On showing the lab your grant proposals

Jul 02 2013 Published by under Ask DrugMonkey, Careerism, Mentoring

I think I've done a post on this before but it arose again on the Twitts today.

As a lab head, I give all the trainees access to our funded grant proposals..and often the applications I am working on. I would certainly give them to someone in my lab upon request if I had forgotten to email something to them (or not bothered in the case of our current firehose of applications).

I am at a considerable loss to imagine why any lab head would have a problem doing this.

Does anyone have any new insight on why a PI would not make the funded grant proposals available? Doesn't everyone in the lab need to have at least some understanding of what is supposed to be accomplished?

Now, benign neglect, I can sort of understand. Not all the PIs out there understand how important it is to get the trainees thinking about the grant cycle as early as possible. Opinions vary on that. Some would rather trainees not be "distracted". I get that...but I think it outmoded.

But outright refusal to hand the grant over if asked? That is odd....almost to the point of suspecting shenanigans.

34 responses so far

  • Dr Becca says:

    That is very strange. However, one thing I noticed as a trainee was that I was always given a hard copy of grants to read, not a pdf. I can see wanting to slow the possibility of even unintended dissemination, but not to share at all is just weird.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Yeah I can see not wanting it shared around endlessly...

    You think some PIs are embarrassed to have anyone see the grant?

  • DrIgg says:

    This just doesn't make any frigging sense. I want students to know exactly where we are going in the next few years. I come just short of passing mine out on street corners.

  • meshugena313 says:

    I have a folder on our lab server where I put all of our submitted proposals. I've definitely had my lab members comment on grants while I'm writing them.

  • Anon says:

    I always ask for feedback on my grants in preparation - I've had several students and postdocs who could provide meaningful insights and really help strengthen the proposal.

    This is just conjecture, but I wonder if some people who refuse to share have stretched/fudged the data a bit and don't want the students to recognize that?

  • CD0 says:

    Few people are more critical and understand better the draft of my proposals than the people in my lab. They are always my first filter, and usually they provide the most helpful critique.
    And of course I do not understand why anybody would not share the approved (funded) research plan with the people who have to implement it...but I see that happening at some places where paranoia is the rule.

  • Green Fluorescent Postdoc says:

    "You think some PIs are embarrassed to have anyone see the grant?"

    This is usually my PI.

    Even when he asks for help with a grant, he will only provide us with the specific pages containing the bulk of our respective contributions after it's been submitted. The working theory in our lab is that he doesn't want to hear any criticism/critique from us. So in this case it's likely more ego driven than paranoia driven.

    It's usually possible to get a copy of a funded grant, but even then it can be difficult. However this is typically driven by his apathy for those sorts of requests rather than ego/paranoia.

  • queenrandom says:

    I had a PI who wouldn't share them. I came to learn (it's not important how, long story) that she had misrepresented my data in one. This also happened with other trainees' data. However I don't think this is likely the norm for PI's who won't share their grants, she was a piece of work.

  • I would argue that unfunded grant proposals (plus reviews thereof) are a more valuable training tool than funded ones 🙂

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Oh for sure Cath. Nice to see them together, however. Then everyone can play "now what exactly was better about THIS one?".

  • proflikesubstance says:

    I use an unfunded proposal and its later funded draft in a grad CLASS, ffs. I can't imagine not supplying grants to trainees, both funded and in prep, unless there is some dodgey stuff going on.

  • Zee says:

    We were never given anything beyond 1-2 pages of the approach that specifically had to do with the project we were assigned. I never saw or understood what the grant process was until I started my post-doc. We also never knew the funding status of our lab, what grants where in process/under-review or what grants were funded. I didn't even know I was on a training grant until my thesis defense meeting when someone asked if there student could take me spot now that I was done. So yeah, secrecy to the point of paranoia, but considering that I was also handed pages of experiments to repeat from grants that my PI was reviewing, had "outliers" magically eliminated from my data, and saw some experiment repeats 'disappear' I can't say it was all that surprising.

  • Former technician says:

    My PI is very willing to share the funded and even unfunded proposals with the lab. Our problem is on the next level. We are a large lab divided into teams who compete against each other. Yes, competition inside our lab. It is completely disfunctional as cooperation would produce better science. When one of the research faculty writes a grant, he/she does not want one of the others to see it because they might "steal" the ideas.

    This kind of behavior is not just with my PI. We have a large multi lab center at our university that our lab is part of. During the annual advisory board meetings which are attended by NIH officials, reminders must be sent out ahead of time to not question each others reseach and make us look bad in front of outsiders. It is commonplace to all but attack each other in the question sessions.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Oh FFS. I hate this crap.

  • meshugena313 says:

    these paranoid PIs must be real pieces of work in their personal lives, too. How crazy do you have to be to have your own lab competing against itself? That is so short sighted and counterproductive that they must enjoy watching the mayhem. No need to watch reality TV when the entertainment is there at work!

  • drugmonkey says:

    How crazy do you have to be to have your own lab competing against itself? That is so short sighted and counterproductive

    Is it? What better way to ensure 16 hrs at the bench other than competition for a first-author slot on a C, N or S publication?

  • Joe says:

    Re: "suspecting shenanigans"
    That is how a prof I know of got fired - the students found that the grant application contained fraudulent prelim data.
    So the PI who is stretching the interpretation does not want the people who really know the data to see the application. But should the honest PI also worry that the disgruntled student will use prelim data that turned out not to repeat as evidence to try to get the PI fired?
    My lab has all my funded grants plus the one I just submitted.

  • DrLizzyMoore says:

    All trainees (except for undergrads) see ALL the lab grants-funded and unfunded. They also see a draft of the grant before it goes in. And they see the summary statements. IMO, it's part of the training process--particularly, how to handle revisions and especially how to gracefully handle reviewer comments.

  • drugmonkey says:

    That is how a prof I know of got fired

    Did it go all the way to ORI or was the person just quietly dismissed by the University?

  • Joe says:

    It was a big scandal. I'm pretty sure it went to ORI.

  • meshugena313 says:

    DM: sarcasm alert?
    I think competition is great and drives discovery and innovation, but competition outside your own team suffices. Secrecy and treachery within a group prevents serendipity and cross-fertilization of ideas and techniques. Plenty of incentive to work 16 hours at the bench without this insanity.

    This kind of treachery leads to NaF in the coffee pot... (or milk, as my specific recollection is unclear from this infamous early '90s example at a high powered lab). That was slightly before my time at the same institution in a different lab, but it was clear that the people in that lab were still close to breaking...

  • Margot says:

    In my last academic lab I never saw the grant we were working on. Ever. (We had a giant, 5 year grant that was all we needed until it was suddenlynot renewed at year 4.5.) We sort of knew the overall goal of the group, but each person had their own project, and maybe presented about it once every 6 months. We never planned experiments as a group, which led to reagents, materials and animals suddenly being gone the day you need them. It was a giant ball of suck, and I'm honestly not surprised it didn't work out. I blamed it on "First-time PI" ignorance, but looking back there was a lot of "Higher-up PI was a huge jerk" thrown in too.

  • Dave says:

    On a related note, I have a buddy who is tech here and his PI refuses to give him any details of the actual experiments he is working on. He is clinically paranoid, and even has a bloody privacy screen on his computer!!!! Who does that? Amusing to watch from a distance, but quite frustrating for the tech who is is very smart and could be much more useful if he actually knew what he was working on.

  • All trainees (except for undergrads) see ALL the lab grants-funded and unfunded. They also see a draft of the grant before it goes in. And they see the summary statements. IMO, it's part of the training process--particularly, how to handle revisions and especially how to gracefully handle reviewer comments.

    Same here.

  • Grad Student says:

    Having seen a PI recently fired for misrepresenting data in his grant proposals and the "collateral damage" that it caused to a few of my classmates, I thinks its a very bad sign if a PI won't share his grants. Also makes me feel better about the 8 AM group meetings my PI calls to go discuss his grants.

  • Neuropop says:

    Each trainee has a copy of the grant they are supported on (funded version and past unfunded version if any). They can always ask for other grants if they so choose but no one has ever asked. Said trainees having wised up to the low funding rates, have wisely (?) decided to move on from academia.

  • CE says:

    I never saw a grant until I was a postdoc. As a postdoc, I asked my grad advisor why he had never involved us at all in the grant process - the answer was essentially that he found it to be a highly stressful part of science and wanted to protect us from it. Maybe his intentions were kind, but it was ultimately a disservice to those of us staying in academics.

    I've been thinking a lot about how much of this to discuss with my own group now that I'm the one writing proposals. I tell them in group meeting about what I've been writing, and have shared the results (verbally). Not sure if I will share all proposals with all students - I'm currently thinking that I'll show relevant proposals to the students familiar with or impacted by the work. I want to make sure they see examples of good writing, well-though out plans, and most importantly, attitudes of graciousness and perseverance in review.

  • arlenna says:

    I share all my proposals with my students and trainees, and anybody else who wants to see them, for that matter. As a lot of people know from my forum/blog, I have sent out the set of files from my A2 K99/R00 funded proposal (including the two previous versions, summary statement docs, intros to resubmission, budget and budget justification, EVERYTHING) to more than a hundred, probably approaching 200, people upon request. I've shared successful and unsuccessful proposals with friends and colleagues who were looking to apply to the same funding mechanisms as mine were sent to.

    I just have a really open folder about it--unless it's the subject of patent activity and hasn't been covered by patent applications yet, I give people the benefit of the doubt and figure it's REALLY unlikely that someone will steal it or something. I occasionally scan NIH Reporter for grants like mine, and so far haven't seen anything suspicious. And I'm no-shame enough that I don't get embarrassed about my writing. Maybe something sucks or is dumb, but at least somebody can learn how not to do it from that.

  • Eli Rabett says:

    Do you share the progress reports? Or better yet, have the students write them

  • Dave says:

    Do PIs here share the summary statements as well?

  • drugmonkey says:

    Yes, I have postdocs draft up the progress reports.

    And I share summary statements.....definitely on request, definitely when asking them to help on a revision

  • Aisling says:

    I never saw a glimpse of a grant until 6 years into my postdocs when I actually needed to starting writing them myself. Then, I was basically pointed to reporter as a source of examples and I perused the specific aims of grants in my field. From what I hear from my friends, this situation is not unsusual.

    I think the reason for this behaviour from PIs is a mix of the following:
    1/ PI did not have exposure to grant writing themselves as PhD students or postdocs, so they don't think it's needed at all
    2/ (sometimes results from 1/) PI does not realize how crucial grant writing skills have become
    3/ PI believes that PhD students and postdocs need to focus on their research because 3a) that's what will build up their CV and make them most attractive when applying for jobs and 3b) that's what's most useful for the lab
    4/ (a variant of 3b) PI believes that the lab is most efficient if everyone focuses on their assigned task: the PI writes the grants and directs research, lab members contribute to research.

    As a new PI, I have been thinking about what and when to share, so this post is very timely! Thanks.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    I have *some* sympathy for the idea that we shouldn't distract the troops with our worries about grant funding. In the best of all worlds and all. But I just can't help seeing this as failing the trainee's education. I guess because I never regretted learning the cold hard world lessons, but occasionally wish I'd learned them sooner.

  • The Other Dave says:

    I once worked (briefly) for a PI that didn't share his proposals. He finally gave me one, at my request (for some specific reason I can't remember). I was shocked that the proposal misrepresented a lot of things, from data to papers in prep to experience of lab members. He said that "that's the way proposals are written." I left the lab soon after that, after he directly ordered me to falsify data and cheat a colleague. He is relatively successful and well-funded. I am quite sure that he fits the clinical definition of a sociopath.

    I think NIH should make all proposals public, available on the web, at least at the conclusion of the initial funding period, if not sooner. There's no reasonable justifiction for doing otherwise. And I agree that lab members should see proposals at all stages of preparation, as well as subsequent critiques. It's good for the PI, and good training for the lab members. Hell, I've sent proposals to students just because they are interested in joining the lab, because it's the easiest way to explain what they'd be doing and why.

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