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Starting Your Research Program From ‘Soup to Nuts’ The trials, tribulations, and joys of setting up your own program Gregory P. Downey M.D. University.

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Presentation on theme: "Starting Your Research Program From ‘Soup to Nuts’ The trials, tribulations, and joys of setting up your own program Gregory P. Downey M.D. University."— Presentation transcript:

1 Starting Your Research Program From ‘Soup to Nuts’ The trials, tribulations, and joys of setting up your own program Gregory P. Downey M.D. University of Toronto

2 Step 1: Find a Mentor l The mentoring you seek should be framed around your goals for the first 3-5 years l Will vary with style, opportunity, and type of research l BUT, there are some general expectations common to most academic environments l Choose both: l Scientific mentor l Content expert l Non-scientific mentor l Someone who understands your situation (and will listen)

3 Step 2: Set Your Goals l Establish a functional infrastructure in your lab l Launch an independent, funded research program l Meet requirements at your institution for 3 year and tenure/ promotion reviews (5-7 years) l Emerging national and international presence l Established record of productivity and training l Contributions to the academic mission of your institution (teaching, mentoring) l Presentation of your work at national and international meetings l Recognition of your work by international peers

4 Getting Advice/Support l Chairperson/Director l Sage advice and $$$ l Senior colleagues l Sage advice and high level support l Your peers l Establish a presence for your research programon campus l Get to know your colleagues and identify potential scientific mentors

5 Graded Lab Set Up l The Big Question: should you start up a new lab/program or spend the first few years in the lab of a senior faculty member? l Hospital for Sick Children model l Benefits l Critical mass of people l All the equipment you need l Can focus on experiments immediately l Drawbacks l Pride and independence l Your mentor should not be senior author on your initial manuscripts!

6 Negotiating a Start Up Package l Decide how much you need? l A reasonable request: l $75-$150 K for start up for wet lab l Make certain to include big ticket items that you absolutely need l 3 years operating funds ($30-40K per year) l 3 years of technician salary ($40-45 K per year) l Seed money and staff for clinical trials l Don’t forget secretarial support l Not everyone gets the same l Like professional sports l Less bargaining power if you stay where you trained l Hard to negotiate after you have already signed the deal

7 Staffing: General Principles l Build a productive and positive lab culture l Be a force/presence in your own lab (lead by example) l allows you to produce publishable data l identify strengths/weaknesses in your trainees l find out what’s frustrating people in the lab l How do I identify people to join my group? l avoid the urge to put ‘warm bodies’ in the lab l beware the dominant negative! l Hire more on ‘character’ as opposed to specific expertise l you can teach people techniques l honesty, good humour, and the ability to get along with difficult people are huge assets

8 Financial Issues l Create a budget - and stick to it l Track expenses monthly l Use a spreadsheet or accounting software l Set maximum allowable monthly expenditures l Appoint a lab manager l Borrow small amounts of reagents from colleagues for proof of principle experiments l Don’t run out of money with 3 months to go before next installment l PI is legally responsible for appropriate (and inappropriate) use of funds

9 Protocols and SOPs l Important to set standards for the lab / research program l Key techniques should be written in a detailed protocol and made available to the lab members l But allow flexibility depending based on individual preferences and skills l Record keeping is crucial to document details of experiments and avoid future mistakes

10 Technicians and Research Associates l Likely your first hire l Advertise early l Consider hiring ‘green’ l a recent graduate l Interview carefully l Work closely with him/her in first few months

11 Graduate Students l Plan and get advice on an SGS appointment early l Aim to get a good student or two into your program in the first couple of years l Rotation system? – interviews? l Graduate students are trainees and deserve your full attention, guidance, and nurturing l Graduate mentorship is a serious commitment l Avoid taking on too many students in one year l Be a mentor l adjust your supervisory style to the student (weekly meetings?)

12 Post Doctoral Fellows l Difficult to attract excellent PDFs when you are starting you lab l BUT l Keep your ear to the group for outstanding students ‘in transition’ l Talk to your colleagues at meetings etc. l Interview/recruit l you should have high expectations l You must be prepared to facilitate the career goals of the postdoc

13 Step 4: Interfacing with the outside world

14 My team is in place. What do I do next? l Get OUT THERE! You are the role model and motivator l Assess individual needs and adjust your supervision accordingly l This is YOUR LAB: l There must be a philosophical and practical framework for the lab to grow into - you must supply this framework l Decide what type of lab culture you want l Format for lab notebooks? Flexible hours? Music? l Communication is key: have group meetings, no matter how painful l Demonstrate by example that honesty, integrity, courtesy and professionalism are part of your lab philosophy l Learn from watching: how do other successful scientists manage their labs, their lives, negotiate the tenure-and- promotion process? l Be a good colleague; cultivate scientific collaborations and relationships

15 Some Common Mistakes Don’t: Complain/gossip to your lab personnel about other lab personnel l This is a NO WIN situation; your team needs to trust you l Ignore tenure requirements l Keep 5-year plan in mind l Adjust your projects accordingly (maybe you thought they’d all be Science papers…) l Let the lab assume its own shape and style: train your people directly in the first few years l Assume everyone you hire will be as motivated and competent as you l Typically, people will spend more time buying a centrifuge than hiring a technician l Be afraid to intervene in lab conflicts

16 Adjust Your Approach l Don’t: l Forget to adapt your style as your lab evolves l people with more experience will resent being micromanaged l Do: l Be prepared to change your view of what is satisfying l Celebrate the success of your student’s experiments and manuscripts vs getting a result yourself

17 Some Common Problems l Simple disagreements/problems about how lab is managed l Don’t accuse/step in/solve the problem l Consider a lab ‘business’ component to your group meetings l Minor or major personality conflicts l The buck stops with you; don’t avoid these issues l Don’t pick sides l Do expect people to behave professionally l Health problems that may impair work performance l Performance issues (lack of motivation; poor work ethic) l Make your expectations clear; treat people decently l Measure outcomes, not inputs l Set an international standard (scientific meetings) l Recognize that people will achieve at different level l KEEP AN OPEN DOOR POLICY!!

18 Time/Career Management

19 Know what is expected of you l Research l Clinical l Teaching l Administration

20 How do I get everything done and still maintain my sanity (or as close to sanity as possible)?

21 Rule #1 Learn to say NO (but not always)

22 How to balance the demands of your position l It is easier to say NO if you have prior commitments l Be selective l Ask yourself if this will help you l Set your limits for non-research related activities and adhere to those limits l Schedule time for research activities into your calendar l Set priorities for your time

23 Time Management Grid

24 Time Management: suggestions l Reduce Stress by starting big tasks (i.e. grant applications) months in advance l Break each task down into smaller, more manageable tasks l Set goals for what you want to get done in the time period allowed and stick to those goals l Don’t waste time complaining about doing the task l Do not let e-mail consume your time l Turn off the alarm and check it when YOU want to (3 times per day) l Turn off your phone ringer when writing l use voice mail effectively

25 Time Management l Work in a way that is most efficient for you l Do the most demanding tasks when you are most productive l Sequential monotasking vs. multitasking l Be efficient and organized l Never handle a document related to administration more than once. Make the decision of what to do immediately l Sign it, file it, ignore it or discard it l Save small, mindless tasks for when you have a few minutes or when you are too drained to perform more mental functions

26 Balance work and personal life l Schedule and take vacations l Hire as much help as you can afford l Make use of possibilities for flexible schedules l Reduce commute time l Flex time with children l Set up a home office with high-speed internet l Be organized and plan ahead l Do prep work for meals one day a week (involve the family) l PDAs are good for more than keeping your calendar!

27 Research l Secure research funding l Apply for everything for which you are eligible l Don’t get discouraged l You may not get a CIHR grant the first time you apply but be persistent l The first renewal is often the most difficult l plan ahead and work towards publishing your studies before the first renewal

28 Publish ! l Fine to go for the home run BUT you also need to secure a few base hits to be able to stay in the game l If you work in a very competitive area- publish first! l Know when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em l Begin to write a manuscript as soon as you have a few pieces of data that fit together l helps to focus your research l plan all experiments to generate data for a figure l write every day for ~ 60 min (no interruptions) l Collaborate, but don’t let collaborations be a distraction from establishing your own research program l Generally not good to collaborate with former supervisors

29 Research l Peer review l Grants panels l Operating panels: a great experience, but commit to one or two meetings rather than a full three- year term l After you have sat on a panel be selective in your choices l PDF and studentship panels are a great place to get some peer review experience l Manuscript reviews l Good way to keep up with literature in your field, but be selective

30 Research l Speaking engagements l Accept invitations at meetings and other institutions l If you are receiving large numbers of invitations, be selective l Training l You will be expected to attract trainees to your lab l Be selective in the trainees you recruit l Not everyone who gets into grad school or completes a PhD or MD is capable of doing research

31 If You Are a Clinician l Know what the expectations are from the beginning l If you want to do research, you need to have protected time l Try to go to a place or service where you are not needed clinically (at least at first) l Align or mesh clinical duties with research interests l Seek advice from a mentor who has successfully balanced both clinical and research commitments

32 Teaching l Many potential benefits: l Improve communication skills l Exposure to students could mean future recruits l Can be rewarding l Know how many contact hours others in your department / faculty teach l Do not volunteer for hours over what is expected of you l Set limits on amount of prep time you devote to lecture preparation l More time for preparation ≠ better teacher

33 Teaching l Some Faculties/Departments use teaching evaluations for promotion l Try to teach the same course for a number of years l Try to teach in your specialty l Make effective use of teaching assistants l You do not need to be available 24-7!

34 Teaching: Student supervisory committees l Great place to impress your colleagues l Be selective: want to learn something of interest to you or have the potential for collaboration l Do not over commit l Should be about a equal number of committees to faculty on your student’s committees l Do not do the supervisor’s job of supervision l Supervisory committees are a considerable time commitment

35 Administration l Choose to be on committees that interest you and involve issues that you are passionate about l Try to avoid committees with a large time/effort commitment or ones that have the potential to be highly polarized/controversial l If you agree to be on a committee, fulfill the expectations for being on the committee l Do not, as an individual, do all of the work of the entire committee!

36 Enjoy Your Career! Life is too short to be miserable

37 Writing a Grant

38 The Peer Review Process A Bird’s Eye View

39 Initial Steps in Grant Writing l Choosing the right type of grant l Choosing the right funding agency l Choosing the right review committee

40 Types of Grants l Start-up l Operating l Small/specialized l Major funding agencies ‘open competitions’ l Salary support l Group grants l Equipment l Infrastructure (e.g. CFI) l Special Requests for Applications (RFAs) l Network grants (e.g. NCE)

41 The Very Beginning: Start- Up Funds and Grants l Faculty/Department/Division/Research Institute funds l $50-300K l Technician support ($35-40K per year) l Operating funds ($15-30K per year) l Salary support for 3 yrs l Competitive start-up funds l Dean’s fund, Connaught l CFI- up to $125K for equipment for new PIs

42 Choosing the Right Funding Agency l Federal / provincial peer review agencies l CIHR, NSERC, SSHRC, NIH l Disease or organ-based society / foundation l HSFC, NCIC, PSI, Arthritis Society, Kidney Foundation, Lung Association, Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, LAM Foundation l Premiers Research Award (PREA) l $50K per year l Industry l May have $$$ but do not sell your soul

43 Choosing the Right Funding Agency: Things to Consider l What kind of $$ do you need? l Is the topic of importance globally or to a niche audience? l How does the mission / vision of the funding agency fit with your research?

44 Initial Operating Grants l Consider smaller, specialized organizations l NGOs that want to support your research to facilitate their goals (win-win) l Sympathetic reviewers (maybe) l Smaller amounts of money l Can provide funding to generate essential preliminary data for larger grant l Consider not applying for major operating grant immediately upon setting up lab l Problem is first renewal (2-3 yrs)

45 Major Federal/Provincial Peer- Review Funding Agencies l CIHR, NSRC, SSHRC l Don’t forget the NIH l Substantially more $$ available (90-150K per year) for 3-5 yrs l Stability of funding l Allows development of area of research l Stability of support staff l Shark country- beware l Need a great idea and a track record l Should be in optimal environment l Days of ‘lone rangers’ are over

46 Some Things to Consider for Initial Grants l Don’t propose experiments / study that will take 3 yrs to complete for your first grant l Short and snappy studies l Issue of feasibility within your proven skill set and within the time frame of the grant l ‘Do the do-able’ l Initially, aim for journals with rapid turn around time and good acceptance rate and citation index l Get your foot in the door and demonstrate your ability to take your ideas to completion

47 General Preparation Well Before Grant Deadline

48 CV Module l Establishes your credibility as a researcher l Never assume this is understood! l Do you / your team have the skills to do the proposed research? l Common c.v. module used for many organizations l Web-based CV modules can be tricky to fill out so don’t leave to last minute to prepare l Difficult for an inexperienced secretary to prepare

49 CV Module cont’d... l Don’t pad your CV l Public school awards and diplomas nice but not necessary l Publications l Peer-reviewed, first (last) authored carry most weight l Submitted publications must be supported by email/letter from journal l ‘In preparation’ don’t count and may hurt

50 Internal Approvals l Human subjects l Especially important for clinical studies and may be crucial factor regarding feasibility l Ethics certification (NIH) l Biosafety l Pay attention to containment level and make certain that you have access to the proper level of facility l Radiation safety l You and your technician may have to take course l Animal care protocols l Estimate number of animals carefully l Does your institute have room?

51 Signatures l Applicant(s) l Division/Department Head l Research Institute Director l University level: Associate Dean of Research l Allow 2-3 working days l Avoid the crunch l Be tolerant and polite

52 Internal Reviews l Pick internal reviewers well ahead of time to make certain they will be available l Get grant to them 2-3 weeks (or more) ahead of deadline l Pick reviewers who are knowledgeable, experienced, and tough (!) l Face to face group meetings are by far the best l HSC model highly successful l Humbling experience so be prepared

53 Selecting the Best Committee: Due Diligence l Understand focus of committee l Reputation of committee l Check that committee members have similar background as you l Beware of major competitors on committee l Avoid being blackballed l Major scientific disagreements with committee l Ask committee members or experienced colleagues about the type of grants referred by the committee l Have alternate committees ready

54 External Reviewers l Remember- these are suggestions that may or may not be used l 1 or 2 additional reviewers will always be selected l Suggest sympathetic experts, not collaborators l Some agencies honor requests for individuals NOT to review your grant l Be careful here l One strategy to avoid a nasty review in to include the individual in your grant as a collaborator or investigator!

55 Peer Review Committees l Chair, scientific officer, agency representatives l Non-voting l Reviewers l Voting l Primary reviewer l Reviews grant, appendices, literature in detail l Secondary reviewer l Reviews grant in detail with written report l Reader l Reviews grant in detail but no written report l Other committee reviewers l Likely will not have read the grant in detail

56 What Happens at the Peer- Review Committee Meeting l For each grant, 1° and 2° reviewers announce initial scores l Primary reviewer presents 2-3 min summary and critique l Secondary reviewer presents critique l External reviewers reports reviewed (if any) l Discussion l Consensus score reached l Committee votes ± 0.5 from consensus score l Chair, scientific officer are non-voting l But can set the tone and balance discussion

57 Major Factors in Decision-Making at the Committee Meeting l Great idea l Burden of disease l Productivity of applicant l Preliminary data- feasibility l Interesting hypothesis l Good writing/presentation l Tight protocol which addresses multiple eventualities and interpretations of results l Interpretation of Scores and Comments

58 The Typical Grant Reviewer l Overworked and under paid! l Own research career on hold for weeks l Experienced in grant writing and scientific research l Good eye for fuzzy thinking, poor data, pomposity, etc l Smart but may not be expert in your specific area l Assume infinite intelligence but no specific knowledge l Reads 10-15 grants per cycle l On planes, subways, trains, and while on vacation l Impatient and easily exasperated by poor writing and science l Make their job easy!

59 Time Lines for Grant Completion One Year Before  Write up and publish as much as possible on the area (gain scholarly credibility as expert in the area, rather than complete novice)  Talk to people about your ideas and listen to what they say  Read a successful grant application  Target granting agency(ies) for application  Collect preliminary data (and funding to collect this data) to show that you can handle the issue 6 months before  Read the application guidelines.  Consider review panel for grant submission  Check if your research institute has a required internal review procedure. If so, add an extra month to rest of timeline.  Start writing your grant draft. This allows for lots of time to work out problems, polish presentation, and get input from colleagues. 4 months before  Send out your draft to colleagues for comment.  Complete your CV module. Web-based CV modules (i.e. Common CV) clog up prior to major granting deadlines. This can be a difficult task to delegate to an assistant!  Re-read application guidelines  Submit documentation for local committee approval (i.e. biosafety, animal, human subjects, ethics,) 2 months before  Check all budgeting figures for salary, equipment, supplies  Collect additional documentation as required (letters from collaborators, etc.) 1 month before  Complete final draft with all appendices  Get colleagues (or internal review committees) to review and provide feedback 2 weeks before  Complete final version. Proof it. Turn off spellchecker. 1 week before  Get required internal signatures  Photocopy 2 days before  Courier application

60 General Hints on Writing the Grant

61 The Application Package l Writing style and appearances matter l Where in life don’t they? l Follow instructions to the letter l Formatting l Font l Margins l Page numbering and length l Instructions confusing? l ask the agency for clarification l take a look at a successful grant

62 Grant Etiquette and General Rules for Success l Style matters l Use all the space provided l Be considerate of the reviewer l They may have 10-15 grants to read l Spelling, language, minimize abbreviations (and provide table) l Avoid ‘dense’ writing style l Build in “white” space l Psychological advantage l Tables and figures interspersed with words l Follow instructions to the letter

63 The Application Package l Appendices should be there to assist the reviewer, not just ‘because’ l e.g. questionnaire, a reprint of seminal papers on which the current study is based l DON’T put pieces of your proposal in the appendix because you ran out of room l They may never be read!

64 Co-Investigators and Collaborators l If this is a new area of research for you, surround yourself with good people! l Choose co-investigators with established credibility in the area l Be clear about their role and provide letters l draft letter well ahead of time and email to collaborators to revise and print on their own letterhead l Especially important for new technology or need for unique resources l e.g. surgical colleagues for human biopsy material or fancy equipment

65 Budget / Budget Justification l Count on getting less than you ask for l Most funding agencies have an average award l find out what it is and plan accordingly l Appearances are important l $100,000 seems a lot more than $99,000 l DON’T pad your budget l Reviewers will see right through it!

66 Budget / Budget Justification l Never guess at costs l Wherever possible, provide quotes l Specify how each and all required personnel will contribute to the proposal and how their qualifications merit their categorization and pay l Animal costs can be substantial l Don’t forget publication costs l $2000 or more per article

67 What If You Don’t get Funded l Don’t: l Panic l Get mad (or at least get over it quickly) l Call or email the committee chair or SO until you have calmed down l Give up l You have an excellent chance of getting funded on the next cycle l cumulative success rate ~50%

68 What If You Don’t get Funded l Do: l Vent with a close friend/colleague and get it off your chest l Read the SOs report carefully l External reviewers opinions less critical/helpful to committee l Consider each major point/criticism dispassionately l They are often (usually) correct l Carefully draft rebuttal page and have colleague read it l Deal with main points only l Remain unfailingly polite/constructive in responses

69 Summary l Begin preparations early l Think the major concepts through and seek opinions of colleagues and external experts l Internal reviews are crucial l Aim for polished and flawless final product l If you don’t get funded, learn from the criticisms and respond positively l Your chances of getting funded are good!

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