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Publications during MSTP

Discussion in 'Physician Scientists' started by kapnut, 09.30.14.

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  1. kapnut

    kapnut Member 10+ Year Member

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    I've been given the green light from PI to defend in November and I feel pretty fortunate that I'm finishing the PhD in 2 and 1/2 years. I really have enjoyed my time in the lab and got to work on a great project. However, at this point I'm interested in pursing a research track residency and I'm somewhat worried that my publication record was weak. As of now, it looks like I will not have a first author publication (not a requirement in my department). However, I have 2 second author publications with an IF 6-8 (my lab is a husband and wife team and the husband is always last and his usually first authors) and 5 co-author papers in journals with an IF 8-12.

    I am not sure if I'm worried about nothing or I have a weak PhD.
     
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  3. SplenoMegastar

    SplenoMegastar MS4 7+ Year Member

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    First author publications would be good, but if you are set on defending soon and not in a year (not sure about your school's calendar or how long it would take to get a first author pub), I suppose you may have some time during 4th year to try and get a first author pub on something. I know people who have graduated without first author pubs, but it those people happened to not be interested in more research anyway. What does your thesis committee think?
     
  4. kapnut

    kapnut Member 10+ Year Member

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    My committee is on board with me defending and are aware of my situation. Honestly, the MSTP is such a long haul I'd rather get out in a timely manner. I'm just a little nervous that graduating without a first-author publication is shooting my self in the foot when I apply to residencies.
     
  5. ValentinNarcisse

    ValentinNarcisse 2+ Year Member

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    Not having a first author paper in a well-respected journal will be a huge red flag if you are planning to pursue a physician-scientist pathway. If you are planning on going majority clinical or entering private practice, then definitely graduate and keep on rolling. This is the only time in your life where you will have 100% protected time for research, so you gotta have something to show for it that is yours exclusively.
     
  6. solitude

    solitude Senior Member 10+ Year Member

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    I somewhat disagree with above. A lot of people graduate with only 1 first-author pub, but you have a lot of non 1st authors. I think you have had a very successful PhD especially given its brevity. So I think it depends on which research track residency you are applying to. If it's a competitive field (Derm, Rads, etc.), then you may be shooting yourself in the foot...though you could potentially make up for it with AOA, good Step scores, etc. However, if it's IM/Peds or Path, my experience is that these research track residencies are not very competitive, because there are so many spots, and with the difficulty in NIH funding, demand is down.

    I recommend graduating. There is no guarantee another year, or even two, will net you a great 1st author pub, but I CAN guarantee it will sap your will, and any benefit you accrue with that 1st author in terms of getting a great residency spot will be more than offset by the cost of time and motivation. Also, you might change your mind in MS3 and no longer desire a research track residency. Just graduate, kick ass in MS3, and if you do end up applying to research track residencies, go ahead and apply to non-research track residencies in the same field just in case. *

    *digression: I don't recommend applying to research-track residencies. In IM/Peds/Path and other non-competitive specialties, so many people do them, and the funding rates are so low, and the salary along that pathway is so pathetic, that very few people end up doing research long-term. On the other hand, in competitive specialties, so few people are willing to forgo clinical practice to do research that it is relatively easy to get an Asst Prof job, with a good salary, despite a pretty meager track record of research that was done as a fellow or even junior attending.
     
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  7. tr

    tr inert protoplasm 10+ Year Member

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    I think I agree with solitude on this one. Just posting to add that in my experience interviewing applicants to our research-track residency, it's actually very common for people not to have a first-author publication out yet (though most have one that is in preparation or submitted). Few of them have as many publications from their PhD overall as you do (I'd say it's more like an average of 2 to 4, except for people who do computational work, who tend to have more papers but are often lower on the author list).

    Not so sure I agree with this bit, as if you do want to do research the research-track residency will give you the time to accrue more publications and expand your research scope beyond what you did in your PhD (which will be outdated by the time you finish a straight clinical residency). It pays the same as the regular residency but some of your time is actually protected for research, which is huge.

    And though I don't have first-hand experience with a competitive specialty, I'd point out that while it isn't hard to get a clinical asst prof job (for the reasons you mention), getting a research asst prof job depends more on your ability to secure funding, where you are competing with applicants from every other specialty for a limited pool of NIH money. It's not like they put all the derm applications for K awards in one pool and all the IM applications in another, and it's competitive any way you slice it.
     
  8. mercaptovizadeh

    mercaptovizadeh ἀλώπηξ 10+ Year Member

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    Just grab and go. It's not worth an extra year, and don't fret. Many straight PhD students have multiple middle author papers and no 1st author paper when they graduate, with the expectation that a 1st author paper will come through in the next few months after graduation.

    The benchmarks are changing. Expecting multiple 1st author papers prior to graduation may no longer be realistic since publication standards have gone up.

    The mentality has become "what have you done for me *recently*" - you would do better to differentiate sooner into a specialty, find a prolific and high profile mentor and do a post-doc with him/her and go from there. Dithering in a PhD for 4.5 years instead of 3 just so you can get a 1st author JCI paper is not worth it. It's becoming obvious that these papers are a function of both intrinsic merit and publication history and connections of the PI, so there's only so much you can do and stay realistic and positive.
     
  9. gbwillner

    gbwillner Pastafarian Moderator Emeritus 10+ Year Member

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    I'm actually kinda shocked at the responses.

    Is your PhD weak without a 1st author paper? YES. That should be a minimum requirement for graduation IMHO. IF you want to continue a science career you've done little to distinguish yourself at this point. 2 second author papers is not sufficient. You are setting yourself up for multiple post-docs if you want to eventually run your own lab. But really, you'll probably never get that far.

    Now, a different question is if it is WORTH spending more time on your PhD to get a paper. Answers will vary. Given that you've only spent 2.5 years in lab up to now, I don't know why you are so eager to get out. If you were unsure about a career in science I would totally get it, but getting into a good PSTP with your record will be very difficult.
     
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  10. solitude

    solitude Senior Member 10+ Year Member

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    I agree that one's research scope will be outdated by the time he/she finishes a straight clinical residency, but I argue that the goal of this pathway is not necessarily to do cutting-edge research at any given moment--it's to land oneself in a position where one can do cutting-edge research in a sustainable way for the rest of one's career. To that end, I no longer advocate IM/Neuro/Peds/Path. Just too much competition, too many hurdles along the way. Very few people make it to the research Asst Prof job for all the reasons repeated on this forum.

    OTOH, I have seen with my own eyes, many people in competitive specialties get these types of jobs at great institutions with pretty meager research track records (and they get paid well too!). Many did absolutely no basic research from MS3 through end of residency. Often these jobs are essentially Instructor positions, where they are ~40% clinical and 60% research, except the person is hired tenure-track, with the commensurate job security and pay. Now, these may not meet gbwillner's standards of 1M start-up funding, etc., but they do provide somebody with a long-term, sustainable job that enables them to do research ultimately leading to K, hopefully R01, etc. I'm not so sure whether all the K's are judged by the same committee? Though certain institutes (e.g. NEI) have quite reasonable pay-lines, and you can really only access those odds if you train in certain specialties.
     
  11. bd4727

    bd4727 7+ Year Member

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    Perhaps PhD student authorship benchmarks are changing-- I won't give my opinion not that I have one. But I feel for certain that publication standards are way down especially after the advent of open-access journals. I believe there is some decent evidence to support this as well...
     
  12. mercaptovizadeh

    mercaptovizadeh ἀλώπηξ 10+ Year Member

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    What sort of evidence? Have you seen the high profile journal articles from just 10-15 years back and compared to the present? The sheer quantity of data, the multi-paneled figures and extensive supplements and videos, etc. has gone way up.
     
  13. mercaptovizadeh

    mercaptovizadeh ἀλώπηξ 10+ Year Member

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    The first statement is true, but would also probably be true regardless of whether he had a 1st author paper or not. That's what biology (and chemistry and especially physics) are like these days. The second statement is astonishingly arrogant, but I am not surprised given the attitude you've displayed on this issue on prior occasion.
     
  14. tr

    tr inert protoplasm 10+ Year Member

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    No no, definitely not - but the decision about which committee will review the K is determined by the content of the grant, not the degree or specialty of the applicant. So if two people submit grants to look at retinal proliferation, and one of them is an ophthalmologist and the other is a neurologist, they may very well go to the same committee.

    That's a reasonable point as well, although I'd point out that the funding percentiles for these institutions that only receive a very small number of applications per year fluctuate wildly. E.g. for the K12, the NEI funded 50% in 2011 (2 reviewed, 1 funded), 0% in 2012 (1 reviewed, 0 funded), and 20% in 2013 (5 reviewed, 1 funded).
    Their K99s, for which they receive a larger number of applicants, look more in line with K99s from other institutions (2012, 30.8%; 2012, 33.3%; 2013, 14.3%).

    http://report.nih.gov/success_rates/
     
  15. tr

    tr inert protoplasm 10+ Year Member

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    I believe both of these statements are true. There's been a massive proliferation of low-quality journals with essentially no standards - I receive spam every day from editors of podunk journals who are desperately scattershotting academics looking for content for their two-bit rags.

    At the same time, standards for reputable journals have gone higher and higher, pushed up by the surge of crappy content from the bottom. I have submitted reasonable papers to mid-tier journals where papers covering a similar topic to mine that were clearly inferior to mine in design, size, etc. had been published just a few years earlier, only to have them rejected. I mean some of the stuff that was published in acceptable mid-tier journals only like 5-6 years ago, wouldn't even make it past the editors to get reviewed now, even at the very same journals.
     
  16. tr

    tr inert protoplasm 10+ Year Member

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    It's possible they may be changing to reflect the changes in the way science is done. It's becoming less and less possible to make any kind of headway working with just one or a few other people. Many of the most interesting, impactful papers are done by huge teams of people, and many many of the authors are not tokens but people who spent serious amounts of time, effort, and creativity on their part of the work. They can't all be first author.

    Another point that I think is important here is that the OP stated that the papers in his/her lab typically have the wife as first author and the husband as last author as a matter of course. That's, uh, not too cool if it's true (why don't they swap out being senior author instead of screwing over everybody else in the lab? it can't possibly be that the wife really does the majority of the work and thinking for every single paper to come out of the lab), and also suggests that spending more time to get a first author paper could well be a futile endeavor. If s/he's never going to get a first-author, but s/he's already got 7 second or middle authors, how much more return on investment is s/he going to get from the extra time?
     
  17. pithecanthropus

    pithecanthropus

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    I have to agree with at least the first half if not the rest. It's impossible to tell what a second-author paper required of the second author because the standards for authorship vary quite a bit. The two authorship positions that can be relied upon are first and last. If you don't have one of those, I wonder both how much you contributed and, more importantly, whether you are willing and able to put in the time and effort required to see a project through to completion. Yes, the track is long, but what is a year or two here and there over the course of a lifetime? No one bats an eye about taking a year after college to do research, and that's much less valuable (outside of the admissions bump) than time spent directing a PhD project. If I were the original poster, I would be happy to have a defensible thesis in 2.5 years, but I would also be thinking about whether I felt ready to function independently.

    PSTPs are starved for MD-PhDs, so the PhD alone will go a long way with most of them, likely buying at least an interview. The publication record can be overcome with a plausible account of the applicant's ability to direct the projects or portions of projects completed. I think he/she might well get into a respectable PSTP without a first-author publication, but that would have more to do with the scarcity of MD-PhD applicants than anything.
     
  18. sluox

    sluox 10+ Year Member

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    This depends on a lot of things. Is the OP interested in switching fields and go into more clinically oriented research? Or even basic translational research? I find that certain funding mechanisms attract a very different crop of applicants compared to the peers of familiarity at top 10, HHMI, pedigreed cohort. My sense is that at that point it's just the sheer number of grants you submit that determines your success... I feel like people barely look at your biosketch, but of course at this point I don't even know anyone knows what's what anymore.

    Let me give you an example. For the MD Ks (K08 and K23), a lot of applicants only have MDs and 2-4 years of postdoc. Yet it has a 30-40% success rate. This is nationwide. I can tell you the vast vast majority of mid tier R1 medical centers junior faculty with a K don't have the kind of profile you think they would have. On the other hand, certain foundation grants have almost exclusively pedigreed people. Once you have a K nobody really care what you did during PhD. And once you have an R01 nobody cares which K pathway (if any) you used to get there.

    I know people with 0 prior publications getting a K on the first submission. MANY MDs get Ks without first author papers. I know someone with multiple first author papers, one Nature one PNAS, getting his first K TRIAGED. The guy is pedigreed up his neck and savvy as hell, and I can't imagine him not shopping his grant to death before sending it in, so if his K gets triaged, it just shows you that it's basically a lottery ticket at this point.

    Getting grants has a lot to do with funding priorities and who can do the work that is proposed to do. Some people are interested in doing work in a field that has little competition and a lot of money. If that's the case, funding agencies are much more willing to look the other way if you have the appropriate training and mentorship to make it happen. Other fields, such as the NCI, is a complete mess with constant single digit funding lines. So if you are 100% sure you want to do basic cancer research, you bet your ass you need the pedigree. It's just so complicated and individualized it's very hard to draw one line that works for everyone.

    Overall you are right, having a 1st author paper makes it easier to establish a narrative that you have a track record of independent research. But given the chaos in the system, I don't think it's as deadly as problem as you think not having one, and I don't necessarily think that he should stay for another year. I think the idea that one 1st author paper is worth 1 year is myopic. It depends on many factors including most importantly your long term career goals. The situation is kind of complex and he needs to talk to someone with more experience to assess his situation on a more individual level.
     
    Last edited: 10.02.14
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  19. tr

    tr inert protoplasm 10+ Year Member

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    Completely agree with sluox on this one. Completely.
     
  20. gbwillner

    gbwillner Pastafarian Moderator Emeritus 10+ Year Member

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    I agree with Sloux that this can be a complex issue, especially given today's funding environment and the rate at which MSTPers are abandoning research. I especially agree that getting a K can be a total crap-shoot, and experienced this first hand. That being said, we can all play the anecdotal game. I have known many MSTPers in my day. I have known some (a few, really) that did not get a first-author paper prior to graduation. None stayed in science. I have also been in a well-regarded PSTP program. I don't think I've ever seen an interviewee without a first-author paper, and even though it's entirely possible that one walked through the door, I highly doubt one would ever get such a coveted position. Part of the K-08 application score is the accolades of the applicant- so it definitely hurts you to not have published in the field, let alone at all. I certainly have never met anyone who got a K without a single first-author paper.

    I will echo Tr's point about your strange lab arrangement. This sounds like a toxic environment where you cannot take credit for developing your own projects (and may explain why your committee is so understanding in letting you leave). COvincing others of your merit will be far more difficult than your committee.
     
  21. mercaptovizadeh

    mercaptovizadeh ἀλώπηξ 10+ Year Member

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    So is biology going the way of particle physics? Having done my PhD in an incredibly small lab (with, in the end, just me and not even a tech left!), it was definitely a struggle getting out 3 1st author papers out (the 3rd will just get published ~2-3 years after my defense and is half the work of another grad student - again the only person in the lab - who took over where I started). We didn't have the resources, the equipment, the expertise, so there was always a lot of finaggling with collaborators\ and tweaking protocols from the literature (which more often than not failed for quite a while). I was also working in a field outside my mentor's realm of expertise. This was not a well oiled machine where the assays were all routine, the equipment easily accessible, etc. It was almost impossible to hope for a big high impact paper because the work went so slow I had to break it down into three smaller pieces with less mechanism in the hope that I wouldn't get scooped on it all. Sure, I could have hidden the data and done 2-3 more years in lab and then tried to get the whole thing published as one paper in something like JCI or JEM, but would that be worth it? Definitely not to me.
     
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  22. Neuronix

    Neuronix working like a dog SDN Advisor SDN Administrator 10+ Year Member

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    Here's my anecdote: I had 5 first author publications (one in a big name journal), a grant, a patent application, and a bunch more middle author papers during my PhD. I don't feel like residency programs cared about any of it. It now feels like no matter what I did in my PhD, nobody really cares, and I need to go do a research fellowship/post-doc regardless of what I did in my PhD to attempt to obtain a basic research position. So I'm of the opinion you should get out of the PhD as quickly as possible and get on with life before you get too old. AOA and step scores seemed far more important even at the big name research institutions. Getting that pedigree, research during residency/fellowship/post-doc, and living where you want or need to live are far more important to a research career than what you did in your PhD.
     
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  23. mercaptovizadeh

    mercaptovizadeh ἀλώπηξ 10+ Year Member

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    Agree 100%. Most PDs didn't even ask about my research, or if they did they wanted a 1-2 sentence soundbite and never probed any further. They weren't really interested in the science. I don't think it persuaded them of my being suitable for their program.
     
  24. bd4727

    bd4727 7+ Year Member

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    Yes this does seem crazy and even unethical given that clearly the wife can't possibly be the main driver/doer/writer of every project they publish in that lab right? Also if you noticed this before joining the lab wouldn't it be a huge red flag?
     
  25. bd4727

    bd4727 7+ Year Member

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    So much of K award has to do with the review committee liking/respecting your proposed mentor (ie the more famous the better). I see this all the time at my current institution. It's a good deal for the famous PIs too...
     
  26. tr

    tr inert protoplasm 10+ Year Member

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    While a lot of us here are focused on the fellow-to-faculty transition, I think the OP's concern was (appropriately) more with getting into an acceptable residency program/PSTP.
    It seems likely that by the time the OP gets to the fellow-to-faculty point, s/he will have presumably differentiated further, maybe in another direction, have other papers, and generally have a lot of other factors that will be more important for that phase than the PhD publications. Some of these factors will include the residency institution and the faculty mentor there, of course.

    So with regard to residency placement, this seems to be very much specialty-dependent. From my experience in a low-entry-bar specialty, the PhD really was almost like an entry ticket into quality residency programs. Despite a pretty dismal PhD record and medium-good but not outstanding clinical factors I got (to my everlasting surprise at the time) interviews at all the top research track programs and phone calls from the PDs at most of them, and matched at my first choice (which was not a research track for reasons I won't go into here). On the other hand I'm hearing from people like Neuronix in very competitive specialties that the PhD didn't help at all but that a superb record from the MD side was important.

    So, OP, what I would do here is see if you can talk to the PD of the residency program that you are interested in at your local institution. Tell him your situation and the decision before you, take into account your performance on Step I and your preclinical grades (if your institution gives those out), and seek advice there about how important it would be to have a first-author paper from your PhD. I think that person would be able to give you much more accurate advice, tailored to your intended specialty and your own record, than anyone here can give.
     

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