Friday, January 6, 2017

One more tenure catch. Giving external seminars.

In my previous post I described that I was caught off guard by the fact that my department chair and tenure committee were advising me to wait another year before submitting my dossier.  When I spoke with my department chair, she recognized that I was frustrated, and after I left, she contacted the dean, and asked him to review my CV to provide another opinion as a personal favor to her.

The dean concurred with my chair that I should wait a year so that it is a no-brainer decision.  However, the dean also made another comment.  It was something along the lines of, "I don't know that this person would receive tenure without being invited for several external seminars at other universities."  Again, this is something new that has literally never once been mentioned as a deficit in my reviews for the last four years.  I have papers and have been on study sections, so I never really thought about this as a problem.  But hearing this from the dean sent my chair into action, which I'll talk about below. 

First of all, I know that everyone always says, "just contact your network and ask them to set up a seminar for you."  I have in fact done this, and everyone always says, "I'd be thrilled to organize a seminar for you if you're ever in our area, but I don't have available funds to pay for the travel."  Basically this means that if it's free for them, of course they would host something, but without a Nature paper, an Assistant Professor doesn't qualify for their fancy seminar series.  I understand completely.  I'm in exactly the same boat.  I have many friends and people in my field that I would love to host for a seminar here, but they don't meet the level of fame required for our limited number of seminar spots.   

I asked some of my colleagues for advice, and word got around that I needed help with this.  My department chair and several other people in my department have gone out of their way to make phone calls and send emails to their friends around the country.  One of my colleagues said that they emailed everyone that they've written a tenure letter for over the past five years because they should owe them a favor.  I've been overwhelmed by how generous my colleagues have been.  As expected, 99% of the responses from people have been something along the lines of what I wrote above regarding hosting me if I'm ever in town.  At least this gives me some options, and I may choose conferences more strategically with potential seminar locations in mind.  But somehow this networking strategy did in fact work, and within 48 h of emails being sent, I have at least two "invited" external seminars lined up for later this year.  I'm really loving my coworkers right now! 


Am I ready to go up for tenure?


My university has a 6-year tenure clock.  I’m now at year 5, which is when I should be submitting my tenure dossier.  Since I am almost surely going to receive my R01 based on its recent score, I was feeling gung ho about submitting this year, even though I had previously received a 1-year extension just in case I didn’t get the grant. 

Just before Christmas I received an email from our tenure and promotions committee chair who asked what my plans were.  He offered to review my CV and have three other members of the committee give me a pre-review as well.  All four of them said that I need more papers and that I should wait a year.  I was livid!  Every annual review I’ve had up to this point said I was doing great, and that all I needed was the R01.  So how could this have changed?

I went to my department chair to get another opinion.  She agreed that I should wait a year.  Again, I thought, “how can everyone be so cavalier with a year of my life?”  She recognized that I was upset and explained their perspective. 

No one in my department wants to see me be denied tenure.  They want my case to be a slam-dunk.  It’s as simple as that.  I’m just short of one of the published metrics for the recommended minimum number of papers for our college.  I thought this was not a problem since my papers have been high impact.  However, everyone would really like to have me meet the metric so that there is no guesswork involved.  I eventually decided that it wasn’t so unreasonable for me to wait a year now that I understood where they were coming from. 

The other thing that happened is that my chair said that she would look into increasing my salary since I am in fact doing well, and I would potentially be foregoing the salary increase of an associate professor for a year.  I don’t know whether this will actually happen, but that also made waiting a year a little easier to swallow. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

NIH Funding Success! Finally!


Today I got a fundable score on a big 5-year NIH grant.  The grant mechanism is similar to an R01, and has the same level of funding.  I have a few takeaways for those applying for their first grants…

1.   My lab currently has no other funding and I’m going up for tenure soon.  NIH study sections are not supposed to consider these things, but I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this was the grant to hit the payline. 

2.  I submitted what I would consider credible applications to this study section at least 2 out of 3 grant cycles for the last 3 years.  They’ve seen my name many times at this point, and I’m sure that helped.   These repeated submissions also involved a bit of “spaghetti throwing” to see what sticks to the walls, i.e., experimenting with what combination of aims the reviewers liked. 

3.  I stopped publishing my lab’s research. I discussed this in my last post, but I think it bears repeating because it seems to have been successful.  I still had collaborative manuscripts coming out, so I have lines on my CV for this year.  But, what I had experienced too many times was that I would submit a grant and the reviewers would say certain aims were incremental because we had already published on the topic.  In one instance, I had a paper accepted surprisingly quickly, so it was out before the study section met, and basically scooped one of my own subaims.  I was not going to let this happen again, so I put a pause on our submissions.  This idea of needing a strategy for timing of publications is not something I had thought about previously. 

4.  Having served on five study sections now for NIH and other national or international organizations, I’ve seen a total variety of successful grants written in completely different ways.  What I will say is that there are a few things that seem to be necessary if you’re a new PI and/or not famous:  a perceived need for funding by the study section even though these things are never discussed outright (e.g., tenure deadline, no other funding, salary requirements for your institution), a steady track record of productivity (fancy journal publications help immensely whether that’s fair or not), credible applications (clear and concise with not a single extraneous experiment; if an experiment won’t give a clear result, don’t include it), appropriate collaborators with strong letters of support for any new techniques, and something about your application that is really exciting or novel.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Random Updates

This blog still gets quite a lot of daily hits, mostly from people searching for K99 writing tips or advice for new faculty, so I thought I'd give some updates on my progress as junior faculty. 

1.  I still don't have an R01.  I've had multiple grants score within 5% of the payline.  I've had grants that would have been funded under this year's payline had they been submitted this year rather than two years ago.  This is, of course, all incredibly frustrating.  The only thing I can do is to keep refining and submitting. 

2.  I've learned that it is better to use your best work as preliminary data in a grant BEFORE publishing it.  I've had to change aims in my main R01 several times because my lab has been publishing.  My most recent R01 submission got the critique that one of my aims was "incremental" because it was building off of a high impact paper my lab had just published.  Again, incredibly frustrating, but it's helped me to change my strategy.  My lab has not published anything this year, other than collaborative work (which still makes me look productive).  We have two papers sitting on the shelf that are ready to be submitted as soon as I get my R01 funded on those projects.  I'm terrified of getting scooped, but I can't keep changing my aims. 

3.  I've learned that having an R56 bridge grant doesn't preclude you from getting another R56 grant.  Like I said, I've had lots of close R01 scores.  I'm currently in a no-cost extension from my first R56 and am being considered for another one.  I will find out about this next month.  My department chair laughed about me funding my lab a year at a time...and then very seriously told me that R56's won't be enough to get tenure. 

4.  My first student is going to graduate this year.  I'm very proud of him and he's accomplished a lot.  It's time for him to go.  I just hate change, and am kind of sad about it, but I'm forcing myself to support him in every possible way.  The tricky bit about this is that since I don't have 3 YEARS of stable funding secured (as required by the program I recruit students from), I am not allowed to take on a new student.  So my lab will shrink when he leaves and I can't do anything about it.  This is at the time when I need to be at my most productive.  Again, frustrating. 

5.  A lot of people have contacted me to say that my very first blog post helped them in writing their K99 and other career grants.  (Apparently it's pretty easy for people to figure out who I am and contact me based on what I've written on here)  I've also given out my K99/R00 to a few people over the past few years, and I'm very proud to say that I know of at least three who used my grant as a template and were funded.  I love hearing about this stuff, so do keep letting me know. 

Anyway, I'm still plugging away, doing good science, and hoping for the best!

Saturday, January 16, 2016

No-cost extensions of NIH grants - What I just learned


I learned something this month that surprised me about no-cost extensions of NIH grants, so I thought I’d share it.  A no-cost extension means that you are allowed to use money left over from the last year of your grant for an additional period of time.  From what I understand, NIH has granted universities the ability to simply request one extra year and this is automatically approved.  Again, no new money.  You’re just allowed to use up the money you didn’t spend in your last year of a grant. 

I had always assumed there was a limit of 25% of the money from your last year that you could carry forward to an extra year, but this is wrong.  I assumed this because in a multiyear grant like an R01, you cannot carry forward more than 25% of funding period 1’s (year 1’s) money into funding period 2 (year 2), for example. However, the no-cost extension is actually an extension of the length of time for the final funding period.  It is not considered carryover of funds into a new funding period.  Thus, the 25% rule does not apply.  This means that if you’re really worried about obtaining new funding (like I am), you can cut back in that final year of a grant and split the money over two years.  I’m not saying this is a good idea.  I’m just saying this option is available. 

Saturday, August 15, 2015

My department chair told me I'm planning too many grants

I had a meeting yesterday with my department chair.   I was really excited because I was just notified that I received the nomination from our university to apply for TWO(!) of the super fancy early career scholar awards.  I also had a department of defense grant make it through the pre-proposal phase.  Then I told my chair that I also wanted to write the new NIGMS MIRA grant that is due next month, as well as my R01 resubmission.  I basically have grants due every 2-3 weeks from now until Christmas. 

I don't think I wrote on this blog yet that my R01 for which I got an R56 actually scored much worse on its resubmission.  A LOT worse.  As in, I need to replace 2 of 3 aims, and completely re-write the third one.  The study section was completely re-populated and they just hammered everything this time. 

So it is imminent that my lab will have a funding gap, though technically with a no-cost extension of the R56, my salary requirement from the university will still be covered for another year.  But I feel like I cannot miss applying for any of these grants!  My department chair, on the other hand, told me that the quality of my applications will go down if I try to do all of these.  The chair said something to the effect of, "I know you're a workaholic, but nobody can submit this many grants in this amount of time while running a lab and teaching." 

The fancy scholar grants aren't really a lot of money in the grand scheme of things, but they basically set you on a path to being famous, and make you part of a cohort of famous scientists that you'll know for the rest of your career.  I think I would be regretful if I didn't give those my best shot.  The DOD grant is a lot of money and my research fits perfectly into one of this year's goals.  However, it's also a long application with a ton of paperwork.  MIRA is a pilot program and is also currently only open to new investigators and early stage investigators, so I may not be eligible in the future.  Plus, I think I'm a good candidate, so I can't see not applying to that one.  As for my R01, I also can't see not submitting a revised version, since scores almost always get better on a resubmission.  If I had to eliminate one, I think it would be the DOD grant, but I'm very open to any advice or suggestions. 

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

"Decision in Process" at PLOS

A manuscript from my lab is under consideration at a PLOS journal that is one of the top journals in my field.  The paper came back from the first round of review with a decision of major revisions, and we sent it back after addressing most of the reviewer concerns.  The online status said "Under Review" for roughly two weeks and then changed to "Decision in Process."  I first noticed this yesterday morning so I thought I would surely receive the decision by the end of the day.  Well, it's now the end of day two with this status and still no email from the journal.  So I did a little internet searching about what this actually means.  According to the PLOS website, this means that the handling editor has already entered a decision, but that it is not yet finalized.  It's unclear what the holdup is, but perhaps the decision also needs to be approved by the Section Editor.  So why do they change the status???!!!  No other journals do this, and it is like torture for me and my students to know that a decision has been made, but for some unknown reason it is has been withheld from us for 2+ days. 

Update:  The decision came after 4 days.  Two reviewers were completely satisfied by the revision and had no further concerns.  The third reviewer asked us to do additional experiments to address peripheral issues and also to change our title.  I am assuming that the handling editor and section editor spent time evaluating the requests of reviewer 3, so I guess I now understand the apparent delay.  They ultimately chose to accept the paper.  Wooohooooo!!!!