From the Guest Editor,
The BEST program is offering congratulations and well-wishes to Ethan Sanford, who was our very capable newsletter editor for the last year and a half. Ethan recently successfully passed his A-exam and now wants to focus more of this time on his research. We thank Ethan for his service and wish him the best of luck in all of his future endeavors.
One of the important changes Ethan made to the BEST newsletter was to highlight a different BESTie each month. So much of the success of the BEST program is related to the roles and responsibilities that are taken on by BESTies themselves. Ethan did a great job of making sure these actions were highlighted in the newsletter. We continue Ethan's tradition, and this month highlight BESTie Andy Sanchez.
We also are welcoming a new editor for the BEST newsletter. Please welcome Cassi Wattenburger, a PhD student in the School of Integrative Plant Sciences where she studies microbial ecology and the genomics of soil. Cassi will take on greater editor responsibilities in the near future. For now, you can get an introduction to her by reading her story about how to write more effective grant proposals in From the BEST Blog...
Welcome Cassi Wattenburger.
We look forward to seeing more of your content and style in the next newsletter.
BEST program is expanding
In the fall of 2018, the BEST program will expand to formally include the social sciences and the humanities. Since its inception as an NIH-funded program in fall of 2013, BEST has focused on supporting career exploration among PhD students and postdocs largely in the Life Sciences and Physical Sciences. These services will continue and will soon be offered as part of the University's Grad School programming serving PhD students throughout Cornell as well as the postdoc community.
To ensure that high-quality services will continue to be provided, BEST also is advertising a Career Exploration Program Manager position. We seek a collaborative individual who has experience in professional development to help PhDs explore aspects of various careers through flexible, experiential and empowering opportunities, to make informed career decisions, and to gain skills for their future careers. This individual will provide coaching to grad students and postdocs as they explore relevant employment opportunities.
For more information about the Career Exploration Program Manager position, please see the job description.
Advisory Board happenings
By Sarah Adeyemo Oluwabusayo
Attending the BEST Advisory Board meeting always is something to which I look forward. It is an exciting time of brainstorming with great minds, and presenting out-of-the-box ideas to address issues related to our BEST program Vision. The agenda for the BEST Advisory Board meeting I attended on Monday July 6th included providing feedback on a preliminary draft of the 2018 BEST annual report, and providing feedback about the June Pathways to Success Symposium.
A draft of the annual report was shared, and we provided constructive comments about the content and the design of the report. The Advisory Board's feedback was just one part of the overall revision process. I am elated that we could contribute to this process.
Several of the Advisory Board members attended part or all of the Pathways to Success Symposium. The sessions were well thought-out and the speakers all provided useful take-aways. One aspect that we identified for improvement was that there was too little time to interact and network with the speakers in one-on-one situations.
From the BEST Blog: Three tips to write better grants
By Cassi Wattenburger
If you’re a grad student or postdoc, you almost certainly understand the difficult funding climate that exists. In fiscal year 2016, the average funding rate for National Science Foundation (NSF) grant proposals was only 16%. Making matters worse, US government research budgets had remained relatively stagnant for years. Whether in academia, government, or private research, securing funding is a perennial problem.
Recently, I had to chance to get some advice for greatly increasing the chances of winning a grant. This advice came from successful grant-winner, Dr. Dan Buckley, a professor in the Soil and Crop Sciences Department at Cornell, whose funding rates range between 66% and 75%. So, what is his secret to success?
His general advice -- “Aim to write a top 25% grant, then your chances of funding drastically increase.” Due to the limited number of proposals that a granting organization can fund, only the very best grants will have any chance. If you write a grant within that third quartile of quality, you are effectively competing with a much smaller pool of fundable proposals and the odds are more in your favor.
So, how do you consistently get your big ideas into that top 25% bracket? Easier said than written, right? Good research ideas can take you much of the way, but your writing can set you apart. Here are a few simple points Dr. Buckley described that many failed grants don’t get right.
One problem with writing grant proposals, is that you have a lot to say with very few words. Knowing your audience (in this case, the reviewers), such as their depth of knowledge in your field and the terminology that they like/dislike, will go a long way towards helping you write an optimal grant proposal. Giving your reviewers too much information will annoy them but missing the important points will give them cause to doubt your proposal. Keywords can be deadly too. Dr. Buckley described, with dismay, how a brilliant grant proposal he once reviewed involving microbial evolution tanked because the evolutionary biologists on the panel got caught up on the applicant’s use of the word “species”.
- Know your audience.
One of the best ways to know your audience is to become part of it; ask to be part of a grant review panel sometime.
This boils down to brevity. Giving your reviewers the right information is the first step, and reducing your word count is the next. Long sentences with many prepositions and confused subjects are difficult for readers to grasp. Poor writing makes the reviewer put in extra effort parsing your sentences that you should have already done. The harder your ideas are to understand, no matter how good those ideas are, the lower your chances of funding become.
- Write well!
Writing well takes time and many drafts. Dr. Buckley recommends you spend at least 1-2 months on each grant proposal. He also stresses the importance of practicing and reflecting on your writing regularly, even when you aren’t applying for grants.
“It’s like turning in your book report with an apple for the teacher,” says Dr. Buckley.
- Good salesmanship.
Make your grant proposal look great. Use appropriate font sizes, bolding, italics, and white space so that your text is effortless to read. Use figures to express ideas whenever you can, and make them simple, attractive, and understood at a glance. When all else is equal and the funding tight, the exciting, easy read is probably going to be favored.
Of course, your success in getting funded even when applying these tips depends on your idea being great in the first place. Nonetheless, ignoring these tips can kill even the best ideas in review. Knowing your audience, writing well, and good salesmanship can help your awesome ideas stand apart from the rest. It also can lead to a happy, prosperous scientific career, whether that be in academia, government, non-profit or beyond.
BEST alum's company lands big grant
A local company co-founded by 3 recent Cornell alumni, including BESTie Jason Guss, PhD '18, received a $100K grant as the 2018 recipient of the Technology Commercialization Growth Fund sponsored by CenterState CEO and Empire State Development. Their company, Orthofit, will produce a techno-glove which collects data from the wearer to reduce the risk of repetitive-use injuries. In addition, they will partner with several other companies throughout New York State, including Wing and Weft -- a women-run startup specializing in textile design, in a move that will benefit the overall state economy.
Guss also won the 2018 Three-Minute Thesis Competition and was part of the Entrepreneurship @ Cornell (E@C) celebration event with two other postdocs who also have started their own businesses.
Participants at the 2018 E@C celebration. From left, Ken Rother, BESTie Jason Guss, BESTie Gabriel Rodriguez-Calero, and Stephane Corgié.
August 16th. MedTech Meet-up at University of Rochester. Contact Susi Varvayanis firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in attending.
August 17th. 17th Annual Biological and Biomedical Sciences (BBS) Symposium.
August 29th. BEST professional portrait day.
In this issue...
From the Guest Editor
BEST program expanding
Doctoral alumni career data
BEST alum wins big grant
Advisory Board happenings
BEST Blog - Write better grants
BEST kinds of success
Member Spotlight on Andy Sanchez
Andy Sanchez is a 3rd year PhD grad student in the School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering.
How did you hear about the BEST program?
I attended the Cornell Summer Success Symposium before I started my PhD, where they introduced us to many of the campus organizations that provide support for people thinking about careers outside of academia. I think the S3 and BEST have been instrumental for helping me discover and pursue my career path; I feel very fortunate to have found out about them so early in my tenure at Cornell.
How active would you say you've been in the BEST program?
I've been lucky enough to enjoy several BEST programs, including a handful of AAAS seminars, full support for my Lean Six Sigma Green Belt Certification, and a spot on Cornell's Public Health team for the MIT Policy Hackathon. The latter, in particular, connected me with some amazing people, whose peachy friendship and brilliant career insights have meant the world to me.
What advice would you give new PhD students about participating in BEST program activities?
Just do it. Nike infringement aside, we have a real treasure in the Cornell BEST program. All the BEST affiliates do a good job of connecting students with exciting opportunities, but Cornell's is unique in funding students for whatever initiative they find value in. The philosophy of our particular branch empowers us to pursue programs that may not have been on anyone else's radar. For instance, Cornell's attendance at the MIT Policy Hackathon was a 100% student-led initiative, which never could have happened without funding and support from BEST. I think it's such an amazing service, to have the guidance and infrastructure to follow through on any meaningful endeavor. I wish every PhD program had one.
Cornell doctoral alumni career outcomes data now public
Ever wonder what your career path might look like 5 years, 10 years, or even 20 years in the future? How much of a difference is there in job satisfaction, relevance of your degree, or annual salary among alumni from different fields?
One place to look for answers is in the searchable Doctoral Career Outcomes database maintained by the Grad School. Cornell is one of few institutions that publicly share these data in a way that is searchable. The Cornell BEST program is part of a national effort aimed at ensuring current and prospective PhD students have access to this information. "We are leading the pack in terms of transparency," says BEST executive director, Susi Varvayanis. Read more about this effort in a Cornell Chronicle article.
The usefulness of these data does not only provide a glimpse into your possible future employment situation. You can use this information as a springboard for networking. Susi Varvayanis explains, "BEST can help people delve into the data even more specifically to search for profiles of alumni who have public LinkedIn profiles at particular employers to help in their search for mentors and sources for informational interviews."
We encourage alumni to complete these surveys when they receive them because this information is invaluable for career exploration.
The BEST kind of success
Grad school can be a very trying time. Sometimes we just don't know what we really want to do for a long-term career, and we know that the BEST program can help us sort things out and chart a course for our future. Some of the BEST resources of the BEST program are the BESTies themselves.
BEST light in the dark
The BEST program connects you with others experiencing the same situations you are living. "Connecting with your peers is so helpful," explains Celine Cammarata, PhD student in Human Ecology. "They can't necessarily give you the step-by-step instructions on what you need to do for your career. But, they can act as a flashlight in the dark. By talking with them about their experiences, the trials and tribulations they've had, and the kinds of things they are thinking about, it can shed light on what your future might look like."