Archive for the 'on the job training' category

appreciation #drugmonkeyday

Sep 23 2016 Published by under awesomeness, colleagues, mentoring, on the job training

As I'm going through the final push through the process of getting tenure, I need to take a minute to say thanks to the folks that have helped me so much over the last 6-ish years.

I've been very lucky to have some really great mentors. I'm not really impressed with formal "mentoring committees", but I have absolutely benefitted from some great people who have helped me along in this journey. People that help me figure out what to do when there are issues managing my lab, or ordering, etc. And there are also those folks that sometimes take me out for a drink and (sometimes) give me a quick kick to the ass. Thank you to everyone!!

I want to take one small moment to shout out to DrugMonkey, who has been so incredibly helpful. If you don't read DM's blog you are missing out. Interacting with DM has helped me so much. I've gotten practical, realistic advice that has helped me learn my way around the NIH funding system. And I've gotten some of the best mentoring out there - advice, encouragement, commiseration.

Thanks, dude.

One response 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

Gerty goes to study section, part 2

Jun 14 2012 Published by under academia, grants, on the job training

In this installment, I'm going to talk about what I did BEFORE I even got to study section. Obviously, everything I say (ever) is specific to my own experience. YMMV, etc. If you want to read about how I ended up as an ECR, see part 1.

After I was invited to study section, the real work started. I had to actually review grants! As an ECR (what a convenient acronym!), I had a reduced load. I only had to review about 30% as many grants as the "real" members of study section. At NIH, grants all get reviewed by 3-4 different people, who are cleverly named the "primary", "secondary", "third" and "fourth" reviewer*.  All reviewers that were new to this study section had an "official" training conference call with the SRO to make sure we were all on the same page. We talked about the focus of the study section, the scoring protocol, different grant mechanisms, and how to deal with ESI/NI applications (there was no difference in these two categories, as far as I could tell). We also all filled out the conflict-of-interest form. The NIH had identified folks you may have a conflict with (you work at same institution, have recently collaborated, etc), but you are expected to note any others that may be perceived as a COI.

Then, the scoring. NIH grants are scored for five criteria: Significance, Approach, Innovation, Investigator, and Environment. You can tell they are important because they are always written as proper nouns. Each criteria gets scored on a scale of 1-9 (PDF of scale),  1 is "exceptional", 9 is "poor". And then you list bullet points of strengths and weaknesses - that should justify the score you gave, of course! If you list a lot of weaknesses it will be hard to defend a "3", for example. In order to prevent score compression, you are encouraged to consider a 5 as average. We were all told that if we score something better or worse than 5 we should be able to justify why. In addition to the criterion scores, each grant gets an overall Impact score. The impact score is the Big Deal. There is no formula that derives the Impact score from the criterion scores. Instead, you have to decide what are the most important aspects of the application (both plus and minus). Then you decide what the potential for the proposed research to have a long-lasting and significant effect on the field is. This is the Impact score. Different factors contribute to the Impact score for each application. Some get lifted by the Approach, others by the Significance, and some by Investigator. At least one reviewer writes a paragraph explaining the Impact score that they assigned, so that the grant writer knows what was driving the score.

The point of the ECR program, at least in part, is to groom us young-uns to be good reviewers. Therefore, even though I was third reviewer for all of my grants, I did a full write up for all of them, including paragraph justifying my Impact score. I was expected to have mine done well before everyone else, so that the SRO could look at them. I was NOT given any direction on what to say, but ze looked at my reviews to give me feedback on whether the comments I made were consistent with the scores I was giving, and if I was going into enough/too much detail in each section. I actually found this really, really helpful. I have no personal experience with the new scoring system. The last NIH grant I wrote (my K99/R00) was still from the 25-page format and old scoring procedure.

It was surprisingly hard to give out bad scores! But I do what I gotta do. For each of my grants, I did some literature searches and read up so that I had an understanding of the field. Obviously, all of the grants were in my Field, but some were outside of my own sub-field expertise. This was important to help me figure out what the "impact" of the research might be [HINT: spell out what the "impact" will be when you are writing a grant!!!!] In addition to "my" grants, I read the Aims page of all the grants we would be reviewing (THIS IS WHY YOUR AIMS PAGE IS SO IMPORTANT). Then there were a couple other grants that I read because they sounded interesting, were by folks I knew, or were somewhat related to what I did.

A week or so before the meeting, final reviews are due. After all the reviews are in, you can see what the other reviewers thought of all the grants (except those you have a conflict with). I was Freaking EcstaticTM when my scores were - more or less - in line with what others had to say about the grants. It was also interesting to see what others picked up on, or missed. And it was REALLY interesting how different factors were weighted to come up with the Impact score for each grant. Sometimes, the Approach was the most important thing, other times the Investigator score  was really important, etc. But...these are the preliminary scores! Everything can change at the meeting.... stay tuned for part 3.

(How am I doing with the cliff-hanger here?)

 

*Don't ask me, I don't make the rules. Maybe, "tertiary" and "quarternary" are hard to say.

13 responses so far

Gerty goes to study section, part 1

Jun 12 2012 Published by under academia, grants, on the job training

Things have been pretty crazy, tweeps. I have some good news and some bad news.

First, the bad news: my first grant got triaged 🙁 I am now waiting to get the reviewer comments, and then I will talk to my PO and evaluate whether it is worth resubmitting as an A1 (chance of going from triage -> funded very, very low). Alternatively, I might re-work this application so much that it will go back as a new A0. We shall see.

Second, the good news: I didn't get fired! Woo Hoo 🙂 I got an official letter from the dean saying that I have been reappointed for the second three-year term. At the end of which I must be promoted to Associate with tenure or...not.

But in the last week I have also had the chance to sit on a real-live NIH study section. And I learned SO MUCH. And I want to share my new-found knowledge with YOU, of course. PLS had a great post from when he was on an NSF review panel, so hopefully my experience on this NIH study section will also be useful. Therefore, consider the rest of this post the first installment of the new series "Gerty goes to study section".

I sat on study section as an Early Career Reviewer (ECR*). This is a relatively new program to get young-uns involved in peer review so we will be better peer-reviewers and better grant writers. You can apply to be an ECR (there is an email link at the page linked above), but that is not how I stumbled into this gig. I actually ended up chatting with the SRO of a study section after giving a talk at a society meeting a couple of years ago. We were talking about the new ECR program, and I mentioned that it was something I would really like to volunteer for. Then a few months ago, I got an email from SRO asking if I would join in! Of course I said yes. And that, friends, is how I ended up on study section.

 

*because, right, that needs it's own acronym. Sigh.

18 responses so far

Welcome to the lab, Dr. Postdoc!

Mar 21 2012 Published by under academia, mentoring, on the job training

It wasn't that long ago that I was a new postdoc (shut up! It really wasn't that long ago). IME being a postdoc is awesome! You learned the basics of how to be a scientist as a graduate student. Now is you chance to develop your research skillz in a protected and supported environment. It is about as close to a CareBear Tea Party as you are gonna get in this business.

Being a postdoc is not always easy, and I know there are some disgruntled postdocs out there. There can be issues with your mentor, issues with the science. There are always going to be struggles as you work to find your own path and develop your career. It is hard work, and can be scary. You will most likely move to a new city. Maybe you moved to a new place for grad school, but this time you will not be entering with a bunch of classmates. You will be thrown into a fully-formed lab that may already have political baggage and/or a defined hierarchy. At some point you will start wondering what is expected of you. There is no universal answer, because every lab and every postdoc is different. But, here is a list of advice based on what I think helped me when I was a new postdoc and that I hope postdocs that join my lab will follow:

1. Don't assume that you know more than techs or graduate students because you have a PhD. Coming in as a n00b postdoc with a superiority complex will not help you. You will need help from your new colleagues, so don't act like a douche. Be a good lab citizen, and build a relationship with the lab folks.

2. Be ready to learn something new. Maybe you enter a whole new field and have to learn brand-new techniques and approaches. Perhaps you are in a lab that has some overlap with what you did as a grad student. Learn how folks in your new place do things. Realize that there is more than one way to do most things...and yours is not necessarily the "best".

3. Take the initiative. Don't expect for someone to "give" you a project. Find and read the important papers and come up with ideas of your own. Consider advice from your new PI, and people in the lab, but argue for your own ideas and approaches. Own your project. Find fellowships that you can apply for. Apply for them.

4. Get to know your colleagues. Find other new postdocs and get to know them. Actively build a network. You are going to need mentors, advice, and letter writers. You will have to talk to people that are not in your lab (or your institution) to do this. Don't wait to approach people until you need something. Build a relationship from the beginning. This includes other postdocs and grad students as well as faculty.

5. Think about what you want to do with your career. It is great if you want to stay in academia, but try to imagine a Plan B. If you don't want to stay in academia, figure out what you want to do. Then find out what skills you need to develop and find opportunities to do that. This can be teaching, writing, working with policy, interacting with tech transfer, etc.

6. Be realistic. It takes time to get a new project up and running. Science (and career development) takes time.

7. Don't play it safe. Your postdoc is a great time to try a high-risk/high-reward project. Be creative. You can have a back-up, "safe" project, but don't shy away from trying something "hard". Try to avoid the temptation of taking on the easy, obvious, "can't fail" project.

8. Ask questions. Lots of questions. At lab meetings, in seminars, walking through the hallways.

9. Make sure you know what is expected of you. Many of the poor postdoc-mentor relationships that I have seen stem from miscommunications. You need to make sure that you know if there are expectations about how many hours you are in lab. If you want to stay in academia, make sure you know whether you will get to take your project with you (have this conversation early in your postdoc, before it is clear how awesome your project is. Even if it is non-binding and is not a guarantee that the lab will not compete with you).

10. I honestly think that most PI want to be good mentors. Help us out! Be a good mentee.

Please add to this list in the comments! I have no doubt that there are other nuggets of advice out there for the newly-minted postdocs.

16 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?

51 responses so far

Random thoughts on the airplane

Jun 03 2011 Published by under hilarity, on the job training, venting

As I am sitting on the airplane, I have had a fair amount of time to get some thinking done without any of the common interruptions. This has been mostly very productive. I got my two talks for this trip put together, outlined a grant I am starting to write (see below), read some papers that have been piling up, and drafted some adverts for postdocs to send to select mailing lists. It is amazing how productive I can be when there is no Internet access! But,I have not been a laser-beam of focus, and to prove it I will share some random thoughts.

1. Thereof nothing that you can do to make a 4:30 am cab ride to the airport fun.
2. Why the hell are there so many people at the airport Wed at 5:00 am?
3. My resolve to take all summer off from writing grants has failed. I have decided to write up something I have been percolating for a while. I was thinking of waiting until next fall, but changed my mind after consulting some colleagues. Plans, schmans.
4. I walk faster than 90% of the people in the Atlanta airport, and I'm not even rushing to catch my next flight.
5. I don't know how to embed links using wordpress on the iPad.
6. There are a lot of folks that have already picked over Coburn's "report" about waste at NSF (see #5). So I won't even try to go through why it is so fucking ridiculous right now. But, I have made sure my representatives in the house and senate know how I feel about it. And you should, too. Be sure to tell them that is we let half-wit "reports" like this pass as truth that the terrorists win.

That's enough for now, surely. I'm off to give a seminar and then head up the coast a little to a conference. Hopefully there will be wifi!

Update: it is 3 days (or so) since I started this post. Wi-fi FAIL 🙁 I really hope that the next destination is better equipped. In happier news, I had a fantastic visit with my colleague at East coast Fancy Institute. My seminar went really well and I think that the foundation of some new collaborations have been set. Yay!

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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

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