Archive for: October, 2013

Should grad students see grant budgets?

Oct 31 2013 Published by under [Et Al]

"How much does you project cost per year? How much do you cost?"

It's a serious question I asked my class the other day, and none of them could tell me. Yes, I realize that how a lab runs is not really something grad students should be overly invested in, as long as they have the resources they need. At the same time, it has an enormous impact on them directly or indirectly.

So I told them to go find out. Ask their PIs, estimate their consumables and reagent costs, etc. What surprised me most was that many of them returned to class to report that their PI had either declined to provide them information or told them they didn't need to know. Not even an estimate?

Hmmmmmm.

28 responses so far

Graphic Fridays: Campus fire concerns

Oct 25 2013 Published by under [Et Al]

9 responses so far

How do you choose your pre-tenure service?

Oct 24 2013 Published by under [Education&Careers]

Service. The third and most rickety leg of the tenure stool. No one ever got tenure for service, but it's counted all the same. Are you a good citizen of the department/college/university/community? In some cases pre-tenure service amounts to the equivalent of hazing, but if you can manage some say in what you take on you might actually find some worthwhile pursuits.

My advice to new faculty is to always get a feel for your options. You are going to be asked to do some service, so you will be best served if you can choose from among a few possibilities. Don't automatically say yes to the first thing that some senior faculty member "really thinks you would be good at" or "thinks you might benefit from". Spoiler: They are likely trying to off load something they don't want to do.

In your first few years, sticking to service roles in the department or college is a good idea. Chances are you won't be asked to do university-level service early on, anyway. But keep it to roles where you can see a tangible outcome in the somewhat near future.

Where do you think you could make a contribution without sinking dozens of hours that you don't want to spend? Do you want to help craft the undergraduate experience? Every department has a curriculum committee. Maybe you would prefer being on the grad committee? There could be an opportunity to serve on a college diversity committee and help promote that agenda. Are there hires being made in your general area? The opportunity to have a major say in the people who may be your colleagues for years to come is always time well spent. You get the idea.

There is nothing worse than getting stuck in a service role you dread. Yes, we all take one for the collective team once in a while, but no one deserves to have to attend monthly meetings of the University Manual committee, Chaired by Dr. Robert's Rules of Order. There's service and there's sacrfice. Choose the former and avoid the latter like the plague.

4 responses so far

Five years of stuff and things

Oct 23 2013 Published by under [Education&Careers]

Today marks the five year anniversary of starting this blog. Much has happened since then, for me and for you. When I set out to start this blog I meant it to be a resource for people starting tenure track jobs - a place where one perspective was written down so that others could either see what was coming or learn from my mistakes. Hopefully I have achieved that for some of you and hopefully I have entertained some of the rest of you.

My posting rate has dropped off rather dramatically in the last few months for a number of reasons, but mostly because I'm writing so many other things at the moment that this has been less of an outlet for my need to write. Overall, this is a good thing. Our publication and submission rates are way up in the last few months and there's a line up of manuscripts that need attention. We're also juggling a number of projects that are churning out some really exciting results. That's not to say this wasn't happening before now, but we're scaling up and the expansion is keeping me busy. Undoubtedly things well settle in and I'll get restless for writing again.

In the mean time, there's nearly 1000 posts here covering the various shenanigans I've fumbled my way through, but today I would like to ask what has the last 5 years looked like for you? Since 2008, what major hurdles have you cleared? What are the things you look back on and wonder how you made it through? Are you happy with the direction you're taking?

8 responses so far

Guest Post: Five Reasons Why You Liked My Post

Following up on her post "The Worst Part Is Not", guest contributor Hope Jahren has asked me to post the following:

1. It Was Well-Written. Lordy lordy how well-written it was. Let’s all turn toward the East and say it together, loud enough to shake the walls where a certain book proposal is languishing on a certain desk. “HOPE JAHREN SURE CAN WRITE,” we bellow while choking back our collective sob. Someone should give that girl a goddam book deal.

2. It Didn’t Name Names. First Ofuck or Ofek or whoever-the-f*ck hate-spoke Danielle Lee and we were all like, String him up! How daaaaaare you! And the guys were all like, Let me at him! Then Borat or Boraz or Borehole sleazed up Monica Byrne and we were all like, Not Mr. Rogers! He’s a flesh-and-blood dude! He gave me peelings for my compost heap! He defragged my harddrive! Why universe, why? And the guys went kinda silent at that point (did you notice?). Then we looked at each other and said, Whoa this is complicated. Eventually we got to this place where we sure as hell don’t want him making decisions about women’s careers but we’d still probably perform CPR on him if we saw him lying in the street. Turns out he’s neither an angel nor a devil, just like all the other men I don’t know. Just like every sorry soul made flesh temporarily wandering this lonely dusty Earth.

3. You Needed to Read It. When we all started wringing our hands about What will happen to Dear Old Borat(^1) and Can the community afford to lose such a prophet as he and Will they repo his flatscreen, I started thinking “Why should we care more about Borat’s(^1) career than he apparently does?” Then it dawned on me that this is really about me. If you knew me better, you’d realize that most things are about me. It’s why I have so many friends and was elected Homecoming Queen for two consecutive terms in high school. I got all morose and guys-are-pigs and cancelled my subscription to Scientific American(^2). I began to dwell on how my whole life has been spent bandaging and rebandaging my sores from this kind of shit. Hell, I was sent out of the room in Kindergarten for already knowing how to read.(^3) Then I looked around and realized that, at that very moment, I was eating a papaya under a freaking rainbow. That changing the world is not supposed to be easy. That my life contains successes that my grandmother couldn’t even have dreamed of. That I am strong, and good inside(^4), and that maybe I can do something about this. Here we’ve got a guy who’s a dickhead who doesn’t even know he’s a dickhead cruising through life leaving a trail of crushed dreams and cold untouched lattés behind him. How many guys would quit doing that shit if they realized that it adds up to something really super hurtful? How many agents would clamor for my manuscript if they read a heartbreaking(^5) post on the subject? Then I took pen in hand.

4. I’m Not Going To Name Names. You probably got that vibe from my post. It’s not that I’m afraid, and it’s not that it’s not true (you got the G-rated version, dear reader). It’s that, well, apparently there’s more than a few people out there who think it’s about them. I get a HUGE KICK out of this.(^6) Send me some email and call me a c*nt. I won’t out you. Or maybe I will. I’ve got this thing next to my computer called a printer. Young folks nowadays tell me I can do this thing called a “shot-screen” or something. Ain’t technology grand?

5. The Real Message of the Piece is Still Working On Your Subconscious. We all read it. We laughed. We cried. We lived. We learned. That’s all good. But please don’t miss the point of the whole thing. Yes there’s sexual harassment in Science, and it’s sustained and it’s pernicious and it’s damaging. It didn’t drive me out of Science because sexual harassment is everywhere(^7). As if there’s some safe place you can flee to and be safe from it. I don’t mean to go all Second Wave on you(^8) but sexual harassment in Academia is symptomatic of the larger-scale dysfunctionalities between the sexes in our culture, and any address of them must be grounded in the fundamental tenets of women’s liberation. BUT (and this is a big, all-caps BUT) you can do something about this today. This “fundamental tenet” I keep gibbering on about is that Women Have Worth. You know that woman you work with or have in class who’s so smart she scares you? Who’s so good at what she does, she must already know it? The odds are that nobody has ever told her this. So why don’t you go do it? The endless stream of harassment and sexism is not what has stayed with me. It is the encouragement I got from people who didn’t have to encourage me, who could have said nothing. This is what I cling to during dark days. This is why I know I am not a c*nt for speaking out. The various monologues of inappropriate comments all ran together long ago like some tacky watercolor landscape. What I remember clearly were the people who stopped what they were doing to tell me I was special, and that they saw something important developing in me. This is what fortifies me. YOU have the power to fortify someone. Today. “You have done well, and you are good inside, and you will change the world.” I wrote you the f*cking script. What more do you want from me?

^1 Or Boraz or whoever-the-f*ck.
^2 I did indeed.
^3 Not that I’m bitter or anything.
^4 Somebody told me that once, and it stuck with me. More on that later.
^5 Your words, not mine.
^6 Remember the original disclaimer about me not being Mother Theresa?
^7 and because my Calvinist upbringing convinced me that I was predestined to be an important scientist with a beautiful lab full of magnificent beeping machines. Come see it sometime, it’ll knock your socks off.
^8 Or maybe I do.

Hope Jahren is a Full and tenured Professor at the University of Hawaii. She is on Twitter @HopeJahren. Her research page is here: www.jahrenlab.com. Her lab Twitter is @JahrenLab. She told her students she would take them to a fancy dinner on Waikiki if they got 1,000 followers.

One response so far

If you learn nothing else from this

Oct 18 2013 Published by under [Science in Society]

The first post was just dismissed as a misunderstanding. The second one made a pattern of behavior that was mostly harmless. And now the third. Holy fuck, people.

Misunderstanding? No.

Calculated and persistent predation obscured by friendly promotion? Yes.

If you're one of those commenters who claimed this was all blown out of proportion, go read Katleen Raven's post again. If you dismissed the first account as some one off misunderstanding, go read Katleen Raven's post again. If you felt like this was just a socially awkward man dealing with some personal issues, go read Katleen Raven's post again.

If only one thing comes of all this, I hope it is that people investigate claims of harassment thoroughly, no matter who is the accused. Realize that there is almost nothing to be gained by a woman falsely accusing a superior of sexual misconduct and everything to be lost, even when the claim is true.

15 responses so far

Insidious little ripples

Oct 17 2013 Published by under [Science in Society]

I've been quieter than normal this week. Not so much in this space, as my posting rate has declined dramatically in the last few months, but on twitter. Some of that is because of work and life, but mostly I've been watching the Bora story unfold. I'm not going to rehash it, if you need a primer you can find most of what you need over at Isis' place or on Gawker.

I haven't had much to add to the excellent coverage and brave stories of so many. I'm simultaneously horrified and saddened at so many experiences by so many in the online science world, be they as a result of direct interaction with Bora, or not. Every time I want to feel good that I am raising daughters in a world that is more aware of these issues, there's a reality check like this. I also doubt we've heard everything there is to hear in this instance.

Anytime there is a sexual harassment case involving a high profile individual in any community, there's a massive fall out. There's the obvious: the victims and the people close to them, the perpetrator and the people close to him. Perhaps less immediately obvious are the victims we will never hear from, for one reason or another. And then there's the conversation started by this tweet:

I urge you to go take a read through it. It speaks to a much larger issue that we have as a culture, which is simply boiling to the surface in the wake of the initial fallout. Like the rest of this giant mess, I'm still trying to come to grips with the extent of the problem and my role in trying to make the situation better. These are important conversations to be having and issues to be confronting. Unfortunately, it takes so many people getting hurt before we're willing to publicly broach these topics.

One response so far

How is the shutdown going to affect this year's DEB and IOS awards?

Oct 11 2013 Published by under [Education&Careers]

You may have heard that the government is currently shutdown. I know there hasn't been much talk of it, but it's true. For those in government labs, the effect was rather abrupt. For scientists in academia, the shutdown has been more of a growing cancer that is slowly raging more havoc as it's allowed to fester.

Want to catch up on the literature? Oh, sorry, PubMed isn't updating.

Want to publish a paper with sequence data? Yeaaah, GenBank isn't doing that right now....

Oh, you're an oceanographer who has been planning a specific cruise with five other researchers sharing the boat for how many months? weeelll, NSF had to but the entire national fleet on standby like shutting a laptop.

Slowly and insidiously, more and more is grinding to a halt. And the situation is going to get worse. It's grant reviewing season in DC and funding agencies are scrambling to figure out how the delicate matrix of meetings is going to be put back together again now that the GOP kicked it like an angry toddler. Or, they would be scrambling if they were allowed to do any work.

At some point a deal will be reached and the race will be on. If you were smart enough to download all your review load before the shutdown (like SOME people) maybe you won't be caught entirely with your pants down when you get a day and a half to complete all your reviews. But how much travel is going to have to be rescheduled? How many people are still going to be able to make it to the meeting in person? How far back does this push the entire process? Will reviews get back to PIs in time to make the January preproposal deadline?

I guess it all depends.

Certainly there are no easy answers and this is just one small portion of the shutdown impact, but I have little doubt that this attempted at a fringe minority coup is going to be felt in the scientific sector for quite some time.

6 responses so far

Proposal peer review: helpful criticism with no predictive power

Oct 09 2013 Published by under [Education&Careers]

For an article that runs less than two pages, "The predictive power of NSF reviewers and panels", by NSF POs Sam Scheiner and Lynette Bouchie, (here; paywall) packs some interesting data. Forty-one projects funded in 2001 and 2002 were evaluated based on three criteria: "(1) number of publications, (2) mean number of citations per year of those publications, and (3) the number of citations of the most frequently cited publication".

The results basically reveal that proposal ranking has no predictive power. Now, there's a caveat here because we are only considering the proposals that were deemed good enough to be funded, but it's still an interesting finding. All the expertise brought to bear on the proposals can't predict whether the top proposal is going to produce any more or better science than the last proposal to get funded in the round.

Peer review is able to separate those projects likely to produce publishable results from those that have substantial or fatal flaws due to conceptual defects or design flaws (Bornmann et al. 2008). And from among those proposals with publishable results, panelists can separate projects that represent exciting science from more pedestrian endeavors. However, it is a mistake to believe that peer review can make fine distinctions in predicting whichp rojects will be the most productive, generate the highest quality results, or be transformative. Still, reviewers and panelists perform a vital function – that of providing feedback to Principal Investigators (PIs) on ways a project can be improved – regardless of whether the project receives funding in its current incarnation or as a future submission.

The only predictor of "success", as define above, was award size*. This could be for a lot of reasons, not the least of which being that if more labs are involved there are more individuals writing up papers. Also, since the paper calculated that each publication cost an average of $34k, a bigger budget has more $34k sized pieces in it.

Of course, we don't have a control. We can't say, based on these data, whether or not the proposals in the top 10% of Nocigarville would perform on par with their funded compatriots. My guess is the answer is likely yes, and that the vast majority of proposals than find their way into NSF's "potentially fundable" bins (defined differently in different panels) would, on average, be indistinguishable in their outcomes.

And this, folks, is why it is so. Damn. Important. to learn how to write a good grant. You are fighting a lot of other people who are going to be roughly as productive as you are. The difference between whether you get money to do the work or not is convincing people that your science is SOOOOO much better than Jane's and John's.

h/t to @AntLabUCF for tweeting the article and supplying the PDF.

*So ask for a really big budget

3 responses so far

Pre-tenure stratigery

Oct 02 2013 Published by under [Education&Careers]

Submitting my tenure packet this week and talking with a number of pre-tenure colleagues has got me thinking a bunch about how I got here. And by "here" I mean "in a position to feel decently confident about my tenure portfolio". Two or three years ago I was in a very different place - I felt like we had 10 different projects all headed in different directions. It was uncomfortable and I didn't see a point at which things would come to a head on anything so we could publish something major.

It felt more like this:


(source. h/t to @drugmonkeyblog)

There was pressure to get things published - from my department, myself, my science community - but you can't publish a bunch of half experiments! Worse yet, people in the lab were making silly mistakes! There's nothing worse than watching your new lab stumble through the learning curve. But you know what? You have to.

Everyone is going to have a different take on how you keep things moving in the pre-tenure years. I decided early on that I would take on a few students at different levels so I could pursue short and longer term projects, but that I would let the students make their mistakes along the way. As a football fan I reasoned that I had two choices: I could let the rookies make their mistakes and support their development or I could sign an aging vet (i.e. me going into the lab) as a stop gap for production now while the rookies develop. The problem with that is you can stunt their growth if rookies don't get a lot of meaningful reps. So I chose to let them figure it out.

In some cases it worked well and in others we had to go in another direction, but we got what we needed. Maybe it took an extra year than it could have, but I think the pay off was that all of them were really driving their own work after some initial struggles. The difference between being handed a solid draft manuscript versus having to write most of one is huge - especially when multiple people are writing up different things at the same time.

But more importantly, that early feeling of having too many half started projects is normal. Yes, ideally you would like to have things lined up that get you publications at multiple intervals, but that may not be how it works out. You are setting the stage for the years 5-10 portion of your career and that may not result in 5 manuscripts in the first three years. For my lab, the bolus has really come in years 4-5 - later than I would like, but not too late for tenure. However, it is what lays ahead that has me truly excited. Our hard work to this point has laid a solid foundation for several projects that are really looking good.

Remember that year 3 sucks, it takes longer than you expect to get your lab fully running and that you need to worry more about deadlines that matter than arbitrary goal posts.

6 responses so far