Archive for: April, 2015

Grant writing: don't apply unless you are above average?

A while ago, I wondered whether to apply for funding if you knew the funding rate was only 3%. Back then, most people said to apply anyway (which I did by the way; didn't get the money though). However, today I came across this paper in PlosOne entitled: "To apply or not to apply; a survey analysis of grant writing costs and benefits" (which I found via naturejobs).  The authors did a survey on 195 astronomers and social and personality psychologists who apply to three US federal agencies: NASA, the NIH, and the NSF. They found - according to naturejobs:

[They] found that applications took on average 116 hours to prepare for principal investigators and 55 hours for co-investigators. More submissions increased the chances of receiving funding, but time spent writing a proposal had little correlation with success.

Then, they calculate how much time it takes to write one or more grant applications per year and what the chances are of getting funded. They next come with the following recommendations (emphasis added by me):

Because a 20% funding rate will force at least half of all proposers to abandon federally funded research after multiple years of effort, we recommend that proposers, research mentors, and funding agencies compare current funding rates to this value. We suggest that individual investigators should consider avoiding proposing to programs with funding rates at or below 20% unless they are confident that their research program has a greater-than-baseline chance of success or they are willing to write two or more proposals per year.

They next suggest that perhaps institutions should decide who gets to apply for low-chance funding, so that the others can focus on something else and do not waste their time writing potentially unsuccessful grants.

This is very different advice than the "always apply" that I normally hear. I know that in some of the homecountry's institutions this is how it goes for personal grants from the homecountry scientific organization: that the institutions do a sort of pre-screening round to see who gets to submit (which I find doubtful: do the institutions know what reviewers will say about a grant? And are internal committees a good way to decide who gets to submit?). And where do 'the other' people get funding to do their research?

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What the nature series on post-docs forgets to mention

Naturejobs has a whole series about post-docs which is quite interesting. Today's post is about finding the right lab and PI.

“If you chose the wrong lab, a lab that isn’t publishing heavily or is not pushing you, you’re not going to be able to get the papers you need to get into that lectureship or fellowship position that you’re looking for.”

They list a bunch of important things to consider and most of them have to do with strategically planning your career as a post-doc. What they forget to mention is that it is very helpful when your PI is flexible and open to change. As a post-doc, you can change from someone who is single and in the lab 80 hrs a week to someone with a family who needs to leave at 5 to pick up their kid. Or you can change from someone who wants to become tenure track faculty at a fancy-named university to someone who would rather pursue a career as a science writer. Then, it is no longer the most important thing to that your PI is an important scientist who cranks out high impact factor papers, but it is nice if she is supportive of your choices. (luckily the nature piece acknowledges this in their last paragraph, that loving what you do is very important too). But when looking for a post-doc position, knowing that I would maybe want to have a baby in the time I was there, that was the hardest thing: figuring out if a PI would be supportive. I've seen instances where the support of a PI greatly diminished when post-docs started their family or looked for jobs outside academia and it doesn't seem like something to bring up at your interview. So, how do you find out if that supportive mentor is willing to support you through periods of change from the initial plan?

And then just before posting this I saw this post from the new PI about the questions to ask when interviewing for a post-doc position.


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Review karma

Apr 03 2015 Published by under Academia, Decisions, publishing papers, science

When reviewing somebody else's paper for a journal, I found myself thinking:"hey, my paper just got rejected with a similar response to the reviewers! Perhaps I should reject this paper too!". Or I could think:"I want to submit a manuscript soon and would wish the reviewers would go easy on me, so I will accept this paper too."

How do you use your review-karma?

18 responses so far