What can you be with a PhD? An impactful research mentor

I attended a two-day workshop called “What Can You Be With a PhD?” (WCUB) on November 4-5, 2017. This article is published as the second in two-part coverage of the “Teaching and Education” panel during WCUB.

What exactly can one do once they are deemed an expert in their respective field? The answer to that question turns out to be: many things! WCUB brought together active scientists, teachers, and professionals in a series of panels designed to give you an insider’s look at non-research university academic career paths.

During WCUB, I sat in on three sessions exploring three different career paths. Two of them were related to the academic sphere, “Teaching and Education” and “Government Jobs,” while the third was a departure from the academy, “Non-Research Industry Jobs.” Here, I present highlights from the “Teaching and Education” panel. As the two essential elements of this job are teaching and research, I will present information from those topics, focusing on research in this section. However, the panel went over many other topics ranging from the interview process (a day with everything from research feasibility talks to impromptu lectures in front of students) to work/life balance (expected, but those first three years are going to be demanding).

The panel members were: Dr. Victoria Ruiz (also our moderator), Dr. Jessica Allen, Dr. Nathan Lents, and Dr. Matthew Marcello (a Rutgers alumni!).

Research matters

Having attended a small college myself, I have always valued the quality of education I received there. The combination of a nurturing environment, excellent teaching, and ambitious collaborations allowed to me achieve a dream that I never planned for. Yet, coming to a research university presented me with the rather bizarre line-of-thought that valuable research does not occur at the college level. Though the stakes of research are not at as high as at a research university, the outcomes are nonetheless impressive. As Dr. Cech, Professor at University of Colorado, Boulder, Nobel laureate, and benefactor of a small college education, details in his article: Science at Liberal Arts Colleges: A Better Education?, Small liberal arts colleges produce a disproportionate amount of eventual PhDs on a per capita basis when compared with research universities. Top scientists educated at small liberal arts colleges include, Dr. David Baltimore, Dr. David P. Corey, Dr. Jennifer A. Doudna, and Dr. Katherine L. Friedman.

This impressive and truncated list of names suggests that it is no accident that choice of education matters. Therefore, when thinking of a teaching career at a small college, be aware that the standards for your research training are not any lower than they would be at a research university. As Dr. Lents succinctly put it, “Do a post-doc and make it good.” Dr. Ruiz wholeheartedly agreed. For her 5-year post-doc, she chose the best lab she could and did the best work she could. This may seem like a tall order considering the amount of teaching experience needed to secure such a position, but as demonstrated by the venerable panel members, it is completely attainable. There are certainly positions for those who want nothing to do with research- look for “lecturer” positions in this case.

Work hard during the grad school/post-doc years and train in the cutting edge to be able to teach your future students (check!). Then, once you have secured that cushy small college position, relax and forget about the push-to-publish that has haunted you for the past decade. Right? Wrong. Faculty at small colleges still have publication requirements. Publication requirements will vary from university to university, from one publication a year (this includes reviews and book chapters) to two peer-reviewed articles over five years. A big difference is that where you publish is less of a factor. Moreover, publication in a pedagogy journal often counts towards fulfilling these quotas.

Building a research approach that yields publishable results is something that all of us have been trained in to some extent. Still, having that research totally depend on undergraduate hands is enough to make some of us break out in a sweat. Yet, at small colleges, that is exactly what is required. Your research matters to the extent that it is accessible to your undergraduate student population. As Dr. Lents pointed out, there are “many different kinds of institutions. Higher echelon places will have more money and more resources.” The higher the echelon, the higher the chance you can continue working with mice. Small colleges often do not have the resources of facilities to maintain a vivarium, so Dr. Marcello suggests to figure out in advance how much it would cost to run the experiments you want in the model organism you have access tomodel that you have access to. This has the added advantage of being prepared for interview questions about the feasibility of your research plan, which Dr. Marcello underscored was of tantamount importance.

Almost hand in hand with research is funding. NIH grants are available to undergraduate research programs. The NSF also awards equipment grants to these kinds of institutions. Though the competition is just as high, the pressure to obtain these grants is reduced as the university pays your salary- not grants. However, research costs are also reduced. Undergrads typical perform research on a volunteer or for-credit basis, and the university provides a small dollar amount for each student in the lab. For those cases when your expertise is in an area that really does rely on an innovative, and likely expensive, piece of technology, Dr. Ruiz said, “Collaborate! When you are applying, present your network as a strength and confirm that you can access facilities when you move to the new school. Maintain your ties.” Dr. Allen even said that at one of the institutions at which she interviews, collaboration with a larger university was expected.

A professional staff of scientists (including technicians, grad students, post-docs, and staff scientists), millions of dollars in funding, and the newest research tools are a few things that are not commonly found at small colleges. However, with a little bit of creativity, you may be surprised what your own innovation and the untapped ambition of an undergraduate student population can do to advance your research. As in the classroom, teaching and collaboration are at the heart of successful undergraduate projects. If you think that these two elements are inextricable, then a teaching and research position may be for you.

 

 

What can you be with a PhD? An amazing educator

I attended a two-day workshop called “What Can You Be With a PhD?” (WCUB) on November 4-5, 2017. This article is published as the first in two-part coverage of the “Teaching and Education” panel during WCUB.

What exactly can one do once they are deemed an expert in their respective field? The answer to that question turns out to be: many things! WCUB brought together active scientists, teachers, and professionals in a series of panels designed to give you an insider’s look at non-research university academic career paths.

During WCUB, I sat in on three sessions exploring three different career paths. Two of them were related to the academic sphere, “Teaching and Education” and “Government Jobs,” while the third was a departure from the academy, “Non-Research Industry Jobs.” Despite the diversity of the jobs, there were common threads throughout all the talks. The main piece of advice that was repeated several times was to get yourself out there and apply for the jobs that you want—even if you think you are not yet qualified,and especially if you think you will bomb the interview! There is no better way to know if you can get a job than to go in and see what is needed from an applicant. Together, the panelists wove a message of hope and almost demanded that we begin to value ourselves for the experts we are.

Here, I present highlights from the “Teaching and Education” panel. As the two essential elements of this job are teaching and research, I will present information from those topics, focusing on education in this section. However, the panel went over many other topics ranging from the interview process (a day with everything from research feasibility talks to impromptu lectures in front of students) to work/life balance (much more manageable than at a research university, but those first three years are going to be demanding nonetheless).

The panel members were: Dr. Victoria Ruiz (also our moderator), Dr. Jessica Allen, Dr. Nathan Lents, and Dr. Matthew Marcello (a Rutgers alumni!).

Teach teach teach

For the uninitiated, science education happens at a variety of institutions, ranging from research universities like Rutgers to small liberal arts colleges like Fordham (my own alma mater). In fact, liberal arts colleges are right at the top in terms of producing students who will go on to earn PhDs.

Unsurprisingly, the focus of the panel discussion was the teaching experience required to secure a position at a non-research university. What was surprising was how much of said experience was expected upon hiring. Three of the four panel members had adjunct experience and one of them secured a fellowship with the INSPIRE program at Rutgers, funded by the NIH-IRACDA mechanism. Dr. Lents, who as tenured faculty has been involved in several hiring processes stated that, “When we look at your resume, it should be clear that you went out of your way to build a teaching career. You can see right away who wants to teach.”

Building a teaching career means seeking out a variety of experiences: teaching a class, being a guest lecturer, and working one-on-one with students in the lab. Indeed, Dr. Allen underscored this by saying that, “Mentoring students in the lab and doing research is not enough anymore. Actual teaching experience with your name as the lecturer of record are what colleges are looking for when they hire.” Even if you have amazing technical experience, such as that afforded by an industry post-doc, without teaching, technique is not going to help you in your job search. Panelists emphasized that even if you manage to secure that top industry post-doc, be sure you are teaching simultaneously as an adjunct elsewhere. As many of us have seen, the best science is only as valuable as it can be communicated. Sometimes, teaching positions are not only hard to come by, they are also prohibited. For example, there were several audience members who were currently under visa programs, and  unfortunately, the employment requirements of those visas forbid working at any university that is not your own. For those individuals, the panel recommended seeking out non-paid experience such as guest lecturer and even volunteering at a high school.

Another element of teaching at a small college is what you teach. I had the assumption that your first couple years of teaching would be in general classes like General Biology 101, and that only once you “paid your dues” could you design and teach the course you wanted. However, it turns out that that assumption is not entirely correct. The panel informed me that you almost immediately get to teach what you want- because usually that is exactly what you are hired for. Dr. Allen said, “Universities are [typically] looking for a specific candidate. If you want to teach neuroscience, you would apply for neuroscience positions.” However, smaller institutions do tend to distribute the responsibility for teaching general classes to keep class size small. Thus, while you will get to teach your dream course (or at a minimum propose it), you can expect to be teaching general classes as well depending on the size of the institution.

Non-research institutions vary in size a great deal. Where you choose to teach will determine not only class size, but also the make-up of your students. Will you be going to a school like Swarthmore or Middlebury, with their storied reputations? Or, do you prefer to focus on working at a smaller urban school? In both cases you have the potential to make a sizeable impact on students who would not normally consider pursuing a PhD, whether it is because they have always loved history or because they have never been told that science is even an option because of their gender. The socioeconomic background of students at the institutions will vary as widely as their interests. Dr. Allen chose to teach at Columbia College in South Carolina for exactly these reasons; she wanted to teach somewhere that students would be captivated by science in a way that they never had been before.

How we teach is also a focus of the job. Dr. Marcello talked about the evolving role of active learning, “Lecture is on the way out in education. Active learning is everywhere.” “Everywhere” includes your interview. Dr. Marcello recommended adding pedagogy and science education journals to your weekly table of contents (TOC) emails along with your field-specific research journals. Being able to understand the jargon and throw out some up-to-date lingo during the interview will be very impactful for hiring considerations. All of the panelists highly recommended taking the Vanderbilt Coursera course on Scientific Teaching as a primer for your future job.

As you consider your career options, many elements discussed at the WCUB panel on “Teaching and Education” could inform your choice. What, where, and how you teach can all vary depending on the institution. However, one thing remains constant: the desire to teach. As Dr. Allen put it, “You have to be passionate to teach. It is meaningless if your desire is not to educate students. [There is] not enough money and [it is] too time intensive to not care deeply.” This thought was echoed by Dr. Ruiz, “You have to love this.” Though at times it may seem that research competes with teaching for your time, nothing could be further from the truth. A successful professor at a college will be able to incorporate both elements, while always keeping in mind that is it the students that drive the research forward.

Required Reading for Young Scientists Trying to Make it in the World

The academic year is closely approaching. For some of us, that means a return to filling young minds with new ideas.. Those who are still in the early years of graduate school must return to classes of their own. For the older students, it is a mere marking of time. Regardless of where you are in your journey, an outside perspective may be just what you need to make the most of this year.

Here, I provide a selection of books that have been personally recommended by professors at Rutgers and my peers in other programs or careers, and my own reading. These books are particularly useful for those interested in Science Communication, Science Writing, or Policy. We frequently discuss transferrable skills here on the blog, and writing is a big one! All of these authors serve as proof of that.

hiddenphone

Let’s just get through grad school first…

First up: the swath of advice books at your reach. I have chosen books both old and new, as truly good advice can be timeless. The oldest one is from 1897 and is written by Santiago Ramon y Cajal. For the non-neuroscientists in the room, Ramon y Cajal is the father of modern neuroscience. Learning from Cajal is something we can all do with his book, Advice for a Young Investigator; its original title in Spanish is, Reglas y Consejos sobre Investigación Cientifica: Los tónicos de la voluntad, which translates into: Rules and Advice About Scientific Research: The Shades of Motivation. Luckily for us, these shades of motivation are not nebulous and Cajal was quite funny when detailing personality types of scientists. Here is an excerpt in which he discusses one of his “Diseases of the Will,” the bibliophile and polyglot:

The symptoms of this disease include encyclopedic tendencies; the mastery of numerous languages, some totally useless; exclusive subscription to highly specialized journals; the acquisition of all the latest books to appear in the bookseller’s showcases; assiduous reading of everything that is important to know, especially when it interests very few; unconquerable laziness where writing is concerned; and an aversion to the seminar and laboratory. Naturally, our bookworm lives in and for his library, which is monumental and overflowing.

Eccentric personality quirks is something that one of our own bloggers, Paulina Krzyszczyk, picks up on in her recent post about common lab pet peeves. Cajal also details classic bias traps and how to do the work of science.

In a similar vein, and even title, Dr. Peter Medawar is known as the father of tissue transplantation. He completed ground-breaking research on immune tolerance that earned him a Nobel prize in 1960. In addition to his academic legacy, Medawar left behind a tome of advice aptly called, Advice to a Young Scientist. This book is known for insightful advice on manuscript writing.

While being productive and doing the work of science is important and fairly straight-forward, sometimes the ‘how” of it is more of a mystery. Dr. William I.B. Beveridge provides us with, The Art of Scientific Investigation, and gives us insight into the thought patterns of scientists. Though guided by the all-powerful hand of the Scientific Method, scientists rely on a fair amount of “educated” intuition to get by. Written in 1949, this book discusses the mental strategies that scientists actually use to make discoveries. Despite its age, this book comes widely recommended to grad students.

As good as some of these great older books are, the scientific landscape has changed drastically and will likely continue changing. For example, current projections suggest that less than 10% of all biology PhDs will land themselves in a tenure-track position. Universities are encouraged to help their students explore their options. There are, in fact, a number of excellent articles on this blog that address modern challenges such as developing your mentor-mentee relationship. Beyond our blog though, we can find some advice in: A PhD Is Not Enough!: A Guide to Survival in Science, By Peter J. Feibelman. While this book seems to be geared a bit more to those of us who are interested in academic careers, it admits the pitfalls of academia and openly discusses how to obtain a research career in industry or government. The book details how to make the most of your training. Still, while we can work ad nauseum on being our best scientists, a good break and ability to laugh at ourselves may be the best approach to success. For that, Surviving Your Stupid, Stupid Decision to go to Grad School by Adam Ruben, comes highly recommended. Dr. Ruben receive his PhD from John Hopkins, where he also kindled an interest in stand-up comedy. This book is the marriage of those two experiences. Dr. Ruben also writes a column for Science Careers called Experimental Error that is worth a read.

I would be remiss if I did not recommend Dr. Kathy Barker’s series of “Laboratory Navigators.” For those of us in grad school or just starting in science, At the Bench is an excellent resource. Meanwhile, for those Post-Docs who are on the road to starting their own labs, the sister book, At the Helm, comes highly recommended. These books are full of practical and modern advice for scientists. When I say practical, I mean it; Dr. Barker discusses everything from lab meetings, to dress codes, to planning building renovations for new equipment.

Communicating Science

Communicating science is HARD. This is a paradox, as one would think that more knowledge means more things to talk about. Yet, the more we learn in our programs, the more caveats we become aware of and the harder it is to make hard-and-fast statements about our findings and what they mean for the field. Personally, I have never seen a neuroscientific concept conveyed so elegantly as when Eddie Redmayne was discussing ALS while promotingThe Theory of Everything, in which he plays renowned physicist Stephen Hawking. Actors are also professional communications experts and they seem to have the upper hand in knowing how to convince others of current research! That is why I am recommending Alan Alda’s book in communication, If I Understood What You Were Saying, Would I Have This Look On My Face? Alan Alda has spearheaded a movement to improve scientists’ abilities to communicate with the masses through improv classes as well as through a course at Stony Brook. This advice seems to focus mostly on oral communication.

Of course, clarity in written communication is needed in our lives as well, as we must write grants and manuscripts. The Art of Scientific Storytelling: Transform Your Research Manuscript using a Step-by-Step Formula By Dr. Rafael Luna, is a practical guide for scientists at any stage. Dr. Luna recently came to Rutgers to discuss his formulaic approach to communicating science. I distinctly recall his entertaining and useful advice in constructing the perfect title, as well as his tip of making characters and a story line out of molecular concepts! If getting published is your aim, as it very much should be during this period of your life, Dr. Luna’s advice will help get you there.

What can I do with all this knowledge?

What do star athletes and the Harvard Medical School post-doc director have in common? Both recommend, Black Hole Focus: How Intelligent People Can Create a Powerful Purpose for Their Lives by Isaiah Hankel. This is a good book for those of us who are just beginning to question what kind of career we want to build with the full set of knowledge we have/will have obtained in our PhDs. Identifying your goals is key to building your future, and don’t forget that iJOBs can help get you there!
A real-world example of someone who has exceptionally clear goals is Elon Musk. In a recent book, Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future, Ashlee Vance biographically chronicles Musk’s rise to prominence in the business world. Parallels between Musk and most of us (especially if you are reading this blog) are purely metaphorical. Musk famously began a PhD in Applied Physics and Material Science, but left after two days. He states that, “I wasn’t sure success was one of the possible outcomes.” Certainly, this is a thought that many of us can relate to. Of course, having a PhD AND a strong entrepreneurial spirit is indeed something to be envied. Musk’s experiences show us how to exercise the latter part of that equation. For those of us interested in the business of science or in starting a biotech, taking a page out of this modern powerhouse’s life is a good place to start.

I hope that these selections will lead you to the path of success that you want in your life, or at least in a position to identify exactly what that is. Please leave your comments with books you loved, would avoid, or would further recommend!

Wanna GLP with me?

This piece was written after attending an iJOBS workshop entitled: An Introduction to Good Laboratory Practices presented by Melissa Elliott from Envigo on May 8th, 2017 in Piscataway, NJ.

Good laboratory practices (GLPs) are a series of regulations which standardize the quality of research used in clinical trials, or food development. Before human consumption, or treatment, there are several stages of research: exploratory, preclinical development, clinical trial, and manufacturing. The latter three stages are all federally regulated. From an academic viewpoint, it seems like an industry built on bureaucracy, not relevant to anything I deal with on a daily basis.

Yet, Melissa Elliott, head of Quality Assurance at Envigo , made it clear during her recent iJOBS workshop that the downstream consequences of GLPs, like patient safety, are dire and that GLP comes down to ethics. We were first shown one part of a British docu-series that detailed the horrors of Industrial Bio-Test (IBT) and the lack of GLPs. I won’t go too much into the scandal, as I would hate to deprive you of salacious internet searching, however, this video highlighted the necessity of laboratory regulation. It is a story we see time and time again: a scientist turns out to be human (to err is human…) —> the public loses trust (…to forgive, divine!) in an entire industry. And, findings that have been tested and proven through more than one method are questioned; in short, both sides suffer. This story is an exaggeration on both ends. The kind of malfeasance that occurred at IBT was not an error, but rather intentional deception. As one of the top contract research organizations (CROs), IBT was responsible for over one third of all products that came to market (Think: Roundup and aspartame.).

CROs are a growing industry, and if you work at a lab, you will likely do business with at least one of these in your career. In fact, you may have already if you order animals for experiments. Jackson Laboratories  and Charles River  are examples of CROs that provide rodents, both standard and transgenic strains, to many labs here at Rutgers. Envigo is another CRO to which many labs outsource pharmaceutical testing.

The workshop revealed that we as academics could be implementing GLPs upstream of any market-based product. Sometimes bad science is intentional and sometimes it is just an error. Yet, if following GLPs, we can at least avoid the need for situations that require the public’s forgiveness. Here are some of the highlights of the GLP workshop:

  • Keep your data! Most federal regulatory agencies require that data be kept at least 5 years after study completion. However, CROs like Envigo sometimes keep theirs indefinitely in an archive.
  • Speaking of data…raw is always better. But, make sure someone in the next decade will be able to read it. Scratched CDs and bent floppy disks are the stuff of nightmares.
  • Verify the integrity of your controls. If you are testing a drug, how sure are you that your control mouse wasn’t given a substance that your test mouse was? If it’s, “Because I remember!”, it’s not good enough.
  • Environmental conditions matter. A fire in an unconnected department will be noted in study notes. Humidity and temperature can lead to unwanted outliers.
  • Homogeneity of samples. Is that drug you are feeding your animal *actually* mixed into every bite he is taking?
  • Identification, Concentration, Expiration Date, and Storage Conditions. A great acronym for your reagent reporting! (Add Batch #)
  • Healthy and happy animals lead to clean results. Period.

tatianapic

As a basic scientist, it may be difficult to wrap your head around things like federal regulations that seem to have no impact on your exploratory research. However, one of the quotes from Ms. Elliott that I think hits home, “the data should speak for itself”. Something as simple as keeping a detailed lab notebook can ensure that your lab’s research and findings will outlive you. In academia, this is a choice (for now), but at CROs it is a mandate. The good news is that good science looks good wherever you go. Though you may not know where that next place will be, proper training will follow you just as much as sloppy technique, and will certainly take you further. While this workshop gave us a coveted look at how a CRO does quality assurance, the skills it taught us are translatable to all aspects of a scientific career.

 

 

Dear Reviewer: Do you understand me now?

I am going to go bold here and state for the record that writing a grant is the single most important undertaking you should devote yourself to during graduate study. Sure, developing and evaluating a testable hypothesis is what consumes most of your waking (and sometimes sleeping- gosh darn it!) hours. And even if you know from the get-go that academia just isn’t your thing, grant-writing is one of the most transferrable skills within science. Your grant is often the first place where you assemble your fledging preliminary data into a story. This process itself can give you important perspective on your work, as well as how science works overall by literally writing out your scientific method. All of this and more was recently made clear by Dr. Rick McGee , the mastermind behind the recent grant writing workshop I attended. Dr. McGee currently works as the Associate Dean for Faculty Recruitment and Professional Development at Northwestern University. He has devoted his life to understanding the development of young scientists, and presented some of his work on streamlining the grant-writing process at the workshop.

Probably the most poignant line from Dr. McGee’s talk was, “Writing proposals is not time away from science.” This was interesting because in my experience we talk about grant-writing as a period “away” from experimentation. In truth, a career in science integrates experimentation, grant-writing, publishing, and teaching. Yet, while taking time for your grant is not taking time away from your research, per-se, getting through said grant is nonetheless time-consuming. This was a key point of the presentation: manage your time so your grant becomes part of your job. Starting early can make this a seamless integration. I would recommend starting to compile preliminary data and outlining your aims six months from your target due date (with four of those months devoted to specific aims- as we will see later-on). This will give you enough time to get your ideas on paper, see what is missing in your story, perform one or two critical experiments, and finalize, finalize, finalize.

In your early start on grant-writing, Dr. McGee emphasizes focus on crafting the best specific aims you can. Many researchers approach the grant-writing process differently; they may for example, spend the most time on an elegant research strategy. Dr. McGee is of the camp that the research strategy will flow like a waterfall from the perfect pool of your specific aims. Since the impact score tracks very strongly with the approach score, refining an approach into a single page is the primary goal. Dr. McGee’s recommendation is to refine your aims through four months of rigorous group-editing. It is not a wild premise, as those aims will be the first thing your reviewers read. They will either turn the reviewer for or against you while they read the rest of your grant- and very little can be done to change a first impression (See, Figure 1: The Ideal Grant Review). Putting it another way, Dr. McGee sees your specific aims as THE chance to prove to reviewers that you are a legitimate member of the NIH-funded research community and that you belong.

It can take Dr. McGee up to four months to develop specific aims. Indeed, four months seems adequate when you learn that his grants go through a collaboration-heavy peer-editing process. During Dr. McGee’s workshops, students talk about the space between two sentences. That is, they think about what is missing in that space, and what you need to make the jump from what is currently accepted in the field and what you are proposing, for example. He uses recorders during these editing sessions to go back and understand what effect reading a sentence has on an audience, improving communication and clarity of thought.

For me, the length of time and collaborative approach required for a McGee-approved grant was less of a revelation. I learned early on in my college English classes that writing is a skill that can be learned and taught. Indeed, my best writing has always been born out of peer-editing projects. For Dr. McGee, it is important to recreate the type of reviewers you will likely get: the expert (a rarity, blessedly), the sophisticated non-expert, the skilled scientist who knows nothing, the technical expert, the non-expert that is still a scientist. All of these kinds of people can be found at a place like Rutgers; just look to your peers in and outside your department.

Picture1_postFigure 1: The Ideal Grant Review is an exercise in communication. Your goal is to get the reviewer to both understand and care about your proposed project; and likewise the grant reviewer starts out positive and hates to be confused by unclear thinking.

The group-editing process, while clearly effective, was a heated point of debate during the workshop: how can you get that kind of insight if no such group exists? A smattering of current resources available was suggested by the crowd, but they seemed not to satisfy the needs of our community. For example, one group that offered help with grants had plenty of non-experts, but no focused feedback. Though we may not have the luxury of accessing a group like this, in the end, it may be more important to the Rutgers community to be as available to your peers as you can be. For example, you can volunteer to read through a friend’s grant and offer genuine feedback; that is the start of precisely the kind of work that Dr. McGee does. Remember: the expert reviewer is a rarity. If you can get your friend in electro-physiology to understand your behavioral experiments, you have mastered Dr. McGee’s brand of interdisciplinary communication.

Having justified the impact of the specific aims, Dr. McGee wrapped up by giving us a “how to” based on his work with graduate students as well as professors. It turns out that for all the diversity of thinking in our various research fields, the grants we submit mimic each other. Essentially, after going through many specific aims, both funded and unfunded, Dr. McGee collaborated with a non-scientist communications expert, who found specific aims not-so-thrilling, but incredibly easy to understand. They found that the specific aims followed a formula. This is so much the case that Dr. McGee and his team have issued a sentence-by-sentence breakdown of the specific aims . Judging from the crowd, the formulaic approach to grant-writing was probably the most controversial part of the talk (Who knew grant-writing workshops could be so riveting?!).

Overall, I thought this workshop boiled down what it meant to compose and be one with the grant-writing process. It also turned grant-writing from a thing that you are either good, or not good, at into a skill that can and will be refined. Let me know in the comments if you agree or disagree!

The resources featured in the talk are available online, as part of Northwestern’s CLIMB resources, can be accessed through the Rutgers ResearchPortal.