What do you do when your lab runs out of money?

(by Dr Becca) Jun 16 2015

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.

Hopefully not for too much longer.

38 responses so far

2014 wrap-up

(by Dr Becca) Dec 05 2014

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.

4 responses so far

Poll for SfN BANTER attendees

(by Dr Becca) Nov 24 2014

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!


27 responses so far

On the market at #sfn14 - what should and shouldn't you do?

(by Dr Becca) Nov 04 2014

Are you going to the Society for Neuroscience Annual meeting? Did you just submit a bunch of tenure-track job applications?

If you answered "yes" and "yes" to the above question, you are probably wondering whether there is anything you can do at the meeting to increase your chances of getting short listed. One of the most tempting things might be to find a way to "accidentally" bump into some faculty from the departments you've applied to, but I implore you not to do this. It is creepy and awkward and will likely do little to endear you to the search committee.

The best thing I think you can do is stay at your poster the whole four hours (or give a kick-ass talk if you're in a symposium). If you're on a medium list, there's a chance someone from the search committee might come check out your poster. If that happens, just do your poster spiel and be as nice and likable as possible, no matter what they ask you. Do NOT mention that you applied to their department or ask anything about how their search is going. Capisce?

Basically, just go and be your awesome self. And come to BANTER!

In the comments, feel free to leave related questions or past experiences. Anyone have any informal "interviews" while at the meeting?

2 responses so far

Tomatoes: they're what's for brunch

(by Dr Becca) Oct 04 2014

This attitude may change if there are ever any mini-Dr Beccas running around, but for now I maintain that one of my absolute favorite parts of this job is all the traveling I get to do. This year I really put my money where my mouth is, because in the last 12 months I've given 10 invited talks, which is more than I'd given previously in my entire career, combined. In sum, I spoke in five US states, two Canadian provinces, and one...Australia. I saw mountains, rolling farmland, big cities, and some seriously impressive fall foliage. I met dozens of amazing scientists, and ate a LOT of really great food. There were many, many moments where I genuinely thought to myself, Wait, how is this my job again?

But speaking of food! On my most recent trip I was lucky enough to have J as my chauffeur, and while I was at the University doing my thing, he drove around the nearby countryside, stopping at dairy farms and farmer's markets. In the end, we had quite a haul:


cheese & tomatores

In their fresh-picked form, the tomatoes don't like to hang out too long, and we've been trying to eat them as quickly as we can in as many ways as possible. They're obviously delicious on their own, but today I think I really hit it out of the park, so I thought I'd share what I did. First, here's what it looks like (recipe follows).



Apparently "stacks" are out of culinary vogue now, but I don't really care. Does that look amazing or what? I will go ahead and spoil the ending for you right now, it was pretty amazing. The main components are:

1. Fried green tomatoes (recipe below)
2. Fresh red tomatoes
3. 1 poached egg
4. fresh corn
5. cilantro
6. sriracha

The only thing that really takes any work at all is the Fried green tomatoes (or "G-toms," as I heard a cook in a restaurant call them) and even that is not that bad if you get your mise-en-place all nice and ready. I had actually made these as a side dish the other night, and reheated the leftovers for this dish. They crisp back up really nicely if you throw them in a cast iron skillet for a few minutes. Here's how to make them from scratch:

1. Slice the G-toms (sorry, it's just easier) around 1cm thick or a little less. Throw them into a tuppeware with some buttermilk and let them sit while you get everything else ready. Maybe flip the tupperware over halfway through your prep work to make sure the ones on top are coated.

2. Get out 3 more shallow tupperwares. You can just use plates, but I find that these contain the mess a lot better. Those black plastic containers with clearish lids you get a lot of takeout in are perfect. Line them up next to your stove if possible.

3. In the tupperware furthest from the stove, put some all-purpose flour and season it with salt, pepper, and any other spices you may like. A little cayenne or paprika is a good place to start.

4. In the middle tupperware, put 2 lightly scrambled eggs.

5. In the tupperware next to the stove goes your breading. I used about a 1:1 ratio of Panko crumbs and coarse corn meal, and it worked out perfectly. The Panko soaks up the oil and makes the G-toms super crispy, and the corn meal adds a more solid crunch plus that extra savory corn flavor.

6. Preheat your oven to 200 degrees, and put a cookie-cooling rack inside, with a baking sheet on the level below it. Heat about 3/4 inch of vegetable oil in a large cast iron skillet until it is at least 300 degrees F.

7. Take your G-toms through the assembly line--out of the buttermilk, into the flour (make sure to thoroughly shake off excess), the egg, the crumbs, and then into the oil. Work in a single layer, and flip them once you see the edges turning medium-dark brown.

8. As they come out, drain quickly on a paper towel and then get them onto the cookie rack in the oven. Keeping them on the cookie rack instead of a sheet pan or on paper towels for longer will ensure they stay crisp, and the baking sheet will catch any crumbs or oil that fall off so they don't burn at the bottom of your oven next time you use it.

9. Salt & enjoy! You can make a dipping sauce if you want, but they're good on their own or with a little hot sauce.

For the brunch stack, I alternated the fried G-toms with sliced R-toms, and then put a poached egg on top. While I was reheating the G-toms in the skillet, I threw in a small handful of corn that I had in the freezer* and then put that over the stack. I sprinkled it all with salt & pepper and some fresh cilantro, and then a few drops of Sriracha for zing.

Voila! You have yourself one tasty brunch stack. Now you know what to do with all those tomatoes.


* Something I learned a couple of years ago when I had my first CSA was 1) that you get A LOT of corn with a CSA; and 2) you can cut all the kernels off the cobs and freeze them, thus saving a ton of fridge space, and then you have corn whenever the mood strikes! This dish was the perfect example of something that was just screaming for a little corn.


3 responses so far

Get ready to (Neuro)rumbl!

(by Dr Becca) Sep 26 2014

It is peak faculty search season, folks, and you might be wondering what you can do to ensure that the beautiful foliage of your application package is seen by as many eyes as possible. Well, look no further than Neurorumblr, your one-stop shop for all the hot gossip on all the neuro-related jobs out there. There is a sweet interactive spreadsheet with important deadlines and links for each job, and space for you to add any info (say, if you hear interviews have been scheduled) you might have as the season progresses. In addition, there's a growing list of conferences, a discussion forum, and an impressive list of links with advice of all kinds.

Neurorumblr is the brainchild of Adam Calhoun, and boy do I wish this thing had been around when I was on the market! So go give him a high-five, and then...go rumbl!

3 responses so far

Guest post: how to get out of uncomfortable situations

(by Dr Becca) Sep 17 2014

Today we have a guest post from good friend of the blog, MyTchondria, who has an SfN-related story to share. There is a lesson here, people.

Why Namenzia is My Hero

As SfN14 approaches, I eagerly await the silence that will envelop my building as the neuroscience masses flock to DC for the gathering of the hive mind.  I’ve attended a lot of SfN meetings but this year I couldn't bring myself to do it financially or emotionally.

This would have been the first year for me where the impact of #RipplesofDoubt had settled in for me and, coupled with my massive loathing of Nature’s year of multi-tiered failures of misogyny, bias and arrogance, I had sincere concerns I might end up in stabby-pants prison.

The stories of assault, harassment and bullying of women in science this year were written about with such pain and eloquence that their truths were undeniable for those of us who had experienced these things in the field, bench and in our professional social lives. I know quite clearly that I have been part of the problem - guilty of taking my history and putting them into a tight little ball deep in my innards that would surely cause cancer one day.  Making the guilt worse was what turned out to be my totally unfounded hope that harassment would end with my generation of female scientists. These hopes were soon dashed when a neuroscience trainee detailed harassment at SfN in a new lawsuit filed this summer against her mentor and other BSD scientists.  All very depressing things. But I find hope in last years #SfN13 banter and wanted to share the utterly hilarious and totally reflexive behavior of last year’s “Official Winner of #SfN13*” @Namenzia.

One of the most compelling and annoying hobbies for new Twitter folks is trying to put a pseudonym with an in real life person (by the way, don’t do this). Last year, I sat at a table as a particularly drunk follower tried to figure out who I was. I told her where I was, but in the time that it took her to find ‘me’, Nam had taken my seat as I squashed in with @gertyz.

Said drunken scientist arrived on the scene and proceeded to plop on @Namenzia’s lap. No sooner does her arse hit his quad then Nam immediately jumps up with both hands in the air. The unceremoniously dislodged woman was left holding the chair for dear life as Nam professes at the top of his lungs “I WANT NOTHING TO DO WITH THIS!!” He then dashes into the crowd, leaving @gertyz to applaud.

This, my friends, was a master class on how to deal with inappropriate interactions.  There is no doubt it won’t work for all interactions, I get this, but damn, it sure was brilliant.

*Official Winner of #SfN13 selection was made by a jury of two scientists at the time of the event. Therefore ‘scientists say it’s true’. Alert the press and update your CV, Nam.

27 responses so far

Orange is the new BRAIN

(by Dr Becca) Sep 05 2014

Now that my fall semester is officially under way, I feel like it is only appropriate to officially look forward to that blissful week in November when I get to cancel class. Neuroscience, baby! And since 2010, with the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience comes BANTER, a little party I made for you and you alone. No really, it will just be the two of us. Is that creepy?

Just kidding, it will be you and 149 of  your closest internet friends! This year, we are super lucky to be sponsored by Faculty of 1000 and F1000 Research, so if you happen to meet one of their folks at the party, be sure to show them your deepest gratitude!

So if you're in DC for the meeting, do stop by Churchkey after your socials or lab dinners (we've made it late to avoid conflicts as much as possible). Tweet me (@doc_becca) to let me know you're coming, and follow the attendee list so you can see who you might run into. More details below in this awesome flyer I made. No printing! Social media only.

Oh, but um....there may be t-shirts.


See you in Washington!

One response so far

ScienceCareers to postdocs: Think happy thoughts!

(by Dr Becca) Jul 22 2014

Quite a week for ScienceCareers, eh? After their editor or whatever doubled down on his sentiment that moral indignation over the objectification of an oppressed group on his magazine's cover was just so BORING (tweets now deleted, can't imagine why), we now get this: "Happy Thoughts May Help Postdocs Handle Stress."

Are you for actual serious with this?? The article describes a new study--and I use this word lightly because it's based on a one-time survey of 200 postdocs--that found less anxiety and depression in folks who self-reported more frequent positive emotions. So, not only do we have a clear correlation vs. causation issue here - who can say that it was the positive emotions that prevented the development of clinical symptoms and not vice versa - but it belittles the many real stressful problems that postdocs face that cannot simply be "thought" away.

The real money quote is this:  "When we suggest that people need more positive emotions in their lives, I know it sounds kind of frou-frou, but it’s actually a very simple practice.” OK. a) I don't think you know what frou-frou means (frilly or ornamented, not fluffy or insubstantial, which is what you probably mean and you'd be right). b) No, it is not simple. Postdocs have personal, financial, and professional stresses on a daily basis. They are busy as fuck. To suggest that watching a sit-com or going for a run can change that reality not only presumes they have time for something like that, but has very strong undertones of "stop complaining and just change your attitude."  This is a dangerous message to convey to a population of people who are already worried about being smart enough, published enough, networked enough...now they have to worry they're just not happy enough? Uh, yeah, they're probably not happy enough. But it's not because they aren't caught up on the latest season of Veep

One final note - this isn't really a new idea at all. People have been trying to convince us that thinking about being happy will make work less stressful for almost 80 years (White et al, 1937)!


9 responses so far

The Kentucky Bourbon Trail is not an actual trail

(by Dr Becca) Jul 03 2014

Last week, J and I returned from a much needed getaway in a red mustang convertible. We spent the weekend cruising the beautiful landscape of eastern Kentucky, stopping occasionally to sample a delightful local spirit or two, and then took back roads all the way home to NJC. It was a great road trip. America the Beautiful, etc.

If you enjoy 1) whiskey; 2) learning things; and 3) seeing beautiful rolling hills and horses, I highly recommend a visit to Bourbon County, KY, in a mustang convertible if possible. In preparation for your trip, here are some things that might be good for you to know:

1. The Kentucky Bourbon Trail is not an actual trail, it is a marketing concept. If you're imagining that there's some 5-mile stretch of winding Kentucky road somewhere that would allow you to zig-zag from distillery to distillery in an afternoon, you're highly mistaken in your imagination. In reality, there are two primary clumps of distilleries - one in Frankfort, and the other in Bardstown - about 45 min apart from each other (I suppose "Kentucky Bourbon Clumps" did not quite pass muster with focus groups). Moreover, the KBT officially consists of only 8 distilleries that collectively produce most of the American whiskeys you've probably heard of. However, there are plenty of smaller craft distilleries in the area as well, and some larger distilleries, like Buffalo Trace, that for whatever reason are not officially linked to the KBT.

The yeast room at Four Roses

2. It is pretty much impossible to get drunk (or even driving impaired) while visiting the distilleries. Probably one of the first things you'd think when planning a trip to the KBT is, OMG all that bourbon! How will we get around? Should we hire a party bus or something? But you needn't worry. They have it all figured out already. First, you can't go to a distillery, do a tasting, and leave - you have to take a tour, which lasts anywhere from maybe 30 min to an hour. The tasting comes at the end, and you'll get maybe 2-3 TINY tastes, so that all in all for one distillery you've probably had a total of 1/2 an oz of liquor, max, which is a third of a shot. Then you have to do it all again at the next distillery, which is a minimum 15 min drive away plus waiting for the next tour to start, so you're looking at around at least 1.5 hours in between very small amounts of alcohol. Relatedly, you will probably get to fewer distilleries in a day than you imagine. We did 3 the first day and 2 the second.

3. Visit a mix of large and small distilleries. Distilleries come in all shapes and sizes, and the five-and-a-half we went to each gave us a different experience. I say "and a half" because we tried to go to Woodford, the Lexus of Distilleries, but it was swarming with people and had over an hour wait for tours, so we bailed and went to Four Roses instead. The "Hard Hat Tour" at Buffalo Trace was by far the most informative about the whiskey-making process, and is great if you really want to see everything and get a kick out of cool old industrial stuff (like me). They also do this cool trick with their White Dog where you rub it on your hands a couple of times and smell the different elements each time it's exposed to the air. Wild Turkey has a brand new facility that completely lacked character and their tour was kind of boring, but their gorgeous new visitor center somewhat made up for it (see pic below).

View up to the "Angel's Loft" or something at Wild Turkey.


4. For tasting, the small distilleries are way better. We had this vision that at all the distilleries we'd get to taste some rare new thing that was fresh out of the barrels, but at most of the big distilleries it was like, "here's a taste of our most widely available product." Yawn. In contrast, the small distilleries delivered. The Willett distillery, which makes Rowan's Creek, one of the best bourbons on the planet, was our favorite. Our tour group was small and our guide seemed genuinely happy that we were there. They also have the most stunning still I think I've ever seen (pic below). And as a bonus, we got to taste their hot off the presses 2-year rye, which was easily the best thing we drank all weekend. It's not sold anywhere, and we took home two bottles. We also visited Limestone Branch, a one-building operation so new their bourbon hasn't even aged the requisite 2 years yet, but we had a great visit with the distillers, who were super down-to-earth and shared their "Sugar Shine" line of spirits with us.

The gorgeous still at Willett, inspiration for their bottle shape.

All in all, a truly awesome trip.  And now, alas, back to science.

3 responses so far

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