It started off with a tweet suggesting the NIH game is rigged (bigly) against a “solo theoretician”…
https://twitter.com/cryptogenomicon/status/789118235182526465

interesting. Then there was a perfectly valid observation about the way “productivity” is assessed without the all-important denominators of either people or grant funding:
https://twitter.com/cryptogenomicon/status/789124227706281984

good point. Then there was the reveal:
https://twitter.com/cryptogenomicon/status/789177870027329536

“It’s her first NIH application”.

HAHHAHHHAAA. AYFK? Are you new here? Yes. Noobs get hammered occasionally. They even get hammered with stock critique type of comments. But for goodness sake we cannot possible draw conclusions about whether “NIH grant review can handle a solo theoretician” from one bloody review!

This guy doubled down:
https://twitter.com/cryptogenomicon/status/789196033653780481

Right? A disappointing first grant review is going to “drive a talented theoretical physicist out of biology”. You can’t make this stuff up if you tried.

and tripled down:
https://twitter.com/cryptogenomicon/status/789208927904862209

See, it’s really, really special, this flower. And a given “line of critique” (aka, StockCritique of subfieldX or situationY) is totes only a problem in this one situation.

News friggin flash. The NIH grant getting game is not for the dilettante or the faint of heart. It takes work and it takes stamina. It takes a thick hide.

If you happen to get lucky with your first proposal, or if you bat higher than average in success rate, hey, bully for you. But this is not the average expected value across the breadth of the NIH.

And going around acting like you (or your buddies or mentees or departmentmates or collaborators) are special, and acting as though is a particular outrage and evidence of a broken system if you are not immediately awarded a grant on first try, well……it is kind of dickish.

There is a more important issue here and it is the mentoring of people that you wish to help become successful at winning NIH grant support. Especially when you know that what they do is perhaps a little outside of the mainstream for a given IC or any IC. Or for any study section that you are aware of.

In my opinion it is mentoring malpractice to stomp about agreeing that this shows the system is awful and that it will never fund them. Such a response actually encourages them to drop out because it makes the future seem hopeless. My opinion is that proper mentoring involves giving the noobs a realistic view of the system and a realistic view of how hard it is going to be to secure funding. And my view is that proper mentoring is encouraging them to take the right steps forward to enhance their chances. Read between the summary statement lines. Don’t get distracted with the StockCritiques that so infuriate you. Don’t use this one exemplar to go all nonlinear about the ErrorZ OF FACT and INCompETENtz reviewers and whatnot. Show the newcomer how to search RePORTER to find the closest funded stuff. Talk about study sections and FOA and Program Officers. Work the dang steps!

Potnia Theron was a lot nicer about this than I was.

That post also got me wandering back to an older post by boehninglab about being a Working Class Scientist. Which is an excellent read.

Aptitude for different roles in academic science is a tricky business. Until a person has been serving in a particular capacity, we never really know how well they will do. Sometimes one is very surprised, on both the “more capable”and “unexpected disaster” fronts.

And yes, I am fully aware that Imposter Syndrome gets in the way of self-assessment.

I am also aware of the Peter Principle.

Nevertheless the question of the day is whether you think about those future roles that you might reasonably be considered to fill. Do you have a firm idea of your strengths and weaknesses as an academic/scientist? Are there certain roles you could never do, wouldn’t be good at? Are there other ones you just *know* are right for you if only given the chance?

I think that I do. At my stage, these next-steps are mostly leadership roles for which I am utterly unsuited. I know this about myself and there is no way I would pursue them or feel slighted if passed over for that behind-the-scenes grooming/encouraging process.

I see other people who I think are eminently suited to be leaders of larger collectives. I’ve been able to observe several people who ascended to power (ahem) from petty to very grand indeed. I think I know what sorts of people do well and I am not that. At all.

Of course this post isn’t really about me but rather about those that do not seem to be aware of themselves. I marvel at that phenotype that doesn’t seem to recognize their own skill set and the strengths and limits that they express.

This got me to pondering and of course I am now curious about your experience, Dear Reader.

Do you feel as though you have a good assessment of your suitability for various next-roles that might lie ahead of you?