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Et tu Odysseyus?
Tuesday, January 11, 2011
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I'll save Tideliar the trouble
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Thinking differently
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Music Warz! - The Maccabees
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Standing out in a crowd: An addendum
Monday, November 8, 2010

Standing out in a crowd
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The Tea Party explained
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Grant advice
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Planet of the Apes
Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Too many postdocs?
Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Oh! Rats! [UPDATED]
Thursday, October 21, 2010

Rethinking Education
Monday, October 18, 2010

Elephant man, rabies and leprosy
Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Over-priced mochas and syphilis
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DonorsChoose - give early and give often. [UPDATED]
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Wednesday, October 6, 2010

What I would be doing if I weren't doing science
Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Time spent reviewing
Monday, October 4, 2010
September (6)

Dear PI's who wrote the NSF proposals I am now reviewing...
Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Funding Illusions
Tuesday, September 28, 2010

FIve years ago today
Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A (temporary) cure for vortices of suckitude
Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Things that make Odyssey grumpy
Tuesday, September 14, 2010

What I wish I knew before starting my faculty position
Tuesday, September 7, 2010
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Flying 101
Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Don't panic!
Monday, August 23, 2010

One to Rule Them All
Friday, August 20, 2010

The NSF review panel process
Thursday, August 19, 2010

Peer review, schmeer review
Friday, August 13, 2010

Hypotheses: The most disposable of lab supplies
Thursday, August 12, 2010

How much do you need to want it?
Monday, August 9, 2010

Sunday, August 8, 2010

REPOST: How Many Papers for Tenure?
Thursday, August 5, 2010

Checking it out
Thursday, August 5, 2010
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I'm a molecular biophysicist in a biochemistry department. In a college of medicine. And I'm funded by the NSF. Not too sure my dean likes that... I'm here to blather on about things that interest me and to raise the average age of the bloggers here by at least 1.2567 years. And I'm Australian.

My posts are presented as opinion and commentary and do not represent the views of LabSpaces Productions, LLC, my employer, or my educational institution.

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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Oh dear.

I haven't gotten very far with the stack of proposals I need to review for my upcoming review panel meeting, but guys, you're not doing so well.

Let's have a look at what we have so far, shall we?

1) A proposal that does not address the Broader Impacts (BI) criteria. At all. Look, I know these can be a pain, but ignoring them? Not going to work. Read the NSF's Grant Proposal Guidelines (GPG). Or at least skim the review criteria bit. You can't be  funded if you don't do a decent job on the BI's. Doesn't matter how good your science is.

And your science isn't that great.

If you need help with BI's, have a look here. And here.

2) A proposal with a central hypothesis along the lines of "I hypothesize grass is green."* And then you outline a series of experiments, some in excruciating detail and others with no detail at all, that don't even test the patently ridiculous hypothesis...

3) A proposal with Headings in Blue Text, Subheadings in Red Text, and important points highlighted using italicized red text. Did you really think this was a good idea? I haven't read your proposal yet, but I can tell you, try as I might, I'm starting with a slightly negative outlook. Way to go!

4) Two proposals from new investigators who have failed to check the "new investigator" box.** Stupid, stupid, stupid.

You guys are lucky in that I will point out at the panel that you really are new investigators. If you're truly lucky the PO will pay attention.






* We're talking about disease- and pest-free grass that has had adequate water and fertilizer.

** Yes, they really are new investigators - I did my homework.

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Thomas Joseph
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Re: Broader Impacts: I see that the NSF still considers PostDoc mentoring to fall under broader impacts. For a lot of the work (e.g., NIFA) I've been asked to review, that doesn't cut it any longer. In regards to education, the target needs to be grade school, middle school, and high school students. To that effect we're interfacing a lot more with groups like the FFA.

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I have a question for you - I was just looking through you NSF advice page, and you mentioned something about PO's wanting to keep their investigators funded. However, my impression is that PO's are there on a rotating basis, so would have no long-term vested interest in supporting a particular investigator. When I first submitted my proposal is spoke to one PO, by the time the reviews came in and the proposal got funded there was a new PO, last year there is now a totally different PO overseeing my grant.

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"2) A proposal with a central hypothesis along the lines of "I hypothesize grass is green."* And then you outline a series of experiments, some in excruciating detail and others with no detail at all, that don't even test the patently ridiculous hypothesis..."

Jeesus, i got one of these on an internal study section once. I was thinking, OK...well, you're a n00b PI so maybe I'll be nice for while and read on. What about experiments to test this amazing H1...

...Nothing....or at least no detail, just lots of hand waving and the small issue that if experimental set 1 failed, there is no more work to do. And this wasn't acknowledged. Did you think i wouldn't notice?

You want to $250,000 and you don't know if your basic premise is correct yet?

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PD mentoring does fall under the BI's, but the NSF now requires a separate PD mentoring plan in the supplementary material, so in effect it's removed from the bulk of the BI's. And while BI's aimed at K-12 education are great, IME they're not essential. One can do a lot targeting undergrads, but it has to be more than just having a few in the lab.

The rotating PO's do appear contrary to my assertion. However, all of the NSF programs have permanent PO's as well as rotators. Ultimately the permanent PO's oversee the entire portfolio for the program, so there really is some continuity. One of these days I should do a post on rotating PO's...

Sadly this wasn't a n00b PI...

Brian Krueger, PhD
Columbia University Medical Center
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I'm never going to write an NSF grant for fear that it falls into Odyssey's hands.

Dr Becca, Ph.D.
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The font style and color changes are amazing. I can just picture the thought process: know what would make this grant really stand out? COLOR CODED HEADINGS! My reviewer will be so grateful because this will make it so much easier to read!!!!

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Brian Krueger, PhD said: I'm never going to write an NSF grant for fear that it falls into Odyssey's hands.

On review panels, the other members refer to me as "That Bastard." :-)

Actually Brian, I'd be happy to trash provide constructive feedback for any NSF proposals you write. Just don't use blue and red text. Especially not italicized red text.

Thomas Joseph
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Odyssey said: Just don't use blue and red text. Especially not italicized red text.

What about a nice shade of maroon?

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Only if you're using Comic Sans font...

Brian Krueger, PhD
Columbia University Medical Center
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Comic sans is only legal if your grant is written as a graphic novel.

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In which case maroon is quite acceptable.

Prof-like Substance
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Word. I thought I was just being a dick as I went through my pile and got 30% of the way done without rating anything very high. Then I FINALLY got a decent proposal! It was like, hallelujah! There are some good ideas out there!

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It is funny that you get these feelings before the research get done. I had to review papers (research was already done) where I had these same feelings! So i don't even want to know what their funding proposals looked like!

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I should point out that most of the proposals in my current pile are actually quite good. Some are very, very good (including the one with the colored text!). I've just highlighted the stupid stuff. In my experience the bottom 30-40% proposals are very, very easy to identify - like the "grass is green" hypothesis one.

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Yeah, I was wondering about the colored text. It's like a scented resume- gives it that little something extra? /legally blonde reference
I've had a well-funded prof describe various visual ways of formatting to make things easier. Bolded headings, underlined hypotheses, italicized specific aims... While red and blue might be a bit dramatic, I don't see why it would be unwise to use color.

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Depends a lot on how the color is used. Red tends to look angry and can be difficult to read (especially when italicized). Blue is okay. Too much color in the text makes it look like a bad ad.

It is important to keep in mind that your typical reviewer has a large stack of proposals, some of which will be read late, late at night. As a proposer you want to make your proposal very easy to read. That means thinking very carefully about using anything "unusual", like colored text. And make sure you leave whitespace between paragraphs - really dense text is a pain to read. And, even though the NSF allows it (the NIH doesn't), never, ever, ever use ten-point font. Ever. And do use the spell-checker.

Bottom line: don't do anything that might be viewed negatively and do do everything you can to make the reviewer's job easier.

Prof-like Substance
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Also bear in mind that not everyone prints in color, so using red text can be a way to make sure it barely shows up in B&W. Keep your headings clear, don't cram the text and use bold text sparingly for effect only when you need it.

Dr. O
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Yeah, the red text sounds like just a bad idea, especially combined with blue, bolding, italics, etc... My top goal in grant-writing is to NOT piss off the grant reviewer. If the proposal is blinding to look at, there's not much of a chance of succeeding in that regard.
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