Grant Committee Reflections – what I learned

Following on from my previous post, last week I had my first experience of being on a BBSRC committee, and it was certainly interesting. Main points:

1. The committee takes its responsibility seriously. IMs take time to read and understand the grants – even when on topics outside of expertise – and try to form fair and objective judgments.  The process – while time-consuming (and expensive) is also fair and robust. The discussions were respectful – even when there was disagreement, the panel tried to form objective judgments based on the grants in front of them.

2. There is a scoring culture that new committee members have to adapt to. I was unsure how to calibrate from the 6 point scale the reviewers get to the 7 point scale the committee has – what was interesting is that there is a clear shared culture over what the scores – and especially in range from 5 to 6 – ‘mean’. So this means that IMs do tend to decide their own scores for grants – using the referee scores as a rough guide – rather than taking an average of referee scores. This is actually a good thing for two reasons. First, it brings consistency – if the committee members work to a mutual understanding of the scores, then they can score consistently, in a way that referees cannot, because their scores are much more individual and biased. Second, it means that what the referees actually write is more important than the score they give. A high score without clear justification is not worth much to the grant; a lower score, but with questions that are well answered by the grant authors, will not be adverse to the grant – indeed well-answered questions will help it.

So this means for reviewers: write good reviews. Whether your scores are high or low, make sure you have clear reasoning behind your score, and clear questions for the grant authors. For grant writers: don’t get too fixated on the actual reviewer score. Focus on the comments/questions and provide well-evidenced answers.

3. Most grants will have at least one IM who is not directly expert in its content. This means that it is really important for grant writers to have sections of the grant (why is the work important and what will it lead to) that are understandable by a broader range of scientists. The work plan should contain technical details – but if the whole grant is technical, it can be hard for IMs to ‘sell’ the grant to each other or the committee chairs.

4. There is a very embedded culture around preliminary data – that was clearly more manifest in the empirical biology members of the panel over the computational biology members. On some levels this is important, but on other levels perhaps it is given too much weight – to the detriment of more innovative research. Of course, it is crucial to provide evidence to support the hypotheses/assumptions of the work plan and choice of research activity. Equally, it is crucial to demonstrate that the lab can be successful in using the particular techniques, organisms/cells etc required for grant success. Without these a grant will not be successful. On the other hand, I do wonder how much value it truly is: preliminary data will have been produced by PhD students or PostDocs who most likely will no longer be in the lab by the time the PostDoc on the project starts. In the end it is the quality of that PostDoc that will make the biggest difference – their background knowledge, their ability to learn new skills, etc. A good postdoc will learn new techniques and skills; a poor postdoc will not – and none of that relates to the quality of the preliminary data. That is not factored into the entire grant process!

5. The funded grants were really awesome. It is a competitive process – and while there is some element of luck – the ones that reached the top were exceptionally good, and  many that will not be funded were also excellent.

 

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Research Associate/Fellow in advanced statistical modelling and machine learning applied to epidemiology of bacterial infection and antimicrobial resistance (fixed term)

Applications are invited from research scientists for the above post in the School of Veterinary Medicine and Science to join an exciting project dealing with antimicrobial/antibacterial resistance (ABR).

The successful candidate will work closely with an interdisciplinary and international team of academics and industrial partners. The project offers a unique combination of expertise in machine learning, statistical and mathematical modelling, bioinformatics, sequencing, cloud computing, microbiology, infection control, food safety, surveillance, epidemiology.

The applicant must have a PhD (or be very close to completion), preferably in epidemiology or data science.  Alternatively, the candidate must have a PhD (or be very close to completion) in statistics, mathematics, machine learning, or computational biology. In-depth expertise in the use of advanced statistical modelling and machine learning for data analysis in biological problems, preferably related to epidemiology of infectious diseases and antibacterial resistance is essential. Strong proficiency in programming/software development is required. Experience/expertise in the following subjects would be desirable: use of deep learning for data analysis, use of advanced statistical modelling and machine learning for the analysis of bacterial whole genome sequencing data and metagenomic data; development of diagnostics or forecasting tools; development of surveillance/monitoring solutions for infectious diseases.

The School of Veterinary Medicine and Science is committed to diversity and equality of opportunity.  The School holds a Bronze Athena SWAN award in recognition of its commitment to equality and diversity and advance the representation of women in veterinary medicine.

This is a full time, fixed-term available immediately until 31 December 2021. Job share arrangements may be considered.

Informal enquiries may be addressed to Dr Tania Dottorini, email: tania.dottorini@nottingham.ac.uk.Please note that applications sent directly to this Email address will not be accepted

Our University has always been a supportive, inclusive, caring and positive community. We warmly welcome those of different cultures, ethnicities and beliefs – indeed this very diversity is vital to our success, it is fundamental to our values and enriches life on campus. We welcome applications from UK, Europe and from across the globe. For more information on the support we offer our international colleagues, visit; https://www.nottingham.ac.uk/jobs/applyingfromoverseas/index2.aspx

Reference
MED069619X1
Closing Date
Monday, 1st July 2019
Job Type
Research
Department
Veterinary Medicine & Science
Salary
£27025 to £32236 per annum, (pro rata if applicable) depending on skills and experience (minimum £30395 with relevant PhD).

A trend towards more authors on my publications

I’ve noticed that I seem to have more papers with more authors – so I thought I would check to see if that trend is borne out in the data. Here is a graph of the number of authors in all my publications, against year of publication:

authors

With a quick and dirty linear regression trendline: gradient is 0.169 per year with a p-value of 0.00733. So there is statistical evidence to support an increase in the mean number of authors per paper over the 24 years I have been publishing, from a mean of about 2 authors per paper in 1995 to a mean of about 6 authors per paper now  (if you pretend that a linear regression is correct for these data – which it isn’t). Notwithstanding doing a better statistical job, I am happy to accept that the linear regression result is fair: I am writing papers with more co-authors. But why?

First, perhaps, is increasing depth of interdisciplinarity. All my papers are interdisciplinary – and many have authors from different disciplines – even my very first paper was written with academic medical doctors. But as my career has progressed there is increasing complexity – papers that describe research that includes both experimental and modelling work, or papers which contain three or more disciplines (not just two). Related to that is that I also tend to consult more widely about my work – so tend to have more authors who have contributed ideas, discussion, or secondary or tertiary supervision of students.

Second, perhaps, is that I am more open in my view of who becomes an author. Inclusion as authorship those colleagues who have contributed ideas or discussion or small elements (e.g. a database submission) can be a marginal decision (there has to be a boundary somewhere). In the past, I have tended to exclude, now I tend to include.

And so what? Actually, I feel happy and positive when I view this trend. I do not see myself developing as a ‘lone scholar’, but rather as someone who values working across boundaries and disciplines, including a wider range of people into my research. The problems we are tackling – especially antimicrobial resistance – needs this broader approach to be successful.

 

 

Grant Committee Preparations – what I have learned so far

This month I will serve for the first time on a BBSRC grant committee. Already, it has been an incredibly valuable experience. So far, I have selected grants that I might introduce, and now reviewed several of these grants as a panellist (which means the grants, the expert reviews, and the responses to the reviews). Points I have observed:

1. BBSRC use the technical summary to determine who on the panel will be introducing members for each grant. This means that every panelist reads every technical summary – so for many grants they might be the only part of a grant that is read by panellists. Too many technical summaries are too technical! They also need to sell a ‘wow’ factor to panellists outside of the field – as well as being clear about what areas of expertise the grant needs from an introducing member on the panel.

2. The standard of science is really high. I mean really really high. I am blown away by just how good so many of the grants are – and how many grants receive very high scores. There are going to be a lot of disappointed PIs who have written brilliant grants, that have received fantastic reviews, but which are not going to be funded, just because there are more brilliant applications than money to fund them. What this also means is that any small problem/gap in the science/logic may be enough to make a grant less competitive (how this pans out in the panel I will wait and see). Certainly, getting a grant is a bigger achievement than I imagined, and not getting a grant is nothing to be ashamed of – it is simply super-competitive.

3. The standard of grant writing, however, is somewhat variable. Main errors seem to be: (i) too much of the grant being too technical: please remember that introducing member panellists at best have expertise in some (but not all) elements of the grant, and can even have very little relevant expertise. by all means provide technical details for the reviewers, but make sure you sell to the panellists too (ii) Pathways to Impact statements full of material that belongs in Academic Beneficiaries. I am astonished by how many grants do this – seriously, 10 years after they were introduced, everyone should KNOW that PTI is about impact to non-academic sectors. Stuff about publications, conferences etc belongs in the Academic Beneficiaries.

4. Panel scores are on a different scale (0 – 6.9) to referee scores (1-6). This is completely strange, but has the advantage that panelists do have to think about how to score- you cannot just average the reviewer scores.

I’ll write another post after the panel.

My inaugural lecture is on youtube

Last Wednesday was my inaugural lecture. Thank you to all my family, friends and colleagues who came and made it such a special day; it was a real celebration. Thanks also for the people who helped organize it: Emma Hooley and Diane Levine, and also Steve Wang for use of a video camera.

The video of the lecture is now on Youtube. I am often out of frame – the camera was mounted on a tripod but nobody was operating it (except for one moment when one friend turned it slightly).

PostDoc Opportunity: Research Associate/Fellow in Machine Learning (fixed term)

Here is another great opportunity to work with Tania Dottorini and me in an exciting AMR project

FARM WATCH: Fight AbR with Machine learning and a Wide Array of sensing TeCHnologies

Applications are invited from research scientists for the above post in the School of Veterinary Medicine and Science to join an exciting project dealing with antimicrobial/antibacterial resistance (ABR).

The successful candidate will work closely with an interdisciplinary and international team of academics and industrial partners. The project offers a unique combination of expertise in machine learning, statistical and mathematical modelling, bioinformatics, sequencing, cloud computing, microbiology, infection control, food safety, surveillance, epidemiology.

Applicants must have, or be very close to completing, a PhD in statistics, mathematics, computer science, computational biology, engineering, physics or relevant computational fields. Candidates must have knowledge and experience in statistical modeling, machine learning and data mining methods and algorithms for processing heterogeneous, complex large-data, including sequencing, sensor and biological data.

The School of Veterinary Medicine and Science is committed to diversity and equality of opportunity.  The School holds a Bronze Athena SWAN award in recognition of its commitment to equality and diversity and advance the representation of women in veterinary medicine.

This is a full time, fixed-term from 1 May 2019 to 31 December 2021. Job share arrangements may be considered.

Informal enquiries may be addressed to Dr Tania Dottorini, email: tania.dottorini@nottingham.ac.uk.Please note that applications sent directly to this Email address will not be accepted

Our University has always been a supportive, inclusive, caring and positive community. We warmly welcome those of different cultures, ethnicities and beliefs – indeed this very diversity is vital to our success, it is fundamental to our values and enriches life on campus. We welcome applications from UK, Europe and from across the globe. For more information on the support we offer our international colleagues, visit; https://www.nottingham.ac.uk/jobs/applyingfromoverseas/index2.aspx

Job Opportunity: Research Associate/Fellow in Bioinformatics (fixed term)

A great opportunity to work on a project led by my colleague Tania Dottorini, in collaboration with Richard Emes and Matt Loose.

FARM WATCH: Fight AbR with Machine learning and a Wide Array of sensing TeCHnologies

Applications are invited from research scientists for the above post in the School of Veterinary Medicine and Science to join an exciting project dealing with antimicrobial/antibacterial resistance (ABR).

The successful candidate will work closely with an interdisciplinary and international team of academics and industrial partners. The project offers a unique combination of expertise in machine learning, statistical and mathematical modelling, bioinformatics, sequencing, cloud computing, microbiology, infection control, food safety, surveillance, epidemiology.

Applicants must have, or be very close to completing, a PhD in computational biology, computer science, mathematics, statistics, engineering, physics, or relevant fields. The candidate must have knowledge and experience in bioinformatics techniques and approaches, particularly related to genome biology and sequence analysis e.g. (genome assembly, sequence mapping, metagenomics, transcriptomics, and annotation).

The School of Veterinary Medicine and Science is committed to diversity and equality of opportunity.  The School holds a Bronze Athena SWAN award in recognition of its commitment to equality and diversity and advance the representation of women in veterinary medicine.

This is a full time, fixed-term post from 1 May 2019 to 30 June 2021. Job share arrangements may be considered.

Informal enquiries may be addressed to Dr Tania Dottorini, email tania.dottorini@nottingham.ac.uk. Please note that applications sent directly to this email address will not be accepted.

Our University has always been a supportive, inclusive, caring and positive community. We warmly welcome those of different cultures, ethnicities and beliefs – indeed this very diversity is vital to our success, it is fundamental to our values and enriches life on campus. We welcome applications from UK, Europe and from across the globe. For more information on the support we offer our international colleagues, visit; https://www.nottingham.ac.uk/jobs/applyingfromoverseas/index2.aspx