On resubmitting grant applications

From the European Research Council (ERC) starting grant brochure:

A Principal Investigator whose proposal is evaluated as category C in the Starting, Consolidator or Advanced Grant calls for proposals under Work Programme 2014 may not submit a proposal to the Starting, Consolidator or Advanced Grant calls for proposals made under Work Programme 2015 and 2016.
A Principal Investigator whose proposal is finally evaluated as category B in the Starting, Consolidator or Advanced Grant calls for proposals under Work Programme 2014 may not submit a proposal to the Starting, Consolidator or Advanced Grant calls for proposals made under Work Programme 2015.
Only proposals that are scored as category A are funded, but sometimes this is only 10%. This means that everybody else, who is scored B or C won’t be allowed to resubmit for one or two years. As an explanation to this rule the brochure says the following:

These restrictions are designed to allow unsuccessful Principal Investigators the time to develop a stronger proposal.

While this sounds very friendly, I think this is a very strange rule. Because once you get review comments to a grant, you can use those to improve the proposal for the next round. However, if your score is not fundable, that means you can’t apply for the next year or even two years. And in the current job climate where for most jobs -at least in the homecountry – you need to bring your own money, this may mean you’re out of a job before you are eligible to apply again. Especially for the starting grant that is designed for early career researchers (-7 years post PhD). Not cool, ERC.


Filed under absurd, academia, disgruntled postdoc, finding a job, grant writing, life in the lab, science

The fellowship Catch-22

When you apply for a post-doctoral fellowship and the review comments say you’re not a very strong candidate because you haven’t received previous funding yet…


Filed under absurd, academia, disgruntled postdoc, funding, grant writing, life in the lab, postdoc, science

Advice for productive #naptimescience

Being still partly on maternity leave (I work 1 day a week in the lab, husband 4 days a week so Little Brother doesn’t have to start daycare until we are in the homecountry), I do most of my work as #naptimescience. This is tricky because you never know when it ends: sometimes you get a long stretch of productive time, but other times you have just laid out everything you needed to complete a task and then the baby wakes up and you have to stop. I guess kind of the same as for faculty as you never know when the next desperate grad student or disgruntled post-doc will run into your office to show you some ugly Western blog they just did. What I try to do to be productive during these unknown amounts of time is break things up in the smallest unit possible. When I have to write something I make bullet points of all the things that I have to write and then break the bullet points up into even smaller units. This way, I can take one unit at a time instead of being right in the middle of a lengthy discussion when the baby wakes up and then not know where you wanted to go next. When I do something else, like analyze data, do stats or make figures, I try to take notes of what I have been doing so that if I start again during the next bout of naptimescience I can pick up right where I have left off.

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Filed under academia, baby, disgruntled postdoc, life in the lab, maternity leave, postdoc, science, work-life balance, working mom

I wanted this and now it’s almost over

From when I just started grad school I knew I wanted to do a post-doc in the US. I understand that many disgruntled post-docs will laugh when I say that being a post-doc was my dream job; not many kids will answer “post-doc” when asked about what they want to be when they grow up. It’s also not something very permanent. But what appealed to me is that it was an easy way to live in the US for a while. America. The country I knew from watching The Simpsons and Beverly Hills 90210. The country that made me realize that Sim City was based on actual cities, because to a European it seems weird that you can start a totally new city from scratch. Unless it was bombed in WW2.

So we did it: my husband (boyfriend at the time) and I moved to the US and became post-docs. Fast forward 4 years, some papers, a baby, a wedding and another baby and we’re almost ready to move back to the homecountry. I guess this extended maternity leave time gives me some space to reflect and made me realize: this was what I wanted and now it is almost over. I have a husband, children (saying this in plural still feels weird) and I lived in the US for 4 years. I guess now the rest of my life starts. (I know, I’m ‘only’ still a post-doc, there’s so much more after this, but stopping and realizing this makes me feel both appreciative and a little shocked about how time goes by as well).

So now these last few weeks that we’re here I am extra mindful of the squirrels outside (we don’t have those in the homecountry), the homeless people falling over after taking opiates (we don’t have those either; at least not visible), the potholes in the streets, the public bathrooms everywhere, the American flags on every building (in the homecountry you only put the flag up when a member of the royal family has their birthday or when you kid graduates high school) and the easy commute by car that leaves your hair like you did it at home (the homecountry is the country of bikes, but also that of tons of rain… not the best combination).

But this is also the country where quitting your job means no health insurance anymore, and where people go bankrupt because of medical costs. You call that freedom, I call that scary. Coming from a country of lots of social security (although I notice that in a crappy economy that is the first thing to go), that is something that I value more than I thought. Also, this is not the country where all of our family lives. And after BlueEyes was born, we quickly decided that eventually we were going to move back. And eventually will be in 3 weeks. Three weeks. I’m going to need new dreams.


Filed under advice for foreign post-docs, baby, cultural differences, cycling, disgruntled postdoc, health insurance, marriage, observations, postdoc, safety, travel

So is breast truly NOT best on the long-term?

Yesterday, a new study came out on the long-term effects of breastfeeding. The major limitation of this kind of research is that sociodemographic factors are so intertwined with breastfeeding behavior and long-term outcomes that it is nearly impossible to correct for this statistically. So Cynthia Colen did something smart: she looked at families in which one sibling was breastfed while the other wasn’t and in this way was able to circumvent all the unknown confounding factors. Her results have been highlighted on many news websites because they show that there are virtually no long-term benefits of breastfeeding. The most important findings are explained here by The Skeptical OB.

However, when I read the paper I couldn’t find one important piece of information: how long did these mothers breastfeed for? In this news article it says an average of six months, but those data (and the standard deviation) are nowhere to be found in the paper (or is it me and did someone else find them?!). The authors of the paper do report that there is no correlation between the long-term outcomes and the duration of breastfeeding, but since an average of six months is a lot less than the AAP recommended year, I still wonder if we can draw these conclusions from this study. Another piece of information that I missed is if in the discordant sibling sample, the first sibling was more likely to be breastfed than the second or the other way around. I want to know these things so I can judge this paper better!

An important factor that I’m missing in the current news reporting on this paper is that breastfeeding does seem to have short-term benefits for children and both short- and long-term benefits for mothers (well of course journalists aren’t known for their nuance, but still).

So don’t get me wrong: I think it is super important to have real and reliable data in order to create recommendations for breastfeeding and whether or not we should encourage women to do so. I recognize that starting to breastfeed can be a huge struggle and it is important to have the right information. But I feel that the societal debate that is happening following the publication of this article misses these points A LOT.



Is Breast Truly Best? Estimating the Effects of Breastfeeding on Long-term Child Health and Wellbeing in the United States Using Sibling Comparisons. Cynthia G Colen, David M Ramey. 2014 Social Science & Medicine, available online Jan 29 2014


Filed under attachment parenting, baby, breastfeeding, maternity leave, parenting, pumping milk

Breaking up with my science idea

I thought I had a really good and exciting science idea and wrote it up in a bunch of grants. One went to one of the Marie Curie Actions, one went to another European thing that I’m not sure was a great fit for my grant and another went with a collaborator as a multi PI R01 to NIH. The Marie Curie thing got an okay score but wasn’t funded. The other European thing was the grant with a 3% funding rate and was rejected too. The R01 was triaged.

Back when the other European thing was rejected on twitter @Strangesource told me to submit ideas to 3 different funding sources and if none got funded to seriously rethink that idea. And this morning I read this post from Michael Tomasson saying that a triaged R01 needs some serious reconsideration, because there are only rare examples that those will be funded upon resubmission.

Soooo time for some reconsideration: to what extend was this “three strikes is out”? Does the European thing with a 3% funding rate count? Does the triaged R01 count since it was a foreign submission that according to some was a long shot anyway? Do I need to break up with my what I thought was a really good science idea? (It does kind of feel like a break up in a way…) And to what extend to I change it then? I realize I have some thinking and reworking this idea to do.

Feel free to give more unsolicited advice in the comments!


February 24, 2014 · 1:11 pm

Why I decided not to have a home birth

This blog post has been in the making (in my head at least) for months if not years. Normally I write a blog post in 10-15 minutes after having thought about it for a while, but this one has taken me way longer. It has had different titles and different angles, but I think this is the final version.

When I was pregnant with Little Brother I was debating whether to have him at home. I wanted to blog about that process but I was afraid that my search of where to give birth would turn into a heated debate and I didn’t feel like putting on my meat pants. So I kept this search to myself. I do however want to share the process after the fact.

“Why would you consider a home birth?” one might ask. I think for the majority of women having a home birth in the US it isn’t about putting videos of your birth on YouTube. It’s about looking for an environment where you feel safe and have your wishes respected where possible. I considered a home birth for what you might call selfish reasons: wanting to sleep in my own bed after having given birth, not wanting a nurse to have to take my temperature while I was pushing a baby out because that was exactly an hour after she had last taken my temperature, not having to drive to the hospital while already in labor, because otherwise contractions might stop on the way in. So I asked my midwife (CNM, not CPM) at my first visit when pregnant with Little Brother whether she thought a home birth was an option (the CNMs in this practice attend births at a hospital, not at home). She told me that even though she thought I would be a good candidate (young, healthy, relatively smooth first birth), she couldn’t refer me to any CNMs because there are no CNMs attending home births in my area.

So I turned with my question to the lady who was my doula at BlueEyes’ birth. She was also the person who gave a child birth class, not hindered by much scientific knowledge (for example explaining how the cervix is a sphincter, which it’s not). And, as an important aside: this is what I hate about the current “child birth industry” as you might call it in the US: it is nearly impossible to find people to educate you about what kind of choices you can make regarding birth, and especially unmedicated birth, that are driven by scientific evidence rather than personal opinions.

So my former doula sent me an email with a bunch of names of CPMs in the neighborhood. I googled them and found some of their names on a listserv talking about learning to suture at someone’s kitchen table. And since I had a third degree tear with BlueEyes birth, that was too difficult for my midwife to suture and required the trained hands of the head of OB/GYN at the hospital, I started to get a bit hesitant about having a home birth attended by someone who learned to suture at someone’s kitchen table.

-For those of you who are going to say that if I wasn’t in the stressful environment of the hospital I wouldn’t have had a third degree tear: I don’t think that was true. I was laboring on my knees without anyone telling me how to push (which seems to be better for your urodynamic factors) but BlueEyes came out in one push with his hand next to his face. Little Brother’s birth taught me that even with very gentle pushing, a super comfortable environment, and my midwife having her hand on my perineum, a hand next to the face still meant a second degree tear in my case.

Also: what would I do if I switched to a CPM for a home birth but my baby would be breech or it would otherwise not be a low risk birth anymore? Then I could probably not easily switch back to my wonderful CNM practice. And would I trust this CPM to know if my baby was breech? And, the most important factor in my decision: you can’t argue with data. The recent release of the home birth death rate shows the home birth death rate in the US is 450% higher than hospital birth. (although these data weren’t there yet when I was deciding whether to have a home birth or not).

Another important reason was that in The Netherlands, where many low risk births happen at home, a significant proportion of women need to transfer at some point during or right after birth (sorry I can’t find this stat anymore, will keep looking to link to it!). What would happen if I would need to transfer in a country where this isn’t happening on a daily basis? Would the CPM dare to go to the hospital or would she be hesitant to take me there because of her fear of a law suit? Would I be in time? And how would the OB on call react to someone having attempted a home birth? What would my insurance say?

I have no answers to these questions because this is where I stopped my search and decided to have Little Brother in the hospital, with the same midwife practice as BlueEyes. It is a great practice where they encourage you to express your wishes and try to adhere to them as much as possible within the boundaries of science and reason. Looking back I don’t even know why I went on this quest of deciding to have a home birth or not but I guess it was necessary to feel that I made the right choice. I might have decided otherwise if I had lived in my homecountry or if my midwifery practice hadn’t existed.

Unfortunately, my midwifery practice is having a hard time staying in business. Not because they have too few patients -they are flooded with patients- but because apparently hospitals are hesitant to have women come in with birth plans and doulas. As Emily Willingham wrote better than I can say it:

“The obvious solution to the controversy is to offer choices that reduce perinatal stress, minimize interventions, and personalize birth—the great appeal of home birth and midwives—while ensuring a safe outcome with well-trained attendants and access to emergency facilities. The absence of options in the United States leaves this solution elusive, especially where hospitals lack a homey, low-stress environment and local midwifery care fails to meet the gold standard. Strange, isn’t it, that our nation, in the 21st century, can’t offer more uniformly safe choices for a low-risk pregnant woman seeking a healthy, low-stress birth for her child … and herself?”

I really wish the kind of care that I had was available for anyone.

I avoid the words “childbirth experience” because it makes it sound like you’re looking for the thrill of a rollercoaster ride instead of the safe and supported process of having a baby. I also avoid the words “natural childbirth” as a synonym for a pain-mediation free birth because what is natural these days? Can you drive your car to the hospital for a natural childbirth? Can you eat GMO-containing food after your natural childbirth and still call it that? I think it’s a weird word. 


Filed under baby, birth, cultural differences, decisions, doula, health insurance, pregnancy, safety, science