I'm working on a post discussing the letter that is being circulated for signatures about the NSF preproposal process, but I'm in the field this week so it'll take a day or two. The letter appears to have sprung out of the recent Ecology Society of America meeting and makes some valid points. In the mean time, now that we have gone through the preproposals and the full submission deadline, I'll leave this thread open for people's thoughts on the new NSF Bio proposal process. What worked? What didn't? Let it all out.
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Science is a collaborative effort. Very rarely does a project ever get done by one person without the valuable input of others. Increasingly, funding agencies are looking to put money toward interdisciplinary research, on both large and small scales. Even universities are increasingly moving to shared space for research labs.
As a PI these waters can be a little tricky to navigate, but as a trainee they can become downright treacherous. Set aside the issues of 4 equal first authors for a second and think about the way we talk about science. At least in my field, it is extremely common for lab members to use "we" when discussing lab research. In many cases that is entirely valid - the full story is often a compilation effort. But there are exceptions.
One of the most critical time for a early-career scientist to say "I" is for job interviews. Interviewing for a postdoc, faculty or industry job? It's time to break out the I. Concerned about seeming selfish? Don't be. What is critical to get across during an interview is all the great things YOU did. Having the context of the lab's work is important, but do not leave what you did vs. what lab technician or the other postdoc did, remain ambiguous. Sell yourself for what you have contributed, while openly acknowledging the efforts of others.
This is what your interviewers want to see from you. Don't make them try and read between the lines.
Suddenly the date for my NSF progress report has come up. This is the first time I'm assembling a progress report for my own grant, so I am walking into this a little blind. There is little in the way of guidelines and the responses from colleagues when I've asked "how much detail do you include in your progress reports?" has scaled linearly with my perception of how much time they sink into these type of tasks.
So how much do people generally write? How much info do you include on the students supported by the grant (let's assume that not everyone who got paid off the grant was working directly on the project).
Where is the line between adequate and not quite enough?
There are a lot of ways that undergraduates can fit into active research programs, and no, I'm not talking about all the different glassware they can wash. We tend to have at least one or two undergrad students in the lab during the academic year and many of them have contributed significantly to projects that are now being prepared for publication with them as authors.
Academic year UGs often have 3-12 hours a week they can contribute, depending on their schedule, which can be a bit of a challenge when planning experiments or tasks for them to complete. Some work their hours and go, whereas others find more of a home base in the lab - staying to do homework or study while completing their to do list. I have had tremendous success with students recruited prior to starting their junior year, but this has its own challenges that I won't get into today.
The projects that can be most helpful for the lab and the student are actually work done during the summer. Perhaps you have a site REU, fellowship mechanism or got an REU supplement to an existing grant and now you are faced with finding 400 hours or work for an inexperienced student. One of these can be daunting, but for a variety of unusual reasons, my lab ended up with four such students this summer.
With 1600 hours of time to fill for students who, for the most part are getting their first glimpse of life in the lab, it was critical that I work out a series of projects that are going to be useful but compact. Ten weeks is both a long and short period of time.
I talked to each of the people in my lab and asked them to think about projects they don't have time to deal with, but would be helpful for their work. Most of them had a couple of ideas, which we sat down to work out the feasibility of. Important questions were: 1) Is it something that can be easily taught? 2) Something that one can work on as the learn the bigger context? 3) Involve significant manual work that the lab trainee didn't have time to do, and 4) Have a defined start and end that could be met in our time frame?
The last point might be the most important for these summer projects. With academic year undergrads I often leave things open-ended and let the lab trainees guide them. For summer students it is possible (or even probable) that the ten weeks you have them are the only ten weeks they will be in the lab. I like to ensure that they have their own story to tell at the end - something they feel some ownership over. That may seem simple, but rarely is.
So today we unleash the hordes in the lab and we'll see how it all ends up in ten weeks.
I'll be honest, when I started this earlier, I had plans to grill it with yams and make a kick ass salad. Then life happened and it was in the oven with boiled green beans and Spanish rice from a box. But it was still delicious and I got to package up my daughter's portion for her breakfast tomorrow after she wouldn't try it in 20 minutes. Good times.
In any case, you'll need the following:
1 pork loin
4 oz of Gorgonzola cheese
1/4 cp chopped sun dried tomato
1/2 cp arugula
2 large garlic cloves (Odyssey was right, it needed more garlic)
Using a sharp knife "unroll" the pork loin so that it is about 1/4 inch thick.
Chop the sun dried tomatoes, crumble the cheese and mince the garlic. Add pepper to taste.
Mix and spread over the open pork loin.
Add a layer of arugula over top.
Roll the pork loin back up and place on a broiler pan. Baste with a 1:1 mixture of olive oil and balsamic vinegar, then sprinkle with dried basil.
Bake at 350F until the center is ~160F (roughly 45 min, depending on size). Remove from oven and rest 5 min. Slice in 1 inch thick slices and serve with whatever else you managed to throw together while the kids freaked out.
There's a simple rule when it comes to PI dealings with paperwork: The easiest path will always be taken. If there are corners to cut or someone I can call instead of filling out yet another form, that's what's gonna happen. It's predictable and dependable, but incomprehensible to Administrators.
Today I had the following exchange:
Administrator: "Dear PLS, when reconciling your Pcard I found Tiny Issue and need an explanation by email."
PLS: "Here are two lines on Tiny Issue that took me 30sec to write. Does this satisfy you?"
Administrator: "Yes, thank you. If you plan on having a Tiny Issue in the future could you please fill out the pre-approval form at least two week ahead of time. You can find said form on our arcane and difficult to navigate website labeled as Something You Wouldn't Expect."
Riiiight, I will get all over that. Let me guess, it has to be hardcopy and delivered by a singing telegram, right?
I encourage you to go over and weigh in on the topic of changing funding at Joan Strassman's blog. She has been discussing the changes to NSF Bio in her last couple of posts, both WRT the preproposals and why they were needed. The discussion on the second post has since evolved into how we should change the funding structure to maximize the resource we have.
All of the traditional battle axes have been dragged out. The "we should be more like those cuddly Canadians!" and the lovable "Overhead is the problem!" arguments were quick to pop up, as always. For those of you who are bored, we've discussed those issues here and here, respectively.
I am often wary of these discussions because, as Drugmonkey often points out, commenters are always going to propose whatever option benefits them the most. That's not to say that I don't think these discussion are worthwhile, but eveyone's opinion needs to be taken with a giant rock of salt, my own included.
However, one option I don't support that does not benefit me is limiting the number of grants one PI can hold. There may be studies on the optimal number of grants per lab, I have no idea, but to arbitrarily place a limit of, say, two or four grants per PI seems to me a willing attempt to close one's eyes to the variable nature of the science enterprise. And as CPP has pointed out on occasion, limiting the number of grants past a certain threshold is punitive to such a minority of PIs as to not really make a difference in the grand scheme. If only 1% of PIs have more than 5 awards (I'm making these numbers up. UPDATE: My numbers weren't so far off!), then limiting awards to 5 is putting lipstick on a pig, but it won't do much for funding levels for the other 99%.
So, readers, feel free to leave your thoughts here or join the discussion on the Strassman blog.
My daughter turns four years old in a few months. How time has flown. I have no idea how she became this little person so quickly, emerging from the murkiness of toddlerhood. It's like I looked up one day and had a little girl on my hands, and she is her own person.
With two parents who do not spend a lot of time or thought on fashion, she has somehow become a kid who is exceedingly aware of what she wears on a daily basis and that it makes a statement about her. It's as humorous at times to me as it is puzzling. Whereas we don't really encourage that attitude, we also haven't seen much of a reason to dissuade her either. For as long as I can remember she has been a princess loving, unicorn riding, glitter throwing maniac wrapped in pink and I have no clue where this came from.
But over thanksgiving she said something that has stuck with me and caused me to think a lot about the values kids get in their early years. My wife's family has a tradition of talking about what we are thankful for at Thanksgiving dinner. It's kind of a nice moment to put some things in perspective. The Wee One was happy to chime in at her turn and say that she was thankful for her family, which was cute. Everyone went around and we started the meal. Then the Wee One suddenly needed to add another thing she was thankful for. With great excitement she exclaimed "I'm thankful I'm beautiful!"
Okay, it's funny and cute once you get past the idea that we are raising a vain little princess, but she's 3 and whatever, right?
Well, it bugs me a bit and here's why - "being beautiful" was the first thing that sprang to her mind as she thought about the good qualities about herself*. Even if, for arguments sake, she is beautiful, it bothers me that she is making that part of her identity already. She didn't say that she was thankful for being smart, or good at puzzles, or happy all the time. Instead she placed value on her appearance and I can't shake the feeling that I'm failing her.
Now it is entirely possible that I'm over-reacting to an innocent comment, although her comment is hardly the first time she has equated beauty with worth. I will say that she does not lack self-confidence, which I am happy about, but I also want her to believe she is beautiful in lots of ways. But this was one of the first times that I really felt like outside influences were playing a role that went directly against how I would like her to see herself, and it was a bit jarring. I'm pitted against Disney and their damsel in distress princess pigeonhole and I all of a sudden I realized how much of that she has internalized already and it's creeping me the fuck out.
It'll be fine, she'll be fine and I certainly believe that we can instill in her the kinds of values we believe in. I guess I just didn't expect the Trojan Horse of the patriarchy to be sitting at the gates so soon. Now if I can just keep her out of JC Penny...
*Yes, she completely meant it in the physical sense.
I'm sure many of you are, by now, aware of the totes hilarious "futures" piece in Nature, written by Ed Rybicki and published under the guidance of editor Henry Gee. I would suggest you go comment on it, but Nature has closed down comments.
If you haven't seen it yet, you might find interesting a few commentaries on the piece, which I've linked below. If you are a man you can click on the links, but for the women out there I'm sure you will just come across these posts in your wandering shopaholic alternate universe.
I'm sure I've missed a couple, feel free to post them in the comments.
For a variety of life reasons, I had to take the Weer One into work today to attend a meeting that included two departments and the Dean. Wasn't a big deal, she slept most of the meeting (wish we could have switched) and when she made some slight noise, I pulled her out of the car seat and held her. People were aware she was there, but it wasn't a disturbance. Life happens and you have to pull an audible sometimes.
But as I was leaving the meeting, I got several comments. A couple people asked me about the baby and then something unexpected happened. One of my senior colleagues with whom I do not interact much, said to me "You're such a great dad." This was quickly agreed to by another colleague. Now maybe I am, maybe I'm not, these people wouldn't have any idea. I could have been on my way to dropping her off to the traveling circus*. But apparently being willing to watch your kid while fulfilling work obligations is enough to win me the distinction.
You can't read the inscription, but it says "Way to at least give half a shit, Dad!"
But it got me wondering, how many women who have to bring kids in to a meeting are considered "great"? While I will admit that my department is pretty family friendly, I have never seen a female colleague admired for just making the best of a childcare "situation".
* Obviously this isn't the case. The circus doesn't take kids until they can eat gruel.