Minutes of an SSSC Organization meeting January 12, 2011
The meeting took place in Bldg. 50, room 1328.
Attending: Michael Espey (NIDDK, Chair), Alejandro Schaffer (NLM, minute-taker), Mohammed Akbar (NIAAA), Dina Demner-Fushman (NLM), Rodolfo Ghirlando (NIDDK), Zack Howard (NCI), Magda Juhaszova (NIA, by telephone), Dale Kiesewetter (NIBIB), Leonardo Mariño-Ramírez (NLM), Andrew Mitz (NIMH), Reza Momenan (NIAAA), Ana Olivera (NIAMS), Martin Playford (NHLBI), Mark Roth (NCI), Natalia Strunnikova (NEI).
Espey opened the meeting informally at 3:32PM with individual self-introductions.
Espey gave an update on the project to make a new LISTSERV mailing list for all Staff Scientists and Staff Clinicians. Work is ongoing to set up a new list. Within weeks, the new list should replace the old list. Addresses to include on the new list have been obtained by searching for the job titles “Staff Scientist” and “Staff Clinician” in the NIH NED system. However, the job title field is sometimes blank, so some individuals who should be included are missed by this method. Therefore, it is useful if representatives can compile lists for their institutes by different methods. Representatives for NICHD, NIDDK, and NLM have submitted such lists of their SS/SC’s for cross-checking.
Espey reminded us that January is the time to complete election of representatives for 2011, if it was not done already. He acknowledged the new representatives from NIAAA (Akbar, Momenan), which has been minimally represented in the past. We returned to this topic at the end of the meeting.
Espey introduced the first major topic of the meeting: Transition Grant Mechanism. This topic was discussed at several meetings in 2010 and will be a major effort of our organization in 2011. We want to help NIH set up a mechanism whereby SS/SC’s can apply for a grant in which the initial years are spent at an NIH Intramural Lab followed by transition to an academic position. Such grants are needed because many universities will not hire faculty who do not come with a grant. There are such mechanisms (especially the K22) for Fellows, but for various reasons (low salary, limit on years of post-PhD experience) these mechanisms are unsuitable for SS/SC’s. Currently, NCI appears to be the only institute that would support SS/SC’s applying for a K22 grant, but it is sketchy how that would work.
In December, Espey and Howard met with Henry Khachaturian a Program Officer who is expert on grant mechanisms, and had originally been scheduled to address our November 16, 2010 meeting. Today’s discussion interleaved information from Dr. Khachaturian with new comments.
An important question is: Should we extend an existing grant mechanism (K22?) or ask to create a new mechanism?
Khachaturian stated that new grant mechanisms get created frequently, so there should not be a large bureaucratic obstacle to doing that again. Part of the discussion at this meeting suggested that if we extend the K22, then that creates a situation where Post-Docs compete with SS/SC’s for grants, especially when a lab closes and all its Post-Docs and SS/SC’s need to find new funding. Nevertheless, Mariño-Ramírez suggested that at least until a new mechanism is created, we should try to get existing calls for grants explicitly extended to allow SS/SC’s to be eligible. He noted that the Fogarty Center has a mechanism for foreign PostDocs to get funding to return to their home country and set up a laboratory; perhaps some international SS/SC’s would be interested in applying for this.
Part of today’s discussion was about which administrative officials to approach. Howard stated that whatever mechanism might get created has to be supported by each institute. The OD can set up a framework, but cannot force each institute to go along. Within each institute, we should approach the Scientific Director and Education Officer. It has been suggested that Dr. Story Landis (Scientific Director of NINDS) would be particularly supportive of a transition grant mechanism.
Espey commented that in informal conversations, Dr. Gottesman (Director of Intramural Research) has been supportive, but we need to formalize this in meetings in 2011. He agrees that ultimately the individual Scientific Directors need to support and implement the mechanism, but he favors a top-down approach as we used for the issue of access to training (see below).
Mitz emphasized the point that in times of tight budgets we should use an economic argument: For orphaned SS/SC’s a transition grant would be a more efficient use of funds than what is currently done. Scientific Directors may be particular enthusiastic if the transition grant mechanism enables them to act constructively on their compassionate instincts to find new funding for orphaned SS/SC’s. Espey replied that although the cases of orphaned SSS/SC’s are particularly compelling we want the transition grant mechanism to be open to everyone. Roth noted that this would aid in recruiting SS/SC’s, since they would see a possible career path out of NIH. Strunnikova noted that a transition grant mechanism is important to establish some connection between the utopia (no grants needed) of the intramural program to the “real world” of academia, where getting grants is an essential skill.
Several attendees raised the issue that we need to collect data on how many SS/SC’s would apply for a transition grant. Dr. Khachaturian also indicate that this is essential, since Program Officers would need to have some idea of how many dollars would need to be allocated to the new mechanism. Roth suggested that we use the new LISTSERV to do a survey on this, once the LISTSERV is set up.
Mitz suggested that in addition to collecting numbers of all SS/SC’s who would be interested in applying, we should collect and encourage a few individuals who are especially interested and in difficult circumstances. We could help them apply for a K22 or other existing grant and advocate for them, as they face administrative obstacles in doing so.
Another aspect of setting up test cases is to match the grant applicants with prospective research institutions. In a 2010 meeting, Dr. Gottesman had expressed the opinion that local universities (e.g., Georgetown, U. Maryland) would be interested in serving this role. Some attendees were skeptical of this opinion. Howard and Roth suggested that local universities would be more enthusiastic if a hypothetical agreement with local universities includes mechanisms to recruit NIH employees to serve as occasional instructors and mechanisms for undergraduate alumni to find placements as IRTAs in NIH labs. Currently such teaching and IRTA arrangement are usually made based on personal contacts between individual PIs and individual faculty members.
Espey introduced the second major topic of the meeting: Training. A major success of the organization in 2010 was gaining access, in principle, to the services of the Office of Intramural Training and Education (OITE). During one of our 2010 meetings, Dr. Sharon Milgram, head of OITE addressed us about how SS/SC’s might get training. She favored access to OITE, but OITE was set up to serve Fellows, and giving access to SS/SC’s could cause problems with budget and capacity and hence was opposed by the Office of the Director (OD). Despite this opposition, the issue was presented to a meeting of the Scientific Directors and they voted to grant access to OITE to SS/SC’s. This meeting happened in December, so a principal objective in 2011 will be to work out all the detailed plans and procedures.
Toward this end, Dr. Milgram suggested that we form a small committee to meet with her and discuss what we want, especially as regards training courses targeted to SS/SC’s. Espey acted on this suggestion by forming an ad-hoc committee including: Playford (chair), Ghirlando, Mariño-Ramírez, Espey (ex-officio).
Espey asked for advice for the committee. Specifically, what is the one topic on which we would like a training course or seminar? In response, Denmer-Fushman, Mitz, and Ghirlando came to the consensus that: a) we had discussed this question in preparing our request letter in 2010 and b) part of the consensus at that time is that we want a course on management; SS’s frequently need to manage parts or all of a lab de facto, although the PI is the manager de jure.
Espey asked if there was any other business.
Mitz responded by raising the issue of election of officers for 2011.
Espey replied that election of officers should be done at the February meeting, after election of representatives is completed in January. We have three officers: Chair, Vice-Chair, Secretary. Unlike many organizations, we have no Treasurer because we have no funds. Alejandro Schaffer, who served as Secretary in 2010 cannot continue in this role for 2011, so we need a new Secretary. Representatives should discuss informally who would be good candidates for officers before the February meeting.
Olivera asked for advice about holding elections when there is apathy.
Espey said that it is acceptable to send an e-mail indicating that one is willing to serve and to ask if anyone else is willing to serve or if there are any objections.
Ghirlando noted that once the new LISTSERV is running, we can use that to make sure that all SS/SC’s have an opportunity to serve, if interested.
Mitz stated that in NIMH there is an annual meeting of all SS/SC’s at which the election is held.
Juhaszova reported the surprising news that in NIA there is so much interest that there are three candidates for two positions.
Momenan asked for information on what are the responsibilities of representatives?
Espey replied that the main responsibilities of all representatives are 1) to be informed as to the interests and concerns of the SS/SC’s in your in institute and 2) attend the monthly meetings and report back on the activities of the organization to your constituents. The organization has three officers. The organization has ad-hoc committees, such as the training committee formed at this meeting, and representatives are encouraged to serve on some of these committees.
The meeting ended informally at approximately 4:45PM.
Our next meeting is scheduled for Wednesday February 16 2-3:30PM. The room is unchanged (Bldg. 50, 1328).