Monday, July 28, 2008

Vacation at the beach

See ya in two weeks!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

In praise of small grants

Yesterday I was informed that I was awarded a small grant. It's only $35k/yr. for two years. Still, that's enough to pay for a pair of hands in the lab for two years. It's enough to get a new project up and running, and to generate the preliminary data needed for a large grant application. And it's enough to keep my lab afloat should my NSF renewal (submitted last week) not be funded first time through.

Many department chairs (and deans) in colleges of medicine tend to think it's NIH R01's or nothing. Maybe an NSF grant, but clearly that's 2nd class money. Small grants such as those given out by many foundations? Complete waste of time. This is a very short-sighted view and, when NIH funding rates are low as is currently the case, can be damaging. Fortunately my chair doesn't think that way. And of course neither do I. In fact my chair, despite having 3 R01's, still applies for the occasional small grant. He uses them to try out new projects/ideas.

Don't get me wrong. One can't, and shouldn't attempt to, run a research program funded solely by small grants. And you cannot, and shouldn't, be awarded tenure if that's all the funding you have (at least not in a research intensive science department). And deans tend to dislike them because they either don't pay indirect costs or pay a small percentage.

[For my non-science readers, indirect costs are funds taken from a grant to pay for infrastructure (ie electricity, phone service, buildings, maintenance etc.). Dean's like this money - the more they have, the more power they have. Hence their dislike of grants that don't provide such funds.]

Still, small grants are wonderful things. As I noted above, they're good for starting new projects, paying for an extra warm body, and, if necessary, bridging lapses in more major funding.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Cover your butt syndrome

I have a grant from the National Science Foundation, a Federal agency, to run a Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) site. Basically this lets me bring eight undergraduate students into the Department to do research for ten weeks during the Summer. The grant pays them a stipend and covers the cost of staying in the dorms for ten weeks. On Friday afternoon I had an interesting phone call from the University accounting office:

After introductions and various pleasantries...

Accounting drone: "We have a bill from University housing that they want to charge to your NSF REU grant. We need you to send us a written justification for paying for dorm housing on a grant. And we need it in the next hour or so - this is the last day we can pay this off the last financial year of the grant."

Me: "There's a specific budget line item for covering these costs. We justified that when we applied for the money. And it's a requirement of the NSF that we provide dorm housing."

Accounting drone: "We still need a justification for why you're paying for dorm housing on a grant."

Me: "This is a grant for training undergraduate students and requires us to provide dorm housing. I don't understand why you need a justification when we already had to provide that when we applied for the grant."

Accounting drone: "It's in case we're audited."

Me: "Audited by whom?"

Accounting drone: "The Federal government."

Me: "Let me get this straight, you need me to justify spending Federal grant money on dorm housing mandated by the Federal agency that provided the grant in case the Federal government decides to audit us because the University is afraid that such a Federal audit might get it into trouble if we didn't justify spending Federal dollars on Federally-mandated dorm housing?"

Accounting drone: "Yes."

Me: "I see..."

To her credit, this was not accounting drone's fault, and she did send me a copy of someone else's justification to copy from (there's more than one REU site on campus). But still...

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Two posts in one day?

I just had to share this with anyone who hasn't seen it yet...

I never win anything

I have a much less than stellar record when it comes to winning things. Contests, lotteries, gambling of various sorts. It's not clear to me whether fate is conspiring against me or I'm just a living demonstration of the odds against winning those sorts of things...

But things can change. I just won a blue one of these! The 8GB version. Just for filling out a survey for a foundation that supports research into a particular disease. Happy, happy, joy, joy!