Certainly, Bodenmiller is well off, financially speaking, for such a young faculty member. Yet he does have limitations. Nolan's lab, for instance, had dedicated robotics facilities and bioinformatics expertise. But Bodenmiller doesn't yet have the money for such things. Instead, he will access them either via the university's core facility or collaborations with other researchers. The same is true for mice, as the per-diem cost of maintaining a mouse colony can quickly drain a lab's reserves.
“For the first couple of years, certainly my focus is getting the CyTOF up and running and be very productive with it. And then I can think [about] what are the next steps,” he says.
Ultimately, of course, Bodenmiller may need to establish a mouse colony of his own, but that won't be for several years, by which point he should have additional funding, more personnel, and more in-house expertise.
“If it's about making tough decisions, then certainly every young group leader has to make them,” Bodenmiller says. Yet a collaborative environment can make a big difference. Senior faculty at Zurich often help young investigators by sharing equipment such as PCR machines and tissue culture hoods, so they can see what they need prior to purchasing it. “This can help a lot so that young groups can be very quickly productive,” he says.The fish lab
R. Craig Albertson has actually negotiated and received two startup packages during his relatively young career. Albertson, who joined the faculty at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, as an assistant professor of biology in July 2011, had held the same position at Syracuse University since 2006. Before that, he was a postdoctoral fellow in Boston.
“I'm kind of a New Englander at heart,” Albertson says.
Albertson is an evolutionary biologist who studies the impact of genetic variation on phenotypic variation in fish — specifically, zebrafish, as well as another class of tropical fish called cichlids.
These fish are housed in 20 40-gallon aquaria, 20 10-gallon aquaria, and 100 smaller 3L tanks, with dedicated pumps, filtration systems, lighting, and so on. Not just any room can house that much equipment — the room needs to be large enough (800-plus square feet) to comfortably hold all the tanks and associated hardware, have floor drains installed, and most importantly, be structurally equipped to handle the point loads of that much weight. Naturally, animal facilities turned out to be the key deal-breaker for Albertson, both at Syracuse and in Amherst.
Albertson estimates the equipment in his fish room cost about $100,000 or so, plus another $25,000 for the installation. He was able to save some money by moving much of that hardware over from Syracuse, paying the university just 30 cents on the dollar for equipment that was only four or five years old. That was “a pretty good cost saver,” he says — though perhaps not as good as it sounds on the surface: He had to pay an additional $30,000 to disassemble, move, replace broken or worn equipment, and reinstall everything.
Most other lab gear he purchased anew, including microscopes, digital imaging equipment, computers, and centrifuges. He estimates that in the six months since he joined the department at University of Massachusetts, he's spent about half of his $400,000 startup package. “Money is flying out of the lab now,” he says.
Part of that outflow is because of research expenditures. A comparative whole-genome next-generation sequencing analysis of some 300 individuals from Albertson's collection, being outsourced to Oregon-based Floragenex, will cost nearly $40,000 for the raw sequence, plus another $5,000 for a computer to process the data. Transcriptome sequencing studies are running between $5,000 and $6,000 apiece. And then there's the post-sequencing functional validation assays using antisense morpholino oligonucleotides, each costing about $500.
But the lion's share of his money has been earmarked for personnel. Albertson has two postdocs and two graduate students in his lab, which he supports from both his startup funds as well as grants from National Institutes of Health (NIH) and National Science Foundation. He would like to add to his group, but that's just not practical at the moment, he says, as it is simply no longer possible to hire workers for a year at a time with the expectation that funding will naturally follow. “You really need to commit to, in my opinion, at least two years to a postdoc in order to provide enough time for them to secure funds on their own,” he says.