rivka: (Rivka P.I.)
Last week and this I've been settling into my new life in the Psychiatry Department. Biggest change: people are glad to see me. In Infectious Disease I drifted through the day doing my own thing, sometimes not speaking to anyone else all day. In Psychiatry, people say "Hey, Rebecca! You should come to this meeting and possibly get involved in Thing X. And maybe we can help you with Y and Z."

Infectious Disease was probably like this for the docs and virologists, but I don't think it would ever have been that way for me. Even if there hadn't been complications related to my former supervisor, there just weren't enough points of convergence.

The other big difference is that Psychiatry has systems and resources and personnel to do all of the things I am used to doing myself or having ad hoc arrangements for. So, for example, instead of writing a position description and hiring a research assistant, I'll be meeting with the person who coordinates RA assignments and contracting with her for parts of various existing RAs who have the skill sets I need. And when I start enrolling participants, there's someone who is in charge of ensuring IRB compliance, making sure that all my consent forms are properly filled out and storing them for me in a HIPAA-compliant way. "Because the investigators really need time to write and think."

I used to do all of that stuff for my former boss, Lydia: all the day-to-day arrangements and regulatory details and organization, so that she could write and think. Then when I was promoted to faculty level and became a PI, I still did those things for myself. It'll require a huge mental shift to be able to delegate those things to other people - especially, without forgetting about them. But I can see how it gives faculty a much fairer chance to succeed.
rivka: (Rivka P.I.)
I have in my hand my official Notice of Grant Award!!!

The National Institutes of Health hereby awards a grant in the amount of $225,000 [that's the first-year cost only; the total award is for three years, $150,000 in direct costs per year plus 50% indirects] to UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND BALTIMORE in support of the project titled "Increasing Motivation for Antiretroviral Therapy Initiation: A Pilot Intervention."


OMG, you guys! I have the grant money!!

You probably thought I did ages ago, right? Because I got my ridiculously good score back in July, and my ridiculously good feedback and ridiculously good pink sheets were in by the beginning of August.

But then I waited. And waited. And slashed through red tape. And waited. Waited for the NIH budget to be approved and the higher-order NIH people to decide on their priorities and my local IRB to decide that I wasn't going to endanger my subjects and my AIDS Service Organization partner to get their federal paperwork in order and and and.

And! This morning they sent the money!! Now I can start!!!

Now I can also talk about something else which has been in the works for a while. I will be leaving my current department (Medicine/Infectious Disease) immediately and joining the Psychiatry department. Psychiatry really wants me. I will have awesome colleagues there who are interested in my work and who can make intellectual contributions to what I'm doing and who will be able to collaborate with me on new ideas. And Psychiatry has reliable funding, some of which they're willing to shell out to pay the portion of my salary that my grant won't cover. Funding I can use to develop new projects.

This is going to be a great move. And a great grant. Wonderful things are happening. I am so excited and happy!
rivka: (Rivka P.I.)
Last month I was contacted by an NIH official asking me if I would do him a big favor by serving on a special review panel for a single grant application. I am not a fool, so I said that I would be delighted.

(In the first place, why on earth would any scientist working in an area funded by NIH not want to do a reasonable and ethical favor for NIH program staff? But in the second place, my external mentor has strongly encouraged that I try to get on NIH review panels because it will help me understand what grant reviewers are looking for and how they treat applications.)

So I said yes. I read and reviewed the grant proposal. I was assigned as the fourth reviewer, and when I uploaded my critique I was considerably relieved to find that my scores were in line with the other three reviewers; I hasn't missed anything. I enjoyed the phone meeting at which we all discussed the application and settled our final scores. All in all, it was an extremely educational experience, which I think will help me next time I have a grant to submit.

So I was blown away to open my e-mail this morning and find an e-mail from NIH which begins: "Thank you very much for serving as a reviewer for CSR peer review meeting for [information deleted]. According to our records, you should receive ($200.00) for honorarium..."

Holy shit! They pay me for that?! They pay me for that, at what works out to a rate of $100 an hour? That thing I thought I was doing for free, and enjoyed, and found beneficial?

The best part is that it's an "honorarium," not salary reimbursement. That means that it goes directly into my pocket, instead of to the university to help cover my salary. Awesome.
rivka: (Rivka P.I.)
I just got my "pink sheets," the summary statement of my grant review. Wow, it's really good.

This resubmission retains all the numerous strengths of the previous submission including: addressing a highly significant public health problem (failure to initiate or delayed initiation of ART); a clearly thought through iterative model of intervention development; well established involvement of the community; and a strong and clearly articulated research design. The revised application has been highly responsive to the previous reviewers comments and has been substantially strengthened. The team is outstanding and the choice of sites and inclusion criteria to increase generalizability have now been well justified. A few negligible issues for clarification are described in the individual critiques. In review considerable enthusiasm was expressed for this timely, highly innovative and clearly outstanding study that addresses a very serious and real public health concern.


I would like to express my particular affection for Reviewer 3, who used the phrases "superb investigative team" and "PI a very promising Early Career Investigator with demonstrated publication productivity."

Edited to add: guys, we're in clear text here. I've screened some comments.
rivka: (Rivka P.I.)
I have spent a pleasant afternoon writing cheerful e-mails about my grant score to my division head, the COO of the Institute, all of my collaborators, someone I've worked with in the Career Development office, the head of the APA CyberMentors program (my actual CyberMentor got a phone call), and my NIH Program Official. The PO called me just now.

PO: Hi, Rebecca, how are you doing today?
Me: I am very, very happy!
PO: (laughs) I bet!

He said that at this point in the process he likes to be able to give people a summary of how their proposal was discussed at the meeting. In my case, "I didn't hear anything negative... only positives." He said that the perception was that I was really responsive to the critiques of my prior proposal, and that the resubmission strengthened my application. "Everyone thinks this project has really high significance" and addresses an important issue. They like that I am using both an HIV clinic site and an AIDS Service Organization site. "They bought the argument about a Motivational Interviewing approach" (in the initial submission, one of the reviewers had doubts) and thought I did a better job of justifying my choice of an attention-only control group.

"And then there are two more general points I wanted to bring out. The comment was made that this is a very well-written application. And one of the reviewers said that you are 'a promising early-career investigator who has good productivity to date.' So they don't just like your application. They like you."

I ♥ my NIH PO so very much. He is so unbelievably sweet and helpful.

He walked me through what comes next. I'll get my Summary Statement (the formal critique from my primary reviewers) in a couple of weeks, after which he'll want me to write a memorandum responding to any residual critiques. Then, in September, the NIMH Advisory Council will review the reviews and factor in their particular funding priorities. In October they make their "pay plan," and somewhere around December they'll start sending out money.

He cautioned me that you can never be absolutely sure of funding until you receive your Notice of Award. But my chances are obviously pretty damn good.
rivka: (Rivka P.I.)
Under the new scoring system, NIH peer reviewers assign scores ranging from 1 ("exceptionally strong with essentially no weaknesses") to 9 ("very few strengths and numerous major weaknesses"). These scores are averaged and multiplied by 10, to produce a 2-digit number between 10 and 90. The lower you score, the better. They also figure your percentile, and lower is also better there.

I got a 15. That puts me in the 2nd percentile. I am told that only one, extremely senior, researcher scored better than I did.

Holy crap, you guys!! A 15!! Right up there in "essentially no weaknesses" territory!!

I have never, ever heard of anyone getting this good of a percentile score. My professional stock has just gone way way up.

2nd percentile. 2nd percentile. 2nd percentile.

Not to be immodest, or anything, but I AM THE MOST AWESOME PERSON WHO HAS EVER BEEN AWESOME.
rivka: (Rivka P.I.)
I feel queasy every time I log in to eRA Commons, the NIH electronic research administration website.

I am waiting to find out when the study section will meet to peer-review my grant application. I was expecting them to meet in July; for AIDS proposals, which are on an expedited review cycle, the study section usually meets two months after the applications are due. But here it is June 30th, and the date of the study section meeting hasn't even been posted yet. (That's what I keep logging in to check.) So we might be talking about August instead.

I've written before about how peer review works for NIH grants. It's hard to exaggerate the stakes this time. My proposal is a resubmission of the proposal I submitted in January. This is my last chance to get this proposal funded. If it doesn't make the cut, I'll need to start over with a whole new idea.

I am not sure how long my institution would continue to keep me around if that happened. I am in a "soft money" position - required to bring in grants to cover my salary. If my grant gets passed over, which is what happens to most grants, I'll be in a very precarious position.

I am waiting for them to post the date of the study section meeting. Then I'll wait until the meeting happens. A few days after that, my score will be posted and I will probably know what I need to know. There will still be exciting waiting after that; the NIMH Council meets to discuss the reviewed grants and pick those to be funded according to their own priorities. Those priorities can sometimes be mysterious. But my score itself will say a lot, and after I get my score and summary statement I can call my NIMH Project Officer.

So every time I log in to eRA Commons I feel queasy. I keep expecting to log on, hit "status," select my proposal title, and see the word UNSCORED. Total washout. Even though I know that my reviewers haven't even met yet, that's the image in my head every single time I log in.
rivka: (Rivka P.I.)
My grant is technically due to NIH on Friday, but I am planning to submit it around noon today. If there are any issues with the submission and processing, that will give us time to withdraw and resubmit. Plus I just don't think I can polish it much more.

You know what, though, it is hard to let it out of my fingers. This is my last chance with this project; if it doesn't get funded this time around, I can't resubmit. My research plans for the next eight years hang in the balance here, because if I don't get to do this study I don't get to do the larger five-year study this one is supposed to set up. Is it any wonder that I keep reading and rereading and reviewing and second-guessing, looking for any tiny hole that might make a reviewer stumble?

Everything but the research plan is now in the hands of my grant administrator. I took a printout of the research plan to a coffee shop this morning and gave it one last close reading. I have a bunch of tiny wording changes and additional clauses to put in. But then I'm calling it done, and telling my grant administrator to push the button that sends it through its chain of local signing officials and on its way to NIH.

I don't think I've ever explained here what all goes into a federal research grant, so - in part because I'm still not quite ready to force myself to finish - I'm putting a list under the cut of everything I'm shipping off to NIH. Read more... )
rivka: (Rivka P.I.)
Current length of the research plan:14 pages. Maximum allowable length: 12 pages. Only two pages to go. Sadly, I only have two pages left to edit, and since they include my entire data analysis plan I don't think I'll be able to cut them out entirely. So I will still need to cut, cut, cut. But damn, 25 pages to 14 is a pretty good start.

Once I work through these two pages, I will have a complete draft![1] Yay me! I can send it off to my mentor and to my very kind NIMH Program Official. Maybe they'll know what else I can cut.


[1] Except for the project narrative, the Facilities and Resources section, the revised biosketches, and the appendices. Mercifully the human subjects section stays the same. And the budget. The budget is done.

Updated to add: 13! 13 pages! I am the awesomest person who has ever been awesome! I got it down to 13 pages 10 lines, and then realized that I would totally gain more space once I formatted my references as numbers rather than in-text Endnote tags. And it saved a TON! Go me!
rivka: (Rivka P.I.)
First rough chop of grant application to meet draconian new page limits: 25 pages to 18. I still have to get it down to 12.

Also, I haven't added all the "more detail" sections I promise the reviewers in my response to their critiques. "We have revised Section X.X to include more information about scenarios in which CBT techniques may be incorporated in PATCH, as well as additional examples of an MI approach to conspiracy beliefs." "We expanded the discussion of subject availability and recruitment strategies in Section X.X." "Please see Section X.X for more details about how potential participants will be approached once they have been identified." Yeah, none of that will be a problem when the PAGE LIMITS HAVE BEEN CUT IN HALF.

I haven't read the chopped version yet to see if it even makes sense. *weeps tears of blood*

*Sigh*

Apr. 2nd, 2010 02:24 pm
rivka: (Rivka P.I.)
I just got off the phone with my Program Officer at NIMH. He doesn't think my grant is going to be funded this time around. He says that I got a great score for the first submission... but I should prepare to resubmit. I more or less expected that to happen, so I'm not crushed.

The part of the discussion I didn't expect had to do with when I should resubmit. There are three deadlines per year for AIDS-related applications: January 7, May 7, September 7. The review cycle is such that the earliest possible start date is about six months in the future; for my January submission, I proposed a start date of July 1.

My PO said that, given the level of the critiques I need to respond to, he would normally encourage me to reapply at the next deadline: May 7. That is totally what I had expected to do. However, as I've mentioned before, NIH has completely revamped their application structure. I'll need to substantially modify my application - including cutting the length in half. And, my PO suggested, that might take me more than a month.

We talked about the pros and cons for a while. He does say that May is "not out of reach." Advantages of trying for May: (1) I know myself to be a fast and good writer. (2) It might be politically difficult for me here at work to let a deadline go by without a submission. (3) The sooner I resubmit, the more likely it is that I'll get the same primary reviewers - who basically liked my idea, and who saw my longer more-detailed initial application and will know that any areas that I have to skim over to meet the new page limits did at one point exist in more fleshed-out form.

Advantages of waiting: (1) These days you only get two chances to submit a grant. (It used to be three.) If I don't get funded this time around, I can never resubmit this application or anything "substantively identical" to it. So it might make sense to take more time to get this submission perfect. (2) The new application format is going to shake things up, and it would probably be safer to not be one of the first people reviewed under the new system, by peer reviewers who are suddenly getting half as much detail as they expected. (3) My work pace preparing the resubmission would be substantially more humane.

I have written to my external mentor, and am drafting a letter to my collaborators on the grant to get their input.
rivka: (Rivka P.I.)
I got my Summary Statement for my grant today, which is excellent time considering that I've only had my score for a few days. (They tell you to allow 6-8 weeks.) The Summary Statement has two parts: a "summary of discussion," which summarizes what everyone had to say, and then critiques from my three in-depth reviewers giving both numerical rankings and strengths-and-weaknesses for five different review categories.

Here's the bullet:
This application has numerous strengths including: addressing a highly significant public health problem (failure to initiate or delayed initiation of antiretroviral therapy); a clearly thought through iterative model of intervention development; well established involvement of the community; and a generally strong research design. In addition, testing takes place in both an outpatient clinic and an AIDS Service Organization setting thereby increasing generalizability. An additional strength is the complimentary expertise of the team.

Weaknesses include: a seemingly over ambitious work scope and time-line; insufficient description of plans for recruitment and retention; and a lack of clarity of how this study relates to other research being conducted by members of the team. Additional more negligible weaknesses are described in the individual critiques.

Overall, this is an extremely strong and timely application. (emphasis mine)


So there it is. I think the critiques are fair, for the most part, so that's a relief. These are fixable weaknesses, although I don't know quite how I will be able to provide more detail about several topics in the resubmission when I'm also going to be required to cut the length in half. (In half! *cries*)

I talked to my external mentor Sheryl at length on Friday. She thinks my score is encouraging and that I may well get funded this time around. (We'll see if she still feels the same way after she reads my Summary Statement.) She advised me that I should read the Summary Statement several times, let it sit for a few days, and then ask my NIMH Program Official if we can set up a phone meeting to discuss my chances and my options for the next step. So that's what I'll do now.

Being critiqued is always wounding, so below the cut I'm going to put in some nice things they said about me and my grant, as a sop to my ego. Feel free to ignore if (a) you already think I'm awesome, or (b) this type of evidence would not convince you.

Read more... )
rivka: (Rivka P.I.)
They posted my grant score this afternoon.

I got a priority score of 27. Under the new system, a priority of 20 is "Outstanding. Extremely strong with negligible weaknesses." 30 is "Excellent. Very strong with only some minor weaknesses." I'm somewhere in the middle there. (The lower middle.) That's pretty good for a first submission.

My percentile score is 20. (NIH does this weird thing where lower percentile = better.) The percentile score is the best indicator of whether a grant is likely to be funded. And mine tells me... not much.

Some NIH institutes have a "payline," a percentile above which virtually everything is funded and below which virtually nothing is funded. NIMH doesn't. That would be too easy. Here's what they say about their payline:

In general, NIMH assumes that research applications that fall below the 20th percentile are scientifically meritorious and that sufficient funds are available to support up to 80 percent of these new and competing research applications. Council and program staff may selectively recommend payment of grants that fall in this range, as well as beyond, based on: 1) Institute and division priorities; 2) balance in the existing research portfolio; 3) early stage new investigator status (see below); and 4) availability of funds. [...]

Early Stage Investigators: NIMH is committed to supporting new investigators and facilitating the independence of emerging scientists. The Institute considers early stage new investigator status--new Investigators who are within 10 years of completing their terminal research degree or within 10 years of completing their medical residency at the time they apply for R01 grants—as a priority in funding decisions. This means that a research grant from a newand/or early stage investigator may be funded out of order and at percentile scores the same or higher than grants not selected for payment from established investigators.


So I'm juuuust on the edge of the potentially fundable range. I do have Early Stage Investigator status, which should help, but my guess is: probably not quite enough. It could be funded this time around, but I am not in the hold-your-breath range.

A score this high does bode well for my chances of a successful resubmission. But here's the sad thing: NIH radically changed their applications just after I submitted my grant. So I won't be able to just polish what was already a very good application, working in carefully-crafted responses to the reviewers' criticisms. I'll have to rewrite the whole damn thing. AND SHORTEN IT FROM 25 PAGES TO 12. *cries*

I actually feel pretty good about my score. It's a frustrating score, almost more so than something in the definitely-not-gonna-get-in range would have been. But it's a good score for a first submission. Most grants don't get funded the first time around. It would've been nice to defy the odds and get a fantabulous, immediately-fundable score. But the score I got says "really good grant, just needs a tiny bit of work." I'll take that.
rivka: (Rivka P.I.)
My grant's study section meets in ONE HOUR.

*hyperventilates*

I don't know when they'll post our scores (and more importantly, our percentiles). Best case scenario is probably tomorrow. More likely by the end of the week.

So, uh, I'll just be over here going crazy until then.
rivka: (Rivka P.I.)
The peer review committee meets to review my grant application in 22 days.

*hyperventilates*

I had the opportunity to take part in a mock review through my Cyber Mentors program. It was a harrowing yet fantastic experience. I am assured that the process was very much like a real grant review - certainly, the people conducting it regularly serve on peer review committees for NIMH - except that my mentor and I got to listen in by conference call.

So I have a much better idea of what is happening to my grant right now than I did the last time through.

Peer review happens like this: Your grant is assigned to a "study section," a group of scientists drafted by NIH to review applications of a certain broad type, topic, or speciality. I am lucky in this regard, because NIMH has a speciality subsection for grants of my exact type (R34s proposing AIDS-related interventions), which means that my grant is not going up against projects with bigger scopes and/or more completed preliminary work. Within the study section, two or three people are assigned to review your grant.

The primary reviewers decide whether your grant falls within the upper half of applications. If it doesn't, that's the end of the road. They write up some comments for you and your grant is "unscored" - it never makes it to a full study section meeting.

If the primary reviewers agree that your grant is in the top half of the pile, it gets presented at the study section meeting. All the peer reviewers meet at NIMH, and the primary reviewers take turns presenting the grants they've read. There is some general discussion and a time for questions, and then everyone assigns your grant a score.[1] The primary reviewers write up comments, plus the NIH staff member assigned to the study section summarizes the group discussion.

This is the part I didn't really grasp before I participated in the mock review. It is absolutely harrowing to listen to someone with only a vague understanding of your grant application pitch it to a group and answer questions about it, potentially mangling it in a way you have no control over. The other study section members have the opportunity to read all the grants, but realistically speaking they are only likely to read the abstract and perhaps the Specific Aims section, which outlines the purpose and goals of the study. So what the review committee thinks of your grant is pretty much entirely dependent on what is conveyed by the primary reviewer.

Many of the grantsmanship strategies I learned from my mentor during this process had to do with spelling things out for the reviewers, making it easy for them to fill out their review forms, and making sure they don't miss any of the important stuff. At first I kind of rolled my eyes about some of her suggestions, but after the mock review it became clear why she wanted me to do things like briefly recap the entire grant application in the Aims section, use bolded topic sentences in the Background & Significance section so that someone who is quickly scanning will get the gist of my argument, and include homework-helper sections like the paragraph that begins "This proposal is innovative because..."

I "know," in the professional way that you know people in your field, two of the thirteen people assigned to the study section. They're both very good. I don't know anything about the other eleven. I will never know who the primary reviewers of my grant are.

Sometime after March 23rd, I'll log on to the NIH eRA Commons and click on my grant application, and there will be a score and a percentile. A few days after that, there will also be a written review available.

*nailbiting commences*



[1] They've changed the scoring system since the last time I had a grant reviewed. Now grants are ranked on a scale from 1-9 (1=exceptional, 9=poor), and the mean score is multiplied by 10 to produce an "impact score" from 10-90. You can see the criteria I'll be reviewed on here.
rivka: (Rivka P.I.)
My first research job was right out of college. When my boss submitted an NIH grant that year, I spent a few hours sitting on the floor by the copier with scissors, tape, and a ruler, shrinking down graphs and trying to fit them all on one page by literally copying and pasting. We were on the west coast, so the drop-dead date for proposal submission was 11pm the night before the due date. Then someone would drive the grant to the airport and get it on the midnight plane to DC.

When I first started working at the IHV, submitting an NIH grant meant making eleven copies of some forms and five copies of others. Everything had to be carefully collated and organized. The research plan would be photocopied onto "NIH continuation pages" and at the very end every page would be hand-numbered, and you'd fill out a table of contents by hand. Then you'd pack it up in a box and a courier would take it to NIH. About a week before that happened, you'd "route" the grant by circulating the budget, a little bit of the research plan, and some forms and things, and having someone walk it around to various offices on campus to have all the right people sign off on it.

When I submitted my first independent grant in 2007, there were no more printed copies couriered to NIH. Instead you uploaded to grants.gov. But you still routed the proposal by walking it around. Someone in the university Office of Research and Development checked all your signatures and then pressed a button on grants.gov to submit your grant.

Now my university has something called COEUS. I don't know what it stands for. But over the past few days I've been sending bits and pieces of grant to my grant administrator and she's been uploading them to COEUS. Last night I checked everything over online from home. She did the same this morning and e-mailed me about a correction or two. And then I pushed a little button that said "submit for approval."

COEUS checked everything to make sure it was in the proper formats for the university and for grants.gov. Then my grant started routing. COEUS displays a chain of eight separate "stops" at which someone will click a button to approve my grant. At the end of the chain, once the Office of Research and Development signs off on it, COEUS will automatically upload my grant to grants.gov, all its sections slotting neatly into the right places. Then grants.gov will relay my grant to NIH. I can sit at my desk and watch the approvals go through one by one.

No paper copy of my grant exists, and it's possible that no paper copy will ever exist. The Center for Scientific Review at NIH will electronically accept it and assign it to a study section. The Program Officer will assign it to reviewers, who can log in to the NIH Electronic Research Administration commons and read it there. That's also where I'll go to find out where my grant is in the process, what score it is eventually assigned, and whether I receive an award.

Oh hey, did I mention? I FINISHED MY GRANT.
rivka: (Rivka P.I.)
This morning I was scheduled to present my research at the hourlong general staff seminar, in front of the eminent and notable (and scary) Dr. Institute Director, my division director, and about forty other people.

I had strong work to present. I put together a great presentation. I practiced it in front of [livejournal.com profile] wcg and [livejournal.com profile] curiousangel, which was especially helpful because my general staff audience was not going to be composed of psychologists.

Two hours before I was due to go on, I had (a) no childcare, and (b) the beginning stages of a raging cold.

Our nanny was sick. Our backup childcare person wasn't answering her phone. Michael had already taken unscheduled time away from work to take care of the kids just last Friday, and we were both a little unsure where his boss would want to draw the line. Oh: and I had a headache and cough and a swimming head.

I finally got through to a friend on the phone, and she was so awesome that before I could get my groveling request out of my mouth she offered to come over with her two-year-old to care for Colin. Michael came home just in case I had to leave before she got there, and then stayed to drive me to work. I actually got there with enough time to spare that I could look over my presentaton a few times before the seminar. I still felt dangerously light-headed as I loaded my presentation, and I had to have a water bottle on the podium to deal with coughing fits.

And then? Then I utterly rocked my prsentation. I hit it out of the park.

It was very well received. People made a lot of comments and asked cogent questions. There was only a little whispering among the senior staff (usually a chronic problem). People seemed to be genuinely interested, which is so not a given when a behavioral scientist gets up in front of a bunch of virologists and immunologists.

Dr. Institute Director was stuck in traffic and didn't arrive until about 45 minutes in, which was unfortunate. Or maybe fortunate. I would've liked him to hear about my research, but I confess that I did feel safer with him absent.

Afterwards, the adrenaline that got me through the presentation ebbed away and I started to feel very ill indeed. Lydia had no trouble believing that it would be better for all concerned if I just went home. Phew. I felt wrecked.

But man did I ever do a good job at general staff. I am proud. And grateful to my community, without whom it wouldn't have happened.
rivka: (Rivka P.I.)
After Society of Behavioral Medicine last year I wound up corresponding with a prominent researcher in my field who recently published a book on HIV denialists. He said something to me about how we should really try to put together a symposium on the subject for next year's SBM.

A symposium is an extended session, 90 minutes for just three presenters and a discussant. (Compare to paper sessions like the one I was in last year, in which each person gets just 15 minutes to present.) The presentations are supposed to relate to each other, providing multiple perspectives on an issue. It's a format with a lot of possibilities, and of course I was flattered that he suggested it.

Well, the SBM submission deadline is fast approaching, so I got a steely grip on my usual diffidence and wrote to him to ask if he was still interested. And he is. And he thinks that I should be the one to chair the symposium. Yikes! I've never done this before, and I was kind of hoping that he'd take the reins. But I wrote to someone else who's done a lot of research on this topic, and she said she'd be happy to join the symposium. Now we just need a discussant - someone to summarize, contextualize, and problematize our presentations. I'm hoping that one of them can come up with a good person to ask, since they're both more connected than I am.

And I need to write a symposium overview, which means that I need to figure out what a symposium overview is supposed to say.

And I need to write my own abstract for my part of the presentation. For which I first need to analyze my data. All by Thursday at midnight.

No worries, right?

Incidentally, if anyone's curious, SBM put my slides for the presentation I gave in Montreal up on the web for all to see. (With my permission, of course.) It's here, but be warned that it's a PDF of a Powerpoint presentation. In case you're allergic to that sort of thing.
rivka: (Rivka P.I.)
Lydia and I got invited to come to the clinic where we do our research and present our data to the staff. That was this morning. When it was my turn, I introduced the basic concepts underlying my study, focusing on the HIV conspiracy beliefs because that's what I already have data on.

"Conspiracy theories have been found to be common in the general African-American population," I finished, "but no one has ever looked at whether patients in treatment have conspiracy beliefs. I think the assumption has been that once people are diagnosed and come into treatment, we give them education, they talk to their doctor, and they adopt accurate beliefs about HIV. But no one has ever checked to be sure that's what happens, until my study."

Then, before I put up my preliminary results slide, I asked them how many clinic patients they thought would endorse conspiracy theories.

"I have some patients," said one of the nurse practitioners.

"How many?" I asked her. "Five percent? Fifty percent?"

"No, no, just a few."

The nurse manager chimed in. "Early in the epidemic, I would say a lot of people. But not that many anymore."

I put up the results slide. There was a brief silence. Then the clinic's medical director asked quietly,

"This is from our clinic?"

Here's what the slide said. The numbers indicate the percentage of patients who agree or strongly agree.

36.8% The government created HIV.
42.1% A secret cure exists.
43.9% Drug companies don’t want a cure.
21% HIV is a genocidal plot.
22.8% Doctors experiment unfairly on minorities.
17.6% Doctors give experimental treatments without consent.
17.5% HIV does not cause AIDS.

"Okay," I said after I reviewed the results and gave them time to sink in. "Now imagine that you hold these beliefs, and you come to the clinic, and your doctor tells you, 'I want to give you these medicines, and it's okay because they've been approved by the government, and besides, the government is going to pay for them.' "

There was uneasy laughter.

And here's the scary thing: this is probably the best-case scenario, because these are the patients who actually come to clinic. If I surveyed people who aren't connected to care at all, I'm guessing that the numbers would be even higher.

"That was fascinating," said the medical director afterward. She still looked kind of stunned. "You're definitely going to get this published." I'm planning to write it up and submit it to journals this summer, instead of waiting for more data to trickle in. Because, yeah, I think HIV medical providers just have no idea.
rivka: (Rivka P.I.)
...but how to pass up the opportunity?

As part of the economic stimulus package, the Obama administration has set aside $200 million for "challenge grants," two-year NIH research awards that are aimed to hire a bunch of scientists and pump money into the economy. They have to be applied for immediately. (Well, they've been out for a few weeks, but I wasn't really thinking about grants last month.) The application is fairly minimal - you don't have to have "background" and "preliminary studies" sections the way you usually do, just a 12-page argument for what you want to do and why it's important.

The catch is that, whatever your dream research idea, you have to squeeze it so it fits into one of their approved topic areas. I know what I need to do next: take my research about HIV conspiracy theories and develop an intervention to address the problem. It didn't seem to fit into any of the challenge grant topic areas... except that a couple of days ago my RA pointed out that there might be one that kind of, if you cross your eyes a little, sort of fits.

It doesn't cost anything to query, right? Read more... )

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