On the dogged pursuit of graduate training fellowships

September 7, 2011

I am increasingly of the opinion that fellowships should be one-shot-and-out. too much distraction pursuing these. I mean seriously that works out to like 2 years trying to get a fellowship to work on the graduate studies? just do the work and get done!!!!

Reference:

Just heard the bad news… my NINDS F31-A1 won’t be funded (20, 23%). My PO is out of town for at least two weeks, and trying to figure out if I should:

a) Submit a new F31 to another agency
b) Submit a R21 to NINDS
c) Submit an RO1 to NINDS

Of course, I am planning on modifying the proposal some, but just not sure “how different” it needs to be. I’m also worried that although my F31 scores were strong, if I move into the R-grants they may be tougher on the proposal and I may not be so successful. I really appreciate any suggestions. Thanks!

HAHHAAHAHAHAHA. And there are at least two followup comments commiserating without observing that graduate students usually cannot submit R mechanism grants and even if a University was this stupid, the thing would not receive a good score.

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45 Responses to “On the dogged pursuit of graduate training fellowships”

  1. Cheryl Says:

    I find your comments both insulting and useless. The purpose of the blog is to provide constructive comments and instruction to individuals in the community, and it is extremely rude to quote and mock these comments on your own blog.

    To address your other comments:
    1.) How are you supposed to fund a five year graduate education without fellowships and grants?
    2.) The graduate student in question is proposing an R mechanism grant with her mentor as PI.
    3.) It is absurd that you would suggest that an R grant would not receive a good score without knowing any of the details.

    Like

  2. proflikesubstance Says:

    But she’s gonna modify the proposal some….

    Like

  3. becca Says:

    Dude, it’s not like grad students don’t write R grants for their PI’s to put their names on all the time…

    Like

  4. pinus Says:

    So, you are saying that you are writing your PI an R01 and having him submit it? This is confusing to me?

    Like

  5. pinus Says:

    Or are you writing up a section for her to use in the larger grant?

    Not sure I would want my student to spend time writing a grant, I would much rather write the grant and then have him/her do experiments.

    Like

  6. bsci Says:

    You’re overlooking one purpose of graduate fellowships. Past grant success is considered when evaluating current grants & perhaps even postdoctoral job prospects. By the time my resubmitted F31 was picked up & I started receiving salary from it, I had around 15 months left for my PhD. The money didn’t do much (in fact, I think it ended up being a slight benefits cut), but it’s probably a good thing to have that F31 on my CV.

    Like

  7. proflikesubstance Says:

    I find your comments both insulting and useless. The purpose of the blog is to provide constructive comments and instruction to individuals in the community, and it is extremely rude to quote and mock these comments on your own blog.

    DM, have you no blog etiquette? And you should really know what writedit’s blog is for!

    Like

  8. Confounding Says:

    “Dude, it’s not like grad students don’t write R grants for their PI’s to put their names on all the time…”

    This. Many times this.

    As for “just do the work and get done”, unless that work is free of all costs – doubtful – its impossible to just do the work and get done. At best, you’ll be working on funded side projects or teaching classes, both of which can take up well more than two years of what might otherwise be productive time, just to make ends meet.

    Like

  9. Californian Says:

    Cheryl,

    You’re right. The problem is that DM, who seems to be very successful and knowledgeable about grants and NIH affairs, sometimes behaves like a “cocky guy”. Screw him. You take the advice that you think is going to help you succeed and ignore his “adorning” remarks.
    You asked the right questions. I wish you the very best. You’ll get it.

    Like

  10. DrugMonkey Says:

    Cheryl,

    1) graduate training programs should not depend on individual fellowships to support their students. Training grants, faculty grant RA slots and/or TA funds. Fellowships are great, see comment from bsci, but should not be obligatory.

    2) While I favor limited participation of grads in grant writing, doing the whole thing for the PI to submit is beyond the pale. PIs need to step up.

    3) you did not make it clear that you were planning to submit an R under your PI’s name, in fact. Given the abject ignorance of the NIH process that seems to rule the day at writedit’s digs lately, the most parsimonious assumption was to read your comment as written.

    Rude or not, the comments you will find on *this* blog about the NIH grant process are of even more use to you than the handwringing about paylines and scores that have come to dominate writedit’s.

    Like

  11. Martini Says:

    I agree with the spirit of DM on this one, even though he is coming off a bit harsh on his stand on the issue.

    Grad students should only be entering programs that can fully fund their graduate research by fellowships, graduate research assistantships or graduate teaching assistantships.

    It is good experience for grad students to write a couple of fellowships and participate in grant writing.

    However, this should be a very small part of what a graduate students does. They should be at the bench focusing on generating publishable results in a timely manner.

    The problem with grad students writing full R grants for their PIs and endlessly submitting fellowships is that their careers tend to go over 5 years.

    IMHO, grad students only focus should be on obtaining a PhD in ~5 years or less. Focus on learning grant writing when you are a post-doc and have more time to devote to learning grant writing then.

    Also, past graduate fellowships do indeed help getting post-doc fellowships, but for the F32’s, the focus is not so much on past accomplishment, but on future training and career potential. Thus, past F31 support helps, but there are many more factors than prior fellowship support that go into F32 decisions. If anything, past F31 support is a passing detail.

    Like

  12. Californian Says:

    DM,

    I totally agree with you that in

    “1) graduate training programs should not depend on individual fellowships to support their students. Training grants, faculty grant RA slots and/or TA funds. Fellowships are great, see comment from bsci, but should not be obligatory.

    2) While I favor limited participation of grads in grant writing, doing the whole thing for the PI to submit is beyond the pale. PIs need to step up.”

    I think that what’s missing in Graduate Programs, at least in the prestigious Ivy League University I am most familiar with, is a strong mandatory Module on “Scientific Communication”. That is providing students along their graduate training with solid fundamentals and experience on scientific writing and scientific review. Regardless of whether they want to orient their professional career to academia or a different science venue. Those are skills that would serve them extremely well and are, in my view, disregarded in most programs I know of.

    Like

  13. DrugMonkey Says:

    Look folks, the times are a’changing for fellowship applications just like for everything else. It used to be that revisions were fairly rare. Now we’re seeing people contemplate taking a different bite at the apple after striking out at the A1 stage? And what? The graduate student is supposed to change his/her focus to satisfy the NIH requirement for a substantially different proposal????

    This does not make any sense for graduate education. Postdoctoral training is a better time to pursue funding.

    Like

  14. DrugMonkey Says:

    The problem is that DM, who seems to be very successful and knowledgeable about grants and NIH affairs, sometimes behaves like a “cocky guy”. Screw him. You take the advice that you think is going to help you succeed and ignore his “adorning” remarks.

    Yep, except for the replacing the “ignore” part with “integrate” you have this exactly right and entirely consistent with my continued mantra on career advice.

    (and of course with the caveat that “successful” and “knowledgeable” are entirely in the eyes of the beholder)

    (and, naturally, I am not “cocky”. That is PP. I’m just kind of rude and assholish when making my points)

    Like

  15. Bashir Says:

    I feel for that person. I’m pretty sure I had the exact same thoughts at some point during graduate school.

    Like

  16. Californian Says:

    OK Drugmonkey. You win, except for one thing. I don’t think it is necessary to integrate the rudeness or assholines in your comments. I think it is better to ignore that and take, instead, the good advice behind that rudeness/assholiness.

    Like

  17. becca Says:

    DM- I say this with all due affection and respect, but productively self-aware psudeo-humility does not entirely insulate one who is “kind of rude and asholish when making my points” against being legitimately termed “cocky”- nor does holding up one’s sociopathicaly narcissistic egotist of a co-blogger for the purposes of comparison. If you were a woman, you would have seen serious detriments to your career for your “arrogant bitch” attitude long ago. Your privilege is showing.

    Like

  18. Confounding Says:

    DM:

    “1) graduate training programs should not depend on individual fellowships to support their students. Training grants, faculty grant RA slots and/or TA funds. Fellowships are great, see comment from bsci, but should not be obligatory.”

    “Depend” and “would be really nice if” are two different things. I’ve been fully funded for my entire graduate school experience. Faculty grant RA slots and TAing are fine and good, but don’t pretend they’re any less distracting than pursuing grant funding. They’re inherently side projects, they distract from your actual work etc. I’ve had two RA positions which, for various reasons, had little net impact on my future research or employability. How is that better than pursuing a fellowship?

    “2) While I favor limited participation of grads in grant writing, doing the whole thing for the PI to submit is beyond the pale. PIs need to step up.”

    Not necessarily. If the PI is benefitting hugely from it, like say a large % commitment, then yes. But for some grants, the graduate student is already doing the work due to a grant writing class, or a tendency for dissertation proposals to look suspiciously like grant applications. Its possible for a PI to just be involved in submission but still allow the grad student a good deal of autonomy with “their” project, and make it clear in the future that they were the driving force behind the grant. Until institutions and funding agencies don’t essentially rule out those kinds of grants, there’s not really much of an option.

    “3) you did not make it clear that you were planning to submit an R under your PI’s name, in fact. Given the abject ignorance of the NIH process that seems to rule the day at writedit’s digs lately, the most parsimonious assumption was to read your comment as written.”

    You could have asked, or touched on both options? It’s a common enough thing to do that it was absolutely how I assumed it would go.

    Like

  19. Dr Becca Says:

    Getting a very-good-but-not-funded score is always frustrating and disappointing, but in my mind this person has already gotten the most valuable thing a grad student can get out of this –experience writing a well-reviewed proposal.

    You can put your score on your CV when you apply for post-docs, and my feeling is it won’t go wholly unnoticed. With one application under your belt, you’re that much more prepared to submit an F32, and that much more likely to make it under the payline next time around.

    Like

  20. drugmonkey Says:

    Do I really need to specify “RA slots on grants that are funding the lab in which the doctoral studies are being conducted”, Confounding?

    OK, so specified.

    Like

  21. AcademicLurker Says:

    I second Dr. Becca.

    Time enough to get on the endless “revise and resubmit” treadmill when you’re a PI. There are more valuable things you can be doing as a grad student.

    Like

  22. Confounding Says:

    You’d be surprised. For example, in my program, we don’t come into a specific lab, and its extremely common to shop around a bit to find a decent fit. Something for which I am eternally grateful, despite some notable drawbacks.

    As a result, a non-trivial number of my peers have ended up working heavily on side projects they’re not particularly inclined to pursue as one of the defining research programs of their career. Being able to write your own ticket for a project that you *do* want to have be something that defines who you are as a researcher is a pretty powerful thing in that environment.

    Like

  23. Dr. O Says:

    @Confounding, Californian, Cheryl: Get over the fact that DM dealt with this issue in a “cocky” manner (although I found the post this morning kind of funny), and focus on the point he’s making. It’s an important one. Your goal as a student should NOT be to secure funding. That’s your PI’s job. Your job as a grad student is to LEARN: do experiments, read papers, become a thinker, and hone your writing/speaking skills. By all means submit one, maybe two fellowship apps, but that’s it. Focus on developing the breadth of these skills, and stop worrying about funding crap; which you’ll have plenty of time to worry about later.

    Like


  24. If you were a woman, you would have seen serious detriments to your career for your “arrogant bitch” attitude long ago.

    I seem to be doing just fine.

    Like


  25. sociopathically narcissistic egotist of a co-blogger

    Somebody called?

    Like

  26. Confounding Says:

    @Dr. O:

    “@Confounding, Californian, Cheryl: Get over the fact that DM dealt with this issue in a “cocky” manner (although I found the post this morning kind of funny), and focus on the point he’s making.”

    To be blunt, I can’t get over something I’m not upset about in the first place. I don’t disagree with him because he’s cocky, I disagree with him because I disagree.

    He also happens to be cocky.

    “It’s an important one. Your goal as a student should NOT be to secure funding. That’s your PI’s job. Your job as a grad student is to LEARN: do experiments, read papers, become a thinker, and hone your writing/speaking skills. By all means submit one, maybe two fellowship apps, but that’s it. Focus on developing the breadth of these skills, and stop worrying about funding crap; which you’ll have plenty of time to worry about later.”

    You’re suggesting grantsmanship isn’t something one should learn?

    I’d like to think I’m quite successful on the learning front. I’ve done experiments, written papers, pondered questions, and presented at professional meetings. But if – as DM suggests – the funding field is getting progressively scarier for emerging scientists, than “don’t worry about it” seems to be doing us a profound disservice.

    I have learned a tremendous amount from the limited number of grants I have worked on as a student. Things that can’t necessarily be imparted without doing it. There’s also a great deal of double-duty that can be done with what you consider “learning”. As I’ve mentioned, dissertation proposals end up often looking an awful lot like R-type grant proposals in my department. And we’ve written R-type grants as part of classes.

    Is there a reason we shouldn’t then apply those skills in a way that funds *our* projects for *our* research, regardless of whose name is listed as “PI”.

    Like

  27. drugmonkey Says:

    There is a time and place for emphasizing different career skills across the training arc. Some grant exposure is good but 3+ submissions across at least 2 yrs seems excessive for grad students. Time better spent collecting data, learning new protocols, etc…

    Like


  28. And we’ve written R-type grants as part of classes.

    I assure you that you haven’t. You’ve probably written aims and methods and some other bullshittery.

    Take advantage of the time you can spend at the bench and get left alone. You’ll never get that again in your career.

    Like

  29. leigh Says:

    um, this post out of DM is “cocky” or “assholish”? really? i’ve seen plenty of posts here that are far more deserving of those terms.

    at any rate, blunt presentation doesn’t make the advice any less right. taking only the advice that bends one’s ears the right way is nothing more than insulating oneself.

    write for funding as a grad student, absolutely. i was not in a position where i had to, but i wanted that pretty line on my CV. i submitted twice, with baffling reviewer responses. after that, we decided my time was better spent cranking out the fucking data so i could graduate. and so i did, and i got that nice fellowship award line on my CV as a postdoc.

    Like

  30. Confounding Says:

    Ironically, the only thing that I really regret about my graduate education so far is the year I spent relying on “that being my PIs job”.

    @Isis: “I assure you that you haven’t. You’ve probably written aims and methods and some other bullshittery.

    Take advantage of the time you can spend at the bench and get left alone. You’ll never get that again in your career.”

    I haven’t?

    One grant I was heavily involved in got directly submitted as such. Another had, as you mentioned, aims and a methods section, along with significance and innovation, preliminary data, limitations and logistics, a budget and justification, timeline, data sharing and human subjects protection – the last two parts were especially painful, given the study. Spent a good six months working on it. It wasn’t submitted because it’s only tangental to what I’m interested in for my dissertation. But several of the grants written by classmates *were* – and a small number of those got funded.

    Was the experience considerably different than if I ran my own lab? Yes. But your comment was incredibally dismissive, and given the current advice for new faculty memebers has a decidedly frantic grant submission note to it, I think telling students potentially only a two years or so out from that “No worries, you’ll pick it up” is a bit silly.

    Like


  31. If you spent 6 months working on a grant, you have severely wasted your time. And if you’ve spent twice as much time doing two of them? Wow.

    You know what will make your grants competetive? Publishing papers. How many papers could you have finished in 6 months? If the answer is even “1”, that would have made you more competitive for a grant than the practice of writing a human subjects protocol would have.

    What you call “dismissive” I call “good advice from someone who is more experienced and who let her time be wasted early in her life by such bullshittery with very little real benefit.” Focus on your research and do good science. Learn a fuckton about design and experimentation and write good papers. Then, when you are a late postdoc or faculty, write a fucktillion grants. You’ll have plenty of time to practice grant writing. Right now, focus on paper writing.

    Like

  32. Confounding Says:

    It is a required class, whose final output was an R01 grant. While I’m sure there were more productive things I could be doing – indeed, I was fairly critical of the class – I assure you, not doing it would have been a much steeper impediment to my career, what with having to either transfer or see how far a Masters will get me. I also published two papers that semester. The grant itself got carved up into a methods paper that’s waiting for more simulation data to come off the cluster as we speak.

    The summer I spent working on the other grant was to support continuing research that resulted in a first authored publication in a good journal. Sadly, without funding, that line of research has stalled somewhat, but it seemed reasonable to see if we could build off a high profile publication.

    Like I said, the only time I’ve genuinely felt I’ve been poorly served and wasted time in my program is when I was content to persue paper writing with a zen like focus, and let my funding and direction be my PI’s job. Utterly wasted a year, and ironically, got no publications out of it.

    Like

  33. leigh Says:

    if i’m understanding you correctly, Confounding, you did not get independently funded from these grants that you spent so much time writing. so how has that changed your situation from “letting your funding and direction be your PI’s job”?

    Like


  34. While I’m sure there were more productive things I could be doing…

    Yup. There were.

    The grant itself got carved up into a methods paper…

    I hope people in your field care about methods papers.

    Like


  35. so how has that changed your situation from “letting your funding and direction be your PI’s job”?

    Oh snap?

    Like

  36. becca Says:

    Dr. Isis- ah, but you can do everything DM does… backwards and in high heels 😉
    Also, with more hilariosity than DM. At least, if there is a casual relationship between use of the word ‘balls’ and hilariosity. And I believe there is.

    I really don’t understand the anti-grantwriting advice from one critical perspective- if grad school is the time you have the most ‘slack’ in the career pressure, and learning grantsmanship often takes a lot of time, why wouldn’t you want to start exactly when you don’t have the maximal pressure?

    It seems to me it depends a lot on the student and the field. Some fields expect grad students to have cranked out a lot of papers by two years in, and if you have experience with say three or more papers, it might make sense to turn one of those ‘required for a comp exam or class’ R grants into a real application.

    Like


  37. …if grad school is the time you have the most ‘slack’ in the career pressure…

    This is not what I said.

    Like

  38. leigh Says:

    my pre-doc fellowship app totally came from my qualifying exam. it was a relatively low effort/time expenditure to get it out to review from there. but after the second round was still not fundable, the cost (time): benefit ratio made it obvious.

    part of the phd should be learning when to cut losses. THAT is something worth gaining experience in as a grad student.

    Like

  39. Confounding Says:

    @Isis: “Yup. There were.” : Take it up with my department, please.

    “I hope people in your field care about methods papers.”: They do.

    @leigh: “if i’m understanding you correctly, Confounding, you did not get independently funded from these grants that you spent so much time writing. so how has that changed your situation from “letting your funding and direction be your PI’s job”?”

    Experience creating proposals that led to a fellowship that should cover me for the rest of my program unless something goes well and truly off the rails.

    Like

  40. leigh Says:

    excellent. with all that experience and independence from your hindrance of a boss you should be able to transition straight into a PI position then.

    Like

  41. Confounding Says:

    @leigh To be fair, I also changed to an extremely supportive boss – one who pushes both grant writing and publication. But he’s let me take the lead, and it’s led to considerably more productivity. We’ll see how that plays in the job market in a year or so. Then Isis can tell me she told me so.

    Like


  42. Let’s be honest. Once I get this baby out and can go back to drinking wine, I’m not going to remember any of this.

    Like

  43. Dr. O Says:

    You’re suggesting grantsmanship isn’t something one should learn?

    That is most definitely not what I wrote, unless you don’t consider grantsmanship a component of writing skills. In which case you might have a bigger issue with which to deal.

    Like

  44. Cheryl Says:

    Hey DrugMonkey. For the record, I resubmitted… and I received the fellowship. I can’t wait to apply for jobs with an F31 on my CV.

    Like

  45. Cheryl Says:

    Hey DrugMonkey, me again. Just received a 3% on my F32 after winning a major award in my field. Guess my graduate training has been pretty successful

    Like


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