#Pitmad for scientists

#Pitmad for scientists

by Janice Nigro

Scientific grants are an incredible high…when we get them. Otherwise they can feel like another form of torture. Applications are information overload supplied sometimes in hundreds of pages for program projects. A grant of any size though is a huge effort requiring the input of many people of different backgrounds. All of their work goes essentially unnoticed if the project proposed is not of interest to the panel of reviewers.

Try again, maybe.

A solution occurred to me one day at a writers’ workshop. The group of fiction and non-fiction authors were discussing a social media event designed specifically for pitching books to agents-#pitmad.

It wasn’t a stretch to see how this event could be adapted for funding of science programs in the USA.

#Pitmad is a clever twist on the use of the social media outlet Twitter, which I usually pay absolutely no attention to. My only experience with it was getting hacked within a month of opening my account.

In #pitmad (short for pitch madness), writers have a set time frame to pitch the ideas for their books. As for all tweets, your pitch must be made in 140 characters or less. The main appeal is that #pitmad is a quick way for authors and publishing agents to connect.

#Pitmad takes place over a single day-for instance during the hours of 8 AM to 8 PM. Authors can pitch three times per day, but pitches can be for up to three different books (Pitching your book to agents on Twitter with #PitMad#pitmad).

Authors tweet using #pitmad along with a second hashtag for an abbreviation indicating the genre.

Agents peruse the tweets and when they like your tweet, it’s an invitation to send a real pitch, which is 10 to 20 pages long. One of the rules of #pitmad is that you must have a completed manuscript before you even pitch…er tweet.

All of these rules could be easily adapted to a #pitmad for scientists. Different agencies/institutes could conduct their own #pitmad on specified days with hashtags designated for various disciplines.

The advantages are numerous, the obvious being that it would save time for everyone involved. The main one though is #pitmad would force us to focus on the foundation for a good grant-the concept.

Often, grant reviews emphasize why you shouldn’t get funding, rather than whether the science has any merit. I have sometimes felt as if reviewers were checking off boxes for the things I didn’t have as an easy way to eliminate grants under consideration for funding. Are you a tenured PI? How many papers do you have? How many collaborators do you have? Some of the more desperate comments on my grants had to do with my ability to master a new technology-she has never done this, how will she do it?

Most of these criteria are quantitative not qualitative. The number of papers is not always a reflection of impact, and anyone can learn a technique if they want/need to. We are after all trained to do that!

All of these issues are potential distractions from the main concern which is “will we learn something new?” A riskier novel project should be a consideration in support of funding, not against it.

Anyone could pitch: group leaders, students, postdocs, technicians. #Pitmad would take away the façade of having a perfect environment and a perfect history to complete the project proposed. The most important exercise for any science group is generating interesting viable plans. And great ideas are often easily summarized in a few sentences. My own PhD advisor’s question-“what are the genetic mutations driving cancer” is only 45 characters long including spaces. This question has driven his work for his entire career.

Reducing our grants to 140 characters or less would essentially strip down the process to the idea, where the truly stellar ideas will potentially stand out in the context of the ones we know will work. A lackluster idea could no longer hide behind an ideal environment or the exponential growth of a publishing curve.

Finally, there is a lot of non-scientific required information that is time consuming to read let alone write. We must answer questions about environment, support staff, collaborators, travel, gender issues, and how it fits into the agenda of some government edict. These issues are important to recognize in order to drive progress both scientifically and culturally, but we might be overlooking some great opportunities based on these contingencies.

I always find the limiting factor to be good ideas whether in academia or business. A project is largely a technical issue after that. In my own experience, believing that a project would work meant much more than whether I had the staff to support it. I always managed to achieve the goals I really believed in.

Studies have also shown generally that while a critical number of people and amount of money are necessary to make a lab ideally productive, more than that does not necessarily lead to greater productivity (more papers of high impact; Study says middle sized labs do best). Uninspired ideas start to make science a job, not a career.

Tweets could be sent privately so that only agencies and their reviewers would have access to the ideas. #Pitmad could perhaps be limited to scientists with less than a certain amount of funding or new projects. Winning investigators without sufficient support staff could be invited into a more well funded, well equipped environment.

We get too bogged down on what makes the perfect environment for success. And we might be unintentionally rejecting important ideas based on such assumptions. Working in Norway for me, where there was a lower density of scientists, was somehow freeing from some of the trends driving medical research at the time. Trends, especially in technology are important to acknowledge, but we also become obsessed with ones that might ultimately lead us nowhere.

#Pitmad for scientists would hopefully provoke more from the heart, unfiltered ideas. Ideas after all are just the starting point. What we discover along the way is as important as reaching our intended milestones. Would scientists really get caught up in the madness? Under #pitmad for scientists, they for sure would have more free time to think about it.

What do you think about #pitmad for scientists?

©Janice Marie Nigro/ http://www.janikiInk.com

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