Money Talks

March 7, 2019

When you are looking to advance in academic science, sure everything is supposed to be about “scientific merit”. And who knows, maybe that is indeed a very large driver but as we all know there is nothing objective about that assessment. CNS pubs, JIF points, per article citations, overall scientist citations, h-index, “actually reading the papers”….. pfagh.

It’s the money that is a universal language. Grant money. Money that is under your control right now. Your history of acquiring grant money and the deployment of that history to predict your future ability to secure grant money.

We talk about this topic now and again. I have made this blog in very large part about how getting grant money works (and fails to work) within the US biomedical science setting. In this I get pushback from a lot of directions, including those individuals that are basically only lamenting that this is a reality. We also have those individuals that think it is gauche to talk about such things, indecorous to reveal our dirty scrabbling efforts or to suggest that fellow scientists should think hard about how to get grants.

Well, I’ve just been through a process in which no fewer than three academic institutes were deciding whether to employ YHN and simultaneously deciding whether to employ some other scientists working in roughly the same areas as me. And I am here to tell you…it is better to have grant money than not to have grant money. I happened to be on an upswing when most of the decisions were being made and it counted. A lot.

So keep sending in those applications people. Keep your foot on the floor. It is what gets you opportunity. It is what keeps you employed. It is what allows your other talents (like that science stuff) to be so much as viewed. Don’t let anyone gaslight you with “don’t get to big for your britches, junior” or “grants are a means not an ends” (yeah no duh, what does that even mean) or versions of “uppity” or “it’s only fair if every person that wants a grant gets one” or anything else. For you, you in particular? The lesson is clear. Get the money. Do the science. Get some more money. Do some more science.

Minor update

March 7, 2019

I’m in the midst of a significant career….something. Plainly put, I’m changing jobs in the very near future and will be moving my laboratory. As you are used to, Dear Reader, I have a tendency to work out stuff I’ve been thinking about on the blog. Sometimes it is long delayed from the triggering event(s). Sometimes it comes up as a weird pastiche of many different experiences that I have drawn together in my mind. Most of the time I think that what I have been pondering may have some value in terms of the career aspects of this blog that keeps some Readers coming around.

This will be no different.

So I thought I should give a little bit of alert and outline to my remaining Readers.

Up to this point, as you know, I describe my job as an exclusively soft money gig. I’m responsible for securing grants to fund my lab operation and the salaries of my staff. Most pointedly, my own. I tend not to be highly specific about my career timeline on the blog but I’m coming up on two decades as a lab head and as a continuously NIH funded one at that. (touch wood). So this feels like a big mid-career change of the variety that I would prefer there be only one. I’ve been thinking a lot over the past two years about “the second half of my career” in the context of this transition.

Oh yeah. It has been a two year process. And it has a story. Actually, it has many stories. With many, many moving parts and it involves an unusually large number of other people. So. It is not impossible that I will feel unable to talk about some parts of this and may have to flat out lie about some other things if I think it violates someone’s privacy too much. And I will use my usual unreservedly heavy hand of moderation in the comments if anyone strays too far afield with specifics.

At any rate, the thumbnail sketch is this. I will be in a University med school department environment within a few months. It is still a soft money type gig and the expectations of me do not change. I’m supposed to get grants, do science and publish science. I do, however, get partial hard money support of my salary which is a change. Other major changes include the fact I’m going to have to do some teaching and service work that I’ve been able to essentially dodge up to this point, but nothing terribly onerous. I anticipate dealing with a lot more bureaucracy than I had to negotiate up until now.


Before I address that, I have some more blog notes. I started this blog in 2007, using a pseudonym for various reasons of which only some involve me in a personal way. As part of that, and to support those reasons, I tried to keep a lot of personal specifics out of the discussion. This has had its pluses and minuses over the years, and some hilariousity when people assumed I was older, whiter, more female and a host of other things compared with my actual self. Nevertheless it was always my mantra that pseuds only work in a particular direction and if anyone knows your real voice they are going to sniff out your pseud in a trice. And I’ve found this to be true. It is occasionally so obvious to some people that they literally cannot believe you mean the pseud to actually be detached from your real identity and they will bust out with the connection in broad daylight without any particular malign intent. Some time ago a not-all-that-close-to-me colleague referred to my pseud as “the worst kept secret in drug abuse (science)”. Probably true. Most pertinently, my current department colleagues know, my trainees know and my colleagues’ trainees know. The point person on the hire that has resulted in my new job has known since before this all started- pretty sure some key communications occurred on Twitter DMs. Some of the colleagues in the department I am joining know. The blog is something I mention on career brag documents so anyone who was asked to write a reference letter for me knows. The point is that this narrows the space of who I am potentially talking about when I indirectly mention others who are involved in my current job transition. Or when I only mention things that involve other people. So I’m going to have to be a little bit careful, although inevitably my points about myself may draw some contrasts or point some fingers.

On to the “whys”.

  • I miss being on a University campus.
  • I’ve always existed on the outskirts of a department that is itself on the outskirts of my current institution. Scientifically and politically, which has had implications for my career, believe me. I am joining a department for which my work is more in the comfort zone. For now, at least, I feel my work will be a lot more appreciated.
  • My current institution has had its financial and administrative instability hit the papers occasionally. No need for specifics but ultimately I cannot be 100% certain my job in it, or the institution itself, will last my desired career length. The University I am joining will still be here after my grand children are dead.
  • Partial hard money salary, with a tenure guarantee of same until I retire, is a large contrast with my prospects in my current gig.

I was going to say “in no particular order” but right now reading this, it looks like my actual order. fwiw. As far as the other stuff goes, you may assume it is all workable at the worst. Space and support for my work and what not. All good enough to make it work.