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.

2 Responses to “Advice: Do I listen to those geezers or these disgruntled “not-made-it-yets”?”

  1. whimple Says:

    Disclosure: I’m starting my 5th year as an Asst. Prof. No R01 yet, but sending a resubmission in today.
    Useful advice: Find a senior person working vaguely in your field (doesn’t have to be an exact match) who *just came back from study section* (any study section, but they must have as-of-today experience) and have them critique your Specific Aims page. Keep hammering back and forth with them until they think this page is *perfect*. Then write the grant. Modify the Specific Aims page at the end of the process if necessary. If this page is a problem, your grant is sunk. In my experience, you won’t be able to find anyone who will help you with the entire 25 page grant (that’s asking for a lot of mentoring), but people won’t mind really helping you out with ONE critically important page.


  2. drugmonkey Says:

    Two good points from whimple. First, the Aims page is indeed the key part of your proposal and a GoodThing to get right. Second, the current-ness and quality of someone’s experience is key to how you rank their advice. How close are they to your field? What has been his/her grant history (CRISP is your friend)? How well does advice match to the actual experience of investigators more like yourself (sci meeting BSing with peers is good)?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: