an interesting segment from the PBS NewsHour:

Note for PIs

July 2, 2013

If your lab requires a “weekly support group” meeting, there is no scenario wherein you are doing it right.

Will you be an angel?

June 26, 2013

via a Reader

Grumpy reviewer is….

June 25, 2013

grumpy.

Honestly people. What in the hell happened to old fashioned scholarship when constructing a paper? Pub Med has removed all damn excuse you might possibly have had. Especially when the relevant literature comprises only about a dozen or two score papers.

It is not too much to expect some member of this healthy author list to have 1) read the papers and 2) understood them sufficiently to cite them PROPERLY! i.e., with some modest understanding of what is and is not demonstrated by the paper you are citing.

Who the hell is training these kids these days?

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Yes, I am literally shaking my cane.

Tweep @biochemprof pointed to a story of the day about a judicial ruling that unpaid interns on a movie production should have been paid. The story via via NBC:

In the decision, Judge William H. Pauley III ruled that Fox Searchlight should have paid two interns on the movie “Black Swan,” because they were essentially regular employees.

The judge noted that these internships did not foster an educational environment and that the studio received the benefits of the work. The case could have broad implications. Young people have flocked to internships, especially against the backdrop of a weak job market.

“Weak job market”, my eye. I still recall the disbelief I was in during the end of my senior year in college when my friends described how they “had to” take unpaid internships. There were several industries (I can’t recall the specifics at this far remove) for which my fellow newly bachelor degree’d worker drones were convinced they had to start their careers by working for free. Having secured what I thought was a pretty good gig, being paid the 2013 equivalent of $23,000 per year to earn my PhD, I felt comparatively fortunate. There is no way in hell, or so I thought at the time, that I would be able to have followed such a path. I needed to do something that was going to put a roof over my head and at least some cheap pasta on the table. As I’ve mentioned in the past, I grew up in an academic household. So the parental support for me going into academics was pretty good. However, it was by no means a fantastically well-off household either, being academic, and there was no way in hell my parents were going to pay all my bills deep into my 20s. I had to get a job that was going to pay me something. So I did.

As far as I can tell, the phenomenon of “unpaid internships” for both recent college grads and other long term or temporary would-be-workers has not diminished substantially.

Unpaid internships are a labor-exploitation scam.

Period.

In any industry.

And according to the NBC bit, this is the beginning of a long slog of court cases making exactly this point.

The “Black Swan” case was the first in a series of lawsuits filed by unpaid interns.

In February 2012, a former Harper’s Bazaar intern sued Hearst Magazines, asserting that she regularly worked 40 to 55 hours a week without being paid. Last July, a federal court ruled that the plaintiff could proceed with her lawsuit as a collective action, certifying a class of all unpaid interns who worked in the company’s magazines division since February 2009. This February, an unpaid intern sued Elite Model Management, seeking $50 million.

After a lawsuit brought by unpaid interns, Charlie Rose and his production company announced last December that they would pay back wages to as many as 189 interns. The settlement called for many of the interns to receive about $1,100 each — amounting to roughly $110 a week in back pay, for a maximum of 10 weeks, the approximate length of a school semester.

As part of his ruling on Tuesday, Judge Pauley also granted class certification to a group of unpaid interns in New York who worked in several divisions of the Fox Entertainment Group.

Good.

Look, obviously there will be much legal parsing about the relative benefit of unpaid work to both the employer and the employee. But the basic principles should be clear and easily understood in plain language and we should be highly attentive to where the putative “educational” or “training” benefit to the employee is being oversold and the relative work-product benefit to the employer is being intentionally undersold to justify the exploitation.

This brings me to us, DearReader. By which I mean my academic science peers, our research laboratories and the phenomenon of undergraduate or high-school “interns” who work without financial compensation. It is wrong, exploitative and immoral. We, you… our industry as a whole, should knock it off.

I am not swayed by arguments that you and your lab put more effort into summer interns than you get back in return. If this is so, stop taking them. Clearly, if you do take them then you get some sort of benefit. Even if that benefit is only that you can brag that you have trained numerous undergraduates or “provided a research experience” to several. But in many cases, these freebie interns do much that is of value and that you would otherwise have to pay someone else in the lab to do. At worst, this saves your lab on technician salaries or frees up the time of the betters in the lab to work on the more complicated stuff instead of washing glassware or making up buffers. In better situations the intern produces data that helps the lab forward on a project.

If this is the case, ever, then you have exploited the internship scam. You have accepted someone working for you for free. This is almost mind bogglingly immoral to me and I do not know how my fellow left-leaning academic types can bring themselves to ignore it.

I don’t care one whit that you have 10 or 20 requests each and every Spring from some undergrad on campus or some undergrad from another University that happens to live in your town and is home for the summer. I get them myself. They make it clear that they expect no compensation…all this tells me is that our business has successfully created a system of exploitation. We have convinced the suckers that they “have to” take these positions to advance in their own career goals.

This is absolutely no different from times in the past, prior to labor protections, in which workers “had to” accept dangerous working conditions, longer than 40 hour weeks, no breaks, employment of juveniles, low pay, company stores/towns that stole back much of the wages, etc, etc. The list is lengthy. In every case the industry had fantastic reasons for why they “had to” treat their employees in such a way. The workers themselves were often convinced things “had to” be that way. And what do you know? After hard fought labor protections were put in place the industries got along just fine.

So far, I have gotten along just fine without exploiting unpaid interns in my laboratory. If they are not getting compensated in some way, they don’t work in my lab. I plan to stick with this principle. In my book, training, recommendation letters and the nebulous concept of experience do not qualify as compensation. There should be an hourly wage that is at least as great as the local minimum wage. In some cases, under the formal structure of an undergraduate institution, course credit can be acceptable compensation. I would recommend keeping this to a minimum, particularly when it comes to summer internships and/or work conducted outside of the academic semester. With respect to this latter, no, you can’t skate on the scam that they are just finishing up what they started under a for-credit stint during the regular academic calendar.

In addition to the general immorality of science labs exploiting the powerless (those desiring to enter the career) there is another factor for you to consider. The unpaid internship scam has the effect of blocking the financially disadvantaged from entering a particular career. Think about your mental (or your department’s formal) graduate admissions schema. Does it prioritize those who have had some prior experience working in a research laboratory, preferably in a closely related field of work? Of course it does. Which means it prioritizes those who could afford to gain such experiences. Those who had parents who were willing to float their rent and food bills over the summer months instead of making them find a real job, such as installing itchy insulation in scorching hot attics for 10 hr days, digging ditches, busing tables or changing oil filters. (As I have come to hear postdocs making upwards of $35,000 per year and graduate students $29,000 per year — Federal minimum wage is about $15,000 at present — complain about their treatment, I am certainly coming to reconsider which type of undergraduate summer experience is really the best way to select doctoral students.)

Even if we do not apply an admissions filter, how would the latter type of undergraduate student even come to appreciate that a laboratory career might be for them?

Clearly the solution is to find a way to pay our scientific interns. Much of the time, these mechanisms exist and it is mere laziness on the part of the PI that keeps the intern from being paid. There are administrative supplements to NIH grants for disadvantaged students that are, from what I hear, pretty much there for the asking as they are underutilized. Local summer-experience programs, small scale philanthropy and academic senate funds. Even if you cough up some grant money, what does 10 weeks cost you? Not that much. Can you look yourself square in the mirror and tell yourself honestly that you can’t afford the outlay from your grant and that you are not getting any value out of this prospective intern?

I can’t.

Unpaid internships are as much a scam and a labor exploitation in academic science labs as they are at Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Knock it off people.

Context, context and more context.

Commentary

Phil_J

I have no problem with interracial couples but I am tired of having it shoved in my face constantly. The same goes for the LGBT agenda and religion. I could care less who you marry, what your sexual preference or religion is, just stop constantly shoving it in our faces.

ahh, yes. the “shoving it in my face” objection. Beloved of the anti-gay bigots but I haven’t heard this one about skin-tone or ethnic diversity since the 80s era of Benetton’s “shocking” ads. So if we’re going on a principle and all, what about those tired of the mainstream, traditional relationships being shoved in their faces? That’s called an own-goal, o ye bigotrim. Try another ploy.

kinda quiet

It’s not racist to want to preserve your own racial and cultural heritage. Whites and Europeans in general have their own racial and genetic heritage.

In Israel, it is against the law for Jews to intermarry with non-Jews. But nobody complains about that because they respect the right of the Jewish people to exist as a unique people. If Whites in America have a law such as this, there would be thousands of affidavits filed in Federal Court and special interests groups crying racism. This article is “cry wolf” sensationalism demonizing Whites for wanting to protect their own unique cultural and racial heritage. LaRaza, NAACP, ADL these are groups that are race-based and designed to protect their own heritage. But if Whites do this they will be publicly humiliated they will start to lose their jobs and some even be criminally prosecuted.

Right because there is absolutely nothing whatsoever unique about Israel and the treatment of Jewish folks around the world within the last couple of generations.

palbenson

If the commercial is to be about the cereal then why so much focus on who is in the commercial and not on the product its self. Bad choice by General Mills and its promotion team to use your product to promote an agenda other then the product. Not everyone is going to agree with what you do in a commercial, so stick with the product and not with trying to promote a personal agenda.

Amateur marketing geeeeenius weighs in! Take note oh Saatchi and Saatchi, you dilettantes!

asaymorning

You Don’t go against nature you don’t mix a tiger with a loin that’s not right

With the benefit of the doubt for fumble fingers, I give you Ligers. Just like mixed-race kids are objectively cuter, the Liger is more badass than even a Tiger. Which kicks the shit out of a Lion anyway. So yeah….Ligers.

paradox28jon

Psh, that pairing is everywhere. Try merman and sandwoman to get my attention.

A merman is real, no matter what the cabal of denialists say. Not sure about sandwoman. I’m sure they will be happy together.

was slightly NSFW so after the jump

Read the rest of this entry »

Sequester Impacts

May 22, 2013

That thing where someone else at the University is walking around, obviously checking out under-utilized lab space and then when caught says:

“Oh, well, it looked on RePORTER like you have just like the one grant in no-cost extension so…. [awkward pause]”

Umbrellagate

May 17, 2013

For me, last night brought awareness of a new low point in the dismal, embarrassing behavior of the rank and file of the Republican party in these fair Uuuuunited States. It was noticeably more depressing then usual because it was so tawdry and pathetic. No, not AP wire tapping. Not Benghazi.

I refer to umbrellagate.
First the idiot mouthbreathing knuckledraggers were delighting in the notion that Obama “had” to have someone else hold an umbrella over him. Complete with anecdata showing other Presidents holding their own umbrellas.

Of course, that was cherry picked bullshit and it is clear that Obama holds his own….and other Presidents (including St. Ronnie) find occasion to take a helping hand.

I concluded this morning that it is really rather remarkable, and a testament to basic American decency, that despite all their machinations the Republicans have not been able to produce the rampant, postapocalyptic movie fantasy USA that they seem to desire for some reason.

Is most assuredly necessary for the security of a free State

20130502-082713.jpg
My First Rifle

20130502-082415.jpg

They even come in “girl”!

What could possibly go wrong?

Since I know many of my readers are comparative children who may have missed the legendary sketch comedy show….

Now.

There’s some Twittage today about the Glamour Science situation and what we (meaning the relatively established professoriat) are doing to back up our fine criticisms. Particularly in the face of younger and transitioning scientists who realize that they need to play the GlamourChase game as hard as they can if they expect to make it.

Personally, I don’t think we need some overt revolution of radical shunning of anything having to do with high Impact Factor journals to have a substantial effect. Refusing to play the game has its advantages. I ran off a couple of quick Twitts having to do with choices we can make.

First, never let data go unpublished for lack of impact.
To me the absolutely most corrosive part of GlamourIdiot science is that lots and lots of perfectly fine data go unpublished. Forever. This is for several reasons including the fact that at least 5 person years of work go into the CNS paper and even with ridiculous amounts of Supplementary Figures only a fraction gets into press. There’s a lot of dross that nobody wants to see, sure, but there’s also a lot of stuff that would help other people out. Save them some blind alleys if nothing else. (Did we mention this is being done on the federal taxpayer dime? And that grant dollars are scarce? wouldn’t the NIH want most of the work they payed for made available…?) Then there’s the scoopage factor- if someone else gets there first it automatically downgrades your work…so the GlamourDouche lab goes in another direction to try to salvage another high-profile publication. So there’s another bunch of figures trashed. Figures that save for the scooping would have been in the same damn high IF journal! Jesus this is INSANE, right? yeah, well, welcome to GlamourScience. Then we have projects that just aren’t cool enough in terms of the result. Some PIs simply won’t let their labs publish it for fear of diminishing the aggregate lab JIF level. Again…crazy, right? Why the hell does a PI with 5 CNS papers a year give a flying fig if a postdoc sneaks out a IF 5 paper? There’s an instructional part here for postdocs- some of this lack of publication is your own damn fault. Yes, you who have drunken the FlavorAde participate in this too. Why? Because you don’t force the PI to see sense. For one thing, let me tell you the hard hearted PI’s heart tends to soften when an essentially ready-to-submit manuscript crosses her desk with a clear rationale for why it is okay (and necessary) to publish the data and why this particular journal is perfect, save for the IF. Don’t be afraid to play on her scoop fears now… “We gotta get this in somewhere, I hear Postdoc Lin has her story ready to go in our competitor lab!”. Some mentors will be susceptible to the “I need X first author pubs to get a shot at a job and I already have the two CNS papers so….” argument.

Second, never ever decide what to cite based on JIF.
Ever. It’s hard. I know. You are steeped in turning first to the big papers in high reputation single-word-title journals. This is unnecessary you know. Cite the right paper that makes the right point for which you are citing it.

Third, if you can’t cite first/best/recent…go with best over first
I tend to, all else equal, go with a citation strategy that pays homage to the first paper for a given point, the best one and then maybe a recent one to show the continuation of the theme, topicality, etc. The best is rarely ever the GlamourMag one although when you get down to the sub 10IF level in my fields then you might see a bit of a correlation. The first observation, especially if it is coolio stuff, tends to have been in a Glamour Mag which is why I make the point. But hey, if it isn’t, cite the first one. Give some cred to the overlooked person who published a finding 10 years before some big lab jumped all over it.

Fourth- review manuscripts on your principles. Get your peers into high IF journals
You know what they want to hear, those GlamourEditors. Impact, importance and eleventy six kinds of pizazz. Write your reviews accordingly to get your peers’ solid, if not really Glamourous stuff into those journals. Destablize the system from within. Just be subtle about it or the Associate Editors will no longer send you stuff to review.

Country Music from Peter Atencio on Vimeo.

Additional Reading:

Ta-Nehisi Coates

Treason Appreciation Month

Country musicians often sing a GOP tune

Thought of the Day

April 3, 2013

It is scientifically proven that the polo shirt is the tool of Satan.

Read the rest of this entry »

A Letter to the Editor from Princetonian alumnus and Princetonian mother.

A few weeks ago, I attended the Women and Leadership conference on campus that featured a conversation between President Shirley Tilghman and Wilson School professor Anne-Marie Slaughter, and I participated in the breakout session afterward that allowed current undergraduate women to speak informally with older and presumably wiser alumnae. I attended the event with my best friend since our freshman year in 1973. You girls glazed over at preliminary comments about our professional accomplishments and the importance of networking. Then the conversation shifted in tone and interest level when one of you asked how have Kendall and I sustained a friendship for 40 years. You asked if we were ever jealous of each other. You asked about the value of our friendship, about our husbands and children. Clearly, you don’t want any more career advice. At your core, you know that there are other things that you need that nobody is addressing. A lifelong friend is one of them. Finding the right man to marry is another.

Jesus. The “MRS degree”? What fucking year is this again? 2013, right?

Oh, right. It’s because the elite of this world have such special problems in this regard, isn’t it?

As Princeton women, we have almost priced ourselves out of the market. Simply put, there is a very limited population of men who are as smart or smarter than we are. And I say again — you will never again be surrounded by this concentration of men who are worthy of you.

Of course, once you graduate, you will meet men who are your intellectual equal — just not that many of them. And, you could choose to marry a man who has other things to recommend him besides a soaring intellect. But ultimately, it will frustrate you to be with a man who just isn’t as smart as you.

So Princeton has cornered the market on smart men, eh? What easily falsifiable claptrap. Maybe once these Precious Princetonian Princesses are out in the world they find that the “smart men” aren’t enamored of elitist, pretentious twits who have fully embraced their ILAF snobbery? naaahh…. couldn’t be.

Here is another truth that you know, but nobody is talking about. As freshman women, you have four classes of men to choose from. Every year, you lose the men in the senior class, and you become older than the class of incoming freshman men. So, by the time you are a senior, you basically have only the men in your own class to choose from, and frankly, they now have four classes of women to choose from. Maybe you should have been a little nicer to these guys when you were freshmen?

If I had daughters, this is what I would be telling them.

I don’t even know where to start. The assumption that you can only marry a man your age or older if you are a woman? This woman has basically failed to mature past the highschool prom level. My goodness what a twit. Or is this really about the underclassmen failing to put out enough for her darling boys who allegedly have their pick of any woman in the world?

I am the mother of two sons who are both Princetonians. My older son had the good judgment and great fortune to marry a classmate of his, but he could have married anyone. My younger son is a junior and the universe of women he can marry is limitless.

Rest easy, o ye Editors of Glamour Magazines of Science. I have been reminded that there are many who will be up against the wall before you, come the revolution.

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Ivy League Asshole Factories, coined by our good blog friend bill