NINDS's Building Up the Nerve

S2E5: Building Your Team

March 05, 2021 NINDS Season 2 Episode 5
NINDS's Building Up the Nerve
S2E5: Building Your Team
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke’s Building Up the Nerve is a podcast for neuroscience trainees that takes you through the components of a grant application with successful awardees. We know that applying for NIH funding can be daunting, but we’re here to help—it’s our job!

In this episode, our grantee guests discuss how they involved their mentor(s)/sponsor(s) in the application process to ensure the training plan reflects their individual needs and the mentor is able to provide the appropriate level of support and expertise to achieve those training goals.
 
Featuring  Jaroslaw Aronowski, PhD, Professor, UTHealth McGovern Med School; Alexis S.  Mobley, MS, PhD Candidate,  UTHealth McGovern Med School; Anna Majewska, PhD, Professor, University of Rochester; Monique Mendes, PhD, Postdoctoral Researcher, Stanford University; Mark Wu, MD, PhD, Professor, Johns Hopkins University; Margaret Ho, PhD, Postdoctoral Fellow, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

Transcript available at http://ninds.buzzsprout.com/.

Speaker 1:

Welcome to the national Institute of neurological disorders and strokes, building up a podcast for neuroscience trainees that takes you through the components of a grant application with successful awardees. We know that applying for NIH funding can be daunting, but we're here to help. It's our job.

Speaker 2:

Hello, I'm Marguerite Matthews, a scientific program manager, and I N D S.

Speaker 1:

And I'm a program director at NIDS . And where your host today

Speaker 2:

In today's episode, we'll focus on the mentor and sponsor statement section. We have a slightly different format today, as we have invited mentor and mentee pairs to talk about their process, we will discuss how they ensured that the training plan reflected the individual needs of the trainee, and that the mentor was able to provide the appropriate support and expertise to achieve these trainings.

Speaker 1:

And as always, our disclaimer still applies everything we talk about may only be relevant for NIDS . So if you're applying to a different NIH Institute or center, it's always best to check with them about their policies.

Speaker 2:

And for our guests today, we have Alexis mobiley and her mentor Yarik Aronofsky, Monique Mendez, and her mentor, Anya Majesco and Margaret ho and her mentor, Mark BU . So let's get started with introductions, Alexis you're up .

Speaker 3:

Awesome. So my current institution is the university of Texas MD Anderson cancer center, UT health graduate school of biomedical sciences. What I focus on and the lab is looking at the communication between ILC, tos and microglia and the aged brain between males and females, and trying to understand what ways that ILC twos either maintain or downregulate their cytokine signaling to microglia and how microglia respond. I'm using mouse models so far, I've gotten the diversity supplement. I'm working with Dr . Aronofsky, and I've also been awarded an F 31. That'll start in January. Oh, and my career stage, I'm sorry. I'm a fifth year PhD student and a neuroinflammation at the graduate school. One of my hobbies and passions outside of work is just being in the community , um , in different facets. So I'm currently singing with the choir, international voices, Houston, which right now we're doing a bunch of virtual programming, but I'm also one of the co-founders of black and amino. So I've been using that stage and platform to help advocate and celebrate and support black voices in immunology.

Speaker 2:

That's so awesome. Black and immuno has been such a delight to just watch. I don't know anything about immunology, but I very much enjoy seeing you all just be so wonderful and share your science along with many of the other black in STEM groups that are popping up. It's awesome. So congratulations

Speaker 1:

For being a part of that. Thank you so much. Yeah. We have a lot of fun and we have a lot of fun with the other black groups as well. So it's nice getting to kind of have a party. I call it a, an extended family reunion for all of us, just to be able to celebrate each other.

Speaker 4:

Hi, [inaudible] I am a professor and the vice chair of neurology at university of Texas health science center, McGovern medical school. I am here for past 35 years. So it is a quiet quite awhile . I have a long experience of a interacting with diverse group of students from graduate students to fellows over the years. And I have a super pleasure to have a interacting with Alexis, probably one of the smartest students we have here. She is fantastic. And when it comes to my past , I mean, I'm mainly interested in the neurological supervise skull or diseases, including ischemic stroke. And you just have her hemorrhage and trying to understand how actually those diseases exist in the background of age, as well as the other comorbidities , we are trying to develop translational approaches to actually come up with idea how to treat those diseases. Uh, when it comes to my hobby, probably a sport jogging is something that I can safely exercise this day . When the COVID is around being sometimes lonely in the park makes you feel fairly good. Otherwise I love classical music and a lot of outer intellectual challenges.

Speaker 1:

We definitely have a lot of runners and a lot of musically inclined people on this podcast. So I'm wondering if there are particularly popular hobbies among scientists for some reason.

Speaker 5:

Hi everyone. My name is Monique Mendez. I am currently a postdoc in Dr. Mark's knitters lab at Stanford university. I applied and received the F 99 K zero zero grant. And I am a member of the second cohort. I'm actually smiling from ear to ear right now because you don't usually run into like other neuro monologists that study microglia and hearing like Alexis calls about my cochlea. I was like, yay, go by cochlea in Dr. [inaudible] lab at the university of Rochester, where I did my F nine nine work. I focused on understanding and learning about microglia. Ontogeny how microglia are born and how they mature in the adult mouse brain. And we use advanced imaging techniques such as enviable to photon my cross to be, to really track these microglia and understand how they are interacting with other cells, how they are maturing in the adult brain. And my work in Dr. Marsh lab at Stanford is now focused on another type of glial cells known as astrocytes and how they participate in hippocampal network function and behavior. And in terms of a hobby kind of going with the theme as well. I love classical music. I play violin. I love music. And most recently I've picked up a little bit of tennis since the weather is really beautiful here in California. So yeah, I'm really excited to be here. Thank you.

Speaker 1:

I play string bass. So I feel like we're going to need to get together to have a little string quartet. We got to find a few other, a few other players. Yes, we have to

Speaker 6:

Tonya Majewski . I'm a professor at the , um, university of Rochester and the department of neuroscience. I also direct our neuroscience graduate program and my lab is really interested in how , uh , the brain changes with experience. Uh , so mechanisms of plasticity, both in health and disease and largely focused on how different cell types interact lately, particularly how microglia and neurons interact. And , um, as for a hobby, I have three boys between the ages of five and 15, and they are my hobby. There's pretty much nothing else in my life except driving them to all their various activities and having fun with them. So to be like, especially in the pandemic . Yeah .

Speaker 1:

Hi everyone. My name is Margaret ho . I'm currently a postdoc fellow at Johns Hopkins and Baltimore, Maryland, and the school of medicine. And I work with Dr. Mark woo . The grant that I applied for successfully is the K 99 under the brain initiative and my research aims to study the functional and genetic heterogeneity of astrocytes in the fly brain and their role in sleep behavior. And so I'm really excited to actually, so many of us are studying Gloria. That's a great cohort. So astrocytes are representing a large portion of cells in the brain, but they're not as , um, studied as well as neurons. People have shown that they're important for formation and modulation of neural circuits. And there's lots of evidence that they play roles in signaling and behavior in the brain. Um , and the goal of my research is to systematically investigate genes related to astrocyte heterogeneity and diversity, and to study the local astrocyte neuron interactions, regulating sleep and arousal using imaging and behavior. Um , and my plan is also to use these experiments to generate genetic tools that allow me to study specific astrocyte populations. So this was my first application ever for an NIH grant , and I've helped former PIs rights NH grants before, but this is my first time as an applicant, but I have applied for other awards, like the NSF CIF RP. And one of my favorite things to do outside of work is just go outside and go running on trails and be in nature. I love that. Well , we've got the neuro immuno crew and the running crew. I know it wasn't even on purpose. I swear

Speaker 7:

Last but not least. Hi everyone. I'm Mark. Woo . I am a professor of neurology at Johns Hopkins. So , uh, you know , my lab is interested in studying the molecular and circuit basis underlying sleep. We use a fruit flies in mice to study these questions. In addition to running a basic science lab, I'm also a practicing physician. So I see patients in sleep medicine clinic on a weekly basis, ranging from things like narcolepsy and hypersomnia and restless leg syndrome to sleep apnea. And I also attend on the neurology wards in the hospital two to four weeks out of the year. And so that was an interesting experience that summer when I attended and it was during the pandemic and it was a very different experience than normal in terms of NIH awards that I've received. I guess I've gotten awards throughout my , uh, sort of career trajectory. When I was a graduate student, I had an F 31, and then when I was a post-doctoral fellow with a meta Seagal, I applied and obtained a [inaudible] award. And then as a PI, I have gotten multiple [inaudible] awards. Um, in terms of my hobbies or passions, I think it's pretty much in the same boat as Anya. Uh, we have two small children who are seven and four. And so pretty much when I'm not doing work or seeing patients, I'm basically doing stuff for them. For example, this fall. Um, my daughter did soccer for the first time and I was the coach, although I had never played soccer before. So I had to, like, I had to buy like soccer for dummies, read it and then learn all the rules and then coach the kids. So that took a while, but it was a fun experience. And we did have a, like a seven in one record. So I just wanted him to point that out there wasn't do the coaching. We just had some excellent players. Oh , that's great. So let's start big picture. We were talking about the mentor and sponsor statement. What are we trying to achieve with this statement with what is its purpose within the larger context of the grant?

Speaker 3:

So I think when it came to my mentor and sponsorship statement, it was really important for me to highlight that not only was I doing the work, but in cases where I may not be prepared to do the work, how my mentors and sponsors were going to help me bridge the gap between point a and point B, but not only that with science, how they were going to support me academically career wise and make me a whole well-rounded scientist overall. And so I really try to focus on what things did I need to be a scientist and what I felt like I needed, how my mentors were going to be able to supplement that, but then also making sure that my mentor saw any holes in my training, which sounds a little rough, but, you know, we, hindsight's always 2020. And as Dr. Aronofsky mentioned, I mean, he

Speaker 2:

Has 35 years of experience. And so he's able to see where I'm at as a young developing scientist and get me to where I need to be and where I want to be long-term .

Speaker 7:

So I was just going to say, yeah, from the mentor perspective about the mentor statement, what I try to do is really personalize it to highlight the particular strengths of that person, because every , uh, you know , every person has special strengths and special skills. And, and so I try to really tailor it to their particular situation. I'd like to try to tell the story also of the narrative of their training and how they got to where they want it to be. And I want to also emphasize the , the commitment and the passion they have for science. And then I agree that it's also important to talk about how we will, as mentors provide the training and the background to kind of get to where they need to go to highlight those areas where they can develop and then how we can provide that with very specific and detailed points. I think that's an important point to make, which is that when you write these things both as the mentor and the mentee, you want to be specific, you want to provide details. You don't want to just say, Oh, so-and-so loves science. You want to show how they love science, which is kind of a common point about good writing, which is that you want to show and not say. Um, but yeah, I think those are some of the basic things I would kind of comment on in terms of the mentor statement.

Speaker 4:

So if I could add anything, I had a, actually the opportunity to seat on the AF 31 study sections for approximately seven years. So reviewing quadrants that are similar to Alexis. And one thing that actually transpired from that is that all of those kids are just incredibly smart. And right now, in order to make someone who you try to promote and honest situation, the fuel has to be presented as somewhat better and or different. Otherwise it's very difficult to somebody a differentiate them during the review process and when it comes to the scientific point, I mean, obviously project has to be very interesting and I believe that the ground should be reading the well. However, very often helps when you see in the ground that basically it is being done by the students, by the applicants, not necessarily by the mentor, otherwise personalize us, you have heard personalized. And one more personalized, generic statements are very boring and not necessarily very convincing.

Speaker 2:

I think that's a great point to bring up about not having generic statements, but I think that can be hard, right? When so many graduate students are having a very similar experience in terms of expectations set by the graduate program, expectations about rigor. And

Speaker 1:

If you all would talk about how you work together, both the trainee and the mentor to ensure that you're on the same page and you're not crafting a generic mentor statement. Yeah, I think in general it seems like the most effective mentor statements are ones that really like echo the detailed plan that , that the applicant themselves house has actually come up with. So they shouldn't be echoing like the detailed plan, the goals and the steps that need to be taken for the training of the applicant and the support that's needed to make it happen. Yeah , it's very much not a generic boilerplate ,

Speaker 6:

But I will say that there are things that are common to all graduate students. Like you said, so starting off with a generic statement where this, these are the points that every graduate student needs to have in their experience. We need to hit all of these different things. Um, now how your path through them might be very different. So I do think that sort of evaluating strengths and weaknesses and having a plan for building on the strengths, not just saying, Hey, you're really good at that. So we're not going to focus on it because you can always do more with strengths and really develop them. But then also addressing the weaknesses head on and saying, you know, you haven't had as much experience in this, and this is an area of growth. You don't have to have it be a weakness. Even you can phrase it much nicer than that. And , um, therefore focusing the plan on different areas and supporting some areas more than others. But I think starting off with the generic plan is actually a great place to start and then individualizing from there. Yeah .

Speaker 3:

I think also as a graduate student, it's important to have these constant conversations with your mentor. And I think that's what made my mentorship statement easily personalizable. That's not a word, but, you know, because I mean, even from the jump when I met with Dr. Aronofsky for my rotation, I mean the very first conversation we had was what do you want out of your graduate degree? And I think having that idea from the beginning really helped me set the stage for anything in the future and let me have my goals to completing my degree. And so even if you may not know until you're writing your grant of like, Oh, what do I want from this? It's still a journey of understanding what you're trying to get out of your training. And if you still haven't had that conversation with your mentor, it's important to start them because it's , you can start setting goals so that in the end you have reached whatever metric you want for yourself. Because even though we have, you know, the cookie cutter qualifications for any program, you still are able to personalize it for your goals because we aren't all going to end up in the same areas and the same expertise. So just understanding yourself and how your mentors can get you to that.

Speaker 1:

I'm actually like nodding. So like vigorously over here to Alexis. Like, I completely agree with what she said. I think early on, even before Anya and I, about the F 99,

Speaker 5:

We had these conversations, like on your new , I wanted to apply for like an F grant of some kind very early on. She knew I wanted to pursue a post-doc in the future when I was done with my PhD. So having those conversations, making sure we're on the same page, I think that really helped us create the mentor sponsor statement, like very easily and included a lot of the information of where I see myself in like 10 years. So I think one of the biggest things, and I will really echo what Alexa said is having these conversations really early, making sure you have this open communication with your mentor so that they know, like, where do you see yourself, what you'd like to accomplish in your PhD and after.

Speaker 8:

And so to that point of thinking about, you know , building on my strengths and figuring out ways to mitigate any potential weaknesses that might be there. Uh , one of the things that we talk about a lot in our offices, this is quote unquote gap analysis approach. So one of you that used this approach wants to explain what it is and you might've used it without, without actually calling it that, but what it is and why it's helpful as a framework.

Speaker 6:

Sure. I love gap analyses. And I don't know that I use them terribly formally , but I think they're very, very useful. The gap analysis is basically an evaluation of where you are right now, a very Frank evaluation of what things look like at the current time. And then a very clear idea of where you want to go. So, as Monique said, what are you goals? Where do you see yourself in a few years as you're finishing grad school after grad school, what , what do you want to do in the future? And then charting out a path between where you are now and the goals that you see for yourself. And we've already touched on this, but as you go from where you are now, you realize what things need to be done, what things are missing, and you can chart a very specific plan for how to get to the future. And I think that's, I think it needs honesty in both your view for the future, both of your assessment of where you are right now. But I think that's where all the power of it lies is where you realize, well, I really will need X and I just not there yet. Um, and then you can write a very specific plan for what kind of framing you need to get to your goal. And I think those kinds of specifics and laid out goals, milestones are really powerful. And I think that's what really moves reviewers on these panels is if you see that someone's thought it through very, very carefully and they have a really good plan with very, very specific things and that will get them to where they want to be. And I think the other point I want to make about this is that you are not beholden to the plan. In fact, most of the reviewers will not say, Oh my goodness. You know, in your report

Speaker 8:

A year out, she's doing something completely different. This is not what we gave her money for. People expect plans to change, but they also want to see that you've thought about things carefully, that you can make good plans. And then if you have to pivot, that's great. So, you know, you don't have to feel like you're really locking yourself into something, but you're just showing that you're very thoughtful about what you mean .

Speaker 2:

And I think the thoughtfulness piece is what helps separate a generic mentor statement and training plan from one that says, I know that this person is going to do everything else. These other graduate students are doing in terms of expectations, but this , this specific training needs these things to strengthen their abilities, to become a stronger scientist. So that's , uh , those are really great points. Anya , thank you.

Speaker 8:

Yeah. And keeping your latter point at that plans can change. We did have an episode in season one where we talked about, you know, where is the line between a natural expected change and a change that might need a program director's input it's um, if you have a substantial change in your research direction is like, then you're going to want to check in with your program officer. But, but that happens too. Sometimes people even changed mentors. And, and so if that's a situation that any of our listeners find themselves in, like, please go back to season one. We did touch on that as well. So thank you for bringing up both those points.

Speaker 1:

So I think actually I didn't realize that we were doing a gap analysis, but I think the way that Mark and when we have our meetings, it kind of ends up being kind of like a gap analysis. So, you know, we'll have some meetings that are very focused on data and experiments of plans for those things. But then we'll also have periodically these meetings where Mark will say, these are some short-term goals, but then like, what are your midterm goals? And specifically, what do you think you need to do? Um , where do you actually need to put your effort to get there? Um, so I think that's very, very helpful to actually outline those specific steps. So I didn't know that was doing gap analysis, but when I looked up what gap analysis was, I was like, yeah, that's actually what we've been doing.

Speaker 2:

It doesn't matter what you call it, it's that you're taking part in it. And you're effectively evaluating yourself, allowing others to evaluate you right. And say, Hey, where do you think I am on this? Or I need to pivot because you might just need a new set of skills to carry out a different part, a different experiment.

Speaker 1:

I think it's definitely very important because applying for the K9 nine, you really are. I mean, the whole grant is kind of like a gap analysis in a way, because you're, you're saying, you know, I'm here, I'm a mid or senior post-doc and you know, I want to be at the stage where I want to be an independent investigator and what do I need to do to , to get there.

Speaker 2:

And Mark, do you have anything else to add in terms of how you see the nest , the need for finding these areas for growth? What , what was your approach? Was it trial and error? Did you, did you figure this out as you went along or was it something that you yourself experienced as a trainee? No , I, my take

Speaker 7:

On this as far as gap analysis and actually even related to the other questions is to be an effective mentor. You have to kind of know your mentee and you have to care about them. And I think that those are kind of the first two principles . And so I tried my best and it gets harder as the lab grows in size to get to know them as people to understand their kind of working style, the way they think about things. And it's because some people respond better to certain approaches and some people do better with other kinds of strategies. So I think, I think that's really the heart of it is to get to know the CR the mentee and then care about their success. And then I think everything kind of flows from that. I mean, then it becomes the details of, okay, we need to remember to sit down periodically. I usually call them sort of like what Margaret mentioned it . I just sort of call them the sit-downs. And I say at the beginning of those meetings that we're not going to talk about your work or your science, but we're going to talk about your career trajectory, your goals. And I think NIH has all these things like IEP plans and things like that, which I was kind of , I've kind of been doing this before all these acronyms and abbreviations came up, but it's all really the same idea, which is just meet and talk about their goals and plans and then sort of like, and get to know them and really talk about that . I think that that, that makes for a more effective mentor , mentee relationship and open communication and that , which I think helps. So I guess that's kind of how I would respond to how I sort of look at addressing these kinds of things. I love that

Speaker 4:

One VoLumen that in my opinion, is tremendously important in the training is interacting with the Otter graduate students . I think that very often we are being treated as someone who they have a little bit of a distance door and therefore probably facilitating their ability to interact with different places who basically are aligned with their interests are aligned . Those are projects and allowing them to learn or new new concept is tremendously important. Obviously all of that has to be under control of demand mentor, but I believe that a lot of energy in graduate students, as well as the Paul's books comes from their ability to interact with the ride group of colleagues.

Speaker 8:

I don't think we really have touched on this yet, but , um , one of the things that we recommend, including in the mentor statement and sort of in your role in general are milestones. And so once you've established your goals, you need to find ways of measuring whether you're meeting those goals or not. So how did you approach establishing your milestones and formulating them? Did you feel like this was a relatively straightforward and easy task, or was it something that you struggled with?

Speaker 3:

So I think something that's really good about their graduate school is that we actually have a list of the cookie cutter milestones that we have to meet. And we have to meet with our mentors each year and get the signs and go over it and having that cookie cutter type thing, I was able to put in what I wanted to do with each year to help me set the goals that I wanted to, to reach. Um, and so I think that was really helpful when it came to just science in general. Um, another thing that our graduate school also incorporates is the individual development plan or the IDP, and being able to do that and also have those milestones a little bit more objectively, I would say , um, is also nice. Cause then you just kind of get these reminders like, Hey, you said you were going to do this. And so that helps keep you accountable, but then it also helps you realize like, okay, maybe I didn't hit this milestone because of X , Y , Z . So this is how we're gonna change the plan, or this is how we're going to , you know, circumnavigate this. And I think that's always important with science is just being able to be flexible. You can have everything perfectly written out and in some parallel universe it's going to work, but we're here on this earth and that's not always how it works. And so , um , I think it's nice if you may not maybe, you know, your graduate school doesn't provide something like that, but I think it's so easy if you look at whatever's required of you. Um, and then just set that to a timeline was always important. And so that just keeps everybody accountable in the longterm .

Speaker 5:

So I think what I did in terms of making sure I was on top of my milestones was that I actually pointed out my training plan that I sent into the NIH for my F 99. And I expanded on that and I would check that like periodically, and that was my internal like check to make sure that I was meeting all the goals that I wanted to, in terms of my professional development, the conferences I'd like to do the papers and the reviews I'd like to send out for that year. And I would also bring up any of the things that I was having trouble getting to that goal to Anya making sure like we were both on the same page, but one of the really nice things that I appreciated too, was my committee meetings. I feel like those were really a good place to really put things into perspective and having like a number of like experts essentially in like your project and you , there was really helpful to give you an idea of you telling them, okay, these are the goals I'd like to set. And then kind of bringing you back a little bit. Can you share, you are actually like thinking about everything and all the work that you have to do. So that was really, really helpful for me to remain accountable and also to achieve the goals that I set out for that year.

Speaker 2:

I think it's great that they allowed you the space to kind of just dream big and, you know, you can scale it back in terms of what goes on paper, right? Like what's actually submitted and even, you know, kind of keeping you on track. Like, well, maybe that's a little ambitious in that sense, but not telling you, you have to think realistically about this, right? Like it's a nice have , uh , a

Speaker 1:

Really large scope, you know, you shoot for the moon and then you sort of like, say, okay, wait , are you , the star over here is like a good place to , to actually target for a takeoff , so to speak. But

Speaker 6:

I think it's really important when you do come up with your milestones to , um, to think, realistically, I think that's something that I see in study section all the time is you want to strike this really delicate balance between being ambitious and doing lots of things that will provide you with fantastic training. And this is true for the training plan. It's also true for the scientific plan as well. So you want to do cool things and you want to do a lot of things that will help you in the future, but you don't want to do so or propose so much that it's actually taking away from your training and keeping you from publishing your papers and getting your experiments done. So there's a very, there's a very tight balance. And I think that's something when you're looking at your milestones, you have to sort of get outside from yourself and say, this is great, but which are the most important ones what's going to be realistic. What's going to be critical to my development rather than just sort of more stuff that would be fun to do.

Speaker 1:

It's , it's interesting to hear how do you actually go about achieving and making, making yourself accountable to all these milestones? Because in the postdoc , it's not as structured as the graduate program where it's very clear, you're going to have at least yearly committee meetings, you're going to be accountable to having a lot of opportunities to present your science . So I think with the postdoc , you have to be a lot more intentional and actually outlined your specific plan for, you know, what conferences do you want to go to? Where do you actually intend to present your work? When are you going to meet with your mentors, not only your primary mentor, but also all your co mentors and your advisors. So I think , um , it's pretty important to actually write that in the grant. Like certain ones I will meet with them every six months or if some of them I meet with them monthly. Yeah. So being very specific about those things and finding the opportunities that the less intuitive look attending and participating in the lab meetings of your comment or things like that. I think having that constant feedback on your science from a variety of different places is going to be helpful to make sure that you are progressing in a way that's efficient. I think that's a great point, especially to your point about postdocs . You're almost like the stepchildren that kind of get forgotten. You don't really have any structure it's really kind of throwing you into the fire and allowing you to really take charge of how you want to be trained and being able to communicate that with the person you're training under and perhaps other people at the university or in your, in your department that , that are going to help you achieve those goals so that you can move into independence. Yeah. It's hard when you don't have a set timeline, but you have to kind of make it for yourself. Yeah. I'm, I'm actually like in the beginning stages of my post-doc month too . So I know Margaret has more experience , but one piece of advice I got from a postdoc , a senior postdoc was that very similar to what Margaret said is you have to be deliberate. You have to seek out , um , these meetings and making sure you're presenting your research and just checking on yourself essentially to making sure you're meeting those milestones over time.

Speaker 2:

So how did you all make sure that the mentor sponsor statement is integrated with , um , and compliments the rest of the grant and that it all felt like one cohesive application, especially since you , uh, since the trainees are expected to write the majority of this, how do you make sure that it all looks like the shows that you have really been thoughtful about your research proposal, but also your training plan and your mentor is also thinking about all of these things.

Speaker 1:

What I remember is that in terms of the order of writing the grants, the writing, the mentoring was actually came like on the later side of things. So, I mean, we had conversations obviously about the mentor statement before, but it's really, after you have written your research plan and after you've written your training plan, that the mentor plan actually comes in to it later, where it's outlining, what's the mentor's role in supporting and assuring that the other stuff happens if you do, after you've written the training plan and have decided on the training plan and the research plan, then the mentor statement kind of just comes and surrounds it.

Speaker 6:

I have a slightly different take on that. I do agree that there has to be a last pass to make sure it's integrated with the rest of the grant. But I do think that basically giving yourself lots of time and that's not something Monique and I did cause we, we submitted her grant very quickly, but it really helps to give yourself lots of time to review revise. And I think the sponsor statement should be revised at the very last pass as well. And I think that I found with other students that their scientific plan, when we write it might go in a slightly different direction than we expected if it wasn't quite as worked out ahead of time. And then you have to add elements that that will provide the training for that scientific plan. So I think, you know, having everything set and buttoned up and then giving yourself a couple of weeks to go through it and make sure they all the elements align and they're all in place is a , is the way to go. I think few of us write grants that way, but that I think would certainly help a lot.

Speaker 3:

So I remember when I was writing through this grant, I felt like I was constantly repeating myself, but just saying things slightly different. So make it tailored to whatever I was writing. I felt like it was a massive echo chamber, but I think that's also important because I know this was my first time ever writing a grant and everything in the grad school had said, Oh, you know, it's just a seven page document. You have your specific aims and your six page research, you know , training plan. I was like, Oh, that's great. But then when you sit down and look at it, it ends up easily, a 70 page document that has to go through so many different people. And so having to keep track of all of that. But I think even when I may not have seen something for a long time, I knew my story was cohesive because even if I picked it back up, I was still able to say, Oh, this was this portion. And it still matches what I'm doing here. So even though it may seem very, very redundant. I think if you have that echo chamber in your head, it will continue to shine well with your other documents, because then you know, that your story is cohesive because you are saying the same thing. Um, and so if there's any discrepancies, then you're able to kind of cross check all of your documents and know, Oh, well I missed this portion or this part is lacking. I mean , I think that was really helpful in the end, just knowing that I had this redundancy, but also was able to make that section shine really helped with writing and making sure my story was consistent.

Speaker 1:

Yeah. Doing that last check of seeing it was a very recursive document referring to itself over and over. But just doing that last pass where you check that everything's internally consistent is really important because the reviewers will notice if it, if it isn't.

Speaker 3:

Oh yeah. Yes, they will .

Speaker 4:

One thing that I would probably like to chime in is that , uh , obviously it depends on the stage, but probably every single stage. And very often it applies even to ourself is to understand the big picture and actually simplify it. So very often graduate students are just simply chopped that they know a little bit here, a little bit there. And, and the time when it comes to writing your grants, you need to basically see where it belongs. And so you can actually present it as a piece that is missing and it , that you do understand where it belongs . So I think that being able to explain and allow the students and post-docs to sympathy where they are when it comes to a, the grant moving, the big feature is very important, then go to details. I also believe that obviously we all know that there is something like grantsmanship. So we all know that there has to be some sort of a elements of novelty and novelty to just simply realize may come from the scientific point of view, but also kind of come from the technical point of view. And actually both are very important. So if you a using this advance in the very novel project, what sort of tools are you using? I mean, you may have a choice to use this or the outer technique. And so often using technique obviously uses the past , but also at the same time, trying to maybe go ahead and propose the ethics that are being challenging and to recognize that Oh , and more assuring. So the component of novelty,

Speaker 1:

It's a very important, especially for a great point. All right . Well, thank you all for sharing your wisdom with us and our audience today. Can I ask each of you for one last piece of parting advice for future applicants and for the mentors who will be assisting in some of these applications?

Speaker 3:

I think it's already been stated, but be honest with yourself and be honest with your mentor. Um, it may seem scary. I know graduate students are still kind of learning their place in the hierarchy if you will, but the grant is really the time to kind of establish that and establish who you are on a national platform. And so even though you may not fully know that it's a great time, you know, I felt a lot closer to my mentors just because we went through this grant writing process and being able to really map out my future and put it in writing , um , and get that recognition for better, for worse. You know, once you get your scores, it's all up in the air, but I mean, it's, it's a really cool process. It's stressful, but when you get through it, then I feel like, you know, so much more about yourself and your science. So even though it may be daunting, just do it and learn to use your words and your platforms and your conversations to shape what you want out of your not only grant, but like what you want out of your degree.

Speaker 5:

I'll follow up on that. I would say one piece of advice would be to communicate with your mentor, communicate early, make sure that you both are on the same page. And I would say, yeah, that's like the biggest thing I would say that really helped , um , us, right ? The [inaudible] and also a really important thing is to set milestones and realistic goals for yourself that, you know, you can accomplish during this period. And one thing that Anya and some other mentors mentioned it's that the research is a big portion of the grant, but creating a balanced, like approach to your grant , including professional development, writing papers and so on is also important aspects of your training on your career. And yeah, that's all I have.

Speaker 6:

I can go, I guess I have two pieces of advice. One just from serving on these study sections for the last few years, I will say that the standards keep changing. I think that applicants, both sponsors and mentees are getting more and more sophisticated about the kinds of grants they put in. So if you're going to look at successful examples when you're looking at something from five years ago, that might no longer be a successful grant. So look at things that are more recent and for applicants, it is, it is brutal. There are so many talented, talented applicants like you. And if that's a that's great news for science, it's fantastic, but it is really tough to get funded and don't give up. I have had some fantastic students in my own lab who have had to put in their grants two or three times before they were successful. And , um, they are now, you know, very successful scientists in their own rights . So don't, don't get too disappointed when you don't get funded. Just try again.

Speaker 1:

Uh , I'll add , um, I mean, you guys gave me great advice already, but I'd also add that, you know, starting early and getting comfortable with having a lot of revisions and not being too wedded to all the specific components into your grants is maybe one lesson that I learned throughout this process. So, you know, as you're writing the grant, you might be, you might love like a specific aim, but actually if you just, if you just show your grant to a lot of different people, you'll get a lot of great comments and also try to send your, give your grant to, to other people, to read people who are not necessarily in your direct field. Maybe other people who are say like also neuroscientists , but aren't specifically working in your model system or working on your specific concept. I think that's very helpful. I definitely use the, we have an internal, I guess, internal review panel at Hopkins that my grant went through. And that was very helpful because you definitely get comments from people who are not so intimately familiar with your specific topic. Um, that's that reflects more the type of people who are going to review your grant, not just you and your advisor and your little echo chamber.

Speaker 4:

I think it's a really great idea to start from this specific aim page. And there were even some studies done by NIH when they have this trigger grounds versus the specific aims to some group of specialists. And default was actually the identical that the same grants almost been supported based on the specific games versus the whole ground. So by basically reviewing grounds for past 20 years, I can tell you that the climate that you will produce by reading specific aim page is going to last for all the remaining pages. So either the impression of the ground from the very beginning is positive and you learn a lot. It is so much easier to be supportive for the remaining pages. So I think that that's also helps to clarify your ideas and to prioritize your experiments . And then if you do have the specific aim idea and then select the experiments and , and provide the background for us so much easier to keep up with a remaining portion of the grant and the right that then the more

Speaker 7:

Way , and there is less distraction because you already have some template of what you want to achieve. So the remaining seven pages for six pages, you have to write a much simpler for you.

Speaker 8:

Certainly if you have a good framework and a good first impression, it certainly makes things a lot easier.

Speaker 7:

I was , uh , just gonna address, I guess, what is our advice for mentees who are having challenges talking about, you know, some of these issues or training plans or things with their mentor. So at Hopkins, I also serve on the post-doctoral fellow advisory board where we deal with the training and the welfare of all postdocs across the school of medicine. And so this issue comes up sometimes when, for example , uh , trainees or mentees that have decided that they want to pursue a diverse career path and not necessarily an academic scientific path. And sometimes, unfortunately the mentors are not supportive. And so my advice in those situations is basically the trainees should not be afraid to have direct and open communications with our mentor at early stages, even when you're rotating. Really, if, for example, if there's a graduate student who is not sure that they want to do academics and is interested in different paths that you talk to your mentor and just be direct about it, or you could directly ask the mentor, how will you support me if we do write a K grant or something like that together. And, and then if it turns out that you guys that the mentee and mentor have sort of different goals and different paths, then maybe it's not the best fit, you know, and that's better always better to figure out early than later. Lauren, do you have any advice for audience?

Speaker 8:

I'll just reiterate something we talked about earlier, which is that this plan that you put in your application doesn't have to include every single thing that you're doing. You can do more than what you put in there. So you really want to think about like presenting the reviewers with a very nice, well thought out, easy to read, easy to understand justified story. And it's okay if you're planning on doing other things that you don't include in there because they for viewers might think that they were a distraction or over ambitious. So just , um , definitely take Margaret's advice and give it to lots of people to read and , and take their feedback seriously and , and make sure that your grant is just wrapped up with a nice little book

Speaker 7:

And Margaret , what about you? Yeah, I'd like to also amplify what has been said previously about the relationship between mentor and mentee. It's an opportunity to, to really get a chance to show your interest , but also where you think you need to improve and where your mentor thinks you need to improve. I think that's something we

Speaker 2:

Do naturally. You just want to hit the ground running. And as a PhD student, I think many of us can relate. We're so ambitious and we want to do it on our own and show how, how great we are and thinking about a weakness as something that has to be a negative, but really it's just an opportunity to grow and mature as a scientist. And that shouldn't happen in isolation, right? This should be something that you are constantly working on with your mentor. And I think putting together the application and particularly the mentor statement, it gives you an opportunity to be very Frank about what the expectations are, what the desire is to move forward. And it should be something that if you aren't able to have that sort of conversation, that it may be assigned to find another training opportunity. And sometimes that doesn't, it doesn't sound like a great thing, but I think to Mark's point earlier, it may be something that has to happen in order for you to be able to have the best training experience possible. Um, and I think that's one of the great things about many of these training opportunities is that you're sort of forced to now think about these things that maybe you can easily just sweep under the rug, because you're just going through the motions, going through your program as normal. Um, and this really brings to light your own interests and how those aligned with that of the mentor. So,

Speaker 9:

Yeah ,

Speaker 8:

So that's all we have time for today on building up the nerve. So thank you to our guests this week for sharing our expertise and thank you to Nan DS program director, Dr. Bob riddle for composing our theme song and music. We'll see you next time. When we talk , uh , letters of recommendation and letters of support,

Speaker 2:

And you can find past episodes of this podcast and many more grant application resources on the web at, and I N D s.nih.gov. You can follow us on Twitter at, and I N D S diversity and, and I N D S funding, email us your questions at, and I N D S nerve [email protected] and make sure you subscribe to the podcast on Apple podcasts or your favorite podcast app. So you don't miss an episode. We'll see you .

Intro
Introductions
Advice
Outro