More on Neurotree

November 30, 2007

I had a note before on the Neurotree.org site which is databasing neuroscientists’ training genealogies. The masters of Neurotree have put up a growth chart which shows that additions continue to accelerate each quarter. Some of the discussion under my prior post seemed to find this a mere interesting curiosity. I have been thinking about this as I’ve browsed around on the site and come to a different conclusion.

First, I think that much of the value of this effort lies in the degree to which the field is represented and it is clearly early days. The growth rate, however, suggests that the asymptote is still a distant destination, so we don’t really have any way to estimate eventual representation. A related point is that there is going to be relevant and irrelevant representation in this database with a slight potential bias for irrelevant. Meaning that every undergrad who temps in a lab has the right to add him or herself to the database. Technically these are “neuroscientists” but really something with a little higher threshold is going to hold useful information. Time will tell on this.

The value I see in Neurotree is that it is a handy way to see how successful someone’s trainees have been over time. There will be a bias for older, more established people, sure. But for a given level of tenure of a PI, a prospective trainee can get some really valuable information in a big hurry. Such as the number and percentage of a given PI’s trainees who have become independent, even luminaries in their own right.

This is also handy in a couple of specific grant review situations, such as fellowships and R15s where the quality of the “training environment” is an explicit criterion and often a matter of some pointed discussion. In grant review, for example, despite the fact that one is not obligated to go beyond the information provided in the application, I often do. Quick PubMed and CRISP searches are informative, non burdensome and contribute relevant perspective. I think I will find myself employing a quick Neurotree search as well in the future.

[Grantsmanship sidebar: Practices seem to vary in terms of listing the supervising PI’s name in the “Professional Experiences” section of the biosketch. This can often be derived from the senior author on the pubs, sure. I am one who likes to see this information listed. I can’t imagine what would be lost, who one would offend, etc by including it so you might as well do this, eh?]

I attended a couple of social functions at the SfN07 meeting that were, in essence, based around academic genealogy. These were networking sessions of some palpable value, which further underscored the value of knowing something about these trees. For one of my functions, some poor fresh-faced student had actually visited my poster and obviously had no idea that we were about to attend one of these genealogy based sessions later in the week. (Yes, I noticed the affiliation and mentioned my prior connections at the time…) In another of my social events, the tree was relatively large and stretched over a long period of time. The current round of postdocs and grads could very easily be seen to benefit from getting to know the prior postdocs in this laboratory that are now off heading their own labs, in industry, etc.

So I close with the obvious suggestion that if you are a neuroscientist, wander over to Neurotree.org, enter yourself and link up to one of your mentors.

6 Responses to “More on Neurotree”

  1. physioprof Says:

    As long as you mention listing previous mentors in the PI CV, here’s a question. What’s the best way for a PI to list the fellowships earned by trainees while in her lab, and can/should this information be included not just in a traditional CV, but also in an NIH biosketch?

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  2. bikemonkey Says:

    Good point, never really thought about this. In the so-called FullMontyCV (did you TM that DM?) I guess you’d have it in your “Trainees” section, list the name and then “supported by grant XXXXXXX (dates)”? You can’t put it under grant support because that is assumed to be direct support to you. (Trainees note that you do list your PIs support for you on your biosketch.)

    Similar approach to those types of grants which explicitly require a “trainees supervised” section, whether that be for the supervising mentor (fellowships) or for the PI herself (R15s).

    Regular old R01 type biosketch? I don’t see where you’d put this. I mean, in reality it is support for your research if a postdoc has a fellowship and in most successful cases the PI has contributed a LOT to the fellowship application. but technically, my understanding of what is supposed to be in the support section doesn’t include this information…

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  3. neurolover Says:

    So, do trainees only count for “training environment” if they span offspring trainees? I’m not arguing, but wondering if that really is the standard. I recently participated in a review where I was kind of surprised to realize that the standards I thought were only applied “under the table” were actually explicitly discussed. (things like the # of hours spent in the lab)

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  4. neurolover Says:

    span should be “spawn”

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  5. bikemonkey Says:

    “So, do trainees only count for “training environment” if they spa[w]n offspring trainees?”

    I’m not entirely sure I take your point, neurolover. Anything relevant to training can potentially “count” albeit with different weight. Of course, not everyone is going to be at a stage in which grand-trainees are possible, if this is what you mean. But if we straw-ify your point to ask if there are two senior investigators whose “environment” is under discussion. One has 20 first-degree trainees in R1 type research jobs. The second has 5 first-degree trainees however those 5 have provided another 15 “grandkid” scientists. Is this your question? too detail laden for it to be worth discussing in my view, too many variables in a given case. I guess the general principle is that I don’t see either as being necessarily inferior/superior.

    “standards I thought were only applied “under the table” were actually explicitly discussed. (things like the # of hours spent in the lab)”

    for the PI or the trainees? Look, everything and anything can be brought up in review! People will say what they are willing to say, there are few formal “rules” and there is no real way to unsay something once said. If the PI is always on a plane out of town, heck yeah this is relevant to training environment (in at least two opposed directions in my view :-)).

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  6. […] (SfN annual meeting?) bump in growth of the tree last year. This post originally appeared on Nov 30, 2007. I had a note before on the Neurotree.org site which is databasing neuroscientists’ […]

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