Friday, November 16, 2012

Is the synapse too small?

A synapse is the connection between two neurons, and it is indeed very small. But that’s not why I ask this question.

Recently I talked to an Acquaintance from the Home country (AH) who is writing the same grant as I am writing. AH went to the US to learn Very Fancy Technique (VFT) and is now looking to go back to the home country. AH found a lab that has equipment to do VFT and is writing a grant with the professor* there. During AH’s post-doc in the US ze is working on how shit works in the synapse using VFT. In hir grant ze is proposing to study more about how shit works in the synapse using VFT and ze can use the stuff ze did here as preliminary data. However, now the professor told hir to maybe use VFT to work on something else, because “the synapse is too small and people reviewing your grant may get offended when they see that you want to work on shit in the synapse”.  

I have the feeling that Europeans are for some reason much more afraid of being scooped and working too close to someone else’s field than Americans. My grad PI never allowed us to go to meetings with data that weren't about to be published. But I recently walked into someone more senior than me at SfN who does almost exactly what I want to do (but in a different brain region) and instead of telling me to back off and work on something else, this person invited me into hir lab to do what I wanted to do in case I couldn’t get it to work myself. 

So where do you think this scare to work too close to someone else’s field come from? And what would your advice to AH be? Stay with hir own plan or move away from the synapse?

*So you may ask: why would someone who did a post-doc still write a grant with a professor? This is just the way it works in the home country (and some other European countries). There is a lot of hierarchy and there are no R01-like grants that give you enough money to do what you want. The grant I’m writing now will just cover my own salary and $10k for supplies. So you have to start working with someone else in order to be able to do something. Which is nice, because they have equipment and trained techs so from day 1 you can start doing experiments. But the downside is that for the first couple of years you will probably not be last author on your own papers.

1 comment:

  1. First of all, c'mon not working on a synapse because to many people already study synaptic transmission is ridiculous and shows lack of imagination. It's like saying "well we really can't work on neurons because everyone is working on them". Secondly, it's actually pretty hard to get truly scooped, for example: