During the 2020-21 academic year, Vanderbilt’s Edge for Scholars hosted weekly Zoom office hours, called Ground Level, with senior mentors and leadership. Discussions ranged from advice for grantwriting and publishing, study design, tenure/promotion, managing a lab, and more. We’ve collected some pearls from these discussions.

Ground Level hosts come from across the basic-translational-clinical-population spectrum, so some of their advice may be more or less applicable depending on the exact science you do, but most is applicable to everyone.

  • When collaborating with someone at another institution (or even your own, if in another lab), use the collaboration as both a training opportunity for mentees and a way to get Rigor, Reproducibility, and Transparency points in your next grant. Send folks from your lab to the other (or vice versa) to learn how to do a technique or experiment. Have the visitor repeat one of the experiments your collaboration has been responsible for, displaying that yes, the methods you wrote can be followed and results can be reproduced. Write this into your grant.
  • When negotiating your own job offer, ask for the goal you want to reach rather than specific items or salary. For example, “I want to be the go-to person for X. To do that, I think I’ll need access to devices a, b, and c. How can we make this happen? I can envision either owning these devices, sharing ownership with someone else, or being able to have time on them via a core.”
  • Explaining biomarkers by analogy:
    • The fuel gauge on your dashboard is a biomarker.
    • The fuel gauge + how many miles to the gallon your car gets + how many gallons of gas you have left is a prognostic biomarker.
    • The fuel gauge measurement + how many miles to the gallon your car gets + how many gallons of gas you have left + the current headwind + current traffic + other relevant variables is a predictive biomarker.
  • In grant applications, use only one figure per page.
  • In an aim, don’t just test, but measure. Your first sentence is that you will determine or measure how A influences B; you’ll quantify or assess. In the second sentence, state that you will test the working hypothesis that [insert specifics here]. This way, even if you’re wrong, you still have data from this aim.
  • Always try to pull language from NIH websites to prop up your impact (how does what you’re doing work toward their goals?).
  • When responding to reviewers, highlight discrepancies between their reviews without picking a side.
  • You’re ready to publish on a topic/problem/experiment(s) when you have 4-5 figures.

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