2013 has been a difficult year for those of us dependent on NIH funding. Dr. Sally Rockey, NIH’s Deputy Director for Extramural Research, summarizes the dismal funding climate in her recent blog posting, “After 10 years of essentially flat budgets eroded by the effects of inflation, and now precipitously worsened by the impact of sequestration (an automatic, across-the-board 5.5% cut in NIH support), NIH’s purchasing power has been cut by almost 25% compared to a decade ago.” That was September.  One month later the federal government shut down further derailed the NIH’s extramural program.  Review meetings were cancelled, resulting in a back log of grant applications and even more uncertainty.

NIH’s FY2014 outlook is bleak and UC Davis will certainly continue to feel the impact. According to Dr. Lars Berglund, Director of the UC Davis Clinical and Translational Science Center, “It is readily apparent that we are facing serious national challenges with regard to garnering sufficient resources to advance biomedical research. Public awareness of the value and importance of research is essential. Virtually every institution in the U.S. faces a critical need to establish infrastructure to support communication of research findings and advances broadly.”

NIH_Funding

While the low pay lines at NIH equally impact both men and women grant applicants, the long term consequences of the current funding climate may be particularly detrimental to women’s careers. The most recent data from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) (2011-2012) documents an ongoing but modest increase in women medical school faculty from 29% in 2001 to 37% currently. However, women remain underrepresented at all ranks, particularly at the level of full professor and leadership positions.  The AAMC data also indicate that women faculty are more likely than their male counterparts to hold non-tenured “soft money” positions, and are therefore presumably more vulnerable to the current funding climate.  Current data from UC Davis School of Medicine broken down by series and gender (shown below) are consistent with these national trends:

AdjunctFaculty

How might the current funding climate impact the gains we have seen in the number of women faculty in academic medicine here? At the UC Davis School of Medicine (UCDSOM) 35% of our faculty are women (slightly lower than the national average).  In recent years, a growing number research-intensive faculty recruited at UCDSOM have been appointed in one of two non-tenure track series:  Adjunct and In Residence.  Faculty in these series depend almost entirely on extramural funding to pay for their own salaries and fund their research programs. In Residence is generally viewed as the more secure option, as it includes membership in the academic senate and requires a longer notification period for non-reappointment or reduction in salary when grant support is lost.  Faculty in the Adjunct series have one-year appointments contingent upon adequate grant support and are not members of the academic senate.  Although there are nearly equal numbers of men and women in the series must vulnerable funding series (adjunct), there are more men than women by a ratio of approximately 2.5 to 1 in the more secure series (in residence and regular).

What is being done to bolster funding and prevent the loss of research faculty? Earlier this year, the AAMC’s Group on Women in Medicine and Science (GWIMS) representatives initiated a conversation regarding how different institutions are addressing support for research-intensive faculty tracks in the current funding climate. For most institutions, the issue is currently being handled at the departmental level resulting in a wide range of responses.  Some departments are providing bridge funding, or organizing salary support for current or additional teaching activities for their grant funded faculty. Other departments have explored shifting research-track appointments from 12 month to 9 month calendars or negotiating reduced effort for faculty. Many NIH-funded faculty members have simply received a letter of “involuntary reduction in effort” from their department chairs in anticipation of a salary shortfall.  This undoubtedly complex issue will continue to be a major concern for everyone competing for NIH-funding, but especially for faculty dependent on grants to fund their own salaries.  What is your department doing to address this issue?  Is it working?  What else would you like to see UC Davis doing to support research track faculty?