Thursday, February 25, 2010

Travel notes

A few observations after having returned from a meeting:

1) As someone in line before me found out, belligerently demanding airport security rush you through the screening process because you're late for your flight, and then becoming abusive when security politely informs you that you have to go through the same process as everyone else, is guaranteed to get you "special" treatment. And make you miss your flight.

2) There is an inverse correlation between the amount you pay for a hotel room and the chances of the stopper in the bathroom sink working.

3) The odds of the movie shown on my cross-country flight being watchable are slim to none.

4) The odds of the person sitting next to me on a cross-country flight having some hygiene issues are quite high.

5) Really bad talks get discussed far more than decent, but not quite kick-ass, talks. But not in a good way. The postdoc who gave a talk that very clearly demonstrated that he didn't know or understand basic physical properties of the kind we expect undergrads to know will be remembered for some time.

6) Not knowing how to set up, run and/or analyze experiments is not an impediment to giving a talk at a large meeting based on said experiments (n >> 10). And this is not correlated with career stage (student vs. postdoc vs. PI).

7) The best airport in the world is the one you land at at the end of your trip.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Calling all chemistry types

Apparently the NSF Division of Chemistry is having trouble finding enough qualified reviewers. This would be a great opportunity for any chemistry types on the tenure-track out there. There is nothing like reviewing proposals to teach you how not to write one.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Live blogging

I know there has been some discussion on the 'tubes about live blogging from meetings, so I thought I'd pass this along. The Biophysical Society has selected four bloggers to live blog from the upcoming annual meeting in San Francisco. Apparently the Society is embracing blogging - not only did they call for volunteers they are apparently giving the selected bloggers iPod nanos as incentives. Cool.

Go check out the bloggers:

Sukriti at Eureka!
Matt at insingulo
Casey and company at Haverford
Fabian at science:biophysics//NBI prereflexive cogito

Monday, February 15, 2010

Write for your reviewers

There was an interesting discussion over at DrugMonkey recently regarding perceived and/or real issues with the grant review process. In particular there was some back and forth over what to do when you receive bad reviews from someone who clearly isn't an expert in your area. My first thought on reading some of this was...

Why on earth would you EXPECT the reviewers of your proposal to be experts in your field?????

It takes very little thought to come to the realization that the odds are very much against the roster of an NIH study section or NSF review panel actually having even one such expert. It is simply unrealistic to expect that to be the case. And even if it is, your proposal may not be assigned to that person for a variety of reasons (conflict of interest, reviewer already overloaded etc.).

Having your proposal reviewed is nothing like having a manuscript reviewed. Journal editors have access to a much, much larger pool of potential reviewers than program officers (PO's). Editors have the "luxury" of identifying and contacting reviewers who really do know the specific area of each manuscript.* PO's are stuck with the study section/review panel roster, plus maybe some ad hoc reviewers. And those ad hocs may not be experts in your area. Even if they do use ad hocs (very commonplace at the NSF**), your PO, and you as a proposer, want reviewers who are on the panel. No matter how good the ad hoc reviews, if someone, preferably two someones, on the panel isn't pushing hard for your proposal it won't be funded. Period.

So why would you write a proposal thinking it's going to be reviewed by an expert? Don't. You'd just be screwing yourself. Write it for reviewers with a general knowledge of your area. That's grantology 101.

* Getting them to agree to review is another matter.
**  At the NSF ad hocs submit reviews electronically and aren't present at the panel.

Friday, February 05, 2010

End of an (old) era

This week I sent three of these off to surplus.

A 13-year old Unix workstation...
Kind of cute really.

I had bought them out of my start up funds when I first started here. I hadn't turned them on for at least five years. I felt kind of sad getting rid of them.