Archive for: October, 2013

Does your grant ever get that....not-so-fresh feeling?

Oct 19 2013 Published by under Uncategorized

If you submitted your beautiful, perfect grant this summer like I did, then chances are its review date fell during the government shutdown. Word came down yesterday via notice NOT-OD-14-003 that instead of rescheduling 2 weeks' worth of study sections, NIH has simply bumped all of those beautiful, perfect proposals to join their Oct/Nov-submitted brothers and sisters at February's meeting dates. Which means that in comparison, your now 8-month old grant may be...not so fresh.

Aha! But the sensitive folks at NIH have seen the inequity in such an arrangement, and tossed us the tiniest of bones in anticipation of our rage: the opportunity to "refresh" our submissions (their words), with a new, fresher, Nov 20 deadline.

I hate everything about this. First, it means that I absolutely have to do it. If I don't, my proposal gets judged against others from my cohort who did, putting me at a disadvantage. So goodbye, whatever I was planning on getting done in the next 4 weeks (which, btw, overlaps completely with the Society for Neuroscience meeting), and hello scrambling for preliminary data and updated figures. Second, whether conscious or not, the reviewers will almost surely add a 6th criterion, "progress since original submission." So, those who, hypothetically speaking, spent the summer fighting with their university's biosafety committee over the meaning of "replication-deficient" instead of making actual progress on the proposed work are again at a disadvantage.

Basically, we are fucked. But I guess I'd better get going on all that refreshing.

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Branching Out

Oct 16 2013 Published by under Uncategorized

There is much going on in the world these days--both actual and virtual--that has induced extreme levels of grumpiness in yours truly. I would very much like nothing more than to sit around in my comfy pants with my cat, play Candy Crush, and whimper all day, but alas, 'tis not a luxury I can afford. I am in the 3rd year of my position, and though the government may be shut down and my R01 application hanging in study section limbo, my tenure clock ticks away.  Indeed, it is my Tell Tale Heart - keeping me awake at night, until I resignedly join my insomniac husband for the last half of Eyes Wide Shut on IFC at 4 am.  In this metaphor, I suppose the body lying in pieces below the floorboards is my career - is it dead? Is it alive? I won't really know until the police (tenure committee) arrive in a few years. Yes, I am having a cocktail at the moment, why do you ask?

One thing that could undoubtedly help to silence that incessant ticking would be the influx of about $250k/year for the next five years, and so I continue to seek the assistance of the government. They have been relatively generous so far. But up until now, including grad school and post-doc applications, my grant proposals have gone exclusively to a single NIH IC, and I think it's time to start reaching a little. But how?

I gave a talk at a small meeting last year, and a program officer from not-my-normal-IC approached me immediately afterward, saying "I want you to do exactly what you just talked about but in the context of my IC." I was totally flattered, but also more like um, OK except I have no background in your thing and I could maybe see that as being a problem? I mean, who is going to fund an application whose Aims the PI has no track record of being able to achieve? At that point, too, I had just gotten the lab going, and so my first priorities were doing the things I'd originally set out to do - I'd worry about branching out later. Well, it's now a little later, and my goal for the February cycle is to submit an application to this IC. The challenge is convincing the study section that I can do it.

I'm getting ahead of myself, of course, because at the moment I still have to figure out what "it" is. Sure, I can incorporate the things the PO I met mentioned, but that alone isn't an R01 - I need a broader question, and then an innovative way of addressing it, and then I need to persuasively argue that I'm the right person for the job.

I'll admit there's a part of me that feels disingenuous actively searching for a way to break into a new field. Shouldn't the content of my grant applications be guided by the burning questions that gnaw at my soul? Maybe that was the way things worked back in the salad days of the NIH (LOL when was that again?), but these days my approach has evolved to, what do I have that will be attractive to this IC?  And so I looked for RFAs and PAs from this IC to give me a sense of what kinds of work they're currently looking to fund (RePORTER is of course another great resource for wrapping your head around what gets funded), and lo and behold, a PA that may as well have been written just for me! I reached out to the contact person for the PA, who was very helpful and offered to give feedback on Specific Aims once I had them. That was easy!

And so now comes the fun part  - diving into a vast new literature, and trying to figure out where I fit in. It is highly daunting, but I'm going to start with big picture stuff and try to narrow things down once I find something that strikes my fancy. When I do, I still think I'll need to find some folks to sign on as consultants or possibly co-PIs for this first foray into new territory, but luckily I've got a couple of good networking opportunities coming up.  I'm excited about learning new things, meeting new people, and, I admit, planting my flag in some foreign soil. Oh, and MONIEZ.

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