Strike a balance, New Investigator

April 22, 2011

A question arose on the Twitts recently where a newish investigator wanted to know if it was wiser to push earlier for his/her first senior author paper in a ~3-5 IF journal or hold out for a ~9 IF journal submission. It emerged during the ensuing Twitting that the person had about 10 months of some degree of independent funding under the bridge so far.

I had a post awhile ago (quite awhile) that I thought would cover my main point but it only touches on the idea of balancing your attack. The opening comment sets the right tone though.

My suggestion is, if you expect to have a career you had better have a good idea of what the standards are. So do the research. Do compare your CV with those of other scientists. What are the minimum criteria for getting a job / grant / promotion / tenure in your area? What are you going to do about it? What can you do about it? Don’t misunderstand me- nobody is going to hand you a job / grant / etc just because you hit the modal publication numbers. But it will be very easy for you to be pushed out of the running if you do NOT hit the expected values. So do what you can to keep your CV as competitive as possible.

And this, really, is the starting point to my answer to @chemstructbio. It is absolutely critical to understand within your own subfield, within the pool of investigators whom you consider to be your peers, what the standards are. Particularly when it comes to Impact Factor. In my fields of interest, the answer to this question is going to be quite simple. If you have zero senior author papers from your lab, and you have been at it with funding for coming up on a year or more, the priority for a 3-5 IF paper is absolutely acute*. If this is in reach and a ~9 IF is a stretch of more than a single review cycle, do the lower IF one. Now.

The reason being the idea of balance, and the difficulty your advocates have making a case for you when you give them nothing to work with. A society level journal publication is respectable for all but the snootiest of assclams. Respectable. An advocate can work with this. Published data can be argued on the merits. It is very hard to argue with nothing.

Yes, yes, yes. We all know what time it is on the street and how long it takes to get to that first ass-kicking paper. But when you are sitting there with the Biosketch…..evidence is the thing. Evidence of a published, peer-reviewed paper. Not in prep, not in submission. Accepted.

Now, if you have one already….then it is time to start balancing numbers against the IF against the real impact of the paper. Then you can afford it. But if you have none, my friends, it is time to get one.

*This is not saying that you are hosed if you do not have a senior author paper. Not at all. It’s just that it makes things go better. So if one is in reach, make it happen. It should be a huge priority, particularly if you have a little bit (or a lot) of funding in hand already. Because the reviewer demands for evidence of independent productivity will ramp up…clock’s aticking.

No Responses Yet to “Strike a balance, New Investigator”

  1. CPP Says:

    Dude, whatte the fucke you been smoking? “In press” fucken *means* accepted.


  2. DrugMonkey Says:

    Typo dude. “in prep”


  3. Namnezia Says:

    Maybe DM uses an old fashioned press to print out his drafts…


  4. No way DM is cranking the handle on the press, that’s what trainees are for.


  5. Beaker Says:

    Agree with DM. It’s interesting to contrast the situation of a Sr. postdoc preparing to hit the job market. In that situation, glamor mag pubs are worth working/waiting for. But the new PI needs to switch the mindset to getting into print fast to demonstrate productivity and independence. In those early years of independence, pubs in society journals are absolutely fine. But what about the lesser Elsevier journals? What about obscure bottom feeder journals? There must be a limit to how low you will go to get published fast.

    My favorite bottom-feeder title for a journal is “Agents and Actions.” As in, “we ordered up the shit, chucked it on our cells, and shit happened…”


  6. Neuro-conservative Says:

    I disagree with DM. Assuming the investigator is still early on the TT, s/he has a bit of time right now to hold out for a higher-impact pub. In many subfields, IF 3-5 publications sink right into the background noise.


  7. whimple Says:

    Assuming the investigator is still early on the TT, s/he has a bit of time right now to hold out for a higher-impact pub.

    Totally disagree. The investigator already has high impact publications by definition from their post-doc or they wouldn’t be on the TT in the first place. Now is the time to prove you can solo, with senior author publications early and often so you can land that crucial first major grant. *

    * only exception: if the higher-impact pub is destined to be a CNS pub, then hold off. Anything lesser, get it in press now.


  8. drugmonkey Says:

    Nothing is “background noise” if the independent publishing of a new-ish PI is a matter of discussion on a grant review. Or P&T committee discussions. I stand by my assertion that one senior author pub is hugely important when you have zero so far.


  9. drugmonkey Says:

    I’ve seen people hold out for CNS level in their early years, fail to get it and turf out of their job. Whilst smarter peers were getting lesser pubs and their grants funded.

    CNS or bust seems too risky to me…


  10. Matt Says:

    A favorite quote of mine from George Whitesides is: “Faculty members are stupid. They can’t read. But they certainly do count.”
    That goes for faculty on search committees/grant review panels/tenure letter writers. Get yo sh!t published!


  11. CoR Says:

    Love it.


  12. I’ve seen people hold out for CNS level in their early years, fail to get it and turf out of their job.

    Yep. Best n00b advice I ever got from my chair was as follows:

    “You’re here because you published in CNS as a post-doc, and you naturally think that’s now the norm for you. It isn’t, and if you try to force it to be, you’re gonna kill your career.”

    Incidentally, I had two R01s awarded before I had published a single paper from my own lab, and none of the reviews–including of two resubmissions–ever raised the issue.


  13. Canadian_Brain Says:

    But wasn’t that in the 1930s?


  14. Agents and Actions Says:

    Helps very much to have a Society-level pub’s worth of data that’s clearly been generated in your own lab when you submit your first R01 . Or at least, that was my experience. I didn’t have my pub accepted yet, but bunging in all the data made all the difference, based on study section comments.

    Will need to find a way to publish in ‘Agents and Actions’ at some point!


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