Have you recently put an incredibly amount of work in a grant proposal and got rejected? I know how it feels. I have recently received twice in a row the dreaded "not discussed" from the NIH. I am writing this piece as a counterpoint to all the "look how I great I am" posts of twitter. Yes, I have been rejected. Yes, it hurts. And, yes, it will get better.
Research grants are the core of our existence as scientists. They pay for our staff and students and thus any grant application that fails puts us a step closer towards not knowing how to cover the salaries. That does cause worry! Also, it often pays for our own salary, so every grant rejection also has the implication of a potentially reduced income (this is more prominent in medical schools). Also, of course, we are convinced that our ideas are really cool and worth pursuing. What I find is that for scientists there is often no real (healthy?) divide between their own personal existence and the science they do. As a result, any rejection (paper or grant for that matter) feels very personal despite it is (hopefully) never meant that way. Despite all this, we need to learn how to constructively deal with (grant) rejections. Below I am listing some pointers and ideas that I hope will help!
I would like to ask your opinion on something that has fermented in my mind for a long time. What I present to you today are not my own ideas but something that has been inspired by numerous people over the last few years who have engaged in conversations about the topic of scientific publishing. Too many to list to give fair credit but you know who you are. Thank you for all you do for the science community!
I am getting truly fed up with commercial scientific publishing. It just feels so wrong that the tax payer enables our research and once it is done (and has passed peer review), we are asked to pay again for publication and to give ownership away at the same time (copyright). Even worse, the science is then hidden away from the tax payer behind a paywall. What adds to that is how many hours we are spending on additional free work for the publishers by reviewing papers. Now, if academic publishers were struggling to keep the lights on, I would perhaps understand. But hey, they are doing financially really well! Yes, margins are close to 40% in this business!
I think it may be the time to get organized and agree on what on a manifesto along the following lines.
(1) I will not review papers for for-profit publishers unless I am fairly paid for my work. An initial review costs $200 and a re-review costs $100.
(2) I will not submit my papers to journals of for-profit publishers. Instead, I will favor journals by our scientific societies and other not-for-profit groups who fully support open science.
(3) I will not judge scientists (promotion, grants, etc) by the fancy names of the for-profit journals they have published in, but rather by their actual science. No more "Great scientist, she published 3 papers in XYZ the last year. What a smart person."!
What are your thoughts - agree/disagree? Are you ready to sign this? Just wondering.
This past week, I had the privilege to teach a series of three lectures entitled "Short Course in Network Neuroscience" to a diverse audience of neurologists, psychologists, medical students, and neuroscientists at the 1st Sleep Science Winter School in Switzerland (by the way, this is a yearly event and I highly recommend it). My teaching style is perhaps best described as "interactive" and "whiteboard instead of slides." Today, I would like to share with you some of my experiences and observations of what happens if we stop lecturing but instead start building a dialog with the people who we are asked to teach. I have structured it as a Q&A - hope you will enjoy this.
Q: Isn't it nerve wracking to stand in front of an audience without the emotional safety of slides?
A: Yes, it is. Though, with practice the fears subside since they are unfounded. The reward of excited students who are engaged in the discussion is worth the price of being perhaps nervous when you first start teaching like that.
Q: What do you do to get students to engage?
A: I often start my lectures with a little funny, self-deprecating story about myself to make sure that nobody forgets that we are all just humans with all the baggage we have as humans but that we have come together to teach and learn since we are passionate about the content. I also openly acknowledge that my teaching style is a bit different and that it takes time to get used to.
Q: What do you do if you have one participant who engages "too much"?
A: There is often one person who is eagerly engaged (for whatever reason, does not matter). In principle this is great but if it becomes too much it unfairly reduces the learning and participation opportunities of the other students. I thus usually say something along the lines of "Thank you very much for all your contributions. I am delighted to have you be so engaged. I am sure you understand that I would like to make sure that others also get the chance to participate so for the next question I would like somebody else to answer."
Q: What if through dialog you get to a point where you as the teacher do not know the answer?
A: Very simple. I often say something along the lines of "Great question. This is well beyond of what I wanted to focus on today and in fact I need to think myself what the best/correct answer is. Are you cool with us revisiting this after the lecture?"
Q: With slides I can communicate so much more material per unit of time. So I use slides!
A: Fair point. But then, are you sure your "communication" actually reaches your audience? Also, I find that our main responsibility is to teach how to reason through problems and questions. The interactive teaching style works really well for this because students are engaged (better learning, you know, acetylcholine and all that) and can model after you how you reason through a question.
Q: Is your teaching style in essence the Socratic method?
A: In some ways, as I am trying to find the limits of existing knowledge to build on that. In some way no since I never insist with a single student and I always make sure it is not stressful but rather very rewarding to participate and engage during my lectures.
Q: I am curious to experience your teaching style.
A: Come and join us for the tACS/tDCS workshop at the Carolina Neurostimulation Conference. You will see me in action. I am looking forward to meeting you there.