Did You Miss It? Big Research Investing and a Decade of DrugMonkey Blog
This week’s edition of Friday Fighty Squirrel (FFS) offers a quick glimpse of things you might have missed this week on the interwebs while you were working away on that Aim 2 of that pesky Experimental Plan.
Money is almost everyone’s favorite work toy. This week, big money is being invested by the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative started by Facebook guru Mark and his wife, Priscilla, a pediatrician. Now, either pediatricians are earning a lot more money than I thought, or Facebook is doing pretty well to throw $3B (yes, billion with a ‘B’) into a bioinformatics and research. The initiative seeks to cure, prevent, or manage all diseases by the end of the century. Which seems a tad overoptimistic. Rockefeller scientist Cori Bargmann will be doing double duty overseeing her lab and serving as the president of science at the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative.
For perspective, three billion dollars is about 1/10 of the annual NIH budget, which raised some skeptical scientist eyebrows leery of overstating prospects for disease impact. For the snark, we defer to New York Times best selling author of I Contain Multitudes, Ed Yong and some other not best selling author named Jon. Bargmann’s credentials as one of the guiding forces behind NIHs $4.5B BRAIN Initiative. Let’s just say, if you didn’t have Cori on your Christmas card list, you should add her now. Watch for updates on, you guessed it, Facebook.
It’s always hard to follow news about three billion dollars, but HHMI announced their early career awards Hanna H Gray Fellows program this week. Sixteen women/underrepresented minorities will be plucked from the huddled masses and receive a whopping $80K annually for up to four years of a postdoc then $270K for each of four years if they land a tenure track position. Pretty solid guess they are going to land a faculty position with that kind of financial backing. Fingers will be crossed to see if this leads the way for NIH and NSF to realize that if they want to meet their stated diversity goals, they need to invest in a comprehensive program of career development rather than the piecemeal funding and mentoring that is clearly failing to educated, promote and retain the kinds of diverse talent STEM needs.
And last, but decidedly not least, is a shout out to blogger DrugMonkey. For those that aren’t readers of his blog, you should be. Trigger warning: If you are faint of heart, hoping that your first grant will get funded on the genius of your ideas or overly optimistic that bias and glad-handing don’t happen in science, his blog is not the place for you. If, however, you want some sober assessments of how hard it is to get and stay funded, excellent advice on how you can ‘always be closing’ with your grants and the chance to learn from the ethical missteps of others, he’s your guy. There are a lot of Scientopian friends giving a well deserved pat on the back today on what I understand is his 74th birthday. Frankly, I thought he was older than that. DrugMonkey will deservedly be touted for what he has taught folks about tenacity, truth and picking your fights. I whole heartedly agree on all these counts. He’s a mensch. However, my abiding appreciation for DrugMonkey lies with his ability to take a punch and stay standing. He helped me appreciate that being a PI means you are never going to have enough money, power or friends to speak up when you see people behaving poorly. Taking on important issues worthy of fighting for is a multi-year behind the scences soul crushing endeavor where you will not emerge as a winner. No one will see you. Drugmonkey has been there for me during my David and Goliath moments patiently listening to my sniffle through the receiver that things are too hard, too tiring and not worth it. He sits patiently, is kind, tells me to rub some dirt in it and get back in the game.
Drugmonkey has taught me how to you can be true to yourself and know you are in tough fights for the long haul. Even if everything goes extraordinairily well, what will happen is that there will be a gradual shift in institutions and funding agencies where we question those who say things like ‘we are deeply committed to safety, diversity, basic science…’ and have no resources or ideas on how those things will happen. He hold folks feet to the fire and rather than wondering silently how this will all play out, he’s provided platforms and soapboxes for scientists to come together to ask hard questions about where the money is, who the leaders will be and how will these programs impact be measured.
DrugMonkey is pretty quick to point out that all leaders stand on shifting sands and fall back on handwaving affirmations of the ‘goodness and importance’ of issues and spend too long watching horrific things happen to our funding, talent pools and our confidence in our scientific economy while futher studies of the disparity are ordered. Many of the same people who have funding will remain funded while more forward thinking individuals with fewer advocates will have to persist in writing grant after grant when they could be doing really excellent science. All of these things sound terribly depressing, but they are also true and having a moonshot that takes money away from other programs is something worth discussing. DrugMonkeyBlog is a great place to find those discussions so thank you Ted for a decade of fighting the good fight.