Each year the NFL reviews which of its rules are under-enforced and identifies some points of emphasis for the upcoming season. I opened the doors to my own lab space on September 2nd, 2015 (~16.5 months ago). As we try to grow beyond our infancy, it seemed to be the right time to reflect on what we’ve done and what needs further emphasis at this point.

Reflection (papers):
As of today, we have published 2 preprints, one is entirely the product of our new lab (currently under journal review) and the other is a collaborative paper (soon to be submitted). We also have made significant progress on another major paper that I couldn’t be more excited about. We have definitive data supporting different roles for actin in assembly of the microtubule-based flagellum. This is in the vein of my previous published work but we have some exciting new data using new mutants and using some cool new methods we recently developed to tease apart different trafficking mechanisms. I can’t wait to talk about this work at some upcoming seminars and publish the preprint! I won’t go into all the other ongoing work in the lab but we do have exciting data on several additional projects that are a bit further out from publication, though some are scheduled for submission in 2017.

Reflection (grants):
At some point it stopped making sense to count every foundation grant application and letter of intent I submitted, but of note are the major federal grant submissions. In November 2015, I submitted my first NSF BIO grant, which was scored but not funded. The comments were constructive and helpful. I modified and expanded this grant for an NSF CAREER application in July 2016, which was also given a priority score/level but not funded. A different set of reviewers had entirely different comments, but these were also largely constructive. The NSF program officers have been very helpful in providing feedback during this process. If you haven’t already guessed, I love the NSF culture. I sent in another version of the NSF proposal to the regular grant mechanism last November. Based on the timing from the previous year’s submission, we should hear about this near the end of April. During this time, we also had been developing a different project that got submitted as an R01 to the NIH in October. That gets reviewed (and I hope discussed) next week. I am serving as an NIH Early Career Reviewer and hope this will help the R01 resubmission in July. We have about 18 months before we run out of startup funding (we’re in a surprisingly beneficial ‘use it or lose it’ situation), so the race is on and our foot is on the gas! To self: I’m not panicked. Really, I’m not!

Reflection (training):
We have had a fair amount of growing pains trying to fill the lab with people that buy into what we’re selling. However, I’m thrilled to say that we have a truly amazing group of researchers in the lab that are eager to learn, bright and hard working. Several of these people have applied to medical school and graduate school and I hope that we’ve done everything in our power to get them closer to their goals. The postdocs in the lab are also doing a great job sharing their work. At the American Society for Cell Biology annual meeting last year, we had a total of 5 posters on independent projects and one talk (two posters and a talk from a single very productive postdoc, Soumita Dutta). We held a Career Development Day a couple of weeks ago to review everyone’s individual career development plan and make sure each person was on track to achieve their research and career goals for 2017. I’m really proud of what this thoughtful group has accomplished and are continuing to work towards.

Points of emphasis for 2017:

  • Get funded!
    We will continue to push out the publications but put an even more urgent emphasis on applying for all eligible grants, large and small. I’m planning an R21, DP2, and R01 and NSF resubmissions (as needed). We’ll also go after some smaller internal pilots early in the year and re-assess as the year progresses.
  • Ownership for lab members!
    @biomickwatson wrote this outstanding piece for trainees. What struck me most was item 1 regarding students taking the “lead” or taking ownership of their own projects, ideas and career outcomes. In our haste to get the lab firing on all cylinders and get something on the books publication-wise, something was definitely lost in trainees having the freedom to fail and find their own way. This is largely my fault for being so openly goal oriented. However, the lab does know that I want them to feel free to fail locally knowing I’ll stop them from failing globally. I am going to make a bigger effort to let go and hope the lab takes advantage of this environment to really take some risks and grow their confidence/independence.

We have a lot of goals for this year but hopefully if we focus on these points of emphasis, we’ll make some progress on those fronts. I’d love to hear about your strategies and what the points of emphasis are for your lab this year. You can reach me most reliably via Twitter or email.

Categories: Reflections