The Genomic Repairman is currently a Ph.D. student who escaped from the deep south, and studies DNA damage and repair through biochemical and genetic approaches. He intends to use pine away about his scientific interests and rant about the things (and there are lots of them) that annoy him.
My posts are presented as opinion and commentary and do not represent the views of LabSpaces Productions, LLC, my employer, or my educational institution.
Please wait while my tweets load
So yesterday Drugmonkey had a post up about F31 fellowships and it lead me to churn out this post on a situation a friend of mine is in. A friend of mine who we'll call Ajax, because that is what I call him works in a lab of a PI with good funding. Ajax was able to secure a fellowship to pay him for his last two years of grad school. Now the fellowship and Ajax's institution allow his PI to supplement the fellowship stipend up to 120% of his institutional stipend. So since Ajax figured he was covering the bulk majority of his stipend as well as a small budget for consumables and travel his PI would supplement his income since he is off the hook for the other 80% of Ajax's money. Well think again poor Ajax, your PI isn't going to supplement you and his reasoning is, "well you survived making x amount stipend why should I give you anymore?" So basically the last two years of Ajax's stipend is off the books for his PI and he won't even reward him with some supplementation of funds. Is he being a cheap bastard or thrifty entrepreneur? My vote is cheap bastard but lets discuss shall we.
This post has been viewed: 645 time(s)
I was on a T32 for two years of my 4.5 year stay in my PI's lab but I never got a raise :P That was the institutional policy for in house training grants though. If you got an external training grant from American Heart or something they boosted your pay by $2K/y which seems a little more fair. If the guy's boss has the ability to pay him more then of course I think he should because happy grad students make for good results.
Yay, its definitely extramural money and both the fellowship and the institution allows for it but boss says no. I mean don't you want to reward folks for going out and securing funding for themselves.
I think he's being cheap. I think that if the student took the initiative and earned himself a grant, he should be rewarded. Grad students with initiative get solid postdocs which, in turn, make their advisors look better. The PI should be thanking this guy.
I would say cheap as well... UNLESS, he is using the freed up money for a new student. If that money is in the salary category and there is not much additional money in that category, using 20% for your friend might mean that he can't bring in another student because he only would have 80% of a stipend. In this case, it works against the lab to reward the student who gets the external $$. I'm not saying that is right, but it may be the reality.
That's what I was thinking PLS, but he could throw 10% Ajax's way and besides I think their grad school covers their stipends for at least the first year if not up to the second year.
I hadn't thought about that PLS. That's a really good point.
The first year stipend is typically covered by the department and then the student "pays it back" by TA-ing a class after comps.
Ajax's institution does not require any teaching commitment so he, like I is nothing but a labrat.
Well that extra $$ can also be going into more lab equipment, better reagents, etc., so Ajax could actually get a really great project and wonderful publications out of it. Also, with the uncertianty of grant money now-a-days, I would be keeping the extra cash as well. Rewarding him isn't necessary...but it would have been nice to throw Ajax a bone. I think he is being a smart entrepreneur.
Is an extra 2-3k going to really push your already pretty well established lab over the top? To me by even giving him a minimal pittance over the stipend you are sending a message to your other students: Get your own money, not only does it look good on your CV but I will reward you with some extra money. And also Ajax gets a couple of grand a year from the fellowship for consumables and travel funds too, so the lab is already getting extra money to get better equipment.
Maybe the PI will give him something more intangible like extra time off?
2-3K is a month maintananence fee for a mouse colony, it is the cost of 2.5 months of tubes and tips, it is the usage fee for the shared thingum-a-jig in the common room that everyone needs for the last step of their experiment...every penny counts in a profession where you are not guaranteed the next big paycheck. A good PI will seriously consider that. If you want to send a good message to the rest of the troops then through Ajax a little party, open up a $40 dollar bottle of champagne.
I think in terms of motivating desirable behavior. the PI fucked this one up on that score.
Cheap bastard to not shuffle any of the funds his way.
I think it's ok for a PI to either
1) not raise the guys stipend, but earmark the funds his fellowship brought in for any extra specially nice reagents/supplies/technical assistance that can be purchased to expediate his project. This guy should be getting precast gels and premade buffers, and possibly a work-study undergrad minion to help in the summer.
2) splitting the 'extra' money- half to the guy's stipend and half to the lab. It's about the same overhead rate many institutions charge, right?
In the absense of either plan, the incentive structure gets screwed up. Applying for fellowships takes TIME. This guy has basically DONATED extra time- in theory, he would have graduated that much faster if he hadn't bothered with the F31. In reality, of course, we know what will happen instead- he will probably do more science, and better science and graduate in the same amount of time. The PI benefits from any work he does beyond what is necessary to get the postdoc he wants. So the student should see *some* kind of benefit from it, besides the nice CV line.
@PLS- I agree, in general as far as my personal philosophy about lab funding goes. I'd rather take a 20% salary hit then see someone fired. Would you?
The thing is, from the perspective of the interests of the student, one more student in the lab means that much less time from the PI, that many fewer reagents, and one extra PhD to compete with for postdocs in the long run. In other words, from the perspective of existing PhD students, *more* PhD students is a serious threat, not a benefit (barring, of course, considerations like the colleageality and extra progress you can make with a *good* grad student in your lab; but unless Ajax gets to *choose* the student, it's not a fair assumption that he will benefit from the PI using that funding for a salary)
@Brian- T32s are an entirely different matter. In most institutions, the tremendous amount of extra effort the PIs put forth on putting in training grants are not well-rewarded (i.e. they take way more time than the funding they are worth- unless they get 'credit' for research *and* teaching out of it, there's a powerful DISincentive for PIs to work on them). Yes, they tend to put the good students on the training grant, but in all likelihood the role you, specifically, as an individual getting funded under one played in actually helping the institution get the grant is negligible. Whereas an F31 is money that *would not be there* if not for Ajax, specifically, and the work he is doing. At least in theory.
I kind of like the idea of a party or some sort of intralab recognition for taking the initiative.
1) The PI is a cheap bastard.
2) Ajax deserves an increased stipend and a party.
What Odyssey said.
Also, I can't tell from your post whether or not Ajax asked for a raise, or if it's just that the PI didn't offer it...? When I got my post-doctoral NRSA I went to my boss and re-negotiated my salary, which included a small but significant bump up from the NIH minimum. He was completely amenable.
Did the PI at least offer some sort of justification?
No real justification he pretty much just said that "you have made this stipend why would you need anymore money?"
Was he denied and then asked to bring breakfast at the next lab meeting?
When I was a postdoc on a T32 for a couple years, the T32 stated that the postdocs would get raises every year. Well, I didn't, because the PI was cheap. HOWEVER - I quit the postdoc early because it was just not meeting my needs at that point in my career (I was ready to have a little help getting my own funding and preparing to start my own lab, but the professor didn't want to be a real advisor, so I left). Anyway, a few months after I left, the NIH audited the PI and the T32, discovered that even though he'd said in the grant that we'd get raises each year he did not give them to us, and forced him to send me my $4000 even though I didn't work there any more because it had been promised to me in writing. TAKE THAT, you a-hole....
@Becca My point was that sometimes money is tied up for salary and taking 20% out of that pot might make the rest less useful. Even if the grad school covers the first year, that is only one year. I don't disagree that I would do anything I could to reward that lab member for getting their own money. In fact, I have done that in my own lab. However, their may be constraints that are not visible to students. Certainly, those should be communicated so as to avoid alienating good students and conversations like this.
On the subject of the grad student seeing others as a threat, sorry, but get over yourself. Yes, there are labs that collect students like cord wood, but in most places the addition of an extra student can make a big positive difference in a lot of ways. If you are going to start viewing your peers as threats, I see that as a very dangerous attitude.
I'm kind of torn on this one. I think becca hit the nail on the head for me. At least a portion of that money should be set aside to help out Ajax on his project if he isn't given a pay rise. I definitely think it's worthwhile acknowledging the fact that Ajax got a fellowship funded and is bringing extra money into the lab, but I can also see the point that it does also free up funds for other things in the lab. One idea might be to send him to a really great overseas conference that not everyone in the lab gets to go to.
When Ajax was denied was there any reason given that would give insight into why the PI is being so tight?
It doesn't really excuse saying "no" when the funds are available and the situation warrants a raise, but if the PI is seeing something down the line, that could explain things. It may not be great explanation, but I've always been more upset with a flat "no" than a "no" with some sort of adequate reasoning behind it.
That is a tough one. I think that it is unfair and I'm sure that the PI could do something about if they wanted to, but they chose not to and use the money in what they consider a better way. Not sure where I stand on this one.
Genomic RepairMom chimed in with an email to me that asked if Ajax's PI was my father because, "he is the cheapest motherfucker in the world. He'd bitch it wasn't enough if you could even squeeze water from a stone."
@Prof-like substance- see, I've never been in a lab where EITHER the PI's time, OR lab supply funds were not severely limited. I've also been around a LOT of PIs who assume that if they want things to move faster, the only options they can have as a PI are
1) demanding more hours of work out of the same number of people
2) adding more trainees
The ideas of adding additional hands (e.g. a work-study undergrad) to help on *existing* projects, or getting more experiments/hour by adding time savers (that are viewed as silly luxuries in most labs I've been in, e.g. precast gels) are frustratingly rare.
So, what I'm getting at is that there's a huge difference between viewing people in your lab as a *threat* and accepting the reality that adding new lab members may not represent a *net benefit* to an individual who is not the PI (in the context of many or most labs, anyway- a lab *just* getting off the ground may benefit so much simply from the presense of another warm body that this doesn't apply).
Almost all PIs I know, until they come violently head to head with the limits of their attention spans, would always love to have more people working for them (provided the funding isn't an issue). I think when you are just starting out your lab, you *have* to be kind of aggressive in recruiting, and one of the reasons labs go through awkward growing pains when professors go from assistant to associate prof is that some PIs have trouble shaking the 'more people = better lab' mentality. I think the *typical* development pathway for a PI is with the skillset of *attracting* N people to the lab coming before the skillset of *managing* N people in the lab.
It's also really hard to sympathize with a PI saying "I've already earmarked those funds for another trainee" when there is no a priori way to assume the money would come in. That is, an F31 arrives partially through the efforts of a particular trainee. To earmark it for someone else, you pretty much have to 1) assume someone in your lab will get one no matter what else happens and 2) that the lab is collectively entitled to money that arrives because of the efforts of a particular person who isn't the PI. And since 'the lab is collectively entitled to' does not mean 'the lab collectively gets to decide' (since no lab I know if is run with democratic budgets), it's basically going to seem like the PI appropriating the trainee's funds.
Becca your statement of "I think the *typical* development pathway for a PI is with the skillset of *attracting* N people to the lab coming before the skillset of *managing* N people in the lab" is spot on.
PIs do need to acquire the skillsets to manage a large group. It is not easy and you get little training in the early part of your career.
Have I mentioned that I love Genomic RepairMom??
I think we all love Genomic RepairMom! iPads for everyone!
I wish iPads for everyone. Jane's recruited even more help, so I think I'm pretty much screwed.
You're putting up a damn good fight! May the best woman win!
I'm trying, but I really don't know how I can compete with 4 affiliates! My husband is really disappointed. He was hoping that we would get it.
It ain't over til the fat lady (who's been drinking too many fizzy drinks) sings!
Well if you and Will keep having whole conversations, I won't be able to keep up!!
Students in my grad program all get the same stipend, regardless of fellowship status. However the university does award a small bonus as an incentive to write good fellowships.
Where I did my PhD, the rules were set up for the entire department because of cheap PIs. Basically, you had to pay your graduate students the same as a base scholarship (15K at the time - it was a few years ago). If they taught a class, you weren't allowed to hold money back. If the student got a scholarship, they get an extra 25% of the base scholarship from the PI. Note: Before the department would accept a student, the PI had to prove that the funds were available to pay for base scholarships so there couldn't be a cry of poverty later.
They had to set up these rules because some PIs were loading their labs with students, making them teach courses to survive and paying them nothing. Once they put the rules in, it helped with a lot of misunderstandings. Plus, students who brought in money were only taking 25% of the money budgeted for students. There was still 75% left.
I'm with Will and Janede. It's a tough call. One issue is where does the money come from. Similar to the postdoc salary situation we discussed recently, there are restrictions on how a F31-funded trainee's stipend can be supplemented. Even if the PI is well-funded, if it's all federal funds, his hands are kind of tied. So, Brian, even if the PI has $20K left on a grant at the end of the year, the limitations on supplementation of F31 (and F32, K01, etc.) stipend, as far as I can tell, bar the use of that 'extra money' to give Ajax a raise.
That being said, when I was awarded an F31, my department supplemented my stipend to bring it to the same level as other grad students, since they were paying slightly above the NIH payscale. Also my stipend was initially boosted by the institutional fellowships/"topping out" awards. When those ran out after my 4th year, I brought it up with my PI, and he designated some slush funds to bring my pay up close to where it had been at the start.
If Ajax's PI doesn't have 'discretionary' funds from an internal or non-federal source to spare (e.g. he doesn't have any or has them but they're committed to something else), then he could at least be honest about it. From the PI's response, it does sound like he really is just being a cheap bastard.
Then I would say the PI is definitely just being a cheap bastard.
Alright, so a few things here. First off, I will reiterate again for Becca's sake, that grant money is often categorized and can sometimes not easily be moved between said categories. I know that this is not something that trainees see, but just because there is money in a grant doesn't mean that it can be spent on anything. Salary can often be a difficult category to mess with, getting me back to my point that removing 20% of a stipend as a bonus COULD mean that a PI only then has an 80% stipend (ie. not enough) to offer another trainee.
On the topic of how to run a lab and how to put X number of people on Y number of projects, there is an infinite number of solutions here (some good, some bad), so debating this is pointless.
Finally, with GR's additional info about the PI's discretionary funds, all of this is moot.
The PI is a Cheap fuck.
Dude, you needed to include this into the original article!
I just spoke to a PI who said that their required departmental contributions from grants are being increased from 50% to 60%! And they run their own NMR facility! As a PI I would be hoarding every last cent I could keep!
I think it's definitely difficult for PI's, more difficult that students/postdocs etc give them credit for as pointed out by a number of posts, but given what GR revealed, I would definitely say we can conclude in this case he's a cheap bastard! I agree that you should add that into the original post.
I have intentionally left out information that I slowly revealed and I'll let you in on the rest of the story tomorrow.
I think the PI is cheap, excluding the caveats listed above.
But can we think about one other issue with supplentation: what about grad students that are INELIGIBLE for grants (training or NRSAs or NSF etc), such as international students? Doesn't supplementing student's salaries on the basis of getting a grant means disadvantaging students who are already at a disadvantage for not being able to apply for funding?
Where possible, the grad student stipend should be supplemented, but equal treatment of students in the lab bears thinking about too.
Something like that happened to me when I was a PHD student. I was encouraged by my supervisor to apply for these things but when I got the scholarship, I didn't feel she even acknowledged the fact that I was saving her more than 10 thousands of $$. Afterall if I had *not* gotten the scholarship, she would have had to pay me practically the same amount because PhDs are guaranteed funding (for 3 years). I felt she was being cheap too. I understand one could say that she was saving that $$ for another student but she wasn't going to be hiring new students that year anyways, and sometimes it's just a matter of the gesture not the totally $ increase.
Thankfully the dept did give me another smaller scholarship for bringing in the money which was nice as it covered tuition.
The annoying thing was when in my last 6 months, I recieved another scholarship but then according to the dept I was over the required period of time when they guarantee funding. so even though I was good enough for the agency to give me funding for 6 months, I wasn't good enough for the dept to give me another reward for getting that scholarship.
So although I agree that yes, the "saved" money by the PI might be used some other way (not always for supplies when earmarked for salaries), I think it's also important to recognize the student/trainee for obtaining this funding. We all know money is tight, hence again why a gesture showing the appreciation for your success, would mean a lot to a graduate student.