This DEB Numbers post is a continuation of our previous post, here, where we laid out some of the measures of collaboration that are available to us in DEB. If you are new to DEB Numbers posts, we suggest you read our introductory message to familiarize yourself with some of the conventions we use here to describe what can be confusing information.
How many collaborators?
Beyond the presence/absence of PAPPG-defined collaborative proposals or presence/absence of Co-PIs on a project, we have some additional information that may shine a light on other facets of the collaboration question.
Clearly, an immediate follow-up question to presence/absence of collaboration is “how many are involved?” In answer to this we can take a look at the average number of names on a project’s cover sheet(s) or the average number of institutions on a project’s budget(s). The following tables exclude preliminary proposals because those projects are submitted by single institutions without budget information and so do not reliably provide complete information for persons or institutions. (The Excel template required for January, 2013 preliminary proposals was an attempt to improve capture of such info.)
Mean PI/Co-PI Names on Full Proposal Project Cover Sheet(s) for DEB Core Program Panel Submissions and Awards FY2007-FY2013
Mean Institutions in Full Proposal Project Budget(s) for DEB Core Program Panel Submissions and Awards FY2007-FY2013
*Tentative numbers for FY2013 under the Continuing Resolution budget scenario.
For both mean persons and mean institutions per project submission, we do not see any large change in FY2013 which would signify some sort of catastrophic impact on collaboration habits in project submissions.
The numbers for both mean persons and mean institutions on the awards, however, may give one pause. Especially if plotted, the visualization can seem frightening:
For all four measures of the awards, FY2013 is down from FY2012. In three of the four cases the FY2013 drop is the largest single year change in the set. Since we saw in the previous post on collaborations that the proportions of single investigator versus collaborative project awards had not changed, this observed change requires that the size of groups involved in collaborative projects expected to be awarded for FY2013 are somewhat smaller than in previous years. How much smaller? Well, the mean changes by ~.25 in the largest drop so we are looking at one fewer participant for every four multi-investigator project awards. This is definitely something we are keeping an eye on but, given the unique circumstances in FY2013, our interpretation is it does not yet signal a problem with the review system but rather a trade-off with the budget.
Such a decrease actually makes sense in the context of a limited and uncertain budget. Especially given the focus on funding rates and maximizing the number of projects awarded, programs have an incentive to spread the available funding over as many projects as possible. Programs also seek balance between multi-investigator and single investigator project awards. If multi-investigator projects with smaller collaborative groups cost less than similar projects supporting larger groups of PIs and Co-PIs, the funds saved on the less costly projects could enable more awards to be made in total.
The last measure we will take a look at in this discussion highlights a specific aspect of the collaboration concern that was raised in some quarters, namely that the submission limit would stifle collaboration between younger and older researchers. The best measure we have to look at such inter-generational collaboration is the terminal degree year of the researchers. This number is part of each individual’s FastLane profile. We can capture that data for the participants in each multi-investigator project and calculate the number of years between the most recent and most remote terminal degree years on each project. The distribution of these degree year ranges was compiled for DEB Core Program Panel Multi-Investigator Projects awarded from FY2007 through FY2013. These distributions are presented below, without further commentary, as a series of box-and-whisker plots.
We hope these two posts have started you thinking about collaboration and look forward to continuing the discussion in the comments and future posts.