Continuing my recent poll mania, let us move past the faculty level readers and query the DM readers who have attained the doctoral degree but are not yet transitioned to faculty level. The intent here is to include those who are typical postdoctoral trainees but also those in the longer-term research associate or research scientist positions. Just so long as the local University does not consider you faculty level and does not permit you to submit applications for research awards, you qualify.

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A death in the tribe

September 17, 2009

The Tribe of Science has suffered a horrible and untimely loss with the murder of Yale MD/PhD graduate student Annie Le. The latest news is reporting that she was strangled and left in a wall in the basement of a science building at Yale University where she worked. By news accounts Ms. Le was an energetic and promising scientist. She was also preparing for her wedding to another graduate student.
This is tragic. It reminds us that violence against women is always lurking out there. It reminds us that those in the Tribe of Science are at risk. It reminds us to ask ourselves what we can do, if anything, to make our workplaces safer.

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I received the following in an email from Quark Expeditions, thanks to one of my many votes for GrrlScientist.

For competitors, the next two weeks are vital, as there is still time to overtake the leaders or consolidate a lead. Keep spreading the word! You have until September 30, 2009.
Or…competitors may ask their supporters to vote for another competitor, if they feel they no longer have a chance to become the Official Quark Blogger. We make this suggestion, because last week, a generous competitor asked to transfer his 500 votes to another contender. He will inform his voters through a notice on his blog entry.
The rules of the competition do not allow us to change a vote. Only the voter can. So for all you voters, it’s time to decide if the blogger you chose is the best candidate for the job. You can change your vote at any time before September 30, 2009.

A little birdy suggests that this blogger intends to endorse the candidacy of GrrlScientist. And I’ve noticed another contestant has changed her statement to reflect a similar endorsement.
This is exactly what I hoped would happen. That the contestants who are in the more-serious-nature-blogger type of category would prefer a similar blogger be selected and bow out when they were not themselves in the running in the closing weeks. Now I hope their voters do the same and switch their votes to Grrl.

Here we go people. A recent Notice from the NIH (NOT-OD-09-149) is somewhat sneakily titled “Restructured Application Forms and Instructions for Submissions for FY2011 Funding”.
There is table which specifies when the new forms will be available and which due dates will require them which may lull you. Note that this new form is for the Feb-March 2010 submission dates for our traditional R-mech grants.
You have to page down a bit to see that the shortened application is a go, go, GO!

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Day two of poll mania. Yesterday we covered the age of academic appointment to a professorial rank, following a suspicion I had that our readers at the blog skew towards the younger side. So far the two polls (research heavy type, teaching heavy type) are producing picture of most jobs being attained by the mid 30s.
Today we move on to research funding and will ask readers to indicate the age at which they acquired their first research grant under two categories.

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A pair of comments on my recent post on New Investigator data trends had me wondering if my PI / Professorial readership diverges from the overall distribution. ScienceWoman suggested a poll so here* goes.

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Huh. I just noticed what appears to be a new featcha of the Sb. If you click the “More Scienceblogs” link in the right sidebar there is an option for The Latest Comments.
It pulls published comments from any of the Sb blogs and lists the recent ones on a single page. Kinda like the Last 24 hrs page except for comments.
I like it.
What do you think? Does this improve your Sb-based procrastinating and time-wasting experience?

A letter to the editor has recently been published in the Journal of Neurophysiology by authors Ringach and Jentsch. You may recall that these individuals are neuroscience researchers who have come under attack by extremist animal rights activists. These brave investigators have been stepping up in public to defend the conduct of animal research. The letter asks for your help, DearReader, as do I. Ringach and Jentsch conclude their letter as follows:

Despite being in the spotlight, our work is not different from the majority of articles appearing in the pages of this Journal and has always been in compliance with all the regulations on the use of animals in research. Investigators using primates, mice, or flies have been assaulted, so nobody can feel at ease. With an expanding list of investigators listed in the extremists’ crosshairs, it is clear that anybody could be next.
Enough is enough! We believe time has come to express our outrage at the activities of animal rights extremists and to request from our political representatives the security we and our families need to carry out our work. We believe that time has also come to discuss, debate, and express our opinions on the importance and ethics of animal research. Perhaps, most important, the time has also come to defend our research collectively and not to let only those under attack confront their plight alone.

One place to start is to stay aware. Follow @RaisingVoices and read / bookmark the Speaking of Research pages on ARA activities / talking points and research facts.
Sign the Pro-Test petition in support of the use of animals in well-regulated and responsible research.

Evoking a Thirst

September 11, 2009

The Flying Trilobite has posted a compelling endorsement of GrrlScientist’s bid to become the blogger selected for a Quark Expeditions journey to Antarctica.

I have wished to find another review of art -any art- that speaks so favourably it evokes a thirst to experience the art through the critic’s eyes.

When Open Laboratory 2008 came out, I was stunned by one contribution in particular. In that anthology of blog posts is one by GrrlScientist about John James Audubon, the ornithologist and painter, the only scientific illustrator found in most fine art survey texts. The blog post, entitled, Audubon’s Aviary: Portraits of Endangered Species rings with well-deserved reverence and love for the artwork. Grrl laments the loss of the birds now gone that Audubon lovingly captured full of inquisitive life. It’s a blog post I find moving and inspiring and that has changed how I look at Audubon and scientific illustration.

There’s more, go read Flying Trilobite’s post.
And then go and use all your valid email addresses to vote for Grrl. Only 50 or so needed to pass ol’ Don Osmond Jr!

New Investigator Data trends

September 11, 2009

Occasional commenter microfool has pointed to a very interesting powerpoint slideset in a comment over at MWE&G. The comment referred specifically to an observation from writedit that NHLBI is planning to phase out special, more lenient funding line considerations for those New Investigators who are not Early Stage Investigators* in 2010. The discussion then landed on the distinction between ESI and New Investigators in NIH-speak and microfool brought some data to the discussion.

You can see hints of this unintended consequence on slide 11 of this slide deck where we see nice little blips in ages of First Time Investigators at ages 60, 66, 72, and 87.

Let’s take a look…

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In a recent discussion over at Medical Writing, Editing & Grantsmanship, Comrade PhysioProf observed:

Much more important than the change in application format-and implemented with absolutely no community input that I am aware of-is the new study section policy that applications are discussed in the order of the preliminary scores, starting with the best and stopping when about 40% of the apps have been discussed or time runs out. This gives even more power to the assigned reviewers, as there is no longer even lip service given to the decision to triage, and no opportunity for a non-assigned reviewer to rescue an application from triage.

Prior to this new initiative, applications were reviewed by the study section in an order that did not depend on the initial priority score. This always seemed to be a good thing to me. My thinking was based on generic ideas that randomization of conditions would prevent any consistent biases related to review order. The underlying hypothesis being, on reflection, that the discussion of a given application would be influenced by the discussion of the prior application(s) and the timing within the two days allocated for discussion (Would you request that your application be reviewed at the end of the first long day?)
The new procedure is to review grants (grouped by mechanism or type) in the order of the initial priority score. CPP apparently thinks this is a bad thing.

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Dear Chairman

September 10, 2009

An Open Letter

Dear Chairman,
I was intrigued by your recent comments to the effect that you are frustrated by the level of involvement and interaction that you observe from junior faculty. I agree that we might expect greater things to result when members of the department collaborate scientifically. I appreciate that a Department is not a Department if the professorial rank staff do not interact with each other on common goals. As the leader, I understand that it is your job to try to elicit more than the minimum effort on so-called service work from your Department members.
I have a suggestion, which I believe is basic Management 101 stuff although it is possible that it comes from my roots in behavioral psychology. Have you ever thought about the needs of your Assistant Professors (and Assistant Adjunct Research Project Science Instructor Professors-in-Residence of Department)? Have you thought clearly about the contingencies that are in place which either encourage or discourage particular types of activity? Have you identified the roles played by the senior faculty and the University in providing the reinforcers and punishers?
The ranks of the more-junior independent scientists are facing a career environment that is entirely different from the one you faced at a similar stage. You would do best to realize this and interpret their actions accordingly…instead of wondering out loud why your Assistant Professors are not acting as you wish.
If I can leave you with two generalities, they are these. First you must listen to what your Assistant Professors (all of them) are saying to you. Don’t modify every comment by thinking the individual is “lazy” or “arrogant” or “selfish” or “narrowly focused” or “insufficiently committed to the career” or any such thing. Listen to what his or her specific needs are. Second, all of them need the support to get their research programs launched, productive and funded. In a way that makes their output look as independent as possible. They need research and supply money. They need real dollars to support trainees or they will never get off the ground. Try directing the slush funds their way, unasked for once. If you free up their time spent working on survival you may be surprised how enthusiastically they respond.

A recent paper on the test / re-test reliability of diagnostic criteria for MDMA abuse and dependence is fascinating. Foremost because the nature of substance abuse is always a fun topic for discussion when you are dealing with a compound which the users argue so strenuously is perfectly benign. Even more so because the advocacy position tends to put a finer point on the argument about just how to draw lines between ordered and disordered behavior within what is very likely a continuous distribution. The paper also shows some of the limitations of trying to fit drugs which have very distinct subjective experience profiles, use patterns and even dependence modes/risks into a single (albeit reasonably flexible) diagnostic strategy.
ResearchBlogging.orgIn their paper Test-re-test reliability of DSM-IV adopted criteria for 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) abuse and dependence: a cross-national study, Cottler and colleagues are primarily focused on whether diagnostic criteria for MDMA abuse and dependence (there are distinct diagnoses for some substances of abuse within the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, but not for MDMA which falls under the general abuse criteria) are reliable. As you might imagine, it is a pretty important part of medical diagnosis that a given clinical test gives the same answer when repeated for the same individual in close temporal proximity. It is no great leap of genius to see that reliability is even more important when the diagnostic instrument consists of asking people about their affect and behaviors. Particularly when the behaviors are illegal and socially stigmatized.

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Female Science Professor’s recent post on the detrimental effects of a constant drip of micro-inequities as been receiving a great deal of appreciation. As well it should. It is brilliant because it jumps straight into the throat of the “you are just oversensitive” and “wah, wah, Political Correctness, wah” and “you are calling me an -ist over nothing” nonsense that is the battle cry of the NiceGuy who does not enjoy examining his privilege*.
What really drew my eye, however was this comment:

Among many points in Gladwell’s book is that the number of small advantages given to Canadian boys with certain birthdays in the hockey league leads to a professional hockey roster almost exclusively made up of men who have birthdays in certain months. He points this phenomenon out over and over again, in many different contexts – consistent small advantages, over time, lead to great advantages, perhaps even to great people, or “outliers”. Why, then, would the same not be true for any discriminated against group, in any field? I don’t understand why people are not open to this line of thinking, and are not open to asking themselves what they can do to try to help remedy these situations when they arise.

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President Barack Obama is planning a webcast directed at the nation’s school children.

During this special address, the president will speak directly to the nation’s children and youth about persisting and succeeding in school. The president will challenge students to work hard, set educational goals, and take responsibility for their learning.

Apparently, this is something parents must protect their darling children against! [h/t: drdrA who asks you to crash an associated poll]

In Bryan, the end of the school day, did not mean phones in the district’s administration office stopped ringing.
In a message left to the district’s communication director, Sandy Farris, one parent said “I have a child in middle school and a child in elementary school and I am very concerned about the content and the intent behind President Obama’s speech to kids on the 8th.”
Phones were equally busy at College Station I.S.D., said Superintendent Eddie Coulson.

Really? “Very concerned”?

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