Archive for the 'Academics' category

Projected NRSA salary scale for FY2017

NOT-OD-16-131 indicates the projected salary changes for postdoctoral fellows supported under NRSA awards.

Being the visual person that I am...

As anticipated, the first two years were elevated to meet the third year of the prior scale (plus a bit) with a much flatter line across the first three years of postdoctoral experience.

What think you o postdocs and PIs? Is this a fair* response to the Obama overtime rules?

Will we see** institutions (or PIs) where they just extend that shallow slope out for Years 3-7+?

h/t Odyssey and correction of my initial misread from @neuroecology
*As a reminder, $47,484 in 2016 dollars equals $39,715 in 2006 dollars, $30,909 in 1996 dollars and $21,590 in 1986 dollars. Also, the NRSA Yr 0 for postdocs was $20,292 for FY1997 and $36,996 for FY2006.

**I bet yes***.

***Will this be the same old jerks that already flatlined postdoc salaries? or will PIs who used to apply yearly bumps now be in a position where they just flatline since year 1 has increased so much?

38 responses so far

Abortion is more humane than child neglect

Apr 20 2016 Published by under Academics, Postgraduate Training

jmz4 asks:

DM, what's your reasoning behind advocating for reducing grad student numbers instead of just bottlenecking at the PD phase? I'd argue that grad students currently get a pretty good deal (free degree and reasonable stipend), and so are less exploited. Also, scientific training is useful in many other endeavors, and so the net benefit to society is to continue training grad students.

My short answer is that it is more humane.
Continue Reading »

92 responses so far

The girl who cried "Scoop"!

Apr 07 2016 Published by under Academics, Careerism

For some people in the world of academic science, it is a big deal to "get scooped".

What does this mean?

It is generally when someone publishes a paper that reports a finding that is identical, or similar, to the work you hope to publish.

Publishing first, for many of us, has important beneficial implications. It can mean the difference in which journal will publish your work. The ones higher on the journal totem pole will be least likely to publish your work if it is similar to something that has already been published. They all will sneer, at least a little, at direct replications.

This can be as ridiculous as a 2 week difference in submission date for two papers that obviously took many years worth of effort to produce, btw.

It can be the deciding factor for who gets the lasting credit for a given discovery or demonstration, garning preferential citations, approval and appreciation.

In some cases, due to the preferences of the collaborators or the supervising PI this can be the difference in publishing your work at all. "If we can't publish in Nature or Science, then we won't publish at all!" goes the thinking in some quarters. (I know, I know..... if you aren't as familiar with this it seems idiotic. It is. I know. But it still exists. Replication? That's for the little people.)

Getting scooped is the easier* determination.

The harder question is deciding if someone intentionally scooped you.

I'm here to tell you that the accusations of intentional scooping run far in advance of the actual existence of it. But, it does exist. Of course. People can certainly choose what to work on based on knowledge of what you are doing. They can alter their allocation of resources to a project based on knowledge of how close you are to publishing. They can rush a manuscript to a journal earlier than they might have otherwise done based on knowing your timeline. And, of course, they can intentionally slow your progress if they happen to get your manuscript to review by delaying submitting their reviews, by demanding additional experimentation and by recommending rejection from a particular journal .

It is possible.

But it does not seem to me to be possible that this is the case for all of the accusations I hear from people that another lab intentionally scooped, or tried to scoop, their project.

*Not "easy" because it isn't cut and dried what reflects an actual scoop. Many different pieces in your average research article these days. Unlikely that two groups come up with precisely identical manuscripts.

52 responses so far


Apr 06 2016 Published by under Academics, Postgraduate Training

all of this.

29 responses so far

Post-publication priority ploy

Mar 25 2016 Published by under Academics, Conduct of Science

Don't do this. Ever.

I "think" of doing experiments all the time. As do you, Dear Reader. Dreaming up an experiment is no particular feat for a scientist who has been in the business for awhile. The trick is accomplishing and publishing the study.

If you haven't done that, then it just looks silly to go around telling people you thought of doing the work they just published.

H/t: You know who you are dude.

47 responses so far

Service contributions of faculty

Mar 22 2016 Published by under Academics, Underrepresented Groups

Just remember this graph when you are being told about the service requirements of your job and how "good it will look to the P&T committee" if you say yes to the next demand on your time.

In fact, you know what? Just go ahead and print this out and slip it under your Chair's door.

Diversity and the Ivory Ceiling by
Joya Misra and Jennifer Lundquist at Inside Higher Ed.

51 responses so far

This is who will keep America great

Mar 11 2016 Published by under Academics, General Politics

The following is a a guest post by BrainProf

All the recent hateful rhetoric that is being thrown around during this election cycle is making me very anxious. All of a sudden everyone thinks that being openly racist is okay, a good thing, and that somehow this is going to make America great. This is not going to make America great. Let me tell you about a couple of people I know that WILL make America great, and represent why America IS great.

Over the last couple of years I've had the good fortune to work with two very talented undergraduate students in my lab. The first one, who is graduating this May with honors, has been working on a very technically challenging project trying to understand how the brain interprets and processes information. She has received numerous awards to perform her research over the summer and attend national meetings to present her work, and is basically working at the level of an advanced graduate student, and will be an author in a couple of peer-reviewed publications. She has done a ton of volunteer work in the local community and is a student leader in our local Latino student organization. After graduation she plans to finish her research project and apply to MD/PhD programs in order to go into a career where she can combine her passion for science with her interest in medicine. And here’s the catch. This student didn’t go to a fancy high school, or come from an academic family. In fact she’s the first in her family to attend college. And notably her parents are undocumented immigrants that brought her over from Mexico when she was one year old. Her parents, working landscaping and house cleaning jobs prioritized her education. She was finally able to come out of the shadows thanks to President Obama’s DREAM act, that allows individuals who’s parents brought them to the US as children to obtain temporary legal residence. This student’s family doesn’t sound like the “murderers and rapists” that some presidential candidates are describing and say we should keep out. And what’s even more concerning, is that ALL of the Republican candidates have agreed that they would not support this immigration measure, and if so people like my student would basically be out of luck.

Let me tell you about the other student. He graduated with honors last spring. In my lab he helped develop a model for neurodevelopmental disorders that will help us better understand the genetics of disorders such as autism and childhood epilepsy. He also presented his work in several scientific meetings, is already an author in one publication and has another on the way. He is currently studying neurological disorders in a different lab now and has already been accepted to medical school. During graduation he was given a University award for his leadership in community service. In his spare time he performed many, many hours of community service, running a clinic to help underserved populations navigate the medical system, helping them access health care, understanding medical diagnoses and learning to engage with their doctors. One time we were discussing his community service activities and he mentioned that he was moved to do them in a big part by his religion. This student is a devout Muslim, praying several times a day and attending religious services regularly. His parents are immigrants and along with his local immigrant community, they have always emphasized helping others less fortunate and always giving back not just to one’s own community but to others outside of it that may be in need. This doesn’t sound like the terrorists everyone seems to be afraid of. This doesn’t sound like someone I’d like to keep out of the country.

And these are only two examples that I happened to come across. Like them there are many others. This hateful rhetoric is poisoning our country, and will destroy the fabric of what makes it a great place to live.

43 responses so far

Repost: Being a PI ain't all unicorns and rainbows...just like most actual jobs

Mar 10 2016 Published by under Academics, Careerism

Commenter shrew suggested I repost this on the basis of

it is the time of year where people are gearing up to accept, or have already accepted, their shiny new TT offers.

This post originally appeared 19 Jan 2011

Hoo boy. Dr. Becca has a live one over at Fumbling Towards Tenure Track.

I am got the dream got at a Tier 1 institution. It is what I expected but in reality it sucks. want to find a way out. Be careful what you wish for.

Ouch. Well, upon further probing this DisgruntleProf lets us in on the problem. And it smells to me like we can chalk this one up to RealityCheck.

I think its a combination of worrying about grants, science not going as fast as I want it to, dealing with annoying staff at my institution, not much help from other faculty versus what I had been told there would be, grad students not working as hard as I think they should (don’t people work weekend anymore?)

Yeah. Stuff gets real in a big hurry once you start your own independent laboratory doesn't it? I'm half surprised this person didn't mention the magically disappearing space or major equipment that appeared to have been promised in the recruiting phase!

I'll indulge myself about the trainee issue and repeat my constant refrain- If you won a tenure track job, chances are very good that you were a much better than average postdoc and graduate student. Consequently, the trainees that work for you are overwhelmingly likely to suck worse than you did. Get over it and learn how to make do.

I had so much love and energy for the Science when I was a grad student and post-doc. Being the PI is just a very different business, with business being the important word.

Yup, you have a job now homes. The thing about jobs is that they aren't always unadulterated joy. Our business is a pretty good one, because we have lots of opportunity for it being Teh Awesomez. But never forget, in your vocational fantasies, that this is still a job and a professional one at that.

Look, no offense but I'm smelling a certain type of career arc here. Excuse me if I'm over assuming but this seems like a type of person that had it unusually good in training. S/he mentions being in a "top tiered graduate school". Probably the research all went pretty well in a stable and well funded lab. Setbacks were probably minor. The PI shielded the trainees from the mundane stuff and s/he never manged to clue in to what was going on behind the scenes. Publications came. More of the same for postdoc, no doubt. Because after all, if this person is recently appointed at a top institution, odds are good that the CV looks very good indeed.

I've said it before. Having it too good in training is crappy preparation for being a PI. It is even worse selection for being a PI. IMO. I'd rather hire someone who had to struggle and overcome some adverse consequences than someone who had a cushy ride to three first author GlamourPubs. Any day of the week.

Having an easy time of it during training sets up unrealistic expectations. Which, IMO, leads to a big old let down when the going gets tough as a newly minted Assistant Professor. And potentially a lack of mental fortitude to buckle down and overcome, as opposed to whining.

I used to love coming into lab everyday. I was the person you hated in your department who always had some really cool idea or experiment to talk about. Not sure how to get that back.

I do feel a little sorry for this commenter. Who would not? It is a bit sad, really. But I have confidence that things will look up. S/he will get through the local paperwork, get some usable data out of a graduate student and land some grant support...eventually. And things will look one heck of a lot better after these successes start to roll in. The trick is to SaqueUppeTM and make successes happen.

How do you get your joy for science back? My opinion is that you have to be gratified, at some fundamental level, by the proceeds of having your own lab. That means that the amount of data crossing your desk, data that you can in no way generate with your own hands by yourself, balances out all of the headaches. If seeing the results of science that you directed, influenced and supported is not enough then there is no point in wanting to head a lab in a professorial level appointment.

43 responses so far

NIH on Diversity: First, make sure to feed the entrenched powers

Mar 08 2016 Published by under Academics, Fixing the NIH, NIH, Underrepresented Groups

I asked about your experiences with the transition from Master's programs to PhD granting programs because of the NIH Bridges to the Doctorate (R25) Program Announcement. PAR-16-109 has the goal:

... to support educational activities that enhance the diversity of the biomedical, behavioral and clinical research workforce. . ...To accomplish the stated over-arching goal, this FOA will support creative educational activities with a primary focus on Courses for Skills Development and Research Experiences.

Good stuff. Why is it needed?

Underrepresentation of certain groups in science, technology and engineering fields increases throughout the training stages. For example, students from certain racial and ethnic groups including, Blacks or African Americans, Hispanics or Latinos, American Indians or Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders, currently comprise ~39% of the college age population (Census Bureau), but earn only ~17% of bachelor’s degrees and ~7% of the Ph.D.’s in the biological sciences (NSF, 2015). Active interventions are required to prevent the loss of talent at each level of educational advancement. For example, a report from the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology recommended support of programs to retain underrepresented undergraduate science, technology, engineering and math students as a means to effectively build a diverse and competitive scientific workforce (PCAST Report, 2012).

  [I actually took this blurb from the related PAR-16-118 because it had the links]

And how is this Bridges to the Doctorate supposed to work?

The Bridges to Doctorate Program is intended to provide these activities to master's level students to increase transition to and completion of PhDs in biomedical sciences. This program requires partnerships between master's degree-granting institutions with doctorate degree-granting institutions.

Emphasis added. Oh Boy.

God forbid we have a NIH program that doesn't ensure that in some way the rich, already heavily NIH-funded institutions get a piece of the action.

So what is it really supposed to be funding? Well first off you will note it is pretty substantial "Application budgets are limited to $300,000 direct costs per year.The maximum project period is 5 years". Better than a full-modular R01! (Some of y'all will also be happy to note that it only comes with 8% overhead.) It is not supposed to fully replace NRSA individual fellowships or training grants.

Research education programs may complement ongoing research training and education occurring at the applicant institution, but the proposed educational experiences must be distinct from those training and education programs currently receiving Federal support. R25 programs may augment institutional research training programs (e.g., T32, T90) but cannot be used to replace or circumvent Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award (NRSA) programs.

That is less than full support to prospective trainees to be bridged. So what are the funds for?

Salary support for program administration, namely, the PDs/PIs, program coordinator(s), or administrative/clerical support is limited to 30% of the total direct costs annually.


Support for faculty from the doctoral institution serving as visiting lecturers, offering lectures and/or laboratory courses for skills development in areas in which expertise needs strengthening at the master’s institution;
Support for faculty from the master’s degree-granting institution for developing or implementing special academic developmental activities for skills development; and
Support for faculty/consultants/role models (including Bridges alumni) to present research seminars and workshops on communication skills, grant writing, and career development plans at the master’s degree institution(s).

Cha-ching! One element for the lesser-light Master's U, one element for the Ivory Tower faculty and one slippery slope that will mostly be the Ivory Tower faculty, I bet. Woot! Two to one for the Big Dogs!

Just look at this specific goal... who is going to be teaching this, can we ask? The folks from the R1 partner-U, that's who. Who can be paid directly, see above, for the effort.

1. Courses for Skills Development: For example, advanced courses in a specific discipline or research area, or specialized research techniques.

Oh White Man's R1 Professor's Burden!

Okay, now we get to the Master's level student who wishes to benefit. What is in it for her?

2. Research Experiences: For example, for graduate and medical, dental, nursing and other health professional students: to provide research experiences and related training not available through formal NIH training mechanisms; for postdoctorates, medical residents and faculty: to extend their skills, experiences, and knowledge base.

Yeah! Sounds great. Let's get to it.

Participants may be paid if specifically required for the proposed research education program and sufficiently justified.

"May". May? MAY???? Wtf!??? Okay if this is setting up unpaid undergraduate style "research experience" scams, I am not happy. At all. This better not be what occurs. Underrepresented folks are disproportionally unlikely to be able to financially afford such shenanigans. PAY THEM!

Applicants may request Bridges student participant support for up to 20 hours per week during the academic year, and up to 40 hours/week during the summer at a pay rate that is consistent with the institutional pay scale.

That's better. And the pivot of this program, if I can find anything at all to like about it. Master's students can start working in the presumably higher-falutin' laboratories of the R1 partner and do so for regular pay, hopefully commensurate with what that University is paying their doctoral graduate students.

So here's what annoys me about this. Sure, it looks good on the surface. But think about it. This is just another way for fabulously well funded R1 University faculty to get even more cheap labor that they don't have to pay for from their own grants. 20 hrs a week during the school year and 40 hrs a week during the summer? From a Master's level person bucking to get into a doctoral program?

Sign me the heck UP, sister.

Call me crazy but wouldn't it be better just to lard up the underrepresented-group-serving University with the cash? Wouldn't it be better to give them infrastructure grants, and buy the faculty out of teaching time to do more research? Wouldn't it be better to just fund a bunch more research grants to these faculty at URGSUs? (I just made that up).

Wouldn't it be better to fund PIs from those underrepresented groups at rates equal to good old straight whitey old men at the doctoral granting institution so that the URM "participants" (why aren't they trainees in the PAR?) would have somebody to look at and think maybe they can succeed too?

But no. We can't just hand over the cash to the URGSUs without giving the already-well-funded University their taste. The world might end if NIH did something silly like that.

5 responses so far

Top Powerball winner fantasy (of academic scientists)

Jan 11 2016 Published by under Academics

"If I win the Powerball, I can afford all kinds of new domestic help and maybe even figure out how to issue grants to my lab so that I can spend more time publishing papers."

37 responses so far

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