Archive for: January, 2016

The New NIH Biosketch & Their Do's and Don'ts: Part 1

Jan 29 2016 Published by under Uncategorized

First off, I dislike the apostrophe in the middle of the do's. It is inconsistent. It should be "Dos" and "Don'ts" or "Do's" and "Don't's", the latter of which looks delightfully absurd. Anyway... moving on to issues of substance.

This is from CSR's Peer Review Notes (the apostrophe in CSR's is indicating possessive, as it is their Peer Review Notes).

As they say, with a link to the announcement:

Since last May, applicants are required to use a new biosketch format, where they are asked to highlight their scientific contributions instead of simply listing their publications. The goal is to better focus reviews on the magnitude and significance of an applicant’s research accomplishments.


They've got advice for reviewers and for applicants. The advice is useful, even if they get the apostrophes screwed up. To start, I think keeping in mind this piece of advice to reviewers is important:

You may factor an uninformative biosketch into your scoring if it hinders your ability to assess the investigator.

You don't want this happening to you. So, let's go through their list of advices for aplicants.

Read the instructions and use the new biosketch format.

Okay, Muffins, as my blogmom would say, this one is easy. Duh. Read the Darwin blessed instructions. Follow them. Do not piss of the reviewers before they even get to the science. Next:

Be objective -- Don’t oversell or undersell yourself.

There are obvious reasons for this: being caught, if not out & out lying, even stretching the truth, will reduce the trust of the reviewer and increase their skepticism in everything you say, including the science. That said, there is a more subtle, two-fold problem with this advice. On one hand, one must fight that imposter syndrome that makes you self-denigrate anything and everything you've touched in your life. Remember, you are that good. On the other, we all have a tendency to see some of the things we've done as more important than perhaps they are. Or we are unsure of how much credit we can take for what our students, postdocs, techs have brought to the table. This is not easy. In general, if it came out of your lab, you can claim it on the biosketch. Best advice: get someone you trust, who thinks well of you, to look it over and comment. That's what mentors are for. But also keep in mind the next piece of advice:

Make sure your claims are backed up by your publications.

If you want to say you can do something, it's best said by citing the publication where you did. If you are young, and starting out, applying for a NRSA or other early mechanism, citing abstracts is OK. Indicate if the abstract is peer reviewed, or published. Web of Science and Google Scholar list published abstracts. From their instructions for trainees (links here for predocs and postdocs):

While all applicants may describe up to five contributions, graduate students and postdoctorates are encouraged to consider highlighting two or three they consider most significant. These may include research papers, abstracts, book chapters, reviews, as well as non-publication research products, such as materials, methods, models, or protocols [my highlight].

For grownups they do let you include "non-published" items:

For each of these contributions, reference up to four peer-reviewed publications or other non-publication research products (can include audio or video products; patents; data and research materials; databases; educational aids or curricula; instruments or equipment; models; protocols; and software or netware) that are relevant to the described contribution.

But I would be very careful to make sure that non-published is balanced with published.

In general, one of the things reviewers consider, if not explicitly, is "can this person do this project?". The biosketch is your chance to demonstrate that.

OK... part 2 on Monday. I need to go wrestle some data into the ground.

5 responses so far

Reviewing Grants, again

Jan 28 2016 Published by under Uncategorized

What is with these grant writers (lots of NRSA's)- titles that are 2x longer than permitted? Do they really think that it might be ok??? Or do they just not know? I judge the latter unlikely as they read like the format suggested by one of the major grant writing advice companies.

Argh.. why oh why do you make life harder for yourself?


2 responses so far

Music for (very difficult) data analysis

Jan 27 2016 Published by under Uncategorized

The dataz, they are misbehavin'. Ella would be pissed.

However, strong inspirational Russian music to the rescue.

One response so far

L'Oréal USA For Women In Science grant

Jan 26 2016 Published by under Uncategorized

L’Oréal USA For Women In Science Program is a program for postdoc fellowships for women. I've had a couple of applicants over the years but none ever funded (and never any feedback on why they were not funded, unfortunately).

From the website:


The L’Oréal USA For Women in Science fellowship program awards five women postdoctoral scientists annually with grants of $60,000 each for their contributions in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields and commitment to serving as role models for younger generations. The program is the U.S. component of the L'Oreal-UNESCO For Women in Science International Fellowships. Celebrating its twelfth year in the U.S., the For Women in Science program has awarded 60 postdoctoral women scientists nearly $3 million in grants.

L’Oréal USA partners with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) to manage the program’s application and peer-review process. Each year, the program attracts talented applicants from diverse STEM fields, representing some of the nation’s leading academic institutions and laboratories.

Here is a link to download the FAQ. And a link to the application page.

This is a grant for US Citizens/perm residents to work in the US. The Eligibility Criteria are:

Must have a conferred PhD and have started in a postdoctoral research position by December 31, 2015

Must maintain the status of postdoctoral researcher throughout the fellowship year

Must be American born, naturalized citizen or permanent resident

Must be affiliated with a U.S. based academic or research institution

Must plan to conduct their postdoctoral studies and research in the U.S.

Must be involved in basic research in the life and physical/material sciences, engineering & technology, computer science and mathematics

Cannot be in a faculty position

Must commit to at least twenty hours of activity in support of women and girls in science (e.g. mentoring, classroom visits, media, events)

Must be available the week of October 4-7, 2016 for the For Women in Science Awards Week





4 responses so far

Poem for the day

Jan 26 2016 Published by under Uncategorized

Sometimes I listen to "The Writer's Almanac" from Garrison Keillor. Today's poem is call January. Here is a small post about the poet and poem.

JANUARY by Baron Wormser

“Cold as the moon,” he’d mutter
In the January of 5 A.M. and 15 below
As he tried to tease the old Chev into greeting
One more misanthropic morning.

It was an art (though he never
Used that curious word) as he thumped
The gas pedal and turned the key
So carefully while he held his breath
And waited for the sharp jounce
And roar of an engaged engine.

“Shoulda brought in the battery last night.”
“Shoulda got up around midnight
And turned it over once.”

It was always early rising as he’d worked
A lifetime “in every damn sort
Of damn factory.” Machines were
As natural to him as dogs and flowers.
A machine, as he put it, “was sensible.”

I was so stupid about valves and intakes
He thought I was some religious type.
How had I lived as long as I had
And remained so out of it?
And why had I moved of my own free will
To a place that prided itself
On the blunt misery of January?

“No way to live,” he’d say as he poked
A finger into the frozen throat
Of an unwilling carburetor.
His breath hung in the air
Like a white balloon.

Later on the way to the town where
We worked while the heater
Wheezed fitfully and the windshield
Showed indifference to the defroster
He’d turn to me and say that
The two best things in this world
Were hot coffee and winter sunrises.
The icy road beckoned to no one,
Snow began to drift down sleepily,
The peace of servitude sighed and dreamed.

“January” by Baron Wormser from Mulroney and Others. © Sarabande Books, 2000.

from MULRONEY & OTHERS, Sarabande Books, 2000

It is just fine for today.

One response so far

The Culture that is Our Universities

Jan 22 2016 Published by under Uncategorized

I received this from a friend & colleague from the University I was at n-2 ago.

On another front, [collaborator of f & c] in Engineering told me that ... his daughter was also* raped by a [arts college] student.  When she appeared before an all male panel, the comment was made that her father was a prof.  One of the other panel members said that they would make him go away, as well.  Likely why they are offering to buy him out. 

I am depressed. This is a University that is trying to position itself, sell itself, market itself as being "modern" and addressing the needs of a "diverse" student population.

One of the most salient things I've read about the Oscars is from Viola Davis:


Every rape is a problem. Every male professor who abuses their power is a problem. There may be a problem with the Oscars, but there is certainly a problem with the underlying system. The rape is wrong. The attitude that "we can make this go away" is in the "we" as much as it is in the "make this go away".  These issues reflect fundamental problems in our society that have to do with gender and race. The Oscars, the abuse of women in academia, these are symptoms (and symptoms can kill you) of a greater problem. Things are better than they were 30 years ago. But we have a long way to go.

*This is in reference to a case that we knew of that was a football player/frat party rape that was pretty much hushed up by the administration, with the end result of the female student leaving the university.

2 responses so far

Learning to say No

Jan 21 2016 Published by under Uncategorized

I know I have talked about learning to say no. I know lots of people I respect on the intertubes have talked about it. For women. For URM. For everyone in a position of little authority. Sometimes we (and I include myself) think it's easy. Just say "no no no" into a mirror every night and you'll be able to do it to the face of the Big Mean BSD leaning on you. What I can say to that, right now is: ha ha ha.

Just like imposter syndrome, there is a vicious little undermining mental loop that says "well, yes, I'll say to the next think I'm asked, but this one is different".

Or in my case: "I'm too old/too senior/too damn good (double hahaha on that one) to say no". Or one of my favorites "this is important to a trainee/former trainee/person I care about, so I won't say no".

And... once again, I find myself finally paying for that hamburger.

I'm writing up a talk, for a professional meeting, on something about which I knew miniscule amounts prior to the talk. Actually I've got two, and I'm only finishing up the first tomorrow (today by the time you are reading this). What an ass I am. You heard it here first.


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In the mail to me today

Jan 20 2016 Published by under Uncategorized

From a very very good friend:


One response so far

Words of Wisdom for Today: Grant Page Limits Edition

Jan 20 2016 Published by under Uncategorized

From me.

Remember: page limits are Darwin/Diety of choice's way of telling you how much the reviewers want to read or the funding agencies want to know.  

or in other words:

Do not fuck with margins, font size or page limits

2 responses so far

Course Reviews & The Older Woman

Jan 19 2016 Published by under Uncategorized

I got my course reviews from last term. Its a big class (the entire first year medical class) and I give about 10 lectures and many many hours of lab. This year nothing approximated the best comment from my first year teaching at almost-MRU:

Dr. Theron is insufficiently nurturing,

a comment that I am sure men have received through the ages.

This year I was compared (unfavorably) to the two young, relatively goodlooking men who teach in the course.

Why can't Dr. Theron be more like Dr. Good and Dr. Looking? They are incredible teachers who really care about students.

Actually, if the students knew the truth about Drs Good & Looking's sentiments about students they might feel differently.

There has been lots of work on perceptions of teaching and student evaluations. One interesting place to look is here, from Ben Schmidt. He took the the 14 million reviews from and turned it an interactive website that lets you type in words and see the gender split measured in "uses per millions words text". For example (in a very bad image, I encourage you to go the web page itself):

gender diffs

The yellow dots are occurrences of "happy" for female instructors and blue dots the occurrences  for male instructors, again, per million instances, over a number of fields.

gen dif 2Try "good" and "excellent" and "challenging" and "valuable". Try "nurturing" or "evil". Unless you really believe that females make more evil professors than males, there is a problem here (and not just my inability to capture images from this web page). Although see this for another view. And this.  Age also factors into perception, with significant interaction between age and gender, with young males getting the highest ratings for a limited number of variables.

For me, this is not so much of problem, except for my slightly bruised ego. The head of the course (older, male) basically said that he didn't give a damn about the specific comments. My overall numbers were sufficiently good, and he thought my lectures were fine, even strong. Its also not a problem as I am not up for tenure. If the bias is against older women, it won't play into tenure too much, because we all know that older women don't need jobs because they are supported by their partners (unless of course you've got two older lesbians).

Part of my problem, to my thinking which includes a sample size small, is the change in students. This is material I've been teaching for many years, taught in medical schools, and undergraduate courses, and grad programs. I've kept up with the "new pedagogy" and even (yes, that old) weathered the transition from overheads to powerpoint. Over time, my reviews have changed, for the worse.

Now, it could be less enthusiasm for teaching on my part. It could be less fear about promotion and evaluations. I do not hold that I have stayed the same. Obviously not, I'm significantly heavier than I was as an assistant professor with more pubs, and my bad attitude has subsided, a little. But my reviews have followed a nice parabolic trajectory. Dreadful in the beginning (when I was younger than the medical students), improving, but then dropping about 5-7 years ago. In this latter time period, I've improved those scores (at least) as I try & modify to meet the needs of "today's students". I now give detailed handouts, despite this:

To provide or not to provide course PowerPoint slides? The impact of instructor-provided slides upon student attendance and performance Debra L. Worthington, David G. Levasseur Computers & Education Computers & Education 85 (2015)

 As PowerPoint has pervaded today's college classrooms, instructors have struggled with the issue of whether or not to provide students' with copies of course PowerPoint slides (instructor-provided slides).While students report that such slides assist them academically, many instructors have expressed concerns that these slides encourage absenteeism and classroom passivity. To help assess the academic impact of instructor-provided slides, the present study examined two semesters of students' progress in a communication theory course. Across these semesters, the study charted the relationship between access/use of various types of instructor-provided slides on class attendance and exam performance. In its key findings, the study found that instructor-provided slides had no impact on class attendance and an adverse impact on course performance for students using these slides in their notetaking process.


My second favorite comment, 2-3 years ago was:

Dr. Theron actually expects us to take notes during her lectures. Why can't she put all the information in her handouts?

America, these are your future doctors.

5 responses so far

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