Category Archives: review

My thoughts on (yet another) rejection

This morning I found out that I didn’t make it to the interview round of the homecountry fellowship I applied for. This was the second time I applied for this fellowship and the tenth time I applied for anything. This fellowship would make sure I could stay for another 3 years and have some time to apply for other things to try to establish my own group. You can only apply twice and this was my second try. For your reading pleasure I have organized these thoughts in two categories.

1. Pessimistic thoughts

Crap, now I only have 1 year and 3 months of postdoc time left if I don’t get another grant or fellowship. And with zero out of ten so far, why on earth would number 11 be more successful. Why would I even bother trying. If I didn’t get this one, why would I be more successful with a more senior fellowship? And why am I trying to get my poor little baby who is having quite some trouble sleeping at daycare used to this place if I’m going to then do something that a couple of reviewers and a committee think I suck at? Why have I spend the past four years as a post-doc instead of invest in trying to find another job? Because so far it seems the only skill I got from this is that I am remotely capable of dealing with a whole bunch of rejections. Is that useful anywhere?

2. Optimistic thoughts

Okay so I didn’t get this grant, but a lot of the review comments were actually pretty positive. It sucks that this one guy (yes I know who you are if you ask me to only cite papers from your own group) was very negative and said my CV was poor, but other than that they liked my ideas. The new lab that I will work in is headed by this professor who is really good at writing grants and might be able to help me improve. Also, I appear to be the only one who can do what I do in this group so they might want to try to keep me beyond the 1 year and 3 months that I have signed for now. And that would give me some time to try for the next things. Because I just found out that getting an ERC starting grant or the homecountry equivalent gets you a tenure track position at this university. Maybe if I get around this corner I can see the top of the mountain?

For the past two years I have told myself that if I got to ten unfunded grants I would stop and find a job outside of academia. But I think I’m going to try again. Because I tend to be optimistic most days.

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Filed under academia, decisions, disgruntled postdoc, finding a job, funding, grant writing, leaving academia, life in the lab, postdoc, review, science, women in science, worrying

Judging science without looking at productivity?

The Netherlands has had its fair (or more than fair) share of scientific fraud. In an attempt to reduce this, the Dutch scientific organizations have decided to evaluate the quality of science using three instead of four criteria. This means they leave out “productivity” as a means to assess quality of the Dutch universities and institutions. The three remaining measures are “scientific quality”, “societal relevance” and whether the science is “future-proof”. The scientific organizations remark that this is a way to say that “more isn’t always better”. However, if you read further it says that scientific quality will be assessed by looking at output in the form of papers and books.

I’m a bit puzzled: productivity isn’t a measure for quality but quality is assessed by looking at papers? I don’t even want to get started about this focus on societal relevance. What will happen to all sorts of science that don’t immediately lead to curing cancer? And even worse: what does it mean that science has to be future-proof?

I think it’s important to make an effort to reduce scientific fraud but I’m unsure whether this is the way to do this. I think papers will remain the currency of science, and it seems impossible to assess scientific quality without looking at papers. Or am I wrong here?

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Filed under absurd, academia, authorship, cultural differences, ethics, in the news, review, science

Do you apply for a grant with 3% funding rate?

Recently I wrote about prioritizing: when do you choose to do experiments and when do you write papers and/or grants? Over the past year I’ve invested a lot of time in writing grants, with so far not the best results. And in my mind, that is the difference between investing time in papers vs grants. Papers will always end up somewhere, even if it’s in the Scandinavian journal of a Very Specific Sub-Subfield. But grants can get rejected, and then rejected again, and then go to die somewhere. Of course grants are just ideas (+ some preliminary data), whereas papers contain results, so it makes sense that it is this way.

But it does feel like a waste of time and energy when you have a grant rejected. And with the current funding lines of 10-20% (at least for most of the things that I have recently applied for) this will likely happen more often than not. But at which funding rate do you stop trying? I’m asking this because yesterday I found out that a fellowship  I applied for had a funding rate of only around 3%. They did not mention this anywhere, so I had for some optimistic reason assumed it would be higher. It was not. And I didn’t get this fellowship. Had I known that it was only 3%, would I still have applied? In this case, most likely I would have because I basically recycled an older application so it didn’t cost me that much time. But in case I needed to start writing from scratch I’m not sure.

So, where do you draw the line? Or do you always apply regardless of funding percentage?

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Filed under academia, decisions, grant writing, ideas, life in the lab, publishing papers, review, writing

Memoirs of an Addicted Brain – a review

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As I said before, I like reading books about addiction, so when I read on twitter about this new book by Marc Lewis, a recovered addict turned neuroscientist, I immediately ordered it.
The book is Lewis’ biography that starts when he is sent to a boarding school where he has his first encounter with alcohol. As with all the other drugs that follow, he describes vividly how he feels upon taking those first sips and then gulps of alcohol. He enjoys that it makes him feel different and that for a while it takes away the depressed feelings he has because of not fitting in well in school. I quickly got carried away by the story and how well it is written. But then he says:”The cerebral cortex is the most complex structure on earth”, and that type of neuroscience-arrogance almost made me put down the book. And he continues to talk about the brain, and how alcohol, and all the subsequent drugs he takes modify brain chemistry and hijack the neural circuits used for learning and memory, thereby causing addiction. At first all this neuroscience talk kind of put me off, mostly because I felt that it interrupted the story he was telling, but also because I felt that Lewis sometimes oversimplified things or made too harsh statements just for the sake of telling a nice story. However, I think for the average lay-person it is an interesting mix of the story of Lewis’ life and the biology behind what drugs do to the brain and more importantly, that addiction is a brain-disease caused by the repeated taking of drugs, and not ‘just’ a couple of bad choices in life.
The story of his life continues to be very interesting and well written. He moves to California and continues to experiment with how he can modify and improve his mood. He first experiments with LSD: “The room swells and changes in shape and size. It becomes more than a room: an enormous space broken down into subspaces with gripping dramas unfold with each glance, each word spoken or withheld, each facial movement. The skin of those faces decomposes into exotic fabrics made of pores, features, facial hair that seems to grow while I stare, transfixed, horrified. I don’t need this much detail. I am overwhelmed by the acceleration itself.”
And later he takes other hallucinogens and eventually starts to use heroin. Using opioids is what truly gets him addicted, with horrible withdrawal when he quits for a while. It is also what drives him to start to break into doctor’s offices and go down a road of caring less and less about the world around him and more about getting high. I don’t want to spoil the end of the book, but the fact that Lewis is now a neuroscientist already tells that in the end he managed to overcome his addiction and change his lifestyle.

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Filed under addiction, books, neuroscience, review