Grad student/Post-doc awards during Republican or Democrat regimes

The first question I had after the election was what does this mean for my future funding? It's a selfish question, sure. But this question has a larger impact than just me -- it's about funding the next trainees and continuing to make discoveries. What was success rate and total funding like for some of the more popular pre-doctoral and post-doctoral awards?

My main goal here was to see if funds, or ability to earn funding, would be impacted by a president or congress. I'm no agent for either party in this case -- rather, I'm seeking out the most objective information available to me and whether funding is about to get more difficult or not.

Success rate and total funding in terms of presidential administration

Each marker line is a presidential term for a Democrat (blue) or Republican (red). Funding is total amount of funding available the year for a mechanism.

Each marker line is a presidential term for a Democrat (blue) or Republican (red). Funding is total amount of funding available the year for a mechanism.

Each marker designates the start of a term for a Democrat president (blue) or a Republican president (red).

Each marker designates the start of a term for a Democrat president (blue) or a Republican president (red).

 

I immediately thought funding would be affected by presidencies, but that just doesn't seem to be completely true. Even through the Great Recession, as overall funding decreased for F32s, the introduction of the K99 helped offset the decreasing F32 funds (I think? I'm not the most well-versed in NIH politics, so correct me if I'm wrong in the comments).

The F31 has been relatively stable since 2005. So if you're just thinking about these training awards in terms of available funds, then great! Funds and presidencies aren't necessarily correlated!

But in conjunction with success rate, the story becomes a bit different. Does recession always equate to plummeting success rate? Seems as though the best years to be a trainee was during the Clinton administration. Things looked up in 2007 and 2008, but slowly descended back below 30% success rate over the last 4 years.

I don't claim to be an NIH insider -- I've never won an NIH grant in my life -- but it's hard to put all of this on the president. Even GWB showed an increase in NIH success rate in the latter years of his 2nd term, so blame can't squarely be placed on the president.

What about Congress?

Success rate and total funding in terms of Congressional majority

Each marker line designates the party majority of Congress: Republican (red), Democrat (blue), or tied (black).

Each marker line designates the party majority of Congress: Republican (red), Democrat (blue), or tied (black).

Each marker line designates the party majority of Congress: Republican (red), Democrat (blue), or tied (black).

Each marker line designates the party majority of Congress: Republican (red), Democrat (blue), or tied (black).

 

I thought funding may be more tied to the majority of Congress -- would there be funding (or success rate) trends depending on who is the congressional majority? To be honest, I personally don't see any trend here. Aside from (again) Clinton's last term (1998 - 2001), none of the changes in congressional majority reflect any specific trend. It's not like I can say Oh, Republicans correlate with drops in funding when exists most dramatically during the Democratic majority from 2007-2011. And I can't really say Democrats improved success rate because the 2001 congress was a Democratic congress and was related to the steepest drop in success rate in recent times.

So is science in America going to be more difficult for trainees?

Obviously that is difficult to say just based on these data. I can say that the trend through Obama's administration showed a dropping success rate even though funding was relatively similar (particularly through his first term). Not to mention more trainees enter experimental-science-focused graduate programs every year -- the drop in success rate may be better explained simply by a larger quantity of applicants.

Although my knee jerk reaction was I think post doctoral funding will be more difficult in the coming years based on the recent graphs, I am not completely convinced that a Republican president and a Republican Congress will make it any more difficult than a Democratic president/Congress. And recent history has shown that when GWB also had congress, success rate took a dive... that was the same for Obama and a Democrat Congress majority.

I will say one thing about the Obama administration -- the K99/R00 mechanism was brought in during his only time with a majority Democratic Congress. GWB was never able to put forth a new trainee mechanism with $40,000,000, in support due to the recession.

Oh yeah, Trump did say that the NIH needs some "common sense" and is "terrible". So... maybe we're in for bigger, different changes.

 

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