Does your grant ever get that....not-so-fresh feeling?

(by Dr Becca) Oct 19 2013

If you submitted your beautiful, perfect grant this summer like I did, then chances are its review date fell during the government shutdown. Word came down yesterday via notice NOT-OD-14-003 that instead of rescheduling 2 weeks' worth of study sections, NIH has simply bumped all of those beautiful, perfect proposals to join their Oct/Nov-submitted brothers and sisters at February's meeting dates. Which means that in comparison, your now 8-month old grant may be...not so fresh.

Aha! But the sensitive folks at NIH have seen the inequity in such an arrangement, and tossed us the tiniest of bones in anticipation of our rage: the opportunity to "refresh" our submissions (their words), with a new, fresher, Nov 20 deadline.

I hate everything about this. First, it means that I absolutely have to do it. If I don't, my proposal gets judged against others from my cohort who did, putting me at a disadvantage. So goodbye, whatever I was planning on getting done in the next 4 weeks (which, btw, overlaps completely with the Society for Neuroscience meeting), and hello scrambling for preliminary data and updated figures. Second, whether conscious or not, the reviewers will almost surely add a 6th criterion, "progress since original submission." So, those who, hypothetically speaking, spent the summer fighting with their university's biosafety committee over the meaning of "replication-deficient" instead of making actual progress on the proposed work are again at a disadvantage.

Basically, we are fucked. But I guess I'd better get going on all that refreshing.


20 responses so far

Branching Out

(by Dr Becca) Oct 16 2013

There is much going on in the world these days--both actual and virtual--that has induced extreme levels of grumpiness in yours truly. I would very much like nothing more than to sit around in my comfy pants with my cat, play Candy Crush, and whimper all day, but alas, 'tis not a luxury I can afford. I am in the 3rd year of my position, and though the government may be shut down and my R01 application hanging in study section limbo, my tenure clock ticks away.  Indeed, it is my Tell Tale Heart - keeping me awake at night, until I resignedly join my insomniac husband for the last half of Eyes Wide Shut on IFC at 4 am.  In this metaphor, I suppose the body lying in pieces below the floorboards is my career - is it dead? Is it alive? I won't really know until the police (tenure committee) arrive in a few years. Yes, I am having a cocktail at the moment, why do you ask?

One thing that could undoubtedly help to silence that incessant ticking would be the influx of about $250k/year for the next five years, and so I continue to seek the assistance of the government. They have been relatively generous so far. But up until now, including grad school and post-doc applications, my grant proposals have gone exclusively to a single NIH IC, and I think it's time to start reaching a little. But how?

I gave a talk at a small meeting last year, and a program officer from not-my-normal-IC approached me immediately afterward, saying "I want you to do exactly what you just talked about but in the context of my IC." I was totally flattered, but also more like um, OK except I have no background in your thing and I could maybe see that as being a problem? I mean, who is going to fund an application whose Aims the PI has no track record of being able to achieve? At that point, too, I had just gotten the lab going, and so my first priorities were doing the things I'd originally set out to do - I'd worry about branching out later. Well, it's now a little later, and my goal for the February cycle is to submit an application to this IC. The challenge is convincing the study section that I can do it.

I'm getting ahead of myself, of course, because at the moment I still have to figure out what "it" is. Sure, I can incorporate the things the PO I met mentioned, but that alone isn't an R01 - I need a broader question, and then an innovative way of addressing it, and then I need to persuasively argue that I'm the right person for the job.

I'll admit there's a part of me that feels disingenuous actively searching for a way to break into a new field. Shouldn't the content of my grant applications be guided by the burning questions that gnaw at my soul? Maybe that was the way things worked back in the salad days of the NIH (LOL when was that again?), but these days my approach has evolved to, what do I have that will be attractive to this IC?  And so I looked for RFAs and PAs from this IC to give me a sense of what kinds of work they're currently looking to fund (RePORTER is of course another great resource for wrapping your head around what gets funded), and lo and behold, a PA that may as well have been written just for me! I reached out to the contact person for the PA, who was very helpful and offered to give feedback on Specific Aims once I had them. That was easy!

And so now comes the fun part  - diving into a vast new literature, and trying to figure out where I fit in. It is highly daunting, but I'm going to start with big picture stuff and try to narrow things down once I find something that strikes my fancy. When I do, I still think I'll need to find some folks to sign on as consultants or possibly co-PIs for this first foray into new territory, but luckily I've got a couple of good networking opportunities coming up.  I'm excited about learning new things, meeting new people, and, I admit, planting my flag in some foreign soil. Oh, and MONIEZ.

7 responses so far

SfN-goers, save the date for BANTER!

(by Dr Becca) Sep 06 2013

You guys, BANTER is 4!! These little parties grow up so fast, don't they? What was once a handful of awkward scientists and writers hovering in separate corners of a bar has blossomed into a veritable plethora of social media-savvy brain lovers, sipping delicious beverages and partaking in sausage samplers.

This year, we'll be back in San Diego's Gaslamp district, upstairs in "The Nest" at the Tipsy Crow--described as "the most mysterious level" of the bar. Do with that what you will. Importantly, the kind folks at Frontiers have again generously provided some fundage so that you may imbibe and snack with minimal drain on your paltry salaries. But do arrive on time, as the bar tab will most certainly expire before your  thirst does.

Finally, take special note of our new, later time! We're starting at 8 this year, in hopes that those of you who feel compelled to attend your Monday evening SfN-sponsored goldfish crackers and $7 beer socials can make it. Everything you need to know is in this totally beautiful flyer I made. Tweet it if you'd like! Use #sfnbanter, and bring your friends!

See you there!Slide1

3 responses so far

You are not a bad person if you do the things you need to do to get/keep a job in academia

(by Dr Becca) Aug 28 2013

While the desk-drawer bourbon is still coursing through my bloodstream, I feel compelled to weigh in on a discussion that has been on and off on the tweets and blogs for oh, a long time now. The question is re: whether you are a morally bankrupt individual if you publish in non-open access journals. TL;DR, the answer is a big fat NO. I'm too lazy to storify or whatever, but you should definitely read Dr. Isis's predictably excellent post, which is framed in the context of the choice to go open access or glam mag, the former perhaps/likely crushing her chances of adding to the despicably low numbers of TT Latina women in science.

But I am here to take this mentality a step further. It doesn't matter WHO you are. If you are a person at any pre-tenure stage of an academic career (incl grad students & post-docs), the reality is that you are judged by a finite number of things: 1) where you did your PhD; 2) who you do your post-doc work with; and 3) the IF of the journals you publish in. It's not rocket science/brain surgery, people. Now, there are most definitely arguments to be made that these are not the be-all end-all of ACTUAL merit , but this is the world we live in. If you think these are terrible metrics and wish to push forward with no regard for such customs, I wish you all the best.

Open Access is an awesome thing, and I hope one day that all people everywhere have access to every scientific paper ever written. This might actually happen. But in the meantime, we need to get/keep our jobs, mkay? And this means doing the things that impress people according to the 3 criteria laid out above. You do not need to do ALL of them at the level of like, Harvard/Nobel Laureate/CNS, but if you have the OPTION of publishing in a glam mag as a pre-tenure person, do not fall on your sword for the sake of the general public, FFS! Make yourself the most impressive scientist you can possibly be, because nobody else is going to do it for you, and a whole lot of people are probably going to do it instead of you.

33 responses so far

Potnia Theron is my spirit animal

(by Dr Becca) Aug 27 2013

You know how you feel like there are things  you're definitely supposed to know, but if you reveal that you don't know them, the world will point and laugh for an uncomfortably long time, then unceremoniously kick you and your pathetic farce of a career to the curb? Wouldn't you just love it if there were someone out there to explain those things to you in a simple, easy to digest format, with a little humor thrown in to make it enjoyable, and so you don't go blind from googling?

Ladies and gentlemen of the blogosphere, I give you Potnia Theron. I cannot hold in my fangirl-ness any longer; she is an absolute must read. After a brief stint guest-blogging with Isis, she's had her own space for a while now, and to tell you that it overfloweth with  both wit and wisdom is a vast understatement.  There are posts about academia--things that come up as you transition from grad student to post-doc, and post-doc to faculty, and general tips on succeeding without losing your mind. There are posts about basic stats concepts (THANK YOU). There are posts about women's issues, and  about things that are generally awesome.

Most recently, she's got a series up on navigating the seemingly impenetrable labyrinth that is the NIH website, and seriously guys, these posts are straight up GOLD MINES. If you're anything like me, going to  fills you with a sinking dread that your entire day is about to be filled with maddening dead ends, bleeding eyes from staring at a site that looks like it was designed in 2002, and much brow furrowing--only to culminate in shaking your computer screen with both hands, screaming "JUST TELL ME HOW TO GET THE FUCKING MONEY!!!" But Dr. Theron lays it all out for you--clearly, calmly, and with easy-to-click-on links. I cannot over-emphasize how urgently these posts need to move to the top of your Bookmarks tab.

So go read, folks! Read, learn, and improve your life in all possible ways. And Potnia, I promise I'm not going to go all crazy stalker on you, but I  basically want to be you when I grow up.

3 responses so far

I was supposed to have a plan?

(by Dr Becca) Jul 22 2013

Hi folks! I've got a post up at Tenure, She Wrote today, on the idea of a "publishing strategy" for pre-tenure faculty. Is this a thing? If you have one, what is it? Go read, and go comment! And while you're there, check out some of the other great posts from the lovely ladies of Tenure, She Wrote.

4 responses so far

Mess up? Speak up!

(by Dr Becca) Jun 12 2013

About two-thirds of the way into our wedding celebration, J went to the bar to get me a Bijou. The Bijou is an exceptionally delicious cocktail made with gin, sweet vermouth, and green chartreuse that, when made properly, is a gorgeous medium amber in color. But when J returned, the drink he handed me was instead just clear, perhaps slightly yellow.

"This is not a Bijou," I said. "Did the bartender mishear you, maybe?" J went to investigate, and came back with the information that the bartender had run out of sweet vermouth, so he used dry instead, without mentioning this to J when he ordered. Now, as you and I both know, one cannot simply substitute dry vermouth for sweet--they're completely different things! But rather than originally tell J that he was sorry, but he wouldn't be able to have a Bijou at that moment, he tried to cover things up and pass off a sub-par (and quite different) product as the real deal.

This kind of thing was not super cool at our wedding (though see below for happy ending resolution), and it is DEFINITELY not cool in the lab. As several of us  discussed on the twitters yesterday, you HAVE to tell someone when something goes wrong. Don't try to hide it, and for sure don't try to half-assedly patch things up. Trust me, your PI will be way less mad at you if you tell her right away than if she finds out later on due to wonky data or broken equipment. In fact, she probably won't be mad at you at all! We are scientists, and we are in the business of solving problems. If you encounter an unforeseen problem in the midst of working on your planned problem-solving, find someone to help you solve that problem-within-a-problem! You simply cannot let pride or fear of embarrassment/repercussions keep you from speaking up, especially when it comes to letting the PI know about things. Don't forget that she didn't get where she is today without fucking up many, many times. Many. Really, just a ton of times.

Whenever a new person joins the lab, I make it unequivocally clear that they MUST let someone know if they're unsure about what they're doing, if they're uncomfortable doing anything, or if something didn't go the way they think it should have. I'm not trying to quash anyone's independence here, but I think an environment in which people are comfortable asking for help is important.

So, how did we solve the Great Vermouth Crisis of 2012? We found the catering head, and let her know that they'd run out of sweet vermouth. She was surprised to hear that, and after talking more with the bartender, found out that a bottle had been dropped and broken, but no one had told her. And even though it was 10pm on a Sunday, she worked her rolodex until she found a nearby venue that would sell her a bottle. And rest assured, I got my Bijou! But see? If the person capable of solving the problem had been alerted to the problem when it happened, and not hours later, so many more Bijous could have been had!

Moral of the story: if you want your lab to have Bijous, tell your PI when you drop a bottle of vermouth!

7 responses so far

It's a DonorsChoose fund-matching par-tay!!

(by Dr Becca) May 23 2013

As you may know, I am kind of a huge fan of DonorsChoose, the program that allows you, the donor, to choose a needy classroom project to help fund. The school year may be wrapping up, but there are still plenty of kids out there who would benefit hugely from your help. And now, your help will go twice as far, because DonorsChoose is running a fund-matching drive until June 7, for up to $25,000! Let's get it all the way to $25k, shall we? Please give what you can through the Scientopia Giving Page, and enter code SCIENTOPIA in the "match or gift code" field when you check out. I guarantee, if you haven't done anything this week to make you feel all warm and squishy inside, this will readily fill the gaping hole in your heart.




4 responses so far

Everywhere I ate and drank in the Bay Area

(by Dr Becca) May 22 2013

I'm fresh off the red eye and in far too much of a daze to get any work done, but suffice it to say that my trip to the Bay Area was everything I wanted and more. I made some great new professional connections at my meeting, got to visit with old friends, new friends, internet friends, and cousins, and ate and drank until I couldn't eat and drink anymore. There were multiple Portlandia moments. In case you've got a Bay Area trip coming up, here's the list - not a miss in the bunch. Stars for standouts. Unless otherwise noted, everywhere is in San Francisco.


Summer Kitchen & Bake Shop (Berkeley)
Dona Tomas (Oakland)
Taqueria Cancun***
Mission Chinese
Two Sisters Bar & Books
State Bird Provisions***
Jasper's Corner Tap & Kitchen
Kusinia Ni Tess
Out the Door
King of Thai Noodle House
Humphry Slocombe***


Cole Coffee (Oakland)***
Blue Bottle
Sight Glass


The Graduate (Berkeley/Oakland border)
The Library
Wilson & Wilson
Trick Dog***
Two Sisters
Burritt Room***
Bourbon & Branch

47 responses so far

Two years in

(by Dr Becca) May 10 2013

It's been a rough couple of weeks on a number of different levels for yours truly, but I didn't want to let too much time go by without weighing in. Being a new professor, I've found, is like being the parent of a newborn (so I hear): every month is noticeably different from the last. There are major milestones, and there are days when everything seems to regress. Most of the time, you look back and wonder how your child/lab ever used to take the form it did not even all that long ago.  I've now officially survived two full academic years, and I have a few disjointed thoughts I thought I'd share before things morph so much I won't believe I was ever actually in this place, at this moment.

1. Holy shit, I'm going up for tenure in 3 years. I don't even know what to do with this information except to keep doing ALL THE THINGS. Like, every fucking thing I can. To date, I have applied for seven grants of varying denominations (awarded 1, denied 4, still waiting on 2), published one tiny little review with my technician, and created and taught two undergrad courses. I have a fully functioning lab, with a technician, a post-doc, and two grad students, who are all working hard and getting along well. I think this is pretty good, but I know my department would like to see me publish actual research this year. We have a couple of different data sets now that could probably be a couple of small papers, but I keep putting them off to write grants, which have deadlines. This summer, they simply have to get out.

2. I feel like most of my job right now is to be famous. Is that a weird thing to say? Maybe. I said this to my mom and she was like, "why do you want to be famous?" with this disappointment in her voice, like after all these years she was realizing that she had raised a shallow fame whore. But I said, "it's not that I WANT to be famous, it's that I think I kind of HAVE to be famous if I want any chance at having this be my career forever." What I mean by this is that I'm pretty sure a lot of my future success is going to depend on whether people remember my name when they review my grant applications and manuscripts and put together symposia panels. To this end, I am really kicking the networking up a notch. Being brave, talking to the fancy pants people at meetings if I have the opportunity; forging new collaborations, and following up on interactions. So far, I'd say this is going quite well, and for what it's worth, the feeling that I am actively remaining part of a larger scientific community is quite excellent. There's a lot of alone time when you're a new professor, especially in a department that's pretty different from those in which you trained--it's nice to be reminded that the world is not wholly going on without you.

3. The best people you can know are those just slightly ahead of you. I know I just said that thing about talking to fancy pants people, but the reality is that the most useful connections you can make are those with folks who are only moderately senior to you. They are perfect: they have their shit together, but also are not so far removed that they've forgotten what it's like to be in your shoes. They are a magical combination of sympathy and wisdom, and they are better connected than you are. Moreover, they are the ones planning symposia panels. Seek them out, and pay attention to everything they say, seriously.

4. The leaky pipeline (or something) for women is alive and well. I've realized that if I actually crunch the numbers, I can think of exactly three other women in my general field who competed for and accepted TT offers in the last few years, while the number of men is probably at least 3 times that. At the Very Exclusive Conference I attended last December I was happy to find that I knew kind of a lot of people, until I realized that almost all of them were men, and if I joined a group of dudes just standing around talking, there was this weird moment where everyone was like, "OK, I guess we should find something else to talk about besides how much we love our penises. Did you see the latest Deisseroth?"

5. Until you are 65 and donning nitrile gloves four times a day to empty and clean your spouse's nephrostomy bags, do not even begin to think you know the depths of true love.

20 responses so far

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