Monday, December 8, 2014

Semester Ending

My travel for the semester if finally wrapped up and I can start to get caught up on research projects as the fall semester comes to a close. 2014 has been quite a good year. My group published a record number of papers, I've given a bunch of talks at seminars and conferences around the world without anyone saying that my research sucks or pointing out that the work has been done before. I graduated my first PhD student, started a company, and got some new funding. So all in all, shit is going well.

Now I just have to keep doing all this stuff and then some as I become more senior and expectations continue to rise. I don't know if it's the New England winter, but I definitely don't feel as happy and energized as I did a few months ago. One thing weighing me down is a lack of funding. Experimental research and students are expensive. One grant a year doesn't cut it for a decent sized research group.

I'm still waiting to hear back about my NSF CAREER proposal from July. Several of my friends have received their rejection letters, but mine is still pending. My hope grows with each day, but I also remember that in the previous two years I was rejected in February. My proposals usually score well and the NSF kicks out the bottom and funds the top first. So each passing day also probably means I have yet another decent, but not quite fundable proposal. My other annoyance is that my R01 was not placed into the study section that I requested. The CSR convinced me this was for the best, but now I think I should have gone with my gut and stuck with my guns and told them to put me where I asked. I know some of the members of this new panel, but I highly doubt that they know me, whereas just about everyone on the panel I requested knows my work. I'm really curious to see how this plays out, but the panel doesn't meet for a few more months. Tying in with my lower energy, I've had several stories I wanted to post about, but I've been too tired and now I've forgotten most of them. Hopefully a few weeks off from class and meetings will recharge my energy level.

Monday, November 10, 2014


OMG, Doritos flavored Mountain Dew! Just what I need in the midst of my tenure tour and major conference season. That is all.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Victory is mine

Not really, but I did manage to submit my R01 just before the Monday deadline. I haven't been very productive so far this week after finishing that marathon stretch, which also included unavoidable teaching, service, and travel.

These days I'm busy traveling for my tenure tour, which is fun, but also tiring. I've also been presenting at conferences, and twice recently I've spoken with speakers from my session, later the same day, who didn't bother attending my talk. They don't even have the decency to sit through 2-3 hours of presentations in the session that they themselves presented in. I really don't understand these people. In my mind there are only two reasons for this 1) they are so busy, they can't even attend a single entire session, which is ridiculous if we've really come to that in our profession, or 2) they don't give a shit what other people in their field are doing. After tenure, I'm going to start asking them which category they are in. I suspect most people would fall into category 2 if they are being honest with themselves.

I really try to listen to the related talks when I attend a conference, otherwise what is the point? Now I do attend some conferences where I don't really go to the talks, but that's because for those I already saw the people present within the last year or so and know what they are doing. If there is someone presenting in my field that I haven't heard before, even if they are new, I try to attend their talk to find out what they are doing. But I always attend the entire session I'm presenting in, unless I have to run to the airport.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Transitioning to NIH applications

I've always worked for people that were NSF/DOD funded and as a result I'm much more familiar with structuring research to satisfy those agencies and writing those types of proposals. I've had actually had very reasonable success at NSF, compared to real and published funding rates, even though each rejection feels like a dagger into my heart. I say real and published because if you look on the NSF site, they often claim about 15-20% funding rates, but this includes supplements, which are for tiny amounts and aren't peer reviewed. Panels I've sat on are routinely in the 5-10% funding range. My stats are 3 for 10 not including supplements, and 5 out of 12 with supplements, which is actually quite good so far if you look at it from that perspective. This also means that I've pretty much used up the charity of NSF. You can't run a decent sized (~6) research group on NSF funding alone, which is what I want to do.

DOD requires building relationships with program managers, which is something I'm working on, but no success there yet, partly because my research is evolving toward medical applications. I've put in a few DOD proposals for open calls, but there you don't get a score so there is no way to tell if you are close or not.

For NIH however, I'm 0 for 4, although I have yet to submit to a standard R01. I've done R21, RFAs, and special things like the "new innovator." I've yet to even get a proposal scored. My NIH funded colleagues aren't sharing their proposals and most of them hide behind the fact that they haven't received new funding since the change from 25 to 12 pages, which happened in early 2010, right before I started my TT position. This is part of the issue of not being at a top place. I've read a few books about NIH writing and looked at the examples on the NIH websites, but I still don't have a great feel for putting together great NIH proposals. Where NSF also helps is that they really try to get new PIs in on panels so you get exposed to a boat-load of proposals, which helps give you a feel for good vs. bad and panels. NIH has a mechanism for bringing in new faculty, but it is at the SRO's discretion and even though I've been actively trying to get on panels, I've yet to get invited. Any advice for how to break into this game? One of my biggest issues is that I'm having trouble drawing the line between what fits as an aim vs. what should be broken off into a separate proposal. My group works on a number of related by separate things. Can each aim attack a problem from a different point of view? Should that be three separate proposals? From the engineering side, you get the added challenge that you are never considered an expert regarding a specific disease or biological system. So when I proposal a set of experiments, based on our unique technology, that would give new insight or help doctors, I always feel like the M.D. and bio Ph.D. people just say what does this engineer know about our niche field, how can he possibly contribute to something we've spent our entire careers studying. Suggestions/help would really be appreciated. I need to start going after R01s and don't want to look like a fool doing it.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Monthly Update

So summer is in full swing. That means paper and grant writing for me. For TT engineering faculty this time of year generally means working on the NSF CAREER proposal, unless you are one of the lucky few that already has one. I'm putting in my third and final attempt this year. Fingers crossed. I feel ok about it, but because of the budget, scope of NSF funding areas, and need for integration with teaching activities, I've had to twist and turn the idea a bit so that it fits this mold. Other than that, this is the happiest summer that I've had since starting down the tenure track. I'm trying to savor this time, since I know this fall will be a shit storm. I'll be teaching a new course and traveling extensively as part of my tenure tour. Hopefully I'll be graduating my first PhD student and taking on some new ones to keep growing my lab. Well, back to grant/paper writing.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

DrugMonkey's doing it, so maybe I should too?

DrugMonkey, who I read regularly, is trying to unearth his lurkers and/or stalkers. I would also like to learn more about the people who look at my blog so that I can give you more of what you want, beyond my occasional outburst.

1) Tell me about yourself. Who are you? Do you have a background in science? If so, what draws you here as opposed to meatier, more academic fare? And if not, what brought you here and why have you stayed?

2) Have you told anyone else about this blog? Why? Were they folks who are not a scientist?. Ever sent anything to family members or groups of friends who don't understand your career?

3) How did you find me and how do you regularly follow me? To my knowledge, I'm not on Twitter or Facebook. Should I be?

I'll start.
1. I'm at TT at a school that is aspiring to be an R1. My degrees are engineering based and I'm inching ever closer to submitting my tenure package. I'm still not convinced this is the most awesome job ever, but it is way better now than in year 1.

2. I've told a few very close friends about this blog, although no one in my city or at my institution. I don't know if they read it, but it's a way for them to see what I'm up to. I've told some colleagues and perspective TT folks about other blogs to help them with issues that they are facing.

3. I started by searching the googles for blogs when I was first starting out. I found some really great blogs and advice, but also no one with my background. So I started one, to help other shy engineers like me, but mostly to help me vent and feel connected to a community that I still don't have at work or in my town. I don't have my pseudonym on the Twitter or Facebook, mostly because I'm not sure that it would reach any additional peoples. If I hear otherwise, I might set those up.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Getting Tenure Update

I was out conferencing quite a bit this spring and networking with fellow tenure-trackers and the recently tenured. One thing that I noticed, for the good, is that the physical sciences and engineering departments are starting to realize that funding is getting really hard to come by. I spoke with multiple people that made it through the process with only one externally funded grant.

The tide has not turned everywhere yet though. There are some places out there that are considering not tenuring people that have even two funded grants, and I'm not talking about Caltech/MIT type schools. Sure, fit with colleagues and a slew of other factors play into these things, but in general places need to get on the ball, or they will just wither away without young faculty joining their ranks.

The main message is publish, publish, publish. While this is also somewhat out of your control, it is definitely more certain than funding. We'll see how this game turns out. I've heard rumors that journals are starting to look at the person/lab submitting manuscripts as a metric in considering publication to increase their own impact factors. Talk about a system spinning out of control.

Anyway, I'm pretty relatively happy these days. I've had a second external grant funded and publications are trickling out a decent rate. The clock is slowly ticking down toward package submission and right now I'd like time to move a bit faster.