Job Search Research Plans

Nov 27 2008 Published by under Careerism

A key element of any faculty job application is the applicant's Research Plan, the document that search committees use to get a sense of what she might do in her new lab, and her ability to argue coherently for the importance and feasibility of her work. The Research Plan is a forward-looking precis of future research directions built on the foundation of what the applicant has done in her present position (generally post-doctoral).
It is absolutely essential to understand that what you present to search committees as your Research Plan is not necessarily the same as your actual plan for future research. In fact, the two have very different purposes. The purpose of the former is to convince those who control the resources you need to pursue your research to allocate it to you. The purpose of the latter is to guide your research once you have secured those resources.
It is also essential to recognize that everyone involved in the process of assessing Research Plans understands the usefulness of this distinction, as will be explained in detailed below. Employing this conventional fiction that everyone involved is aware of is not lying. And failure to employ it puts the applicant at a severe disadvantage in competing for an extremely limited number of available positions.
This may not have mattered at an earlier time, when competition for faculty positions in the biomedical sciences was much less stringent and any gibbering dumbfuck with a PhD could secure a tenure-track faculty position. But nowadays--with funding very tight and vast numbers of highly qualified applicants for every faculty position--job applicants ignore this reality at their peril.


Search committees don't worry too much about the specific content of the Research Plan in terms of exact experiments proposed, so long as it is well-written and coherent, and is built on a foundation of outstanding prior published work.
The reasoning behind this is the following: Science is so unpredictable that once a new asst prof gets in her lab, gets some people in there, and starts doing experiments, there is just no predicting what will happen and what will get interesting. So long as the person is smart, creative, resilient, and a decent manager, good stuff is likely to happen that will lead to successful grant applications and good publications.
Search committees are not terribly concerned about the actual experiments being proposed, except to the extent that they reveal something about the intelligence, creativity, and conceptual rigor of the applicant. They do care about how well the Research Plan is written and how well it is crafted, and that the experiments proposed actually make sense and are well-justified.
Search committees are really looking to identify people who seem very "scientifically nimble", brilliant, and have a vast knowledge of the literature in their field and related fields. This is because creativity is all about taking existing ideas and combining them in lots of new ways to see if anything cool happens.
Comrade PhysioProf has not done a single fucking one of the things he proposed in his Research Plan used during his successful tenure-track faculty job search. And no one is surprised or gives a single flying fuck about that fact. Everybody understands that the Research Plan is a convenient fiction, which serves a different purpose than actually guiding the next five years of a scientist's research pursuits.
(This post is based in part on a post at the old WordPress DrugMonkey blog.)

69 responses so far

  • pinus says:

    My new chair echoed this very point, saying that when I arrive on campus. He believes that the local scientific environment combined with whatever advances occur in the meanwhile will result in a different plan. I think being nimble is always the best bet.

  • He believes that the local scientific environment combined with whatever advances occur in the meanwhile will result in a different plan.

    Yep. Before I even opened the door to my new lab, I attended our departmental retreat, and gave a presentation on my post-doctoral work and my supposed future directions.
    After my presentation, a faculty member from a different department but a secondary affiliation with ours approached me and suggested that I take a look at a paper her lab had just published describing a new technique that she thought might be useful.
    When I got home, I read the paper and went, "Holy Fucknoly!!" I immediately jettisoned 80% of my Research Plan, and the first high-profile paper from my lab resulted from application of my colleague's novel technique in the context of one of the experimental systems we use in my lab.
    Rigid sphincter-clenching refusal to appreciate that this is how science is supposed to progress and obsessive accusations of "liar" whenever someone points out that everyone understands that this is how science progresses are not at all helpful to younger scientists trying to figure out how the fuck to succeed.
    Old fucks always bitch at young assholes for RUINING EVERYTHING!111!!1!!! And young assholes always bitch at old fucks for failing to shut the fuck up and get the fuck out of the way. And today's young assholes are tomorrow's old fucks.
    But who the fuck you gonna listen to *today*, some young asshole who is going through the same shit you are going through *right now*, or some bitter old fuck lost in their misty delusional false memories of the good old days that never were?

  • S. Rivlin says:

    By now it is clear that my comments on this blog and others have given CPP ample topics upon which he has generated several of his recent posts. Does this arseshole signal that he appreciates it? Is he going to thank me for that on this Thankgiving day? Of course not!!!
    Nevertheless, I will continue to do my share of exposing this douchephysioprof for what he is i.e., a pompous arse who believes that his way is the only way, and proving him wrong.

  • Nevertheless, I will continue to do my share of exposing this douchephysioprof for what he is i.e., a pompous arse who believes that his way is the only way, and proving him wrong.

    Sol, this is probably the craziest sounding shit I have read in a long time. It is your mission to expose PhysioProf as a pompous arse? And that's the best way you can spend your time? Dude, this borderlines a wacky, stalkery obsession.
    PhysioProf's advice here seems fairly sound. Science is dynamic and there is a difference between outlining research questions based on preliminary data and a knowledge of the data and being willing to be flexible as new results and techniques reveal themselves. Blindly following a question is lame. Doing great science is hot.

  • S. Rivlin says:

    Isis dear,
    I'm a bit worry about you. Seems to me that the motherhood, wifehood and sciencehood are beginning to weigh too much on you such that you have lost your sense of humor. Believe me when I say that, I have much better things to do than spending my time on this douchepompousarse, CPP. When he is right, I boldly agree with him. When he is wrong, I boldly disagree with him.
    In this post he specifically advises his readers that when applying for a job "it is absolutely essential to understand that what you present to search committees as your Research Plan is not necessarily the same as your actual plan for future research."
    If you present a search committee with a research plan that you know, a priori, will not be the plan that you are going to follow, it is dishonesty on your part. I have no problems when circumstances are such that after you have got the job, you find out that your plan has to be changed or even completely abandoned. However, to say to the committee "this is what I'm going to do when the job is mine" while knowing that what you are describing to them is not your plan, is pure and simple lie.

  • pinus says:

    I read it as this ' Do not become stuck on a project just because you said you would do it '.
    Clearly, if the plan was such an incredible idea, and holds up x months after you finally get to campus, then I am certain that nobody, not even the 'DREADED' CPP, would advocate not 'doing it'.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    what pinus said. Along these lines it is also well to remember that the NIH grant is not a contract. Yes there can be issues with renewal and you probably shouldn't take NIMHs cash to work on the heart. But you shouldn't let what you wrote years ago prevent you from taking the next most interesting direction.

  • You're right, Sol. What a silly woman I must be. Clearly motherhood and wifehood and scientisthood are all too much for my poor girl brain to handle and I have lost my sense of humor.

    In this post he specifically advises his readers that when applying for a job "it is absolutely essential to understand that what you present to search committees as your Research Plan is not necessarily the same as your actual plan for future research."
    If you present a search committee with a research plan that you know, a priori, will not be the plan that you are going to follow, it is dishonesty on your part. I have no problems when circumstances are such that after you have got the job, you find out that your plan has to be changed or even completely abandoned. However, to say to the committee "this is what I'm going to do when the job is mine" while knowing that what you are describing to them is not your plan, is pure and simple lie.

    The issue is, Sol, what PP wrote and what you interpret it to mean are clearly different. PP wrote that one should outline the best and most coherent plan they can, but remain open to performing the best science they can based on evolving knowledge. The result is that the actual research that is done is usually not the same as what is originally outlined. He gives a super example from his own job search. You, however, assume everyone is driven by dishonesty and seem to believe that the intent is to perpetrate some greater fraud. The fact that you consistently read his posts to find this fraud is, I think, more reflective of either your own issues or need to pick fights than PP's attempt to lead poor young scientists astray by teaching them to lie.

  • S. Rivlin says:

    You're wrong, Isis. You're not a silly woman and you don't have poor girl brain. But you have lost your sense of humor.
    I don't know how many scientists changed their original research plan once they begun a new job. I can assume that many do. I have no problem with such changes, as I made it clear in my previous comment. I am not looking for any fraud in CPP actvities. However, if you read his post, his view is that "(T)his may not have mattered at an earlier time, when competition for faculty positions in the biomedical sciences was much less stringent and any gibbering dumbfuck with a PhD could secure a tenure-track faculty position. But nowadays--with funding very tight and vast numbers of highly qualified applicants for every faculty position--job applicants ignore this reality at their peril." You see, CPP's view of the world is that the tough times scientists face today in securing a job not only justify, but make it necessary to present a research plan that will secure the job, not a research plan that you really planning to work on. Moreover, the tough job market, according to this douchepompousarse, makes search committees understand that the applicant present them with a fiction. Have you read his post, Isis? Nothing is wrong with such fiction because the members of the committee unerstand that applicants are all applying for this one opportunity and they all presenting the committee with a fictional scientific plan that would never fly, but that's OK, because the committee understand it and the only thing they have left to do is choosing the best fiction. Wow! Consequently, if you sell yourself with a fictional research plan, you can also sell your data in a publication with a fictional story about how you came up with the data.
    As long as you'll get the job, everything and anything is kosher and your manuscript should be published as long as the data are kosher even if the story about how you got them is fictional. I call this SCIENCE FICTION.

  • Dearest Scientit, please do not be disturbed by Sol's deranged antics. Comrade PhysioProf has come to the conclusion that it is actually very good that Sol is showing his true colors here at DrugMonkey.
    It is very useful for young investigators to see up close and in detail the delusional bitter thought processes of the kind of washed-up old asshole who lurks in the darker recesses of research grant and fellowship study sections, editorial peer reviewer lists, and faculty search committees.
    These assholes managed to eke out tenure-track careers and earn tenure at a time when there was much less competition for funding and faculty positions. When they got jobs, all you needed was to be a white dude trained in some famous white dude's lab and publish some piece of shit drug or hormone binding study in some shitball journal that no one reads like Brain Research. By current standards, their research programs are ossified boring pointless crap that no one gives a flying fuck about.
    Instead of accepting the fact that they were always mediocre scientists who never would have made it in today's more stringent environment, they blame everyone around them for their own ineffectuality. And their favorite target is, of course, the young scientists whose clarity of thought and vibrant scientific creativity forces them most vividly to confront the fact that the train has exited the station left them standing on the platform going, "Huh?"

  • S. Rivlin says:

    DoucheCPPompous,
    This is a nice generalize summation of the older generation of scientists who came before you. They were all "assholes (who) managed to eke out tenure-track careers and earn tenure at a time when there was much less competition for funding and faculty positions. When they got jobs, all you needed was to be a white dude trained in some famous white dude's lab and publish some piece of shit drug or hormone binding study in some shitball journal that no one reads like Brain Research. By current standards, their research programs are ossified boring pointless crap that no one gives a flying fuck about."
    However, now a day, "young scientists (have) clarity of thought and vibrant scientific creativity..."
    You forgot to mention that the young scientists of today, including, of course, youself, actually invented science and that the oldtimers are trying their best to prevent you from suceeding because they are so envy of you.
    If pomposity was a disease, you would have spent the rest of your life in bed.

  • S. Rivlin says:

    BTW, I find it interesting that two commenters on this post (Isis and CPP) somehow found a way to thread into their comments unrelated issues such as "girl brain" and "white dude scientist."

  • pinus says:

    Sol,
    You made an insulting remark to Isis that was based on her being a woman. That is not cool. Oh, and the whole 'you can't take a joke' response. Equally uncool. This stinks of the kind of thing I read about on women scientist's blogs about jack ass comments relating to them being a woman that they get from male scientists.

  • See how instructive this is to see up close the thought processes of the washed-up creepy old fucks who lurk in the darker recesses of research grant and fellowship study sections, editorial peer reviewer lists, and faculty search committees? Turn on the light and watch the roaches scurry!

  • S. Rivlin says:

    pinus,
    I appreciate your explanation however, my comment to Isis was based on her own musings about juggeling all her duties and her tireness. I will be the last one to belittle women in any role. I have surely intended my comments, both about CPP and about her loss of sense of humor as jokes. Maybe not everyone find them funny, but playing the "girl" card to deflect "criticism" is also uncool.

  • S. Rivlin says:

    CPPompous,
    You are too infatuated with your own imagination and misconceptions.

  • msphd says:

    Hmm. I don't want to get into the name-calling. I'm too lazy.
    But I'm still not sure if I fully understand the advice here. Of COURSE the smart scientist will not adhere blindly to her research plan, even if the data take the actual story in a different direction.
    However, I did read this post as saying that we should figure out what the search committee wants to hear, and propose to do that (whether we actually intend to DO it, or not).
    Having said that, though, I'm not sure I agree that search committees really care how well written these things are. I asked a few friends to give me copies of theirs after they obtained faculty positions, and let's just say I did not see any correlation between clarity and hiring. Whatsoever.
    So I remain unconvinced that anything I write in this section of my application will get me a job. But if it has to be based on published work, I'm still screwed. As long as publishing is political, that only compounds the corruption already present in hiring. But I don't see how it's ever going to get any better. Nobody seems willing to change it.

  • I have surely intended my comments, both about CPP and about her loss of sense of humor as jokes. Maybe not everyone find them funny, but playing the "girl" card to deflect "criticism" is also uncool.

    How did I play a girl card? I merely responded to your comment about motherhood making me lose my sense of humor. I don't, frankly, find it humorous. In fact, I find it to be on par with the time someone suggested that I must be menstruating because I was especially "bitchy" that day. I don't see why we can't just discuss the issue at hand. But, then again, PP is right -- the things that are discussed on this blog are frequently illuminating.

  • Horseman says:

    Comrade PP,
    Given the clear distinction between research plan and "reality", I'd be curious to hear where you believe interview chalk talks fit into the continuum. Some places do them, most places don't, but I have never understood what additional information search committees believe they can glean from them. They seem like ego stroking exercises to me.

  • drdrA says:

    Ok, I'm just going to ignore all the assorted nonsense (which is kind of shaping up to be like middle school) going on in the comment thread to this very nice post and add that search committees care about seeing a research plan that they can see being FEDERALLY FUNDED in the not to distant future. Therefore it is absolutely essential that when you walk out into the job market- you have a defined direction and have thought and carefully planned the details. The search committee is looking at your GRANT, they are not looking at your shoes. This year the competition is going to be absolutely brutal.
    Second- its going to take a year to get the job- when fancy new technology comes along and allows you to ask your very interesting and highly fundable question in a better way- no search committee or department is going to give a rats ass how you end up getting at your question.
    If you go out on the job market naively thinking that you should just sketch out roughly where you are going, or what you might ever in the future be interested in, you are going to be on the job market again next year.
    And finally Pinus- you are very noble to defend one side or another of the threesome in this little squabble- but trust me- save your effort and just read around. None of the three of them needs any defense.

  • drdrA says:

    And one more thing- I've written a lot about the job search- and I've written about Research plans- those posts can be found here:
    http://bluelabcoats.wordpress.com/application-pkgs/
    Research plans are listed under #3.

  • pinus says:

    drdrA, that is a great resource for job hunters...I know I certainly found it helpful.
    re: chalk talks.
    I always thought that the point of this was to
    -see how the candidate reacts to a little bit of pressure
    -see how he thinks on his/her feet
    -see if the person has really thought their research plan through.
    I had two chalk talks, and I came out feeling that they were mostly interested in seeing how I 'thought' and also probing my research plan...ie: well, what if X fails, what then? It was almost like a committee meeting, but more collegial.

  • drdrA says:

    Pinus-
    That's basically how I view the chalk talk from the other side. I also like to see a bit of realism- like knowing how much you can get accomplished in the first 5 years- and then this in the proper context of the long term goals of the project. It's pretty rare that I see this though.

  • re: chalk talks.
    I always thought that the point of this was to
    -see how the candidate reacts to a little bit of pressure
    -see how he thinks on his/her feet
    -see if the person has really thought their research plan through.

    We do them, and this is exactly why. You want to see how the candidate handles herself when she is forced off script.

  • pinus says:

    Have either of you ever seen somebody not get hired because they BORKED the chalk talk? Or is it just a 'formality'?

  • If you go out on the job market naively thinking that you should just sketch out roughly where you are going, or what you might ever in the future be interested in, you are going to be on the job market again next year.

    Yes! The purpose of the Research Plan is to establish that you can put together a credible fundable plan, not to describe exactly what you will be doing for the next five years.
    When you get delusional old fucks still fighting decades old battles with perceived enemies and obsessed with rooting out "liars" on search committees, you end up making bad hiring decisions. Good department chairs do everything in their power to keep these destructive assholes as far away from the hiring, promotion, and tenure-review processes as possible.

  • drdrA says:

    hmmm. Have I ever seen somebody not get the job because they bombed the chalk talk? Well,- I can't say specifically that I have- because usually when they bomb the chalk talk- that's not the only thing that they made work against them.
    I do know that those candidates I have seen that knocked it out of the park during the chalk talk - were made offers. This despite the fact that every once in a while they didn't give the best or most polished seminar.

  • Have either of you ever seen somebody not get hired because they BORKED the chalk talk?

    ABSOLUTELY! More than once. And, conversely, I have seen people who didn't do a great job on their formal job talk and were considered marginal hit the ball out of the motherfucking park on the chalk talk and get an offer.
    (Our interview schedule is always set up so that the chalk talk occurs as the last even of the two-day process. This means that the candidate has already delivered the job talk and has met one-on-one with most of the faculty, thereby providing a context of the greatest possible scientific and personal mutual familiarity.)

  • HAHAHAHAH! DrDrA: Great minds think alike! (And use the same shitty sports metaphors!)

  • drdrA says:

    I know, I had to laugh when I saw that too. Hilarious!

  • However, I did read this post as saying that we should figure out what the search committee wants to hear, and propose to do that (whether we actually intend to DO it, or not).

    It depends on what you mean by "what the search committee wants to hear". The point of this post is that what the search committee cares about is that the applicant can put together a credible feasible fundable research plan based on outstanding published work, and not whether the specific experiments proposed in the research plan ever end up being carried out.

    But if it has to be based on published work, I'm still screwed.

    If you haven't published your work, it doesn't exist. And when you are competing against applicants who have published their work, what do you expect search committees to do? They are looking to identify candidates who are likely to publish in the future, and the best predictor of future success is past success.

  • Horseman says:

    So, according to y'all, the point of chalk talks is to:
    1. -see how the candidate reacts to a little bit of pressure
    2. -see how he thinks on his/her feet
    3. -see if the person has really thought their research plan through.
    4. to see how the candidate handles herself when she is forced off script.
    3 is completely valid. 1, 2 and 4 strike me as curiosities that have nothing to do with how well the person will perform as an independent scientist. Some people are fast thinkers and some are not, but never is there a situation in science where something goes wrong and you have ten seconds to respond intelligently or face dire consequences. Except during a chalk talk.

  • juniorprof says:

    Some people are fast thinkers and some are not, but never is there a situation in science where something goes wrong and you have ten seconds to respond intelligently or face dire consequences. Except during a chalk talk.
    These things happen more often than you may think. They can occur when you are giving a seminar at another university, when you are giving a talk at a meeting and there are many fellowships that include in-person interviews (like McKnight Fellowships). If you cannot think on your feet in this profession you can look bad at any time. If you cannot do it during a chalk-talk, when you should be ready for it, there is a good chance that you will make yourself look bad in front of your peers continuously. This is not to say that you cannot have a productive career; however, there are career paths that entail lots of speaking and lots of opportunities to take questions in front of large groups. Hiring committees are doing the right thing in figuring out if you can handle this type of pressure before bringing you into the fold.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    and the best predictor of future success is past success
    In all seriousness do you have any decent data on that? Because this is such a common belief, the fact is that those who are offered independent jobs typically have had success in the most recent postdoc. So almost by definition your belief is true because only the successful are given the opportunity for future test ....but it is not necessarily true the way you use it. I.e., when selecting a job candidate for an offer, is the immediate past performance predictive of which of those candidates would succeed if tendered the offer.
    Given that I have seen it work just about every which way- lame on paper or great on paper at stage N-1 or N-2 resulting in lame, average or excellent performance at stage N, I wonder about these sorts of things. We are so likely to conclude that present performance is the objective truth of quality that it makes it hard to back away from our anecdotes and ask whether the hypothesis is actually supported or not.

  • and the best predictor of future success is past success
    In all seriousness do you have any decent data on that?

    No, although the data are out there for someone to analyze. Anecdotally, I can tell you that I have kept track of the career trajectories of a number of the cohort in my field who were on the job market and secured tenure-track positions the same year as I did.
    This informal analysis suggests that the number and quality of publications and NIH funding over the first five years of independence is closely correlated to publication productivity as a post-doc.
    But let's put it this way. What other predictor can we possibly use?

  • DrugMonkey says:

    ah yes, but they all got jobs. it is a very restricted range, one assumes.
    now if I'm not mistaken you've referred in the past to one such person in the sample cohort who has not worked out that well for the hiring department. of course, I have no insight into what level of FAIL you are referring to. but is it possible that there was a person out there with lesser credentials that would have outperformed this person? and we'll never know because said person never landed a job?
    to ask if a predictor is doing what we think it is does not mean that there necessarily has to be a better alternative...

  • drdrA says:

    'and the best predictor of future success is past success'
    I don't like this either- especially for women in science who take time outs at unpredictable times to give birth. Or who don't take time outs but are chronically sleep deprived for an even year with a new child. I'm not really sure how to get around it though.
    I guess I think about this publication thing in the context of the whole application in front of me.

  • Remember that the context is this comment from MsPhD:

    But if it has to be based on published work, I'm still screwed.

    As I read this, she has no published work backing up her Research Plan. So, we aren't talking about three versus four first-author publications relevant to the Research Plan; we are talking about none versus some.
    Frankly, I can't see how a search committee shouldn't be wary of a job candidate with no publications resulting from the work that is the supposed foundation of an independent career.
    If this candidate could not overcome the obstacles to publication that presented themselves during post-doctoral training, how can the committee gain confidence that the candidate will overcome them as a young independent investigator? Publishing papers is the ultimate purpose of the scientific enterprise. To continue with shitty sports analogies, why would a major league team bring up a pitcher from the minors whose ERA and WHIP stink?

  • Dr. Feelgood says:

    All of this talk reminds me of the meetup at SFN.
    First to S. Rivlin: You are awful thin-skinned for a white elitist old fart. As a full professor who got his first faculty job in the mid 90s, I still think I am more fabulous and smarter than all of those who are older than me (and younger than me). No defense needed. Riv, start getting angry at your elders more: forget the juniors. I suggest you get pissy about the jerky emeritus octagenarian who holdin' you back in the faculty lounge. Lighten up old man.
    To all of the young scientists who moan about how hard it is: Stop being such pee pants little babies and whining about how easy it was for the rest of us. If we didnt get our jobs in the 1960s or 1970s, then we all competed for jobs just like you are doing. That "huge number" of old farts sitting in your way stealing your job actually dont exist. Those few douchebags who in the Venn Diagram universe are deadwood, old enough to have gotten the easy job and are total losers, are likely in jobs that will be eliminated when they retire. So just keep applying and thinking you are better than all them older dudes...but if you dont get that job, then you are just not good enough for today's market. Therefore, unsuccessful junior reader, have some extra drinks, be angry, get a soft money job or work for an old white man, and accept that you suck. If you are good enough, you will get the job. Take DM/CPPs advice on how to do it....its usually pretty good...And change your own diaper for once!
    God I love ranting for fun and profit!
    Dr. F

  • whimple says:

    Re chalk talks:
    Everyone we interview is a clone of each other: excellent publications, come from a big-name lab, stellar letters of recommendation, fundable research plan.
    The goal of the chalk talk (here anyway) is to determine to what extent the research plan is a product of the applicant, and to what extent the research plan is a product of the Big-Name heading the big-name lab in which the applicant has trained.
    People can, and regular do, disqualify themselves on the basis of their chalk talk performance -- the chalk talk is by far the most important part of the interview.
    Regarding the research plan: if we are interviewing you, it doesn't really matter to us what your research is -- it was enough to get you the interview. Mainly we want it to be fundable (because if you can't get it funded, you will(1) be fired). You might as well propose something you are genuinely interested in pursuing. At least that way your enthusiasm and background knowledge will have the feel of authenticity to them.
    (1) You should believe this: as of today, getting an R01 is both necessary and sufficient for tenure here. Your mileage may vary at other institutions in this regard.

  • drdrA says:

    Yeah C PP- I was speaking more generally and not to MsPhDs specific case.

  • whimple says:

    MSPHD: But if it has to be based on published work, I'm still screwed.
    It does, and you are.
    Your only alternative to coming with publications is coming with funding. If you have neither of these, your application is DOA.

  • Agreed with Whimple except for the following elaborations:

    You should believe this: as of today, getting an R01 is both necessary and sufficient for tenure here. Your mileage may vary at other institutions in this regard.

    Necessary, but far from sufficient at my institution. Good pubs also necessary.

    Your only alternative to coming with publications is coming with funding. If you have neither of these, your application is DOA.

    At my institution, funding is not sufficient. We have declined to interview K99 awardees because of lack of good pubs.
    Whimple, you're at a med school, correct?

  • Prof. Bleen says:

    Re #10:
    Dearest Scientit,...
    Am I just new here or is this a whonking huge Freudian slip?

  • whimple says:

    PP: At my institution, funding [for tenure] is not sufficient.
    Funding here didn't use to be sufficient (for tenure), but is becoming so.
    PP: We have declined to interview K99 awardees because of lack of good pubs.
    We have also declined K99 awardees, although having a K99 in hand gets you onto the short list of potential interviewees. The K99 gets back to the chalk talk / research plan issue: we assume that 95% of why the interviewee got a K99 is due to their Big Name post-doctoral mentor, not due to the virtues of the applicant. That is (yet another) crucial reason why the interviewee has to demonstate in their chalk talk that it really is them behind the ideas in the research plan.
    PP: Whimple, you're at a med school, correct?
    Yes.

  • I have served on K99 study section, and the biggest factor by far in judging applicants has been their publication record.

  • kiwi says:

    Sorry to be stupid here, but I have no idea what a chalk talk is. Not even sure if we have them here. . . Can you elaborate a bit?

  • Dr. Feelgood says:

    Chalk talk = come out for interview and give your talk in front of the assembled skeptics, no chalk necessary, sanford dry-erase will do.

  • S. Rivlin says:

    Dr. Feelgood,
    Allow me two corrections:
    1. I am a pachyderm.
    2. I am myself a jerky emeritus, though not octagenerian.
    Like you, I love ranting for fun, especially when it rattles the young pups here who always blame us for their failures.

  • whimple says:

    Now that I think about it, we did interview one candidate who didn't have any publications from their post-doctoral work. This was a special circumstance, since the work was in the process of being patented and commercialized and the legal beagles wouldn't allow publication before all the patent stuff was in place. It still felt screwy and the applicant didn't get the job.

  • Now that I think about it, we did interview one candidate who didn't have any publications from their post-doctoral work. This was a special circumstance, since the work was in the process of being patented and commercialized and the legal beagles wouldn't allow publication before all the patent stuff was in place. It still felt screwy and the applicant didn't get the job.

    I'm no intellectual property attorney, but I don't understand the withholding publication thing. Doesn't the patent clock start running from the time the work is publicly presented (even in seminary-type form)?

  • whimple says:

    I have no idea. That's the excuse we got for the applicant not having any publications and the search committee seemed to buy into it, to an extent anyway.

  • pinus says:

    hah, I should have used that one.
    me: I actually have 4 more huge papers in the works....but you know IP issues..
    them: oh of course we understand. here is more start up money because you are awesome.
    me: oh thanks!

  • pinus says:

    also re: K99s I spoke to a friend at SfN who is well positioned to understand how at least one institutes study section thinks...he told me that they are looking mostly at the person, if the science is great, but the person lacks whatever it is they are looking for, the chance of funding is slim.
    geez, I am posting many comments, can you tell I am bored and alone at work!

  • juniorprof says:

    I'm no patent attorney either, but have been dealing with the lawyers lately and talking about a patentable method or chemical or whatever doesn't start the clock. Publication prior to patent filing can ruin your patent and should not be done if you want a viable patent. Don't quote me though...
    I imagine that our dept would be quite open to this situation as we do alot of work with industry. I'm sure we would want to look through the patent though and that the University would want to get in on the negotiation of the patent terms, a process that may make the whole thing very difficult to work out.

  • Publication prior to patent filing can ruin your patent and should not be done if you want a viable patent. Don't quote me though...

    In the United States a publication, public use, or public disclosure of an invention less than one year prior to patent filing does not eliminate the right to a patent on that invention. However, in most other countries, publication, public use, or public disclosure of an invention at any time before filing for the patent eliminates the right to a patent on that invention.
    However, it is trivial to protect an invention from this kind of problem by filing a so-called provisional patent application in the United States whose contents are simply the verbatim contents of a publication in press. Later-filed regular US and foreign patent applications can then claim priority to the provisional application and thereby gain the effective filing date of the provisional application.

  • I am myself a jerky emeritus

    Since you are all about the truth, Solly, how about answering this question: For how many years as a tenured faculty member after your research program petered out and you failed to be competitive for external funding did you parasitically suck the blood of your department's budget to support your full dead-wood salary?

  • S. Rivlin says:

    CPPompous,
    As I have told you earlier, you are infatuated with your own imagination and misconceptions. Nevertheless, I will try to be nice to you today and grant you your wish.
    After I witnessed my brother's fast demise due to aggressive lymphoma two years ago, leaving behind a wife and a young son, I decided that I needed to spend the rest of what has left for me with my wife. Thus, in 2006, not yet at a retirement age, I begun arranging for my retirement. That required, among others, to assure a smooth transfer of my lab and grants to my associates, not members of my department, who I was working with. I have left a grant and several contracts to my associates with the approval of the granting agency and the companies that I contracted with. I am now retired for just over a year, still young enough to kick your ass in almost anything you can think off. My department has lost my salaried position because, as a clinical department, the chairwoman decided not to fill my research position. Eventually, that research brought both recognition and accolades to my department, to the school and the university. Thus, as you can see, I never turned into a salaried dead-wood, though I do continue to contribute, without pay, to the department, the school, the university and the scientific community by being a member on committees, reviewing manuscripts, on the average two/week and, to a lesser extent, grant proposals, continuing to publish in high impact journals, the last paper (2008) in J. Physiol, and most importantly, being on guard, making sure that you cannot get away with bullshitting young, gullible, aspiring scientists.
    If you'll show me yours, I'll show you my list of publications in high impact journals and neuroscience textbooks where my work is cited.
    And last, but not least, you better come to grip with the idea that the world of science will continue to survive without you or me.

  • Thank you for the answer, PP.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Thank you for the answer Sol.
    (now can we drop it for a little while you two? Sheesh.)

  • S. Rivlin says:

    DM,
    Your wish is granted, too.

  • Anonynimble says:

    Love this post.
    Here's my question: How do you write your research plan when you're on the market for your second job? Is it the same as the first round of applications out of a postdoc? I'm coming up for tenure in a couple years and am starting to think about applications again. I've been very successful in getting funding and establishing independence from my advisors, so how important is it to prove I'm [still]"scientifically nimble" on these next applications? Or are they looking for something else?
    My old research plans are laughably naive - none of those projects went anywhere and it had nothing to do with lying.

  • Samia says:

    "And today's young assholes are tomorrow's old fucks."
    You have no idea how much that depresses me. :/ GOD I HATE EVERYONE IN MY MAJOR. Thanks for the post, PP.

  • Eurodoc says:

    Not wanting to reignite the spat (yeah, right), but as a year-long lurker and tenure-track fellow in the UK, I wonder if Sol provokes such ire because he's the little nagging voice of conscience for all of us super-competitive young folk desperate to secure a tenured post.
    A lot of what PP writes is pragmatic, solid advice on how to play the game (which he evidently does very well). But sometimes I'm left depressed at the prospects for the future, when (as Sol charmingly puts it) we end up as old fucks, looking back with a "if I could get a couple of Nature papers, a dozen society journals and a grant, then they can too!"
    And the same old chest-thumping, male-dominated, metric-obsessed bullshit rolls on.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    I happen to think that one of the best ways to break dreary, seemingly inevitable vicious circle spirals is through discussion. There are, in my view, a fairly large number of people who perpetuate status quo just because they haven't really thought about it much. They aren't doing it out of ill will and probably not even ignorance. They just haven't really thought things through. They look around, see the way things are and adapt themselves without really thinking if the way things appear are the way the really are, if it is the best way or if it is inevitable.

  • S. Rivlin says:

    From this morning's local newspaper in my city:
    The Josephson Institute, a Los Angeles-based ethics institute, surveyed 29,760 students at 100 randomley selected high schools nationwide, both public and private. All students were given the survey in class and their anonymity was assured.
    The survey found that 35% of boys and 26% of girls - 30% overall - acknowledge stealing from a store within the past year. One fifth said they stole something from a friend; 23% said they stole something from a parent or other relative. Cheating on tests in high school is rampant and getting worse; 64% of students cheated on test in the past year and 38% did so two or more times, up from 60% and 35% in 2006 survey. Thirty six pecent said they used the internet to plagiarize on assignment, up from 33% in 2004. Forty two pecent said they sometime lie to save money.
    Despite such responses, 93% of the students said they are satisfied with their personal ethics and character, and 77% affirmed that "when it comes to doing what is right, I am better than most people I know."
    With today's tougher competition, the greater pressure on kids, the greater temptation to cheat and the abundance of opportunities to cheat, are today's young generation cheat more than their predecesors? I believe that the answer is yes! In the past 30-40 years, each generation had cheated more than its predecesor one, such that cheating today is not considered unethical anymore the way it has been just two generations ago. This could also explain some of the differences exposed here between CPP's position, those who agree with him and my own.

  • seasaltblues says:

    I think there is a lot of solid advice here. But I also think all of us tend to forget that when we set out to be scientists, we already knew that the jobs we would be aiming for would be few and far between. When I started off 20 years ago, I sincerely thought I would eventualy have to switch to another career. I didn't. However, I have seen, in technicolor, all of the cases put here as examples of, lets say, ways to get ahead, at least in three countries. In retrospect, I believe the only reason I got a permanent job in the end was because I earned it. I never had "big lab" or "big grants" funding my work within a group. Heck, I built up groups twice from scratch. And I never had a bigshot PI. In fact, most of my pubs where done on very little money indeed, a lot of work, and mostly sleepless nights cramming up on the lit. This paradigm (little or no funding+no access to sexy lab equipment+no supervision) meant only one thing. I had to go into marginal fields, out of the mainstream, crowded areas, and thus had to think about what to do very carefully. The question is whether most of us would be willing to do it today, particularly with cronically low funding where I came from. And yes, CPP, most of commentators don't have a clue. You might have, but most that come here for counsel don't. And I say you might have because your revolt says so. Thats what makes it authentic to me. But don't assume others had it easier. Just help those you feel merit that help, whatever the yardstick you use to measure merit. And I find your laughter charming, hehe.

  • Becca says:

    CPP- great post. The point about divergent purposes is especially well-taken. Methinks some recent friction between my PI and I over a set of specific aims I need to write up related to his thinking that the purpose was to convince my committee I was smart and knew what I was talking about. My imaginary (initial) purpose was to provide a guide that I could refer back to that would be sufficient to design experiments based on whenever I needed a new question.
    I would say hilarity ensued based on the communication misfiring, but it was a little too soul-sucking to be funny to me.
    @ Dr. Isis- you're, like, a feminist, or something like that. So obviously you never had a sense of humor. Any hysterical giggling induced by your blog is clearly imaginary.
    @CPP-how sad is it that, even though I am well aware of what you do with pronouns (and absolutely approve!) part of my brain (my brain; my generation.com, raised-by-a-stay-at-home-dad, annoyed-by-the-baseball-references-as-subtly-male-associated, brain) still takes slightly longer to process the rhetorical grant writer as a "she"?
    NOooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo! I don't wanna be an old fuck.
    @Dr. F- if ranting for fun and profit is so great, get your own damn blog.

  • [...] The Research Plan in Context. tldr: Mostly a measure of writing and presenting ability, not necessarily an railroad for your career. [...]

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