Below is a brief summary of the video
Dr. Morgan Giddings, a bioinformatics researcher, discussed her experiences as a professor at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in a video interview with Elise Giddings. Dr. Giddings shared the challenges she faced both before and after receiving tenure, particularly with securing grant funding.
Despite having received multiple offers for her first faculty job, Dr. Giddings felt both excited and afraid. She had to present a confident demeanor during interviews, which meant hiding her trepidation.
Once she started the job at UNC, she realized that she had to focus on funding right away, and it became a major focus for her. Within the first two years, she received six major application rejections, which caused major stress as she had a growing team to support. If she could not bring in funding, she wouldn’t be able to support them.
After a series of six major grant rejections in her first two years, Dr. Giddings switched gears and was fortunate to find a mentor, Marshall Edgell, who provided her with the challenging feedback she needed to improve her grant proposals. Though her ego was sore at much of the feedback, she rewrote her proposal based on his feedback and submitted it. The grant was funded on the first round of submission, and the next three R01 grants that she submitted after that were also funded on the first round. Dr. Giddings learned that finding a mentor like Marshall is extremely rare, and being receptive to that level of feedback can be challenging.
After receiving funding, Dr. Giddings grew her team to 16 people, but she did not have the right mental attitude to manage them effectively. She received minimal mentoring on how to manage this, and did not feel comfortable sharing her deeper challenges and frustrations.
As a result of the chaos, she developed a growing sense of imposter syndrome, wondering why she received so much funding, and more importantly, whether she could keep it going. With so many people going in different directions, it seemed often chaotic and sometimes unproductive.
Later, after leaving UNC, she encountered similar problems at Boise State University, eventually realizing that the common element in the problems was her. In retrospect, she would have been more careful and intentional about selecting lab members and been clearer with setting boundaries and expectations. She would have worked more on her own mindset, so that when the challenges occurred she could have dealt with them better.
In the final point of the interview, Dr. Morgan Giddings emphasized that grant funding is not solely based on one’s pedigree, but on presenting clear, strong, and compelling ideas. She shared her own experiences as a bioinformatics researcher with an odd scientific pedigree and a gender transition, noting that all her grant applications were rejected before her transition, but were funded after it. Giddings stressed that reviewers saw something valuable in her proposals and research, regardless of her background. Therefore, she encouraged aspiring researchers to focus on presenting their ideas in a clear and compelling way, rather than solely relying on their qualifications, authority, or expertise.
In the summary, Dr. Giddings encourages others to understand the importance of finding mentors who can provide the right feedback, and being receptive to that level of feedback. By setting up systems in the lab, personnel can be managed effectively, and being upfront about needs and being persistent in that ask can prevent frustration and anger. Her experiences can be a valuable lesson for aspiring researchers who want to avoid similar pitfalls and become successful in their careers.
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