Authorship Arguing Arse

September 17, 2011

Following up on the prior post about authorship credit, I was wondering.

If you see a CV that has listed-first authorships, without symbol, and listed second with equal-contribution doodlebugger symbols, but no listed-first-with-symbol publications*…do you think anything about the author?

How about a CV that contains many multi-author pubs** but the person is only ever first or last?

*assuming here that this is an honest reflection

**I.e., it is not a subfield practice of only an author or two

Grant Snooping

September 17, 2011

This is also known as “research”.

CRISP, the fore runner to RePORTER, was one of my best career guides as a newly independent investigator. I did a fair bit of grant snooping back then…and I still find it valuable use of my time.

For new faculty who plan NIH funded careers, this is an exercise in the necessary and the possible.

With respect to the former, sure, RePORTER does not tell all about a given PI’s research support. You can’t tell what participation there might be on other grants, funds from private foundations…or what fraction of her salary is on hard money. Nevertheless you can get an idea.

An idea of how various folks made it work, or are making it work, across their career arcs. I suggest starting with your own Department and then moving on to your closest subfield folks. Who do you think of as successful? Who struggles, in your opinion? Who turfed out in frustration over the grant seeking? Examination of their funding may give you some clues.

Admittedly the correlations will be loose. I’ve seen careers up through retirement that look like a long frustrating struggle to cobble together funding. Others where the PI disappeared (NIH funding-wise) mysteriously in the midst of what looks like good success. But with a large enough sample you can get an idea of how much funding you are going to need to sustain to have the career you are planning.

The *possible* is another interesting matter for your researches. We hear all kinds of rumors, conventional wisdoms and assumptions about the possible. Some of it backed up with data, some not. Much of it geared to career stage, where you publish, how frequently you publish, your subdomains of science, etc. These inputs create a sense in your mind about what is possible.

To land an R01 prior to a smaller R award. To carry two R01s in year 3. To renew a less than productive R01 interval. ….P01 or P50 BigMechs? How about a U or a contract?

When are you ready? When will study sections go for it and when will they not? Nobody wants to waste their time on low percentage efforts if the time is better spent elsewhere, right? So we strategize…often on mere rumor and old PIs tales.

I have usually found that the result of grant snooping is more encouraging than is conventional wisdom. Perhaps I am a glass-half-full type of person. When I see someone else having secured grant funding that appears to violate conventional wisdom, well, “why not me too?” says I.

I dunno. Perhaps it is a false comfort, but having some funded examples of whatever I am trying to do keeps my estimation of the odds out of demotivator territory.

It can also be comforting to review people who seemingly struggled on the grant shoestring for years before finally hitting it hard with multiR01 support. Perhaps this will keep your confidence up that things will eventually get easier. Don’t forget to look at the funded intervals of support around renewal periods…there may be some gaps.

The point of this exercise is not to feel superior or run down other investigators in your field. The point is to reveal the feet furiously churning under the waterline so as to put the serenely swimming swan in context.

At the very least it should make you realize those other folks are naught but upjumped Ugly Ducklings… just like you.

Honesty in equal contribution

September 16, 2011

When we last wrangled at length over the treatment of “equal contribution” authorships on the CV certain opinions emerged. There were those who felt very strongly that re-ordering, say, the first and second listed authors (who contributed equally) was fraudulent and unethical. I was unable to get these types to express similar outrage about someone conveniently failing to note the equal contribution. I speculated that the listed-first author was going to be more likely to do so.

I am happy to report that I have recently run across an example in which the listed-first author was careful to denote equal contribution. Kudos to you, my ethical friend!

No matter what esoteric small town grocer science you conduct in your laboratory, there will eventually be a FOA just for you.

The end of an era

September 15, 2011

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In these days in which having Early Stage Investigator or in some cases New Investigator status gets you an automatic bump on the payline, policy minutia becomes acutely interesting. I’ve run across one such today, thanks to Comrade PhysioProf.

Now, you might think that the moment your Notice of Grant Award is issued, your ESI/NI status evaporates. I would certainly have assumed that. So if you happen to have two fundable grant scores in the same round you could get the ESI bump on one and then be SOL on the other. This would be very unhilarious if you had one score which was only going to be funded because of the ESI consideration and one that was good enough to sneak under the regular payline and the latter happened to fund first. Oh, can you imagine the screaming???

But I digress. A query at writedit’s blog pointed to this FAQ entry at the NIH website.

What happens if an NI/ESI submits two different R01 applications, and NIH decides to fund the first application before the second application is reviewed?

NI and ESI status for an application is calculated based on investigator status on the date each application is submitted to Therefore, if the investigator submits a second R01 application before losing NI or ESI status, then the second application retains the NI or ESI status.

The commenter is hoping that this means his or her application retains the NI/ESI status after the first one is funded. Not quite the same thing, is it? And it is not just semantics. NI/ESI status is meaningful at the review stage, CSR has been grouping them recently and encouraging the reviewers to take note of the status for some time. So it does make a difference whether an application is designated at review or not. And this doesn’t mean that this carries over into when the funding decision is made. As the commenter found out.

Yeah, I did point this to the PO and he said he confirmed with the director of his extramural office that it’s not when you submit the grant, but when you get funding.

So, no disconnect here. At first I was wondering if perhaps the IC in question had a policy that was slightly stricter than the overall NIH but I don’t think this is true. I think there is a real and meaningful difference in policy that affects review and policy that affects funding in this case.

The latest post at Rock Talk is fascinating. This figure in particular. It depicts the fate of successful and unsuccessful applicants for the quasi-faculty level training mechanisms, the “mentored scientist” K awards K01 (mostly PhDs) the K08 (MDs, basic and translational research) and K23 (MD’s, patient-focused research).

Apart from the specifics here, I think it is good to see some followup on the fate of unsuccessful applicants for a given mechanism. It lets us get a much better handle on the failure rate. An unsuccessful application rate only goes so far in telling us abut the state of the industry, so to speak. Lots of worried handwringing about “closing labs” because of dismal success rates for R01 grants can really only be evaluated by knowing how many labs have *actually* disappeared from the applicant pool. But I digress.

These differential outcomes on subsequent R01 or other NIH Research Project Grant funding for the un/successful applicants for each K mechanism are interpreted by the head of OER as reflecting the baseline need for training between the typical applicants for each type of K award.

“the benefits were more modest, as might be expected from a group that already has significant research training and experience.”

I would suggest that the more likely explanation is to be found in the “No Subsequent NIH Activity” rates for unsuccessful K08/K23 applicants. They are generally MDs. They can simply return to the practice of medicine if the whole “research thing” isn’t working out for them. Probably with fewer headaches and greater overall compensation as well!

Does it matter how you interpret this? Well, maybe. If the NIH is really keen to hook in the MDs to careers as NIH funded PIs then they have to adjust to this lower threshold for giving up. Bump up the success rates. If the disparity is indeed more to blame on the lack of prior training, they need to try to create more mechanisms to intervene before MDs reach the K-applicant stage.

The NIH Jobs Plan

September 12, 2011

The NIH budget, $30Billion in round numbers, runs something on the order of $100 per taxpayer.

One five year R01 is about $2M, including overhead. This provides about 1.5-2 jobs on the direct science front. Also small fractions of the effort of a number of administrative and support staff (from housecleaning to security to animal care staff….). I don’t know how this compares with other stimulus proposals. But I do know that if I land a grant, I need to create a job and fill it. Or at the very least I avoid laying someone off. Yes, during this economic downturn the award of NIH grants for which I am the PI has resulted in the employment of the previously unemployed.

If one wanted to fund salary lines directly through fellowships, $58Million would buy about 1,000 junior scientists. Grad students or nondegreeseeking techs, if that was your desire.

The Civilian Conservation Corps was a makework government program which happened to leave a durable legacy. I was just enjoying some CCC built trails and park facilities this past summer, as it happens.

The impact of scientific advance is likely to leave an even more durable public legacy. That however is bonus. The real focus should be on employing people.

Increasing the NIH budget can help with that.

for any new to this blog, see Disclaimer. I am an interested party. But then so are the denizen’s of Wall Street, GM line workers, renewable energy folks and anyone else advocating for their business to enjoy federal stimulus.

Following up* on the case of Eric Srack who was prosecuted for selling a synthetic cannabis product containing the cannabimimetic compound JWH-081. The Salina Journal reports:

Jurors found Eric W. Srack guilty Tuesday morning of three felony counts of sale, delivery or distribution of JWH-081, an analog of an illegal substance.

As you will recall, this particular compound was not one of the ones listed (JWH-018, JWH-073, JWH-200, CP-47,497, and cannabicyclohexanol) ) on the recent scheduling action by the DEA.

You will also recall that this whole blossoming retail market in cannabimimetic products showed quite clearly that the Federal Analog Law, despite having an “OR” between its two key provisions (acts like, looks like) was in fact being interpreted as having an “AND” between these two provisions in case law. The above mentioned compounds were clearly endocannabinoid CB1 receptor agonists, therefore they “act like” the Schedule I drug Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol. They did not however look structurally like THC. So it appeared to be the case in summer-fall 2010 that DEA’s “watching and evaluating” language was the same as saying “Yup, these are not currently illegal folks, go nuts!”.

Putting at least one of the JWH-xxx compounds on the Schedule, however, had the potential to support the “AND” interpretation of the Federal Analog Act language. All that matters going forward from here is the case law.

This is the first successful conviction that I’ve heard of. If it holds up, it is a highly significant turning point for the legal status of these cannabimimetic, synthetic marijuana products.

*hmm, actually that may be one of the posts I’ve failed to recover from Sb.

Whether I think it sad or not, it is true. From postdocs to grad students to rotation students, summer interns and technicians…

The best thing to do as a mentor is to make sure they are on projects which earn them an authorship, preferably sooner rather than later.

Learning a bunch of stuff is comparatively less important.

When we last discussed the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) they had just instituted a penalty box for unsuccessful applicants.

The EPSRC says that scientists will not be allowed to apply for research funding for 12 months if, in the past 2 years, they have had three or more proposals ranked in the bottom half of a funding prioritization list, and also have less than 25% of all their proposals funded in that time.[source]

I missed a followup in which they modified their stance, after about two months of complaints:

the EPSRC now says that the restriction will not come in until 1 April 2010 — giving scientists more time to change their grant-submission behaviour so that they do not fall under criteria defining repeated failure. And instead of being excluded outright, researchers will be allowed one application during the year.


The EPSRC is keeping a policy introduced on 1 April, to refuse uninvited resubmissions of failed proposals, which it says will cut 20% of applications submitted for review. The exclusion policy had been expected to cut a further 10%.

Now that we are over a year down the road from this policy change, how is it going? A blog entry from Nature News shows “success”.

It worked. Applications are down from about 5,000 per year in the 2005-06 cycle to under 3,000 in the 2010-11 cycle. Success rates are up, despite a declining number of funded awards.

Of course, success rates are a poor picture of what has happened to science funding and the conduct of the science that will be supported. The tough questions start from here. Who has managed to secure funding? Who has been shelled out of the system? Have existing labs been scaled back…or lost altogether? Has this been at disparate cost to newly starting faculty, mid-career faculty or the geezertariat?

There are many questions to be answered. I do hope any additional funding agencies that may be eying those success rate curves with envy stop to look behind the curtain.

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!!!!


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.

The Dean's Hire

September 7, 2011

Once upon a time, lo these many years ago, I was watching some career shenanigans in an Academic Department of -ology dear to my professional heart. It was a time in which the University in question was trying to improve the diversity of the professorial staff for a number of reasons. This Department was blessed by the Dean with at least two Dean’s Hires.

This refers, in my parlance, to an Assistant Professor line that the University does not count against the Departmental allocation. A Department’s ability to hire new faculty is often regulated by the University and the number of ‘slots’ afforded a Department across time is jealously negotiated. Sometimes, the Dean (or Assistant Vice Provost or whatever) will pick up some of the costs that are usually assessed to the Department as well.

Resulting in a “free” faculty member.

Yay Department of -ology! Free suckers to teach the boring Intro classes. Amirite?

Yes. Well, unless the Department has a little problem with hiring diversity for a reason. However you care to characterize it or dress it up with language about “our standards”* there might just be a leeeetle problemo with the attitude of the rest of the faculty. Or at least a voting majority. Or hell, merely a minority can be a problem if the success of new faculty hinges on the enthusiastic mentoring, assisting and collaborating coming from senior faculty. And it does, my friends, it most assuredly does.

Because if there is a leeeetle problemo, the fate of the Dean’s Hire Assistant Professor is sealed before she so much as sets foot on campus and starts designing her new laboratory.

A problem because she starts getting screwed over by the failure of the Department faculty to help her out. Oh, I’m sure they are totally unconscious of their bias. Death of a thousand cuts that in isolation look like no big deal. Except for the blatantly racist and unfair whispering and not-so-whispery** water cooler campaign.

And of course, come time for promotion decisions, well, they have standards, doncha know. It is totally irrelevant that the current person surpasses the standard met by several of the older faculty upon their tenure decision years ago. Irrelevant! The standards are what we claim they are now. Well, yes, we made an exception for OldBoyJr a few years back but….well, he was good straight white folk and trained with some other good straight white folk and dammit, we just like him. Whoops, I mean, “he shows great promise of making a sustained and significant contribution to irrelevant backwater sub-sub-sub-ology that we happen to like around these here parts“.


This was all spurred by a Tweet from @CackleofRad who wondered how to advertise positions to a diverse pool of faculty candidates. It emerged that the University was unhappy with the representative-ness of a Department. My point is pressure from above to hire someone, anyone*** can be counterproductive if there are substantial and entrenched attitudes of the faculty that brought that situation about in the first place.
**hahaha, dudes you do realize that any fool graduate student can assess your CV, right?

**in the hearing of all and sundry fool graduate students, of course

***it is true that I do favor this approach of “just get some overt recognizable diversity by any means necessary”. However it is not the stopping point to hire some less-pasty faces. And it can be really friggin hard on the new hire.

in which a picture is worth a thousand words….

but you need to go read the post by Hermitage.
Also, here’s a link to the Chronicle bit on the disparity in undergraduate scholarship awards mentioned in the post at The Hermitage.

White students make up 62 percent of full-time students enrolled in four-year colleges but receive 76 percent of institutional merit scholarships; and white students are 40 percent more likely to receive private scholarships than minority students are.

And the OER Rock Talk blog thread on the racial disparity continues…

…or any tenure threshold tied to NIH grant success, really.

I think I polled you all or at least asked about tenure standards evolving in response to the dismal NIH funding climate in a prior post. Well, the topic reared its ugly head again on the Twitts:

I had the “how to get tenure” and “this is what we expect in grants from you” talk. 2 RO1’s per PI average is the goal

The only think I have that is new to contribute is related to this observation from Cackle of Rad:

I’m working the beat trying to get this in the collective conscious of peeps in the dept first

University level Promotions and Tenure (P&T) Committees deal with disparate expectations all the time. Humanities versus Science. Social Science versus Biomedical Science. School of Medicine “Biology” versus College of Arts and Science “Biology”.

What they rely upon in changing times, so I was just hearing, is a strong and clear description from the Chair of the department in question. The Chair (or head of the Departmental Promotion Committee) must be able to communicate clearly in her recommendation-for-tenure letter that the current candidate has been performing admirably and that grant success today looks much different from grant success five or ten years ago.

It is clear to me, however, that bluehairs and even the merely salt-and-pepper bearded may not always recognize that things have changed. Or if they do understand this, they may think it is obvious to everyone.

This is where Cackle’s comment comes in handy. It is the job of all young faculty, if they expect to hang together, to edumacate their elders. To discuss the latest grant funding news, rebut the self-involved ranting with the NIH numbers and just generally throw down on the topic of NIH grant-getting.

As non-whinily and non-self-servingly as you possibly can.