Monday, August 17, 2009

Whopping Pay Hike Proposed for CIRM Grant Reviewers

The California stem cell agency, which constantly stews about recruiting and keeping enough top notch scientists to review its grant applications, is now proposing to pay them $750 a day, which could total as much as $10,000 per reviewer for each grant round.

If the compensation reaches that level, it would be a 500 percent increase in the flat $2,000 that was previously provided.

The pay hike comes before the CIRM board later this week. In a memo, the CIRM staff said it was needed in order for the agency to be “competitive” in securing reviewers, who are usually well-known and respected scientists.

CIRM offered no figures for the overall estimated cost of the increase in what it calls "honorarium." But at $750-a-day, which amounts to $195,000 if it were applied on annual basis, the amount is pay – not honorarium.

We based our cost estimates on information provided in 2007 by Richard Murphy, then interim president of CIRM. Murphy also had served as head of the Salk Institute and as a member of CIRM board.

Murphy told the California Stem Cell Report that when he did grant reviews it took him one to two weeks to review the grants and write them up, including meeting time and travel. Based on that, the proposed pay for reviewers – which covers days of service, not just actual meetings -- could run from $3,750 to $10,000 per grant ground for each reviewer. Of course, the amount depends on how fast a reviewer works and could be less or more.

The number of grant reviewers actually used varies, depending on the need for specialists. However, 13 sit as regular members of the grant review group and many, many more as alternates or ad hoc members.

Murphy spoke to us at a CIRM board meeting during which the compensation was boosted from $500 a day to the flat $2,000. The $500 only applied to meeting days. The compensation does not include travel expenses, which are also reimbursed by CIRM.

As CIRM indicated, retaining skilled reviewers appears to be getting tougher. Lifting of the federal ban on hESC grants would certainly would seem to create more demand from the NIH for scientific reviewers who might also be recruited by CIRM. And the stem field generally is much more active than it was in 2005, when CIRM got started, generating more demand for reviewers. All of those reviewers also have their own personal research projects to attend.

The need for increased CIRM incentives is also likely linked to the absence of a chief scientific officer (CSO) at CIRM. One of the “the most important and least appreciated aspects of the CSO's role has been to personally beg, harangue and plead” with other scientists to serve as reviewers, as one person told us.

The post is now vacant after the resignation of Marie Csete earlier this year. Csete had served as CIRM reviewer and was well-respected and well-known in her field, giving her the heft to bring in reviewers.

It is likely to be some months before her post is filled.

CIRM also cited as justification for the pay increase an increasing future workload as grant rounds become more complex. Sphere: Related Content


  1. Don Gibbons6:10 PM

    It amazes me that you can write something like this without a single query into the source to check the veracity of your assertions. Under the proposal going to our board for consideration CIRM would be deciding in advance the number of workdays it will pay all the reviewers for a given round of grants. For simpler grant cycles this is likely to be only three and a half days and for complex ones probably not more than six. That means increasing the reviewers’ payments from $2,000 to somewhere between $2,500 and $4,500. We realize that this does not cover all the work required to participate in one of our reviews, but it does come closer.

  2. Our thanks to Gibbons for providing this additional information concerning the CIRM reviewer pay plan. None of the information that he provided in his comment this evening was previously available to the public via the meeting agenda, and it should have been. Too often CIRM backup information on agenda items is incomplete, raising significant questions that go unanswered. Items that propose new expenditures should include all the important facts concerning their cost -- not just part of them.

  3. Anonymous11:09 PM

    The flack still doesn't answer the key question: Why do the reviewers need more money?
    Could it be related to CIRM cr***ing all over their former CSO, an original member of their review group?

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