Archive for: June, 2014

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.

121 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

Here's your trophy for attending kindergarten graduation!

Jun 06 2014 Published by under [Et Al], [Life Trajectories]

Last night I had the following conversation:

"Maybe we can take the girls out for dinner after the last day of Kindergarten for the Wee One."

"We'll have to eat early. Graduation is at 5:30."

"Why would we go to graduation? We don't know any of the kids in the oldest grade at the school."

"No, kindergarten graduation is at 5:30 on the last day."

"Kindergarten what?"

"Every grade has a graduation ceremony."


Seriously folks, is there anything more ridiculous than a graduation ceremony for Every. Damn. Grade? What could possibly be the point? Is anyone out there going "Well, Joey was really struggling with shapes this year, but we're so happy he was able to pull it up so he could walk across that stage with the rest of the kindergarten!"

You want to graduate high school? Great! Let's throw a damn party. College? Sure! I might even get you present! But Kindergarten graduation? Second grade? WHY? Isn't that called "cleaning out your locker for the summer? Isn't that all the reward a kid at that age needs?

And it's the culmination of two things here: The constant drum beat of one event or the other that has families stretched in every direction AND the apparent societal need to recognize every minor youth step with a piece of paper, plaque or trophy. My kids are 2 and 6 and already have a collection of awards and trophies the Lebron James would be impressed by.

I am all for raising confident kids. I want nothing more than for my kids to grow up sure of themselves with the feeling they can accomplish anything. But will they be able to separate real accomplishments from just showing up? I don't know, but here's a trophy for reading this far.

9 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