Archive for the 'Scientific Meetings' category

The culture of "the lab that socializes together" enables the predators

There is a cautionary tale in the allegations against three Dartmouth Professors who are under investigation (one retired as a Dean reached a recommendation to fire him) for sexual harassment, assault and/or discrimination. From The Dartmouth:

several students in the PBS department described what they called an uncomfortable workplace culture that blurred the line between professional and personal relationships.

Oh, hai, buzzkill! I mean it's just normal socializing. If you don't like it nobody is forcing you to do it man. Why do you object to the rest of us party hounds having a little fun?

They said they often felt pressured to drink at social events in order to further their professional careers, a dynamic that they allege promoted favoritism and at times inappropriate behavior.

The answer is that this potential for nastiness is always lurking in these situations. There are biases within the laboratory that can have very lasting consequences for the trainees. Who gets put on what projects. Who gets preferential resources. Who is selected to attend a fancy meeting with a low trainee/PI ratio? Who is introduced around as the amazing talented postdoc and who is ignored? This happens all the time to some extent but why should willingness (and ability, many folks have family responsibilities after normal working hours) to socialize with the lab affect this?

Oh, come on, buzzkill! It's just an occasional celebration of a paper getting accepted.

Several students who spoke to The Dartmouth said that Kelley encouraged his lab members to drink and socialize at least weekly, often on weeknights and at times during business hours, noting that Whalen occasionally joined Kelley for events off-campus.

Or, you know, constantly. Seriously? At the very least the PI has a drinking problem* and is covering it up with invented "lab" reasons to consume alcohol. But all too often it turns sinister and you can see the true slimy purpose revealed.

At certain social events, the second student said she sometimes refused drinks, only to find another drink in her hand, purchased or provided by one of the professors under the premise of being “a good host.”

Yeah, and now we get into the area of attempted drug-assisted sexual assault. Now sure, it could just be the PI thinking the grad student or postdoc can't afford the drinks and wants to be a good chap. It could be. But then.....

She described an incident at a social event with members of the department, at which she said everyone was drinking, and one of the professors put his arm around her. She said his arm slid lower, to the point that she was uncomfortable and “very aware of where his hand [was] on [her] body,” and she said she felt like she was being tested.

Ugh. The full reveal of the behavior.

Look, as always, there is a spectrum here. The occasional lab celebration that involves the consumption of alcohol, and the society meeting social event that involves consumption of alcohol, can be just fine. Can be. But these traditions in the academic workplace are often co-opted by the creeper to his own ends. So you can end up with that hard-partying PI who is apparently just treating his lab like "friends" or "family" and belives that "everyone needs to blow off steam" to "build teamwork" and this lets everyone pull together....but then the allegations of harassment start to surface. All of the "buddies" who haven't been affected (or more sinisterly have been affected for the good) circle the wagons.
Bro 1: Oh, he's such a good guy.
Bro 2: Why are you being a buzzkill?
Bro 3: Don't you think they are misinterpreting?

He isn't, because people are being harmed and no, the victims are not "misinterpreting" the wandering arm/hand.

Keep a tight rein on the lab-based socializing, PIs. It leads to bad places if you do not.

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*And that needs to be considered even when there is not the vaguest shred of sexual assault or harassment in evidence.

15 responses so far

Floor 13 and the Society for Neuroscience Annual Meeting

Oct 14 2016 Published by under Scientific Meetings, Society for Neuroscience

When the neuroscientists in my audience show up in San Diego next month for the Annual Meeting, they will not be assigned a room on Floor 13 of their hotel. How do I know this? Because in the US of A we are so frickin' superstitious about a number that we mis-number hotel floors. Oh, there will be people on the 13th floor of hotels all right, it is just that we call it the 14th floor.

Because, reasons.

A notification of poster locations came out today from the SFN and it provides the convenient navigational advice about how to locate the boards for a given poster assignment.

Hall B: Poster Rows AAA-OOO

I didn't think that much about this until a tweep noted that assignment to any of the boards in section KKK raised an eyebrow.

Is it a little thing? Yeah, it probably is. Is it silly? No, not if it bothers anyone.

But what I take away from this is yet another reminder that there are probably very few black people in the Society for Neuroscience in any sort of position to notice this sort of business in advance and say "hey, maybe we can just skip KKK like the way a hotel skips floor 13?".

I dunno. Maybe I'm just sensitized because we have a main stream Republican candidate for President of the United States who is overtly courting the vote of the KKK.

12 responses so far

On sending trainees to conferences that lack gender balance

Neuroscientist Bita Moghaddam asked a very interesting question on Twitter but it didn't get much discussion yet. I thought I'd raise it up for the blog audience.

My immediate thought was that we should first talk about the R13 Support for Scientific Conferences mechanism. These are often used to provide some funding for Gordon Research Conference meetings, for the smaller society meetings and even some very small local(ish) conferences. Examples from NIDA, NIMH, NIGMS. I say first because this would seem to be the very easy case.

NIH should absolutely keep a tight eye on gender distribution of the meetings supported by such grant awards.The FOA reads, in part:

Additionally, the Conference Plan should describe strategies for:

Involving the appropriate representation of women, minorities, and persons with disabilities in the planning and implementation of, and participation in, the proposed conference.
Identifying and publicizing resources for child care and other types of family care at the conference site to allow individuals with family care responsibilities to attend.

so it is a no-brainer there, although as we know from other aspects of NIH the actual review can depart from the FOA. I don't have any experience with these mechanisms personally so I can't say how well this particular aspect is respected when it comes to awarding good (fundable) scores.

Obviously, I think any failure to address representation should be a huge demerit. Any failure to achieve representation at the same, or similar meeting ("The application should identify related conferences held on the subject during the past 3 years and describe how the proposed conference is similar to, and/or different from these."), should also be a huge demerit.

At least as far as this FOA for this scientific conference support mechanism goes, the NIH would appear to be firmly behind the idea that scientific meetings should be diverse.

By extension, we can move on to the actual question from Professor Moghaddam. Should we use the additional power of travel funds to address diversity?

Of course, right off, I think of the ACNP annual meeting because it is hands down the least diverse meeting I have ever attended. By some significant margin. Perhaps not in gender representation but hey, let us not stand only on our pet issue of representation, eh?

As far as trainees go, I think heck no. If my trainee wants to go to any particular meeting because it will help her or him in their careers, I can't say no just to advance my own agenda with respect to diversity. Like it or not, I can't expect any of them to pay any sort of price for my tender sensibilities.

Myself? Maybe. But probably not. See the aforementioned ACNP. When I attend that meeting it is because I think it will be advantageous for me, my lab or my understanding of science. I may carp and complain to certain ears that may matter about representation at the ACNP, but I'm not going on strike about it.

Other, smaller meetings? Like a GRC? I don't know. I really don't.

I thank Professor Moghaddam for making me think about it though. This is the start of a ponder for me and I hope it is for you as well.

16 responses so far

(in)visible at scientific meetings

Jun 22 2015 Published by under Careerism, Scientific Meetings, Tribe of Science

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.   
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*Cause and effect may not be simple here, I will acknowledge.

28 responses so far

Scientists around the campfire sing kumbaya

Jun 14 2015 Published by under Scientific Meetings, Tribe of Science

one of the fantasy vibes I like at scientific meetings is the sense we're all pulling together towards the same ends. In harmony. As a team. 

We have the same mountain to climb, the same dragons to slay and we're all just happy to play our part. 

The science is the thing.
We're not in competition and we aren't  seething mad about the grant or paper review this peer right in front of us is suspected of writing. 

We even pretend to think all of our peers' models, questions, theories and  findings are highly valuable. 

It's a good feeling to pretend, if only for a little while. 

Kumbaya, My Lord. Kumbaya.

13 responses so far

Winter Brain vs GRCs

Jan 25 2015 Published by under Scientific Meetings, Tribe of Science

The winter "ski meeting" is about as junkety as it gets in science. It looks bad to spend the Federal grant dollars attending an academic meeting at a ski area. Especially when sessons are planned in a way to carve out plenty of daylight hours for skiing.

And yet your standard GRC does the same thing. Except you replace skiing the Rockies with hiking in the Appalachians.

Somehow the latter seems less like an elite and frivolous activity.

But really, it is about the same thing.

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H/t: a certain troll

59 responses so far

The upside of scientific meetings

Oct 18 2012 Published by under Scientific Meetings

It's quite possible that the full-throated value of a scientific meeting for your science is only realized once you are a PI.

It is not infrequent that I come back from scientific meetings all in a tizzy to do one of three things.

1) Put the hurry up on pumping out some data that we've been collecting.

2) Start new experiments! Several. We gotta get on this right now people so let's moooooove!

3) Write two or three new grant proposals.

The reasons are varied but it all comes down to the constellation of encouragements you get at a conference through talking with various people about your data and their own data.

This is why we do this. Because the science is exciting. And meetings put a thick underline below this experience.

10 responses so far

Repost: Put NIH Row on Your Itinerary

As those of us in the neurosciences prepare for our largest annual scientific gathering, we should attend to a certain little task to assist with the odds of obtaining NIH grant funding. Part of that process is a long game of developing interpersonal relationships with the Program Officers that staff the NIH ICs of interest to our individual research areas. Many scientists find the schmoozing process to be uncomfortable and perhaps even distasteful.

To this I can only reply "Well, do you want to get funded or not?".

This post originally went up Nov 12, 2008. I've edited a few things for links and content.


One of the most important things you are going to do during the upcoming SfN Annual Meeting in Washington DC is to stroll around NIH row. Right?

I have a few thoughts for the trainees after the jump. I did mention that this is a long game, did I not? Continue Reading »

4 responses so far

Repost: Scientific Meetings, Networking, The Male Gaze and, well, um, Thingmabobs...

Oct 10 2012 Published by under Scientific Meetings, Society for Neuroscience

What with the 2012 edition of the Society for Neuroscience meeting rapidly approaching, I thought I'd return to this critical issue in meeting etiquette.

This was originally posted Sept 11, 2008 on the old Scienceblogs version of DrugMonkey.
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Annual scientific meetings have many purposes. One of the most essential purposes that cannot be readily accomplished by other means is the initiation and development of inter-personal relationships. Call it networking, schmoozing or whatever you like. As with any other human enterprise, there are many aspects that are improved by meeting other people face to face and becoming acquainted with them.
There is an aspect of scientific meetings, however, that always presents a very difficult problem for YHN (see Figure 1).

Continue Reading »

27 responses so far

Poster presenting 101: Know your audience

Neuropolarbear has a post up suggesting that people presenting posters at scientific meetings should know how to give the short version of their poster.

My favorite time to see posters is 11:55 and 4:55, since then people are forced to keep it short.

If you are writing your poster talk right now, remember to use a stopwatch and make your 5 minute version 5 minutes.

Don't even practice a longer version.

I have a suggestion.

Ask the person to tell you why they are there! Really, this is a several second exchange that can save a lot of time. For noobs, sure, maybe this is slightly embarrassing because it underlines that even if you have managed to scope out the name successfully you do not remember that this is some luminary in your subfield. Whatever. Suck it up and ask. It saves tremendous time.

If you are presenting rodent behavioral data and the person indicates that they know their way around an intravenous self-administration procedure, skip the methods! or just highlight where you've deviated critically from the expected paradigms. If they are some molecular douche who just stopped by because "THC" caught their eye then you may need to go into some detail about what sort of paradigms you are presenting.

Similarly if it is someone from the lab that just published a paper close to your findings, just jump straight to the data-chase. "This part of figure 2 totally explains what you just published"

Trust me, they will thank you.

As Neuropolarbear observes, if you've skipped something key, then this person will ask. Poster sessions are great that way.

3 responses so far

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