Blooding the trainees

March 3, 2016

In that most English of pastimes, fox hunting, the noobs are smeared about the face with the blood of the poor unfortunate fox after dismembering by hound has been achieved.

I surmise the goal is to get the noob used to the less palatable aspects of their chosen sporting endeavor. 

Anyway, speaking of manuscript review and eventual publication, do you plan a course for new trainees in the lab?

I’m wondering if you have any explicit goals for them- Should a mentor try to get new postdocs or grads a pub, any pub as quickly and easily as possible?

Or should they be thrown into a multi-journal fight so as to fully experience the joys of desk rejection, ultimate denial after four rounds of review somewhere and the final relief of just dumping that Frankensteinian monster of a paper in a lowly journal and being done. 

Do you plan any of this out for your newest trainees?

19 Responses to “Blooding the trainees”

  1. dr_mho Says:

    The time limits on K99s (must apply by 4th year) make this an interesting question, since applicants will not be competitive without some publication. So… trying to get a paper out for new postdocs within a couple years is the goal. Ideally, some clear-cut project on which they can learn the methods of the lab, followed by the possibility of a sexier follow-up story after.


  2. drugmonkey Says:

    I admit that I think it should not even be a discussion as to whether postdocs should have pubs from the lab in year *four*. It is verging on mentoring malpractice (or very, very bad luck) not to reach that target.


  3. MF Says:

    So far I have felt it was imperative to publish things relatively quickly in order for my lab to survive (and obtain funding), which I think aligns well with the interests of trainees. To me, it makes more sense to have a newish trainee who has a reasonable amount of data go through the relatively successful publication experience rather than have them bounce from journal to journal.

    This strategy seems to have worked for me (looks like my R01 is getting renewed, and we were not dinged to much for not having glamour pubs). Now I will have to see whether we want to get into the business of “building a bigger sotry” (I suspect that way may lead to that giant Frankenstein of a paper).


  4. DJMH Says:

    My (wholly untested) opinion is that it’s best to shoot for a relatively “easy” publication early, because the process of going through writing up a manuscript and making figures teaches you a lot of things that are valuable to know *before* you collect your next data set. So ideally within the first two years for a grad student or postdoc.


  5. Grumble Says:

    Fast pub or Frankenpub? There is no rule in my lab. The answer depends on the story the student/postdoc has managed to develop. If we think it’s big enough for journal tiers above the 7th, we go for Frankenpub and that almost always means multiple journals and desk rejections. If not, we send it somewhere lowly but solid, laugh at the silly reviews we sometimes get, and then send it to somewhere else lowly but solid.

    Should I push the kids in one direction or the other? Nah. They know how important having some glam factor in their CVs is, and they also want to have their work be maximally influential. If I think they can swing it, I’m not going to push them towards multiple small/fast pubs instead. And the one who can’t swing it (or who’ve had bad luck and their projects just aren’t leading towards a glam type pub), I’m certainly not going to insist that they don’t publish until they have a glam.


  6. drugmonkey Says:

    the process of going through writing up a manuscript and making figures teaches you a lot of things that are valuable to know *before* you collect your next data set.

    Agree, and a very excellent point that I don’t believe we’ve taken up on the blog before. The thinking you do during the planning/doing phase about the eventual argument you must construct for a viable manuscript is a learning process, but an essential one.


  7. PaleoGould Says:

    “In that most English of pastimes”
    A minor point but, the most english of pastimes is going to the pub at 4.30 pm on a Friday and staying until close.


  8. Grumble Says:

    The difference between the and that is more than just a few letters.


  9. jmz4 Says:

    “I admit that I think it should not even be a discussion as to whether postdocs should have pubs from the lab in year *four*.”
    -Agree, and wish my boss did as well, but, quick point of order. If you’re applying for a K99, and you want to have a pub out when you submit, it really has to be out in year 3, since you still have to be under 4 years when you do your resubmission (something a lot of people forget). So, if you take a cycle off to digest and address your SS comments, you need to send in your initial application 10 months (resub deadline is a month later) before your 4 year limit expires.

    Back on topic
    Shouldn’t the approach taken for the trainee depend a bit on whether the trainee is a postdoc or grad? Presumably the PD would have already written up some papers?

    Do you guys all start with the default assumption that your trainees are aiming for jobs in academia? Would it change your publication trajectories for them if you knew they wanted to go to industry or out of bench science all together?


  10. The Other Dave Says:

    I wish we could upvote other people’s responses, so I could upvote what Grumble writes.


  11. drugmonkey Says:

    In my type of publication track, I believe what makes the PD look best for (unspecified) industry and academia is the same. More first author pubs, highest JIF reasonable for us, more pubs overall. Evidence of a focus or domain they are in charge of.


  12. DJMH Says:

    The thinking you do during the planning/doing phase about the eventual argument you must construct for a viable manuscript is a learning process,

    Ha, I was even thinking of more mundane things like “Organize your data so you can find it all again” and “You have to do this control interleaved, not after the fact” and “It is not a good idea to collect a ton of data over months without being sure if you can analyze it.”


  13. drugmonkey Says:

    Well, the way you do the controls certainly plays a role. You have to get a feel for how the reviewers you are likely to face are going to behave. This can dictate whether you always have to follow Experimental Design 101 principles, whether you are doing rapid pilots to be followed with the real experiment, etc. Strategic thinking about the entire arc from idea to final publication is something that we all develop over time and, I would imagine, through a highly variable process ranging from the school of hard knocks to very explicit mentoring.


  14. Ola Says:

    Does the convoluted publication route happen? Yes, frequently.
    Do we plan it to be that way? No

    It’s a bit like riding a bike. It’s a given that the kid is gonna fall off at some point, and eventually they’ll be a better bike rider because of it (versus having never fallen off). But you have to be an asshole of a parent to go around deliberately pushing your kid off the bike.


  15. serialmentor Says:

    I give all my graduate students an easy starter project, with the expectation that they can submit a paper by the end of year one. I think it’s critical to have something out early in the graduate career. It’s also very helpful in committee meetings if the students can point to published papers.

    Postdocs may work on bigger projects from day one and hence may not publish in their first year, but I certainly expect that every postdoc submits something in their second year.


  16. Crystal Voodoo Says:

    I got lucky. My first pub was an independent experimental validation of a new technique developed in a BSD’s lab. Once their Nature Methods submission got rejected, they were all about the back-to-back pub. This made the actual submission process fairly drama free. Unfortunately, they wanted it submitted in two weeks, and my PI was on a cruise and incommunicado, so I had to wing it with respect to actually writing it. Of course my PI was thrilled to return from vacation with a complete manuscript that had already been vetted by the co-authors sitting on his desk.


  17. Morgan Price Says:

    I feel that grad students should experience writing a paper early on, even if that means a paper that is a bit “small,” but it rarely works out that way.


  18. Newish PI Says:

    What is a “small” paper anyway? Who decided that a real paper in biology needs 7 multipanel figures and a book full of supplementary info? After collaborating with chemists, I realized that their way of publishing papers as soon as they have any kind of punchline makes a lot of sense. What’s wrong with a 1 or 2 or 3 figure paper? I’ve now found a subset of journals in my field that accept “observations” or brief reports. Some might call these least publishable units. But is that really an insult? My students are getting their own first author papers and my pub list is growing.

    (And yes, I know it is good for my CV/career to have some long papers too.)


  19. drugmonkey Says:

    People who sneer at “LPU” papers are impeding the advance of science.


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