What fraction of the stuff proposed in funded grants actually gets done after feasibility and field movement come to play?
Archive for the 'Careerism' category
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?
— Jim Woodgett (@jwoodgett) July 14, 2014
This topic keeps coming up amongst the trainees and I have an area of confusion.
What does it mean that your mentoring has been bad? Is it all about *outcome*?
Is it about lab favoritism?
Does your mentor fail to advance the careers of everyone? Or is it just that you were not the favored one?
Are there specific things your mentor should and could have done for you that you can mention? Did you only recognize this is retrospect or was it frustrating at the time?
This puts it...clearly:
A common misunderstanding among early-career scientists is the thought that their passion is their research focus. A more careful examination reveals that their passion is not so much the subject but rather, the promise of the life that academia might offer.
Painfully so, but clearly.
I've had to ask myself several times in my career if I was interested in TopicX More than I was with having a career. And occasionally the question forms itself in the other direction. Am I so focused on maintaining my career that the actual science isn't any fun anymore*?
At times I have felt as though I would walk away if I couldn't do TopicX. At other times, working on Topics Y and Z has (apparently) been sufficient*.
I am by no means done asking myself the questions, nor is it the case that I always have any choice, really.
I suggest you read the post...if for nothing else it may help you to think about how you make decisions about your career.
*In truth, perhaps one of the biggest surprises of my career arc is the degree to which I find I am interested by at least something in just about every project. As it "Yeah, the overall goals here are cool and all but..whoa! What the heck is UP with this thing over here? Wow. Let's get ON that for a few months.....[two years later]"
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.