Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Not all R01s are created equal. When should you let a project go?

The second R01 is done and it was very different from the first one.

The first one was very hard to write, in the sense that the choice of what was going to be in it, what the flow of the experiments was going to be, and how to properly balance the aims was difficult. I took into account opinions from many readers, mostly on the Specific Aims, and worked it and reworked it for almost four months. Some thoughts here. It was discussed, scored poorly. Comments from everyone were very positive about the structure of the grant, but not the writing and the feasibility. My lab is working on all feasibility issues and the proposal will go in again as soon as we are ready.

The second one was not too hard to write, the flow is simple and logical, because the flow of that project has always been simple. However, putting it all together was a nightmare that took months and months of coaxing collaborators to provide preliminary data and information, getting permissions and accesses to patients, and just coordinating multiple moving pieces. It was the first time I had to delegate a part of the writing to other people. The structure was laid out as early as February of last year, but by October we were still not there. Since most of the writing was done over the holiday break and at the beginning of the semester nobody apart from my lab and my collaborators read it, so I had no external feedback. I based my tone and amount of detail in the approach based on the comments I had for R01 #1, but this will go to a different institute and a different study section. To a study section I don't know and with whom nobody I know has anything to do. It's like aiming a dart in the dark. An enormous amount of work had been done to polish and aim the first grant to a specific study section, but then the Center for Scientific Review decided to change things up completely and put it elsewhere. I thought, why bother? Make it as clear as possible for a variety of scientists, put as much detail as possible, as much big picture as possible, and hope this little Frankenstein finds someone to love him....if it doesn't, I'm not sure I can do this again. Which brings me to the question in the title. When should you let a project go?

I started the project for R01 #1 almost 10 years ago. It took us 2 years to just figure out where the darn protein was. My postdoctoral advisor told me to drop it at 6 month intervals, I replied I had a hunch. Halfway through, I decided to drop it because I hated the darn protein with all my heart, my K99 was awarded and I was bound to it for 5 more years. The first paper was published after 8 years! The second paper after 9.5. We have 3 papers in the pipeline for year 10 and my current data is the most beautiful data I have ever seen in my entire life. It was like this nasty poisonous caterpillar finally turned into a stunning ethereal butterfly. AFTER 10 YEARS!

Project for R01 #2 started around the same time and yielded a paper/year very consistently and several grants, but recently it has come to a screeching halt. I cannot find the right people to staff it, I cannot control it, and I am keeping it going out of sheer willpower, as I generate 90% of the data myself and coordinate all the parts. Putting together this grant was utterly exhausting and as my career advances I cannot just will it into existence like a golem! So, part of me wonders whether I should let it go....forget the years of networking, the emotional and financial expense.

Maybe, it's just the let down following R01 submission, but it is a tricky question to answer and I believe that it's a question many new investigators (probably, investigators period) face all the time. Will this pay off or am I banging my head against a rock wall? How do I know I am not driving my lab into a ditch? Ah, fun times! Maybe one day I'll write a book like this one...

3 comments:

  1. I also have a love-hate relationship with one of the projects I brought with me from way-back-when. I get excited about all the stuff that still needs to be answered, then completely annoyed when it turns out that so many years down the road I am still having trouble figuring out what's going on with protein X.

    Honestly, I think that one of the most important skills to become a Really Successful Scientist is the instinct/skill/magical power to know when to drop a project and when to stay onto something. I have developed incredible tenacity and perseverance through the years, but sometimes that just doesn't serve the greater purpose. I'm afraid I still don't have developed this skill of letting go/holding on as well as I should have. In fact, it's the one thing that worries me most. I'll get through all of the rest.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think this is true for only a subset of scientists. Really big labs who publish fancy papers are millions of dollars and dozens of people, and can "burn" through a dozen people to get those papers. At the end they are not as productive if you looks at their size. The ones who strike me are the medium size labs than can consistently get out fascinating and innovative science by following hints that others would have overlooked...but these are very few and far between.
      Incredible tenacity and perseverance will serve you well. :)

      Delete

    2. Tag: PM201A55. Let me share all of you about #5 Tips for Project Management Success,, I hope you enjoy it

      1. Plan your day using time management techniques

      As a project manager, time management skills are essential because you are dealing with a wide range of tasks that demand a quick turnaround time. Planning your day will go a long way in keeping you organized and increasing your productivity. Assist your task planning by using project management software which helps you track the work of you and your team.

      If you are not very tech savvy, a simple to-do list can also be a great organizational tool. Prioritize your most important tasks by putting them at the top of the list and less important ones at the bottom. Having a visual plan of your daily tasks helps to keep you on track and aware of time.

      Related post: Free ebook 104 secrets to become a great project manager

      2. Include stakeholders in important project conversations

      While you will have plenty of responsibilities regarding the project, don’t neglect your clients.

      Good communication is essential is keeping both parties informed of project progression, curtailing scope creep, and apprised of changing requirements. Some clients may have different expectations when it comes to communication, so make sure to establish the frequency and type of communication (like emails, phone calls, and face-to-face conversations) at the beginning of your project.

      Establishing communication expectations early helps alleviate stakeholder uncertainty about communication frequency and delivery.

      3. Regularly communicate with your team

      Daily team communication helps keep misunderstandings and unclear requirements under control. Keeping your team informed in every step of the project is essential to project management success.

      For example, a study published by Procedia Technology found that good communication skills were the cornerstone of project management. The study examined over 300 “construction project managers, architects, construction managers, engineers and quantity surveyors” and their successes and failures on various construction projects.

      4. Anticipate project setbacks

      Even the best-laid plans often go awry.

      Remember that even with a high amount of planning and attention to detail, your project may still encounter some challenges. Pay attention to complaints from stakeholders or colleagues, and other warning signs, like a missed deadline or cost overrun, that there may be a problem.

      Preventing a crisis will keep your project running smoothly, save you a lot of time, and keep you, your team, and your stakeholders confident in progressing with the project.

      Unfortunately not every complication can be avoided. Crisis management skills are essential for dealing with the unexpected. Project managers need to be flexible and pragmatic. Improvise and make sharp decisions when needed.

      Related post: 92 free project management templates

      5. Stay focused on the details

      A common problem project managers encounter is having the project aims not aligned with the organization’s objectives. A great project manager will strategize a plan for the project to lead back to the overall success of the business.

      Know your project’s scope by heart and avoid wandering outside of the project’s requirements. It’s too easy to get lost in minor details and forget what your focus is, so a well-planned project scope is essential for success.

      And final, you should use KPI to measure effectiveness of the project, here are full list: 76 project management KPIs


      Delete