Should we bother trainees with the facts of life?
July 3, 2007
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 :
Also, I think there is a well-intentioned, but misplaced, notion that trainees should be “protected” from having to think about things like funding and scientific politics. This sounds nice, but all it really does is constitute a lie of omission concerning what the trainees’ futures hold in store.
I have regular discussions with my trainees about grantsmanship, the politics of publishing peer reviewed articles, and much of the other “sausage-making”.
A rotation-type trainee swung by my office at one point and asked in dismay “Is this really the job? Sitting in front of the computer all day long writing grants? I don’t think I want to continue with science if this is it.” I’ll have to get to the real answer to this question in a later post, but for the moment, this illustrates one of the problems with putting too much of the “sausage-making” (as PhysioProf has it) in front of the early-stage trainee. It is just too damn discouraging. But then again, as I’ve discussed before and should probably expand on, there are choices that can be made all throughout training that can assist with career progression. Thinking about what typical critiques one is likely to receive in grant submission helps to plan ahead.
Readers (all three of you!) what do you think? What balance of concern with grant writing, grant tactics, schmoozing and other careerist issues should be struck against the actual science?