The good Comrade PhysioProf alerted me to a post on the NIAID blog which links their post on Sample R01 Applications and Summary Statements.

There are four real applications from real PIs posted for your education. Please note that

The text of these applications is copyrighted. It may be used only for nonprofit educational purposes provided the document remains unchanged and the PI, the grantee organization, and NIAID are credited.”

I had the following response in a comment:

I am always uncertain of the value of posting sample grants that happened to score in the excellent range because it gives an inaccurate view of the process to newcomers. I would be highly interested in seeing you cherry pick some apps in the 18%ile range that had similar grantsmithing excellence (and I know for certain there are plenty) and show where they failed to make the cut and/or were so obviously worse than the examples you show here.

Not to run down these PIs, not at all. It is just that it is counterproductive to always insist that the only factor keeping excellent grants from a fundable score is grantsmithing.

And I do have this as a serious concern with this approach; this is not the first NIH IC to provide a sample application for newcomers. These NIAID ones all scored well, in the 2-7%ile range. This is the likely-fundable range of scores. My longer term readers will recall that it is my position that the grantsmithing that distinguishes a 4%ile from a 14%ile grant is…irrelevant. My bet is that they could have easily put up a few selected near-miss applications and similarly noted (the pdfs are annotated with comments) the excellent grantsmithing. Similarly, you can go through these awEsomeZ! applications and find sections that violate fairly basic grantwriting advice.

For example I just started glancing through Striepen’s Specific Aims (pdf).

Specific Aim1: Dissect the mechanism of apicoplast protein import.
Specific Aim2: Understand the function of the apicoplast ubiquitination pathway.
Specific Aim 3: Discover a comprehensive set of apicoplast proteins and characterize their function.

Dissect“, I can almost live with. But “Understand the function” and “Discover a comprehensive set..”? Helllloooo. Fishing Expedition StockCritique off the starboard bow, Cap’n!

The “Innovation” section is a paragraph (full app pdf) and starts off:

We would like to argue that our project has been highly innovative and we expect it to continue to be innovative. Innovation in this project is evident in the topic of the research, the concepts and hypotheses to be tested, and the approaches to be used. The apicoplast as a research topic has produced a truly new way to think about Apicomplexa that now permeates our view of their metabolism, development and cell biology. Studying the apicoplast has brought together biologist focused on different organisms that previously had little contact. This cross-fertilization has let parasitologists to consider

We would like to argue“? Are you kidding me with this passive voice nonsense? And five sentences in without a single specific, nonBSing bit of concrete innovation to latch on to?

The section ends with more passivity.

We feel that overall this investment has paid off (at times in unexpected ways) and that taking the risk to develop new approaches in the future will
keep our experiments fresh and will allow us to ask deeper and deeper mechanistic questions.

Keep in mind that this one is a Year 6 competing continuation application. Now, I’m not saying that it is bad to try to cover up a meandering research program type of application as best you can. Yes we have a tension between the formal project-based approach of the NIH funding system and what is in many cases a de facto program-based funding approach. In this case it is obvious that the productivity in the prior funding interval (or the lab generally) has the reviewers on board to the tune of a 6%ile score. They like the research program, in other words.

But this is by no means a good “Innovation” section. It, in a word, sucks. From a generalized, grantsmithing-advice perspective I mean.

You don’t have to take my word for it, the first reviewer essentially said this in his/her critique. This person found the research to be innovative but said, in essence, that you can’t tell this from the Innovation section of the application. That’s what this bullet point means.

The technological aspects and biological insights that are innovative could have been better highlighted by the investigator.

To be clear, I’m not picking on this application specifically. My bet is I could find similar violations of standard grantsmithing advice in the other ones. And similar things that were noted in the comments on these examples to laud about other applications which scored outside of the money.

There are good features here but Dear Reader I beg you, don’t take these as some sort of GospelTruth template to your glorious funded future.

Merry Christmas!

December 25, 2010

Wishing a very merry day to all of my readers who celebrate Christmas!

Although it was narrow going at the wire, I’m pleased to report that all members of the DrugMonkey household appear to have made the Nice list. I’m sure you did as well, DearReader.

A recent funding opportunity announcement from the NIH Guide caught my eye. PAR-11-086 is for “NIAID Science Education Awards (R25)”, the purpose of which is described as follows:

This funding opportunity announcement (FOA) encourages applications from organizations that focus on the development of science education for K-12 students. It is expected that these education programs will provide outreach to a large audience of students at a national level, directly or through their teachers, using approaches where successes can be measured.

Emphasis added. Despite the fact that these R25 mechanism awards have been used by the NIH for a long time and did not even remotely imagine the use of currently available new media and internet technologies, there is an obvious fit. For my audience. For those of you who already use blogs or even YouTube or Facebook, to disseminate scientific information.

Upside in this particular announcement includes the use of standard receipt dates for the application (I’ve seen some NIH ICs that use a once-per-year, nonstandard receipt dates so check your IC’s announcements that use the R25 mechanism.) You may request up to $175,000 per year in direct costs and propose up to 5 years of support.

Are you listening yet, my friends?

There is one obvious trouble spot, since measuring the “success” (aka, any impact or influence on knowledge) of scientific blogging is not an easy task. Still, it isn’t as though this is a novel requirement or goal for websites and similar Internet based resources. There already exist ways to try to measure impact. And as you know, sometimes in the NIH grant writing game all that you need to do is provide nominal cover for favorably-disposed reviewers. You know those annoying polls that pop up on websites now and then? I seem to notice them at NIH websites with some frequency. Of course, I just close them but if this is the accepted way to monitor web impact, easy-peasy. Those who have prior experience doing brief post-seminar “evaluation” surveys can probably whip something up in SurveyMonkey or PollDaddy in a trice.

This particular FOA is directed at the K-12 primary and secondary school age groups. I’ll point out that not all FOAs that I’ve seen using the R25 mechanism are limited to this particular audience. So you may find something that fits better with an audience that is of most interest to you under another FOA.

Need ideas? Start with RePORTER to see what is currently funded by the NIH under the R25 mechanism (New Grants, Existing Grants).

The goodbye post is here, stop by and drop a note of thanks.
I’ve certainly enjoyed reading her perspectives over the past several years and I know many of you have as well. Whether you’ve agreed, disagreed or had other reactions it has been a quintessential life-in-academia type of blog….and a good one.
As my reader’s know, I’m all about the differing viewpoints. I feel quite strongly that none of us gets more than a tiny pinhole of a window on so-called objective reality. It is through listening to the experiences of others that we best broaden our view and especially when it comes to academic careers, this is a very good thing.
Personally, of course, I’m grateful that MsPhD getting all angry about this blog post of mine at my original WordPress home really accelerated my audience.

Thanks, MsPhD!

My post was published at the end of August, 2007 and hers appeared in early September so the data are relatively clean. Naturally her fellow disgruntledocs came over to beat me up and, well, …you know how much PP and I enjoy that sort of discussion. I think you can see the sustained effect, not atypical for new blogs.
Getting back to the question of perspectives and “truth”, MsPhD’s current post includes this comment:

Between being completely sidelined by other bloggers who act like I’m just too crazy to be right,

At least from my point of view this is not the issue. I am familiar with at least one PI out of whose lab a person could easily have the experiences as described by MsPhD in the course of her blogging. The question is rather whether these situations are common to all of science or are relatively rare. I certainly come down on the side of rarer-than-described-by-MsPhD and that has led to numerous of our disagreements. I also feel that there are always steps one can take to advantage oneself in a bad training environment and I clearly have a lot of company in this among the science-blogs and associated commentariat. Therein lay much opportunity for discussing common problems in academic careers and we should all be grateful to MsPhD for being the focal point for so many good discussions.
Although I’m a latecomer to YFS, I still regret that the commentary, particularly on her blog, was at times fairly personal and also that MsPhD appears to take every generalization of her scenarios as personal. Personally, I tried to make it clear where I was generalizing the situation but that doesn’t always work, particularly when one perceives that one is a target. Clearly she’d been having similar discussions long before I even found science blogs, so it isn’t like it is anyone’s fault in particular. Ultimately there is only so much generalizing one can do when launching from a personal anecdote. Still, it is important in all of this to recognize and extract the general career advice that emerges from the various discussions. I would advise all readers, old and new, of the various excellent discussions sparked by MsPhD to try to view debates as a contrast of experiences and viewpoint, rather than a contrast of personalities or individuals.
Happy trails, MsPhD. I wish you the best in your future endeavors.

This is just pathetic and sad

December 16, 2010

I happened to be on a journal’s website trying to download a paper just recently when I noticed the following prominent icon.

C’mon now. Why bother? 2.8 is perfectly respectable, I’m not capping on that. But you’d think they’d have some logic in there to forgo the bragging icon if the change was less than, say, a full point.

If there is one thing that reliably pisses me off it is the reality that our Nation’s capital city has a NFL football team named the “Redskins”. I mean seriously. Our Nation’s. Damn. Capital.

MySpace Graphics

Every time I get super pissed off, you know what I do? I go buy some logo wear from my favorite college intramural team.

Gooooooo Fightin’ Whites!
A mousepad perhaps? Naah, I hardly every use those, and anyway it doesn’t have much provocation value. Maybe a t-shirt?


Still time to get stuff shipped by Christmas! Buy a few items for your favorite ‘ggers, whoops, ‘skins fan.


For background, see the Fighting Whites Facebook page.

This is a repost of something I originally put up at my blog. It is still relevant. It is always relevant.

Sadly, this is probably news to you. Look at it.

it comes from the Wikipedia on the top marginal US tax rates from 1913-2009.

When did our fair country experience wonderful growth, prosperity, expansion of the middle class and overall good economic shit? When did we have recession, division into haves / have-nots and other bad things? hmmm?

dumb ass trailer park republican voters are to blame for this shit.

The Monitoring the Future epidemiological survey of drug use in the US has announced some of their updated data today. As always, you can go to their website and look at the figures yourself. The monographs with expanded data tables and summaries can be found here, the current year’s data will be published in June, I think, so until then you’ll have to be satisfied with the selected figures on the website.

Read the rest of this entry »

Blogrolling: Bashir

December 13, 2010

Huh. I’ve seen the name on comments out and about on the science-y blogs but never really noticed there was a blog and clicked through.


I don’t know if you will like it or not, Dear Reader. I’ve lost touch with my audience since the move to Scientopia. Not sure why.

Anyway, I like this one. Go read.

It’s frightening to know how easily it could have gone otherwise

Take my current job as a postdoc for example: I got the position by accident. My now PI wasn’t even on my radar because he doesn’t really do anything relevant to my research area. I sent him an email because he was associate chair of the department and thus in charge (administratively) of a training grant in the department. I sent him a “What do I have to do to get a spot on this grant?” email. He wrote back “We’re pretty much full, so nothing. FYI I just got a grant from Big Institute in your research area so I need a postdoc. Now.”

why does the south lag?

Above is a map I quickly made of the “top 50″ departments in Bashirology

Distances Traveled

Why on earth would two full time teachers, with three small children (at the time), travel (by car) that far to take a few classes?

Because it was the nearest school that would take Negros.

On langauge

This person had a few interesting stories regarding dialect and academia. Particularly one researcher who apparently could not code switch out of AAVE at all. As you might imagine she had trouble landing a job.

Update: an older version of the Bashir blog.

It ain't about "deserve"

December 13, 2010

GMP has a, well, spirited post up lamenting the seeming fact that awards in science breed their own success. Creating an “Accolade Magnet”. Meaning that once some investigator is blessed with “Promising Young Investigator Eleventy!!!11!!!!” of Society for the Hopping of Bunnies, she then goes on to win accolades from her University, another three or four societies, segue into the Mid-Career Investigator (Eleventy!!11!!) awards, etc.

What aggravates me is that I know this person well and I have never been dazzled by their techical brilliance or originality. However, AM is the nicest and most pleasant person you are ever likely to meet (on the outside of course). Always upbeat, with a megawatt smile as though you just made their day just by showing up, perpetually supportive of students even when they act as procrastinating asshats, just being an annoyingly calm, collected, friendly person. I, personally, want nothing more than to punch that fake smile off AM’s face.

Read the rest of this entry »

A bunch of refugees from the Nature Network blogging outfit have set up shop as Occam’s Typewriter. Very nice. Been waiting to hear about this since the mutterings over at Nature Network turned ugly a few months back. Okay, maybe it was several months back. Anyway, we can consider this part of the great 2010 science-blog-collective asplosion.
First look–
The lineup includes our good blog friend Cath who brought VWXYNot? aboard. Also Stephen Curry (Reciprocal Space) who I’ve usually found to not only be readable but a decent conversationalist on blog, you know, as a relative matter. Of course they also have spittle boy, but whatevs. whatevs.
Overall I think you will find that this collective contains most of the chatty in-crowd from the glory days of Nature Network so if that’s your kind of thing, you will find yourself quickly at home over there.
Other notes…
Powered by WordPress- Brilliant, as the British types would have it. Should allow them to act like a real blog community and view their stats and referrals and stuff. Big ups there.
They seem to have brought over some of the more conversation-stifling aspects of Nature Network (see community guidelines) which seem to boil down to “no sockin’ and no swearin'”. Can’t say I think that’s positive but given the lineup I’m unsurprised.
At least they have ditched the registration-to-comment millstone. So a bit of a win there.
The Irregulars will be a guest column type of blog, pretty good idea. In fact such a good idea that one wonders where they came up with it? Hmm. Well, since another one of their community guidelines is “No stealin’ (without attribution)” I’m sure that isn’t anything like what it looks to be…
One stylistic element that is unusual for a collective is that once off in the sub-blogs there is not a lot of navigational help in getting to the other ones. There’s a small text link at the top to get back to the collective main page but otherwise we’ll be left up individual sidebar choices, I guess.
Latest comments feed is a good idea and will help with cross-blog integration and navigation if you make use of it. Always a tricky thing because if you have a firehose of too many comments it gets unwieldy. But they should stay small and focused for a good while I would think.

cross posting from

A bunch of refugees from the Nature Network blogging outfit have set up shop as Occam’s Typewriter. Very nice. Been waiting to hear about this since the mutterings over at Nature Network turned ugly a few months back. Okay, maybe it was several months back. Anyway, we can consider this part of the great 2010 science-blog-collective asplosion.

First look– Read the rest of this entry »

The SMRB of the NIH has apparently recommended (ScienceInsider) the creation of a new Center (approximately the same status as an Institute) for translational medicine and therapeutics. Now if you’ve been paying attention, you will notice that there has been a great deal of trans-IC pressure for both translational research and the creation of new therapies that can be applied to humans over the past several years. So personally I’m not seeing where there is an argument for a new Center.

Now one caveat is that the solution may be that the current National Center for Research Resources is either closed or becomes rebadged and reconfigured for this purpose.

But this may not happen. The way I understand it, the authorizing legislation for the NIH currently caps the number of ICs at 27. And this casts a whooooooole new light on the NIAAA/NIDA merger which is steaming ahead.

It puts paid to the argument that having 27 ICs is too many, is too inefficient or any of that nonsense. It casts severe doubt on the idea that NIDA/NIAAA is a test case for subsequent additional mergers of other ICs.

Instead it makes it look very much as if NIAAA is being subsumed into NIDA simply to make statutory way for the creation of this new translational medicine Center.

And that is a whoooole ‘nother ballgame. Because the discussion now should be “Is NIAAA worth losing in favor of the new Center?”.

To remind my readers, my approval of the NIDA/NIAAA merger is based on the stipulation that merging ICs is a good idea, will lead to efficiencies, etc. And that there is a general will to further scale back the number of ICs. Given this motivation the NIDA/NIAAA merger is about as obvious as can be. If those goals are not a given, then I’m in a very different stance about this current merger.

And I really, really do not like disingenuous bait-and-switch arguments. This is starting to smell like one.

Graduate school does have formal coursework, as most new to the process assume. It just doesn’t last very long, not much beyond the first year or two in most cases that I am familiar with. It can be excellent or dismal, depending on the degree to which the faculty as a whole think it is a waste of time better spent on running experiments. For both students and instructors.
Compromises are struck in the professoriat’s unending quest to shed teaching responsibility so that they can focus on the only thing that makes or breaks their careers- scientific output.
One such compromise is the team-taught course in which a number of profs are rounded up to do a lecture or three. This leads to the following scenario, hilarious distilled by Samia of 49 percent blog:

Each unit of every course is taught by multiple instructors from various departments, so each exam is really a bundle of mini-tests that are graded separately and using entirely different (and sometimes mysterious) criteria. Since every professor is lecturing on their Favouritest and Most Special Part of Science THAT NO ONE ELSE RESPECTS *rips shirt off*, we get about 100000000x more information than most of us will probably need.

Guilty as charged, Your Honor.

Master's degree, en passant

December 8, 2010

Science Professor has a new post on the role of taking a Master’s degree prior to entering and/or completing a Ph.D. There are a couple of reader questions so go over there and comment.

Here are my questions for you:

Do you write M.S. students into your grant proposals or do you only advise M.S. students supported by teaching assistantships?

Do you value M.S. students or consider the M.S. an option for “failed” Ph.D. students? (Or something in between those views)

Me, being a lazy blogger, I thought I’d poll my readers for the experience of their own doctoral training program. Feel free to answer if you are in a PhD program at present with your plans with respect to taking a Master’s degree in passing.

Select up to two options.