Mentoring 101: Who is at fault here?

Jan 21 2009 Published by under Careerism, Grantsmanship, Mentoring, NIH

God-Sistine_Chapel-crop.pngThe mind of the PI: Hmm, this RFA looks interesting...looks like a shoo-in for ol' Horace. Wait, what's all this 'mechanism' bit at the back, blah, blah oh ho! Yun Gun could be a playa on this one! Ok, we're gonna be running for third place at least, might be a chance for one of the postdocs to get their feet wet, maybe end up with something revisable. Let's see here...Sarah got married a year ago, haha bet her clock's a'tickin'. And Bob's first kid is coming up on two, hmm, bet they're ready for another, being Catholics and all, haha. Xiao and Yevgeni work hard but oh man the English skills will be a nightmare, more work than worth. Helloooo Stock Critique. Damn. Maybe Steve? 'lthough he seems pretty pissed about Prop8, wonder if he'll be spending too much time on politics. Oh, well, I guess I better give this one to good old Joe Straight Whitey to work on.


An interesting question was posed by one steffi suhr of the science behind the scenes blog. In a letter to a senior PI, she writes:

So, for the real reason I am writing this to you today: please, dear senior researcher, I appreciate that you gave me a wonderful chance and believed in me. But for the sake of others that will come in the future: try to be responsible about asking people that are more junior and in their early careers to write proposals for you. Consider the situation they're in, and what getting this proposal funded or not funded might mean for them. Because for you, this is probably one of many, and it doesn't matter that much if one of them doesn't work out. For them, it's hopes and dreams and sweat and tears.


This is not a matter of a lack of empathy, as per one Stephen Curry in the comments. Nor a matter of the Arrogance of People Who Are Good At Things suggested by Cath Ennis. [Ed- why o why does the NN engine not have linkable comments!??!]
This is first and foremost a matter of equality. PIs should try to be sensitive to individual strengths and weaknesses in their trainees. Sure. But to decide that one postdoc can handle working on a grant and another simply cannot? That leads to bias my friends. A BadThing.
Second, there is an aspect of trial-by-fire in this. In the good way, not the hazing-for-no-reason way. You simply will not know what you are capable of until you've been thrown into the mix. The PI for sure will not know what you are really capable of. So why should s/he pre-judge or pre-screen trainees? S/he is almost certain to get it wrong...much of the time.
So this throws the burden back on the individual postdoc to make a keen assessment of whether to take up the opportunity to co-write (or fully write) a grant to be submitted under the PIs name. Do you really want someone else pre-determining if you are capable or not? I didn't think so...
While I recognize there can be highly exploitative situations I generally recommend postdocs should give it a try. First of all, given the above, you may find out that you are really good at this part of the job. Clear synthetic writing and communicating logical experimental plans efficiently may be something at which you excel. You may find that 'git 'er done' is in your toolbox after all. And best of all, you get to take your first lumps in grantwriting before it starts to really count in your career progress. Schweeet!

44 responses so far

  • JSinger says:

    Your cartoonish scenario bothers me a lot less than the more realistic aspect of a lab filled with postdocs who simply aren't being trained as postdocs. If PIs are up front about the prospects of postdocs who don't write proposals or papers or take primary responsibility for their projects (i.e. most of them), so be it. But in the labs I've seen, Xiao and Yevgeni get strung along for years persisting in delusions of an academic career.

  • Dave says:

    A PI who submits a grant proposal written by another has committed plagiarism. If you don't think it's a big deal, ask the guy I know who was formally charged and punished by his university ethics board and barred from NSF funding because a student in his lab actually wrote most of his proposal and pointed this out later when the relationship soured.
    My advice is: If your PI asks you to help him commit misconduct because he is too lazy or unskilled, get out of the lab ASAP and ideally into a situation where you can use your skills, ethically, for your own benefit. I would be very happy to have you join my lab. You can write all the proposals you want for fellowships, or if you are qualified I will work to get you a research assistant prof position where you can be PI on your own applications and bring in all the money you are able. This should help you get your own lab someday, and in the mean time it will be great and likely synergistic having you and your money and your expertise around.

  • D. C. Sessions says:

    Throw 'em in the deep end and let the sharks look out for themselves.
    You can really mess up kids by hovering over them, and you can cripple a brilliant career by not giving someone junior a chance to fail -- or to shine.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Hmm. Well I certainly am not familiar with NSF rules. I am quite willing to entertain the idea that local institutions have their own rules. In NIH land , the grant is submitted by the institution so why would anyone care who physically wrote which parts? Many people employ professional writers or graphic artists. Trainees routinely write up at least their own figures that will be included. What if the postdoc has a named role? Would that make it better?

  • While I understand that if the PI is the one that comes up with the idea and asks the trainee to write the first draft of the grant, the credit ultimately belongs to the PI (and that there would more than likely be substantial rewrites), but it would be nice if there was some way to include the trainee on the proposal as a co-PI if they've had substantial input into it. Simply disregarding what might be a major role of the trainee in the development of the hypothesis, specific aims and experimental design because they don't have a faculty position seems a little mean (I'm obviously talking about an infinitely more substantial role than the example DM gave).
    And I agree that whether the trainee gets credit or recognition for writing the draft or not, it's good experience/practice and is something that should be encouraged for every trainee that intends to pursue an independent faculty position.

  • perceval says:

    Here in the UK, the major research councils have introduced the category of researcher co-investigator to acknowledge the work named researchers often do on grant proposals. If the grant is successful it typically goes on one's CV, together with the name of the PI and other associated co-Is. Needless to say, a good track record will impress employers and research councils, because as you said, you have SHOWN that you can do it. Researcher co-investigators will typically write and coordinate large portions of such grants, with more or less input from the PI.
    In such a culture, there is a simple name for not listing the postdoc who wrote the grant as a co-I: exploitation. Good mentors ensure youngsters get their dues.
    Professional writers are a different kettle of fish, of course, actually a species I havent come across yet.

  • Dave says:

    DM,
    I admit this is a wide grey area and that individuals and individual granting agencies may see things differently. But ultimately, I think the best clues regarding accepted ethical behavior arise if we consider who is likely to be held accountable if something about the proposal is wrong. And really, misconduct is defined (both traditionally and legally) as deviance from generally accepted behavior.
    Let's discuss some examples...
    1) Let's say a grad student mislabels an image or fakes some numbers which the PI unwittingly includes in a proposal, and this is eventually discovered. Yes, this will be a headache for the PI, and no doubt the grant will be unfunded or revoked, but ultimately I doubt the PI will be charged with misconduct. Certainly the institution will not be held responsible. Why does the PI get off unpunished? Because I think everyone recognizes and accepts as reasonable that a busy PI is unlikely to have personally gathered, analyzed, or organized all the preliminary data.
    2) Now let's say that PI hands off responsibility for writing the proposal to a postdoc. Let's say the data were all collected fine, but in writing the proposal the postdoc ghost-writer misrepresents a genotype or drug treatment, or decides to 'adjust' some numbers to make the argument more compelling. Later, this misrepresentation is discovered. Can the PI escape blame by admitting he didn't write the proposal? I doubt it. The PI might get a little sympathy if the fraud was outright deceit instead of unintentional bungling, but ultimately the PI will I think be held accountable. Why? Because people assume that although science is a team-effort, proposals are ultimately produced by the PI and therefore the PI is ultimately responsible for what's in the proposal.
    If we do NOT assume that PIs are responsible for the proposals they submit, then the whole system breaks down, because then there is no guarantee that grant money gets awarded to people and institutions that deserve it.

  • Becca says:

    Isn't the fault with the academic institutional policies here?
    I can see why institutions have rules about who can submit NIH grants; they need to ensure that the responsibilities for such budgets are given to people in positions that allow sufficient accountability, if nothing else. But that should be a motivation to ensure you have to have at least one faculty member with official responsibility for the project; not why you can't recongize the contributions of non-faculty.
    Honestly, this whole 'only faculty can be listed as submiting grants' thing is bogus. I honestly don't see why you couldn't let any sufficiently motivated individual (*gasp* an undergrad! *gasp*!) write the darn grant, and can see no ethical reason to not list the writer of the grant as the co-PI (professional writers/editors aside; seriously, who does that?).

  • nm says:

    Becca
    You'd have to be one hell of a talented undergrad. I'm writing one of these things now with a few years of postdoc under the belt and a lot of papers and I am struggling. It's not easy writing these things.
    And to make the Americans jealous- As a postdoc I will be the PI on what I think is the equivalent of an RO1 (should I be lucky enough to get funded of course...)

  • Dave says:

    Becca: You are welcome to designate yourself a small business or nonprofit institution and apply for most any NIH grant you want. Good luck. Your school is unlikely to apply on your behalf because 1) it is likely a waste of their time processing stuff that has a rat's ass chance of being funded, and 2) they need to guarantee institutional support, which means basically offering you some sort of job. They are not going to offer you a job because it will not do to have the hallowed halls of academe sullied with 'faculty' who have not jumped through the requisite arbitrary and traditional hoops.

  • Ewan says:

    It's an odd area. I just submitted a small grant: the grantor $$ limit means that there's no way I can take salary and indeed it only covers ~75% of the grad student whose enthusiasm drove the writing.
    Now: as it happens, his writing is not yet good enough (gee, surprise, 1st year grad student!) and hence I wrote the thing. But I thought he deserved the recognition, so listed him as Co-I. My institution required that he be downgraded to 'key personnel' in order for the grant to be submitted. Irritating!
    Let's say that in a couple of years I am lucky, and for the Jan 9 2011 deadline I have five separate small proposals coming in from lab members as well as my own. I'm still going to have to be listed as PI on them all - can I really check every citation? Nope. Would I expect to be keelhauled if something is fabricated? Honestly, no: well, yes to the extent that clearly my training in ethics has not taken, but not for the act itself.

  • A PI who submits a grant proposal written by another has committed plagiarism.

    That's ridiculous. I wrote a federally-funded grant that was submitted by my graduate institution with my mentor as PI, and this grant constituted a large fraction of my PI's lab support for years after I graduated. My PI was very proud of this accomplishment on my part and was very explicit about it in the letters he wrote on my behalf. Numerous people in our field were aware of this fact, and not a single one considered it anything other than a good thing. Status as PI on a grant application makes no assertion--implicit or explicit--as to the authorship of the research plan, and is quite different from paper authorship.

  • kiwi says:

    I recently co-wrote a funding proposal (as a postdoc)with someone who will be the PI if it is successful. It was a highly productive experience, not least because with each iteration I could see how he improved the draft in ways that I would not necessarily have thought to do -it was like taking part in someone else's thinking process as well as my own. And because the original idea was mine, and I did a decent share of the writing, I get to be the named postdoc if the grant is successful. In my field, this is a fairly standard way to write grants.

  • PP: I had the same thing happen to me, although the grant was only small-ish (~$40K), and my PhD advisor would always make a point of mentioning it in his letters of recommendation. While I agree that it's not plagiarism, it pisses me off that I can't list this on my own CV because I was only named as the postdoc that was earmarked to do the work - exactly what Ewan was referring to in #11. When I apply for funding now, the only thing that I'm able to list is a piddly little travel award I got as a grad student (~$5K) because I wasn't officially listed as an investigator on the funded grant that I wrote.

  • Dave says:

    CPP sez: "Numerous people in our field were aware of this fact, and not a single one considered it anything other than a good thing. Status as PI on a grant application makes no assertion--implicit or explicit--as to the authorship of the research plan, and is quite different from paper authorship."
    Thanks for the little view of your ethically-perverted fantasy world, CPP. If having ghost-writers do your work for you deserves such kudos, then I assume you happily and explicitly point out in your grant applications when you didn't actually write the thing, and encourage your fellow incompetents to do likewise. Even better, maybe you could send me some of your already successful proposals that I can submit under my name? I'll do the same for you and we'll both end up with a dozen R01s. Awesome, eh?
    In the mean time, I still like the idea of preferentially giving money to people who can come up with and describe a research plan themselves.

  • Thanks for the little view of your ethically-perverted fantasy world, CPP. If having ghost-writers do your work for you deserves such kudos, then I assume you happily and explicitly point out in your grant applications when you didn't actually write the thing, and encourage your fellow incompetents to do likewise. Even better, maybe you could send me some of your already successful proposals that I can submit under my name?

    HAHAHAHAHAH! You are such a pathetic asshole!! As if developing a research project as a trainee in a laboratory and writing up a grant proposal on its basis with the guidance and input of the PI is the same as "sending you" some proposals developed in another lab. How fucking stupid do you think the readers of this blog are, dumbfuck???

  • Becca says:

    Just for reference, I've written a couple of grants (we have to write/orally defend a mock R01 to pass comps, round my parts; and there's a state-funded one I wrote the first [rough] draft of for my advisor to triage). I harbor no illusions about my ability to write a successful R01 right now; however, I simply believe that in the best of all possible worlds kiwi, CPP and PiT would have something a
    little more official for the CVs.
    I think, even without formal credit (but assuming the situation was made explicit in your letter of rec), it's a net-plus for most advisees looking to become PIs to write a grant for someone else.
    At the same time, I do think that it's pretty exploitative for PIs to take a grant that wouldn't exist without a student/postdoc, use some or all of their writing, and then take them off the project (and not in that "get them a tt-faculty position" way of getting rid of them, either). I've seen it happen to several people. Though even then, it's not so much the "PI getting the credit" part that gets me so much as the "PI dropping people like bowls of moldy tofu" (personal sore point!). And there's a lot of ways of pulling those kind of shenanigans without actually coming close to committing plagarism.
    Speaking of which, not that I agree with dave or anything (heaven forbid!), but why is it a-ok to take the entire text of a grant that is somebody else's completely unique idea and submit it under your name if they happen to work for you, when (presumably) it would not be a-ok to do the same thing to someone in a competitor's lab? Is it simply a question of having permission? 'Cause I've heard some crazy stories of PIs doing this without permission to people working for them (horrendous, yes, but unlikely to get the PI into trouble. The way I see it, there's pretty much nothing short of defenestrating someone out a 7th floor window in front of witnesses that an advisor can't do to a student or postdoc...)
    "it will not do to have the hallowed halls of academe sullied with 'faculty' who have not jumped through the requisite arbitrary and traditional hoops."
    So they say. Otherwise why would I spend so much time and energy on getting the Wizard's License?

  • bean-mom says:

    Becca wrote:
    (professional writers/editors aside; seriously, who does that?)
    Ahem. Cough, cough.
    I'm a "professional" writer helping a PI and his postdoc write an RO1. You're gonna love this story, Dave, CPP, Becca and others. This PI has never written a federally funded grant himself; he asks his postdocs to write all his grants and gives them no criticism, no feedback, no oversight at all of their work. Writing up a grant proposal with “the guidance and input of the PI,” as CPP puts it? Ha! I hear he used to never even bother to read his postdocs’ grants. Also, his postdocs are all non-native English speakers. Needless to say, not a single one of his RO1s has ever been funded (In fact, I believe most were never even scored). The PI is very very lucky in that he works at an institute that provides *very* generous internal funding.
    All good things come to an end, though. In a time of plunging endowments, our research institute is slashing internal budgets and pressuring PIs to get their own external funding. My PI is finally get serious about grants. His idea of getting serious means hiring a “professional” science writer (that would be me, a recent postdoc who happens to write English fluently) to help one of his postdocs write an RO1. He does not offer any input or feedback into the writing process, but he has been smart enough to send copies of the drafts to other PIs at our institute for their comments. So the postdoc and I are getting mentored in the grant writing process from *other* PIs who have been extraordinarily generous with their time and expertise. These PIs have offered smart comments and unstinting criticism…and our PI has had nothing to say at all.
    But he will be considered the sole author of this grant (when it finally goes out)
    Note: Thank goodness that we’ve convinced him NOT to send out the proposal for this grant cycle. He has COMPLETELY unrealistic expectations.
    So can anyone top that? And Drugmonkey and CPP, when will you post the next installment of your “How to write an RO1” series?

  • Dave says:

    "And Drugmonkey and CPP, when will you post the next installment of your “How to write an RO1” series? "
    Ha! Yea! I am starting to think their advice might read something like this:
    1) Find yourself a sucker postdoc with good ideas and writing skills....

  • kiwi says:

    Bean-mom this is scary shit. There are dickheads everywhere. . .

  • lylebot says:

    Maybe I'm wrong, but authoring a paper and submitting a grant seem like very different things to me. The grant is a document requesting funds for the PI and his or her lab. The names that go on it aren't (necessarily) the authors'; they're the people who are going to be in charge of the money. That doesn't include professional writers or grad students, and it doesn't include postdocs as far as I know, no matter how much they contributed to writing the project description/research plan.
    Also, (lack of) credit swings both ways: if my grant doesn't get funded, I don't get any credit for writing it, even if I personally wrote the whole thing and collected all the preliminary data myself.

  • Noah Gray says:

    That's a crappy story, bean-mom, but what does it really say about the grant writing process in general? You have an ignorant, irrational, unimpressive dead-wood boss. He is a worthless addition to your institute's faculty. I feel bad for all those working in his lab.
    But you have a job doing something you are good at and, I hope, enjoy. In the end, the joke will be on him and you will have that much more experience writing a successful grant.
    Most PIs who value their career not only partake in the grant writing process, but obsess over it, sometimes letting it consume them. I can tell you 15 stories of labs running into trouble or being under-managed because the PI is too absorbed with grant writing for every single story you can muster revealing a PI who shuns the entire concept of external funding. If your boss is exclusively a PhD, his careless attitude is certainly amongst the minority.
    Dave, it is a bit naïve to believe PIs solely write every grant that is submitted. Just like when writing manuscripts, the individuals working most directly on the project are usually in the best position to communicate on its merits. As PhysioProf mentions, it is extremely common in biology for graduate students and post-docs to spend significant chunks of time working on grants for the lab. After all, except for a select few institutes, those external grants are the fuel to drive their future research (and possibly pay their salaries) too, whether they like it or not.

  • Dave says:

    Noah: I know it is relatively common for PIs to sucker people into writing their grants. I see it all the time. That doesn't make it OK.
    Look up plagiarism. According to the handy-dandy Apple dictionary widget, plagiarism is: "the practice of taking someone else's work or ideas and passing them off as one's own."
    When a PI submits a grant written by someone else, expecting to be credited (funded) in response to that document, how is that not plagiarism? As noted in my original comment, at least one university and NSF consider the practice under discussion plagiarism. As Becca pointed out above, if a PI submits ideas or words by another lab it would obviously be plagiarism. Even CPP recognizes the ludicrousness of 'swapping' proposals. So what makes intra-lab plagiarism merely 'exploitation'?

  • DrugMonkey says:

    As with most other social rules it is all about expectations and common practices Dave. Sometimes these are formally codified (please point to the NSF language on this if you can), sometimes not. When not formalized, there is lots of assumption and misunderstanding when it comes to long unquestioned practices, 'drift' and the like.
    If most people do not expect that the PI wrote and developed the whole grant from start to finish, then your criterion of "passing off as one's own" is not met.
    If most people expect the PI to use work and ideas from her own lab, with implicit permission*, but not to take from other labs without permission...again, your criterion is not met.
    It is all about community standards and expectations.
    Let us take another example, the Center grant. There are a whole host of pages related to the Center itself that must be written. if anyone has any sense, people also have to go through individual components, striving for harmony and consistency of viewpoint/tone. it is a big ol' group effort. and yet there is one Center director, maybe with one asst director. If other people in the project contribute to the coherency parts...is that plagiarism? is the Center director stealing credit? hell no....
    __
    *balance of power being a different matter entirely

  • Dave says:

    DM: I am not about to spend hours looking for documents supporting my position, which I think is likely shared by anyone with decent training or any sort of moral sense. But I found the following after a 10 second Google search...
    http://blogs.sciencemag.org/sciencecareers/2007/07/nsf-tells-pis-t.html

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Even CPP recognizes the ludicrousness of 'swapping' proposals.
    I don't.
    Suppose you have two PIs working with closely related stuff. You are sitting around the bar at a meeting bullshitting about some ideas and it starts gelling into a Plan.
    Suppose an RFA comes out and is just perfectly aligned with the talents and directions of two friendly PIs, covers topics they discuss frequently. maybe one of them has a triaged proposal that includes an Aim of relevance.
    Suppose that one of the PIs in question decides part way through working up a new grant that she's just not interested to go to the mat, over committed elsewhere or (gasp) is in relatively good shape and doesn't want to compete with her friend (who she'd really, really like see do the work).
    So a PI sends drafts or even previously reviewed grants and summary statements to another PI and says "take what you want, it mostly comes from our mutual discussions anyway".
    This is not dissimilar to something I've done personally (suitably anonymized but the gist is there).
    Ideas are cheap and often hard to identify with a single creator when science is being done right. What matters in grant review is the package. All of the package.

  • MBench says:

    CPP and PiT:
    I have a terrific postdoc advisor for whom I wrote an entire R21, and it got funded first-pass. I was listed as Senior Key Personnel and Advisor wrote in my rec letters that I wrote the entire thing. I also listed it on my CV, and noted on my CV and in my cover letters that I wrote it and it was funded. Everyone wins, and the participation of myself and my PI are clearly and honestly documented.
    IMHO this is how the system is supposed to work. Providing high-level grant-writing experience to grad students and postdocs is simply part of good mentoring.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Dave, your link supports your contention that all contributors should be identified for the purpose of determining/allocating blame for fraud. I see nothing in there that talks about using other people's work on the proposal as in and of itself being fraudulent. In fact the rather late date and specificity of the warning combined with the recognition that people not credited in the proposal were in fact working on the proposals is a recognition of the reality being described by me and others.

  • cookingwithsolvents says:

    I'll also chime in that co-writing grants with your PI is CRITICAL to obtaining the skills necessary to be a PI, yourself. I don't think very many people believe that any a multiple-R01 lab anywhere submits props/updates written entirely by the PI. I do have a problem with PI's that exploit grad students and postdocs to do all the writing, etc. . .the writing should be mutually beneficial by training for the student/postdoc and providing pages of proposal for the PI.

  • BKProf says:

    cookingwithsolvents wrote: "I don't think very many people believe that any multiple-RO1 lab anywhere submits props/updates written entirely by the PI."
    I have a multiple-RO1 lab and I do all my own writing. It may be my control-freak tendencies that causes me to do this, but I believe I should concentrate on the things I'm good at (writing grants) and leave the members of the lab to do things they are good at (doing the science). That's not to say that I don't allow them to write for their own funding, because I encourage it. But I don't make them write my RO1s for me.

  • Stephanie Z says:

    It's no more plagiarism than is my friend publishing his books without identifying which appallingly awkward sentences I rewrote for him or which emotional wrench I suggested he add to the ending. I added words and plot, for which I get acknowledged as a beta reader. That I get a special thanks too is part of what makes him cool, but it isn't necessary.

    I am not about to spend hours looking for documents supporting my position, which I think is likely shared by anyone with decent training or any sort of moral sense.

    DM, how totally obnoxious of me would it be to start calling out bingo numbers?

  • @ MBench #28: the only problem is that when faculty search committees look through CRISP to verify that you were involved in the R21, your name won't be there anywhere. That is my point. If it were that simple, I could list the R01s that I edited and proofread for my postdoc mentor as practice and nobody would question their inappropriate inclusion on my CV.
    All I'm saying is that it would be nice if there was some capacity to include non-faculty as co-PIs on grants if they actually devised and wrote them. I know that this is problematic and would likely lead to PIs adding names that don't deserve to be included (ala manuscript co-authors). It's a pie-in-the-sky idea, but it would be nice all the same.

  • Dave says:

    More reading:
    http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/sci;277/5331/1430
    http://www.plagiary.org/cases_of_plagiarism_handled_by_the_ORI.pdf
    You guys can all make up your own mind whether we're talking about plagiarism or just exploitation. My summary opinions:
    1) There are better ways to train people in grant writing than make them do your grant writing for you. If you don't understand that, then you have not experienced good training. Which is too bad.
    2) If you have to come up with your PI's ideas and write his grants, your PI is incompetent. You should find a better PI to work for. Seriously.
    3) Co-authors can and should always be recognized, whether on papers or grants. It's not just the 'nice' thing to do; it clarifies responsibility. As pointed out by others above, there are always opportunities to acknowledge and reward people who participated in the creation of any document.
    4) The widespread practice of PIs submitting grants written by others intellectually disconnects the proposal from the subsequently funded research, which circumvents the whole point of awarding grants competitively based on proposals. Therefore, even if we all agreed that it was ethically fine to submit ghost-written proposals, it would be horrible for the system because such practices promote the distribution of grant money to people who most effectively recruit and exploit ghost-writers, rather than people who can come up with and describe decent plans on their own. Bad crap only flourishes if we allow it to and reward it. Let's not.

  • steffi suhr says:

    Hey all, Cath just pointed me to this from my post. After skimming over the comments, I just want to clarify three things from my perspective:
    - I was a named postdoc on the grant. Doesn't make me a Co-Investigator, but also means that I wasn't just completely anonymous.
    - Looking back, my main problem with writing it were actually the expectations of the three listed PIs, which were just about impossible to combine science-wise (not to mention logistics). I brought this up several times, but didn't get much help on that (they didn't seem to talk to each other, either..). On my own, the proposal would have looked much different with some straightforward science, rather than 'trying to get it all in'.
    - At that point, I had already been outside academia for about three years, which was probably my main difficulty - not in terms or writing the grant at all, but in terms of spending 40+ hours a week in a job outside of science, and writing it in the evenings and on weekends. That was interesting.
    And again, I was happy about being given the chance, just wish I'd had more say in the direction the science was going, and more sense about what was going on in general.
    That's me done, since your discussion is moving in a different direction now anyway!

  • MBench says:

    PiT:
    I agree, ideally there should be an official notation to note that a person was critically involved in the grant's genesis and/or writing. But short of having grant authorship turn into the rigamarole of publication authorship, as you note, there will likely never be such a notation.
    The best solution in the current system is for the PI and trainee to both make clear in letters how the trainee contributed to the grant. This forces the PI to personally vouch for the contribution and (i would think) discourages undeserved assignment of credit. So I guess my question is, if the PI and the trainee have their "stories straight," so to speak, would further verification be needed?

  • MBench says:

    PiT:
    If it were that simple, I could list the R01s that I edited and proofread for my postdoc mentor as practice and nobody would question their inappropriate inclusion on my CV
    I guess my question is, isn't it that simple (as long as both you and your mentor are specific, in writing, about what your contributions were)?

  • Stephanie Z says:

    Oh, come on, Dave. I can handle this one, and I'm not remotely close to this field or this kind of work setup.

    You guys can all make up your own mind whether we're talking about plagiarism or just exploitation.

    Because there are, of course, only those two options.
    1) The best way to teach people to write is to have them write after exposing them to well-written material. Having them write something for their mentor shifts the risk for the outcome to the mentor and should keep the mentor involved in the process. This doesn't always happen, true, but you can find incompetent people anywhere if you look hard enough. That's not a failure of the system.
    3) So you don't actually think plagiarism is involved if less-official channels are used to recognize people's contributions? But I thought the name needed to be right there on the paper. Get your arguments straight.
    2 and 4) If PIs mentoring others inspire a bunch of people to come up with and execute plans for research, those PIs are precisely doing their job. If you don't agree, well, I'm happy I'm not in a position to accidentally end up in your lab.
    Grant writing is a specialty of its own, and in no other part of the world is it treated as anything but. Leaders of arts organizations and nonprofit social services are not considered any less artists or do-gooders for allowing someone else to write their requests for funding. Writing is a skill, but it's only useful as it's leveraged to accomplish something else. The writing is not the something else.

  • Becca says:

    "If most people expect the PI to use work and ideas from her own lab, with implicit permission*, but not to take from other labs without permission...again, your criterion is not met.
    *balance of power being a different matter entirely"

    Why did this phrase remind me of arguments about the line between "coercive sex" and "rape"?

  • DrugMonkey says:

    certainly there are parallels becca. although I'm not sure that "sex with the boss" is ever a legitimate workplace expectation nor, for that matter, is "sex with X..." ever a legitimate anyplace expectation.
    Participating in the scientific activities of the laboratory is most certainly a workplace expectation of scientific trainees. Whether "paid by the lab" or not.

  • @ MBench #36/37: I take your point and there's no question that your PI and my PhD advisor recognize that we wrote the grants and have made sure that others are also aware of that fact. My quibble is that because I was not a co-PI on the grant, it's not something I can legitimately add to my CV and it looks like I don't have a track record of being funded (I can't ask my former advisor to write a letter when I apply for an R01 telling them about the situation). Four years after the grant was funded, I've now completed my postdoc and am a new assistant professor trying to get my own independent funding and as far as the grant agencies are concerned, I haven't written and completed a funded grant before. I'm co-advising the student who's actually working on the grant I wrote but from a purely paperwork point of view, it's not my grant because I was only listed in the personnel section. That's all I'm saying.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Dave @#34: Again, your links are making the case that it is hard to sort out responsibility when a fraud is alleged, not that the practice is bad in and of itself.
    If you have to come up with your PI's ideas and write his grants, your PI is incompetent. You should find a better PI to work for. Seriously.
    Who said anything about "ideas". I have 5-10X grant worthy ideas in a 5-year span than I could possibly find time to write full proposals. Any PI who does not is verging on the incompetent in my view.
    ...PIs submitting grants written by others intellectually disconnects the proposal from the subsequently funded research, which circumvents the whole point of awarding grants competitively based on proposals. ... it would be horrible for the system because such practices promote the distribution of grant money to people who most effectively recruit and exploit ghost-writers, rather than people who can come up with and describe decent plans on their own. Bad crap only flourishes if we allow it to and reward it. Let's not.
    So now we get to what I suspect may be the heart of your objection. Here I am much more sympathetic. I have operated (almost*) on the solo-grant-writer model for my career to date and the notion of competing with labs that have multiple brains writing a scattershot of thinly - altered proposals is...annoying.
    And this leads back into the debate over whether the best science comes from huge labs with all the resources in the world and long-term sustained programs or from single R01s grunted out by small time** PIs.
    __
    *with what I feel are normal expected contributions from postdocs on 10% or so of my submissions and not including a couple of highly-collaborative apps with other PIs.
    **in which I include myself

  • pinus says:

    Official notation that you worked on a grant?
    I may be a bit thick headed, but unless you have the money, there is no official anything. You are part of a lab and you contribute, to me that is how thngs work. Maybe I have never been abused by any PI where I have had to write a whole grant..just small parts and lots of discussion. It has always been my implicit experience that a grant coming out of a lab is a product of the lab, most people get to participate and give feedback. Again, maybe I have always been spoiled with PI's/mentors who have been inclusive and have taken an active interest in the people in the lab understanding the grant writing process.
    Really, the whole contribution to grant thing will come up in references/recommendations?

  • Dave says:

    DM: Yea, I think you fairly state my position. Thanks for listening and the thoughtful responses.

  • chickadee says:

    I wrote and got one grant funded ($150K) with myself as PI and my postdoc advisor as co-I. But now I'm trying to go for bigger grants, driven largely because I'm supported entirely on soft money so this is my only means of support. There is the problem which is that now all of a sudden I'm no longer allowed to be listed as the PI on bigger proposals because - in my institution at least - there is a dollar amount cut-off for when a 'real" person must be the PI. "Real" meaning, the one with the title and position and who owns the lab space. So I can't be listed as a PI on big proposals unless I have a 'real' - i.e. non soft-money-based - position. yet at the same time my institution also tells me, bring in the big bucks and THEN we'll give you a position. How..?

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