Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Coming out ahead?

This morning I had one of those moments where I was first in line at a red light with a lot of other cars around me, and then the light turned green.

So I went.

Nobody else went. There was this weird long pause, like in slow motion, where I could see the heads of the other drivers turn to look at my car and then look at the light.

I could almost hear them thinking, "Where's she going? Oh, is it green?"

And I had that moment of doubt like, "Wait a minute, did I just go on a red light?" but I looked up and no, it was green.

I thought this was a nice little analogy for how I feel in science. To me, it's obvious where we should be going. So I'm going. Even if nobody is going with me yet.

But for my colleagues, there is this long delay where they always think I must be imagining things, because it takes them a while to catch up.

And it does cause a lot of self-doubt. When you're out there dangling on a limb by yourself, you sometimes have to wonder if you went the right way.

Today I got an email that basically said, "Hey, we didn't forget about you." Which is sometimes all I get.

Good thing it's all I really need.

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At 12:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not relevant to your post, but...


Watch the progression from 1980 when ~20% of NIH research funding went to <=35 year old PIs to 2006 when ~2% of NIH research funding went to <=35 year old PIs.

At the same time NIH funding has increased ~2.5 fold. NIH has some interesting self-critical analyses of its funding behavior, but they have no solutions.

At 2:53 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

ha ha. This is old news. I was just talking to a friend about how Zerhouni has the nerve to complain that there aren't enough 'qualified' grant reviewers, but they refuse to let postdocs write RO1s or review them. Ask around- at my university, the postdocs ghost-write most of the RO1s because many of the older PIs have no ideas about what to do or how to do it. Funny that NIH pretends that's not what's happening.

So actually a lot of R01s go to people under 35, they just don't get any credit for it.

At 6:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

...except that you only have enough gas to get to the next stop light and the road is full of crater sized potholes...

At 7:06 AM, Blogger Kate said...

I hear you Ms. PhD, I hear you... the people around me are finally noticing it's green and it's nice to get the validation that I wasn't crazy all along, but it is frustrating to go through years of knowing in your gut that you're right, and knowing those around you think you're wrong.

At least in the end, you still get to be right.

At 12:33 PM, Blogger Drugmonkey said...

anon:"NIH has some interesting self-critical analyses of its funding behavior, but they have no solutions."
MsPhD:"This is old news"

It is not old news in the sense that there is nothing to be done. stop with the learned helplessness already!

Anon, what are you doing to give the NIH solutions? Did you respond to the RFI this summer? They got some unbelievably tiny percent of NIH research stakeholders to comment if the Nature editorial is to be believed. where are all you people when it counts? academic societies and local institutions are also getting involved in the "change the peer review process" thing that is going on. are you chiming in? are you?

have you written your congress person yet?

At 6:26 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

Yes, DrugMonkey, I wrote to them.

Do they care what I think???


At 8:45 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

First anonymous poster again. I think the multiple PI option is a good step forward. Furthermore, I think it should be essentially required for senior PIs (basically a full professor or equivalent) who have more than one R01 equivalent to mentor a senior post-doc/junior faculty member by sharing the reins on one of their funded projects. Add this as a requirement in a competing renewal and enforce that one aim is based on expertise added to the senior PIs lab by the junior PI. And require the commitment of facilities and support to the junior investigator by the submitting institution. There would have to be a level of oversight not currently in the system to ensure that this was in fact real powersharing and that the junior individual was actually gaining additional skills necessary to run their own research enterprise. And possibly a credentialing system that would confer some additional advantage toward receipt of the first independent award. This is not a K99/R00 equivalent. I think those are a terrible idea because they bias toward fields where you can accomplish things quickly or select for individuals who are sitting on a pile of data and basically propose stuff that they've already done. A shared R01 leading to a credential leading to an advantage in receipt of the first independent award might be a viable alternative.

Those slides I pointed out above embed another important fact, though. One that I didn't bring up before because I hadn't digested it fully. Look at the shift in the age distribution of medical school faculty since 1980. It is depressing. The entire biomedical research community in this country is too risk averse. If failure is no longer an option for junior investigators, then more people will resort to unethical behavior and fraud.

The doubling of the budget in a rapid period was a terrible idea. It supported way too many new people and allowed more senior people to expand to fill available space. These two aspects have made those of us who are coming of age now essentially a lost generation. There were ~50 open positions in my general field at the beginning of the fall, but as far as I can tell the same 8-10 candidates are being considered by ~90% of these institutions and the rest probably will be filled by movement of senior individuals between institutions.

At 11:13 AM, Blogger Drugmonkey said...

"Yes, DrugMonkey, I wrote to them."

awsome. so why write anything that discourages your readers, your presumed ideological supporters from doing the same?

"Do they care what I think???

People sure as heck don't care what you think if you don't tell them. If you tell them, at least you are in the game. and typical low response rates to most issues means you speak for many. does this mean you will automatically get your way by the brilliance of your comment? no. of course not. but what if the response to that RFI was really only 2,000 people. how many readers of the disgruntled-with-the-system do you alone have? imagine if they ALL responded.

At 11:16 AM, Blogger Drugmonkey said...

first anon, may we assume you have promulgated these ideas through the NIH channels requesting input? if not, please do. and infect your colleagues. get them to submit comments to scarpa, zerhouni and ruiz bravo...

At 8:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

first anon again and for the last time on this thread. embedded in this analysis is the assumption that older, established men run the system and they will promulgate a system that allows them to maintain their position of power even in the face of 'diversity' initiatives.

correlation between life expectancy for US men and average age at first R01 since 1970 = 0.92.

the idea that everyone needs twenty years of training post-bachelors degree before becoming independent is absurd. yet that is where we are.

At 12:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ask around- at my university, the postdocs ghost-write most of the RO1s because many of the older PIs have no ideas about what to do or how to do it. Funny that NIH pretends that's not what's happening.

I very much doubt that a significant number of RO1s are written by postdocs. The large majority of postdocs don't even write their own papers, and the ones who do mostly don't work for PI's who don't know how to submit an RO1.

At 9:08 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a senior investigator who has more than one RO1, your comments depict me and those like me as the evil group that epitomizes everything that is wrong with the system. Well, I resent this depiction. Nobody ghost-wrote my grant applications, although Postdocs and students (undergraduates and graduate) were extremely helpful in sorting and vetting ideas and occasionally contributing phrases and graphs for specific sections. On the other had, I have spent days and nights going through their applications and making them crisper and better ready for "prime time". I do an order of magnitude more for junior investigators than anyone has done for me when I was one. Don't thank me, but don't make me feel that I am the problem just because I have good ideas and manage to explain them in ways that lead to funding. Instead I suggest you open your eyes and minds and learn from your experience and that of your mentors. Experience, that can only come with the penalty of aging, does make you a better investigator (at least until dementia sets in).


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