Archive for the '[Education&Careers]' category

Handling AEs

Jun 16 2014 Published by under [Education&Careers]

In the journals I typically read, there's no real rhyme or reason behind whether or not the handling Associate Editors are identified to readers. Sometimes the information is in the online documentation and not in the print version, but it's usually all or nothing. The journal I am an AE for does not give out this information, but there's only a hand-full of AEs in each subfield.

I'm curious whether people ever pay attention to that information. Do you think it makes AEs more careful about what the approve for print? Are there other ramifications of doing this?

3 responses so far

No Cost Extensions and your Current and Pending

Jun 04 2014 Published by under [Education&Careers]

I am in agreement with a post at DrugMonkey's regarding the No Cost Extension on grants. A one year extension to the time allotted to spend the grant money from your original budget is a welcomed window of time to tie things up. The benefits of the added time are obvious, especially with NSF grants that typically run only three years, the fourth year stretches that dollar a bit further. And if you've been smart about how you spent along the way, it all works out fairly well.

But the idea of an active project has different consequences and connotations at NSF than NIH. Whereas NIH does not limit the number of awards a PI can have at one time, that's a little more of a touchy subject at NSF. I've heard from multiple POs that there's a blurred line around the two core grant line where the funding of a third becomes questionable. Obviously there are a variety of factors to weigh here and one's status on the grant and time remaining are certainly big.

So where does the NCE fit in? Say one is early into one grant and has a second about to go into an NCE. Is that extra year considered a "current" grant, potentially excluding the PI from additional funding, or does it not matter because NSF has already spent all the money they are going to on that grant? Have people found that having NSF grants in NCE has hurt their chances with funding recently, or is the bar so high this hasn't been much of an issue?

6 responses so far

10 weeks

May 28 2014 Published by under [Education&Careers]

Once again we find ourselves at the dawn of the Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) season. I have taken on at least two more students than I had hoped to, as one does. It's a surprisingly challenging task to take multiple students of varying degrees of ability in the lab and put them all in a position to do enough science to not be embarrassed by their poster at the end of the summer. Some work out well. Some.... less well.

But the influx of new people and wide-eyed n00bism every summer is always a net win. First, it gives the grad students practice at both mentoring and clearly explaining their rationale for what they are doing. Also, it puts them in a position to supervise the construction of a poster. Second, it's an opportunity to have students work on a small project that we haven't had time to get to, but is potentially interesting. And finally, it is excellent training and recruiting to retain some of these students either during the academic year or after they graduate from other universities. Some of my most successful undergraduate researchers have started as summer students and just kept the ball rolling.

Almost every STEM academic I have ever spoken to points to undergraduate research as the catalyst for their career. Hell, a lot of people in scientific fields also point to undergraduate research as the time they knew being in the lab was not for them and they chose something else. That's great too. The earlier you figure that out, the better. But if you're an undergraduate and think you might be interested in research, get in the lab! Summer, academic year, whatever. Do it for pay or for credit (I don't support volunteer lab work), but see what it's all about.

2 responses so far

Stop taking advice only from senior people

May 16 2014 Published by under [Education&Careers]

We all have mentors, many of which are incredibly valuable to us. Their advice can be critical in navigating this job and its vagaries. There's a hell of a lot one can learn from those that have been successful as academic researchers.


One has to be aware that things change and perspectives change. What worked 10, 20, 30 years ago might not be a good fit for the current climate. That struck me as I read the following:

This type of advice is familiar to me. I've gotten all sorts of anecdata-based strange advice like this from senior colleagues who haven't walked in junior faculty shoes in decades. It is entirely possible that NSF used to be more "relationship-based" or that there are big names out there who's conversation with their POs is something like this:

But for the other 99% in our current funding climate, I don't see how your relationship with the PO handling your proposals has a lot to do with getting funded. At this point you have to run a two panel gauntlet and come out relatively unscathed just to be considered. Yes, the POs have a bit of wiggle room at that point, but I would bet that the vast majority of funded PIs have little to no relationship with their POs prior to being funded. Whereas I think it is a good idea to meet with or talk to your PO, I highly doubt it's a make or break move.

One of the most valuable things I've done over the last few years is to use this blog and twitter to gather advice from a much wider audience than I can do through IRL conversations and try to see patterns. What works for lots of people? What are the successful people at my career stage doing that is working for them? Everyday there are conversations on these topics happening. If you listen it's clear no one has a magic bullet. But separating out the odd-ball PI-specific advice from the general helps keep you on track.

gifs from here

3 responses so far

Happy IOS invite day

May 15 2014 Published by under [Education&Careers]

Breathe, do something to distract yourself and buy some booze for either outcome. Good luck.

One response so far

Question of the day

May 09 2014 Published by under [Education&Careers]

If you take a look at the invite rates for DEB preproposals you'll notice that almost every panel has invites that fell into the DNI category. I realize that these regularly happen for a variety of reasons, such as portfolio balance and the vaunted "transformative" tag, but I'm curious about their outcome.

Has anyone ever had a DNI preproposal "picked-up"? If so, how did it do at the full stage? I wonder whether NSF tracks these particular beasts and has some idea of how they perform. Would be really interested to find out.

5 responses so far

New blogs, here and there

May 07 2014 Published by under [Education&Careers], [Et Al]

If you're not aware, there's been some new activity here on Scientopia and elsewhere as we're starting to make some changes geared at refreshing our network a bit. We're expanding in some ways and looking for opportunities to get the community at large a bit more involved. For now I just want to make you aware of the new blogs we've started up, which are mostly relocations of blogs you may already be familiar with.

Dr. 24hours has started a blog here called Complex Roots, where he plans to expand his blogging abut science and technology. His Infactorium blog will also remain active.

Former NIGMS director at NIH, Jeremy Berg, has started a blog digging into the grant data from NIH. You can find him at Datahound.

InBabyAttachMode has migrated her blog to our network and we're looking forward to getting a feel for science culture in Europe, where she has recently returned to after a US postdoc.

Likewise, Mistress of Animals has moved on to our network to add another more senior perspective to the grant game and academic culture.

Stay tuned for more additions as we move forward in the next couple of months.

Finally, I wanted to draw your attention to the new IOS blog from NSF, that will hopefully be following in the footsteps of its counterpart at DEB. Both blogs are the result of POs who wanted better and more interactive ways to communicate with you. I encourage you to visit them often and comment.

No responses yet

NSF service and secrecy: where's the line?

May 06 2014 Published by under LifeTrajectories, [Education&Careers]

Blogging or tweeting about your primary funding sources can be an interesting challenge. I regularly hear from people on the interwebs that they have been cautioned against doing either* from "concerned senior people". To a certain extent I get where they are coming from - the risk of pissing of a PO who decides you don't fit into their portfolio is possible**. In addition, NSF deploys a Cloak of Secrecy when it comes to panel service.

Once you agree to serve on a panel you quickly learn that the first rule of Panel Service is that you don't talk about Panel Service. Not to you friends, not to your colleagues, not to a fox, not in a box. In stark contrast to NIH making the study section roster available to everyone, NSF wants your visit to be treated like you would an interview for a job at another university. Therefore, using social media to publicly detail your time there flies right in the face of official policy. But the problem with all the secrecy is that it leads to difficulty in first time panelists knowing what to expect and to false rumors about the process.

Enter the Fine Line.

When I started blogging I did it for the express purpose of providing a resource to others about what this job entails. Granted, we've meandered and weaved over the last five years, but when I have been asked to participate at NSF I have faced a dilemma - how does one pull back the curtain enough to educate others while not running afoul of the rules? The result is that I've often blogged about the process of dealing with panel service, but never details about the who, when and where. There's reasons I never discuss which panels I apply to or review for and it represents my compromise.

As far as I can tell, I haven't pissed anyone off yet. In fact, my interactions with POs in both IOS and DEB have suggested that they like to see the community discussing what is going on at NSF and, in particular, dispelling rumors that seem to persist. I've had a PO guest blog about what it is like working at NSF (Parts 1, 2 & 3) and it's fairly common for the DEB blog to link back here, as I hope the soon-to-open IOS blog will.

Does that mean there's no risk at all? Of course not. I can tell you that the first time an NSF PO called me out about the blog during a visit to NSF it was an unexpected and uncomfortable moment that I didn't handle very well (and they may still chuckle to themselves about). However, it also speaks to the power of the medium, that one can speak up and be heard***. There are issues and pressures faced by junior faculty that may not be represented by those who have the ear of NSF insiders. Blogging about them is educational to the blogger, the reader community and sometimes to NSF. All of those people are listening and you have the opportunity to get your perspective in their heads, whether they agree with it or not.

Everyone will make their own choices about whether they want to engage their funding source in a public forum and whether they want to do it under their given name or not. I have chosen to do so using a wafer psued that didn't stand up to minor scrutiny and I've always known that. But when people tell you that using social media isn't the "proper" way to engage, they are doing so from a very different space than the one you likely occupy. Obviously you need to balance what your colleagues are saying with your own experience, but it is also worth considering how and when you want to be heard.

*and generally engaging in social media, because it's obviously a waste of your professional time.

**Though I can't actually imagine that happening in practice.

***Also a great reminder to be smart about what you write. Criticism is often warranted, but recognize the different perspectives bearing on the issue you are concerned with.

One response so far

What the effome?

NSF BIO Sent around an email today that had many recipients asking "WTF?" Apparently there is a new initiative being put together that is aiming to look at the connection between genomes and the observable traits of organisms. Cool, I'm down with that. But, um, what are we calling this?

BIO seeks community input on Genomes-Phenomes research frontiers

John Wingfield, Assistant Director of the National Science Foundation Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO), is pleased to announce the posting of a Wiki to seek community input on the grand challenge of understanding the complex relationship between genomes and phenomes. The Wiki is intended to facilitate discussion among researchers in diverse disciplines that intersect with biology, such as computation, mathematics, engineering, physics, and chemistry.

The Wiki format encourages open communication, captures new viewpoints, and promotes free exchange of ideas about the bottlenecks that impede progress on the genomes-phenomes grand challenge and approaches or strategies to overcome these challenges. Information provided through the Wiki will help inform BIO's future research investments and activities relevant to understanding genomes-phenomes relationships.

To provide comments, ask questions and view input from and interact with other community members, first-time users should sign up for an account via this link: Sign-up. Once registered, users will be directed to the main page of the NSF Wiki to accept the terms and conditions before proceeding. Additional guidance and subsequent visits can be accessed via this link: Genomes-Phenomes Wiki.

Community members should feel free to forward notice of this to anyone they think might be interested in contributing to the discussion. Questions regarding the Wiki should be sent to

"Phenomes", eh? Jonathan Eisen has already pointed out that this is just another example of Bad Omics, and there were plenty on twitter who were busting out the side-eye on this one.

But what is the point of making up terms that are hard to define and don't convey any information? Would it really have been less "paradigm shifting" to make the program about connecting the genome and phenotypic variation? People would have actually understood what that meant, so there's that....

I'm excited to see this being considered and I think there's a huge amount of potential here, but let's use real words when trying to communicate ideas, m'kay?

2 responses so far

Your talk isn't just the sum of your data

Apr 28 2014 Published by under [Education&Careers]

Think back to the last time you saw a good scientific talk. What were the features of that talk? Undoubtedly there were interesting results that you had at least a passing interest in, but is that all you remember about the seminar?

When you go to a conference you spend your day being bombarded with information that is typically at the forefront of our knowledge. It's exhausting and mind-numbing and exciting and overwhelming. The typical conference audience sits for hours each day watching one person after another talk from the stage. Whereas having a topic and data that people find interesting is really important for giving a good talk, so too is your relationship with your audience.

What often separates a good talk from a really memorable talk is keeping the audience engaged. Too many speakers try to do that entirely with their slides, but there's ALWAYS a population of an audience uninterested in the results and a much bigger human element to grab those people than many appreciate. The talks I most remember are ones that not only had interesting data, but where I felt like there was a real person explaining those data.

One of the reasons I never practice talks anymore is because I realized that when I get bored with a presentation I project that attitude to the audience. If you are going through a talk for the tenth time and are simply the vehicle for delivery of the information, you have no hope of pulling in people who are not inherently interested in the results. I see far too many talks by people at all career stages that have all the excitement of reading the congressional record out loud.

Not everyone can make a career on a deadpan delivery.

As you become more and more accustomed to speaking in front of an audience, the most critical thing to work on is using your delivery to engage your audience. A seminar is not a book report punctuated by verbal disfluencies. It's your opportunity to show your audience why what you found is really fucking awesome. You should be excited to lead them down the path and really want to tell them the result. If you can't convey a level of interest in your own work, why should they care?

Don't let stage presence be an under-appreciated part of your development as a speaker.

One response so far

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