The past 12+ months and what to expect at the revived Juniorprof

Just over a year ago I abandoned this little blog for 2 main reasons: 1) I was (and still am) incredibly busy trying to get the lab established and bringing in funding and 2) I ran out of things to say. I considered coming back to blogging on many occasions but never really felt like a had a complete grasp on what I wanted to accomplish here. I’m not sure that I do now but I have a much better idea than I had before so here goes…

First, the past year. The first year and a half of my TT position was a real struggle. Setting up the lab was a blast, bringing in exciting and smart trainees was and continues to be one of the great pleasures of my scientific life and getting started on our independent projects was a thrill but writing grants (which I also enjoy) was an utter disaster. I had 8 grants go out and none of them even got a score. Looking back, some of them were truly bad. Some of them were actually pretty good but probably not the right mechanisms for someone like me. The big break came when I applied for a Rita Allen Foundation grant and got it. The Rita Allen Foundation went into an agreement with the American Pain Society to start a Scholars in Pain program (perhaps a rather unfortunate name for a great program) and myself and another researcher at Pitt were the first official recipients of the award. I say official because they actually started the program the year before (but not in name) with an award to a pain researcher at UNC (he may actually prefer sensory systems to pain researcher because his exciting work is a bit broader than pain). Within days, literally, of getting the money for the Rita Allen Foundation award I learned that my R01 from NINDS was going to be funded. While we spent an enormous amount of time getting preliminary data for and writing that R01 (which was triaged the first time), I really believe that the endorsement of the our work from the Rita Allen Foundation played a major role in helping us get the R01. I’d been told many times that getting that first award (whatever it is) is the key to starting to get the funding rolling in. In my case this appears to be true. Since the Rita Allen Foundation award, the R01 came through and the dreaded unscored has gone away. Hence, we’ve got several other grants that I think we are getting close to getting funded and it looks like the lab of juniorprof is going to survive the transition from startup funds to a full fledged NIH supported lab.

Another important feature of the past year was getting the little things done to have my tenure packet where it needs to be to move forward. This meant joining the appropriate committees, doing a ton of reviewing to prove my worth for editorial board positions and saying yes when NIH came knocking to do the study section thing. The study section thing happened in a somewhat interesting way. The day that I got my score for my R01 (which was clearly in the fundable range) I got an email from an SRO to participate ad hoc on a study section panel. I later found out that this opportunity came as a referral from another colleague here at UA so its not like the SRO was trolling for new people with fundable scores but nevertheless I got a kick out of the timing. Since then, I’ve been on as an ad hoc for every cycle. ITs true what they say, you learn more about grant writing from being on study section than any other experience can offer. It really is a shame that they cannot get more junior people into this earlier because it would be a huge opportunity to help people like me get their career going.

Finally, teaching. My teaching load expanded significantly and somewhat unexpectedly. First off, a prof who had run our molecular pharmacology course decided to go part time and this meant that she would not be teaching her course anymore. I became course director and had to scramble to put together the course in short order. This took an enormous amount of time (time I frankly didn’t have) but we got it done and the course is now established (more or less) although it remains somewhat a work in progress (which course doesn’t?). I also took on larger role in teaching med students. Time wise, the commitment is minimal because I am leading group learning sessions (case based instruction) but I am doing it for almost the entire academic year so its a big job in terms of having to get ready for one of these nearly every week for 9 months. On the other hand, I enjoy going into more depth with the students on pharmacology and they seem to appreciate that. Moreover, it has allowed me to recruit several outstanding med students into the lab for either summer research programs or research distinction track training. Overall, all good, but all of things make for a very busy juniorprof!

So, what’s going to happen around here? First off, you may have noticed I am now pretty open about who I am (I’m pretty sure everyone knew before anyways, I think I dropped enough hints that the curious could figure it out in about 10 seconds). If you want to learn more about my lab etc., just go to the about page for all the links. The reason for this is simple. Back when I was actively blogging before I always wanted to talk about our research and especially to try to explain the stories behind how the work came to be and what I think it means in more general terms (translating our obtuse scientific language into layman terms, basically). I didn’t do this for two reasons: 1) we hadn’t really published anything from the lab yet and 2) as an unestablished investigator I felt somewhat vulnerable in doing this. Well, no more. We have a flurry of papers that are either just out or will be coming out (hopefully) very soon and I am going to blog about them here. When I talk to grad students about our research the most common questions I encounter are how did you get that idea and what do you think that means for future therapeutic opportunities. This is what I plan to talk about here. There’s also some self-promotion motivation but why would I put in the crazy hours I put in if I didn’t think the work was meaningfull? I’m pretty excited to get started on this and I hope that giving a bit of the back story behind the work will demystify the process a bit for aspiring scientists and non-specialists interested in pain research and the future of pain therapeutics.

The other thing I want to do here is talk about my class (overview and syllabus). If you take a look at the structure of the class you’ll notice that it is essentially a survey of recent lit that I find interesting. The idea is to expose the students to new concepts and areas of pharmacology and to push them to do independent learning. Most of our students are interested in pursuing Big Pharma jobs after graduation and I think that this is a valuable exercise for them to help them approach the literature in a more constructive way and to help them become better independent learners. So, what I plan to do is to continue the discussion of the papers we do in class here. I’m not sure if the students will go for it but its worth a shot. Maybe the blogosphere will become part of the class… that would be cool!

Finally, I’m going to get back to blogging about pain research in general. My post on hyperalgesia and allodynia has drawn more traffic than anything else I have ever written and is one of the first entries on google if you search for either one of those terms. There are thousands of people out there suffering from chronic pain conditions and I think that resources such as this can be very helpful. I honestly believe that understanding why pain becomes chronic is one of the great challenges in biomedical sciences today and therapeutics that come out of this type of research have a good chance of having an enormous impact on society. I’m looking forward to talking about this theme more in the coming months.

8 responses to “The past 12+ months and what to expect at the revived Juniorprof

  1. New Asst. Prof.

    Welcome back! It sounds like you’ve had an absolutely fabulous year (congratulations), and I look forward to reading more.

  2. Yay! So happy to see the blog hiatus end in such a positive way. Sometimes in these discussions on the blogs, I get worried that the science is broken. So it’s great to hear of a new investigator, enthusiastic about his science (and not just his career), interested in communicating to others. I’m glad you’ve succeeded in these first steps up the ladder (the RO1 is huge). And, I love that a “disease” focused organization (like Rita Allen) has been able to give you the little boost you needed.

    I’m a stranger, but, really, I’m so glad to hear that things are working for you. I’ll look forward to your sciency posts on pain.

  3. Thanks neurolover! The Rita Allen Foundation is really an amazing organization. We just had a meeting where all the current scholars got together at the Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton and it was an amazing experience. They have an incredible track record and their support has made a huge difference to my lab. We can do very risky stuff with the funding from them and it has really paid off.

    I should note that their pain program is very new. Traditionally they have supported people from all areas of biology (with a focus on cancer and MS) and only recently got into the pain game. The American Pain Society, for all of its problems, did a fantastic job of getting this going and it looks like the program is going to stay in place for the foreseeable future. Its a big boon for junior investigators in the pain area because grants for early investigators in the field are few and far between. Nothing like what you see in the cardiovascular or cancer areas.

  4. Congrats on the good news. I just finished year 1 and boy was it ‘exciting’. Best of luck spooling up the lab and publishing exciting work!

  5. Yay!! Glad to see you back blogging!

  6. Dood- Totally glad to see you back, congrats on the grants and lab successes!

  7. Thanks DrdrA!!!!! And congrats to you on tenure!! That’s fantastic!!

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