NINDS's Building Up the Nerve

All About Grants: What We Have Heard from Early Career Researchers (Part 1)

September 15, 2023 NINDS Season 4
NINDS's Building Up the Nerve
All About Grants: What We Have Heard from Early Career Researchers (Part 1)
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Listen in for the first of two special guest episodes of NIH's All About Grants podcast! In this episode, host Dr. David Kosub invites NINDS's Building Up the Nerve co-host,  Dr. Lauren Ullrich, and the host of National Cancer Institute's Inside Cancer Careers, Oliver Bogler, for a conversation on what they've learned from early career researchers through their podcasts.

The next guest episode features Building Up the Nerve's other co-host, Dr. Marguerite Matthews!  

All About Grants
Inside Cancer Careers

Transcript available at

[00:00:00] Marguerite Matthews: Hi all. I'm Marguerite Matthews.

[00:00:02] Lauren Ullrich: And I'm Lauren Ullrich, and we're the hosts of NINDS's Building Up the Nerve. 

[00:00:06] Marguerite Matthews: We're popping into the feed off cycle to bring you an episode of All About Grants, a podcast from the NIH's Office of Extramural Research.

[00:00:15] Lauren Ullrich: The episode features an interview with me, Lauren, and Dr. Oliver Bogler, host of NCI's Inside Cancer Careers podcast, and it's about what we've learned from early career researchers in the course of our recording.

[00:00:28] Marguerite Matthews: Be sure to stay tuned for part two, featuring me, Marguerite, later in the year.

[00:00:33] Lauren Ullrich: And if you want to hear more from either podcast, you can find them in any podcast app.

[Music Playing]

[00:00:41] David Kosub: Attention all researchers, especially those early in their career: grad students, postdocs, career development awardees. Do we have something in store for you today. We know you're thinking about your career and how to get funding to do your research from NIH, but what else should you be thinking about as you try to embark on your new career? This is David Kosub. And I'm with NIH's All About Grants.

[00:01:06] Male Voice: From the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland this is All About Grants.

[00:01:20] David Kosub: All right. Welcome to the show. I am glad to say that we have two very special guests with us, two other podcasters here at NIH. We have Dr. Oliver Bogler. He hosts the National Cancer Institute's Inside Cancer Careers podcast. And we also have Dr. Lauren Ullrich. She is a co-host of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Strokes podcast called Building Up the Nerve. Welcome Oliver, Lauren to the show.

[00:01:48] Lauren Ullrich: Great. Happy to be here.

[00:01:49] Oliver Bogler: Thank you so much.

[00:01:51] David Kosub: All right. So if you recognize those voices check out their podcasts after this show. So Oliver, Lauren before we jump right in, tell us more about your show and why you're interested in, you know, helping early career researchers.

[00:02:03] Lauren Ullrich: You want to kick us off, Oliver?

[00:02:05] Oliver Bogler: Sure. Thank you. Glad to. So we started Inside Cancer Careers earlier this year because it's an amazingly exciting time in cancer research, and we wanted to have conversations about all the different things you can do related to ending cancer as we know it. We need people with all kinds of talents from all kinds of backgrounds thinking about all kinds of ways of approaching the problems that we have in cancer research and so that's what the podcast is all about. What can you do. What kind of backgrounds. What kind of paths. And what kind of skills and ideas and creativity can you bring to cancer research.

[00:02:39] Lauren Ullrich: And over at Building Up the Nerve, this podcast is really designed to demystify NIH grants and science training in general in a fun, portable and hopefully a little bit more accessible format than our standard, you know, NIH tip sheets and webinars. And we also know that it's helpful for our listeners to hear directly from peers, so we try to get a wide variety of guests who are or were going through exactly what our listeners are going through and can really speak from experience. And we started way back I think it was in 2017 with the NIH grant cycle and what's going on behind the scenes. And then we had season two was about the fellowship and career development award application. Season three was all about mentoring. And now season four is focused on the hidden curriculum throughout a scientific career.

[00:03:36] David Kosub: Demystifying grants process. I'm glad we're aligning in that as well. You said hidden curriculum. I actually want to jump on that. You know, this hidden curriculum what exactly does this mean? You kind of touched on its all these other parts to it, you know. Why is this important to know this? What's going off underneath the surface?

[00:03:56] Lauren Ullrich: Yeah. So we know that, you know, education in general it's not only what you learn in the formal classroom, right? But it's also this other hidden curriculum that's the values, and the beliefs, and the behaviors and all these pieces of scientific culture that are implicitly there, right? What are the norms of practices of being a scientist. And so some examples of that is like, okay. In the classroom you're learning about the scientific method, you're learning about responsible conduct of research; how to write a paper. But you also need to know: how to find mentors, how to build networks, how to dress, how to speak, how to secure funding. And some programs we know are getting better in sort of teaching these things explicitly. Some mentors really go out of their way to teach these things but not all of them. And our podcast, you know, from the beginning has really been about trying to level the playing field and making that implicit information explicit for everyone in the conversations that we have so it doesn't depend on who your mentor is or who you know. That this information is out there for anyone to access.

[00:05:08] David Kosub: How to dress. My mentor failed on that one when I was in school. [laughs] Actually just jumping on that mentorship, you know, but maybe both of you all can take this. How do you find the right mentor? How do you know it's the right person?

[00:05:20] Oliver Bogler: Yeah. I think that's a really important aspect of any career. And one of the things we illuminate in the stories that our guests tell is that very aspect. So we have guests from all different career stages that talk about their paths so far in science and one of the themes that comes out all the time is the importance of connecting with other people who can help you find that right insight, guide you in the projects you're doing or in the hidden curriculum, right? How do you build those relationships? How do you find those jobs? And how do you get those grants and papers published? I mean, we're very grateful to both of you for demystifying the grants process. We have not focused on that because you're doing such a great job with it. But there's a lot of other stuff that needs to be demystified and finding a good mentor and making that relationship work is one of those things.

[00:06:09] Lauren Ullrich: Yeah. And I'll just follow up and say that nobody should have just one mentor, right? This should be a whole host of people who are helping you and invested in your career. You know, one of the things that's really come out and I think I kind of new in the background but has really solidified for me during the recording of season four is how much of science happens through cold emails. Like we just have story after story of people being like, "Yeah. I found my postdoc mentor through a cold email." I read their paper and I just reached out to them, or my summer research opportunity, or my collaborator. And so I think a lot of people feel like: "Oh, I don't have a network. I don't know anyone." But we've found that if you reach out then you might be surprised by how many people do respond and are interested in working with you and collaborating with you or help letting you in their lab. So as long as you reach out and do that due diligence then you might be surprised.

[00:07:17] David Kosub: And kind of building on that kind of communications. Those emails once, you know, you got the footing, you get in that lab you're working with someone. You know, how do you keep those communications open? How do you work with your mentor to make sure that, you know, you're growing as a researcher? And it's going beyond just like simply writing a scientific publication or helping to draft a grant. I mean, just these other kind of inherent communications that need to happen on a daily basis.

[00:07:40] Oliver Bogler: Yeah. I think that's critical. The process of becoming an independent investigator out of someone else's research team is a process, and most scientists are introverted and most scientists aren't focused on the communications of this kind. But we certainly hear stories where early and explicit clear negotiation of these kinds of issues can be incredibly beneficial to all parties concerned, including the mentors. So that's something we definitely emphasize.

[00:08:13] Lauren Ullrich: Yeah. Good communication is so important and something that I wasn't always the best at, especially during graduate school of my early career because it's hard, right? It requires trust. It requires vulnerability sometimes if you're talking about these difficult subjects. But hiding from these issues or these issues or this communication definitely will only make things worse. So, I'll say from experience. The good news is that you can get better with practice, but the bad news is you actually do have to practice. And it may be hard and kind of awkward, but it's really worth it to just-- You know, figure out what you want to say and then, you know, practice; practice with a trusted friend. And then just jump into it and you'll probably find your mentor will react better than you think they will.

[00:09:05] David Kosub: As I teach my four year old, practice makes progress.

[00:09:09] Lauren Ullrich: Yes.

[00:09:09] David Kosub: You got to keep at it. And Oliver, you mentioned introverts and we mentioned networking earlier. As someone who's an introverted person who doesn't do much networking I could go away from it I guess, but I know it's an important thing that, you know, has to be done in research. No researcher is an island, if you will. We're constantly working together. We're constantly collaborating. You know, do you have any thoughts? Have you heard, you know, from your experiences on your shows about how networking is important?

[00:09:36] Oliver Bogler: Absolutely. I mean, I would say that the one thing I would think about if you are feeling a little introverted is that, what is a common thread in all our conversations is a passion and interest for science. That is something that is very common and drives people in different ways maybe but certainly is there. So rely on that as a great way, a great chance to build common interest with someone even if you're approaching them out of the blue, so to speak, you don't have a previous relationship. Connect with them around your common interest in science and you're bound to have at least a good conversation to begin with and then that can lead to many other things. You know, communications tools are so handy these days. Scientists are really quite accessible in a way that maybe 20, 30 years ago it wasn't the case. I would encourage everyone to make themselves and make use of that, avail themselves of that and, you know, reach out. Scientists are almost always willing to talk about science, you know. That's a truism

[00:10:37] Lauren Ullrich: That is true. I'll also say like, networking doesn't have to mean going to a reception and standing around awkwardly with like your canapes and your glass of wine. I like to tell people to think about it in a much more broad sense. For me, small talk is very hard, just like my mind goes blank, I don't know what to say. But one way to build your network in maybe a more approachable way is volunteering for things because you have a built-in conversation starter like that thing that you are working on together and you have a chance to develop those relationships a little more organically. People remember people that were really useful or helpful in these kinds of situations and so that kind of experience can build even stronger connections than just some random person that you met at a conference. So being a little broader about your definition of networking is one way to help overcome some of those introverted tendencies.

[00:11:44] David Kosub: Yeah. And if you need any conversation starters just say, "Hey, did you hear that really great All About Grant's podcast with those two other podcasters? That's a great show." Well, Oliver and Lauren this has been a great opportunity to kind of hear from you all and your experiences on your particular podcasts as it relates to, you know, helping early career researchers. Before we go, I always like to leave an opportunity to, you know, have some final thoughts from our guests. Feel free and share. You know, anything that you want to leave the audience with about, you know, kind of starting their careers and what they should be thinking about.

[00:12:15] Lauren Ullrich: I'll say there are a lot of resources out there, I think you'd be surprised. At NIH we want to provide the information that people need to be successful, like we're not trying to be gatekeepers. But we also recognize the resources can be hard to find. You know, speaking of hidden curriculum. The number one lesson from our podcast at least is, talk to your program officer. And how do you know who that person is? If you're applying to a funding opportunity, you scroll down to the bottom, it will have a name and an email address. And you can reach out and say: "Hey, I'm thinking about applying. Here are my specific games." Or "Here's the general topic of my research. Can we have a conversation and see if this is appropriate for me?" If you've already applied that name will be in eRA Commons or in your summary statement of who the program director is and just reach out. Even if you just come up and say, "I was told I'm supposed to talk to you." Like most program officers are going to take that in stride, you're not the first newbie that we've talked to. And we really are here to try and help navigate what we know is a confusing system.

[00:13:22] Oliver Bogler: Yeah. And I would just say, you know, it's a phenomenal time to be in biomedicine and cancer research, come take a look at all the different career options if you're not engaged. If you're already engaged listen to our podcast it's a great way to imagine your future where you might go and learn from people who are maybe just a couple of steps ahead of you or way down the road. And then the other thing is, you know, we created this podcast to have a conversation. So we are always interested to hear from you. We'd love to get user feedback and listener feedback. And also if you have ideas for our podcast for people we should talk to or things we should consider we'd love to hear from you. And if you just Google up Inside Cancer Careers from NCI you'll find our webpage and our email address and a way to reach out to us. So, please get in touch.

[00:14:10] David Kosub: Well, thank you very much Oliver and Lauren. This has been a great opportunity to learn more about, you know, what early career researchers should be thinking about when they're embarking on their careers. And, you know, to echo something Oliver mentioned, check out the NCI's Inside Cancer Careers podcasts and check out NINDS's Building Up the Nerve podcast. It's a great resource to learn, you know, more about what it is that you should be thinking about, what others who are experiencing what you're going through how they're addressing it and all. And there's also lots of other NIH podcasts that you should check out. And stay tuned for another podcast coming soon that's going to be focused on knowing yourself and knowing your science. And it kind of helps you as an early career researchers think about that as you're, you know, considering applying for NIH. This has been David Kosub with NIH's All About Grants. Thanks. [Music] 

All About Grants