Friday, December 30, 2016

2016 year in review for The New PI

And there is goes: 2016 in sucked, and I should have guessed from how it started, but I'm starting 2017 on the upswing and with a lot of hope :)
Happy New Year, everyone!!

January: This blog post has been brewing in my head for several months.
And a big one it was. By far my 2016 greatest hit with almost 4,000 reads...

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

March: Lately I have spent a lot of time thinking about expectations and "fit" in academia. We are interviewing faculty candidates and a huge amount of scrutiny is put in figuring out how their research and their personalities will fit with ours.

April: I'm official mid-tenure track and probably need to officially update my Twitter handle to The Newish PI.

May: With one R01 application waiting for additional experiments before resubmission and one R01 submitted, I received the dreaded email from the NIH saying that my ESI (early stage investigator) status had ended.

June: The hashtag #academicselfcare reminds you that it is your responsibility to take care of yourself, because academia will rarely do it for you.

August: "Midway upon the journey of the tenure track I found myself within a forest dark, for the straightforward pathway had been lost." (adapted from D. Alighieri, Inferno, Canto 1)

September: The more I move forward in this crazy voyage which is the tenure track, the more I realize how absolutely critical your personnel is.
2nd greatest hit of 2016

October: My R01 resubmission went from scored to not discussed. I don't know why yet, but this hit me hard.

November: I never thought that these three little words could carry that much innuendo, but "Are you happy?" turns out to be one of the most revealing and difficult questions you can ask a scientist.

December: I cannot deny that 2016 has been an annus horribilis at the personal and professional level, but I am trying to find some meaning out if it.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Recapturing my spirit after 2016

I cannot deny that 2016 has been an annus horribilis at the personal and professional level, but I am trying to find some meaning out if it. If you have read my blog a lot of confusion and disillusionment and anger have transpired, people left my lab, grants eluded me and I became stuck in a dysfunctional situation with lots of amazing results and not enough people to do it. I felt a bit like being thrown back to the very beginning of my tenure track, but in the middle of year 4.

Yet, when I look at the year that is ending and the year ahead, the picture is not bleak and I have to thankful for it. I'm funded for 2017, so I don't really have to start thinking about possibly firing people or requesting bridge funding until this time next year. Despite everything that happened in 2016, my lab has published five papers (1 primary, 1 review and 3 collaborative), one manuscript was accepted, one more was rejected, two more collaborative papers are under review and two reviews and two large papers are at various stages of writing. So it's 8 articles in 2016 and at least 7 in the works for 2017. I am not trying to humblebrag. I need to acknowledge this to myself. I have at many points through this year felt stuck and unproductive, I felt that everything was lost and that I should just quit, while at the same time an enormous amount of work was getting done, not just by me, but by dozens of people around me. And because of this network, because of the people in my lab and my collaborators the train keeps running.

My proudest story of 2016 is about the paper that was just accepted. This was not in the cards for this year. I had found a couple mutations years ago, but apart from a gut feeling that this gene was the real deal, I didn't have enough evidence to move forward. I had entered the gene in a matching site. Yes, such a thing exists for rare disease genetics, where you get anonymously matched with other people "You're both interested in gene X. Would you like to meet in person?" In May I got a match, one more kid. We picked up the slack and started exploring the gene function in earnest. In June came another match. This time a large international group with multiple cases and a manuscript in preparation (we'll call this Group 2). When this happens and you are lucky enough to find out who the competition is, you roll your mutations into the bigger paper and move on, but the head of Group 2 was very nice "We are still finishing up some experiments, let's keep in touch and when we are ready you can join us or we can publish back to back." In July I start doing experiments like a dog and coordinating everyone in my lab to add results and Group 2 puts us in touch with their collaborators to get more data. Then a friend in the field emails me about someone else who is looking for mutations in the same gene, yet a third group working on this. Work intensifies to 150%, weeks are spent trying to understand what is going on, where everyone stands. Group 3 has more patients, great functional data, but not enough, so we join forces, co-write a kick-ass paper and submit back to back with Group 2. While the initial families had been recruited during my postdoc, I had recruited them and paid for sequencing, so I ask my postdoctoral advisor if he would agree to not be listed as a co-author to showcase that this work was done independently. He heartily agrees and fades into the sunset. Papers are in review for 2 weeks. Ours comes back with minimal comments. Group 2 gets slightly worse revisions, but we do everything we can to help and get them through. The two stories together are perfectly complementary, they have to come out together. We all get accepted! All collaborators around the world rejoice!! 26 institutions from 5 countries!!

This how I love to do science and I have stated it from the very beginning. Collaborative, open and fast because everyone speaks to each other. My holiday wish is that everyone would see the benefit of doing things like this. It's fun and you'll make a lot of friends along the way.