Yeahhh… Monday is over.

My Mondays are not what they used to be.  I can’t say a lot about that- but I’ll give you this:  Therapy (unless it is massage therapy! of any kind, pretty much) at 8 am on Monday morning can ruin your whole week. Better to schedule it at 4 pm on Friday- and go directly out for a drink afterwards. 🙂

I was significantly cheered up however, when I flipped on the TV last night and saw this… first the Mark Knopfler/Emmylou Harris duo, … then the Robert Plant/Alison Krauss duo… and now this… this has the making of a beautiful relationship:

More substantive posts will appear when my tenure package is finished.

An Open Letter… this’ll be new for me…

To the Domestic and Laboratory Goddess-

I’m in a snarky mood tonight and so I’m not going to let this pass. Honey- you really put your well-heeled foot in it with your post ridiculing a colleague for sending you a CV which listed grants submitted but not funded. It will be my pleasure to call bullshit on this one.

Perhaps, while you were blogging about this and that and blogfighting with whoever about whatever, you failed to realize that the funding line for NIH grants is around the 10th percentile???!!!  I mean, WTF.  It is freaking miraculous that people can get and maintain NIH grants these days. This goes for new investigators, established investigators. Whoever. It should not be a point of ridicule that someone is working their ass off to get funded.

When I started in this business, a colleague that I know submitted 28 grants as junior faculty… to obtain 2.  I myself have submitted >20 in the last 3 years. Writing this number of grants takes a shitload of time, time that could be spent on other pursuits, time that needs to be accounted for somewhere. I submit that it is pretty freaking difficult to write this # of grants, maintain a respectable publication record, keep a lab running, mentor your people, teach, and have something that passes as a normal life with kids and the whole deal- all at the same time. Massive  (heroic even) efforts to obtain funding for one’s laboratory most definitely should be accounted for on one’s CV, as should papers that are submitted. Doing this any other way in the vast majority of situations for which your CV would be used- would be shooting yourself in the foot. And there is something you in particular would probably want to avoid- in order to avoid ruining those expensive heels.

And honestly this analogy ‘is like making a list of all the girls you tried to bang in high school, but who turned you down. It means nothing unless you seal the deal,” is just totally absurd and isn’t something to aspire to. We’d all be better off if the genuinely smart, honest, solid, hardworking men and women were the ones we promoted irrespective of flashiness- over the ones with all the flash, sales and notches in their grant-writing bedpost.

I hope that you take this little commentary with the respect and kindness it was intended to convey.

Best,

DrdrA

Wow. I’m not sure what got into me there.

I think I’m channeling Bora…

I set up a Google group (as everyone here is doubtless aware- I’m totally into Google and its many uses) in an attempt to improve informal communication between faculty that I know, dispersed between different sites but belonging essentially to the same core group. I just hate finding out two months later, and from my neighbor, when we meet by chance dropping off our kids at school simultaneously- that there is some essential and cool new piece of equipment on a distant corner of campus. Only to find out that my colleague in the neighboring office knew about this before the thing was purchased. I’m totally making this up as a hypothetical example- but you see what I’m getting at. We have conversations in silos all the time- and the information rarely gets disseminated to a wider group. … and we have trouble doing this from one office to the next… never mind if you have multiple campuses to contend with! Email is great for what it is- but an online message board it is not. I’m wondering how many other faculty groups (Departments, colleges etc)- are working with these kinds of things, have they hit the mainstream elsewhere?.

Anyway- I’ve only been experimenting with this for a couple of days now- and I kinda sorta thought that if I built it…. they would come. I’ve got some joiners… which is great… but when I look at the list on the discussion board … I’m doing 95% of the posting. They are not keeping up with me yet…. now I know what Bora must feel like…

I have faith that this will pick up speed sometime soon, and then we’ll move on to other new technology… ….. gasp… Twitter… Facebook…. Friendfeed… (it is a joke people)!!

Article Level Metrics Debut at PLOS

I am SO into this, did anyone else notice it?? I just discovered a couple of days ago that PLOS now has metrics on all of its articles in all of its journals. When you pull up a given article there are several tabs just below the title.

One of these tabs is the ‘metrics’ tab. If you click on it it takes you to a page that shows the metrics – things like article views, and downloads, for that particular article. Here is an example from that article that I posted on the other day.  That article was just published, but you can also see metrics on older articles that were collected prior to the appearance of this feature-… like for this article for example. I love this feature because it reflects reality to the level of readership of a given article better and more immediately than the traditional pre-electronic media age measures such as citation rate or total citation number could. And, I’ve gotten quite used to looking at readership data in terms of hits and page views- running this blog and whatnot… so I’ve kind of got a feeling for this kind of data anyway.

And see that ‘Related Content‘ tab up at the top there too. From that page  you are set up to quickly search for related articles, bookmark things in CiteULike (which I need to become more savvy with), AND LOOK FOR RELATED BLOG POSTS!!! How awesome is that!!?? Now you are immediately connected to related scientific literature, and to the immediate response to a given article in the blogosphere, with all the commentary that brings with it.

The only thing… in my humble opinion… that needs work are the ratings and comment tools. You have to log into PLOS to be able to use both the comment and ratings tools. Which I suppose is fine, but if you are like me, you have like 1 billion accounts here and there- and each journal or network that has these features requires a new account- I find that cumbersome (but I realize that there is probably a security reasoning for this). But I make a concerted effort to look if there are comments on a given article, and what they are when I look at an article in a PLOS journal- and I’m always disappointed. It seems like this comment tool isn’t used very much- and even the ratings tool- I haven’t seen used very frequently.

I guess I’ve gotten accustomed to the kinds of honest and immediate conversations we have on this blog and on those that I read, and I learn so much from interacting with the wider audience that comes here. Wider discussion on the actual science that I do, or related articles that I read, is limited (pretty much still) to 1x or 2x per year at meetings (so infrequent), journal club/lab meeting (can be hit or miss, and same audience every week!), email or phone with colleagues (slow, and one-on-one), one-on-one discussion with colleagues in my institution (also slow and one on one), or with DrMrA while brushing my teeth before bedtime (actually- we’ve got other stuff to talk about and can barely keep our eyes open at that time of day). Feeling the absence of blog-like discussion on issues of science that interest me just doesn’t feel right anymore.

The ‘Dark Art’ of Grant Writing … as it exists today.

I’m doing my tenure package now, and I’ve recently been working on the section where you list your current, pending, and unfunded grants.  I’ve got a whopping long list of grants submitted in the last few years- and I suppose I didn’t realize quite how long this list actually was until I was forced to summarize it all in the same spot.

This morning I came upon this post from writedit in my Google reader, and I promptly followed the links to read the original article in PLOS Biology, entitled ‘Real Lives and White Lies in the Funding of Scientific Research’: The granting system turns young scientists into bureaucrats and then betrays them.

Let me just start by letting these lovely folks speak for me (you really only need to watch about the first 30 seconds or so):

There is quite a lot to talk about in this article, but right now I just want to focus on this one part:

After more than 40 years of full-time research in developmental biology and genetics, I wrote my first grant and showed it to those experienced in grantsmanship. They advised me my application would not succeed. I had explained that we didn’t know what experiments might deliver, and had acknowledged the technical problems that beset research and the possibility that competitors might solve problems before we did. My advisors said these admissions made the project look precarious and would sink the application. I was counseled to produce a detailed, but straightforward, program that seemed realistic—no matter if it were science Continue reading

A Pep Talk for Struggling Jr. Faculty

Dear Struggling Jr. Faculty-

Let’s talk openly about your major worry, getting funding for your laboratory. I’m sure this elephant is keeping you up nights, so talk to me.  I know you may not have been getting the advice or the help that you need, and you may not even know what or who are the right thing/person to ask for the best advice. Furthermore, the advice that you do get many times echoes what you already know- you need to get grants- so hearing this over and over not super helpful in the procedural sense.

Now, I’m not giving you this pep talk because I think you are incapable of meeting your goals of getting external funding of your lab on your own- let’s get that baggage out of the way right now. You were hired because the faculty had confidence in you- and they still do!  But we all know that successfully getting funding in this funding climate  (and just the climate in academia in general) is far from easy right now, and I don’t see why you shouldn’t have the benefit of all the experience that I have gone through myself to make this happen. I’m trying to help you, not because I think you are doing it wrong, but because I see that you are stressed out about this and I may have ‘tools’ that will make the process easier for you.

I know this sounds obvious, but you need to submit grants to get grants. Sometimes we get caught up in waiting for the perfect set of preliminary data before we submit a grant and this can lead to delay (and delay and further delay). Furthermore, in grad school and postdoc- when we weren’t applying for these things- it seemed like we always had rolling deadlines for important milestones.  Grant writing doesn’t work like that at all- grant writing is all about submitting that massive pile of paperwork by 5 pm on a due date. These due dates are set in stone, barring natural disaster.  Sometimes this process feels hugely daunting- and it is easy to put off getting the whole process rolling.

I like to get started by doing the following things. This process helps me to organize myself, know the firm deadlines and really stick to them.

1.  Look up the grant deadlines. Let’s look at the NIH listing for the standard due dates for competing applications. You can scroll down to R01 and see that the deadlines for new proposals are October 5, February 5, and June 5. The re-submission deadlines for proposals that are on their second submission, are typically one month later than the new proposal submissions

Maybe you are planning for an R21- and the deadlines for new R21 applications are the 16th of the same months (October, February, and June). Now that we have done this for NIH, look at the deadlines for the other agencies you might apply to (like NSF, or USDA [most of their deadlines for the year have passed, but keep checking the site for updates]). And don’t forget about the foundations either- like the American Heart Association (has both national and regional awards), and smaller $ or specialist foundation awards.

2. Take the grant application deadlines and put them on a list. This way you can see all the dates  That will look something like this for me for a year, just for example:

new R01 October 5, 2009

new R01 January 5, 2010

new R01 June 5, 2010

(resubmitted R01) July 5, 2010

new R01 October 5, 2010

new R21 October 16, 2010

(resubmitted R01 November 5, 2010)

Now, don’t be intimidated by that schedule, this isn’t what it is going to end up looking like in the end-  this is just a first step to get you thinking about actual deadlines, and to allow you to logically order the projects you have to be submitted on the deadlines available.

3.  Make an inventory of the project (or projects) that you currently have going. Just a simple list nothing more.  Right now is not the moment to say that you don’t have enough data to submit this or that. Just make a list of projects that you have going, how much data you do or don’t have right now will determine which deadlines you are going to apply on for each of these projects.

4.  Order your projects from those most ready to submit, to those least ready to submit. Now is the time to make some decisions about what your strongest projects are. Where do you have the most preliminary data, where do you have all the ‘tools’ and techniques set up, and where do you have collaborations and so forth already in the mix. And for those projects that may not yet be very far along, generate a detailed list of what preliminary data you think you will need to make your application fundable. Making this list will allow you to determine how much time you should allow for the gathering of that preliminary data- and how far down the calendar those particular grants should fall in the submission order.

5.  Now fit your ordered list of project onto your list of grant deadlines.  Remember that as a new investigator you can submit the same proposal to different agencies (you will withdraw one application if both get funded). This means that if two agencies have closely overlapping deadlines- you can plan to submit the same proposal to both places at the same time. Also, don’t forget to leave a couple of dates for re-submissions. It is tough to get stuff funded on the first try (although I’m sure your work is genius!), so plan ahead for a second round. If you submit your first grant to NIH in October 2009, it will be reviewed in February or early March- and so you should know by then how it faired. If it needs resubmitting- and you need a little extra preliminary data, you should be able to hit the July 5 deadline for the resubmission- it all depends what you read in the reviews.

6.  Print out the plan and hang it on your bulletin board. Or leave it on your computer desktop, or in whatever place you will look at it frequently. I put mine up at eye level on the bulletin board behind my computer monitor. That way I’m continuously reminded that I set some deadlines and goals for myself. Once you get a few grants in the pipeline, this whole thing becomes easier and you just plan time for revisions on different versions.

Having a firm set of deadlines that you hold yourself to is really important. I can’t promise that you will get a grant. What I can promise you though, is that you certainly won’t get a grant if you don’t apply, and you increase your chances by applying as frequently as possible.

Hang in there,

DrDrA

In Memoriam: Norman Borlaug, Father of the Green Revolution.

Norman Borlaug, father of the Green Revolution, passed away Sept. 12, 2009. To just quote from CNN (read the whole thing here):

A 1970 recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, Borlaug was a distinguished professor of international agriculture at the university.

Borlaug started at Texas A&M in 1984, after working as a scientist in a program that introduced scientific techniques for preventing famine in Mexico, according to the university.

Until recently, he traveled worldwide working for improvements in agricultural science and food policy, said Kathleen Phillips, a university spokeswoman.

More about Dr. Borlaug’s remarkable life and work here, and here.  I often think that the work and findings of basic scientists don’t translate very quickly into real solutions that impact real people. … but every once in a while there is a glaring example of how wrong I can be.