Do trainees read the grants that fund the lab?

Mar 16 2018 Published by under Careerism

Survey says:

“Yes”.

I am heartened by this although the sizeable minority answering no is a curiosity. I wonder if it is mostly an effect of career stage? Maybe some undergrads answering?

30 responses so far

  • ImDrB says:

    When I hire a trainee (grad student, postdoc, technician) I give them a copy of the grant they will be associated with. I need them to be as familiar with it as I am, because they may think of an angle that doesn't occur to me. So far, that seems to be working to all our benefit.

  • Emaderton3 says:

    I have given portions of grants to trainees in the laboratory. I feel like it provides a frame of reference for the work as well as describes the experiments that they will be involved in, particularly if it is outside their area of expertise.

  • David says:

    I'm curious how this intersects with Ola's comment on the variability thread; "you don't actually have to DO what you propose."

  • Draino says:

    Sure I give them grants to read, sometimes as examples for their own writing or to familiarize them with my vision. But they never come back for discussion about the grant. Really never happens. Maybe they don't read and only want to do experiments. So I don't know how helpful it is.

  • Philapodia says:

    I want to know why an PI wouldn't give their trainees their grant to read. I've met other PIs that wouldn't share their funded grants with me (as if I would be competing with them), but part of our jobs as mentors is to teach our students how to sell an idea in a technically sound way and have confidence in their science. My lab peeps have access to a number of funded and unfunded grants on various topics that I've submitted (not just their projects), as well as some summary statements with various levels of enthusiasm (from glowing to "get a job at McD's, loser"). I think it's good for them to see what does and doesn't work, and by showing them the unfunded grants it helps them understand that sometimes I'm not quite as amazing as they usually think I am. I think this makes me more approachable when they're having difficulties of their own, and to understand that failure is part of the process.

  • Emaderton3 says:

    @ Philapodia

    Unfortunately, I only really have a pile of what doesn't work lol . . .

  • AcademicLurker says:

    @Philapodia

    I generally share summary statements with trainees. It's a nice way to outsource the grumbling about that motherf*king reviewer number three who sunk the proposal with their ignorant complaints...

  • NeurallySound says:

    I think you've got a selection bias here. Trainees that are engaging with a blog/ Twitter to discuss and learn about the culture of science are by definition more likely to be engaged with the process.

    It never occurred to me to ask to read the grant as an undergrad. I didn't know about the funding process yet. Unknown unknowns.

  • Another Anon says:

    Am disappointed by the 3% of PIs that refuse their trainees.

  • mH says:

    my postdoc PI didn't even tell us when he got an r01. no idea what purpose this secrecy was supposed to serve.

  • Philapodia says:

    @mH
    "my postdoc PI didn't even tell us when he got an r01. no idea what purpose this secrecy was supposed to serve."

    Not all faculty are good managers. You know who I'm talking about, the guy/gal who all the students complain about and who other faculty members warn prospective students away from. Some PIs view students and post-docs simply as labor, not people whose careers they are trying to help. This is a consequence of the hiring process, where new faculty are hired based on their productivity as a post-doc, not on their ability to effectively manage personnel or manage projects. One of the things that I think is really lacking in academia is that there is little formalized personnel or project management training available at any level, and all management training is trial by fire once you're an assistant prof. Labs are like small businesses, and being able to manage personnel, projects, and budgets is critical for success, but we don't train our trainees about this aspect of their future careers at all. I think it would be great if grad students and post-docs were required to take a couple of formal management courses in addition to the traditional grant writing courses they have to take. These types of courses would help trainees in any potential career track they would pursue (academia/industry/government).

  • xykademiqz says:

    Some PIs view students and post-docs simply as labor, not people whose careers they are trying to help.

    One of the things that I think is really lacking in academia is that there is little formalized personnel or project management training available at any level, and all management training is trial by fire once you're an assistant prof.

    The assumption that these people want to be good managers and would be, if only someone had trained them, is a wrong one. I have met my fair share of egomaniacs and narcissists in academia, especially among the superstars. (Not all superstars are like this, obviously, but the cold-hearted bunch are not an insignificant fraction.) They lack empathy, have an exaggerated view of own abilities and importance, and view most other people (including most collaborators) as unimportant and expendable. Decisions made regarding their trainees are always purely self-centered and are only incidentally helpful or unhelpful to the trainees. If they show grants to trainees, it has nothing to do with helping said trainees and everything with increasing publication churn rate. (I have one such colleague across the hallway from me, and another two doors down. They are divas and jerks to colleagues, as well.)

  • Almost tenured PI says:

    I've never denied a trainee the chance to look at a grant, and my trainees always read over what I'm submitting. However, I don't always give funded grants to the new people in the lab for a couple of reasons...
    1. As somebody else mentioned, we often don't actually work on what we propose, or the research direction just naturally changes over time.
    2. Some piece of preliminary data ends up not actually panning out, or the hypothesis changes completely, and I don't want to confuse the new people with our old ways of thinking.

  • Almost tenured PI says:

    Speaking of not doing what you propose... Take a look at this little ditty with 16 grants listed. A perfect example of why the NIH should limit the amount of funding for a single lab.

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29496999

  • Philapodia says:

    @ xykademiqz

    I agree that not all PIs will be magically better managers if they get some training, but I do think that if we give trainees some of these tools when they're coming up, there will be more good managers than there are now.

    I think what these (arrogant/narcissistic/asshat) people don't understand is that when you manage people well (including taking their views/feelings into account), productivity increases because people are happier and are more motivated to succeed. I co-mentor a student with a colleague who is a bit demanding with students, and I find that the student tends to be in my lab more and gets more done with me. It takes me more time getting to know the student and knowing what their goals are, but in the end I think I get more out of them than if I just act like a task master. Added bonus, it makes work more fun for me if everyone isn't dreading me coming by. Shooting the shite with students/post-docs can actually be enjoyable.

    @ Almost tenured PI
    " Some piece of preliminary data ends up not actually panning out, or the hypothesis changes completely, and I don't want to confuse the new people with our old ways of thinking."

    Yeah, I probably don't talk about incorrect hypotheses that much, either. But now that I'm thinking more about it, it may not be in the trainee's best interest. Perhaps we should be using those examples to teach our trainees how hypotheses evolve over time and how to deal with hypotheses that turn out to be incorrect. It could help them understand how the current hypothesis came into being and will definitely help them deal with the ups and downs of their science later in life since they will also have to deal with it themselves later in their careers.

  • Grumpy says:

    I've encountered labs where trainees don't seem too aware or care about funding/proposals, and I don't see anything wrong with that.

    I personally can't get away with that since we are a new lab and the proposal is the only written document on some research directions. But it seems perfectly reasonable to me to have the trainees focus on doing great research and the PI worry about funding.

    Of course if some trainees are interested in the fundraising process, then sharing is part of training. But many trainees aren't really like that IME.

  • Jonathan Badger says:

    Maybe this is a cultural thing that differs in different subfields? I have never heard of anyone reading over a grant proposal (or even asking to) unless they were one of the authors -- either a PI or named personnel responsible for some of the text.

  • JL says:

    @Almost tenured
    I don't see the evidence to limit PI funding from a paper listing 16 grants for support.

    1st not all are Federal support. Are you suggesting that NIH limits should include non-federa, support?
    2nd, some are training grants, which either partially supported people in the project, or departments just expect/demand everyone to list.
    3rd, support for those 32 authors must have come from somewhere. 2 per grant is not unreasonable.
    4th, so what if a project is supported by many grants? Collaborative work is good.

    Are all of those grants to a single PI?

    Maybe NIH should limit the amount to single PI's, but your argument is shitty. If you want to convince people to support your side, try harder.

  • DNAman says:

    The idea that trainees should read grants is based on the concept that the trainee will eventually be writing grants. This is really part of the problem. Most won't.

    You should be having your trainees focus on learning skills that are important for their future. I run more of a computational lab. My last two trainees got jobs at Facebook and Amazon at a higher salary than I have with my 20+ years of NIH grant writing experience. These trainees don't care about grants. They want to learn the latest computational tools that will help them in their career.

  • Philapodia says:

    The idea that reading grants is only for those that will be writing grants is simply wrong. Grants can be viewed as technical sales documents, and have a lot value outside of just begging for money from the NIH/NSF. Reading grants can help trainees learn how to develop a project and what is needed to support that development and how to persuade an audience (your boss, board of directors, investors) that what you are doing is interested and adds value to the institution, all the while keeping technical rigor high. Anyone who may go into a scientific or technical discipline (FaceBook and Google, included) and works on a project needs these skills.

  • Ben says:

    Reading grants? During my first few weeks in the lab, I was expected to start helping to produce proposals. My first job was working on figures and inserting and formatting citations. As a PI, I give the relevant grant proposals to my grad students. Once they get beyond their first year or so I ask them to help with the writing at least a little, by providing figures, looking for appropriate references, etc. At the very least, I have them proof read the proposals before they are submitted.

  • A Salty Scientist says:

    The idea that trainees should read grants is based on the concept that the trainee will eventually be writing grants.

    Strongly disagree. Reading and writing grants helps trainees to understand the genesis (and destruction) of scientific ideas, critically evaluate scientific claims, and practice crafting their own scientific arguments. I try to personalize training to the career goals of my trainees, but all of them gain experience both reading and writing grants and papers.

  • drugmonkey says:

    I think you've got a selection bias here. Trainees that are engaging with a blog/ Twitter to discuss and learn about the culture of science are by definition more likely to be engaged with the process.

    I agree entirely.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Speaking of not doing what you propose... Take a look at this little ditty with 16 grants listed. A perfect example of why the NIH should limit the amount of funding for a single lab.

    How so? Why is it not a perfect example of how many grants are required to produce a given paper? The list of departments and Universities is extensive. If this is a collaboration of small parts of many, many grants ,why doesn't it say that if you want to do it with fewer labs, they need more money per lab?

    However, I don't always give funded grants to the new people in the lab for a couple of reasons...
    1. As somebody else mentioned, we often don't actually work on what we propose, or the research direction just naturally changes over time.

    So is there a drawback to showing them exactly how this works out in a very specific example related to their own work?

    The idea that trainees should read grants is based on the concept that the trainee will eventually be writing grants.
    I give them the grant most related to their interest on arrival (and make all of them available) because I think it helps them get up to speed on what we are doing, why and what might shape the next directions. To better understand how I am thinking. Not as an exercise in grant crafting. That comes in later.

    related to this, however...
    I've encountered labs where trainees don't seem too aware or care about funding/proposals, and I don't see anything wrong with that.

    I can't operate with the above. I deal with study sections that more often than not expect progress on the Aims described in funded projects (if a competing renewal) and progress on the goals as described in Biosketch blurb or RePORTER abstract as a more general thing. We do not have to follow the experiments directly as originally proposed but the work has to fit within reasonable conceptual spitting distance of what was originally proposed.

    ...there is also the hilariously frustrating experience I have as a PI when a fairly vigorous postdoc that is a year or more into a project starts coming up the experiments that were proposed in the original plan....

  • qaz says:

    Skills at grant-writing are useful in most jobs that students will end up going into, whether it be academia or industry or policy. Essentially, a grant is about what you are going to do and why it's worth pursuing. Contrast that with a paper that is about what you've done and why it is correct. Business plans are literally grants. Internal "let's do this project next" proposals are literally grants. There are a lot of internal grants written by people working at Facebook and Amazon. The grant-writing skill that we teach students is a general skill-set useful in many occupations.

    That all being said, while I do think that it is critical to teach students grant writing, I think it is also important to shelter these students from the grant game. One of the things that I'm seeing a lot of is students thinking "I could never do what you do" because they don't want the responsibility of running a lab, even though they are right on track and would be great PIs. Someday. I see a lot of students who don't think they could ever be captains, when they are 20 year old ensigns fresh out of the academy. I try to point out that they will grow into it, but the modern world is very transparent. I believe that one needs to teach a student how to write grants, but they need to start with first level monsters before facing down the dragon. (Sorry about the mixed metaphors.)

    Personally, I don't show students our R01s. Mostly because I don't think it matters. I'd rather spend the time talking through the logic of our current projects in person, where the student can actively participate (active learning!) in designing the next experiment. If a student asks for an R01, I show it to them. And if I'm trying to explain a point of how to write a grant, I sometimes use my successful R01s as examples. But that's all in the service of teaching them how to write their F3xs.

  • qaz says:

    DM - an even more interesting question - do you share your R01s with junior faculty in your department?

  • drugmonkey says:

    I don’t push them but whenever asked, of course. Why would I not? How could I not after the way my more-senior colleagues shared whenever I asked?

  • Almost tenured PI says:

    Regarding the paper I linked above, it's not about the 16 grants, per se. The paper is from an enormous lab with several multi-million dollar funding mechanisms. They made a knockout mouse on a hunch with absolutely no preliminary data. Their hunch was completely wrong. Not only did the knockout mouse not have the proposed phenotype in bacterial infections, but it also didn't have a phenotype in a dozen other infections and disease models. It's 10 figures of negative data based on a whim, and then beaten to death, done only because the lab could afford it. A grant to do this work would never be funded. That is why I say this lab has too much money.

    PS - I'm not saying that publishing negative results is bad. Publishing extensive and expensive negative results from a study that had thin rationale to begin with, however, does rub me the wrong way.

  • drugmonkey says:

    And if their hunch had turned out awesome everyone would be talking about how such a project could never be done on the standard R01 system. And write op/ed pieces about how this shows the NIH system is broken and we need to give basic (high) support to those annointed types in advance so they can do cutting edge research unfettered by small minded riff-raff reviewers.

  • JL says:

    If that's the "perfect example", I don't want to hear about the more contrived ones.

    Once it has been shown how something works, or does not work, everyone has lot's of explantions for why it had to be this way. Predictions are way more difficult... especially about the future

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