Friday, August 26, 2016

Research Collaboration

This week my spouse sent me an online assessment from RoundPegg to see how our work styles compared. Happily, we shared 94% of the same values, but where our work values diverged, the program showed problematic assumptions we might make about one another (and nailed it - we totally make those assumptions), and showed how we could complement each other in places that our values diverge. Even though we used this tool as a quick marital assessment, it is actually designed to help collaborative teams to communicate and work more effectively together.

This got me thinking again about what makes for good research collaborations and partnerships, and below are some things to consider as you work to build and strengthen your research collaborations.

Develop the collaboration before the project
Although it is generally the case that PIs go in search of collaborators to fill in the gaps of their expertise on a project they're leading, Licklider (2012) suggests that building collaborations first can make for stronger and more competitive teams. She suggests that when researchers who focus on a particular issue from different disciplines and perspectives come together, they can form the most innovative projects and actually do a better job of predicting the future of the issue. This can allow the group to have a competitive edge when program announcements come out looking for the most robust solutions to the very issue the team has been working on.

Develop communications
Collaboration can be a rewarding experience for those involved, but it can also become a research horror story. When collaborations go awry, it is almost always due to a break down in communications. Intragroup conflict also stems from a lack of communication. Although some shy away from it, it's important at the outset of collaboration to identify agreements, such as author order in publications or positions/responsibilities in grant applications. Licklider (2012) also suggests having a plan to cut loose team members who do not uphold the responsibilities to which they agreed.

Consider data management
Data management is usually a challenge when you are the sole investigator on a project, but imagine multiple researchers sharing and building data with each other. The complication factor goes up exponentially the more researchers and the more diverse the researchers who participate in a project. Discussing data management at the outset of a collaboration is important, along with data hygiene, security, and access. If this feels overwhelming, you have resources; a great place to start is to attend our Data Management seminar on September 27th.

Collaboration is not easy, but it does allow researchers to do things they cannot do alone. The number one thing to remember in engaging in collaboration is that it must be a give and take. All participants must contribute to the project albeit in different ways, but they must also receive benefits for their participation.

Licklider, M. (2012). Grant seeking in higher education: Strategies and tools for college faculty. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Planning for Funding

How do you think of your funding trajectory? Do you have a major project you're looking to fund 5-10 years down the road or are you solely focused on getting the next grant to keep your research going? If you fall in the latter group, you may be shooting yourself in the foot without knowing it. According to Licklider and the University of Missouri Grant Writer Network (2012), those researchers who only start thinking about the next grant when their current grant is ending are those who will likely remain at the same level throughout their tenure.

To make sure that your research isn't stagnant or mediocre, they suggest that you create a long-term funding plan where you start small and grow your funding amounts and sources, and of course your research goals and impact.

Growing and Diversifying
If you're a brand new research faculty member, you may not be quite ready to go after the whopper of all grant awards in your field, so instead start building your research enterprise. A good place to start is looking for what internal grants your institution may offer. At CU Denver, on the Denver Campus, faculty can apply for small grants through the Office of Research Services and the Center for Faculty Development. These smaller grants can get you going on a pilot project, but then you should start looking for other small funds that can build on your preliminary data, and allow you to move up the ladder toward the aspirational grants. Be sure to think about this trajectory early so that you are always moving toward the next level of research and funding to support it.

Get to know possible funders
Susan Fitzpatrick and M. Brent Dolezalek, in their article, "Diversifying Your Funding Portfolio," showed that in a survey of major research articles in a Neuroscience journal, 60% reported having a mix of private and public funding to support the research published. This makes sense; as research funding gets more and more competitive, researchers need to diversify their portfolio to make sure if one well dries up for them, they have others. So, to do this, start by doing a search for agencies with which you should be familiar. ORDE offers personalized fund searches for faculty on the Denver  and Anschutz Medical Campuses. Find out more here.

Consider the threads of your research career
To adequately plan for your robust research career, it's important to work backwards. Start by identifying where you want to be in 5-10 years and then work backward to identify the steps or benchmarks you need to get there. First, you likely need to get funding for your research, but to get that funding, you need to compete for it through grant proposals. Identify when you want to have a grant, and remember you should be working on that grant about a year in advance. To write your best grant, you need to have pilot data to help you form your project, and you need to have publications under your belt to be competitive for those grants.

Once you have a research career plan, be diligent about sticking to it. As you develop as a researcher, more and more opportunities will present themselves. Some of these will fit in your plan and get you where you want to go. Others will distract you and even if they seem great at the time, you will pay a price with the time and effort you would have otherwise spent moving toward your goal. So, make sure in all decisions, you're intentional.

Diversifying Your Funding Portfolio - Susan Fitzpatrick and M. Brent Dolezalek
Charting a Course for a Successful Research Career - Elsevier

Friday, July 29, 2016

Making your grant application easy to read

I've been reviewing some writing recently and found myself making edits or suggestions around sentence length in some places where sentences went on for three-four lines, but left sentences of the same length alone in other places. This got me thinking, what's happening in those long sentences I let slide that made them easier to read than those I revised? To provide some answers to this question and the broader question of what you can do to make your grant writing easier to read, consider these tips:

Use first person, active voice
I've said this before, but I'll say it again, it is much easier to read writing that is written in the first person (using I and we instead of "the PI" or "the research team"). Of course, there are still granting agencies that frown on use of the first person, so if that is the case, always follow their rules first. But, even if you are forced into third person, you can still use active voice.

Third person, passive voice: The experiment will be conducted by the PI.

Third person, active voice: The PI will conduct the experiment.

First person, active voice: I will conduct the experiment.

You'll notice that not only is the first person, active voice example easier to read, but it's also shorter!

Read it aloud
Many writers/editors work to strike a conversational tone in their work. But, how do you do that? Well, try turning the written word into the spoken word to see how it sounds. Try reading what you have written and revise the turns of phrase that don't roll off the tongue the way they did the pen. And, of course, if you can engage someone else in listening to your talk and get their opinion, you've gone one step further to making your writing conversational.

Avoid big and vague words
Research is often dealing with highly technical or theoretical concepts, and of course, these areas lend themselves to some whopper, super-smart-sounding, words. These five dollar words are fantastic to include in your scholarly articles, but when it comes to grant-writing, they will likely not earn you any bonus points. Consider the reviewer who you send to the dictionary a couple of times. With a stack of grant applications next to them, they probably won't thank you for building their vocabulary and may resent the extra time they spend reading when you should have explained things for them.

One thought = One sentence
Circling back to our original query of why some long sentences are easier to read than others, I think where writers often get into trouble is when they try to put more than one thought in a sentence. Aside from considering the tips above, one thing that makes sentences difficult to read is when they become a list of conjunctive clauses. When you find a sentence that is long, and it's riddled with ands, or it is plum full of ors, but you lose the point of it somewhere along the way, and then the writer shifts ideas, or then they try to bring it back around, but you are already lost, and get the point. That last sentence wasn't much longer than others I've used in this blog, but it just wanders on. Even if you had no trouble following it, you were probably getting a little annoyed. So, try to keep your sentences short, but if you need to get lengthy on a couple, do all you can to keep them readable and focused on one idea.

3 Quick-and-Easy Tips to Make Your Writing Easier to Read and More Effective - Jen Stevens
Making Your Writing Easy to Read - Cheryl Stevens

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Don't play Pokemon Go while driving or doing research

I have a four-year-old and a technology-geeked spouse, so you can imagine that the two of them are partaking in the latest Pokemon Go craze. Since it came out, I've seen new people walk through my neighborhood playing and already the reports of accidents related to this game are being reported. I've noticed more car accidents lately, and worry that people are actually playing this while driving (but I hope I'm just paranoid). This game is only the latest in a growing technology craze that while exciting can also add to distractions that researchers find when they're trying to focus.

So, I wanted to seize this opportunity to offer some tactics for managing your technology in case you find it starting to manage you.

email for most of us is a looming load of work that is waiting for us each morning and continues pinging you throughout the day. Certainly, it is important and if you ignore it for too long, you're bound to pay the price later (e.g., your Dean catches you in the hall, saying, "Did you get my email?"). So here are a couple of tips to consider to stay effective and still manage your email.
  • Don't check email first thing: for many who are most productive in the morning, it is wise to start with your most important work first thing in the day and save email till later.
  • Set times during the day when you check email.
  • Create an organization system and rules in your email and delete messages you don't need.
  • Turn emails into tasks and then get rid of the email clutter.
  • Close email when you're not working on it. (the sound alert and temptation to open email when you're doing something else can get the better of you).
Now, for many of us, phones are another email device, but it's also your social media device. I sometimes catch myself in a social media spiral where I go from email to facebook to twitter to email again. So, be cognizant of your phone as a distraction. Here are some tips:
  • Be intentional and honest about why you're checking your phone. Is it necessary? Are you procrastinating? And make an intentional decision. (Deschene, 2013)
  • Consider putting your phone on silent and out of view when trying to focus (note: for parents or those "on call" in any sense, this may not be realistic)
  • If you have a social media checking habit, allow yourself to check your phone as a reward for doing solid work on a project. (maybe set a time limit for your reward so you don't get sucked in)
  • Remember, multitasking is a myth, if you're checking your phone in a meeting or while on your office phone, you're not focusing well on anything.
As we're still in summer break, and hopefully you're experiencing a reprieve from student emails, take some time to consider how you will manage your email, social media, and other technologies this year to be your most productive and focused self. And, go ahead, play Pokemon Go when you need a break from your research, or take a peek to see if any pokemon are lurking in your lab or the library every so often, but be intentional and safe about it. :)

Managing email effectively - mindtools
Multitasking - mindtools
Manage your day-to-day: Build your routine, find your focus & sharpen your creative mind - Glei & Belsky, 2013)

Friday, July 15, 2016

What's the NSF about? Science!

Next week begins the due dates for the National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER grant applications. These are prestigious awards for Assistant Professors looking to fund an outstanding research project with an exceptional education component. Now, this blog is not for folks working on their CAREER applications, because those folks are feverishly completing their applications! But, for those of you not as familiar with the NSF, I thought I'd offer a bird's-eye-view profile.

As the title of this blog refers, the NSF is all about Science. This probably doesn't seem particularly insightful, but a couple of years ago, I attended an NSF conference where one long-time Program Officer spent time explaining that at the end of the day, the NSF wants to fund good Science. As a research development person, I'm always prompting PI's to consider the implications or potential impact of their work. And, that is still important to the NSF, but if those implications/impact aren't founded on strong, rigorous, and cutting-edge science, then the NSF will pass on even the most exciting of projects.

Now, as soon as I tell you the NSF is all about Science, I'm going to tell you that they're also about education. Now, again, the NSF is first and foremost interested in funding great science. But, they are also invested in building the pipeline of future STEM professionals. For example, the CAREER awards are given to researchers who propose an innovative research project, as well as an education plan that is integrated with that research. They want to see the research that they fund benefiting and including tomorrow's researchers. They are particularly interested in STEM education that focuses on women, people of color, and others who are underrepresented in STEM.

Broader impact, intellectual merit
Most NSF grant applications ask applicants to define and describe the broader impact and intellectual merit of their project.

The NSF describes these criteria:
  • Intellectual Merit: The Intellectual Merit criterion encompasses the potential to advance knowledge.
  • Broader Impacts: The Broader Impacts criterion encompasses the potential to benefit society and contribute to the achievement of specific, desired societal outcomes. (PAPPG, pg III-2)
Thus, Intellectual Merit includes any aspects of a research project that will contribute to its field. Ask yourself, how will your research move the needle for other research in your area? Broader Impacts is a bit more visionary. What difference will your research make beyond your immediate field? Who will your research benefit and in what way? Might your research improve health, society, technology? Will it save money? Or will it saves lives? All of these constitute your broader impacts at NSF.

The NSF has a diverse group of 10 research areas: Biological Sciences; Computer and Information Science and Engineering; Education and Human Resources, Engineering, Environmental Research and Education; Geosciences; Integrative Activities; International Science and Engineering; Mathematical and Physical Sciences; and Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences. Once you identify which directorate your research might fit in, it's always a good idea to get in touch with the NSF Program Officer in your area.

The NSF is a great organization and makes heavy investment in STEM research, but always remember, when you go to write your grant proposal for the NSF, they are Science first!

NSF Home Page
NSF Research Areas
Additional NSF Resources/Tips - ORDE 

Friday, July 1, 2016

Planning and visioning

Pinned on the wall next to my desk is a messy, hand-drawn career/life timeline I drew for myself on the back of an airplane ticket from Denver to Atlanta in 2012. It goes back to when I was 21 to allow for some retrospect and is mapped out to when I'm 50 (I'm about in the middle of this right now). It includes career benchmarks and anticipated transitions and even when I anticipated having my second child. It then notes how old both of my children would be at these different transition periods.

My inclusion of my children and their ages in my timeline reminds me of something Dr. Jean Kutner, Professor in the School of Medicine once said: "There's no such thing as a work/life balance, there's just life." At any rate, given that we're nearing the middle of the academic summer break, it seems like a good time to think about and reflect on planning and visioning. Below, I walk you through some approaches to visioning and planning

To start off, consider where you want to be in about five years. As a researcher, what do you want to be known for? What projects do you want to have completed? Based on your five year vision, you want to work backwards to identify benchmarks in three major areas: funding, publications, and data collection.

Based on the goals you've identified in year five, begin by identifying what projects you will need to complete to achieve them. Once you've done this, start to identify when you will need to secure funding for the major projects you've identified. Then take another step back and identify the pilot data and/or the publications you will need to be competitive for the funding you will seek, and that should point to where you should be starting.

Below is a generic five year timeline that asks questions at different points that you can use to fill in the blanks:

As noted in the focus and flexibility video below, your research career needs to be "laser-focused," but should also be flexible. You need to be open to the right opportunities and you need to say no to those opportunities that might take you off your course. Always bear in mind your end goal even as it too may evolve.

Rethinking Work/Life Balance - ORDE Seminar with Dr. Jean Kutner
Maintaing Focus and Flexibility - ORDE Seminar with Dr. Jean Kutner
Balancing Competing Professional Commitments - SGIM, Dr. Jean Kutner (See page 9)

Friday, June 24, 2016

NIH Updates: Rigor and Reproducibility

You've probably heard the discussion around NIH projects and the questions around rigor and responsibility taking place in the last few years. But what does this mean for your next grant application?

The updates around rigor and reproducibility focus in four areas: premise, design, variables, and authentication.

Premise: Sure, PIs have always needed to show preliminary data or results when applying to the NIH, but now you need to take it a bit further. In addition to discussing your preliminary work, you must also discuss the strengths and weaknesses of it. You must now vet the foundation of your project in your grant application.

Design: The NIH is expecting more rigorous experimental design; their definition of rigorous includes the use of methods that are reproducible. As they state, "Robust results are obtained using methods designed to avoid bias and can be reproduced under well-controlled and reported experimental conditions." (NIH website, 2016)

Variables: A couple years ago, Sally Rocky, former Director of Extramural Research at the NIH, reported that a good majority of projects funded by the NIH did not include female animal models. In response to this particular overarching bias, the NIH now expects that sex as well as other relevant variables be accounted for in project design in funded grant applications.

Authentication: According to Hughes (2007), "between 18-36% of cell lines might be misidentified or cross-contaminated." Thus the NIH "expects that key biological and/or chemical resources will be regularly authenticated to ensure their identity and validity for use in the proposed studies" (NIH website, 2016). For AMC researchers, the Barbara Davis Center's Molecular Biology Service Center
does offer authentication services.

The NIH put the following diagram together to look at the various reasons and implications for their new rigor and reproducibility. The link and other resources are available below.

NIH New Grant Guidelines Diagram
Updated Application Instructions
Presentation from the Department of Medicine - Jenny Kemp, PhD