Review your own CV. Frequently.

Apr 14 2015 Published by under Careerism, NIH, Peer Review

Yesterday's review of the research publications of a person who had written about closing down his lab due to lack of funding in this "unfair" grant award environment touched a nerve on at least one Reader. I assume it was uncomfortable for many of you to read.

It was uncomfortable for me to write.

You can tell because I felt compelled to slip in the odd caveat about my own record. I can write one of those reviews about my own career that would be equally, if not more, critical and uncomfortable.

No doubt more than one of you got the feeling that if I wrote a similar review of your record you would come up wanting ...or at least PhysioProffe would jump in to tell you how shitasse you are*. Certainly at least one correspondent expressed this feeling.

But that tinge of anxiety, fear and possibly shame that you feel should tell you that it is a good idea to perform this little review of yourself now and again. Good to try to step outside of your usual excuses to yourself and see how your CV looks to the dispassionate observer who doesn't know anything about your career other than the publication and NIH-award (or other grants, as relevant) record.

Do you have obvious weaknesses? Too few publications? Too few first/last author (as appropriate). Too few collaborations? Insufficiently high Journal Impact Factor points? Etc.

What is all of this going to say to grant reviewers, hiring committees or promotions committees?

Then, this allows you to do something about it. You can't change the past but you can alter the course of your future.

In some situations, like crafting the NIH Biosketch Personal Statement, you do actually have the opportunity to alter the past....not the reality but certainly the perception of it. So that is another place where the review of your CV helps. That voice of excuse-making that arises? Leverage that. You DO have reasons for certain weaknesses and perhaps other features of your CV help to overcome that if they are just pointed out properly.

___
*he wouldn't, btw.

32 responses so far

  • boehninglab says:

    I know people have mixed feelings about it, but I really think the new "Contribution to Science" section of the Biosketch is a great complement to the personal statement. I included it in my Feb/March grants even though it was optional, and I think it helped make a good case why I am uniquely qualified to perform the work.

  • newbie PI says:

    Are assistant professors ever allowed to take a break? I used to think burnout was something lazy people made up, but my position on that topic has recently evolved.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Sabbatical.

    I had the same view, like "what would you need that for" until I hit a certain point in my career. Then I got it.

  • JustAGrad says:

    I'm just tired of all of the salami slicing the BSD labs practice in my field. I don't agree with it and I don't feel I can compare with PhD students who graduate with nearly 30 peer-reviewed publications, 10-15 of which are first author. My PI truly tries to follow ethical authorship and publication guidelines and I may be ruined because of it. Damned if you do, damned if you don't I suppose.

  • AcademicLurker says:

    I confess I did a quick "since attaining first independent position" publication count after reading that post.

  • odyssey says:

    As did I AL.

  • Drugmonkey says:

    ethical authorship and publication guidelines

    I am all ears, do continue.

  • JustAGrad says:

    What I mean by ethical authorship and publication guidelines is that each author contributed intellectually (or frankly, at all) to the publication and that each paper is a self-contained and complete report. What I consider unethical practices is putting everyone on everyone's papers as a rule and publishing incomplete datasets/methods in order to churn out several papers that must all be read in order to actually understand or replicate what was done. Since these papers tend to all be published in the same month or within one or two months, that implies that these were all submitted simultaneously to a wide range of journals.

  • Masked Avenger says:

    Something to note:

    All these folks trying to transition out of academic professor positions may find themselves on less-than-equal footing with a deluge of a younger workforce who never bought into the academic ego-stroking and have more experience on-the-job.

    Which damages the ego even more.

    And this is why the NIH has tried to establish "emeritus grants"... which is hilarious... for people who started a lifetime ago, whose research and - frankly - expertise is now antiquated, and who honestly have nowhere to go. There aren't enough university adnimistration jobs to go around either... HA!!!

  • newbie PI says:

    JustAGrad - I don't consider it unethical to publish methods or incomplete datasets. I recently submitted a short paper from my lab where we certainly could have done more experiments (Can't you always do more experiments?). But we proved one major point, and maybe more importantly, the first author needs this publication. He is a medical student who worked in my lab last summer and needs a first author publication to be inducted into the medical school student research honor society (which is very important to him). I made a commitment to him that if he did a good job and got some interesting data, then I would help him publish it. What's unethical about that?

    When people tell me their PI won't let them publish, I tell them that if you take it upon yourself to write up a reasonable manuscript with decent figures, it's unlikely your PI will not let you submit it. Don't wait for permission to start writing.

  • drugmonkey says:

    What I mean by ethical authorship and publication guidelines is that each author contributed intellectually (or frankly, at all) to the publication

    And how often does it happen that there are authors that do not contribute "at all" to a publication? How do you know this beyond direct personal experience. And what is the impact on you or others or anything of any real importance if such authorships do exist that justifies calling this "unethical"?

    and that each paper is a self-contained and complete report.

    Given that we all stand on the shoulders of giants and there is no such thing as a "complete" report that answers all possible remaining questions... how can you possibly assess or define this in a way that is sufficiently objective and isolated from being merely your personal preferences to justify the "unethical" charge?

    What I consider unethical practices is putting everyone on everyone's papers as a rule

    What does "as a rule" mean? That there was no intellectual contribution? Again, how do you assess and define this? How do you know for situations where you were not a direct participant? And, again, what makes this "unethical" as opposed to "different from the way you do it"?

    publishing incomplete datasets/methods in order to churn out several papers that must all be read in order to actually understand or replicate what was done.

    The modern journal article is page or word limited. It is also usually filled with several to many fairly complex methods which have themselves been the subject of entire papers. Sometimes seemingly simple methods (say, behavioral procedures) are not. And have entire bodies of work, if not subfields, devoted to them. So how is it possible to write methods that satisfy your criterion? It isn't. Alternatives include citation of prior articles (some might object to "complete" methods that act like the present paper invented them up out of whole cloth, I will note) not from the group (and how is this different from citing within the group?), long Supplementary Materials (that aren't cited, harder to find and are credited to the first author of the main article, unethically stealing credit from those who may have done the work on those methods) or.... multiple publications from the same group.

  • damit says:

    Yeah. I feel ya here dm.

    If SS service teaches anything it's that any of us can be crapped on....ANY of us.
    I have seen it for sure and occasionally felt it personally (recently in fact). And these days program staff actually embrace the crappers, sad to say.

    Building a crapper proof biosketch is a near impossible task.

    I think one of the behaviors I learned, and always tried to push is to be the person in the room who calls people on bullsh!t criticisms. It does happen, and sometimes you win. There's a person recently named to the National Academy who I saved that way, and I'm proud of it....many more new PIs who are now doing well. Makes me feel like I made a difference. People (at least the good ones) on SS do that, and it happens every meeting.

    I think the real lesson from the ASBMB screed is don't think one grant makes you safe. Sorry, but you aren't. Better get more than one in the system and publish like hell.
    That's how you crapper proof yourself...don't have your whole career built around one project.

  • JustAGrad says:

    My personal experience is from other students who freely admit that they don't deserve authorship because they were completely uninvolved on the project, but that the PI as an internal rule places every lab member on every paper to inflate their CVs. This is, of course, in direct violation to the guidelines of every journal that I know of, and certainly violates the ICMJE standards. Perhaps you don't see this as much in science fields where there is enough labor to go around that everyone could at least say they pipetted something once. That of course does not meet the ICMJE requirements, but a PI could be of the mind to give authorship to anyone who did anything.

    I hear you about the self-contained reports. Let me clarify. I'm in engineering. So let's say a paper describes a new tool or device. What I mean by salami slicing here (which is an obvious term, but I'll explain it since you want me to describe what I mean by using it) is writing up several papers that either (1) all describe the same thing, but were submitted to several journals simultaneously to not be detected as highly similar to previously published work or (2) each article describes only a single component of the design such that reading several papers is necessary to understand the device at even a cursory level.

    These should not happen. As it happens, I had the chance to bring this topic up today with some faculty because I am currently trying to make use of an algorithm that was published by the same authors at least 6 times in a 2-month span, but they weren't even consistent with the algorithm. Needless to say, the versions I've tried so far don't work. The profs said they view this as another example of the failure of peer review. So it goes.

  • JustAGrad says:

    Of course, one could consider it to not be unethical to do whatever it takes to game the system that we're all playing. But that's not something I plan on doing.

  • physioprof says:

    That's how you crapper proof yourself...don't have your whole career built around one project.

    It is worth pointing out that DoucheMonkey and I have been floggeing this point strenuously for nearly a decade.

  • neuropop says:

    @damit "That's how you crapper proof yourself...don't have your whole career built around one project."

    Or if you have to, get creative with the aims, diversify and submit to multiple agencies. All advice that has been freely given on this blog. To paraphrase DM and PP, if you can't come up with multiple lines of investigation with essentially the same preliminary data, perhaps it is time to find a good mentor who can, go through this blog in its entirety, or find something else to do.

  • drugmonkey says:

    JustAGrad-
    My read is that such clear cut examples are rare in the context of all complaining about undeserved authorships, which is why I am interested in detail.

  • drugmonkey says:

    When people tell me their PI won't let them publish, I tell them that if you take it upon yourself to write up a reasonable manuscript with decent figures, it's unlikely your PI will not let you submit it. Don't wait for permission to start writing.

    Absolutely. Nothing like a decent-looking manuscript and a reasonable publication plan (venue matched to the manuscript) to soften the heart of a PI.

  • Philapodia says:

    "When people tell me their PI won't let them publish, I tell them that if you take it upon yourself to write up a reasonable manuscript with decent figures, it's unlikely your PI will not let you submit it. Don't wait for permission to start writing."

    Boy I wish this happened more often. I feel like I have to constantly tell my minions to start working on their papers, check if they're working on it, and then remind them to work on it (again). If a student took it upon themselves to write a reasonable draft and have a good idea where to publish it without me asking them too, that would make my day.

  • JustAGrad says:

    My read is that such clear cut examples are rare in the context of all complaining about undeserved authorships, which is why I am interested in detail.

    That's understandable.

    When people tell me their PI won't let them publish, I tell them that if you take it upon yourself to write up a reasonable manuscript with decent figures, it's unlikely your PI will not let you submit it. Don't wait for permission to start writing.

    This is my plan actually. I have a few papers I've been working on that are mostly theoretical and one is a review. These conveniently don't require any research support beyond the small amount that I was able to win. I was hoping to spring the drafts on my PI as I finish them.

  • dsks says:

    Has anyone presented data normalizing lab output to lab benchmonkey force? I recall there being plenty of data relating output - both impact and pub # - to RPG dollars, but I'm not sure I've seen a more direct comparison of productivity versus number of active researchers in the lab.

    FWIW I went in a bit of a procrastinatory joy ride and grabbed the numbers for a small sample of anonymous and well-established big hitters in Neuro and Cancer the relationship between lab size and research outputand plotted them on a number of charts, adding Dr. Hollenbach's approximate position based on the information at hand.

    Doesn't really tell us anything we didn't know, I don't think, but I feel a little more sympathetic for Dr. H after reflecting on these datums.

  • DJMH says:

    Absolutely. Nothing like a decent-looking manuscript and a reasonable publication plan (venue matched to the manuscript) to soften the heart of a PI.

    If only it were always true.

  • drugmonkey says:

    If a student took it upon themselves to write a reasonable draft and have a good idea where to publish it without me asking them too, that would make my day.

    As I have occasionally remarked, my commentariat seems to be exclusively populated by awesome trainees who write submission-ready drafts but are squelched and held back by evul PIs who won't let them submit papers and PIs who are awesome and generous editors but yet are plagued by lazy trainees from whom drafts must be beaten with a stick.

    /ymmv

  • jmz4gtu says:

    The sooner you write the manuscript, the sooner you see where the holes are. Also popping panels into a working framework is sooooo satisfying and saves a ton of effort down the road.

  • Philapodia says:

    I have a well-taped broken hockey stick that I use for beating student to get their papers done. I then mix their tears into the printer ink that they use to print their first draft they present me.

  • BugDoc says:

    @philapodia: you are my hero

  • Philapodia says:

    @Bugdoc: and you are the wind beneath my wings.

    "As I have occasionally remarked, my commentariat seems to be exclusively populated by awesome trainees who write submission-ready drafts but are squelched and held back by evul PIs who won't let them submit papers and PIs who are awesome and generous editors but yet are plagued by lazy trainees from whom drafts must be beaten with a stick. "

    I doubt that the lazy students or the BSDs frequent your joint, DM. Selection bias is likely at work here...

  • rxnm says:

    dsks,

    I did that for a few labs (from "glamtastic" to "who?") in my field.

    https://rxnm.wordpress.com/2013/12/24/whats-productive-enough-for-tenure/

    The lessons of all of this discussion seem to be clear: small is dangerous, and you will be undercredited for what you do with the resources you have. Part of the danger is not having independent funding streams. Being big is safer, you will appear much more productive than you are, and you can double-triple-quadruple count productivity against various funding sources.

    Being bigger also, of course, is where the mushrooming PI:trainee ratio, glamhumping, hype, hypercompetition, cheatfuckery, and almost every Problem (we can call them that now that 3 out of 5 BSDs agree) we're facing comes from.

    Lots of mysteries solved.

  • Namesaste_Ish says:

    You're still a punching down asshole Ted. I love you. Like deep inside. Super deep.

  • Eli Rabett says:

    Eli has a very simple rule for evaluating others. If you have done less than he did at the same point in his career you are a slacker.

  • jmz4gtu says:

    What if they've done more?

  • Eli Rabett says:

    They are BSDs. Eli, of course, is just a bunny.

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