Archive for the 'academia' category

Better than a kick in the teeth!

Oct 05 2012 Published by under academia, grants

I woke up this morning crazy stiff from my workout with the new trainer yesterday. And then I just spent a good portion of my day in the dentist office, unexpectedly. It totally, totally sucked. But then the shitty day took a turn for the better when I got some happy grant news! My R01 that went in in June was in study section yesterday - and MY. GRANT. WAS. SCORED!!!! I had been hopeful when I hadn't gotten a "not scored" email last night, and even more guardedly optimistic when it was not waiting for me this morning. But I have now checked into Commons and there is real evidence (you know, a score!). That's right, no triage this time baby! I got a real score! Now, it is probably* not a fundable score, but it is an improvement. And scored means I get a summary statement and then I can resubmit. WOOOT!!!1!!11!!!1!!!!!


*but really, who knows. There is no budget yet, so that doesn't help. But I'll have to wait to see what my PO says about it after I get the summary statement back. Never can tell and all 🙂

6 responses so far

Announcing #AlliesFTW Q&A

Oct 04 2012 Published by under academia, gender, queer

A while back on twitter, I got in a conversation with Joe (@josephlsimonis) from charismatics are dangerous about what folks in academia can do to be allies for the queer* students in their midst, especially trans* folks**. As we were chatting about things that profs/teachers/faculty can do to help queer students feel welcome and comfortable in academia I realized that I really had no idea.  I don't know what will help other queer folks feel comfortable in any given lab group environment. And yet, I am in a position where there may be queer students in the classes that I teach. And if there is anything I can do to foster their interests in science, I want to know what it is, so that I can do it. In short, I want to be an active ally. But how? What specific steps can I take to make the academic environment better for queer students? We talked about allies in the DiS Blog Carnival earlier this year, and came up with some good ideas when Labroides asked what a new prof could do to create an environment that fostered diversity, so that ze could recruit and retain folks from different backgrounds into hir group. And now is a great time for all of us to up our game. This leads us to the announcement:


Queer students often have widely different classroom experiences that can vary based on their specific queer identity/expression, as well as and any other identities which might intersect with their queerness in the classroom. Many young adults are coming out/identifying as queer while in college, and so the classroom and other academic settings are important places to make as welcoming and affirming as possible.

We are hosting a blog Q&A to discuss the issues that queer students have in academia, and to try to figure out what those of us in a role of  professor/teacher can do to foster an environment that allows our queer students to thrive. Since every student and environment is different, we hope that we can get a diverse group of folks both asking questions and contributing answers. So here's the plan: over the next couple of weeks, we are going to be asking for you to submit questions for the Q&A carnival. If you are a teacher/prof, what questions do you have about how to be a super ally? If you are a queer student, what do you wish the teacher/prof would take into consideration? Submit your answers in the comments section here or on Joe's blog, or email your responses to me (gmail at primaryinvestigator) or her (gmail at josephlsimonis). If you would like to remain anonymous we will strip your emails from any identifying information before posting questions on the blog. And if you are on twitter, join in with the hashtag #AlliesFTW.

We will collect question/comments until Oct 19 or so. Then Joe and I will put together the list of questions and post them on our respective blogs so that you can all chime in to give us a sense of which are the best ones to answer first. Then we will try to address each question/comment on the blog. We can only speak from our personal experiences, so the hope is that we will spark a good discussion that includes and reflects the spectrum of experiences.  We will try to keep the series going as long as progress is being made. In the end we can all be better allies!


*by queer, we mean anyone who falls under the broad lgbtqgqia+ or "gender and sexual minority" banners
**the trans* notation, with asterisk,  is a way to note that gender is not binary, and there are not just "boys" and "girls". I learned about it from Joe, and it is pretty awesome.

13 responses so far

Is it cheating to propose experiments in a grant that are "done"?

Sep 27 2012 Published by under academia, grants

If you have already FINISHED the studies, why would you propose them in a grant? I know that there is a common meme that "you have to have done the work to get it funded", but I have never behaved that this is an actual real expectation.

This comes up because Fred, a new PI, left a comment over at Dr. Becca's place*:

...we are seriously thinking about publishing most of the preliminary data (and data not shown in the grant) about 1-2 months after submitting the grant. This manuscript would show we have completed more than half of proposed studies in the grant.

Fred wanted to know whether it is a good idea to publish the paper. But I am wondering WHY that was the grant that was written. If you had done the experiment wouldn't it be cooler to talk about what new awesome thing you could do next? I get that you need preliminary data for a grant. I have always written my grants with preliminary data that showed I was able to do the experimental procedure. I have always written my grants using Preliminary Data to demonstrate feasibility. But the reason I needed money was to actually DO the experiment. I may "know" the answer (or at least think that I do), but I haven't actually done the experiment.

It feel like holding back data, and proposing experiments that you have already done is kind of sketchy. And I don't understand the motivation. Is the idea that you will be able to show fast progress on the grant (if it's funded) and that will be awesome?

Help me out, guys. Am I totally off base here? What am I missing?

Also, FTR, in my n=1 experience on study section, if there is evidence that you have already published the results of the proposed research it is viewed poorly by the reviewers.


*I started to comment over there but realized that I was going off on a tangent.

30 responses so far

Uninteresting questions

Sep 21 2012 Published by under academia

I have been to a lot of seminars over the years. One of my favorite parts of seminars is the question session at the end. It is fun to interact with the person about their work and see how their interpretation fits in with your perspective of the results. It is also a lot of fun as a speaker, IMO. Almost always someone will ask a question which you, the speaker, won't know the answer to. It may be that there is no answer, or it could be that YOU just don't know what it is. Either is OK. There are graceful ways out of this situation. I think the best option is to start with "I don't know" and then expand on either what you know is NOT the answer - based on experiments you've done or other published work - and/or discuss ways that you could address the issue. These are also good strategies for grad students giving a qualifying exam, by the way. A skilled (non)answer makes it clear that you are well-read and knowledgeable, because you are able to understand the question, but recognize the limits of what you know.

BUT this assumes that you have been asked a question that is interesting. This is not always the case. I ask a LOT of questions at seminars. It is possible to ask misguided, out-of-context, or just plain ridiculous questions. I know, I have done it (NOT ON PURPOSE!). And this is why I find it SO irritating when speakers start every answer (or just answers to the questions that they don't know the answer to) with "that is an interesting question!" or something similar. Because it is NOT always an interesting or even good question.

It is OK to not answer a question that is not interesting, and it is possible to do it while being pleasant and diplomatic. If you are really good, you may even be able to twist the ridiculous into something interesting. YAY!

But please, don't pander to me.

10 responses so far

Grant writing RBOC

Sep 20 2012 Published by under academia, exhaustion, venting

There have been a lot of things bouncing around in my head that I have thought "I should write a post about that"! But I'm also in the middle of writing a grant so I've been a little, well, preoccupied/sleep deprived/distracted from blogging. Such is life. Anywho...look at these things that caught my attention when I was too fried to write on my grant anymore tonight:

  • Did you all see how our good friend Abel Pharmboy had to deal with this person who was very, very upset that the NC museum of Natural Sciences did not outright ban scientists from companies that sell GMO (go here and here).
  • Chick-Fil-A said that they would stop giving money to hatey orgs!! Yay! was not true. Equality Fail.
  • OMG the students are back. For REAL. I have given lectures to the new grad students, and we'll see how they make the transition. There are also undergrads around, but I'm ignoring that because it just reminds me I have to start teaching the Big Class soon.
  • DADT died a YEAR AGO! My favorite thing that I have seen about this so far is when Barney Frank was on Maddow tonight. When asked what he would say to those *cough* McCain *cough* that predicted doom and gloom when this happened he replied "nyanya". I love that dude.
  • I have finally had to start sitting through MY OWN STUDENTS taking their qualifying exams. This is both awesome and extremely stressful. FTR, my grad students kick ass. Like, a lot.
  • The fucking NHL is in a lock-out. gah.
  • I don't know what my h-index is, and I will not be taking the time to figure it out. It is stupid enough that this is used by some places as a metric for evaluation. But using an "algorithm" to predict the future is just stupid.
  • Who is in charge of the timing to make sure that the reviews for papers that you submit come back right when you are working on a grant deadline? Because that sucks.

Have I missed anything important?

4 responses so far

so you need to write a CV

Sep 12 2012 Published by under academia

This morning on the twitter, there has been a discussion about CV's. What do you include, format, etc. DrugMonkey reacted to the conversation. And he's correct, of course. EVERYONE should have a long-form CV. That has everything (it is your "life's work"). And it should be updated frequently.

I actually have two CV's. The one formatted for MRU and my NIH Biosketch (rules for formating and template here). So I'm going to focus on the free-form version for the rest of this post. First: make it look nice! White space, consistent margins, etc. If you give it to someone and it looks crappy then they may assume that you are generally inattentive to detail. Use section headings so that it is easy to find what you are looking for. This is the order of mine (YMMV):

These are my "headings" on the long-form CV
Contact information - you know, how to get a hold of me! I include my lab webpage here. But don't include personal info that is irrelevant (such as your birthday, marital status, etc).

Education - what degrees and where.

Professional appointments and research experience - more detailed than the education section. includes who i did my grad and postdoc work with.

Faculty Affiliations - departments and grad programs that I am affiliated with

Awards and Honors - all the way back to the National Merit scholarship (that's from HS). I have lost some "little" awards from this over time. But I keep things like National awards, phi beta kappa, etc.

Peer Reviewed Publications - these are sub-headed into "research articles" and "reviews and book chapters". I also have a separate sections for "in review". If in your field abstracts are peer-reviewed then i would put a separate section here.

Presentations - these are sub-headed into "speaking engagements" and I note which were selected abstracts and which were invited lectures. If you are BFD then you may also want a section for named lectures, etc. I also have a "poster abstracts" section here. In my field for many meetings basically every abstract submitted is allowed to give a poster.

Patent Filings - you know, for your IP

Research Support - these are subheaded as "ongoing", "pending", and "completed". My role (PI, fellow, etc) the dates and total award amount are included.

Teaching Experience - for MRU teaching I include ~# of students, level of course, and my role in the class (if team-taught). I have a separate subheading "prior to faculty appointment" which has this info but is a little shorter.

Mentoring - these are subheaded as "postdoctoral fellows", "graduate student trainees", "undergraduate research associates", "high school research interns", "graduate rotation students", and "graduate thesis committees". I include what program grad students are from, when they defend, and where my grad students and postdocs go after they leave my lab.

University Service - committees, etc.

Other Professional Activities - service to the science community, outreach, peer review service, grant panel review service, and any SAB

Professional Societies - where I am a member, and the years that I was a member


Now that is a LOT of info. And it is really hard to remember all that shit after the fact. So start your CV NOW and KEEP IT UP TO DATE.



35 responses so far

myIDP - a test run and quick evaluation

Sep 06 2012 Published by under academia

Today while I was playing on the internet I ran across myIDP, an online career development tool at Science Careers. You can find the article explaining the rational behind myIDP here. According to the myIDP website:

An individual development plan (IDP) helps you explore career possibilities and set goals to follow the career path that fits you best.

I encourage my trainees to come up with an IDP, and I work with them on this. I think it is useful to consider what options there are, but also to make sure that you are engaging in the career development activities necessary to advance professionally. I did not intentionally make an IDP myself (I had never heard of it when I was a postdoc, TBH), though writing my K99 application certainly made me think explicitly about career development and what I was doing to make up for deficiencies (real and perceived).

I decided to give myIDP a test drive to see how it worked.

This schematic from the myIDP website shows the general methodology

First, I filled out the assessments, trying to be brutally honest. IMO this is important if you want a IDP that is worthwhile. There are three lists of questions (skill, values, interests). Then you get a list of career options with "scores" of how well your skills, values, and interests match up. So how well does it work? Well...kinda?

my top five "matches"

In what may be a horrible sign of things to come, tenure-track research PI was not even in the top 15*!! Research admin was #7 (blech!), Research staff was #12, and Industry research was #13. But I actually like my job, and think I'm pretty decent at it. I guess I don't give myIDP high scores in prediction FWIW. I can tell you for SURE I would suck at "public health related careers" and technical support (I really don't have the patience OR technical knowledge). And SALES?! FFS HELL NO. ahem.

To summarize, I think that any IDP has to be, well, more personal. I am not sure that the question sets are really thorough enough to actually start sending someone down one career path or another. But they are a great starting point. It doesn't take that long, and might be useful. I think postdocs should try it out. But then also work with your PI to develop a real, actionable IDP for yourself.


*for all I know, this isn't even an option. But if it is then how in the hell is in not in my wheelhouse??!!!


24 responses so far

Year 3: put up or shut up

Sep 05 2012 Published by under academia, jr faculty, on the job training

I have started to notice that the density of people on sidewalks around MRU has increased. It is not quite as light in the morning when I get up - soon I'll be running in the dark. The bus is more crowded, and I'm older than most of the other riders. There is no avoiding the fact that the school year is starting up again.

This is my third year on the tenure track.  I'm not going to lie...I'm a little terrified. Looking to those who went before me, I can't help notice a trend. Prof-Like Substance poetically noted that "year 3 licks goat scroti". It was also frighteningly busy for Prof-in-Training. I am pretty sure that I am going to be in the same situation.

I need cute puppies to keep me from panic! This one from @emergencypuppy

My first two years have gone pretty well, I think. I have assembled a pretty kick-ass lab group. My first student is preparing for hir qualifying exam, and I'm proud of how well ze is doing. I'm also terrified of sitting in the room during the exam - not because I think it will go poorly, but I'm sure I will be a total wreck. But I digress. In the lab, projects are moving forward. We published a methods-based paper this year and have a review article in the pipeline. I expect that we will get at least two (and hopefully three) papers with NEW AND AWESOME results submitted this year. I have secured a reasonable amount of funding for my lab, including my K99/R00 award, pilot awards, and foundation money. I sat on a tenure-track faculty search committee, and served as an Early Career Reviewer for the NIH (and I blogged about it!). I have submitted two R01 applications and have another planned for the fall deadline. There have also been some bumps. I had to fire someone (that sucked!), and my first grant was triaged :(, so I will probably be resubmitting that one in the spring.

This year I will definitely have some new things to consider, though. For instance, I start teaching (YIKES!). A big undergrad class. Luckily I don't have to do this alone, and the other profs teaching with me are very helpful and I think (hope?) it will go pretty smoothly. Oh yeah, and I will get to sit on SO MANY GRADUATE QUALIFYING EXAMS! I am also being given more responsibilities (and some leadership opportunities) in the service that I do. This is mostly a good thing, but will definitely be another drain of time and energy. But where SHIT GETS REAL is the money. This is the last year of my R00, so that cushion is going to disappear soon. I need to land an R01 so that the lab can continue to function...and it needs to be soon, before my tenure package goes out for review.  *gulp*

MOAR @emergencypuppy!

And that is how shit is getting real for me. The first couple of years there was the excitement of setting up a lab. Everything was full of potential. But now...well, now potential isn't enough. It's time to cash in on the potential and make something awesome happen.

Guess which one of these guys I'm relating to:

6 responses so far

out on the tenure track - sad story

Jul 16 2012 Published by under academia, queer

There was a fellow, Albert Romkes, who got a tenure-track position at the University of Kansas in Mechanical Engineering. When he came up for tenure, he got approved by his Department and School, but then was denied by the University level administrators (full story here). He was the first and only openly gay faculty member in the School of Engineering. There is no way to know why the Dean decided to deny tenure to Dr. Romkes. Some of the faculty and other members of the KU community feel like he was not treated fairly (there may have been some shenanigans with the "rules" applied by the P&T committee) because of his sexual orientation. KU, obviously, denies discrimination.

Romkes doesn't feel like he was actively tormented as an openly gay faculty member at KU, though it was apparently a little awkward to bring his partner to events. Still, this is what he has to say about the situation now:

"In hindsight, I should have mentioned it in the interview because I could have avoided a lot of misery," he says, "If anybody would have had a problem, they wouldn't have hired me, and I would have been better off. I would have done my work anyway, but at a different place. And I wouldn't have to deal with this issue."


h/t @bam294 for the link

19 responses so far

Gerty goes to study section, part 3

Jul 15 2012 Published by under academia, tenure-track OTJT

It is about time! I got a little distracted, but it is time to finish telling you all about my study section experience. In case you can't remember, in part 1 I wrote about how I ended up as an ECR on an NIH study section, and in part 2 went on about what I did leading up to the meeting. Now part 3 - the meeting!

You guys, the meeting itself was exhausting! We started at 7:30 am, and went until 6:00 pm. We were meeting in a conference room with a giant table. Everyone had an assigned seat, and you got a seating chart so you would know who everyone is. The first few minutes are milling about and getting coffee/pastries*, setting up your computer and getting it connected to the wireless, etc. Then the meeting starts with the SRO welcoming everyone and explaining the rules. You all check your COI form to make sure that it is correct. Then she hands the meeting over to the Chairperson of the study section.

The Chairperson then starts the review process. The first grant is announced, and anyone that is in conflict leaves the room. For each review, it basically went the way it is shown in the movie made by NIH. Each reviewer announces their primary impact score. Then the first reviewer gives a short description of the grant and what were the strengths/weaknesses that led to its score. Then the other reviewers add anything that they considered to drive their score. At this time, everyone else is listening and looking over the grant, particularly the Project Summary and Aims but you could pull up the whole grant on your computer.

After all the reviewers spoke, then anyone could ask questions. There were lots of questions. Questions could be about the science or the scoring. For example, you could ask a reviewer why they gave a grant a 1 but had many concerns about the approach. Or you could ask for clarification about what experiments they were (or were not) proposing. Or you could ask about the interpretation of the preliminary data. The reviewers answered the questions (which is why it is so important to make sure they have all the information they need to advocate for your project!). After 10 minutes or so the Chairperson summarizes the discussion, and asks the Primary Reviewer if there are any concerns about animal use or reagent sharing (seriously people, don't forget to fill these sections out). Then the original three reviewers announce their final impact score, which may (or may not) have changed. This sets the "range". The Chairperson then asks if anyone will be voting outside the range, and you have to raise your hand if you are. If you didn't say anything at all during the discussion but then indicate you are voting outside of the range, the Chairperson may ask why. They mostly want to know if it was something in the discussion or something else. Then everyone enters their score on the online form. And then on to the next grant.

The order that the grants were reviewed was based on preliminary impact score. The R01 from ESI were the first group, with the "best" scored grants first. We only discussed the top half, the rest were "not discussed" (aka triaged)**. But every grant was announced and we all had to agree to triage, so if one person wanted to discuss the grant, then it was discussed. After the ESI R01, we went through all the top half of the rest of the R01 applications. Midway through this group we got a 30 min break for lunch (seriously, it was a LONG day). Then we started on the R21 and R03. There were so many R21. SO MANY. After about 10 hours of this, we stopped and all of us went to dinner, which was pretty awesome. The SRO made sure I got introduced to everyone, especially the BSD in my field that were there, which was awesome. The next morning we met again to finish the R21. We worked through lunch, and finished early in the afternoon. It was crazy.

The whole process was fascinating, really. We all know that there is no formula that derives an impact score, but it is really amazing how each grant was evaluated differently. For some grants, the approach was KEY. But there were some where the reviewers noted significant concerns about the approach but still gave it a very good impact score because of the investigator, or vice versa (for instance). Every so often the SRO would interrupt the discussion to make sure that we were following the rules. For instance, we were not allowed to say "This grant would be better if they had controlled for widget frequency". You could only raise concerns. This was to prevent people from assuming if they did everything the reviewers "suggest" that they would get a better score. Because who knows? There were also some times that the SRO would ask someone to clarify their score, if it wasn't clear that they were following the scoring system rubric. This was to try to avoid score compression. There was also a program officer there, but she didn't say anything during the meeting, just watched.

Being on study section was really interesting experience. I think that I knew many of the concepts of what was happening (thanks for folks like DrugMonkey and PhysioProf, etc.). But seeing it in person really brought it all home.

Now all I have to do is translate this experience into my own successful grant!

Do you guys have questions, or requests to expand on something? I don't have a plan for a Part 4, but I am open to suggestions.


*apparently this is the last meeting that will have these, though. New rules prevent the NIH from buying food or coffee for these meetings.

**You get notified that day if you are triaged, based on my personal experience. But you don't get to see your preliminary scores for a while after that.

8 responses so far

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