Thought of the Day

(by drugmonkey) Jul 24 2014

What fraction of the stuff proposed in funded grants actually gets done after feasibility and field movement come to play?

21 responses so far

A can't-miss inquiry to Editor following the initial review of your paper

(by drugmonkey) Jul 23 2014

Dear Editor Whitehare,

Do you really expect us to complete the additional experiments that Reviewer #3 insisted were necessary? You DO realize that if we did those experiments the paper would be upgraded enough that we sure as hell would be submitting it upstream of your raggedy ass publication, right?

The Authors

21 responses so far

Sex differences in K99/R00 awardees from my favorite ICs

(by drugmonkey) Jul 21 2014

Datahound has some very interesting analyses up regarding NIH-wide sex differences in the success of the K99/R00 program.

Of the 218 men with K99 awards, 201 (or 92%) went on to activate the R00 portion. Of the 142 women, 127 (or 89%) went on to these R00 phase. These differences in these percentages are not statistically different.

Of the 201 men with R00 awards, 114 (57%) have gone on to receive at least 1 R01 award to date. In contrast, of the 127 women with R00 awards, only 53 (42%) have received an R01 award. This difference is jarring and is statistically significant (P value=0.009).


So per my usual, I'm very interested in what the ICs that are closest to my lab's heart have been up to with this program. Looking at K99 awardees from 07 to 09 I find women PIs to constitute 3/3, 1/3 and 2/4 in one Institute and 1/7, 2/6 and 5/14 in the other Institute. One of these is doing better than the other and I will just note that was before the arrival of a Director who has been very vocal about sex discrimination in science and academia.

In terms of the conversion to R01 funding that is the subject of Datahound's post, the smaller Institution has decent outcomes* for K99 awardees from 07 (R01, R21, nothing), 08 (R01, R01, R01) and 09 (P20 component, U component, nothing, nothing).

In the other Institute, the single woman from 07 did not appear to convert to the R00 phase but Google suggests made Assistant Professor rank anyway. No additional NIH funding. The rest of the 07 class contains 4 with R01 and two with nothing. In 08, the women PIs are split (one R01, one nothing) similar to the men (2 R01, 2 with nothing). In 09 the women PIs have two with R01s, one R03 and two with nothing.

So from this qualitative look, nothing is out of step with Datahound's NIH-wide stats. There are 14/37 women PIs, this 38% is similar to the NIH-wide 39% Datahound quoted although there may be a difference between these two ICS (30% vs 60%) that could stand some inquiry. One of 37 K99 awardees failed to convert to R00 from the K99 (but seems to be faculty anyway). Grant conversion past the R00 is looking to be roughly half or a bit better.

I didn't do the men for the 2009 cohort in the larger Institute but otherwise the sex differences in terms of getting/not getting additional funding beyond the R00 seems pretty similar.

I do hope Datahound's stats open some eyes at the NIH, however. Sure, there are reasons to potentially excuse away a sex difference in the rates of landing additional research funding past the R00. But I am reminded of a graph Sally Rockey posted regarding the success rate on R01-equivalent awards. It showed that men and women PIs had nearly identical success rates on new (Type 1) proposals but slightly lower success on Renewal (Type 2) applications. This pastes over the rates of conversion to R00 and the acquisition of additional funding, if you squint a bit.

Are women overall less productive once they've landed some initial funding? Are they viewed negatively on the continuation of a project but not on the initiation of it? Are women too humble about what they have accomplished?
*I'm counting components of P or U mechanisms but not pilot awards.

15 responses so far

Guest Post: Gender Sensitivity in Neuroscience is a Work in Progress

(by drugmonkey) Jul 21 2014

This is a guest post from someone who wishes to remain anonymous.



This week, the Society for Neuroscience opened its website allowing attendees to book their hotels for their annual meeting. The timing was couldn’t have been worse for the Vanderbilt neuroscience community given that on Monday, a former graduate student of the program leveled a disturbing series of accusations against neuroscientist Aurelio Galli. At least 10 of the 60+ alleged events of harassment occurred at SfN meetings. The year before the defendant claims she was subject to harassment, The Society for Neuroscience named Vanderbilt their ‘Neuroscience Training Program of the Year’.


In a 20 million dollar harassment suit filled in Nashville, sordid details were laid out of alcohol fueled harassment both in the lab and at the Society for Neuroscience’s annual meetings in 2012 and 2013. The student, a recovering alcoholic, alleges she was subjected to unwelcome and embarrassing commentary from Galli about her perceived lesbianism, her sex life and her looks both in lab as well as in front of male professors.


Vanderbilt fired back saying they had investigated the claims and would vigorously defend themselves.  The medical center director and the chancellor were named as defendants, as were Mark Wallace, the head of the Vanderbilt Brain Institute and National Academy member and Chair of the Department of Molecular Biology and Physiology, Roger Cone. Wallace and Cone were included for their failure to act on the student’s claims and protect her career.


For those outside the field, the neuroscience community seems to be holding down opposite poles in gender and racial equality. The leadership of both the Journal of Neuroscience and the Society are enviably gender balanced in the last decade. SfN was one of the first national societies to initiate meaningful career-long mentorship for women and minorities. Thanks in part to this commitment, women constitute 50% of most neuroscience graduate training programs. The national attrition of women from academic science is also evident in Vanderbilt’s neuroscience program which has an all male leadership and > 30% of its training faculty as women. The vast majority of these female faculty members are assistant professors.


Sending a female graduate student from a heavily male influenced neuroscience graduate program to SfN would present many sources of potential conflict. The first SfN meeting the student claims she was harassed at was in New Orleans, a city proud of its tradition of asking women to show their breasts for beads.


The female graduate student alleges that at SfN, her PI required her to attend a cocktail party on a boat where senior male scientists “became intoxicated and were allowed to make romantic and sexual advances on the students”. <I’ll insert my editorial opinion that news does not surprise me especially in light of the report this week from Kate Clancy that the majority of women in her survey of field scientists say they have been harassed with more than 20% reporting that they have been assaulted.>


Why would anyone attend boat party or any other kind of party where alcohol is flowing freely and fun is a much more clear objective than science?   For many trainees, this is often the only chance they have to spend time talking to well-published PIs. Presumably, at a party like this, senior investigators would be amenable to laid back conversations with trainees providing a rare chance to judge the character of potential future mentors.


These parties are the products of the bygone era of much larger gatherings held a decade or more ago by men who were SfN officers and investigators. Hosts had ample institutional ‘slush’ funds and open bar was the norm. The fabled parties hosted by former Emory Psychiatry chairman Charlie Nemeroff were more or less the height of partying for many members.


While at Emory, Nemeroff managed to get millions in personal wealth by consulting for drug companies while also studying those drugs using funding for his lab from NIMH. This income presumably enabled him to host these lavish events. Nemeroff’s parties would often devolve into factions that went skinny-dipping, participated in drinking contests and unwelcome ass grabbing, and yes, accomplished some important networking.


From the Venderbuilt lawsuit, “networking” was the reported benefit Galli touted as a reason for the trainee to attend the boat party. Indeed, Galli trained at Emory from 1993-1995 while Nemeroff was there, so these kinds of parties probably did help him advance his career. The expectation that a female recovering alcoholic would likewise benefit underscores a clear cultural clash that needs to be addressed by both the Vanderbilt community and the Society for Neuroscience.

24 responses so far

Insinuations, misdirections, straw arguments and obsfucation in drug abuse journalism

(by drugmonkey) Jul 18 2014

Maia Szalavitz has penned a new article on addiction that has been circulated, credulously and uncritically, on social media by people who should know better. So, once more, into the breech, Dear Reader.

The article in question is Most of Us Still Don't Get It: Addiction is a Learning Disorder is posted at

We can start with the sub-header:

Addiction is not about our brains being "hijacked" by drugs or experiences—it's about learned patterns of behavior. Our inability to understand this leads to no end of absurdities.

From whence comes learning if not from experiences? And what is the ingestion of a psychoactive drug if not an experience? She is making no sense here. The second sentence is pure straw-man, particularly when you read the entire piece and see that her target is science, scientists and the informed public rather than the disengaged naive reader.

Academic scientists focused on drug abuse have talked about the learning aspect, of habits and of the lasting consequences of drug experiences since forever. This is not in the least little bit unknown or novel.
Continue Reading »

12 responses so far

Does Science magazine actually sell many copies at the newsstand?

(by drugmonkey) Jul 16 2014


we see that Science magazine has really made a mistake with a cover picture.

The Science Careers subsection Editor Jim Austin wondered:

and then later wondered some more:

to which I observed that no, he had plenty of company:

Look, I am sure there will be plenty of folks more expert and concise and, dare I say it, civil than I am who will weigh in. But here we are.

This cover is bullshit. It objectifies the female form, whether one considers the subjects to be female or not. It is designed explicitly to draw the infamous male gaze.
Continue Reading »

46 responses so far

A day in the life of a big deal sciencer PI

(by drugmonkey) Jul 16 2014

A cautionary tale from University System Professor Emeritus (RIP) John R. Cash:

try not to forget your past undergraduate interns.

No responses yet

Your Grant in Review: The Ideal Personnel Lineup

(by drugmonkey) Jul 15 2014

Excellent comment from eeke:

My last NIH grant application was criticized for not including a post-doc at 100% effort. I had listed two techs, instead. Are reviewers under pressure to ding PI's for not having post-docs or some sort of trainee? WTF?

My answer:

I think it is mostly because reviewers think that a postdoc will provide more intellectual horsepower than a tech and especially when you have two techs, you could have one of each.

I fully embrace this bias, I have to admit. I think a one-tech, one-PD full modular R01 is about the standardest of standard lineups. Anchors the team. Best impact for the money and all that.

A divergence from this expectation would require special circumstances to be explained (and of course there are many projects imaginable where two-tech, no-postdoc *would* be best, you just have to explain it)

What do you think, folks? What arrangement of personnel do you expect to see on a grant proposal in your field, for your agencies of closest interest? Are you a blank slate until you see what the applicant has proposed or do you have....expectations?

22 responses so far

Advice to young scientists

(by drugmonkey) Jul 15 2014

from University System Professor Emeritus (RIP) John R. Cash:
"Well, first you gotta want to get off bad enough to want to get on in the first place".

No responses yet

The Birds and the Bees, academic version

(by drugmonkey) Jul 14 2014

Some guy has written a blog post asking "Is it morally acceptable to hire postdocs?"

This is not an absurd question on the face of it and one of his points appears to be that hiring postdocs is done in preference to hiring longer-term staff-scientist type people.

Hire permanent researchers instead of postdocs. This I think is closer to a fundamental resolution of the problem. Rather than hiring a short-term postdoc by dangling a future faculty job in front of them, it is far more fair to hire a researcher permanently with a salary and benefits adequate to their experience. Although the current funding system is not particularly suitable for this – obviously, permanent researchers should be paid by the university not by grants – it can be done. A permanent researcher also becomes a great asset for the lab as they accumulate valuable skills.

I agree that if you can manage to do this, in preference to a series of 3-5 year cheap 'trainees' doing the same job, this is a morally superior place to be. Totally.

The blog post starts, however, with the following figure

sourced from Schillebeeckx et al (2013) in Nature Biotechnology.

See how the production of new PhDs each year leads to an ever-increasing disconnect between the number of available PhDs and the number of faculty jobs? So yes, there is an increasing body of postdocs being exploited and not being able to get the faculty jobs that they started graduate training to obtain.


They were made. Intentionally. By faculty who benefit tremendously in their own careers from an inexpensive, unbelievably hard working, young and less-distracted, deluded and optimistic workforce.

Faculty who, as it happens, are unbelievably motivated to come up with excuses why their continued overproduction of PhDs year in, year out, is not any sort of problem.

You know, kind of like any sort of Western subpopulation which advocates family sizes of 8, 15 or whatnot can't find any sort of problem with overpopulation.

And kind of like the US Baby Boomers stopped talking about overpopulation the second they realized their comfy retirements were gonna depend on a lot bigger working population behind them, paying the taxes that they couldn't even be bothered to pay in their own heyday.

But I digress.

The point is, that this blog post contains a big old howler:

One might object to this: Isn’t there the same problem with PhDs as with postdocs? In my view, the problem is not the same. I believe that entering a PhD program in natural sciences is not a commitment to an academic track, whereas entering a postdoc is, in most cases. Most jobs outside of academia do not require a postdoc experience, so a postdoc definitely narrows down one’s options. In contrast, a PhD generally widens the options. So, in my view, most PhDs should not go onto the academic track. But in general having more educated people in the non-academic world is good, especially given how many people do not believe in evolution or what idiots oversee science in Congress. A more detailed discussion of this subject is a topic for another day.



Bog-standard excuse making that I hear from every damn participant in a graduate program that simply cannot bear to see that their habit has been to exploit cut rate labor. At first they simply refused to admit that there was any overproduction whatsoever. Then, when the evidence became overwhelming, they clutched the excuse of "alt-careers" and "general good" like a man going down for the third time grasping a life-saver ring.

It's laughable and pathetic.

One might even venture, immoral.

p.s. I don't blame people directly for participating in this crappy system we are in. It demands that PIs exploit people to survive in the grant-funded rat race. Having a lab based exclusively on the work of ever more expensive career TurboTechs and Staff Scientists is a path to disaster. I grasp this. But for Glory's sake people! Stop pretending it is something it isn't. Stop pretending that your lab's arrangements are totally free of exploitation but those other aspects of the system, over there, are immoral and evil.

56 responses so far

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