Nothing like a fight movie to surface comparisons to battles in academic life. When you get in the ring to compete for a grant most of us will initially take a beating. Some NIH institutes and other federal programs are funding fewer than 1 in 20 investigator-initiated proposals. Since reviewers have a tight grip on the few laudatory scores they can dole out, they will hunt for and exploit weaknesses.

Your job before you get into (or back into) the ring is to prepare better and work harder than everyone else to minimize vulnerability. What’s the lesson from Creed?

1) Don’t reject your legacy but don’t lean on it. Mentors with cred (or a heavy weight champion dad) are valuable but can’t carry you.

2) You are the toughest opponent you’re ever going to face. You have to fight doubts and excuses and bring focus on strong.

3) You must have sparring partners. Seek regular and punishing critique. Weak praise for adequate but unimpressive effort is common and must be avoided. Embrace study section comments even when they feel off base for what they will teach you about defending your work.

4) You can’t learn anything when you’re talking. Listen and watch the greats. Review strong grants and study NIH Reporter. Embrace feedback on your work as often as you can get it and LISTEN!

5) One step, one punch, on round at a time. Don’t be distracted by the next fight. Take it as it comes.

Not training, learning, and adapting scientific ideas is a common component of defeat. But giving up too early is the most common cause of death of scientific ideas. Fight on.

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1 Comment

My only real piece of advice to add to this is – if you find yourself in a boxing ring, when what you practice is Tae Kwon Do, you’re in the wrong study section…

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