Job Search Research Plans

November 27, 2008

A key element of any faculty job application is the applicant’s Research Plan, the document that search committees use to get a sense of what she might do in her new lab, and her ability to argue coherently for the importance and feasibility of her work. The Research Plan is a forward-looking precis of future research directions built on the foundation of what the applicant has done in her present position (generally post-doctoral).
It is absolutely essential to understand that what you present to search committees as your Research Plan is not necessarily the same as your actual plan for future research. In fact, the two have very different purposes. The purpose of the former is to convince those who control the resources you need to pursue your research to allocate it to you. The purpose of the latter is to guide your research once you have secured those resources.
It is also essential to recognize that everyone involved in the process of assessing Research Plans understands the usefulness of this distinction, as will be explained in detailed below. Employing this conventional fiction that everyone involved is aware of is not lying. And failure to employ it puts the applicant at a severe disadvantage in competing for an extremely limited number of available positions.
This may not have mattered at an earlier time, when competition for faculty positions in the biomedical sciences was much less stringent and any gibbering dumbfuck with a PhD could secure a tenure-track faculty position. But nowadays–with funding very tight and vast numbers of highly qualified applicants for every faculty position–job applicants ignore this reality at their peril.

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On this day of thanks, I am grateful to you Dear Reader, for stopping by to read. For those of you compelled to comment, I offer my specific thanks for without a conversation this blogging stuff would be far duller.
Another fond thanks to those of you who blog, both friends and foes alike. You reliably kick the discussions up notches and seldom fail to educate and inform me.
A special shout-out to the hardworking surgeons and nurses and other staff of the UCSD Hospital for fixing the broken femur of a well loved octogenarian clan matriarch on this Thanksgiving day.
To the Spawn who are my greatest joys, fears and hopes all wrapped up in the cutest of packages.
And especially. To the one who is much smarter than I, save that one time she agreed to marry me. To the clearly superior (and totally hot) parent, scientist, companion, daughter, granddaughter and friend who is my life and my love, I thank you.
Thank you all.

The good Dr. Isis has posted her concern that recent developmental advances exhibited by Little Isis will permanently ruin Dr. Isis’ sleep.

Little Isis is no longer contained by the four walls of his crib and Dr. Isis awoke to find his eyes but millimeters from hers… I now have images of Little Isis waking in the middle of the night and deciding to cook himself something, or have a beer, or put the dog in the toilet…This is horrible. Dr. Isis does not sleep well as it is. Now she may never sleep again.

Behavioral science has a solution.

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Partisan Attacks on Research

November 25, 2008

Congressmen serving on committees dealing with aspects of research…are often well disposed toward support of scientific research…they cannot afford…to become vulnerable. They must take into account tides of public opinion.
As a partisan document, the article is a triumph. Research is confused with development..downgraded by citation of examples likely to seem ridiculous to the reader and by skillful choice of guilt-connoting words–such phrases as …”sprawling research program”…”lucrative contracts”….”getting fat at the public trough”.

and it just gets worse…

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In a recent post on 49 percent, Samia asks a tricky question:

Wouldn’t it be easier to land a faculty position/eventual tenure if I operated like a state scientist and established myself as an expert in one teeny, tiny area? How do minority (racial, gender, any kind) PI’s fare under the “nomad” path? Why do I cringe inwardly when my advisors tell me I need to specify my interests? I feel like if I do that, I’ll be limiting my opportunities in the future. Am I crazy? Tell me I’m not crazy.

You are not crazy. Unfortunately some aspects of the system are crazy and it would be best to recognize this.

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If I’d thought about it for a half a second I would have realized that reference to tribe is inflammatory to many science and academic bloggers and readers of same. I mean, let’s face it, we are disproportionately those who were not in the kewl groups in high school and boy, does that leave a mark.
Without going into our respective adolescent psychodramas, let us all just admit to a deep seated antipathy to traditional social structures and an enduring mistrust of those that would find anything positive in same. We are outsiders…..and damn proud of it!
It is time to get over this little conceit, people.

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If you will recall their was a lot of hoopla surrounding the One Millionth Comment milestone including some local blogger/reader meetup parties and a prize drawing from the mothership. The grand prize was a trip to NYC with assorted wining and dining and the like.
The winner is….

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There has been substantial recent lamentation concerning the nature of scientific publishing, and the perceived requirement that experimental results “tell a story” in order to be published in the peer-reviewed literature. For example, The Bean Mom recently stated the following:

The data that’s confusing, that doesn’t fit a paper’s hypothesis, usually isn’t published. No suprise–why would any author include data that contradicts or confuses the story she/he is trying to tell? Negative results usually also aren’t published. That transgeneic mouse with no phenotype? Will probably languish unknown. But if the experiements were rigorous and carefully controlled, then even puzzling and negative data is valid data. And when that data is not communicated, it can be to the detriment of the whole scientific community, as researchers waste time and money heading down blind ends . . .

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Science Blogging San Diego

November 22, 2008

Are you a scientist in San Diego who blogs or (duh) reads blogs?

Time to tribe up my friends.

Why let all those nutballs in the North Carolina Research Triangle area have all the fun? Are we really lamer than the Minny-soooooootans?

email bikemonk at the google mail or drop a comment. let’s plan some stuff…on blog and IRL.

Recent discussion of the way papers should be presented and comments on the way papers were written in the good old days when Uncle Sol was a wee scientist motivated me to repost something I put up on the old blog July 11, 2007.

First, I’ll tip the hat to Shelley at Retrospectacle for starting a “tour of the vaults” with the classic LSD in elephants study. Today, I’m reaching way back for “A study of trial and error reactions in mammals” by G. V. Hamilton, Journal of Animal Behavior, 1911 Jan-Feb 1(1):33-66. This study is worth reading because it provides an often hilarious insight into the conduct of science at the turn of the past century but also because this study is a root (perhaps the taproot) of a relatively current subfield on spatial working memory and spatial search.

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Friend of the DoucheMonkey blog Sol Rivlin had the following to say in response to other friend of the blog Isis the Scientist’s query to her minions regarding how to handle unexpected or unplanned experimental outcomes when writing them up for publication:

As to the unexpected results. My suggestion for you is to be truthful about your intial intent and expectations and to tell the story as it happened, including the unexpected. In reality, that is exactly what happens to many of us, but too frequently, we are tempted to appear smarter than we really are, pretending that the unexpected outcome was actually very expected and that we knew exactly what will happened long before we did the experiments. Most scientists tend to lie in this way, we know they lie because we have done it ourselves and yet, we continue doing it.

That ranks among the absolute stupidest gibbering dumbfuck advice concerning manuscript preparation I have ever seen or heard.

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How To Read A Retraction II

November 21, 2008

Here’s an interesting retraction just published in the Journal of Neuroscience:

Retraction for Ma et al., Glucagon-Like Peptide 1 Stimulates Hypothalamic Proopiomelanocortin Neurons
Retraction: At the request of the authors, the following manuscript has been retracted: “Glucagon-Like Peptide 1 Stimulates Hypothalamic Proopiomelanocortin Neurons” by Xiaosong Ma, Jens Bruning, and Frances M. Ashcroft, which appeared on pages 7125-7129 of the July 4, 2007 issue.

This is it, the entire text of the retraction. There is absolutely no mention of why the paper is being retracted. People who have relied on the retracted manuscript to develop their own research conceptually and/or methodologically have been given no guidance whatsoever on what aspects of the manuscript are considered unreliable, and/or why.
Is this ethical behavior? Do the authors have an obligation to the scientific community to come clean with everything they know about the whats and whys of their retraction?
Please discuss.

The Marijuana Potency Data

November 21, 2008

You may have heard a relatively sustained drumbeat in the mainstream press reports in the past few years regarding the content of current illicit cannabis products. It has been promulgated in a PR campaign which attempts to convince baby boomers that today’s marijuana is more dangerous than that of their own misbegotten youth because it is “stronger”. In other words, higher in the concentration of the major psychoactive constituent, Δ9-THC. The subtext, I assume, is to alleviate the boomer parents of today’s teens of any guilt related to communicating seemingly hypocritical anti-dope messages. If the pot today is more dangerous, then it is not hypocritical that Daddy and Mommy used to smoke in the seventies, right?
I have an objection to one of the fundamental concepts here* which explains my laziness in never bothering to track down the data on which the assertion rests. Happily, I stumbled across the relevant source.

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With the announcement that Tom Daschle has been selected as the Obama administration’s Secretary of Health and Human Services speculation about the down market appointments has accelerated. For this audience, of course, everyone is nattering on about the next Director of the NIH. My nattering sources are moving in the direction of Elizabeth Nabel, M.D. current Director of NHLBI, but that’s just vague speculation.
One of my correspondents reminded me of a non-HHS appointment that is VERY important for NIDA funded scientists and indeed everyone interested in drug abuse issues.
Who will be the next Drug Czar?

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November 19, 2008

Having recently attended the Gathering of the Clans in a rather large area of biomedical science, I suppose it is inevitable to think about what Janet Stemwedel terms the Tribe of Science. Actually I’ve been thinking about the many, many tribes within science. A storm of tribal Venn diagrams has been wandering across my mind.
Tribal action for the common good
In history and fiction, calling the tribe or Gathering the Clans has an almost inevitable connection to warfare. Pulling together into group action for the common good, albeit occasionally to the detriment of Others. Not always of course, see Figure.
Science tribes come together, mill about and …..what?

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