Perfection

Mar 14 2012 Published by under Careerism, Grant Review, NIH Careerism, NIH funding

The notion that there is some perfect pedigree, some perfect CV that most applicants to the NIH (or other funding body, I assume) possess is untrue.

Oh, it can be comforting, I realize. To think that if you only had picked the right doctoral or post doc lab, if only you had been able to move across the country, if only that damn PI had written you a better letter and gotten you that job at HighFalutinU....

If only.

But for those slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, you too would get every application funded. Nary a triage and seldom a revision.

Hahahahahhahahahahaaaa!!!!

Get real.

Many, many funded PI's of my acquaintance have holes in their CVs that you can drive the ParanoidApplicantTrain through. The wrong doctoral Uni/program. Dismal productivity in a crucial stop. No post doc. Too many postdoc years. A less-than appointment. Seeming lack of independence. A mid career research drought. Low IF pubs. A scientific diversion. Too narrow a scientific focus. Too diffuse.

The thing is...the extramural, NIH-funded community is diverse on this axis. It permits a lot of room for Investigators who differ from the "ideal". To the degree that the "ideal" is more of a fantasy of the unsuccessful applicant than it is a reality.

My charge to you is this: Ignore your seeming deficits.

Ignore the inner voice telling you that easy street was back there on the path not taken. Or the path that was barred to you.

Focus instead on crafting the story of you, as a scientist and investigator. How did your experiences make you the independent scientist that you are?

Remember that you are not talking to your detractors but rather to your advocates.

21 responses so far

  • odyssey says:

    True also at NSF.

  • Scicurious says:

    I think I NEEDED to hear this right now. Thanks dude. :)

  • Isis the Scientist says:

    I doubt there is redemption for people who spend their careers publishing in low IF journals.

  • Thanks, this made me feel better!

  • anon says:

    wise, drugmonkey.

  • jekka says:

    Definitely! I've seen someone address their "non-traditional" career path up front in a K99 application, starting with "I came to research later in life..."

    All three of their reviewers commented on this fact and the story that was told, and the individual was given all 1s as an investigator (almost entirely 1s for everything, actually).

  • arrzey says:

    Go talk to a greybeard you admire, one who looks blessed & golden. If they are not totally neurotic but a General Good Guy, they will love to tell the tale on Their Big Fuck Up(s). For my part, I was on academic probation for failing too many classes in grad school (but the music scene was superb that year). Not that I'm either golden or blessed, only funded.

  • Susan says:

    Because it is not said enough: thank you for this post and all it embeds.

  • anon says:

    Bruce Alberts wrote a nice essay some years ago about failure:

    http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v431/n7012/full/4311041a.html

    It may not have translated to a "hole" in his CV, but may have cost him a few extra years of graduate training. Times are different now and it feels like a less forgiving climate though with brutal competition. As you say, everybody has a different career track and experience, and it's more about what you are able to do with it than the track itself.

  • queenrandom says:

    Dude. Thank you for this. It reminds me of advice I was given by a committee member of mine: "Anyone can be a PI. You just have to keep going. Don't give up." I try to remind myself of that when I feel in the weeds.

  • gingerest says:

    I think sometimes the biggest roadblock to productivity is fretting about how the product will be received. "Ignore your seeming deficits" is pretty smart and succinct advice. It goes on the same list as "just keep swimming", which is so important to me (despite its Disney origins) it's about the only thing I can imagine tattooing on myself.

  • GMP says:

    You just have to keep going.
    Don't give up.

    This. Tenacity FTW.

  • Ed Rybicki says:

    You'll find the golden people don't have a life. Or if they do, it's boring. That's what I tell myself, anyway.

  • Drugmonkey says:

    I'm not saying the perfect people don't exist, no doubt that some do. Just that it is not obligatory to be one in order to have a shot at a career in major-grant-funded science, ER.

  • anonymous says:

    I do say that the perfect people DON'T EXIST!. There are people close to perfection and everyone can be one of those if there is an effort in self-discovering and reaching out in terms of "goals, "emphasis", "priorities" and the implicit intention to serve with the best of oneself and for the best.

  • FunkDoctorX says:

    Thanks for the post...a much needed psychological boost for us on the bottom rungs. I think I actually got a decent night sleep last night because of it!

    Cheers!

  • Isn't Ed Rybicki that nuttewadde who thinks it's totally fucken hilarious and completely innocent of any patriarchal bullshitte to joke about how women are like a totally different species than men and total experts at cooking food and doing laundry and suckeing dicke and wrote a "story" about it in Nature? Same dood?

  • Drugmonkey says:

    Now, now PP. I'm almost certain there was no mention of fellatio in Ed's story.

  • [...] published. Sure, there are setbacks, good data days and bad ones. I know intellectually that the perfect CV doesn't exist. I know that persistence is what's most important, no one just up and gets published. But during my [...]

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