Monday, December 17, 2012

Unequal Access to Resources Depresses Women Scientists' Publication Rates, Study Finds

Unequal Access to Resources Depresses Women Scientists' Publication Rates, Study Finds. Dec 17, 2012 Science Careers Blog

"Why do women scientists publish less than their male colleagues?   A study appearing in  PLOS ONE  on 12 December suggests an answer: women get a 'lower level of institutional support' from their universities."

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

NIH Promises to Improve Biomedical Research Training

NIH Promises to Improve Biomedical Research Training  by on 7 Dec 2012, Science Insider.
"Reacting to a steep rise in the number of young biomedical scientists seeking scarce academic jobs, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) plans to launch programs to prepare scientists for nonacademic careers, move students through their Ph.D.s faster, and bolster the pay of postdocs."  You can also read the NIH report.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

myIDP: What Do You Care About?

myIDP: What Do You Care About?  Science Careers, By Bill Lindstaedt, Philip S. Clifford, Cynthia N. Fuhrmann, Jennifer A. Hobin December 07, 2012.   
This is the fourth article in a series designed to help you create an Individual Development Plan (IDP) using myIDP, a new Web-based career-planning tool created to help graduate students and postdocs in the sciences define and pursue their career goals. To learn more about myIDP and begin the career-planning process, please visit:

NIH to Begin Enforcing Open-Access Policy on Research It Supports

NIH to Begin Enforcing Open-Access Policy on Research It SupportsPosted on November 16, 2012 by , NIH Deputy Director for Extramural Research.   
" of spring 2013 at the earliest, we will begin to hold processing of non-competing continuation awards if publications arising from grant awards are not in compliance with the public access policy."

Monday, December 3, 2012

Time Off for Dad

Time Off for Dad  by Susan Gaidos, Science Careers.  “Paternity leave is truly important because unless you actually have policies for fathers as well as mothers, mothers won’t take them.” —Mary Ann Mason 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Does Scientific Research Need a Purpose?

Does Scientific Research Need a Purpose?   by Adam Ruben, Science Careers.  Not all research is easily justified—but what do you do when you can't even justify it to yourself?

Sequestration may lead to policies that would hurt postdocs

Sequestration may lead to policies that would hurt postdocs
The Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) is rallying the biomedical research community to advocate against devastating funding cuts facing the nation’s  research agencies unless Congress acts before the end of the year. Under sequestration, the National  Institutes of Health (NIH) could lose $2.8 billion and would fund 25 percent (2,300) fewer grants. The  National Science Foundation (NSF) could be cut by nearly $600 million. More than 5,800 emails have  been sent to Congress in response to a FASEB e-action alert urging individuals to let their Senators and  Representatives know why federal funding for NIH, NSF, and other agencies is critical to local research institutions and state economies. “Labs will be forced to close, resulting in layoffs of tens of thousands of researchers. It will take generations to recover the lost talent, as dedicated young scientists and engineers will be driven from science by the disruption of their training and lack of jobs,” said FASEB President Judith S. Bond, PhD. To read more, please see:

Congress passes the whistleblower protection act

Congress passes the whistleblower protection act
Recently, Congress did something good for the American public and good for science. After a 14-year struggle, the House and Senate approved a bipartisan whistleblower protection bill that will make a difference to all federal workers, but that should be especially welcomed by federal scientists. That’s because the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act (WPEA) recognizes for the first time that censorship of federal information is as harmful to the country as other types of waste, fraud and abuse in government. The WPEA recognizes that a scientist who exposes the censorship of federal information, either crucial to public health and safety or required by law or regulation, is a whistleblower. That scientist is just as much a whistleblower as the federal worker who exposes embezzlement or accepting bribes. Scientists who call out censorship and then are demoted or fired by agency managers will have the right to fight that retaliation. And the WPEA will give all federal workers, including scientists, better tools and stronger rights as whistleblowers. To read more, please see below.
Whistleblower act:

Career advancement for postdocs

Career advancement for postdocs
One Thursday afternoon in May, a conference room at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) in Boston, Massachusetts, is filling beyond capacity. More than two dozen postdocs and young faculty members from the BIDMC and other affiliates of Harvard Medical School in Boston stream in for tips on how to produce an effective oral presentation. The attendees, many of whom are not native English speakers, look overworked but expectant. They have relinquished the freedom of a late-afternoon coffee break because their career advancement is on the line. They know the importance of being able to deliver an hour-long lecture or a ten-minute talk, daunting though that might be. “I have been giving talks for 30 years,” begins the presenter, Terry Maratos-Flier, an endocrinologist and neurologist who directs the Office for Academic Careers and Faculty Development at the BIDMC. “So I figure I should take my expertise and offer it to you.” To read more, please see below.
Career Adv.:

NIH Director starts blogging

NIH Director starts blogging
For those that do not know, Dr. Francis Collins, the current NIH Director, has started a blog. To read his comments and posts, please see below.
NIH Director’s blog:

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Bias Persists for Women of Science, Yale Study Finds

Bias Persists for Women in Science, Yale Study Finds   

Information was given to professors describing a recent graduate looking for a laboratory manager position. When the name of the applicant was changed from Jennifer to John, professors regarded the applicant as more competent.

Click the above link to read the article about the study. What do you think?  Do these practices exist at University of Chicago?  What can be done to overcome this?

Monday, November 19, 2012

Tooling Up: Questions to Set Your Sails By

Tooling Up: Questions to Set Your Sails By  by: David G. Jensen, November 16, 2012, Science Careers.    

If you love working at the bench and are confident that doing bench science will make you happy for the foreseeable future, then you can find opportunities on either side of the academia/industry divide.

The Obligation for Biologists to Commit to Political Advocacy

The Obligation for Biologists to Commit to Political Advocacy by: Thomas D. Pollard,  Cell Volume 151, Issue 2, 12 October 2012, Pages 239–243.   

The failure of Congress to adopt a deficit reduction program in 2011 resulted in a fall-back option called sequestration, which may reduce federal funding across the board by 8% on January 1, 2013. If this comes to pass, we face widespread unemployment in the biological research community and the loss of many valuable research programs.

Immigration: Waiting for green

Immigration: Waiting for green by: Karen Kaplan, Nature 491, 483-485 (2012), doi:10.1038/nj7424-483a.  Published online 14 November 2012.  

 A US 'green-card' visa can open up career possibilities. But getting one requires stamina — and a dash of luck.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

myIDP: Interests

A careful and detailed analysis of "interests" is at the core of the assessment phase at myIDP.

Click here for the third article in a series designed to help you create an Individual Development Plan (IDP) using myIDP, a new Web-based career-planning tool created to help graduate students and postdocs in the sciences define and pursue their career goals. To learn more about myIDP and begin the career exploration and planning process, please visit:

Have you tried the new myIDP yet?  Have you found it useful?

Monday, October 29, 2012

Clearing Up Confusion about Postdoc Salaries and Training Activities

Read this blog by Dr. Sally Rockey, NIH Deputy Director for Extramural Research for more information about NIH-supported postdoctoral activities.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Nobel Prize in Medicine Announcement

The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2012 was awarded jointly to Sir John B. Gurdon and Shinya Yamanaka "for the discovery that mature cells can be reprogrammed to become pluripotent"

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Rise Of Women In Tech


It’s time for the old adage that women neither like nor do well in math and science be put to rest …

Women are increasingly involved in the tech field, both as consumers and as practitioners, which shouldn’t come as a surprise since over half of social media users are women and the average social gamer is a woman in her 40s.

This trend is also reflected in education. Of the computer science majors graduating in 2013 from Harvard, women make up 41%. And although only 25% of science, tech, engineering and math (STEM) jobs are currently held by women, the numbers are beginning to shift. Between January of 2011 and 2012, the  number of women in the IT field jumped by more than 28%.

The benefits for women who enter tech are hard to deny. They experience smaller wage gaps due to gender than women in other industries. But the relationship between women and tech companies isn’t one-sided – the companies get some nice perks, too. Companies whose boards of directors contain 3 or more female members had higher returns on sales, returns on investments and returns on equity.

The infographic below delves deeper into how the phenomenon of women in tech is on the rise.
Click here to see the graphic!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Former NIH Director Discusses Record Low Success Rates

‘In a talk at the National Press Club entitled "What Impedes Cancer Research," Harold Varmus, Nobel laureate and former National Institutes of Health (NIH) director (1993-1999), discussed a range of obstacles to the field, including the complex biology of cancer and science budgets that haven't kept pace with inflation since 2001. Despite a wealth of new knowledge and tools, “The pace of research is slower than it could be and should be,” Varmus said.’ To read more, please click the link below:

myIDP: So You Think You Have Skills

The first step in honing your skill set is figuring out what you’re good at and what needs to be improved. 'When Keren started her Ph.D. program nearly 5 years ago, the prospect of completing her thesis and setting a date for her defense seemed far off. But now the date was approaching—and the thesis and the defense weren't the only things weighing on her mind. She was also thinking, “What next?”'

This is the second article in a series designed to help you create an Individual Development Plan (IDP) using myIDP, a new Web-based career-planning tool created to help graduate students and postdocs in the sciences define and pursue their career goals. To learn more about myIDP and begin the career-planning process, please visit
By Jennifer A. Hobin, Cynthia N. Fuhrmann, Bill Lindstaedt, Philip S. Clifford

Content Collection: Getting your Research Published

Great tips and resources from the Science Careers Staff on how to get your research published!

Annual Top Employers Survey: Stability in the Face of Change

Biopharmas that have fared well despite global economic turmoil have done so by making smart acquisitions, paying attention to global opportunities, investing in R&D, looking beyond the bottom line—and valuing and respecting the scientists who work for them, according to this year’s Science Careers Top Employers Survey. By Anne Harding

…’if you’re working for the right company and you’re ready to ask for what you need, says Lori Morton, associate director of cardiovascular research at Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, Inc., which is #1 on the 2012 ScienceCareers Top Employers Survey—after making the list for the first time ever, at #2, last year. “I really believe that having an engaged parenthood and career success are not incompatible ideas here,” says Morton, who has worked at the Tarrytown, New York-based biotech for 10 years and has two young children.’ 

Read more about the top20 biopharma companies with the best reputations as employers and the top three driving characteristics for each company, according to respondents in the 2012 survey undertaken for the Science/AAAS Custom Publishing Office:

Big Pharma Ramps Up Postdoc Programs

‘Pharmaceutical industry watchdogs have long looked to 2012 as the year of the steepest drop off the industry's so-called patent cliff, and so far this year companies have indeed lost a record number of patents on blockbuster drugs. These and other changes in the industry have led to years of lower corporate earnings, massive layoffs (of scientists and other workers), and experiments in outsourcing all sorts of activities that once were done in-house, including early-stage research and development.’

Thinking about a career in industry?  Read this recent Science Careers article about how some of the major pharmaceutical companies are expanding their postdoctoral programs:

Monday, September 10, 2012

Introducing myIDP, the online Individual Development Plan

You Need A Game Plan

Introducing the new individual development plan, a long-term project sponsored by multiple scientific societies and universities. ‘Scientific careers are not like the board game Monopoly. In Monopoly, the rules are clear and it’s relatively easy to succeed; in fact you get $200 just for hanging in there long enough to pass “Go” on your way to the next round. But in science, it often seems there are no definite rules and there’s no guaranteed payoff for advancing to the next training round: Ph.D., postdoc, second postdoc—then what? To succeed in science, you need to have a game plan. This is especially true in the current research environment.’ To read more, please see the weblink below.

The Postdoc Challenge

How dedicated are you to the academic research career? Are you willing to put in the time it takes to get in line and wait for the right faculty position? These tough choices await all of us and it has to be carefully weighed against family-, political- and other social considerations. Please see the link below for further insight to postdoctoral challenges awaiting academic scientists.   

Best Places to Work in Academia

Institutions that were rated the best places to work in academics for the year 2012:

Harvard Researcher Commits Scientific Fraud

“…Former Harvard University psychologist Marc Hauser fabricated and falsified data and made false statements about experimental methods in six federally funded studies, according to a report released yesterday by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services's Office of Research Integrity (ORI). Hauser, who resigned from his Harvard faculty position in 2011 after an internal investigation found him responsible for research misconduct, wrote in a statement that although he has "fundamental differences" with some of the new report's findings, "I acknowledge that I made mistakes." He did not admit deliberate misconduct, however, and implied that his mistake was that he "tried to do too much" and "let important details get away from my control…" To read more, please see below.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

ScienceCareers Annual Postdoc Survey Results

ScienceCareers is published by Science Magazine and offers career advice and job postings for scientists.  Check out their recent article offering career advice for postdocs based on their annual postdoc survey:  ThePostdoc Experience: High Expectations, Grounded in Reality.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Contract Editing Jobs with American Journal Experts - First hand experience from Rebecca

I wanted to share my experiences working as a contract editor for American Journal Experts (AJE) and let other postdocs (and grad students) know about this opportunity.   AJE recruits PhD-level scientists to edit papers that were written by international authors for submission to English-language journals.  The editors try to make the grammar and style of the text sound like a native-English speaker wrote it; they don’t try to edit or even comment on the scientific content.   I joined last fall after they held a recruitment session on campus.  So far, I have edited about 9 papers (I took a big break to write a review for lab), and I think it has been a good experience.  I like knowing that I am helping the authors have a better chance of getting their work published.  Senior-level editors at AJE check each assignment and give you feedback, so you know how you are doing and can be sure that the author receives a high-quality edit on the paper.  As a result, my writing skills have definitely been fine-tuned, which has helped me write my own papers more clearly.

What I like about this job is that it is under my control.  When you sign up, you tell AJE what fields you feel comfortable with, and they only assign you papers in those categories.   For example, I edit papers in Biotechnology, Analytical Chemistry, and Biomedical Engineering.  Furthermore, you decide how many papers you want to edit each week, if any.  When I am working late in lab, or working on my own paper or a grant, I set myself to “unavailable” so that I am not distracted by editing assignments.  When I am available, I limit it to 1 paper per week (though more are allowed), so that I can do the editing in my spare time and not detract from my lab work.  The papers vary from interesting to rather routine.  It usually takes me a few hours to complete an edit, though I know that in general I am a slow editor.  The most poorly written paper I received took me about 6 hours to edit, which I was discouraged by, but the very next paper I got only took 2 hours.  It averages out.  You do get paid for each paper you edit, and while the compensation isn’t going to make you rich, it’s nice to have a little extra spending money each month.

I am happy to talk to you about my experiences if you are curious.  Anyone who is interested can apply for the editor position under Contractor Opportunities on their “careers” page:

Rebecca Pompano

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

NIH Biomedical Workforce Working Group on Postdocs

On June 14th the Biomedical Workforce Working Group at the NIH released their draft report detailing the steps they recommend the NIH take in the coming years to improve and support the personnel aspects of biomedical research.  The report which can be found here examines the involvement of the NIH in the financial support and training of graduate students, postdoctoral trainees, staff scientists, and physician scientists. 

As pertains to postdocs the NIH working group makes several recommendations, among them to:

·      Increase the number of training grant and fellowship slots and decrease the number of postdocs supported by research project grants in order to ensure that the postdoctoral period includes the training and mentoring opportunities that are afforded by the former slot types. 
·      Start a pilot program for extramural funding of training-based initiatives run by institutional postdoctoral offices
·      Increase stipend support to $42,000 per year with 4% increases in years 2-3 and 6% increases for years 4-7 in order to encourage PIs to move senior postdocs into more stable positions. This also aims to reduce the years spent in the postdoctoral training period.
·      Ensure that NIH supported postdocs receive the same benefits as all other employees at their institution.
·      Double the number of K99 and early independence awards and make earlier career postdocs eligible for K99 awards.
·      Require individual development plans (IDPs) of all NIH supported postdocs. 

The report also recommends that NIH study sections be encouraged to be receptive to grant applications from staff scientists, an important step in the professionalization of these ambiguous careers that fall in-between PI and postdoctoral status. 

Additionally, the report recommends that institutions receiving NIH funding be required to report and publically post career outcomes data of graduate and postdoctoral trainees.  This is much like recent pushes for accountability of law schools to claims of student success; publication of such data could be very useful to postdocs choosing between different institutions. 

You can also read about it in Science Careers:

While the recommendations of the NIH working group are sure to garner much interest this year, it is clear from the report that they may not be implemented simply due to funding concerns.  As always, NIH funding remains of paramount interest in our community.  The BSD Postdoctoral association public affairs committee plans to keep you informed on the status of these recommendations and on NIH funding issues in the future.  Please feel free to post a blog or otherwise comment on these recommendations and other community wide concerns.  What do postdocs at U of Chicago think are the most important steps to sustaining and improving the biomedical workforce and the postdoctoral experience?  We would love to hear your thoughts! 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Iowa Postdoc Research Day

The University of Iowa Postdoctoral Association hosted its inaugural Postdoc Research Day on May 14th.  Several institutions were invited to participate in this event, including Iowa State University and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Two postdocs from the University of Chicago, Terrie Vasilopoulos and Sean McConnell, were invited to give oral presentations. At the end of this successful event, Terrie Vasilopoulos was awarded the prize for best oral presentation.

Attending this research day at the University of Iowa was a great experience, providing us a chance to discuss our work with postdocs from diverse research backgrounds. We encourage other postdocs at the University of Chicago to seek out similar opportunities to present their research.

Locally, the University of Chicago Postdoctoral Association will host its second Postdoctoral Research Day in October and plans to invite postdocs from several neighboring universities.

Here are the details from the Postdoc Research day as advertised in our PDA Bulletin:


When:                May 14, 2012.  9:00am-5:00pm
Where:               The University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA (CPHB, College of Public Health Building *** NEW LOCATION)

What: An opportunity for postdocs to learn about the exciting research being conducted by your peers.  Registration for this event is FREE and open to all postdocs from the University of Iowa and other nearby institutions.  A light breakfast and lunch will be provided.  This event is hosted by the University of Iowa Postdoctoral Association (UIPDA) with support from the UI Office of Postdoctoral Scholars and the Graduate College.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Public Affairs Announcements May7th2012

NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins admits, ‘it’s a scary time to be a young investigator’

On March 28th, the Senate Labor, Health and Human Services (LHHS) Appropriations Subcommittee held a hearing on the fiscal year (FY) 2013 funding request for the National Institutes of Health (NIH). During multiple rounds of questioning following Dr. Collins’ testimony, Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS) noted that flat funding for NIH is especially troubling because “it sends a message to the next generation, the potential researchers, scientists, and physicians, that the certainty of their career path or the value of what they do is not recognized.” Dr. Collins responded that, “It is indeed a scary time for new investigators because they have seen the likelihood of receiving funding decrease from 25-35 percent to a grim 17 percent.” To read more, see below.

Increasing Translational Science Opportunities

“Basic scientists play a key role in improving human health and treating disease,” said Richard A. Galbraith, MD, PhD, Chair of the FASEB committee that organized the meeting and developed the report and Associate Dean of Patient Oriented Research at the University of Vermont College of Medicine. “Yet, despite widespread national interest in accelerating the pace at which medical interventions are developed, few initiatives have focused specifically on engaging basic investigators in this process of translation,” Dr. Galbraith added. To read more, see below.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) today announced a new plan for boosting drug development: It has reached a deal with three major pharmaceutical companies to share abandoned experimental drugs with academic researchers so they can look for new uses. NIH is putting up $20 million for grants to study the drugs. To read more, see the link below.

The U.S. National Academy of Sciences (NAS) is regarded as the most prestigious honorary scientific society in the country. But it also has a reputation for being old, white, and male. Today its members took a big step toward changing their image by inviting a younger and more diverse group of scientists to join them. To read more, see the link below.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Slides from Workshops at the National Postdoctoral Association meeting

The National Postdoc Association (NPA)'s ( mission is to advance the U.S. research enterprise by maximizing the effectiveness of the research community and enhancing the quality of the postdoctoral experience for all participants. The University of Chicago is a sustaining member, which means that any UofC postdoc can apply to be a affiliate member. 

The NPA 10th Annual Meeting was held March 16-18, 2012, at the Sir Francis Drake Hotel in San Francisco, California. More than 300 postdoctoral scholars, postdoctoral administrators and faculty participated in the event including our PDA president, the interim postdoc administrator and the founder of our Public Affairs Committee. We found the meeting incredibly informative. The slides from several of the talks and workshops are available online and we highly recommend you take a look. The link to download slides is: 

Topics include: 
Becoming a More Effective Research Mentor 
Advancing Women’s Careers in Science 
Health Science Administrators at NIH: Insight Into This Exciting Career Choice 
Effective Strategies to Diversify Your Institution’s Postdoctoral Population 
My Career or My Visa: How International Postdocs Must Balance Career Advancement with Visa Issues 

Monday, April 23, 2012

Recent report from the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology

Anyone interested in teaching should read the recent report from the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (, which focuses on the need to retain and prepare one million additional college graduates with degrees in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). Recommendation 1 in that report is to “catalyze widespread adoption of empirically validated teaching practices” with the goal of improving the first two years of STEM education and improving retention of majors. (One of the most common reasons cited by students who leave STEM majors is poor teaching by STEM faculty.)

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Restore Tax Exempt Status of Graduate and Postdoc Stipends

Please find below information about making student and postdoc stipends tax exempt.  This information was taken from an email received from a graduate student at Drexel University.  The deadline to sign the petition is April 16, 2012. 

Do you feel that graduate student and post-doctorate stipends should be federally tax exempt?  A graduate student at Drexel University has created a petition to tell the white house that this change should be implemented to encourage more students to pursue PhDs and other higher educational goals.  The first attempt at this petition fell just 2,500 signatures short of the required 25,000 signatures in a 30 day window.  It is his hope that the second effort at this petition will succeed.  The petition can be found at  Please sign this petition by 11PM on Tax Day (April 16th, 2012) if you support this cause.  Graduate students and post-docs work long hours, perform world changing and live saving research, teach classes, grade assignments, and are compensated quite meagerly for their efforts.  Removing federal taxes would allow students and post-docs to keep more of that money in their pocket and possibly even eat non-raman food for a change.  Additional information can be found at the Facebook event set up for this petition, Some of you may have received a similar notice several months ago, but that petition fell 2,500 signatures of the 25,000 needed signatures within 30 days, so we are trying one more time.   If you signed the last petition, please sign this new one, as the previous petition was taken down and all signatures erased.  Thank you very much for supporting this petition and please pass it along to as many people as possible, remembering that anyone can sign this petition, provided they are over 13 and reside within the United States.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Boilerplate language for RCR/Ethics requirements

The NIH requires detailed information on an Ethics training plan for any postdoc, training or career grant. Below you can find example boilerplate language that we recommend you edit to fit your training/research plan.


A regular quarterly series of interactive workshops on the “Ethical Conduct of Research” is held on Friday afternoons throughout the year and is hosted by the Postdoctoral Association (PDA) and Office of Postdoctoral Affairs in the Biological Sciences Division at The University of Chicago. These workshops cover the NIH-required topics including authorship and data ownership, fraud and misconduct, ethics of animal research, human subjects research, and conflicts of interest, and are presented by the Associate Provost for Academic Affairs, lawyers from the Office of Legal Counsel, the Director of Academic Affairs, the Associate Dean and Director of Postdoctoral Affairs and University Faculty. Case studies from the University of Chicago or elsewhere will be featured while maintaining confidentiality. In addition, other aspects of ethical behavior are discussed; for instance, a session on “Identifying Methods to Recognize and Respond to Ethical Dilemmas”, was recently presented by the Director of Employee Relations, an interactive video experience "The Lab: Avoiding Research Misconduct " developed by the Office of Research Integrity at the US Department of Health and Human Services was presented and most recently, Terrie Vasilopoulos, the PDA vice-president presented topics discussed at the “Quest for Research Excellence Conference” hosted by the Office of Research Integrity. The seminar was interactive and ethics responses from the 2012 PDA survey were also presented. At present, the ethics series is required of all postdoc trainees on T32, F32 and K-awards and strongly recommended for other postdocs. Attendance is recorded. This RCR series is specifically designed for postdocs, and presented with an assumption of more experience than the graduate student courses.

In addition the “Summer Series on Scientific Integrity and the Ethical Conduct of Research” sponsored by Dr. Julian Solway through the Institute for Translational Medicine is available every year and is open to postdoctoral scholars and fellows. These seminars are held every Tuesday afternoon, July – August, and cover topics relevant to translational and clinical research such as humane treatment of animals, ethics of human experimentation and vulnerable populations and group risks.

Public Affairs Announcements April 9th 2012

National Postdoctoral Association (NPA), including its founders and member institutions, have been in the news
Science Careers' staff writer Michael Price wrote about the NPA founders in the article "NPA Founders Find Success." The article begins: "Postdocs who are interested in advocacy activities typically receive the same advice from postdoc advisers, so-called experts, and even their peers: Stay away." Fortunately, for postdocs,  the founders ignored that advice, as Price notes: "At its annual meeting in San Francisco in early March, the National Postdoctoral Association (NPA) celebrated its 10th anniversary with a panel discussion featuring six of the organization's seven founders -- all of whom ignored the conventional wisdom a decade ago and spent lots of time on a cause they thought was important: improving working conditions and expanding job options for postdocs."

President Obama mentions the R03 award
Yesterday, in a speech that the media are calling the de facto start of his reelection campaign, President Barack Obama offered up a bit of research arcana, the R03 award given by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). It popped up (without its name attached) in his attack on a Republican proposal to lower tax rates for the wealthiest Americans. Read more at the weblink below.

NIH’s Regional Seminar in Indianapolis
Each year, the Office of Extramural Research (OER) sponsors two NIH Regional Seminars on Program Funding and Grants. These seminars are intended to help demystify the application and review process, clarify Federal regulations and policies, and highlight current areas of special interest or concern. The seminars serve the NIH mission of providing education and training for the next generation of biomedical and behavioral scientist. Read more at the weblink below.

Strategic Planning for the NIH Common Fund
The NIH is hosting a public meeting in Chicago, IL, to gather input from the broad community on the biggest obstacles to progress in biomedical research or the greatest opportunities in biomedical science that are ripe for exploration. Input gathered from this meeting will help inform potential new program ideas for the NIH Common Fund. To sign up to be a participant in this discussion, use the weblink below.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Take Command and OWN Your Postdoc for Career Success

-A Recap of a Recent NIH Postdoc Professional Development Workshop

I’ve never written a blog post for anything before, but I figured that other postdocs might benefit from my experience so here goes….

This month I attended the National Institute for General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) Postdoctoral Workshop at the NIH in Bethesda, MD.  This theme of this workshop was to give postdocs that attended a leg up in the hiring process by giving them information and tools to help them better focus on their goals while postdocs and to succeed in the job search whether they choose academia or another option. 

It was a great workshop and I highly recommend that others from UC apply (they give scholarships to go!) and attend in the future.  I received a scholarship so it won’t end up costing me or my PI anything (well once I receive that refund check…) Check back at the website below in January to see if this program is running again next year.  We will also make sure that it is included in the BSD-PDA newsletter so that you get some notice about it. 

In the meantime all of the sessions from this year’s workshop are available free of charge as webcasts at the following website  I highly recommend that you watch the sessions on Interviews and on Negotiating!  They were fabulous.

One nice thing about this workshop was that it wasn’t only geared to postdocs with one foot out the door (There’s some info for you guys below too! Don’t stop reading here if you’ve already gotten a job offer).  There was plenty of excellent information for us newbies (less than 2 yrs). One of the things suggested for postdocs early in the process was an Individual Development Plan (IDP) which sounds really painful but is really just a great tool to help you take control of your postdoc.  The BSD-PDA has an IDP online that you can use   I’ll be filling out mine in a few weeks (after AACR) to help me find my way and I’ll try to let you all know how it went when I am done.  According to the presenters at the NIGMS, only 42% of us will stay in academia in ANY capacity.  Therefore, the majority of us are NOT going to become professors so finding out what other opportunities we are interested in and identifying the skills we need to develop during our postdoc to make these possible as well, is essential.  To make ourselves competitive in tomorrow’s job markets we need to use our postdoctoral experiences effectively. 

Another important thing to do is to NETWORK!!! At the meeting they couldn’t stress this enough.  I know many of you are not doing enough of this because I don’t know who almost any of you are.  Watch the Networking session online if you are shy, you don’t have confidence, or you are simply anti-social.  Then PRACTICE.  Practice with us, your fellow postdocs by coming to BSD-PDA events. More than likely the rest of us are as shy and awkward as you are. Then, get to know your department.  Get to know the PIs, learn who the other postdocs are, chat with the grad students (who knows they might be the ones to hire you someday!)  Also go to meetings: regional meetings, national meetings, or even (if you can get funding) that much admired International Meeting.  Smaller meetings like Gordon Conferences can be among the BEST networking opportunities.  Networking will get you collaborations, networking will get you more papers, networking will get you stuff for experiments that you need, networking might get you more lifelong friends, and FINALLY!!! Networking will probably get you your job.  I will quote Elaine Ostrander from the NHGRI and say “Everyone you meet has the potential to affect your career.”

For postdocs in later stages of their appointment there was tons of great advice.  I was particularly struck by the section of the Networking session about cultivating a relationship with the NIH and NSF program officers who covers your scientific interests.  Before this I only had a vague idea of what a program officer did.  I had NO idea they wielded so much power as advocates for your science. For a small number of special NSF awards if they hear a great idea from you they can simply decide to fund it.  No study session, no grant review.  You are just funded.  It is rare, but if you don’t communicate with them your chance of this is ZERO.  Someday mine is totally getting homemade cookies. If you already have a program officer with whom you have started developing a relationship, they want to hear from you.  They want you to send them info about presentations you are doing and about manuscripts that have been accepted.  If they think that it is cool enough science, they’ll do a press release.  And popular media is powerful!!

Why you ask???  Because not all funding comes from the NIH and the NSF!  Private grants make up a small but significant proportion of the research dollars.  The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, Burroughs Wellcome Fund, and Robert Wood Johnson, and HOWARD HUGHES!!! are among the many charities named after dead guys that could give you money.  Susan G. Komen, however, might have a bit of trouble coming up with the funds to pay you in the future… Others are related to professional organizations like AACR or ACS.  Many are public organizations. Some of these funds are reliant on donations from the public. If your face got on TV or in an internet article then it is easier for them to take you on because they can sell your “public” accomplishments to their donors. 

Grants are your future employment insurance in this day and age so we’ve got to get them and they had tons of great tips at this meeting.  I’ll only give you one as a teaser.  The surest way to fail to get funded is to put forth an idea that’s already been done or funded.  After you do your literature searches make sure there isn’t already a NIH funded group working on your idea.  Go to and use the RePORTER to search funded grants in your topic area. It could save you A LOT OF TIME….

Well I’ve got publications to write and experiments to plan, an IDP to complete and perhaps also (somehow) a life to make.  So I’ll bid you goodnight and wish you all well.  May your grants get funded and may your PCRs all work.  Until we network at future events, sleep tight my friends and may dreams of Nature and Science papers or $120K per year industry jobs dance in your heads. 

Monday, April 2, 2012

Lessons from a grants workshop

Lessons from a grants workshop
By Kolla Kristjansdottir and Tuba Sural
December 3, 2010

Finding grants:
Half the battle is finding the right funding source for your idea.

1-    Find the right program for you and your idea. If it doesn’t fit, can you spin it without compromising your idea?
2-    NIH: Good idea to look for Request for Applications (RFA). A RFA invites grant applications in a well-defined scientific area to accomplish specific program objectives. Specific funds are set aside and a special panel reviews. 
3-    Other foundations/grant agencies. Look up abstracts online of what they have funded in the last couple of years. Look up mission statement.

Funding resources:
Private (foundations, corporations etc) and Public (26 federal agencies, state and local agencies). Good websites for finding opportunities:

2-    Community of science website (accessible through URA at U of Chicago)
4-  Foreign postdocs can use this site to identify grants for non-residents and non-citizens
5-    Google:  “grants” “for” “xxx”
6-    Office of research administration at Tufts university

Writing grants:

Writing good grants is a formula; it takes work and time
1-    Your grant should tell a story; walk reviewers step by step, from beginning to end
2-    Grant should flow, be well-written and to the point
3-    You can have a good idea but you need to tell it well. Start with a good idea and package it well.
4-    Know who you are and what you want to accomplish, make it into manageable pieces. Most new investigator and fellowship grants get rejected because they are over-ambitious.
5-    What’s the innovation? What’s new? What are you bringing to the literature? Never go by the negative.
6-    Follow the instructions. Each agency has their own (30% of grants get rejected because of technical issues, missing signatures etc.). If the guidelines request something, do it.
7-    Submit at least 5 days in advance (those who do so have a 37% higher chance of being funded, since they have not rushed and carefully planned the proposal)
8-    Get good letters of recommendations from people in your field (they should promote you)
9-    Understand the criteria used to evaluate proposals, know where to put your efforts. Typical criteria:
·      Scientific merit or need (is it innovative?)
·      Relevance to program priorities
·      Qualifications of project personnel (if your project needs a statistician and you don’t list one, you’ll be rejected)
·      Planning and administration of the project (don’t be overambitious!!)
10- Fill out forms completely and correctly
11- Allow time for intramural administrative requirements
12- For NIH grants, even though future directions are not required, include them

Developing a timeline:

  • 12 - 6 months before : Generate preliminary data
  • 6 - 3 months before : Create initial draft of proposal
  • 3 - 2 months before : Obtain comments from colleagues, revise accordingly
  • 2-1 months before: Prepare budget and “non-science” parts. Request recommendation letters (fellowships)
  • 1 month before: Have draft of “final version”. Obtain additional comments from colleagues on the “whole package”.
  • 2 - 1 weeks before: Final version proofreading (by someone who has not seen it before) and then proofread again!
  • 3 - 2 days before:  Submit proposal

Obtain critical input from experienced and successful colleagues:
1-    One with significant experience
2-    One with only passing familiarity with the subject
3-    A good writer

Find someone who is blunt, has little sympathy for your ego, smart and crafty and who has success in obtaining grants.

The review process:
Understand the review process and the reviewers. Each reviewer may be assigned 10-25 proposals so make it understandable and follow rules. Make it easy for them to find what they are looking for. You can look up the review panels for federal grants. There are experts and general audience in review panels, so when you write find the middle ground.

For the NIH review, even if you are famous and have written an excellent proposal, if it is not novel methodology, you will not get funding. But if you are a new investigator with a novel approach and a well-written grant, you have a chance.

NIH center for scientific review:

What constitutes winning proposals?
1-    Clear need and data demonstrating that need
2-    Present material in a logical manner
3-    Written in positive terms
4-    Don’t overuse jargon
5-    Detailed budget (your department grant administrator will likely help you with this or do this for you)
6-    Give something back: who will benefit from this? What is the innovation? What are you contributing to the literature?
7-    Follow all guidelines
8-    Make it professional looking and textbook quality (no typos!)
9-    Make it not too long, not too short

Factors considered when awarding grants:
1-    Capacity of the applicant and the organization
2-    Extent of the need to the problem
3-    Balanced/clear approach
4-    Utilizing available resources
5-    Results

Most common criticisms:
1-    Poorly written
2-    Not well-justified; scientific problem, experimental model lacks convincing preliminary data
3-    No or poor hypothesis
4-    Objectives lack focus, too general
5-    Lack of detail in methods
6-    Investigator lacks expertise in given approach
7-    Pitfalls not addressed, alternative solution not presented
8-    Overly ambitious, timeline not realistic
9-    Resubmitted proposal didn’t address concerns identified during previous review

Most important section of your proposal is your Specific Aims and/or technical abstract! It’s the first thing they see; make it a work of art. Abstract should be the last section to be written and it should contain:
  • Identification of applicant/credibility
  • Issue/problem to be met
  • Objectives to be achieved (i.e. specific aims, they should be smart: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, time-bound)
  • Activities to be conducted to achieve objective

Additional helpful hints:
1-    Big part of being funded is being persistent: 15% get funded the first time, 30% after revise-resubmit
2-    Don’t use anything less than 12pt font
3-    Minimize author-defined acronyms, it’s OK as long as you define them
4-    Clarity is everything, proofread, proofread, proofread!