Hello DrugMonkey! (An Introduction by Abel Pharmboy)

(This guest post was written by Abel Pharmboy)

Let's say you're a graduate student or postdoctoral fellow in the biomedical sciences. You're questioning your choice of career but know you want to stick with it and just need some objective advice from someone who isn't as invested (or uninterested) in your success.

Or maybe you are a NIH-funded researcher at the assistant or associate professor level who is looking to commiserate with fellow scientists in the blogosphere, only to find there are very few of your kind out there.

Well, as of 23 January 2008, ScienceBlogs has a solution—DrugMonkey.


(More below the fold...)

Since I have been singing the praises of their blog, most recently here, I was strongarmed selected to write this introductory welcome piece here at Page 3.14.

DrugMonkey, the person, is "a NIH-funded biomedical researcher" who began writing about research funding and academic career development issues together with his colleague, BikeMonkey. Judging from the number and quality of comments and discussion the blog attracted almost immediately, it was clear early on that DrugMonkey was a wise man in filling a much-needed niche in the sci/med blogosphere.

PhysioProf is "an NIH-funded basic science faculty member at a private medical school" who began as a vocal and substantive commenter at DrugMonkey. Suddenly, on 28 October 2007, PhysioProf began as a regular co-blogger at DrugMonkey (though it's not clear whether he was actually invited or simply obtained DrugMonkey's WordPress password through covert means).

Both DrugMonkey and PhysioProf have been longtime commenters at several blogs here at the ScienceBorg and elsewhere in the academic blogosphere, engaging in various discussions to the point that many of us already considered them family, albeit akin to those cranky uncles begrudgingly mumbling about the rest of the family from the kitchen while nursing their glasses of Jameson whiskey.

But what is perceived by some as crankiness is really a valuable and realistic view on what is required to succeed in today's climate of sparse NIH research funds and highly competitive tenure-track faculty positions in basic science departments. Their writing also makes it clear that they encourage and support underrepresented individuals in science careers with such devotion that even Zuska hearts DM. As I've said before, I would've killed as a grad student or postdoc for the quality of advice available at DrugMonkey.

There are many strengths of the DrugMonkey blog but the writers excel particularly when it comes to advice on NIH grantsmanship. The post, Advice: Do I listen to those geezers or these disgruntled "not-made-it-yets"? tells trainees and new assistant profs how to filter the advice they get from colleagues as they first approach independent funding of their laboratories. This post, written by DrugMonkey and fueled by a PhysioProf comment, foreshadowed the intellectual power that would become apparent when they joined forces:

PhysioProf: the grantsmanship advice of my senior colleagues at the time—while generous and well-intentioned—was actually worse than useless. They had forgotten how to strategize in an environment of sub-tenth percentile paylines, and were giving advice that only made sense in a twentieth-percentile world.

DrugMonkey: Drugmonkey concurs, in spades. Older and more established investigators' advice is counterproductive in many ways, the most fundamental of which is that they fail to account for the bias that favors them. So you get a lot of advice that comes from the un/stated belief that "you just need to write a better grant".

With this glossary, DrugMonkey also made it easy for the reader to understand the terms and acronyms that get thrown around academia about the NIH research grant process, many of which I never learned until I was a floundering assistant professor.

The take-home message is that reading DrugMonkey will provide you with valuable insights on how to succeed in this business instead of throwing up your hands and/or banging your head against the wall. And even if you still bang your head against the wall, you'll be doing it in a much more informed and scholarly manner.


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It has been brought to my attention that I failed to properly document the geologic record of the DrugMonkey blog: PhysioProf put up his first post there on 1 Oct 2007. The tone was quite tame and, contrary to my account, it read as though DM actually invited him as a co-blogger.

I personally prefer the story that PP stole DM's password and couldn't shake him but, as is often the case, the truth is far less glamorous and seedy (pun intended).