I’ve been thinking about doing a year in review for the lab but it has been difficult to think about. It’s been quite a rough year. Last year, I was very optimistic. We had gotten positive comments on a couple of declined NSF grants, we had just submitted 2 preprints, and I had both a new NSF grant and R01 under review. But some key grant rejections and difficulties had me reeling. Let’s see what went down in 2017:
  • Our first preprint was submitted and then accepted for publication in mSphere. This was the first independent publication out of my lab, so it was a big milestone.
  • Our second collaborative preprint was submitted for publication and received very reasonable comments. It is still in revision, but we decided to expand the story based on new results, so it might be a little while before it’s published.
  • My R01 got triaged. This was only briefly upsetting. The reviewers trashed it, but they were right. There was lots of useful and constructive feedback for what I now think was a rather conceptually messy grant.
  • Former undergraduate summer scholar, Brittany Jack, who became a research assistant in the lab was accepted to graduate school at our institution and also awarded the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship! She returned to the lab as a full time graduate student. Brittany is my first grad student!
  • My research assistant, David Mueller, was accepted into medical school, a lifelong dream of his. Congrats David!
  • We were awarded a small internal grant. Hurray!
  • My NSF grant (our second investigator initiated proposal submission, third overall submission if you include the previous declined NSF CAREER) was scored with low priority and declined. This result hurt for a very long time as I thought we had a great chance and the reviews were positive. There was some disagreement on the panel about the impact of the work and we needed to better sell this point by rearranging and removing aims. Part of what made this so rough is that it was declined at a time when, despite submitting a grant per month on average, we had zero large external grants in the pipeline. I found out that not having the hope of a pending grant feels a lot worse than a rejected one.
  • To avoid having this feeling ever again, I went on a grant writing frenzy and submitted an NSF CAREER, NIH DP2 (New Innovator), NIH R35 (ESI MIRA), NIH R01 within about 2.5 months.
  • I learned my NSF CAREER got an improved score (medium priority, in the range where proposals were funded) but ultimately missed the funding line. This got revised for another investigator initiated proposal submission in November-fingers crossed!
  • I was selected to be on eLife’s Early Career Advisory Group. This has been an amazing opportunity. It’s been wonderful working with the eLife folks to get support for initiatives important to me and other early career faculty.
  • We submitted our third preprint and got excellent feedback from attendees of the ASCB annual meeting. We’re now making a few key revisions before choosing a journal (target for journal submission, January 2018).
  • My postdoc Soumita Dutta, has completed her time with us. She is rejoining her husband who had to move across country a few months ago. In less than 2.5 years in our lab, Soumita published one paper and we are preparing her final paper for submission. This has turned into a really interesting story so keep an eye out for the preprint early next year. Soumita was my first postdoc and I’m thrilled to say she survived, enjoyed her productive time in the lab, and landed a second postdoc returning to her passion for host-pathogen interactions.
  • There are a couple of other bits of good news/recognition that I’m really proud of, but these have yet to be publicly announced so I’ll post about them early next year. Stay tuned!
Overall, I think my general feeling that it was a painful and difficult year came from the crushing pressure to get funding before things get dire. But going through all that’s happened, I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished and am cautiously optimistic about pending grants. Let’s hope that some of our hard work will pay off in 2018!
Categories: Reflections

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