In my endless search for apt analogies to the grantsmanship game, I have a new one. Have you ever played the card game Fluxx? It's an incredibly awesome game in which the rules keep changing as you play. You think you have a winning strategy, are ready to win the next turn, and then someone changes the fucking rules and someone else wins. Or you are just plodding around trying to regroup your strategy to the new rules, then the rules change again, and suddenly you find yourself with the right card combo and you instantly win. Writing grants is the same thing, you think you have a winning strategy and then suddenly your panel switches emphasis, or changes the grant requirements/deadlines, or study sections are reorganized. Sometimes this suddenly works against you, sometimes in your favor, like when a new RFA is released dealing exactly with your topic area. You just have to keep on playing and hope that the rules change in your favor. I guess one difference is that in Fluxx, you can be the one to change the rules, in the grant game this seldom happens.
Archive for: May, 2016
Recently a friend of a friend (yes that’s a real person), who apparently is quite wealthy, wanted to donate a substantial sum of money for research in a specific disease. He had been in contact with a major research university and was directed to a given investigator working on this disease and who wrote up a research prospectus of the research and clinical study he was going to use the funds for. My friend knew I was sort of in the field (not really, neuroscience is a BIG field) and asked me what I thought of the research plan. I told him I wasn’t an expert in this and referred him to someone who was, and who could help give a proper evaluation. I also gave him contact information for a professional society dedicated to finding a cure for this disease and who could also provide better guidance. However, I did look at the prospectus and spoke to some folks about said disease and really it didn’t seem to me like this would be the best use of this person’s money. The investigator didn’t seem to have a long track record working on this disease nor any current funding for this type of work. Which to me poses an ethical dilemma, clearly this donor is invested in funding the best research for a disease to which they probably have a personal connection to, and clearly since funding is so screwy it is becoming more common for individual investigators to make direct philanthropic appeals to fund their own research. However is the best research being funded or are development offices taking advantage of someone’s goodwill? Clearly this was a case where advice from a panel of independent experts would be useful and hopefully my friend told his friend to get in contact with the experts (although he also made it sound like this donation was a done deal). But I don’t really feel comfortable directly advising my friend not to fund these people as I’m not an expert, even if my instinct tells me that his money might be better used elsewhere. Perhaps donated to the professional organization which can then allocated as grants.
Stay away from assholes.
That's it! Whenever I've followed that advice that was given me as a grad student I've been glad I did, whenever I've not followed this advice I've regretted it. This applies to mentors, big shot collaborators, colleagues and trainees. If they are established and confirmed assholes – stay away, if your asshole-meter is ringing all over the place – stay away. The corollary of this advice, of course is: don't become an asshole yourself.
Last week was my last class period for the semester and the final is later this week. Now is the time when the students start studying and coming up with all sorts of questions. In a class of around a hundred students this adds up to a lot of questions. To help we have a review session run by our trusty TAs and I also have office hours. Both of these are fairly exhausting for the TAs and for me, since it involves answering a relentless barrage of questions from students. A few years ago I instituted a class policy to not answer any questions related to the class material over email, mainly because I find myself answering the same thing multiple times and my inbox goes crazy. Instead we set up a course discussion board (using a great free tool called Piazza) where students can post their questions (anonymous to their classmates, but visible to me) and the instructor, TAs and fellow classmates can post answers and followups. This provides an archive of questions people can look up before asking the same thing again, and everyone can benefit from seeing the answers. By the end of the semester, about half the questions are being answered by other students, so I don't even have to do it, just check that its correct (it allows the instructor to endorse an answer). I've been very happy with Piazza and the students also like it based on their course reviews. That said, I've had colleagues have bad experiences with discussion boards, especially when students use them to ridicule other students or complain about the course. So I guess your mileage may vary, depending on the students in your class.