Archive for: July, 2014

I don't do ghost writers

Jul 31 2014 Published by under [Education&Careers]

Like any of us, I get a lot of request to review manuscripts from different journals. It tends to come in waves where I might go a month without, then have 4 requests hit my desk all at once. I would say that I turn down roughly a third of the requests I get, either because I am too busy with other things or because I already have a few sitting on my desk. Fair or not, I tend to decline smaller journals more often, usually because the science is less compelling to me.

But rather than just decline, I almost always send an email to the AE and suggest that they send the review request to one of my trainees. I tell the AE that I will assist my lab member with the review, but I don't have time to spearhead it myself.

People have asked me why I do this rather than just accepting and having one of my people handle the review. It's true that usually the AE does not end up sending the review to a student or postdoc. But sometimes they do. And when they do, the student or postdoc gets to handle the correspondence. They get in the journal's system as a reviewer. They get their name in the head of an AE who might see their good work and remember them next time they handle a paper on the topic. They get direct recognition.

I am not a PI who like to put my name on things my people do. I want them as first authors. I want my postdocs as PIs on grant applications. I want their name out there in the position that reflects their effort and I don't understand the motivation for making them ghost writers.

13 responses so far

She's crazy!

Folks, there are lots of things that chap my ass, but few so much as the automatic defense of well know dudes when an accusation of inappropriate behavior is leveled by an unknown woman. You can count on it like the reflex of the leg jerking when struck at the knee. It doesn't matter if it's Woody Allen, some Neuroscientist with a long history that Vanderbilt has vowed to "vigorously defend", a major pillar of the science blogging community or a senior dude down the hall. Every time someone gets accused of sexual harassment you can count on a ground swell of excuses.

Every. Damn. Time.

Last week we even had a study published making it overwhelmingly clear that science has a problem. And yet the majority default reaction to accusations is to discredit the source. Maybe she didn't understand him or his culture! She's too tightly wound and he was just kidding! She's doing this to get her name out there or for money. I heard she's just crazy.

What goes seemingly unrecognized is that the penalty for reporting is SO high, that one just might have to be crazy to do so, even after enduring years of harassment. The easier path is to endure and leave as soon as you can with your degree/LoR/Paper/whatever. It's the path many choose, because the deck is stacked so heavily against them they stand to lose everything, regardless of the outcome. The false positive rate is vanishingly small, yet treated as the default.

And herein lies the problem. Sexual harassment is beyond tolerated to the point where it's almost encouraged because there is little to no penalty. Until we make reporting easy and effective - with actual punishment for this behavior - there won't be any improvement. The university will defend its lecherous men, science will revere its big names no matter what they did and society will defend the idea of the crazy accuser.

3 responses so far

Context is larger than an article

I'm often slow to the punch when things hit the internet, and as a consequence regularly avoid re-hashing things that others have covered better. Such was the case yesterday when the cover of Science hit the stands and others were quick to call bullshit, and zoom out a bit at a larger problem. Both of those posts are excellent and thoughtful and I would normally leave it to them.

But the apology by Science Editor-in-Chief Marcia McNutt sincerely rubs me the wrong way.

From Science Editor-in-Chief Marcia McNutt:
Science has heard from many readers expressing their opinions and concerns with the recent [11 July 2014] cover choice.

The cover showing transgender sex workers in Jarkarta was selected after much discussion by a large group and was not intended to offend anyone, but rather to highlight the fact that there are solutions for the AIDS crisis for this forgotten but at-risk group. A few have indicated to me that the cover did exactly that, but more have indicated the opposite reaction: that the cover was offensive because they did not have the context of the story prior to viewing it, an important piece of information that was available to those choosing the cover.

I am truly sorry for any discomfort that this cover may have caused anyone, and promise that we will strive to do much better in the future to be sensitive to all groups and not assume that context and intent will speak for themselves.

-- Marcia McNutt, Editor-in-Chief, the Science family of journals

16 July 2014

Context: Science cover caption --

So the idea here is that if we had only read the article first we would TOTALLY GET IT and be all "OMG, that's such a great representation of the story!" Whereas it's great that Science is admitting a screw up, they are still confused as to why people were upset. Does it seem like these people would have a different opinion if they saw the picture after reading the article? Yeah, try again Marcia.

2 responses so far

Pre-tenure Blog Carnival Wrap up!

Jul 16 2014 Published by under [Education&Careers]

I realized yesterday that I put the new Pre-tenure Advice page up without actually writing a post to introduce it. I've added new posts as they come in and will continue to do so. I also plan on routing through some other blogs and I've got to spend a bit of time looking through my own archives as well, but there's a daunting number of posts there to contend with. For the moment, this is a summary of what people submitted, but keep them coming and the main page will be updated accordingly.

General advice:

Some of the advice I got starting out

Stylianos Chatzimanolis
Surviving the pre tenure years

Meghan Duffy
Navigating the Tenure Track

Darren Boehning
How I Survived The Junior Faculty Years

Claus Wilke
Surviving the pre-tenure years at an R1 university

Dr. Becca
How to get tenure in 90 minutes

Not trained for it

Cackle of Rad
On navigation and trust on the TT

Prof-like Substance
Pre-tenure survival: Research diversity
Pre-tenure survival: The competition

Lab people and culture:

The New PI
Establishing lab culture in a new lab

What kind of a mentor do I want to be?

Planning and executing research:

Prof-like Substance
Risks in research: why you have to take them

Time management:

The New PI
20% protected time to generate new ideas

No advice on surviving the TT

Not as easy as apple pie: Running the research conveyor belt while publishing apace

Morgan Ernest
Pre-tenure Advice: Blocking out time for your research

Ethan White
Getting things done in academia

K99/K00 award management:

The New PI
Submitting your R00 proposal to transfer your K99 to your new job: a survival guide
A compilation of K99 and R00 advice

How to put together (your life and) a K99/R00 proposal

K99/R00 Application Advice

The First Year:

The New PI
The New PI hits the 6th month slump: how do you keep proactive?
"The New PI" turns ONE!!

Terry McGlynn
The first days of a new tenure-track faculty job

The Decider

Dwelling on the positives

Prof-like Substance
Repost: What to expect in the first year

The Second Year:

Second Year on the Tenure Track
A day in the life…

Lab Budgeting:

Prof-like Substance
Risk Management and betting on oneself


How Many Papers for Tenure?


Terry McGlynn
What it takes to get tenure: ambiguity of the teaching criterion
Avoiding bad teaching evaluations: Tricks of the trade

Prof-like Substance
Slowly letting the lecture go

Pre-tenure Service:

The good, the meh, and the ugly of pre-tenure service

Prof-like Substance
How do you choose your pre-tenure service?

Pre-tenure Moving:

Starting over on the tenure-track

3 responses so far

Surviving pre-tenure: The People

Jul 14 2014 Published by under [Education&Careers]

In many ways, it's almost pointless to talk about all the other aspects of pre-tenure if you can't get good people in your lab. The best laid plans are simply a terrible lab dynamic away from being burnt to the ground.

This is a bit of a catch 22, because it is hard to recruit until you get established and hard to get established until you have some good people in the lab. Some will have the name of their institution or the prominence of their particular program to help them out here, but if you're direct-recruiting you have a lot of work to do here. You need to be proactive.

Reach out to colleagues. Seriously. Every year for the first couple of years here I emailed a dozen or so colleagues asking them if they knew of any undergrads or finishing MS students that they think would be a good fit for my lab. It didn't always work out that the student was interested, but it got the ball rolling and put some applications on my radar when it came time to look over the pool.

I have been incredibly fortunate to have had mostly excellent trainees in the lab. I had some terrific students sent my way who laid the groundwork for the lab's identity and put us in a position to make a mark. It's not a stretch to say that they played a significant role in me getting tenure, but I always kept in mind that they were taking more of a chance on me than I was on them. Could I get the funding for their project to be successful? Could I keep them paid every semester and summer? Could I get them to conference to talk about their work? Would I have connections to be able to introduce them to the people they should be talking to?

All of these things matter. Not every trainee will have thought that through before accepting a position in your pre-tenure lab, but it's worth keeping in mind yourself as you recruit. There's no question you'll be spending more time looking for that "diamond in the rough" than your more established colleagues, but the time spent pays off in enormous ways when it works out.

No responses yet

Pre-tenure survival: Research diversity

Jul 10 2014 Published by under [Education&Careers]

This is a topic I think I'm going to get some strong counter arguments on, but it's also something that has been essential for my labs ability to navigate tight funding lines. For my own success, one of the best things I did pre-tenure was diversify my research around two central themes. At any given point we've had two to three minimally overlapping projects around each theme. Some have worked out great and some have resulted in only a single publication. But they have all produced something.

More importantly, this strategy has kept up publications in two different scientific fields. Because of that, we've gotten federal and state funding in each of these areas and continue to seek funding for the different projects in each. Diverse topics means diverse research funding sources and programs.

Of course, diverse research topics also means spreading resources thinner, including time and money. It means having to stay on top of more than one body of literature. You'll find that there are certain things that students can't train other students in. It's time consuming and you risk being the jack of all trades and master of none.

But I'm watching the consequence of a single focus play out with a friend of mine right now. He's been successful as a solid contributor to a field that has ballooned recently. But in the last few years there has been a massive $$ dump into the field, with a focus on a few labs. The result is that those labs have more people and more money and churning out papers rapidly. The field has been suddenly and massively tilted. Not only does this have significant consequences for my friend's research program, but his trainees are on the outside looking in as well.

BTW, neuro peeps, how is that whole BRAIN initiative going to distribute funds?

In any case, I'm not suggesting you diversify your research program in case some funding agency drops a lot of money on your direct competition, but there are numerous benefits to keeping a wide base. It made my pre-tenure experience better and more successful.

7 responses so far

Pre-tenure survival: The competition

Jul 09 2014 Published by under [Education&Careers]

The Monkey has a post up about the internal awkwardness of the feelings related to congratulating a peer on their success. The conversation stems from this tweet from Karen James. There was much agreement on the twits that people find it difficult to see others succeed. In particular, this rang true with pre-tenure folks who have milestones they see is career-critical and have watched others make it to these points faster than themselves.

Been there. Done that.

Here's the thing: it never really gets better. I left the following comment on DrugMonkey's post and it is the unfortunate truth.

It doesn't matter how successful you have been or are being, there will always be someone running just a bit faster. And you will always compare yourself to front-runners and forget that people are comparing themselves to you and feeling less successful. It's the nature of the business, it's human nature and even if you're sailing along at a solid clip, it won't get easier. Be happy for them and move on.

Nearly every single position has different constraints and requirements. For the first couple of years I had this job I was constantly looking at one of my foreign collaborators and stressing over the fact that their publication rate was way better than mine. It turns out that this collaborator has zero teaching responsibility and an automatic budget to count on in addition to any grant funds. That is not my situation.

While that's a bit of an extreme example, even colleagues who work in comparable positions as mine have very different responsibilities and commitments. Some are doing better than I am and some are falling a bit behind and I completely expect that there will be peaks and valleys for all of us in the coming years. Nevertheless, one will always focus on the labs setting the pace.

It's okay to be competitive. It's okay to strive to be the leader. But don't define your success that way or you will undoubtedly spend more time chasing windmills than developing your career.

17 responses so far

On navigation and trust on the TT

Jul 07 2014 Published by under [Education&Careers]

Today we're running a guest post from former blogger, Cackle of Rad, as part of the pre-tenure survival carnival. Enjoy!

Gifts from people often come by surprise and in strange packages. These gifts may be as simple as a kind word or as complex as the knowledge that someone is not to be trusted. If you are on the tenure track and lucky, gifts may come from your Dean in the form of unexpected funding--an extra semester for a student, a post-doc, possibly even funding for a conference or meeting that could expand your scientific range and pool of contacts. They may be more insidious--the moment you realize a contact is fishing for information about your lab’s progress on something rather than simple interest in your science. Pay attention to these moments, because they are the sort that help you determine who is on your team versus those that see you as a stumbling block or stepping stone.

There is a lot of noise in the process of sorting out a new lab. Will I be able to attract trainees? Will I develop something novel and interesting? Can I get funded? Why is no one listening to a damn thing I say? How do I fire someone--do I fire people or put up with crappy performance? When do I celebrate the good things?

These questions are all important, but they are the easy ones because they are somewhat straightforward and in general such questions apply to all of us. The more difficult aspect of navigation is sorting the seed from the chaff--those that want to see your research program succeed versus those that don’t care very much versus those that see you as direct competition. Let’s not forget those whose work you influence. This is a murky category--potential collaborator, someone on your heels, someone in direct competition, or someone that helpfully cites your work and expands it in a direction you would not have.

From personal experience I believe that women have a more difficult path to navigate. I won’t belabor the statistics or personal anecdotes, but find it interesting that I have received far more professional support from other women academics compared to men. I have wondered why, but have decided that noodling on the subject is a waste of time. This is time that could be better spent performing analyses, writing up papers, brainstorming my next grant application. And really? Fuck them for adding to that noise.

My very confident and super-awesome post-doc advisor once told me to re-negotiate every personal relationship at least twice a year. For example, Does my association with this person provide me a benefit or a cost--and, do the benefits outweigh the costs? At the time I thought this mental pruning seemed excessive, but now I realize where he was coming from. To this advice I would add: Be confident in yourself. Listen to the voices that provide clarity on navigating your course, treat your friends well, and be kind to people. But don’t blindly trust--and, importantly, recognize gifts when they are handed to you, whether helpful or insightful.

CoR is on twitter (@CackleofRad) or can be reached via email

4 responses so far

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!

19 responses so far