Kevin Hascup

While You Were at the Bench: Week 41

And the Nobel Goes To…….

Physiology or Medicine: Sir John B.  Gurdon and Shinya Yamanaka for the discovery that mature cells can be reprogrammed to become pluripotent

Chemistry:  Robert J. Lefkowitz and Brian K. Kobilka for studies of G-protein coupled receptors.

Physics:  Serge Haroche and David J. Wineland for ground-breaking experimental methods that enable measuring and manipulation of individual quantum systems.

A big congratulations to all the recipients….now go enjoy that warm, sunny December Swedish weather.

Researcher’s at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts have reported a link between dietary intake of Mercury during pregnancy and increased susceptibility to ADHD in their children.  Sources of Mercury include Tuna, Swordfish, and Shark thus making it difficult for pregnant women to obtain the health benefits of fish without simultaneously increasing levels of environmental toxins to their unborn child.

Doctors at the University of California, San Francisco, implanted human CNS stem cells into four young boys suffering from Pelizaeus-Merzbacher disease; a disease where myelin does not form leading to severe developmental set backs.  A year later, myelination was increased, motor function improved in 3 out of 4 boys, and no signs of tumorigenesis was observed, which paves the way for larger clinical trials to treat this disease.

University of Washington researchers have proposed a concept to contain the million-degree plasma necessary for creating a fusion reaction.  This is a critical component for building the international tokamak nuclear fusion reactor located in Cadarache, France.

Researchers at Weizmann Institute of Science have experimentally observed quantum effects in chemical reactions by merging beams of excited atoms at 0.01 Kelvins.  At these ultra low temperatures, atomic bond formation proceeds faster than expected, which may help to explain interstellar chemical reactions.

The first ever historical evidence of predator behavior in spiders was captured in a 110-million-year-old piece of burmese amber.  Great, I can sleep easier knowing that spiders will never evolve beyond creepy status.

By analyzing mitochondrial DNA from bones of the extinct New Zealand moa, researchers have determined that the half-life of DNA is 521 years.  Scratch “cloned dinosaur” off my Christmas list :(

Have a great weekend.  I’ll be enjoying mine in New Orleans for the Society of Neuroscience annual meeting.  Looking forward to seeing you there.

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Kickstarting Your Career: Crowdfunding for Scientific Research

Christopher Columbus spent 7 years convincing private investors and heads of state to fund his idea of finding a faster trade route to the East Indies.  As research scientists, we’re not much different than Columbus.  Instead of requesting court with Kings and Queens, we propose ideas to government agencies that allocate funding to academic researchers.  But, as governments around the world are looking for ways to reduce spending, grant funding is becoming more and more difficult to obtain.  This leaves young investigators floating in a never ending sea of postdoctoral positions.   Even well funded researchers are looking for alternative sources of financial support in order to fill the downtime between the 12-18 month R01 grant cycles. 

Popularized by such sites as Kickstarter, crowdfunding has become a main source of financial support for entrepreneurs with ideas ranging from clothing lines to social media.  Unfortunately, Kickstarter prohibits projects for health and medicine, making the site useless for academic researchers.  To fill this gap, Petridish, iAMscientist and MedStartr have come online in the past 6 months.  These sites are devoted to helping academic or not for profit tenured, postdoctoral and graduate scientists obtain funding for their research ideas.  Simply propose a research idea, upload video and photos describing your proposal, set a minimum funding requirement and use your social media network to alert your colleagues. 

It’s too early to determine how beneficial crowdfunding is for scientific research, nevertheless, using these sites has several pros and cons that research scientists (especially young investigators) need to consider.

Pros

High Benefit to Time Ratio

Crowdfunding sites state a good proposal can be created in 1-2 hours and successfully funded projects receive their financial support in 90 days.  Compare this with the numerous sleepless nights preparing an R01 grant that will take approximately 18 months before funding is received.  Even if your online proposal doesn’t meet its minimum funding requirements, the amount of time spent is miniscule compared to submitting grants to the NIH or NSF.

Building Your Network

Building a network of colleagues and peers is essential to career development.  At the very least, crowdfunding can provide an additional forum to discuss your research ideas.  This allows like-minded individuals to connect and collaborate on projects, which may lead to employment opportunities down the road.

Corporate Sponsorship

Many research scientists are turning into entrepreneurs to develop their ideas beyond the lab bench.   Crowdfunding provides unique opportunites for corporations to back potential ideas.  This can lead to corporate partnership that provide resources for product scale-up and distribution.  In other words, helping you take your product from development to market in considerably less time at reduced costs.

Cons:

Minimal Funding

To date, most of the successfully funded projects on MedStartr, Petridish and iAMscientist have received fewer than $10,000 USD.  A small drop in the bucket compared to a R01 grant.  Don’t expect crowdfunding to provide you with enough money to land a tenure-track positon.  You’re still going to need to rely on government support to run your own lab.  But, crowdfunding might be just what you need to take your research in a new direction.

Fraud

You take a big risk proposing ideas on social media sites.  Since the majority of projects don’t reach their funding goals, it’s easy for well funded researchers or corporations to run with your idea and claim it as their own.  If applicable, you may want to consider obtaining copyright or trademark licenses prior to posting to crowdfunding sites.

Since crowdfunding in academic research is an extremely new concept, some potential conflicts also exist that need to be considered.

Overhead Fees

Do laboratory overhead fees apply to crowdfunded sources?  I don’t know the answer this, but I have a feeling if crowdfunding becomes commonplace in research science, academic institutions are going to want their cut — potentially 50%.  While graduate students and postdoctoral researchers don’t have to worry about overhead fees, this could quickly change if scientific crowdfunding increased in popularity.

Property Rights

As a young investigator, all the equipment you use or data that you collect is “owned” by the principal investigator.   What happens when a young investigator uses crowdfunded sources to buy laboratory equipment to support their research needs.  Who owns that piece of equipment?   What happens when you leave that laboratory to continue research elsewhere?  Does that equipment come with you?  After all, it was YOUR proposal that was funded.  But I’m willing to wager some PI’s and maybe even the academic institution would lay claim to that piece of equipment.  This is something that you should discuss before posting your crowdfunding proposal.      

Scientists are generally slow to adopt new ideas, but in this tough fiscal climate, we need to consider all avenues of public or private support.  For young researchers, crowdfunding provides a unique opportunity to support your own research ideas while learning how to manage a budget.  Although government funding will be needed, at least in the foreseeable future, to land coveted tenure-track position, successfully crowdfunded proposals can give you a leg-up on your competition.

Has anyone tried crowdfunding to support their research endeavours?  Let the other readers know your thoughts on the process.

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While You Were At the Bench: Week 40

It’s been a busy week for scientists, but here are some of the highlights.

Contrary to the belief that retracted journal articles are due to simple errors, a recent PNAS article found that 67.3% of retracted journal articles are due to fraudulent data.  Com’n people.  We’re better than this!

Columbia University ophthalmologists used human induced pluripotent stem cells to improve the vision of blind mice.  This approach may be useful for restoring vision in humans with macular degeneration and other retinal deficits.

Kyoto University researchers successfully used mouse embryonic stem cells to develop oocytes that produced viable offspring once fertilized and implanted into a surrogate mother.   This method could lead to new infertility therapies but raises potential ethical and legal issues.

Where’s Nemo?  A study conducted by the Australian Institute of Marine Science has determined the Great Barrier Reef has lost half of its coral in the last 27 years.  The contributors?  Cyclones (48%), Crown-of-Thorns Starfish (42%) and Bleaching (10%).

By measuring different isotopes of Carbon from ice core samples obtained in Greenland, researchers have determined the amount of methane produced by humans in the last 2000 years.  Human sources of methane production has increased dramatically since the start of industrial revolution in the 1800′s.

Has the Curiosity Rover discovered an ancient riverbed on Mars?  The photos look rather convincing.

In a follow-up to a previous blog regarding genetically modified food, the European Food Safety Authority has determined that a French study supporting the toxic effects of genetically modified corn was poorly designed and therefore does not support the conclusions made in the paper.  The authors have until October 12th to address concerns raised by the agency.

Geologists are attempting to drill 6 kilometers beneath the Pacific Ocean sea floor to obtain the first ever sample of the Earth’s mantle.  Maybe they can retrieve Brendan Fraser’s acting career while they are down there.  Zing!

Have a great weekend.

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What is RateMyPI.com

Since the launch of RateMyPI.com, we have had many inquiries as to the purpose of this website.  RateMyPI.com was founded to provide research investigators a comprehensive database to develop their profession through informative choices of career opportunities, collaborations, research materials, and community discussions.   We at RateMyPI.com feel the mentor – mentee relationship is vital to the advancement of scientific discovery.  Therefore, we are in the process of developing a comprehensive database of researchers across scientific disciplines in academia, biotech, industry, and government.  But, this can only be possible with the help of scientists like you visiting and creating profiles on RateMyPI.com. 

We have attempted to make the site as user friendly as possible.  The first time you visit RateMyPI.com you’ll need to determine if your name already exists in our database.  Click “Search Scientist” and enter your name.  If your name is available in the drop down menu, you can claim this profile by selecting your name then viewing your profile.  There you will find an option to claim that profile and create a user account.  If your name is not currently in our database, create a membership account by clicking the “Join” button on the upper right corner.  Membership is free and requires that you to enter a username, password, and email address.  Once you sign up, you’ll be directed to your member profile.  Here you can upload a photo, add pertinent contact and professional information, and provide links to your social media outlets such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn profiles.  You can highlight your field of study and career status, so like-minded scientists can connect with you.  The associations tab is used for listing current and former employers, similar to a brief resume.  Every scientist is proud of their publications, therefore, we’ve created a section specifically for these achievements.  By entering the publication title and the PubMed ID a link is provided on your public profile to direct other scientists to your publications on PubMed.  At the bottom of the member profile page, you can upload your CV and resume that can be downloaded from your public profile.  This is a great way for future employers to have access to all pertinent career information in one easy to download file.

After the required information (name, address, and email address) in your profile is completed, you can begin reviewing other researchers.  Click on the “Reviews” tab at the top of the page and type the name of a researcher.  Once you begin typing, names will auto populate based on member profiles or previously reviewed researchers.  If the scientist is already in the database, you can select their name from the drop down menu.  If neither a profile nor a review is entered in the database you can easily add their name by clicking on the “add new name” link underneath the “name of person being reviewed” field.  In order to add a new name to the database, you will need to know their name, city, state / province (if it applies) and country.  Once you have selected a scientist to review, you will be able to rate that scientist on a several different areas including funding, mentoring ability and recommendation for future employment.   A comments box is available for additional information that other researchers might find pertinent.  All reviews are anonymous to encourage honest feedback.  We’d like to think of it as a unique peer review process.

Since RateMyPI.com was developed with the idea of helping researchers with career development, we’ve added two features on the rotating banner of the homepage.  Each month, RateMyPI.com will highlight a different series of young investigators in our “Featured Scientist” category.  By clicking on this banner, you’ll be immediately directed to their member profile.  The featured scientist might be an individual who recently published a ground breaking paper or someone whose research is related to a trending scientific topic.  Either way, we feel this will be instrumental for networking and promoting the career development of young investigators. 

In keeping with the theme of career development, we also highlight the “Top Rated Scientists” on the homepage.  This is a great feature for scientists looking for potential collaborators or for future employment opportunities.  Similar to the Featured Scientist, this banner will be directed to the Top Rated Scientist profile and reviews. 

As RateMyPI.com grows, we plan on implementing additional website functionality.  A community discussion board will provide a forum where researchers can gather advice on experimental design, techniques or products for advancing their scientific endeavours.  Since the theme of RateMyPI.com is career development, we also want to implement a Job Board.  Here you will find career opportunities targeted specifically for scientists looking for postdoctoral, tenure track, or alternative career positions.  Finally, a long-term goal of RateMyPI.com is to provide yearly travel awards to young investigators (undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral researchers) to use towards attending conferences.  Conference attendance is vital for promoting your research, networking and developing future research. 

Since RateMyPI.com was launched just last week, we’re still in BETA mode and we welcome any comments or suggestions.  Feel free to email us at Info@RateMyPI.com

I hope this brief tutorial gives you a better understanding of how RateMyPI.com can help you with your career goals.  When you get a chance, check us out and create a member profile and let others know how colleagues, collaborators, and PI’s have been instrumental in your career development.   Remember, RateMyPI.com is not just for rating principle investigators.  Ask your professional colleagues, lab members and PI to comment on your scientific capabilities as well.  It might just be instrumental in landing your next big opportunity.

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