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.

Imagine this scenario, DearReader. You have submitted your manuscript and the Associate Editor who has managed the review sends you the critiques with a recommendation for “minor revisions”.

w00t! In like Flynn, amirite?

Now suppose as you are tidying up responses to the criticisms of the reviewers you find one reasonably substantive criticism that would be best addressed with the addition of another figure or two. This might even be for data that you have already, but left out of the original submission for some reason or other. You include it, package the thing up and re-submit the revised version of the paper.

The AE responds by essentially return-email that the manuscript has been accepted. Clearly, it didn’t go back out for review. This is fairly typical, btw, that an AE will make the editorial decision that all criticisms have been addressed adequately.

When it comes to new data, however? That now have not been reviewed by peers…?

Is this a breakdown in the system? Has the peer-review stamp of approval been compromised in this case? Or is this an accepted part and parcel of the peer review process which is no different from the AE accepting the paper after minor stylistic changes in presentation , the addition of a few more caveats or citations to the Discussion or toning down the ELEVENTY language in the Abstract?

I’m sort of curious about those of you who don’t see the appeal in Donor’s Choose. Don’t get me wrong, I pick and choose my philanthropy efforts too-we can all only do so much. So I’m not criticizing, just wondering.
Are your philanthropy dollars being spent elsewhere? On what sorts of causes?
Are you too poor to spare $10?
Do you have a philosophical problem with having to raise funds for what should be public funded education?
Are you not seeing the value in the projects that are asking for your support?
We’re all anonymous here so be honest.

This question has now arisen in two places so it seemed worth a brief mention.

First, over at Medical Writing, Editing & Grantsmanship, mumbercycle asked:

I just recieved my K22-A1 priority score (20). This seems very safe with FY10 payline at 26. Any thoughts on the possibility of my app not getting funded? I am applying to positions and want to share the score and my potential funding, but don’t want to shove my foot in my mouth if something goes wrong. Thanks for any input!

and over at LabSpaces, Dr. O posted a similar query:

So I finally have it – the much-anticipated score on my K grant – and I have no idea what to think. It’s a 31 – not a great score, but certainly fundable some years at certain institutes…I have several job applications due before the council meeting, a couple of which require some sort of funding for consideration. Should I include this score in the cover letters for these job applications? I don’t have a good feel for how impressive/pathetic this will look, but I don’t want to pass up including a potential “positive” in my applications.

I’ve been mulling this over and concluded first that yes, you want the knowledge that you have applied for a K-mech grant (or other) in the minds of the search committee. Of course. Although in this day and age you will be competing with many people who have also submitted grant applications, there will be those who have not. This puts you ahead of the game. If you have been scored, even better. It puts you into the “competitive for funding” category in my view. Now, if you had your application triaged, my suggestion is that you may not want to lead with this information.

Which brings us to the “how to communicate” question. I don’t have any firm answers here, however, I would think not in the cover letter, unless that is one and the same with the research plan. Personally I think grant applications prepared and reviewed are best mentioned as part of your plans. It is pretty natural to conclude the part about what great science you want to accomplish by pointing out that “some of these experiments have been proposed in a K99/R00 application that received a priority score of XX. While not competitive for funding at this time, this shows the considerable enthusiasm of NIH reviewers for these studies”.

An alternative to this is just to put it in your CV. Presumably you will have a section about various fellowships and travel awards and whatnot funding you have obtained competitively. Seems perfectly fine to me to have a “Pending” subsection, this would be the place.

Now, the discussion at LabSpaces seems to be leaning toward not including the specific score in your job application and just describe it as “competitive”. I think this is a mistake. That’s a little too vapor-ware for my taste and I think there is no way in hell you are going to get any reaction other than annoyance that you didn’t just put in the actual score. Unless the particular search committee member doesn’t give a rat’s patootie about grant scores…but you aren’t putting that information in there for this person, are you?

The reader at writedit’s place is in a slightly different situation than is Dr. O*, given that the score is within the payline from the prior Fiscal Year. Writedit advises that the applicant address the chances of funding by mentioning the payline. I think you have to tread carefully here. You don’t want to act like you expect it to fund, even if you have great reason to anticipate that happy event. Because things can happen. I would think at best you might describe your score as “highly competitive given the prior fiscal year payline for this IC was…”.

My bottom line answer is that I think yes, you should include the information. The only trick is to do it in a way that is natural, places your score in the best possible light and yet does not oversell the chances of the award actually funding.
__
*Dr. O referred to some jobs being only open to those with funding. If so, this is a no brainer. You HAVE to include a lot of happy talk about your pending funding so this should not even be a question.

The online planner / abstract search engine for the Society for Neuroscience 40th annual meeting (San Diego, Nov 13-17) is available and so I’m mapping out my plans.

One component that I’ve enjoyed in the past couple of years is visiting the posters of the readers of this blog. So if you are presenting your work and would like me to swing by (time permitting) then please send your presentation details to drugmnky AT gmail DOT com. If you want the rest of the readership here to visit, put your presentation in the comments on this post.

The latest blog to join Scientopia.org is….

Science Professor

I think my readers will find it a familiar voice…

…but have you donated? All it takes to feel all warm and fuzzy inside is to throw down $5 or $10, maybe $25, in support of a classroom that needs support for science-related activities.

It’s a battle of the Biologists, a clash of the Chemists, a grapple of the Geologists, an opposition of the Oceanographers, a face-off of the Physicists!
October 10th through November 9th, science bloggers from far and wide will compete to see who can deliver the most supplies to students across the country.
Want to throw your hat in the ring? Create a Giving Page!

The Leaderboard has Scienceblogs.com at the top with $5,259 raised from 78 donors. The readers of Discover Magazine Blogs clock in second with $4,203 from 46 donors. Scientopia is breathing down Disco’s neck at $4,172 from 60 donors. Ocean and Geo Bloggers ($2,199; 47 donors) are outpointing Lab Spaces ($1,884; 38 donors ), but I look for LS to make a strong run- the bloggers have been getting after it for this year’s drive. WIRED science blogs ($262; 3 donors) and a collection of independent bloggers ($221; 8 donors) are contributing as well.
I encourage you to click over to the DrugMonkey Blog Challenge and donate. Seriously. Every $5 makes a difference. Every donor counts. Even if you don’t like the ones I’ve selected, browse the other challenges or just browse the whole Donor’s Choose project list. Kids need to be excited about science, learning and education. This is one small way we can make a difference folks.

This was cracking me up during my local public radio station’s fundraising drive.

Do not pledge to Public Radio

…but have you donated? All it takes to feel all warm and fuzzy inside is to throw down $5 or $10, maybe $25, in support of a classroom that needs support for science-related activities.

It’s a battle of the Biologists, a clash of the Chemists, a grapple of the Geologists, an opposition of the Oceanographers, a face-off of the Physicists!

October 10th through November 9th, science bloggers from far and wide will compete to see who can deliver the most supplies to students across the country.

Want to throw your hat in the ring? Create a Giving Page!

The Leaderboard has Scienceblogs.com at the top with $5,259 raised from 78 donors. The readers of Discover Magazine Blogs clock in second with $4,203 from 46 donors. Scientopia is breathing down Disco’s neck at $4,172 from 60 donors. Ocean and Geo Bloggers ($2,199; 47 donors) are outpointing Lab Spaces ($1,884; 38 donors ), but I look for LS to make a strong run- the bloggers have been getting after it for this year’s drive. WIRED science blogs ($262; 3 donors) and a collection of independent bloggers ($221; 8 donors) are contributing as well.

I encourage you to click over to the DrugMonkey Blog Challenge and donate. Seriously. Every $5 makes a difference. Every donor counts. Even if you don’t like the ones I’ve selected, browse the other challenges or just browse the whole Donor’s Choose project list. Kids need to be excited about science, learning and education. This is one small way we can make a difference folks.


crossposted at DM on Sb

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