Position Yourself

DM left a comment on a post I made about some recent potentially good grant news. I was thanking you all for cheerleading… for me and DM said:

Cheerleading or not, YOU are the one that kept the hammer down doubledoc. Great job, way to keep those grants going out and way to keep your science in play. YOU were the one who got yourself into position for someone to notice your great ideas when the situation finally was such that they could do something about it.

Yeah, DM, I know you are right in certain respects. News like this doesn’t usually just fall from the sky- or maybe it does but you can’t benefit if you are not standing in the right place prepared to catch the long shot when it comes your way. So maybe it’s worth going back and doing a little self-evaluation (and I’m a freaking tough critic!!)  and seeing what I did right and what I could have improved upon in the whole junior-faculty-project-setting-up-grant-getting process.

Did Right – in no particular order:

  • 1.  I wanted this job, I took this job, and I made the decision to give it 150% whenever possible and whenever necessary.
  • 2.  I took some calculated risks in projects, based on my knowledge of the field and the literature in my area and in more disparate areas- with full understanding of the consequences if they didn’t work out, but without fear.
  • 3.  I actively sought out like-minded colleagues and collaborators. I wasn’t shy about chatting with people at meetings and sending out cold-call emails to people whose work I thought might overlap or complement mine in a great way.
  • 4.  I developed a support system in the field I’m in, and also in other ‘tribes’ to which I belong.
  • 5.  I tried not to make enemies.
  • 6.  I sought out colleagues that would HONESTLY tell me my weaknesses, and I listened to what they said and didn’t take it personally. And when I did (take it personally), I got over it in a hurry.
  • 7.  I didn’t let up or give up – even though there were some very low moments. (that’s where you all come in!)
  • 8.  I put as many grants as was possible for me and that I had strong preliminary data for, in the pipeline.

Areas where I could have improved (hindsight being what it is and all)

  • 1.  Coulda pushed a bit more and put out papers sooner.
  • 2.  Coulda sent that R01 one or two cycles sooner.
  • 3.  Coulda sent that R01 one or two cycles sooner.
  • 4.  Coulda sent that R01 one or two cycles sooner.

All you junior faculty pay attention to those last three things. They can make you or break you.

If things work out grant-wise as I hope they will- I’m going to shift my attention a bit to:

  • 1.  Speed up data collection.
  • BREATHE
  • 2. Better oversee my students and other staff.- that should help with #1, as well as improving their training!
  • BREATHE
  • 3.  EXPAND the lab. Very likely with post-docs and techs  (and a veterinarian or two?) that don’t need a lot of very basic training up front.
  • BREATHE
  • 4. Take care of a backlog of manuscripts that are ready to go out, and plan experiments  for the next manuscripts.

It feels like I am entering a whole new phase where I’ll have to learn distribute my time a little differently than I have been- since the grant writing is going to lighten up. I’m nervous about this- but excited at the same time!

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24 thoughts on “Position Yourself

  1. # 1. I put as many grants as was possible for me and that I had strong preliminary data for, in the pipeline.
    # 2. I didn’t let up or give up – even though there were some very low moments. (that’s where you all come in!)

    My list.

  2. Seriously though this points right at the duality of what we mean when we use the phrases “I was lucky” in career. We use that because we feel as though we do exactly the same things, more or less, with the same amount of brilliance and effort. Sometimes the stars align and sometimes they do not.

    If you are one of those people who has grey zone scores active right now, you are going to hit. If you happened to start your career during an “up” cycle, ditto. If you happened to be an ESI when NIH finally got excited about that, if you happened to be in biofuel-related stuff after Bush’s State of the Union on that topic…. etc.

    The only constant is that if you don’t buy a ticket, you aren’t in the lotto. If you do, you have a finite chance.

    Keep those grants in play at all times people…

  3. DM- I realize in talking to jr faculty that everyone has their own perception of what ‘strong preliminary data’ actually is. I think you are right to strike that- because I think that many times the jr faculty I have talked to waited too long because they had their own idea of what ‘enough’ preliminary data was.. and it was either too much or not the right preliminary data. So- to those people I’m back to the re-write as you did it in your comment.

  4. If there is one thing that I know for certain fact is that you cannot guarantee funding on a first submission by 1) writing the grant “better”, 2) getting X more pubs or 3) waiting for Y more preliminary data.

    These are all things that cause people to wait an extra round or two before submitting and they are absolutely a waste of time. Now, there are certain minimum standards for all three, sure. But those minimums are FAR below what most people assume. Get those first submissions out, take your licks, learn and develop the right prelim data if (and only if) it seems to be a huge sticking point for the reviewers.

  5. This is fascinating. I need to seek out some people in my immediate field and see what they think are acceptable levels of preliminary results. I have two ideas that are of the ‘expanding on post-doc research’ very directly that I have managed to gather some intriguing preliminary results…I would love to be able to send out what I have rather than waiting to get more prelim!

  6. Pingback: Grant Writing Classes SI Career Services Blog «

  7. Pinus,
    Pay attention to DM. If you have preliminary results at all – a few figures – start writing (assuming you’ve ironed out exactly what you can take away with you from your current lab). If you can get your current institute to back you up, submit a proposal ASAP regardless of where you are applying for faculty positions elsewhere. If you can’t get support where you are, at least you’re ready to hit the ground running the moment you have a faculty position in the bag (probably wouldn’t do you any harm to have a proposal to take with you to an interview, anyway).

  8. DSKS,

    I am starting my faculty position in the next 30 days. I have already submitted one foundation award. have several others planned. My assumption was that for an R01, you need to have preliminary data for each aim that shows you will have something to work on. As of now, I have very nice preliminary data for Aim 1 in both R01 #1 and R01 #2. I have some (read very little) preliminary results for the second aims for each. The third aim of each is up in the air. I have risky ideas and safe ideas. For the risky idea, I need to get preliminary results…at least that is my impression. Safe idea…not so much. Lots of thinking to do. I definitely agree with what you are saying…I wrote a career award when I was on the job hunt, it was incredibly helpful.

  9. My assumption was that for an R01, you need to have preliminary data for each aim that shows you will have something to work on.

    I’m not saying there are not study sections that insist on this but mine does not. And I have *never* had such comprehensive prelim data in my apps, yes including the ultimately-funded ones.

  10. Note that while R01s typically have three aims, there is nothing wrong with a two-aim R01 application, so long as you provide some narrative in your timeline justifying your full five-year modular budget. And yes, PIs should *always* have R01 applications pending!

  11. Pinus,
    My proposal was instigated by the reviews on a K99 I sent out previously. I had one aim with solid prelim data, one aim with a wee bit, and a third aim with none. The third aim contained a few experiments that were conceptually tricky, and I did think I’d get dinged for not having any evidence that they would work. I didn’t get a stellar score (30%tile), but it was in the ballpark of a new investigator payline. Basically, writing the best grant you can with what you have and sending it in is a good way to go. You get your ideas and future goals peer reviewed, and if the only criticism is a lack of prelim data then you can give yourself a slap on the back, because that’s something that can be addressed far more easily than fundamental flaws in experimental design, importance and physiological relevance.

    “I have already submitted one foundation award. have several others planned… As of now, I have very nice preliminary data for Aim 1 in both R01 #1 and R01 #2.”

    I think folk like us should really concentrate on writing one solid and well-written R01 app at a time. You can go with #2 when #1 is in the pipeline, and you probably shouldn’t distract yourself with smaller grants at this early stage (I think PP posted something on the DM blog about this). Besides, critiques for #1 may well address issues pertinent to your grantsmanship of #2 (i.e. the common “The Newbie is proposing to do too much” criticism, which is exactly what I got dinged on), and knowing these broader criticisms might save you some time and effort on subsequent apps.

    Congrats with the job, and good luck.

  12. Congrats DrDrA on the grants, that’s awesome! Nice to hear the hard work pay off.

    Re submitting & prelim data: I got dinged for ‘lack of preliminary data’, but I think it would have mattered less in the original submission if I had written much more explicitly detailed expected outcomes & interpretations, and as long as the experiments were clearly within my (published) technical expertise. I have delayed a resubmission in order to get more prelim data and another publication, but since the prelim data was a sticking point, I figured I pretty much had to.

  13. you probably shouldn’t distract yourself with smaller grants at this early stage

    True for things like R21s and R03s. But junior faculty should apply for every possible private foundation grant and “scholar award” that they are eligible for.

  14. True for things like R21s and R03s. But junior faculty should apply for every possible private foundation grant and “scholar award” that they are eligible for.

    PP, you keep saying this, but I have no idea why. Can you elaborate? The competition for many of these foundation grants is impossibly fierce and the amount paid out is relatively small. Foundation grants, like R03 and R21s are generally non-renewable. With R03s and R21s, you get solid feedback from the study sections that you’re probably going to want to fund your R01. What’s the upside to the foundation grants relative to the NIH grants?

  15. What’s the upside to the foundation grants relative to the NIH grants?

    They take minimal effort to write, and should be just copy-paste of aims and other text from R01 apps you are already working on. The vast majority of them are only three pages. This represents *vastly* smaller time and effort than R21 or R03 applications.

    They are also nice to have on the CV if you can get one or more. Some of them are a decent amount of money. When I started my lab, I applied for probably about a dozen of these, and was awarded one of them, for about $100,000 per year for three years.

  16. To clarify PP’s point ever so slightly, you are not supposed to have substantially the same proposal under consideration at the NIH (actually all gov agencies, I believe) simultaneously in two applications. There is no rule whatsoever about having those exact same ideas under consideration for non-gov foundations. NIH only cares about overlap should both be selected for funding. Anyone with half a brain should be able to push the overlapping areas apart so as to remain kosher if they get so lucky…

  17. To clarify PP’s point ever so slightly, you are not supposed to have substantially the same proposal under consideration at the NIH (actually all gov agencies, I believe) simultaneously in two applications.

    Actually, it used to be the case that new PIs were permitted to submit substantially the same or overlapping proposals to NIH and NSF simultaneously, and there was some kind of check-box to mark on the apps if you were doing this. I don’t know if this is stil allowed.

  18. Foundation grants also can have quick turn-around time – check in hand in 6 months, not a year. Minimal work if you modify what you are doing for R01; and even a small 1 year award can tide you over while you are waiting to hit the NIH jackpot. Plus, it looks very nice on CV, raises your profile on campus when it’s included in the college newsletter, etc etc.

  19. DM- Your wish is my command. See recent comments widget in the sidebar… would you like larger avatars… or more than the last 5 recent comments in the widget??? 🙂

  20. Actually, it used to be the case that new PIs were permitted to submit substantially the same or overlapping proposals to NIH and NSF simultaneously, and there was some kind of check-box to mark on the apps if you were doing this. I don’t know if this is stil allowed.

    To the best of my knowledge this is still true. And, based on the proposals from NI’s I’ve reviewed for NSF, vastly underutilized. A couple of NI’s I’ve spoken to in the past about this a) didn’t know this existed, and b) claimed the success rate at NSF was so low it wasn’t worth the effort. Point b) is simply not true. In fact, at this moment in time NSF funding rates in the BIO Directorate are greater than those at the NIH.

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