I rescued a comment from the spam filter which addressed an older post on Scott Kern. As a reminder he’s the researcher that published a long commentary wondering why kids these days weren’t devoting insane hours in the lab anymore. He intimated that if you weren’t spending your every working minute trying to cure childhood cancers you were a bit of a heel.

I disagreed.

But, in the spirit of Rhomann Dey I think it is important that you review the comment offered up by Jessa:

I spent years training with Scott in his pancreatic cancer lab at Hopkins. He was an incredible mentor and a natural ability to see things from odd angles that the rest of us overlooked.

Sure, sure. I’m willing to believe a dude comes across in a random, one-off frustrated rant as a bit more of a jerk than he really is to those who know him.

But, more than any other feature of my time with Scott, one thing stood above all. He is a fantastic Dad. He was OUT of there at 5:30pm. Granted his day started at 4am (I remember that he always joked that he woke up at 4am, once the coffee from 3am kicked in). He was at the dinner table every night, he made it a priority.

With such a great example and mentoring from such a swell guy, one might wonder why this person is no longer in science?

I have since left science in favor of being a stay at home mom. One thing I noticed while I was training is that the women mentors in the field were not home tucking in their babies. I distinctly remember standing on the dark sidewalk looking up at a bright lab window and seeing a woman faculty member in the lab. I thought “what are her little girls doing right now” I thought–I can’t be like that.

Interesting. Look, I’m not going to question the way people choose to organize their lives and if 100% every night at home tucking in the tykes was the priority for this commenter, so be it. But she knows jack squatte from looking in a window at one faculty member. Maybe this person had a sharing arrangement with her spouse and on the next night would be home doing the tucking. Maybe this was a rare crunch week before a grant was due, a paper re-submit was coming together or she had a high profile talk to prepare for. Maybe tenure was fast approaching. Point being that many modern two-professional (yes even two-academic) parenting couples make a more balanced approach work. A more shared approach. Where both parties do some of the dinner making, some of the getting the kids out the door to school, some of the soccer practices and, yes, some of the reading of Goodnight Moon, and other classics.

This is a convenient time to review my observation from the original post on St. K3rn.

This sums up all that is wrong with these jerks (Kern is not alone in this “kids these days should spend more time in the lab” nonsense). Their obsessive vocational approach to science was made possible in many cases by a spouse who picked up the pieces for them at home. In sadly too many more cases, Obsessive Vocational Scientist Man operated at the expense of children who had a Dad who was never around, couldn’t make the weekend soccer game, was constantly out of town on business and had to hide out in his study when he did manage to stay at home for a few hours.

The younger generations have chosen a different path. Deal, old grumpy dude. Deal.

Out of the house by 4am? And he managed to make it “at the dinner table” at 5:30?

Sorry but this evidence rather supports my presumption that Saint Kern has a stay-at-home spouse, or at least a spouse that picks up the vast majority of the workaday duties.

And his blathering about obsessive vocational behavior is rooted in the fact that he’s bailing on so much of ACTUAL life. Screw that.

p.s., Male scientists want to be involved dads, but few are

Sarah Damaske, Elaine Howard Ecklund, Anne E. Lincoln and Virginia J. White Male Scientists’ Competing Devotions to Work and Family: Changing Norms in a Male-Dominated Profession, 2014, Work and Occupations, doi: 10.1177/0730888414539171

Some DAOTI asked a silly question

https://twitter.com/chmweber/status/519508871246000129

got the simple answer of “no”, demanded data and was summarily mocked. For this he got all fronty.
https://twitter.com/chmweber/status/519520595558412289

because of course he already knew the answer he wanted to hear in response to his question.

This all arose in the wake of an article in the Boston Globe about the postdoc glut that contained this hilariosity.

“They really are the canary in the coal mine,” said Marc Kirschner, a professor of systems biology at Harvard Medical School whose lab of 17 scientists includes 12 postdocs. “They decided they’d go ahead and try to understand why a cancer cell is different from a normal cell, and here they are a few years out. They knew it was a competitive situation, and they were going to work very hard, but they didn’t see the whole system was going to sour so quickly.”

I bolded for the slower reader. My initial reaction was:

Right?

On to the point.

The world of “R1, TT” positions in science is incredibly diverse, yes, even within “biomedical” or just plain “biology”. I repeatedly urge postdocs who feel helpless about the glut of postdocs to start by doing some research. Find out ALL of the people who have recently been hired all across the US in jobs that are somewhat remotely related to your skillset. Note, not your “interests”. Your SKILLSET!

I follow this up with a call to do the same on RePORTER to find out about the vast diversity of grants that are funded by the NIH. Diversity in topic and diversity in geographical region and diversity in University or Department stature.

This is even before I tell people to get their “R1” noses out of the air and look seriously at Universities that are supposedly beneath their notice.

So what makes for a successful “competitor” for all of the jobs that are open? Is it one thing? Such as “vertically ascending eleventy systems buzzword biology science” training? That is published in Nature and derives from a 12+ postdoc lab with everyone busily trying to hump the same pantsleg?

“Everyone” here is, guess what? Your competition. And yes, if you choose to only seek out “R1, TT” jobs that are in a University that boatloads of people want to work in, applying techniques to topic domains that a dozen fellow postdocs are also doing right beside you, chasing CNS “gets” that a few scores of labs worldwide are also chasing…well, yes, you are going to be at a disadvantage if you are not training in one of those labs.

But this doesn’t also mean that making all of those choices is not also putting you at a disadvantage for a “R1, TT” job if that is your goal. Because it is putting you at a disadvantage.

Vince Lombardi’s famous dictum applies to academic careers.

Run to Daylight.

Seek out ways to decrease the competition, not to increase it, if you want to have an easier career path in academic science. Take your considerable skills to a place where they are not just expected value, but represent near miraculous advance. This can be in topic, in geography, in institution type or in any other dimension. Work in an area where there are fewer of you.

Given this principle, no, a big lab does not automatically confer an advantage to obtaining a tenure-track position at an R1 university. According to Wikipedia the US has 108 Carnegie-approved “Very high research activity” Universities. Another 99 are in the next bin of “high research activity” and this includes places that would be quite reasonable for someone who wants to be an actual teaching + research old school professor. I know many scientists at these institutions and they seem to be productive enough and, I assume*, happy to be actual Professors.

Would coming from a big lab be a help? Maybe. But often enough search committees at R1s (and the next bin) are looking for signs of independent thought and a unique research program. That is hard to establish in a big lab…far easier to demonstrate from a lab with one or two concurrent postdocs. Other times, the “big labs” in a field (say, Drug Abuse) are simply not structured like they are in cannon-fodder, bench-monkey, GlamourHumping, MolecularEleventy labs. Maybe this is because the overall “group” organized around the subject has Assistant Professors where those “big labs” have Nth year “postdocs”. Maybe it is because this just isn’t the culture of a subfield. If that is the case, then when an R1 is hiring in your domain, they aren’t expecting to see a CV that competes with three other ones just like it from people sharing your lab. They are expecting to see a unique flower with easily discernible individual contribution to the last three years of work from that small lab. That type of candidate has an advantage for this particular job search.

So yeah. It is a stupid question to ask if [single unique training environment] confers an “advantage” for some thing as general as a tenure-track job at an R1 University.

I’ll close with a tweet from yesterday:

and a followup

This all reminds me of a famous Twitter “independent scientist” jackhole who applied to a few elite Universities, couldn’t get an offer and summarily declared all of science to be broken, corrupt, crowded with “diversity” riff raff and all sorts of other externalizing excuses. Make sure you don’t fall into this trap if you are serious about succeeding in an academic career.
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*actually, they say so.

This is the truest and best thing I have read on the internet today.

https://twitter.com/TheIntroNertPhD/status/512634774952095744

Thought of the day

March 20, 2014

If you don’t ever publish papers that are only of interest to yourself….that’s sad.

No, really. It is science.

Sabino Kornrich, Julie Brines, Katrina Leupp. Egalitarianism, Housework, and Sexual Frequency in Marriage American Sociological Review February 2013 vol. 78 no. 1 26-50 doi: 10.1177/0003122412472340

Kornrich12-sex-housework

Data are from Wave II of the National Survey of Families and Households published in 1996, interviews from 1992-1994.

The division of labor:

Core tasks include preparing meals, washing dishes, cleaning house, shopping, and washing and ironing; non-core tasks include outdoor work, paying bills, auto maintenance, and driving.

As you can see in the graph, the more of the “core” tasks a man completes, the less sex he gets.

The covariates for overall marital happiness and specific happiness with spouses’ contribution to housework did not change this relationship. The covariate for gender-traditional ideology on household labor likewise did not change this relationship. Thus, none of these factors explains the relationship between sex frequency and the participation of the man in “core” chores.

One interesting tidbit of note in surveys like this:

women reported having sex with their spouses slightly more than five and a half times in the past month, and men reported lower frequencies, about .4 times fewer over the past month. Although it may appear surprising that husbands’ reports are lower than their wives’, existing research comparing husbands’ and wives’ reports has found similar results

I’m sure that won’t cause any hilarious disagreement over which is the true value.

I’m sure the overall finding is entirely intuitive and agreeable to your sensibilities.

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h/t: @seelix and @docfreeride

also, The Times is ON it.

Thoughts of the Day

January 22, 2014

I’m looking at the table of contents of a journal that, as many of them do, is going through a bout of hand wringing over it’s impact factor.

Three article titles in and…I’m fighting to keep my eyes open. FFS, get some more interesting titles.

Second, and this is the big one, just about every frigging article screams “We couldn’t get this into Nature Neuroscience or Neuron so we’re dumping it here“. Sorry, but when you are positioned with a scope that is nearly identical to other journals of much higher JIF, this is what happens. Your JIF gradually swirls the drain.

I am amused today by two individuals who simply cannot wrap their heads around the idea that one’s authority and influence in a given area is not uniquely and solely tied to ones accomplishments in traditional academic professional pursuits. One such individual is over at Isis’ place:

And it’s also telling that, now that I know your identity, I find myself actually more educated and qualified than you, but I wouldn’t speak on half the topics you did. Makes me wonder if anonymity didn’t make you feel more important than you actually were.

I really look forward to seeing what possibly makes someone more qualified than Isis to address the topics she blogs on. Really, I do. A Ph.D. in DomesticandLaboratoryGoddessology perhaps?

The other credential humper is over at Mike Eisen’s blog:

You don’t know who I am, what my qualifications are, where I studied, where I am from, or what my research is about. But why should I be granted a soapbox to stand on and criticize you when you can’t necessarily respond. How am I qualified in saying anything without my credentials to back it up?

Well, try saying something. If it makes any sense, people will tend to grant you a soapbox. This is called “blog traffic”. If you are not saying anything useful, you will enjoy the sound of crickets. Putting your “credentials” on the masthead will only take you so far in this, trust me.

Oh, glory, this one doubled down.

she used Dr. Isis to put herself above those 7 billion people without the credentials to back it up no? In the end, Dr.Gee showed that she was insignificant in the community. I don’t want to mention her identity here but her actual education and credentials have very little to do with half the stuff she’s commented on and used her anonymity to be an authority on things she really wasn’t. Because anonymously I can be Stephen Hawking,

No, actually you can’t. Christ I weep for the Academy (and public life) if people really think that credibility and influence only comes from a certain set of professional/academic credentials.

Anyway, I think it worthwhile reposting the following. Pay special attention to the occupational hazards of being an academic.


The great sociological philosopher Eric Cartman provided a bit of gentle guidance on acceding to the wisdom of authority in one of his more famous works. A somewhat lesser philosophical talent offers similar advice in a comment posted to a recent discussion on pseudonymous/anonymous blogging at bablab. The commenter suggested that:
South_Park_BlogAvatar1.jpg

… there are a lot of areas, even in science, where experience (from which real authority derives) matters. An undergraduate who has never been to the field and an experienced geologist can go up to the same geological formation and have the same tools and the same list of tests and procedures. They can both do similar things to the sediments, and they can end up with totally different conclusions as to what they are looking at.
They both have the same argument, structurally, logically, but with different conclusions. The experienced geologist, however, is much more likely to be correct.

An excellent rationale for prioritizing scientific contributions on the basis of the contributor’s credentials, is it not?

Read the rest of this entry »

Thought of the Day

November 7, 2013

There is tremendous pressure in the US culture (that I have come across to date) for middle to upper middle class (and even wealthy folks), no matter their circumstances, to consider their lives to be very busy and stressful.

NO MATTER ONE IOTA THE OBJECTIVE FACTS.

And if their lives are in some way NOT stressful, people have this unbelievable need to make things MORE stressful for themselves.

Working folks, Stay and home parents and retirees alike.

EVERYONE.

Yes, including you. and me.

All I can say is that for me, understanding this cultural drive people have to pretend stress and overwork makes it a TINY bit more understandable.

Perplexing in the specific case perhaps, but vaguely understandable in the general.

Bashir has an interesting anecdote about a faculty hire he is familiar with.


…he actually had 0 publications. Zero. But his graduate advisor knew that he was a very smart man who deserved a job at a university. So his advisor called up people he knew at other universities and made it so. Prof Ted got the job he now holds, at a pretty nice university with zero publications to his name, but one phone call.

in answer to my question Bashir indicated that the guy had performed fine as a faculty member.

Is there any problem with that?

Take your answers over to Bashir’s pad.

I’ve noticed something. It is now a standard comment from any BSD getting an award. It runs something like this.

“The NIH rejected one of my proposals once so it is all flawed and fucked!”

Try to have some class, people.

On Compromising

October 3, 2013

I thought a little graphic representation of the current Republican Congressional demands for Obama to “compromise” on his Affordable Care Act was in order.

compromising

[click to enlarge]

In 1993 the Clinton Administration tried mightily to provide universal health care coverage for all Americans. According to Wikipedia it:

required each US citizen and permanent resident alien to become enrolled in a qualified health plan and forbade their disenrollment until covered by another plan. It listed minimum coverages and maximum annual out-of-pocket expenses for each plan. It proposed the establishment of corporate “regional alliances” of health providers to be subject to a fee-for-service schedule. People below a certain set income level were to pay nothing. The act listed funding to be sent to the states for the administration of this plan, beginning at $13.5 billion in 1993 and reaching $38.3 billion in 2003.

The plan was not entirely lefty-liberal because it kept HMOs in business and in fact mandated employers to spend more money on them. Nevertheless, the plan failed and mightily.

The lefty-liberal position would be more akin to mandating everyone be covered but doing it through the single payer of the Federal government. Preferably with a lot of measures to cut out the profit margin and mandate a lot more efficiency. Remember that now. THAT is the starting point for the leftward position.

The right wing, you will recall, fought Medicare and Medicaid tooth and nail. The true right wing starting point* is that the Federal government should have no role in the health care of citizens whatever.

So even the Clinton attempt was a considerable compromise.

Along came Obama in 2008-2009 and he decided to take another run. Obviously, in the post-Clinton era, the landscape for what was possible to pass and how to pass it was not completely open. Since Obama came on board determined to change the politics of Washington and to seek consensus and compromise….his first offer was already compromised far to the rightward position.

The Affordable Health Care for America Act was introduced in Congress in October of 2009. It took until March 2010 for Obama to be able to sign the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA, aka Obamacare) into law. In the mean time there was much jockeying, arguing and compromising in an attempt to get the right wing on board. It ended up with so many protections for the profit-based health care industry and so many potential uncrossable fee gaps for poor people that it is most assuredly a right-leaning compromise past the true middle of the full spectrum of the debate.

Now we come to the fall of 2013 and the Congressional Republicans temper tantrum over “compromise”. The anti-government party has refused to pass any appropriations for the new Fiscal Year, thereby shutting down the government. Their supposed reason has been (over the past several years there have been 40+ futile attempts in the House to repeal the ACA) that they wish to “fix” Obamacare. Now they are making it clear that they have no intention of fixing it, they simply want to dismantle it entirely.

Their current talking point is that Obama refuses to “compromise”.

Is it any wonder? They are not interested in “compromise” since we are already far past the middle point on this particular issue. The ACA is a step too far in their direction.

And now they have the chutzpah to demand further “compromise”.

Please.
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*Yes, I realize the true right wing starting point is that health care should only be for the very wealthiest people, full stop. And that nobody is responsible for health care beyond the individual person and whatever rapacious corporate entity sees fit to provide them with it. Lets toss them a bone for this discussion.

Show me the data, Jerry!!!!!!

September 3, 2013

Today’s Twittsplosion was brought to you by @mbeisen:

he then elaborated

and

and

There was a great deal of distraction in there from YHN, MBE and the Twitteratti. But these are the ones that get at the issue I was responding to. I think the last one here shows that I was basically correct about what he meant at the outset.

I also agree that it would be GREAT if all authors of papers had deposited all of their raw data, carefully annotated, commented and described (curated, in a word) with all of the things that I might eventually want to know. That would be kickass.

And I have had NUMEROUS frustrations that I cannot tell even from methods sections what was done, how the data were selected and groomed, etc in many critical papers.

It isn’t because I assume fraud but rather that I find that when it comes to behaving animals in laboratory studies that details matter. Unfortunately we all wish to overgeneralize from published reports….the authors want to imply they have reported a most universal TRUTH and other investigators wish to believe it so that they don’t have to sweat the details.

This is never true in science, as much as we want to pretend.

Science is ever only a description of what has occurred under these specific conditions. Period. Including the ones we’ve bothered to describe in the Methods and those we have not bothered to describe. Including those conditions of which we have no knowledge or understanding that they might have contributed.

Let us take our usual behavioral pharmacology model, the 10 m Hedgerow BunnyHopper assay. The gold standard, of course. And everyone knows it is trivial to speed up the BunnyHopping with a pretreatment of amphetamine.

However, we’ve learned over the years that the time of day matters.

Until…finally….in its dotage seniority. The Dash Lab finally fesses up. The PI allows a trainee to publish the warts. And compare the basic findings, done at nighttime in naive bunnies, with what you get during the dawn/dusk period. In Bunnies who have seen the Dash arena before. And maybe they are hungry for clover now. And they’ve had a whiff of fox without seeing the little blighters before.

And it turns out these minor methodological changes actually matter.

We also know that dose response curves can be individual for amphetamine and if the dose is too high the Bunny just stims (and gets eaten by the fox). Perhaps this dose threshold is not identical so we’re just going to chop off the highest dose because half of them were eaten after that dose. Wait…individuals? Why can’t we show the individuals? Because maybe a quarter are speeded up by 4X and a quarter by 10X and now that there are these new genetic data on Bunny myocytes under stressors as diverse as….

So why do the new papers just report the effects of single doses of amphetamine in the context of this fancy transcranial activation of vector-delivered Channelrhodopsin in motor cortex? Where are the training data? What time of day were they run? How many Bunnies were aced out of the study because the ReaChr expression was too low? I want to do a correlation, dammit! and a multivariate analysis that includes my favorite myocyte epigenetic markers! Say, how come these damn authors aren’t required to bank genomic DNA from every damn animal they run just so I can ask for it and do a whole new analysis?

After all, the taxpayers paid for it!

I can go on, and on and on with arguments for what “raw” data need to be included in all BunnyHopping papers from now into eternity. Just so that I can perform my pet analyses of interest.

The time and cost and sheer effort involved is of no consequence because of course it is magically unicorn fairy free time that makes it happen. Also, there would never be any such thing as a protracted argument with people who simply prefer the BadgerDigger assay and have wanted to hate on BunnyHopping since the 70s. Naaah. One would never get bogged down in irrelevant stuff better suited for review articles by such a thing. Never would one have to re-describe why this was actually the normal distribution of individual Hopping speeds and deltas with amphetamine.

What is most important here is that all scientists focus on the part of their assays and data that I am interested in.

Just in case I read their paper and want to write another one from their data.

Without crediting them, of course. Any such requirement is, frankly my dear, gauche.

tl;dr version: Your Humble Narrator is a sexist pig apologist for the old school heteronormative stultifying patriarchal system, hates women, resents his spouse and would leave his kids with the dogcatcher at the slightest excuse.

More after the jump….
Read the rest of this entry »

Ass umptions in science

August 8, 2013


BikeMonkey Guest-Post
I’m attending a small-ish scientific meeting that includes quite a number of scientists that I do not know very well. So take this with a grain of salt… I would hesitate to blame the person making the screwup for anything beyond that.

As with many meetings this one includes a very overt and obvious attempt to both include a more diverse population that might otherwise be included and to engage the trainees. The former goal is evidenced in part by the specific mention of several travel awards that were designed to diversify the place. The latter goal is evidenced by overt pleas from the organizers for senior faculty to chat up the youngsters and the instructions to the session chairs to prioritize the questions and comments from trainees.

The representation of women in the podium presentations and session chair slots is good, so I’ll assume some behind the scenes concern with such factors.

So far, so good.

Admittedly, the attempt to take questions and comments from trainees first during the discussion period after each and every talk is a bit awkward, to say the least. But it comes from a good place and is addressing a worthy goal.

Then a session chair make a small mistake. He identified someone in the audience as a trainee and handed the mike over for the first questions.

The scientist in question was not a trainee.

Mistakes happen, right?

Except this is the only one I’ve seen happen so far* and there are certainly a number of youthful-ish looking faculty here. Perhaps they are all well known to the session chairs and this particular commenter is not.

Still.

It will not surprise you one bit to learn that this person misidentified as a trainee was a woman.

It will not surprise most of you to learn that this person dresses in a rather put-together and more fashionable than average manner.

She also happens to be rather attractive….some might say rather significantly so.

but she’s also not by any stretch of the imagination young. In fact this person is at least a scientific generation above me, although I do not know for sure what her age is. Admittedly, and in the session chair’s defense, this person looks quite a bit younger than she probably is, particularly on quick glance.

But still. It boggles my mind that anyone would immediately think “trainee” rather than “faculty”.

This person is, as it happens, of a very recognizable ethnicity that is underrepresented in science. Of an appearance that might be readily assumed to be the subject of the aforementioned travel awards designed to enhance diversity, not just at this meeting but at numerous others ones.

It’s kind of a thing to see a bunch of underrepresented trainees at scientific meetings.

As I said, I don’t know everyone here well and I do not know the session chair in question at all.

What I do know is that it looks very bad when some old guy assumes that an underrepresented minority and female member of the audience is a trainee when she is very clearly of an age in which the proportion of trainees is low and the proportion of faculty is high.

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*this is most of why I haven’t stopped fuming about this.