February 28, 2014
Commenter mikka wants to know why:
I don’t get this “professional editors are not scientists” trope. All the professional editors I know were bench scientists at the start of their career. They read, write, look at and interpret data, talk to bench scientists and keep abreast of their fields. In a nutshell, they do what PIs do, except writing grants and deciding what projects must be pursued. The input some editors put in some of my papers would merit a middle authorship. They are scientists all right, and some of them very good ones.
Look, yes you are right that they are scientists. In a certain way. And yes, I regret the way that my opinion that they are 1) very different from Editors and Associate Editors who are primarily research scientists and 2) ruining science tends to be taken as a personal attack on their individual qualities and competence.
But there is simply no way around it.
The typical professional editor, typically at a Glamour(ish) Mag publication, is under-experienced in science compared with a real Editor.
Regardless of circumstances, if they have gone to the Editorial staff from a postdoc, without experience in the Principal Investigator chair then they have certain limitations.
It is particularly bad that ass kissing from PIs who are desperate to get their papers accepted tends to persuade these people over time that they are just as important as those PIs.
“Input” merits middle authorship, eh? Sure, anyone with half a brain can suggest a few more experiments. And if you have the despotic power of a Nature editor’s keyboard behind you, sure…they damn well will do it. And ask for more. And tell you how uniquely brilliant of a suggestion it all was.
And because it ends up published in a Glamour Mag, all the sheep will bleat approvingly about what a great paper it is.
Professional editors are ruining science.
They have no loyalty to the science*. Their job is to work to aggrandize their own magazine’s brand at the cost of the competition. It behooves them to insist that six papers worth of work gets buried in “Supplemental Methods” because no competing and lesser journal will get those data. It behooves them to structure the system in a way that authors will consider a whole bunch of other interesting data “unpublishable” because it got scooped by two weeks.
They have no understanding or consideration of the realities of scientific careers*. It is of no concern to them whether scientific production should be steady, whether uninteresting findings can later be of significance, nor whether any particular subfield really needs this particular kick in the pants. It is no concern to them that their half-baked suggestion requires a whole R01 scale project and two years of experiments. They do not have to consider any reality whatsoever. I find that real, working scientist Editors are much more reasonable about these issues.
Noob professional editors are star-struck and never, ever are able to see that the Emperor is, in fact, stark naked. Sorry, but it takes some experience and block circling time to mature your understanding of how science really works. Of what is really important over the long haul. Notice how the PLoSFail fans (to pick one recent issue) are heavily dominated by the wet-behind-the-ears types and the critics seem to mostly be established faculty? This is no coincidence.
Again, this is not about the personal qualities of the professional editors. The structure of their jobs, and typical career arc, makes it impossible for them to behave differently.
This is why it is the entire job category of professional editor that is the problem.
If you require authoritah, note that Nobel laureate Brenner said something similar.
It’s corrupt in many ways, in that scientists and academics have handed over to the editors of these journals the ability to make judgment on science and scientists.
He was clearly not talking about peer review itself, but rather the professional Glamour Mag type editor.
*as well they should not. It is a structural feature of the job category. They are not personally culpable, the institutional limitations are responsible.
February 28, 2014
Do you decide whether to accept a manuscript for review based on the Journal that is asking?
To what extent does this influence your decision to take a review assignment?
February 24, 2014
In my limited experience, the creation, roll-out and review of Multi-PI direction of a single NIH grant has been the smoothest GoodThing to happen in NIH supported extramural research.
I find it barely draws mention in review and deduce that my fellow scientists agree with me that it is a very good idea, long past due.
February 10, 2014
I have decided, after 40 years as a lab scientist and 24 years running my own lab, to shut it down and leave. I write this to explain why, for those of my friends and colleagues who’d like to know. The short answer is that I’m tired of being a professor.
Okay, no problem. No problem whatsoever. Dude was appointed in 1990 and has been working his tail off for 24 years at the NIH funded extramural grant game. He’s burned out. I get this.
I have never liked being a boss. My happiest years as a scientist were when I was a student and then a postdoc. I knew I wouldn’t like running a lab, and I didn’t like it. This has always been true.
My immediate plans are to go back to school and get a degree in Mathematics. This too has been a passion of mine ever since high-school sophomore Geometry, when I first learned what math is really about. And my love of it has increased in recent years as I have learned more. It will be tremendous fun to go back and learn those things that I didn’t have the time or the money to study as an undergrad.
GREAT! This is awesome. You do one thing until you tire of it and then, apparently, you have the ability to retire into a life of the mind. This is FANTASTIC!
So what’s the problem? Well, he can’t resist taking a few swipes at NIH funded extramural science, even as he admits he was never cut out for this PI stuff from the beginning. And after a long and easy gig (more on that below) he is distressed by the NIH funding situation. And feels like his way of doing science is under specific attack.
For many years NIH was interested in funding basic research as well as research aimed directly at curing diseases. With the tightening funding has come a focus on so-called “translational research”. Now when we apply for funding we have to explain what diseases our work is going to cure.
Ok, actually, this is the “truthy” part that is launching a thousand discussions of the “real problem” at NIH. So I’m going to address this part to make it very clear to his fans and back thumpers what we are talking about. On RePORTER (link above) we find that Dr Avery had one grant for 22 years. Awarded in April of 1991 and his CV lists 1990 as his first appointment. So within 15 mo (but likely 9 mo given typical academic start dates from about July through Sept) he had R01 support that he maintained through his career. In the final 5 years, he was awarded the R37 which means he has ten years of non-competing renewal. I see another R21 and one more R01. This latter was awarded on the A1. So as far as we can tell, Professor Avery never had to work too hard for his NIH grant funding. I mean sure, maybe he was putting in three grants a round for 20 years and never managed to land anything more than what I have reviewed. Somehow I doubt this. I bet his difficulties getting the necessary grant funding to run his laboratory were not all that steep compared to most of the rest of us plebes.
And actually, his Facebook post backs it up a tiny bit.
And I’ve been lucky that the world was willing to pay me to do it. Now it is hard for me to explain the diseases my work will cure. It feels like selling snake oil. I don’t want to do it any more.
I think the people enthusiastically passing along this Fb post of his maybe should focus on the key bits about his personal desires and tolerance for the job. Instead of turning this into yet another round of: “successful scientist bashes the NIH system now that finally, after all this time of a sweet, sweet ride s/he experiences a bare minimal taster of what the rest of us have faced our entire careers”.
Final note on the title: Dude, by all means. Anyone who has had a nice little run with NIH funding and is no longer entused….LEAVE. We’ll keep citing you, don’t worry. Leave the grants to those of us who still give a crap, though, eh?
UPDATE (comment from @boehninglab):
January 21, 2014
Huh. A bit surprised I never had occasion to repost this. Well, the conversation about the Ginther report and disparity in NIH Grant success reminded me of this.
Originally posted 03/23/09.
In the year 1899 an American cyclist won the world championship in the 1-mile track event. In those days, track cycling was what really mattered and cycling was a reasonably big deal. So this was an event in sport. An even bigger deal was the fact that Marshall “Major” Taylor (Wikipedia) was black. This fact was, likewise, important:
The League of American Wheelmen, then the governing body for the sport, banned blacks from amateur racing in 1894, just as bicycling’s popularity surged.
In a conversation on the twitts:
@drugmonkeyblog @RockTalking I’m an out gay grad student and I have never, to my knowledge, met an LGBT PI. is it the numbers or visibility?
Yeah, that sucks.
January 15, 2014
” ’tis but a scratch”
“A scratch? Half your funding’s been cut”
“I’ve had worse”
November 25, 2013
I cannot wait until my copy of this book arrives.
How the NIH Can Help You Get Funded An Insider’s Guide to Grant Strategy
Michelle L. Kienholz and Jeremy M. Berg
Oxford University Press
Kienholz is, of course, our longstanding blog friend writedit
Michelle Kienholz has partnered with scientists, clinicians, and public health researchers from all disciplines at dozens of universities to develop grant applications for almost every federal agency, including most grant mechanisms for each of the institutes and centers at the NIH. She volunteers her knowledge and experience on her popular blog, Medical Writing, Editing and Grantsmanship (as writedit), through which she has learned the most common and vexing concerns of researchers who interact with the NIH and how best to foster a partnership between investigators and NIH personnel.
and Jeremy Berg, PhD who
joined the University of Pittsburgh in June 2011 as the associate senior vice chancellor for science strategy and planning in the health sciences and a faculty member in the Department of Computational and Systems Biology. Prior, Dr. Berg became director of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in November 2003.
Berg recently twitted a teaser graph from the book which finally coughs up a comparison of funding policy for several ICs. According to the Twitter comment it refers to FY 2012 trends.
Nine ICs were willing to cough up data on the percentage of grants funded by the percentile they achieved at study section review. Lower is better, in NIH parlance so you can see that almost everything in the top 7-10% is getting funded across the ICs. Once you get to the top 35th percentile, your chances of funding are almost (but not quite) nil.
What is of best interest here is that we can finally see contrasting IC styles. There are 28 total ICs so this is just a subset but the NCI is huge and the NIMH is no slouch either. The topic domains range from cancer to the brain to metabolic to infectious disease to basic science so there is some breadth there too. I like this as a representative picture although we must always remain suspicious that those who chose not to send the authors their data might have done so for…..reasons.
Anyhow, what jumps out at me first is that NINDS has the sharpest dropoff past their apparent payline. If I am not mistaken, this is precisely the IC that is rumoured to assert their strictness with respect to payline. Strictness involves two choice points of the Program Staff. Whether to skip over grants that fall below (better than) the payline and whether to pick up grants that fall above the payline. Although I do seem to spot some skips under the payline for NINDS, NIA and NIAMS do not appear to have a similar skips. All the other graphs do appear to show skipping behavior. On the other side of “strict payline” behavior, clearly NINDS has funded some grants above their readily apparent payline. It’s just that the distribution drops off much more steeply for them.
I note that NIGMS, NIDA and NIAID seem to have the smoothest curves of pickups away from the apparent payline. The reason I say “apparent” payline is that some institutes, of which NIDA and NIMH are two iirc, insist they do not have a payline. What I have asserted since I noticed Berg’s posting of NIGMS’ funding decisions is that published payline or not, ICs follow roughly the same behavior. These charts demonstrate that. All that differs is the slope of the curve defining above-apparent-payline pickups.
I’m hoping I’ll have more to discuss once my copy of the book arrives.
November 5, 2013
Those of us in the neurosciences are preparing for our largest annual scientific gathering. I like to remind you to attend to a certain little task to assist with the odds of obtaining NIH grant funding. This includes a little bit of homework on your part, so block out an hour or two with your coffee cup.
Part of the process of sustained NIH funding includes the long game of developing interpersonal relationships with the Program Officers that staff the NIH ICs of interest to our individual research areas. Sure, they do turn over a bit and may jump ICs but I’ve had some POs involved with my proposals for essentially the entire duration of my funded career to date.
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 San Diego 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? Read the rest of this entry »
October 25, 2013
I had previously noted a situation in which an ad for a volunteer (i.e., unpaid) postdoc position requiring 2-3 years of prior experience was posted in the San Diego area.
Well, it wasn’t a joke. But it wasn’t exactly straight-forward, either.
The job listing was vague from the get-go. Who exactly was hiring? The only details given were “lab in La Jolla.”
Well, there are lots of labs in La Jolla. So I had to do some digging to find out which one posted this, and I found out that the listing was posted by a researcher named Laura Crotty Alexander. She’s a physician at the VA San Diego Healthcare System who doubles as a UCSD faculty member. I couldn’t reach her for comment.
If Alexander’s listing looked like a terrible opportunity, that’s by design, according to VA chief of staff Robert Smith.
“Frankly, what she was trying to do was make it look unappealing,” Smith said. “Because she was trying to create an advertisement that nobody would apply to.”
You see, the VA lab already had someone in mind for the position: a postdoc from Egypt who actually volunteered to work for free.
The reporter further specified:
the woman who volunteered is here in san diego with her husband, who has a year-long research appointment at another institution.—
David Wagner (@david_r_wagner) October 25, 2013
which in my view is a far from uncommon situation. I’ve received inquiries about working in my lab under similar circumstances.
This is wrong.
You know how I feel about unpaid internships.
Unpaid internships are a systemic labor exploitation scam- yes, in science labs too.
That was written in the context of undergraduate “interns”. Imagine the magnitude of my distaste for exploiting a PhD with 2-3 years of postdoctoral experience. It is wrong.
1) It is wrong because it is labor exploitation. We dealt with that over 100 years ago in the US. Yes, exploitation always continues and is resisted in fits and starts by unions, regulation and competitive pressures. But the arguments remain the same, the benefits of exploiting labor are tempting and the excuses are no better in the scientific context. I don’t care that the candidate “volunteers”. I don’t care that the candidate is getting authorship or keeping her hand in the game of science or whatever excuse you want to advance. This is the case for all postdocs. Should we refuse to pay all of them? Heck no. Just like we stopped letting companies demand their employees worked in the mines for 14 hr shifts, 7 days a week with no breaks. Just like we discouraged and restricted company-store, company-town scams which ended up reducing real wages. Just like we established a minimum wage. Etc. Just like modern jurisprudence is rejecting free intern scams.
2) It is wrong because it is an unfair competitive advantage for those who choose to exploit junior scientists in this way. I am a PI who is competing for precious research grant funds with other PIs. This competition is based in large part on the work product that comes out of our respective laboratories. Data generated and papers published. If some other person gets labor for free and I have to pay for it, then I am disadvantaged. Under our general labor laws, this is an unfair tilt to the table. Everyone should have to play by the same rules.
Please, people. Call your Congress Critter. Draw their attention to this news report. Use your knowledge of their political positions to trip their triggers. Maybe it is the visa-dodging aspect. Maybe it is the “taking the job from American postdocs” aspect. Maybe they are sensitive to labor exploitation arguments. Whichever works, use it.
October 21, 2013
Next time you are at your favorite scientific meeting, take a look at the trainees that are standing forlornly, uncomfortably alone at their posters. Contrast them with the young trainees that have an audience stacked three deep in a semicircle.
Do you notice any differentials in male/female, attractive/unattractive, white/black/asian/latino/etc ?
I think I shall engage in this exercise at the upcoming meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in November.
October 11, 2013
Some low normal trying to get some free content written for his science-blog type of site seems to miss this point.
Hmmm, can’t find Danielle Lee’s original post anymore so go over to dristorm’s pad and read the text of Danielle’s response too.
October 1, 2013
from an essay at Science Careers by Adam Rubin:
When I was there, about twenty people worked in the lab, including seven grad students, postdocs out the wazoo, and even an undergrad who used to whine—and these were his exact words—”Adam, the data are being weird!” I think he’s a medical doctor now. Anyway, it was known as the department’s largest lab, a bustling powerhouse facility that churned out grants and always dominated the annual holiday party dessert competition.
Now, however, it appears to have fallen victim to the same budget cuts that are killing science around the country. Research projects have been abandoned. Equipment sits idle. The lab of twenty has become a lab of five. And the five are scared.
The past five or six months have been a bit depressing on my campus too. The parking lots are noticeably less full. Sure, at first it was the end of the school year to blame. And then we hit the swing of early summer when the Americans with families went off…then it was vacation August for all the Eurohabituated scientists. It was easy to mouth all the excuses. And to refuse to recognize the reality.
September is done now and it is hard to maintain any sort of fiction.
The labs are empty. There are many fewer people around. Everything has shrunken in upon itself.
It hasn’t been a huge explosion, either. No orgy of dramatic dissolution wherein a faculty member cashes in all at once.
Just a sloooooow, gradual depressing attrition of people.
A recognition you haven’t seen anyone in that particular lab space in…well, quite some time.
The sad part is, my department is doing relatively…not well, but okay. We’ve had a number of grants land on the laboratories in the past nine months or so. Really hard to complain too much in these times of belt-tightening at the NIH.
But this may not be occurring with other departments around campus. I don’t know. I don’t really pay much attention to who funds them and how hard they all work at securing funding. I can’t see it and I don’t want to….not my pay grade. Still, my perception may be enhanced by those people, over there. Those losers not in my department. Those guys.
Still. Even within our own department, we’re in survival mode. Seemingly. We’re working….but it is less than vibrant. Not what I’d describe as bustling….which it has been before. And hopefully will again.
I don’t know who the Op/Ed author quoted above worked with, what sort of lab it was or where the PI was in career progression. But assuredly, folks. Assuredly. Some of these labs are not going to come back. The PI may be near enough to the end of the career to just pack it in. There is also the possibility of a death-spiral in which an interval of low production may lead to no more trainees having interest in the lab, and therefore no preliminary data for new proposals and therefore no new funding.
The University may run out of patience and shut a PI down unwillingly.
This is still the front end of the process but make no mistake, we are fully engaged. Shrinking lab size is the first step, but it is utterly undeniable at present. It is a clear antecedent to the coming collapse of labs themselves.
My optimism that the NIH extramural-research enterprise is too big to fail is being sorely tested people.
September 17, 2013
From the Science Careers section, Michael Price reports on a recent National Academies of Science symposium on the NIH foofraw about Biomedical career trajectories. The NAS, you will recall, is a society of very elite and highly established scientists in the US. It will not surprise you one bit to learn that they cannot fathom making changes in our system of research labor to benefit the peons anymore than the NIH can:
First issued in June 2012, the working group’s report made a controversial proposal: that funding should gradually be moved away from R01 grants and toward new NIH training grants in an effort to decouple graduate student and postdoc stipends. But responses to this proposal were tepid at the June [Advisory Committee to the Director (ACD) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH)] meeting where the proposals were first presented. Such a move would reduce the number of graduate students and postdocs available to principal investigators (PIs), and make trainees more expensive to hire, some ACD members argued. That would reduce PIs’ autonomy and encumber the research enterprise. “One wants to be sure that the principal investigators, who are supposed to be doing the research, continue to have enough flexibility to be able to support the research they want to do,” offered biologist Robert Horvitz of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge.
Reduce the number of easily exploitable laborers and/or make them more expensive. Presumably by forcing PIs to conduct more of their work with a more-permanent workforce (at any degree level). Permanent employees* which have that nasty tendency to gain seniority and consequently cost more money compared with the constantly turning-over grad student and postdoc labor pool.
And reduce our autonomy to hire foreign workers to further suppress wages and expectations for the domestic PhD pool. (Individual and Institutional postdoctoral and graduate “training” fellowships from the NIH currently only extend to US citizens. So I imagine PIs are assuming a shift to more fellowships would “reduce PIs’ autonomy” to hire foreign PhDs.)
the Price article continues:
When the ACD convened in December to discuss implementing the working group’s recommendations, this one had vanished from the agenda. The discussions at the December meeting avoided controversial issues, centering on whether, in an era in which only a small minority of scientists can realistically expect academic research careers, universities were adequately training students for a range of careers beyond the tenure track.
So it isn’t just the NAS Greybearded and BlueHaired contingent. This is the NIH response to their own working group.
Pass the buck.
Really strong work there, NIH.
Anything better from the NAS meeting?
In contrast to the measured discussion at December’s ACD meeting, the attendees of last week’s NAS meeting—mostly researchers who have studied the academic labor market—were critical of the status quo, arguing that keeping things the way they are would be disastrous for the scientific workforce.
There aren’t enough permanent jobs in academia for the vast majority of science graduates—and yet little has been done to curtail the production of doctorates, Ginther argues. “Employment has been stagnant, but Ph.D. production has been zooming,” Ginther said.
Anyway…is anyone at NAS or the ACD discussing how we need to shut down the PhD firehose in addition to functionally restricting the import of foreign labor? hell no….
At December’s ACD meeting, the discussion focused on tweaking graduate programs to better prepare students for jobs outside academia, and several ACD members pointed to the relatively low unemployment numbers among science Ph.D.s as reassurance about trainees’ professional prospects.
Oh, but the scuttlebutt. That’s a brightspot, right?
None of the presenters at last week’s meeting put forth any radical suggestions for how to overhaul the academic training system, but the tenor of the discussions was far more critical of established practices than the discussions heard at NIH in December 2012. After Ginther’s presentation, this reporter overheard a chat between two meeting attendees. One suggested that science professors cannot in good conscience encourage their students to pursue a Ph.D.,
Sigh. No “radical suggestions”, eh? So basically there is no real difference from the ACD meeting. Ok, so one overheard conversation is snarky….but this does not a “tenor” make. How do you know the ACD folks didn’t also say such things outside of the formal presentations and the journalist just didn’t happen to be there to eavesdrop? Lots of people are saying this, they just aren’t saying it very loud, from a big platform or in large numbers. When you start seeing the premier graduate training programs in a subarea of science trumpeting their 30% or 50% reductions in admissions, instead of the record increases**, then we’ll be making some strides on the “tenor”.
Remember though, the NIH is taking all this stuff very, very seriously.
the ACD moved forward with most of the working group’s other recommendations, including proposals that would: establish a new funding program to explore how to better train grad students and postdocs for nonacademic careers; require trainees funded by NIH to have an individual development plan; encourage institutions to limit time-to-graduation for graduate students to 5 years; encourage institutions to track the career outcomes of their graduates; and encourage NIH study sections to look favorably upon grant proposals from teams that include staff scientists
1) Nonacademic careers in science are also drying up. This is the ultimate in buck-passing and feigned ignorance of what time it is on the street.
2) IDPs? Are you kidding? What good does it do to lay out specifically “I’d like to take these steps to become a tenure-track faculty” when there are STILL no jobs and no research funding for those who manage to land them? IDPs are the very definition of rearranging deck chairs.
3) I totally support faster time to PhD awards for the individual. However on a broad basis, this just accelerates the problem by letting local departments up their throughput of newly minted PhDs. Worthless goal if it is not combined with throttling back on the number of PhD students being trained overall.
4) Making training departments track outcomes is good but..to what end? So that prospective graduate students will somehow make better choices? Ha. And last I checked, when PhD programs are criticized for job outcome they start waving their hands furiously and shout about the intervening postdoctoral years and how it is in no way their fault or influence that determines tenure-track achievement of their graduates.
5) “encourage” study sections? Yeah, just like the NIH has been encouraging study sections to treat tenure-track traditional hire Assistant Professors better. Since the early 80s at the least and all to no avail. As we know, the only way the NIH could make any strides on that problem was with affirmative action style quotas for younger PIs.
Tilghman, who headed the working group and I think has been around the NIH for a few rodeos before, is not impressed:
Yet, the working group’s chair, former Princeton University president Shirley Tilghman, told Science Careers that she couldn’t “help but go back to [her] cynicism” so long as NIH merely “encouraged” many of these measures.
Where “cynicism” is code for “understanding that NIH has no intention whatsoever in changing and is merely engaging in their usual Kabuki theater to blunt the fangs of any Congressional staff that may happen to get a wild hair over any of this career stuff”.
Score me as “cynical” too.
[ h/t: DJMH ]
*and yeah. It sucks to have a 5-year grant funding cycle and try to match that on to supporting permanent employees. I get that this is not easy. I deal with this myself, you know. My convenience doesn’t excuse systematic labor exploitation, though.
**Dude I can’t even. Bragging about record admits for several recent years now, followed finally this year by some attempt to figure out if the participating faculty can actually afford to take on graduate students. FFS.
September 10, 2013
There seems to be a sub population of people who like to do research on the practice of research. Bjoern Brembs had a recent post on a paper showing that the slowdown in publication associated with having to resubmit to another journal after rejection cost a paper citations.
Citations of a specific paper are generally thought of as a decent measure of impact, particularly if you can relate it to a subfield size.
Citations to a paper come in various qualities, however, ranging from totally incorrect (the paper has no conceivable connection to the point for which it is cited) to the motivational (paper has a highly significant role in the entire purpose of the citing work).
I speculate that a large bulk of citations are to one, or perhaps two, sub experiments. Essentially a per-Figure citation.
If this is the case, then citations roughly scale with how big and diverse the offerings in a given paper are.
On the other side, fans of “complete story” arguments for high impact journal acceptances are suggesting that the bulk of citations are to this “story” rather than for the individual experiments.
I’d like to see some analysis of the type of citations won by papers. All the way across the foodchain, from dump journals to CNS.