Archive for the 'jr faculty' category

grantsmanship and peer review

Jun 22 2017 Published by under academia, grants, jr faculty, on the job training

There was a conversation on twitter last night that got me kind of worked up. Potnia already posted about this - and there are some really good points about how study section works there. You should read it! But I have opinions, too, and maybe my perspective is a little different. It's very possible I'm putting on the meat pants with this post, but so be it. I'm basing this on my (limited) experience writing grants (I have funded R01) and sitting on study sections (once as ECR, several other times ad-hoc). And I'm only talking NIH here - I have no real experience with NSF or other government agencies.

The twitter conversation was, more-or-less, focused on the frustration of submitting a revised application to NIH (the A1) and getting a worse score than the original submission (the A0), even though you addressed the concerns raised by the original review. This led to Dr. Becca suggesting that there should be a mechanism that kept scores from getting worse. I love Dr. Becca. She is smart and genuinely good people and makes delicious cocktails. I know the frustration of having an A1 get a worse score than the A0. But a rule that A1 always have a better score than the A0 is just not a reasonable solution.

First, there is the real possibility that the A1 is just not as good as the A0. Reviewers have to evaluate the grant that they are reading. Maybe the revisions actually lowered the impact of the grant. It could be that the new experiments (or preliminary data or whatever) were just not compelling. They could "unfocus" the grant, make the central hypothesis harder to understand, etc etc etc.

Second, the A1 may actually be better than the A0, but it still gets a worse score. HOW?? The two things that pop into my head are:
A. There were a lot of other grants in that study section that were just really good. Each round, reviewers are supposed to score grants compared to the other grants they get for that meeting. So even if the A1 is "better" it may not measure up when compared to the other grants the reviewers are reading.
B. Different reviewers scored the grant this time. Even though NIH has standing (or sitting?) members of the study section, there is no guarantee that the same folks read your grant each time. Different people will have different perspectives, background, etc. They will have different views of what are "strengths" and "weaknesses". They will have different approaches to weighing the strengths and weaknesses. It's n0t awesome, but it happens. IME (limited though it is), the folks that reviewed prior versions speak up in study section even if they weren't reviewers this time around.

BUT! If you did what the reviewers wanted, they shouldn't get to give you a worse score!! I disagree (see above). But also, and this is really important, the reviewers don't tell you what to do. They only point out what they consider to be strengths and weaknesses of the application. If the SRO is doing her job, they will make sure that "what they should do" types of statements aren't part of the discussion at study section. Just because a reviewer notes something they consider a "strength" or "weakness" doesn't necessarily mean that it is something that was a major influence of the overall impact score. You can get a sense of what the score "drivers" were by reading the summary statements. Not the bullet points, but the paragraphs written by the chair of the study section (which should reflect the discussion about your grant) and/or the summary paragraphs written by each reviewer to justify the impact score they assigned (especially if your grant was not discussed).

It is sometimes not straightforward to read the summary statements. Because reviewers are limited in what (and how) they can raise concerns. In a perfect world, your PO (NOT the SRO) would help you parse these statements. Or you will get help from an experienced mentor. Because if you misread the summary statements, you may think you are making the grant better by doing what the reviewer wants -- and then you inadvertently make the grant less exciting to that reviewer. It sucks. I joked on twitter that reading summary statements is like trying to translate an ancient prophesy. It's kind of true. But only because you sort of have to know where the reviewers are coming from and be able to speak their language. You only can learn this by practice. I sat on study section as an ECR (Early Career Reviewer) - it was more helpful than I can explain. I learned how other folks read grants. I experienced how discussions go, and how that translates into scores. And I have been lucky that I have great colleagues that let me read their reviews and that have read mine and given me advice. I'm lucky (so fucking lucky) that I have these resources. I searched them out, because a lot of really smart people (like DrugMonkey) made it clear to me it was important.

Funding lines are low. And when they are low, you need a great score to get funded. And you have to get lucky to get a great score. The reviewers need to align more precisely than the stars. So you need to do everything you can to get the reviewers on your side. That, in my mind, what "grantsmanship" is. It's sort of like learning a new language and the customs/rituals of a weird culture. But all you can do is try to make it as easy as possible for the reviewers to be on your side. And then you have to get lucky, too.

 

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Mentoring Junior Faculty

Apr 29 2016 Published by under academia, jr faculty

I'm nearing the end of my run as a assistant prof - which means that I am on the brink of either getting tenure or getting fired.* When I started my faculty appointment, there was a lot of discussion about how to mentor the jr faculty (me). Now I'm looking back on how things unfolded, and I have to say ... I'm not really convinced that the mentoring attempts helped me all that much. Which has started me thinking about how (if) the process could be changed so it was more effective.

First, how it went for me: in my department, each new faculty member puts together a "mentoring committee" of senior faculty that they choose. I picked several folks that I really respected (though I didn't really know them that well). We met once a year to discuss my progress, and then a letter was written (by them) and forwarded to the Chair for my file. The folks on my mentoring committee are awesome, and I know that they genuinely wanted to help me. But, TBH, most every one of our meetings could be boiled down to "Get grants and publish papers, and you will be fine". This is not exactly breaking news. I also had "unofficial" mentors - people who I got to know and who I would visit when I needed advice/sounding board for dealing with the everyday trials of running a research group (this group included many of my formal mentors but also other jr faculty and colleagues from other departments). These conversations were hugely helpful, as they helped me deal with situations in real time.

When I started, I thought that a formal mentoring committee would be super helpful. Now I'm not so sure. I'm wondering if there is a better way to mentor junior faculty. We don't need to hear (again) about how we just need to get papers and grants. We know that. There has to be a better way - but what is it?

Seriously. Is there something you do that is awesome for mentoring junior faculty? Does it ever work, or is this just a useless exercise to make the administrators feel like they are doing something?

 

*Knocks on wood, crosses fingers, makes sacrifice to gods of academia

16 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

The fabric poster is FULL OF WIN! But...

Dec 11 2011 Published by under academia, jr faculty, on the job training

I was a little reluctant to try the fabric posters, but the one I made for this last conference was FANTASTIC. The images rendered well and it was so. easy. to. travel. with. There is no doubt I will be using fabric posters for ever and ever as long as I am doing this. Fabric posters and I are now officially BFF, as it were.

Not only are fabric posters easy to travel with and look great, but there are all kinds of interesting uses for fabric posters when you bring them home! Now, you might be able to do this with paper posters but, to be honest, I never actually bothered to do anything with them except throw them in the trash. It was a PITA to carry them wherever, I was certainly not going to schlep them home and hang them on the wall or whatever. But I digress. Now, since I just jammed it in my carry-on, I could use my poster as a cape (h/t Zwitterionique) or even make cut-out-snowflakes (Dr. Becca FTW! via Dr. Zen).

This raises an important question.  Now that I'm a PI, are my days of posters over? According to CPP:

"At this stage of your career, you should not be presenting posters at all. Indeed, you should not be submitting any abstracts at all to scientific meetings for which you are the presenter. If you don't get invited to give a talk, then you don't present. Only your trainees should be submitting abstracts as presenters."

I can actually see the logic in this...but I wonder if there might be exceptions. For example, it might take your graduate students a year or so before they are ready to present at a conference. Especially your first grad students. For example*. And perhaps you really want to take every opportunity to interact with folks and make sure they know about your most recent awesomeness.

So, I leave you with a question**: What do you think about PI's that present posters? And does it matter what kind of meeting they are at?

 

*at least one other extenuating circumstance came up in the comments to the previous post

**I would embed a poll, but this apparently requires super html ninja skill that are beyond me.

14 responses so far

GOOOOOOO Labbies!!

Background info: I played a lot of sports as a youngster, but I was never a cheerleader.

One of the crazy things you have to learn to do when you start up a lab is figure out how to keep people motivated and productive. I am certainly not an expert in this area, and I'm sure that I have made some real mistakes. But, the general approach I have been using is to try to emulate some of the great mentors that I have had. Many of these were not ever my actual lab PI, but they are folks that I have talked to about mentoring and lab management or witnessed vicariously through friends that were in their lab.

So, what did I learn that I am trying to use in my own lab? Well, (obv) everyone is different, so you can't have the same mentoring relationship with all the peeps. But in general, I try to be a cheerleader. This was explicit advice from one of my most-trusted mentoring mentors. I give advice, and try to nudge folks to do what I want. But often I just try to encourage the peeps if they are having difficulty nailing down an experimental result, finishing a fellowship application, or whatever. Because sometimes doing science is hard. It can be discouraging, particularly as a new student. I have good students in my lab. They are smart and work hard. Most of the time I just have to cheer and stay out of the way. This does NOT mean that I am not critical with the folks in my lab. If you fuck up, you'll know. We have discussions on areas in which they need more work. But this is all in the realm of constructive criticism.

I was thinking about this recently because of an interesting interaction I had when I was talking to another Asst. Prof I had called to get a reference for someone that had applied to be a postdoc in my lab. This was the second person I had talked to on the phone about Dr. PD App, and everyone was very enthusiastic. But I was asking open-ended questions and trying to see if there were any red flags (or strengths/weaknesses that I should know about if s/he was in my lab). In the course of this discussion, Asst. Prof mentioned was talking about how independent Dr. PD App was and how s/he had never needed a lot of "cheerleading". This was meant as a compliment to indicate that they were very self-motivated and persistent even when shit didn't go their way. Fair enough-score 1 for Dr. PD App! What was surprising is that Asst. Prof went on to lament about how many of his students did need cheerleading and how this was one of the most exhausting and irritating parts of his new job as the head of a lab.

I totally agree that learning to manage people in the lab can be overwhelming. But..."irritating"? Not so much. I rely on the folks in my lab to be productive so that I can write papers and grants and get tenure. In return, they get an education and a chance to develop as a young scientist. Sure, I didn't have any formal management training before I moved from the bench into the office. It is a lot of work (and pressure), but it is also rewarding. I guess I didn't really mind taking on the role as lab cheerleader.

What do you think - is cheerleading is part of being a good mentor?

 

 

12 responses so far

I haz indirects, and so can you!

Jul 11 2011 Published by under academia, jr faculty, lab management, on the job training

This post was inspired by BiochemBelle, who started a discussion on the Twitterz the other day about indirects. One of the things that you get to do (a lot) as a new PI is fucking with accounting deal with your lab budgets. This means that you will learn all sorts of uninteresting things about how the money gets spent. Here is (to the best of my knowledge) how indirects work.

Indirects are the money that your institution uses to "support" your grant.  I don't really know what this money is supposed to do, but I assume that it helps pay the rent, keep the AC running and the lights on, and other shit like that. Indirect rates are negotiated by each institution with the granting agencies. But, since every grant given to a specific MRU I really don't know who is negotiating with who. But whatever, I digress.

Indirects are charged to your grant based on what you use the money for. For most NIH grants, you are awarded a sum of money, the direct costs, and the university gets their indirects on top of that amount. The direct costs are the money that your lab actually gets to spend on salaries, supplies and equipment. If your indirect rate is 50% and you get a grant for $100,000 (direct), the institute will actually get $150K (yes, the numbers were chosen for easy math). Your lab spends 100K, MRU takes $50K. Win-win. But, SOME agencies (and even some NIH grants-like the K99/R00) award TOTAL costs. This means that if you get a $100K grant, MRU takes 50K and you get 50K direct. See, that is a lot different! So, make sure you know if you have been awarded TOTAL costs or DIRECT costs.

Indirect rates can vary a lot. The lowest I've heard is around 50%, the highest can be over 100%. YOU READ THAT RIGHT. There are institutions in which if you get awarded a 100K total costs grant that you will have to pay the institute indirects from another source. How cool is that?

There are some other awesome subtleties. For instance, you do not pay indirect costs for equipment. At least at my MRU, equipment is anything that is not a consumable, is expected to last the duration of the grant and costs more than 5K. Most everything else is supplies or salaries, and is charged overhead. There are also crazy rules about office supplies, computers and software that I don't understand yet. So I'm not going to try to explain it. It is an advanced accounting maneuver.

Another interesting tidbit: if you buy equipment off an NIH grant and then you leave to go somewhere else you may be able to take your equipment with you. HOWEVER, if you use your startup funds then it is the property of the MRU and you could be forced to leave it behind. I know that none of us n00bs on the TT want to think we will have to go on the job market again soon, but still. Now you know.

There you go, a primer for indirects. Please not that this is based on my experience at my MRU. YMMV. I hope you took notes. This WILL be on the exam.

 

Leave your answers in the comments. Don't bother showing your work. Nothing matters except the correct answer.

Practice Question 1: you want to buy a box of pipet tips for your lab, which costs $10. Your indirect rate is 70%. How much do you pay in indirects?

Practice Question 2: you also wanted to buy a pipeting robot (those exist, right? please tell me those exist) that costs $10K. Your indirect rate is 70%. How much do you pay in indirects?

52 responses so far

do you want to work for me?

May 24 2011 Published by under academia, help, hiring, jr faculty

One thing that I have been thinking about a lot recently is how to attract good postdocs to my 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 raises the question: how do you recruit a good postdoc??

When I was looking for a postdoc, I wrote letters to people that I wanted to work for. They invited me for an interview, then offered me the job. I picked the one that I thought was the best fit and accepted the offer. Done! But, as a new lab I don't know if it works the same way. I feel like I should be more proactive, but I don't really know how. I usually have a couple people contact me after I give a talk, and I have put up some adverts on my website and subfield forums. But so far, there has been no one that I have been willing to recruit. There is one person that I have been in contact with that might come out for an interview, but they are almost a year away from defending.

I'm left sitting here wishing that a good (not even great) postdoc will call me up out of the blue. Surely there is a better way?

18 responses so far

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

Did I just get dumped?

May 05 2011 Published by under academia, jr faculty, tenure-track OTJT

I got along well with my postdoc advisor. We worked well together, and he was very supportive of me as a trainee. When I started in the lab, we talked about my goal was to land a TT job. I started up a couple of new projects in the lab, and we agreed that I would take these with me when I left. Years passed, I wrote papers and fellowships, blah blah blah. I don't know if I would say my PD advisor was The Best Mentor, but I really think that I got what I needed out of the relationship. Then I went on the job market, and managed to wriggle into a position as an Assistant Professor. YAY!

And THIS is when my relationship with pd adviser started to get weird. All of the sudden, it became very difficult for me to have a normal conversation with PD advisor. When we chat, I keep getting the feeling that he is being very guarded. I asked him what was going on, and he basically said that he felt like I needed "some space". He seems to think that having too much interaction with my pd advisor will make it seem that I am not Independent.

To be clear: I am not trying to maintain collaborations with my old lab. But one thing that I have found is that being a new Asst. Prof can be a little...well...lonely. My colleagues are actually great, and I talk with them a lot. But no one has the same insight and background for talking about my specific research like my old pd advisor. And, though I am building my own group, right now there are times when I really miss the scientific interactions that I was used to as a postdoc. In short, I just don't understand how having a conversation with my pd advisor every 6-8 weeks is impeding my quest for Independence.

It has been exceedingly difficult for me to get him to sit down and submit the last couple of papers I have been working on. We finally got one submitted, but it was like pulling teeth. Even more than usual, I am NOT looking forward to dealing with the reviews. I have another manuscript in progress that I am also sort of dreading. This is a project that I started in PD lab, but most (60-75%) of the work was done in my own lab by my students. I will be senior and/or corresponding author, but since pd advisor will still be an author (I assume), there is the real possibility that he could make the whole thing a little more painful. Or at least slower.

And then, a few weeks ago I went to the same Conference as a new student in pd's lab. In the course of this meeting, it became clear that my pd advisor was continuing to work on one of the projects that we had agreed I would take with me for my own lab. I was floored. I am apparently now competing with my old pd advisor 🙁 I really did NOT see that coming. My colleague friends around here have advised me that I should pretty much quit talking to my old advisor, to reduce the likelihood that I get "scooped". AAAARGH!

So, WTF? I'm still trying to figure out exactly what is going on. Is this a normal "birth pang" of starting up a new lab?

 

EDIT: I had to add this, sent to me on the twitter by @kzelnio 🙂

36 responses so far

brain bruising

Feb 10 2011 Published by under exhaustion, jr faculty, Uncategorized

Holy crap. This week has been crazy busy. I am pretty sure that my brain is bruised. That can happen, right?

In addition to my normal schedule of managing my lab peeps and writing grants (have 2 foundation applications due at the end of the month), I have given 4 - not a typo - different talks this week. Two were for grad students, one was a low-key presentation for my dept., and the other was a Big Time talk for another program at my MRU (a big deal). The talks went well (I totally nailed the "big" one). Oh, and it is interview season. Prospective grad students, faculty candidates, more grad students. You name it, I'll interview it. Oh yeah, and I've got a stack of postdoc fellowship applications I am supposed to review. Damn.

It is safe to say that the work/life balance was tipped toward work this week. Hopefully tomorrow I can get enough done on my grants to justify taking a small break this weekend. I really need to go for a run-I have been too sleep deprived to get my normal workouts in.

My brain is just too tired to put together a coherent post (see above). But I do have a couple of points I would like to bring up for anyone that is out getting interviewed right now:

- under no circumstances should you answer (or send) a text message during an interview.
- seriously, just  put away your iPhone. At least pretend to be interested in what I am talking about when I am interviewing you.
- for a TT job talk, please tell me why I care. Spend some time on the big picture, please.

That is all I have right now. I am fucking exhausted.

8 responses so far

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