Archive for: June, 2011

What have I learned about funding?

Jun 30 2011 Published by under [Education&Careers]

Now that we have one funded proposal, I'm not going to act as though I have this stuff all figured out. I don't. There are lots of bloggers with better funding records and more insight into the process than I. But there are some things I learned along the way that might be helpful to those in the process of chasing that first proposal.

1) Have a couple irons in the fire. The proposal we ended up getting funded first was not the first or even second proposal I started sending out. We have several things going on in the lab and this just happened to be the first thing that got picked up. Sometimes I wonder if we riding the line between "project diversity" and "spread too thin" a little too hard, but in this case it paid off.

2) Get to know your agency. This might seem obvious, but if you are targeting NSF, get on a panel. Contact the relevant POs and put your name in the hat. They always need qualified people, so you will get called. NIH is less likely to call on unfunded peeps, but it's worth a phone call.

3) You're going to get a lot of rejections, so get used to it. CPP made this point recently, but it bears repeating: you need to keep swinging if you want to get a hit. Funding rates are down and there is a certain level of stochasticity to the process, where even a very good proposal is going to get beat up once in a while. Fix it up and get it back in.

4) Program officers are there to help. Even if they can't tel you things outright, more often than not you can learn a lot in a conversation with them.

5) Data. Especially right now, show you can do what you are claiming you want to do. If you have a new method, demonstrate it can work. Use a small, preliminary or simulated dataset, but assuage reviewer concern about the method, because that is the easiest way for a reviewer to tank your proposal.

6) Get the message across. Again, should be obvious, but a well written grant makes a HUGE difference. Use subheadings to guide the reviewers along and allow for easy back referencing. Make the important points clear. Provide figures to break up the text and make your point. The reviewers that are most critical to your case are going to be the ones who have to read 10-15 (or more) proposals in preparation for the panel. Make their lives easier and you're ahead of the game.

7) Have a solid Broader Impacts section. Obviously this is NSF-specific, but don't ignore the BI section and give reviewers any easy negative thing to say. It's really not hard to come up with something if you take advantage of existing programs. This section also tends to be the last thing a reviewer reads, so don't leave them on a down note.

I'm sure there are important points I am leaving out, but that's what I can think of off the top of my head. Above all, keep making improvements and resubmitting. Don't wait for the response to continue working on the project and making progress with the data, because you may need that critical piece for the next submission.

10 responses so far

Short and sweet

Jun 29 2011 Published by under [Et Al]

Deadlines on the horizon, so not much time to celebrate funding but this quick video rocks. I can spare 2:25.

2 responses so far

Year three in review

July is almost here, and with that, the close of year three for me on this job. Year three was exhausting and didn't start out all that well (but when you can use the term "scroti" in a post title, you gotta do it). By mid-fall of year three I was being dominated by this job and was being mocked by funding agencies. Not good.

I plodded on into the winter, firing off grant proposals like Dick Cheney shoots attorneys - three to NSF in January and one at the Feb deadline to NIH. During that time I spent a week in Europe with collaborators, took on new teaching responsibilities and did more traveling.

For some reason, despite being more hectic, the spring semester was a bit better than the fall. Things were working better in the lab, collaborations were bearing fruit; it all just kind of started.... clicking.

Summer came around and proposal rejections started to roll in. First one NSF proposal was bounced, then another. Funding rates are shit and the panels those proposals went to have seen a big upturn in proposals lately. I got involved in a summer outreach program, but despite the rejection and new work our momentum continued to build.

Then some good news. Our remaining NSF proposal and the one at NIH both scored well. It was the first glimpse of funding light, but it still threatened to fall into the abyss of funding darkness. I was told that NSF wanted to fund our proposal, but probably wouldn't have the money. Likewise, our score at NIH looks to be just outside the bubble. Success, but not so much.

So I targeted the next deadline and got to revising. All the while the lab is working up new publications, many of which are weeks (not months) away from being submitted and a few that have gone in. No time to slow down while sitting on the cusp. At the same time, I had initiated some discussions with the admin about the financial situation of the lab and whether there might be a lifeboat hidden in the Dean's office. The good news is that they were very supportive.

But on the eve of completing year three we got a call. Some budgetary dominoes have fallen at NSF and our proposal is going to be funded. Suddenly we're a federally funded lab. I'm still waiting on summary statements from NIH and a conversation with the PO, but if they scored the proposal I sent in last round, I feel very confident that we can break through there with some of my more "NIH friendly" ideas, as well.

And just like that, things are looking different than they did 6 months ago.

24 responses so far

80% gruntled

Jun 27 2011 Published by under [Education&Careers]

Last week I posted a poll in an attempt to get a feel for whether or not postdocs were more likely to be disgruntled in the biomed world than in other sciences and I was a little surprised by the response. Based on the general volume of the disgruntlesphere I would have predicted that the number of dissatisfied postdocs was relatively high, but the poll suggests that may not be true. After 165 votes, 80% responded that they are enjoying/did enjoy their postdoc experience and those numbers were pretty consistent across all disciplines.

Given the variability in postdoc mentors, the current funding climate and job market, 20% of people being dissatisfied by their postdoc experience is probably lower than the percentage of people generally dissatisfied by their job. Of course, the poll was open to anyone who has been a postdoc and one could argue that the majority of current faculty respondents likely had good postdoc experiences, which then landed them a job. Therefore, the results could be skewed in the positive direction based on the audience and those polled.

Nevertheless, I'm glad that an enjoyable postdoc position is not an outlier because I truly view that time as a valuable experience. I know that I wouldn't have been nearly as effective as a scientist, teacher or manager if I had started a TT position right out of grad school. I gained an incredible amount of perspective as a postdoc, without which I don't think I would have been very successful.

So for today, I would be interested in what others are gaining or have gained out of their postdoc experience and whether you think the time has been a positive or negative career influence.

17 responses so far

Postdoc poll: It was all unicorns and glitter, right?

Jun 24 2011 Published by under [Education&Careers]

The postdoc might be the most controversial position in science. I think this is largely because the spectrum of what passes as "postdoc training" is enormous and the most variable of any career point. I've talked about postdocs before, oh wait.....

Ahhhh, that's better. Needed my postdoc discussion pants.

In any case, sometimes a post comes along that reminds me how different the postdoc experience can be from one field to the next. But one anecdotal observation is that the postdoc experience in the biomed-type fields seems to be very heavy in disgruntledocs compared with other sciences where postdoc training is an almost certain stage of one's career.

Perhaps this is just a numbers thing and all fields have a certain percentage of people who dislike their postdoc position, but given the sheer amount of biomed postdocs, they are a more vocal group. Could be. There are certainly PIs who do a terrible job of "training" in every discipline.

So today's poll is an effort to put some numbers to the question, "Are there more dissatisfied postdocs in bimed game than other fields or is this perception just an observer bias?" Now, I realize that a poll on a blog is its own observational bias and people can be "dissatisfied" for hundreds of reasons, but this is the venue and audience I have.

Apologies for excluding readers who have yet to, never did or never will do a postdoc. I have allowed multiple answers for those of you who did more than one postdoc.

17 responses so far

NSF wants feedback

Jun 23 2011 Published by under [Education&Careers], [Et Al], Uncategorized

NSF is in the process of re-evaluating their merit review criteria for each of the two components of their applications (Intellectual Merit and Broader Impacts) and has sent around a letter looking for feedback on the draft proposals. The backdrop on which these criteria exist is the following:

Merit Review Principles and Criteria
The identification and description of the merit review criteria are firmly grounded in the following principles:

All NSF projects should be of the highest intellectual merit with the potential to advance the frontiers of knowledge.

Collectively, NSF projects should help to advance a broad set of important national goals, including:
-Increased economic competitiveness of the United States.
-Development of a globally competitive STEM workforce.
-Increased participation of women, persons with disabilities, and underrepresented minorities in STEM.
-Increased partnerships between academia and industry.
-Improved pre-K–12 STEM education and teacher development.
-Improved undergraduate STEM education.
-Increased public scientific literacy and public engagement with science and technology.
-Increased national security.
-Enhanced infrastructure for research and education, including facilities, instrumentation, networks and partnerships.

Broader impacts may be achieved through the research itself, through activities that are directly related to specific research projects, or through activities that are supported by the project but ancillary to the research. All are valuable approaches for advancing important national goals.

Ongoing application of these criteria should be subject to appropriate assessment developed using reasonable metrics over a period of time.

Based on these principles, the NSF lists five review criteria for each of the two proposal portions:

Intellectual merit of the proposed activity

The goal of this review criterion is to assess the degree to which the proposed activities will advance the frontiers of knowledge. Elements to consider in the review are:

-What role does the proposed activity play in advancing knowledge and understanding within its own field or across different fields?
-To what extent does the proposed activity suggest and explore creative, original, or potentially transformative concepts?
-How well conceived and organized is the proposed activity?
-How well qualified is the individual or team to conduct the proposed research?
-Is there sufficient access to resources?

Broader impacts of the proposed activity

The purpose of this review criterion is to ensure the consideration of how the proposed project advances a national goal(s). Elements to consider in the review are:

-Which national goal (or goals) is (or are) addressed in this proposal? Has the PI presented a compelling description of how the project or the PI will advance that goal(s)?
-Is there a well-reasoned plan for the proposed activities, including, if appropriate, department-level or institutional engagement?
-Is the rationale for choosing the approach well-justified? Have any innovations been incorporated?
-How well qualified is the individual, team, or institution to carry out the proposed broader impacts activities?
-Are there adequate resources available to the PI or institution to carry out the proposed activities?

IMO, there's not a lot of change here. Much of this is encapsulated in the current review criteria, which may even be a bit ore detailed on the BI section. I don't know that this will change anything as far as writers and reviewers are concerned, but I might be missing something. In any case, comments can be sent to meritreview[at]

2 responses so far

I get out.... sometimes

Jun 22 2011 Published by under [Education&Careers], [Et Al]

In August I will have been a full time employee on this campus for three years. Over 1000 days. More than 150 weeks. That's a decent amount of time to be in any one place. In that time I have lived in two houses and gotten to know the surrounding area (which I had never visited prior to my interview) fairly well. I can give you directions* to pretty much anywhere you need to go around here.

But much of that changes when I get on campus.

Other than the building I work in and the one I teach in, I know shockingly little about this campus. Freshman in their third week have probably forgotten more about this campus than I know. It's bad enough that when I went off to find a meeting I needed to be at the other day I had to stop halfway across campus and have the following conversation:

Me: "Excuse me, do you know where Meeting Hall is?"

Student: "No. I should because I've been a student here for two years, but that one doesn't ring a bell."

Me: "Yeah, I've been a prof here for three and I don't know where it is."

Student: "I know, you're my advisor"

Me: "Of course! Um, that's why I asked you... ah. Right... Soooo."

Student: "I think I have a campus map."

Turns out that Meeting Hall was across a parking lot from my own building and the building I thought it was was most certainly not Meeting Hall. I park close to Meeting Hall everyday and pass the sign for it twice a day. It's not an inconspicuous place.

It would be nice if I could tell you that this is the first time I have done this, but I would be lying. I have our campus map in at least three easily accessed places because I have no sweet clue where most things on the campus are.

Am I just oblivious or is this something that other people deal with?

*And unlike the locals, I will not use landmarks that haven't existed for a decade or more. Thanks for being insular, jerkwads.

15 responses so far

This one goes out to the ladies out there...

Ladies, have you ever gone to a workshop about being a woman in science and found that all of the issues raised and addressed revolved around reproduction and the career consequences thereof? Did you sit there as a woman who does not have any plans to increase the population and think "Why can't we talk about the many issues that women in science face without the discussion centering around our uteri?"

If so, you're in luck. The Hermitage is resurrecting her successful Baby-free Wimminz in Academia Q&A HUB with a second installment. She is currently looking for volunteers, people to volunteer others and questions to be asked.

So head out on over and make yourself heard!

One response so far

Father's Day is coming up

Jun 16 2011 Published by under [Et Al]

Why not get your Dad a t-shirt this year that really says what you mean?

5 responses so far

Samuel L. Jackson says go the fuck to sleep

Jun 15 2011 Published by under [Et Al]

If you're a parent and someone hasn't sent you this at some point or another, enjoy.

5 responses so far

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