Archive for the 'Careerism' category

What about grant scooping?

Apr 09 2016 Published by under Careerism

Enough about getting your paper scooped.

What about when someone keeps down rating your grant proposals with ticky tack criticisms and then, lo and behold, starts working on your topic of interest. 

Did you just convince them it was an awesome topic and they think they can do better*? 

Or is there some nefarious attempt to steal "your" grant at play?

*they can't.

16 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

Tenure without a major grant

Mar 24 2016 Published by under Careerism

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that some Universities are being more flexible on previous grant-related criteria for tenure. 

Interestingly, University representatives refused to identify faculty that have been tenured without major grants. 

I sure hope we don't find out this is another source of bias for the traditionally empowered demographics.

25 responses so far

An issue of data ownership

Mar 23 2016 Published by under Careerism, Mentoring, Postdoctoral Training

An interesting retraction of an Editorial expression of concern hit the Twitts:

The Editors and publisher have withdrawn an Expression of Concern previously contributed by noted neuroscientist David Amaral, with his agreement.

The original version of this Comment ‘Expression of Concern’ published by D. Amaral has been withdrawn by the Publisher in relation to the paper: ‘Organization of connections of the basal and accessory basal nuclei in the monkey amygdala’ by Eva Bonda, published in Volume 12, pp. 1971-1992 (doi: 10.1046/j.1460-9568.2000.00082.x). The review carried out at the University of California at Davis in December 2001 (brought to the publisher's attention in February 2016) concluded that the allegation against Eva Bonda described in the commentary ‘Expression of Concern’ by D. Amaral did not meet The Office of Research Integrity's definition of research misconduct, and was not pursued further.

That November 2000 Expression of Concern read, in part:

It has recently come to my attention that Eva Bonda has published a paper in the European Journal of Neuroscience entitled, ‘Organization of connections of the basal and accessory basal nuclei in the monkey amygdala’ ( Bonda, 2000). The data described in this paper were produced by my students and me at the University of California, Davis. Support for carrying out the experiments that produced these data was provided by the National Institute of Mental Health, through grant MH 41479 for which I am the Principal Investigator.
..The publication of this single-authored paper was totally unauthorized. Eva Bonda was a postdoctoral fellow in our laboratory.

Ok, so PI asserts ownership of data collected in his lab. Fine, fine... Typical story of postdoc who thinks that she owns and controls her data? And the PI was blocking publication for reasons unknown. We all have been down the various roads of he said/she said often enough to imagine a variety of scenarios where we might alternately side with the trainee or the postdoc.


She had access to the preparations that were described in the paper. However, she did not carry out any of the experimental procedures involved in making the tracer injections reported in this paper. These injections were made by other students in the laboratory and by me. Moreover, other than processing the tissue from a small minority of the reported cases, it was the technical staff of our laboratory rather than Eva Bonda that carried out the histological processing of the reported experiments.

Ah. Well that sounds bad. This suggests it is a little more like theft of credit from more people than just the PI. I happen to disagree with the not-infrequent pose of postdocs on the internet that they own and control "their" data that they generated in the laboratory of a given PI. But that is much more of an arguable position than is taking data generated by many people other than one's self and asserting control/ownership from a position that is not the PI.

Amaral finishes by making the charge of academic misconduct against Bonda very explicit:

In my view, the appropriation and publication of these data is a serious breach of scientific ethics. I have asked the Editor of the European Journal of Neuroscience to take appropriate action including publication of this Expression of Concern. Upon consultation with the Office of Research Integrity, Public Health Service, US Department of Health and Human Services, the agency responsible for protecting the integrity of NIH funded research programs, the UC Davis campus has agreed to initiate a review of the allegations of research misconduct. Based on the outcome of this review, further actions, including request for full retraction, may be taken concerning this.

Of course, the recent retraction of the Expression of Concern indicates that Bonda, the postdoc, was exonerated of misconduct charges in 2001!

Wow. Why did it take Amaral 15 years to retract his accusations? This seems spectacularly dickish to me.

And given the fact that the postdoc was not found guilty of misconduct by the University, it really questions the factual basis of his assertions in the original Expression of Concern. If I were the postdoc in question, I might have launched a counter accusation of professional misconduct. Depending, of course, on the details of the inquiry and what each party did and did not do. The exoneration of the postdoc may simply have been a lack of proof of intent, rather than any disagreement over the facts.

I notice, however, an interesting poll put up by an individual who both was RTing the tweets that alerted me to this situation and apparently co-published with Amaral.

Gee, I wonder what the nature of the dispute was between Amaral and Bonda?

The subject of this poll is the juxtaposition of "good data" with "high quality standards" of the PI. Given what Amaral does, I'm going out on a limb and assuming we are talking about how pretty the immunohistochemical images are or are not (the Bonda paper is nearly all immuno-staining pictures).

19 responses so far

We all could use a little managerial advice like this

Mar 13 2016 Published by under Careerism, Mentoring

Passed along by a very kind soul....I think there is a little something here for all of us.

14 responses so far

How AAAS and Science magazine really feel about sexual harassment cases in science

Michael Balter wrote a piece about sexual harassment accusations against paleoanthropologist Brian Richmond, the curator of human origins at the American Museum of Natural History that was published in Science magazine.

This story has been part of what I hope is a critical mass of stories publicizing sexual harassment in academia. Critical, that is, to stimulating real improvement in workplaces and a decrease in tolerance for sexual harassing behavior on the part of established scientists toward their underlings.

There have been a very disturbing series of tweets from Balter today.

Holy....surely it isn't connected to....

Oh Christ, of course it is....

but they published it so...?

Well THAT should have a nicely suppressing effect on journalists who may think about writing up any future cases of sexual harassment in academia.

UPDATE: Blog entry from Balter.
ETA: I am particularly exercised about this after completing, just this week, a survey from AAAS about what the membership expects from them. The survey did not seem to have a check box item for "Fight against scientific and workplace misconduct".

36 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

Grad students are hilarious

Mar 09 2016 Published by under Careerism, Mentoring, Postgraduate Training

Scene: Laboratory of Hibernation Studies

PI: "We need to discuss your thesis plans...what have you come up with so far?"

Grad Student: "Bears"

PI: "What? Dude, we have a sweet ground squirrel model all ready to go. What do you want to use it for?"

GS: "I want to start up a bear lab. It'll be great."

PI: -Dead Stare-

GS: "Bears! Hibernation! .....get it?"


GS: "Meanie"

16 responses so far

Treat your published papers as those of your competitors

Feb 18 2016 Published by under Careerism, Conduct of Science

No scientist should *ever* be afraid to publish a finding that contradicts their prior publications.

9 responses so far

Thought of the Day

Feb 04 2016 Published by under Careerism, Science Publication

We always seem to go through a run of manuscript rejections and then a run of accepts. I wish we could figure out how to spread these out a little bit more. Would alternation be too much trouble, world?

3 responses so far

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