A Post-Tenure World

Mar 29 2009 Published by under Careerism, NIH, Tribe of Science

Regular bombthrower commenter whimple opines thusly in a recent comment:

The solution is to get rid of tenure altogether. That way the universities can just fire people who can't compete for grants, which will automatically take care of the problem.

The original post was on a UK funding agency's new policy that, if translated to the US/NIH-funded environment, would be a career ending policy for many scientists.
Another regular commenter, qaz, defended tenure:

Huh? Is your goal to kill science? Or just to drive it underground?
We have enough problems with the current "translational" fashion that science is only good if it serves immediate needs. (Something we all know to be wrong, but seemingly can't convince the NIH system.) The reason we have federally funded research is that science takes 30 years to come to fruition. No company is going to do research that will help the entire world in 30 years. Forcing faculty to chase immediate grants will put us all in that same boat.
What tenure does is it explicitly decouples science from immediate grant/fashion needs. Sure, there's some eventual deadwood, but in my observation, the number of faculty pursuing crazy ideas that pan out far outnumber the deadwood. Tenure allows scientists to pursue goals independently of grants.

I dunno. Tenure is a nice fantasy. And a great gig if you have it. But in my type of job category, as with those of many of my peers, it isn't meaningful. Perhaps that is because we simply haven't gotten to that stage of career where we might be tempted to be dead wood? Or because tenure or not, taking so-called career risks by going in different directions and working on things that may not bear fruit are still very risky.
qaz ended with this:

The opportunity to pursue long-term goals without fear of reprisal is one of the major perks that draw top talent to science.

I don't see where the current state of "tenure" privilege either provides this opportunity or can possibly be a perq to draw top talent into scientific fields.

52 responses so far

  • qaz says:

    Certainly, the pursuit of long-term goals not in line with current NIH fashion continues to provide risk. (You should see the space policy they're trying to push through in my department.) But I think tenure decreases that risk.
    I would also point out that I know of several cases in which the University powers-that-be have "encouraged" excess grant applications, and the tenured professor has said "I have enough for my lab right now, I'm going to write papers and do science". I wonder if removing tenure would increase the number of grant submissions (rather than whimple's original hypothesis). Does anyone have data on whether tenured professors publish more papers per grant $ than non-tenured? (Or per grant submission?) Remember, you need to include both experimental biologists running large labs and theoreticians who just need a waste-basket and a chalk-board.
    As to whether tenure helps bring top talent, I think that given the salary differential between professors and similarly smart (but hopefully less honorable) hedge-fund managers, we need something. šŸ™‚
    That brings up another point: Does having tenure decrease the incentive to be dishonest in research? (Before Sol jumps on the attack - Yes, Sol, of course it doesn't remove the incentive, but does it reduce it?)

  • pumpkinesque says:

    and theoreticians who just need a waste-basket and a chalk-board.
    .... and a supercomupter šŸ˜‰

  • drdrA says:

    'I dunno. Tenure is a nice fantasy. And a great gig if you have it. But in my type of job category, as with those of many of my peers, it isn't meaningful.'
    Right. For faculty in institutions where the institution isn't invested (with salary lines) in their faculty, tenure is just a meaningless title. Lots of institutions (top and otherwise) in nice places to live have gotten away with this for a long time. In my humble opinion.
    Second- as to Whimple's comment-
    Institutions that have a meaningful tenure system can ALREADY fire you pretty easily in your first 7+ years, what it takes you to get tenure, and many have no instituted annual post-tenure reviews (although I'm not sure how much bite those really have). In those institutions that have that empty tenure title- once you lose your salary (which is what happens there if you don't have a grant or maybe 3), who cares if you have the title???

  • whimple says:

    You can't pursue long-term goals without immediate-term funding anyway. If you can't bring in the cash today, you can't do the science for tomorrow whether tenured or not. Maybe the university throws their tenured but non-funded faculty a bone and lets them keep a small lab and a technician, but scientifically, these people are never heard from again.
    I still buy the idea of tenure to allow scientists to pursue controversial research, but instead everywhere I look I see tenure used to pursue trivial research or no research at all.

  • D. C. Sessions says:

    Remember, you need to include both experimental biologists running large labs and theoreticians who just need a waste-basket and a chalk-board.

    And that theoretician gets paid the same (poverty-level) salary as the faculty over in Elizabethan Literature. The rest of the physical-science faculty make it up to entry-level industrial compensation (or beyond, YMMV) by getting a cut of their grant money.
    Naming no names, but I know some universities where the math department is starving to death thanks to that kind of arrangement. The peeps who spend cubic dollars on expensive equipment are comfy indeed, and the ones who might be interested in more basic science do it on the side because it doesn't pay.

  • qaz says:

    You can't pursue long-term goals without immediate-term funding anyway.

    Depends on the question at hand. As someone who does both computational and experimental neuroscience, I can always slow the experiments down with funding losses. But my experience is that I was able to cobble together surprising experimental research without NIH funding for the slow years. Also, at my U, there are lots of little grants that can fund a $5k or $25k project and training grants that can fund a student. Most of these don't come with overhead (so administrators don't count them), but they can run your lab. Those of us living on the NIH R01 system often don't see the kind of piece-it-together research that gets done in a lot of physics, math, sociology, and psychology departments. (And there's a remarkable amount of neuroscience that can be done on a small budget.)

    instead everywhere I look I see tenure used to pursue trivial research

    Remember, what you think is trivial may well be breakthrough in 30 years. That's the point of tenure - that tenured scientist has earned the benefit of the doubt.

    or no research at all

    šŸ™
    The question is whether the cost of having some deadwood is worth the savings of actually being able to do the research we need.

  • Dave says:

    There is no universal argument for tenure. It is one job attribute among many, used by some institutions but not others, according to their needs and the priorities they wish to encourage.
    Increasingly, places do not offer tenure (or do so only for a very limited number of positions). To compensate, they have to raise salaries. To compensate for that, they generally make the positions 'soft money'. The end result is a hype-generating grant-writing machine with short term goals that throws off indirect funds for greedy administrators. A great deal for the administrators. A sucker's deal for the people who fall for it (but I suppose it's better than nothing). Obviously, I despise this model. For many reasons. I think it's bad for science. I think it's bad for scientists. I think it's bad for taxpayers and the lay public.
    Tenure has traditionally been tooted as a mechanism to protect academic freedom, but generally misunderstood as a mechanism to protect laziness, or at best a quirky sort of job perk for academics. It is those things, certainly, but it persists for the given reason: academic freedom. This doesn't just mean it keeps you from being fired for unpopular ideas (in which case it is just protection for cranks), it actually gives one the freedom to shift priorities. In the same way that National Academy Members are 'trusted' to publish in PNAS or HHMI investigators are 'trusted' to not have to justify every penny or research outcome, tenure is a mark that your institution 'trusts' you to recognize and pursue interests that will in the long term be most fruitful. Basically, they are saying: 'We think you know best how to be a productive academic. Don't let us second guess you'. Thus, tenure allows one to subtly shift priorities away from whatever happens to be in vogue with granting agencies or the dean or whatever. You can look more long term. You can seek more training. You can focus on training the next generation of scientists. Without tenure, this kind of priority shift is almost impossible to do.
    Rail against deadwood all you want, but there is a reason tenure persists in most of the world's great institutions and is enjoyed by many famous names. It's good policy. Further along the same continuum are endowed professorships. Is anyone here willing to argue that the people who enjoy endowed chairs are wasters?
    I got tenure at a major research institution after 4 years. I am currently being encouraged to apply for full professorship, which I'd probably get but full professorship is not so compelling because although there's a salary raise it makes it harder to move and the administrative responsibilities go up and I am not anxious to distance myself personally from research any more just yet. I recently turned down a pretty decent job offer at a another university in a place I'd love to live. The deal breaker? The new dean was focused on grant money and had set a new policy whereby tenure from other institutions would not be honored. Since turning down that offer, I have watched the department (and college) disintegrate as the best people left and they have been unable to hire any new people. They went from #2 in the rankings to basically nothing. Meanwhile, I have taken advantage of tenure to secure a prestigious training opportunity overseas and cultivate obscure interests that have been really tough to get funded but which are increasingly recognized as worthwhile. For example, in the past WEEK, as a direct result of my ability to pursue these interests, I have 1) been asked to write a piece for Nature, 2) given a very well-received invited seminar at a Gordon Conference, and 3) been asked to guest edit a special issue of a leading journal. Later this week I am schmoozing with rich donors because of the press my research has gotten and lay interest. Again -- this is because tenure has allowed me the freedom to pursue a quirky interest that otherwise I would never have had time or inclination to pursue. In fact, I would have lost my job over it had I devoted myself to it earlier, because although other stuff in my lab has been funded by NIH, the work I'm talking about above has been rejected by NIH five times, and triaged 3 of those times. Money from private agencies and thrifty practice on my part has kept it alive, and I'm sure it will 'pay off' at NIH eventually. But most of my success would never have happened under an anti-tenure soft-money model. And I would also have hated my job and soured innumerable students on the whole disappointing affair. As it is, I love my job and have teaching awards. Tenure is awesome.

  • Gingerale says:

    I support the institution of tenure.
    Even though tenure is held by particular scholars, and even though individual scholars may pursue it for their own best interests, as an institution tenure's there for the best interests of the broader citizenry (often including, but not limited to, scholars).
    Reading this thread so far, I keep thinking the institution of tenure itself is broader than the sciences and broader than the kinds of institutions where we (who read this blog) may work. I'm thinking philosophy, literature, the arts. Tenure-related positions in those fields are usually salaried at a low salary level, but salaried all the same.
    I can understand some unfavorable attitudes toward the tenure system if one is employed at a place that hasn't put a salary behind the title.
    I agree that tenure alone provides insufficient freedom to pursue scholarly questions. But that doesn't mean we, as a society, ought to abolish tenure. We as a society ought to protect tenure while also increasing the resources available for pursuing scholarly questions -- such resources as salary lines.

  • Dr. Feelgood says:

    Tenure....
    When I was a young foolish undergraduate at Berkeley, I thought tenure was the bomb! Be a professor? Hangout at a university being witty all day? Get tenure and have the ultimate job security? I wondered why everyone in the world wasn't trying to become a university professor.
    However, my undergraduate concept of tenure was very different from the reality. I think that many of those who don't have tenure and rail against it, probably have the same concept of tenure that I had as an undergraduate (i.e., tenure equals the end). While we dont really have post tenure review at my MRU, the collegial competition is fairly intense. I think that beyond ones own personal need to achieve, the social network of peers at one's own institution provides a pretty good kick in the ass to keep your productivity up. Its nice to have job security, but if I didnt keep my research going, what the hell would I do all day? Walk around with a cup of coffee and chat up the office people, like the emeriti?
    Without tenure, many of us would never have gotten into academic research. How could you ever choose such a position if it didnt have job security? Might as well just go work for a start up and double the pay and then migrate to the next one after the collapse...
    It hardly makes you kick back. It just allows you to be far-sighted about your research program.

  • The real problem is not with tenure itself, but arises out of the combination of tenure with the absence of mandatory retirement. Once you reach a certain point in your career, you no longer give a single flying fuck about the disapprobation of your peers, both within and without your institution, concerning your research productivity. At this point, you are required to voluntarily choose between refusing to retire and continuing to receive your high salary or retiring and receiving a pension that is substantially lower. This is why there are substantial numbers of deadwood tenured faculty draining resources away from those who are productive. This problem is particularly acute now that the value of pension benefits has so dramatically declined due to the collapse of the bubble economy.

  • Charles says:

    It makes sense to me that the ability to set your own priorities is the chief advantage of tenure. I wonder whether long-term guaranteed contracts (e.g., 30-year with possible extensions) would have the same benefits as tenure?

  • antipodean says:

    For researchers in my generation tenure is not on the table in my country. It's soft money for ever, go teaching or get a job in the commercial world.

  • qaz says:

    Antipodean #12 - And what has the effect of this been on science in your country?
    CPP - most universities these days have a post-tenure review process. While it is really hard to fire someone with tenure, it's not impossible. There are certainly processes to force deadwood out of a department. I suspect that the departmental politics of such senior professors keeps them in place more than the tenure and/or lack of mandatory retirement. Given your previous cynicism (am I misreading it?), I would have expected you to hypothesize that a lack of tenure would lead to loss on the young professors, while the old coots would stay in power just fine.

  • Alex says:

    So, we all know some deadwood. And we all know people who took their freedom to do unfunded research and did it as successfully as Dave. Given that we all know some positive and negative anecdotes, is there any data on which type of anecdote is more common?
    I'm in an undergraduate department in the physical sciences, a very different situation from a med school. Looking down my hallway at the tenured folks, I see a few very productive researchers, a few award-winning teachers, a few leaders in professional societies who have built our reputation and helped us with recruitment, and a few people who have been genuinely productive in institutional service while still getting respectable teaching reviews. I also see one deadwood guy who teaches his assigned load very poorly and does little else, and one total crackpot who brings discredit to us. But the majority of them do good work, each in their own way, and if they were subject to the whims of Deans then at different times they would have been pushed in different directions and been less productive at their pursuits.
    Also, at different times in my education I got a lot of good mentoring from people who were no longer running well-funded research programs. One guy was tired of grant-writing and was building an instrument on someone else's grant, another guy got just enough money to support himself (but he participated in international collaborations and sent experiments into space), and another guy was heavily involved in teaching and advising the cohort of students that I was teaching (when I was an adjunct, teaching a class in the evenings to get experience). All of them were excellent mentors for me at important stages in my career.

  • Dave says:

    CPP says: "Once you reach a certain point in your career, you no longer give a single flying fuck about the disapprobation of your peers, both within and without your institution, concerning your research productivity."
    Wow. Dude. You shock me. If that's seriously how you feel, then I hope you are weeded out before tenure. Because that's exactly what the 'probationary period' pre tenure is designed to do -- weed out people who aren't in love with what they do. Tenure isn't supposed be a safety net for those who fall so much as an encouragement to climb higher. Sure, it's not a perfect tool. But it's not bad. Way better than soft money jobs and funding quotas and grant-based resource distribution and indirect cost kickbacks and all the other short-sighted bullshit that's increasingly common these days.

  • juniorprof says:

    Dave,
    There's about a thirty year gap between pre-tenure review and the people that CPP is talking about (I would imagine since he's mentioning pension collection). The pension (or whatever your retirement plan is) is a very serious issue that will have to be dealt with. No one around my parts is taking retirement right now and I cannot say I blame them. On the other hand, if the current situation persists for much longer it is easy to see that I will be one of the last hires in and around my dept for quite some time. There simply are no more resources available.

  • S. Rivlin says:

    qaz,
    Though I do not have any numbers to determine whether or not tenure reduces scientific misconduct, at least in the small sample I am aware of, the majority of the assholes who resorted to fraud were tenured. People break the rules not only to secure their jobs.
    As to the tenure system, I fully agree with Dave and Dr. Feelgood.
    CPP's blabbers about tenure and pension is just that. Post-tenure review is at least 15 years old in most institutions and I witnessed numerous deadwoods lose their lab space, then their big office and then their job, when they did not straighten up and produce (research, teaching or administrative contributions). Most pension plans today are programs in which the employee pays the majority of the money into it, with contribution from the employer. In other cases, only the employee make contibutions to the plan.
    Science and its quality is the victim of the current research funding system. My best science had been that which was not funded by NIH, but rather funded through small grants from foundations and pharmaceutical companies + belt tighening throughout. This very science has been published in high IF journals, it brought me invitations to seminars, international meetings, special lectureships, journal special issues, invitaions to write perspectives in high IF journals, books and awards. About a dozen of my papers received hundreds of citations each and some continue to received citations at a relatively high clip even 15-20 years after their publication. The most rewarding feeling about my research success is the knowledge that NIH triaged this project 3 times yet, that very project is the one that brought the invitation to be a member of an NIH study section.
    Without my tenure, the important scientific breakthrough that has made my career and brought me all these accolades would never happened. Until my retirement, I worked ~60 hours/week, loving every moment of it and with the same enthusiasm and excitement that I had when I first became a graduate student.

  • whimple says:

    Dave: Because that's exactly what the 'probationary period' pre tenure is designed to do -- weed out people who aren't in love with what they do.
    That might even have worked once upon a time (10 years ago) when everyone who tried hard and loved what they did eventually got funded. see also: Rob Knop ( http://brahms.phy.vanderbilt.edu/~rknop/ ).

  • Dave says:

    Whimple: I have no idea who Rob Knop is besides what's on the web, and probably no one else here does either. It looks to me like the guy used to be Assistant Prof at a bit of an asswipe University in an annoying town, and now he designs/plays computer games for a living. I think most people would consider that a success story.

  • Dollar Bill says:

    Wow. Look at Dave and Sol, two egotistical nuts with their pressured speech ranting about how many lectures they get invited to give. You boys need to titrate your meds a little?

  • Dr. Feelgood says:

    CPP has a point at the extreme end of one's career. I absolutely agree that retirement prospects for near-retirement tenured profs are grim unless they are on an old-fashioned defined benefits plan. (Many of them ARE grandfathered into those sorts of plans, unless they got greedy and converted.) The rest however, will be around until you pull the pipettor out of their cold, dead hands and they are wheeled out of their basement university labs.
    I personally feel that the rate of deadwood is formation is decreasing, however the deadwood is still piling up (lower rate of accumulation). Eventually as they die/retire it will clear out a bit, and allow one or two of you untenured ones to vie for a precious position.
    Life sucks, then you die.
    PS: I'm with Dave here. What the hell is up with the "I'm so awesome" posts? I am pretty sure we all know we are awesome. Don't worry all of us know that everyone is not as awesome (right becca?) as we are. So keep the self-congratulatory jerking off for the bathroom.

  • Dr. Feelgood says:

    errr...replace the word "Dave" with the term "Dollar Bill" in my last post...its early...
    Doc F

  • Dave says:

    Dr. Feelgood,
    I got the idea for self-congratulatory posts from you! I forget where, but somewhere on these blogs I remember envying your record of accomplishment. That record established your credibility, and most importantly, I found your personal experience more compelling than a bunch of theoretical blather.
    And it's all relative anyway. I may be 'successful' relative to some, but I know a hell of a lot of people way smarter and more successful than me. I'm sure you do too. After all, we're both typing crap here. That says something.

  • S. Rivlin says:

    Dollarbill,
    The stories about one's own success are not necessarily self-agrandizing. These stories aim at emphasizing that successful science and scientists should not be measured by the amount of dollarbills one can secure for self-agrandizing institutions and their administrators.
    As mentioned earlier, the knowledge that my success will be judged on my scientific record, not on the accounting record of the office of grants & contracts of my university is most satisfying. A scientist's legacy is never the millions of dollars s/he was funded with, rather the significance of her/his contributions to the advancement of scientific knowledge.
    BTW, invited lectures, editing journal special issues, membership on journal editorial boards, etc, are measures of the importance of one's contributions to scientific progress.

  • whimple says:

    It's a weird situation. You know how everyone is upside-down on their mortgages? Well, the dramatic tightening of NIH paylines has done the same thing for scientific talent. To get tenure today assistant professors need to be able to thrive in a 10% payline world, but the people giving out tenure only needed to be able to thrive in a 20%+ payline world. I think this talent inversion bubble is going to crash the system, just like what happened in the housing market.

  • S. Rivlin says:

    whimple, maybe you should move to Cuba, where communism and 'everyone-is-equal' dogma (having nothing) is the norm. It seems to me that you understand neither the process by which tenure is granted nor the principles of the tenure concept, nor its history.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Sol, if you really think that the standards for what it takes to gain an assistant professorship, acquire an R01 (or other funding award), get a CNS paper or receive tenure are static across time you really are delusional.
    If one was facing a tenure decision in which having R01 funding was a substantial player in, say, 2003-2004 this was a heck of a lot easier than in 2006-2007 or so.
    If one wanted to land an assistant professor job straight out of grad school in 1974, that was one heck of a lot easier than landing one in 2004.
    Times change.

  • Times change.
    And brains ossify.

  • Dave says:

    I agree with DM that the standards for promotion & tenure change all the time. They are also quite different for different fields. I remember telling another Ph.D. student in a neighboring lab a decade ago that I had decided where to postdoc, and he told me he had two faculty job offers but was thinking of postdocing anyway. I had 6 papers in print (good journals, too). He was writing his first. I was in biophysics/neuroscience, he was in wildlife ecology. I thought he was crazy for not taking one of the faculty positions, but his response was that he thought he'd be better off in the long run with further training. He didn't say so, but he probably thought I must be a moron for not having a faculty offer at least on the table.
    I have been told by some department heads and deans that R01s don't matter for tenure, but rather they are looking for at least one high impact (CNS) paper from the PI's own lab. More often, however, I hear of people with great publication records failing to get tenure lately because they couldn't renew their R01. It all depends on the culture of the department members, department head, and dean. In general, it seems to me that people value most what they are good at. Med school depts full of great grant writers doing translational (easy-to-fund) stuff value lots of R01s. Basic science depts working on fundamental mind-shifting stuff want CNS papers and will be relying more on the recommendation letters from colleagues come tenure time. Undergrad institutions value teaching & service; a grant or CNS paper is great, but if you aren't pulling your service weight around the dept they might keep you as a showpiece but you won't be appreciated.
    All the commenters here pretend we all have the same job, but in fact every one of our jobs is different, and the requirements for success in each of our institutions and fields are all a bit different. My only real best advice to young scientists is to find a job that meshes with what your own personal goals and standards are. There are lots of ways to do science. I often summarize this advice as: Love what you do, or find a new job. The reality-based extension being: It may not be YOU who makes the choice whether to find a new job.
    Of course, beyond that, there is still a bit of tradecraft. Which is what this blog (and others) is all about, right?

  • All the commenters here pretend we all have the same job, but in fact every one of our jobs is different, and the requirements for success in each of our institutions and fields are all a bit different.
    The bloggers here do not "pretend" that at all. You have looked at the top-left corner of the front page of this blog, right?
    Of course, beyond that, there is still a bit of tradecraft.
    You seem obsessed with this "do good science and the rest takes care of itself" trope. There is quite a bit more than "a bit of tradecraft" involved in maximizing the likelihood that one will be able to marshal the resources required to do "good science".
    You also seem to resent that this blog is focused on what you term "tradecraft", and on sharing hard-earned insights into that tradecraft with less-experienced scientists trying to make their way. What's up with that, holmes?

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Dave, first I might draw your attention to this post which was one in which I tried to make it as clear as I possibly could that you have to look into what is specifically relevant to your most-likely career trajectory and most-likely competitive peer groups.
    Second, you apparently haven't been reading carefully enough to notice that PP and I have quite divergent opinions on some things which, surprise, surprise is often related to our career and domain differences.
    Third, you are quite correct that the default stance of many scientists is a narrowminded view that the traditions in which they are trained are the only way to do science. This is one of the fun parts of academic blogging world being relatively sparsely populated. People come from very different areas of science and coalesce around the intersection points, like winning grants from the NIH or women in science or poor-ol-discriminated-against-white-male (like Harbie). It makes the discussion rich.

  • Speaking of Harbie, did you know he has a MASSIVE ROD?
    http://www.chem.unl.edu/faculty/eachfaculty/harbison.shtml
    Check out the size of that HUGE ROD!
    HAHAHAHAHAHAH! That is seriously my favorite photograph on the entire fucking Internet!

  • S. Rivlin says:

    DM,
    The only advice we can provide is based on our own experience and that of our close colleagues. This is what you and PP are doing here. To minimize mine or Dave's advice simply because our experiance is different from yours does not make much sense. I tend to agree with most of what Dave had to say (#29). I find his experience and career progression very similar to mine, although I am sure that there are several good years that seperate between him and me. I think that as much as things change they still stay the same. That said, I believe that one of the most important capabilities that a young scientist should have in order to succeed is flexability; the will and drive to change one's scientific research project, field and even expertise in order to fit into an take advantage of an opportunity, when it comes.

  • Dave says:

    You seem obsessed with this "do good science and the rest takes care of itself" trope. There is quite a bit more than "a bit of tradecraft" involved in maximizing the likelihood that one will be able to marshal the resources required to do "good science".

    Ok, I admit that lack of tradecraft can sink your ship. Wonderful science alone can't carry you, obviously. And yes, I remember you and DM and Isis and others saying quite clearly that the a priori assumption to all the advice around here was that readers are doing good science.
    What I am worried about is that students and trainees sometimes come to the erroneous conclusion that tips & tricks alone will save them. As a result, they spend all their time honing their skilz and not getting the job done. I met a postdoc from a very prestigious institution recently who has all the right 'stuff' -- great pedigree in a great field, her own K99 funding, super intelligent, great personality, etc. BUT she hasn't published worth crap. She spent so much time setting herself up for being a PI and playing the game that truth be told, it will be tough for her to even get an interview for a faculty position. She acquired the skilz, but forgot to do the science. I see people make this mistake all the time. It's really sad. Worst possible outcome, because you and I both know that people who publish like mad in great journals can be total dickwick incompetents in everything else and do great. And people can suck at their job but as long as they love what they do they'll enjoy life. And really that's what it's all about, right? You only get one spin at this wheel.

    You also seem to resent that this blog is focused on what you term "tradecraft", and on sharing hard-earned insights into that tradecraft with less-experienced scientists trying to make their way. What's up with that, holmes?

    I don't resent it at all. That's what I'm here for. I guaran-fucking-tee you I am not here to read any more bullshit from DM about how he treats the ladies right. And I'm not too hot on hearing about his kids either. Isis' hot shoe gimmick works mainly because she's not really taking it seriously. That said, I do admit to a high heeled boot fetish.

  • She acquired the skilz, but forgot to do the science. I see people make this mistake all the time. It's really sad.

    That is sad. To be honest, I have seen a *lot* more of the opposite problem--great science + shitty skillz--interfering with people's careers than shitty science + great skillz.

  • To minimize mine or Dave's advice simply because our experiance is different from yours does not make much sense.

    I can't speak for others, but *I* minimize your advice not because your experience is different from mine, but rather because your advice is totally fucking worthless and I would hate to see anyone pursuing a career in science make decisions on the basis of your fuckwitted delusional gibberish.

  • Alex says:

    great pedigree in a great field, her own K99 funding, super intelligent, great personality, etc. BUT she hasn't published worth crap. She spent so much time setting herself up for being a PI and playing the game that truth be told, it will be tough for her to even get an interview for a faculty position.
    Obviously I haven't met her, but....
    1) Color me skeptical that somebody got a K99 without publishing "worth crap." Is her publication record great for her subfield but not so great for other subfields?
    Keep in mind that in the subfields where I work, the best journals have impact factors between 4 and 5, and very, very few get into C/N/S.
    2) Color me skeptical that a person with money won't get an interview. Yeah, as you said, there are basic science departments that care more about papers than grants, but money is always better than no money. I don't know if this person will get hired, but I'd be willing to bet my new investigator foundation grant* that she'll at least get an interview if she's walking around with money.
    *No, not really. Calm down, program officer, I would never gamble with your money.

  • whimple says:

    Med school depts full of great grant writers doing translational (easy-to-fund) stuff value lots of R01s.
    Writedit put the lie to this a while ago. ( http://writedit.wordpress.com/2008/07/06/why-clinical-r01s-fare-worse-than-non-clincial-r01s/ )
    People don't get their R01 funded because either a) their science sucks or b) their grantsmanship sucks or c) the system sucks, or some combination of all of the above, not because all the cash is being eaten by the translational research fat-cats. Blogs about the process can potentially help with b) and make you feel better by commiserating about c). You're on your own for a).

  • Dave says:

    whimple: By 'translational', I meant 'arguably medically relevant'. Not clinical. I think panels fund what they're interested in, and given that most NIH panels are made up mostly of PhD (not MD) scientists with a healthy dose of interest in basic science, then basic biomedical science will obviously get funded fine. But they still won't care about butterfly wing dynamics or how to grow a better soybean. It's those latter types of things that I was thinking about as 'non translational'. This perspective is probably because I am not in a med school, but do some teaching to med students and am in a field where most of my colleagues are in med schools, and see some of the best scientists I know whooping it up over comparatively tiny USDA or NSF grants while stupid -- but arguably medically relevant -- crap gets rewarded with giant blobs of NIH funding.
    People here whining about how tough it is to get tenure lately given low NIH funding rates need to remember that most scientists have never really had access to NIH funding, have therefore always lived with far less, and yet often seem to contribute just as much. We in the biomedical sciences are really just a bunch of spoiled babies.
    That said, has anyone noticed that NSF says "All grants issued with Recovery Act funds will be standard grants with durations of up to 5 years. This approach will allow NSF to structure a sustainable portfolio." And those grants will be given based on proposals already in house or submitted in the first part of this year. Eminently sensible. No whacky challenge grants with a 0.0001% success rate. No bizarre rich-get-richer-while-the-rest-of-you-starve supplemental begfests. I am always amazed at how the NIH bureaucracy can manage to screw potentially good things up. As a frequent reviewer for NSF, however, I should note that proposals that smell like 'NIH rejects' are not usually treated kindly. So, DM, you better be giving MDMA to Komodo dragons in some sort of comparative study if you want NSF funding. NSF and NIH have distinctly different missions.

  • kiwi says:

    Re antipodean #12 and qaz:
    Funding here is so dried up that scientists in many fields are leaving science in droves/ getting pushed in droves/ institutions are "restructuring" and no money in sight .. none of its pretty. The great exodus to greener shores continues.. .

  • S. Rivlin says:

    "I can't speak for others, but *I* minimize your advice not because your experience is different from mine, but rather because your advice is totally fucking worthless and I would hate to see anyone pursuing a career in science make decisions on the basis of your fuckwitted delusional gibberish."
    Comerade PhysioProfane,
    As usual you're stalking me and try to bully me around, repeating the same crap you have already posted dozens of times. I know, I know, you try to save the poor souls who may listen to my advice to become successful scientists. After all, you are always giving the best advice; only those who listen to you will become successful, like the one who, on your advice, spent 5 years in your lab, still not having a clue about what she is doing. You know you are full of crap yet, you still pushing it like any asshole snake oil salesman.

  • FUCKLINGTON! You said "asshole", you motherfucking potty mouth!

  • Dr. Feelgood says:

    Oh Dave...I mean YOU cant jerk off like that....It's fine for me.
    CPP: I must admit that Harbison's pic is a fuckin' hoot!

  • Dave says:

    I know a scientist who speaks like CPP in real life. Seminars full of 'fuck' and 'shit' and stuff like that. It was sort of refreshing at first (especially when I was an undergrad), but eventually gets pretty tiring and annoying. Most professional colleagues consider him a bit of an embarrassment. Good scientist, but he shoots himself in the foot with his manners. As long as we're talking tradecraft, I guess that's a tip for CPP.
    That said, I honestly don't think CPP talks in real life the way he writes here. At least I hope not. I assume his coarse writing style here is a sort of personality tag for use on these blogs, adopted as a way of distinguishing his 'voice' from the crowd. It works fine that way, and is actually quite amusing when he's not just insulting people in petty ways. In fact, 'DrugMonkey' would in my opinion be a better blog if DM wrote the content, but CPP 'translated' everything into amusingly coarse 'Comrade-speak' before posting. I like Isis' style for the same reason -- it's distinctive and quirky, though I just happen to not be as interested in much of her content. Now that I think about it, it would be cool if DM and CPP and Isis got together and co-wrote a blog where DM contributed ideas, editing, and content but didn't actually write. CPP and Isis could play the part of quirky co-bloggers who discuss every topic in some sort of weird Burns & Allen way. C'mon -- give it a try. My birthday is coming up.

  • Dr. Feelgood says:

    Dave,
    Sounds like some wierd-ass science-blog version of "Three's Company". Hmmm....I would make Isis, Jack Tripper (the odd sex in the trio), DM would Janet Wood (generally the most level headed), and CPP would be Chrissy Snow (the most entertaining)....Sol could be Mr. Roper or Mr. Furley (the crankiest). (Dave you would be Larry waiting for them all at the Regal Beagle).
    Doc F

  • antipodean says:

    Dave
    "Med school depts full of great grant writers doing translational (easy-to-fund) stuff value lots of R01s."
    Jesus. That is funny.
    Basic research is what still sucks up the most money. Not translational. Not even clinical trials.

  • Dave says:

    Dr. F: Where the hell did you dredge up that level of detail about the show from? Please tell me you Googled it to refresh your memory and are not really that much a fan. In any case, damn you; I now can't get the theme song out of my head.
    antipodean: Please continue reading through comments #38 and #39.

  • Now that I think about it, it would be cool if DM and CPP and Isis got together and co-wrote a blog where DM contributed ideas, editing, and content but didn't actually write. CPP and Isis could play the part of quirky co-bloggers who discuss every topic in some sort of weird Burns & Allen way.

    Meh, I'm just too tired tonight to be baited. Whatever Dave. You start something on WordPress and I am totes onboard.

  • antipodean says:

    Dave
    I read your comments. They would be the reason for the reply.
    Translational research is about changing actual clinical (or public health) practice. It's getting the best available practice actually rolled out into the real world. 'arguably medically relevant' is basic research.
    Kiwi: "The great exodus to greener shores continues..." I'm certainly evidence of that.

  • Carlie says:

    Another reason for tenure, which is more important at smaller colleges than larger, is related to the role of faculty in protecting the academic integrity of the college itself. At my small college, faculty leadership is crucial in hiring administrators, arguing to keep and expand programs, advocating for strong academic honesty policies, and in general pushback against the trend to treat college like a business. Faculty without tenure won't fight nearly as hard as faculty who know they won't get fired directly for calling the campus president's ideas stupid.

  • Dr. Feelgood says:

    Are you shitting me Carlie? You think its MORE important at a small college? You got it backwards. It is way more important at the beasty cut-throat MRUs where they will chew you up and spit you out.
    Tenure at a smaller college where the goal is more toward teaching than research is not nearly as critical as it is at a MRU (notice my own generalization about your workplace?).
    Shared governance is totally entwined with the concept of tenure. As a tenured faculty member at an MRU where the AAUP (our union, the American Association of University Professors) is a strong player in negotiating our contracts, shared governance is the whole deal. Without faculty helping to create the criteria for promotion, tenure and governance the whole thing is bullshit at any university, big or small.
    Take it back! TAKE IT BAAACK!!!
    Doc F

  • becca says:

    "at different times in my education I got a lot of good mentoring from people who were no longer running well-funded research programs."
    +eleventy. In fact, if I didn't know better, I'd guess that running a well-funded research program actively inhibited one's mentoring ability, judging from how rarely they coincide.
    "So, DM, you better be giving MDMA to Komodo dragons in some sort of comparative study if you want NSF funding. " Dude is anyone doing that? Do they need a postdoc?
    Doc F- all DM commenters are awesome, but some are more awesome than others.

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