A sobering chart:
The red lines are the distribution of ages of medical school faculties, in 1980 and 2010; the bars are the distribution of NIH grant recipient ages. Both increased markedly in the 30-year period, with a larger and larger gap between them. I pulled this chart from a YouTube animation that shows the figures in many intervening years. It’s a slow march toward older and older grant awards, when the proportion of 55-year-old grantees has doubled, while the proportion of 39-year-old grantees has halved.
Plus a totally new category: the septuagenerian grantee.
I wonder how many of the 65-year-old grantees of 2010 were part of the large crop of 35-year-old grantees in 1980. A fortunate generation of research scientists.
UPDATE (2012-08-26): A reader writes with the story of a scientist who kept the same R01 grant for 28 years, renewing competitively in every cycle, but without any other funding worries until he decided to retire. If you watch the linked video, you’ll see a “bump” of grants that ages upward for more than fifteen years. If grants were not renewable, of course, this bump would have smoothed itself out over the course of a grant cycle or two. Instead, we see how a single NIH budget bump was carried forward by a lucky group of researchers across nearly their entire careers!
UPDATE (2012-08-27): Also see Neuroanthropology on the same topic.