Scientopia Tue, 23 Aug 2016 19:47:10 +0000 en-US hourly 1 76009644 Toilet Police Tue, 23 Aug 2016 19:47:10 +0000 ToiletLoveFor many years I have ridiculed self-flushing toilets. What problem do they solve? They seem to go off at random, at least on some occasions becoming a bidet in the process. What a waste of water.

Then I overheard this conversation in a public restroom:

Mother: All done?

Child:  Yes

Mother:  No, do not flush. That handle is dirty.

They then left the waste floating while they left. They did wash their hands.

I just wanted to scream at them! How many people will now avoid that stall because it might be out of order? Do you think public establishments have someone who just runs around flushing the toilets periodically? You need to wash your hands anyway after wiping your naughty bits, so touching the flush handle is not going to harm you. If you're that skittish, wrap some toilet paper around your hand and then throw it in the trash before you wash your hands.

This behavior is why we need toilet police, not stalking!

Continuous Submission Eligibility Tue, 23 Aug 2016 13:38:30 +0000 New thing I learned is that you can check on your continuous submission* status via the Personal Profile tab on Commons. It lists this by each Fiscal Year and gives the range of dates.

It even lists all of your study section participations. In case you don't keep track of that but have a need to use it.

I have been made aware of an apparent variation from the rules recently (6 study sections in an 18 mo interval). Anyone else ever heard of such a thing?

I've used continuous submission only a handful of times, to my recollection. TBH I've gone for long intervals of eligibility not realizing I was eligible because this policy has a long forward tail compared to when you qualify with 6 services / 18 mo.

How about you, Readers? Are you a big user of this privilege? Does it help you out or not so much? Do you never remember you are actually eligible?

*As a reminder, continuous submission isn't really continual. You have to get them in by Aug 15, Dec 15 and Apr 15 for the respective Cycles.

"Academia is sticky" Tue, 23 Aug 2016 13:35:45 +0000 Fellow tweeps @IHStreet, @Doctor_PMS and @LadyScientist have started a podcast "Recovering Academic" where they talk about what it is like to leave academia and find a job outside the academic world. I think it's awesome, go check it out!

Two stories about #everydaysexism Tue, 23 Aug 2016 09:39:42 +0000 Two people buy a house together. The form for the mortgage is preprinted and starts with Mr. and then Mrs.. In this case, the person listed under Mrs. brings in most of the money for the mortgage. However, all the mail that these two people get for their house after that, is addressed to Mr.

Two people have a kid together. The kid goes to daycare and the two people are listed as the parents. Whenever something happens to the kid, the mom is the first to get a call. And today, the two people received an email for a course provided by the daycare center for working moms in order to re-find their balance to be a better mother, friend and partner. The sender of this email automatically assumes that the recipient of the email is the mom.

I guess I can conclude from this n=2 that we still live in a world where houses (and cars too by the way) belong to men, while the care for children belongs to women.

Now what? Tue, 23 Aug 2016 04:09:48 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Todays guest post is by Ragamuffin, who is enjoying the new title of Dr. Ragamuffin. As she writes this she is on a several month break between defending her dissertation and starting her new shiny postdoc fellowship, leaving some time for reflection, dinner with friends, and relocating.

Screenshot 2016-08-22 20.57.04

I did it. I buffed my writing and pipetting calluses. I landed a postdoctoral fellowship from a surprisingly prestigious lab. I defended my dissertation. I moved to New-Job City. Now what?

There once was a girl who lived for scientific observation and inquiry, and devoured the history of science and the scholars who built the foundations of modern biology and medicine. She crafted from piles of biographies the ideal career path to be able to do what these almost mythical icons had done. Ramon y Cajal. Curie. Levi-Montalchini. Franklin. My shy and introverted soul wanted to spend her days at a lab bench and a microscope. Discovering new things about the physiological landscape through observation and methodical inquiry. Asking the big questions, and making the keenest observations that would contribute to understanding of our world. I thought this meant that I wanted to be a primary investigator (PI).

Nostalgically and fantastically motivated, a slightly older dreamer traversed her predoctoral training hardly straying from the pursuit of an academic research position. The path and its benchmarks were clear. Even in the most tumultuous year of candidacy, enough mentors had told me that I COULD do this that it enforced the belief that I MUST. For myself, for women in STEM, to impress my future children. I must become a PI. Even as the rest of my cohort prepared for careers in teaching and biotechnology, I stood my ground feeling strongly that I neither could nor should do anything else.

There were several periods during my PhD that things did not sit right with my original personal or professional goals, but I usually acknowledged them only as expressions of stress and anxiety. I learned that in order to fully embody the spirit of my scientist icons in a modern landscape meant an entirely different kind of regulation, financial restriction, productivity and politics. As an avid sponge of historical science, I knew that these types of challenges were similar at face value. Scientists have always needed to publish their work and receive funding to see it continue. But Science is a vastly evolved creature from 15 years ago, let alone a century. These two basic requirements in modern scientific research are much more competitive, complex and convoluted than they once were. To be adept at either one requires a different set of skills.

A solid neurobiological experiment, for instance, can hardly be conducted in one’s kitchen anymore. Today in order for a publication to reach a substantial audience [in my field], publications almost always include multiple extensive experiments repeated several times with overwhelmingly high statistical power and at least one highly advanced technology. The kitchen is almost guaranteed to be useless.

At first, I wanted to be a PI because I thought that is what it would take for me to access the resources necessary to produce valuable scientific contributions. A flawed premise, and at odds with my appreciation for what it means to be a scientist. I knew — and spoke openly about — the evolution of scientific inquiry, the rising influence of research institute teams, and the profound talents of the numerous staff scientists who otherwise receive little to no credit for their contributions. In spite of the regard with which I held others in my field, I maintained that my PERSONAL value could only come from a senior academic title. That because I “COULD” do this, I MUST. That despite some hard times and poor luck during my predoctorate, I was born for it. That I would continue to enjoy writing research manuscripts. That I wouldn’t mind perpetual grant writing. That I would develop the time-honored thick skin necessary to respond positively to rejection. These were my mantras through graduate school.  But upon receiving my PhD, I feel a rush of freedom to question all my motivations.

  • My pipetting and mental calluses could use a break.
  • Although I enjoy writing manuscripts, I loathe editing and reformatting them.
  • I do not mind grant writing, but patience for it waned substantially toward the end of my degree.

Experience has not left me thick-skinned, but for now annoyed and easily exhausted.

On the other side of my degree, I have achieved a level of self-appreciation and confidence that allows a more honest reflection on my career dreams. One does not need to be a PI to support and represent women in STEM. My future children will have plenty to be impressed with. I very well COULD tire of this phase and once again work passionately toward professorship, but I no longer feel that I MUST.

Now what? The dreamer begins her postdoctoral fellowship a month from now. She intends to use this new beginning to examine all of the personal and career possibilities that she ignored or did not bother to explore as a predoctorate. For the first time, she does not clearly see what the next step should be. And that is both terrifying and exulting.

Managing Techs: Part 1, a case study Mon, 22 Aug 2016 12:58:31 +0000 DJMH said in a comment to the last post:

I would like to know why you thought it was appropriate to involve the tech in this. You're the manager, and you put the tech in the uncomfortable situation of possibly ratting out a co-worker.

This decision, and in fact, management of techs, is very much a function of who the tech is.

In the last post I didn't include some background, etc, (like that post needed more length, anyway). So, here's some relevant information that when into my managing techs, in general, and this one in particular. I am, as readers know, old for these parts (being the internet). I'm doing my best to uphold Boomer Honor, which according to some is oxymoronic. Or just plain moronic. I've been a prof for about 30 years, and been pretty steadily NIH funded since the beginning. I've had 7 techs in that period of time, but some years with no tech at all. And they are all very different people, with different goals and different skill sets.

Also relevant is that I run a small lab. During the year, it's me, a postdoc, a tech. Now I've got a (yes, a, as in one) grad student, who is an MD/PhD, which is about the only kind of PhD student I'm willing to take at this point. In the summer I get another 2-4 summer types, and we really ramp up the experiments.

But irrespective of size I try to run a lab that in today's lingo is "flat". I try and reduce the hierarchy and the effects of hierarchy, as appropriate for people's goals and skills. This is much easier in a small lab. I involve the tech and postdoc in everything that is of even remote interest to them. Of course there are things, such as each other's salary, that they don't have to know. But we meet as a group and talk about what people are doing, and everyone gets some say in what they do. Yes, there are things, such as the nitty gritty of extracting data from electrophysiology recordings, that no one wants to do.

So why did I involve the tech in the problem of Jane? Firstly, it was Tech who brought the problem to me. She is the one who signs off on the time cards, something she & I discussed and agreed upon. Secondly, if Tech had said: I don't want to do this, it would have totally, and appropriately, fallen to me. But this particular person, Tech, is functions very much as a "lab manager", and is incredibly good with people.  She had set up the complex schedules for our summer experiments (which involve extensive human  labor, often working in pairs), and really knew the summer students. She was outraged that someone would take advantage of the lab in this way. She was outraged that someone would behave unethically.

In this situation, in this case, it did not occur to me NOT to include the tech in the problem. Even if I had discovered the problem, and I decided that I needed to be the one to handle it, I would have presented it to both the PD & Tech and gotten their opinions on what was happening, and what should be done about it.

Yet, I would have done this with all the techs I have had over the course of my career. There were some who were professionally younger, as opposed to chronological age. There were some who were computer/electronic wizards, but not so great in managing people. But by having this  tech talk to the student first, it was one way to defuse the situation (if it was an honest mistake), and keep the inquiry casual.

If I had endless & bottomless money (hahaha) I would hire people of many different skills, and have lots of people with lots of different abilities. I'd have a programmer and a people manager and a data processor and an animal wrangler. But despite what some people think, even aging blue-haired profs don't have endless money, and hire the best they can and work with what they have.

So in hiring a tech, one needs to ask oneself, what is the most important thing  I  need in my lab, right now, to get the data, papers, results, I need for this stage of my career? Early career people have different needs then recently tenured, etc. Talking about how to hire and how to manage is another post. Stay tuned.




People call me "sir" (or, gender: I haz it) Sat, 20 Aug 2016 23:35:37 +0000 Of course I get the occasional (very frequent) email addressed to "dear sir". But that's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about when the cashier asks me, "what can I get you today, sir?". It can be a server at a restaurant asking, "sir, can I bring you another drink?". It happens to me quite a bit - at least once a week, I would estimate. In other words, I get "misgendered" - I identify as female, but someone else assumes I am male. I misgendered someone once (that I know of). It was awkward and horrible and I apologized So Much. I didn't know them well, but I should have known better. Or to at least asked. Ugh. I'm still embarrassed thinking about it.

Being misgendered used to bother me. I don't present as super feminine, and I have short hair, but ... I don't know, it just bothered me. I have other secondary sex characteristics* that identify me as female, so being misgendered made me feel unseen. But I kinda also like it. I remember once, in 4th or 5th grade there was a substitute teacher that misgendered me (I have a gender-neutral first name). So I spend they day pretending to be a boy: I lined up with the boys for lunch and recess, etc. My classmates thought this was hilarious. I was ... ambivalent? Looking to be accepted? I don't even know. I went along with it, though. Until another teacher set things straight ad then I was just embarrassed. After that I let my hair grown out so I was more clearly a "girl". Because being a kid is hard and you do what you can to survive.

I think that maybe this is the problem - I've never been really comfortable with gender presentation. I don't feel comfortable lining up with "normal" female standards, but I don't consider myself male. I am coming to actually love that I'm a little androgynous, and I have started to actually play that up. I guess some would characterize me as "butch", but for some reason that doesn't really feel right either.

ANYWAY. Here is the point I was aiming at - this is not an easy place to inhabit as a jr faculty. It's pretty well accepted that women (especially younger women) get worse student teaching evals than men. I can't help but think that my evals were also negatively influenced by the fact that I am clearly gender-nonconforming GLBTQIA*. And also, I am relying on a (mostly old-white-dude) senior faculty to vote to give me tenure. But I KNOW I make some of these guys uncomfortable. I try to tone things down and just be generic, because I don't want to make this an issue.

I don't know what the best way to handle this is. I am just trying to stay honest to myself, but I can't pretend that the awkwardness of having to correct folks - at the coffee shop or in faculty meeting - don't wear on me. Chalk it up as another hurdle that non-cis-hetero folks have to deal with, I guess.




Hard Things a PI Must Do Fri, 19 Aug 2016 12:58:04 +0000 I had to terminate a student working in my lab. The work this student, call her Jane, did was good. When she worked, she worked hard. She was committed to the project, and thought about it carefully. She made contributions. Why did I let her go? She lied on her time card. My problem? At this point, it is not whether I was right to let her go, but when is there enough information about the problem to let someone go. The problem was how long it took me to do this.

My super-tech found problems with Jane's hours and time card about several weeks ago. Tech spoke with Jane and explained the problem. Jane swore it was an honest mistake, and it wouldn't happen again. Tech started keeping informal track of hours Jane was in the lab, and found more discrepancies between time card and hours. Our building has a ID swipe-in system, and we  got security to give us the exact time she swiped into the building. Lots more differences between swipes and self-reported time card. Tech and had long walks discussing the problem. Tech and I had many cups of coffee debating what to do. One of the smartest things I did was involve Tech, because she thinks clearly about this kind of issue (not to mention thinks clearly about data and experiments and implications and the lab in general). So on a Thursday about two weeks after first discussion, Tech and I sat down with Jane to discuss issues with Jane's time card. Jane again said "honest mistake". I explained carefully and in some detail that if she was in the lab, with medical supplies, life animals, and critical data, I needed to know that she was absolutely honest about everything. I explained that I needed to trust her on all accounts, and that lying about the little things (like hours worked) made it difficult to trust for the big ones. I next said "what do you think we should do next?", we being me, Jane, Tech. Jane looked at me like "huh?". I prompted again, "what happens now about the hours you didn't work?".  Jane said, with this nudging on my part, that she would take the hours in question off of her time card, and she did that afternoon.

I was uneasy. How many chances? How likely is this to be honest error, as opposed to someone gaming the system? What is the value of her work, does an extra 30 min a day matter? Or is honesty about this a binary thing, either you're pregnant or not?

On Friday, after the Thursday talk, Jane said she was going to work on the weekend to make up the hours she had to lose for the hours she had to take off her card. There was certainly enough work to make this valuable. Besides, as Tech pointed out, this gives her a chance to either do it right or do it wrong.

On Monday morning, we saw Jane claimed about 6 hours on Sat and again on Sun. Tech was suspicious because it didn't seem like there was that much work done. So we got the swipe/ time of entry records. Jane had come in 45-75 minutes later than she put on the time card. This baffled me and Tech. We had shown her on Thursday that we were cross-checking her time card with swipe data. Why on earth would someone do this? So Tech suggested, and then insisted that we look at the security videos that our police keep of cars coming & going from the parking lot. I hesitated (more work for more people), but Tech said "more data will be more convincing". This is possible at our small university, and in fact, security didn't mind doing this. The records showed that Jane had been at work for about 1.5 hours each day.

This made it easy on Tuesday to call Jane in and say "pack up your stuff, we are terminating your employment. Right now". In retrospect, we could have terminated her after the first instance and saved ourselves lots of time by. But, I didn't know at that point. Maybe it was an honest mistake. That's the hard part in this. As @BatesPhysio sez: managing people is often the hardest part of being a PI. By the end it was clear that Jane was cheating. Period. I really wanted to ask her: what the heck were you thinking? I didn't. I just said "go".

What astounded me was her response. No apology, no explanation, no reasoning.  All she said was "did you think my work was ok, and would you still write me a letter of recommendation that says so?". No remorse. No acknowledgement of wrongdoing. I got a subsequent email that said (and I am quoting here):

I forgot to ask you upon termination if we could discuss the standings of any future employment references regarding the quality of work I did while I worked for you. If you are willing to be a reference for me in the future, I would request that we mutually decide what information could be shared with any potential employers.

Mutually decide? I wrote back:

Jane, I am willing to be a reference, if you wish. But the contents of a letter of reference are not something that is negotiated in advance. I would and will answer all questions about you honestly. Potnia

I have not heard further from her.



On grant funding Thu, 18 Aug 2016 08:04:53 +0000 Continue reading ]]> One of determining points in my leaving academia was grant funding.  I was not confident enough, or motivated enough to sustain continuous funding for however long I was willing to be a PI .

In a way, my years as a postdoc and project scientist traumatized me for applying for grants.  In my former lab, my PI’s grant (NIH RO1) application preparation was a group effort.  Our PI assigned advanced graduate students and postdocs two or three sections of his grant application, and we had multiple meetings prior to deadline to flush out ideas, revise sections, and integrate them into his master draft. It was a great practice for me, until the deadline came.  Whether it was paralysis, procrastination, or waiting until we were under extreme duress to come up with brilliant ideas, finalizing an application as a lab came always at the last minute or never.  For one submission, graduate student and I took turns pulling all-nighters for one week prior to a deadline, to come up with preliminary data for experiments proposed in a grant.  In another or the same submission cycle, on the date it was due with 6-7 hours left, all members of the lab sat around a conference table as if in the Situation Room.  Each person stared at his/her laptop screen, worked on different sections of different versions of a draft, sweated grease, pulled hairs, and waited to be called by our PI so that our sections can be integrated.  The time of submission brutally approached, and we were nowhere near being done.  My PI was on the phone with a departmental grant officer pleading for more time and understanding.  The time of submission came and passed, and we kept on working.  About 20 minutes later my PI finally called it, “ we are not submitting the grant.”  We did this at least TWICE, for two consecutive application deadlines.  As you can tell by italics and capital letters, it still raises strong emotions for me, even years later.

In my tenure at the lab, getting an NIH RO1 grant for my PI remained elusive. He did however receive other grants to keep the lab thriving and afforded me.  But we needed a RO1. What imprinted in me from the experience was how difficult it is to obtain a RO1 funding.  Without RO1, one is less likely to get tenured and maintain a lab.  If my PI, whom I deemed a brilliant scientist, had this much trouble getting a RO1, what an audacity to assume that I would get one?  I felt I had no chance.  Or more honestly I did not want to work that hard.  I did not want to make my graduate students and postdocs work that hard only to fire them when the funding did not come.

So I was scared and chickened out.  The shrinking funding rate did not help either.

It turns out I would have faced obstacles if I stayed in academia, not just my own demons (I am as bad, if not worse, procrastinator as my former PI)  but external ones.  Not to be consistently pessimistic but if I had stayed in academia more than likely I would have become a part of statistics in this recent article.  The study analyzed gender and race differences in the likelihood of receiving NIH RO1 in years 2000-2006.  The authors found that race, and not gender, was a key determinant in RO1 award. While white women did not differ from white men, Asian and black women received significantly less funding than white women.  Although this study did not find disadvantages of being a female applicant, many other studies do (like this one).  As a woman of color (Asian), I would have faced an uphill battle, a double bind. If only I was more ambitious, this type of studies would have made me energized and strive to reverse the current status.  At this point, I can only ask for those who are still in it to try…

Generational Wealth Wed, 17 Aug 2016 16:32:25 +0000 In the midst of the Milwaukee unrest this week, a young man on the scene was interviewed. He said something along the lines of how "the rich people have all the money and won't give us none."

This immediately went viral on the Tweeters as unsympathetic voices howled over his seeming entitlement. 

This bothers me.

This young man may not understand the full scope of wealth disparity. He may not realize the causes. And/or he may not have the rhetorical skills to express his understanding fully. 

But he was right

In a deeply fundamental way. The "rich" of this country got that way, and stay tags way, by stealing from the poor. The problem of inner city unrest is not that we (and for today the "rich" are the moderately well off, that includes most of my audience. Yes, you.) won't "give" other people money. It is that we build our wealth at their expense.

I twittered a link to a study showing black communities paid more per dollar of insurance coverage, despite lower company loss rates, compared with nearly identical white communities. 

The aftermath of Ferguson MO unrest illustrated very clearly how  municipalities have shifted to nuisance summons as a way to make up for the powers that be refusing to tax themselves. Guess who gets the tickets?

And even in a general sense, tax schemes have become increasingly regressive. Taxes and fees on consumption replace progressive income / wealth taxes. Wages for labor are  taxed more highly than is investment income. Etc. All designed to shift the burden of society away from the rich. 

Our DonorsChoose drives show how we (the rich) refuse to pay to educate all and have shrunk school funding in poor communities. Education isn't everything but it does help some people to escape the poverty they were born into. 

Which brings us to redlining and neighborhood unspoken compacts and other things that prevent black people from buying homes in slightly better neighborhoods. 

Real estate ownership is a huge wealth tool. Huge. Increasing property value becomes a financial cushion if nothing else. Reduces housing costs overall, with good use of the mortgage income tax deduction. Permits one to obtain loans (or at more favorable rates) for other wealth enhancing purposes. Such as higher education. Launching sonny-boy's hi tech startup company. 
And from there we can drill right back down to Costco shopping. It's cheaper to be rich. We buy in bulk and store the stuff in our big houses. Toilet paper, extra milk in our second fridge, tampons and toothpaste. All cheaper when you are wealthy. 

So stop sneering at the young man in Milwaukee. He may have phrased it inelegantly. But he was speaking a fundamental truth.