Let’s start with the good. I have 2 new papers! Well… new-ish. I actually have had these out for a while, but have been too busy oh, I don’t know: finding a job, making a baby, finding a house, buying a house, growing a baby, finishing up my postdoc and such and such to write about them. Doesn’t your heart just bleed that life is going pretty swell for me at the moment? 🙂
This paper looks at variants in the PPAR-alpha gene, and whether they associate with individual differences in the responses of lipid traits and markers of inflammation to a 3-week fenofibrate trial in a general population sample. They do. Huzzah. This paper was my only ‘gimme’ project in my postdoc – someone handed me a complete idea and hypothesis (and actually, a partially written Introduction and Method) and asked me to do the analysis. All of my other postdoc projects have been entirely of my own conception and so this was a nice change. Especially nice when I complained that my results were not being written up quick enough, and my mentor said that if I wrote them up in a short amount of time, I could be first-author. Done. I like this paper because I learned a lot of new skills: way to visualize data and how to conduct and write up haplotype analysis for a start. I also had this paper rejected at first pass, and fought the editor and won – getting a re-review, and subsequently and invitation to revise and resubmit, which lead to the acceptance. I felt this was a nice little victory for a young postdoc. It was also a landmark paper as it is my first non-psychiatry paper in a journal with a high impact factor for its discipline – while postdocs are generally told just to ‘get their data out there’ as speedily as possible, I am finding more and more NIH reviewers grumbling about my open access, lower tier journal choices. Annoying. But that is a
grumble topic for another post.
When I asked to leave my postdoc early – 3 months before the end of my postdoc – my mentor said I could, if I produced 3 more papers by then. I think she was semi-joking (and also looking out for my best interests, seeing as she wanted to ensure my last 3 months were productive and not a waste) – but I accepted the challenge. This was the first paper (OK, it was partially drafted when she said that – but I pushed it through). However, as this was not on my mentor’s data, she said it did not count (cruel). Nonetheless, it is a neat paper anyway.
I work on NMR-data: it measures lipoprotein subclasses, rather than the usual lipoprotein classes of VLDL, LDL and HDL. Yes, that was a steep learning curve from Psychiatry. But, it was an interesting new measure. My problem was getting papers published on it, as far too many reviewers did not trust that this ‘new’ measure could be useful. Luckily, some more high profile papers using NMR have come out, but I decided it was time for a systematic review on the utility of NMR and lipoprotein subclasses. I assembled a crack team (read: no of high profile PIs whose names could help give my paper credibility) and wrote a paper summarizing the findings of studies on NMR and Type II Diabetes. This is that paper.
So, good to get two out. Taking stock of my CV I have re-divided up the origins of my papers. Not to where they were submitted from, but to where the data and ideas came from. Which leaves me with:
1 first-author paper from my MSc
7 first author + 4 other papers from my 3 year PhD
9 first author and 1 other paper from my 32 month postdoc
4 more submitted first author and 9 others from my postdoc.
Grand total: 17 – 21 first author papers and 5 – 14 other papers from 5 years and 8 months in Science. Of course, it is all about skills, ideas, creativity, clinical utility and pushing the Scientific needle more than papers. But no one appears to have told NIH review committees that.
This has been on my mind recently. I come from a discipline, and an environment where authorship was very much respected. In fact, more than once, I saw people chucked off papers for not really contributing either vast amounts of data or something Scientifically unique. First- and last- author were best; second author extremely respected, and any author worth something. I am discovering this is not so the case where I am now. I am discovering that it is acceptable to take part in a consortium analysis, receive the data, hand it over to someone else to analyze, hand the results back, and be a co-author (I, personally, have a PERSONAL and possibly foolish strict policy against this, and have actively withdrawn from 2 papers I did not contribute much to). It is also not uncommon to be on a paper because you have similar interests, are part of the group or have political power. The upshot? I had it confirmed yesterday by an independent (and highly respected) researcher at a different University what my mentors here have subtly conveyed to me all along: anything that is not first- or last- author is not worth @!%^. (I recently realised that I have some sub 18-year old readers, so have cleaned up).
Now, this is not strictly true. Some additional potential benefits include, but are not limited to:
-Adding to your overall rate of publication
-Adding to your h factor
-Potentially justifying collaborators / mentors on a future grant application ‘I have picked Dr. X as my mentor as we have successfully published before’
-Giving you the chance to learn new skills / a new perspective. I learned an awful lot from my collaborations / interactions with the CHARGE consortium, which so far have only contributed minor authorship to my CV
-Getting your name familiar with some more people in your field – a foot in the door for job applications (this happened to me twice in my short job hunt)
-Giving you the chance to justify that you have, at least in a small way, worked in a certain area / on a certain phenotype / with a certain analysis method. It is up to your conscience how stringent you are with these claims relative to your actual contribution, but it can help fill in ‘gaps’ of a story for a grant application.
-And OF COURSE, let’s not forget: you may get the chance to contribute to much more accurate Science (I am thinking specifically of consortia analysis here). Which is the most important thing of all. Which I do believe. When I am not suffering under the weight of grant rejections / people with better CVs than me.
But seriously, academia, all this claiming false authorship: it is actually NOT doing us any good, because in a lot of cases, it is not being counted. In fact: it seems to be causing us harm by its very nature. I feel sorry for people crossing the pond / changing from fields where it is different: very valid contributions are overlooked.
*Steps off soapbox*
End of the K99 story or Kanoeing is bad K99 Karma
So, I published part 1 of my K99 story, and then part 2, and it is time to draw the story to a close. At part 2 NHLBI had decided, effectively, not to fund K99s my cycle by publishing unbelievably conservative paylines – mostly as a lack of having a budget (thanks Congress) or a director. Optimism abounded that the paylines would increase and mine would be in the fundable range. Optimism, but no guarantees. So, advice from NIH as to how to proceed, given that I had used up my one resubmission was, and I quote, “go and find a faculty position and deal with the K if it comes”. Which I did. My dream faculty position actually. Which I start in 3 weeks (Eeeek).
Then. Up went the paylines, and along came word from NIH that they probably wanted to find my K99. So I merrily went about moving it to Texas (what a start to a new job!). Then I went canoeing. Always a damn mistake. A bit of back story: when I wrote the very first draft of my K99 I wrote it entirely on my own without any help from my university (for various stupid reasons of my own doing). Whatever you think of this particular Plan of Action, but submission day I had therefore been up until 2 am every night for about 3 weeks, and was an emotional husk of my former self. While the Science was pretty OK (actually, pretty good as it got a good score in the resubmission) the actual budget and technicalities were either atrocious, or missing. And somehow, I had obtained my Department Chair’s signature without my Department Chair knowing (never underestimate me when I am determined). So upshot, a very tired and emotional Lekki got told her K99 couldn’t go in this cycle. Which lead to tears (small tears in my mentor’s office, massive, massive amounts of uncontrollable sobbing the next day in Jason’s Deli). When the tears started, my very sympathetic mentor said ‘put it behind you now and just focus on canoeing on Sunday for our Department trip!’.
Fast forward about 1.5 years (seriously) and I gaily sign up to another Department canoe trip. Having just heard that NIH will fund my grant, 2 days before I go canoeing, NIH informs me that as K99s were for postdocs, with a bridge to faculty positions in the R00 phase, that I couldn’t have it if I was faculty. Ummmm…. #$%^sticks. I seriously had not anticipated this. Neither had many of my collaborators / mentors. I personally assumed I would either step down as faculty for a while, or go straight to the R00 – the only condition for receiving the R00 being the obtaining of a tenure track faculty position. But, this was not to be.
My mentor worked hard to figure out a way I could be a postdoc, and still earn enough money to support my new mortgage and new baby. Quite outside of her responsibilities, and very generously of her. But computer says no.
Basically, my PO asked if I had accepted a position. Ummm….. let me think about this…. Hmmmm… define accepted… well…. My PO qualified: “Have you signed a contract?” Ummmm…. have I… is that what that was…. ummm… OK, no K99 for me. Very sad. Small cry. Large swim. Moderate chocolate intake.
Basically, the sum total I have learned from this, is that if I ever want a grant, I must never go canoeing again. I am pretty sure that is the main lesson here.
So: onward and upward. Time to start exciting new projects in Texas, and get out those other promised papers for my mentor (seriously, I now have 2.5 weeks to get 2 more written). So – that is why I am not spell checking / grammar checking this post. And I am dyslexic – hence the state of it.