Self-interested nepotistic shittebagges constantly assert this parade of horribles that if we don’t fund the right subset of scientists in today’s tight scientific funding environment (coincidentally them, their friends, their trainees, and their family members), then we are going to destroy scientific progress. This is because they are delusional......
Archive for the 'Careerism' category
Some scientists prefer to occupy scientific meeting space as the proverbial fly on the wall.
Rarely, if ever, comment at the microphone. They are not to be found gesticulating wildly to a small group of peers around the coffee table.
Others loom large. Constantly at the microphone for comment. Glad handing their buddies in every room before and after the session. Buttonholing POs at the slightest opportunity.
Someone just pointed this out to me, so I've been thinking about it.
Obviously nobody wants to end up being seen as a narcissistic blowhard who can't shut up and never has anything useful to say.
But it is good to be known in your field*. And meeting visibility is part of that.
*Cause and effect may not be simple here, I will acknowledge.
The NIH has recently issued the first round of guidance on inclusion of Sex as a Biological Variable in future NIH research grants. I am completely behind the spirit of the initiative but I have concerns about how well this is going to work in practice. I wrote a post in 2008 that detailed some of the reasons that have brought us to the situation where the Director of the NIH felt he had to coauthor an OpEd on this topic. I believe these issues are still present, will not be magically removed with new instructions to reviewers and need to be faced head-on if the NIH is to make any actual progress on ensuring SABV is considered appropriately going forward.
The post originally appeared December 2, 2008.
The title quote came from one of my early, and highly formative, experiences on study section. In the course of discussing a revised application it emerged that the prior version of the application had included a sex comparison. The PI had chosen to delete that part of the design in the revised application, prompting one of the experienced members of the panel to ask, quite rhetorically, "Why do they always drop the females?"
I was reminded of this when reading over Dr. Isis' excellent post [Update: Original Sb post lost, I think the repost can be found here] on the, shall we say less pernicious, ways that the course of science is slanted toward doing male-based research. Really, go read that post before you continue here, it is a fantastic description.
Thank you. That's the first time I've seen someone address the reasons behind ongoing gender disparities in health research. I still can't say as it thrills me (or you, obviously), but I understand a bit better now.
Did somebody ring?
As I pointed out explicitly at least once ([Update: Original 2007 post]), research funding has a huge role in what science actually gets conducted. Huge. In my book this means that if one feels that an area of science is being systematically overlooked or minimized, one might want to take a close look at the manner by which science is funded and the way by which science careers are sustained as potential avenues for systematic remedy.
There are a couple of ways in which the generalized problems with NIH grant review lead to the rhetorical comment with which I opened the post. One very common StockCritique of NIH grant review is that of an "over ambitious" research plan. As nicely detailed in Isis' post, the inclusion of a sex comparison doubles the groups right off the bat but even more to the point, it requires the inclusion of various hormonal cycling considerations. This can be as simple as requiring female subjects to be assessed at multiple points of an estrous cycle. It can be considerably more complicated, often requiring gonadectomy (at various developmental timepoints) and hormonal replacement (with dose-response designs, please) including all of the appropriate control groups / observations. Novel hormonal antagonists? Whoops, the model is not "well established" and needs to be "compared to the standard gonadectomy models",
Grant reviewers prefer simplicityKeep in mind, if you will, that there is always a more fundamental comparison or question at the root of the project, such as "does this drug compound ameliorate cocaine addiction?" So all the gender comparisons, designs and groups need to be multiplied against the cocaine addiction/treatment conditions. Suppose it is one of those cocaine models that requires a month or more of training per group? Who is going to run all those animals ? How many operant boxes / hours are available? and at what cost? Trust me, the grant proposal is going to take fire for "scope of the project".
Another StockCritique to blame is "feasibility". Two points here really. First is the question of Preliminary Data- of course if you have to run more experimental conditions to establish that you might have a meritorious hypothesis, you are less likely to do it with a fixed amount of pilot/startup/leftover money. Better to work on preliminary data for two or three distinct applications over just one if you have the funds. Second aspect has to do with a given PIs experience with the models in question. More opportunity to say "The PI has no idea what s/he is doing methodologically" if s/he has no prior background with the experimental conditions, which are almost always the female-related ones. As we all know, it matters little that the hormonal assays or gonadectomy or whatever procedures have been published endlessly if you don't have direct evidence that you can do it. Of course, more latitude is extended to the more-experienced investigator....but then s/he is less likely to jump into gender-comparisons in a sustained way in contrast to a newly minted PI.
Then there are the various things under grantspersonship. You have limited space in a given type of grant application. The more groups and comparisons, the more you have to squeeze in with respect to basic designs, methods and the interpretation/alternative approaches part. So of course you leave big windows for critiques of "hasn't fully considered...." and "it is not entirely clear how the PI will do..." and "how the hypothesis will be evaluated has not been sufficiently detailed...".
Although research funding plays a huge role in career success, it is only part of the puzzle. Another critical factor is what we consider to be "great" or "exciting" science in our respective fields.
The little people can fill in the details. This is basically the approach of GlamourMagz science. (This is a paraphrase of something the most successful GlamourMagz PI I know actually says.) Cool, fast and hot is not compatible with the metastasizing of experimental conditions that is an inevitable feature of gender-comparison science. Trouble is, this approach tends to trickle down in various guises. Lower (than GlamourMag) impact factor journals sometimes try to upgrade by becoming more NS-like (Hi, J Neuro!). Meticulous science and exacting experimental designs are only respected (if at all) after the fact. Late(r) in someone's career they start getting props on their grant reviews for this. Early? Well the person hasn't yet shown the necessity and profit for the exhaustive designs and instead they just look...unproductive. Like they haven't really shown anything yet.
As we all know splashy CNS pubs on the CV trump a sustained area of contribution in lower journals six ways to Sunday. This is not to say that nobody will appreciate the meticulous approach, they will. Just to say that high IF journal pubs will trump. Always.
So the smart young PI is going to stay away from those messy sex-differences studies. Everything tells her she should. If he does dip a toe, he's more likely to pay a nasty career price.
This is why NIH efforts to promote sex-comparison studies are necessary. Promoting special funding opportunities are the only way to tip the equation even slightly more favorable to the sex-differences side. The lure of the RFA is enough to persuade the experienced PI to write in the female groups. To convince the new PI that she might just risk it this one time.
My suspicion is that it is not enough. Beyond the simple need to take a stepwise approach to the science as detailed by Isis, the career and funding pressures are irresistible forces.
Science Careers has an advice column called Ask Alice with Alice Huang.
She got one spectacularly wrong. It was pulled from the main site but can be viewed in archive here. I'll reprint the text in case that disappears for some reason.
Q: I’ve just joined a new lab for my second postdoc. It’s a good lab. I’m happy with my project. I think it could really lead to some good results. My adviser is a good scientist, and he seems like a nice guy. Here’s the problem: Whenever we meet in his office, I catch him trying to look down my shirt. Not that this matters, but he’s married.
What should I do?
A: Imagine what life would be like if there were no individuals of the opposite—or preferred—sex. It would be pretty dull, eh? Well, like it or not, the workplace is a part of life.
It’s true that, in principle, we’re all supposed to be asexual while working. But the kind of behavior you mention is common in the workplace. Once, a friend told me that he was so distracted by an attractive visiting professor that he could not concentrate on a word of her seminar. Your adviser may not even be aware of what he is doing.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) defines unlawful sexual harassment as “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.” It goes on to say that “harassment is illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision (such as the victim being fired or demoted).” I’m not an attorney, but to me the behavior you’re describing doesn’t seem unlawful by this standard.
Some definitions of sexual harassment do include inappropriate looking or staring, especially when it’s repeated to the point where the workplace becomes inhospitable. Has it reached that point? I don’t mean to suggest that leering is appropriate workplace behavior—it isn’t—but it is human and up to a point, I think, forgivable. Certainly there are worse things, including the unlawful behaviors described by the EEOC. No one should ever use a position of authority to take sexual advantage of another.
As long as your adviser does not move on to other advances, I suggest you put up with it, with good humor if you can. Just make sure that he is listening to you and your ideas, taking in the results you are presenting, and taking your science seriously. His attention on your chest may be unwelcome, but you need his attention on your science and his best advice.
I'll suggest that whenever someone is seeking advice (even from an advice column) and says "whenever we meet..." that it suggests that this behavior is repeated, unwelcome, offensive and is making the workplace inhospitable.
I also think that one-on-one personal advice along the lines of "well just how bad is it?" and trying to make sure the person isn't on a hair trigger for some reason is totally inappropriate for an advice column in ScienceCareer from the journal Sciences. This is a high profile venue and this issue needs to be dealt with under the assumption of broad generalization.
Look, I know a great number of normal, decent, nonharassing people fear the spectre of being brought up on career charges for an inadvertent glance at a deep bit of cleavage. Being the heteronormative male raised in US culture that I am, yeah, I am to be found looking at bits of other people's anatomy from time to time. A lot of it feels subconscious, automatic and reflexive (NOT MY FAULT!).
I get it. Nobody feels like a person should be run out of their job for a stray look.
But my experience suggests that the vast majority of these cases reveal that women are incredibly tolerant and reluctant to cry "harassment" based on the unintentional stray look. I tend to suspect that by the time a woman is talking about a mentor leering at her in solo settings there is a good chance the behavior is well beyond normal, inadvertent glancing.
I don't know this for sure, of course. I certainly don't think that I leer. I think that I keep my eyes to myself in a professional setting as best I am able and I think that I consciously notice when my eyes have strayed and take effort to knock that shit off. But perhaps I have made employees uncomfortable and hopefully if I am ever made aware of that I would apologize profusely. At the very least I would try to defend myself without trying to pretend it was all in her head and generally gaslighting the remotest possibility that something I did might have made an underling uncomfortable.
So I think Ask Alice has run off the rails on this one. Our default, public, high profile response to situations like this should not be to suggest the victim should merely put up with it as "human and...forgivable" behavior. Our default response should be to assume that by the time someone complains about it, the odds are that the behavior is repeated and severe enough to be offensive. The mentor is already not paying sufficient attention to "your science" and his duties to provide "his best advice". Putting up with the leering isn't going to change that.
Related from Zen:
UPDATE: Science Careers Editor Note on pulling the piece:
The Ask Alice article, “Help! My adviser won’t stop looking down my shirt,” on this website has been removed by Science because it did not meet our editorial standards, was inconsistent with our extensive institutional efforts to promote the role of women in science, and had not been reviewed by experts knowledgeable about laws regarding sexual harassment in the workplace. We regret that the article had not undergone proper editorial review prior to posting. Women in science, or any other field, should never be expected to tolerate unwanted sexual attention in the workplace.
My esteemed colleague says no:
— Rick Bevins (@RBevins) May 27, 2015
My view is that a job talk is more prestigious than a mere invited seminar due to the focal competition and review.
So sure, put those down in the same CV category as non-job-talk seminar invitations.
We spend a fair amount of time talking about grant strategy on this blog. Presumably, this is a reflection of an internal process many of us go through trying to decide how to distribute our grant writing effort so as to maximize our chances of getting funded. After all we have better things to do than to write grants.
So we scrutinize success rates for various ICs, various mechanisms, FOAs, etc as best we are able. We flog RePORTER for evidence of which study sections will be most sympathetic to our proposals and how to cast our applications so as to be attractive. We worry about how to construct our Biosketch and who to include as consultants or collaborators. We obsess over how much preliminary data is enough (and too much*).
This is all well and good and maybe, maybe....perhaps....it helps.
But at some level, you have to follow your gut, too. Even when the odds seem overwhelmingly bad, there are going to be times when dang it, you just feel like this is the right thing to do.
Submitting an R01 on very thin preliminary data because it just doesn't work as an R21 perhaps.
Proposing an R03 scope project even if the relevant study section has only one** of them funded on the RePORTER books.
Submitting your proposal when the PO who will likely be handling it has already told you she hates your Aims***.
Revising that application that has been triaged twice**** and sending it back in as a A2asA0 proposal.
I would just advise that you take a balanced approach. Make your riskier attempts, sure, but balance those with some less risky applications too.
I view it as....experimenting.
*Just got a question about presenting too much preliminary data the other day.
**of course you want to make sure there is not a structural issue at work, such as the section stopped reviewing this mechanism two years ago.
***1-2%ile scores have a way of softening the stony cold heart of a Program Officer. Within-payline skips are very, very rare beasts.
****one of my least strategic behaviors may be in revising grants that have been triaged. Not sure I've ever had one funded after initial triage and yet I persist. Less so now than I used to but.....I have a tendency. Hard headed and stupid, maybe.
From the Twitts.....
That is, I'm driven more by rage at my own inadequacy than by love of discovery.
— Bill Hooker (@sennoma) April 27, 2015
Me, I think I never got past "I wonder what that does?"
Do you keep track of your manuscript rejections in any systematic way? If so, how?
The following is a guest post from Namaste. Ish. Previously known as the bluebird of happiness, My T. Chondria. Stuff happened. The kitten walked away. Deal with it.
For those who have never had the unique experience of visiting a high security prison and the opportunity to meet @drugmonkeyblog in real life….he’s an asshole. Earlier this week, this sentiment ran thru parts of science Twitter and Ted’s blog comments following his kicking the academic ‘nads of one Andrew Hollenbach after he had the misfortune of posting his story about having to close his lab when his funding ran out.
Ted gets in a twist that Andrew Hollenbach says he was ‘trying’ and rails for paragraphs about how Hollenbeck efforts should not be construed as ‘trying’. In his own bit of MDMA-fueled cyber sleuthing, @drugmonkeyblog took the poor doods CV to task. Not enough pubs. Gaps in funding. Unclear appointments. Ted stood at a tree in the forest, found a leaf and chopped that thing up.
If you were that hacked up bit of leaf, how well would you do? You need to know the answer to this. Look at your CV. Be brutally honest. Ask others to be brutally honest. Get a mentoring committee you trust. Find IRL or cyber peers who will hold your feet to the fire and know people who won’t blow smoke up your arse when you fail.
Hollenbach talks about his love of science and teaching yet now has no idea what his next step is because can’t find an adult job as scientist. I don’t personally care about his CV. At my core, I am upset that this is someone who could be anyone I know. Throw in a personal tragedy, an experimental disaster (check your -80 lint screen lately?) and you can go from independent academic scientist to sadsack sitting in a pile of dried out samples in no time.
We are in a diminishing forest of people and this is not how we honor those in our profession. He’s leaving academics and this is sad. And it is scary. And I’m not going to kick him in the arse on the way out the door. Doing science is noble and anyone who does it with passion should be able to find a place. We have invested too much in scientists and have too few highly educated people to not mourn when they have clear no future in mind after closing a lab.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not handing out cookies. But if you played well with others, did your job by other accounts, and were not a cheatfuckking, harassing, credit stealing fucknuts, I will always be sad we lose an academic scientist. I don’t know if he should have been a PI. But I sure won’t be the one that suggests he be an investment banker.
Ted is an asshole but he evaluated his CV. And until there is another way to measure scientist’s impact honoring all the things we can bring to academia and society, you will be at the hands of assholes like Ted.
Yesterday's review of the research publications of a person who had written about closing down his lab due to lack of funding in this "unfair" grant award environment touched a nerve on at least one Reader. I assume it was uncomfortable for many of you to read.
It was uncomfortable for me to write.
You can tell because I felt compelled to slip in the odd caveat about my own record. I can write one of those reviews about my own career that would be equally, if not more, critical and uncomfortable.
No doubt more than one of you got the feeling that if I wrote a similar review of your record you would come up wanting ...or at least PhysioProffe would jump in to tell you how shitasse you are*. Certainly at least one correspondent expressed this feeling.
But that tinge of anxiety, fear and possibly shame that you feel should tell you that it is a good idea to perform this little review of yourself now and again. Good to try to step outside of your usual excuses to yourself and see how your CV looks to the dispassionate observer who doesn't know anything about your career other than the publication and NIH-award (or other grants, as relevant) record.
Do you have obvious weaknesses? Too few publications? Too few first/last author (as appropriate). Too few collaborations? Insufficiently high Journal Impact Factor points? Etc.
What is all of this going to say to grant reviewers, hiring committees or promotions committees?
Then, this allows you to do something about it. You can't change the past but you can alter the course of your future.
In some situations, like crafting the NIH Biosketch Personal Statement, you do actually have the opportunity to alter the past....not the reality but certainly the perception of it. So that is another place where the review of your CV helps. That voice of excuse-making that arises? Leverage that. You DO have reasons for certain weaknesses and perhaps other features of your CV help to overcome that if they are just pointed out properly.
*he wouldn't, btw.