Archive for the 'Careerism' category

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?

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?

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.


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?


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

Should a Newb PI Go Big or Run Long?

Jan 28 2015 Published by under Careerism

The latest version of the query was on the Twotts:

My advice, of course, is to do both of these things. Start up a new line of attack right away as well as do a good job with the line of work that your R00 is for, with the thought of converting that into an R01 project later.


Before anyone gets to that they need to sit themselves down for a little pondering.

This advice that I give (go big right from the start) has to be modulated by two critical factors. What kind of scientist you want to be and what kind of scientist you are expected to be.

So, first question that you need to ask yourself is what you see as your ideal lab operation both right now (next 2 yrs) and into the future (say, year 10). What do you prefer? What is going to make you happy both scientifically and mental-health wise? How much can you handle? How much can you handle five years from now (because, dear n00b PI, what seems overwhelming in year 2 is much easier in year 4 or 8)?

This has to be your starting point. If you can't see your way to a sustainable, desired future operation of your little cottage industry of science......well you aren't going to be happy. What do you want to do? This is critical for deciding how to go about attaining your goal and for deciding what strategy to pursue right now.

The second question has to do with what you are supposed to be doing given your job category, University type, subfield, etc. Are you expected to be a two-grant lab? Are the sorts of production rates that are expected of you only possible with more support than one R00 can provide? Look around you. What are your peers in your Department, in your School of X and in your subfield doing?

Do you have a huge teaching burden? Do you get a lot of free undergraduate labor for your sciencing or do you need to be able to hire technicians and postdocs?

There was a followup...

Which implies that local advice was to focus on the one project, then ask for more money later.

Danger, Will Robinson.

This could be the answer to the local expectations question. Could be. But it could also be the voice of long outdated, or generationally privileged, experiences talking.

Older colleagues may think you young pups are in the same era that they enjoyed. An era when the expectations of renewing a funded project (that was reasonably productive) were very high. Those expectations are not high anymore. It is career suicide, imnsho, to assume that you can submit a new application in the final year of your current single-grant support and get refunded immediately. Suicide, that is, assuming that you are in a place which demands essentially continual funding. Now, of course, if all the people around you have gaps in funding all the time, and it never seems to perturb tenure chances, then this changes the equation for your individual situation.

R00-holders, and those who have managed to acquire major funding in the first 1-2 years, face another strategic consideration. A little bit ago, someone was proposing a "twins" strategy of simultaneous submission so as to game the ESI designation. It's worth a read. There is another consideration for the first couple of years of appointment. The study section sympathy for lack of independent productivity (read, papers) from your own lab diminishes quickly with time. In year 1-2, the sane reviewers are not going to expect that you have generated substantial amounts of data or published papers "from your new lab" yet. They will review you accordingly. Once you start into year 4? Well, you will be hard pressed to find any reviewers being sympathetic. So this gives you a sort of grace period to send up grant proposals with very minimal supporting data and without a Biosketch filled with your senior-author pubs.

So, as always, you need to do your career research and some hard introspecting about your plans. Nobody can hand you the answer. You need to collect relevant evidence, determine what is the best path forward for you given your situation and select the best course of action.

Kind of like doing the science itself.

27 responses so far

Ideal Primary Data:Review Article Ratio

Jan 26 2015 Published by under Careerism, Science Publication

Odyssey is pondering review articles today. That led to a question from Dr. Becca about the ideal ratio of reviews and primary research articles.

I am not a fan of authors publishing essentially the same review in multiple journals. Nor am I a fan of the incrementally updated review published every year or two. And I am really not fond of burgeoning subfields where everyone spits out a me-too review which then outnumber the primary research articles!

So, my views on this question are likely more negative than average.

19 responses so far


Occasionally you notice one of your colleagues pulling off something you hope for within your own group.

When your manuscript gets rejected from one journal you would typically submit it to an approximately equal* journal next, hoping to get a more favorable mix of AE and reviewers.

If you've worked up more data that could conceivable fit with the rejected set, maybe you would submit upward, trying a journal with a better reputation.

What is slightly less-usual is taking the same manuscript, essentially unrevised and submitting it to a journal of better reputation or JIF or whathave you.

Getting that self-same manuscript accepted, essentially unchanged, is a big win.

Chapaeau, my friends.

*You do this, right?

13 responses so far

"Well, I don't know if I believe anyone is 100% a dick..."

Jan 13 2015 Published by under #FWDAOTI, Careerism

I rescued a comment from the spam filter which addressed an older post on Scott Kern. As a reminder he's the researcher that published a long commentary wondering why kids these days weren't devoting insane hours in the lab anymore. He intimated that if you weren't spending your every working minute trying to cure childhood cancers you were a bit of a heel.

I disagreed.

But, in the spirit of Rhomann Dey I think it is important that you review the comment offered up by Jessa:

I spent years training with Scott in his pancreatic cancer lab at Hopkins. He was an incredible mentor and a natural ability to see things from odd angles that the rest of us overlooked.

Sure, sure. I'm willing to believe a dude comes across in a random, one-off frustrated rant as a bit more of a jerk than he really is to those who know him.

But, more than any other feature of my time with Scott, one thing stood above all. He is a fantastic Dad. He was OUT of there at 5:30pm. Granted his day started at 4am (I remember that he always joked that he woke up at 4am, once the coffee from 3am kicked in). He was at the dinner table every night, he made it a priority.

With such a great example and mentoring from such a swell guy, one might wonder why this person is no longer in science?

I have since left science in favor of being a stay at home mom. One thing I noticed while I was training is that the women mentors in the field were not home tucking in their babies. I distinctly remember standing on the dark sidewalk looking up at a bright lab window and seeing a woman faculty member in the lab. I thought "what are her little girls doing right now" I thought--I can't be like that.

Interesting. Look, I'm not going to question the way people choose to organize their lives and if 100% every night at home tucking in the tykes was the priority for this commenter, so be it. But she knows jack squatte from looking in a window at one faculty member. Maybe this person had a sharing arrangement with her spouse and on the next night would be home doing the tucking. Maybe this was a rare crunch week before a grant was due, a paper re-submit was coming together or she had a high profile talk to prepare for. Maybe tenure was fast approaching. Point being that many modern two-professional (yes even two-academic) parenting couples make a more balanced approach work. A more shared approach. Where both parties do some of the dinner making, some of the getting the kids out the door to school, some of the soccer practices and, yes, some of the reading of Goodnight Moon, and other classics.

This is a convenient time to review my observation from the original post on St. K3rn.

This sums up all that is wrong with these jerks (Kern is not alone in this "kids these days should spend more time in the lab" nonsense). Their obsessive vocational approach to science was made possible in many cases by a spouse who picked up the pieces for them at home. In sadly too many more cases, Obsessive Vocational Scientist Man operated at the expense of children who had a Dad who was never around, couldn't make the weekend soccer game, was constantly out of town on business and had to hide out in his study when he did manage to stay at home for a few hours.

The younger generations have chosen a different path. Deal, old grumpy dude. Deal.

Out of the house by 4am? And he managed to make it "at the dinner table" at 5:30?

Sorry but this evidence rather supports my presumption that Saint Kern has a stay-at-home spouse, or at least a spouse that picks up the vast majority of the workaday duties.

And his blathering about obsessive vocational behavior is rooted in the fact that he's bailing on so much of ACTUAL life. Screw that.

p.s., Male scientists want to be involved dads, but few are

Sarah Damaske, Elaine Howard Ecklund, Anne E. Lincoln and Virginia J. White Male Scientists’ Competing Devotions to Work and Family: Changing Norms in a Male-Dominated Profession, 2014, Work and Occupations, doi: 10.1177/0730888414539171

22 responses so far

The new normal

Jan 05 2015 Published by under Careerism, NIH, NIH Careerism

An interesting comment from Anonymous :

A friend of mine is getting his PhD this year. His mentor was awarded tenure last year. She had an RO1 and an R21 and enough pubs, reputation, etc., so that she was a "slam dunk," according to some of her colleagues in the field, at least. When my friend joined her lab, she had 7 students -- a mix of masters and doctoral students. When he graduates this year, there will be only 1 doctoral student left in the lab. His mentor hasn't succeeded in getting more grants, so I guess she hasn't hired anyone else because of that?

What I'm wondering is this: given the current climate, is this normal? Or is she really in trouble? Has she done it wrong? I always assumed that by the time you got tenure, your lab would be humming along.


I think this is pretty normal these days:

We are in an era of boom and bust instability when it comes to NIH funding. It is the very rare flower indeed, in my estimation, that will be completely free of the cycle in the coming decade or two.

As always, my view is quite possibly colored by my experiences. But I have seen the boom and bust cycle play out across a large number of labs. Some of my close acquaintance. Some labs that I know only through the grant review process. Some labs that happen to make it to the scuttlebutt news channel for some reason or other.

It usually plays out like this. "Yeah, Dr. So-and-so is really well funded.....what? What do you mean they are on the ropes? [checks RePORTER] in the hell did THAT happen". ....Two years later "Oh phew, glad to see So-and-so got another grant. ....what? TWO grants? and an R21? how in the hell did THAT happen?"...


Normal, but the PI is still in trouble. How could she not be? Has she done it wrong? Probably not. Most likely she's just experiencing the variance of grant fortune as it currently exists.

This part is painful though: " I always assumed that by the time you got tenure, your lab would be humming along."

Yeah, so did we. Because when people of my approximate scientific generation were coming up through postdoc we saw the generation of Assistant Professors just above us struggling. But then as we were finishing postdocs and starting our own Assistant Professor stints, we saw the next-older generation transition to a cruise mode. A time where they got their renewals without too much hassle*. They got their second or even third grants and maybe a few got an R37 extension. This made the struggles we went through as newbie applicants to the NIH a bit easier to stomach. Hazing ritual. Sure, we can stand this, and then we'll REALLY get stuff cranking in the lab later.

Instead the budget went stagnant just as we were reaching that stage of our careers. And then the powers that be went and invented the ESI boost to give affirmative action to those juuuuuust behind us.

So....we ride the roller coaster. And as things keep going in the wrong direction with NIH funding, more and more of us from all scientific cohorts/generations will experience the thrill.


*Yes, I realize it is all relative. I certainly had it easier than the kids these days. And the next-older generation did plenty of complaining about how hard they had it compared to the really established folks.

70 responses so far

Tenure qualifications

Jan 04 2015 Published by under Careerism, Tenure

From this OSU document:

Publication expectations*.

25-50 in journals with average impact factors of 3-6 or an H-index of 22 or above. As a general guideline 25 or more peer reviewed publications since appointment as an assistant professor at OSU.

I can see how some people in roughly my fields of interest could hit this. It is not, however, a default expectation that everyone deserving of tenure could clear this bar. Twenty five papers in six years is a lot. JIF 3-6 journals do not just hand out acceptance like tic tacs, no matter what the GlamourHounda might assume.


PI or multiple-PD/PI on 1 funded R01 (or equivalent) that has been renewed or the combination of a current or prior R01 plus either a) a second R01 or b) an additional funded national grant; or c) patents generating licensing income.

R01 acquired and renewed in first 6 years? Maybe for the exceptionally fortunate Assistant Professors but even in my day that wasn't assured. By a long shot. Two concurrent R01s is more reasonable but still is quite a feat. Rockey published data showing that 1-2 R01s is a solid plurality of all R01-holding PIs, right? So this is the entry qualification for tenure? I don't see that as at all reasonable.

I do agree that hitting the 25+ papers measure would almost require multiple R01 levels of funding. So that part lines up.

I wonder how many of their faculty really measure up to this standard at tenure time.

Speaks to the sad reality that our profession has a general stance of "never enough". You are rarely allowed to meet expectations because they are set at some absurd aspirational level that only the top few meet (if that). Then most people are reluctantly passed as some sort of exception to the rule. As everyone tells them to redouble their efforts for the next review stage.

I don't like this part of our profession.


*naturally the narrative above the summary table is filled with the usual weasel wordage about adjusting for subfield expectations, etc. And about how these quantitative measures are not a guarantee nor a non-negotiable hard limit. Nevertheless, they chose to summarize with a *very* high bar.

52 responses so far

What to do about a sociopath "mentor"

Jan 02 2015 Published by under Careerism, Postdoctoral Training

By Comrade PhysioProf

22 responses so far

Happy New Year

Jan 01 2015 Published by under Careerism, Day in the life of DrugMonkey

Here's to wishing all of my Readers a fantastic 2015.

May your grants be funded, your papers accepted and your promotions obtained.

I am looking forward to a year in which my work needle is shifted from the grant writing side to the paper publishing side...I do appreciate those moments.

We had a bit of new assay development last year that should, in theory, move into the productivity stage. I don't know what all we will get done but it will be interesting. To me, if nobody else (and that's what matters, right?).

There are two non-data things I need to finally write this year. One is a review, the other is a something-else I've been trying to write for several years now.

I need to recruit at least one postdoc....

It is NOT, despite temptation, a year to get involved in University political machinations. I know better and must resist.

I contemplate, as always, the deficiencies of the NIH grant scheme and think about the places I need to poke. If Sally Rockey is really leaving then this is a place to turn up the blog noise when her successor arrives. My IRL moves are, naturally, directed much closer to the ground game.

Exercise more, drink less (coffee and alcohol). I am in generous company there, I suspect.

Plot the next assault on a Big Mech. I am of mixed opinion as you know, Dear Reader. Naturally I am wary of boondoggles. They can be highly inefficient and are a huge pain in the butt for the main people driving the program. However, this is one area that arises from a crystal clear strategic need and a misfit with traditional R01s.

Actually there are two of them I need to pursue. One really needs to be done so that the little subfield stops screwing around continuing to fail upwards in tiny increments. The biggest hurdle here is actually of the personnel / political variety...and I suck at navigating those. I am not sympathetic to egos when NIH grants are on the line and I have no idea how to communicate with the egotistical type. The second project is much easier from the personnel standpoint because it can move forward with the good-personality people as the major players and YHN as the major figure. For this one the hurdle is clearly the science, meaning Program and peer-review enthusiasm.

I take two really vacationy vacations each year. The kind where I don't even try to work and where we have a ton of help wrangling the offspring. You know the type. I have to figure out how to expand those by about 50%.

15 responses so far

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