Thursday, June 25, 2015

What are we up to?

Often people complain about research lab websites not being updated. In an effort to combat this I'm going to try to keep up on posting any presentations given by lab members, including posters and slides.

Okay, okay, it's a little late, but here are links to six posters of research from the Wilson Sayres lab were presented at the inaugural meeting of the Society for Evolutionary Medicine and Public Health in March 2015. The posters have now been uploaded to FigShare, and represent current research being conducted in the lab.

1. Using diversity to measure boundaries of the pseudoautosomal regions in human sex chromosomes

2. Modeling the contrasting Neolithic lineage expansions in Europe and Africa

3. Characterizing sex-biased gene expression in the green anole

4. Evolutionary perspective suggests candidate genes for variation in Turner Syndrome phenotype

5. Patterns of evolution across vertebrate sex determining genes

6. Parent-of-origin effects in Turner syndrome patients

Monday, June 8, 2015

Applications: the first year

There is a lot of pressure (internally - from myself and to be able to support my lab members, and externally - expectations from the department/college/institution) to secure funding for the lab. It has been 10 months since I started my position, and feel like I've been learning a lot along the way. When it comes to funding, I needed to learn many things, and still feel that there is a lot of learning to happen. This year I worked on four areas: developing research ideas, finding funding opportunities, deciding what to submit, and setting deadlines. And I wrote. A lot.

This is what a scientist looks like.
1. Developing research ideas. 
Before we talk about the opportunities and the deadlines, I wanted to take a step back, because no funding is possible without a good idea. I've been keeping a document where I put "potential project ideas." Most of them are a little zany. Some will never see the light of day, but if I start to think of something that might be a good future collaboration, and I know I can't work on it now, I add it to this document. I also have a white board where I list the current projects in the lab, the ones with the most preliminary data (and hopefully most likely to be funded). At least this way, I feel like I can get the ideas out of my head and not worry I'll forget about them. We'll come back to research ideas at the end, when I talk about deciding what to submit.

2. Finding funding opportunities.
I started out by looking around the NIH and NSF websites. That got hairy real fast. So, I took a step back, and started asking around locally about where people found announcements, and learned that there is a whole office devoted to pulling together funding announcements for all areas of research across the university ( - though you have to sign in to get access). At other places there will be different levels of people who can help you find funding announcements. That said, even with this help, it takes time to read through and identify opportunities that are reasonable for me to apply to, but well worth the time. Even with internal resources like this, it is worth it, in my opinion, to periodically search for other funding opportunities that might be unique to you or your research area. For example, by listening to friends, I learned about some small grants available to support undergraduate research, that would never be listed on the main funding site because (in my opinion) they're not enough $ to warrant making the list, but can really help out a small lab.

3. Deciding what to submit.
For smaller and individual awards (e.g., 1-2 pages, undergraduate funding, etc), as long as there is interest, and someone to support, I'd say it is worth the time to apply. Securing trainee funding gives confidence to the trainees, provides support for an additional person, and small success can really keep you going, when it seems like other aspects of the funding game are stacked against you.

For larger awards (e.g., NIH R01, NSF proposals), for me, as a new PI, I don't have a ton of preliminary data, nor a slew of collaborators, so I felt like I really needed to focus on ideas that I could be really confident would go forward. For each of these largish grants, for each idea I had, I wrote up a one page of the Specific Aims (and Broader Impacts, where necessary), and then inquired with the program officer about whether it fit with their agency/group. I tended to get very prompt (at most a few days) and candid responses from the program offers. A few times, the answer was, "Can I be blunt? No, this isn't something our agency would consider funding." And honestly, I was so glad for the direct feedback! In these cases, I did not spend my time writing up a proposal. In a couple cases, I did receive positive feedback, and constructive criticism on what to adjust/change in the aims. For these, I did submit complete proposals.

I should pause here to say that I have no delusions that I'm going to be any more successful than my peers when applying to these, but I feel like at least I'm not starting out with a grant idea that is dead in the water. And that's something, right?

4. Setting deadlines.
When I started my position I made myself a table that lists four columns to help me stay focused and organized: 1) Award; 2) Deadline; 3) Amount awarded; and, 4) Notes.

The first three are pretty self-explanatory. Notes includes a link to the funding announcement if applicable, information about the PI/coPIs/trainees on the award, and general topic of the proposal. Then, I separated rows by Fall/Spring/Summer deadlines, and started propagating the table with planned or possible funding opportunities.

Below is the list of funding opportunities I applied for this year:
Blue - primarily or exclusively supports trainees
Crossed out - not awarded/invited
* - awarded
Italics - not yet submitted

Fall 2014
  • Bidstrup Undergrad Research Fellowship (Barrett Honors College)*
  • Mindlin Science Communication
  • Mindlin Undergrad Research Award (x 2 students)*
  • SOLUR program to support undergrad research at ASU (x 1 student)*
Spring 2015
  • NSF pre-proposal – IOS
  • SOLUR program to support undergrad research at ASU (x 3 students)*
  • NSF BEACON center award*
  • Arizona State University CLAS Undergraduate Summer Experience (x 1 student)*
  • NIH R01 - Feb 5 deadline
Summer 2015
  • Biodesign Institute Engaging Multi-Center Research internal seed (x 2 applications)
  • NIH R01 - June 5 deadline
  • Rosalind Franklin AGS award
  • Pew Fellowship (to be submitted for internal ASU evaluation)
  • Searle Fellowship (to be submitted for internal ASU evaluation)
  • Sloan Award (to be submitted for internal ASU evaluation)
  • Arizona Game and Fish Heritage Award (to be submitted)
So, in the grand scheme of things, as far as grants that "count," I've submitted one NSF pre-proposal (that was not invited for a full), and two NIH R01s (that I'm waiting to hear back from).

My sense is that this isn't too bad for the first year, but my internal pressure says I need to apply more, and I'll find out what my external pressure says in January at our annual evaluations. 

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Deep breath

Wow. Two months since I've written here. That isn't to say that I haven't been writing, a lot. Just not here.

It was a good end of the semester.

I really enjoyed my first semester teaching, despite hiccups here and there (like not realizing that one version of the final exam mysteriously was missing an image, even though both versions were submitted in the same format).

Research is going well - I'll be heading to SMBE to present a talk on some new research from the lab, and Pooja Narang, a postdoctoral scholar working with me was chosen for an SMBE travel award to present new data that we've been working on together.

I've also submitted a some grants, big and small, with varying levels of success (still waiting to hear about the big one).

Overall, it's been a great first year, but nothing, nothing like a postdoc. :)