NINDS's Building Up the Nerve

Episode 1: Get to Know NINDS

October 18, 2019 NINDS Season 1 Episode 1
NINDS's Building Up the Nerve
Episode 1: Get to Know NINDS
Chapters
00:00:00
Intro
00:02:10
Introductions
00:07:15
Questions
00:22:50
Advice
00:25:04
Outro
NINDS's Building Up the Nerve
Episode 1: Get to Know NINDS
Oct 18, 2019 Season 1 Episode 1
NINDS

Learn about the NINDS mission and our relationship with NIH as a whole from NINDS Director Dr. Walter Koroshetz and Deputy Director Dr. Nina Schor. 

Building Up the Nerve is a podcast from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke for neuroscience trainees that takes you through the life cycle of a grant from idea to award at NINDS with the people who make it happen. We know that applying for NIH funding can be daunting, but we’re here to help—it’s our job!

Related Resources:
https://schorline.ninds.nih.gov/
https://www.ninds.nih.gov/About-NINDS/Who-We-Are/Directors-Corner
https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Funding/Training-Career-Development
Follow @NINDSdirector and @Schor_N

Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Learn about the NINDS mission and our relationship with NIH as a whole from NINDS Director Dr. Walter Koroshetz and Deputy Director Dr. Nina Schor. 

Building Up the Nerve is a podcast from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke for neuroscience trainees that takes you through the life cycle of a grant from idea to award at NINDS with the people who make it happen. We know that applying for NIH funding can be daunting, but we’re here to help—it’s our job!

Related Resources:
https://schorline.ninds.nih.gov/
https://www.ninds.nih.gov/About-NINDS/Who-We-Are/Directors-Corner
https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Funding/Training-Career-Development
Follow @NINDSdirector and @Schor_N

Lauren Ullrich:

Welcome to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke’s Building Up the Nerve, a podcast for neuroscience trainees that takes you through the life cycle of a grant from idea to award at NINDS with the people who make it happen. We know that applying for NIH funding can be daunting, but we’re here to help—it’s our job!

Marguerite M.:

Hello. I'm Marguerite Matthews , a health program specialist at NINDS.

Lauren Ullrich:

and I'm Lauren Ullrich, a scientific program manager at NINDS. And we're the hosts of Building Up the Nerve. On this episode we're going to start with NINDS itself, who we are, and what we do. So before we start, I want to state the disclaimer that everything that we talk about may only be relevant for NINDS. So if you're applying to a different NIH Institute or Center, it's always best to check with them about their policies. So I thought to start maybe, Marguerite, you could talk about what was your biggest surprise when you came to work for NINDS?

Marguerite M.:

My biggest surprise is that NINDS is not all of NIH. Um, no two ICs are alike. I had the opportunity to work in the Office of the Director when I first started at NIH and NINDS is not like a lot of typical ICs. But it's just interesting to learn a lot of the intricacies. There's so many things that are quite unique and I think really help make NINDS such a great place to work, but also the research, you can tell how vibrant it is by the way we operate. What about you Lauren?

Lauren Ullrich:

That was my biggest surprise, too, even as a trainee who had applied for fellowships, realizing just how different each of the different institutes were. And so now I often use the metaphor of sort of a federated model where we have the federal government that's NIH OD that has some policies that we all have to abide by. But then we also have like the state governments , which are the ICs, that set their own policies on certain things. And that has been probably the thing that I try to communicate the most. So, hopefully we can demystify a little bit what we do here and what our mission is in this episode.

Marguerite M.:

Yes, so joining us today to talk about NINDS and what makes us awesome is Dr. Walter Koroshetz, the Director of NINDS and Dr. Nina Schor, the Deputy Director of NINDS. Welcome. Can you tell us a little bit about yourselves?

Walter K.:

So I'm Walter, I'm the director and I do what everyone else tells me to do. [laughter] Somewhat facetiously. But yeah, no, my job is to listen to people outside of NIH, scientists, patients , disease organizations and people inside of NIH, the great staff that we have here. And then we jointly make decisions, but I have to sign off on those. So I do a lot of email . I came in 2007 as the deputy director. So I had Nina's old job and I always tell Nina, that's the fun job [laughter] Before I started here, I was a Professor of Neurology at the Mass General Hospital in Boston, where I was for 26 years, and I did a combination of research, practice, and also ran the training program. So I had a very varied career in my life. I had a passion, which was bicycle riding, [laughter] but I had an accident and that might be over and so I'm looking for a new one. Anybody has any suggestions? Let me know.

Lauren Ullrich:

Alright so, they should tweet at you?

Marguerite M.:

Right.

Nina Schor:

Something sedentary.

Walter K.:

Something sedentary is right.

Nina Schor:

So I'm the Deputy Director here and one of the things that made me take the position of Deputy Director is that it is a position with a very nebulous job description. And I am a mixture of pinch hitter when Walter isn't around or isn't able to do five things at once and the person who kind of looks around and says, "what's missing from the portfolio and what could I provide that maybe nobody has thought of doing before that might make the Institute better?" I also, along with Walter, am someone, an extra person to listen and to field questions and to deal with concerns. Often I think both of us will hear fantastic ideas, from either outside or inside people, that are ideas that are easily implemented by us, but that we just didn't happen to think of. And so, that's a real joy of the job to really be able to tap into the talent all around you and say, how do we use it to make us better than we were before? So, I know I always talk like I know what I'm talking about in this job, but I've only been here about a year and a half. So probably if you ask me five years from now, I'll have a different answer for what this job is. But I spent the rest of my career, much like Walter did before he came to NIH, in academia; 20 years of it at the University of Pittsburgh and almost 12 years of it at the University of Rochester. And, also like Walter, I sort of came up through the ranks in those academic institutions. In Pittsburgh, I ran the Child Neurology Division, I ran a training program when I moved to Rochester, it was really to become the chair of the Department of Pediatrics and, in that capacity, got very involved in research and teaching and clinical work and kept my own lab going really up until I arrived here. And then I guess you want to know about hobbies or passions, and that--in a way that's an easy one for me. I am nowhere near as athletic as Walter is and that will never happen. So , um, so I love music and I love to create music and to play music and get involved with musical groups mostly as a keyboardist, but I play a number of other instruments and uh , and I write poetry. I love--and to me I think of those as the same thing. I write poetry sometimes. It almost doesn't mean anything in particular. It's just the words sound like a piece of music would sound.

Marguerite M.:

What's your favorite genre of music to play?

Nina Schor:

You know, it's interesting. I have two answers to that. One is what is often pejoratively called "easy listening." Because I mean, in my current involvement in career and so forth, if it feels like work, then it's not serving the purpose.

Marguerite M.:

Right.

:

I mean, music has to be relaxation. So I very rarely pick up music. I just play by ear. I'll hear something on the radio or whatever. And then the other thing is I was very involved in Pittsburgh in a klezmer band and played with them for about four years. And I still love klezmer music. It, just something about it.

Lauren Ullrich:

So I thought maybe we could start--if one of you wanted to briefly explain, what is the mission of NINDS?

Walter K.:

Well, the mission is pretty simple. We're trying to advance the understanding of how the brain and nervous system works and then to translate that knowledge into treatments for people with neurological diseases and stroke . So it's a very, kind of, two part but connected mission.

Marguerite M.:

What do you see as the role of training and diversity in advancing the NINDS mission?

Nina Schor:

Yeah, I think the most concrete role of training in diversity is to create and perpetuate the optimum workforce to carry out the mission of NINDS. I mean, the mission of NINDS doesn't just take place within the proverbial four walls of NINDS, it takes place all over the country and in some measure all over the world. And it behooves us, I think, if we are going to have the expectation that people will partner with us to create innovative ways of understanding and treating disease, that we also do our part to bring those people along and to see to it that people who represent different groups that may have different perceptions or realities of illness and different challenges in dealing with those illnesses are represented in the workforce.

Walter K.:

Yeah , I would just add that the great thing about neuroscience now is that there are new tools that are coming on the scene to allow people to do things that people in past generations couldn't do. And a lot of the people in my generation are too old to learn how to use those tools. So a lot of the possibilities for potential breakthroughs are really with the younger folks coming in: early career stage investigators, postdocs, graduate students, they're the ones who are generally working on these, with these new technologies that are really quite powerful now.

Nina Schor:

The other thing that I think we should say about that is that all of these new technologies have the potential to draw in a diverse workforce from the standpoint of skillset and training. So, you know, in the past we thought of neuroscientists as just biologists of a particular ilk, but these new technologies require us to have computer scientists and engineers and physicists to come and join with us and try to figure the nervous system out.

Lauren Ullrich:

So, as I mentioned earlier, applicants often see NIH as a monolith, but the different ICs often have surprisingly different policies and practices from each other. So I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about NINDS' relationship with NIH as a whole and how do we work with the other institutes and centers as well as the Office of the NIH Director?

Walter K.:

Well, NIH is very complicated. You're absolutely right about that. There are 27 institutes and centers and they all get their own individual budget from Congress. And so each is responsible for the best stewardship of those funds. And depending on the area of science, they move in different directions. And so, the variety is actually a strength in many cases. But there are certain things where, to get things done, the institutes have to come together. And we're very lucky in neuroscience that we have what's called the Blueprint for Neuroscience, which is all the neuroscience institutes, 13 of them, sit around the table and make decisions to fund things that are going to raise all boats. So we have very good rapport with all the other neuroscience institutes, which has served us very well, particularly now, we have programs that are multi-institute and center such as the BRAIN Initiative, which has many of the neuroscience institutes involved. And also, the new HEAL Initiative, Helping to End Addiction Long-term, which is also multiple different institutes working on both the pain side of this to develop better ways of managing pain, which our institute leads, and more ways of preventing addiction and overdose deaths. And that's what the National Institute of Drug Abuse leads. And then the other program, which we're also very collaborative with is the Alzheimer's disease and related dementias program to try to make a dent in the growing dementia burden of illness with National Institute of Aging, National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. And , uh , so a lots of things that go on at the grand stage are multi-institute, but at NINDS, we feel that, you know, it's our job to build a cadre of investigators that are going to be very focused on supporting our mission as well. And , uh, we've, I think been very successful at doing that. And I'll say it right out front, I think we're the best institute at NIH.

Marguerite M.:

I would have to agree!

Walter K.:

Dr. Schor, do you agree?

Nina Schor:

I would, you know, I, I must say in my years in academia, 27 of those years, I was NIH-funded. But not always from the same institute. And so I had funds from , uh, three institutes including NINDS, and it impresses me even more now that I'm here, that at NINDS, the program officers, the people who actually manage the funded grants, take a much different level of interest in not just the science of the projects, but in the people out in the field that are actually carrying those projects out. And so it is not unusual for one of our program officers to look at a specific aims page and mentor a new investigator through, not the nitty gritty details of the science, but how do you tell the story, how do you put this project on paper so somebody gets it? And the stewardship that they show and the advocacy that they show from the standpoint of making sure that the best science actually gets funded and gets out there is very different from what I saw at other institutes. So I would agree with you.

Lauren Ullrich:

And you'll meet some of those people , uh, throughout the rest of this podcast.

Marguerite M.:

Yes, um , and I think to your point , Nina, one of the things that makes NINDS such a great place is how we're organized here. So, can one of you sort of describe to our listeners how NINDS is organized and how diversity and training sort of fits into that organization?

Walter K.:

So again, there's many different pieces to NINDS as well as NIH. So let's stick with, first of all, the training. We have a training office and we have an office for workforce diversity and they work together very closely to bring folks who are in college, even, graduate school , residency programs, fellowship programs, to the point where they can take part in this major effort to understand the nervous system and develop treatments for neurological disorders. So we're very proud of the work we do there, we're always trying to do better. Then we, we go and think about, well, after your training then, where would you go into NINDS and we have three divisions of science. One is called the Division of Neuroscience, which has our basic science programs and it has our basic mechanisms of disease programs. And that's where most of our budget is, probably 65 to 70% of our budget comes out of that division of neuroscience where you'll meet some of the program directors in the podcast who are responsible for particular areas of science. So, if you have a grant that fits in our mission, there'll be somebody who is really on your grant, and that's a program officer. And then we have the Division of Clinical Research, which is very adept at running clinical trials, clinical trial networks. And then we have a Division of Translational Research which is very adept at developing programs that would bring a potential treatment through all the steps needed to get FDA approval to go into patients and hopefully then pass off into industry. We have those three divisions here in the science at NINDS. And then just to round it out we have a Division of Extramural Activities that basically oversees all of the things that cut across those three science divisions and we have an Intramural Science Division which has a very robust research going on in the Bethesda campus, both clinical and basic research. And then we have the Office of the Director, which has a lot of the groups that communicate NINDS's mission to scientists, to the public, to the legislature. And also we have the business people who are watching the dollars. So that's overall all the nooks and crannies here at NINDS.

Lauren Ullrich:

So one of the goals of this podcast is to really shine a light on the way that we do things here at NINDS. Is there anything in particular that applicants need to know about the way that we work that might be different from other institutes or centers?

Nina Schor:

So, you know, this would probably fall under the subheading of a shameless plug, [laughter] but I think you did say that we need to highlight what it is that we do uniquely. So we have just initiated a few months ago, a strategic planning process that is in some ways similar, but not exactly the same, to what most academic institutions do, but very, very different from what other institutes have done at NIH. And so the way we've done this is to have a sort of an overarching leadership committee and to have that steering committee oversee the function and membership of four types of task forces and those task forces are roughly related to the science of NINDS, and there are two of those, one for intramural science and one for extramural science, which are very, very different from one another. But then the other three task forces are combined intramural and extramural. And one of those is training and diversity. Really to say, are there things that we can do to facilitate training the optimum workforce in exactly the right way on the out--most of the people we train are people that are going to go back out into the non-NIH campus workforce, but also are there lessons that we can learn from what we do in that to make the training we do on campus better than it currently is. There's a group that's dedicated to communication. How do we communicate not only among ourselves in between intramural and extramural, but how do we communicate with the scientific community outside of NIH? And how do we communicate with lay people who are going to be the beneficiaries of the things that are created in the scientific community and really should inform us what would be the best things from their standpoint for us to work on. And then there's a final committee, a task force that's dedicated to a workforce and workplace culture. How can we create the optimal environment in which for people to work in NIH and are there lessons that we might learn from that, that we could pass on to our colleagues at academic institutions around the country. So through this whole process, very much like other institutes at NIH, we will be asking and creating opportunities for public input to our deliberations. We can't do this by ourselves and we're required by law not to do this by ourselves, to actually get the public engaged and to have them weigh in on this. But I think many of the other institutes will have an outside panel come in and do the whole process of recommending to them what they ought to be doing. And we felt very strongly that because we are on the inside, that the process and the questions that we ask the public ought to come first from us, but that then we ought to be listeners just as Walter and I are right here on the campus to things that come in from the public and we ought to allow that to guide our discussion. Linked to the NINDS website is a request for input from the public. We've, we've already gotten 40 or 50 responses, but it's open until November 1st. If you go to NINDS.nih.gov, you will see a link that pops up to the RFI that you can actually put in on any or on all of the four areas to actually help us do this and help guide the discussions that we have. But this won't be the only opportunity we're going to bring the public in many times over during this process.

Walter K.:

You know, from my point of view, the big danger at NIH is kind of resting on your laurels because, since you control the money, a lot of people are not gonna criticize you and you may be doing a terrible job for 10 years before you figure it out. So the key after the leadership at NINDS is always trying to do things better. How do we do things better? And that podcast is a great example of how do we reach out to people and trainees and get them interested in NINDS research and, and enable them to kind of see how they could, you know, negotiate their way through. But there is, there's a long list of things that we could do better and we have to just keep moving. And luckily we have a great staff that's willing to put out the extra effort and time and creativity to help us tackle these challenges.

Marguerite M.:

So even with all the differences between ICs, both how they operate and how they interact with the extramural community, we manage to bring it all together and work together both in terms of multi-IC initiatives such as HEAL, but also working all together to advance the NIH mission. So how does that happen? How do you have these very different entities coming together for common goals?

Walter K.:

Well, I think, you know, depending on what the question is, a lot of the expertise is spread across NIH. And the HEAL Initiative is a great example of that. So we're the lead institute for pain research, but if you're talking about back pain, musculoskeletal pain, then there's the National Institute for Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Disorders. And so to run a major program trying to understand how better treat back pain, which is actually the leading cause of disability in the US right now, that Institute is critical to moving that forward. S,o it's basically, we have program directors at our institute, as we talked about, and they work with the program directors at NIAMS on a big project like this. And I think it's a win-win for everyone.

Speaker 5:

[inaudible]

Marguerite M.:

Well, we want to thank you for joining us for this podcast. I think it speaks a lot to NINDS as a whole to have its leadership take a priority in training and diversity. Can each of you provide one last piece of advice for our listeners?

Nina Schor:

So, I would say the thing that stood me in the best stead in a career in science is finding that middle ground between having breadth to your interests and your knowledge base and your skillset and focusing in on a particular scientific problem or medical problem or issue. I think everything in science is interesting and so there's the danger of spreading yourself so thin and so broadly that you don't become an expert in anything. And there's also the danger of becoming an expert in something so deeply that you don't know anything two inches to the left or right. And I think finding that middle ground is challenging, but the most important thing for forging a successful career in science.

Walter K.:

That's what I think. Very good advice for sure. And I think the other thing I'd say is that the data we have and actually was just recently published, that, it's really persistence that matters most in science. You find your passion in science and then you keep working to get somebody to fund it, but persistence definitely pays off. In this world we live in, the science world, rejection is an everyday event. You do an experiment, it doesn't work. You try it again, it doesn't work. And then you know, you keep trying and you get it. And trying to get a grant, same thing, may not work the first time. Keep trying. You're going to get it. So I would go back to my, one of my favorite movies, "Galaxy Quest" where the,

Marguerite M.:

[ laughter]

Walter K.:

Where the message is: "Never give up, never surrender."

Marguerite M.:

"Never surrender." Yes. And we are here to help. So please continue to listen to the podcast and reach out to us because we do want you to succeed and you don't have to persist by yourself.

Lauren Ullrich:

Exactly. And hopefully listening to this podcast is the first step in empowering yourself to learn how the process works. Well. That's all that we have time for today on Building Up the Nerve. So I want to say a huge thank you again to our guests this week for sharing their expertise and also thank you to Program Director Bob Riddle for our theme song and music. So we'll see you next time when we take you through the grant process and the major players that keep the train moving. You can find all episodes of this podcast and many more grant application resources on the web at NINDS.nih.gov.

Marguerite M.:

Be sure to follow us on Twitter @NINDSDiversity and @NINDSFunding. You can email us questions at NINDSNervePod@nih.gov. Make sure you subscribe to the podcast on Apple podcasts or your favorite podcast app so you don't miss an episode. We'll see you next time.