Archive for the 'Academics' category

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?
*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


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.

*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.

*"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.

84 responses so far

Tales of LOL-tastic anti-diversity professors

Feb 28 2018 Published by under Academics, Diversity in Science

There was a comment from girlparts on my prior post which triggered an anecdote from my past. It seemed worth having its own post. I guess in a way it is relevant to the broader question of how one should react if someone speaks disparagingly of "diversity hire" professors. This little experience certainly went into helping me to see yet another way that the Defenders Of Quality are total hypocrites when it is something dear to them. Unsurprisingly because such individuals tend to lean conservative and therefore act like conservatives- i.e., selfishly hypocritical.

girlparts observed:

And, of course, members of underrepresented minorities are much less likely to be able to benefit from knowing someone famous etc.

During one of my science training stops I was in a Department that had a couple of these anti-affirmative action type established Professors. They were loud and confident so we were under no illusions whatsoever about what they thought about a whole host of things. They were walking reddit threads* long before reddit was a thing.

Relevant to this tale is that there were two individuals hired during my association with that Department that were widely and almost openly derided as "dean's hire" affirmative action appointments. Particularly by the aforementioned rightwinger Defenders of Quality but you tended to hear it from everyone. EveryoneKnows(tm) They Are AffirmativeAction Hires That We Wouldn't Have Hired Save For The Dean.

Of course they were generally shit on by the department. I was not privvy to specific details but I watched as they got crappy space (literally in the basement), nobody seemed to want to collaborate and they always seemed to struggle to get access to resources. Both of them eventually left. This, bad as it is, is not the main point of the tale.

The main point is that a few years later there was a non-minority hire in the department. She had trained in the department and that alone was a tiny bit eyebrow raising because the Department definitely had the ethos of geographic nomadism being the best. It goes without saying that some of the Defenders of Quality were had been the loudest about how surely we could not hire our own trainees or anybody too well-associated with the department! That would compromise our quality.

But even better was the fact that soon after the hire it turned out that she was engaged to one of the established faculty. Naturally that guy was one of the jerkiest Defenders of Quality and most fervent Anti-Affirmative-Action Warriors. The most reddit of walking reddit threads. And here he was, engineering the tenure track Assistant Professor appointment of his soon-to-be spouse.

Of course the tale gets even better. There were at least four examples of women married to established professors in the department who had tried to get faculty appointments over the previous decade and a half. None of them got Asst Prof offers and had to settle for bad non-tenure track barely faculty appointments. They struggled along on the margins of slightly above adjunct teaching gigs and shoe string research activities. So on the one hand, of course this couple that pulled it off had to be totally secret about their relationship until after she'd gotten hired.

OTOH... oooooh, baby there were some angry folks.

*thanks to someone who may or may not choose to self-identify in the comments for this little gem

2 responses so far

What is a "staff scientist" and is this an attractive career option?

Jan 17 2017 Published by under Academics, Careerism, Postdoctoral Training

Our good blog friend, occasional commenter and behind the scenes provoker of YHN's blogging nearly on par with CPP, @superkash put up a twitt poll:

An extended discussion is going on and there are a few things of interest to me that are emerging.

What IS a "staff scientist"? Does it have a defined role? How is it used both formally by institutions and in less formal career-expectation space? How is it viewed by the hiring PI? How is it viewed by postdocs?

Is it, or should it be, a mere evolution of a postdoc after a certain interval of time (e.g., 5 years)?

Is it, or should it be, in part a job-job where a person is hired to do one sciencey thing (generate data from this assay)?

Is it, or should it be, a job where the person "merely" does as the PI instructs at all times?

Does it come with supervisory responsibilities? Is part of the deal to remove this person from ever having to consider grant-getting?

Is permanence of the job in a way that is not the case with postdocs an implied or explicit condition of the job title?

57 responses so far

Tenured profs should pick up the check?

Jan 03 2017 Published by under Academics, Conduct of Science

While I think generosity on the part of more senior scientists is a good thing, and should be encouraged, making this an obligation is flawed. How do you know what that person's obligations are?

I post this in case any PI types out there don't know this is a thing. If you can pick up a check or pay more than your share, hey great. Good for you.

But nobody should expect it of you.

27 responses so far

Thought of the Day

Dec 10 2016 Published by under Academics, Ennui, General Politics

Take care of yourself and your family first, folks. The next four years are going to be a bumpy ride for decent people.

Secure your situation. Take the job, take the money. Hunker down. 

I really hate to say this but lab-wise it might be time to trim the sails too. Play for no-cost extensions of that grant, no telling what the glorious future of Precision Medicine Initiatives, BRAINI and the like holds for regular R01 budgets. 

34 responses so far

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

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