Archive for: June, 2017

Righteous Indignation! on behalf of former trainees

Jun 12 2017 Published by under Uncategorized

I have a marvelous former student (master's) from about 20 years ago. Former student (FS)  at a mostly-teaching place and trying to get a proposal in and get research going. There have been lots of bumps on the road, but FS is good-humored and takes them in stride, or at least in flying form. FS isn't well liked by everyone in my lab, for all sorts of reasons, but I am in a place where I can take a slightly larger view of things. All I'm saying here, is things are not quite simple.

This proposal is to do something that will be in my lab, which is fine with me, and acceptable to the current lab folks.. I am helping with the proposal, which has had problems, and is a resubmission. In fact, I was surprised it got the relatively good reviews it did on the first go-round (not triaged! scored!). For this version,  I suggested adding a third person (TP), as a consultant who is working with the animal model (different from my standard, in some significant ways) that is integral to this project. I know TP to be Good People. I thought.

FS copied me on a string of emails to and from TP discussing the project and asking TP about being a consultant.  I noticed something that FS did not. (This would be their first NIH grant). Third Person is asking for a subcontract to do something that is essentially minor consulting. Yipes! And a fair chunk of salary. In fact, it wasn't so much asking, as assuming, and sending instructions.

TP's view might be defensible, but I think it has crossed a line.  So. Some more details.  Despite having just got tenure, and thus technically a "senior" faculty, FS teaches 12 months a year, about 4-5 courses a term, and really can only do research if  funded. That FS is in this position is clearly a function of choices made along the way. FS has two small kids, a working spouse, and all the complexities of life that go with that. Yet, FS published a first authored paper as a UG, and got two first -auth and two mid-auth papers doing  a masters. I think there is potential. Hence, my support, and help and etc.

The proposal is an R15, a wonderful mechanism, IMO for folks at primarily UG institutions,  the determination of which is based on total Institutional funding. R15's however, are limited to a total of 300K and 3 years. You can go non-modular, by asking for only 2 years  per year, or one really big year and 1-2 very small ones. But, if your costs are fairly consistent, and consist of sufficient salary for a term off, or enough course reduction to have time to do the work, money for ug's to do research and the actual costs of doing research, there really isn't room for much else, let alone 10-20% of a consultant (med school prof) salary.

Now, to make things more complicated, TP is up for tenure this year (I know TP from meetings). TP is good, published, and I think tenure is a no-brainer. But of course, we all know no-brainers that don't go the way we thought they would. I don't think this proposal would happen in time to make a difference for that decision. But again, we all know problems that started at "we didn't think...".


I let this post sit for a bit, and now am trying to be more generous. I am hoping TP just thought it was an R01 and there would be plenty of money and space. I am hoping that this all is a misunderstanding on everyone's part. It's hard to ask for something, no matter who you are. Maybe that is my problem: that I want to think everyone is a good guy and no one is out to screw anyone else. And you know, that's not such a bad attitude to have.

[Note: there are some gender and URM issues here. But I wanted to stick to the main issue about funding and support and asking to be on someone else's grant. It gets even more complicated when you consider those things. I struggle with these things when they are real. In theory, I have no problems. Its just real life that's such a pain in the ass].

7 responses so far

The case of the vanishing posts

Jun 09 2017 Published by under Uncategorized

I do my best, not even close to perfect, but my best, to support the junior faculty with whom I interact. I also draw on my circle of Women Profs of A Certain Age for some of the stories I tell her. I tell the stories because I believe they are useful to a larger group of people. I *always* change the names, sometimes the gender, and sometimes other identifying facts.

I have, once or twice, combined two people to make one, more coherent story. Anything:

that looks like this, in italic and a grey box is a real quote, from hearing, from my notes, from an email, from a tweet, as close as I can make it to what was said

albeit with identifiers (like my name) changed. Things that I paraphrase, I indicate that I paraphrase. I have probably slipped up, and made a few mistakes in this arena. For those I apologize.

I try to tell stuff in stories, because I know that somethings are easier to understand in stories. I tell stories because I like to tell stories, and because just writing a series of directives (Don't do this! Do this!) seems a bit heavy handed. A story leaves room for people to see themselves, or not, or see others, or not, and take advice, or not. Adding (fictional) names, giving people a voice, or even dialog seems to make for a better post.

But sometimes junior faculty don't feel supported, but threatened. I am tempted to respond by saying "not my intent", but there are times (and I disagree with my lawyer partner about this), heck most of the time, I think intent is irrelevant. It has come to my attention (one a bit ago, one very recent),  that somebody thinks I am writing about THEM. This would pretty funny, because in the recent case it's two separate somebodies at two different institutions. And, in this case, neither is correct. Yet, it is easy to feel threatened, or judged, or just plain insulted when one is a junior faculty. I know that.

So, I've taken a bunch of posts down. Sorry about that folks, but I don't think the loss is too great. And to my dear friends, at my current institution: no, it's not you.



4 responses so far

What do postdocs need to succeed?

Jun 07 2017 Published by under Uncategorized

In a burst of well-intentioned activity, that would also have the potential to boost the bottom line, our HR (HR!) is spearheading /leading/ waltzing into the fray to design a Training Program for Postdocs.

There is potential, yes, potential, to do something good. I can smell it. Training in teaching, training in grant writing, training in managing a lab: these are all good things to learn. Some people will want some of them, other will want or need other training. At a small place, such as the where I am, it is possible to tailor what we offer to what is needed. These are things no one ever even thought about teaching me, and I learned a lot by making mistakes that I probably wish I hadn't made. No, not probably.

Ah, but the meeting yesterday was magnificent (not really). The way the head of HR presented it was an excellent example of administrative weasel. "I'm only the reporter" and "Other people are making the decisions" and "I'm happy to coordinate", she said. I.e., I'm not going to admit I'm in control, so that if you have problems, you can't blame me.

There are some good people, with good heads, involved, and there are some good ideas, including the list above. There was some discussion about whether NIH would allow this (yes) and whether having a second graduate student track would be useful (yes). Then, without actually saying anything overtly, the admin's kicker came out: well, we could charge tuition for this, and of course, it would be mandatory for every postdoc in our (albeit small) medical school.

That was my WTF moment. To my credit, I did not explode, or curse, or refer to anyone's progenitors in derogatory terms. See: old dogs *can*.

What I did say is that if it were not voluntary, the BigDog PI's would never sign on. Period. In tight NIH modular budgets, NO ONE will want to include tuition. Period. And unless the administration was willing to move money from one ledger to another, I did not see how this could generate income.

I made a passionate speech about putting the trainees first, that any program needs to add value to them. The driving question here should be "what do our postdocs need to succeed?" Not all trainees need the same thing, be they grad student or postdoc. And a new foreign Postdoc may not be ready for any of it, and need something else altogether. I explicitly asked "Is this a money making scheme? Or something to add value to our postdocs so they are more employable?"

I know I reached the faculty. The admin/carpet people had their plastic faces on.

Eternal Vigilance.

12 responses so far

One way to tell you are a grownup

Jun 07 2017 Published by under Uncategorized

... when you wear your lucky socks to a meeting instead of for a test.

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Toni Morrison on "The Work You Do, the Person You Are"

Jun 06 2017 Published by under Uncategorized

Toni Morrison has a beautiful, short essay in a recent New Yorker titled "The Work You Do, the Person You Are". She talks about a job she had, cleaning house. It is well worth reading. I've started trying to describe the essay, but really, I'd rather you just go read it, it isn't behind a paywall. It will take you maybe five minutes. Ten, if you stop to savor the prose.

When the job got hard, her father gave her some advice, which I quote here:

“Listen. You don’t live there. You live here. With your people. Go to work. Get your money. And come on home.”

That was what he said. This was what I heard:

1. Whatever the work is, do it well—not for the boss but for yourself.

2. You make the job; it doesn’t make you.

3. Your real life is with us, your family.

4. You are not the work you do; you are the person you are.

 I was thinking particularly about number 4 on this list. I was thinking about what this means for scientists, for researchers, who often get confused on this issue. They often think they are their work. I certainly have been guilty of that. I have certainly worked hard at  fixing this over the years.

We do get wrapped up in what we do. And sometimes, we argue with our inner Toni Morrison and say: but this is important. I am making the world a better place. To which I reply: of course you are snowflake. I remind you about Mu-Ming Poo (real name) and St. Kern. These people believe they are saving the world, but they are doing so on the back of others. You can save the world. You can do the work well. But...

Repeat after me: You are the person you are. Even Toni Morrison says so.

2 responses so far

Not sure what to title this: but its about NIH proposals, and oh yeah, I haven't lightened up.

Jun 01 2017 Published by under Uncategorized

Sometimes the current incarnations of culture wars  spills over into the NIH grantsmanship (grantspersonship?) arena. This happened the other night on teh tweets. I waded in, and may have done some good. DM did quite a bit, and as usual, his ironic sarcasm is often both more incisive and persuasive than my arguments.

The big question was "what do you put in the honors section of your biosketch?". The specific issue was including that one had been an Eagle Scout. (there was also stuff about being in the Miss Texas contest, but we'll let that go for now).

As you may or may not know, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) have had some back and forth about the inclusion of gay (and trans?) members and leaders, in which they did not come out looking terribly good. OTH, having known a few men who had been Eagle Scouts, I know that it is not an easy achievement, its not a trophy for participation, and that many of the stated goals are admirable, and possibly even the kind of thing that might make one a better scientist/researcher in adulthood.

Yet, BSA still has an odor to it, an odor that is not pleasant. I said  something to this effect, and there were responses, in two predictable categories:  firstly, being an Eagle Scout is important, it is relevant, and I am proud of it; secondly, lighten up, its just the boy scouts and they are Good People.

My reply to the first is: if someone objects to the inclusion of this, or any non-scientific "honor" on the biosketch, a reviewer-someone, you could have problems with your application. There are people who don't like the boy scouts, as a result of the inclusion of gays issue. Why go seeking problems? It violates the first meta-rule of grant writing: make the reviewer your ally.

My reply to the second was something like: The Nazis, the KKK, the fascists, were also good people at home, so lighten up in your critiques of them. At which point it escalated to talk about the misogyny at U California and other Bad People, so you shouldn't put in the time you logged in the UC system.

As a reviewer, I would personally have an issue with a  BSA in the honors section. Or something similar.  Not because of the gender identity /sexual orientation issues. But because who the heck puts that they were a boy scout in their honors, when you are applying for an adult thing? I would look at it and think: this guy is stretching it. Is he hiding something that he needs to use this to balance? NIH is not NSF. There is no "public outreach" or "larger impact" part, like still working with the BSA and taking your science to them. The impact in NIH grants is in the Significance and Innovation  sections, where the Sig & Innov have to do with the health care mission of NIH. If I am evaluating the candidate in a training proposal (F/K) I ask myself: do I think does this person have potential as a scientist? Can they do the work they propose?

Now some would argue that becoming an Eagle Scout says something about your ability to get the project done. I do not. It was a long time ago. Lots of people did lots of things in their teen years, before college. I do not believe that those efforts are particularly predictive of current ones. I want to see that you get science done. You want to impress reviewers: publish a paper, have a poster at a national meeting, give a talk at a regional meeting.

But moving on to the BSA culture issues: I hate when someone says lighten up. I am  not a gay man. But I love many gay men, as friends, as family members, as human beings who are important to me. But my specific life is not as important as the idea that gay men are human beings. Human beings who deserve our respect. If there is valid entitlement in this world, it is the entitlement to live one's life free of the humiliation that spawns from other people's narrow religious views of the world, free of the hatred that comes from little closed minds. The BSA did not pass these tests. (Maybe they do now, I've read some things that suggest its different - feel free to add in the comments, but please include some sources to back up your views.)

I hate when someone tells me to lighten up. I hate when someone tells me to calm down. I will not fucking calm down until everyone's right to self-determination is secure.


7 responses so far

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