Young Scientists Caught between Scylla and Charybdis

May 29 2015 Published by under Uncategorized

Scylla and Charybdis has always been one of my favorite expressions.  The original rock and a hard place.

I am writing a grant with a young colleague. She brings one set of strengths to the table and I another. We've been talking about this project for about a year, and finally came up with a mechanism, design and Spec Aims that will, shall we say, blow something out of the water. We hope.

She is a glorified postdoc in another lab. She would like PI status, but the med school where she is has something of a problem: you have to demonstrate that you can get funding and be a PI before they will let you do it. Hard to do. Her main mentor/advisor there has agreed that the joint project she and I are working on is hers (even though I am the PI) and that if we get scored she can have the status.

Please note: I am doing much of the heavy lifting for the project, and abundantly aware of the ethical pitfalls in this collaboration. She is also saavy enough to understand what PI status without a TT position means. Finally, she has family/personal limitations and I do believe she is doing an excellent balancing job.

Anyway, we had hammered out a good, but not quite finished set of SA's.  She was sending me one last version to tweak, before moving on to finish up the rest of the proposal. I looked at them and for a minute thought she had sent a much earlier version, because one of the two aims was entirely different, and not something that NIH would be the least bit interested in. There were two new paras, and the writing was awkward. My thought: WTF?

Rather than editing, I said "lets talk about this". We did and it scnturned out that she showed the Specific Aims to her mentor at new place (who is not NIH-science, but NSF-science). He hated them. Said the writing was dreadful. Said the SA's didn't make sense. So she rewrote along the lines of his suggestion. What a horrible place for her. We talked for about 3 minutes and she got it. One of the reasons, beyond my excitement about the specific project, that I want to work with this woman, is that she is very very good. My first response to her was to make sure she understood that I cared about the work and that I was giving this the best I could. For getting funded, I felt the most important thing was to be honest and explain that I thought her other mentor was mistaken here, and why. I said if the mentor wants to write out specific comments, of course we can take those into account. We are now back on track. The grant will go in for the June 21rst deadline.


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