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Plan to run your own lab?

Discussion in 'Physician Scientists' started by gbwillner, Jun 10, 2013.

  1. gbwillner

    gbwillner Pastafarian
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    As I finalize my first K08 application, I thought it might be nice to break up the hegemony of the usual "what are my chances" posts with some discussion about career choices and development.

    How many of you out there finishing or having finished your training not only wish to continue a research-oriented career, but also want to run your own labs and write grant applications for a living?

    What are the alternatives? Most of my peers, even those who are still committed to research, hope to do so now on a more limited basis- like 50% protected time with no space, but will be part of large collaborative projects or participate in clinical research.

    Thoughts?
     
  2. gutonc

    gutonc No Meat, No Treat
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    I think that, in many areas, this is the future of academic research. I've seen a fair number of smaller labs recently partnering/merging with larger, well funded labs. For physician-scientists I think it's going to become the norm to do something like this.

    I will also say, as someone who tried (and is actively failing...to the point that I've given up the struggle) to maintain a 60/40 (Lab/Clinic) split...50/50, at least in basic science, just doesn't work.
     
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  3. Underarchiever

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    50/50 with no space will leave you little or no chance for success in science. It would require a miracle to succeed from such uncommitted and harsh condition. It would be better off to give up the ambition for tenure track, and to stick with clinical service, or 80/20 service/research. At least in such scenario you are a skillful clinician, not a half baked potato.
     
  4. Neuronix

    Neuronix Total nerd
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    [​IMG]

    Any good private practice jobs left out there?
     
  5. OP
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    gbwillner

    gbwillner Pastafarian
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    Funny, I was just having this conversation with another attending (MD/PhD one) that swore this was the future for most science. Collaborating with large projects/groups, rather than having your own. This is where all the money is being funnelled now anyway.
     
  6. StilgarMD

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    Edit: nevermind.
     
    #6 StilgarMD, Jun 14, 2013
    Last edited: Jun 14, 2013
  7. QofQuimica

    QofQuimica Seriously, dude, I think you're overreacting....
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    Zero interest in trying to run my own lab. Would definitely like to be part of a clinical research consortium and would also consider going back to basic research as part of a large collaboration.
     
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  8. grant doc

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    Running your own lab can be lonely at times (as in "it's lonely at the top"). For me, a good compromise between having the final say in all research- and administrative-related decisions (as I currently do) and having the security of being part of a larger group would be to be half of a tight, Brown-Goldstein type of collaborative research partnership. The trick would be to find someone you could continually come to agreement with regarding both scientific and administrative/financial issues. Besides the famous example of Brown and Goldstein, I know of a few other examples of such partnerships, including (somewhat amazingly) three husband-wife teams, but they do not seem to be all that common.

    I have posted a few thoughts about being a physician-scientist at www.grantslave.com . With luck, I'll find time to write some more posts in the near future.
    (It just occurred to me that my postings thus far are tilted towards the negative side of things. I'll try to add some more positive posts soon. My thoughts have been colored of late by the thus-far incomplete R01 renewal application on my desk.)
     
    #8 grant doc, Jun 21, 2013
    Last edited: Jun 21, 2013
  9. vitalamine

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    I enjoyed reading your blog ^^

    As for me, I think I've had a pretty good go of things during my PhD, but in the future I wouldn't take an RO1 if they were handing them out. It is a strange feeling that I can't openly share my intent to leave academic medicine after I get my clinical training. Sort of cult-like, but just waiting for the right time to make my escape.
     
  10. solitude

    solitude Senior Member
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    I also enjoyed your blog. Please continue posting!

    I would consider running my own lab if the funding environment changed such that it was no longer simply a rat race of grant applications...not gonna happen. I enjoy the work, but not enough to offset the grant misery. Currently, I am trying to find a career compatible with my training that doesn't involve sitting in front of a computer filling out forms all day. To my chagrin, I am finding that clinical medicine is a lot of that too.
     
  11. K31

    K31
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    I feel much the same. I had a good PhD experience (thanks in large part to a fantastic mentor), but I don't see myself running my own lab. I could see myself in academic medicine in a primarily clinical position with a clinical research component. Fortunately, I'm not in a specialty where it's anathema to say that, and I'm starting in a program that will set me up well for either private practice or academics.
     
  12. uniqenam

    uniqenam MSTP c/o 20??
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    Do you mind expounding a little? I thought a lot of the pessimism from PS trainees here derived from funding uncertainty? Is it just that your priorities/interests have changed, or that being a PI would take you too far from actual "science" and more into an admin role?
     
  13. K31

    K31
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    It's a combination of factors, but primarily a change in priorities. I realized during graduate school that my interests are more clinical and I wouldn't be satisfied with the minority of clinical time that would be necessary in order to run a successful lab.
     
  14. strangeglove

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    I wonder how many here who are already deciding that they don't want to spend their careers writing grants have actually written one. For many of us who have written them and succeeded, it is not always the drudgery it is made out to be here. For one thing, it's probably the only place where you get to articulate your thought process very clearly and make connections between hypotheses about how nature works and experimental predictions. I find it one of the few truly high-level creative endeavors in science, since the experiments themselves can be performed by research assistants. I think that the aspect of asking for money makes it inherently problematic for some people, but if you see it as an opportunity to think about and plan your work, it can be much more enjoyable. It also helps if you like to write.
     
  15. mercaptovizadeh

    mercaptovizadeh ἀλώπηξ
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    I have written one grant which was not funded. I have also contributed the vast majority (i.e. nearly all of it) for multiple grant applications put out by my PI, which have failed. While the one grant I wrote and didn't get funded was not much of a disappointment, the multiple subsequent grants have been a disappointment.

    Here's why: the proposed research and the data presented were very strong and with a lot of very direct, very obvious, implication for new therapies in humans. If this research cannot get funding - and I have seen many grants getting funded for much more "far out" and "sexy" research - what can we conclude? We can conclude that research is being funded based on the biases and fetishes of the granting agencies, not the true potential of the work or its potential impact on the largest number of patients.

    I would love to run my own lab, but I'm seeing more and more that the quality of the proposed ideas and the evidence to support them is less important than the pre-set goals of the funders. This being the case, running my own lab and making the sacrifices to do so (in compensation, clinical time, family time, etc.) would require me to do research that does not personally interest or motivate me.

    Yes, the process of research is part of the fulfillment, but so is the goal towards which we work.
     
  16. vitalamine

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    I've written 5 and been awarded 4 and I don't want to spend my career writing grants. One of those was an F30 and the others were smaller ones from academic societies (ie. 1-year fellowship, summer support, etc.)

    As a trainee writing grants I think the odds are favorable. The difficulty and stakes are much higher when actually starting your independent career. I've seen a lot of labs around me shutting down that were led by people who have invested a lot in their career and are smarter than I.

    A personal turning point came when I read "How Economics Shapes Science" by Paula Stephan. I think it was looking at the system from her perspective that I realized how the incentives and culture of academic medicine don't sit well with me.
     
  17. QofQuimica

    QofQuimica Seriously, dude, I think you're overreacting....
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    To me, doing the actual experiments is the part of research that is fun and enjoyable, while writing grants and papers is a necessary evil that takes time away from being in the lab. Maybe I should have stopped at a BS and stayed a tech, or at least been a staff scientist in someone else's lab, instead of going to med school. :shrug:
     
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  18. solitude

    solitude Senior Member
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    Very well put.

    I would also add that beyond tailoring one's scientific aims to the whims of study sections, much of "grant writing" is administrative overhead. I exchanged about 200 e-mails with various administrators both at my home institution and NIH in the process of submitting my F31 (which was funded). There were many more e-mails to start the funding process. There were many e-mails when I wanted to use funds to purchase supplies. All detracted from my time doing science.

    Just to submit the grant, I had to get on my PI's IRB, and then document that. I had to get animal usage documentation. I had to fill out home institution forms, NIH generic forms, describe the research facilities and equipment and resources of my PI (who was already R01-funded many times over), explain how I would protect human subjects, how I would include women and minorities, explain how many subjects I planned to enroll (broken down by ethnicity and gender), explain whether I would include children, justify the use of vertebrate animals and enumerate my procedures with them, discuss my resource sharing plan, explain respective contributions, explain how I selected my sponsor and institution, brag about my responsible conduct of research training, list my goals for fellowship training and career, write a personal statement and biosketch, edit mentor's biosketch including prior trainees and grants, break down the activities planned under the award, discuss prior research experience, write a recommendation letter from my PI, secure letters of recommendation, including appendiceal letters from collaborators, and write a cover letter.

    The grant was over 50 pages, 5 of which were what I consider science. Yes, writing those 5 pages was insightful, but my study section comments were worthless. They boiled down to "great lab, great trainee, project looks promising" or "this trainee has no experience with this technique; it is unlikely he will be able to achieve these objectives". Then there was an arbitrary score, some politicking between my PI and the NIH, and the grant was funded.

    Mine was an EASY process by comparison to many others. I have friends who scored very near the cutoff, followed all study section recommendations on their resubmission, and their score had doubled on the next pink slip. They were obviously not funded, so what good did that do them? 6 weeks of work for a couple off-hand comments and a whole lot of disappointment. And these are low-stakes grants, just fellowship applications for people who are fully funded already. It is hard for me to fathom why I would want to go through this process again, and again, and again - to put bread on the table - when my chances of success despite two decades of post-secondary education are dismal.

    p.s. This is coming from somebody who loves writing, much more than doing experiments.
     
    #18 solitude, Jun 23, 2013
    Last edited: Jun 23, 2013
  19. strangeglove

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    Yes, writing grants is not all a bed of roses. However, at the R01 level most of this stuff can be cut and pasted from previous grants. Also, you spend some of your money hiring administrators who should be able to help with some of this stuff, as should your RA's.

    As a successful PI, you are probably not going to spend much time at all at the bench. Mostly it will be at a computer and talking to other people. That is the reality these days. If you want to be doing experiments all day, then you probably shouldn't plan on being a PI. This is the way it is for most high-level endeavors. How many generals are "in the trenches?" How many CEO's are analyzing spreadsheets? Being a means being an administrator.

    We happen to be in a field where the low-level grunt-work is enjoyable for many, even romanticized to an extent. For me, it was sometimes a nice escape from the harsh realities of writing/grants/thesis committee meetings, a place where I could be "productive" while essentially turning off my brain because it was largely automatic. This is not feasible as a PI.
     
  20. OP
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    gbwillner

    gbwillner Pastafarian
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    I have written 8 post-graduate level grants (for research or salary support) and have been awarded 2, and am now awaiting the K08 score. This is a LOT of work, especially at the beginning, however once you write the grant you can resubmit it to multiple institutions with minimal work. The 8 submitted grants represent 3 projects, and with each submission the proposal should get a little better. Still, for the K08 I rehashed a grant I submitted to the Leukemia Research Foundation, but it was still over a month of mostly full-time work to get it prepared and submitted. In that time I basically got nothing done in lab.
    While writing can be stressful, finding out you spent countless hours or weeks writing a proposal that is ultimately not funded with often NO feedback as to why not is the ultimate low. However, getting the grant accepted is the ultimate high and you sort of forget your previous worries.
    Personally, I can't wait to run my own lab. I'm just getting too old to do the work myself, and I simply don't have the patience or time to get experiments to work as well as I used to. My strengths are now clearly research design and writing, and the technical stuff has been falling by the wayside (as I haven't been able to get anything to work in months around here). My dream right now is to get funded so I can get a tech to do the dirty work for me.
     
  21. Watson104

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    I've always been the opposite. I liked lab work because I liked the thinking part, but I hated the druggery and mindlessness once things got working. I've always been gearing towards running a lab with awesome techs to do the grunt work. Exploring the possibilities has been much more attractive to me than pipetting. More than a bit of my PhD felt like such a painful slog.
     

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