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California Stem Cell Institute Plan Revealed on Distributing the Research Money

Written by on Sunday, July 1st, 2007

The California Stem Cell Report reported on the plan released by the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine ("CIRM") on how to distribute the $85 million in research money to twenty-five researchers. 

According to author David Jensen of the California Stem Cell Report, the plan "shed some light on issues related to have and have-not institutions, quality of grant recipients and spreading the CIRM wealth geographically around the state."  Jensen writes:

Under the plan, the awards would go to persons who hold fulltime, faculty-level positions at academic or non-profit institutions in California and who are "young," meaning in the early stages of their careers. Academic institutions with a medical school could submit four applications in support of new Ph.D.’s and two new physician-scientist faculty members. Institutions without a medical school would be limited to two applications. The grants would go for research, salaries and possibly educational loans. They are akin to Pioneer grants awarded by the National Institute of Health. . . .

The discussion of the faculty award program reflected some of the questions recently rippling through CIRM. Do the big, well-established programs continue to receive generous grants? How much should go to institutions without the reputations and facilities that UC San Francisco and Stanford have? Should the location of institutions be a consideration? Does spreading the money around mean that unworthy science is being funded?

These are questions that we as taxpayers should all be considering: how should the CIRM be dividing up all that research money?  Did Californians intend that young researchers should get the money and build their careers in part on this research money?  Or did taxpayers envision something different taking place?

I have mixed feelings on the issue myself. 

As a young attorney myself in my early thirties, I tend to believe that young professionals are in large part hungrier for opportunities than are more established professionals.  I am a hard worker, but let’s be honest–I really don’t aspire to be putting in the kind of hours I have been working the last three or so years in getting my business off the ground twenty years from now.  If I am still working that hard, it may have the effect of cutting my own life short.  In truth, I already feel like it has, and it has only been a little over three years–not twenty.   While there are late bloomers, i.e. professionals who really "bloom" as experts in their fields later in life, I think that by and large it is a fair statement to think that younger professionals will be more driven in the early years of their careers.

On the other hand, there is a good argument that the money should be distributed to those researchers who are already experts in the field so that they can do more research on the areas they built their life’s research on.  If you go back to the analogy of me as a young attorney, there is no doubt that in twenty years I will be much more expert in my field than I am today.  In fact, my expertise grows little by little each year. 

So, what’s more important: the "young drive" and "hunger" for success?  Or the years of establishing a career and developing expertise?  That seems to be the question grappled with in every field.  But should we be grappling with it here in distributing all of this taxpayer money?  Well, the decision seems to have already been made.  Now, it’s up to us as taxpayers to decide whether or not our tax dollars have been put to good use.

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