Scientopia Mon, 30 Nov 2015 04:51:52 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Some more thoughts on networking – my two cents Mon, 30 Nov 2015 04:51:52 +0000 Continue reading ]]> It’s been five years since I received my PhD and I think I might be starting to enter a new phase in my career. For those of us without the imposed timelines of “K” and “R” awards career staging can be a little fuzzy. Unlike academia, where there are often guidelines about job titles, in industry I think we just make it all up. What it means to be a Scientist or a Research Fellow at one company does NOT translate to the next. So, without those benchmarks, I realized that I’m no longer just starting out in my career from my interactions on networking sites like linkedin and research gate.


StrongerThanFiction just posted a great piece on the evolution of her relationship with networking. I totally agree with how she used to feel about networking. It stressed me out! I used to spend hours trying to write an email to ask someone for a meeting, and I remember sitting in front of my computer agonizing about whether or not to ask someone to add me to their linkedin network. I still worry about adding my boss and coworkers on linkedin because I don’t want them to think that I might be looking for a new job, but overall I’m much more comfortable reaching out.


I’ve been participating in a few career panels and I recently got back from the Society for Neuroscience conference where I got to talk with a bazillion (ok maybe not a bazillion, but it was a lot) of people. I think because of these events I’ve been getting a fair number of people adding me on linkedin. Being on the receiving side of these requests has given me few insights into online networking.


  1. Rather than asking a stranger out of the blue if they know of any jobs you might be a good fit for, try asking for an informational interview (either in person or over email). The hiring process and the company hierarchy is often opaque from the outside and it can be hard to know who to reach out to for information about a company, which is where asking for an informational interview can be invaluable!

Here are a couple of links to good tips on asking for and conducting informational interviews

Remember, do your homework and check out the person and company you are interviewing, prepare questions and keep it brief.


  1. Unless you are adding a friend or someone you know well, include a message. I’ve noticed that when I meet people briefly in a large group, I may not remember everyone. If I just get a linkedin add from a name I do not recognize I may not to add them. However, if I get an add from someone who lets me know how/where they met me I happily do.


  1. Follow up! If you ask someone for help and they take the time to respond, even if it doesn’t work out, thank them for their time. Not only does doing so make you stand out positively, you never know what will happen in the future.


Do you have any more tips? Check out our new linkedin group to start a conversation


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My Privilege Triggered TSA Action Wed, 25 Nov 2015 17:28:44 +0000 Drugmonkey has a series of vignettes he uses to launch a discussion of privilege and disparities in NIH funding. The first of these reminded me of a recent event in my own life. Briefly, it involves a guy with TSA PreCheck status who gets a secondary bag search and the dude is SO INCONVENIENCED.

If you fly more than occasionally, the TSA PreCheck rocks. You take your passport to a center where you get photographed and fingerprinted. After a background check, you are assigned a known traveler number that you enter when you book an airline ticket. The security line is generally shorter. You pass through a metal detector instead of the scanner. You still run your bags through the x-ray machine, but you can leave laptops and CPAP machines in your case, as well as your bag of tiny liquids. You still only carry on 3.1 oz bottles in a sandwich baggie, but you don't have to dig everything out and repack. You can also leave on your shoes, unless they set off a metal detector. I would like to thank Tory Burch for putting so much metal in the logo on my ballet flats that I still get to wander through barefoot. All things considered, my PreCheck status is well-worth the $85 I paid for 5 years of facilitated screening. For my travels, that works out to less than $1.50 per security screen.

This last return trip, my purse got a secondary search. They had looked at its x-ray for a long time, so I knew something had piqued their curiosity, but I had no idea what it might be. I had added nothing since my uneventful screening en route to Baltimore.

Here is the culprit:

Expensive but gorgeous; click to Sephora

Expensive but gorgeous; click to Sephora

Apparently they had not seen Louboutin's lovely lipstick before. It costs enough and it's new enough to make it scarce in the TSA world (it's clearly a symbol of my socioeconomic status and privilege). They handed it to me and had me show them how it worked.

I am glad that they take screening duties seriously, even though I am sure they felt a little silly making a fuss about a lipstick. The whole thing was pretty hilarious to me, and it barely slowed me down. Finally, I'm so grateful to not unpack laptop, liquids, and that damn CPAP machine that I can handle occasional nonsense like this event.

I hope the people Drugmonkey documents can learn a lesson from their experiences although I doubt that it happens. If you have not read his post yet, what are you waiting for? I'll even put the link here again, just in case scrolling up to the first paragraph is too inconvenient.

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Geeking out Wed, 25 Nov 2015 05:55:34 +0000 Continue reading ]]> When a neuroscientist mom who likes to sew has a child —


she makes a neuron costume for Halloween with DNA in the nucleus, mitochondria, endoplasmic reticulum, spines as on shoulders, and a hat with dendrites (the child refused to wear leg warmers as myelin sheath).

When the neuroscientist Mom has two kids, she tries to convince them they want to dress up as a neuron and glia (using the same costume above). She is only fervently rejected.


When a scientist has a baby —


she dresses her in apparel with scientific devices.

IMG_20110728_081045 (1)

Or scientific information (The onesie says, brought to you by letters G, C, A, and T, and the number 23).


When a scientist has too much time on her hands —


She searches for nerdy items online…like in Etsy.


How do you geek out?

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Scenes Mon, 23 Nov 2015 20:10:20 +0000 In the past few weeks I have been present for the following conversation topics.

1) A tech professional working for the military complaining about some failure on the part of TSA to appropriately respect his SuperNotATerrorist pass that was supposed to let him board aircraft unmolested like the the rest of us riff raff. I believe having his luggage searched in secondary was mentioned, and some other delays of minor note. This guy is maybe early thirties, very white, very distinct regional American accent, good looking, clean cut... you're basic All-American dude.

2) A young guy, fresh out of the military looking to get on with one of the uniformed regional service squad types of jobs. This conversation involved his assertions that you had to be either a woman or an ethnic minority to have a shot at the limited number of jobs available in any given cycle. Much of the usual complaining about how this was unfair and it should be about "merit" and the like. Naturally this guy is white, clean cut, relatively well spoken.... perhaps not all that bright, I guess.

3) A pair of essentially the most privileged people I know- mid-adult, very smart, blonde, well educated, upper middle class, attractive, assertive, parents, rock of community type of women. Literally *everything* goes in these women's direction and has for most of their lives. They had the nerve to engage in a long running conversation about their respective minor traffic stops and tickets and how unfair it was. How they cops should have been stopping the "real" dangers to society at some other location instead of nailing them for running a stop sign a little too much or right on red-ing or whatever their minor ticket was for.

One of the great things about modern social media is that, done right, it is a relatively non-confrontational way to start to see how other people view things. For me the days of reading science blogs and the women-in-academics blogs were a more personal version of some of the coursework I enjoyed in my liberal arts undergraduate education. It put me in touch with much of the thinking and experiences of women in my approximate career. It occasionally allowed me to view life events with a different lens than I had previously.

It is my belief that social media has also been important for driving the falling dominoes of public opinion on gay marriage over the past decade or so. Facebook connections to friends, family and friends of the same provides a weekly? daily? reminder that each of us know a lot of gay folks that are important to us or at the very least are important to people that are important to us.

The relentless circulation of memes and Bingo cards, of snark and hilarity alike, remind each of us that there is a viewpoint other than our own.

And the decent people listen. Occasionally they start to see things the way other people do. At least now and again.

The so-called Black Twitter is similar in the way it penetrated the Facebook and especially Twitter timelines and daily RTs of so many non-AfricanAmerican folks . I have watched this develop during Ferguson and through BlackLivesMatter and after shooting after shooting after shooting of young black people that has occurred in the past two years.

During the three incidents that I mention, all I could think was "Wow, do you have any idea that this is the daily reality for many of your fellow citizens? And that it would hardly ever occur to non-white people to be so blindly outraged that the world should dare to treat them this way?"

This brings me to today's topic in academic science.

Nature News has an editorial on racial disparity in NIH grant awards. As a reminder the Ginther report was published in 2011. There are slightly new data out, generated from a FOIA request:

Pulmonologist Esteban Burchard and epidemiologist Sam Oh of the University of California, San Francisco, shared the data with Nature after obtaining them from the NIH through a request under the Freedom of Information Act. The figures show that under-represented minorities have been awarded NIH grants at 78–90% the rate of white and mixed-race applicants every year from 1985 to 2013

I will note that Burchard and Oh seem to be very interested in how the failure to include a diverse population in scientific studies may limit health care equality. So this isn't just about career disparity for these scientists, it is about their discipline and the health outcomes that result. Nevertheless, the point of these data are that under-represented minority PIs have less funding success than do white PIs. The gap has been a consistent feature of the NIH landscape through thick and thin budgets. Most importantly, it has not budged one bit in the wake of the Ginther report in 2011. With that said, I'm not entirely sure what we have learned here. The power of Ginther was that it went into tremendous analytic detail trying to rebut or explain the gross disparity with all of the usual suspect rationales. Trying....and failing. The end result of Ginther was that it was very difficult to make the basic disparate finding go away by considering other mediating variables.

After controlling for the applicant's educational background, country of origin, training, previous research awards, publication record, and employer characteristics, we find that black applicants remain 10 percentage points less likely than whites to be awarded NIH research funding.

The Ginther report used NIH grant data between FY 2000 and FY 2006. This new data set appears to run from 1985 to 2013, but of course only gives the aggregate funding success rate (i.e. the per-investigator rate, without looking at sub-groups within the under-represented minority pool. This leaves a big old door open for comments like this one:

Is it that the NIH requires people to state their race on their applications or could it be that the black applications were just not as good? Maybe if they just keep the applicant race off the paperwork they would be able to figure this out.

and this one:

I have served on many NIH study sections (peer review panels) and, with the exception of applicants with asian names, have never been aware of the race of the applicants whose grants I've reviewed. So, it is possible that I could have been biased for or against asian applicants, but not black applicants. Do other people have a different experience?

This one received an immediate smackdown with which I concur entirely:

That is strange. Usually a reviewer is at least somewhat familiar with applicants whose proposals he is reviewing, working in the same field and having attended the same conferences. Are you saying that you did not personally know any of the applicants? Black PIs are such a rarity that I find it hard to believe that a black scientist could remain anonymous among his or her peers for too long.

Back to social media. One of the tweeps who is, I think, pretty out as an underrepresented minority of science had this to say:

Not entirely sure it was in response to this Nature editorial but the sentiment fits. If AfricanAmerican PIs who are submitting grants to the NIH after the Ginther report was published in the late summer of 2011 (approximately 13 funding rounds ago, by my calendar) were expecting the kind of relief provided immediately to ESI PIs.....well, they are still looking in the mailbox.

The editorial

The big task now is to determine why racial funding disparities arise, and how to erase them. ...The NIH is working on some aspects of the issue — for instance, its National Research Mentoring Network aims to foster diversity through mentoring.

and the News piece:

in response to Kington’s 2011 paper, the NIH has allocated more than $500 million to programmes to evaluate how to attract, mentor and retain minority researchers. The agency is also studying biases that might affect peer review, and is interested in gathering data on whether a diverse workforce improves science.

remind us of the entirely toothless NIH response to Ginther.

It is part and parcel of the vignettes I related at the top. People of privilege simply cannot see the privileges they enjoy for what they are. Unless they are listening. Listening to the people who do not share the set of privileges under discussion.

I think social media helps with that. It helps me to see things through the eyes of people who are not like me and do not have my particular constellations of privileges. I hope even certain Twitter-refuseniks will come to see this one day.

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Thoughts on Race and Ethnicity in Medicine Mon, 23 Nov 2015 17:23:31 +0000 I'm listening to a discussion on NPR's On Point about mixed race in America. I recommend reading the website and listening to the discussion.

In medical school, we teach our future doctors to put the patient's race right up front.

"X-year-old-Race-Gender person with a chief complaint of bunnyhopping."

How useless.

Race and ethnicity are based on appearance or self-reported, the latter being the gold standard in the clinic. We have no way to confirm or deny someone's identity in an objective way unless genealogy studies are available*.

Even if you believe that race can be important for a patient, how do you factor it in? Do I assess the blonde-haired blue-eyed girl as the white person she appears to be or as the Cherokee that she legally is?

Society at large, like Native American populations, has mixed over time. Even in my career, race has not been as helpful in diagnosis or prognosis as we were led to believe in medical school. I have seen black children with cystic fibrosis and white children with sickle cell disease.

Race and ethnicity matter for health, of course, since they associate with social, cultural, and economic factors that are far more important in treating and preventing disease than the color of skin, the texture of hair, or the shape of facial features. While there may be some genetic risks that segregate by race, we should identify the genes rather than using a poor proxy like race. We also need to be an inclusive society for people of all identities to minimize some of these social, cultural, and economic factors that segregate with race and ethnicity (hey, I can dream).

I have quit asking and reporting race in my patient notes. No one is grading me at this point in my career.

That blonde Cherokee girl can get a lot of care through her tribal health center at no cost to her family. Now that's a good thing to know for her medical management.


*And you never know how accurate these are since children may be fathered by someone not on the birth certificate

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Citation Manager Frustration Fri, 20 Nov 2015 13:57:34 +0000 I've used most of the major citation managers: RefWorks, Flow, EndNote (web and client), Zotero, Mendeley, ProCite (remember that one?). I've looked at Papers. I've dabbled with BibTex using a couple of different tools. I've watched the videos on the new RefWorks 3 coming out. I've given training on RefWorks and EndNote... and I'm frustrated.

Almost all of these have the model that you are one person, with one field of research, who will continue to use the same somewhat limited number of references over the many years.

As a librarian, I like to compile references for people into RefWorks collections and then turn them over. I've done this by setting up new accounts for them. This will not be possible in the new version in which there's only one account per e-mail.  Sharing folders doesn't work because I don't want my dissertation and professional work database to be crammed with thousands of unrelated articles.

I have tried to collaborate with people in Zotero and I can't seem to get rid of a thousand or so articles that were relevant to a project from several years ago.

Further, they only get worse at deduplication. I use a citation manager to compile references and deduplication for bibliometrics. RefWorks chokes when your database gets above a few thousand. Plus, it's not configurable. You can't say ignore title, just look at year, authors, publication or something like that. Or only look at title. You can't review duplicates, find that they're part 1 and part 2 or conference presentation and journal paper, and then have them not show up every time. These are really not intended for my uses.

So I'm going to go back to trying client software. First I'll try a EndNote X ( an ancient copy that has been sitting here in a box still sealed). Then I'll probably go to BibTeX, maybe using SVN, and maybe using code for some of the tricks. Why should I have to?

And that's another reason to get my @##% dissertation done while RefWorks and the Word plugin still work on my home computer.

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Slides from Leveraging Data to Lead Fri, 20 Nov 2015 13:40:13 +0000 This was a great conference put on by Maryland SLA. I tweeted at bit using the hashtag: #datamdsla

Here's my slides. Not awesome but I did find some nice pictures :)


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Update Fri, 20 Nov 2015 13:05:48 +0000 Where have I been? Same place - preschool twins, dissertation, full time work.

The dissertation is being completely reworked. Due to the committee at the end of the semester for defense either over break or in February (and I can't miss that because I will be dismissed from the program if I don't make it). That definitely deserves more discussion. I went back and went a lot deeper into CMC literature - nothing really new there - but also picked up some lit on English for Academic Purposes and linguistics. Interesting stuff.

I have no idea how people write books.

Also attended MD SLA's Leveraging Data to Lead. I'll post my slides next.

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Burned Out But Back Thu, 19 Nov 2015 18:33:15 +0000 Life has been hectic for several months, full of changes and plans. As pressure built, I felt like something had to give. In my case, it was blogging. After all, I write here as a hobby with no financial reward. The police weren't going to show up if I failed to blog. Even though I use my real identity, I doubted that any readers would grab pitchforks and light torches if I didn't post. I was right about the lack of external consequences.

I was also wrong.

I have felt horribly burned out for a while. Focusing on full-time patient care is exhausting. I need to process thoughts and write to feel whole, even if it takes some time out of my day.

Thanks to everyone who still follows this blog. I look forward to being myself again.

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CV alt metrics and Glamour Thu, 19 Nov 2015 16:24:13 +0000 Putting citation counts for each paper on the academic CV would go a long way towards dismantling the Glamour Mag delusion and reorient scientists toward doing great science rather than the "get" of Glam acceptance.

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