Archive for: June, 2012

Yes Virginia, there is non-NIH money

Jun 19 2012 Published by under Uncategorized

I think the majority of my (US-based) scientist friends, and perhaps even you, Dear Reader, work in biomedical sciences of some sort or another. From early in our training we learn of the mystical edifice that is The National Institutes of Health. The NIH, as we endearingly know it, is the major funder of most *biomedical* science in the US, and its coveted R01 research award is key to success, promotion and tenure. M'Learn'd Colleagues  PhysioProf and DrugMonkey are well funded and write with authority on the complexities of applying for, receiving and renewing NIH research dollars.

In addition, M'Learn'd Colleagues Gerty-Z and Dr. Becca, among others, have recently written of their experiences in beginning to negotiate these treacherous waters.

It is worthy and vital to note that the NIH funds *biomedical research*. This is broadly applied, but vital. If you're working on other basic processes in the Life Sciences you are more likely to apply to the NIH's red-headed stepchild The National Science Foundation (NSF). The NSF has a broader remit (and a much smaller budget), and funds non-biomedical research. M'Learn'd Colleagues Prof-Like Substance and Odyssey both enjoy the fruits of the NSF money-tree, and can be relied on for wisdom and council with regards the mores of the NSF application.

[Note added in proof - for brevity I'm not going into any of the detail about NIH vs. NSF and this "biomedical science" malarkey. It's complex, and can be read about elsewhere. See Prof-Like for e.g.]

But what of those of us that work on the applied fringes of biomedical research? As a biomedical informaticist I have two options - Option A) Piggy-back on other folks grants to seek the salary coverage afforded by providing core databasing services, or B) Apply for my own funding to cover the development of novel systems and providing databasing services. This latter is much harder for reasons I will explain in another post, and is also, alas, not really an option for me. I am not allowed to apply for my own funding as a Principle Investigator (PI). This was part of the contract offered to me when I accepted the position. It has pros and cons and, again, that's fodder for another post. (FWIW, and for those who understand such jargon, I am allowed to Co-I as long as my FTE is under 10%/project. I am a Co-I on a NIH-funded DB/PC/RCT R01 right now. Which is nice.)

So, most of the grant writing I do (and I do a lot) falls under Option A - convincing our faculty they should use a CFR21pt11, HIPAA, FISMA, HITECH & FIPS140-2 compliant and validated database for their data warehousing. And when you frame it like that it's actually fairly easy to convince them it's a good idea. Funding agencies like to see you've thought your shit out and covered your ass on any weak spots, and professional database protection and software design is a fairly common weak spot. We have the added advantage that as a core facility at the University, we are non-profit (as it were) so I can charge much less than my for-profit competitors for these services. I need only salary coverage - no mark-ups and no hidden fees.

In addition, because most of what we provide is *clinical* databasing we don't always have to rely on the NIH & NSF for funding. There is a world of other funding opportunities out there for those of us away from the lab bench. Most recently the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) have been actively seeking proposals to help it spend a large wadge of cash. These "Innovation Awards" are competitive awards to fund cost-saving measures across a range of CMS-funded services. (Medicare & Medicaid are, essentially, the health insurance for people without health insurance. Confused yet?)

Given the awful problems my home town faces in health and racial disparities we have a large population that can be reached via CMS-funded projects so we were well placed to apply. My group was on two of three CMS-Health Care Innovation Award grant applications that went out in January, and of these three two were funded! Only one of the ones we're named on has been funded, but there is some hope that a second round of announcements will be going out later in the year, so maybe we'll get hit twice. The money arrives in October and covers 10-15% (pre-funding trim) of the salaries of myself and three of my staff. Which is nice.

In addition, the 'technology' that will result from our work will be broadly applicable across a range of health care interests so there's a great incentive to build something truly scalable here.

So, there we go. We  got another grant funded, and we've got our names on three more we expect to hear from soon - one NIH R01, another CMS grant (under a different "mechanism") and one funded by yet another non-NIH/NSF player - The National Institute of Justice (NIJ). Who knew there was so much investment in our scientific and research infrastructure huh?

6 responses so far

You shall douche no moar!

Jun 16 2012 Published by under Uncategorized


I am a huge fucking fan of invective. Invective snaps are instinctive and contain power. But Power needs to be used carefully or else it becomes tyranny. A child fucking swearing for fucks sake is a tyrant and a poorly educated idiot. That can be fixed.

The other side of the coin is a finely crafted retort. That takes years of practice; one shows the empty minded, invective slinging youth the error of hir ways by teaching hir to cut a motherfucker with words. You stupid, inbred, slackjawed pigfucker. There's also inventive collections, as any dickcheese nibbling badgerwankcup knows. I enjoy the latter creative expression, but can employ the former, more thoughtfully when needed.

My favourite opening line to a movie is from "Shawn of the Dead", but a lot of my freedom to enjoy that came from being English where that word seems to carry less weight as an anti-woman specific. Well, I live in the States and you fucking Yanks have different mores, so fuck it. None of that here then.

Douchebag though. Fuck me, there's a neutral swear with gravitas. But...alas Mrs. BrooksPhD disagrees. No moar douchebags in this house.


"that guy is a fucking douchebag."

"I wish you wouldn't say that. I hate that word."

"but it's a valid non-gendered expression of what a total cu.."

"Dont you fucking dare say that word"

"OK,in modern connotation it's a gender neutral expression of..."

"Fuck. that. Fuckthat. It's a fucking disgusting expression and it makes you look like a fucking pig asshole. Dont fucking say it."

"...ok darling."

I will not be a douchebag and use that term again. In front of my wife.

iPad post - internal keyboard is a douchebag invention. Edit for spelling & grammar soon.

7 responses so far

Is there a chef in the house?

Jun 16 2012 Published by under Uncategorized

My wife cooks a great breakfast. Eggs, bacon. Brilliant. Waffles? Hell yeah. We even have a waffle "maker" she's used.

Steak dinner? with brussels sprouts. And cous-cous?

Well. As one scientist to another, anyone can run a western blot, but can you pour your own gel?

I think I understand why my grad students got annoyed at me...shit. The fucken kitchen is on fire again...

One response so far

Whether Vein

Jun 14 2012 Published by under Uncategorized

In April I was promoted to Director of my group.

I started in late 2008 as a Research Administration Fellow - basically my third postdoc position, an internship if you will. They covered my postdoc salary so my lab mentor could release me from his clutches into theirs. I had very little understanding of medical and health informatics. I knew nothing about databasing, or coding. I knew virtually nothing about the real trials of clinical medicine.

In mid-2009 my position was made permanent and I was posted as Project Manager for the group. While I was learning as fast as possible about the technical aspects of our work, I had picked up good skills in technical writing, presentation delivery, organising and multi-tasking, etc. All these "transferable" skills proved useful and my duties and responsibilities increased. I made sure to get as much exposure as possible to the world of academic administration and volunteered to help out where possible in the Office of Academic Affairs and the Office of Faculty Affairs. I helped organise the Postdoc Office, and helped put on career fairs and grant writing seminars in my "Spare Time". Not one whit of this was altruistic. I was learning constantly and everything I did was coordinated to either increase my exposure to new, valuable experiences (not always hard to determine beforehand so there were some big misses), and new valuable people. As Benjamin Franklin might have said, "It's not enough to work hard, you must be seen to be working hard."

In 2010 I was made Associate Director, but unfortunately the Institute that employed me failed to secure long term funding from the National Institutes of Health and the seed money we'd been relying on finally dried up. The Institute was, essentially, disbanded, except for my group - we were too valuable and had started covering our salary line with grant funding. But that was a scary fucking time. I don't think I've ever worked so hard on getting grants out and research-project databases built. We were fighting to prove our worth. Around that time, more than one of us was found crying in the break room, or ranting in the washroom - venting stress at missing another family event. It was much much harder on the "real" staff than on us few PhDs, because we had all gone through a period of postdoc training and thus this was not a new experience. Certainly not welcome - I love my 40hr work week! But not new either. Some people quit.

But, it all paid off. We showed enough promise and so we were made into the newest division of the Office of Research. We've grown back to a decent sized little group, and we got nice new offices, with nice dark wood furniture and some new toys to play with. And I got made Director.

I'm a really good Project Manager.
I'm an OK people manager.
I'm not sure how to Direct a group.

Fortunately my colleagues think I do, and so does our administration. So, here I am - only 37 and Directing a research group with a 7 figure budget and salary line. We're responsible for multiple faculty projects and therefore several millions of dollars of federal funding. We got word that two more major projects are being funded in the next couple of weeks and there are three multimillion dollar projects pending for September. In addition my goal is to make us a University-wide resource. Within a year we'll have a couple of new systems on board (i2b2 & REDCap if you're curious) that will allow us to serve many, many smaller projects for free. And I think I just volunteered us to build a campus-wide student health tracking system.

My Boss, the Vice Chancellor offered me this sage advice when we she offered me the job: "It's a clean sheet. A green field. It's the opportunity of a life time. Only you can fuck this up now. So, don't fuck up."

Wise words indeed.

13 responses so far