Tag Archives: help

The acknowledgement section of our NSF proposal

25 Aug

A few weeks ago two colleagues and I submitted an NSF proposal. We submitted on a Friday afternoon even though the deadline wasn’t until Tuesday! I am proud that we managed this almost without any deadline stress!

I had fun and we wrote a great proposal

I know that we may not end up getting funded by NSF, but until we get that message, I plan to be very optimistic. We wrote a really neat proposal for a great project. I can’t wait to get started! The ambitious goal of the project is to determine the fitness cost of every possible point mutation in the HIV genome in vivo.

I think nobody likes to write proposals when the success rate is only 5%, but I actually enjoyed working on this proposal and I learned a lot while writing it: both about the biology of our project and about the art of proposal writing. It’s important for me to commit that to paper (OK, screen) so that if NSF decides not to fund us, I will remember that writing the proposal was actually a good experience.

Writing with a newborn

In addition the many scientists and administrators who contributed to the proposal, I also want to mention how I could write a proposal with a newborn. We started working on the proposal two weeks before I gave birth and we submitted the proposal when our baby was just shy of seven weeks old. The hours that I spent on the proposal were made possible by my mom who flew in to help and by the fact that Facebook gives new parents four months paid paternity leave so that my husband was also at home during my maternity leave. It was fun to be home together with my husband and we took shifts working and taking care of Maya. Most days I worked on the proposal just two or three hours, so a large part of the work was done by others.


Me in my home office with baby, changing table, a laptop and a grant writing handbook.

It was a huge team effort

Many people were involved in writing the proposal. Many more than I ever expected to be. I want to list them here so that I remember who helped out and also to show that being a researcher doesn’t have to be a lonely affair.

Note that these people are only the people I am aware off. Others certainly helped my co-PI Adi Stern.

The main team that wrote the proposal consisted of four people:

  • co-PI Adi Stern (Tel Aviv)
  • postdoc Marion Hartl (SFSU)
  • professional grant writer Kristin Harper
  • myself

At SFSU, people from the Office for Research and Sponsored Programs helped:

  • Rowena Manalo
  • Raman Paul
  • Michael Scott
  • Jessica Mankus
  • Uschi Simonis (vice-dean for Research)

At Stanford there were

  • co-PI Bob Shafer
  • collaborator David Katzenstein
  • Elizabeth White (Katzenstein lab)
  • Holly Osborne (Office for Sponsored Research)

In Tel Aviv

  • Office for Sponsored Research
  • Adi Stern’s lab members brainstormed ideas
  • Maoz Gelbart help with ideas and figures

Colleagues who read earlier versions of the proposal

  • Sarah Cobey (U Chicago)
  • Sarah Cohen (SFSU)
  • Alison Feder (Stanford)
  • Nandita Garud (UCSF)
  • Arbel Harpak (Stanford)
  • Joachim Hermisson (U Vienna)
  • Claus Wilke (U Texas Austin)

A huge thank you to all these amazing people! I am lucky to be part of such a supportive community.


Be nice to editors who ask for your help

28 Dec

I just sent out a decision on behalf of a journal. It was a rejection, which made me a bit sad, but I am happy the task if off my to do list.

I haven’t often played the role of editor, but this manuscript I edited gave me a new appreciation for the work involved in editing. The decision for this paper was fairly easy because the two reviewers completely agreed. What was really hard was finding the reviewers! I ended up inviting 16 reviewers. 14 declined or didn’t answer, only the last two agreed to do the review.

I got a lot of help from the journal and many of the reviewers who declined helped by suggesting someone else who could do the review, but it was still a lot of (not very interesting) work and I am not very eager to do more editing any time soon.

I do plan to be nicer to the editors who ask for my help, though! Here are three things that we can all do that makes life for editors a little easier:

  1. If you’re going to decline to do a review, do so as soon as possible. If the invitation to review is just sitting in your inbox, this is really annoying for the authors and for the editor.
  2. If you can’t do the review, take a minute to suggest another reviewer to the editor. Chances are you know more people who could do the review than the editor does. Even if the name you jot down seems utterly obvious to you, the editor may not have thought of this person.
  3. If you could do the review, but not in the 10 or 14 days allotted to you, the editor is probably more than happy to give you more time, so you should ask.

Working with a speaking coach

11 Jun

Recently I had an important talk to prepare and I was considering hiring someone who could help me to work on my talk when, at a party, I was introduced to a speaking coach! It turned out that professional speaking and communications coach Ellen A. Kaye, is located in Silicon Valley and was excited to work with a Stanford scientist. Ellen and I decided to work together.

Ellen graduated from Stanford, then worked as an actress in New York City and has been running her own business (Prefect Presentation® Inc) as a speaking coach since many years [*]. Working with her really helped!

Nerd Nite: fun-yet-intellectual talks while the audience drinks along

Nerd Nite poster

Nerd Nite poster

The talk I was preparing was for Nerd Nite SF. Nerd Nites exist in many cities. Wikipedia explains that Nerd Nite “is an event usually held at a bar or venue during which individuals present on a topic of personal interest or expertise in a fun-yet-intellectual format while the audience drinks along.”

I’ve been to Nerd Nite in Cambridge (Mass) and in San Francisco and both were a lot of fun, so when I was asked to speak at Nerd Nite, I was thrilled! Nerd Nite San Francisco always has good speakers and it is often sold out (with more than 250 people in the audience!).

I needed to prepare an 18 minute talk that was going to be “fun-yet-intellectual,” which is hard! Simplify too much and people won’t learn anything (or worse, they’ll misunderstand and learn things that are not true). Make it too scientific and people will get bored and go back to their conversations. “Fun” in itself is hard. I’ve never been comfortable preparing jokes for talks … although I sometimes end up making jokes once I am on stage.

Working with speaking coach Ellen A. Kaye was extremely helpful

Getting Ellen’s coaching was extremely helpful for many reasons. First, Ellen knows a lot about speaking and storytelling and working with an audience. Second, Ellen knew how to help me write and present scientific-yet-fun speech so that I had the right level of complexity and entertainment value for this specific audience and venue.

If you ever need to prepare an important talk, I very much recommend you work with a speaking coach. And if you’re in the area, Ellen would be a great choice! I really got a lot out of it. I felt much more confident and was much better prepared after working with Ellen.

Here are just a few of her suggestions that helped me a lot:

Ellen’s tips and ideas about the content of my talk

1. Simplify, prioritize, organize!

Just like everyone else, I always want to tell too many things in too little time. There is so much cool stuff to say about HIV treatments! As the speaker, it is so hard to decide what to keep and what to cut. Ellen helped me reorganize, cut, and edit my speech so it was in the best order to be most impactful, informative, captivating, and entertaining. This was extremely helpful.

2. Summarize your speech at the beginning and at the end.

Ellen explained that to captivate and hold an audience’s attention, it is best to provide them with a brief summary of what you are going to say, right at the beginning of your speech. Like the abstract of a paper. This way the audience feels engaged in the speech and it is easier for them to follow.

Ellen also helped me to find ways to combine bad news with good news, so that the talk wouldn’t become too dark. Early in my original talk, I wanted to say something about how devastating the HIV/AIDS epidemic was in San Francisco (an incredible 19,000 people died of HIV/AIDS in a city of 800,000). However, I did not plan to mention -until the end of the speech- that the good news is that with significant scientific improvements, people can now live a long and healthy life even if they are HIV positive. Ellen had me combine both messages right up front. After that, I went into the research and details.

Ellen’s tips and ideas about presentation 

1. Speak slowly and with emphasis, especially when introducing new words or concepts.

This is true for both native speakers and foreigners like me. I still have my Dutch accent and sometimes I mumble. It was very important to make sure everyone in the audience understood me clearly.

Ellen was great at helping me realize what information, phrases, jargon and new concepts I should say slowly, and even repeat for emphasis, so my speech would be understood and appreciated by my audience. I know that Ellen’s efforts here really paid off because the audience paid attention throughout my talk and there were lots of questions.

2. Make your verbal and non-verbal communication congruent.  

This is hard to explain in a written blog post, but I am pretty sure you understand what I mean. Ellen explained that my verbal communication needs to match my non-verbal communication (body language and eyes) to make the most powerful and memorable impact.

Ellen was a professionally trained, working actress in New York City, so she knows what she’s talking about! She made me practice specific sentences and helped me find the right way to say things. This felt a little awkward at first, but it really helped to be clear and understandable and tell an exciting story.

Ellen’s Free Offer to Coach You 

As a special favor to my readers, Ellen is offering a great deal of 30 minutes free consultation to the first 20 people who contact her at Ellen@EllenKaye.com or 650-963-9874.

I recommend you take advantage of this great offer and I strongly recommend getting Ellen’s professional coaching. I got a lot out of it.


[*] Ellen A. Kaye founded Perfect Presentation® Inc, a multi-faceted speaking and coaching firm in 1994, which relocated to Silicon Valley in 2011. Ellen has coached clients for speeches and pitches to a US President, universities, keynote addresses; appearances on: CNN, The View with Barbara Walters, Fox Channel, Ted Koppel’s Nightline, national radio talk shows, IPO & VC pitches, sales presentations, PHD orals, interviews, meetings, civic speeches, and much more. Clients include Fortune 500 companies, Entrepreneurs and startups. After graduating from Stanford University, Ellen was a professionally trained actress in New York City working on stage and TV.




7 Feb

I guess you know the situation. Sometimes there is just too much work for not enough time. A grant proposal is due. A paper needs to be revised. Collaborators want to discuss new ideas. And there is a talk to prepare. You think you’ll drown.

So this actually happened to me last week. As I realized how bad the situation was (some time last weekend) and realized that the stress was probably going to last for at least 10 days (until the grant proposal deadline), I tried to remember everything I had read about stress-management in the last years and I decided to
1. try and keep healthy habits, 2. actively postpone things and 3. get help.

I’ll tell you a bit more.

1. To me, keeping healthy habits means, for example, eating proper food, getting enough sleep and having lunch with my colleagues. These habits are important because they help me to work most efficiently in my working hours and stay sane during a stressful week.

2. Next, I identified a few things that could be postponed, and I postponed them. Most importantly, I sent emails to my collaborators or others involved to let them know that I was postponing things. I find that telling people that I will not be working on our shared project this week, is key to actually freeing my mind from thinking about that project.

Ask for help

3. Maybe most importantly, I decided to ask for help. I found two to-do items that I could ask others to do for me.

One of the to-do items was to run simulations. I needed to run simulations with code that I hadn’t used for a long time. It would certainly take me a few hours to remember how the code worked and to get the results I needed. However, I knew that a graduate student in the office next to mine was working on a related project and he had recently been running simulations that were very similar to what I needed. So I asked him if he were willing to run the simulations for me and he was 🙂
In fact, my request led to a few interesting discussions and who knows, maybe it will lead to a fun collaboration.

The other thing I asked someone else to do, was to edit my paper. I had a paper that was almost accepted, except that the editors wanted me to make a few changes to the text. Because of all the other things on my plate, editing the paper seemed like a huge task. I decided to ask a friend who sometimes works as an editor to help out. I knew that she could do a better job than me in less time. And she’d be happy to do it, because I’d be paying for it. It cost me 100 dollars, but it saved me at least two hours of work and a lot of stress.

Plan B

Now that I have written this post, I realize that there is one more thing that helps me deal with stress: making a plan B.

Last week, the stress was mainly due to a grant proposal I had to write. So what I needed to do is determine what would happen if I didn’t manage to write a good proposal. I needed to answer the question: “What’s the worst that can happen if I don’t make the deadline and how will I deal with that?” By knowing how I will deal with failure, I feel much more at ease, which helps me to sleep well, which helps me to work efficiently, which helps me not to fail.

In the end, it turned out that my grant proposal was not due until May 7th (now I know that the NIH has separate deadlines for AIDS-related proposals!), so my week ended with less stress than expected.

I’d love to hear how you deal with stress!