Archive for the 'Academics' category

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.

Nice.

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!
Ahem.

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

Aphorism

Jan 02 2016 Published by under Academics, Careerism, Tribe of Science

Found this on the Facebooks. It seems appropriate for a science-careers audience:

There was a farmer who grew excellent quality corn. Every year he won the award for the best grown corn. One year a newspaper reporter interviewed him and learned something interesting about how he grew it. The reporter discovered that the farmer shared his seed corn with his neighbors. “How can you afford to share your best seed corn with your neighbors when they are entering corn in competition with yours each year?” the reporter asked.

“Why sir,” said the farmer, “Didn’t you know? The wind picks up pollen from the ripening corn and swirls it from field to field. If my neighbors grow inferior corn, cross-pollination will steadily degrade the quality of my corn. If I am to grow good corn, I must help my neighbors grow good corn.”

11 responses so far

The #StayMadAbby case proves the point about perceptions of fairness

Dec 10 2015 Published by under Academics, Anger, Diversity in Science

The other day I was discussing the notion of what is "fair" in majority USian thinking.

In the US, it is considered fair if the very top echelon of the disadvantaged population succeeds at the level of the bottom slice of the advantaged distribution.

And if any individual of the top echelon of the disadvantaged population should happen to achieve up past the middle of the advantaged distribution? Well clearly that is unfair and evidence of reverse discrimination!

I was not familiar with the details of the Abigail Fisher (#StayMadAbby) case under consideration by SCOTUS (see Scalia) this week when I wrote that. I have learned a few things.

The University of Texas has a policy of accepting the top 10% of in-state high school graduates. This accounted for 92% of the slots when Ms. Fisher was applying for admission. She was not in the top 10% of her class.

Her qualifications were mediocre at best: A GPA of 3.59 and SAT scores of 1180/1600.

So she was less than amazingly qualified and was fighting for one of the 8% of the remaining admission slots for non-top-10% applicants.

There is more though, which is a real kicker. Again, from the Salon article. There were:

168 black and Latino students with grades as good as or better than Fisher’s who were also denied entry into the university that year.

So if she had been admitted, they would have all had a case that she was stealing their slot.

It gets better*.

It’s true that the university, for whatever reason, offered provisional admission to some students with lower test scores and grades than Fisher. Five of those students were black or Latino. Forty-two were white.

Emphasis added.

Ms. Fisher is suing on the basis of those five black or Latino students who were admitted. They had worse grades, you see, so she deserved to get in. And was discriminated against solely on the fact that she wasn't black or Latina. Except 42 white students also were admitted with worse grades. So if anyone took her slot it is 42:5 THAT IT WAS A WHITE STUDENT.

And of course had she been offered admission, there were 168 individuals with the same claim against her that she is making now.

Reminder. This is not just one woman's disappointed whinging and viral YouTube video.

This case has wended its way all the way up to the highest court in the land and is being considered by our SCOTUS Justices.

She is the best possible plaintiff. Because the details of this case underscore how true it is that "fairness" in this country is that which only just barely allows the disadvantaged to draw (almost) even with the very lowest attaining members of the advantaged populations.
__
*worse

100 responses so far

Are departments and Universities realizing their mistake?

Oct 26 2015 Published by under Academics, Careerism

Entirely predictable but I have not heard a lot about this, personally.

What about you Dear Reader? And if you have heard muttering, what is the source of the concern that is driving it?

21 responses so far

Bad Prof behavior is rampant

Oct 13 2015 Published by under Academics

In case you missed it, this is related to news of a UC Professor.

The Twitter responses to this indicated that my experience was a very common one. Now sure, one creeper prof can be the example for dozens or scores of graduate students. But still. For every one of these Geoff Marcy types that hit the news, how many more go unnoticed save locally? Scores? Hundreds?

34 responses so far

Nth year postdocs do not appreciate new grad students being put on the project

Oct 05 2015 Published by under Academics

2 responses so far

Glam cost

Sep 24 2015 Published by under #FWDAOTI, Academics, Careerism, Fixing the NIH

How much do you think it costs to generate the manuscript that is accepted for publication at your average Glam journal?

How do you align this with your views on fair distribution of research funding?

52 responses so far

Repost: A Conversation About the Environment score criterion

Aug 05 2015 Published by under Academics, Ask DrugMonkey

This was originally published July 21, 2010.


After NIGMS Director Berg notified me of his most recent regression analysis of the individual criterion scores, the good Comrade PhysioProf had a conversation. As is our wont. It went something like this.

Comrade PhysioProf: The most interesting thing of all the correlations was that investigator and environment are so highly correlated.

Your Humble Narrator: I'm not really surprised. I find environment to be a throw away consideration on panels I've been on. people don't generally propose to do something for which major infrastructure is absent!

CPP: On my last R01 review and my post-doc's NRSA, they waxed poetic about the fucking environment. In the applications, we went on and on about the scientific environment and named a number of specific faculty members whose expertise would be drawn upon blah, blah, blah. I think that shit can actually work.

YHN: Christ what a load of shit

CPP: Dude, it's true! We have an outstanding environment! The food trucks outside the med school are some of the finest in all of biomedical research!

CPP: How funny would it be to actually put that in the facilities sections of an application? "The "Alibertos" food truck is only steps away from our laboratory and provides a level of energy dense food that contributes substantially to the likelihood of success of the proposed specific aims."

YHN: "The "Alibertos" truck returns in evening hours at 6 and 10 pm so that trainees need not leave the lab until 12pm, thus maximizing throughput for these studies"

CPP: I just looked at the instructions for the new application format, and that would actually go in the "Resources" section.

YHN: HAHHAHHAHAAAHAH, you are such a grant geek!!!!!

____

Additional Reading: http://scienceblogs.com/drugmonkey/2009/12/how_critical_is_the_environmen.php

7 responses so far

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