Archive for the 'Uncategorized' category

Repost: On submitting a grant application from a University you plan to leave

Aug 11 2015 Published by under Uncategorized

This entry was originally posted 2/9/2011.

  • A bit of confusion has arisen on the Twitts over who can serve as the PI of a grant application submitted to the NIH, who "owns" the award and what the implications are for moving the award to another University.

    For a highly related topic I recommend you re-read my old post Routes to Independence: Beyond Ye Olde Skool Tenure Track Assistant Professorships (original).

    To distill it to a few simple points for the current discussion:

    • The University (or Research Institution, company, etc) submits the grant to the NIH and receives the award from the NIH.
    • Anyone who the submitting institution deems to be a PI can serve as the PI. Job title or status is immaterial as far as the NIH is concerned.
    • Postdocs, Research Scientists, Staff Scientists, etc can be the listed PI on most broad NIH mechanisms (there may be the occasional special case like MD-required or something).
    • The submitting institutions, for the most part, permit anyone of tenure track professorial appointment to prepare NIH grants for them to submit but it gets highly variable (across institutions, across their respective non-professorial and/or non tenure track...and across time) after that.
    • The question of how study sections view applications submitted by those of other than tenure track professorial rank is a whole 'nother question, but you would be making a mistake to think there are hard and fast exclusive principles.

    The second issue has to do with moving the award to another institution, given that a PI on an NIH award decides to go somewhere else. Although technically the University owns the award, in the vast majority of cases that institution will relinquish the award and permit it to travel with the PI. Likewise, in the vast majority of cases, the NIH will permit the move. In all cases I am aware of this move will occur at the anniversary of funding. That is because the award is in yearly increments (maximum of 5 unless you win a PECASE or MERIT extension* of the non-competing interval). Each progress report you submit? That's the "application" for the next year of funding. Noncompeting application, of course, because it does not go back to study section for review. At any rate it makes it less painful for all concerned to do the accounting if the move is at the anniversary.


    Point being that if you are a postdoc or non tenure track scientist who wants to write and submit a grant, you need to start snooping around your local University about their policies. Sometimes they will only let you put in a R21 or R03 or some other nonrenewable mechanism. Sometimes they'll let you throw down the R01. Just depends. Most of the time it will require a letter of exception to be generated within the University- Chair or Dean level stuff. Which requires the approval of your current lab head or supervisor, generally. You need to start talking to all these people.

    Since these types of deals are frequently case-by-case and the rules are unwritten, don't assume that everyone (i.e., your PI) knows about them. Snoop around on RePORTER for awards to your institution and see if anyone with non-TT professorial appointment has ever received an award from the NIH. Follow up on that rumour that Research Scientist Lee once had an award.

    If you are really eager, be prepared to push the envelope and ask the Chair/Dean type person "Well why not? University of State1 and State University2 and IvyUni3 and Research Institute4 all permit it, why can't we?". This may require doing some background surveying of your best buddies spread around the country/world.

    Final point:
    Obviously I wouldn't be bringing up these theoretical possibilities if I hadn't seen it work, and with some frequency. As a reviewer on a study section I saw several applications come through from people who had the title of something below tenure track assistant professor. Instructor, Research Scientist and yes, even Postdoc. I myself submitted at least two R01 applications prior to being able to include the word "Professor" on my Biosketch. I have many peers that were in a similar circumstance at their early stage of grant writing/submitting and, yes, winning.

    No, you will not be treated just like an Assistant Professor by the study sections. You will be beat up for Independence issues and with doubts about whether this is just the BigCheeze trying to evade perceptions of overfunding. You will have "helpful" reviewers busting on your appointment as evidence of a lack of institutional commitment that the reviewer really thinks will get the Dean or Chair to cough up a better title**.

    In all of this however there is a chance. A chance that you will receive an award. This would have very good implications for your transition. (Assuming, of course, that you manage to get the grant written and submitted without too big of a hit to your scientific productivity, never forget that part.) And even if you do not manage to obtain a fundable score, I argue that you get valuable experience. In preparing and submitting a half-decent proposal. In getting some degree of study section feedback. In taking a shot across the bow of the study section that you have ideas and you plan to have them review them in the coming few years. In getting the PO familiar with your name. In wrangling local bureaucracy.

    All of this without your own tenure clock running.
    *there may be other extensions I am unaware of.

    **One of the first questions I asked an experienced reviewer about after joining a study section. Sigh.

  • 20 responses so far

    Repost: Peer Review- Advocates and Detractors Redux

    Aug 10 2015 Published by under Uncategorized

    This post originally went up on the blog 20 Aug 2014.

    A comment on a recent post from Grumble is a bit of key advice for those seeking funding from the NIH.

    It's probably impossible to eliminate all Stock Critique bait from an application. But you need to come close, because if you don't, even a reviewer who likes everything else about your application is going to say to herself, "there's no way I can defend this in front of the committee because the other reviewers are going to bring up all these annoying flaws." So she won't even bother trying. She'll hold her fire and go all out to promote/defend the one application that hits on most cylinders and proposes something she's really excited about.

    This is something that I present as an "advocates and detractors" heuristic to improving your grant writing, surely, but it applies to paper writing/revising and general career management as well. I first posted comments on Peer Review: Friends and Enemies in 2007 and reposted in 2009.

    The heuristic is this. In situations of scientific evaluation, whether this be manuscript peer-review, grant application review, job application or the tenure decision, one is going to have a set of advocates in favor of one's case and detractors who are against. The usual caveats apply to such a strict polarization. Sometimes you will have no advocates, in which case you are sunk anyway so that case isn't worth discussing. The same reviewer can simultaneously express pro and con views but as we'll discuss this is just a special case.

    The next bit in my original phrasing is what Grumble is getting at in the referenced comment.

    Give your advocates what they need to go to bat for you.

    This is the biggie. In all things you have to give the advocate something to work with. It does not have to be overwhelming evidence, just something. Let's face it, how many times are you really in position in science to overwhelm objections with the stupendous power of your argument and data to the point where the most confirmed critic cries "Uncle". Right. Never happens.

    The point here is that you need not put together a perfect grant, nor need you "wait" until you have X, Y or Z bit of Preliminary Data lined up. You just have to come up with something that your advocates can work with. As Grumble was pointing out, if you give your advocate a grant filled with StockCritique bait then this advocate realizes it is a sunk cause and abandons it. Why fight with both hands and legs trussed up like a Thanksgiving turkey?

    Let's take some stock critiques as examples.

    "Productivity". The goal here is not to somehow rush 8 first author papers into press. Not at all. Just give them one or two more papers, that's enough. Sometimes reiterating the difficulty of the model or the longitudinal nature of the study might be enough.

    "Independence of untried PI with NonTenureTrackSoundin' title". Yes, you are still in the BigPIs lab, nothing to be done about that. But emphasize your role in supervising whole projects, running aspects of the program, etc. It doesn't have to be meticulously documented, just state it and show some sort of evidence. Like your string of first and second authorships on the papers from that part of the program.

    "Not hypothesis driven". Sure, well sometimes we propose methodological experiments, sometimes the outcome is truly a matter of empirical description and sometimes the results will be useful no matter how it comes out so why bother with some bogus bet on a hypothesis? Because if you state one, this stock critique is de-fanged, it is much easier to argue the merits of a given hypothesis than it is the merits of the lack of a hypothesis.

    Instead of railing against the dark of StockCriticism, light a tiny candle. I know. As a struggling newb it is really hard to trust the more-senior colleagues who insist that their experiences on various study sections has shown that reviewers often do go to bat for untried investigators. But....they do. Trust me.

    There's a closely related reason to brush up your application to avoid as many obvious pitfalls as possible. Because it takes ammunition away from your detractors, which makes the advocates job easier.

    Deny your detractors grist for their mill.

    Should be simple, but isn't. Particularly when the critique is basically a reviewer trying to tell you to conduct the science the way s/he would if they were the PI. (An all to common and inappropriate approach in my view) If someone wants you to cut something minor out, for no apparent reason (like say the marginal cost of doing that particular experiment is low), just do it. Add that extra control condition. Respond to all of their critiques with something, even if it is not exactly what the reviewer is suggesting; again your ultimate audience is the advocate, not the detractor. Don't ignore anything major. This way, they can't say you "didn't respond to critique". They may not like the quality of the response you provide, but arguing about this is tougher in the face of your advocating reviewer.

    This may actually be closest to the core of what Grumble was commenting on.

    I made some other comments about the fact that a detractor can be converted to an advocate in the original post. The broader point is that an entire study section can be gradually converted. No joke that with enough applications from you, you can often turn the tide. Either because you have argued enough of them (different reviewers might be assigned over time to your many applications) into seeing science your way or because they just think you should be funded for something already. It happens. There is a "getting to know you" factor that comes into play. Guess what? The more credible apps you send to a study section, the more they get to know you.

    Ok, there is a final bit for those of you who aren't even faculty yet. Yes, you. Things you do as a graduate student or as a postdoc will come in handy, or hurt you, when it comes time to apply for grants as faculty. This is why I say everyone needs to start thinking about the grant process early. This is why I say you need to start talking with NIH Program staff as a grad student or postdoc.

    Plan ahead

    Although the examples I use are from the grant review process, the application to paper review and job hunts are obvious with a little thought. This brings me to the use of this heuristic in advance to shape your choices.

    Postdocs, for example, often feel they don't have to think about grant writing because they aren't allowed to at present, may never get that job and if they do they can deal with it later. This is an error. The advocate/detractor heuristic suggests that postdocs make choices to expend some effort in broad range of areas. It suggests that it is a bad idea to gamble on the BIG PAPER approach if this means that you are not going to publish anything else. An advocate on a job search committee can work much more easily with the dearth of Science papers than s/he can a dearth of any pubs whatsoever!

    The heuristic suggests that going to the effort of teaching just one or two courses can pay off- you never know if you'll be seeking a primarily-teaching job after all. Nor when "some evidence of teaching ability" will be the difference between you and the next applicant for a job. Take on that series of time-depleting undergraduate interns in the lab so that you can later describe your supervisory roles in the laboratory.

    This latter bit falls under the general category of managing your CV and what it will look like for future purposes.

    Despite what we would like to be the case, despite what should be the case, despite what is still the case in some cozy corners of a biomedical science career....let us face some facts.

    • The essential currency for determining your worth and status as a scientist is your list of published, peer reviewed contributions to the scientific literature.
    • The argument over your qualities between advocates and detractors in your job search, promotions, grant review, etc is going to boil down to pseudo quantification of your CV at some point
    • Quantification means analyzing your first author / senior author /contributing author pub numbers. Determining the impact factor of the journals in which you publish. Examining the consistency of your output and looking for (bad) trends. Viewing the citation numbers for your papers.
    • You can argue to some extent for extenuating circumstances, the difficulty of the model, the bad PI, etc but it comes down to this: Nobody Cares.

    My suggestion is, if you expect to have a career you had better have a good idea of what the standards are. So do the research. Do compare your CV with those of other scientists. What are the minimum criteria for getting a job / grant / promotion / tenure in your area? What are you going to do about it? What can you do about it?

    This echos something Odyssey said on the Twitts today:


    are true for your subfield stage as well as your University stage of performance.

    5 responses so far

    On independent scholarship

    Jul 13 2015 Published by under Uncategorized

    There was a comment on a prior post suggesting that when postdocs are funded by a RPG, this prevents them from engaging in independent scholarship.


    When I was a postdoc, regardless of source of my salary (variously grants, TG and individual fellowship), I was certainly constrained by the grants funding the lab. But I felt it was up to me to add value. To leverage my own interests to pursue extras and add-one that the lab head perhaps had not thought about as a strong interest. And whaddaya know, this direction turned into a funded R01. And eventually into publications.

    I have always felt that my independent scholarship, such as it was, was at liberty to develop just so long as it was within the broad scope of contributing to the RPG.

    Does true "independent scholarship" require something that does not contribute in any way to the goals of the grants funding the lab?

    30 responses so far

    Grant review via web forum

    Jul 07 2015 Published by under Uncategorized

    Does anyone actually like ANY part of reviewing grants via one of those threaded web forum things?

    I hate them and I really resent the thought that my precious applications are subjected to this fiasco. 


    One additional twist to consider. In my most recent few experiences with this as a reviewer, I have noticed that the per-reviewer grant load is low. As in 2-3 apps compared with 8-10 for a regular face to face meeting. I suppose when the costs for adding more reviewers are low (honorarium versus honorarium plus travel, plus housing), the SRO figures that bringing in more focused expertise per-application is a plus.

    This comes at the cost of score calibration, in my estimation.

    22 responses so far

    Good problems

    Jun 19 2015 Published by under Uncategorized

    5 responses so far


    May 27 2015 Published by under Uncategorized

    Can someone explain why the U.S. is wasting a single penny going after corruption in futbol? Nobody gives a fig about soccer in this country. Let the UK or Germans or someone go after these people.

    Meanwhile, we should be prosecuting the financial and banking greedholes who crashed the world economy.

    23 responses so far

    Responses to the NIH RFI on the Emeritus award proposal

    May 07 2015 Published by under Uncategorized

    Datahound posted the comments he received on Google docs. Go read.

    Comment over on DataHound.

    No responses yet

    More on citation scofflaws

    May 07 2015 Published by under Uncategorized


    What if you have a habitual offender in your field?

    Someone who simply refuses to cite and discuss relevant literature from ten different labs. It isn't personal animus against a single lab at this point. 

    Do you take it out on them in your own papers? Reviews? Or just keep giving them harsh reviews? Do you talk to their occasional co-authors that you know well off the record? 

    7 responses so far

    This is who is leading the fight for your future in science

    Mar 27 2015 Published by under Uncategorized

    Tweep @MHendr1cks is killing it. The latest.

    The PI R01 age distribution looks like the 2010 one from this PPT file.

    The "Jedi Council" is, I believe, the ages of the participants in a 2 day workshop convened by Alberts, Kirschner, Tilghman and Varmus as detailed here (see Acknowledgements).

    To make this even more interesting, we can look at the 1980-2013 distributional overlay slide.

    In 1980 the 35-40 year old PI demographic was the immediate pre-Boomer generation but oh, just wait. Stepping forward to 1986 we see...

    another little bump. 1986 minus 40 equals the post-WWII definitinal start of the Boomers. These slides illustrate why strict generational definitions are only roughly no need to get too fussed about those precise age ranges. Suffice it to say if you were born between about 1940 and 1953 you were in the awesomely lucky zone. Look at how the shoulder in the distribution at age 35 drops off right around 1988-1990 in the slide deck.

    61 responses so far

    Question of the Day

    Mar 22 2015 Published by under Uncategorized

    Who ARE these people who imagine only one person thought up some good idea in bioscience?

    It's about execution not some random thought you happened to express in passing.

    19 responses so far

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