Advice: Do I listen to those geezers or these disgruntled “not-made-it-yets”?
July 2, 2007
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?
Physioprof has a comment on a recent post that makes the related point:
the grantsmanship advice of my senior colleagues at the time–while generous and well-intentioned–was actually worse than useless. They had forgotten how to strategize in an environment of sub-tenth percentile paylines, and were giving advice that only made sense in a twentieth-percentile world.
Drugmonkey concurs, in spades. Older and more established investigators’ advice is counterproductive in many ways, the most fundamental of which is that they fail to account for the bias that favors them. So you get a lot of advice that comes from the un/stated belief that “you just need to write a better grant”. Well, ofttimes, said senior investigator writes marginal grants and keeps getting funded anyway, so it ain’t always “grantsmanship”. I’ve heard as recently as the past 2 years Asst Profs being told to drop a triaged -01 application; well triage might have been a death knell 15-20 years ago but it sure isn’t now! “Why don’t you talk to Program?” Sound advice, but look, Program doesn’t jump for junior investigators the way they do for senior investigators. The list of bad advice goes on. And don’t even start with me about the silly stuff you hear from Program presentations on grant writing or “what’s new at [IC]” sit-downs. Being governmental, they stick very closely to what is “supposed to be” and for the most part won’t even admit that they have the slightest notion that the reality on the street might be different. I swear my closest IC actually was still insisting as recently as three years ago that young investigators getting “the deal” [i.e., if you get a grant funded you get an appointment, otherwise not] just “shouldn’t happen” and “well why would you want to work for such a bad University anyway”. Good gravy.
YHN’s stock advice is for scientific trainees, transitioning investigators and recently appointed investigators to get advice from as many sources as possible. From NIH IC staff, Bluehair Investigators and, of course, those of us who really know what time it is. Seriously. The diversity of experiences, science subfield traditions and politics, job types and expectations, dumb luck, etc says that it is never reasonable to expect that one perspective will apply to your career. There are just too many options. The key is to synthesize this as you go along, take advantage of whatever seems to be helpful and never get stuck on “well so-and-so said is was supposed to be like this”. I mean, c’mon, you are a scientist, right? Take in as many viewpoints and data streams as possible, synthesize, make own conclusions. Simple.