Archive for the '[Education&Careers]' category

Blog carnival: Surviving the pre-tenure years

Jul 02 2014 Published by under [Education&Careers]

There's been some discussion on twitter and by email recently about how to successfully navigate the pre-tenure years as a faculty member. Now that I've had tenure for a full 38 hours, I'm obviously qualified to blather on incessantly about how one clears the bar. However, rather than take my word for it, I thought it would be good to solicit posts from around the web and aggregate them for people to browse, in a similar fashion to Dr. Becca's TT search advice page. In that way it could be a resource for people to check back on as they wind their way through the process.

So, the deal is this: If you have a post up or want to write one about navigating pre-tenure life, link it in the comments section or send me the link directly by July 15. I will post them all with appropriate subheadings and add additional links as they dribble in. Let the posting begin!

18 responses so far

Prolonged illness in the workplace

Jun 30 2014 Published by under [Education&Careers]

There are so many things one has to deal with when running a lab that never even crossed the radar previously. A list would be sufficiently boring as to drive people away in droves, but simply employing people directly brings up hundreds of possibilities. One I've never seen solved all that well is when someone in the lab is unable to work for a prolonged time due to factors outside their control.

It could be anything, really. Sickness, accident, the health of a dependent, etc. In certain cases (e.g. pregnancy) where there is some predictability it is possible to plan and even bring in additional help if necessary. Of course, our parental leave policies in the US are too restrictive for there to be an easy mechanism in place, but I've seen a short-term staff member do a great job of keeping the science rolling.

The tougher situations are the unpredictable ones that lack a clear timeline for return. Do you hire someone or wait it out? How does hiring short-term help affect the status and insurance of the person they are replacing? If recovery time is faster, are you on the hook for two people for the length of the replacement contract? Do you just let a project hang until the person returns? There's no formula and few good options. This is doubly true if there is a substantial union process for hiring and the injured/sick person is a staff member. How do people handle these situations?

Perhaps sometimes science just takes a backseat to the health of those doing it.

17 responses so far

Girls just don't wanna have fun at conferences

Jun 19 2014 Published by under [Education&Careers]

It's conference season and a time when scientists scurry around the globe to talk to other scientists and present what they've been up to. I look forward to having a chance to chat with people face-to-face that I email all the time, or get updates from those I only talked to the previous year. I find that the older I get, the more time I spend discussing science and the less time I spend in the presented talks. These are productive times for me, hashing out ideas and planting seeds of collaboration. I make a concerted effort to spend social time with people in small groups when I have some specific I want to discuss, and larger groups when I want to meet new people and pick their brains a bit.

But this year I've been thinking about things a little differently. That's because last year I was at a conference with a couple of good friends who I like to hang out with socially. We had done so that week, but a larger group was gathering and I thought it would be fun to join them. I asked one of my female colleagues if she wanted to come and she declined. Curious whether there was someone going who she didn't like, I asked why she wasn't interested. Her response was honest and something I completely take for granted.

"I'm tired of wondering when the switch will get flipped and I'll go from being 'the colleague with interesting ideas' to 'the potential bed partner'. I'm tired of not being able to unknow things about some of my male colleagues. I'm tired of needing an exit strategy and being worried about missing my window to escape. So I stick with small groups of people I know well and lose out on some opportunities to get to know others. But it's worth it."

Then she told me a few stories. Some were about people I knew through the literature and others were about people I knew personally. Some where shocking. But as we've discussed before, when a victim has nothing to gain by making up these stories there's a damn good chance they aren't.

At a recent conference I kept my eyes out for this in a big way, and it will surprise no woman that as some evenings wore on it wasn't hard to pick out a couple of instances. Some things were overt and some less so, but there sprang an undercurrent that I had not fully appreciated. I have no problem with conference goers finding situations mutual interest, should they be in the personal circumstances to act on them, but that's a small minority of the interactions that occur.

So dudes, pull this apart a little bit. First off, the frequency with which inappropriate advances occur is causing some women to avoid after hours social events. Not only does that have consequences, but that very fact in itself should bother you. Also consider that even consensual sexyfuntimes have very different career implications for men versus women. These communities are small and things get around. Finally, are you going to be That Guy who women are warned against being around alone? Do you want the dumb things you say when you're out late to be the reason a woman leaves the field or is uncomfortable attending social events? Consider that maybe your work colleagues are not the best target audience for your affections.

If nothing else this conference season, just ask yourself what type of culture you are supporting for the women in your field.

118 responses so far

Handling AEs

Jun 16 2014 Published by under [Education&Careers]

In the journals I typically read, there's no real rhyme or reason behind whether or not the handling Associate Editors are identified to readers. Sometimes the information is in the online documentation and not in the print version, but it's usually all or nothing. The journal I am an AE for does not give out this information, but there's only a hand-full of AEs in each subfield.

I'm curious whether people ever pay attention to that information. Do you think it makes AEs more careful about what the approve for print? Are there other ramifications of doing this?

3 responses so far

No Cost Extensions and your Current and Pending

Jun 04 2014 Published by under [Education&Careers]

I am in agreement with a post at DrugMonkey's regarding the No Cost Extension on grants. A one year extension to the time allotted to spend the grant money from your original budget is a welcomed window of time to tie things up. The benefits of the added time are obvious, especially with NSF grants that typically run only three years, the fourth year stretches that dollar a bit further. And if you've been smart about how you spent along the way, it all works out fairly well.

But the idea of an active project has different consequences and connotations at NSF than NIH. Whereas NIH does not limit the number of awards a PI can have at one time, that's a little more of a touchy subject at NSF. I've heard from multiple POs that there's a blurred line around the two core grant line where the funding of a third becomes questionable. Obviously there are a variety of factors to weigh here and one's status on the grant and time remaining are certainly big.

So where does the NCE fit in? Say one is early into one grant and has a second about to go into an NCE. Is that extra year considered a "current" grant, potentially excluding the PI from additional funding, or does it not matter because NSF has already spent all the money they are going to on that grant? Have people found that having NSF grants in NCE has hurt their chances with funding recently, or is the bar so high this hasn't been much of an issue?

6 responses so far

10 weeks

May 28 2014 Published by under [Education&Careers]

Once again we find ourselves at the dawn of the Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) season. I have taken on at least two more students than I had hoped to, as one does. It's a surprisingly challenging task to take multiple students of varying degrees of ability in the lab and put them all in a position to do enough science to not be embarrassed by their poster at the end of the summer. Some work out well. Some.... less well.

But the influx of new people and wide-eyed n00bism every summer is always a net win. First, it gives the grad students practice at both mentoring and clearly explaining their rationale for what they are doing. Also, it puts them in a position to supervise the construction of a poster. Second, it's an opportunity to have students work on a small project that we haven't had time to get to, but is potentially interesting. And finally, it is excellent training and recruiting to retain some of these students either during the academic year or after they graduate from other universities. Some of my most successful undergraduate researchers have started as summer students and just kept the ball rolling.

Almost every STEM academic I have ever spoken to points to undergraduate research as the catalyst for their career. Hell, a lot of people in scientific fields also point to undergraduate research as the time they knew being in the lab was not for them and they chose something else. That's great too. The earlier you figure that out, the better. But if you're an undergraduate and think you might be interested in research, get in the lab! Summer, academic year, whatever. Do it for pay or for credit (I don't support volunteer lab work), but see what it's all about.

2 responses so far

Stop taking advice only from senior people

May 16 2014 Published by under [Education&Careers]

We all have mentors, many of which are incredibly valuable to us. Their advice can be critical in navigating this job and its vagaries. There's a hell of a lot one can learn from those that have been successful as academic researchers.


One has to be aware that things change and perspectives change. What worked 10, 20, 30 years ago might not be a good fit for the current climate. That struck me as I read the following:

This type of advice is familiar to me. I've gotten all sorts of anecdata-based strange advice like this from senior colleagues who haven't walked in junior faculty shoes in decades. It is entirely possible that NSF used to be more "relationship-based" or that there are big names out there who's conversation with their POs is something like this:

But for the other 99% in our current funding climate, I don't see how your relationship with the PO handling your proposals has a lot to do with getting funded. At this point you have to run a two panel gauntlet and come out relatively unscathed just to be considered. Yes, the POs have a bit of wiggle room at that point, but I would bet that the vast majority of funded PIs have little to no relationship with their POs prior to being funded. Whereas I think it is a good idea to meet with or talk to your PO, I highly doubt it's a make or break move.

One of the most valuable things I've done over the last few years is to use this blog and twitter to gather advice from a much wider audience than I can do through IRL conversations and try to see patterns. What works for lots of people? What are the successful people at my career stage doing that is working for them? Everyday there are conversations on these topics happening. If you listen it's clear no one has a magic bullet. But separating out the odd-ball PI-specific advice from the general helps keep you on track.

gifs from here

3 responses so far

Happy IOS invite day

May 15 2014 Published by under [Education&Careers]

Breathe, do something to distract yourself and buy some booze for either outcome. Good luck.

One response so far

Question of the day

May 09 2014 Published by under [Education&Careers]

If you take a look at the invite rates for DEB preproposals you'll notice that almost every panel has invites that fell into the DNI category. I realize that these regularly happen for a variety of reasons, such as portfolio balance and the vaunted "transformative" tag, but I'm curious about their outcome.

Has anyone ever had a DNI preproposal "picked-up"? If so, how did it do at the full stage? I wonder whether NSF tracks these particular beasts and has some idea of how they perform. Would be really interested to find out.

5 responses so far

New blogs, here and there

May 07 2014 Published by under [Education&Careers], [Et Al]

If you're not aware, there's been some new activity here on Scientopia and elsewhere as we're starting to make some changes geared at refreshing our network a bit. We're expanding in some ways and looking for opportunities to get the community at large a bit more involved. For now I just want to make you aware of the new blogs we've started up, which are mostly relocations of blogs you may already be familiar with.

Dr. 24hours has started a blog here called Complex Roots, where he plans to expand his blogging abut science and technology. His Infactorium blog will also remain active.

Former NIGMS director at NIH, Jeremy Berg, has started a blog digging into the grant data from NIH. You can find him at Datahound.

InBabyAttachMode has migrated her blog to our network and we're looking forward to getting a feel for science culture in Europe, where she has recently returned to after a US postdoc.

Likewise, Mistress of Animals has moved on to our network to add another more senior perspective to the grant game and academic culture.

Stay tuned for more additions as we move forward in the next couple of months.

Finally, I wanted to draw your attention to the new IOS blog from NSF, that will hopefully be following in the footsteps of its counterpart at DEB. Both blogs are the result of POs who wanted better and more interactive ways to communicate with you. I encourage you to visit them often and comment.

No responses yet

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