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

  • NoLongerPD says:

    First off, thanks for all you do with your blog. It has been useful to this guy who did not grow up in the science culture.

    Update on BSA. They announced this year that they are accepting transgender boys. This is in response to a transgender boy being expelled from Cub Scouts in NJ. See CNN here: Overall, it seems that the national organization is moving to position itself in agreement with LGBTQ advocates. As was brought up on Twitter (and appears to be the case via quick googling), atheists are still prohibited from membership.

    With regard to self-determination/freedom from humiliation, I don't agree that the BSA's previous policies violated these expectations. The way in which the policies were executed and discussed may have, but I disagree that the policies impeded one's right to self-determination or actively humiliated individuals. And I'm open to pushback.

  • David says:

    Related to making the reviewer your ally, I wonder if this is just someone's calculated risk at doing just that. Some percentage of reviewers think that earning an eagle scout is a big deal, showing positive character traits or determination, etc. Others think BSA is a bad organization or that this particular achievement is inconsequential. At the end of the day there are three groups: those who think listing it is a positive, those who think it's neutral, and those who think its's a negative. Playing the numbers game (assuming some old white dude is reviewing your proposal), maybe this person think group A is bigger than group C.

    I have a friend who used to list on his resume that he performed magic (he may still list it, I don't know for sure). He had lots of people recommend to him to remove it, but he said every interview he went on, they asked about it. It was a conversation piece and allowed him to talk about his comfort level in front of groups and his attention to detail. Now an interview is different than a NIH proposal, but you just never know what will jump off the page to a reviewer (although you obviously can get a negative reaction instead of positive).

  • ROStressed says:

    Those sort of "Honors" are exactly what I see a lot of when I view undergraduates making their CVs/Resumes for the first time. Basically a set of stuff that in my opinion doesn't belong there. The rule I usually apply to them and myself, is do you think that this will "really" help you get whatever you are making your CV/Biosketch for, Job/Grant etc. If it is non-science related, the answer is almost always no.

  • anon says:

    "I hate when someone tells me to lighten up."

    Totally with you on this one. Not too long ago, a commenter on another blog said this to me because I dared to call out ageism in Academia. The commenter later revealed that she was a 50-something y.o. woman, which I thought was doubly sad. I couldn't help but wonder how many times people had said that to her and now here she was, using it against another middle-aged woman....

    As for the topic of the post, I would think it ridiculous if I saw that listed on a CV. I mean, get a grip: you're supposed to be a f***ing adult, so list scientifically-related adult accomplishments/honors on your CV.

  • Ola says:

    100% agree with your stance on this - "Life" begins at grad school and anything before does not belong on an NIH bio.

    I would take it one step further... if you're an established PI (let's say Assoc' Prof' and higher), your "scientific contributions" section should NOT be all about your post-doc' work. Sure, maybe one of the vignettes can be something that came out of your post-doc' and fostered your current research arc, but if all of them are based on stuff you did in someone else's lab, that's a big problem. I'm an established PI (have run my own lab for around a decade and a half) and I make a point of this on my bio, labeling the section "Scientific Contributions (as Independent PI)". It always amazes me when BSDs list their post-doc' work from 25 years ago in their biosketch - do they not get it, that "has been" is a thing?

    • LIZR says:

      I disagree with you. With five vignettes to work with, I think is perfectly fine to use one or two of those to feature meaningful work done as a grad student or postdoc.

      • potnia theron says:

        I think it depends on how far past grad or PD you are. For someone in their 50s, it would be absurd. (but let me tell you about my grad student horror stories...). I think that's Ola's point.

        If it's your first submission as a new Ast Prof, *of course* you're going to include PD stuff. It shows you are capable of doing what you propose.

        One of my standard vignettes (and what a pain ... the biosketch is now customized for each proposal) includes stuff that reaches back (Ola's arc suggestion) to my pre-tenure days.

        Meantime... don't include non-science stuff you did in high school. Non-science. High school.

Leave a Reply