As a scientist at a research-intensive university, that grant drastically increases my chances on getting tenure, which will allow me even more freedom to hit scientific home runs. But what does it all mean to me and what will the money get used for? For that, you need to understand a bit about how I got hired, what I got when I was hired, and what I need to do to stay hired.
This conversation started when I was talking to my friend Wesley, yep, that Wesley, the guy who got me into blogging. He found out that as a professor, I had to pay myself. Here is the (mostly one sided and slightly modified) conversation we had. First a few details,
1) the grant is over 5 years and of the 1.9 million, I will get 1.25 million or 250,000 per year (which gives off one heck of an ROI). It represents a public investment in trying to find new cures for bacterial infections. The university gets the 650,000 over the 5 years (we call this the indirects) but I’ll get into thatlater.
2) Nowhere near all grants are funded. Depending on the study it can be a low as 6% or as high as 28%. Researchers compete for this money but submitting a plan and having that plan review by experts in the field to make sure it will help science move forward (thats a story for another day).
Ok, here we go.
Wesley: Wait… What? The scientists have to pay themselves?
Me: Oh Wesley…oh my dear Wesley…When I got hired I got a “start-up” package that covers 100% of my salary for 3 years, and then I have to cover 50%. Some places it is 75, some it is 25% (like at land grant institutions), some it is 100% (like Harvard).
My start up package was ****** (we will say between 500,000 and 1,000,000). Think of this as an investment from the university for me to do good research and bring back the indirects I mentioned above. I will get this money is pieces across the first four years. More in the first year and less towards the end. With that money I have to pay people and buy equipment and reagents.
My technician (about 40g with base salary plus benefits), postdoc (about 60 including benefits), and also graduate students (27g per year plus their tuition which is 11 g plus health insurance and other benefits etc. which comes out to about 55g total). Yes, I pay my students tuition and a stipend.
I also buy equipment including the 105,000 plate reader/microscope, the 50,000 protein purifier, and the 65,000 metal detector. Not to mention centrifuges (2-10g), thermocyclers i.e. the thing that makes more DNA on CSI (2-5g), incubators (5-7g), -80 freezers (10g) which luckily, the department was able to give to me without me having to pay (better believe we reuse and recycle). All of these things have, are, and will lead to new scientific breakthroughs in projects that I never thought I would work on with amazing people that I am fortunate to call colleagues and friends.
I have two grad students, one postdoc, and a tech so I’m already at an operating budget of 210,000 per year so long as I have them all in the laboratory. Then starting next year, I have to pay half my salary plus benefits which comes out to about 65g (again using the average assistant professor salaries at research intensive institutions here).
So, without buying any reagents, or equipment, or consumables, or going to meetings, next year, I’m already at 275,000 which is above the 250,000 per year I’ll be getting. Now, our monthly burn rate is about 3,000 so about 36,000 per year for reagents. So, I’m over 300,000 and using up my start-up money to pay for what the grant doesn’t (which I fortunately still have some left so it is sustainable for a period of time).
You invest in the people so you can do the research to get the data for the publications so you can prove that you are being productive with the grant money that you are asking for more of. I also try to get my students funded because it frees up a slot for me to hire someone else to do more research.
Well, that’s where the research money goes and why I need to apply for grants to the National Institutes of Health and other organizations. The University supplies a location and money from my grant called indirect cost. The 650,000 pays for electricity, science core facilities, admins, building maintenance, and much more.
Let me sum up. If I don’t get grants, I can’t pay people, I can’t buy stuff, and worse, I can’t do lifesaving research.
That’s why the grant was a BIG deal.
I am a small business owner. Science is my business.