Sunday, December 28, 2008

Tenure dossier: expanded statement of goals and achievements

I'm currently midway through my 3rd year as an assistant professor at the U. New Mexico in Albuquerque. I'm on a six year tenure clock, which is pretty typical here (though some also do 4 years). During that 6th year will be the decision whether to promote me to associate professor (with tenure), and during this 3rd year is "mid-probationary review," which I tend to think of as "practice tenure." I don't want to get into the whole process right now (though there are many amusing parts), but I'm happy to provide details and / or links I can find in the comments or a future post. Part of the tenure review process here (and I suspect at other universities) is to collect a whole slew of documents that you know nobody is going to read and assemble them into a tenure dossier.

One requirement for the dossier is the "expanded statement of scholarly professional achievements and future goals." I deduced from the outset that most people weren't going to look at my dossier, and those that did would look at this section (as opposed to the interminable appendices). So, I knew the smart thing was to spend most of my time on this statement. I didn't do the smart thing, however, so I ran out of time to revise my statement as much as I would have liked. This is a common occurrence with me, and is part of my lame time management "strategies." I don't think my statement was too bad, though, and I think if people read it they'll get a good impression of my real goals over the next couple years as a professor here. I figured I would post it here on my blog, so I'm posting it below. The only changes I'm going to make are a few minor changes and insertion of some hyperlinks here and there (we submit the dossier on paper still!!!) if I think they're helpful. I really welcome any comments, questions, and critcisms!

Here is the statement (converted from Word format):


Science goals: Our lab's research area is in experimental single-molecule biophysics. To us, that means that we are primarily physicists by training, and we are applying our physics skills (building instruments, data analysis, automation, nanoscale physics) to problems in molecular cell biology. In order to maximize our impact, we seek collaborations with outstanding biologists with whom we can identify key open problems and design new experiments. Currently, our research focus is on the molecular aspects of DNA damage repair and gene transcription—two important research areas for understanding and developing treatments for all types of cancer. For example, we are using biophysical tools such as optical tweezers (an instrument that can apply and measure tiny forces on single biomolecules) to develop methods for mapping DNA by unzipping single DNA molecules extracted from living cells.

People goals: Young scientists will be the key to our lab’s success and to the long-term impact of our research. We seek to recruit diverse people with strong talents for experimental research and a passion for biophysics. Mentoring in ethical science and professional development of young scientists in the lab is a key goal and will be partially achieved by open communication and involvement of lab members in all aspects of lab operations, including funding, teaching, and outreach.

Funding goals: Our research requires people, instruments, and supplies, and thus substantial ongoing funding is essential. My goal is to obtain multi-year renewable funding that is sufficient to fund a lab of several graduate and undergraduate students and all necessary supplies. An NIH R01 grant ($200K / year direct for 5 years) is a major goal and is an ideal funding level. An NSF CAREER award ($100K / year direct for 5 years) would be a significant achievement and sufficient in combination with student fellowships. Numerous other sources of funding for our type of research are available (particularly shorter-term “idea” grants), both from public and private sources and we will pursue all of these, including after obtaining a big NSF or NIH grant. Graduate students and postdocs will also be encouraged to apply for fellowships from NSF, NIH, and other sources.

Impact Goals: First, we believe that open sharing of our plans, methods, data, results, software, etc. is the best way to speed the progress of science, the understanding of our results, and adoption of our methods. Thus, “open science” is a major goal, and one aspect of this is the traditional goal of publishing in high-impact peer-reviewed scientific journals and presenting regularly at national meetings. Second, we strive to leverage our exciting research in our teaching and service goals (below). Third, we will maximize impact through training and mentoring of students and postdocs who will make further innovations in their future careers beyond our laboratory.

Research accomplishments:

  • Interdisciplinary collaboration. We have established several valuable collaborations.
    • Our collaboration with the Mary Ann Osley lab (UNM Dept. Molecular Genetics and Microbiology) has resulted in generation of key biological materials (such as DNA constructs), some preliminary data, letters of support for grant applications, student fellowships, and two conference presentations.
    • Collaboration with the Steve Brueck lab (UNM CHTM) has resulted in a NanoLetters publication, letters of support and preliminary data for grant applications, and student fellowships.
    • Collaboration with Evan Evans (Physics, U. British Columbia; Biomedical Engineering Boston U.; Adjunct Chemical Engineering UNM) has resulted in Evans bringing two state-of-the-art single-molecule manipulation systems to the CHTM, joint recruitment of a postdoctoral researcher to UNM (funded by Evans NIH grant), and initiation of a joint research project.
    • Collaboration with Karen Adelman lab (NIH National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences) has led to letters of support for grant applications and agreements to share biological materials for upcoming single-molecule research.
    • We are planning collaboration with Susan Atlas lab (UNM Physics and Cancer Center) and Chris Lorenz Lab (Mechanical Engineering, King’s College London) and have submitted proposals with each lab as co-PIs as well as obtained letters of support for other grants.
  • Instrumentation. Graduate and undergraduate students have played major roles in all aspects of lab start-up—providing valuable fundamental knowledge at the expense of slowing down construction. We have currently built prototype low-power optical tweezers (OT) and stretched single-DNA molecules using DNA constructs we have produced at UNM. Construction and calibration of a high-power OT system will be completed in Spring 2009. Also, partnership with Evans lab and student knowledge of OT has resulted in access to Evans’ state-of-the-art and fully calibrated OT system that he has recently (November 2008) completed transferring to a lab we share at the CHTM.
  • Lab IT infrastructure. We have in place very successful hardware and software that will serve all of our needs in data storage and backup, global sharing of data and methods, and collaboration. One key to this is a 2 terabyte RAID-5 server with VPN firewall running Windows Server 2003, Exchange Server 2003, and Internet Information Services (IIS) that was setup by a talented UNM ECE undergraduate (Caleb Morse). Another key component is a MediaWiki-based lab wiki (courtesy of OpenWetWare) that we use for all lab notebooks, lab communication, and some communication with collaborators and grant writing.
  • Major results and preliminary data. Our most major research achievement has been proof-of-principle for “shotgun DNA mapping,” led by Ph.D. student Larry Herskowitz. Larry is currently writing a paper for submission to Biophysical Journal, will present a poster at the 2009 Biophysical Society meeting, and we have submitted a patent disclosure to the STC. Our collaboration with the Brueck lab has resulted in a 2008 NanoLetters publication. We have also developed two fully-functioning software applications for stochastic simulation of eukaryotic gene transcription that we hope to publish in 2009. All of these results will provide key preliminary data to strengthen grant applications in 2009 and beyond.
  • Student recruitment. We currently have three physics Ph.D. candidates in the lab, all funded by fellowships--two have NSF IGERTs (two years of funding) and one has a CHTM / Emcore fellowship (8 months of funding). Two of these students have been in the lab from their second semester (spring 2007), while one student (R. Maloney) passed all of his exams and carried out significant research in the Thomas lab before transferring to our lab in late 2008. A “post-bacc” student, Diego Ramallo Pardo, performed research in our lab for over a year as part of the UNM PREP program and he is now at Stanford biophysics graduate school. An undergraduate physics major (Linh Le) is currently carrying out honors thesis research in our lab. We hosted an NNIN REU student summer of 2008. Finally, an ECE undergraduate and a biochemistry undergraduate student have carried out research for credit in our lab since early 2007.
  • Funding. We obtained an American Cancer Society (ACS) starter grant for $22,500this is an institutional research grant led by Janet Oliver in UNM Pathology. This is an important foothold in cancer research funding and is seeding preliminary results for NIH, NSF, DoD and other applications. Numerous national peer-reviewed grant applications have been submitted—none have been funded so far, but we have received much positive feedback.
    • I have also participated in a number of grant writing workshops, including a year-long monthly NIH grant writing workshop (led by Laurie Hudson, UNM College of Pharmacy), a one-day NSF grant workshop (led by UNM Chem. Eng.), and an NIH NIGMS mock review panel at the Biophysical Society Annual Meeting 2008.
  • Open Science. We have implemented mechanisms for carrying out open science: OpenWetWare lab site with numerous protocols published; Optical tweezers control software project on Sourceforge; Lab server with Windows Server applications for sharing data over internet. I was also mentioned in an article about Open Science published by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI). (12/27/08 Note: I don't like the way I was quoted, though!).

Upcoming Research Goals:

  • Funding
    • Continued attempts to obtain major multi-year funding. (Maybe get lucky with a pending grant!) In 2009, planning NIH R01 to National Human Genome Research Institute, American Cancer Society (national) Research Scholar Grant, resubmission of NSF CAREER, resubmission of Human Frontier Science Program (HFSP), DoD Breast Cancer Research Program Idea, and other opportunities that develop.
    • Improved networking with program managers in Washington—face to face meetings when possible.
    • Mentoring graduate students in obtaining NIH NRSA (fellowship) and other funding.
  • Science
    • In 2009, we hope to achieve major progress and publications in three areas: shotgun DNA mapping; unzipping analysis of chromatin and RNA Polymerase II transcription complexes; nanochannels analysis of DNA and chromatin. These projects will be led by the three graduate students as major focuses of their dissertations and will be in collaboration with the Osley, Brueck, Adelman, and Evans labs.
    • Also in 2009, we hope to initiate research and obtain preliminary data to initiate the collaborations with Atlas and Lorenz labs.
  • People
    • I do not plan on soon expanding beyond the three graduate students plus the shared postdoc with Evans. I do plan on maintaining the level of undergraduate involvement in research by recruiting REU students, undergraduates from outside physics department, and future honors thesis candidates in physics.


Teaching Goals:

My primary mission in any course is to help students achieve goals that will benefit them in their future careers. These goals will differ depending on the course, level, and target population. Some goals will be specific learning outcomes (e.g. physics concepts) whereas others will be a broader foundation of the students’ careers (e.g. attitudes towards science; general research skills). I also strive to enhance my courses by leveraging exciting results from my research group and implementing educational innovations. While setting these goals is important, so is measuring progress—thus I intend on implementing assessment (pre- and post-testing) that is backed by education research. Finally, in any course I teach, I am a role model, leader, and motivator for the students in their university careers. Thus, I seek to maximize my accessibility to the students by facilitating many modes of interaction, particularly by leveraging modern communication, including email and messaging on WebCT and wikis.

Teaching Accomplishments:

  • Two courses developed (Physics 102 “Intro Physics” and Physics 307L “Junior Lab”) with above average ICES scores.
  • 27 PowerPoint lectures, hundreds of quiz and exam questions, and dozens of clicker questions and homework puzzles developed for Physics 102. Implementation of Just in Time Teaching (JiTT), peer instruction, and interactive lecture demos. Use of WebCT Vista for quizzes, homework, and communication with students. (12/27/08 Note: please let me know if you would like these materials, I am happy to share!)
  • Wiki-based TA / instructor collaboration system developed for Physics 102. Mentored TA and two graduate RAs through process of developing and presenting one lecture.
  • Innovative “open science” wiki system implemented for Physics 307L—completely electronic and public lab notebooks, lab summaries, formal reports, and instructor feedback.
  • Attended American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT) “New Faculty Workshop” in November 2008. Learned about a variety of research-proven physics instructions methods and where to find further information and teaching resources.

Upcoming Teaching Goals:

  • Implementation of research-proven assessment in all courses (pre- and post-testing).
  • Refinement of teaching strategies, based on published physics education research that I learned about at AAPT workshop.
  • Presentation at UNM teaching conference and possible publication of innovative teaching strategies I’ve implemented so far. (12/27/08 Note: I am starting to do this with my new teaching blog.)
  • Teaching a third course in P&A department (probably calculus-based intro physics).


Service Goals:

University: My goal for university service is to help guide and improve research and education in the department, college, and university through active participation in a few committees. Local community: My goals for service in Albuquerque and New Mexico are (a) to improve science education, (b) recruit minorities to the university sciences, and (c) improve the understanding and enjoyment of science by non-scientists. Nation: My goal is to make an impact on biophysics at the national and international level by committee service in the Biophysical Society, journal referee and grant reviewing service, “open science” leadership, and recruitment and mentoring of young scientists, including minorities.

Service Accomplishments:

  • Participation in numerous committees in department, CHTM, and university-wide.
  • Minor committee member for two Ph.D. students outside my lab.
  • Several outreach activities with students and teachers in NM at middle and high school levels.
  • OpenWetWare leadership—especially electronic lab notebooks.

Upcoming Service Goals:

  • Participation in another P&A committee within the next couple years– graduate recruitment desirable.
  • Service on Biophysical Society national committee ( I have volunteered and expect to be appointed in 2009).
  • Continued leadership in Open Science via involvement with OpenWetWare.
  • Expanded journal referee and grant review service.
  • Expanded local community outreach. I want to continue my lab’s involvement in local science fairs and I would like to develop partnerships with local science teachers as part of likely NSF CAREER award resubmission in 2009. I would also like to expand UNM’s role in local Habitat for Humanity projects, based on what I learned via participation in Sandia National Labs’ successful Habitat for Humanity program—but this will likely have to wait a few years.


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