Why aspiring academics should do less science

By Jacquelyn J. CraggLeanne RamerJohn K. KramerSep. 28, 2016 , 11:00 AM

When one of us—John—started as an assistant professor, he was surprised at how much his day-to-day work differed from when he had been a trainee. He had known it would change, of course, but suddenly he found himself drawing on a totally different set of skills. He was no longer a researcher, but rather a project manager. Peering into a microscope, pipetting, and dissecting were replaced with grant writing, budgeting, and managing students.

This experience is common. Many who make that transition to principal investigator (PI) find themselves utterly unprepared for their new duties. Their training failed them in preparing for their real job! But it doesn’t have to be that way. Trainees can seek out opportunities to expand their skills and render themselves better prepared to lead a research program down the line. It means taking a little time away from research to develop additional expertise, but it’s a trade-off that’s well worth it. Here are our tips for getting started down that path.

Apply for external funding. Junior PIs spend the vast majority of their time asking for research dollars. You can hone the skills you’ll need to succeed at this crucial task while you’re a trainee. Your first responsibility is securing and extending your own funding, so apply for as many awards—such as fellowships and travel awards—as humanly possible. These funding opportunities don’t just come to you; you have to seek them out. Regularly check websites of government agencies, private nonprofit organizations, and your institution. Actually read those newsletters you get from your department that fill up your inbox. Spend at least an hour each week actively searching for these funding opportunities; this is an ideal post-lunch slump activity. And be creative: Think of all the ways your work can apply to different areas. When Jacquelyn and Leanne studied cardiovascular complications of spinal cord injury, for example, they applied to any and every funding opportunity related to these topics—including ones focused on general health, neurology, neuroscience, spinal cord injury, disability, musculoskeletal health, heart and stroke, and multiple sclerosis. Together, these approaches will help you find opportunities that others typically overlook.

Participate in grant writing. Another way to hone your grant-writing skills is to ask your supervisor whether you can help with their funding applications. Frame your request as both a learning exercise for you and as an offer to help them by taking some of the work off their plate. Although it may feel intimidating to contribute to your PI’s very important grant application, remember that there’s lots you can do that would be helpful, and that you may actually be the best person for the job because you are closest to the results. For example, if your supervisor asks you to provide data to support a funding application, offer to write a figure legend and contribute to the literature review relevant to those results. Regardless of the size of your contribution, it can be mutually beneficial.

Learn how money works. Funding crucially dictates the direction of research, but some trainees work on a project for years without knowing how it is funded, or how much funding is planned or available for the work. Don’t let that be you. Ask to help with—or at least see—how your PI keeps track of grant dollars. Look at budgets for research grants. Create a budget for your own research project. The more you learn about keeping track of grant dollars and navigating the details of inventory, ordering, shipping, and payment, the better off you’ll be when you start running your own research program.

Publish throughout your training. Publishing regularly not only builds your CV, but also improves your writing skills (necessary for grantsmanship, among other things). What many don’t realize is that you can start building your publication record even if you aren’t ready to submit your big paper. Consider publishing systematic reviews, narrative reviews, letters to the editor, and other commentaries as a way to work on your writing chops and expand your expertise. Doing so will also familiarize you with the journal submission process, which can be complicated—formatting for a specific journal, writing a cover letter, suggesting reviewers, and navigating the journal’s online submission system—but the more you do it, the easier it will get.

Gain experience as a mentor and supervisor. Effective supervision is another crucial skill that you should start developing and fostering as early as possible. Helping other people do good work is different—and sometimes more difficult—than doing it yourself, so you’ll need to practice, just like anything else. Research groups have different organizational systems, but opportunities for mentorship exist in most places. Don’t dismiss the responsibility; embrace it as an opportunity to extend your mentorship skills. Even if you are early in your training, you can seek out mentorship opportunities. If you have a mini-project that would be suitable for undergraduate student involvement, for example, approach your supervisor with a short project description and ask if you can take on a student to start working with you.

When serving as a supervisor, extend your mentorship beyond the basics. In addition to teaching your trainee how to perform techniques in the lab, provide rationale and background reading for their project, help them manage their time in the lab, and edit their work. Look for opportunities for them to present at a departmental or institutional research day, or—even better—at a conference in the field. Acting as a good mentor will serve both of you: They will have an enriching training experience, and their achievements will provide a valuable example of your ability to help coach someone to success. 

Teach and serve on committees. For just about any junior faculty posting, teaching and other leadership experience is an absolute must. You cannot go through your Ph.D. without teaching. This doesn’t mean you need to be the primary lecturer for a course; Jacquelyn, for example, served as a teaching assistant, assisting with grading, giving guest lectures, and helping create course content. Leanne served on committees that steered curriculum development. You can also serve on student committees in outreach, ethics, and conference organization. Any experience you can refer to will strengthen your application down the line.

Gaining early experience in these important arenas will better prepare you for a career in academia, so if you are considering such a career, it’s important to take a little time away from research to develop these other skills as well. And as an added benefit, doing so can also provide a little variety to break up the monotony of doing lab work all day!

ASIP 2020 Meritorious Award Lectures

The 2020 ASIP Meritorious Awards will be presented at the 2020 Annual Meeting during Experimental Biology
Apr. 4—7, 2020 in San Diego CA

2020 ASIP Rous-Whipple Award

Arul Chinnaiyan, MD, PhD

S.P. Hicks Endowed Professor of Pathology
Director, Michigan Center for Translational Pathology
Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute
American Cancer Society Research Professor
Department of Pathology
University ofc Michigan Medical School
Ann Arbor, MI

Lecture Presentation:
Sunday, April 5, 2020
5:00 PM
“Exploring Precision Oncology: From Gene Fusions to Genomic Instability”

2020 ASIP Outstanding Investigator Award

Celina G. Kleer, MD

Harold Oberman Collegiate Professor of Pathology
Director, Breast Pathology Program
Department of Pathology
University of Michigan
Medical School
Ann Arbor, MI

Lecture Presentation:
Sunday, April 5, 2020
10:00 AM
Understanding Breast Cancer: My Journey as a Physician-Scientist

2020 ASIP Cotran Early Career Investigator Award

Qing Zhang, PhD

Associate Professor
Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine
UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center
University of North Carolina
School of Medicine
Chapel Hill, NC

Lecture Presentation:
Monday, April 6, 2020
10:00 AM
“Studying Oxygen Sensing Pathway in Cancers”

2020 ASIP Young Scientist Leadership Award

Traci L. Parry, PhD

Assistant Professor
Department of Kinesiology
University of North Carolina at Greensboro Greensboro, NC

Lecture Presentation:
Monday, April 6, 2020
1:00 PM
“Exercise Oncology: Harnessing the Therapeutic Benefits of Exercise”

2020 ASIP Gold-Headed Cane Award Recipient

We sadly announce that long-time ASIP member Dr. Marilyn G. Farquhar passed away on Sat, Nov. 23, 2019 at the age of 91. She will posthumously receive the ASIP Gold-Headed Cane Award at #ASIP2020 at #ExpBio.

Marilyn G. Farquhar, PhD

Distinguished Professor of Cellular and Molecular Medicine
Professor of Pathology
University of California San Diego
San Diego, CA

Dr. Marilyn G. Farquhar will receive the ASIP Gold-Headed Cane Award at the 2020 Annual Meeting of the American Society for Investigative Pathology during Experimental Biology 2020 in San Diego CA (April 2020). The ASIP Gold-Headed Cane Award is the society’s oldest and most prestigious award. It was first given in 1919 and has been awarded on 68 occasions since that time. This award recognizes significant long-term contributions to the field of pathology, including meritorious research, outstanding teaching, general excellence in the discipline, and demonstrated leadership in the field of pathology. Dr. Farquhar became a member of the American Society for Investigative Pathology in January of 1959, 60 years ago, and has remained continuously active through all of that time. Her tremendous contributions to pathology research and science in general have been recognized by the American Society for Investigative Pathology (and many others) through the course of her career. Dr. Farquhar embodies all the qualities that the ASIP Gold-Headed Cane Award seeks to recognize. She has made longstanding contributions to the field of pathology and disease-related research, has generated an enormous body of work, made outstanding contributions to teaching and leadership at her own institutions, and provided service to the American Society for Investigative Pathology and the larger scientific community.

Dr. Farquhar earned an AB in Zoology (1949), and MA in Experimental Pathology (1952), and a PhD in Experimental Pathology (1955) from the University of California at Berkeley. She then assumed the position of Assistant Research Pathologist at the University of California at San Francisco (1956-1958), before moving to The Rockefeller University (New York, NY) as a Research Associate (1958-1962). In 1962, Dr. Farquhar returned to the University of California at San Francisco as an Associate Research Pathologist and was promoted to Associate Professor of Pathology in 1964, and then Professor of Pathology in 1968. In 1970, Dr. Farquhar returned to The Rockefeller University as Professor of Cell Biology. After a few years, Dr. Farquhar became Professor of Cell Biology and Pathology at the Yale University School of Medicine (New Haven, CT). She remained at Yale from 1973-1989, becoming the Sterling Professor of Cell Biology and Pathology in 1987. Dr. Farquhar’s last move was to the University of California at San Diego in 1990. She was appointed as Professor of Pathology and Coordinator for the Division of Cellular and Molecular Medicine, and in 1999 was named Distinguished Professor and Chair of the Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine, a position she held until 2008. Dr. Farquhar remained active in research until very recently and continues in some administrative roles at the University of California at San Diego.

Dr. Farquhar’s research was focused on ultrastructure of tissues and cells, and she pioneered numerous electron microscopy techniques that are still used today. Dr. Farquhar spent many years working on the glomerulus of the kidney, the anterior pituitary gland, the Golgi apparatus, and enzyme cytochemistry. She is recognized for her seminal work in the regulation of protein trafficking and signaling in endocrine and exocrine cells, and for defining the molecular mechanisms of glomerular filtration and pathology. Her research increased our basic knowledge of cellular structure-function relationships in normal tissues and in various disease states. Dr. Farquhar’s research was well funded over the years, and she received a Research Career Development Award from the NIGMS/NIH at the beginning of her career (1965-1973) and an NIH MERIT Award from the NIDDK/NIH in the final years of her active research (2009-2016). Over the course of her career, Dr. Farquhar published 319 papers and book chapters. Her earliest publication appeared in the American Journal of Pathology in 1953. Her most recent paper was published in 2016 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA. The impact of Dr. Farquhar’s research is reflected in her listing as one of the ten most cited women authors by the Science Citation Index from 1981-1989.

Dr. Farquhar’s excellence in research has been honored numerous times over her career. She was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1984, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1991. She received the E.B. Wilson Medal from the American Society for Cell Biology in 1987, the Distinguished Scientist Award from the Electron Microscopy Society of America in 1987, the Homer Smith Award from the American Society for Nephrology in 1988, the Gomori Award from the Histochemical Society in 1999, the Carl Gottschalk Prize from the University of North Carolina in 2002, and the A.N. Richards Award for Excellence in Basic Research in Nephrology from the International Society of Nephrology in 2003. Of particular note, Dr. Farquhar received the Rous-Whipple Award from the American Society for Investigative Pathology in 2001 and the FASEB Excellence in Science Award from the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology in 2006. Dr. Farquhar also received the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Research (1998) and the Chancellor’s Revelle Medal (2018) from the University of California at San Diego.

Dr. Farquhar made significant contributions to the larger scientific community. She served as President for the American Society for Cell Biology (1981-1982), as well as on their Council (1966-1970, 1980-1983), and Executive Committee (1980-1983). She also served on the Council for the Histochemical Society (1967-1971). Dr. Farquhar was a member of several NIH study sections over four decades from the 1970s until 2009, and served on the Board of Scientific Counselors for the NIDDK/NIH (1993-1998). She also served on the editorial boards of 11 journals, including being a past editorial board member for the American Journal of Pathology.

At the various institutions where Dr. Farquhar was a faculty member, she made contributions to teaching of various types of students, including graduate and medical students, she directed didactic courses, and also provided instruction through the various core facilities that she directed. In addition, Dr. Farquhar provided teaching/training for her laboratory members. Over the many years of Dr. Farquhar’s career, she hosted the training of 64 scientists as graduate students or postdoctoral fellows. The first of these was Dr. Dorothy Bainton (1965-1970), and the most recent was Dr. Vanessa Taupin (2015-2016). Dr. Farquhar is noted for the exceptional training she provided to her students and postdoctoral fellows. This is evident in the description provided by Dr. Pradipta Ghosh (University of California at San Diego) describing her experience working with Dr. Farquhar: “…she would not only teach me how to write, but teach me how to ensure longevity in science, survive and thrive doing it, and how to nurture a body of work, give birth to a field, build a legacy, and grow them all through generations of mentees. But that is not all, she also taught me how to survive the ups and downs, and how to balance the guilt as a mother in science….” Dr. Farquhar’s trainees went on to distinguished careers, most of them in academic research and some in industrial science. Several of these trainees went on to hold important positions at their respective institutions. Dr. Dorothy Bainton (for instance) was Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs at the University of California at San Francisco. Given Dr. Farquhar’s long career, many of her former trainees had successful careers of their own and retired before their mentor. It is clear that one of Dr. Farquhar’s most lasting contributions to science is reflected in her former trainees and their individual and collective accomplishments. Dr. William A. Muller (Northwestern University) stated that “…Perhaps [Dr. Farquhar’s] most important service to the field has been the training of experimental pathologists, most of whom have gone on to be leaders in the field of academic pathology and biomedical research in the United States and throughout the world…”

Dr. J. Charles Jennette Receives the Distinguished Service Award from the Association of Pathology Chairs

J. Charles Jennette, MD, the Kenneth M. Brinkhous Distinguished Professor and immediate past Chair of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine received the 2019 Distinguished Service Award from the Association of Pathology Chairs (APC) at their Annual Meeting in Boston, MA, in July 2019. The APC Distinguished Service Award recognizes lifetime achievement in the field of academic pathology, encompassing the full spectrum of contributions at the local and national level, in undergraduate and graduate medical education, research, and clinical service. Dr. Peter Jensen, Chair of the APC Nominating Committee stated that the Distinguished Service Award is the highest award given by the APC, acknowledging that Dr. Jennette has made “…lasting contributions as an innovative and highly effective leader in our field and in academic medicine…” Dr. Jensen also recognized Dr. Jennette for his “…impact through research, scholarship, and leadership in the field of renal pathology have profoundly influenced the field.” Dr. Jennette is a longstanding member of the American Society for Investigative Pathology (since 1982) and follows numerous other eminent ASIP members who also received this honor from the APC.

• 2019 – J. Charles Jennette, MD
• 2018 – Fred Sanfilippo, MD, PhD (ASIP President – 2002)
• 2017 – David Wilkinson, MD, PhD
• 2014 – Mary F. Lipscomb, MD
• 2013 – Avrum I. Gotlieb, MD, FRCPC (ASIP President – 2001)
• 2012 – Nelson Fausto, MD (ASIP President – 2004)
• 2011 – Ronald Weinstein, MD
• 2009 – Jay M. McDonald, MD (ASIP Member and Past Editor-in-Chief of AJP)
• 2008 – Harold Dvorak, MD (ASIP President – 1997)
• 2007 – Deborah E. Powell, MD
• 2006 – Richard G. Lynch, MD (ASIP President – 1995)
• 2006 – Emanuel Rubin, MD (ASIP President – 1973)
• 2005 – Henry Pitot, MD, PhD (ASIP Member)
• 2005 – Jack Strong, MD
• 2004 – Peter A. Ward, MD (ASIP President – 1979)
• 2001 – Fred Gorstein, MD
• 2000 – Donald King, MD
• 1999 – David Korn, MD (ASIP President – 1987)
• 1997 – William H. Hartmann, MD
• 1996 – Vernie Stembridge, MD
• 1993 – Ramzi S. Cotran, MD (ASIP President – 1986)
• 1989 – Kenneth Brinkhous, MD (ASIP President – 1965)
• 1986 – Rolla B. Hill, MD (ASIP President – 1976)