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NINDS Biomarker Programs at NIH: Neurological Disorders and Pain Q&A Webinar – December 11, 2019

March 13, 2020

[Lauren Ullrich] Hello everyone and welcome to the NIH
blueprint diversity specialized predoc to postdoc advancement in
neuroscience or the d-span award, which is the f99/k00 mechanism, webinar. I’m your moderator today my name is Lauren Ulrich and I’m a scientific program
manager in the office of programs to enhance neuroscience workforce diversity
at NINDS. If you have any questions during the webinar please use the Q&A
box shown on the screen. You will be muted so we won’t be able to hear you
but we’ll try to get to all of the questions that we can during the webinar.
But if any of your questions are not answered just email them to us and we’re
happy to answer them directly. So today we’re going to go through a few
introductions then we’ll do a short overview of the D-SPAN program and then
we’re going to hear from four awardees that currently have the D-SPAN award
about their process for applying and then we’ll have our Q&A. so our speakers
today are Dr. Michelle Jones-London, chief of the office of programs to enhance
neuroscience workforce diversity at NINDS Dr. Nate Harnett, a postdoc fellow at
McLean Hospital/Harvard Medical School Dr. Nadia Khan a postdoc fellow at Icahn
School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Dr. Alberto Lopez a postdoc fellow at
Vanderbilt University and Dr. Stephanie Noble a postdoc associate at Yale
University School of Medicine. So first up we have Dr. Michelle Jones-London
who’s going to give you a very brief overview of the F99/K00 mechanism. [Michelle Jones-London] Yes, thank you, Lauren. And so start out it’s really important to note that although
F99/K00 or d-span awards are held at held at NINDS, they are in fact a
collaboration or a collaborative effort across 13 different NIH institutes that
all have an interest in neuroscience and collectively we call that group the NIH
blueprint. So it’s important to know that as long as your research that you’re
proposing fits one of those blueprint institutes and you can see those
Institutes’ name below in the slide then you’re eligible to apply for the NIH
blueprint F99/K00. There’s other eligibility criteria but the science
being foremost. It’s also really good to keep in mind that other ICs now have F99/K00s, so you’ll want to pay attention to the FOA number. That’ll
tell you what program you’re actually applying to you can’t go by the
mechanism name alone. In terms of how the d span is structured for the F99/K00 award it really is during that first two years
when you have the F99 as a graduate student you should have about one to two
years to finish up your graduate work. And then, once that is finished, and if
you’re a successful D-SPAN awardee you would then have four years of the K00 to complete your postdoctoral fellowship. This award really, it goes, the
F99 and the K00 goes hand-in-hand and it’s for those who have an interest in neuroscience research but also the brain initiative,
if you’re interested in that research area you would be eligible to apply, as
well. In terms of other things that you’ll want to check off before applying
is that this program is intended for individuals from underrepresented groups in neuroscience NIH just recently released a diversity
policy statement so you’ll want to look at that notice to go through the
eligible categories but just for example it includes racial ethnic groups who are
underrepresented in neuroscience, persons with disability, and now we recently have
a very defined definition of those who would be disadvantaged. Secondly, you want to look at, as I said before, the time that you have remaining.
It really is for you finishing up your dissertation work and that’s one to two
years of research left at the time of the award.
You cannot just apply for the postdoc portion. If you’re applying for postdoc
research, you really want to look at the F32. That would be the appropriate
program to apply to and each NIH Institute runs those programs a little
bit differently, so you’ll want to research that. The other thing specific
about this is that you have to be a US citizen or permanent resident and that’s
something that really holds from most of our training awards. Only the general K99
would be something that you can apply to as a non citizen. In terms of another
question that we often get is if I have an F31 award am I still eligible for the
F99/K00? and you certainly are. The thing that would happen is
if you were successful and you got the F99 you would just end the F31. Also
people with diversity supplements are eligible to apply as well. The thing that
would take you out of eligibility would be if you are in a clinical or some type
of health professional dual degree program such as an MD/PhD where really
the timing for this, it should be seamless between you going to the F99
to the K00 and most of those training programs you would have to do some type
of internship or there would be a break and therefore you would not be
eligible for this particular award. And then finally, as we’ve already discussed,
you must have mission relevance to one of the neuroscience Institutes listed
in the FOA, but the good news is that this is pretty broad-based neuroscience
and so hopefully as long as you have a neuroscience focus you should be able to
find a fit. Today we’re going to, as Lauren already mentioned, people that
have been successful in applying for and receiving this D-SPAN award are going to
tell you a little bit more about the program itself, especially from their
perspective, it’s a great value to hear more from the outside world
in terms of how to put these together versus just the NIH perspective, but in
addition to what we’re doing today please know that we have a bunch of
other resources: we have a former webinar where it really takes you through the
mechanics of the FOA itself; we have a tip sheet for how to put together a
strong F99/K00 and that tip sheet is based on some of the the
weaknesses that we found in the summary statements; and then we always like to
give a nice shot out for our building up the nerve podcast that will not only
help you with the D-SPAN award, but just in general learning about from the
process of thinking about a research training application all the way to what
happens when it goes to review and what happens if and when it is awarded. So
these are all resources that you’ll want to keep in mind as you think about
potentially applying for this award. And then finally if you have specific
questions, that is our job that’s what we’re here for, we’d love to to help you
through this process and help you to become competitive for this wonderful
wonderful mechanism. And so now I’ll turn it back over to Lauren. Ok next up we have Dr. Stephanie Noble who is going to take you through her D-SPAN journey. All right hi everybody I’m
Stephanie I’m glad you all joined us today. my focus right now is in fMRI methods
development and I tried a few things before I came here. So I started as a
chemical and biological engineer at Princeton focusing on
protein modeling that I co-founded a EEG neurofeedback company, go blue labs, and
then I did my PhD at the INP at Yale with Todd Constable evaluating
reliability and validity of fMRI methods. And now I’m in doing my postdoc also at
Yale in radiology and biomedical imaging with Dustin. And here I’m kind of
shifting from evaluating fMRI methods to actually creating some of my
own. So we were asked to share some of our
top tips with you guys and I felt really passionate about sharing a little bit
more of how you would conceptualize the training component of these awards. So
this is the part that we tend to have the most questions about but actually
through writing the application that this is a part that I became as you
heard most passionate about. I felt like it was a really important opportunity to
look at the bigger picture. So you can step back and think about what motivates
you where you want to be in 5 to 10 years and really think of a roadmap of
how you want to get there. You can more formally operationalize this in a gap-based analysis. So all those questions that I talked about before, this is how I
would think about breaking them down for the application. So I start by
identifying a long-term career goal: “Where do I want to be in about five to
ten years?” Then I identify gaps, what stands in the way between me and that
goal. You don’t have to think of this as failures, you can think of this as things
that you need to complete your training, as all of us have things that we haven’t
done yet, that we really need to get to the next level. And then you think about
how you’ll go about filling those gaps. So I’ll go into detail of how I address
each of these points in my own training plan. So my long-term career goal was to
do at neuroimaging statistical and computational methodology development,
that’s more of a scientific goal, and then the professional goal, professional
context, was to be an independent researcher in a research intensive
University. And I identified gaps and you can see I really split this up into
scientific and professional gaps that correspond to the two parts of my goal.
So some scientific gaps were: I was really interested in doing methodology
developments but really in order to do this and make tools that are usable by
people, often in our field they’re encapsulated within a software and so I
thought it would be very useful for me to have some software development
background. I also wanted some more basic statistical theoretical background, like
more probability theory. That was really helpful for a lot of things I’m focusing
on right now. And so that’s just an example of some of
my scientific gaps. And then some professional gaps: I had done some
project management of my own projects but I wanted to develop more
independence from my mentors. I also had not ever done a job search at the
faculty level and I wanted to gain some training in those areas as well. So to
address those gaps, I broke down three different categories of things I
had to do and this is actually fairly common in some of the training grants
that I looked at at different levels. So I broke it into personalized tutorials
that’s like one-on-one tutorials, short informal coursework, and conferences
seminars and workshops. So personalized tutorials, for instance, I wanted to set
up one-on-one tutorials every other week with my primary mentor talking about
basic principles of software development. Short and formal coursework, for instance
our lab software is developed in JavaScript, our latest version BioImage suite web, developed in JavaScript, so I wanted to get some more of a foundation
in JavaScript. I’ve worked with MATLAB and R but I haven’t really done a lot
with JavaScript before. I also sought out some opportunities to do
academic job search workshops at the Yale Center for teaching and learning
and these, a lot of universities will offer many different types of
professional trainings that might be useful for you as you advance to the
next level. And then the conferences, seminars and workshops those are, you
know, things that you’ve already been going to or places that you think you
have an opportunity to network, to show your work, to learn more about other work,
and I had several in my my own field. And then there’s a specific component of the F99, which is that aim 3: that’s the plan for a postdoc. So I thought of this, I
approached this by first thinking about who I wanted to work with, who does work that
specifically aligns with my long-term career goal, and would help me fill those
gaps, and how would I go about meeting them? How would I go about interacting
with them and seeing whether they’d be a good fit? So identified a list of people
and identified some strategies such as networking at conferences, arranging for
one-on-one on-site visits, etc I want to say for the whole training
plan I felt that–and I think that I’ve heard from others as well and by looking
at other grants–specificity is really key. It’s really helpful to see a really
concrete plan, really detailed plan, you know, for the tutorials I wrote down that
I would meet with somebody, you know, every other week for an hour. It’s really
helpful to show the reviewers that you have thought about this in a lot of
detail. And in practice I know that NIH officials are aware that things
evolve over time. A particular tutorial might be less appropriate for you when
you actually solidify your k00, so if you propose something in your F99 and then
you end up working with someone else for your postdoc, they understand that things
might change and it’s just really helpful to have a detailed framework
that you can go back to and make adjustments to. Alright, so my second tip
is that it’s really useful to have as many example grant applications and
reference letters to look at as possible. So for me I talked about I looked at
some NRSAs, I looked at some other grants that were not NIH that had
training components, and some other grants that were NIH that had training
components. It’s just helpful to get a sense, especially if you haven’t written
an NIH grant application, before to have a sense of all the different components,
what a biosketch might look like, just all those little details. And really a
lot of questions will pop up over the course of your writing this application
that just having a good example can really help answer those questions. And
we also get a lot of questions about when you should start. I think that it’s
never too early to start planning for this award, even if you’re more than two
years before, it’s helpful to just think of a timeline when you want to send in the application, what sort of pieces need to be in place for you to finish,
how that might fit in with other commitments that you have. And really
looping in your PI and your grants office as soon as possible is really helpful.
They’ll have a wealth of expertise that’s really useful as you plan your
application. All right thanks guys, feel free to reach out to me, we’ll
have contact info at the end. [Ullrich] Okay our next speaker is Nadia Khan who’s a
postdoc at Mount Sinai. [Nadia Kahn] Hi everyone thanks for joining us today. My name is Nadia and I hope to give you three important tips of preparing
your F99/K00 application. So just to let you know there’s anything I don’t cover
here feel free to reach out to me and I’m willing to share any of my
application materials with you or answer any questions. So to begin with I just
wanted to give you a background of my own scientific interest and where my
training come from comes from so that way you can sort of understand how I’ve
laid out my transition from the F to the K period. So in general my scientific
curiosity has always been trying to understand how the brain interprets
experience, everyday experience, and translates this and to circuit function
and behavior. So my training prior to my PhD was mostly molecular biology and I
continued on that track in Dr. Avtar Roopra’s lab at university of wisconsin.
And there I studied a model of acquired epilepsy, where a type of transient
experience or, in other words, seizures, occur. And really in my aim with doing
this PhD work was to understand how the brain is responding on a molecular level
to this very sudden and physical experience. And so a lot of my work and
my PhD involves understanding epigenetic changes either through histone modifying
enzymes or through histone modifications. And then understanding the output that
this has on gene expression and how this affects disease progression. So all in
all my PhD training was very molecular biology focused and really stood in
line with what I had been prepared for prior to graduate school. So where I am
now is actually Mount Sinai in New York City in Dr. Tristan Schumann’s lab
and I have now transitioned to no longer doing molecular biology but rather doing
mostly circuit function and behavior work. And so in Tristan’s lab, we’re
primarily focused on identifying circuits that are responsible for
causing seizures and memory impairments in epilepsy. This is a very important
comorbidity that happens in epilepsy patients. So all in all I’ve stayed in
the same field but now I look at this problem through a very different lens.
Instead of looking on a very small scale level, I look at everything on a systems
biology level. And so in my application I talked about this transition, how I’ve
only had my clear biology experience and now I’m going to transition to a place
where I can look at this question more on a surface level using things like in
vivo electrophysiology, in vivo calcium imaging, and then also just learning
animal behavior assays. And so really the connection here between these two
training periods, both the F and the K award, was that I hope to one day connect
these two and be able to answer questions on a molecular to systems
level how does the brain translate things like trauma, that’s primarily what
I’m interested in now is physical or social trauma, how does the brain
translate trauma into changes and circuit function and behavior and how
can this cause long-term disease in the future? So my tip number one for
preparing your application is to really take the opportunity to make
this application a personal reflection of you and your goals. So I’ve spent the
last two slides telling you my own personal story and what are my personal
goals. And really my background was that molecular biology training, but however
now I’ve transitioned to a point where I’m trying to understand biology more on
a systems and circuit and behavior level. And that’s because I’ve identified
critical gaps within myself and more importantly I’ve identified critical
gaps in knowledge that I’ve noticed in my field where I’ve seen investigators
not able to connect all the dots within a single lab, and so I want to really be
the first person can go from top to bottom and bottom up.
So based on my background I argued in my application because I have this
molecular biology background and now I’m going to supplement it with this systems
understanding, I am the most ideal candidate to receive this grant and
therefore can become a strong future neuroscience leader. So to give you an
example some of the things I mentioned in my aim 3, sorry you can go back one side, so this is just an example here I argued as a critical understanding of these
molecular changes, however I don’t have this circuit function behavior, so
therefore I’m going to find a postdoc that specifically addresses
these deficits. Ok so my tip number 2 kind of goes along with tip number 1,
but to be honest about your deficits. So what are some deficits that you have
noticed in yourself as somebody who is trying to become a strong leader in
neuroscience? What are some open holes in your training experience that you
feel that you can improve as you transition into your postdoctoral period?
And in writing your training plan take the opportunity to break this down into
different silos whether it be technical, whether it be communication skills,
whether it be writing skills, and really lay out, as Stephanie said, concrete plans
for how your K00 is going to help you to address and fill these deficits. So to
give you some examples from my own personal training plan and these are
actual examples again I mentioned I’m going to join a postdoc where I will
learn about circuits and behavior, but also I’ve talked about teaching and part
of the tenure review for becoming a faculty member is your performance in a
classroom and that’s something that I did not have to do as a PhD student, did
not have to teach a course, and so in my postdoc I mentioned I wanted to teach a
course to gain those skills. Communication skills as a rising leader
neuroscience is always important to have good written and oral communication
skills, so I talked about a very concrete example of how my goal is to write at
least one grant per year even though were I to receive this grant I still
need to continuously work on communicating my ideas and making new
experiments and figuring out the flow of experiments to finally bring something
to fruition. And then also publish and present at least two times a year in
conferences. And lastly one of the things I mentioned as a rising trainee is
that I’ve only mentored undergraduates up until this point and so if I want to
be a successful PI someday with my own lab who has graduate students I need to
have experience actually mentoring graduate students and so I will find a
lab that will allow me to actually mentor a graduate students through his
or her project. Okay my tip number three is work closely with your mentor to
develop your application and what I mean by this comes from my own personal
experience I was lucky to have a PI, Dr. Avtar Roopra, that has served on many study sections for NIH and so when I initially let him know that I was going apply for
this grant he actually sat me down and explained to me how study sections
actually work, what is going to actually happen when I submit this application
and where will it go and who will be reading it and how will I be judged? And
I thought that was really insightful for me starting to write my application to
know where it was going to go and how it was going to be read and how it was going to be judged. So my advice for you is that if your PI or a PI that you know of
have served on a study section, ask them about what their experience is like as a
study section member. What kind of insight do they have into an application
that particularly stands out to the reviewing committee? What kind of
concerns would a review committee automatically flag for concern about an
applicant? In my case, one of the things I wish I could change about my application
now looking back on it now, is I would have gave a more strong argument for the
case of if my lab were to lapse in funding how would we address that either
through departmental funding or otherwise. Another could be that how
can you communicate your research and your goals, your training
goals to a study section member who might not necessarily be in your field?
So again you want to be specific about what you’re trying to achieve in
becoming a rising leader in your field, but at the same time that study section
member might not be in your field and so they might not be aware of the deficits
or the background of the deficits that might exist. And so lastly I’ll give a
plug here for building up the nerve. If you are not familiar with how study
section works you can actually tune into this podcast and there are episodes about it and you can learn more about it and lastly one piece of advice is to
make sure that your training plan reflects what your PI’s plan is for you
in your sponsor statement. So these two pieces of work should communicate back
and forth to each other and should reflect the same ideas and the same
goals for you and your training and so if you work closely with your mentor and
you share your documents back and forth this will become really easy for you to
do when submitting your application. So lastly I just want to say please don’t
hesitate to reach out with any questions I’m really happy to help you. There’s my
twitter handle there you can message me at any time if you have a really quick
question or if you are just needing really quick piece of advice about
something some clarity, or you can email me directly at my gmail address right
there. [Ullrich] Okay thank you so much Nadia. Next up we’re gonna hear from Nate Harnett
who is a postdoc at McLean Hospital/ Harvard Medical School. [Nate Harnett] Great well thank you so much Lauren for having me and thank you so much dr. Jones-London
and thank you all for attending the webinar today and letting me share a
little bit about my experience. So I’m going to build a little bit off of what
Stephanie and Nadia have already talked about and talk about a few pieces of
advice that really helped me when I was putting together my F99/K00 application,
but before I do that I just wanted to walk through a little bit about my
background and give a little insight into what my foundation was when I was applying as an applicant, just to give people an
idea sort of idea of what one potential applicant might look like. So I came from
a small liberal arts college where I studied psychology, did some
undergraduate research on emotional memory and psychophysiology. And after
that I moved to the University of Alabama at Birmingham to finish my PhD
in psychology. As part of the behavioral neuroscience program I got a foundation
in different types of magnetic resonance imaging modalities and started to build
a foundation and a background in the neural substrates of human fear learning.
so now I’m a postdoc in the Ressler neurobiology of fear lab at McLean
Hospital where my research is really focused on the neurobiological
substrates of trauma and stress disorder susceptibility. Or to put that in
sort of different terms using pretty brain pictures to try and understand if
someone’s going to develop PTSD after experiencing a traumatic event. So when I
applied for the F99 I was fortunate enough to be in the first cohort of
D-SPAN so I got to submit my application when the funding opportunity
was first announced and was able to put my application in and was fortunate
enough to get it. A couple strengths that I had as an applicant was that I had a
few original research publications based on my graduate work and I had some
success with gaining funding from internal and external fellowships around
UAB, but one thing I did want to highlight though is that as much as I
had some success as an applicant, I had some failures as well. So I had applied a
couple of times for NSF fellowships and get them, applied for an HHMI fellowship
didn’t get it, had applied and reapplied for an F31 NRSA, also, you know didn’t get
that either. So I wasn’t entirely batting a thousand when I was going for the F99
but from those prior rejections and from some of the successes I had I was able
develop a few basic tenets that I think really helped me put together a really
strong F99 and that’s what I want to just talk about briefly today. And so the
first thing that I found really helpful was really trying
to understand the review criteria for the application. The nice thing about the
funding opportunity is if you go online right now and you type in D-SPAN F99, you
can pull up the funding opportunity and about halfway down there’s going to be
the application review information and we’ll give you the set of criteria
that’s going to be used to evaluate the application. Which means that you have an
opportunity when you’re drafting your training plan, when you’re drafting
your aims, to really look and ask yourself how is what you’re writing
related to the specific criteria that you’re going to be evaluated on? And you
can do that for basically every single section of the application. And doing
that allows you to craft your application in a way that is really
strong because you know already what people are going to be evaluating you
based on. And then you can go and do similar drafts given, you know, how little
space you have when you’re writing these different sections to say: what I’ve
written, can I make it clear? Can I cut things, can I add things that’s very clear
what criteria I’m addressing? And that helps to add to the strength of your
application. Related to that and related to a lot of things that Stephanie and
Nadia have already talked about is that it’s really important to connect the
dots for your reviewers. We work in very highly specialized fields, we have
certain ways of saying things and certain ways of wording things, and when we write,
we’re so used to having the idea in our head that we might write it down a
certain way that makes perfect sense for us, but might not make sense for the
people that are reviewing it or for people that are reading it for the first
time. And so it’s really important to make sure that you connect your ideas
very logically and linearly so that it makes sense for other people. So
Stephanie mentioned and Nadia mentioned as well, trying to identify gaps that
they want to address, certain goals that they wanted to achieve, and then made very specific steps about how they would go achieve that. So Stephanie mentioned
getting training in JavaScript, getting training in conducting job searches and
applying for different things, Nadia mentioned trying to move from
molecular biology to electrophys, and by having these specific goals or these
overall goals and then setting specific steps, it really helps flesh out and make it clear how you’re going to move from one
step to the other so that you can accomplish your overall goal. And that
again just helps make the application quite a bit stronger and demonstrates
that you have a training plan in mind that is very strong and [intelligible]. And so
the final tip that I wanted to give was to really leverage your networking
village–or sorry your mentoring village and your network–as Stephanie and Nadia
mentioned, it’s really important to get feedback from your PI and from your lab pretty much the second you decide to start writing it. But other
individuals, things like your graduate colleagues or actual or potential
co-sponsors, would also be good people to read this because they can give you
insight into your narrative and to clarity that might not be the same
advice that you get from your PI. So for example when I wrote my training plan it
was primarily geared towards neuroimaging training. I still had people who
did cell and molecular biology, who looked at animal models of psychiatric
disorders, to look at it and read through it and see: when you read this outside of
a neuroimaging field, are you able to follow the steps that I’m laying out? Is
this something that makes you excited? And can you find a gap in what I’m
trying to say that might be something that a reviewer might ask? And in doing
that I actually came across another co-sponsor for my grant that really
helped the training plan in the application be that much stronger.
Another reason to leverage your networks that, you know, at this point with people
who apply before they might be willing to share copies of their applications or
their actual summary statements that’ll help you figure out what are some things
that really work well in applications? What are some things that might be able
to improved upon? And those are all things that you can use when you’re
drafting to help make sure that you’re putting out the best possible application for you. So I’m gonna end there. I have my Twitter and Gmail at the bottom,
please feel free to contact me if there’s any questions or if you want me
to share my application with you and thank you guys so much for your
attention today. [Ullrich] Thank You Nate. Okay our last speaker is Alberto Lopez who is currently a postdoc fellow at Vanderbilt. Take it away! [Alberto Lopez] Hello, thank you everybody for joining us, thank you NINDS for hosting us. So
just to start, I’m gonna give a little bit of my background and how I got to
where I am now in terms of–or at least where I was when I applied, and really
what did I do to position myself to be a successful applicant and so my
previous training was at University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, so I did my
undergraduate work at Duke and then I worked for Tom Kash at UNC and then did
my PhD work with Marcelo Wood at UC Irvine, then I’m at Vanderbilt with Erin
Calipari as a postdoc. And I was fortunate to be in the first cohort, kind
of the downside of that is I didn’t get the luxury of choosing when
I applied. I kind of, this is the time line and so hopefully I get this one
shot and hopefully it lands. And so I at the bottom you can see my general
timeline of when I applied. So it was announced in February and I actually dug
up some old emails from when I was in graduate school and found that I
submitted my first draft to my P I that first week of March with an April
submission deadline and so that’s kind of the first tip I have is: give yourself
plenty of time to write. So that was about a month and a half of writing, but
more importantly: give yourself time not to write. So give yourself time to step
away from the documents, think about your projec,t think about what your career
goals are, to then really get back to and submit a strong application. So then
submitted in April, I was funded in August, and then transitioned to the K00 in
June of the next year. And so really how you want to approach the specific
aims is use your aims and use your application as a way of showing how
you develop as a scientist and how you are able to develop a project. So in
specific aim one you want to talk about the things you’ve done, how did you build
your dissertation work, what have you done to answer the research questions
you want to answer? And in specific aim 2, you’re going to transition that to
what do you have left? But it’s really important to emphasize not just the kind
of experiments you’ve done and have left to do, but the kind of career training
and the career development you’ve gotten in graduate school: how
have you taken advantage of your environment to move from a first-year
graduate student to a really confident, really strong PhD candidate?
And so for specific aim 2 the kind of tip I will give is: be realistic about
your timeline in terms of the research you have and the timeline is proposing
to do it in. So with my PI– we kind of had it back and forth about I had a few
side projects that really weren’t important to my dissertation questions and
so I had to be honest with him and say “those are great questions–
those are great questions for another graduate student to answer. I really want
to focus here on the important questions left in my dissertation” and also on top
of that, I want to focus on the career training I have to do. So I have to go to a
couple more conferences, I want to attend a Cold Spring Harbor course… So really
try to be realistic about what it is you think you can get done in the time
period you’re proposing to do. And so for specific aim three, the way I approached it
is really similar to how everyone else has–Stephanie, Nate, and Nadia–in really
identify your needs as a trainee. So you know at this point I had done work with
Tom Kash at UNC Chapel Hill where I was using basic behavioral assays to
really see what circuits contribute to different anxiety-like behaviors and so
at that point you know I knew how to use optogenetics and chemogenetics.
Transitioning to Marcelo’s lab, I really started focusing in on addiction-specific behaviors, but there’s still relatively simple tasks like CDP
sensitization. But really I learned these complex molecular assays. And so my
overall research question as a graduate student, as a postdoc, and hopefully as a
faculty member is identifying the epigenetic mechanisms that control
circuit function in substance use disorder. And so when I was
putting my application together I really, the same way everyone else approached this, try to fill the gaps up that is where I want to be, here’s where I am now, and what are the things I need to do to get from A to B. And so from an experimental
standpoint I knew I needed stronger behavioral models in my postdoctoral
training, so things like self- administration, and to really link
epigenetic functions a circuit function I needed to kind of build that toolkit
in terms of the in vivo circuit monitoring, so things like fast-scan cyclic voltammetry or fiber photometry. But again, it’s really
important that you don’t just focus on the kind of experimental or scientific
development that you need, but the career training that you’re going to look for
in the postdoc phase. And so at this point, like Nadia, I had only ever
really mentored undergraduates so I was really looking for the kind of next step
in mentorship, mentoring graduate students. But then also in my postdoc in
aim three I talked about the kind of career training I’m going to need in my
postdoc to be able to make the next step. so things like continuing teaching,
getting teaching experience, more mentorship, grant writing. It’s really
important to not just focus on the kind of scientific question but really focus
on how you as a scientist and all-around scientist are going to develop into a
faculty member. And so kind of my take-home messages are: first use each of
your application–each component of your application to demonstrate your
development. So you know for me I even asked my reference writers to kind of
help me with that. So when I asked one of my reference writers to write me a
letter they said “sure” and then they asked me “what do you want me to write
about?” and at this point in my career I had never even considered that that was
something I should think about, but it was a really good opportunity because this
faculty member had been on my committee since my first year of graduate school,
I’m now fourth year, and so they’ve really seen how I’ve developed, taking
the steps through graduate school to become a competitive scientist. And so I
asked them to emphasize you know How did you view my career development?
How I built this project from the ground up? So the next kind of take-home message
is the same way Stephanie talked about, you need to take a step back and evaluate your career goals and the best way to get
there. The third is: give yourself time to write
and take a break from writing Scientific writing is a process
and if you try to rush it, it will definitely reflect in the results. And
then always be willing to reach out to D-SPAN fellows. In academia, we’re kind
of conditioned to think that funding opportunities, it’s more of a gauntlet
and I got to do what I got to do to get there, but the D-SPAN community is so
welcoming I have nothing but positive things to say both about NINDS and the
fellows themselves. Always willing to help, always there to help with
application materials or advice. And don’t be discouraged by previous results.
If I were to show my onedrive folder of failed applications versus funded
applications, my failed applications are exponentially larger than the funded. But
you really just have to keep trying to get that funding and don’t let previous
rejection to stop you from putting in an application.
So with that I’ll send it back to Lauren. [Ullrich] Okay thank you to our speakers
for sharing their experiences and expertise now in applying for these
awards. We have about twenty minutes for the question and answer session, so if
you have any questions be sure to put– type them into the Q&A box in the
WebEx and we will get started. So we’ve had a couple of questions about the aim
three and the postdoc plan. So does one of you want to talk about, how strictly
do you need to adhere to the proposed postdoc plan? So did any of you
change things or do things differently than you had outlined in the aim three? [Kahn] I can chime in for this one. This Nadia here. So initially my F99 application, my aim 3 actually talked about
investigating the overlap between Alzheimer’s disease and epilepsy. So
there’s this kind of emerging field in epilepsy that patients with
Alzheimer’s disease also have epileptic seizures and when they do they have a
faster cognitive decline. And so there’s a couple investigators that are
interested in understanding sort of a chicken or the egg question: which came
first the seizures for Alzheimer’s disease or did Alzheimer’s disease
cause the epileptic seizures? All in all that’s what I discussed for my aim 3 and
again, still on the circuit level as I spoke about, finding those labs that
would give me the experience on a circuit level, but for this particular
research question. And now as you saw from my slides I’m actually not in a AD/epilepsy lab although Tristan’s lab does do some of that work, I’m not involved in
that. Rather I’m more focused on memory and understanding how epileptic seizures
disrupt memory. So I definitely switched compared to what I wrote and
it’s ok. Really even think about the F99/ k00 funding you as an applicant and your career trajectory and less about the science. [Jones-London] Yeah and this is Michelle I’ll just chime in that we’re really using aim three to
think or to see how you think as a researcher and a scientist and so while
we do require a level of detail in terms of broad strokes of where you see
yourself going–and you are in the last one to two years of your graduate work
so you should have some type of idea–we realize that you haven’t actually
interviewed yet for your postdoc positions and that it’s very normal to
go from graduate school to the postdoc doing something different. As long as
you’re still taking advantage of your skills and your strengths and taking and
creating a win-win for the postdoc environment, we’re very open. The only
stipulation once again is it still has to be within the scope of neuroscience.
So don’t feel that if you’re applying to the D-SPAN and you write something for a
three that you’re locked in. You do have that freedom to explore. [Ullrich] Another question that we have here is: did any of you include a co-sponsor in your application
and how did you integrate that person into your application, if you did? [Harnett] I can chime in this is Nate, just a little bit. I actually I think included three
separate co-sponsors and the reason for that on my end was I wanted to build
sort of a set of multimodal neuroimaging skills and expertise and my PI
was clearly great with one of them, but sort of dabbling his toe in the other
two and so we chose a couple people who had demonstrable experience in these
different MR modalities to make clear that there are people at my institution and
trainings that I’m willing to go through, so I can actually learn the skills that
I need to learn. And I also included another co-sponsor who
helped us develop our mentorship plan with a specific section towards
identifying mentorship and training issues more commonly faced by underrepresented minority students and so we had worked together to figure out how
can I work with her to develop those skills in that background and knowledge
about issues that I might face transitioning to postdoc would be really
helpful. So I think for me it was helpful in terms of trying to get people together
so I could have a very formal and deep training plan and that would be why I
chose that many. [Ullrich] Thank you. [multiple people speaking] [Lopez] I didn’t include co-sponsors but I got letters of support from other faculty at UC Irvine that would help me get some training to finish my dissertation work but then also prepare me for the kind of work I was proposing for my postdoc. So I had a
lot of support from a statistician on campus who would help me with the bioinformatics for doing some of the sequencing analysis that I was proposing.
I had a letter of support from a molecular another molecular biologist who was
gonna help me develop some of the techniques that I was going to carry
into my postdoc. So that’s another way of getting kind of support from your
local network without necessarily putting them down as a co-sponsor. [Noble] Yeah, that’s great. Actually it seems like if you can have someone speak to any sort
of skills that you have in detail in a positive way that your PI doesn’t have
as much one-on-one experience with you about, it seems like it would
only be a positive for your grant. I had a co sponsor who I had worked with
one-on-one for a lot of technical development stuff and I had them speak
to my programming ability and my ability to pick up new languages, my
ability to kind of self–manage my own work by myself, my motivation and stuff.
So I think that was very helpful, too, because that’s the sort of detail that a daily interaction with this person
that I didn’t necessarily have with my PI and both were very useful, like, both
were very useful perspectives in supporting me. My PI talked more about
my ability to relate my work to the big picture, my ability to think
scientifically about my work. And then this cosponsor talked about my ability
to grow technically, my ability to develop my technical skills. [Ullrich] Great thank you all. So we’ve had a couple of questions about first author
publications so, is it necessary to have a first author publication by the time
you apply? So Michelle do you want to address that? [Jones-London] yeah what I’ll say is that we did we get this question a lot with all of our training mechanisms and we
find it kind of call this like the Goldilocks the question in terms of
what’s the right number of publications? We certainly have had D-SPAN awards funded that the person did not have a first author publication and what
what was shown was a history and a track record of productivity and for most of
those there was some evidence why the person had not published. Maybe they were
in a research area or using a tool or, you know, knockout mice and it made sense that if they were doing that type of research they were probably saving you
know the papers towards the end, or that timeline fit. And what you had was
evidence of the mentors and others involved in the project talking about
the productivity of that person, talking about the plans and the timeline for the
publication and the fact that it just hadn’t happened yet, but you know that
there were plans and formats were being put into their training plan
to make sure that they left with the first author publications. But reviewers
will look at this and there there have been several conversations and different
camps on this, so it’s important to be sure that if you do not currently have
that first author publication and there are solid reasons why, and you and your mentor both can demonstrate that productivity, I wouldn’t count this out as a mechanism
but make sure that you you have those conversations in the training plan and
in the application. And now I’ll have our scientific review officer chime in from
his point of view of what he’s seeing in terms of the conversations. [Bill Benzing] yeah Michelle covered probably most everything that I would want to say, but I think if
you have a good explanation of what you’ve been doing and and and plans for
what you–have publications and papers and you know in preparation, that you’ve
just clearly state all that and and you know it’s helpful if your mentor
also addresses that as well. You know some some reviewers get hung up on on
that and we try to avoid people that are you know very stubborn in one
way or the other but you never know when someone’s going to be concerned
about that, so it’s well worth addressing if you don’t have any first author
publications already. [Jones-London] Yeah and I’ll also add it’s really important I think the
ones that are really concerning is if you don’t have those first author
publications and then there’s also not a sign that you’re actually going to
outside meetings and conferences and talking about your science, there, that’s
sort of the kiss of death. You want to make sure that you, in terms of that
evidence of productivity and evidence of you really having your research reviewed
in the scientific community and among your peers, you can also highlight your
speaking engagements, scientific conferences, abstracts, those things as
well. They won’t count, obviously, the same as a
peer-reviewed publication but that is also evidence of you at least
having your science out there in the broader community. Do any of our speakers want to talk
about how they demonstrated productivity outside of papers? [Kahn] Hi this is Nadia I
guess I will speak from the underdog. I didn’t have a first author paper
applying to this grant mechanism and I still got it, so there’s hope for you if
you’re one of those people. I think I will echo what similar to what Michelle
said is that if you address why you have not had that paper, either in the sense
of like maybe the model that you’re working with or you had to establish a
particular technique in your lab prior to starting your experiments, that really
helps the reviewers understand where you’re coming from. So my particular
case I had to establish the model in my lab before I even started collecting the
data and that took me almost two years and then I used the drug to inhibit this
epigenetic histone modifiers–histone modifying implant, excuse me, and that
took a while for me to find the right conditions, the right drug, the right
vehicle for the drug, and so I explained part of that in my application as well.
So I wouldn’t say like let it be your end-all be-all you’ll never get it, but
definitely be, like I said in my tip number two, be honest about your deficits.
And if you’re honest about your deficits and you address them, you leave no room
for that reviewer committee to have any doubts about you. [Ullrich] Thank you. [Benzing] Yeah and this is Beill Benzing again and and yeah if you if you have a good, you know, track
record of presenting talks and abstracts and showing that you’re
actively engaged, that helps a lot. Especially if you’re doing the type of
science or you’re doing techniques which may require a while before you can get
that first author publication. And I know Michelle alluded to that, but having
that documented in there is very helpful. [Ullrich] Great! And I think this will probably be our last question and we have a question about how the
D-SPAN award has benefited you in terms of your future academic career potential?
So I was wondering if each of you could sort of talk about the events that have
flown from the from getting the award? [Alberto] I can go first. Okay, sorry my audio kind of freaked out. So for me I mean first off it you become incredibly competitive as
a postdoc candidate. You are essentially a free postdoc because you come with your own funding right out of the gate but aside from just the kind of money for
money’s sake, you are competitive because you’re demonstrating your ability to get
funding and your ability to develop a project and convey that to people
outside of your field. And so not only is it impressive to be a postdoc with
your own funding in and of itself but you’re demonstrating to potential post
off mentors: I know what I’m doing when it comes to building a project. I know
what I’m doing when it comes to writing grants and presenting it to other people.
So it’s a reflection of the caliber of graduate student that you are. So
definitely it is a been a huge benefit for me. It also has given me a little bit
of a freedom to explore some more risky projects or experiments in my postdoc,
knowing that I don’t necessarily have the clock ticking of you know trying to
get an F32 knowing that I have four years to really build a solid research
program I can take a little bit more risk. [Noble] Yeah I would add to that, Alberto.
I think that I completely agree with was what he said about this making you a very
competitive candidate in the postdoc pool. If you come in with funding,
it’s such a big advantage compared to other people you might be able to even
join a lab that doesn’t have funds for a postdoc or has little funds for a
postdoc. And I think adding to that having this dedicated funding gives you
a lot of protected time to do the research that you proposed. You’re not
necessarily coming into someone’s labs being their postdoc and doing the work
that they want you to do as much; you really have a lot of protection for your
own work. I also say the D-SPAN community is really fantastic.
There are a lot of people with a lot of fantastic expertise at all levels and
the D-SPAN and also the the other D-SPAN community the K99 to R00 community is
pretty great–or the other BRAIN community. There’s just a lot of people
who are really willing to share their expertise, willing to share their grant
awards advice. And you get to meet with them at the SfN and other
conferences dedicated for the field. I also think that it’s important to have a
demonstrated record of funding for promotion as a faculty member and this
is just it’s showing that you’ve already been able to have that funding really
early in your faculty career and I think that that’s also very important. [Harnett] This is Nate I just want to echo quickly what Stephanie and Alberto already said, which is having
a demonstrable track record of funding has been great for me in terms of
applying for other things like travel awards to different conferences, in terms
of having a conversational point for different people both at my institution and
institutions that I’ve been visiting for conferences and things like that.
That’s a really helpful talking point just in terms of networking. It’s very
impressive to have a mechanism like this under your belt, I mean I think we can
all agree that this is a very impressive and phenomenal opportunity for people, so
when you explain what you actually have, that impresses people. And of course is that already said just having you know post doctoral funding under your belt is
really good for trying to find a lab that you’re gonna fit very well with. I
think, you know, for me, some of the best parts have been actually being a part of
the D-SPAN Network so Stephanie is actually part of a monthly mentorship
group we have with myself, her and a couple other D-SPAN people and we get to
talk about how are things going? What are some advice that we have for people? And
be able to communicate and network that way. And that’s been really helpful. And
so it’s hard to find like one or two things that have been great about D-SPAN,
but just in terms of the networking opportunities alone, getting the F99/K00
has been phenomenal. [Khan] I’ll make it quick. The D-SPAN has been for me like really helpful in I would say three major ways.
A first way was similar to Nate, I applied to a bunch of fellowship throughout
graduate school that I didn’t receive; some of them being NSF some of them being HHMI Giliam fellows and so towards the end of my graduate career I felt like I
maybe I’m just not cut out for this and so getting this fellowship really like
put a huge confidence boost in myself that “Hey, I think you might actually have some good ideas here and people will actually
also think you have good ideas.” So you can think of it as, you know, it’s a way
for you to take a step back, look at yourself and put your ideas out there
and if you happen to get it, then it might be something that will help propel
you to the next step and give you confidence that “yes I belong here and
yes I can do this.” Number two is with interviewing for
postdocs I came from a very small lab and so to have the bigger labs sort of
know who I am and notice who I am, having this funding really helped.
Especially when I went to a conference and one of the section leaders put that
like on my introduction slide “PS she has funding!” That really helped to like bring
all the eyes and attention to me and I would have not otherwise had that had I
not had this funding mechanism. And then lastly the network again of D-SPAN is
amazing. Everyone in this fellowship program
they’re extremely talented and so intelligent that you will be floored
like where they go and what they do and what they accomplish and it’s just
really good to be part of that community and learn from others, like what they’re
doing and how they’re doing it and everyone in D-SPAN is so welcoming and
very nice and easy to approach. [Jones-London] Well I was going to say something but I think you
guys have said it all. I mean but we’ve talked a lot about what the award
confers in terms of you know the advantage to people that would hire you
but really you should see it as it is also your golden ticket it really
empowers the awardee to get the mentorship that they deserve, right? And
it also allows you to, as you’re looking for this postdoc, there will be things
that are required in terms of the mentorship and training that NIH
outlines in the terms and agreement and so you can you can make us the bad guy
in terms of asking for things that perhaps maybe you would be too shy to
ask for. Or just making sure that you’re asking for things in black
and white that maybe you would have assumed. We really want it written out. And
that’s another benefit of the mechanism that it really puts you in the driver’s
seat of really getting the training and the mentorship that you deserve. We
really see the D-SPANers as the next generation of future leaders in
neuroscience and so that that to us is something that we take seriously
when someone receives this award. And hopefully you listening on the call can
see yourself in this community and knowing that obviously not everyone who
applies will be funded, knowing that there are other NIH mechanisms, as well.
If this isn’t your shot or maybe in terms of the timing, you don’t have
time to reapply because that’s the other thing if you don’t get it on the first
shot that happens to plenty of people, as well, if you have the timing, reapply. And
if, you know, for some reason you time out then still reaching out to any one of us
on this slide that you see on for contact, especially the NIH staff, we will
get you to the next part. Like I said it could be an F32 or in some cases there
could be other awards that may bridge that gap, so just talking to us is
something that you also want to get out of this webinar. [Ullrich] Alright well we’re out of time and so I just want to say thank you again so much to our speakers for
taking the time to share their wisdom today and if your question was not
answered please, please, please, as Michelle said, email us, reach out, we’re very approachable. We will answer your question. And we want as many of you to
succeed as possible, so definitely reach out. And the webinar slides and recording
will be posted in a few weeks. Bye bye!

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