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Seeking Public Input: Career Staff Scientists

Comments Received

ID Entry Date Comments
1 02/01/2010

I think this would be great, and I would love to help a couple of people in my lab to apply. They both love research, have gotten excellent publication record based on their experimental abilities, but do not have the English language skills to write effective grant proposals and become independent. I would like to see this last for 3-5 years.

2 02/01/2010

There is a strong need for a CSS position. Particularly in multidisciplinary research teams, senior research/development staff are often the vital component to testing the hypotheses or achieving the milestones described in grant proposals. Many, however, prefer to focus on the research, working closely with Principal Investigators, rather than writing the grants and maintaining all of the administration and HR associated with directing research. The ideal candidate would be described by R01-funded PIs as being "indispensable", critical to the intellectual guidance and growth of graduate students and post-docs, and a relied-upon link to other laboratories. They should have already completed at least one post-doctoral position, and be viewed as someone who would be on a track to be an R01-funded PI, but who chooses to focus full-time on the research itself, rather than proposing and directing the research. Positions should be for 5 years. Reappointments are based on productivity (appearance as major contributors/authors on peer-reviewed publications). Positions should not be portable unless an associated PI is moving/retiring, as the value of the staff scientist is often only demonstrated in connection with an established team. Staff scientist positions will also permit PIs to use their own funds more effectively, instead of having to spend large portions of limited funds supporting productive, but very expensive, senior staff.

3 02/01/2010

There is a clear need for a CSS position. However, it is unclear what the ultimate goal of this position should be -- that is, whether the position should be awarded with the explicit aim of transitioning the CSS candidate to an eventual pathway of research independence (as a PI on an R01 or VA equivalent). The metrics for a CSS award should be both intrinsic to the candidate and extrinsic to the research lab or institution. That is, it is important that the candidate have both demonstrated capacity for conducting research AND a lab that has the capacity to support this research. Yes to peer review, yes to cost sharing, 3-5 CSS awards to NIDCD; no institutional limit on CSS applications Criteria for peer review: quality of candidate, research environment, supervisor, research plan, institutional support Duration should be 5 years; Evaluated re-appointment based on grant and publishing productivity - as well as endorsement from supervisor

4 02/01/2010

There is definite need for such a career path and funding usually is not easy to obtain for a career staff scientist. For configuring the position as entitlement and for providing a stable solution, it should be coupled to a requirement that the CSS will receive a portion of his salary as a long-term, hard money departmental support (perhaps at least 15, max. 25percent). The support should not only be for salary, but it should allow the CSS to build his/her own research program (perhaps a postdoc salary and supplies). Yes, they should be allowed to apply for federal grants, but CSS support should cease with a successful R01 (I don't think that this will be an issue, if the CSS obtains an R01, it is ok, we lose a good CSS and we gain an independent PI). The position should be fully transferable. Yes, it should be peer reviewed, and the criteria should be scientific and career oriented - it should not be a continued support for failed postdocs - the CSS should show skills and expertise that is needed (the requirement to have the department co-invest is a good way of securing this). 5 year duration and the evaluation should be scientific output and building of an independent research program. The position should be and remain open for non-tenure track research faculty as well. Finalyl, it should be clearly labeled "career development" otherwise Stanford will not allow our CSS candidates to apply, but this is an internal issue. Hope that helps, Stefan Heller

5 02/01/2010

Not every PhD has the skills or desire to run their own lab, and shouldn't have to. Some people are forward thinkers and are good at making grand plans for a research group. Others are better at dealing with details and the nuts and bolts of a research group. Some of each of those groups are good at managing people. Very few people are good at all three aspects. I think there should be a career path for doctoral level scientists that does not require management of a research group, but rather serves to support the greater vision of the group. The proposed CSS position could serve in this role. However, I think there is a danger that this could develop into a system in which there are a few key PIs that are surrounded by a lot of staff scientists, whose only hope for advancement is the retirement or death of the PI. There should always be the possibility for a CSS to become a PI that does not require the departure of an existing PI.

6 02/01/2010

I'm not sure there is a need for a CSS position in the NIDCD. I'm definitely not in favor of any type of entitlement. If the CSS program in impelemented, I'd like to see some sort of accountability and yes, I believe these positions must be allowed and encouraged to write and obtain federal research grants. Although, I am in favor of any program that directs more funds to scientists, I just can't imagine how this program would work. Instead, direct those funds to support more high-quality federal grants.

7 02/01/2010

Yes, there is certainly a need. The only model available today requires too much of a commitment and many people simply cannot or will not do this. The CSS position may enable people with varying degrees of commitment and varying degrees of talent to have a career in science. Applications could be submitted by the PI but not transferrable to another institution or person since, presumably, the intellectual and physical resources of the lab/department would be critical to the project. The person could have control of the grant with no cost sharing, etc. Peer review is great, although can you really find enough panel members that can review grants specific to a program? Perhaps review but strong input/ final decision made by program (to eliminate reviews done poorly - failure to follow guidelines or failure to understand the science).

8 02/01/2010

CSS is an idea that has taken too long to come to fruition. There are scores of dedicated and talented PhD scientists who have been struggling for years to find faculty-level jobs, only to be told repeatedly that they placed 2nd or 3rd on the short list. These individuals could be managing core research facilities that serve dozens of other scientists, therefore positioning the institution for more grant funding. CSS grants: peer reviewed, 5-Year. The CSS position is no more an entitlement than tenured professors getting grad students to teach their courses is an entitlement (I have tenure). Every research-level position at a research-I institution has a core function, and it is absurd to think that any of them constitutes an entitlement. Research is a team effort, and as pivotal members of research teams, CSS awardees must be held accountable just like any other appointed personnel. CSS awardees should focus on managing a productive core facility, not writing grants, which should be left to the PI. In today's research environment, too many highly-trained and motivated research scientists are simply dropping out of science, and the high rate of turnover discourages productivity, not to mention morale. The CSS is exactly the kind of position that forward-thinking research-intensive universities are finally beginning to get behind, by supporting these positions with the necessary infrastructure and resources that are needed to keep highly productive core facilities alive.

9 02/01/2010

I enthusiastically endorse the idea of Career Staff Scientists. I would like to suggest the possibility of extending this to career research SLPs who may not have a doctoral degree but are committed to a research career in issues of importance to NIDCD. Five year positions would be appropriate, with renewal based in part upon research track record (publications; presentations at scientific meetings)

10 02/01/2010
  1. CSS positions would be very useful to support highly trained researchers who choose, and often prefer, to run special 'core facilities' instead of developing their own R01 research programs. These individuals are usually service oriented, have important technical skills and expertise, enjoy helping others, and are a great asset to the research enterprise.
  2. There is a need to retain talented and highly trained researchers who are unable to secure independent funding and would otherwise be lost to the field. The CSS program could provide a way of retaining specific talent and expertise without the need to support an individual research project.
  3. CSS program could be modified/adapted to deal with the issue of "senior" established investigators who are still very productive yet may be lost to retirement or a need to yield department space to the next generation. Perhaps the CSS program could provide a mechanism to retain this talent to support, mentor, and facilitate NIDCD research programs.
  4. Details of the program: a. Review - there should be a process of pre-award review, progress reports (outcomes) and fixed limits on time of awards. b. Duration - 2-5 years (to provide stability) c. Cost sharing - not required, but allowable d. re-appointment - yes, based on outcomes/contributions to NIDCD mission.
  5. Subcategories of CSS award: Less than 15 years of experience, greater than 15 years experience. Different expectations, roles
11 02/01/2010

Absolutely needed! We lose far too highly trained scientists. In our department, we have created a "staff scientist" title for scientists who are beyond their postdoctoral years but who have chosen, for a variety of reasons, to forgo the process of seeking a faculty position. Often the reason is a desire to stay at the bench. Having these individuals in the lab can increase the productivity of the lab and gives students at all levels easier, day-to-day access to a huge resource in both knowledge and skill. The question of funding is critical, as years of dependence solely on extramural funding drives many out of science altogether. Perhaps an NIH/NSF/University matching for at least half-time positions for scientists. They should be expected to seek independent funding within a department or lab structure.

12 02/01/2010

I think this is an excellent idea. My training was as a developmental methodologist with special interest in measurement, factorial invariance, and growth modeling. I did receive substantial federal support for my education in the form of a NIA Pre-Doctoral Training Fellowship. Since my PhD (Penn State, Human Development) and Masters of Applied Statistics (Penn State) in 2006 I have worked for the PSU Prevention Research Center, the Oregon State University's Center for Healthy Aging Research, and now as the co-Director of the Analytic Techniques Core of the NIDCD funded Center for Biobehavioral Neurosciences in Communication Disorders here at Kansas University. My interest has never been tenure track faculty or PI status. I have some interest in securing funding for innovative measurement and modeling applications, but not PI in a substantive stream of research. On the one hand methodologists can generally find work, but on the other hand this is not really a secure career path. I perodically consider applying for tenure track positions ovvering more security. I think to improve on current "one year appointment, reappointment contingent on funding" work terms, that a minimum 3-year duration should be considered. If there is to be some cost sharing with the institution/department that I suggest that 10-15 pct of effort could be earmarked for tangential efforts such as offering a workshop, supervising a GRA on the project, or other activity benefiting the department.

13 02/01/2010

The problem the CSS position attempts to address is that our academic system produces too many individuals with doctoral level training. The result is too few available PI positions for the pool of applicants. The CSS position is a half measure. The individuals accepting such positions will be correctly perceived as having failed to attain a PI position, and will not be able to compete for funds or publish in an already over-competitive environment. The CSS position should not be supported by government funds.

14 02/01/2010

There is definitely a need for this position. I think they should be entitled to full faculty benefits, able to be supported by a PI's RO1. If that funding is insufficient, the department could cover part of the cost. If so, in exchange, the staff scientist could teach a tiny bit, but the focus of this position should be research. A 3-5 year appointment sounds reasonable. I believe this position should be able to submit grants - similar to an RO3 - able to get some independent funding while working in and using the equipment in a PI's lab. This would give them the freedom to develop their own projects.

15 02/01/2010

It is a great idea to creat CSS positions so that we do not lose highly trained people if they cannot secure tenure-track faculty careers. The CSS individuals should be allowed to write for federal research grants; but if they are successful in obtaining the grants, they should not be allowed continued CSS support. Departmental cost-sharing core seems a good way; however, rules must be set when designing the funding mechanism so that it is not going to be just another way for departmental authorities to add personnel to their own staff. An analogous case is the T32 mechanism, which has been largely just another way for departmental authorities to hire postdocs directly or indirectly for themselves (at least at some places).

16 02/01/2010

The proposed CSS positions should absolutely be maintained. For the very reasons indicated by the CSS announcement (I accessed /funding/AdminSupplements/CareerStaffScientist.htm), many NIDCD-funded laboratories would benefit by being able to offer competitive compensation to those individuals that, either because they do not desire the stress of tenure-track positions, or because they were unable to achieve these positions, would otherwise abandon tenure track for industry or non-research positions. The brain suck has been awful, and I have many peers that, after adding countless grey hairs due to stress, have moved away from research and abandoned their dreams. Without independence, the poor compensation of staff scientist jobs simply does not reward the sacrifices made by academic trainees (most of whom, by the end of their post-doc years, are in their early 30s, still working 60-hour weeks, and have delayed or spent extra effort trying to manage relationships and/or family). To these individuals, after 5 years of NIH support and slim prospects of achieving tenure track, they are dumped into no-person's-land, where on one hand lies continued stress and putting off plans (soft money positions, etc.) and on the other hand is the dead-end that is a staff position (reduced independence, relatively poor compensation).

The ideal candidate has been a productive scientist throughout their career (as evidenced by first and/or middle-authorship on many publications) and is trained in a highly-skilled field (for example, as a patch-clamp physiologist, behavioral specialist, crystallographer, computer modeler, etc.). The individual should have strong prospects to serve as a mentor and/or team leader for other members of the lab (and, if possible, demonstrate education and/or experience for serving those roles). Finally, I think it makes sensefor the individual to have demonstrated some degree of productivity in the laboratory they already serve. It is a tad risky to presume that a successful postdoc or staff scientist in one laboratory will necessarily "gel" with another. Perhaps a soft requirement would be that the individual has contributed to at least one or two publications in their current laboratory.

Regarding mechanisms to avoid making this seem as an easy promotion or "entitlement" for staff scientists. I think that there should be a 5-year non-competitive renewal process. It should be comfortable enough that the individual need not fight to be named first author on every manuscript to which they contribute, but it should require that the individual remain productive throughout any previous funding period in the CSS position.

I think that, during the CSS period, individuals should still have the opportunity to apply for tenure-track positions without fear of payback. Certainly one would not hope to make the prospect of achieving tenure track completely dead, especially as the economy fluctuates. It wouldn't be fair to punish those applying right now (when money is scarce) from competing for tenure-track positions if the economy were to boom in 3-4 years and the number of available positions doubles or triples. However, I do think that CSS individuals should not be able to leave a CSS position, take a faculty position, burn out, and jump immediately back into a CSS position. If one gives up a CSS position, they should be ineligible to reapply for CSS funding for 5 years. I think, during the CSS period, that individuals should not be able to write R-level grants. K-level support should be possible, but that, of course, has a different expectation of position title and pay line. My guess is that most CSS applicants will do so in lieu of submitting a K-level training grant, anyway.

I think tying CSS funding to an R01-level investigator is a good idea. However, I think CSS positions should be portable. In the case that the PI loses R01 funding (for a period of more than 12 months), the CSS candidate should have the option to transfer to an appropriate laboratory at another laboratory (even if at another institution). Because the candidate is not responsible for grant writing, he/she should be able to be fully supported by NIH for up to6-12 months (every 5 years) if the PI goes through a drought of funding because of the NIH budget. The 6-to-12 month buffer also gives the individual time to seek a new position if the PI is in the process of shutting down or contracting his/her laboratory due to lack of funding.

I think applications should be minimally peer-reviewed. The application stated on the web site is appropriate. The review process could be streamlined and made electronic by sending a form with 10 or so rating scales for each reviewer of the application. Items might include: rate the publication productivity, rate the technical skill set, rate the indications of the applicant as a research mentor for junior trainees, rate the quality of the publications to which the individual has contributed, etc. I would think one could gather data quickly with such a form (it might take a faculty member 20-30 minutes per form). Once the ratings for the whole pool of CSS applicants is in, one could do what's done with other competitive positions: take the best overall applications and fund them. I do think only allowing one CSS application for an individual per 1-2 years would substantially improve the process.

Regarding support for CSS applicants per institution/dept/etc... I do think it's reasonable to restrict the number of CSS recipients per laboratory (especially with regards to specific expertise) and, possibly, by department. Restricting per institution seems unreasonable in my view.

As you may have gathered, I've spent quite a lot of time thinking about these issues :-) I'm happy to discuss my own view of things with anyone who would like to. I hope these comments prove useful to you.

17 02/01/2010

I will provide personal experience, as P.I. of an R01. I have a junior clinical researcher who received his PhD within the past 5 years and is working on my R01 project. We applied for the PIPE supplement and did not receive it. We decided that the energies to submit the PIPE were significant, and would better be spent on a K23 application for his career. We felt that the ARRA funds really were not accessible for the amount of time they required because of the high level of competition. While we are in a research institution that does not grant tenure and requires external funding for research employment, we decided that the K mechanims were more appropriate. If the CSS applications were available outside of the ARRA option, we might consider them in addition to the K mechanism.

18 02/01/2010

Should CSS individuals be allowed to write for federal research grants and, if so, then what would be the justification for continued CSS support? It seems that they should be allowed to write for research grants. They might be part of a team, but they should not be dependent on the team to provide support for staff, patient costs, equipment etc. It may be that someone would want to remain as a team scientist for all of their career and provide their specialized skills to the team projects. But, there may be a time when they feel more ready to evolve. Or the team may dissolve. It is difficult to see what options would be available in those circumstances.

19 02/01/2010

I strongly believe that an academic middle level, as in the CSS, is highly valuable and should be pursued as a fundable option. Continuity of expertise in the lab, especially given the multi-disciplinary research now quite common and necessary to move and stay ahead (e.g. physiology, molecular methods, and computation), often cannot be carried by the PI alone. I think the applications should be done jointly between the PI ( or multiple PIs) and the CSS candidate. This would allow the reviewers to grasp the role of the CSS applicant in funded research projects and give the candidate a stake in the process. Criteria should be less based on research goals or designs but on potential contributions to already reviewed research projects. Cost-sharing by the institutions seems difficult since many state-based institutions base their FTEs on teaching or administration, not research. The duration of the positions should be 5 years and renewal should be based on contributions to publications, the only measurable entity.

20 02/01/2010

A career staff scientist track is an excellent idea. NIH already has such scientists in intramural laboratories. Other federal labs, e.g. NASA, use contract staff scientists.

The candidate would have a doctoral degree in a relevant field, in engineering, statistics, physics, chemistry, psychology, or other fields that would support the research.

These individuals should be able to apply for federal research grants for technical development, perhaps at the R03 level rather than the R01 level, or perhaps funded jointly with NIBIB. When PIs change institutions they often bring their high level staff with them, so staff scientists should be able to change institutions and bring their technical grants with them.

Theoretically the number of positions could vary, since different labs will have different technical needs. The PI should have to justify the number and type of CSS positions in detail. To pilot the program you might want to limit NIDCD-funded CSS positions to one per institution, to avoid having all of the pilot CSS positions in a few institutions. Also, to pilot the CSS idea you should probably fund a range of such positions.

Applications should be peer reviewed by other PIs and technical consultants. Criteria should include the individual's scientific credentials, the justification for the position and a description of the technical work to be performed. Positions might be funded for 3 to 5 years.

21 02/01/2010

There is a definite need fr a CSS postion, especially considering the huge contribution a CSS could have to science. Measures of an ideal candidate should include education, publications, area of research and its relevance to human health. The CSS position should have to be applied for every 5 years with a justification of the funding every year to be sure that it is not perceived as an entitlement. CSS individuals should be allowed to write for federal grants. The justification for this is that they would be able to contribute more to science and have more staff and students. This would also allow them to stay competitive with other researchers including PIs. Applications submitted by an individual. This money should be transferrable which would offer more protection. Yes applications should be peer reviewed. There should not be cost sharing from th institution because this could decrease the amount of protection that is conferred to the individual.

22 02/01/2010

This is a wonderful idea. It is quite frustrating to many postdocs who must often choose to leave science to have enough time to spend with children or who do not want to pursue a tenure track position that there is not another option. Many resources go into training a scientist at the senior postdoc level, but realistically there are not enough advanced positions and many people must change careers or go into profit-centered industry jobs. I have witnessed the loss of numerous highly trained women scientists in particular who have left because they feel they cannot juggle the pressures of a tenure track job with a growing family. Establishing the CSS as a real career option, with recommended salary levels and hiring criteria would help preserve tax dollars that have gone to train these scientists by retaining them in the lab. These individuals would best be funded as a component of R01s or core grants, but they should be allowed to compete for smaller grants such as R03s, R21s, or perhaps a new CSS funding mechanism that is geared toward that person's research rather than supporting a whole lab. CSS applications should not be limited from a given institution. Instead, they should each be reviewed and funded according to scientific merit and appropriateness of the proposed project in the context of the lab's ongoing work. A CSS-specific mechanism should be portable if the scientist is moving to another lab that does comparable research.

23 02/01/2010

I think the creation of a CSS position would be an advantage to many scientists. It would provide an opportunity for someone who does not want to be a faculty member or isn't able to be a faculty member for whatever reason to stay in science with some sort of autonomy. I envision an ideal candidate as someone who is self-motivated and does not want to take on the managerial roles of a faculty member. A CSS position would need to be created either in the context of another lab or of an institute. The CSS would need access to equipment that might be too expensive for a single person to purchase. CSS awardees should be able to apply for federal research grants, but maybe to a different category of grants or even with the stipulation that CSS support ends if a federal grant is procured. Positions should be similar to the length of a post-doc, on the order of four years. That would allow sufficient time for a scientist to establish himself or herself and make progress on a project. If the scientist wishes to remain a CSS, he or she should come up for review at that point.

24 02/01/2010

Many biologically oriented labs have long-term research associates. It is less common in behaviorally oriented labs, but in both cases there are relatively senior, well established PIs heading the labs and most of the money has come to them through their own R01s. There would be less need for a separate source of funding if the cap on modular grants had been allowed to grow with inflation. It makes no sense to me to have "non-PIs" aply for their own funds. It makes a lot of sense, on the other hand, to fund research associates who have spent 4 or 5 years as postdoctoral fellows. The R03 mechanism meets that need except that if someone is more than 7-years post-PhD, they are not eligible. That is an NIDCD rule that could be changed by NIDCD. If a CSS program is created, it will be used to fund research associates who still hope to find positions where they can be PIs. Any effort to exclude those people would result in NIDCD funding less qualified people. That type of thing has happened with K awards in the past, where people were disqualified because they were too well trained or they did not have sufficient clinical or teaching time commitments to be "bought out" of. It happens in a minor way now with the T35 program, where students who have expressed an interest in research by enrolling in an AuD-PhD program, are not eligible for the summer program. Put the money into R01s, R03s and P30s. Adding flexibility there would solve the problem.

25 02/01/2010

I welcome the CSS initiative. I am a relatively new faculty member at a top research university. Like many affiliated with NIDCD, my appointment is in Otolaryngology, meaning the position is 95percent soft money (grant supported). I'm clawing and scratching my way to sustainability. On the way, junior investigators are watching closely and many decide that this is not the life they want to lead. I have heard several in our group long for a place to exercise some independence (in thought, not necessarily space) and continued growth in expertise without the unbearable stress of a tenure-track position. The ideal candidate is a senior scientific investigator (research associate level or higher). The CSS should be aligned with a PI or a P30 core, since it may be difficult to get space commitment otherwise. Duration should be a 5 year cycle to the PI or match the duration of the P30 core. If funded through the P30 mechanism, the CSS should be considered an integral part of the P30 application but budget separately. No cost-sharing. That is a nightmare for any and all faculty/departments. 1 CSS per core, no more than 2 per institution. It should not be portable, but it assumes that resources are shared or loosely committed to the individual. Yes...peer reviewed through the P30 mechanism (as part of a P30 or a mini-core).

26 02/01/2010

It would be a good opportunity for those that are not US citizens and therefore have less options for applying to the NIDCD.

27 02/02/2010

I think this would be a very useful program. Ideal candidates are typically non-native english speakers with exceptional research skills but not the ability to compete for peer reviewed R01 funding. There may also be others who opt for a less competitive career line. The award should be configured around a skill set and for a department or core with at least 2 NIH grants. Justification should be made as to the improtance of this individuals skills and the projects in the dept. CSS awardees should be allowed to secure all but R01 funding. If R01 funding is obtained it should supercede the CSS award and exclude the investigator from further CSS awards. The position should not be transferrable as it is skill set based. The application should be administrative with external expert opinion. There should be cost-sharing as the department should have a committment to the need for this individual. There should be a limit or ratio between R01s and CSS awards. The appt should mirror academic appts: i.e., 3 years for asst professors or instructors, 5 years for higher academic appts.

28 02/02/2010

It is an excellent opportunity for scientists to stay in science in turbulent times. There should be more programs like that.

29 02/02/2010

I really support the idea of this initiative, I am among some of highly trained PhD scientists who are trained in field of Neuroscience. I wish to remain in the academic research and make my career in research/ teaching. A position like career staff scientist will be very much welcomed. Apart from this I assume this position will be equivalent to a faculty position that come with all the benefits, presently post doctoral scientists are OPS employees with no benefits from the university. The CSS initiative will help us to be the academic research environment. Thanks for this initiative....

30 02/02/2010

Yes there is a need for CSS positions! I believe that these scientists would apply for competitive funding with everyone else, but would not be required to be in tenure track positions. They would have to demonstrate institutional support like other applicants. Their position should not be transferable unless they have a coinvestigator who meets NIH requirements for heading the research. In other words, the people applying should be part of the same applicant pool and compete for the same funds as everyone else, but be allowed to be research scientists.

31 02/02/2010
  1. Yes, it is definitely necessary to have CSS position. The ideal candidate should have Ph.D. and additional 3-5 years of scientific experience so that they are capable of designing and performing independent research towards a academic career (junior PI).
  2. The CSS position should support independent study that is in link (or not) to the existing team research.
  3. CSS awardees should be allowed to secure independent research funding, which provides better chance for the awardees to have a successful academic career. The application should be submitted by an individual PI, and the position should be transferrable/portable due to the same reason.
  4. It should be peer-reviewed based on the merit of the research proposal.
  5. It is good to have cost-sharing in case the funding is not enough to support both the salary and the research. Not sure about the number of CSS awards (the more the better?).
  6. Best to be 2-3 years. Research outcome (progress report) is certainly the criteria for re-appointment.
  7. Due to a large number of talented international scientists that are trained in the US and are seeking academic career here as well, it will be great to also include non-citizens as eligible candidates for CSS positions.
32 02/02/2010

I am not supportive of grants for CSS for the following reasons: 1) It will be almost impossible to judge and rank such candidates because what they do depends on the research programs of others. 2) There is a large risk that such funding supports weak science because strong scientists can generally maintain funding for valuable staff members. 3) Such funding cannot protect individuals from the vagaries of grant support because it is necessarily part of that shifting system. The instability in funding arises from the extremely competitive nature of federal grants. Making funding for staff more stable also makes it less competitive and takes away funding from stronger, more competitive projects. I support a mechanism that would allow staff scientists to apply for grants that are judged for the strength of the research. On the other hand, that can be done now; staff scientists can apply for R01, R21, and R03 grants.

33 02/02/2010

Thank you for the opportunity. I am a huge advocate of team science, and have worked toward the creation and maintenance of stable teams for many years. I am keenly aware of the need to support such people. The issue comes with respect to budgets. The effort to stay within, or near the modular budget cap. It is usually impossible to support this kind of person, a postdoc or grad student, supplies, animals and normal tech support, and stay within this range. I would favor tying these kinds of positions to existing and "stable" research programs. Maybe this could be done through a supplement program; application could require justification of the stability of the team, the qualifications of the individual, their role in the team, and the stability (and productivity of the program. In my opinion it does need to be tied to a specific research program. That program will sometimes be one grant, but it may also be composed of many grants or other sources of funding. I can easily think of a perfect example where this would be a perfect fit for a large and complex research program, but am sure there are other examples where it might make a huge difference. It is important that it not be about an entitlement and it not be about the person. It should always be tied to a combination of the right person AND the needs of a specific research program. The needs of the scientists are important,but NIH exists to support science Happy to help formulate such a program.

34 02/02/2010

There is a real need for a CSS position. The ideal candidate would be somebody who was competitive for a faculty appointment but whose life did not allow for making the trade-offs necessary (e.g. not able to choose the lack of time to raise a family responsibly). Grants should be encouraged (and I would hope be highly competitive) based on proposed research and peer reviewed. The duration should be on the order of 5 years.

35 02/02/2010

"When the academic tenure-track model is not chosen or attained...we risk losing the knowledge and experience of highly trained scientists, most of whom acquired their training through federal support." -I disagree with the assumption of this statement. If someone does not choose a tenure-track faculty position that does not mean that we've lost their skills-there are many firms in private industry that have hired these individuals for their training. They are still working in America and still bettering American science and the economy; think of companies like Sigma and Qiagen, without whom many research techniques would be more laborious (Qiagen) or impossible (Sigma). -CSS positions can be quite beneficial in academic settings, as many PIs are drowning in their own responsibilities without helping their graduate students. SSs greatly aid students in understanding the technical aspects of their techniques. An ideal candidate, with this in mind, would have completed a post-doc position and have published from that post-doc. They would need to be peer-reviewed. -Autonomy would come from a regular stipend and extra funds for materials. They should likely not apply for their own funding but be connected to a core. Assignment to labs make them harder to distinguish from post-docs. Duration would need to be decided by the individual universities, as well as evaluative criteria-they need to decide the intent of the position for their school.

36 02/02/2010

I think the CSS position should be established but the position should be at another Federal Lab or facility. The position could be, for example, at NIST in the Sound Lab or at Army Research Lab (HRED) or at NASA Ames Research with funding for the position coming from NIH. These facilities have the overall equipment and environment sufficient to support excellent research.
And the CSS mission would be different than those facilities and might also help them. This approach allows the scientist to truly function in a "team" environment which is outside the usual academic model. (He/she would be begging for use of equipment - and would need to bring those other scientists on board!!) I would keep the position at the selected Lab (or Labs) - as opposed to with an individual, and in the future if/when a reduction in NIDCD funding requires the elimination of the CSS, that agency may have the funds to contribute or continue the position. Making the position subject to grants might be a mistake because most reviewers from academia do not have the proper perspective to review potential proposals from the Scientist whose interest may not be "academic".

37 02/03/2010

As a young investigator, I have long felt that there is a great need to provide scientists will an alternative choice to the principal investigator career path. In my interactions with fellow scientists, many have expressed a strong desire to remain in the laboratory doing bench research and have expressed frustration at the seemingly lack of opportunities inside of academia to do so. In addition, the inability of PIs to retain these well-trained individuals (such as post-docs) significantly hinders progress in the laboratory. In my opinion, there is enormous potential for a CSS position to positively impact the career paths of many CSS-caliber scientists and the PI’s that they are employed by.

The application for a CSS should be peer-reviewed to ensure that awards are obtained on a competitive basis and the metrics outlined in the CSS administrative supplement (biosketch, narrative provided by the PI, narrative provided by the candidate, and letters of support ) help ensure that the most promising candidates will be targeted. Re-appointment should be determined with the same criteria as the initial award. To provide a stable support base to the candidate as the CSS program is intended to do, the CSS position should be awarded for a duration of five years. In addition, the position should not be transferrable to a new institution as the intended goal of this program is to retain individuals within their area of expertise. A move almost certainly guarantees that an individual will change research topics that are outside the NIDCD interests.

It is my opinion that a CSS awardee should not be allowed to compete for federal research grants. The CSS program is already established to provide individuals with salary, travel expenses, and research related costs and therefore there is not a great need to provide these individuals with further areas of funding (especially ones which would compete with established PIs).

I would like to suggest that the CSS position should not only be considered for those with a minimum of five years of post-doctoral experience but also those individuals who would like to stay in academia and do not want to enter a post-doctoral training program (ie. a PI track). This type of program would enable the NIDCD to target and retain a substantial number of promising young scientists who realize that a PI job is not in their future but still are extremely dedicated and well- trained. Perhaps a two tier CSS program could be initiated to target both of these groups?

In summary, implementation of the CSS program should be strongly considered by the NIDCD as the potential impact on individual scientists, laboratories, PI’s, and the NIDCD will likely be extremely positive.

38 02/03/2010
  1. According to my research of tenure-track professors vs. non-tenured researchers, the retainment curves of these two tracks are inverses of each other: A University retains greater numbers of associate profs and even more full profs. The research track line goes down over time. There is a BIG problem.
  2. I am a non-tenured PI. I have no standing in my university. Although a co-investigator on several grants, my university provides no "vesting" of its R.S.'s.
  3. A fair system, I think, would be to grant a fraction of a year's funding for each year a non-tenured PI brings in money. i.e., at least some reward for positive track record.
  4. xxx
  5. It seems to me that the best funding mechanism is to require universities to make some of the "indirect costs" go back into an endowment that has the express purpose of supporting this ridiculously vunerable group. The amount could be calculated on the basis of demographics.
  6. Currently, Seniority among RS's means very little. A bit of a pay raise, but no security. This is a huge disincentive for careers in science
39 02/04/2010 There is a definite need to keep our newly trained scientists engaged in research in academic and medical settings, with some time left over to use their skills in teaching or some other service role. In my experience, there is a significant proportion of young scholars who enjoy being in an academic environment with the option to conduct research without having to worry about writing grants and the pressure to sustain them. They also relish the option to also participate in the teaching mission of the university, which can no longer afford to rely solely on and support tenure-earning faculty. Increasingly, institutions are looking to recruit qualified people to fill non-tenure earning positions to teach lower division undergraduate students so as to free its permanent, tenure-earning faculty to conduct research and teach upper division undergraduate and graduate courses. This is a win-win-win situation for the career staff scientist, the PI on the grant who has a well-trained colleague to assist in the research, and the university needing part-time qualified instructors.
40 02/04/2010 The CSS position is a unique opportunity for growth of the team scientist without pursuing independent funding. There are many such talented individuals that could benefit from such a funding mechanism. Without such a mechanism, the more senior scientists often leave research for other opportunites, and as such valuable abilities (and dollars used to train those individuals) are lost. In order to configure the mechanism to foster independence of the applicant, applications should be submitted by the applicant, however, it should be co-mentored by a NIH supported investigator and senior department or institute head from the applicant's home institution. These applications should hold similar review critiera as for K23 grants, where the qualities of the applicant, mentor and environment are all reviewed. A maximum number of applications per institution should be created, and only one CSS award should be granted to a given institution per funding cycle. Funding duration should be relatively short in order to determine productivity: 2 years would be a reasonable award period. Availability of competitive renewals would allow these indivduals to mainitain their positions without necessarily attempting to compete for individual funding. Finally, for those indivduals that apply for independent funding, CSS support should be discontinued if the independent application is successful and provides salary support.
41 02/04/2010 This is critically needed, as it will allow more versatile use of expertise, and offer more protection for those essentially already working in this capacity.
42 02/04/2010
  • Is there a need for a CSS position? If so, who would be the ideal candidate and what metrics should be used to establish competitive criteria (CSS support is proposed as an independent position for the team scientist and not to serve as bridge funding for an established investigator)?
    I think there is a strong need for this kind of position. Over the years, both in the auditory field and in many basic research labs, I have seen very productive scientists that fall into this category (and have one in my lab right now). They are largely if not exclusively supported by a PI's grant, but may also have an independent set of small projects or ideas, or provide a service (specific measurements) to a larger group. They are extremely valuable, and often times are the experienced "hands" that help run a lab and collect data, without the administrative and teaching responsibilities of a PI. The ideal candidate would be one with extensive postdoctoral experience, a good (but maybe not stellar) publication record, a willingness to on a variety of projects in different areas (e.g., collaborate with their skills with others), and proficiency in specific sets of skills and/or superior knowledge of a field that take time to learn.
  • How can the CSS position be configured so as not to be perceived as an “entitlement,” but rather to confer independence/autonomy and a stable support base to the candidate?
    I think there are 2 ways to configure: as a competitive supplement to a PI's R01, or as a separate kind of position that is "linked" to a funded PI or multiple PIs. Both would eliminate the "entitlement" issue, since continuation depends on performance and contributions in the larger arena. However, that being said, there needs to be some flexibility in terms of the direction that the CSS takes (e.g., to encourage independence).
  • Should CSS individuals be allowed to write for federal research grants and, if so, then what would be the justification for continued CSS support?
    I am actually ambivalent about this- if a scientist has a good idea, they should be allowed to pursue funding for it without losing existing support. On the other hand, if they are writing and applying for grants all the time, then their roleas a CSS is diminished. If a CSS-supported person writes and secures a federal research grant (small grants like an R21, etc), then the effort on the CSS position should be of course commensurately reduced; but there should be some cap on this - e.g., the CSS mechanism should provide a majority of support (75%? 60%?). I think that a CSS becoming the PI on an R01 or program project (P, U) grant should preclude the CSS position. The same guidelines should apply for grants from private foundations, although since those foundations often do not allow PI salary recovery (DRF for example), some allowance should be made for the lack of salary recovery. In other words, the CSS individual should be allowed to have some support for projects of their own, but if their individual projects grow, there should be a clear breakpoint where they aren't eligible to be in a "CSS" position anymore, but should be instead a PI, and the transition between the two states should be carefully mapped out.
  • Were CSS awardees not expected to/or allowed to secure independent research funding, which funding approach best protects the individual and provides the most reliable base of funding: applications submitted by an individual PI, a core, a department, or other? Should the position be transferrable/portable if the “staff scientist” changes institutions?
    In this case, I would suggest that applications from an individual PI, or as part of a core within a P or U mechanism would be fine and necessary for the base of research funding. I do not think that department support or "foundation" support can be trusted even in the short run. The position should definitely NOT be transferrable - otherwise it looks sort of like a K award. Being a "staff scientist" involves being at an institution, in a particular environment, and quite possibly working with multiple PIs in different fields (e.g., a hired gun for different projects). A new application should be required to change institutions. Since the application is short, this is not a big burden.
  • Should applications be peer-reviewed and, if so, what would be the review criteria?
    Yes, applications should be peer-reviewed. In addition to the application information provided (as outlined for the previous supplement), the review criteria should include: the current research and funding environment, a determination of how the CSS's expertise complements and extends the research environment at the institution (are they contributing something unique and valued?), an evaluation of the proposed science component that indicates what the CSS would be doing, letters of support and commitment from the PI(s), at least one recommendation from an outside person, and a letter of institutional commitment to the position itself. The current application guidelines for a 5-page application seems reasonable. I would just emphasize the environment and unique capabilities of the candidate.
  • Should there be cost-sharing with the institution/department? How many CSS awards should be awarded by the NIDCD, and how many different CSS applications should be allowed from a given institution?
    On cost sharing: No for required cost sharing(except for an amount above the designated cap, which on the original RFA was 95K). My reason for this is that it would preclude such a position at most institutions, since the candidates are likely to be in a contract, non-tenure track position ("Research Scientist", "(Research) Assistant Professor" where the word "Research" is pronounced silently). Such positions are, at medical schools, entirely soft money. Here at UNC, if I were to ask for cost-sharing for a position (any position), I would be laughed at by the administration and told that "we don't have the money". On the other hand, if an institution/department also wants to utilize the CSS for teaching part time, then a cost sharing option should be available. Given that the institution does have to not commit or provide significant infrastructure support for these positions (e.g., new lab space), I would also wonder whether the overhead cost structure should be different. For NIDCD, I would think that the number of applications allowed should be non-linearly proportional to the number of current NIDCD R01 grants at the institution, as this provides the infrastructure and environment for the position. By non-linearly, I mean that if an institution has 2 R01 PIs, one CSS makes sense, but if they have 10, maybe only 3. Frankly, most institutions could benefit from having several CSS positions - I can think of many such possibilities across the country. What about considering the scientific area of the CSS in this (e.g., non-overlapping at any institution unless there is a compelling reason).
  • What should be the duration of the funded position? What evaluative criteria should be used in determining re-appointment?
    The minimum duration of the position should be 3 years. For reappointment, consider productivity of course, but also consider asking for a competitive renewal application - it's only 5 pages.
Can a senior scientist apply for a CSS position after "retirement" (at reduced salary of course) ?
43 02/04/2010

Below is my feedback regarding the NIDCD/NIH CSS program.
I am greatly appreciative of the CSS award, and hope that my comments are helpful.
Thank you.

Feedback Regarding Career Staff Scientist (CSS)

CSS positions, in general, are highly beneficial to the scientific community. I consider two different scenarios. In the first, after completing an MD, PhD and/or Post-Doc, and many years of training funded by federal sources, some scientists are not interested in taking on the role of a PI (or unable to, due to the lack of available faculty positions today). Yet they desire to be active in research, lead the day-to-day activities of the lab, and assist in supervising students and post-docs. This first scenario is especially important in laboratories where the PI supervises multiple projects and is not involved intensely in the daily operations of particular projects. It is also an economic and efficient use of resources because forcing a model based on many small independent research facilities is not effective. As a second scenario, there are other scientists who would like to eventually become PIs but may find themselves in a position where short-term funding is unavailable. They require about a two-year period to continue work under a mentor and establish their own research program, gather preliminary results and apply for their first grants. In both cases, the options can sometimes be quite bleak, forcing these scientists to a different career choice due to the lack of financial opportunity, not competence, and resulting in a large waste of time and federal funds that have already been invested in their training. It is therefore imperative that a system be in place to fund early-stage competent, highly trained scientists, and thereby enable more efficient efforts within the complex scientific studies of today. In the case of the first scenario, a CSS position could transition to a longer term position after the initial 2-3 year award, where funding is eventually provided as part of the grant of the mentor/PI during the next renewal. On the other hand, for those scientists desiring to become PIs, the temporary CSS position (2-3 years) can be crucial to obtain one’s own grant. A short-form CSS grant proposal for the initial (2-3 years) should describe the candidate, project, and future plan. Ideal candidates should show a substantial track record of independent research and publications, and the mentor(s) should show the need for the candidate in their laboratory enabling the continuation of research that is showing excellent progress. These candidates should be at the level of consideration for Assistant-Professor academic positions, different from post-docs (who are less independent and less experienced supervising others). Also it would be important to verify that the candidate is truly hard working and dedicated, and not just “entitled” merely because of the number of years spent as a student or post-doc. Historically, there have been a number of great scientific contributions by scientists who were afforded opportunities similar in nature to the CSS. Keeping dedicated scientists in science by the CSS program can increase the yield of laboratories and increase the efficient use of public funds.
44 02/05/2010 This would be an excellent opportunity for those researchers/scientists who work in resource-limited settings. It can allow for a greater opportunity for small-scale operational research projects to be undertaken at health facilities that serve in these settings, where the projects may not be 'competitive' for RO1 level applications but can inform practice and improve quality of care.
45 02/05/2010 Such positions would be particularly suited to institutions with shared technically complicated research facilities such as brain imaging centers. In other areas of behavioral research the cost may be too high to warrant extensive use of this option. It would necessarily tend to compete with faculty positions and could absorb funds that would otherwise fund research. Pat O'Seaghdha Psychology Lehigh University
46 02/06/2010 I view the CSS position as a second tier option in an academic setting and do not see that it is a valuable trajectory for either NIH to support or research-intensive universities to employ. The American model has produced some of the best scientists in the world. It relies upon a continual integration of young scientists as well as retraining of established investigators to maintain the wave of new skills and creative scientific endeavors. It unfortunately uses people as expendable resources, and only those that are competitive in multiple aspects of the career (oral, writing, benchwork, leadership, inventors, creative thinkers) are given the opportunity to be principle investigators. The financial resources of our federal agencies are not designed to support the CSS individual and funds would be better directed towards doctoral and postdoctoral trainees, beginning investigators and established PIs. Although both federal funds and university resources have been expended to educate the PhD, not all PhD scientists can be accommodated by the system, or the system can become less competitive or even complacent. One place in which CSS are beneficial, are in core facilities (i.e. microscopy, molecular, histology, engineering shops), where long-term stability is favorable for the academic institution. These types of positions are not designed for new scientific endeavors, but rather to support the research base of scientists.
47 02/07/2010 There is a need for CSS funding. It should be separate from R01 funding, peer-reviewed and judged on the same criteria of impact, productivity and investigator. CSS awardees need to have independent projects that do not overlap with the work or budget of their colleagues. It is important to prevent this as a mechanism for increased funding of big groups. PIs of big groups tend to have lab members in CSS type positions who are not truly doing independent work. The awards should be capped at lower levels than R01s and cover salary and supplies for the CSS and a tech. Funding should be portable. Alternatively, CSS candidates should be allowed to be Co-PIs on R01 applications. CSS candidates should not e eligible for CSS funding if they have R01 funding.
48 02/08/2010 I strongly favor the CSS program. Our work involves highly technical methods that permit us to manipulate mouse embryos in utero to study molecular mechanisms governing inner ear development. Not every postdoctoral trainee can learn the methods, and those that do take anywhere from 6-12 months to do so. And this is only the start of their research project. The CSS program could allow a trainee in whom I have invested years of mentorship to take this experience to establish their own research platform within our research center. Their skill set would enable open collaborative projects with other members of the research center, augmenting the return on time invested in their training while advancing the aims of federally funded projects resident in other NIDCD-funded labs. The generality of the skill set would make such an individual a potential collaborator for any PI studying the development of any organ system in the mouse, as the methods translate identically. One mechanism for the support of such an individual over the long term would be to transition them from the CSS program to a P30 as a core scientist, with their productivity enhancing the potential of P30 competitive renewal. I think a 3 year funding period after completion of the postdoctoral training phase under the CSS program is appropriate, after which P30 support in the example above would engage. Please contact me for more details/discussion at xxx. The CSS program could advance science greatly.
49 02/09/2010 CSS support would be a wonderful mechanism for folks that do not want to run their own lab but rather focus on doing experiments. There are currently quite a few such individuals, but they do depend on the generosity of either the institution or more likely a faculty member, which can create problems at retirement etc. I would be in favor of CSS being allowed to obtained their own funding. This would afford the independence and self-esteem. The funding should be competitive and depend on clear metrics of achievement. The funding should go with the individual and if s/he wants to move, the funding/position should move with the individual, provided that the next institution can provide an appropriate 'home'. Selection of individuals could be done according to current mechanisms for NIDCD grants. To provide some continuity and security, the funding should be for at least 3, preferrably 5 years and cover mainly the salary. The 'hosting' lab and institution would carry the cost of research, space etc.
50 02/09/2010

A CSS program within NIH is long overdue for all the reasons and considerations detailed in the RFI. To these I would add another one, and that is that someone in this position is often an excellent mentor for graduate students, post docs and even undergraduates. More than the PI, this person is often the most senior person in the lab with hands on, day-to-day involvement. In my experience (I am fortunate to have someone in my laboratory occupying this type of position) this is the person that students go to first when they need advice or have a problem.

Although there are several mechanisms by which this position might be funded it seems to me that the simplest and most straightforward is to utilize the model already in place, that of the training grant. In this case departments or groups of departments within institutions would apply for a number of CSS positions and these would be awarded to individual laboratories through internal competition. Aside from leaving the thorny questions of distributing these grants to a more local level of bureaucracy, this would also have the effect of making the CSS officially a departmental employee, not necessarily tied to the fortunes of a single laboratory. This would help to provide a level of stability that is critical for this to be an attractive position for a qualified scientist.

The number of positions could be awarded based on the number of NIH funded laboratories within a particular department or through some similar formula that reflected both the needs and the opportunities that would be available for career staff scientists.

A career staff scientist could undergo evaluation much like any other faculty member and would presumably have the opportunity to ascend through a series of positions analogous to assistant, associate, and full professor.
These evaluations could be initially internal, but at the higher levels an institution might ask for outside letters and opinions.

As to the issue of CSS individuals writing for federal research grants, this seems to me to be counter to the very purposes of the program. These positions are specifically for those who are not inclined to pursue the career track of a PI, including the extensive amount of non-bench work.
Although a CSS might be expected to cooperate in the writing of a grant, it would seem that if they are prepared to obtain independent funding then there is no need for them to be a CSS.

An additional option is to fund the CSS positions at less than full time, allowing universities and/or medical schools to pay part of his/her salary in return for some minimal teaching duties. Educating science students at every level remains a critical problem in the US and any resource that might be part of the solution should be considered. Not every CSS would want to teach, nor would make a good teacher, but for those who would leaving the university to pay a portion of the salary would allow the NIH to provide more positions.

51 02/10/2010

I think creating a funding mechanism for career staff scientists is an enormously positive concept. There is desperately needed for many Departments of Otolaryngology. It should be noted that many medical schools are moving to eliminate or significantly curtain scientists in small clinical departments such as otolaryngology and most departments no longer have adequate funding sources to continue hiring these types of individuals. The net result of this, I fear, is that we will have even less basic research being conducted in Departments of Otolaryngology proper. This will have signficant long-term negative affects on NIDCD science from the standpoint that even fewer clinician-scientists in otolaryngology are likely to be brought into the field. We already have a tremendously precarious short supply of these individuals. One suggestion would be that if money is set aside for this purpose that their be a consideration for at least some of the positions to be specifically geared toward linking these individuals to clinician-scientists. This would likely enhance the careers of these individuals and make less likely the problems I have outlined above. I am happy to talk further about this at any point if desired. Best, xxx

52 02/10/2010

Thanks for seeking my advice on the idea of a more permanent CSS initiative. 

Yes, I think there is a very real need for such folks in our scientific community for the very reason you mention.  I’ve run my lab in part with scientists from that target group for some years, and actually received an ARRA CSS supplement for one of them last year, so I speak with some experience.  In this case the CSS status was exactly what the individual needed – he’s become a different person!

They’re actually doing something similar in Germany in order to maintain their talent pool.  In that case, it’s not so much these folks couldn’t get faculty positions on their own, it’s more that the positions aren’t there to be had.

The ideal candidate would be someone rigorously-trained techniques that are in short supply but relatively high demand in the field.  Two that come to mind are stand-alone patch clampers (biophysicists) and animal psychophysicists who can provide much needed expertise to molecular labs who are otherwise challenged to characterize the phenotype of the genes they clone/discover.   

The question, as you note, is how best to sustain that target population.  I think it would be best to make the award the candidate directly and be transferrable so they can ‘shop around’.  This would not only give them a sense of pride, but allow them to interface themselves with the most appropriate group for their scientific interest.  And, too, the completion for them would be healthy for the field.  These awards shouldn’t be too short so these folks can have a life.  Five years seems reasonable compromise without becoming an entitlement. 

I think the applications can and should be peer-reviewed, with the primary criterion being whether the applicant has been involved in peer-reviewed publishable research and at what level – the more the better.  They shouldn’t he held to having created the research, however, but rather to having helped make it possible – for example by being a rigorously-trained, stand-alone patch clamper without which the group could not have accomplished what they did. 

 I certainly wouldn’t close the door on them applying for federal research grants, but if they were successful doing so that would end their CSS status.  

Just some thoughts…
53 02/10/2010 This is a terrific proposal. The need for a non-tenure track, career-sustaining pathway within academic research institutions is great. The key is to provide a viable career option for trained scientists who are unable or unwilling to assume the role of principal investigator. Many academic research centers have a non-tenure track track of "research assistant", "research associate" and "research (full) professor" status. Typically, these individuals have independent space, can apply for grant support and hire technical staff (technicians and post docs) but do not have faculty voting rights and do not train graduate students. This is essentially a "soft money" position at a "hard money" institution. I believe this is a good model. While not ideal--two-tier systems are hardly ever ideal--this approach does provide an option beyond "up or out". There are two additional advantages. First, should the CSS attain the record of productivity, independent grant support and desire to do so, they can, with the institution's support, move to the tenure track at a later time. Second, tenure track faculty who do not advance along that career path, can transition to a CSS track position. The latter is more problematic but may provide a welcome alternative for individuals with the desire or need to stay at the same institution. There would need to be a mechanism to keep scientists from yo-yo'ing back and forth depending on grant support. One option is to provide "K" type awards that provide support for CSS salary in lieu or in addition to institutional support. The criteria for support would primarily rely on a past record of productivity and letters of recommendation (i.e. "past success"). The CSS should be allowed to apply for "R" type awards that rely on the "overall impact criteria" (significance, innovation, approach, innovation, environment and investigator) that reward scientific creativity and "potential for future success". This dual support mechanism would provide secure base funding for salary but still necessitate obtaining additional support to carry out research. I would favor on-going "K" type salary support based on, again, a past record of productivity. I think the "K" CSS awards should be on a similar time scale as RO1 (5 years max) and should be peer reviewed. The institutional support should be in the form of independent space and access to resources but not salary support.
54 02/11/2010

Below I respond to the bullet points. 1) Yes. Individuals who have completed post-doctoral training and who would like to stay in science but do not wish to hold an independent, PI position. 2) Could be awarded on a competetive basis based on the applicants CV, host lab and currently funded projects in the host lab. Should not require a seperate research plan. 3, 4) Here there should be flexibility. It should not be a one size fits all program. The award should support the individual. Compelling justification for the position and individual should be required, but the applicant need not submit a seperate research plan. However, these individuals should be eligible to compete for research dollars under seperate submissions. 5) Yes, the CSS applications should be reviewed. Critera, a) Investigator, based on CV, training, publications, reference letters, etc. b) Impact for host lab or institution. 6) No, it should not be a requirement, though could be reviewed favorably if offered. No more than one per lab. 20. Limit the number of applications to the number of NIDCD funded labs. 7) 5 years. What the CSS and labs need is stablity and the ablity to plan, train, etc. I lost two post-docs recently because there was no mechanism to retain them. They went to Europe because they both felt there was better chance there for a secure staff scientist position. Had the CSS program been in place, I am sure I could have retained them.

55 02/12/2010 I believe this is an important track to develop. Ideal candidates would be those who have valuable skills, but wish to use those skills to advance scientific progress rather than a corporation or academic institution. This should not be a grant-based position. Funding should be allocated by NIDCD on the basis of identified needs. Research is becoming increasingly multidisciplinary. For many investigators, especially at smaller institutions, it may not be possible to put together a successful proposal because the collaborators or key resources are not available. I think NIDCD research would benefit tremendously from having a core of Staff Scientists who are there to serve established and prospective investigators in the way that "core" facilities do at some larger institutions. Examples might include advanced histological and neuroanatomical techniques; gene and protein expression; proteomics; statistics; imaging; advanced microscopy (ssTEM, super-resolution fluorescence, etc.). So, an investigator might have a research program that focuses on neurophysiology, but the impact of the research would be increased by adding one or more of the above. In my experience reviewing grants and as a PI, it is clear that many good ideas are not realized and studies have limited impact because the investigator lacks either the skills or resources to optimize one or more aspects of the proposal.
56 02/12/2010

To whom it may concern:
Please find my comments on potential value and feasibility of a Career Staff Scientist below.

Is there a need for a CSS position? If so, who would be the ideal candidate and what metrics should be used to establish competitive criteria (CSS support is proposed as an independent position for the team scientist and not to serve as bridge funding for an established investigator)?
Absolutely! Indeed many very highly qualified scientist leave Academic Research because they have no desire or feel they have no chance of becoming an independent investigator.  Contracts for research fellow position (postdoc) have been reduced by many institutions such that after several years (5 years in my institution), the PI is forced to either let go of his qualified fellow or find some creative way to hiring him/her under a different usually more costly position. I just lost one of my best research fellows a month ago for these exact reasons.
If such a CSS position were to be available for a scientist with postdoctoral training (3 to 5 years), that would be great. I suggest it could be nominative and the person should be able to move to another institution if desired and bring funding along. If this position is not a bridge position to becoming an established investigator, then some restrictions should apply such as this person cannot apply for NIH extramural funding. Also, there should be some sort of agreement between the NIH, the CSS fellow and the PI.
How can the CSS position be configured so as not to be perceived as an “entitlement,” but rather to confer independence/autonomy and a stable support base to the candidate?
Should CSS individuals be allowed to write for federal research grants and, if so, then what would be the justification for continued CSS support?
CSS support would require annual reports to justify continued funding (report from the fellow and co-signed by the PI).
Were CSS awardees not expected to/or allowed to secure independent research funding, which funding approach best protects the individual and provides the most reliable base of funding: applications submitted by an individual PI, a core, a department, or other? Should the position be transferrable/portable if the “staff scientist” changes institutions?
The CSS awardee’s percentage effort should appear in the PI grant support and also his performance should be reported by the PI.  Position should be transferable (see above). The initial position should be requested by the individual and the PI.
Should applications be peer-reviewed and, if so, what would be the review criteria?
There will be a large request for such position. A peer-reviewed process may have to take place. Review criteria:
-eligibility of the individual
-How many CSS fellow are already in the host lab.
-Contribution of the CSS fellow to the science conducted in the laboratory. Publications, Preliminary results to the projects conducted by the CSS fellow.
Should there be cost-sharing with the institution/department? How many CSS awards should be awarded by the NIDCD, and how many different CSS applications should be allowed from a given institution?
What should be the duration of the funded position? What evaluative criteria should be used in determining re-appointment?
As many awards as possible. No limitation per institution, but a limitation per PI (maximum of 2 CSS?); Duration: 3 years, renewable. Evaluative criteria for re-appointment: Reports, Publications, Contributions to the welfare of the laboratory (NIH funding by the PI).
57 02/12/2010

I think the need for CSS is very clear. In today's scientific environment, being a top-notch scientist is not sufficient. A successful PI is one who can also manage a research program and the people involved, and this tends to exclude some whose only passion and talent is to do science. It is a huge waste of resources when such skilled and trained people are left by the wayside.

58 02/13/2010

I gather that what is being suggested is effectively a fellowship program for PhD-level staff. I would imagine that an initial award would support the staff member for 3-5 years, near the end of which the staff person could do a competing renewal application. At the stage of competing renewal the staff member could propose a change in host labs. The staff member could also request a change of labs during the course of an award, which would be subject to review by Program. If this is what you have in mind I think it is a good idea. I do not think, however, that staff Ph.D.s who receive this award should be eligible to apply for RO1-class NIH grants. They should only be be able to apply for grants if they relinquish the staff fellowship and take a faculty-equivalent position. I don't think this sort of staff fellowship should be used to support research track faculty. That's my two cents worth.

59 02/14/2010

Yes, there is a need for CSS. I have seen too many well-trained scientists given up independent research career. On the other hand, they are precious to the scientific community. -Ideal candidates are those well-trained with good publication tract records who just gave up grant writing as PI. Metrics for competitive criteria should be: training, publications, and novel techniques. CSS should be allowed to write research grants still. Once successful, they will be disqualified as CSS. Details will need to be worked out in terms of these sequences.-The position should not be transferable.-Applications may not be peer-reviewed at the beginning (e.g. starting as administrative supplement). - CSS with clinical research group will support multidisciplinary science. Cost sharing by the institution may prove to be difficult and make the matter more complicating as it may put the pressure on the institution to set up another 'peer-review' system. There should be no limit per institution as the size of the institutes is different, as is the spectrum of research. -Duration of the funded position could be 2-5 years. Reappointment may be the same as grant renewal.

60 02/15/2010

Why single out doctoral-level Career Staff Scientists for special funding? There are many career technicians, computer specialists, histologists, and animal care workers whose salaries depend on the whims of NIH competitive grant funding. Their value to NIDCD does not depend on whether they are doctoral level. A competitive grant program to support CSSs seems like a bad idea to me. One reason CSSs do not become PIs is because they don't like to (or can't) write grant applications. Moreover, review criteria would be tenuous, at best. One support mechanism to consider would be for NIDCD to include funding for these individuals as a component of indirect costs awarded to competitive grants.

61 02/15/2010

I am in favor. The upside could be a relatively prestigious award that is based on continued research productivity but less dependent on ability to sell the proposal or fit into an attractive hypothesis based on limited preliminary data. The downside could be an entitlement or avenue for bridge funding. Primary importance should be given to peer review of applicant's long-term career (e.g. research published over past ten years?). Once awarded, the positions should be transferable for duration (5 years?). Renewals should be competitive. Successful individuals should not be allowed to compete for other major funding (R01) during the award and for certain duration following CSS funding.

62 02/16/2010
  1. There is a real need for a CSS mechanism because there are many scientists who are primarily bench-oriented. For these individuals the joy of science finds consummation, not in trying to decipher the intricacies of CAYUSE, but rather in properly designing and meticulously performing an experiment. These individuals take pride in their scientific workmanship and they are firmly of the opinion that when scientists lose contact with the bench, they have essentially lost a major part of their scientific souls. What metrics should be used? Actually, such individuals are easily recognized by their peers, and especially by their PIs, whose letters of recommendation should form the basis of a CSS appointment.
  2. The CSS appointment can confer autonomy to the candidate by allowing the individual to undertake a sub-project related to the PI’s research interests. CSS candidates are, typically, not only competent at the bench but also competent in formulating hypotheses originating in the data that they derive from their experiments.
  3. It would probably not be a good idea to persuade CSS candidates to write research grants. As already implied above, such frustrating and demoralizing endeavors are not really their forte.
  4. The funding approach which would best protect the individual would be to have applications submitted by the PI, who in any event will be working closely with the CSS candidate and coordinating research activities.
  5. The position can be transferable to another institution but perhaps it would be preferable if the research project at the new institution is a logical continuation and/or extension of the work done at the previous institution.
  6. Applications should not be peer-reviewed, but instead reviewed by NIDCD staff keeping in mind the overall priorities of NIDCD.
  7. There should be cost-sharing with the institution. The number of awards should be determined by NIDCD keeping in mind, as stated above, the priorities of NIDCD. There should not be any cap on the number of applications from a given institution.
  8. The duration of the funded position should not be less than 3 years, to allow

     

    adequate time for the candidate to prove his/her worth. The number of published papers would be the natural criterion determining re-appointment.
63 02/16/2010

I am currently a postdoctoral research fellow. I feel there is an urgent need for non-traditional, but stable, research career pathways that allow experienced and independent postdocs to continue in academic science without unrealistic deadlines for obtaining tenure-track positions. The CSS position sounds like a move in the right direction. The CSS position should fund the scientist (i.e. salary), and not the project. Funding should be for at least 4 years and should be flexible (allowing the scientist to switch labs and projects). Reviews should be made every 4 years to track progress using a combination of PI reports, publications, and individual re-application. Funding level should increase annually similarly to postdoc NRSA funding, but with a higher cap ($80-90K). The CSS position should ideally be viewed as long-term secured salary for exceptional postdocs who continue to excel at research but who have not yet landed tenure-track positions, or as a pseudo-permanent position so long as the non-tenure track seeking postdoc continues to show outstanding performance. Lastly (and very importantly), the CSS funding should be adjusted based on the postdoc's current PI's funding level. This will ensure that money is not being wasted, but will always be there if the postdoc needs it. If a postdoc moves to a new lab that is well funded, the postdoc should still be able to secure CSS funding in the next application cycle, but a reduced amount picked up by the his/her PI.

64 02/16/2010

I am responding to the request for responses to CSS questions.

  • Is there a need for a CSS position? If so, who would be the ideal candidate and what metrics should be used to establish competitive criteria (CSS support is proposed as an independent position for the team scientist and not to serve as bridge funding for an established investigator)?
    Research is often conducted by teams and as such the teams are comprised of scientists of various levels. If an individual researcher is beyond a postdoctoral fellow but is not interested in becoming or unable to become a PI, for example someone with children who wants to devote a portion of their time to raising their children for fifteen years, they are in a precarious situation in regular academic settings. How are they to pursue their research interests other than by having a PI take care of them indefinately? This seems hardly a fulfilling way to exercise one's science aspirations.
    I think since NIH has competitions for post doctoral NRSAs and competitions for PI's, there should be a competition for someone who is in between as a Research Associate type position to fund their work as part of team in which they are a member but not a PI.
  • How can the CSS position be configured so as not to be perceived as an “entitlement,” but rather to confer independence/autonomy and a stable support base to the candidate?
    The CSS should foster careers among scientists who wish to be independent but not operate their own laboratory. They should be allowed to compete for funds at the intermediate researcher level. It is very hard for a PI to continuously fund an RA and so RAs eventually lose their positions. They should be able to compete for their own funds. I have seen many excellent scientists who are Research Associates who operate at this level not be able to compete as PIs and as a result must leave science altogether.
    This is bad for their labs, for their institutions, for their own careers and personal interests, and, to the degree that the U.S. needs excellent scientists who may not all be PIs, is bad for our country.
  • Should CSS individuals be allowed to write for federal research grants and, if so, then what would be the justification for continued CSS support? They should be allowed to compete for their own funds as a researcher embedded in a larger research team but not as someone who is running their own team. Many people wish to remain as a researcher at this level throughout their lives. If they are not prepared to become a PI, their only alternative at this time is to leave science eventually, since operating at this level for long periods is extrememly difficult.
  • Were CSS awardees not expected to/or allowed to secure independent research funding, which funding approach best protects the individual and provides the most reliable base of funding: applications submitted by an individual PI, a core, a department, or other? Should the position be transferrable/portable if the “staff scientist” changes institutions?
    If an RA could not apply for their own funds, then the next best alternative is for a PI to apply for funds for them. Following that I think a Department should be able to apply for them.
    But I think RA's should be able to compete for funds as an investigator pursuing their own interests. You can call them PIs but they are indpendent investigators embedded within a larger team. The position should not be transferrable for the same reason an NRSA is likely not transferable -- it is in a context and as part of a team that the funds are given.
  • Should applications be peer-reviewed and, if so, what would be the review criteria?
    The funds should be awarded by peer-review on the basis that the person can argue they are not a PI and do not intend to become a PI, but require some interactions with PIs to conduct their work, but otherwise will be responsible for carrying out the work as described. This will obviously help the PI with whom they are collaborating but will not be funds to or for this PI.
  • Should there be cost-sharing with the institution/department? How many CSS awards should be awarded by the NIDCD, and how many different CSS applications should be allowed from a given institution?
    I think cost sharing is not needed. These investigators will compete in the same manner as PIs but with other RAs. In my experience, there are many fewer Research Associates than PIs, so perhaps CSSs should be awarded somewhere between one-fifth to one-tenth the number of RO1s that are awarded.
  • What should be the duration of the funded position? What evaluative criteria should be used in determining re-appointment?
    These positons can be very stable but at a lower level of operation than for a PI. Therefore, I think funding up to five years for a CSS is appropriate. Reappointment should be based on a competitive nature based on productivity defined by peer-reviewed publications and other similar criteria.
Feel free to write me back if you have other questions.
65 02/17/2010

Yes. The ideal candidate would be a PhD level scientist with advanced technical skills. These individuals have spent significant time learning advanced technical skills (programming, developing new analysis techniques in high impact areas e.g., neuroimaging). The position/application would be peer reviewed and time limitedso I don't think entitlement would be an issue. Yes, I don't think we should discourage anyone from applying for research grants. but once thee the CSS transitions to being PI of a research grant they would no longer be eligible for CSS funding. Applications could be submitted by a PI or department ( similar to NRSA) . Yes, peer review should apply. criteria would be the candidate's skills and the importance of the project he/she would be working on . Cost sharing would be difficult for soft money institutions. The number of positions should be limited by institution but this could vary based on the size of the institution. Position length could be 2 - 3 years.

66 02/19/2010
  • Is there a need for a CSS position? If so, who would be the ideal candidate and what metrics should be used to establish competitive criteria (CSS support is proposed as an independent position for the team scientist and not to serve as bridge funding for an established investigator)?
    Yes there is a need for such a position for those people who are well trained but do not wish to run their own groups. I think that this person should have contributed to a particular field of study and be at the lervel that they could be independent but chose not to do so.
  • How can the CSS position be configured so as not to be perceived as an “entitlement,” but rather to confer independence/autonomy and a stable support base to the candidate?
    This should be a competitive application with a specified mentor on whose grants the person would work. I think several letters of support should be required which identify this candidate as an asset to the scientific community.
  • Should CSS individuals be allowed to write for federal research grants and, if so, then what would be the justification for continued CSS support?
    No because this would make this position no different than most academic positions right now. Many if not most have to cover a large portion of salary from outside funds.
  • Were CSS awardees not expected to/or allowed to secure independent research funding, which funding approach best protects the individual and provides the most reliable base of funding: applications submitted by an individual PI, a core, a department, or other? Should the position be transferrable/portable if the “staff scientist” changes institutions?
    The funding should be for this person’s salary and fully transferable to work with other funded investigators in the event that the initial lab lost funding. I think a letter of support is necessary from the funded lab to assure project support.
  • Should applications be peer-reviewed and, if so, what would be the review criteria?
    Yes and the criteria should be a strong record of productivity, strong letters of support and an excellent academic environment.
  • Should there be cost-sharing with the institution/department? How many CSS awards should be awarded by the NIDCD, and how many different CSS applications should be allowed from a given institution?
    No cost sharing this would be messy with a tenuous position. I would not limit the number of applications from an institution but I would limit it to 1 per sponsoring laboratory. How many depends on budget allocation.
  • What should be the duration of the funded position? What evaluative criteria should be used in determining re-appointment?
    5 Years. A strong record of publication and good letters of support.
67 02/20/2010

Yes there is absolutely a need for such a position. CSS should be allowed to write for federal research grant and yes it should be peer-reviewed. The cost sharing with the institution is a good way to secure this type of position. 5 years duration is needed to give enough time for building their independent research program. Evaluation should be based on their scientific productivity.

68 02/20/2010

I believe there is a real need for the CSS position in order to maximize the use of US scientific talent. Current funding mechanisms are limited. The ideal candidate would be one not seeking to be a PI, but who has produced or been involved in a team that has produced high quality research. The emphasis might be placed more on the quality of the work than on the creativity of the applicant. First author publications may well be less important and an emphasis placed on publishing with a team. Re-appointment should be dependent on performance and productivity. Securing independent funding is not to be expected, but writing a successful R01 would generate an expectation of future support from that or other related mechanisms. Review of the initial application seems to be the most challenging aspect of this initiative. Many of the criteria required for R01 funding are inappropriate. An application and a review more similar to training grants might be considered, with the quality of candidate, the quality of the mentor/supervisor, the environment and quality of existing projects in that environment all part of the criteria for success of an application. No cost-sharing by the institution/department, as it would eliminate many candidates/institutions, particularly in the current economic climate. A duration of five years with the option of re-appointment seems a reasonable time for the individual to be productive and establish a base of quality to be reviewed.

69 02/22/2010

Many people are discouraged from pursuing careers in science because job prospects are so uncertain once past the postdoc stage. Personally, I would very much like to see viable options, such as CSS positions, that provide a stable research career. Without thinking too hard, I would cover 50-75 percent of the CSS cost with the remainder coming from a PI's grants. The award should be giving to the individual, be completely portable (as long as a host PI is found) and predictably renewable. Awardees should not be permitted to write for federal research grants.

70 02/22/2010

CSS positions are extremely important. The ideal candidates are people who have completed their PhD and postdoc and remained at the Research Associate level. They should submit grants similar to the CSS grant for the ARRA. These grants should be reviewed administratively based on financial need, letters of reference, and publication record. Current CSS awardees should be allowed to renew if they can show satisfactory progress from the present funding. The number of CSS awards should be based on the number of funded labs (33 percent) with no more than 5/institution. The funding should be for at least 3 years. Evaluation criteria should include publications (number and quality) as well as R01 submissions by the PI.

71 02/23/2010

This is an outstanding idea. It would apply to very experienced investigators who have well-established special technical skills or expertise in an area of science, whether they are relatively young or after they have decided to (or have been decided for by study sections) not to continue as PIs. Such grants should be limited to 80,000 USD per year direct costs. There must be cost-sharing with the investigator's institution, such that the grant would cover no more than half their salary plus fringe benefits, plus no more than 25,000 USD per year in supplies. The department/institution should provide a commitment to the individual equal to the length of the grant. The recipients of such grants could be allowed to be collaborators or Core directors on Center or Program Project grants but would have to surrender their CSS grant if they received an R01 or similar grant. The grant could be portable, providing that the new host institution makes a commitment to the investigator for at least half salary plus fringe for the duration of the grant plus one year. The initial grant period could be 3 to 4 years, to permit review of productivity as a collaborator (measured by publications and the importance of the results in those publications), with competitive renewals being 5 to 7 years in length. The review criteria should be past accomplishments, as demonstrated by publications and letters of recommendation, and track record of commitment from the investigator's institution.

72 02/24/2010

Yes I believe there is a need for a CSS position. The ideal candidate would be any PhD trained scientist at any stage of their career who find themselves, either voluntarily or involuntarily, in a position of not being an established investigator. Individuals in the first group might be those who prefer not to become principal investigators, but who enjoy and are good at making strong contributions to a productive research environment. Individuals in the second group might include postdocs who have not found tenure track positions or who are in mid-career or late career, but who find themselves no longer competitive enough to obtain research funds to run their own programs. Nonetheless these individuals may possess excellent technical and theoretical skill sets that could contribute to the success of programs run by other principal investigators. 

To confer stability on the position, the award could be set up as a 5-year renewable option for salary only. The applicant would identify a laboratory that matches their interests and research dossier. Together, with the laboratory PI, the applicant would carve out a job description with supporting rationale to document how the career scientist award would benefit the project and the individual filling the position. If successful, the position could be renewed for successive 5-year periods of time. I would suggest that the career scientist position replace current research assistant positions and soft-money core facility management and director positions. Rather than PIs budgeting for these kinds of mid-level assistants and directors, this money could be set aside for Career Staff Scientist awards. Additionally, institutions should be required to supply matching funds (ratio to be determined) to support funding of the positions. 

Well-trained and highly skilled CSS personnel would be excellent candidates for training other students and personnel, generating data, running core facilities, assisting with grant writing and manuscript preparation. The CSS would be a more distinguished and responsible position than a postdoctoral fellow position as the individual occupying this position would be a professional who carries out all the functionalities of a PI, but who is not responsible for maintaining the funding base for the entire project. 

I do not think that CSS should have the option to submit grants for their own projects. This would defeat the purpose of having this type of career option.  I do not think their selection should be subject to peer review at the national level.  Instead, a pool of money should be available for institutional use. The amount awarded to each institution would be based on the level of NIH support awarded to PIs at that institution and the institutional commitment of resources and support for CSS. The hiring policies and evaluation of CSS would be institutional decisions comparable to the hiring of tenure-track professionals. The number of slots available would be dependent upon the number of NIH-generated awards at each research centers and available institutional support. CSS should be paid a base salary consistent with the base range of an entering assistant professor or beginning level scientist with pay grade increases outlined for a stable career that encourages the retention and development of the CSS over the span of their career, with policies in place for continued evaluation and promotion or reasons for termination.

73 02/24/2010

Dear Colleagues, I think that the CSS positions are a very good idea to maintain highly skilled researchers at academic institutions. It provides a career opportunity and access to complex skills that an individual might have. This can provide stability and increase the success of research laboratories that otherwise rely on transient positions (students, postdocs). My initial thoughts are that such a position should be for 5 years, and renewable. The individual applies (similar to a fellowship application) and can obtain salary support. However, I think that the individual should not write additional independent grants and instead be part of an NIH funded research laboratory, which provides consumables. The applications should be evaluated by peer review. Criteria can be the quality of the candidate (past success, publications), the quality of the application (which skills does the person provide; how essential are the skills to the success of the individual and home laboratory), and the quality of the home laboratory (NIH funded, relevance of research to NIDCD mission).

74 02/26/2010

Yes, I think the option of providing funding specific to a career staff scientist is an excellent idea. I have a PhD in neuroscience and have no desire to run a lab of my own. I have been a "super-tech" in various labs over the last 20 years, and know several other scientists who are in the same position. I do work that is consistent with a higher level of training in research, including planning research projects, taking a project from inception to publication and writing of manuscripts and grants. Even though I find that the PIs I work for value my work, it is often hard to find enough funds in their RO1s to fund such a position. Post-docs can apply for their own funding, while someone in my position is totally dependent on the grant status of the lab they belong to. As more and more scientists are opting for such positions rather than that of tenure-track faculty, I think it would be appropriate for the NIH to have funding set up for a career staff scientist.

75 03/1/2010

As a graduate student, I feel that there is little to no discussion of career options outside of the traditional tenure-track faculty position. I would appreciate the availability of a position such as the one being proposed as a viable option for those graduate students who do not feel that a tenure-track faculty position is right for them.

76 03/2/2010

I regret having heard so late about these CSS ARRA funds! I wasn't aware of these, and would have applied for one. We have many individuals in the situation you describe, who have to make a decision between staying faculty, risking reduced salary when grants expire, or moving into technical level positions. In area like genomics, many individuals are very valuable who are not PI on the grants, nor first or last authors. There definitely is a need for career scientists who are neither technicians nor traditional faculty. At my University, a new faculty level rank of research scientist (assistant, associate or full) was recently established to allow this kind of scientist to blossom - they are faculty and allowed to write grants, but not required to do so for promotion in the research track. One major hurdle is that study sections frown on any non-professorial titles, and many individuals in the research scientist track get reviews back stating something about lack of institutional support because of the title. The word career staff scientist rings even more like a technical position, and will likely have even more problems getting funded. I feel that overall the Universities rely too much on NIH to fund their professors anyway. So, I do not support the idea of funding such individuals through independent grants - if they are valuable to research, there should be funds in PI grants for them.

77 03/5/2010

I think that funding for these positions would be very helpful for physician scientists who wish to have a PhD scientist work with them in the lab as an R.A. so that they can continue their surgical careers in tandem with the research. It is often difficulty for these PhD scientist R.A.'s to be taken seriously when writing research grants independent of the physician scientist PI, and difficult to write grants to cover their entire salary. I think the applications should be peer reviewed, CSS awards limited to a low number of appropriate individuals in these type positions, and that the CSS awardees should still be able to write for federal grants (given that they are awarded to these individuals infrequently). Awards should be limited to individuals who do not have a lab appointment separate from another scientists'/physician scientist. Duration should be in the 3-5 year range. Reappointment should be through reapplication. Having said that, I do not think that this mechanism should take away from funding from other NIDCD missions, such as RO1s, R03s, etc or the current training grant system.

78 03/5/2010

I vote to support a small number of individuals in this kind of position, something like 1 for every 10 PI's. I also vote that the percentage funded be lower than the percentage of R01's funded.

79 03/8/2010

I worry about this sort of program turning into another way to help the rich labs get richer. Particularly at med schools, where the culture is for NIH to cover all salaries. NIH needs to be very mindful of the fact that faculty who are leading single-investigator labs on one R01 are overwhelmingly at academic institutions with major demands on their time that pulls them away from research, and yet we do the bulk of training the next generation of scientists. We typically contribute more teaching, committee work, and administrative activities, because we service many more students. I am in a Biology Department at a big ten university with one R01. Our department has 800 majors and over 150 graduate students with 55-60 faculty. In addition to teaching 1.5-2 courses per year, I serve as co-director for an inter-disciplinary faculty research group, director of curriculum for the neuroscience branch of an inter-disciplinary life sciences graduate program, and director of a subset of 28 faculty in our dept. I am under pressure to write training, core and equipment grants for the dept. My students often TA as there are insufficient training grants. Although I could certainly benefit from a CCS in my lab, my institution would never be able to cost-share due to our dependence on state funds and large teaching mission that must take precedence. Peer review of CSSs must occur and only faculty with a single R01 should be allowed to sponsor. Criterion: high productivity of CSS person.

80 03/18/2010
  • Is there a need for a CSS position? If so, who would be the ideal candidate and what metrics should be used to establish competitive criteria?
    I believe there is a lot of merit to idea of a CSS position. The ideal candidate should be someone with all the skills and competencies of a first class researcher, who is lacking perhaps only the drive/ambition/creativity to craft and direct his/her own research program. The metrics should be the degree of technical competency and the need for that competency in the field in general.  The latter is particularly important 1) so that the awardee is not tied to one particular PI, Lab or institution,a nd 2) so that the awards are not seen simply as ways to supplement a major PIs war chest.
  • How can the CSS position be configured so as not to be perceived as an “entitlement,” but rather to confer independence/autonomy and a stable support base to the candidate?
    If the awardee is highly skilled in a technical area that is widely used by researchers in the field, the awarding of a CSS position would give that individual the independence to build a career that is not dependent on a single PI.
  • Should CSS individuals be allowed to write for federal research grants and, if so, then what would be the justification for continued CSS support?
    CSS awardees should not be allowed to accept a major research grant unless they relinquish the CSS funding. However, it would make good sense to allow them to apply for an R03 as a transition step to complete independence, if they so desire.
  • Were CSS awardees not expected to/or allowed to secure independent research funding, which funding approach best protects the individual and provides the most reliable base of funding: applications submitted by an individual PI, a core, a department, or other?
    Any of these options makes sense to me
  • Should the position be transferrable/portable if the “staff scientist” changes institutions?
    Absolutely – I think this is key to the concept – key to making this a mechanism for technically talented individuals to make a career with their skills without having to go the independent PI route.
  • Should applications be peer-reviewed and, if so, what would be the review criteria?
    There should be peer review. The criteria have to be based on an evaluation of the level of the technical skills and the wide applicability of those skills to the NIH/NIDCD community
  • Should there be cost-sharing with the institution/department?
    Not necessary
  • How many CSS awards should be awarded by the NIDCD, and how many different CSS applications should be allowed from a given institution?
    Having institutional quotas makes no more sense to me than having state quotas
  • What should be the duration of the funded position? What evaluative criteria should be used in determining re-appointment?
    Grants should be for 5 years. Re-appointment should be based on the same criteria that are used to decide on initial appointment.
81 04/09/2010 There is a need for a CSS position as some PHD want to focus on science and not writing grants or teaching. Currently those types of jobs are mostly in industry and the universities that did the training loose good people.