Thought of the Day

(by drugmonkey) Aug 27 2014

Cling fiercely to what you want to do with your life and what kind of person you want to be.

View it through your expectations of yourself and your view of what constitutes a good person.

Defend that against all comers.

9 responses so far

Your Grant in Review: When they aren't talking to you.

(by drugmonkey) Aug 22 2014

It is always good to remember that sometimes comments in the written critique are not directed at the applicant.

Technically, of course these comments are directed at Program Staff in an advisory capacity. Not to help the applicant in any way whatsoever- assistance in revising is a side effect.

Still a comment that opposes a Stock Criticism is particularly likely to be there for the consumption of either Program or the other reviewers.

It is meant to preempt the Stock Criticism when the person making the comment lies the grant.

12 responses so far

Your Grant in Review Reminder: Research Study Sections First

(by drugmonkey) Aug 22 2014

One key to determining the right study section to request is to look on RePORTER for funded grants reviewed in your study sections of interest.

Sometimes this is much more informative than the boilerplate description of the study section listed at CSR.

8 responses so far

New Projects for Donors Choose Drive for #Ferguson

(by drugmonkey) Aug 21 2014


Three Donors Choose projects I posted yesterday were completely funded in less than 15 hours. I am delighted so many of you found this opportunity to help the communities around Ferguson Missouri attractive. If you missed out on contributing, never fear, there are new opportunities to help. Please also pass this suggestion along to your friends, family and social media contacts.

At least three school districts appear to have been greatly affected by the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri.

The Jennings, Ferguson-Florissant and Riverview Gardens districts canceled classes Monday following another night of unrest in which at least three people were shot and more businesses were vandalized.
“Those districts in particular have very limited funds,” Osborn said, adding that Reinvest North County’s priority is to get kids into class.

That page lists several funds that are open to public donation, if that strikes your fancy.

I like the ability to fund small scale projects requested directly by teachers, made possible by DonorsChoose. I find that other people seem to like the immediacy of this support as well. So I have a few more projects for your consideration.

Ms. Catalino is requesting support for language and mathematics education in Kindergarten at Fairview Primary School in Jennings. The Children Are Our Future project indicates:

My students come from low income families and are very needy. They want to learn and enjoy learning when given the opportunity. A lot of the children become easily angered and can be hard to handle. I keep my children in my classroom actively engaged in learning, so I do not have many anger outbursts. I provide a safe, warm, and exciting environment in my classroom. They love to come into my classroom and are eager to learn. My children develop high self esteem due to the success they have in my classroom.

The project seeks funds for language and math teaching materials for Common Core as well as a classroom magazine.

The Math Common Core item I put in my project will enrich all the students by building a foundation for Math. It will provide centers and hands-on activities for each child. The activities will keep their interest and the children will want to do the activities over and over.

The Phonological Common Core item will prepare the children with a solid foundation for reading. The children will enjoy all the activities in the kit. The activities will be used in centers to provide enrichment and remedial help in a fun way for the students. The activities will keep the children engaged throughout our center time.

Would you care to help some kindergartners?

Next I see Mrs. Belger, also at Fairview Primary in Jennings, needs presentation equipment for teaching her first graders. In 1,2,3 Eyes on Me! she indicates:

We need a multi-purpose and portable teaching easel to use for general instruction. Picture if you will, 26 little eager eyes looking up at you, waiting to be engaged and learn something new. Whole group instruction takes place often during our school day. Students are gathered together in the meeting area, learning together. The teacher and her/his easel are the focus point of the lesson. There I can model how to write letters of the alphabet, show a big book, teach math strategies, how to write a sentence, and so much more.

Mrs. Belger has a second request, Making Leaps and Bounds Toward Success! as well.

Would you care to make Mrs. Belger's classroom a little more effective this year?

Finally, for today, I draw your attention to Mrs. Schumer's first graders at Halls Ferry Elementary School in Florissant, MO. In Rain and Cold Won't Ruin Our Day! she notes:

The school I teach at serves families with very low incomes. Many of my families are living with extended family and are struggling to provide for their child's basic needs. As a result, the children in my class do not have a lot of opportunity to use learning toys like those I am requesting. These "toys" would be an educational way for my students to spend indoor recess time this winter.

While my students are excited to come to school to learn each day, they also have a lot of fun getting exercise and playing with friends during recess. When winter rolls around (or rain falls) and they are unable to go out for recess, we have very few activities in our room for the children to use. I would love to have something fun for them to do that helps them gain valuable social skills, fine motor skills, and critical thinking skills. The building sets and doll play sets would make my children love indoor recess just as much as outdoor recess!

Would you like to make the rain days just a little bit more fun for the children?

I realize there are many demands on your donation dollars these days, folks. So if you are tapped, no biggie. Just consider passing the idea of helping the children affected by the Ferguson unrest along to your friends and families. I know many of them will be happy to know of the opportunity.

Many hands makes light work!

10 responses so far

Donors Choose Drive for #Ferguson

(by drugmonkey) Aug 20 2014

As you know, Dear Reader, I am a big fan of Donors Choose and the opportunity to help out classrooms in need around these here tax-phobic United States of America. A mention on Twitter triggered me to realize we could help out, slightly, with the current dismal situation in Ferguson Missouri by looking for some school projects to support.

Searching by Zip Code 63135 at Donors Choose I found a few hits.

First up, History is Our Story pt.3 in Ferguson Middle School.

I ask my students this on the first day and throughout the year.The U.S. Constitution, Bill of Rights, voting and our legal system are a big part of the 8th grade curriculum so we spend a lot of time talking about citizens' rights and responsibilities

Well isn't this one just smack-dab on task?

My students are 8th graders in a diverse community. Unfortunately, families in this area are still recovering from the economic downturn. There are still a lot of underemployed or parents working several part time jobs to make ends meet. Over 90% of students receive free or reduced priced lunches. In the last 2 years, we have had to rebuild twice because of tornado damage and now we are facing a crisis of civil unrest.

Ok, I'm sold. Anyone else want to donate to Mrs. Simmonds's Technology project?

Next up... Better Equipped to Better Perform!

My students come into my classroom every day fired up to make music together. We are working towards becoming a competitive high school band program by participating in musical competitions, but it's hard for my students to compete on sub-par instruments and when we are unable to afford travel.

My students are an incredible mix and variety of characters and backgrounds. I have students in all grades 9-12, at various levels of musical competency. Many of them come from lower-income backgrounds, and therefore do not have access to many of the opportunities other band students their age have, such as private lessons, owning their own instruments, and so on. They are a tight-knit group, and we often refer to ourselves as the band family. Almost all of my students live in Ferguson, Missouri and have been affected by the events there of the past couple of weeks.

You know what, people? My parents provided the kids in my household with private music lessons for many years. My spouse and I are able to provide our kids with music lessons as well. It is a thing that is a default educational experience in my best of all possible worlds. Mr. Naylor at McCluer High School in Florissant, MO wants to upgrade their musical equipment by purchasing two euphoniums. Would you care to help them out?

Finally, for today, a Science project at Jennings Junior High School. Jennings school district appears to be affected by the situation in Ferguson.

The unrest in this St. Louis-area town straddles two school districts — Ferguson and Jennings. Jennings had already started school last week, but since some of the district's schools border parts of a hub for nightly street clashes, officials called off classes early Tuesday morning and notified parents with phone calls and text messages.

Mrs. Brown has posted Science Portfolios for Science Masters.

Help to organize minds! Sixth and Seventh grade students are typically all over the place. With this in mind it is very important to teach them organization skills while they are in school. A folder with papers flying everywhere and missing homework is an everyday occurrence.

The students I teach are in an urban school where supplies often few and far between. The students come with very few supplies, not because they don't want or need them, but simply they do not have the money to obtain the supplies necessary for school.

Binders and paper, folks. That is a need that they have because the schools are underfunded and people live in economic distress. Are your middle class sensibilities outraged yet? This is where we are as a country.

I thank you for your consideration.

p.s. As always, if you don't feel the pull of these projects go on over to DonorsChoose and search around for yourself. I recommend starting with the Zip Code search 63135 but really, find something that attracts you, even if it isn't in Missouri. Plenty of deserving projects all over the country in all sorts of schools.

12 responses so far

You came so close, Nature Editorial staff.

(by drugmonkey) Aug 20 2014

A news bit in Nature overviews Richard Nakamura's plans to investigate the disparity in grant funding that was identified in the Ginther report in 2011. See here, here, here for blog comment on Gither et al. Nakamura is, of course, the current director (pdf) of the Center for Scientific Review, the entity at NIH that conducts the peer review of most grant applications that are submitted.

It is promising-ish. Nakamura's plans are summarized.

One basic issue that the NIH will address is whether grant reviewers are thinking about an applicant’s race at all, even unconsciously. A team will strip names, racial identification and other identifying information from some proposals before reviewers see them, and look at what happens to grant scores.

Hope they check on the degree to which the blinding works, of course. As you know, Dear Reader, I am always concerned that blinding of academic works cannot always be assumed to have functionally worked to prevent the reviewer from identifying the author or lab group.

The NIH will also study reviewers’ work in finer detail, by analysing successful applications for R01 grants, the NIH’s largest funding programme for individual investigators. The goal is to see whether researchers can spot trends in the language used by reviewers to describe proposals put forward by applicants of different races. There is precedent for detectable differences: in a paper to be published in Academic Medicine, a team led by Molly Carnes, a physician at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, used automated text analysis to show that reviewers’ critiques of R01 grant applications by women tended to include more words denoting praise, as though the writer is surprised at the quality of the work.

Very intriguing contribution to the analysis. Nice.

The NIH will also analyse text in samples of reviewers’ unedited critiques. The Center for Scientific Review typically edits the wording and grammar of these reviews before grant proposals are returned to applicants, but even the subtlest details of such raw comments might hold clues about bias. Nakamura says that reviewers will not be told whether their comments will be analysed, because that in itself would bias the sample. “We want them to be sloppy,” he says.

Hmmm. I guess this is just human factors checking on the automated analysis. Together they are stronger.

The NIH’s Study Sections, in which review groups discuss the top 50% of grant applications, might also harbour bias: the 2011 Science paper found that submissions authored by African Americans are less likely to be discussed in the meetings. But when they are, a negative comment arising from even one person’s unconscious bias could have a major impact in such a group setting, says John Dovidio, a psychologist at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, and a member of the NIH’s Diversity Working Group. “That one person can poison the environment,” he says.

This is not presented in a context that suggests the NIH plans to investigate this directly. Not sure how this could be done without putting a severe finger on the balance. I mean sure, most meetings have call-in lines open to Program staff and Nakamura could just record and transcribe meetings but.....reviewers won't like it and if you warn them you scare off the fishies. So to speak.

Nakamura expects that the NIH’s effort to identify and root out prejudice, which he says could cost up to $5 million over three years, might prove controversial. “People resent the implication they might be biased,” he says — an idea borne out by some responses to his 29 May blogpost on the initiative. One commenter wrote, “It is absolutely insulting to be accused of review bigotry. Please tell me why I should continue to give up my time to perform peer review?”

But Nakamura believes that the NIH — and reviewers — need to keep open minds.

He, and media covering this, need to focus on the opportunity to communicate that institutional racism does not hinge on whether individual actors are overtly biased. The piece leads with the comment that Nakamura got his butt over to the Implicit Association website and identified his own biases to himself. This is the sort of introspection that needs to happen. Heck, I'd love to see a trial where study section reviewers were told to go over there and complete a few tests prior to receiving their grant assignments*.

The Nature editorial is, for the most part, on the side of goodness and light on this.

The idea that scientists who volunteer time and energy to review NIH grants could be biased against qualified minority researchers is a tough pill to swallow. The NIH is to be commended for not sweeping this possibility under the rug: it has turned to the scientific method to investigate the suggestion.

good, good.....

It is a topic that the NIH will need to broach delicately. Few academics consciously hold any such inclinations, and fewer still would deliberately allow them to affect their grant evaluations. Some are likely to bristle at what might be seen as an accusation of racism, and the NIH plans to conduct at least some of its studies of grant reviews without the reviewers’ knowledge or consent.

But better for the NIH to offend a few people than to make snap judgements and institute blunt policies to address the problem. Fixes such as increasing scholarships and training for minority groups would no doubt be a good thing, but they could be an unhelpful use of money if they do not address the root cause of the disparity.

yes, yes, excellent.....

And policies such as grant-allocation quotas could come at the expense of other researchers.


No. Bad Nature.

Right back to victim blaming. Right back to ignoring what it means to have a BIAS identified. Right back to ignoring what the nature of privilege means.

Those "other researchers" at present enjoy a disparate benefit at the expense of AfricanAmerican PIs. That's what Ginther means. Period. The onus shifted, upon identification of the disparity, to proving that non-AfricanAmerican PIs actually deserve their awards.

Ginther, btw, went a long ways toward rejecting some of the more obvious reasons why the disparity was not in fact an unfair bias. Read it, including the supplementary materials before you start commenting with stupid. Also, review this.

But there is also this. The low numbers of AfricanAmerican scientists submitting applications to the NIH for funding means that any possible hit to the success rate of non-AfricanAmerican PIs would be well nigh undetectable. A miniscule effect size relative to all other sources of variance in the funding process.

Another way to look at this issue is to take Berg's triage numbers from above. To move to 40% triage rate for the African-AmericanPI applications, we need to shift 20% (230 applications) into the discussed pile. This represents a whopping 0.4% of the White PI apps being shifted onto the triage pile to keep the numbers discussed the same.

These are entirely trivial numbers in terms of the "hit" to the chances of White PIs and yet you could easily equalize the success rate or award probability for African-American PIs.

It is even more astounding that this could be done by picking up African-American PI applications that scored better than the White PI applications that would go unfunded to make up the difference.

And of course "grant-allocation quotas" are precisely what the special paylines and other assists for ESI investigators consist of. Affirmative Action for the young and untried.

Did we get this sort of handwringing, call for long-duration "study" of the "true causes" of the disparity?

Hell no.

The NIH just started picking up ESI grants to balance the odds of funding, even when study sections responded to news of this affirmative action by further punishing ESI scores!

So yeah, my call is for the NIH to balance the funding rates first, and then do all their fancy studies to root out the "real cause" later.

Also for editorial teams like the one at Nature to stop repeating this whinging about those who already enjoy disparate privilege who might lose (some of) it.
*yeah, it might backfire. that would itself be interesting.

14 responses so far

Peer Review: Advocates and Detractors Redux

(by drugmonkey) Aug 20 2014

A comment on a recent post from Grumble is a bit of key advice for those seeking funding from the NIH.

It's probably impossible to eliminate all Stock Critique bait from an application. But you need to come close, because if you don't, even a reviewer who likes everything else about your application is going to say to herself, "there's no way I can defend this in front of the committee because the other reviewers are going to bring up all these annoying flaws." So she won't even bother trying. She'll hold her fire and go all out to promote/defend the one application that hits on most cylinders and proposes something she's really excited about.

This is something that I present as an "advocates and distractors" heuristic to improving your grant writing, surely, but it applies to paper writing/revising and general career management as well. I first posted comments on Peer Review: Friends and Enemies in 2007 and reposted in 2009.

The heuristic is this. In situations of scientific evaluation, whether this be manuscript peer-review, grant application review, job application or the tenure decision, one is going to have a set of advocates in favor of one's case and detractors who are against. The usual caveats apply to such a strict polarization. Sometimes you will have no advocates, in which case you are sunk anyway so that case isn't worth discussing. The same reviewer can simultaneously express pro and con views but as we'll discuss this is just a special case.

The next bit in my original phrasing is what Grumble is getting at in the referenced comment.

Give your advocates what they need to go to bat for you.

This is the biggie. In all things you have to give the advocate something to work with. It does not have to be overwhelming evidence, just something. Let's face it, how many times are you really in position in science to overwhelm objections with the stupendous power of your argument and data to the point where the most confirmed critic cries "Uncle". Right. Never happens.

The point here is that you need not put together a perfect grant, nor need you "wait" until you have X, Y or Z bit of Preliminary Data lined up. You just have to come up with something that your advocates can work with. As Grumble was pointing out, if you give your advocate a grant filled with StockCritique bait then this advocate realizes it is a sunk cause and abandons it. Why fight with both hands and legs trussed up like a Thanksgiving turkey?

Let's take some stock critiques as examples.

"Productivity". The goal here is not to somehow rush 8 first author papers into press. Not at all. Just give them one or two more papers, that's enough. Sometimes reiterating the difficulty of the model or the longitudinal nature of the study might be enough.

"Independence of untried PI with NonTenureTrackSoundin' title". Yes, you are still in the BigPIs lab, nothing to be done about that. But emphasize your role in supervising whole projects, running aspects of the program, etc. It doesn't have to be meticulously documented, just state it and show some sort of evidence. Like your string of first and second authorships on the papers from that part of the program.

"Not hypothesis driven". Sure, well sometimes we propose methodological experiments, sometimes the outcome is truly a matter of empirical description and sometimes the results will be useful no matter how it comes out so why bother with some bogus bet on a hypothesis? Because if you state one, this stock critique is de-fanged, it is much easier to argue the merits of a given hypothesis than it is the merits of the lack of a hypothesis.

Instead of railing against the dark of StockCriticism, light a tiny candle. I know. As a struggling newb it is really hard to trust the more-senior colleagues who insist that their experiences on various study sections has shown that reviewers often do go to bat for untried investigators. But....they do. Trust me.

There's a closely related reason to brush up your application to avoid as many obvious pitfalls as possible. Because it takes ammunition away from your detractors, which makes the advocates job easier.

Deny your detractors grist for their mill.

Should be simple, but isn't. Particularly when the critique is basically a reviewer trying to tell you to conduct the science the way s/he would if they were the PI. (An all to common and inappropriate approach in my view) If someone wants you to cut something minor out, for no apparent reason (like say the marginal cost of doing that particular experiment is low), just do it. Add that extra control condition. Respond to all of their critiques with something, even if it is not exactly what the reviewer is suggesting; again your ultimate audience is the advocate, not the detractor. Don't ignore anything major. This way, they can't say you "didn't respond to critique". They may not like the quality of the response you provide, but arguing about this is tougher in the face of your advocating reviewer.

This may actually be closest to the core of what Grumble was commenting on.

I made some other comments about the fact that a detractor can be converted to an advocate in the original post. The broader point is that an entire study section can be gradually converted. No joke that with enough applications from you, you can often turn the tide. Either because you have argued enough of them (different reviewers might be assigned over time to your many applications) into seeing science your way or because they just think you should be funded for something already. It happens. There is a "getting to know you" factor that comes into play. Guess what? The more credible apps you send to a study section, the more they get to know you.

Ok, there is a final bit for those of you who aren't even faculty yet. Yes, you. Things you do as a graduate student or as a postdoc will come in handy, or hurt you, when it comes time to apply for grants as faculty. This is why I say everyone needs to start thinking about the grant process early. This is why I say you need to start talking with NIH Program staff as a grad student or postdoc.

Plan ahead

Although the examples I use are from the grant review process, the application to paper review and job hunts are obvious with a little thought. This brings me to the use of this heuristic in advance to shape your choices.

Postdocs, for example, often feel they don't have to think about grant writing because they aren't allowed to at present, may never get that job and if they do they can deal with it later. This is an error. The advocate/detractor heuristic suggests that postdocs make choices to expend some effort in broad range of areas. It suggests that it is a bad idea to gamble on the BIG PAPER approach if this means that you are not going to publish anything else. An advocate on a job search committee can work much more easily with the dearth of Science papers than s/he can a dearth of any pubs whatsoever!

The heuristic suggests that going to the effort of teaching just one or two courses can pay off- you never know if you'll be seeking a primarily-teaching job after all. Nor when "some evidence of teaching ability" will be the difference between you and the next applicant for a job. Take on that series of time-depleting undergraduate interns in the lab so that you can later describe your supervisory roles in the laboratory.

This latter bit falls under the general category of managing your CV and what it will look like for future purposes.

Despite what we would like to be the case, despite what should be the case, despite what is still the case in some cozy corners of a biomedical science career....let us face some facts.

  • The essential currency for determining your worth and status as a scientist is your list of published, peer reviewed contributions to the scientific literature.
  • The argument over your qualities between advocates and detractors in your job search, promotions, grant review, etc is going to boil down to pseudo quantification of your CV at some point
  • Quantification means analyzing your first author / senior author /contributing author pub numbers. Determining the impact factor of the journals in which you publish. Examining the consistency of your output and looking for (bad) trends. Viewing the citation numbers for your papers.
  • You can argue to some extent for extenuating circumstances, the difficulty of the model, the bad PI, etc but it comes down to this: Nobody Cares.

My suggestion is, if you expect to have a career you had better have a good idea of what the standards are. So do the research. Do compare your CV with those of other scientists. What are the minimum criteria for getting a job / grant / promotion / tenure in your area? What are you going to do about it? What can you do about it?

This echos something Odyssey said on the Twitts today:


are true for your subfield stage as well as your University stage of performance.

6 responses so far


(by drugmonkey) Aug 20 2014

I want you Readers to succeed in your careers and your grant seeking.

You are not bothering me* in the least when you email with questions.


*I may ignore you but mostly I respond.

4 responses so far

On coming up with multiple ideas for R01 proposals

(by drugmonkey) Aug 18 2014

A question to the blog asked the perennial concern that is raised every time I preach on about submitting a lot of proposals. How does one have enough ideas for that? My usual answer is a somewhat perplexed inability to understand how other scientists do not have more ideas in a given six month interval than they can possible complete in the next 20 years.

I reflected slightly more that usual today and thought of something.

There is one tendency of new grant writers that can be addressed here.

My experience is that early grant writers have a tendency to write a 10 year program of research into their initial R01s. It is perfectly understandable and I've done it myself. Probably still fall into this now and again. A Stock Critique of "too ambitious" is one clue that you may need to think about whether you are writing a 10 year research program rather than a 5 year, limited dollar figure, research project that fits within a broader programmatic plan.

One of the key developments as a grant writer, IMNSHO, is to figure out how to write a streamlined, minimalist grant that really is focused on a coherent project.

When you are doing this properly, it leaves an amazing amount of additional room to write additional, highly-focused proposals on, roughly speaking, the same topic.

33 responses so far

Thought of the day

(by drugmonkey) Aug 17 2014

Your failure to achieve exactly the career outcomes that you desire in academic science is 100% because the systems are broken and you are undermined by nefarious opponents using underhanded tricks to block you.

H/T: he knows who

8 responses so far

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