Archive for the 'Careerism' category

Question of the Day

Apr 17 2015 Published by under Careerism

Do you keep track of your manuscript rejections in any systematic way? If so, how? 

40 responses so far

Ted’s an [Censored] and Other Lessons on Lab Closures

Apr 16 2015 Published by under Careerism, Tribe of Science

NamasteIshIconThe following is a guest post from Namaste. Ish. Previously known as the bluebird of happiness, My T. Chondria. Stuff happened. The kitten walked away. Deal with it.


For those who have never had the unique experience of visiting a high security prison and the opportunity to meet @drugmonkeyblog in real life….he’s an asshole. Earlier this week, this sentiment ran thru parts of science Twitter and Ted’s blog comments following his kicking the academic ‘nads of one Andrew Hollenbach after he had the misfortune of posting his story about having to close his lab when his funding ran out.

 

Ted gets in a twist that Andrew Hollenbach says he was ‘trying’ and rails for paragraphs about how Hollenbeck efforts should not be construed as ‘trying’. In his own bit of MDMA-fueled cyber sleuthing, @drugmonkeyblog took the poor doods CV to task. Not enough pubs. Gaps in funding. Unclear appointments. Ted stood at a tree in the forest, found a leaf and chopped that thing up.

 

If you were that hacked up bit of leaf, how well would you do? You need to know the answer to this. Look at your CV. Be brutally honest. Ask others to be brutally honest. Get a mentoring committee you trust. Find IRL or cyber peers who will hold your feet to the fire and know people who won’t blow smoke up your arse when you fail.

 

Hollenbach talks about his love of science and teaching yet now has no idea what his next step is because can’t find an adult job as scientist. I don’t personally care about his CV. At my core, I am upset that this is someone who could be anyone I know. Throw in a personal tragedy, an experimental disaster (check your -80 lint screen lately?) and you can go from independent academic scientist to sadsack sitting in a pile of dried out samples in no time.

 

We are in a diminishing forest of people and this is not how we honor those in our profession. He’s leaving academics and this is sad. And it is scary. And I’m not going to kick him in the arse on the way out the door. Doing science is noble and anyone who does it with passion should be able to find a place. We have invested too much in scientists and have too few highly educated people to not mourn when they have clear no future in mind after closing a lab.

 

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not handing out cookies. But if you played well with others, did your job by other accounts, and were not a cheatfuckking, harassing, credit stealing fucknuts, I will always be sad we lose an academic scientist. I don’t know if he should have been a PI. But I sure won’t be the one that suggests he be an investment banker.

 

Ted is an asshole but he evaluated his CV. And until there is another way to measure scientist’s impact honoring all the things we can bring to academia and society, you will be at the hands of assholes like Ted.

40 responses so far

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

On productivity and the "unfair" grant funding game

Apr 13 2015 Published by under Careerism, NIH, NIH Careerism

There is an article up on ASBMB Today by Andrew D. Hollenbach that laments the shut-down of his research program. In The reality that dare not speak its name we learn:

It was the day after my lab manager left, forced to find a new job by a vicious funding environment that took a trusted employee and friend from me and shut down my research program.

This is terrible, I will acknowledge. I have feared this outcome for my own research program, only briefly interrupted, for my entire independent career. The wolves are always near the door and winter is most certainly coming.

Hollenbach finds this to be unfair. And that assertion triggers slightly more thought than mere sympathy and empathetic butt clenching.

I spent 20 years studying the mechanisms underlying a childhood muscle tumor. I published more than 20 articles with a lab of no more than three people at one time, intentionally kept small so I could focus on mentoring. I established a new paradigm in my field, identified viable therapeutic targets and trained five students (three of whom went to Harvard University for postdocs). I am recognized worldwide for my research.

You would think that all of that would be enough to bring in money and continue my research. But it’s not.

My immediate thought was no, no I don't think that is enough in this day and age. 20 papers in 20 years of an independent career is not a fantastic publishing rate. Of course, yes, there are going to be field and model specifics that greatly affect publishing rate. There will be differences in publishing style and venue as well...if this had been 20 CNS publications, well, this would be pretty good productivity. But a search of PubMed seems to confirm that the pursuit of the very highest Glamour publications was not the issue. I am not an expert in this guy's field of study but glancing over his publication titles and journals I get the distinct impression of a regular-old Jane/Joe type of scientist here. Many people can claim to have established new paradigms, sent trainees off to impressive-sounding postdoctoral stints (or assistant professorships) and to have identified 'viable' therapeutic targets. I say this not to belittle the guy but to point out that this is not in any way special. It is not an immediately obvious compensation for a rather underwhelming rate of publication. For a PI, that is, who asserts he's had a long-term lab manager and up to three people in his group at a time.

Hollenbach's funding hasn't been overwhelmingly generous but he's had NIH grants. RePORTER shows that he started with a component of a P20 Center grant from 2004-2009 and an R01 from 2009-2013.

Wait. What "20 years"?

Hollenbach's bio claims he was made junior faculty in 2001 and won his first Assistant Professor job in 2003. This matches up better with his funding history so I think we'd better just focus on the past 10 years to really take home a message about careerism. One senior author publication in 2003 from that junior-faculty stint and then the next one is 2007 and then three in 2008. So far, so good. Pretty understandable for the startup launch of a new laboratory.

Then we note that there is only one paper in each of 2009 and 2010. Hmmm. Things can happen, sure. Sure. Two papers in 2011 but one is a middle authorship. One more publication in each of 2012, 2014 and 2015 (to date). The R01 grant lists 7 pubs as supported but two of those were published before the grant was awarded and one was published 9 months into the first funding interval. So 5 pubs supported by the R01 in this second phase. And an average as a faculty member that runs just under a publication per year.

Lord knows I haven't hit an overwhelming publication output rate across my entire career. I understand slowdowns. These are going to happen now and again. And for certain sure there are going to be chosen model systems that generate publishable datasets more slowly than others.

But.

But.....

One paper per year, sustained across 10 years, is not the kind of productivity rate that people view as normal and average and unremarkable. Particularly when it comes to grant review at the NIH level.

I would be very surprised if the grant applications this PI has submitted did not receive a few comments questioning his publication output.

Look at my picture, and you will not see a failure. You will see someone who worked hard, excelled at what he did, held true to himself and maintained his integrity. However, you also will see someone whose work was brought to a halt by an unfair system.

Something else occurs to me. The R01 was funded up to March 2013. So this presumably means that this recent dismissal of the long-term lab manager comes after a substantial interval of grant submission deadlines? I do wonder how many grant applications the guy submitted and what the outcomes were. This would seem highly pertinent to the "unfair system" comment. You know my attitude, Dear Reader. If one is supported on a single grant, bets the farm on a competing continuation hitting right on schedule and is disappointed...this is not evidence of the system being unfair. If a PI is unfunded and submits a grant, waits for the reviews, skips a round, submits the revision, waits for the reviews, skips another round, writes a new proposal..... well, THIS IS NOT ENOUGH! This is not trying. And if you are not trying, you have no right to talk about the "unfair system" as it applies to your specific outcome.

I close, as I often do, with career advice. Don't do this people. Don't let yourself publish on the lower bound on what is considered an acceptable rate for your field, approaches, models and, most importantly, funding agency's review panels.

PS: This particular assertion regarding what surely must be necessary to survive as a grant-funded is grotesquely inaccurate.

Some may say that I did not do enough. Maybe I didn’t. I could have been a slave-driving mentor to get more publications in journals with higher impact factors. I could have worked 80-hour weeks, ignoring my family and friends. I could have given in to unfettered ambition, rolling over anyone who got in my way.

98 responses so far

U Maryland faculty want to decrease postdoc benefits to stay competitive

Apr 08 2015 Published by under Careerism, Postdoctoral Training

from Andrew Dunn, staffwriter at The Diamondback:


A group of life sciences professors and administrative chairs appeared before the Faculty Affairs Committee yesterday to discuss adding a second title for postdoctoral students and professionals in temporary positions. The only employee title currently available for postdoctoral students at this university is “postdoctorate research assistant,” which classifies all postdoctoral students as non-tenure-track faculty.

huh, that actually sounds pretty good. What's the problem?

The life sciences programs collected research on postdoctoral students from the other Big Ten schools and found that out of the 13 other schools in the conference, eight offer health benefits and two offer retirement benefits. The only other schools to offer retirement benefits are Northwestern University and Indiana University, which both have significantly higher funding for life sciences.

Jonathan Dinman, professor and cell biology and molecular genetics department chairman, said the current academic environment requires this new title for postdoctoral students for this university to stay competitive and on track with fellow Big Ten schools.

Ahh yes. The cry of every labor exploiter since forever. "We must screw the humblest, least-paid workers to stay competitive"!!!

37 responses so far

Grants won vs grants awarded on your CV

Mar 26 2015 Published by under Careerism

Sometimes you have to turn down something that you sought competitively.

Undergrad or graduate school admission offers. Job offers. Fellowships.

Occasionally, research support grants.

Do you list these things on your CV? I can see the temptation.

If you view your CV as being about competitive accolades. But we don't do that. In academics your CV is a record of what you have done. Which undergraduate University conferred a degree upon you. Which place granted your doctorate. Who was silly enough to hire you for a real job.

We don't list undergrad or grad school bids or the places that we turned down for a job offer.

So don't list grants you didn't take either.

83 responses so far

Another puff-piece on supposed "indie science"

Mar 10 2015 Published by under Careerism, CrowdFund

Science Careers has returned to the Perlstein situation in a recent bit by Rachel Bernstein titled "Into the wild". They lead with "indie science" which as it turns out is a bit misleading.

The bit has nothing to do with indie science save as a sort of testimonial that indie science is a bankrupt, unworkable idea, just as I have always suggested.

Today, Perlstein is the CEO of Perlstein Lab—PLab for short—a for-profit, pubic (sic) benefit corporation he founded in 2014 that is housed in a biotech incubator in San Francisco, California.

All his research and discussions led him to decide that he should take on the more traditional role of biotech startup founder, but he hasn’t given up on “indie” science.

He brainstormed with his brother, a legal entrepreneur who became a PLab cofounder. He supported himself by consulting for a startup developing a science-crowdfunding platform, and he lived off savings he had been able to put aside during his postdoc.

As he was working to identify a profitable research direction, his thoughts “all crystallized around rare diseases.” This research area seemed to be a sweet spot where he could do intellectually exciting science that would appeal to investors as well.

Investors seem to agree that it’s a worthwhile approach: In 2014, he raised $2.2 million.

GREAT! So happy a scientist is able to pursue an entrepreneurial direction and can get investors to fund him to do it. Very happy for Ethan on this front.

Also happy to see the Science Careers update us on their previous love fest for the idea of crowd-funded indie science, although they could have pointed out more explicitly how wrong they were about this being remotely viable.

UPDATE: HAHHAHAHAHAHA, Perlstein misses the point. Per usual.

I love startups. Said so at the end of this very post that I hope he succeeds, as it happens. What I "ridicule" is the notion that crowd funded or "indie" science can work or be any sort of replacement for major public investment.

42 responses so far

Paranoid Collaborators

Mar 10 2015 Published by under Careerism

Something on the Twitts drew my eye.

We all exist, as scientists, in different mindsets when it comes to sharing our ideas and our various works-in-progress.

Some of this is a reflection of external reality. Scooping (i.e., someone else publishing a given finding before your lab can do so) is a real issue for some people. It affects their career advances and ability to win grants to sustain those careers. For other people, scooping matters less. It may be that one works in a field that is sparsely populated or with models that very few, if any, other labs can deploy. It may be that a research project that is beat to the punch is still publishable in a journal of about the same stature as it would have been published without the "scoop" from another lab. etc.

Some of this is a reflection of unwarranted internal paranoia on the part of the individual scientist.

Good luck changing that with logic and facts.

My suggestion for dealing with collaborators is to try to get a feel for their level of paranoia about this sort of thing in advance. For the worst ones, it doesn't take much inquiry to figure this out. Then, you have choices.

You can simply not work with this person (again). This is perfectly valid. Life is short, etc.

If you do choose to work with them, do so with your head up. Expect them to behave in a paranoid fashion and be unwilling for you to present preliminary work at meetings, to be unwilling to share ideas with other people and to be generally secretive (even within your collaboration).

Don't take it personally. Get what you need from them without being sucked into their vortex of paranoia.

This will make your dealings with them much less annoying.

13 responses so far

Is your NIH PO a little....grouchy?

Feb 27 2015 Published by under Ask DrugMonkey, Careerism

Another one, paraphrased from multiple correspondents:

Dear DM: 
is it just me or are all the POs getting increasingly grouchy and unhelpful?

A. Reader

I am not certain, since I hardly have a representative sample. But I'd say no, this is probably just a bad run for you.

When encouraging you to interact with your Program Officer(s) I tend to emphasize the useful interactions that I have experienced. Consequently I may fail to convey that most of the time they are going to be unhelpful and even discouraging.

Try to see it from their position. They hear from dozens of us, all complaining about some dirty review deed that was done to our application and looking for help. Round after round, after round.

They cannot help everyone.

So take it in stride, as best you can, when you get a seemingly dismissive response. This same PO may become your best advocate on the next one*.

__
*and then treat you like effluvium again after that. It's happpened to me, I can tell you.

36 responses so far

NIH clumsily tries to .. [something] ... for grant reviewers

Feb 20 2015 Published by under Careerism, NIH, NIH Careerism

I noticed a funny one in the NIH Guide notices today.

NOT-OD-15-035 Reinforcing Service to the Biomedical Research Community

Yes, yes. I see. "Reinforcement" of a behavior like "Service to the Biomedical Research Community" means increasing the strength or probability of the behavior. So yes, that's good. What are they trying to do here?


Purpose
This Notice gratefully acknowledges, and seeks to reinforce, service to the biomedical research community by recipients of National Institutes of Health (NIH) research funding (see NOT-OD-10-089). Obtaining input from qualified experts across the entire spectrum of the extramural research enterprise furthers diversity of scientific thought, inclusiveness, and breadth of perspectives necessary to evaluate applications in a review process that strives for integrity and fairness. The interdisciplinary, collaborative, and global nature of biomedical research today requires increasingly complex review panels that need both broad and specific expertise in countless topic areas. Thus, the NIH, the biomedical research community, and the general public benefit from the service of NIH-funded investigators and maximize the Nation's investment in biomedical research.

Yes, yes. Very nice. but what are they actually doing to reinforce the behavior?


Policy
The NIH expects principal investigators of NIH supported grants and contracts to serve on NIH peer review groups, when asked. Therefore, the NIH expects grantee institutions and R&D contract recipients to encourage their NIH-funded investigators to serve on NIH peer review and advisory groups. These groups include Scientific Review Groups (or “study sections”) in the initial peer review of grant applications and technical evaluation of R&D contract proposals, National Advisory Boards or Councils (NACs) for second-level peer review, NIH Boards of Scientific Counselors (BSCs) for intramural programs, and Program Advisory Committees (PACs) for initiative development and concept review.

emphasis added.

Okay, so any University with a pulse is already encouraging their PIs to serve on study section. Right? They know about how this will help their bottom IDC line, yes? And if they are discouraging any subset of investigators from serving I imagine it is the Assistant Professors...who the NIH / CSR isn't looking to recruit anyway.

Hmm.

I have a suggestion. Two actually. The first one is hey, if you want to reinforce a behavior, why don't you use the delivery of a rewarding stimulus? I mean sure, you give us reviewers a delay in the submission deadlines, that's cool and all. But obviously the NIH thinks they need something more. How about protection from budget reductions? A couple of extra percentile points on newly competing awards?

No?

Okay, that costs you money, I realize. How about something very cheap with some motivational value? Journals often publish a list of their reviewers at the end of the calendar year and thank them for their service. It's nice. But the NIH can do this one better. Set up a website with a list of reviewers and the number of grants they've been assigned to review. Maybe do it by year too and provide permalinks.

Trust me, academics will eat this up. They will check out how many reviews their buddies are/are not doing and give them a little hell for not matching up around the conference coffee table. They will start linking to their entry from their websites and bragging about it in their P&T documentation.

I wonder. Really, NIH. Do you have anyone making policy that understands people even the tiniest little bit? I am about the opposite of a people person and it took me like two tweets to think of this.

31 responses so far

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