Archive for the 'Academics' category

Guest Post: Manage your career, folks!

Mar 27 2014 Published by under Academics, Careerism, NIH Careerism

This is another guest post from @iGrrrl, a grant writing consultant.


A few comments I've seen around, on top of my experience working with applicants for K-flavored and other career development grants, make it clear that they think the required career development parts are just window dressing. I hear complaints that they have to write a mentoring plan, and then they never do anything that is on it.

Is it the mentor's fault? The people who signed letters to be on the mentoring committee? No. (I'm going to switch voice now and talk at you K99/R00 or other K and F applicants/awardees.) And whose fault is it?

The fault is YOURS. No one cares about your career as much as you do, and even if it went in as fiction on paper, it is YOUR responsibility to make it reality. Otherwise you'll never know if it would have made a difference to tap into the brains on your mentoring committee, to impress them with your initiative and willingness to learn. Making someone feel smart and important to you (while also getting good advice) is a good way to increase their sponsorship of you--inviting you present at meetings, to small subdisciplinary meetings, talking positively about you.

I think it's easy for young people to underestimate the impact of the positive regard of more senior faculty, or for you young folks to know how that plays out in reality. No, they're not gossiping about you; they have better things to do. But that 'dream team' remembers that they signed letters for you and then never heard from you again.

11 responses so far

Sharing (in science) with people you don't particularly like

Mar 24 2014 Published by under Academics, Grant Review, Grantsmanship

The Twitt @tehbride raised an interesting mentoring question:

 

As you are likely aware Dear Reader, due to the accident and intent of where I tend to sit on the scientific spectrum, the scooping type of competition is not a huge part of my professional life. That is, I have managed to get by to this point by not being terribly afraid of people knowing what I am working on or what I plan to work on. Part of this has to do with playing at a level of publication that is not obsessed with the very first person to demonstrate something. Part of it is selecting research questions that are not densely populated with dozens or scores of other laboratories trying to scratch the same flea. Part of it is my overweening and misplaced self-confidence that we did it better, dammit, so who cares who published first.

 

Part of it is pure wrongheadedness on my part, no doubt.

When it comes to grants, specifically, I was always around people who were reflexively generous with sharing their applications when I was a late-postdoc and an early-career faculty member. As time has gone on and more people are asking me for my proposals than I feel the need to ask, I have given mine out to anyone who requests them. (Usually with a little lecture about how my "successful" apps are no more informative than my triaged ones, of course.)

So take that into account.

On a purely tactical level, it is possible for the postdoc in this situation to simply refuse. We can extend this to PIs who are asked for their successful grant applications. You can just say no.

It seems to me to be unwise to do so, particularly when it comes to an application that has been successful. Even if you cannot stand the person who is asking. It just seem churlish when the cost to you is so low.

Is it going to give this person ScienceEnemy little boost ahead? Sure. But remember, the odds of funding are still very steep. So it isn't like you are handing them an award. They still have to write a credible application. And get lucky. So why not*? It costs you essentially nothing to email over your application.

On a strategic level, this person could be your colleague in science for a long time. They could very well be in a position to review you and your work, particularly if they are in a related area of science. And even if they annoy you, it isn't necessarily the case that they have so much as noticed. Lots of annoying people are kind of unaware... So why make an enemy?

And there is one more thing to consider. If you act within a professional capacity on personal whim and dislike, what does this say about your behavior as an objective peer reviewer? Shouldn't you be able to set aside personal dislike to effectively review the scientific content of a paper or grant proposal? Yes, yes you should.

 

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*Now, if you think the person is a data fraud or something...well that is entirely different.

13 responses so far

This doesn't belong in science. At all.

Mar 21 2014 Published by under Academics, Anger, Diversity in Science

When I first started noticing the opportunity to submit a "Graphical Abstract" for my papers I was initially perplexed as to why I would bother. Then I realized that the Graphical Abstract (at Elsevier titles anyway) could be a way to get the primary data figure out in front of the paywall. So I thought maybe we should do that.

Some joker has apparently concluded that he should use the Graphical Abstract space for being a sexist jerk.

via Dr. Isis, via this article. Elsevier has promised to pull the image so it may not last at the journal link.

Hur, hur, dudes, hur, de-hur, de-hur.

As detailed by Dr. Zen, Pier Giorgio Righetti is an author on at least four articles with highly sexualized Graphical Abstracts. Professor Righetti apparently responded to a query about the wisdom of one of these images with:

I wonder if you have been trained in the Vatican. As you claim to be a professor of Physiology, let me alert you that this image is physiology at its best!

This sounds remarkably like Dario Mastripieri who famously lamented the lack of attractive "super-model type" women at the Annual Meeting of the Society for Neuroscience on his Facebook page. This sexualization of women in a professional scientific and/or academic context has to stop. This is harassment of women in science. It lets all women in this job sector know that these dudes, senior figures with some influence mind you, see them as nothing other than potential sexual conquests. It is unfair, it is rude, it is detrimental to science and it is utterly unacceptable.

Professor Righetti  is on the Editorial Board of several journals, including the offending Journal of Proteomics where he is listed as the expert under the heading of "Proteomics of Body Fluids and Proteomic Technologies". Eww.  And it gets better. @Drew_lab queried the Journal's EIC Juan Calvete and received a dispiriting response.

At least it wasn't a complete brush off such as Professor Righetti gave. But it isn't a whole lot better.

I hope to settle the case as soon as possible to devote to the lab, which is what should take me up most of the day.

...this translates in my ear to "this is some absolute triviality and sure, sure, we'll take down the images but really don't you people have better things to worry about?"

Not really, no. The EIC Calvete has himself identified why this is the case. All scientists would prefer to use their time and energy in ways that are devoted to lab business. Unfortunately, reality intervenes. And when male scientists are hitting on, slavering over, disrespecting, leering at, joking about and generally treating female scientists as property, this takes away from the energy the women (and indeed other men who have to witness this crap) have available to devote to science.

So what would really be great is if an EIC like Calvete identified this sort of inappropriate image (hint: it IS inappropriate, not "may be inappropriate") in advance and prevented it from being published in the first place. It would be great if authors such as Righetti avoiding submitting these things. It would be great if Professors like Mastripieri kept their nasty little observations locked up tight inside their own heads.

 

Now go read Isis' post. Reason #140 Why Sexist Bullshit in Academia is Not Okay

12 responses so far

Thought of the day

Mar 20 2014 Published by under #FWDAOTI, Academics, Science Publication

If you don't ever publish papers that are only of interest to yourself....that's sad.

12 responses so far

Negotiate or rescind the offer of a TT job?

Mar 13 2014 Published by under Academics, Careerism

Inside Higher Ed reports a tale of a woman who was offered a position at Nazareth College in Rochester NY. She submitted a list of requests including more salary, a delayed start and guarantees of maternity leave.

In my view the totality sounds excessive, but that is what you do in a negotiation. You start with your most expansive list...the other side can't be expected to give you MORE*.

Normally the College would come back with a sharply abbreviated list like "No on everything except maternity leave. Oh and maybe a quarter of the salary request."

After a little back and forth....the candidate decides if she can live with the terms.

In this case, Nazareth College simply rescinded the offer.

This seems very strange and complete weak-sauce to me. Not to mention rude.

You folks ever heard of an offer of a tenure track job being rescinded during negotiations?
___
*unless you are dealing with some seriously committed DFH types.

66 responses so far

Guest Post: The brightest and the most insightful people in the country?

Mar 08 2014 Published by under Academics, Careerism, NIH, NIH Careerism, Public Health

bluebirdhappinessThis is a guest appearance of the bluebird of Twitter happiness known as My T Chondria. I am almost positive the bird does some sort of science at some sort of US institution of scientific research. The bird is normally exhausted by typing messages 140 characters at a time so I was skeptical but....well, see for yourself.


MDs and PhDs are considered to be some of the brightest and the most insightful people in the country. Indeed, look no further than the nearest MD or PhD and ask them; they will attest at great length to their exceptional smarts and individual importance in maintaining the sun orbiting the Earth. Yet for all the combined education there remains a fundamental lack of appreciation of how intertwined the fate of these two professions are - ranking right up there on the irony scale with Pakistan threatening to nuke India (they are geographic neighbors, so that’s ironic, you see).

For anyone who has ever worked at a major academic medical center, we are told ad nausea how important we are in understanding human health. Yet we do so almost exclusively in parallel universes. Asked what its like to try to work with an MD, a PhD will often tell you MDs are ‘erratic, ill informed and totally lacking in any understanding of what goes into doing real research’. Conversely, asked what PhDs do, MDs will likely reply ‘they like to present very complex diagrams, write grants and develop models of disease and pathology that have little to do with any case I’ve ever seen.

I get to surf between these groups; my primary appointment in a clinical department affords me a perspective that is unique in that I am able to pass as either an MD or a PhD on any given day. I spend the majority of my time running a research lab but I can scream “House! Put down the scalpel you jackass! All you have to do is order a chest x-ray and look for pulmonary infiltrates to know it’s not sarcoidosis!” with the best of interns.

Figure 1. “It’s a fan!” “It's a spear!” The hilarity of people in white coats looking at their own little microcosm of an elephant and being unable to appreciate it is actually a bloated endangered species that could kill them all. And by bloated endangered species, I mean academic medicine*.  *Author note: Am I going to have to explain all my jokes?

Figure 1. “It’s a fan!” “It's a spear!” The hilarity of people in white coats looking at their own little microcosm of an elephant and being unable to appreciate it is actually a bloated endangered species that could kill them all. And by bloated endangered species, I mean academic medicine*.
*Author note: Am I going to have to explain all my jokes?

In drifting between these lands, I noticed the rifts earlier between ‘researchers and doctors’ which seemed vaguely amusing not so much now as first but as the business of academic medical is getting the shitte kicked out of it and PhDs think it has little to do with them.

In previous faculty meetings, I would watch tenure track PhDs glaze over as our beloved leader discussed the ‘blah, blah’ of clinical revenue streams.

Conversely, the MDs would eagerly reengage a new level of Candy Crush Saga as our chair commiserated with PhDs about pay lines and sequestration. (So clueless were the MDs about the recent plight of scientists that the esteemed journal JAMA even had to run an article in their online edition earlier in the year explaining sequestration to the primarily MD audience.)

At our most recent faculty meeting, there seemed to be a moment of real illumination between both groups that everyone in the medical center was screwed and better start making more widgets faster. Our Fearless Leader informed faculty that our hospital budget shortfall was progressing more quickly than we had anticipated even three months ago and vacations were canceled for faculty, more clinical hours were going to need to be booked and the bergermeister was coming to take all our toys (only two of these three have happened so far).

Figure 2. Predoctoral kitten downed by lack of understand of the health care industry on academic medicine.

Figure 2. Predoctoral kitten downed by lack of understand of the health care industry on academic medicine.

Later that day, I took to on Twitter to vent and look for pictures of kittens doing cute things (see Fig 2 as evidence of my hard work). Many of my Twitter followers are porn bots, but at least 2 or 3 are PhD-types and aghast that my medical center was being so aggressive. There were many sad emoji’s sent my way and a flutter of ‘how could they’ and ‘oh, your poor little university’ that made me wonder what planet everyone is on and if donuts were as delicious there as they were here (see Storify by @mrhansaker here).

EVERY medical center in the US is getting carpet bombed into financial oblivion by the economy, Medicare reimbursements and Obamacare. And yes, I assured my Tweeps, the amount of our gross national product that goes to health care is stoopidly high. But, a startling number of my PhD buddies were taken aback by the idea that those pesky ‘high health are cost’ they glaze over in faculty meeting or when listening to NPR is also covering their academic PhD arses.

So, for my PhD pals, whom I shall refer to as ‘People who are doctors only when they book hotel rooms’ (I’m kidding, I’m a kidder!), I wanted to run this down a bit further. If you have a medical center as part of your university, you have been riding clinician’s financial coat tails for a long friggin time. The indirect rate charged to granting organizations in no way covers operating costs for research. That takes an endowment or an additional revenue stream. Endowments usually come from long dead old rich doods. These endowments don't just sit in Scrooge McDucks cave. They get invested in things like the stock market. And the stock market got the shitte kicked out of not too long ago. Billions in endowment money were lost in the economic collapse - most Universities took 25-50% hits on their Scrooge McDuck funds. So, if you’re a PhD, you can take endowments out of the equation as what’s been filling in those pesky financial gaps between costs and expenses. No worries, you’re at a medical center so you have a revenue stream- your clinical enterprise. Sick people. America is ALWAYS good for some damn unhealthy and foolish folks who will make the worst choices possible and rack up a small fortune in insured and uninsured care.

Thank God for stoopid and unhealthy people, amirite?? This is even better because our Commander-in-Chief got an electoral mandate to insure everyone’s (ish) stoopid arse. More money for medical centers has got to be a win, yes? Not so much. Show me a medical center meeting its financial goals, hell even one that isn’t heading for a hundreds of millions of dollars of deficit for 2014, and I will show you a for profit medical center (read here: “not academic, so no jobs for you PhDs”).

The proverbial sky has been falling for research scientists for some time now as well documented by my kind host Drug Monkey and others with inferior blogs and better shoes. And indeed, MDs have been hounded into appreciating the genius that is the bench scientist. So valued are the basic researchers that they are sought after to heap more prestige on the medical center and an even better training environment which increases numbers of trainees, blah, blah.
Unlike clinicians, scientists have known the economic sky was falling for some time and have been zealously advocating the importance of science research bracing for impact. To the outside world, that looks a lot like holding your collective sphincters together as tightly as humanly possible and waiting for things to improve. Well-done people. Actually, you sort of sucked at advocating for yourselves as evidenced by the two of you who actually sent @nparmalee letters to hand deliver to your Congress Critters a few weeks ago, but I will need another bottle of wine for that.

The first warning to those PhD types in the 35+-age bracket would have been when Scamp-in-Chief Bill Clinton never quite delivered on his ‘peace dividend’. The one where all those pesky defense dollars would go to building a bigger, better, smarter American work force with futures in STEM (Dumber Bombs! Smarter People!). We would turn in our tanks and churn out better-educated versions of ourselves with outstanding oral hygiene to lead us forth into the new millennium free of disease and with cats with laser vision. Not only did we forget to provide sustainable growth mechanisms for STEM, we also neglected to maintain world peace and not screw the interns. Bill, you lovable rascal, at least you didn’t shoot anyone in the face. Just in the foot. Or both feet.

Metaphorically.

In the parallel world of MDs, who kindly request you simply refer to them as ‘real doctors’ for the rest of this diatribe, the pesky business of health care in academia has always been a house of cards. About 7% of MDs practice in the rare air that is academic medicine. This affords prestige, time for clinical research, collegiality, security and none of the business hassles of private practice, but about half the salary. Which, to be honest, is still a metric shitte ton of money especially if you do a bit of consulting. But now, there’s no research time, Medicaid is squeezing out every reimbursable dime and you are keeping the same hours as your hapless residents.

My take home from today friends is that the party seems to be winding down. Rather than recognizing that our fates are intertwined, MDs and PhDs frantically see more patients and write more grants and wonder when the sun will shine on us once again and society will appreciate our true worth. I have yet to see any evidence that for all the brain power and letters after peoples names, PhDs are even aware of that medicine money is research money. So you go put your blinders on and find that spear, and I’ll put mine on and grab this rope and no one will call it an elephant.

34 responses so far

We need to encourage more of this

Feb 10 2014 Published by under Academics, Careerism, NIH, NIH Careerism, NIH funding

An RT Tweet from @betenoire1 was making the rounds of my Twitter feed today. It points to a Facebook polemic from a Leon Avery, Phd. (CV; RePORTER). He says that he is Leaving Science.

I have decided, after 40 years as a lab scientist and 24 years running my own lab, to shut it down and leave. I write this to explain why, for those of my friends and colleagues who’d like to know. The short answer is that I’m tired of being a professor.

Okay, no problem. No problem whatsoever. Dude was appointed in 1990 and has been working his tail off for 24 years at the NIH funded extramural grant game. He's burned out. I get this.

I have never liked being a boss. My happiest years as a scientist were when I was a student and then a postdoc. I knew I wouldn’t like running a lab, and I didn’t like it. This has always been true.
...
My immediate plans are to go back to school and get a degree in Mathematics. This too has been a passion of mine ever since high-school sophomore Geometry, when I first learned what math is really about. And my love of it has increased in recent years as I have learned more. It will be tremendous fun to go back and learn those things that I didn’t have the time or the money to study as an undergrad.

GREAT! This is awesome. You do one thing until you tire of it and then, apparently, you have the ability to retire into a life of the mind. This is FANTASTIC!

So what's the problem? Well, he can't resist taking a few swipes at NIH funded extramural science, even as he admits he was never cut out for this PI stuff from the beginning. And after a long and easy gig (more on that below) he is distressed by the NIH funding situation. And feels like his way of doing science is under specific attack.

For many years NIH was interested in funding basic research as well as research aimed directly at curing diseases. With the tightening funding has come a focus on so-called “translational research”. Now when we apply for funding we have to explain what diseases our work is going to cure.

Ok, actually, this is the "truthy" part that is launching a thousand discussions of the "real problem" at NIH. So I'm going to address this part to make it very clear to his fans and back thumpers what we are talking about. On RePORTER (link above) we find that Dr Avery had one grant for 22 years. Awarded in April of 1991 and his CV lists 1990 as his first appointment. So within 15 mo (but likely 9 mo given typical academic start dates from about July through Sept) he had R01 support that he maintained through his career. In the final 5 years, he was awarded the R37 which means he has ten years of non-competing renewal. I see another R21 and one more R01. This latter was awarded on the A1. So as far as we can tell, Professor Avery never had to work too hard for his NIH grant funding. I mean sure, maybe he was putting in three grants a round for 20 years and never managed to land anything more than what I have reviewed. Somehow I doubt this. I bet his difficulties getting the necessary grant funding to run his laboratory were not all that steep compared to most of the rest of us plebes.

And actually, his Facebook post backs it up a tiny bit.

And I’ve been lucky that the world was willing to pay me to do it. Now it is hard for me to explain the diseases my work will cure. It feels like selling snake oil. I don’t want to do it any more.

I think the people enthusiastically passing along this Fb post of his maybe should focus on the key bits about his personal desires and tolerance for the job. Instead of turning this into yet another round of: "successful scientist bashes the NIH system now that finally, after all this time of a sweet, sweet ride s/he experiences a bare minimal taster of what the rest of us have faced our entire careers".

Final note on the title: Dude, by all means. Anyone who has had a nice little run with NIH funding and is no longer entused....LEAVE. We'll keep citing you, don't worry. Leave the grants to those of us who still give a crap, though, eh?

UPDATE (comment from @boehninglab):

22 responses so far

Repost: You Will Respect My Authoritah!

Jan 22 2014 Published by under #FWDAOTI, Academics

I am amused today by two individuals who simply cannot wrap their heads around the idea that one's authority and influence in a given area is not uniquely and solely tied to ones accomplishments in traditional academic professional pursuits. One such individual is over at Isis' place:

And it’s also telling that, now that I know your identity, I find myself actually more educated and qualified than you, but I wouldn’t speak on half the topics you did. Makes me wonder if anonymity didn’t make you feel more important than you actually were.

I really look forward to seeing what possibly makes someone more qualified than Isis to address the topics she blogs on. Really, I do. A Ph.D. in DomesticandLaboratoryGoddessology perhaps?

The other credential humper is over at Mike Eisen's blog:

You don’t know who I am, what my qualifications are, where I studied, where I am from, or what my research is about. But why should I be granted a soapbox to stand on and criticize you when you can’t necessarily respond. How am I qualified in saying anything without my credentials to back it up?

Well, try saying something. If it makes any sense, people will tend to grant you a soapbox. This is called "blog traffic". If you are not saying anything useful, you will enjoy the sound of crickets. Putting your "credentials" on the masthead will only take you so far in this, trust me.

Oh, glory, this one doubled down.

she used Dr. Isis to put herself above those 7 billion people without the credentials to back it up no? In the end, Dr.Gee showed that she was insignificant in the community. I don’t want to mention her identity here but her actual education and credentials have very little to do with half the stuff she’s commented on and used her anonymity to be an authority on things she really wasn’t. Because anonymously I can be Stephen Hawking,

No, actually you can't. Christ I weep for the Academy (and public life) if people really think that credibility and influence only comes from a certain set of professional/academic credentials.

Anyway, I think it worthwhile reposting the following. Pay special attention to the occupational hazards of being an academic.


The great sociological philosopher Eric Cartman provided a bit of gentle guidance on acceding to the wisdom of authority in one of his more famous works. A somewhat lesser philosophical talent offers similar advice in a comment posted to a recent discussion on pseudonymous/anonymous blogging at bablab. The commenter suggested that:
South_Park_BlogAvatar1.jpg
... there are a lot of areas, even in science, where experience (from which real authority derives) matters. An undergraduate who has never been to the field and an experienced geologist can go up to the same geological formation and have the same tools and the same list of tests and procedures. They can both do similar things to the sediments, and they can end up with totally different conclusions as to what they are looking at.
They both have the same argument, structurally, logically, but with different conclusions. The experienced geologist, however, is much more likely to be correct.

An excellent rationale for prioritizing scientific contributions on the basis of the contributor's credentials, is it not?

Continue Reading »

13 responses so far

Speaking of overt, representative and visible diversity in the Academy

Jan 17 2014 Published by under Academics, Careerism

In a conversation on the twitts:

https://twitter.com/jkgoya/status/424237992660586497

@drugmonkeyblog @RockTalking I'm an out gay grad student and I have never, to my knowledge, met an LGBT PI. is it the numbers or visibility?

Yeah, that sucks.

16 responses so far

On the qualifications for a science PHD degree

Dec 03 2013 Published by under Academics, Anger, Mentoring, Postgraduate Training

Namnezia has initiated an interesting conversation on the criteria for awarding a PhD in the sciences. A commenter over there alleged a set of rules that is nearly impossible for me to believe is true. RX claims:

No official requirements for my PhD program, it's up to the PI.
My lab is crazy. Here's the requirement: total first author impact factor: 30, total pages of paper: 20. The first graduate of my lab got 1 Neuron and 1 Nature Neuroscience paper. All the rest graduates tend to follow this pattern.

This is one reason it shouldn't be left up to the PI, there is a reason doctoral committees and doctoral program rules exist.

Go Play at the Take it to the Bridge blog.

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