Archive for the 'Academics' category

It's coming from inside the room

Several recent experiences have brought me to ponder a question this week. And in one of the several formulations in my mind it reads: Is it more effective to drive change of large systems from a position inside of the room or from a position outside of the room?

In one way of defining this, I am wondering if change happens with large institutions (the US government/polity, Universities, NIH extramural granting activities, you know, the usual targets) most rapidly and assuredly if it is driven by the barbarians at the gate or by the insiders.

To a first approximation this also means something about the tone and the approach to change. We are more likely to get inside the room if we align ourselves with the powers that be. We are more likely to get inside the room with an approach and a tone and a personality that is compatible with (read: similar to) the already-empowered folks.

I exist in what I think of as a duality that does a half-assed job of being inside the room and a half-assed job of being outside of the room. To a certain view, I’m a NIH extramural funding insider. I was trained in at least one stop around people who were very successful grant getting folks. I started my faculty position around folks that were not only good at getting grants but were themselves more than usually powerful. Leaders of societies, editors of journals, people that went on National Advisory Council of NIH ICs. People who were able to just phone up an IC director at will and have that person take their call. I have been awarded NIH grants as a PI on more than one occasion. I have served an appointed stint on study section and still get invited to review with enough regularity for me to maintain continual-submission privileges most of the time. My institutional affiliation commands respect in some quarters although of course that is down to all the other folks who do and have worked for it, not to me.

Particularly when it comes to NIH granting matters, I am often inside the room. Or, at least one of the anterooms. This gives me the opportunity to influence things. I have a direct role in review of proposals and in voting for scores of proposals. I can contribute to the discussion of grants, potentially affecting not just the outcome of that grant but the way other reviewers approach review*. My comments reach the ears of Program Officers, giving them (my words) the opportunity to effect change**.

The reach of these opportunities is limited in scope. I only reach so many folks.

I also have the opportunity to rant from outside the room in several ways, most pointedly through this blog and the online academic community. As you know, I do so. But in addition, in real life, there are many scenarios in which I am not in the room. As you ascend the ranks of the NIH ICs to where the RealPower lies, I’m definitely an outsider. I have maybe one Director that would take my call but it is not the the most useful IC for me, under most circumstances. My work is not good enough to command attention all the way to the top. I am not empowered within academic societies or journals. My institution has never really liked me much.

Many of us exist in these diverse roles with respect to the insider/outsider status. It is on a spectrum and it is highly fluid. And, as we know from broader discussions of privilege, it is nigh on impossible for real humans in academia to see their own insider-ness for what it is. And, more specifically, for how it appears to everyone who is just outside that particular door of power.

What is more effective? I don’t know. Take the example of careers that are shaped in large part by the success of the individual under the NIH grant scheme. If I’m on study section I can fight hard for good applications that are submitted by African-American PIs. I can even choose to review as much as I possibly can, such that my fighting has the chance to reach as many applications from black PIs as possible. That’s nice and sober insider guy behavior. I can, if I choose, make occasional oblique or pointed comments that refer to the Ginther report finding on discrimination and bias. Maybe it will counter an implicit bias here or there. Maybe a reviewer or a PO will start trying to counter such biases themselves. Slightly more shouty, but still insider-dude stuff.

Or I could rant and rave and bring Gither up at the slightest excuse. I don’t tend to do this inside the room. I think that would be less*** effective…but I really don’t know.

From outside the room in my social media life, as you know Dear Reader, I cast a few more stones and shout louder. I keep Ginther refreshed, seven years later, in the minds of my fellow travelers. (I have other issues as well). I hope my ranting reaches new audiences, since we have new people finding the online science community daily. I yell at the NIH Director’s twitter account but that’s mostly street theatre for the crowd, I know ol’ Francis Collins isn’t really paying any attention.

By this point you are getting the feeling that I think that the best thing to do is to pursue both avenues. And you would be right. I do think that the best and most assured way to effect maximal change of ponderous systems is to both gain insider power and to continue to shout and rave from outside the gates.

The example I used is one person on an agenda but most typically this involves different people pursing the same agenda.

I call it the Martin and Malcolm scenario, if you will permit. This requires a certain cartoonized view of the Civil Rights era in this country but I think it suffices even if it polarizes the two men (and their movements) in a way that is historically less than accurate. We lionize Martin Luther King, Jr. as the personification of the pacifist approach that worked within the system in sober and solid ways. His movement essentially shamed the powers that be into doing better. Or argued the powers that be into doing better. And this was much more effective than the aggressive, even violent, approach of Malcolm X and his movement.

Or so goes the tale of the insider crowd. The more educated ones even try to point out how Malcolm X moderated his position and became more conciliatory later on.

My view is that the Martin approach only gained traction as a more palatable alternative to the scenario raised by the Malcolm X type approach.

And I think you can see this interplay reflected in countless historical struggles in which political solutions to imbalances of power were reached. Quite often history credits progress to the sober efforts of working the levers of the insiders. It may be work done by actual insiders or by people patiently and quietly trying to move the insiders. It may be people working slowly to become insiders. But my reading of history says that structures of power only relent and start to negotiate with the sober, insider crowd because they are in existential fear of the barbarians at the gate.

This analysis, however, doesn’t answer the question in any sort of fine-grained manner. On any given issue, at any given time, are we more in need of anger? Or are we in need of a greater emphasis on sober, staid, insider-club efforts? When has the ground been sufficiently prepared to suggest now is the time for sowing and nurturing seedlings?

To this very month I struggle with how shouty versus sober I should be in trying to improve the way institutions behave. To return to the above example, anytime I am on a study section I have to moderate my behavior. When do I speak up and what do I say? When do I have an opportunity to help advance what I think is the best thing to do and when are my goals best served by shutting up? And given that DM is such a poorly kept secret at this point, to what extent do my opinions expressed on social media compromise my efforts inside the room?

And, to bring it to a fine point, I see my colleagues and friends out there who are trying to effect change in science, academics and professional life grappling with these issues daily.

It is not always comfortable. I’ve been trying to describe my own duality here, this is the easy version. I think I’m a pretty good dude and I respect what I’m trying to do. So shouty-me isn’t too mad when insider-club me misses a trick, soft-pedals when I might kick more tail, acts diplomatically and accepts slow and incremental over the dramatic. Insider-club me understand whole heartedly why shouty-me is angry and totally supports it. Insider-me might tell shouty-me to tone it down a bit and wring the hands a bit over efficacy (see above) but in general is on board. Outsider-me understands the while insider-me has a certain standing inside the club, this is tenuous and hard won and does not convey the power that it may appear to convey to other outsiders.

This isn’t so easy when the insider and the outsider are not the same person.

Outsiders are quick to view the insider who is putatively on their side as a quisling if they do not slay all the dragons right now with extreme prejudice.

Insiders are quick to castigate the outsider as a counter-productive, self-aggrandizing egotist who is hurting the shared cause more than helping it.

We see this in Democratic party politics. Bernie supporters versus Hillary supporters expressed some of this dynamic. We see this in intersectional feminism.

We also see this, I think, in solving the Real Problems of the NIH. And of Open / Paywall publishing. And of career trajectories of trainees.

And we see this in the fight to reduce sexual harassment, sexual assault and sex-based discrimination that occurs in and around academic science careers.

I think we need both voices. We need people inside the clubs. We need people who are really, really angry shouting loudly from outside of the room (and sometimes inside of the room). I do not support confidence that either position, quisling apologist versus enraged pure soul, is obviously correct, right or most productive. I don't think that history supports such a conclusion on either side.

We need both.
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*Just this month a friend was recollecting something I had said at a study section meeting when we first met, something over 10 years ago.
**Which may not be in the direction I would desire, of course.
***I’m already enough of “that guy” who people roll their eyes at. I don’t need more of that baggage, I suspect.

12 responses so far

Please help MeTooSTEM launch as a nonprofit organization

This post is to ask you to consider donating to a fundraiser to launch MeTooSTEM as a charitable organization.

I know I do not have to belabor the obvious for my audience but we have a problem with sexual harassment, sexual assault, sex based-discrimination, and occupational retaliation against people attempting to ameliorate the effects of these events.

The National Academies of Science convened some investigations and issued a report, if you need a starter source.

The #MeToo hashtag was joined by a related tag specific to the issues of harassment and assault in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, #MeTooSTEM.

As this has unfolded, Professor Beth Ann McLaughlin has been doing heroic work to foreground victims, bring their stories to light for those who are unaware and to hold institutional feet to the fire to do better. This has resulted in gains that range from the basic decency for victims who finally have been heard, to clueless people in academia finally seeking the problem, to major policy changes of institutions. Famously, the RateMyProfessor organization was called to task and decided to discontinue its rating for "hot" professors.

We still have much work to do.

Academic societies are only haltingly developing new policies that permit them to remove members who have been determined by their own institutions to have engaged in sexual harassment, assault, discrimination or retaliation. You would think this would be a no brainer but thanks to the efforts of Dr. McLaughlin we are painfully aware of how many societies claim to have no mechanism for removal of their members, elected fellows and other hoi polloi.

We still have famous journals of science that will publish Letter to the Editor type defenses of a colleague proven to have engaged in sustained misconduct. We have editors of famous journals of science that I respect tremendously that still cannot see how damaging it is to let those sorts of letters persist on the internet.

This is why I am asking you to consider a donation to the fledgling MeTooSTEM organization. No donation is too small, if you can manage $5 or $10 it is welcome. If you can only manage communicating this fundraiser to your friends, family, or social media followers, it is welcome.

From the fundraiser text:

MeTooSTEM Needs Your Help To Take Our Organization NonProfit and Provide Resources to Graduate Students, Post Docs and Women Who Have Been Hurt by Sexual Harassment.

MeTooSTEM Started as a grassroots movement by students and professors frustrated by the inaction of national organizations and government funding agencies to protect women. Men guilty of sexually assaulting trainees, ending women's careers and retaliating viciously were still on campus, getting national awards, serving on study sections and going to conferences where they intimidate and retaliate against survivors.

4 responses so far

The R01 Doesn't Even Pay for Revisions

Sep 11 2018 Published by under Academics, Careerism, NIH, NIH Careerism, NIH funding

Hard charging early career Glam neuroscientist Kay Tye had an interesting claim on the twitters recently.

The message she was replying to indicated that a recent request for manuscript revisions was going to amount to $1,000, making Kay's costs anywhere from $100,000 to $10,000,000. Big range. Luckily she got more specific.

One Million Dollars.

For manuscript revisions.

Let us recap.

The bog standard NIH "major award" is the R01, offered most generically in the 5-year, $250,000 direct cost per year version. $1,250,000 for a five year major (whoa, congrats dude, you got an R01! You have it made!) award.

Dr. Tye has just informed us that it is routine for reviewers to ask for manuscript (one. single. manuscript.) revisions that amount to $1,000,000 in cost.

Ex-NIGMS Director Jeremy Berg cheer-led (and possibly initiated) a series of NIH analyses and data dumps showing that something on the order of 7 (+/- 2) published papers were expected from each R01 award's full interval of funding. This launched a thousand ships of opinionating on "efficiency" of NIH grant award and how it proves that one grant for everyone is the best use of NIH money. It isn't.

I have frequently hit the productivity zone identified in NIGMS data...and had my competing revisions criticized severely for lack of productivity. I have tripled this on at least one interval of R01 funding and received essentially no extra kudos for good productivity. I would be highly curious to hear from anyone who has had a 5 year interval of R01 support described as even reasonably productive with one paper published.

Because even if Dr. Tye is describing a situation in which you barely invest in the original submission (doubtful), it has to be at least $250,000, right? That plus $1,000,000 in revisions and you end up with at best 1 paper per interval of R01 funding. And it takes you five years to do it.

The Office of Extramural Research showed that the vast majority of NIH-funded PIs hold 1 (>70%) or at most 2 (cumulative >90%) major awards at a time.

NIGMS (and some of my fellow NIH-watchers) have been exceptionally dishonest about interpreting the the efficiency data they produce and slippery as otters about resulting policy on per-PI dollar limitations. Nevertheless, one interpretation of their data is that $750,000 in direct costs per year is maximally efficient. Merely mentioning that an honest interpretation of their data ends up here (and reminding that the NIGMS policy for greybeard insiders was in fact to be about $750,000 per year) usually results in the the sound of sharpening stone on steel farm implements and the smell of burning pitch.

Even that level of grant largesse ("largesse") does not pay for the single manuscript revisions that Professor Tye describes within a single year.

I have zero reason to doubt Professor Tye's characterization, I will note. I am familiar with how Glam labs operate. I am familiar with the circle jerk of escalating high-cost "necessary" experimental demands they gratify each other with in manuscript review. I am familiar with the way extremely well funded labs use this bullshit as a gatekeeping function to eliminate the intellectual competition. I am perhaps overly familiar with Glam science labs in which postdocs blowing $40,000 on single fucked up experiments (because they don't bother to think things through, are sloppy or are plain wasteful) is entirely routine.

The R01 does not pay for itself. It does not pay for the expected productivity necessary to look merely minimally productive, particularly when "high impact publications" are the standard.

But even that isn't the point.

We have this exact same problem, albeit at less cost, all down the biomedical NIH-funded research ranks.

I have noted more than once on this blog that I experience a complete disconnect between what is demanded in peer review of manuscripts at a very pedestrian level of journal, the costs involved and the way R01s that pay for those experiments are perceived come time for competitive renewal. Actually, we can generalize this to any new grant as well, because very often grant reviewers are looking at the productivity on entirely unrelated awards to determine the PI's fitness for the next proposal. There is a growing disconnect, I claim, between what is proposed in the average R01 these days and what it can actually pay to accomplish.

And this situation is being created by the exact same super-group of peers. The people who review my grants also review my papers. And each others'. And I review their grants and their manuscripts.

And we are being ridiculous.

We need to restore normalcy and decency in the conduct of this profession. We need to hold the NIH accountable for its fantasy policy that has reduced the spending capability of the normal average grant award to half of what it was a mere twenty years ago. And for policies that seek to limit productive labs so that we can have more and more funded labs who are crippled in what they can accomplish.

We need to hold each other accountable for fantasy thinking about how much science costs. R01 review should return to the days when "overambitious" meant something and was used to keep proposed scope of work minimally related to the necessary costs and the available funds. And we need to stop demanding an amount of work in each and every manuscript that is incompatible with the way the resulting productivity will be viewed in subsequent grant review.

We cannot do anything about the Glam folks, they are lost to all decency. But we can save the core of the NIH-funded biomedical research enterprise.

If you will only join me in a retreat from the abyss.

32 responses so far

Ask DrugMonkey: How do I make those bastards pay for not citing my paper?

Sep 07 2018 Published by under Academics, Ask DrugMonkey, Careerism

This is a highly stylized version of a communication I get in the blog email box now and again:

Dear DrugMonkey,
I love your blog, first time writer, long term reader, etc, etc.

Some bastards have published a paper claiming utterly novel findings and have TOTALLY IGNORED our published paper! How can we make these assholes pay seriously for their crimes?

thanks,
Academic Scientist

...like I said, highly stylized. But it gets at the gist.

I get it.

As we all know, citations of our published papers are hella important for our careers, in the medium to longer term. And citations of our papers can have feed-forward consequences to engender even more citations. When you read a paper you tend to look at the papers it cites. If they are relevant to your work you tend to cite them in a subsequent paper. Maybe often. Maybe they become your go-to methodological or "foundational paper" citation. Do you always do an exhaustive search to make sure that you are citing the first observation*?

So when someone fails to cite you when they should** it costs you something. And particularly for people relatively early in their publishing careers, the cost seems very high. That's because you have few papers and the insult affects a high percentage. The career implications before getting a permanent job, tenure or that first grant may seem to be extremely pointed.

I understand the anger.

I understand the desire to get your deserved credit.

I understand the desire to make those bastards pay for their crimes against you. Sort of.

But you need to sit back and think about what steps you can take, what is the likely upside and what is the likely downside for you.

The bottom line is that you cannot force people to cite you in academic work. You can't force*** them to decide your work is most relevant or deserving of recognition in their own papers. You can't.

The high water mark of direct action is going to be getting a Letter to Editor type of thing published. In which you say "waaah, they should have cited us" or "they claimed priority but we published some thing vaguely similar before". Maybe, I guess, you might get an erratum or correction from the authors or the editors. If the field at large notices (and they mostly won't) they just roll their eyes at the authors. Maybe, just maybe, it results in one or two extra citations of your prior work. Maybe.

Again, I feel you. My work has gone uncited numerous times when it should** have been. This has a material effect on my h-index. My h-index has, at times, come into play in a very direct way in the furtherance of my career and indeed my salary, benefits, retirement, etc. Citations are potentially that important.

I. Get. It.

I also understand that we all can spin this same sort of yarn. And in a lot of cases, someone else in our field can "prove" that we screwed them by not citing their papers when we should** have. It's a normal and relatively impersonal situation in many cases. In the case of intentional bad actors, or people who feel compelled by career pressures to act badly, there is not much we can do about it.

Personally I try to take the medium road and the high road.

The medium road is the sort of semi-defensible record correcting you can take in your own papers. "As we first showed in...". "Doe et al confirmed/replicated our prior finding...". You can also do this any time you are presenting your work orally, from the platform or at poster sessions. In the latter, you just need to be careful about how much of this you do and how hard of a downbeat you put behind it. Don't look like a whiny baby, is my advice.

The high road is to make sure to minimize citation offense in your own publications. Like it or not, we have a priority convention. So cite the first paper, eh? What could this possibly cost you? This leaves you plenty of room to cite 1) your own vaguely related work and 2) whatever are the best citations for the point, regardless of priority, JIF or other convention. The high road also suggests you should cite those folks who you feel have not cited you the way that you deserve. Try to take pleasure in your high-minded scholarly approach. It can be enough.

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*the citation of pre-prints is going to be an extra fun issue with respect to proper priority citation

**"should". Even the convention to cite the first paper to observe something relevant to your reason for citing is just an arbitrary convention.

***nope, not even in peer review. You can keep saying "reject" but that paper is eventually going to get in somewhere without citing you if the authors really don't want to do so.

17 responses so far

Anti-Nepotism Rules

Aug 21 2018 Published by under Academics, Careerism

The University of Texas, Austin rule states, in part:

No University employee may approve, recommend, or otherwise take action with regard to the appointment, reappointment, promotion, salary or supervision of a close relative as defined by this policy.

which is not, I think, uncommon.

So: No hiring your spouse or supervising your spouse.

There is also some weasel language that could potentially undercut the policy in practice. If you become married or a spouse transfers under your putative supervision, there has to be notification but it is allowed. The the management and oversight of this nepotistic employee goes to the PI’s boss.

This is likely how a thin veneer of red tape covers the case of a spouse working in the lab of an appointed Professorial rank person.

So nepotism is officially bad, but University policy has enough wiggle room to permit a de facto case of hiring and supervision of one's spouse.

In a lab the idea of getting meaningful supervisory oversight from the PI’s supervisor is a joke. It in no way can mitigate preferential treatment and in fact justifies it. The PI can set work hours, discipline for poor performance and even fire everyone *except* the spouse.

14 responses so far

Startup Funds That Expire On Grant Award

Jul 11 2018 Published by under Academics, Ask DrugMonkey, NIH Careerism

From the email bag:

My question is: Should institutions pull back start-up funds from new PIs if R01s or equivalents are obtained before funds are burned? Should there be an expiration date for these funds?

Should? Well no, in the best of all possible worlds of course we would wish PIs to retain all possible sources of support to launch their program.

I can, however, see the institutional rationale that startup is for just that, starting. And once in the system by getting a grant award, the thinking goes, a PI should be self-sustaining. Like a primed pump.

And those funds would be better spent on starting up the next lab's pump.

The expiration date version is related, and I assume is viewed as an inducement for the PI to go big or go home. To try. Hard. Instead of eking it out forever to support a lab that is technically in operation but not vigorously enough to land additional extramural funding.

Practically speaking the message from this is to always check the details for a startup package. And if it expires on grant award, or after three years, this makes it important to convert as much of that startup into useful Preliminary Data as possible. Let it prime many pumps.

Thoughts, folks? This person was wondering if this is common. How do your departments handle startup funds?

10 responses so far

Faculty Retention: The Rule of 10

Jun 21 2018 Published by under Academics, Careerism

There's a thread on faculty retention (or lack thereof, really) on the twitts today:

I know this is a little weird for the segments of my audience that are facing long odds even to land a faculty job and for those junior faculty who are worried about tenure. Why would a relatively secure Professor look for a job in a different University? Well.....reasons.

As is typical, the thread touched on the question of why Universities won't work harder in advance to keep their faculty so delightfully happy that they would never dream of leaving.

Eventually I mentioned my theory of how Administration views retention of their faculty.

I think Administration (and this is not just academics, I think this applies pretty broadly) operates from the suspicion that workers always complain and most will never do anything about it. I think they suppose that for every 10 disgruntled employees, only 5 will even bother to apply elsewhere. Of these maybe three will get serious offers. Ultimately only one will leave*.

So why invest in 10 to keep 1?

This, anyway, is what I see as motivating much of the upper management thinking on what appear to be inexplicably wasteful faculty departures.

Reality is much more nuanced.

I think one of the biggest mistakes being made is that by the time a last-ditch, generally half-arsed retention ploy is attempted it can be psychologically too late. The departing faculty member is simply too annoyed at the current Uni and too dazzled by the wooing from the new Uni to let any retention offer sway their feelings. The second biggest mistake is that if there is an impression created that "everybody is leaving" and "nobody is being offered reasonable retention" this can spur further attempts to exit the building before the roof caves in.

Yes, I realize some extremely wealthy private Universities all covered in Ivy have the $$ to keep all their people happy all of the time. This is not in any way an interesting case. Most Universities have to be efficient. Spending money on faculty that are going to stay anyway may be a waste, better used elsewhere. Losing too many faculty that you've spent startup costs on is also inefficient.

So how would you strike the right balance if you were Dean at a R1 University solidly in the middle of the pack with respect to resources?
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*Including by method of bribing one or more of the "serious offers" crowd to stay via the mysteries of the RetentionPackageTM

17 responses so far

Grinders

Jun 01 2018 Published by under Academics, Day in the life of DrugMonkey

I cracked wise

and then Tweeps came out of the woodwork to say they had night AND day guards.

Is this normal life under Trump?

Is this a risk of academic science?

2 responses so far

Eric Lander apologizes for toasting Jim Watson

May 14 2018 Published by under Academics, Staring in Disbelief, Tribe of Science

Dr. Eric Lander, of the BROAD Institute, recently gave a toast honoring Jim Watson at the close of the Biology of Genomes meeting. See below Twitter thread from Jonathan Eisen for an archived video copy of the toast. (Picture via: Sarah Tishkoff tweet)

Lander has now apologized for doing so in a tweet:

The text reads:

Last week I agreed to toast James Watson for the Human Genome Project on his 90th birthday. My brief comment about his being “flawed” did not go nearly far enough. His views are abhorrent: racist, sexist, anti-semitic. I was wrong to toast. I apologize.

I applaud Dr. Lander for this apology.

This comes after a bit of a Twitter storm. If you wonder why some people see value in using social media to advance progressive ideas*, this is one example.

Some key threads from

Jonathan Eisen

Angus Johnson

Michael Eisen

One of the most amazing things in all of the twitter discussion over the weekend is that there are still people who want to try to claim that Watson's decades of abhorrent ranting about people he disdains, tied in many cases to the scientific topics he is discussing and in others to the people he thinks should be allowed or disallowed to participate in science, have nothing to do with public accolades "for his scientific accomplishments".

Additional Reading:
Snowflakes Falling

We've finally found out, thanks to Nature News, that the paltry academic salary on which poor Jim Watson has been forced to rely is $375,000 per year as "chancellor emeritus" at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. The current NIH salary limitation is $181,500, this is the maximum amount that can be charged to Federal grants. I'm here to tell you, most of us funded by NIH grants do not make anything like this as an annual salary.

 

Arrogant jerkwad creates meaningless kerfluffle, News at Eleven

Notorious arrogant bastard* and Nobel laureate, James Watson shoots off again, this time descending into race/intelligence minefield [Pharyngula, Zuska, denialism blog]. Consequently gets talk cancelled. The ass kick by Greg Laden here and here, pre-empts my need to get into the intelligence literature. Blogosphere and MSM goes nuts for a news cycle or two.

Famed Scientist Apologizes for Quoted Racial Remarks

James Watson: What I've Learned

Should you be allowed to make an anti-Semitic remark? Yes, because some anti-Semitism is justified....
Francis Crick said we should pay poor people not to have children. I think now we're in a terrible situation where we should pay the rich people to have children. If there is any correlation between success and genes, IQ will fall if the successful people don't have children. These are self-obvious facts.
If I had been married earlier in life, I wouldn't have seen the double helix. I would have been taking care of the kids on Saturday.

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*Call it constantly angry performative social justice warrioring if you like. Whatever it takes. Just get er done.

47 responses so far

Diversity statements from faculty candidates are an unfair test of ideology?

Apr 30 2018 Published by under Academics, Underrepresented Groups

Someone on the twitts posted an objection:

to UCSD's policy of requiring applicants for faculty positions to supply a Statement of Contribution to Diversity with their application.

Mark J Perry linked to his own blog piece posted at the American Enterprise Institute* with the following observation:

All applicants for faculty positions at UCSD now required to submit a Contribution to Diversity Statement (aka Ideological Conformity Statements/Pledge of Allegiance to Left-Liberal Orthodoxy Statements)

Then some other twitter person chimed in with opinion on how this policy was unfair because it was so difficult for him to help his postdocs students with it.


Huh? A simple google search lands us on UCSD's page on this topic.

The Contributions to Diversity Statement should describe your past efforts, as well as future plans to advance diversity, equity and inclusion. It should demonstrate an understanding of the barriers facing women and underrepresented minorities and of UC San Diego’s mission to meet the educational needs of our diverse student population.

The page has links to a full set of guidelines [PDF] as well as specific examples in Biology, Engineering and Physical Sciences (hmm, I wonder if these are the disciplines they find need the most help?). I took a look at the guidelines and examples. It's pretty easy sailing. Sorry, but any PI who is complaining that they cannot help their postdocs figure out how to write the required statement are lying being disingenuous. What they really mean is that they disagree with having to prepare such a statement at all.

Like this guy Bieniasz, points for honesty:


I am particularly perplexed with this assertion that "The UCSD statement instructions (Part A) read like a test of opinions/ideology. Not appropriate for a faculty application".

Ok, so is it a test of opinion/ideology? Let's go to the guidelines provided by UCSD.

Describe your understanding of the barriers that exist for historically under-represented groups in higher education and/or your field. This may be evidenced by personal experience and educational background. For purposes of evaluating contributions to diversity, under-represented groups (URGs) includes under-represented ethnic or racial minorities (URM), women, LGBTQ, first-generation college, people with disabilities, and people from underprivileged backgrounds.

Pretty simple. Are you able to understand facts that have been well established in academia? This only asks you to describe your understanding. That's it. If you are not aware of any of these barriers *cough*Ginther*cough*cough*, you are deficient as a candidate for a position as a University professor.

So the first part of this is merely asking if the candidate is aware of things about academia that are incredibly well documented. Facts. These are sort of important for Professors and any University is well within it's rights to probe factual knowledge. This part does not ask anything about causes or solutions.

Now the other parts do ask you about your past activities and future plans to contribute to diversity and equity. Significantly, it starts with this friendly acceptance: "Some faculty candidates may not have substantial past activities. If such cases, we recommend focusing on future plans in your statement.". See? It isn't a rule-out type of thing, it allows for candidates to realize their deficits right now and to make a statement about what they might do in the future.

Let's stop right there. This is not different in any way to the other major components of a professorial hire application package. For most of my audience, the "evidence of teaching experience and philosophy" is probably the more understandable example. Many postdocs with excellent science chops have pretty minimal teaching experience. Is it somehow unfair to ask them about their experience and philosophy? To give credit for those with experience and to ask those without to have at least thought about what they might do as a future professor?

Is it "liberal orthodoxy" if a person who insists that teaching is a waste of time and gets in the way of their real purpose (research) gets pushed downward on the priority list for the job?

What about service? Is it rude to ask a candidate for evidence of service to their Institutions and academic societies?

Is it unfair to prioritize candidates with a more complete record of accomplishment than those without? Of course it is fair.

What about scientific discipline, subfield, research orientations and theoretical underpinnings? Totally okay to ask candidates about these things.

Are those somehow "loyalty pledges"? or a requirement to "conform to orthodoxy"?

If they are, then we've been doing that in the academy a fair bit with nary a peep from these right wing think tank types.

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*"Mark J. Perry is concurrently a scholar at AEI and a professor of economics and finance at the University of Michigan's Flint campus." This is a political opinion-making "think-tank" so take that into consideration.

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