Grants v. Papers

May 21 2011 Published by under grants, jr faculty, on the job training

Well, it is at least 5 h after the rapture should have made it to my time zone, and I'm still here. Not a surprise, really. I was never really that worried about whether I would be raptured. One of the benefits of being an atheist, I suppose.

One thing I have been thinking about a lot recently, though, is the writing of papers versus grants. Specifically, given that I have finite time resources, which should I be focused on right now?

Clearly, I need to have both grants and pubs to get tenure. I am approaching the first anniversary of my faculty position, and I have submitted many grants with mediocre success. I have one paper in review right now, and another that will go out soon, but these both still have my postdoc PI as an author, so even though i am the corresponding author they only kinda count.

I have decided that this summer I will get back to the bench and focus on getting some data, moving projects forward and getting at least 2 manuscripts out the door. I feel like right now I have to focus on publishing. But I really don't know if this is the best strategy. Sure, eventually we will need to show productivity, but it is conceivable that I could ride the momentum that I have now and get more cash.

I really don't know the correct answer here. But I'm s little burned out on grant writing. And I would like to see something actually happen. I also think that me being at the bench more this summer could be good to get my two grad students started off on the right foot.

Time will tell.

28 responses so far

  • physioprof says:

    Don't slow down your grant writing. Spending more time at the bench is short-sighted, as it is a low-leverage activity for a faculty member.

    • gerty-z says:

      I agree with you, but I'm wondering if my grant writing would be even more successful if I published a couple of ms. I can write the grants, but I don't want to waste my time if I"m cancelled out b/c of lower pubs from the new lab.

      • physioprof says:

        Assuming you are going for an NIH R01, if you have have started your lab fewer than two (or maybe even three) years ago, you don't need publications from your own lab as a prerequisite for getting an outstanding score. What you need to do is figure out ways to be submitting multiple R01s for review by multiple different study sections. You need students, post-docs, and techs to be at the bench doing experiments, and you need to be spending your time reading, thinking, writing, and going to conferences. At your career stage, the best conferences to go to are small intimate ones, like the GRCs, where you will have the opportunity for extensive interaction with the people who will be on study sections reviewing your grants.

  • Postdoc says:

    As I noticed, PIs are much less interested in getting out papers than in writing grants. If they already have enough papers, they want some preliminary data for the grants, but they don't really care when the paper will be published. This is really annoying for me.:)

    On the tenure track you have to show constant high-quality productivity, so maybe it's good to have papers without your postdoc PI early.

  • Zen Faulkes says:

    It depends.

    For example, my department is in an emerging research institution. We don't have the infrastructure that other universities have, and it's not reasonable to expect that we can compete in a lot of external grant competitions.

    Consequently, papers are what matter for tenure here. Our tenure and promotion requirements spell out the minimums for publications and presentations, but grants are not even mentioned. Faculty are encouraged to submit grants, and awarded grants are looked upon favourably, but you do not have to pull down external grants for tenure.

    You have to read the tenure and promotion documents carefully, and find people you trust on the tenure committee who will give you the straight dope. Alas, I know from other departments that there are often "unwritten rules" that if you don't get an external grant, you don't get tenure.

    I hate unwritten rules.

  • CoR says:

    Word. I'm trying to find the balance too between grants and papers. I'd be just coming in at minimum with 2 papers per year and a grant (or two, looks like our requirements here might change). I'd love to be able to submit 2-4 grants and 5 papers per year. Wouldn't that be nice? Would love to exceed expectations.

    • gerty-z says:

      that sounds lovely! It will be a while before my group is pumping out 5 papers a year. I've been told the general rule is to average 1 per year and bring in some $ and things will be good. But I agree, it would be excellent to exceed expectations.

  • AcademicLurker says:

    My RO1 went from triage to funded in 1 round, and the biggest difference was the I had peer reviewed publications supporting the main hypotheses when I went in the second time around.

    Just 1 data point, but there it is.

  • GMP says:

    I am speaking from a physical science perspective, so take it FWIW.
    I am assuming you are at an R1 in which case I have to second what CPP says -- you should not slow down with writing grants until you get some money -- your submission rate should be much higher in the initial years than it will be once you are established. If you feel burned out, sure, take a break for a month or two, but until receive some support grants are a big priority. Spend some time at the bench to recharge and get the students started (it's important to show papers without ties to old groups), draft a paper or two if you have data, but then back to proposal writing. In the first few years you essentially train students and write papers *around* grant writing time (because you are de facto also training yourself to write successful grants).

    Once you have enough money you can slow down for a little bit (depending on how long the grants are -- most of mine are 3-year so I can take a breather for a year or so before having to think about renewals) but not for very long and certainly not completely.

    It's good to try and find out what the publication rate and grant submission/acquisition rate for recently tenured folks in your department were; if this info is unavailable, look at/talk to people in a similar field at peer institutions.

    And another thing (again, physical science standpoint here, so I don't know what NIH does): go for all the young investigator awards that are available to you. Not sure if your research qualifies for the NSF, but if it does, CAREERs have a much higher success rate (like 25%) than the agency as a whole (~10%) and are due in July. The grants are not huge (for most directorates it's $400K, I think up to $500K for bio) but it's essentially unrestricted money for 5 yrs and a nice bit of prestige on the CV.

    Good luck!

  • Namnezia says:

    In my experience, one big criticism by my grant reviewers after I'd had my lab for one year was that we didn't have any papers independent of my postdoc work. So not until I went and did some benchwork and got a bunch of shit finished were we able to get a couple of high-ish profile publications. After that I found it much easier to get grants. So I think papers are key early on.

    • physioprof says:

      My own experience and that of many of my junior colleagues is that this is the exception, not the rule, and that there is not generally any study section expectation of publications originating from a new PI's lab until at least two years out.

      • gerty-z says:

        this seems a lot more reasonable, and also fairly consistent with what I have seen. Many of my junior colleagues were able to get some funding before they had papers on their own. Still, I do have some data that is SO CLOSE to be ready for publications. And I don't really have anyone to work on it. Maybe my problem is that I need to recruit another postdoc. Not that I'm sure this would actually speed shit up that much.

      • Namnezia says:

        That's what I was told too. I guess it depends on the study section. I think if you are so close to getting a paper, in my opinion, its worth finishing it up. Especially if you've already received some funding.

  • Bashir says:

    I was just thinking about this issue. Of course the answer is very situation dependent. I am in an area that is slightly less dependent on grants than others. Grants aren't quite required, though certainly recommended. Also I'm currently a postdoc to funding options are smaller, and there's more of an immediate need to get pubs. Especially since if I don't get over some mystery number of pubs I won't get past the cursory-10-second-CV-look stage of the job application process.

  • physioprof says:

    Maybe my problem is that I need to recruit another postdoc. Not that I'm sure this would actually speed shit up that much.

    Don't be ridiculous: of course having competent hands in your lab will dramatically speed things up. If there is an important project in your lab with no one to work on it but yourself, then yes you need to recruit more people to your lab. You should be hiring as many *good* post-docs as you possibly can as quickly as you possibly can, planning to fully spend down your start-up in a maximum of three years. Spending slower than that is foolish in the extreme.

  • DrLizzyMoore says:

    Hold up. Don't you have a grant $$? I have a K22, so I am focusing first on papers. That said, I really wish that I could *do* what physioprof preaches. Because I know that he is right--which is really annoying. Right now, I am the super-postdoc and the PI--mainly because I had to fire a really incompetent tech and I am training undergrads-my grad student won't get here until August. This makes it extremely difficult to write like I should be. I will get some relief soon--but until then....

    • gerty-z says:

      First, if you have an incompetent tech then you should get rid of them! Why would you keep paying someone that doesn't actually do the job you need them to do? I do have R00 money, but that will run out soon enough. And that really doesn't count toward tenure, since it started as a mentored award that I did not get *on my own*

  • bam294 says:

    Grants, grants and more grants. The success rate of getting grants is so painfully low and having served on study section you are in 'the sweet spot' of having just started up your lab so we give you a pass for down time on pubs. Nothing, not tenure, not publications, not outside talks and not departmental love is going to happen without grants. That being said, I have taken 1 cycle off for sanity to do experiments, more reading and breathing, but other than that, it is all grants all the time. Everything is more fun than grant writing, but I'm sorry to say that is where we are at now a days.

  • DrLizzyMoore says:

    Oh, the incompetant tech has been kicked off the island.....

  • And that really doesn't count toward tenure, since it started as a mentored award that I did not get *on my own*

    That's not why the R00 doesn't "count". It's not relevant to tenure because it doesn't represent a potential ongoing grant revenue stream that is evidence that you will be keeping yourself well-funded if you are granted tenure, and not become an albatross to the institution.

  • Unfortunately, I think you need to prioritize grants over papers, and hiring someone over working at the bench yourself. It does get easier after your first set of students are trained, because they can do the technical training for your next set. Once the data starts rolling, you will be pulling your hair out trying to balance writing grants vs writing papers. That is where I am right now. Of course, I pretty much spent my startup already, so I NEED money to keep going.

  • [...] fledgling lab. This has only been intensified by the near-unanimous advice I have been getting both here and IRL that I need to focus on writing more grants and let the lab peeps collect the data. This [...]

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