As those of us in the neurosciences gear up for our annual tribal meetup, my mentoring hat turns to a topic that is dear to my heart. Namely, increasing the odds that my readers, who are all exceptionally brilliant and deserving scientists, will be successful in obtaining NIH grant funding. Part of that process is a long game of developing interpersonal relationships with the Program Officers that staff the NIH ICs of interest to our individual research areas. It is indubitably the case that many scientists find the schmoozing process to be uncomfortable and perhaps even distasteful. To this I can only reply “Well, do you want to get funded or not?”.

This post originally went up Nov 12, 2008. I’ve edited a few things for links and content.


One of the most important things you are going to do during the upcoming SfN Annual Meeting in San Diego, CA is to stroll around NIH row. Right?

I have a few thoughts for the trainees after the jump. I did mention that this is a long game, did I not? Read the rest of this entry »

such as the NIH NRSA F31 mechanism, is this.

The announcement says the following about the purpose of the program (emphasis added).

The proposed predoctoral research training must offer an opportunity to enhance the fellow’s understanding of the health-related sciences and extend his/her potential for a productive, independent research career. The application should document the need for the proposed research training and the expected value of the proposed fellowship experience as it relates to the individual’s goals for a career as an independent researcher.

ok. And just how might we expect to find such an “opportunity”?

The sponsoring institution must have adequate faculty and facilities available to provide a suitable research environment for a high-quality research training experience. The proposed research training experience must enhance the applicant’s conceptualization of research problems and research skills. The sponsor should be an active investigator in the proposed area of research, and be committed both to the research training of the applicant and to the direct supervision of the applicant’s research. Applicants are encouraged to identify more than one mentor, i.e., a mentoring team, if this is deemed advantageous for providing expert advice in all aspects of the research and training program. In such cases, one individual must be identified as the principal sponsor who will oversee and coordinate the applicant’s research training program. The primary sponsor, or a member of the mentoring team, should have a successful track record in mentoring predoctoral students. The research training should occur in a research-intensive environment that has appropriate human and technical resources and is demonstrably committed to research training in the particular program proposed by the applicant.

In practice, this means a successful applicant needs to be already enrolled in a well-respected graduate program at a high-falutin research University. The primary mentor has to be a BigCheezDoodle scientist of international repute who has already mentored a swath of trainees who are currently occupying professorial jobs. The mentor’s laboratory had better be larded up with research funds and be pumping out the papers with regularity as well.

Ok, ok, so this is not an obligation…but it sure does help with reviewers if these kinds of elements are to be found in an F31 application.

But here’s my problem. If the applicant graduate student already has this available, the good training program and the awesome mentor…she. doesn’t. need. a. fellowship. to. provide. her. with. an. “opportunity”. She doesn’t need the fellowship to enhance her training much either. She’s in a strong training program with a strong mentor and kickingly productive laboratory.

All the fellowship does, is increase the number of worker bees trainees the BigCheezDoodle can have working in his laboratory. Basically, the fellowship for Grad Student Doe only benefits Grad Student Smith who the PI can now take into the lab because his proprietary slot on the Institutional training grant has now opened up or because it frees up a salary line on one of his five R01s!

So what would it look like if the NIH leaned more heavily on the idea of using F31 NRSA graduate student fellowships to provide opportunities that would be otherwise unavailable? This would mean a bias for primary mentors who were struggling, wouldn’t it? Mentors who didn’t have much in the way of research funding would surely be able to provide a better training environment if the grad student didn’t cost any money to the lab.

Extra points for applicants from poorly-funded graduate programs (no Institutional Training Grants!) so as to boost those programs upwards, right? This would have all the positive synergy benefits claimed in those Institutional Training Grant awards.

The obvious drawback, from where I sit, is that you churn out more trainees who have acquired training that is better…but still isn’t top flight. And I suppose that is the question. Are the F31s really just there to lard up the successful laboratories with yet more money so as to increase, on a population basis, the number of top flight training slots that are available? And all this “opportunity” for the specific applicant business is just window dressing?

Maybe they should scrap the Individual NRSAs in favor of more Institutional training grants, if this is the real goal.

Go Read.

Oh, and tell Odyssey he is far, far off base.

cross posting from Scientopia:
The Society for Neuroscience has announced the bloggers which have been selected for official recognition and promotion during the 2010 Annual Meeting to be held in San Diego (Nov 13-17).

Theme A: Development
www.functionalneurogenesis.com/blog/
(Twitter @jsnsndr)
http://geneticexpressions.wordpress.com/
(Twitter @geneticexpns)
Theme B: Neural Excitability, Synapses, Glia: Cellular Mechanisms
www.hillaryblakeley.net
(Twitter @hillaryjoy)
http://qscience.wordpress.com/
(Q[science]ultd)

Theme C: Disorders of the Nervous System

http://fresheyes-neuroscience.tumblr.com
(alc2145)
http://houseofmind.tumblr.com
(Twitter @houseofmind)
Theme D: Sensory and Motor Systems
http://blog.pascallisch.net/
(Twitter @Pascallisch)
http://neuromusings.com
(The Neuro Dilettante – Twitter @neurodilettante)
www.davidderiso.com
(Twitter @davederiso)
Theme E: Homeostatic and Neuroendocrine Systems
www.dormivigilia.com
(Twitter @Beastlyvaulter)
Theme F: Cognition and Behavior
http://neurosci.tumblr.com
(Twitter @aechase)
http://neuroblog.stanford.edu
(Twitter @stanfordneuro)
Theme H: History, Teaching, Public Awareness, and Societal Impacts in Neuroscience
http://khawaja-sfn2010.blogspot.com
(Twitter @thekhawaja)

I encourage you to check them out, comment, read and put them on your list for the week of the meeting. Especially if you cannot attend in person.

The Society for Neuroscience has announced the bloggers which have been selected for official recognition and promotion during the 2010 Annual Meeting to be held in San Diego (Nov 13-17).

Theme A: Development
www.functionalneurogenesis.com/blog/
(Twitter @jsnsndr)
http://geneticexpressions.wordpress.com/
(Twitter @geneticexpns)

Theme B: Neural Excitability, Synapses, Glia: Cellular Mechanisms
www.hillaryblakeley.net
(Twitter @hillaryjoy)
http://qscience.wordpress.com/
(Q[science]ultd)

Theme C: Disorders of the Nervous System

http://fresheyes-neuroscience.tumblr.com
(alc2145)
http://houseofmind.tumblr.com
(Twitter @houseofmind)

Theme D: Sensory and Motor Systems
http://blog.pascallisch.net/
(Twitter @Pascallisch)
http://neuromusings.com
(The Neuro Dilettante – Twitter @neurodilettante)
www.davidderiso.com
(Twitter @davederiso)

Theme E: Homeostatic and Neuroendocrine Systems
www.dormivigilia.com
(Twitter @Beastlyvaulter)

Theme F: Cognition and Behavior
http://neurosci.tumblr.com
(Twitter @aechase)
http://neuroblog.stanford.edu
(Twitter @stanfordneuro)

Theme H: History, Teaching, Public Awareness, and Societal Impacts in Neuroscience
http://khawaja-sfn2010.blogspot.com
(Twitter @thekhawaja)

Or at least I think that is what this editorial bit in the Yale Daily News is getting at.

Last Wednesday, the pledges of Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity issued just such a provocation. As they chanted their way across campus, the rest of us were forced to listen to tasteless jibes involving obscenity, jingoism and necrophilia.

But then came the coup-de-grace: “No means yes, yes means anal.” By making light of rape, the pledges crossed a line. In this newspaper’s view, the chanting was idiotic and offensive, and it should not be repeated.

And yet, as groups rushed to condemn the foolhardy DKE bros, they threw overwrought epithets, some almost as absurd as the chants themselves.

oh noes! not “overwrought epithets”!!!!!

Feminists at Yale should remember that, on a campus as progressive as ours, most of their battles are already won: All of us agree on gender equality. The provocateurs knew their audience’s sensibilities and how to offend them for a childish laugh. They went too far. But the Women’s Center should have known better than to paint them as misogynistic strangers and attackers among us, instead of members of our community; after all, they once partied in the brothers’ basement.

ohh, these poor innocent wittle babies have their fee-fees hurt… “misogynistic strangers”? “attackers”?

please. this is equivalent, nay perhaps even worse, than making light of sexual violence? hoo-kay.

Someone want to remind me again of one fucking positive thing that is accomplished by the fraternity systems on University campuses?

Ed relates the sad tale of a kid who brings his parents’ pot to school and rats them out to the po-po.
It’s pretty obvious, right? Getting kids to turn their parents in to the authorities is pretty, well, 1984 . Fascist.
Yes, yes it is.
but how is discourse served by this stupid gotcha journalism of the absurd?
It is not. and this is why Ed irritates me when he spews out this nonsense without a single bit of perspective beyond the kneejerk civil liberties position.
A questioner brings the right point to the table.

So where’s the cutoff? Is armed robbery reportable but burglary not? If the parents were running a meth lab, would that be enough of a risk that you’d support the child informing? How about a marijuana operation where Mexican drug cartel personnel were in and out of the house constantly?

Exactly. What is the principle at stake here? Should children not be informing on their parents for any type of legal infraction? That actually makes sense to me as a workable principle, akin to spouses not having to testify against each other.
How would this work though? Would a bust that originates with a child of the suspect be ruled out of the courtroom evidence? That would seem to be a remedy.
Or are you asking children to pick and freaking choose what represents a beyond-the-pale crime versus a wink-wink, we-disagree-civilly-disobediently?
That is a bullshit principle, to put that sort of burden on children.
Ed, you can do better. There are complexities here in terms of the application of principle to public policy. You often do better with similarly complex issues. Just not when it comes to the drug laws that you don’t like.

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