked on neglected tropic diseases (in my case my country succeeded in controlling malaria effectively for nearly 50 years). Yet the NTD constitute a problem that receives scant support through the NIH extramural system) yet affects the lives of many people. So I manage to impart my experience, but there are many others who fall through the cracks and are lost to posterity. I think that an alumnus program with modest funding and monitored by a small group of senior scientists could be set up and publicised through NIH for specific applications. Each application could be required to show how the mentoring be carried out and monitored ( you cannot evaluate these things because they depend on personal relationships and the product will be very much in the future). Organisations such as the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene might help… I would very much like to be involved in this discussion…

  63. So, the comments are overwhelmingly negative. Let’s see if NIH actually heeds the scientific community’s input or ignored it and changes things up yet again. It is incredibly frustrating that NIH mechanisms, procedures, applications, instructions, BIOSKETCHES (another terrible idea) keep changing – instead of focusing on science we are constantly scrambling to catch up with the shifting landscape. I agree with an early comment that said “keep it simple”.
    By the way, instead of emeritus awards, how about if the NIH could start paying for health benefits for trainees – instead of every T32 program in the country operating at a deficit?

    • Yes!!!!!! The NIH needs to provide enough funding for the actual cost of fringe benefits to its trainees and fellows instead of golden parachutes to senior investigators.

  64. I agree with the clear majority here who think this idea has little merit. I am cheered by the number of times that people wrote in to state what everyone needs to be saying every day: investigator initiated R01 research must be the mainstay and goal of NIH funding. Anything that chips away at that or moves resources into other places needs to be challenged. This new proposal reads to me like a handout to universities who have over-built, over-hired, and are on the hook for tenured, unfunded PIs. My university has a new position in the dean’s office whose purpose is to encourage/ease faculty retirements. It is a university problem, created by poor administrative decisions, that should remain a university problem. Scarce government research dollars should not be directed to address that problem.

  65. All the suggested fiddling with grant funding mechanisms is just rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Without sustained, predictable, and reasonable funding, there will be no medical research establishment that does anything but clinical trials and operations research. Junior investigators do not spring fully-formed from PhD programs. They learn their craft in on-going operations, i.e., labs of senior investigators. As those labs close, or become under-funded, the quantity and quality of training suffer, the quality of the work and the quality of the grant proposals goes down, and the entire medical research enterprise becomes, at best, mediocre. Also, who is going to go into a declining profession in which making a decent living is impossible?
    The solution is to support research grants, not dividing up dwindling resources in new ways.

    • Great…if we only had a government that understood this! On the other hand maybe they wiill if/ when they pay down the national debt. Of course by then we will all be out of jobs.

  66. There are already multiple mechanisms in place to help …facilitate the transfer of their (senior investigators) work, knowledge and resources to junior colleagues. Training grants, K-awards (including the K99/R00), the multiple PI option–all of these can be used by senior investigators to share and transfer knowledge and resources to junior colleagues.

    As some have already stated, this is a solution in search of a problem. I don’t think we need a new mechanism which is essentially an “inheritance grant”.

  67. As a senior in age investigator with a productive P30 award involving investigators at 4 institutions, I agree with the majority that, overall, funding senior investigators to continue their investigative trajectories is not a good idea. However, many of the comments (e.g., seasoned reviewer, Feb 5) recognize that large projects often have irreplaceable data sets that, by the end of the funding period, are inadequately analyzed and transformed into scientific articles. Similarly, such data sets are inadequately available to serve as background data for follow-up new research proposals by members of the research team. Simplifying the bureaucratic delay in authorizing access to carryover of unobligated funds would be a small change, not reduce new research funding, and yield a greater return from many projects.

  68. The question is – does NIH expect that the quality of science will be better by holding on to senior investigators or by promoting a partnership between a senior and junior investigator? There is already the multiple-PI mechanism to promote such partnerships. While the system may seem “cruel” to senior investigators almost everyone is in science because they are passionate about their work. When an investigator – whether young or old becomes unproductive or relies too much on other investigators to show that they are active in science – they are no longer “independent”. This is one of the criteria that is used to judge junior investigators and the same holds true for senior investigators. And I think study sections look at that. I don’t buy the argument that we lose a wealth of knowledge when a senior investigator is forced to retire. There will always be someone who has better, more creative, and innovative ideas and science always moves forward when the “giants” of a field retire. I think the role of the study section is to look at all applications carefully, regardless of age, and see whether the scientist has been productive from their own laboratory. Funding an Emeritus Award based on an older and “has been” productive researcher is a mistake.

  69. Any grant funding mechanism with the word emeritus in it cannot be good. With limited NIH dollars – each of these emeritus awards would take away an independent award to a more junior person. I agree with above poster that the most senior investigators have lab pets who clearly won’t cut it independently and will use this to float them as long as possible. Also, sadly, there are many senior researchers that will use this to keep a junior person in their grips for as along as possible – I unfortunately had this experience. As a Gen X PI I can never understand what is wrong with retirement? More incentives for the old folks not to retire is a bad idea. I would place more burden on Departments and Universities transitioning qualified senior PIs to mentoring/teaching positions – why should the NIH be responsible for this? This will only hurt junior PIs, not help them.

  70. I like the idea but not the name of the award. The US population is aging. So is the workforce in the science community. One of the paradigm changes occurring in the gerontology field is to retire the retirement communities. Regardless of the tenure status and age, a good scientist does not (should not) have to retire as long as his/her health permits. Prolonging the academic career is good for the scientist’s well-being and is beneficial to the society. All of us will grow old and there is no better alternative to aging.

  71. From the RFI: “But we must also consider the needs of our senior investigators and how NIH can assist with the continuation of their well-established research programs, should they wish to transition to new positions.”
    This is an issue for ALL investigators at ALL ages. The current extremely low funding rate means that few can expect to continue “their well-established research programs” no matter what their age. [The statistics NIH uses, which ignores the gap in funding if the initial application is not funded, papers over huge disruptions in research and careers.] The disruption to research programs and careers is even greater for younger and mid-career investigators than it is for senior investigators. The key issue is to increase funding rates for INITIAL applications. [The improvements in A1 are often minor, and for those grants near the payline probably negligible.]
    A new type of grant is a waste of precious resources.

  72. There are an awful lot of R56 BRIDGE awards that are in fact bridges to nowhere that I’ve seen on the RePORTER books. Clearly this mechanism is being used to *already* provide a softer landing for long term IC favored PIs who cannot get a fundable score.
    So this is another way these goals are being addressed, in addition to the aforementioned PI swap.
    Why do we need something in addition?

  73. I think the apparent disconnect between what NIH is proposing or thinking about, and what these comments suggest, is pretty remarkable. I didn’t read every comment in detail but I did not see one that is in strong support.
    Anecdotally, I know of senior PIs who would certainly make good use of such an award. By which I mean, they would like to take a couple of years to mostly mentor junior colleagues and wrap up leadership roles e.g., in large collaborations. I work in epidemiology, a field that is not just individal people working in the lab but rather requires large scale consortia. It’s not so simple to just say “R01s are the answer” in that context. R01s cannot (and do not) fund those consortia completely, and there are a host of issues around the role of junior investigators in them and, looking ahead, about “succession plans.”
    I also believe dismissing the role of mentoring in science, as many commentators appear to do, is completely foolish. Scientists by and large do not finish grad school and then go sit in a corner and think up the next great idea all alone.
    All that said, there is definitely some merit to the retort that institutions (i.e., universities and research centers) should pay these senior faculty salaries. The “career awards” fills a need for soft-money shops and universities that require faculty to raise 80% or more of their own salaries through grants (despite being “tenured”). Whether putting NIH funds toward enabling that system is good policy is certainly a valid question.

  74. And to add to my comment, there actually was a mechanism a lot like this — the K05 through NCI. It has not been renewed.
    I wonder what lessons were learned from that? What happened to the investigators who got those awards and their mentees / junio colleagues? Why was it not renewed? What were the goals of the K05 and did it meet those goals?

  75. While I echo the previous responders concerns that a new funding mechanism is less useful to mid and senior-level research faculty, I welcome any recognition by the NIH that they have over-emphasized new and junior investigators at the expense of those who are in their most productive years. When the focus lies entirely in support of one cohort, albeit an important one, imbalances are inevitable and the current funding crises has certainly resulted in the loss or under-productivity of the mid-level investigators whose work is at this stage reaching maturity and the point at which it is most likely to produce important new contributions. That in addition to a critical role in mentoring the next generation of scientists and physician scientists. As the proposal reads it seems more focused on moving faculty OUT of productive labs and into retirement which is not the direction I would like to see a new effort focused on more senior faculty go. Why not instead, focus on providing means for mid-career scientists to gain new training themselves, or on rewarding them for the mentoring work that they do, rather than in sending them out of the lab where they are providing a great service to their institutions and to society at large?

  76. Just increase the per diem for study section members, have senior investigators do more of the work, and give them a nice title. Sometimes established investigators have a better idea of what is really novel and exciting, because they have seen it all.

  77. The stated goal is to “help senior investigators who wish to transition out of a position that relies on funding from NIH research grants”.

    So, the NIH is proposing a mechanism to provide research grants to those that do not wish to have them? This seems terribly counter-intuitive and attempts to solve a problem that does not exist, at least as stated by the goal. Anyone in science (senior PI, junior PI, postdoc, student) wishing to be in a position that does not rely on NIH funding is free to pursue other opportunities at their own personal discretion. The NIH should focus their financial resources on those that want to obtain or maintain NIH funding.

    Perhaps the goal is to support a senior PI that wishes to contribute to NIH funded research without having to be the PI on a grant. As many commentators have indicated this is achieved through Co-Investigator status or other collaborations already in place through the R01 mechanism. This mechanism also encompasses the “transfer of their work, and knowledge” to junior colleagues through publication, mentorship, collaborations, etc. Regarding the “transfer of resources to junior colleagues”, this occurs at the institutional level. More often than not, junior PIs (myself included) are happy to receive the resources (reagents, animal colonies, data, equipment, etc) from senior colleagues and certainly do not need a funding mechanism to encourage these resources from previously NIH funded work.

  78. This is a very misguided initiative. If a professor has not been able to mentor a junior faculty member to the point that he/she can transfer his/her lab at thew time of retirement, he/she should not be awarded. It has been an ancient tradition for professors to teach and to mentor, but this has come out of fashion lately.

  79. Let’s face it, NIH isn’t much into listening to us. If they did then we wouldn’t have this terrible BIOSKETCH thing now.

    But there are two points I want to make:
    1. Has anyone realized that if the age at which people are now getting their first RO1 has pushed over 40 and retirement is looming in the 60s that this range is now narrowing in? Pretty soon we can all just apply for the Emeritus award and call it a day.

    2. Everyone had better start looking for their sugar daddy or mama now. Seriously, how often are you going to come across someone at your institution that knows they want to retire out in the next 5 years and has similar research interests so that you could partner up? I see this as only favoring people within large research groups who will pass along their program, funds, etc to someone they already work with.

  80. I think all of us junior and mid-level PIs appreciate the wisdom and expertise of senior scientists, but every one that I know is frustrated that NIH continues to fund PIs well into their 70s, often at very high levels. This significantly impacts the ability of mid-level scientists to keep our labs open and our careers viable. Once one is past the New Investigator phase, the playing field is no longer “level” and trying to compete with eminent scientists becomes almost impossible. Surely at some point we have to redress the balance by limiting the ability to apply for new grants when one is over a certain age, together with instituting a cap on the number of R01s that a PI can have? If not, when these eminent scientists do finally drop dead in their labs there won’t be any of us left to take over.

  81. It is undeniably strange that the NIH has spent so much money taxpayer money to breed new scientists, just to hold each pup’s head under water until it ceased thrashing. The system did not work and needs to be re-tooled. Please, stop sliding matchbooks under wobbly legs and greasing squeaky wheels. Come to work tomorrow and honestly speak to your colleagues at the NIH about some new ideas that could help. Then, try. Please try to fix this broken system.

  82. I am a senior investigator, 81+ years old, who helped start the field I am in, and continues to be a leader in it. I have had my current NIH grant from GM for 48 years. In 2012-13 my NIH renewal proposal with 4 specific aims was turned down 2X by the GM, NCSD Panel, with 35%+ priority scores. The major criticism was that we were “trying to do too much!” I appealed the grant reviews to the GM Council and they awarded the grant to me for 3 years at somewhat reduced funding. This funding will finance my lab until Sept 2016, after which I will close down. I am NOT closing down because I have lost my energy for, or interest in, research: We have published 5 papers in good journals on our Spec Aims for this last grant, since it was first turned down in 2012, some with accompanying News and Views; the last reports appear in “Trends in Cell Biology” and “Current Biology” in February, 2015. I am closing down my lab because I can no longer put up with the aggravation of having my grants turned down clearly and simply because of my age, and that apparently is the case, altho the SRO of my panel will certainly deny it. “Trying to do too much?” Yes, and we can compete for an RO-1 as well as any younger scientist, but there is nothing we can do about being turned down just because we are older.
    For many of the same reasons stated by others above, I do not like the idea of Emeritus Awards. If one is still active & doing what a scientist is supposed to do, then they are unnecessary.

    • In 2012-13 my NIH renewal proposal with 4 specific aims was turned down 2X by the GM, NCSD Panel, with 35%+ priority scores.
      I am sure all of the junior and mid career PIs reading this would be very interested in how many other applications you submitted? The reason being that if it is only on the basis of two apps that were apparently discussed (not even triaged?) then

      I am closing down my lab because I can no longer put up with the aggravation of having my grants turned down clearly and simply because of [reasons]

      sounds spectacularly out of step with the experience of several current generations of scientists below your own. Most of us would not be in the NIH-funded business at all if we gave up after two, four or even eight disappointing grant reviews.

      I appealed the grant reviews to the GM Council and they awarded the grant to me for 3 years at somewhat reduced funding.
      So you already enjoyed a rescue outside of the pure merit based evaluation that Dr. Vitetta has been describing for us? Interesting.

      • Response from Joel R: I have had one grant for the duration of my research career, from GM of the NIH, and I have never had it turned down (until this time), so I have not had to apply and re-apply over the last 48 years.. I have kept my lab small, focused, but continuously productive, right up until the present time. I believe labs should be funded
        mainly on the basis of the PI’s track record of publishing innovative and interesting work in an active field. In addition I teach a highly-regarded course in cell biology to undergraduates.

    • Dr. Rosenbaum,

      Many of us have submitted many more than 2 grants before giving up. I submitted 8 R01s before finally getting one funded, each one with a good but not quite fundable score as the paylines kept creeping downward. Most of us do not have the option to talk the council into funding our projects that didn’t hit the payline because there are so many of us in the same situation. Getting funded, even for three years at a reduced DC, would be wondrous for most of us early and mid-career scientists. I’m sorry that you feel that this is not worth your effort any more as a leader in your field. Most of us face decades more of this type of aggravation and stress, so imagine how our futures look to us.

      The thing I’m confused about is your assertion that not getting funded is clearly and simply due to your age. Can you please be more specific about why this is the case? It would be good for the NIH community to know specifically what kind of age discrimination is at play in the review process.

      • Dear Filopodia,
        You have the same options as anyone else of having your grant re-reviewed by the GM
        Council, and there are NIH people who attended your grant review who will help you with this.
        And yes, I am indeed giving up when I could re-apply. However, I am rapidly approaching the age when the actuarial tables say I will be six feet underground.
        Finally I cannot give you the information you would like that indicates my grant was turned down for age-related reasons, because such a turn-down is illegal as you know. Let’s just say “I know.” and that will have to suffice.

    • Dr Rosenbaum
      While I can see your frustration in regards to your grant, I can see also the frustration of people my generation. In one of my reviews I got something along the lines ‘This is a new investigator that is setting up lab, but she doesn’t have a publication from her R21 grant that ends next year’. This is not the only time when I was faced with these sort of comments; had I appealed, like you did, do you think anyone would have paid any attention? Meanwhile, my work has gotten good recognition in the field – and much beyond in fact.

      The second point I’d like to make, which is along the lines of one already makd among these comments, is that the young scientists who do the actual bench science in your (and other senior people) lab deserve a fair chance to do their own work, in their own lab. With all due respect sir, you are not doing this work alone – either intellectually or practically, the latter being most likely the overwhelming contribution of these younger people. The conditions in which our generation is trying to establish their own labs are vastly different than what was 30-40 years ago. The age of first RO1 keeps going up. The science that gets done these days has gotten to be more and more replicating one way or another what comes from the established labs, such as your own, because that’s what the NIH review reinforces. Our generation applies in the range of 8-10 grants a year and can only hope to get one grant in 3-5 years. Meanwhile we have to deal with nasty comments that come under the cover of hidden identity. Science is getting drained of brilliant minds because these sort of people don’t function along the lines of how many publications, what connections they have with powerful senior people, and climbing the greasy pole – but are motivated instead by the ideas behind their work, which can take years to bring to fruition – and meanwhile what?

      The sense of entitlement that intended or not, comes across from the perspective that ‘but I do this very important research’ is not something that would be endearing (to use a metaphor) to any younger scientist struggling to start or maintain their lab.

  83. You want to fund more science…easy. Limit PI percent effort on all grants to 50%. They are still university employees and the universities need to pick up their share…that’s gotten out of hand paying basically 90% of PI salary and about 60% indirect…adds up to about 150% of salary

  84. I took this idea as a way to gently, legally ease senior folks into taking retirement. NIH can’t do age discrimination, and I agree with many comments that the high rate of >65 yo holding R01s is in part harming young people – see this graph – around 7% in 2010 but rising! And because these folks draw a higher salary than young ones, these R01s are likely more than 7% of $$$ amount.

    The idea may be to give a smallish grant to emeriti (and I would suggest NIH requires this to be an emeritus, i.e. someone who has given up the formal tenured position and is considered and emeritus at his/her institution) in order to facilitate or prod the retirement to happen.

    Everyone here seems to think this will be money not available for everyone else for R01s. I see it as freeing up R01 funds out of senior hands into younger ones.

    For most of us, I see hanging on to a tenured University position beyond age 70 as “double dipping” – our University gives us a nice retirement package/investment, but if we continue working, we never actually need it – its just money our kids have more to inherit.

    Getting rid of mandatory retirement was a bad move. I certainly plan to retire before I am 70. This does not mean a senior person can’t be intellectually involved in science! But the way this is proposed is to become a mentor.

    • I agree, not having an age limit is a very bad idea.
      In most of the world including Europe someone 65+ is considered “below the average* work capacity and is automatically retired. Americans are not better, they have more diseases and they die faster.

      Plus, the “double dipping” is another selfish act. Drawing pension AND salary? Have you thought of your son/daughter who is JOB-LESS?

  85. At the last American Society for Cell Biology meeting in Philadelphia (December, 2014) I stood up at the membership meeting ( only ca. 30 people) attended by some of the senior wheels in cell biology. I asked that the society appoint a new standing committee that did
    nothing but try to re-design the NIH extramural grant system in its entirety, eg. the grant applications, who can apply, how review panels are chosen, requirements for NIH supported investigators to serve on panels, and how key personnel of the NIH bureaucracy are chosen, and what type of grants should be awarded. My suggestion was not greeted with great enthusiasm and, in fact, elicited some negative comments.
    I suspect this conservative reply to my suggestion was because most of the people sitting there were securely funded by the NIH and did not want to rock the boat. Too bad.
    Indeed, the NIH is a federally mandated and supported bureau, but the ASCB has several thousand working scientists as members. They are the ones most able to make suggestions for changing the system.

  86. NIH does not define who is “Emeritus” to be eligible for this award in the RFI. Does the investigator have to be “Professor Emeritus” at their institution or is there simply an age cut off? If an investigator receives an Emeritus Award, will they still be eligible to hold on or apply for new R01s? The details are unknown, but regardless I am not in favor of this award mechanism.

  87. This is something I have been thinking about. I think the desirability of such a mentoring plan is about a 50/50 yes or no. I do think that those who feel the current system takes care of this issue do not account for a young investigator who does not yet have the c.v. to merit an NIH grant and an aging mentor who may be considered too old by Study Section (although such is not supposed to be considered, it does influence thoughts of reviewers). If this concept is to move ahead I suggest there be the following criteria for an award: 1) a history of quality productivity by the mentor, 2) a history of successful mentoring by the mentor, 3) evidence of promise from the young investigator, 4) a clear succession plan 5) support from the institution for the plan.

  88. There are already throngs of super talented young scientists who have been preparing to be an independent scientist for 15-20 years. And there are already not nearly enough senior people retiring for the system to take them in. So let’s see if we can help by facilitating the immortalization of their labs.

    To be clear, there are already plenty of mechanisms for this to occur. Senior investigators can and often do collaborate with young faculty or simply retire and designate a new PI for their grants. This seems to be made to order for someone who wants to “retire” or do something else without getting out of the driver’s seat.

  89. I agree with perspectives and details offered by Thomas Hughes and Walter Hill – [1] create a direct cost ceiling of say 75-100K for a period of 3-5 years for those funded senior investigators that are interested in transitioning from current full RO1 funding to a lower level of funding that sustains creative science but sees a terminus in scope of research output and time, [2] call it something different than R01, so such individuals exit that pool and reduce competition, [3] consider requiring an explicit connection with a junior investigator[s] at ones institution that can profit from both the mentioning of the senior investigator and the resources available in the later’s lab. Finally, an acknowledgement that other senior investigators not interested in transitioning out of the RO1 pool are free to continue to compete for RO1s.

  90. Most senior investigators do provide guidelines and help to early stage investigators/new investigators. Therefore, there is absolutely no need for a new grant mechanism to provide resources to those, who are already helping young investigators. In fact, more resources are needed to support those investigators, who have received a grant, but are unable to renew it.

  91. Senior PIs already enjoy many competitive advantages over junior faculty in the NIH game. Why they need a dedicated funding mechanism when Co-PI and other strategies already exist is beyond my cognitive abilities.

  92. I think this is a terrible idea. There are already mechanisms in place to transition retiring faculty grants and labs to junior faculty. I think the emphasis needs to be put more on building a more sustaining younger/middle workforce. The faculty who are close to retiring now had the benefits of the doubling of the NIH under Clinton to establish their careers. Those who have come after this group have struggled to obtain funding in years declining funding lines. I think the K mechanisms have been good to get young scientists established and the new investigator R01s have also been a good way to ensure more junior scientists can be competitive. I agree that more focus needs to be paid to increasing the number of R01s and probably less on U, P, and other large network mechanisms that are administratively heavy and filled with the predominantly very established scientists. A more critical gap is occurring for the people in the mid-stage career–after the K and first R01–trying to transition to the 2nd R01 in this funding climate and being put in the same pool as very established investigators. This is very challenging and will lead to drain out of the field.

  93. I really don’t see this emeritus idea working at all. Senior funded investigators are unlikely to give up RO1 funding for a lower level of support. The best idea would be to provide them with a one off retirement package similar to what you see in industry – a couple of years salary upfront and a cash payment into a retirement fund might persuade them to retire. Although I don’t see this being popular with NIH or congress.
    Anyway, the emeritus idea side steps the key issue – that too many PIs are dependent on NIH for salary. At my institute, we are required to fund 95% of our own salary up to the NIH limit. Try doing that and being productive with less than 3 RO1s. NIH needs to cap PI salary support and reduce indirects. Put all the money saved into the RO1 pool and let the best science win, whatever the age of the PI (retaining the break for NIs of course!).

  94. As a senior scientist who was funded continuously for ~30 years and closed my lab 4 years ago, I cannot see the merit in Emeritus awards. I recognized when it was time to pass the “baton” to the younger generation. I participate in many other aspects of science, from the privileged position of a tenured professorship with significant teaching responsibilities.

    I agree with the comments of colleagues: increase the pay line, especially for younger investigators and limit the funding to 3 R01 at the absolute maximum. I also do not think that HHMI investigators should be double dipping.

  95. If this RFI had been posted on April 1, I would have assumed it were an April Fool’s joke. Seriously, this idea should not have made it this far.


    NIH does not award the best science, but the science that hits it best with the reviewers. The senior category has a clear advantage over the rest of the crowd because of this element. Second, regardless of how passionate and interested in their research senior scientists may be the fact is, so are the younger ones – and while the seniors had a good 30-year long chance to pursue their ideas, many of us, equally bright and hard working, but who came of age in the current dire conditions will never have the opportunity to pursue ANY of our own research because of lack of support. Besides, to voice something that may be unpalatable but is very likely, what seniors are clamoring for is probably the opportunity to continue to call the shots from their office, and get credit for junior people’s work – not to do active research in their labs. I still have to see someone 65+ who is banging own head in the lab with technical issues trying to collect data. As for coming up with new ideas, that may happen but sorry to say, it’s not that likely.

    The charge of cronyism expressed by one of the commentators above is point well taken. People 65+ have gotten jobs in a different era, based on a phone call or so, got funded in an era when money was around, and then when things got tough, they were already part of the old boys club whose goal was to divide the scarce resources among themselves regardless the consequences. Now the taxpayer money has to fund golden retirements for them too?

    NIH, it’s time to cut this rigmarole at the root. Stop wasting the money and get serious about supporting research where the future stands.

  97. Interesting debate! I think NIH should use this mechanism to fund younger investigators. It will be the young person’s ideas driving the grant. In review, those grants get some “extra points” if they add an appropriate “senior investigator” as a consultant, or collaborator. Maybe include token salary for The Elder, but not big bucks. The Elder provides knowledge, perspective and experience for a few years. In exchange, they move out of the system! No more NIH grants for you, Elder. This is your sunset grant. Can your ego take that or would you rather compete with all the young folks and maintain your status? Come on–make some room. Pay it forward by getting out of the way knowing you’ve made a formal and valuable contribution to the system. If you’re not ready to leave in the next few years, this is not for you.

  98. A few posts have mentioned this already, but the system obviously needs to change and can do so by institutions (including NIH) funding their mission. NIH needs to stop paying the majority of PI salaries, Universities need to own that, and charge/budget accordingly – i.e., budget to pay 100% even if there is no grant. Grants should fund a portion of PI salaries, but this should be taken by Universities as recovery or incentive-building, not as necessity! Consider the small-towns on highways which rely on speed-traps to fund the public budget – relying on law-breaking incentivized the ever-worsening speed-trap – many of these town are bankrupt or being sued for mismanagement! NIH should not be funding student stipends and benefits, Universities should, maybe even with the salary money they save from NIH paying a portion. If a Uni declares its mission is to teach and train, then they should do that. It is a farce to say your mission (and often mandate in the case of public institutions) is to “produce X-number of PhDs” per year yet provide funds only for 12-18 months. We also need to remember, and remind the Uni-Admins (including Chairs) that real research can be done in a manner that offers real training and education, fulfills the mission, but does not require a massive budget.

    Give 5-10 awards nationally called ” Distinguished SENIOR Scientist Awards”. These would cover the LAST 3-5 years of a career regardless of age. The applicant would propose what to use the money for:
    Possibilities should be wide open.

    1. Transition
    2. Finishing a body of work
    3. Translation
    4. Mentoring or creating a Novel Program to help the next generation
    5. Going back to the bench full time in his/ her lab or another lab
    5. Etc…. Wide open
    The budget would be in line with the project and could cover anything.

    A special study section would evalutate these. The money set aside would not eat up the NIH budget.
    This is not unlike the Pioneer awards for mid- career faculty or the New Ivestigator Awards to launch a career. These would be to FINISH a career. They would be highly competitive and judged by a special panel of scientists and educators. There could even be an in person interview with the applicant.
    I think it would be a win-win situation for all.

  100. I believe this effort for providing “Emeritus” awards is simply an attempt by senior scientists already enriched by NIH funds to further reward themselves with more and more money. A significantly more important strategic goal for NIH should be to provide more money to talented junior investigators based not upon their connections with the established hot-shots, but solely upon the quality of their work and proposals. With each passing year the NIH staff makes seemingly half-hearted efforts to correct the long trend of increasing age for first-time R01 recipients. The result is that, with each passing year, more and more NIH money ends up in the hands of fewer and fewer senior investigators; that is, the biomedical science funding landscape in the US begins to mirror that of Europe. Not, in my opinion, a desired situation. If this trend continues our nation will in thirty years be asking why the US is no longer a leader in biomedical research, and why so few young people in the US even attempt to pursue careers in that area. This “Emeritus” idea should be replaced by a strong, legitimate effort to get more NIH money into the hands of our most talented junior investigators, before it is too late.

    Lastly, I would be curious to see the makeup of the committee(s) that generated this “Emeritus award” idea. I suspect – and would be happy to be proved incorrect – that the average age of said committee membership is over 60; i.e., 30 years older than what the AVERAGE age of a first-time R01 recipient should be.

  101. I have an idea: put more money into the R01 pool and, at the same time, stop funding single-PI grants from people age 65 and over. This would force older investigators to either seek young coPIs or give up their labs and make room for the truly productive people. When you consider the fact that the vast majority of scientists make their biggest scientific achievements in the first 10 years of their careers, it is baffling why there isn’t already an age limit on major awards. The PIs who appear to be productive in old age usually just have one or two very good postdocs or research-track people who actually run the show, and those people could be running their own labs instead.

    • This is exactly what is happening in our institution.
      Junior faculty do all the work, including mentoring students, while the senior gets the credit. The senior gets authorship on ALL articles regardless whether he did not contribute to science. If somebody refuses to put him co-author, he gets ANGRY – and you can bet on bad recommendation letters with the next occasion!!!

      I would say, seniors BULLY junior scientists, just like in any other place in this world. Give them more power, they will make more abuses!

      Young scientists – Beware

  102. It is an excellent idea and will be a great help especially for minority institutions. At these institutions the senior faculty devote their effort to establish and maintain biomedical research infrastructure through which they provide not only mentoring but also networking experience to the junior faculty and students. NIH spends millions to establish this infrastructure at these institutions. Keeping this experience and talent in cold storage is not a good idea. The emeritus award mechanism will motivate them to continue to help the institutions where most of the funding is for training.

  103. From my DataHound post on this topic:
    In the context of the potential “Emeritus Award” discussion, two of the points on interest were (1) an understanding of the situations of the senior investigators to whom such an award mechanism would be presumably targeted and (2) the fact that mechanisms already exist for transitioning labs to more junior faculty if that is desired. To get a look at one aspect of this, I examined active R01 grants in years 40 or larger. Of course, this is an atypical slice of this pie as many investigators, even if they have been continuously funded for decades, have not done so on individual grants that have been renewed.
    I identified 62 active R01 grants in years 40-58. These were held by 59 investigators (three investigators each had two R01s on the list). Seven of the grants included co-PIs. The ages or year of degree could be identified for most investigators through internet searches. For 13 of the grants, it appeared that the grants had been transferred from another PI at some stage of its existence. In two cases, this appeared to be due to the death of the original PI. In seven cases, the point of transition could be identified and the original PI could be identified and all appear to be still alive. In these cases, the ages of the original PIs at the time of transition were estimated to range from 56 to 86 with a median of 74 while the ages of the PIs to which the grant was transferred were estimated to range from 42 to 65 with a median of 50. In the remaining four cases, the point of transition could not be identified, but the current PIs did not appear to be old enough to be the original PIs.
    Overall, the ages of the current PIs for these grants are estimated to range from 49 to 93 with a median of 74. The ages at which the original PIs were awarded these grants were estimated to range from 24 to 40 with a median of 32.

  104. The ONLY criterion for NIH grants should be scientific merit.

    Special bonuses for race, ethnicity, sex, age, and other irrelevancies need to be ended.

    Not extended.

    The fact that NIH administrators are wasting time thinking about “emeritus grants:” indicates that there are too many NIH administrators with too little to do….and that scarce funds that potentially could be invested in biomedical research instead are being wasted on administrative bloat.

  105. This proposal makes little or no sense. If you want more junior scientists, fund them more. Increase the bump for ESI. Even better consider making every K award, a K99/R00 mechanism to foster independence. This way junior investigators and their innovative ideas don’t languish away under senior PIs

  106. Age should NOT be rewarded. CREATIVITY, originality, productivity, work.
    Senior and Emeritus people do Not work anymore! Instead they get credit for other people ideas and work just because they participate at the meetings!

    I have called several times a senior at my meetings (just for being respectful towards them), just to discover later that HE is the one to get credit for most of my work, my ideas, my creativity.

    Let’s put a stop to abuses and dishonesty in research! Young generation needs to be inspired, not abused by seniors!

  107. One more comment about the “productive” qualification I see all the time. I would say QUALITY is far more important than quantity!!

    I see others around me publishing in low-key journals (some non peer-reviewed) just to lengthen their CVs and fill up the requirements for promotion. It’s all a stupid game. Nobody cares about the quality of the journals, whether it was plagiated work or not, or is credited or not by peers.

    A good solid work (which is usually published in a higher rank journal) is more important than 1,000 low-key useless papers that nobody reads or trust.

    NIH wants to save money? Stop rewarding mass publications with questionable incremental value. Invest in quality, not quantity!

  108. I agree that this proposal is a bad idea. Specific measures targeting young investigators make sense. I don’t see any justification for hastening the retirement of senior investigators whose research and grant proposals remain competitive. As for exit strategies for those ready to retire; this is already being handled efficiently and in different ways by investigators home their institutions in a variety of different ways appropriate to their individual circumstances. No need for yet another initiative from NIH.

  109. What is the value of a professeur – who can barely use e-mail, types with two fingers, was out of the lab for the past 30 years – in training youngsters or generating knowledge in an outdated field?

    Wake up – no scientific field survives for 30+ years. Just like no 65+ is able to be competitive against people who can put over 100 hours in the lab & know what they are doing. Give them the money instead.

  110. There are some fundamental and very serious issues underlying the NIH funding crises that I humbly feel are being overlooked, and if fixed, could significantly resolve the current problems. I think everytime a PI doesn’t get a grant renewed due to nonproductivity that should be taken into account in the final scoring of any new grants they apply for. And, after a few nonproductive grants, they shouldn’t be allowed to apply anymore for NIH funding. Also, I am wondering if perhaps the 2 year R21 model (or max 3 years) is better, it can help limit millions and millions and millions of dollars being thrown away waiting to see if a PI is successful after 5 years. PIs are finding ways to “skirt” the system and not being held accountable for nonproductivity (or having data that’s not reproducible) because they just apply for new grants if their old grants don’t get renewed. It’s a very serious issue and I’ve seen it up close and personal on multiple accounts. I think 4-5 year RO1s may perhaps be too long….. Something needs to be done and ASAP. The only way to stop nonproductivity and waste of money is to cut it off at the source. Wasters of tax money will continue to waste unless their money supply is cut off.

    • Also, I have seen multiple cases where PIs published zero or at most 1 paper after five years of funding with an RO1 and continue to go on and get other grants (even if the original grant didn’t get renewed) and continue with their nonproductive trend! Please NIH, start addressing these accountability issues, it could help resolve a lot of current issues.

  111. Someone made here an excellent suggestion:

    NIH should place an age limit (max 65 years) for R01s and equivalents for original research. It is common practice that labs are run by junior staff. Seniors enjoy the benefits, while contributing minimally.

  112. This idea seems to indicate a dearth in biomedical workforce and NIH has lot of money to spend. We can only assume investigators who are struggling to keep their grants funded are forcing NIH to come up with new ways supporting them.

  113. NIH will gain a tremendous competitive advantage if finds a way to make senior scientists fully productive. The task is not just to facilitate their retirement. Above all, the task is to hold senior scientists past traditional retirement age by attracting, training and creating conditions that should make them fully productive in new, non-research areas for application their knowledge and skills. To achieve this goal, the new NIH policy should help senior scientists to start the parallel career aimed at finding the areas where job again will be a challenge and a satisfaction, above all as qualified science administrators and advisors. This help may include, for example, sabbatical for the high rank senior scientists in Harvard Kennedy School of Governance, Wharton and other leading institutions focused on modern knowledge management. Such a policy will greatly improve the quality of administration in Academia, Industry and NIH, and help to reduce the size of NIH administration.

    The most important area where retired senior scientists can be useful is promotion and implementation of innovative ideas summarized in the 2012 White House National Bioeconomy Blueprint. They can assist Academia, businesses and governmental agencies in defining strategic objectives to translate important scientific discoveries into medicine and bioeconomy. This includes the estimation of risks and profits of scientific research programs, creation of productive partnerships between academia and business, and other activities required to increase efficiency of public investments in bioeconomy. If successful, such activity may be much more rewarding than the proposed emeritus awards.

    The National Bioeconomy Blueprint demands from NIH the flexibility in the use of new and existing funding mechanisms. The major obstacle to productive scientific research in the US and other developed countries is disabling ignorance at the level of executive decision-making. This problem is unintentionally generated by the fallacy that “smart people” can provide reliable judgment on almost anything subjected for review. The only way to overcome intellectual arrogance affecting the decision-making process is to recruit experts who have specific expert knowledge rather than “gut feeling”. Here, retired senior scientists can make a difference, above all as pay-per-review experts for CSR within the scope of their expertise. It is time for NIH to practically test the outsourcing of grant proposals review to the privet sector, which can more effectively organize and conduct external merit review, provide high quality and reliability while reduceing costs and administration.

    The National Bioeconomy Blueprint directs the NIH to stimulate the discovery of new bioinventions with potential to grow the bioeconomy. This is a hugely important task that requires new policies helping NIH to move from the traditional but unproductive management for process to the management for results, from making emphasis on process and input to the emphasis of people and outcomes. Implementation of this new governmental directive requires the NIH to monitor actual results of its research programs, to have a reliable independent feedback. Retired senior scientists can make a difference here as well. It seems reasonable to link the proposed emeritus awards to the participation in such independent feedback. This should significantly elevate the quality of the NIH executive decision-making.

    At the same time, following the European positive experience, NIH should consider limiting the availability of NIH funding by the grant recipient’s retirement age. The scientists who have reached the retirement age and still want to stay active in research, should seek support of HHMI, AHA and other privet or public funding organizations.

  114. This proposal – undoubtedly advanced with the best intentions – highlights the burgeoning micromanagement of a shrinking pool of funds by the NIH. This follows up on the now all-but-standardized cuts to R01 budgets, exacerbated requirements for formalized mentoring (if sitting down with a co-worker and reviewing primary data doesn’t count as mentoring, I’m not sure what does), and of course, the unforgettable piles of boilerplate information required just to complete an application.

    The bottom line is that if the politicians could get their acts together and increase funding, we wouldn’t be splitting hairs at the study sections or debating programs like this, which if implemented will probably be a very small fraction of the NIH budget, anyway. Many of the issues that lead to most of our frustrations – for example, the A1 vs. A2 policy – would lose their significance in the face of increased paylines.

    The scientific community is partially to blame for this debacle. We take it for granted that politicians and the public will understand the value of our contributions – whether fundamental or applied – but when is the last time you went on a rant to someone that wasn’t your colleague?
    (PS for the record I am a <40 Principal Investigator struggling with funding)

  115. The fact that the NIH budget has shrunk by 25% since 2003 is the real problem for all researchers, young or senior, as the competition for grant dollars has increased. The premise behind the Emeritus award appears to be that established senior investigators, irrespective of their creativity or their potential continued contributions to scientific discovery that may have positive implications for society, should just move aside for younger investigators solely on the basis of their chronological age.

    A much better solution would be to develop a “distinguished senior investigator award” to protect valuable resources that may have already been paid for not only by NIH dollars but from the hard work and investment of many years of a senior investigator’s career building up the resource. Competition for such awards could be based on whether the senior investigators continues to produce 5-10 manuscripts a year, his or her research is frequently cited, and whether a valuable resource is present (e.g., unique line of research or longitudinal follow up) in which NIH has invested precious dollars. In order to make use of these resources in the most efficacious manner, graduate students, and post-docs wanting to get into a very competitive research environment need the helping hand of an experienced researcher sometimes for several years. This often includes help in writing manuscripts, grant applications, running a lab and providing encouragement and scientific advice when a grant doesn’t get funded.

    Unfortunately, the bias engendered by formal discussion of moving aside older researchers to make way for the young, has in recent years, biased members of review panels against giving equally good scores to older researchers. Because it is quite easy to calculate an applicant’s age from the Biographical Sketch, bias based on chronological age in NIH study sections is an unfortunate reality.

    We have come a long way in promoting equality in science for minorities and women though clearly we are not there yet. However, it is quite disappointing to realize that federal government is actively considering what appears to be ageism. This comes at a time when productive science at older ages is now commonplace. NIH has already given preference based on age by giving bonus points to young investigators as NIH reviewers are asked to give them a break based on their inexperience/younger age. Whether this policy is really needed is unclear. According to a recent article in Nature (“NIH Ponders emeritus grants by Boer Deng “February 12, 2015) since 2007 the percentage of grants won by new applications is nearly the same as that won by experienced researchers. Also noted is the fact that the age at which Nobel laureates win their prizes has been going up suggesting that true innovation now requires more knowledge that added career years often brings.

  116. The NIH would do well to focus more on educating our legislators and the public on the importance of basic research (no more uninformed congresspeople bashing fruit flies!) rather than on starting new award mechanisms when we can’t fund the great research that is currently being submitted. Plus, it’s simply a bad idea. Grants should be funded based on merit.

  117. As a senior scientist I do not think that the proposed “emeritus” awards are a good idea. What is most important is making sure that review panels do not discriminate against applicants because of age. Evaluate the science in the proposals objectively and read the biosketch to assess the applicants track record. It is truly insulting to ask if the applicant will live long enough to cover the period of the award.

    I do support the suggestion that all scientists that are closing their labs be eligible to apply for one time grants to assure the distribution or archiving of the experimental materials they have generated during their careers. It is a shame to have these collections abandoned or destroyed.

  118. Do you guys ever read drug monkey’s blog. There is a good discussion of the *unsustainability* of the current NIH system. It’s the one about GenX. Take a look.

  119. I think this is a perfectly wrong answer to the critical situation on funding that NIH is facing. It is equivalent to throwing alcohol on a fire instead of water.

    I don’t understand how giving someone more money would make them close their lab. On the contrary I would say NIH grants stop awarding grant to any one above 65. That is a way to make sure someone’s lab is closed. I would go further and say that the tenure rules should be disengaged at age 65 and the research institutions should be allowed to let go of a senior PIs.

    It is very well known that the most creative and breakthrough work and ideas are usually coming out from people in their 20s and 30s and not when they are 65. In one salary of a 65 years old tenured PI the institution to hire 2 dynamic, innovative and creative young PIs that would really further the scientific advancement.

    I think this whole idea of Emeritus awards is upside down and should be scrapped all together.

  120. I am concerned that NIH, via the actions of its review process and special programs, might be practicing age discrimination in the grant awarding process. What percentage of R01 grants is awarded to applicants 65 and over? What is the success rate for grants for applicants 65 and over compared to applicants of younger ages? Are these numbers consistent with the possibility of age discrimination? Has this possibility ever been investigated?

    • Age Discrimination Act of 1975

      The Age Discrimination Act of 1975 prohibits discrimination on the basis of age in any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance. The HHS implementing regulations are codified at 45 CFR part 91.4
      Are NIH study sections respecting this law?

      • Study sections have been practicing age discrimination against the young for decades. Are you similarly exercised about that?

        • What is you evidence that study sections discriminated against the young? There is no evidence that this was the case. The major benefit for senior investigators was that they had a longer track record. The system never favored senior investigators and the graveyard of tenure rejections are there as evidence.

          • A long track record comes from a long life time. Isn’t it a discrimination against young scientists? Since the biomedical researches have been evolving so fast, the justification for the research track shall be set a limit that only the last 5 years track shall be taken into consideration in the study sections.

  121. This is waste of NIH money to put into this grant mechanism. It only encourages more deadwood to keep their labs open and keep thier outdated ideas alive. Biomedical science is continuously evolving and changing for good. Encourage more younger scientists who are well trained as post-docs but have good ideas different from those of their post-doctoral mentors. This helps science to progress not stagnate.

  122. I only just read about this plan and I am absolutely astounded about such a plan being considered in a country that has abolished compulsory retirement. Obviously the drop in young PI is a matter of concern, but it should be handled by policies that reduce disadvantages faced by younger researchers (such as placing less emphasis on the publication record of an applicant) rather than by stopping older applicants from doing research. Since I assume that grants are funded on the basis of their scientific merit, the increase of the percentage of applicants aged over 66, who would have been prevented from doing empirical research when compulsory retirement was still in place, is further proof that the abolition of compulsory retirement results in a great gain in scientific productivity for the USA. People who still believe in the myth that science is a young person’s game should read the article by Jones and Weinberg (2011) on the average age at which recent Nobel Award winners did their prize-winning research. This age is now 50 for physicists.

  123. Despite the overwhelming negative reactions to this program they are going to do it anyway. Take a look at the 21st century cures act. It is now called a “Capstone Award”. See page 32/352. Subtitle D: The Capstone Grant Program.

    Step 1. Ask for comments on an program you are going to implement no matter what.
    Step 2a. If comments are supportive of your program then take that as evidence that you are serving the community of scientists
    Step 2b. If comments do not support your program, do it anyway and don’t mention anything about the opposition. Rest easy in the knowledge that your program will be seen as serving the community of scientists once it is implemented.
    Step 3. Implement the program.

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