After nearly 5 years of fumbling, my tenure packet is in. Preparing the dossier itself was an absurd exercise in email searching, document drag-and-dropping, and Adobe Acrobat wrestling. But I admit it's nice to see the last five years all in one place - physical evidence that I didn't completely squander my startup money and fade from existence.
Am I confident about the outcome? Not particularly - how could I be, without a big grant? Nonetheless, I don't think anyone could read my dossier and say that I didn't do all I could. In 5 years, I've submitted at least one proposal to NIH every cycle but two. I've received one R21 and one small foundation grant. I've published 6 senior-author research papers in journals of JIF 3-10, 3 review papers, and edited a book. I've given over 2 dozen invited talks. The undergrads like me.
So now...we wait. But "waiting" isn't really the right word, is it? In reality, it's back to business as usual. Keeping the science churning in the lab, getting grants out, and trying to keep sane as the house renovations slowly progress.
I would like a vacation, but I guess it'll have to wait for sabbatical.
One of the many things that suck about being an utterly broke PI is having to put "TBD" for all personnel in NIH grant budget justifications. You are essentially saying, "trust me, I'll find someone to do the work." But why should they? To me, having competent personnel in place is as much a "feasibility" situation as having preliminary data for all your Aims. Why should they trust you to get the work done if they don't even know who's going to do it?
So the question is, should I add a note somewhere (either in the introduction to the Personnel justification or in the biosketch statement where you account for gaps in productivity or whatever) that says, in effect, "Look, my lab is empty because I have no money to pay anyone, so everyone here is TBD. Past personnel searches have resulted in X quality applications. If you give me some (money), I am confident that I will promptly re-populate the lab with highly qualified individuals who can carry out the work in this proposal."
Or no? For those of you on study sections, have you seen applicants dinged for "TBD" personnel?
If there is one thing I miss about living in New York (and TBH there are many things), it is bagels. I'm not saying they're impossible to find (although some may say that), but the bagel CULTURE is just not here. Just when I had started to learn to live without, we saw an episode of America's Test Kitchen that promised perfect NYC-worthy bagels. Why not give it a go?
A true NYC bagel is crunchy on the outside, dense and chewy on the inside, and has a deep, savory flavor with just the tiniest hint of sweetness. According to ATK, there are a couple of key steps that make this possible: first, that flavor comes from barley malt syrup, which you can get at Whole Foods. When you get the jar home, try a little on your finger. It's delicious! Second is a long, cold proof. Unlike most breads, which prefer a warm place to rise, bagels develop best in the fridge over at least 12 hours. Third, develop the gluten with lots of rolling, twisting, and stretching. Finally, boil the bagels for a minute before baking to get that crust.
Our first batch, we followed the ATK recipe to a T. And after all that, they were...OK. They had the right flavor and crunch, but the inside was WAY too light and airy.
I have no idea what went wrong, but these were not the bagels I was looking for. Luckily, the magic of the internet led me to the Epicurious recipe, recommended by Michael Eisen via twitter. So on a recent long weekend family getaway in the woods, I attempted these. And like a terrible scientist, I changed a whole lot of things at once.
I used the dough recipe exactly (which is not that different from the ATK one) and let it rise in a bowl in the fridge for 30 hrs. This is probably overkill, but I wanted to be sure! Before shaping them into rings, I prepared the boiling water by the Epicurious recipe and added a peeled and chopped russet potato to get the water nice and starchy. I used the ATK shaping method of flattening, rolling, twisting, wrapping, and rolling to seal, just to give that gluten one last workout before boiling a minute on each side, and adding toppings.
Then I baked them in the $15,000 Wolf oven that happened to be in our otherwise reasonably appointed AirBnB.
That's what I'm talking about! I could tell the second I took them off the baking sheet that these were going to be just the right chewiness and density. And OMG yaaaasssss they were divine. Here is the amazing tomato, cuke, dill, & onion sandwich I made.
A couple of notes & tips:
The recipe says it makes 6-8 bagels, but I'd say that's 6 small ones (by NYC standards), not even close to 8.
Bagels will stick to whatever you bake them on, even parchment. ATK has a cool trick of baking them on a non-stick spray-coated cooling rack set inside a baking sheet.
They are perfect and crunchy straight out of the oven, but the outsides will soften after they cool. However, 10 min in a hot oven (pre-sliced) will perk them right back up!
They obviously take some planning, but for a special weekend treat and a huge dose of NY nostalgia, they're worth it. I still think there are little tweaks here and there that could make them even better, so I'm all ears if you've had success making bagels. Gab away in the comments!
Hello, readers! This job is hard. Between getting my tenure materials together, gut renovating a house, and repeatedly banging my head against the hallowed walls of the NIH, I haven't had the mental bandwidth to blog about academia with any kind of real fervor. However, Drugmonkey tagged me in this "who would you like to rescue you?" meme thingie, so I suppose I can muster up five names (the one thing I do have mental bandwidth for is staring at my TV screen). Some of these are actual people and not characters, but whatever. Maybe they're totally different in real life.
I'm not allowed to get too excited for SfN until I get this R01 in, but I do hope those of you headed to Chicago next month will come to our yearly shindig that is expressly for you, the People of the Internet. This year we have not one, not two, but THREE amazing sponsors - INCF, NeuInfo, and Nature - who are doing their best to ensure you get at least one Negroni and a snack or two on the house.
We'll be at Frontier in West Town, an easy ride on the L (or even easier Uber ride). Note that we're starting at 9:30p to allow you to hit your SfN-sponsored socials and have dinner and whatnot beforehand, so no excuses! I have a 7:30am meeting the morning after.
Details below in this handy flyer! If you're on twitter, be sure to follow @sfnbanter and the #sfnbanter list of attendees. See you all in Chicago!
One of the absolute best things about Twitter is that there are a bajillion scientists on it, and if I have a random question - what's your favorite cfos antibody, what's the best statistical test for ___, what do you think this blob on my micrograph is - I can just throw it out into the ether and am likely to get a number of super helpful responses almost immediately.
Today, however, my random question started quite the firestorm! Let's go to the highlight reel:
Twitter poll: without knowing anything - if this was your plot, what do you think about that little guy top right? pic.twitter.com/hGRtlmG3TK
(BTW, the reason that the y-axis seems excessively high is that I am comparing the correlation in this experimental group to that of another experimental group whose y values do go that high, and non-matching axes are one of my biggest pet peeves)
I got lots of helpful responses from my lovely Twitter friends, which you can see if you click through to the conversation. My real question was, "do I include or exclude this data point that is 6 SDs away from the mean from analysis?" but a young mosquito scientist had this recommendation:
Letting alone the fact that in my mind, a single funky data point out of almost 60 is not a "result," but a...data point...the answer is no, I do not "usually" replicate. Look, I get that in some labs it's super easy to run an experiment in an afternoon for like $5. If this is the situation you're in, by all means replicate away! Knock yourself out, and then give yourself a nice pat on the back. But in the world of mammalian behavioral neuroscience, single experiments can take years and many thousands of dollars. When you finish an experiment, you publish the data, whatever they happen to be. You don't say, let's spend another couple of years and thousands more dollars and do it all again before we tell anyone what we found! So I thought, OK, this guy runs an insect lab, maybe he doesn't know what's involved.
Here's how I see it: different science fields have different experimental conventions that depend on all kinds of things. The "reproducibility crisis" may be real, but asking scientists to fix it by doing everything twice (or more) is naive at best and intentionally, self-righteously ignorant at worst.
As I've said before, the data are the data. You report them, along with the methods that you used to get them and the stats you used to determine your confidence in them. Someone else reads them and maybe decides to build off of them in their own work, which necessitates trying to replicate yours. Maybe their results are the same, maybe they're not. If they're not, are you a bad scientist? Are they? Obviously not. Part of what makes science exciting and fascinating is figuring out why some things don't always replicate. When we define the intricacies that drive our data, that's when we're truly making progress.
By now I presume you've read the train wreck of a "careers" article over at Science, puzzlingly titled "Getting noticed is half the battle" when in fact the bulk of the piece is dedicated not to tips on getting noticed per se, but on congratulating yourself for brown-nosing your superiors and abandoning your family to work 100 hrs a week. I guess that's the other half of the battle?
Sciwo at Tenure, She Wrote has a pretty thorough takedown of the myriad ways in which the article is wrong, dated, heteronormative, and straight up dangerous, so you should go read that. However, there is one thing I will give the author: getting noticed is important for career maintenance and advancement.
The $64,000 question, of course, is how do you get yourself noticed without looking like an arrogant peacock? I'm going to turn some of the specifics over to New PI for a moment, who pondered some of these questions a couple of years ago. She writes,
It is a constant struggle in my mind on when to shake those back feathers and fan that tail. Do I tout my own horn at every little accomplishment in my department? Should I remind people who invited me for talks in passing that I was invited? Do I walk up to important people at meetings and just introduce myself pitching my "awesome" research?...The purists hate this and complain to no end about how your science should speak for itself.
Now, YMMV, but my answers to these questions are: yes, yes, no, and don't even get me started. When you're TT, accomplishments of any size are evidence that you're moving forward, and I see nothing wrong with updating the news section of your lab website and sending your chair an email when something particularly good happens.
Second, You. Must. Give. Talks. If you're at a conference talking to a buddy in the poster session or at the bar and he casually throws out a "we really should have you down to Fancy University to give a seminar," say, "that would be great, thanks!" and then follow up with a quick email once you get back home that says "Awesome to see you last week! Looking forward to the possibility of a visit once you get your seminar schedule for next semester set." Or whatever! But giving talks not only gives you a captive audience for an hour, you get a whole day to visit a department and meet one-on-one with whatever fancy people they have there. These chats can lead to collaborations, grand, paradigm-shifting epiphanies, and perhaps most importantly - letters for your tenure packet.*
Getting your shmoozing in this way has the added benefit of relieving you of New PI's 3rd scenario - the cold pitch to bigwigs. Just don't do it. If you absolutely must meet Dr. SuperFancyPants, find someone you know to introduce you in a casual environment. Otherwise, your interaction is pretty much guaranteed to go like this:
Finally, and this is a no-brainer, put in a session proposal for every single conference you attend, which has several benefits. First, obviously if it gets accepted you are a total baller and will get noticed for being the rockstar who organized that panel everyone loved. Second, it could give you a reason to contact and build a relationship with Dr. FancyPants, if the conference is the kind that likes their panels to be a mix of senior and junior folks. Third, even if you don't get FancyPants shmoozing out of it, you will definitely get camaraderie with your contemporaries out of it, which can also lead to all sorts of career bonuses in both the long and short term. And finally, if it gets accepted, the conference will usually give you at the very least free registration, and at the very best free hotel and airfare. That is like COLD HARD CASH in your pocket, all because you sent a few emails and wrote a paragraph about how exciting your sub-sub-subfield is.
Above all, be a good scientist who is kind to others and enjoyable to be around, and trust me, you'll be noticed in all the right ways.
*not to mention that these people are on grant review panels and journal editorial boards!
The first thing I did when I started my TT job - before the floor was even laid in my shiny new lab, before I bought anything or hired anyone - was apply for an R21 from NIMH. And I got it, first try.
Well this is great! I thought. I clearly have a natural gift for grantsmanship, and my lab will assuredly remain funded for the rest of my days. Basically,
Fast forward 3 years from the NOA, and...uh...yeah, it's hard. The R21 has come and gone (not to mention most of my startup), and despite a LOT of trying, I've yet to secure any more external funding. It sucks. I am about 15 months out from submitting my tenure packet - do I even have a chance at convincing T&P that I'm worth keeping around? I have no idea, but I'm going to give it my best shot. Since I got bad score news in November and then February, I've been working my ass off to figure out a survival strategy. It comes down to two things:
1. Find money
2. Publish as much as possible
Hmm...those kind of sound like the things I already needed to do for tenure. So how will I do them on a very, very tight budget?
1. Write, write, write. At least two NIH grants per cycle - one new, one revision. A foundation here or there.
2. Write, write, write. Publish all possible existing data, no matter how incremental.
3. Beg the dean for bridge funding (where the other side of the bridge is...TBD)
4. Collaborate. We have a couple of good ones going now that are saving us tons of money in animal costs.
5. Piece a little chunk of change together with small internal grants for undergrad projects.
6. Network like a mofo. You never know where the next lifeline will come from.
So here we are. I have half as many full-time personnel as I did a year ago, and our animal rooms are eerily quiet. But my lab folks are excellent and are working hard, and I'm doing my best to keep morale up (chocolate. Lots of chocolate). We got a really nice paper in a really nice journal out of that R21 (and another on its way), and a beautiful image from that work will be on the journal cover this summer. Everything is amazing, except we are broke.
I realize that my blogging frequency has fallen off so substantially that I can't even do a DrugMonkey-style "12 months of Dr Becca" post this year, but there has not been a lot for me to say that I felt would be interesting, entertaining, or useful, so I just stayed quiet. However, I do think that a little reflection once in a while is a good thing, so here's what I can say about my year 2.5-3.5 on the tenure track.
Holy shit. This job has been a roller coaster from day 1, but it's like every few months the peaks and troughs get taller and deeper.
Jan-May was a blur of writing. Our first two papers, composed solely of data generated in my lab, came out and that felt good. Our 3rd paper, The Big One (TBO), was rejected from at least one journal.
With the exception of chairing a very well received symposium at a conference in Sydney, the summer absolutely sucked. Nothing in the lab worked, my grants were triaged, and TBO was rejected like a million more times. I felt utterly helpless, like I was letting everyone in my lab down.
Fall semester, things started to turn around. The major thing that made us bang our heads against the wall all summer and that I absolutely needed to work in order to submit an R01 revision finally came together like gangbusters, just in time. I received a prestigious travel award. TBO was accepted at a very, very good journal--one with a higher IF than a certain Shmournal of Shmeuroscience, which rejected it. And I was invited to participate in the NIH Early Career Reviewer program for February study sections! I am really excited about this.
But still, the only thing that matters right now is getting funded, because the R21 has come and gone, and the startup well is very nearly dry. My tenure dossier is due in less than 18 months, but I am not worried about tenure. I am worried about keeping my lab going, paying my incredibly hardworking trainees and staff, and doing awesome science. These worries are all-consuming. All I can do is keep writing, try to improve, and hope that something hits. Soon.
2015, you had better fucking be my year!
*Bonus track - "Busy Earnin'," by Jungle. I love everything about this.
And another SfN is in the books. Like every year, each day was a whirlwind of science, coffee, shmoozing, more science, more coffee, and a nightcap or three over more shmoozing. Speaking of shmoozing, did you go to BANTER? It was KILLER! Thanks to everyone who showed up, and apologies to those who had to wait in the cold. The bar did not quite believe me when I told them we would probably need a bouncer to regulate in-out flow, but they believed me real quick when we reached capacity 10 minutes into the party. Huge props to Churchkey for acting swiftly and keeping things running smoothly, and major thanks to F1000 for footing the bill!
So here's a question for you: did you, as a reader of the blog and/or twitterer, get what you wanted out of BANTER? Did you meet folks you'd hoped to meet? Was it too big? Too full of people who had no idea why they were there? I ask because the original goal of BANTER was more in line with that of a tweet-up--a chance for folks who had been regularly interacting online to meet up IRL--and I wonder if the rapid rise in BANTER's popularity now precludes us reaching those goals. If it does, are you OK with that? Should I stop over-thinking things and just go with the flow (which means planning a party for 250+ people in 2015), or should we have 2 BANTERs, one for everyone and one smaller, more intimate one? I can't decide. Please comment!