Ted’s an [Censored] and Other Lessons on Lab Closures

Apr 16 2015 Published by under Careerism, Tribe of Science

The following is a guest post.


For those who have never had the unique experience of visiting a high security prison and the opportunity to meet @drugmonkeyblog in real life….he’s an asshole. Earlier this week, this sentiment ran thru parts of science Twitter and Ted’s blog comments following his kicking the academic ‘nads of one Andrew Hollenbach after he had the misfortune of posting his story about having to close his lab when his funding ran out.

 

Ted gets in a twist that Andrew Hollenbach says he was ‘trying’ and rails for paragraphs about how Hollenbeck efforts should not be construed as ‘trying’. In his own bit of MDMA-fueled cyber sleuthing, @drugmonkeyblog took the poor doods CV to task. Not enough pubs. Gaps in funding. Unclear appointments. Ted stood at a tree in the forest, found a leaf and chopped that thing up.

 

If you were that hacked up bit of leaf, how well would you do? You need to know the answer to this. Look at your CV. Be brutally honest. Ask others to be brutally honest. Get a mentoring committee you trust. Find IRL or cyber peers who will hold your feet to the fire and know people who won’t blow smoke up your arse when you fail.

 

Hollenbach talks about his love of science and teaching yet now has no idea what his next step is because can’t find an adult job as scientist. I don’t personally care about his CV. At my core, I am upset that this is someone who could be anyone I know. Throw in a personal tragedy, an experimental disaster (check your -80 lint screen lately?) and you can go from independent academic scientist to sadsack sitting in a pile of dried out samples in no time.

 

We are in a diminishing forest of people and this is not how we honor those in our profession. He’s leaving academics and this is sad. And it is scary. And I’m not going to kick him in the arse on the way out the door. Doing science is noble and anyone who does it with passion should be able to find a place. We have invested too much in scientists and have too few highly educated people to not mourn when they have clear no future in mind after closing a lab.

 

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not handing out cookies. But if you played well with others, did your job by other accounts, and were not a cheatfuckking, harassing, credit stealing fucknuts, I will always be sad we lose an academic scientist. I don’t know if he should have been a PI. But I sure won’t be the one that suggests he be an investment banker.

 

Ted is an asshole but he evaluated his CV. And until there is another way to measure scientist’s impact honoring all the things we can bring to academia and society, you will be at the hands of assholes like Ted.

43 responses so far

  • Comradde PhysioProffe says:

    Yeah, Ted is a fucken assebagge. But this makes no sense I can't figure out what it even means:

    "Ted stood at a tree in the forest, found a leaf and chopped that thing up."

  • Namesaste_Ish says:

    Great. Grandpa Simpson showed up as my first comment. Go figure.

    It was a 'see the forest for the trees' analogy*.

    Both Hollenbach and drugtroll missed an opportunity to point out obvious missed opportunities and gaps in what we care about as academic scientists.

    Hollenbach stuck his academic neck out there saying he should have been competitive for (presumably Ro1) grants, and drugtroll went after him based on what he'd look at if he was on study section. Drugtroll telling him that he 'wasn't trying' because he didn't have a larger lab and redundant funding doesn't help. Ted's posts on it looked a lot like kicking this dood in the ass on the way out the door IMO and he went after his CV as an easy answer.

    Hollenbach failed to see he needed a unique place in academics if he wanted to have a functional smaller lab. There are a good number of 20-75K microfunding and philanthropy tools out there for those who want to follow this path, but none of them look good on traditional science CVs and often require unique skill sets.

    *I was huffing glue when I wrote the post. I heard it was mandatory for bloggers.

  • damit says:

    The comparison seems to be to the Unabomber...at least in my reading?

    Good God.

    Hollenbach brought this on himself in large part. Was some of the response (including mine) mean spirited on some level?

    Maybe. Hate to kick a man when he's down. Whether he brought it on himself or not.

    I guess we all can think that over.

    It's a rough time to be working in basic research.

  • Comradde PhysioProffe says:

    What the fucken fucke does any of that have to do with chopping up leaves????

  • Ola says:

    I guess where Holly made a mistake is by talking about it, by playing the "but I'm a special snowflake" card. Fact is, there are a shit ton of people like him and they all just went off and got other jobs without being whiny about it. If you stick your neck out, expect to be made an example of.

  • jmz4gtu says:

    To be fair, I can kind of see the point of making it a personal story. I think when we're putting out all these policy positions, our reflexive use of passive, neutral language alienates the reader. I'd prefer anger to anguish, but at least he's putting something out there and giving the problem a face.
    That being said, it wouldn't have killed him to acknowledge that he's one of many that are in this predicament, and probably not even one of the one's worst off.

    All *that* being said, DM wasn't overly harsh. I also do think he did his readership a service by pointing out that what this guy was producing didn't strike him (and apparently quite a lot of PIs) as enough to warrant surprise over his culling *in this environment*. If he had gone with just railing on the damn system, he would have deprived his junior readers of a more tempered outlook on the subject. Which he did when he followed up with the "check your own CV" post, which provided useful discussion on more objective metrics of productivity. One's own sense of accomplishment isn't going to keep the lights on, and in this environment, even if its not the message we want to hear, it's the one we need to hear.

    Also, is his name really Ted?

  • GAATTC says:

    I agree with this post. I also agree with DM's post from a few weeks ago about how we are not going to realize our potential as scientist like the grey beards. We need to adapt to low success rates, and making sure your CV is as strong as possible is one way to adapt. Still sad to see all that training and passion leave the lab though.

  • Namesaste_Ish says:

    Ola - I agree that the "special snowflake/international expert" sell Hollenbach used was something that didn't appeal to me either. I would have far rather heard the story of how one or two things went off the rails for this PI and suddenly he was so far behind it was impossible to recover.
    Hollenbach's post doesn't seem to have a great deal of critical insight into his own role in this but maybe there are a ton of folks out there who are moving thru academic life unaware they too will lose their labs? I'd imagine these are not people who spend a great deal of time reading Ted's posts. Maybe 'blog folks' are such a skewed and unnaturally self critical sector of science that when someone comes out as being unaware of why things went poorly, that it will go over poorly.

    And of course his name is Ted.

  • Namesaste_Ish says:

    Not that Ted, QB....this is worst picture I've ever seen of Edward (aka Ted), noted northern drug researcher from BSD Uni. Be sure to zoom in for extra horror.

    Hyperlink Code

    http://www.tiaft.org/tiaft98/wed/w_o_9.html

  • Pinko Punko says:

    Ted, Just Admit It

  • Namate_Ish says:

    PP....leaves are beautiful things when left intact. But when dissected, chopped and chewed, you can no longer recognize them. Take the example of khat. Khat chopped and chewed leaves produce euphoric highs and feelings of invincibility.
    Khat begat a huge African drug addiction culture. Fueled armies of child soldiers. These armies would be powerless without the support of the CIA, environment destroying industries like fossil fuel companies, big pharma and the American gun manufacturers. All this plant chopping / khat producing wackaloonery decorticates Africans to keep them oblivious to their ensured destruction once all their natural resources are depleted.
    So it's about Cheney, guns and republican filth if you think about it in just the right way. I am frightened that might actually help you. It was the closest thing I could put together modeling the schizophrenic rants over in Freethoughts.

  • Cynric says:

    Doing science is noble and anyone who does it with passion should be able to find a place. We have invested too much in scientists and have too few highly educated people to not mourn when they have clear no future in mind after closing a lab.

    This is the issue, obviously. I agree that there should be a place for everyone in the best of all possible worlds where science and learning is valued over trying to sell hip folk pointless apps, but in this world money is not forthcoming from politicians/taxpayers.

    Perhaps Dr Hollenbach could move into advocacy, and try and shift the weight of public opinion away from commerce and towards advancing humanity. Until then, we will continue to shed talented scientists, which while a personal blow for the individuals, is not an "unfairness" inherent in the system. Which I took to be DM's point.

  • Bill Nihilist says:

    Thank you, Namaste Ish, for saying what ought to be said, but thank you too, DM, for saying what needs to be said. I come here for exactly this: an honest take on the realpolitik of science in the academy filtered (or not as the case may be) through the anonymity of the internet. Please, you two, keep up this good cop / bad cop routine -it's just so damn helpful for these discussions to continue.

  • potnia theron says:

    Sorry, I'm with Ted on this one. Academics and universities are not a charity service designed to provide employment. We all (I hope) have friends outside with whom we can commiserate when things go badly. Sugar coating bad news isn't good for anyone, particularly the peeps who follow this blog, which I think was DM's audience, not so much Hollenbach.

    It is sad when a competent, B+ scientist leaves the field, I agree. But pissing on each other isn't going to change that.

  • Grumble says:

    Namaste, I hope you proofread your grants better than your proofread that post.

  • Chalo says:

    Namaste,
    This was Hollenbach's karma. Blaming an unfair system and portraying successful grantees as hyperambitious slave-drivers is wrong.
    Om shanti.

  • Dave says:

    Troll

  • DJMH says:

    /hoofs it over to -80 and lint screen check.

    Now I am disaster-proof.

  • lurker says:

    DM heaping on Hollenbach's lackluster CV is a travesty, but the other travesty is that this is the only other public face of the demise that is the "Great Cull". The rest of us are just meek plebeians hiding behind our pseudonyms, me included (ironic, I know). I could very well be the next victim of the Great Cull, and if I land on my feet outside the ivory tower, I'll start a memorial list of labs whose potentials will never be met.

    Hollenbach's piece was discussed in faculty meeting, and the sentiments were all exactly the same as DMs and PTs, no sympathy, had it coming. This sentiment is also pervasive among the vast majority of BSDs who are the ones holding the power and are largely denying or oblivious that anything is systemically wrong with the funding system. They can point to this ASBMB piece and think: "Good, we've cleared out another Riff-Raff".

    If the blogosphere here really wants to get the BSD's attention, we need to start a Lab Closure Memorial, showing how many recent and not-so-recent descendants from said BSD labs are getting razed by the Great Cull. I know that these descendants had decent CVs that maybe even DM wouldn't be able to criticize.

    Look at it this way, lots of people get hurt and die all the time, and while it is horrible, we don't know their names, they are not personal, and such atrocities are easy to ignore. But when its your own or your own community, you really start caring and doing something about it. I see the same issue with the Great Cull, but our only public example of it is either Hollenbach, which only evokes pity rather than outrage, or this Science piece on The Vulnerable, who ended up with a happy ending:
    http://www.sciencemag.org/content/344/6179/26.full

  • newbie PI says:

    Hollenbach and Ethan Perlstein should get together. They both have the same complete lack of self awareness. Why are the poster children for these problems in science such bad examples???

  • Namesaste_Ish says:

    Lab closure running memorial is a solid idea.

  • drugmonkey says:

    lurker-

    If you think my position is "no sympathies" you need to read more carefully.

  • Dave says:

    DM is a douche, no doubt, but the post in question was written in a considerate way, and with a hint of sadness. There is no doubt that DM expressed sympathy - in his own unique way - and so I don't agree that he was overly harsh.

    I suspect the negative reaction is because the whole episode strikes a little too close to home for most of us who are just hanging on by a thread. DM himself alluded to that in the post when he talked about his own imperfect record and gaps in funding; he could be talking about himself. We are all on the edge of losing it, and I think most of us substituted our name and our CV in place of Hollenbach.....and read the post accordingly.

  • becca says:

    "Academics and universities are not a charity service designed to provide employment."
    Yes, and if you say "government jobs are not charity designed to provide employment" you'll have many friends amongst the tea party. You will also perpetuate a society with greater economic inequality, and more financial impact of racism and sexism. During the last recession, we lost a lot of government jobs. Jobs which disproportionately employed women and minorities at living wages.
    Just like the recession impacted vulnerable industries such as book publishing more heavily than it impacted thriving industries such as oil, a cull is likely to have differential effects on specific subgroups of scientists and on specific areas of investigation. Some of that will be cutting on the weak in accordance with a competitive system (like if grant reviews were a perfectly rational market). Some of that will be cutting out the vulnerable in accordance with the actual power structure we have.

    It's also worth observing that competent, B+ level professionals in all arenas are going to be hurt by the polarizing employment landscape. If what Hollenbach generally lacks is an awareness of the broader context in which he operates, what many discussions within a profession lack is reference to the broader societal context in which their work occurs.

  • dsks says:

    I'd rather see a change in the perception of failure in science than expect to change the prospect of failure in science. The prospect of failure, whether by chance, incompetence, and/or the current Russian Roulette nature of funding, is an ever present, intrinsic aspect of this racket we just have to live with. As another who could very well end up following Hollenbach's out of science I think I fear the consequential and lingering stigma of failure, the pity and hand-wringing more than I actually do the prospect of no longer doing research.

    A while back a fellow junior faculty colleague got their first grant, but responded to my hearty congratulations with the concerned question of how I came to learn about their success; they had asked people not to broadcast it because... well, you know, it's been hard for... for others... etc... Talk about awkward. If they had any real concern for my sensitivities they would have known that the appropriate action upon hearing the news of their success would have been to immediately barge into my office without knocking, climb on my desk, and acquit themselves thusly.

    We all know that a cull of sorts is, and must, take effect unless an unlikely boost of federal support is forthcoming. I think we also suspect that in many cases the axe is going to come down in a seemingly wanton manner that is not always aligned with a coherent assessment of merit. I think there's something to be said for taking a sort of stiff-upper lip attitude to it, and I see nothing wrong with doing as DM did by attempting to extract teachable moments that might help others avoid barreling the wrong chamber. I think calls for sensitivity etc are misplaced.

  • lurker says:

    I read you super carefully, DM, every night from my little smartphone screen. Your blogge is awesome-sauce, and I consider it THE GOSPEL of biomed research careerism. However, your teachable moment about checking your CV is pretty misplaced during this Great Cull. I could triple check my CV, and still get axed by the Great Cull. I could realize I need to bolster my CV last year, but with no money, how am I going to magically pull three pubs out of my ass with all my staff cut? Spare us your righteousness here.... the Great Cull is happening, and even a shiny CV ain't saving me, only if your D is B and S enough. And the BSDs are mostly clueless and denying they can do anything about it.

    Lab Closure Memorial people....

  • mH says:

    First they came for the small town grocers, and I did not speak out--Because I was not a small town grocer.

    Then they came for the new investigators, and I did not speak out--Because I was not a new investigator.

    Then they came for the soft money med centers, and I did not speak out--Because I was not at a soft money med center .

    Then they came for the BSDs... ha! Just kidding. We all got 7 year grants and hired a bunch of postdocs.

  • Namaste_Ish says:

    Lets all agree to disagree on everything except that Ted is an ass. I'm fine with that.

  • drugmonkey says:

    lurker- how do I make it any clearer? I have feared what happen to Hollenbach nearly my whole career. I may possibly have been within a hair's breadth of having this occur on more than one occasion in the past. I believe to the depths of my soul that more of these cycles and possibly THE END awaits me in the future. Of course I have sympathies for this situation. And I take much of my blog effort time doing what I can to help make this a TINY bit less likely for my Readers.

    We almost always have more choices and control over our publication rate than we like to tell ourselves. Same thing for grant submission rate. And no, I do not believe that such choices always require 80 h weeks, running roughshod over colleagues and competitors, exploiting trainees, cheating, etc as Hollenbach suggested.

  • potnia theron says:

    I am somewhat appalled at the imputing of emotions/thoughts, in these replies, that are not included the original post. If you read what I actually wrote: my interpretation is that DM was writing for his readers, not so much about a lack of sympathy for Hollenbach.

    And for your money, I do not qualify in any sense of the word as a BSD. As DM implies for him, I have spent my entire career, including right now, afraid of exactly this problem. And despite the view that "it was so much better for you back then", it wasn't always. NIH has had ups and downs.

    This post is about helping junior people figure out how to avoid what happened.

  • Dave says:

    Yeh PT the 'ups and downs' argument has been thoroughly debunked on this very site repeatedly. Even in the face of overwhelming evidence that it is bullshit, it is amazing that this view still persists amongst our more senior colleagues.

  • theintronertphd says:

    Is 'leaf on the forest floor' not worse than this 'dead wood' thing? I once knew another professor who hardly ever published, and whose rare publications were exclusively the work of a single assistant researcher in his lab. He didn't even apply for any grants and he had a reputation for making students (when he had some) flee academia directly after or even *during* their theses. He was an ass of a teacher and lied on his website about "current" research projects... People like this are just resting on their tenure.

    Now, I don't know Hollenbach and his work and I don't know how much non-research things he had done at his school. The fact that he wrote this post makes me think he is probably a much better man than the one his CV reminded me of. But then, this doesn't make one a good researcher. Some people are nice but unambitious - and that doesn't help their trainees at all.

    As a young researcher who really would like to start his own lab, I am a bit angry when it looks like somebody without ambition sits on a tenured position.

  • UCProf says:

    Here's how the old school dealt with publications:

    http://web.mit.edu/physics/people/faculty/weiss_rainer.html

  • Dave says:

    ^must be a joke. Surely?!?

  • ginger says:

    Why would it be a joke? Emeriti can do whatever the hell they want. Or do you mean that it was a joke there was less pressure to publish in physics in the fifties?

  • Masked Avenger says:

    Upset that this guy got kicked in the ass on his way out the door?

    Why should he be any different than the rest of us. Oh, because he got further along in the process... And that should be "sad"?

    I reiterate my previous position: The ex-prof is freaking out now... but he'll figure out that he can do much more than biomedical research... and that all of these other things that we scientists have difficulty recognizing as individual skills have a much much higher value outside of academics than in.

    And in the end, he will get a job that is a whole lot less like smashing your head against a wall repeatedly... and he'll get better pay for it besides.

    And again... The generation of "lost Ph.D.s" aren't actually lost. These are the PhDs that are so smart that they see the career path for what it is and get out early to start making money and living their lives.

    Some people learn this early. Some , later. Others never learn this lesson, but keep their egos inflated.

    Happy Monday!

  • jmz4gtu says:

    " These are the PhDs that are so smart that they see the career path for what it is and get out early to start making money and living their lives. "
    -Yes, but some of us actually *care* about doing science, not just making money and "living life". The shame is, as he says, that you can't do both, but for society to be able to utilize science effectively, you need to be able to. It's not about ego, it's about doing something you believe in and being willing to sacrifice for it, and that still not being enough in some cases.

    Also, I wouldn't be so sure there will be a job outside of academia for this guy. Not when there's 20 applicants for every job in industry, most of whom will be younger and with more competitive CVs.

  • […] last did this. The stereotypical guy in science didn’t make it. If you read Namaste, Ish at Drugmonkey’s or even is own take on it, its because he wasn’t productive […]

  • Eli Rabett says:

    Biomedical science made this choice when it disengaged from education.

  • jmz4gtu says:

    How so?

  • Eli Rabett says:

    The structure of funding in the sciences (except at Cal Tech and Harvard) depends on tuition from service courses (freshman and soph whatever) covering a fair amount of the costs of the department to the university. In biology and psychology there are enough majors that you can include the jr and sr courses. This sets the base of the number of tenure track faculty slots that a place is willing to support.

    Grants supplement this, with the grant/tuition income ratio varying between 0 and maybe .75 (wild assed guess) from only undergraduate to R1s. (Remember that grad students tuition is often from grants) Within these constraints, departments who pay attention to bottom lines and want to grow do so by hiring into soft money positions which appear and vanish with grant income.

    Biomedical sciences went all in on hiring when there was lots of NIH/HHMI/etc money on the street waiting to be picked up. They granted tenure to a lot of people whose teaching loads are tiny. The piper is calling

Leave a Reply