Dr. Joe Gindhart

About Dr. Joe Gindhart

Joe is a cell biologist who manages grants involving cytoskeletal motor proteins, cell motility, intracellular transport and bacterial chemotaxis. He also manages postdoctoral fellowship grants in cell biology.

Scientific Careers in the Federal Government

Broadening the definition of a “successful scientific career” is a key theme of the NIGMS training strategic plan as well as the NIH Biomedical Workforce Working Group Report.

To help graduate students, postdocs and even faculty become more familiar with the range of opportunities available to those trained for research, I participated in a 2013 ASCB meeting Exit icon  panel discussion with ASCB Executive Director Dr. Stefano Bertuzzi about science careers outside academia. We had a lively Q&A session about our reasons for leaving bench science, how our previous experiences have helped us in our current positions, and what one needs to do to prepare for careers in science policy and research administration.

Not too long ago, some might have considered me a science “dropout” because I left academia for federal work as a program director. I may no longer have my own lab, but I think about science every day and help researchers obtain funding for their work. I’m happy that I made the transition.

If you’re considering a science administration career in the federal government, here are a few tips to help you find available opportunities.

Job vacancies for individuals at all career stages are posted on USAJOBS.gov Exit icon. The Overview section of each announcement will tell you how many vacancies the job announcement intends to fill. Without going too far into the minutiae, the site has an advanced search Exit icon feature that lets you find open positions by salary, location, keyword and more. One search field is Occupational Series Exit icon. The series that may be of most interest to Feedback Loop readers are 0601 – General Health Science, which includes most scientific administration jobs at NIH, and 0401 – General Natural Resources Management and Biological Sciences, which includes science administration jobs at NSF. Both the 0601 and 0401 job “families” include bench science positions, as well.

As of today, the 0601 and 0401 series offered more than 80 open positions. While not all of the jobs may be relevant to you, this gives you an idea of the scope of the federal science and health mission.

Last year, Mitzi Kosciulek of NIH’s Office of Human Resources wrote about applying for scientific administration jobs at NIGMS. Some of the general principles she outlined are applicable to any federal job search. For example, as part of an effort to speed the hiring process, many USAJOBS postings are open for only 5 days. For that reason, consider creating a profile, building a resume in the system and uploading your academic transcripts so you’re ready to roll when the right job opportunity presents itself. Once you have a profile, you can save your most pertinent search specifications and then ask the system to send you new “hits” by e-mail.

Meet Us at the ASCB Meeting

In recent weeks, a number of investigators have asked me, “Are you going to the ASCB meeting Exit icon this year?” I will be there, along with our new director, Jon Lorsch, and a few other NIGMS staff members. The meeting takes place on December 14-18 in New Orleans. If you’re also attending, we hope to have a chance to chat with you there. It’s a great way for us to get to know you and your research better, as well as to answer your questions.

In addition, you may want to attend one of the sessions with NIGMS staff. Jon will discuss his vision and plans for NIGMS in the “Face-to-Face with NIH” session at 1:30 p.m. on Monday, December 16. Earlier that day, at 11 a.m., I will participate in a panel discussion on careers in science policy and research administration. NIGMS staff are also participating in the ASCB Women in Cell Biology Committee’s career discussion and mentoring roundtables taking place at 11 a.m. on Tuesday, December 17.

ASCB is just one of the meetings that our scientific staff go to each year to learn about the latest findings and emerging areas, meet with investigators and participate in informational talks or mock study sections. I encourage you to find out if your program director or other NIGMS staff members will be attending your next science conference so you can plan to meet. If you’re a relative newcomer to the NIH system, you can find your program director listed in your eRA Commons account and on your summary statement and Notice of Award. And of course, you can always call or e-mail us to let us know about your work or ask us your questions.

Identifying the Study Section for Your Application

One of my jobs as an NIGMS program director is helping investigators navigate the review process. This includes understanding where their applications will be reviewed and how they can make a recommendation about this assignment.

Applications can be grouped for review by research area or grant mechanism, or as a cohort submitted in response to a specific funding opportunity announcement (FOA). I would like to briefly walk through a few scenarios and share some advice along the way.

The “Review and Selection Process” (V.2) section of FOAs provides clues about where your application will be reviewed. An application can be reviewed at the Center for Scientific Review (CSR) or at an individual NIH institute or center (IC), depending upon the particular FOA. Information about who will review your application is posted in your eRA Commons account soon after it is determined, but you should contact your program director or CSR if you have questions or concerns.

The vast majority of applications received by NIH on topics relevant to NIGMS are in response to “parent” program announcements, such as PA-13-302, for unsolicited R01 applications. Section V.2 of PA-13-302 states, “Applications will be evaluated for scientific and technical merit by (an) appropriate Scientific Review Group(s) convened by CSR.” This means that the application will be reviewed by a regular NIH study section or a special emphasis panel (SEP) with expertise in the research area explored by the application. To identify a possible “review home” for your application, I suggest you peruse CSR’s list of study sections, find the ones that seem most suitable for your application and then use NIH RePORTER to search for funded applications that have been reviewed by those study sections. This will allow you to identify the group of scientists who have the appropriate research expertise to review your application.

Specific requests for applications (RFAs), such as RFA-GM-14-003 (Revisions for Macromolecular Interactions in Cells), are often reviewed together in the IC that issued the RFA. For example, section V.2 of GM-14-003 states, “Applications will be evaluated for scientific and technical merit by (an) appropriate Scientific Review Group(s) convened by the NIGMS.” This means that the NIGMS Office of Scientific Review will organize a review panel to review applications submitted in response to this RFA.

For applications that will be reviewed by groups convened by CSR, I encourage the investigators I speak with to write a brief cover letter for their applications that indicates which study section they think is appropriate and how they arrived at that conclusion. Sometimes, it is also helpful to indicate the type(s) of expertise you believe is needed to review your application, but you should not provide a list of reviewers, as that creates issues with potential conflicts of interest. The recommendations made in the cover letter are advisory, but the CSR Division of Receipt and Referral makes every effort to accommodate reasonable requests.

JIT Information: How We Use “Other Support” Data

The study section gave your application a competitive score, and now you’ve been asked to submit Just-in-Time (JIT) information about your other sources of funding, including active and pending support for key personnel on the application. Why do we request this information?

First, for all applications that might be funded, we check the JIT information for scientific overlap with the investigators’ active grants from NIH and other funding sources, since we can’t provide support for a project that’s already being funded.

Second, as directed by the NIGMS Advisory Council, we give additional scrutiny to new and competing renewal applications from investigators whose total research support, including the pending award, exceeds $750,000 or more in annual direct costs. These applications require special analysis and documentation from NIGMS staff to justify why the project is highly meritorious, and they are discussed by the Advisory Council.

Finally, we may use the information about other research support to decide which grants to recommend for funding and to establish the budget level of the award. As you may know, NIGMS does not rely solely on a percentile cutoff or “payline” to make funding decisions. We also consider other factors, including career stage, perceived impact of the proposed work, summary statement comments and the other funding available to the investigator.

I hope this post helps provide some context for how we use JIT information and why it is important that your JIT information is complete, accurate and submitted promptly after the request so as not to delay the funding decision. Additional JIT information is available on the NIH and NIGMS Web sites and from your program director.

Discussing Your Application’s Review with Your Program Director

Study sections review applications three times a year, about halfway between the submission date and the second level of review by an advisory council. We are currently in the midst of the review cycle for the January 2013 Council meeting, which means that applicants will be getting their summary statements soon.

A recent post described a new NIH resource to explain the next steps after the review of your application. One of them is to contact your program director to discuss the critique, and I highly encourage this. Program directors read hundreds of summary statements each year, so we have a good idea about the comments that might have influenced your score, the likelihood that your application will be funded, and the types of revisions that might make your application more competitive.

If you’d like this input from your program director, the best first step is to send an e-mail to him or her after the summary statement is released (typically a few weeks after the study section has met to review your application) to arrange a time to talk. Program directors usually gain access to the summary statement around the same time you do, but giving us a chance to read and think about your review can facilitate a useful and productive conversation.

In addition to helping you determine next steps for your application, the conversation offers an opportunity to foster a relationship with the program director who manages grants in your area of research.

How the Change of Fiscal Year Affects Your NIGMS Grant

It’s autumn: cool, crisp weather; bright-colored leaves; the beginning of another fiscal year for NIGMS.

The new fiscal year brings with it a special set of circumstances for funding applications, activating fellowships and making changes to existing grants. Some of these circumstances are related to the NIGMS budget, while others are related to NIH policies and regulations.

Here are answers to some questions that applicants and grantees often ask after the September Advisory Council meeting and during the beginning of the new fiscal year, which started on October 1. We hope that telling you what to expect will help you plan accordingly.

September Council’s over. My application did well in review. When is my grant going to get funded?

NIGMS funds a very limited number of R01s in September after the Council meets. Most pending applications are funded after January 1, depending on when NIH gets its budget appropriation from Congress. However, if your renewal application did exceptionally well in review and your current award expires on November 30, we may be able to start the renewal on, or close to, December 1.

Would my grant application be funded more quickly if it went to a different Council round?

Most likely, yes. Applications that go to the January or May Council meetings are typically selected for funding and processed sooner, relative to when Council meets, than applications that go to the September Council meeting. If you want to minimize the receipt-to-award time and you have a choice about when to submit your application, you may want to submit it for the June/July or October/November deadlines, so that it goes to the January or May Council meetings, respectively. Be aware, though, that there is a large volume of awards to be made after January and May Council meetings, which may impact award processing time.

Why can’t I activate my NRSA fellowship in October or early November?

Many NIH institutes and centers, including NIGMS, do not activate fellowships during the first 6 weeks of a new fiscal year so that future-year anniversary dates align with the NIH funding guidelines (i.e., continuation awards typically do not start before December 1).

I’m moving from one institution to another on October 1. Can my grant or fellowship be transferred when I move? I want it to start on the day that I arrive or, if that’s not possible, later in October.

For the same reason as above, a change of grantee institution action cannot be processed from October 1 through mid-November. However, if we receive your change of institution request at least 8 weeks before the desired start date, we may be able to make the transfer date retroactive. Contact your grants management specialist for details.

I’ve applied for a diversity supplement for an individual who’s arriving on October 25. Will the supplement be available on the day that she arrives?

No, since NIH generally begins issuing grant awards after mid-November. If the supplement application is received at least 10 weeks prior to the desired start date, then the supplement could be issued as early as mid-November. Your institution most likely has pre-award cost authority, so you may opt to start spending the supplemental funds on October 25, when the candidate arrives. If you’re considering this option, be sure to confirm with the director of the diversity supplement program that your supplement will be funded, since submission of a diversity supplement application does not guarantee funding. You’ll also want to know when the supplement is likely to start and whether the budget has been cut.

My grant’s anniversary date is December 1. Why are the awards late most years?

Two factors may contribute. One is that program and grants management staff must wait, often until mid-November, to start the process for issuing grant awards until funding guidance and financial systems are in place. Another factor is that NIH may be operating on a short-term continuing resolution (CR) at a reduced budget level in lieu of a full-year appropriation, which may affect the award process.

Why was my continuation budget reduced? Is the likelihood of a budget cut higher if my grant’s anniversary date is in the winter? Will the cut funds ever be restored?

If NIH is operating on a CR, it may have implemented temporary across-the-board budget cuts on noncompeting continuation awards (years 2, 3, etc. of a grant). This is because we must fund conservatively in case of a further CR or an appropriation that is at a lower level. The likelihood of a temporary budget cut is highest in December and January, since the probability that NIH will be on a CR is highest at the beginning of a fiscal year. It’s possible that some or all of the budget reductions will be restored after NIH gets an appropriation. However, it may take several weeks or longer after an appropriation bill is passed and signed for your award to be adjusted.

“Did Council Fund My Grant?”

This is a question we’re often asked shortly after the NIGMS Advisory Council meets in January, May and September. The short answer is: No. Here’s why.

As described in a previous post, our Council provides a second level of peer review of applications assigned to NIGMS. It is not a second study section. Instead, the Council provides oversight to ensure that the initial review for scientific and technical merit conducted by the study section was fair and in compliance with policy.

Each Council member is assigned a set of applications from the most recent round of study sections. He or she reads the summary statements for these applications and considers whether:

  • There was appropriate expertise to review the application.
  • The summary statement comments are substantive, appropriate and consistent with the priority score.
  • The budget is suitable for the proposed work.
  • The project addresses NIGMS programmatic needs.

Most applications pass through this second level of review without specific comment. However, Council members occasionally identify an application that they wish to bring to the attention of program staff. This is usually due to a situation in which the numerical score is better or worse than appears to be justified by the written critique. Applications identified by Council are briefly discussed in a closed session along with applications that regularly receive additional scrutiny, such as program project grants, appeals, applications from foreign institutions, MERIT awards and applications from well-funded investigators.

During each meeting, Council members review more than 1,000 applications. While they do not discuss the vast majority of them, they must vote whether to concur with the study section recommendations. For most applications, this is done en bloc.

Like study sections members, Council members give expert advice about the merit of an application, but they do not make funding decisions. Deliberations about which applications to fund occur at post-Council “paylist” meetings in which groups of NIGMS program staff discuss individual applications. The scientific reviews weigh heavily in the funding decision process, but the staff also consider programmatic priorities, research portfolio balance and other factors.

Once funding decisions have been made, it takes at least 2 to 3 weeks for a paylist to be generated and approved. At that point your program director will be able to tell you whether your application will be funded and if so, what the budget and term will be. If you have questions about the status of your application, your program director is the best source of information.

High-Resolution Excitement at the 25th AIDS-Related Structural Biology Meeting

HIV Poster. Image copyright David S. Goodsell, RCSB PDB, www.pdb.org

Image copyright David S. Goodsell, RCSB PDB, www.pdb.org

An exceptional array of structural biologists, cell biologists, virologists and other researchers gathered at NIH late last month to discuss achievements, applications and future directions in AIDS-related structural biology. The group was attending the 25th Annual Meeting of the Groups Studying the Structures of AIDS-Related Systems and Their Application to Targeted Drug Design.

I was extraordinarily impressed by the quality of the science, the passion with which it was presented and the interactive culture of the community.

The meeting began with a keynote address by Steve Harrison of Harvard Medical School. He provided valuable historical perspective and then outlined major challenges facing the field. Two days later, the event concluded with a provocative talk by Manuel Navia of Oxford Bioscience Partners about the economics of bringing new lead compounds through the drug development pipeline.

In between were sessions on the HIV life cycle, HIV host-pathogen interactions, imaging, latency, viral host recognition and structure-based drug design and resistance. There were also lively poster sessions showcasing more than 70 projects.

Approximately 2.8% of the NIGMS budget supports research related to AIDS, which includes individual grants, program projects, centers and institutional training grants.

A major focus of our current AIDS-related structural biology efforts is three P50 Centers for the Determination of Structures of HIV/Host Complexes. With cofunding from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, we support the Center for HIV Protein Interactions Exit icon at the University of Pittsburgh; the Center for the Structural Biology of Cellular Host Elements in Egress, Trafficking, and Assembly of HIV Exit icon at the University of Utah; and the HIV Accessory and Regulatory Complexes Exit icon Center at the University of California, San Francisco. These centers use a comprehensive, collaborative approach that engages the larger biological community involved in HIV-cell complex research.

Because the funding initiative for the P50 centers expires next year, we solicited feedback on the program from meeting attendees. We also asked them about emerging scientific opportunities in the field and the best way to move forward. We welcome your input on these topics, too. We’ll talk more about future of NIGMS AIDS-related funding opportunity announcements at the May 2011 meeting of the National Advisory General Medical Sciences Council.

Although many scientific questions remain, the 25th anniversary meeting underscored how basic research on the structure of HIV-1 and interacting host proteins has significantly increased our understanding of virus biology and informed structure-based therapeutic approaches.

Register for 25th Annual NIGMS AIDS-Related Structural Biology Meeting

X-ray structure of hexameric HIV-1 CA (PDB entry 3H47)

Registration is now open for the 25th Annual Meeting of the Groups Studying the Structures of AIDS-Related Systems and Their Application to Targeted Drug Design. The meeting will take place March 28-30, 2011, on the NIH campus in Bethesda.

Plenary sessions will cover the HIV life cycle, host-pathogen interactions, imaging, latency, viral host recognition and structure-based drug design and resistance. The first two days will also include afternoon poster sessions and breakout discussion groups on the future of NIGMS AIDS research initiatives.

Principal investigators, postdoctoral fellows and students are welcome to attend. The meeting is free and open to the public, but advance registration is required. If you’d like to submit a poster presentation, please check the speaker box on the meeting registration page and e-mail me.

The focus of NIGMS-supported HIV studies has evolved from determining the structures of AIDS-related proteins and developing structure-based drug design techniques to identifying mechanisms of drug resistance and host proteins related to the HIV life cycle.

During this special anniversary meeting, the community will have an opportunity to reflect on past accomplishments, describe current advances and develop ideas for future NIGMS AIDS-related funding opportunities. Please visit the meeting Web site for more details about the agenda and confirmed speakers.

We hope to see you in March!

Cell Biology Celebration

The American Society for Cell Biology 50th Annual MeetingCell biologists, including many of our funded investigators and a few of us from NIGMS, were in a celebratory mood as the 50th Annual Meeting of the American Society for Cell Biology Exit icon kicked off December 11 at the Philadelphia Convention Center. The keynote symposium began with Gary Borisy’s description of the first ASCB meeting, when Hans Ris described his then-heretical finding that chloroplasts contain DNA. For more details about the genesis and early years of the ASCB, check out John Fleishman’s article, A Place of Our Own, in the December 2010 ASCB Newsletter Exit icon.

An exciting addition to this year’s meeting was the science discussion table format. Eminent researchers sat at tables for an hour at the beginning of each poster session and took questions from relative newcomers to the field. I stopped by to say hello to some of the NIGMS-supported investigators in my grant portfolio, but each table was crowded with graduate students and postdocs eager to discuss science and seek advice from their fields’ leaders. Two thoughts came to mind as I watched the scene unfold: I wish that there had been these tables when I was a young scientist, and I hope this format becomes a regular feature of the ASCB meeting.

While science is the major focus of the ASCB meeting, education, mentoring and career development also are important features. A number of education workshops focused on topics such as pedagogy, science literacy and online teaching resources. Women in Cell Biology-sponsored events focused on careers, mentoring and managing life as a scientist. In addition, NIH program and review staff answered questions about the grant process. I was one of them, and my favorite part was talking to postdocs and investigators I know from phone calls and e-mail exchanges.

I saw a number of outstanding talks and posters at the meeting, and to say that there is not enough room here to mention them all is an understatement. I was particularly intrigued by presentations from Ron Vale’s lab at University of California, San Francisco, on the cytoplasmic dynein motor domain at 6 Å resolution and from Tom Schwarz at Harvard Medical School on identifying a role for Parkinson’s disease-associated proteins in the regulation of mitochondrial transport within axons. As someone interested in intracellular transport, both presentations offered answers to long-standing problems in cell biology and provided a launching pad for testing new ideas about how organelles move to specific cellular destinations.

I’m already looking forward to the 2011 meeting in Denver.