Got your R and the realities of budget management sinking in?  Want to prepare yourself financially to get to that R?  Three newly independent investigators at Vanderbilt shared their wisdom with Newman Society members today.

Budgeting Before You Get Your R
Dr. John Stafford

  • Have a budget to start with.
    • As a new investigator this means negotiating a good startup package
      • 3+yrs support
      • ask for support for postdoc
      • funds to be unrestricted
      • not to be reduced for grants obtained
      • not to expire
  • Apply for all of the CDA awards, early career awards, P&F awards you can. These have a high payline for early investigators, and add up to a lot. You won’t be able to apply for them later.
  • Get your salary fully supported if possible. This frees up your research money for research.
    • Get your trainees supported by training grants, or their own grants.
  • Collaborate with others and get effort on their grants.
  • Aim for other non-clinical effort that is aligned with your career goals.
  • Don’t use your startup funds as a savings account.
    • Spend this money to get your science off the ground and get papers. Papers are the currency you need for grants (and nearly everything else).
    • Don’t buy expensive equipment that a colleague has. $25-30K might be useful in years 4-5 of your faculty time.
  • While getting grants (R01, VA Merit) is critical, in the first 2-3 years it is more important to get papers.
  • Don’t do too many things that don’t support your salary. You need to stay focused on research .
  • Be of value at Vanderbilt, be part of the team. You might need bridge funds.
  • Know your value at Vanderbilt and elsewhere.
  • Consider industry sponsored studies that leave unrestricted money, but be wary not to get off of mission-central.

Budget To-Do’s
Dr. Meira Epplein

  • Your budget will very likely be cut an unknown amount (in my experience 2-17% the first year and anywhere from 0-6% thereafter). You need to figure in this wiggle room not only in your own costs & FTE but for your subcontracts.
  • Monthly tracking of expenses once awarded your grant is necessary and difficult, and may differ from the official records, depending on your division’s administrative policies in terms of cost center accounting (and often lack of details in the spreadsheets).
  • There can also be a lag/difference between your accounting, your institutions’s accounting, and NIH’s accounting, which can be an issue if you want to apply for an administrative supplement, for example.
  • For grants with subcontracts, establishing a regular invoicing process (monthly, for example) up front will help enormously.
  • Again for grants with subcontracts, a new agreement will have to be established with each collaborating site every year, and the amount of the subcontract can vary based on actual costs and actual work.
  • The time lag for paying contractors and collaborators (even those with established subcontracts) is much longer than you expect, and must be figured in when needing to spend down 75% of that year’s budget before the progress report is due (6 weeks before the end of the grant’s year).

Budget Items To Remember
Dr. Digna Velez Edwards

  • Budget for staff and trainees.
    • There is often the tendency to use all of your budget to pay for experiments, but you need people to do the work.
    • Contact your institution’s office that deals with grad students and postdocs to get specific grant text information and budget details on how to properly budget for graduate students and postdocs.
  • Plan your budget with good timing for completing experiments and getting your papers published.
    • You need papers to get new grants and to get your grant renewed so you can’t have all of your experiments budgeted to be complete at the end of the grant.
    • Try to plan budgets with published projects throughout the life of the grant rather than at the end.
  • Have regular meetings with your grant support once your grant is funded as well as during the planning stages.  They have good insights to help you prepare budgets and will let you know what seems reasonable with regard to effort distributions.
  • Set up your subcontract budgets well in advance of a grant submission and begin the paperwork to start subcontracts as soon as your grant is funded.
    • Subcontracts take a while to finalize and set up and often have significant delays.
  • Get letters of support from everyone.
    • There is a tendency to forget to get letters of support from both those you have budgeted such as subcontracts as well as from resources you will be using.
  • “Rollover” funds may be used as bridge funding but do not rely on those to be there for you.
    • Plan the end of grants and where you will get new effort from.
    • Foster collaborations that may provide co-investigator support when you need it.
    • Pace new grants submissions ahead of your grants ending.

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