Archive for the 'Careerism' category

Job ad for Assistant Professor position makes it explicit...

Apr 18 2014 Published by under Academics, Careerism

Drexel University College of Medicine is hiring! ....sortof.

The Department of Neurobiology and Anatomy at Drexel University College of Medicine invites applications for a tenure-track Assistant or Associate Professor. We seek a SYSTEMS/BEHAVIORAL NEUROSCIENTIST whose research utilizes contemporary molecular, physiological and/or imaging techniques to address fundamental questions related to monoamine networks, cognitive function and motivated behavior, or psychostimulant drug actions. Applicants should have a Ph.D. in Neuroscience or a related field, a record of excellence in neuroscience research and publication, and preferably extramural funding (e.g., K99/R00 grant).

emphasis added. Unnecessarily.

Very interesting to see this when the drumbeat against soft-money faculty hiring and Med schools lust for indirect costs is getting louder.

h/t: @markgbaxter

24 responses so far

Thought of the Day: The NIH Can't Win

Apr 18 2014 Published by under Careerism, NIH, NIH Careerism, NIH funding

A comment over at Rock Talk made a fairly traditional complaint about the NIH funding system. Dan C stated that: "NIH is to be criticized that it funds “usual suspects.

Today, I find this funny. Because after all, most of the people complaining about the NIH system want to become one of the usual suspects!

Right? They want to get a grant, one. They want to have some reasonable stability of that grant funding in a program-like sustained career. Most of them don't want to have to struggle too hard to get that funding either....I doubt anyone would refuse the occasional Program pickup of their just-missed grant.

Once you cobble together a bit of success under the NIH extramural grant system, those who feel themselves to be on the outs call you a "usual suspect". For any number of reasons it is just obvious to them that you are a total Insider (and couldn't actually deserve what you've managed to accomplish, of course). This may be based on the mere fact that you've acquired a grant, because you work in a Department or University where a whole lot of other people are similarly successful. This may be because it appears that POs actually talk to the person in question. It may be because a FOA has appeared in a research domain that you work within.

Anyone sees the duck floating serenely on the water at a given point in time and it looks like this is one most usual suspect waterfowl indeed.

I used to be annoyed at my approximate lateral peers in science who appeared to be having an easier time of it than I did. I had my Insider attributes as a younger faculty member, make no mistake, but I also had considerable Outsider traits, considering where I was seeking funding and for what topics of research. Some of those folks, over there, well boy didn't they get an easy ride because of being such Insiders to the subpart of the NIH system!

I still have those thoughts. Even though I've seen many of the people I thought had it made in the shade go through their dry spells and funding down-cycles. Despite the fact that as each year goes by and my lab remains funded, I become more and more one of the "usual suspects".

I believe that if I ever feel like I am one of the usual suspects, if I feel like I deserve special treatment and stop fighting so hard to keep my lab going that this will be the end.

I advise you to try to retain the same feeling of "outsider" that you feel as a noob PI for as long as you can into your career.

Getting back to the point, however, the NIH simply cannot win with these criticisms. Those who are feeling unsuccessful will always carp about how the NIH just funds "their" people. And if the NIH does happen to fund one of these outsiders, this very act makes them a usual suspect to the next complainer.

The NIH can't win.

14 responses so far

Thought of the Day on Expectations of Nomadism

Apr 10 2014 Published by under Careerism, Day in the life of DrugMonkey

I wasn't following the Twittscussion on academic nomadism closely, but one thing struck me.

There are those in academics who don't realize why it would be a bad thing. To expect scientists to move around a fair number of times because their career demands it.

This is unfortunate.

I hope that some day they find a place to live that makes them realize there are many things that are more important than moving solely because of career opportunity.

12 responses so far

Thought of the Day

Mar 28 2014 Published by under Careerism, Day in the life of DrugMonkey

One of the obvious desires and needs of the newly minted Assistant Professor is to rapidly establish his or her independent laboratory focus. To show the world, in both formal and informal ways, that all that brilliant work has indeed been driven forward by this new Principal Investigator.

As part of this it is necessary to take full credit for the work that has been done primarily by this young person's laboratory. It can be acceptable in some situations to take a bit of extra credit by inference when the work has been of a collaborative nature, particularly when only that Assistant Professor is under review.

It is dangerous, however, to fail to modulate these claims of credit for collaborative work when all of the participants in the collaboration are under simultaneous review. On the tactical level, you do not want your reviewers thinking that two, three or more labs are taking credit for the exact same thing. On a strategic level, you ARE going to piss off your collaborators. And this is the sort of thing that induces collaborators to stop collaborating with you and just to do it themselves.

When you are the more-junior partner in this scenario, the odds predict that the more-senior person is going to have more relative ability (funds and personnel) to cut you off and continue by other means.

As a related issue, one of the skillsets you need to develop as a scientist is a decent Spidey-sense for collaborators. Some are going to be selfish and some are going to bend over backward to let you take credit, to help your career along and to promote you. These latter are ESSENTIAL to your success. The former must often be tolerated and you do well to protect yourself from them. However, if you cannot discern the two different types relatively rapidly and act accordingly, you run the risk of really pissing off people* who would otherwise be your champion.

Don't do this.

*Remember that unless the person has "Emeritus" after their title, bending over backward to allow you to take credit is not necessarily immaterial to them. This is a reality. No matter how seemingly established a more-senior colleague is, they are worried about the future. There is always the next grant review. Doing a colleague a solid costs them something. The fact that they think this is the right thing to do, regardless, doesn't mean that they do not do so with a conscious nod to the costs involved.

15 responses so far

Guest Post: Manage your career, folks!

Mar 27 2014 Published by under Academics, Careerism, NIH Careerism

This is another guest post from @iGrrrl, a grant writing consultant.

A few comments I've seen around, on top of my experience working with applicants for K-flavored and other career development grants, make it clear that they think the required career development parts are just window dressing. I hear complaints that they have to write a mentoring plan, and then they never do anything that is on it.

Is it the mentor's fault? The people who signed letters to be on the mentoring committee? No. (I'm going to switch voice now and talk at you K99/R00 or other K and F applicants/awardees.) And whose fault is it?

The fault is YOURS. No one cares about your career as much as you do, and even if it went in as fiction on paper, it is YOUR responsibility to make it reality. Otherwise you'll never know if it would have made a difference to tap into the brains on your mentoring committee, to impress them with your initiative and willingness to learn. Making someone feel smart and important to you (while also getting good advice) is a good way to increase their sponsorship of you--inviting you present at meetings, to small subdisciplinary meetings, talking positively about you.

I think it's easy for young people to underestimate the impact of the positive regard of more senior faculty, or for you young folks to know how that plays out in reality. No, they're not gossiping about you; they have better things to do. But that 'dream team' remembers that they signed letters for you and then never heard from you again.

11 responses so far

The K99/R00 is not some sort of unfair distortion of the academic job market

Mar 25 2014 Published by under Careerism

This sentiment comes up, now and again, when we discuss the K99/R00 NIH grant mechanism.

This inevitably rings as critical to my ear. As if there is something suspect or underhanded about the K99/R00. At the very least as if there is something bad about it. I disagree.

The K99/R00 mechanism is the only true transition mechanism in the NIH stable. First announced in 2006, the Pathway to Independence award was designed to be won by pre-tenure-track academics (the K99 phase) who could then transition to Research funding (R00 phase) once they won a tenure track job.

Prior attempts to assist new investigators in winning research grant funding failed to cross the transition from trainee to faculty. There were postdoctoral fellowships and there were faculty level awards but nothing that you could apply for as a postdoc and carry forward into a faculty position.

You can whinge all you want about the growing reluctance of Universities to cough up research-focused tenure track Assistant Professorships with substantial startup packages. You can shout as loudly as you like about the way things should be. But that won't change reality at University of State.

Nor will it change the reality that many of us really work for the NIH.

It is in their interest to figure out how to get their future workforce into the shell "job" (aka, Assistant Professor at University of State) as rapidly as possible. If, that is, they are dismayed by the infamous analysis showing the gradual increase of age to first R01 and other dismal demographic statistics.

In my day, youngsters, there was only the Burroughs-Welcome Career award. They have cancelled this because of the K99/R00 but it used to be the only game in town. And it was quite a plum. But IIRC the University itself controlled who could apply as a postdoc. The numbers awarded were very small. It was a program that was out of reach for many types of science...basically it was all about GlamourMag science in the place I was at at the time I considered using this mechanism.

I saw the issuance of the K99/R00 program to be a hugely important step for the NIH. It was a recognition of reality and a way to get people, young people, hired into jobs now instead of in three more years' time. IMO.

It was democratic in the sense that all the ICs could play, meaning topic domains were not excluded by a University committee or Dean or local political power playing. It was democratic in the sense that there were quite obviously going to be more R00 PIs than there ever had been Burroughs-Welcome PIs. It was democratic in the sense that peer reviewers were going to be deciding who got the primary awards.

My fields of interest have seen many K99/R00s awarded and the awardees have transitioned into faculty positions. Which are going quite well in my estimation.

Are there people who missed out on K99s getting overlooked in faculty job searches? Undoubtedly. Is this some sort of epic and systematic tragedy?


There has always been an element of career success that is driven by something other than a pure and idealistic assessment of talent. It might be due to the accidents that brought you to a particular training lab. Due to the accident of being highly successful in your graduate student or postdoctoral project. Due to the accident of who else happens to be on the job market when you are. Due to the accident of which University Departments happen to be hiring in your field and in which sub-area of concentration.

None of this is fair.

The processes that lead to a K99 award are not fair either, but they have many upsides. Some of which I've mentioned above.

The factor of peer review by people who sit on study sections should not be lightly dismissed. Sure, they are subject to many sorts of biases but they are much less subject to the vagaries of what Departments happen to be hiring in which topic area. They are much less subject to group think because, on the whole, the areas of scientific expertise, career type, geographic region, etc are diverse by construction.

They add another layer, another chance for a supplicant to win over a group of people. That's a good thing.

The successful K99/R00 Assistant Professor has to win over a search committee too, you know. These jobs are not automatic. And despite rumors on the Twitters, yes, Departments are indeed still hiring people without K99/R00 awards.

I really don't see why people are so antagonistic toward the program.


ps: Changes in the eligibility criteria aren't unfair either.

pps: The NIH had a sweet deal for Intramural postdocs in place for some time.

ppps: In disclosure, I personally think the NIH should shutter the F32 individual NRSA for postdocs and apply the money to the K99/R00 program. For real.

60 responses so far

Something you'd learn in business school?

erickttr observed:

I notice that you go to RePORTER for information to help solve mysteries and gather data and strategic thinking respecting grant strategies and for a feel for national trends. Do you ever bring this up in conversation with POs? For example, "I noticed in RePORTER that only 5 R01s have been funded from this PAR, none from my IC of interest (which had a part in creating the FOA) .... what's up with that?" Or is that too .... something ... seems like something you'd learn in business school .... not grad school (where we learn to pipette and run gels).

The things that I talk about on this blog are things that I learned, sometimes the hard way, as a faculty level scientist who was expected to land major research grants to fund his laboratory. A few things I picked up as a postdoc, but my education really accelerated after my career world said "Okay, show us what you can do, junior.".

Much of what I relate to you I learned in bits and pieces over a very long period of time. Just this very month, btw, I learned yet a new wrinkle on NIH behavior when it comes to grants. I am always learning new stuff.

Obviously, I think it is imperative for my continued career existence that I keep my head up about where the lab's funding comes from. I blog because I think you Readers should do so as well. Most of this stuff isn't rocket science, just information. Information that you will over time come to value, information that you will find to be incorrect for your situation and information that may never be of use.

It is my belief that the more academic folks who plan NIH extramurally funded careers know about the NIH system, the better for them. And even grad school isn't too early to start to pick up the basics.

When it comes to Program Officers and, yes, Scientific Review Officers, my answer to erickttr is a simple "Heck yes!". Even people who are part of the system don't necessarily know everything about the system. Not even "their" piece of the system!

You may recall my various frustrations over the years with aspects of the NIH system that participants in the system seem to ignore. Rockey's assertion about PhD job prospects. The amazing discovery that NI awards, prior to the invention of the ESI category, were going to highly established PIs who simply hadn't been NIH funded yet. Program Officers who told people in soft-money jobs that "well, that's not a very good job, you shouldn't be taking those". POs who tell investigators they just need to "write better grants". SROs who were entirely unaware of the A2 traffic-pattern effect as it was developing ("What do you mean this study section rarely funds A0 applications?")

The list goes on and on.

Areas of scientific study that are woefully underfunded by your favorite IC are no different. YOU, scientists, serve an educational purpose. You do this by virtue of the grant applications you submit. You do this by virtue of the reviews that you supply when asked to serve on study section. You do this in your annual Progress Reports.

And you do this by chatting up your friendly POs on the phone or at scientific meetings.

Part of your argument can be derived from RePORTER. Of course. Particularly when you want them to fund you to do X and there are hardly any grants funded on X at the moment. Maybe you can point to a study section which should be handling X but never seems to let any proposals out with a fundable score. Who knows, maybe you will eventually get a Program Announcement or Request for Applications funded.

Go RePORTing folks.

Addendum based on this (wisecrack?) comment from SidVic.

You are poorly served by these idiots, and it is shameful that the NIAAA portfolio doesn't contain at least 4-5 projects addressing x and z. Hey you should really do your duty to humankind and pick up my grant...

Obviously you want to be polite. But the real point here is that you are playing the long game. When you front people with the deficits in their system, they are not going to immediately agree you are right and hand you a new grant award. Not the way the world works. You are trying to shape their own beliefs. This can take time. And you are also trying to give them (your advocates) the ammunition that they need to make their case with higher-ups. (When text that is suspiciously similar to your rantings shows up in the RFA, just quietly pat yourself on the back and consider it a job well done!)

6 responses so far

Negotiate or rescind the offer of a TT job?

Mar 13 2014 Published by under Academics, Careerism

Inside Higher Ed reports a tale of a woman who was offered a position at Nazareth College in Rochester NY. She submitted a list of requests including more salary, a delayed start and guarantees of maternity leave.

In my view the totality sounds excessive, but that is what you do in a negotiation. You start with your most expansive list...the other side can't be expected to give you MORE*.

Normally the College would come back with a sharply abbreviated list like "No on everything except maternity leave. Oh and maybe a quarter of the salary request."

After a little back and forth....the candidate decides if she can live with the terms.

In this case, Nazareth College simply rescinded the offer.

This seems very strange and complete weak-sauce to me. Not to mention rude.

You folks ever heard of an offer of a tenure track job being rescinded during negotiations?
*unless you are dealing with some seriously committed DFH types.

66 responses so far

Guest Post: The brightest and the most insightful people in the country?

Mar 08 2014 Published by under Academics, Careerism, NIH, NIH Careerism, Public Health

bluebirdhappinessThis is a guest appearance of the bluebird of Twitter happiness known as My T Chondria. I am almost positive the bird does some sort of science at some sort of US institution of scientific research. The bird is normally exhausted by typing messages 140 characters at a time so I was skeptical but....well, see for yourself.

MDs and PhDs are considered to be some of the brightest and the most insightful people in the country. Indeed, look no further than the nearest MD or PhD and ask them; they will attest at great length to their exceptional smarts and individual importance in maintaining the sun orbiting the Earth. Yet for all the combined education there remains a fundamental lack of appreciation of how intertwined the fate of these two professions are - ranking right up there on the irony scale with Pakistan threatening to nuke India (they are geographic neighbors, so that’s ironic, you see).

For anyone who has ever worked at a major academic medical center, we are told ad nausea how important we are in understanding human health. Yet we do so almost exclusively in parallel universes. Asked what its like to try to work with an MD, a PhD will often tell you MDs are ‘erratic, ill informed and totally lacking in any understanding of what goes into doing real research’. Conversely, asked what PhDs do, MDs will likely reply ‘they like to present very complex diagrams, write grants and develop models of disease and pathology that have little to do with any case I’ve ever seen.

I get to surf between these groups; my primary appointment in a clinical department affords me a perspective that is unique in that I am able to pass as either an MD or a PhD on any given day. I spend the majority of my time running a research lab but I can scream “House! Put down the scalpel you jackass! All you have to do is order a chest x-ray and look for pulmonary infiltrates to know it’s not sarcoidosis!” with the best of interns.

Figure 1. “It’s a fan!” “It's a spear!” The hilarity of people in white coats looking at their own little microcosm of an elephant and being unable to appreciate it is actually a bloated endangered species that could kill them all. And by bloated endangered species, I mean academic medicine*.  *Author note: Am I going to have to explain all my jokes?

Figure 1. “It’s a fan!” “It's a spear!” The hilarity of people in white coats looking at their own little microcosm of an elephant and being unable to appreciate it is actually a bloated endangered species that could kill them all. And by bloated endangered species, I mean academic medicine*.
*Author note: Am I going to have to explain all my jokes?

In drifting between these lands, I noticed the rifts earlier between ‘researchers and doctors’ which seemed vaguely amusing not so much now as first but as the business of academic medical is getting the shitte kicked out of it and PhDs think it has little to do with them.

In previous faculty meetings, I would watch tenure track PhDs glaze over as our beloved leader discussed the ‘blah, blah’ of clinical revenue streams.

Conversely, the MDs would eagerly reengage a new level of Candy Crush Saga as our chair commiserated with PhDs about pay lines and sequestration. (So clueless were the MDs about the recent plight of scientists that the esteemed journal JAMA even had to run an article in their online edition earlier in the year explaining sequestration to the primarily MD audience.)

At our most recent faculty meeting, there seemed to be a moment of real illumination between both groups that everyone in the medical center was screwed and better start making more widgets faster. Our Fearless Leader informed faculty that our hospital budget shortfall was progressing more quickly than we had anticipated even three months ago and vacations were canceled for faculty, more clinical hours were going to need to be booked and the bergermeister was coming to take all our toys (only two of these three have happened so far).

Figure 2. Predoctoral kitten downed by lack of understand of the health care industry on academic medicine.

Figure 2. Predoctoral kitten downed by lack of understand of the health care industry on academic medicine.

Later that day, I took to on Twitter to vent and look for pictures of kittens doing cute things (see Fig 2 as evidence of my hard work). Many of my Twitter followers are porn bots, but at least 2 or 3 are PhD-types and aghast that my medical center was being so aggressive. There were many sad emoji’s sent my way and a flutter of ‘how could they’ and ‘oh, your poor little university’ that made me wonder what planet everyone is on and if donuts were as delicious there as they were here (see Storify by @mrhansaker here).

EVERY medical center in the US is getting carpet bombed into financial oblivion by the economy, Medicare reimbursements and Obamacare. And yes, I assured my Tweeps, the amount of our gross national product that goes to health care is stoopidly high. But, a startling number of my PhD buddies were taken aback by the idea that those pesky ‘high health are cost’ they glaze over in faculty meeting or when listening to NPR is also covering their academic PhD arses.

So, for my PhD pals, whom I shall refer to as ‘People who are doctors only when they book hotel rooms’ (I’m kidding, I’m a kidder!), I wanted to run this down a bit further. If you have a medical center as part of your university, you have been riding clinician’s financial coat tails for a long friggin time. The indirect rate charged to granting organizations in no way covers operating costs for research. That takes an endowment or an additional revenue stream. Endowments usually come from long dead old rich doods. These endowments don't just sit in Scrooge McDucks cave. They get invested in things like the stock market. And the stock market got the shitte kicked out of not too long ago. Billions in endowment money were lost in the economic collapse - most Universities took 25-50% hits on their Scrooge McDuck funds. So, if you’re a PhD, you can take endowments out of the equation as what’s been filling in those pesky financial gaps between costs and expenses. No worries, you’re at a medical center so you have a revenue stream- your clinical enterprise. Sick people. America is ALWAYS good for some damn unhealthy and foolish folks who will make the worst choices possible and rack up a small fortune in insured and uninsured care.

Thank God for stoopid and unhealthy people, amirite?? This is even better because our Commander-in-Chief got an electoral mandate to insure everyone’s (ish) stoopid arse. More money for medical centers has got to be a win, yes? Not so much. Show me a medical center meeting its financial goals, hell even one that isn’t heading for a hundreds of millions of dollars of deficit for 2014, and I will show you a for profit medical center (read here: “not academic, so no jobs for you PhDs”).

The proverbial sky has been falling for research scientists for some time now as well documented by my kind host Drug Monkey and others with inferior blogs and better shoes. And indeed, MDs have been hounded into appreciating the genius that is the bench scientist. So valued are the basic researchers that they are sought after to heap more prestige on the medical center and an even better training environment which increases numbers of trainees, blah, blah.
Unlike clinicians, scientists have known the economic sky was falling for some time and have been zealously advocating the importance of science research bracing for impact. To the outside world, that looks a lot like holding your collective sphincters together as tightly as humanly possible and waiting for things to improve. Well-done people. Actually, you sort of sucked at advocating for yourselves as evidenced by the two of you who actually sent @nparmalee letters to hand deliver to your Congress Critters a few weeks ago, but I will need another bottle of wine for that.

The first warning to those PhD types in the 35+-age bracket would have been when Scamp-in-Chief Bill Clinton never quite delivered on his ‘peace dividend’. The one where all those pesky defense dollars would go to building a bigger, better, smarter American work force with futures in STEM (Dumber Bombs! Smarter People!). We would turn in our tanks and churn out better-educated versions of ourselves with outstanding oral hygiene to lead us forth into the new millennium free of disease and with cats with laser vision. Not only did we forget to provide sustainable growth mechanisms for STEM, we also neglected to maintain world peace and not screw the interns. Bill, you lovable rascal, at least you didn’t shoot anyone in the face. Just in the foot. Or both feet.


In the parallel world of MDs, who kindly request you simply refer to them as ‘real doctors’ for the rest of this diatribe, the pesky business of health care in academia has always been a house of cards. About 7% of MDs practice in the rare air that is academic medicine. This affords prestige, time for clinical research, collegiality, security and none of the business hassles of private practice, but about half the salary. Which, to be honest, is still a metric shitte ton of money especially if you do a bit of consulting. But now, there’s no research time, Medicaid is squeezing out every reimbursable dime and you are keeping the same hours as your hapless residents.

My take home from today friends is that the party seems to be winding down. Rather than recognizing that our fates are intertwined, MDs and PhDs frantically see more patients and write more grants and wonder when the sun will shine on us once again and society will appreciate our true worth. I have yet to see any evidence that for all the brain power and letters after peoples names, PhDs are even aware of that medicine money is research money. So you go put your blinders on and find that spear, and I’ll put mine on and grab this rope and no one will call it an elephant.

34 responses so far

Sydney Brenner on the trainee exploitation scam of science.

In this interview, Nobel Laureate Brenner says:

Today the Americans have developed a new culture in science based on the slavery of graduate students. Now graduate students of American institutions are afraid. He just performs. He’s got to perform. The post-doc is an indentured labourer. We now have labs that don’t work in the same way as the early labs where people were independent, where they could have their own ideas and could pursue them.

The most important thing today is for young people to take responsibility, to actually know how to formulate an idea and how to work on it. Not to buy into the so-called apprenticeship. I think you can only foster that by having sort of deviant studies. That is, you go on and do something really different. Then I think you will be able to foster it.

But today there is no way to do this without money. That’s the difficulty. In order to do science you have to have it supported. The supporters now, the bureaucrats of science, do not wish to take any risks. So in order to get it supported, they want to know from the start that it will work. This means you have to have preliminary information, which means that you are bound to follow the straight and narrow.


I saw some comment that he was bashing peer review but if you look carefully, you'll see he's talking about the GlamourGame with professional, not-working-scientist, editors:

I think peer review is hindering science. In fact, I think it has become a completely corrupt system. It’s corrupt in many ways, in that scientists and academics have handed over to the editors of these journals the ability to make judgment on science and scientists. There are universities in America, and I’ve heard from many committees, that we won’t consider people’s publications in low impact factor journals.


In other words it puts the judgment in the hands of people who really have no reason to exercise judgment at all.

18 responses so far

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