Researching your CV

July 31, 2007

Dr. Shellie discusses the semi self-destructive habit of analyzing your publication numbers, types, citation hits, etc in a recent post entitled “Citation Envy”. Key point is:

A public service message, from me: checking your citations is not a good way to determine if your life has meaning. Neither is comparing your publication list to that of other people you know. However tempting, it only ends in distress.

You can, however, benefit from checking your citations (as well as other people’s publication lists) IF AND ONLY IF you view it as an educational exercise. Try to see how other people have built upon and developed their early work in order to make progress in their field. How can you do it too?

I want to underline the part about viewing this as an educational exercise and point out that this is a critical step in career success. How so? Read the rest of this entry »

Most biomedical scientists [see Discovering Biology in a Digital World for comment on field-specific practices] come across authorship conflicts; at least once or twice a career, often for each and every paper in labs which publish in high-impact journals. Most readers are familiar with this but in modern usage in many biomedical fields, the most senior scientist/PI of the laboratory/BigCheez holds down the last author position (and frequently “communicating author” designation) to indicate this high status. This is a BigDeal because in many situations this person is awarded the “real” credit for the paper and all postdocs/grad students/techs are assumed to be brainless sets of hands. Okay, I may be overstating but c’mon, the shorthand is to refer to a body of work as the result of the “SeniorAuthor” lab, instead of “the work of six different trainees”. Am I wrong? Controversy for this position can, however, arise when multiple labs are contributing data to a single paper. Usually the senior author would be the head of the first author’s laboratory. This brings us to the mythic FirstAuthor position, the source of much difficulty, bad feelings and even lawsuits. Rightfully so because in the career currency, this is the most important type of publication to list on the CV. Formally, the first author is supposed to be the person making the major contribution to the article, i.e., generated the most critical data, set tone for the direction and interpretation of the data and drafted most of the manuscript. Therefore, first authorship for postdocs and grad students is all critical in demonstrating that one is a seriously contributing scientist. Nobody criticizes a job or grant applicant for an insufficient number of second-author publications! Yet the formal description of first author is a bit passe. Particularly in high-impact journals, the data range across multiple disparate assays, models or techniques and it is hard to determine whose contribution was the most important. So authorship discussions can get…nasty. Read the rest of this entry »

A loss for the Academy.

July 16, 2007

I feel like marking the decision of Rob Knop to take a job outside of the Academy (meaning the distributed edifice of US academia of course). You can read all about the situation here and here.

The details of Rob’s case don’t really matter. One can always debate quality and supply/demand and all that crap. We’ve all seen people in this exact situation, regardless of academic specialty or department and heard all the arguments. And we all know at some level that competition is a GoodThing and that the tenure bar is Meaningful and all that. Phoo. His blog shows he Gives a Crap about things, I’m therefore inclined to believe he’s a decent professor in my book. He’s going to move onto a new job where they actually appreciate him and five years from now he’s going to tell all comers that this was the best thing that ever happened to him. All true, I’ve seen this over and over again in such decisions.

Also true that future students have lost a good professor and that is bad for the Academy.

Stories like this remind me:

1) Make it (personally, that is)

2) Help the (more) junior faculty around me in my department and institution make it.

3) Help the promising junior faculty and research scientists in my field make it.

I’d ask you to do the same, Dear Reader.

Time was, Program would commit to nothing, and I mean nothing, about your grant until the Notice of Grant Award was generated. You could be sitting 1 point off the hard funding line and you’d get the old “we advise you to revise and resubmit” zombie mantra. You could have a 1%ile ranking and they wouldn’t be inclined to admit that you were funded in any official way. [Interesting sidebar: in talking with some POs about their unhelpful mantra at one point I said in some exasperation “It’s not like I’m going to sue you or anything, I just want some idea of how you are leaning.” Seeing a funny look to the eye, I inquired. Sure enough, yes, getting sued for giving someone too positive a nod on funding a grant (that ultimately wasn’t funded) was exactly what they feared and for apparently specific reason. sheesh]

Recent discussions with colleagues shows that all of sudden Program is willing to write letters to investigator’s local officials (deans, chairs, whatnot) suggesting (but not committing) that they intend to fund the grant. This has been helpful to people in various dire straits. Nevertheless it shows how bad things are, Program is having to go way out of the way to keep their cadre of scientists alive and vibrant…

Hooray! ….Oh Man….

July 13, 2007

I have this nasty little habit of checking CRISP for the fruits of our labor on study section. Easy enough to wildcard new grants- woohoo, a couple of really interesting proposals got funded recently. Cool. A little ray of sunshine whilst contemplating several grim results of YHN and selected colleagues from the last few months. Hmm, just for grins, let’s wildcard the 2R%. Crap. Sure enough, a couple of horrible and/or completely useless competing continuations were, um, continued. I hate this system sometimes.

(Title from EldestSpawnofDrugMonkey’s beloved Captain Underpants, of course)

First, I’ll tip the hat to Shelley at Retrospectacle for starting a “tour of the vaults” with the classic LSD in elephants study. Today, I’m reaching way back for “A study of trial and error reactions in mammals” by G. V. Hamilton, Journal of Animal Behavior, 1911 Jan-Feb 1(1):33-66. This study is worth reading because it provides an often hilarious insight into the conduct of science at the turn of the past century but also because this study is a root (perhaps the taproot) of a relatively current subfield on spatial working memory and spatial search. Read the rest of this entry »

Instead of only addressing the core values of the peer review system (that must be retained or enhanced), as requested in the recent RFI from the NIH, I thought I’d highlight the core values of the NIH-funded research system as a whole. This seems a good exercise particularly since many of my posts trend toward critique. It strikes me that many of my criticisms of the NIH arise from a failure of the system to live up to the ideals to a sufficient degree. This is a VeryGoodThing, much better than being in the position of criticizing intentional behavior. So I recognize that these strengths are not perfectly realized. It is, however, important that these are the ideals and goals of the system. Read the rest of this entry »

How to Fix the NIH

July 9, 2007

Readers will note I do a fair amount of talkin’ about the ways the NIH-funded research game might be fixed. The NIH has recently posted a request for information on they way they do things. I can’t overemphasize how important it is that you comment. Each and every one of you. Whether you are “a reviewer, applicant, or member of the public,” as the RFI puts it. If you are “only” a US taxpayer, well you are funding this stuff and will likely be a consumer of the medical advances that result. If you are nonUS, well, you just may be a consumer of medical advances resulting from NIH activities too. At best, this RFI is a straight game and you can have an influence on changing NIH funded science for the better. At worst, this is a rigged deal in which they are looking for confirmation but the only way to combat this is with overwhelming numbers! Either way, you should get involved. Above all, go to the NIH site and make your comments by August 17!

Read the rest of this entry »

A recent post at Galactic Interactions proposes what seem to be substantial changes in the current NSF- and NASA-funded astronomy research career. I had a few observations in the comments trying to understand just what was being proposed and how this might apply to the NIH-funded biomedical research career. In some exasperation with my not-gettin’-it comments, Rob Knop suggests that I’m a hidebound traditionalist. I don’t think so. I’m becoming increasingly convinced that the way astronomy careers work and the way biomed research careers work these days are sufficiently different that the specific problems and solutions may not look very similar. However, Rob raises an excellent challenge which I might view as “okay complainers, don’t like the systems determining your career? how would you change it?”. Read the rest of this entry »

Still not done with the issue of nontraditional entries to independent research positions. “Independent” here being somewhat narrowly defined as the ability to submit and hold research grant funding (not just fellowships) as a Principal Investigator. I’ve been advocating postdocs to look beyond the traditional route to independence, i.e., applying for hard money salary, tenure track assistant professorships (with startup funds!) advertised halfway across the country. Physioprof is most familiar with the more traditional route to independence but is, I hope, being won over a bit. S/he asks:

Drugmonkey, if you personally have taken a “non-OldeSkool” route, would you mind summarizing your path?

Read the rest of this entry »


A couple of exchanges between YHN and PhysioProf in comments following a post at Galactic Interactions bear further examination. I’ve mentioned before that in the biomedical research career, the most important thing is to get a job which allows one to submit* independent research grants to the NIH. In other words, the ability to compete with your fellow scientists to fund the research you think is important. In my view, this is the essential place where you want to be, all else is gravy. Sometimes, perhaps frequently these days, that “job”may be different from the stereotypical tenure track assistant professorship with hard salary and startup package across the country from your current postdoc. Read the rest of this entry »

My comments on grantsmanship and scientific careerism are directed as much at the postdoc as at the recently-appointed independent investigator. As I’ve been discussing in comments some of this is motivated by the feeling that my scientific training was somewhat lacking in the “facts of life” of a science career. Not to say some of this wasn’t my own fault for being oblivious. But when I did get the chance at an independent position I felt a little behind the game when it came to spooling up grant proposals and making my way in the field at large as a “real” scientist. I’m a quick study and I found with the appropriate motivation (“oh shiest, it’s all on me now!”) I’m an even quicker study. Nevertheless, because of this experience I tend to adopt a style with my trainees similar to that described in a comment from Physioprof : Read the rest of this entry »

Drug and Alcohol Dependence has an article in preprint from Falck and colleagues entitled Perceived need for substance abuse treatment among illicit stimulant drug users in rural areas of Ohio, Arkansas, and Kentucky. I’ve been waiting for this since a poster version was presented a year ago at the CPDD annual meeting. Fascinatingly this was the meeting in which the Congressional lobbyist hired by the College outlined why Congress was going to be all about Methamphetamine because every time you turned around there was another popular media report on the ravages of METH, METH overrunning the resources of local sheriff’s departments and emergency rooms, etc. Congressional interest has a way of turning into funding priorities, for example NIDA launched an RFA for a Cooperative Agreement (U-mechanism, meaning they are serious) on Immunotherapeutic products specifically for METH addiction. Read the rest of this entry »

Your Humble Narrator is fairly free with the advice on NIH grantsmanship, indeed this is one of the main themes of the blog. YHN also has some reasonably pointed views on the “system” which may be at odds with how many others view it. Particularly the official views of NIH Insitute staff and the semi-official views of your local aged luminary. So you should listen to me and ignore everyone else, right? Read the rest of this entry »