Grant Proposal Submission ProTip

(by potnia theron) Jun 12 2017

Always ask to see a copy of what is being submitted. If it's a program (like Coeus), you can do it online, on your intra-net (NOT on the NIH Era Commons website). If its using the pdf-package, try ask figure out what it takes to see it more than 2 hrs before it must go in. Of course, this requires you to get it to the office by (at the absolute outside) the date the Grants Office requires (often 5 business days before the NIH deadline).

Do not assume the Grants Office will do the right thing. It's your proposal. Of course, this requires you to know what the right thing is. Here are links to help you:

NIH on how to apply is here. Read the various sections. Boring. yes. Tedious. yes. Essential, ah yes.

Ignore the image of the chirpy young scientist for the video. She's obviously not pushing the deadline to submit. She obviously has much more under control than I do.

Also? The big red box on the "how to apply" page that says: Important: Access forms through the funding opportunity announcement? Here's a link to NIH Guide for Grants and Contracts or, places where you can search for announcements. There are parent announcements for generic FOA (funding opportunity announcements) - R01, R03, R15, R21, etc, as well as various training (F, K or T) awards.

As for me right now, I am reminded of one of my mother's less delicate jokes about the Sisters of Perpetual Beauty or Something. The joke is long, but the punch line is "you've just been screwed by the Sisters of Perpetual Beauty".


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Righteous Indignation! on behalf of former trainees

(by potnia theron) Jun 12 2017

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].

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The case of the vanishing posts

(by potnia theron) Jun 09 2017

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?

(by potnia theron) Jun 07 2017

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.

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One way to tell you are a grownup

(by potnia theron) Jun 07 2017

... 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"

(by potnia theron) Jun 06 2017

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.

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

(by potnia theron) Jun 01 2017

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.


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Saying thank you

(by potnia theron) May 31 2017

I went to see John, one of my oldest (in many senses of the word, his personal duration, our joint working duration) colleagues in Europe this week. John and other mentor and I (see here) have worked together for over 30 years. Nearly 40, depending on how you count "working together".

To say thank you to both of them, I dug up old pictures. Snapshots. Non-digital. Pictures of animals we worked with, and animals that were pets. Pictures of us in surgery, and laboring with equipment, and the blackboard planning of experiments.  We were all younger thinner and had more dark hair in those days. I scanned them in, and logged onto Shutterfly and made a book of what we've done.

The both loved it. One is Brit, one is South African, but trained in the UK, and stoic doesn't even begin to describe them. Very British Problems could have been written for them, by them., Needless to say, there were rough moments in the past, when I tended to lead with my emotions instead of my brain. But that was a long time ago, and perhaps they learned something from me, too.  They loved the book, and said so to me.

As good as it is to hear thank you, from one's students, one's trainees, and one's children, the reflection back I've gotten from my efforts to say thank you are far more gratifying.

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Ah the self-righteousness of people who have a death grip on the truth

(by potnia theron) May 30 2017

We have all read the stories about sexual predators in academia. Just those words "sexual predators" says it all. I do not dispute those. I do not even want to argue about the wisdom of getting drunk. Period. The wisdom of getting drunk, by anyone, in any situation that has remotely professional overtones is a very different kettle of fish. Nor am I remotely interested in defending or excusing these (largely) men, though I know of a distinctive case, years ago, in which a woman was the predator. There may or may not be cases of people wrongly accused, but those need to be considered on a case by case basis. We need to guard against both type I and type II errors, and recognize that controlling for one may impact on the other.

What interests me is that in one case one of the accusers is not a young person who experienced abuse but another, older, male professor not directly involved in the problem. This other professor went to great lengths to obtain evidence against the first prof, and has now written a number of editorials about how wrong the abuser was. This is a situation where someone, outside the course of events, someone not at all involved or in the line of authority for the particular abuses or alleged abuses, decides to take up finding evidence and prosecuting another, all in the name of "truth". The prosecution by Mr. A has been public, in the press, and certainly outside of anything resembling due process. It is relevant that one of the several cases did get due process, and the abuser was formally censured as guilty, though never admitting so. That particular case, as far as I can tell, had little to do with Mr. Accuser, but was considered on the merits of the individuals involved.

I laugh at this, but ironically, because I actually knew Mr. Accuser. Quite simply, he was a notorious bully in years gone by. It may not have been sexual, but he was aggressive and whether intentional or not, he did things to ruin other careers. I am sure he would argue that his actions and words were on principle, and it was the science he was attacking, not the person. But, that's not quite how the people on the receiving end saw it at the time.

Has Mr. A. done some good, any good? Possibly. Are the things he has found true? My instinct is to believe the young, or now not so young, women who have come forward. People are lauding him for "uncovering the truth". Yet, I cannot read his statements and op-eds without thinking of what I know. Mr. A is a bully. He may be cloaked in self-righteousness here, but he has done exactly this to others. All in the name of science.

Has he changed? I certainly admit the possibility that he has grown, and that he is trying to expiate his sins. But, is there any remorse in what he says, any acknowledgement of what he might have done? None that I can find in his writing. To me, it reads like Mr. A. has jumped on a bandwagon, seeing, if not glory, at least a lot of attention, his name in print, and glorified given the current political winds. In this case, he may have done some good. But what if he applied this to someone who is innocent?

To ask why someone does something is fraught with problems. We often don't know why we ourselves do something. Still, I am filled with sardonic? even caustic? mirth at watching Mr. A dance. I hope that deep down, somewhere, he knows why he has done what he has.





4 responses so far

Addiction isn't a moral failing

(by potnia theron) May 29 2017

I have a good, nay, a great, friend who is a chemist. She does work that impacts/has relevance for the drug industry. We are argue about physiology and drug impact on physiology a lot, although neither of us exactly works in that field.

Part of what I know is from my own experience. A little less than 10 years ago I was very sick. In the hospital twice, once to figure out what was wrong (a massive rare infection in bone) and a second time to repair what the infection did (eat away significant parts of bone that were critical for my ability to... well, do anything). The pain, originally and then following surgery, was excruciating. 11 on the scale to 10. I was unable to do anything but lie there and moan.

The docs put me on Oxycodin/contin. In the hospital I had one of those button thingies, but at home I took pills. I was taking very large doses when I left the hospital the first time. The pain was under control,  so it became important to me to Get Off the Drugs before I had surgery, which was about 2 months later. I started gradually which was hard, but going ok.

One day,  about 2 weeks before the surgery, I decided to just stop. It was a mistake. My BP dropped to about 80/50 and I passed out. Luckily, my partner was there, took me to the ED, where I got an IV and a long lecture on going cold turkey. This lesson learned, after surgery, I set a schedule (I still have the little notebook where I kept track of times), and spent a few weeks watching the clock, several times each day, till I could take another pill.

The oxy did not give me a high. It did not make me feel like superperson, or anything like that. All it did was keep me from feeling the pain from the surgery, which involved significant metal implants, and transplant of bone to the metal and the place where the bone came from and the muscles that had to be cut to get to the place bone had been eaten away by infection. Yeah, I was a mess.

I remember sitting there, looking at my notebook, wanting a pill, hoping I got the time wrong, hoping that I could take another pill, realizing, no, I could not. I would go and walk for 2-3 minutes, which is all I could do, and sit back down. By my own, pre-illness standards, I would stop and think how pathetic I was. And then I'd look at the clock again.

But I was motivated. At the time, I had a job loved (albeit with the chair from hell), I had a partner who loved me. I did not have financial worries, or children to take care of.  I had great friends. I had lots of stuff that made life very worthwhile for me, and very little about which I was worried that was urgent. I was motivated. So I could wait, and stare down the clock, and took a pill with relief on the schedule of reduction. It did not bring me above baseline, but it erased the cravings, it erased the pain.

As time went on the pain receded, and the time between craving became longer. I could walk for 20 minutes, and get myself a glass of water without shaking like someone with late Parkinson's.  I rehabbed myself, and it is without question, one of the hardest things I have ever done.

How hard? Harder than writing a thesis, getting NIH funded, training for the swim leg of a triathalon, planning a wedding, planning a funeral, having a baby. But those things? They are all positive, improvement-things. They are things that when done, there is an accomplishment. Healing from surgery, from the drugs, etc? That only brought me back to baseline, and honestly, it was a baseline that hasn't ever been quite where I was before this happened.

(btw- no one ever  figured out how I got the infection. probably walking through the hospital. but it didn't really matter in the end)

So, when the self-righteous talk about "getting off drugs", especially with respect to the current pain-killer crisis, I want to ask if they've ever been there. Do you know what it feels like to look at a clock, waiting to take a pill to end the need? Have you ever had pain that keeps you from thinking, and then the drugs to make thinking possible again, knowing that those drugs are really not very good for you?

My wonderful friend talks about addiction to food, to sugar, to salt. And I say: that's not the same thing at all. Of course we are addicted to food: we die without it. But denying oneself sugar can be hard, and it can make you grumpy and you can feel the need, the desire, and the craving for it. But it is not the same thing at all as what Oxycontin feels like. And certainly, that craving and withdrawal are not the same for the rest of your (non-mind) body.

And for those people struggling with addiction: I had everything going for me when I stopped. I can imagine if one of those things wasn't in place: the partner, the job, the security of belief that my research was important (delusional as that may have been), let alone the security of knowing I could pay my bills, that I had good health insurance, a roof over my head. If any one of those things was not there, I might not have made it clean.

I had a big bottle of pills, that I kept for years, just in case the pain came back. I was never ever tempted to take. It's not because I object to feeling good. I drink wine, and beer, and a cocktail now and then. And it's not because I don't hurt. I do hurt, it's just not like it was then. The oxycontin didn't make me feel good. In the beginning it kept the pain at bay, and then it didn't just keep me from feeling bad, I took the pills because I had to.

The answer the "addiction crisis" right now may partly lie in restricting access to the drugs, more reasoned and thoughtful scrips to people in pain. It certainly does not lie in stricter prison sentences, which will only give us  very ill people going through withdrawal and possibly dying in jail. It lies in looking at the lives that people in pain live, and figuring out how to give them the reasons for getting off the medicine. It means figuring  how to deal with that craving that really has nothing to do with getting high, and everything to do with the cold hard reality of the physical legacy of pain medication.

4 responses so far

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