Archive for: October, 2011

The Great Academic Biomedical Science Cull(TM)

Oct 27 2011 Published by under Careers

Over at RockTalk there's an interesting discussion going on about how the NIH should best manage biomedical science in these fiscally-challenging times. Times are tough in academic science. The funding rate at the NIH appears to be down at the single digit levels (i.e. <10%). After NIH's doubling and the related increase in the number of faculty in the biomedical sciences, this abysmal funding rate means a great many labs are floundering. A great many very, very good proposals are going unfunded.

There are many, many comments over at RockTalk on that post. Many offer possible solutions. Many others appear to consist of primarily whining about the system.* While addressing a comment the inimitable DrugMonkey offered up the following nugget:

Your colleague’s situation is indeed sad….but every indication is that this is the intentional outcome from the NIH perspective. They need to shrink the pool of applicant PIs.

They need to shrink the pool of applicant PIs.

i.e. Funding levels are very, very low and likely to stay that way for quite some time.

Or get worse.

The NIH simply cannot afford to support the academic biomedical research enterprise at the same level to which we've all become accustomed. The result, whether a deliberate move by the NIH or not, is going to be quite a few labs going under.** We will see a reduction in the number of PI's working in the biomedical sciences. It's already beginning to happen.

I find this very scary, but I fully intend to survive. How about you?

* Whining won't change the system and won't keep you funded.
** Obviously for the individuals in those labs this is a very bad thing. Most likely for the science as well.

17 responses so far

Trying to come up with NSF proposal

Oct 24 2011 Published by under Careers

The title of this port is actually a search phrase someone used to find my blog last week. I'm not sure what the searcher was looking for - ideas on how to come up with research ideas? - but it did get me thinking. How do people come up with research ideas?

First, what I mean by "research idea". For this post I mean some question or problem of interest that can be formulated as a research plan and submitted to a grant-making agency. Obviously different people with have their own permutations on this, but let's stick to that definition for this particular post.

I don't know how others do it, but can describe how it works for me. I suspect others operate in similar manners.

Basically the process of generating research ideas is organic. It all comes down to reading, listening, and asking lots and lot of questions. Lather, rinse, repeat. Ad nauseum.

The reading part should be obvious. All researchers should be constantly reading the literature. And hopefully more than just what is being published in their own particular sub-sub-sub-fields. Don't feel like you have time to read all the literature you "should" be reading? Make time. Set aside time just for reading. Even if you have ample funding and aren't looking to submit a new proposal anytime soon.* Read. Then read some more. Think about what important questions are currently unanswered. How would you go about answering them?

Go to meetings. Seminars/talks on your campus. And nearby campuses if you can. Listen to what the speakers are saying. Talk to them afterwards. And ask lots of questions. Talk to colleagues in your department about science. Go to journal clubs. Ask lots of questions. Present at journal clubs. Volunteer to read and critique colleague's grant proposals. Ask lots of questions. I'm not saying steal other people's ideas. That's an absolute no-no. Don't even think about it. What I find though, is that the more I immerse myself in a diverse range of science, the more ideas I have about my own. Gotta get that brain ticking over. I often have ideas regarding my own research while listening to presentations that have nothing to do with my own sub-sub-sub-field.

Ideas for new research questions/proposals just seem to grow out of the above.

And if you do all that and still can't seem to come up with an original idea of your own, maybe, just maybe, you should rethink your career aspirations...

One last thing about coming up with ideas for research. Don't limit yourself.

Don't dismiss ideas/directions because you feel you don't have quite the right set of methodologies. Collaborators can make up for those kinds of deficiencies. Or you could even pick up new techniques. I do constantly. Or more correctly, my lab personnel do. If your lab is limited to a particular set of techniques and is not constantly evolving, you're screwed.**

Don't limit yourself to doing what you've done in the past. Sure, there's a big advantage, for example, starting a TT position with a research project that leads directly out of your postdoc training. You can be up and running far more quickly than if you're trying to get something going from scratch. And generally it's easier to get funding for working on something that you have a track record in. But just doing more of the same ad infinitum is boring, bad for your research program and bad for science.

Be adventurous and keep your research evolving.

* Even if you think you have "ample" funding, you should still be looking to submit new proposals on a regular basis. Complacency will kill your research program. Trust me - I almost let that happen and it's very, very hard to dig yourself out of that hole.

** Obviously one can have a main technique/approach in which you are an expert etc., but that shouldn't be all you can do. And you should be prepared to tackle projects that don't require that technique if that's where the research is leading.

10 responses so far

One final fairy [Updated]

Oct 21 2011 Published by under Life

Extraction expert

This is the last of the fairy series. Sorry - there just aren't that many usable pictures of men in fairy costumes out there. Unless I turn off Google Image Search filtering...

We. Don't. Want. To. Go. There.

Now go give to The Stolen Cells of Henrietta Lacks! project at Donors Choose. Let's git r dun!

[Update] The Henrietta Lacks project is now fully funded! w00t!!!!!!!! Now let's do another. There's a class in a high poverty area in NY that needs basic supplies. Really basic. Like paper. They need $368 to be fully funded. Do it!

2 responses so far

Henrietta Lacks!

Oct 21 2011 Published by under Life

The truly amazing Dr. Becca and I really, really want to see a particular Donors Choose project completely funded. Today. The Stolen Cells of Henrietta Lacks! is this very cool project run by Ms. Mucha at a school in a high poverty area within Baltimore. If you've ever been to Baltimore you know that high poverty there can mean really high poverty.

As of this moment, we need about $300 to fully fund this very, very cool project. Why is it so cool? Firstly Ms. Mucha's students will learn some science. Secondly, they will be learning some local history (the Lacks live in Baltimore!). Lastly, they'll read. That's a trifecta of win!

So give!

As a bonus - the Donors Choose Board of Directors is matching all donations made today through tomorrow, so you'll get to help even more kids!

Do eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeettttttttttttt!!!!!!!!!!!!!

5 responses so far

This morning

Oct 21 2011 Published by under Life

My kids went off to their various schools. Schools where they are receiving a good education. Perhaps not perfect, but good. My daughters are soon going to start work on science fair projects. They're lucky - they have a scientist for a dad. Most kids don't of course. Most kids rely on their science teachers to help guide them. Science teachers who work hard to help the kids understand science. Teachers who work hard to bring science alive.

My kids go to good schools with reasonable resources. Unfortunately many, many schools don't have anything even approaching reasonable resources. In those schools you have hard-working, enthusiastic science teachers trying to bring science alive without the resources they really, really need.

Some of those schools don't even have enough tables and chairs for their students. How can they even think about using scarce resources on teaching science if the kids don't even have chairs to sit on?

You can help. Some of you already have. Please give to Donors Choose. Even a few dollars can make a difference.

Give soon. The Science Bloggers for Students challenge ends tomorrow.

One response so far

A fairy? Not so much.

Oct 20 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

Evil twin?

3 responses so far

Big news!

Oct 20 2011 Published by under Life

Now I understand why so many of you have been holding off on giving to Donors Choose! The Board of Directors of Donors Choose has announced that they are going to match every donation made between now and the end of the Science Bloggers for Students challenge on Saturday October 22 (that's just a couple of days away).

Here's how it will work:
-At the end of the three day period, all dollars donated in that period will be totaled, and the Board of Directors will match those dollars.
-The number of dollars will be divided by the number of people who donated, and gift codes will be issued to every donor (via e-mail) for an equal share of the matching dollars. So, if 100 people donate $10,000, each donor will receive a $100 gift code.
-Individuals will, in turn, have the chance to apply the funds to whatever classroom project they choose.

Double your money folks! Give generously and often! But most of all, give!

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Want funding? Got funding?

Oct 19 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

PO Fairy

One response so far

Does your institution use a grants office to submit your proposals?

Oct 18 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

Grants Officer Fairy

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It works!

Oct 18 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

I gave to Donors Choose. Yesterday the Data Fairy visited and bestowed upon us not one, but two gifts, including the ability to make a critical reagent we've been struggling to make for months. Plus two invitations to give talks at other institutions. And, thanks to the Lab Supply Fairy, an important software update arrived, despite supposedly being on backorder for several more weeks.

Are you hearing the distant sound of demonic flute music? It's not too late to give to Donors Choose, avoid disaster after disaster, and reap the benefits.

[Update] Turns out I also topped this weeks football pool. 🙂

5 responses so far

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