My first R03 review

So as I told you before, my first R03 grant was triaged last month. Not much surprise, as that was my very first submission and I basically did it without supervision or science advice. Of course, I did the best I could, and there was a tiny bit of hope to get a score. But it didn’t happen.

However, when I received the reviews, they were not that bad. On average, all my scores were around 3, except for approach, where I’ve got a big 6. There were good moments such as “Concerns about XXX diminish enthusiasm for this otherwise excellent study”. But they had a really big concern about me being a PD: “Lacks an academic appointment and is dependent on her mentor for laboratory space and access to facilities”. So why on earth a PD is able to submit a R03 grant as the PI if the reviewers are going to be all cranky about that?

And it gets worse!

Other thing that the reviewers were all confused was about my actual department: “This laboratory is in the Department of Mathematics, which appears to be an unusual place for a neuroscience laboratory”. Yes, my former PI retired and co-PI took over. So despite being a neuroscientist and have absolutely no idea about math, I’m in the math Dept. And that’s why my PI cannot help much with the scientific part of my grant.

Despite this advice, my former PI is the closest and better help that I can have. He gave me some tips about how to fix the approach of my grant, but he suggested me to apply for an R21 instead of an R03. Lots of people on twitter suggested alternatives such as K01, F32… Gosh, this grant applying thing is so complicated! Anyways, twitter as always did help me a lot with advices and guidelines. I emailed my PO and scheduled a phone interview. I’ll keep you posted.

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Advice to new postdocs

Tonight on twitter biochembelle started a trend of tweets giving some valuable advice to postdocs. And that made me think about how I’ve been doing it all wrong.

“A postdoc is a job. A *temporary* job. You (postdocs) should be thinking about where you want to go next and what you need to get there…”

When I moved to the US, I didn’t know if I wanted to stay here or come back to home country. So I just came here and started working. Without any clear goal in mind. I also moved to a lab that did pretty much the same as what I did during my PhD, so that was my first mistake. You should go somewhere you can grow, learn new techniques and expand your research.

“Then look for opportunities to get what you need. As a postdoc, primary job is research. Publications are metric of productivity…”

Working in the lab of a senior researcher, there was a lot of romanticism about the questions of our research. We don’t work in a top-priority field, but even then, there are stronger questions that can be asked, new methods to be learned! Along the years our subfield became smaller and smaller and there was no motivation from my PI to change the field of research that he’s been working for more than 30 years! But, as a postdoc, one has freedom to work in aside projects! Of course, I did publish during all these years, but I don’t have any publication in glam journals, and my top IF is around 5. So, focus on publishing, yes, but aside all those little projects try to work on some research that you may publish in a good journal.

“Research & pubs are important. No one will argue that. But alone they’re not sufficient (especially when looking outside academia).”

There were two R01s in the lab when I first arrived and not so many people working there. So we were pretty “rich” and I never bothered (and no one told me) to write grants or apply for travel grants. When I first heard about the possibility of getting a K99, I was already passed the 5 year-limit to apply. NRSA training grants are for new postdocs learning new techniques, and I was already too “trained” for that. After 5 years in the same lab I just applied for an R03 last cycle. That’s just wrong! If you want to stay in academia writing grants will be your everyday life, so you better get started as soon as possible!

Now I am in the job market for a TT position and I feel that my CV basically lacks high impact publications and funding. I’m trying to fill those blanks, working hard on a project that I believe can be published in a good journal and also applying for grants. I think I’m already too old to go for another postdoc where I can have better opportunities of learning and publishing. But it may happen, if our grant is not funded and I don’t get a faculty job. I’m still hopeful things can work for me, but if only I had known those things before, I’d have done things different and I could be in my dream job!

Existential Crisis

I don’t know exactly how it started, but suddenly I started to feel very unmotivated. Twitter is awesome because you meet so many friends willing to help, but also can bring your mood down when you have access to so much information… Talking to a friend on Skype I learned about the RU/VH type of University and went to check my 10 applications. 9 out of 10 are in RU/VH institutions. Then I saw this on twitter:

@AntiLabUCF From our latest search: top candidates ave: ~4 yrs post doc, 17.5 pubs, 1-2 PNAS/Sci/Nat, 5-10+ 1st author, $, fit job descript

Then I felt like... Fuck. I’m nowhere near this description, I have 8 years of PD, 15 publications and none of them in glam journals. No funding yet (although I submitted my very first R03 – low expectations). From the 10 applications I’m submitting only one is a perfect fit. Meh. It’s going to be hard to get a job this season… So I was talking to @IHStreet on Twitter and he told me he was giving up the idea of getting a TT position because he was choosing LIFE! And although our conversation put a bug in his head (see his blog post here), he also put a big big bug into my head! Is this really what I want for my life? This craziness of writing grants no stop, of having to adapt your research to something more appealing, the paranoid of becoming tenure…

I realized I spent too much time of my PD years just focused on personal life and not caring about what I wanted professionally. It’s not that I didn’t know where I wanted to go, but I was just waiting to see what was going to happen. When I finally woke up it was already kind of too late. Now I am trying to fill the holes of my CV, but as Jack Bauer would say “I’m running out of time”! And to put the cherry on the top, in our last lab meeting our PI told me and the other PDs to start looking for jobs because he thinks that our R01 has little chance to be renewed. The alternative would be to bring new things to our grant. New techniques! But for that we need preliminary data but we don’t have a lot of time or money. So it feels like we have no way out.

And now I start to freak out because I’ll probably be jobless in an year from now. And although I really think I want my own lab, where I can have my students and do my research, I feel like it’s a fairy tale that it’s not going to happen. IHStreet also mentioned that 80% of PDs will not end up in tenure track jobs. And now I regret that I didn’t apply to all those tiny teaching positions of my list. Time to look for alternatives? I believe in the end I know that I still want a TT position. I just wished that it was easier to get one and to have a life along with it!

Should I be bothered or be proud?

Before I start my whining I need to set up the context. I came to work as a postdoc in a multidisciplinary lab, that combines “theoreticians” and “experimentalists”. Two PIs, two R01s. NIH complained about experiments overlapping, we just got the experimental grant renewed. A couple of years ago the experimentalist PI retired and I’ve been pretty much “bossless”. My current PI doesn’t have a clue about what I actually do in the lab! Despite being really smart and able to give me a lot of science insights, there’s no lab experience. None. But things have been working fine so far. Got used to be on my own. Graduate student is also under my direct supervision, as well as two undergrads.

Now we have little more than a year left for our R01 to finish and it’s time to send a renewal. Current PI put some ideas together and it kind of looks nice, but… just too old fashioned and not sexy. Our research is not glam enough for us to submit just that! The other two research associates (that will be co-PIs in the grant) also gave some contributions, but mainly to their in vitro experiments, that’s about one third of the grant. So as I pointed the weakness of our grant I was awarded with the task to fix it.

So I submitted my very first R03 grant and I’m applying for a couple of jobs. I’m also working on writing another NSF grant with collaborator. But every chance I have I stop to read and try to work in our R01. Slowly. And every time I tried and couldn’t work I was feeling guilty. Thinking that if our R01 is not renewed everybody is going to lose their jobs. Terrified with this idea, but still unable to make it look better. Thought it may be something that cannot be fixed, or that I just can’t do it. But I have tons of ideas for my own future research, I know where I want to go and things flow so easy with no pressure!

So before leaving for SFN I sent the updated version for the PIs to see what I’ve done and complement, as there’s still a lot of work to do. Coming back after more than a week, guess what? Nothing changed! No one worked a single bit in the grant. Then I realized. It’s not that I can’t do it, but in fact I’m bothered, and now that I realized it I’m angry and tired. This is just not my job. I can’t have all this responsibility in my back. That’s their job. Their salary is about double than mine. My name is not going to appear as a co-PI in the grant.

I know one might think it’s good for me, that’s learning and it will help me long term. But in the middle of all this I have little time (almost no time, actually) to go to the bench and do MY experiments. Gotta publish too. Ahhhhh right now I’m just tired. But I’m really wondering… should I be bothered or be proud?