Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Research Plans

In the comments to this post, PhysioProf draws a very interesting distinction:

You know all the people at Drugmonkey’s blog and Writedit’s blog who are constantly ranting and raving about how their science is so totally awesome and there must be something NEFARIOUS AND UNFAIR going on in study sections that fail to fund their MAGNIFICENT AND BOLD GROUNDBREAKING RESEARCH? Those people fail to distinguish between appropriate design of their actual research programs and appropriate crafting of a fundable grant application, taking account of their career stage and prior accomplishments. If they keep willfully ignoring this distinction, they are going to keep failing to secure NIH funding.

I think that this is correct, even if I don't especially like the reality of it. Scientific writing is based on a very stylized approach and it makes sense to learn the rules of how to communicate effectively in this medium. It's also true that one needs to put forth a plan that is realistic in a grant proposal. I don't think anybody was ever admonished for accomplishing more than they expected in a research plan.

The hardest thing I am finding in year one of the tenure track position is rescaling the speed at which I can do things. I was a very fast post-doctoral fellow and I could do an amazing amount by just working insane hours. But training junior graduate students takes a lot of time and I find my net productivity is dropping as I focus on training (well, designing courses isn't helping either). So I am sympathetic to the NIH wanting to see realistic goals for a research grant.

But I really liked the clear distinction that was being made between the two processes . . .


  1. I find this problem when I try to write articles in fields other than statistics. I almost always need collaborators in sociology, poli sci, econ, epidemiology, etc., in order to write a paper that is acceptable in these fields. At times I've added collaborators to work already done, just to shape the paper and make it acceptable.

    NIH has another issue in that it's partly a jobs program. I've been on NIH panels and I think they sometimes give money to a research group just because they'd feel bad about cutting them off.

  2. @Andrew: Curiously, the few times I have published in a statistics journal, it has been the reverse. I have needed to work with statistics professors because I always focus on the wrong things if I do not.