Archive for the 'academia' category

Co-first bullshit

Aug 25 2016 Published by under academia

Academic credit is based on publications. This is not news to anyone, of course. Most papers (in biomedicine) have more than one author, which means that at some point there has to be a decision on what order to put the authors in. There is a standard sort of rule (again, in biomedical-type fields, other fields have their own conventions):

First author - the student/fellow/trainee that did most of the work.
Middle author(s) - people who helped out with experiments or contributed unpublished reagents, etc.
Last author - the PI of the group. In general, the person that you direct correspondence to regarding the paper.

For us biomed types, you get the most "credit" for a paper if you are the First author or the Last author. First author credit gets you a good postdoc, maybe a PD fellowship, and hopefully a job. Last authorship gets you tenure and grants. Middle authors get ... a pat on the back, a high-five for collaborating/playing well with others, a line on your CV (which can be a big deal).

Sometimes it is not that easy to decide what order the authors will be listed. Maybe two labs collaborated and one grad student from each group did a lot of work. Maybe a new postdoc picked up and finished up a project that had been started  by a different lab member.  Maybe you have a conjoined twin. Whatever. Discussions and wrangling about order of authors can get nasty, because we all recognize the importance of being First or Last author. Some folks have tried to get around this by designating Co-First authors. Maybe this placates someone who thinks they should get more credit. That's crap, as DrugMonkey and CPP, and probably a million others have said before.

The problem is, this is bullshit because there can only be ONE First first author. The second co-first author is NOT first. This came up on twitter today when I noticed a tweep proposing SWITCHING the order of co-first authors on a CV. This is a BIG NO-NO!! Yes, I understand that if the co-first authors were really equal contributors that it wouldn't matter. But that is not the reality. And if I read your CV and look you up on Pubmed and the author list has been changed, then I'm going to look at your application like CPP - with extreme prejudice. Maybe not everyone has the same view...but do you want to take the chance that your CV gets trashed? Don't do it.


24 responses so far


Aug 16 2016 Published by under academia, gender

I love seminars. For real, no sarcasm. I go religiously, and I expect everyone in my group to show up every week unless they have a good excuse. There are so many times that I learn things in (seemingly unrelated) seminars that open up new ways to think about our research. New techniques, new insights ... all the new things!

This is why I take my seminar series committee appointment so seriously. It's not just for me - I want to make sure that every seminar is awesome. I want to make sure that we bring in a diverse group of speakers - diverse in research topic, in race/ethnicity, in what institutions they work, etc.

My diversity goal is a little selfish - I want to hear ALL the coolest things. But also, I believe that it is very important to have a diverse seminar series for the graduate students. I want students to see that lots of different kinds of people can be successful and do cool things. One easy way to start on the path to this goal is to make sure that you have a good representation of women and under-represented minorities giving seminars.

The argument I hear a lot is that there just aren't enough "good" women/URM to invite for a seminar. I think this is bullshit - it just is not an ingrained response to think of the non-white-dude. So, a while ago I made a post just to list women that give awesome seminars. I hope you will go add to that list, so everyone can use it. And feel free to add URM speakers, too (regardless of gender)!

I was motivated to post this because Dr. Zen mentioned me on twitter in response to a question about how to pick good seminar speakers. Thank you, Dr. Zen!!


One response so far

I'm going up for tenure!

Aug 15 2016 Published by under academia

Hello, friends. I hope you are enjoying your summer break (or enjoyed, if you have already started classes again). This is a special year for me. See, I'm up for tenure, at a MRI that has an "up or out" policy. That means I either get promoted (with tenure), or I get fired because my contract will not be renewed.

I've turned in my tenure dossier - research statement, CV, teaching evaluations, list of folks that I think should write letters for me - and now, I wait. This sucks so much. I know that I did the best I could, considering*. But still, this is a Big Fucking Deal. And all I can do is wait. UGH!!!!

Well, that's not entirely true. Because there is other stuff to do. I have a few papers that need to get out. They should have been out already, in a perfect world, but it turns out that being a single mom*, teaching, running a lab, and all the other stuff took up some time so I'm a little behind on the paper submissions. But we have some good stuff, that is ready to go. It's gotten good responses at conferences. I think they will be good papers.

Now I'm stuck in this weird place between being tenured and being fired. Part of me is looking forward to what I might want to do if I get the Tenure. Another part of me is planning for when I don't. Reaching out to folks to see if they have job openings (your tenure packet is very similar to a job application, conveniently). I don't really want to leave my MRU - I have some amazing colleagues and incredible collaborators. But I have to be prepared. So, here I am, on the job market again. UGH.

I thought starting up the lab was hard (it was). This is another hard part. But I have such an awesome group, and a fantastic support network now. Even though I am scared and nervous and scared ... it's nice to know I have folks here on my side.


*details will probably follow. I miss writing here - it is good for me, and I want to pick it up again.

18 responses so far

Mentoring Junior Faculty

Apr 29 2016 Published by under academia, jr faculty

I'm nearing the end of my run as a assistant prof - which means that I am on the brink of either getting tenure or getting fired.* When I started my faculty appointment, there was a lot of discussion about how to mentor the jr faculty (me). Now I'm looking back on how things unfolded, and I have to say ... I'm not really convinced that the mentoring attempts helped me all that much. Which has started me thinking about how (if) the process could be changed so it was more effective.

First, how it went for me: in my department, each new faculty member puts together a "mentoring committee" of senior faculty that they choose. I picked several folks that I really respected (though I didn't really know them that well). We met once a year to discuss my progress, and then a letter was written (by them) and forwarded to the Chair for my file. The folks on my mentoring committee are awesome, and I know that they genuinely wanted to help me. But, TBH, most every one of our meetings could be boiled down to "Get grants and publish papers, and you will be fine". This is not exactly breaking news. I also had "unofficial" mentors - people who I got to know and who I would visit when I needed advice/sounding board for dealing with the everyday trials of running a research group (this group included many of my formal mentors but also other jr faculty and colleagues from other departments). These conversations were hugely helpful, as they helped me deal with situations in real time.

When I started, I thought that a formal mentoring committee would be super helpful. Now I'm not so sure. I'm wondering if there is a better way to mentor junior faculty. We don't need to hear (again) about how we just need to get papers and grants. We know that. There has to be a better way - but what is it?

Seriously. Is there something you do that is awesome for mentoring junior faculty? Does it ever work, or is this just a useless exercise to make the administrators feel like they are doing something?


*Knocks on wood, crosses fingers, makes sacrifice to gods of academia

16 responses so far

Guest post by @MyTChondria: Getting on with some help from friends #ThxSTEMMen

Jul 20 2014 Published by under academia, gender

This last week was a real shit-show in so many ways. I was especially hit hard by a series of events that highlighted the sexism in my corner of the STEM world. First, @kateclancy published a study in PLoS ONE about how many young women were sexually harassed or assaulted doing fieldwork, then a $20 million suit was filed against Vanderbilt that accused a professor of such horrible behavior that it makes me want to puke. Finally, Science magazine published a ridiculous cover image of head-less trans women, and a white d00d editor went to twitter to defend it and made it a million times more horrible. Ugh. I don't really know what to say/do. But lucky for me (and you, really), @MyTChondria sent me this guest post. I like the idea of recognizing our allies in this fight. Enjoy.


By MyTChondria:

This month has has been brutal for many people in STEM, particularly women.  Stunning Supreme Court rulings pulled our reproductive rights away bit by bit. This last week the horrors hit close to our jobs as allegations of horrific acts of sexual harassment against trainees, publication of data of the startling numbers of female field scientists who have been harassed and assaulted on work sites, and blundering non-pologies of Science as they depersonalized the tragedy of transgender sex workers.

I’m exhausted by the fact Henry Gee still works at Nature, that we live in a society where males sing Robin Thicke lyrics about ‘you know you want it’ and every part of #YesAllWomen resonates with me.

Men came by my office making light of these events. When I told them I was sad and these things hurt me and my friends, they squirmed but didn’t listen. They were either convinced simply bringing these things to light would help or that people were making mountains out of mole hills.

Figure 1: Nearly entirely accurate portrayal of me by Wednesday last week

Figure 1: Nearly entirely accurate portrayal of me by Wednesday last week

It was all I could do to keep from crying. And I don’t fuckken cry. This was the first week I really seriously considered leaving science. I thought I couldn’t look at my graduate students and fellows (all of whom are women) and tell them STEM is a healthy field. I’m not depressed, I’m sad.  And it crystalized as @MGHydro tweeted exasperation that nothing seemed to be changing.  Were we just documenting history or actually going to do something about it?

Friday night I huddled up with Mini ate some pizza and watched The Butler (she is obsessed with history and social justice). She watched the movie intently while white actors sat by blacks actors graphically reenacted the violence students were subjected to at Civil rights protests. I paused to see if it was too much for her and asked her why she thought the white students sat taking this abuse with their black friends. The real life photos of their injuries were horrific.

With the confidence that only a 10 year old can have, she said “Of course they had to sit there with them. You can’t live in a world where people you know aren’t being treated fairly by bullies. Even if it means you have to get beat up along side your friends. It's the right thing to do”.  With the help of wine and a nice fleece blanket, I thought about this over the next few hours, and found myself with a foothold to help me face next week with a sense of hope.

Many of my male Tweeps have called out sexism, thought deeply and fought hard for gender equality. They give me hope I’m not insane and alone. They help me believe there is not some fundamental and insurmountable difference in how men think women. I appreciate their voices cheering for me me when I’m doing the right thing even if I want to puke while it’s happening. I delight in these men who have the wherewithal to tell sexist men to STFU in their blogs, tweets and IRL.

I have no cookies to give. I’m not that kind of person.  I also know would stab me if it looked like I was doing it (they would also stab a dude, so I feel okay with this).  For all these things I am grateful.

Many of my female friends have similar stories of men who kicked other dudes in social media who impress and encourage them. So, I invite my female tweeps to share the hashtag #ThxSTEMMen with the names of a man or men who have helped you in your gender equality struggles.

@SciTriGrrl will Storify it and we can hopefully connect up other women with the merry band of misfits who champion women’s rights.


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What happens when you send @McLNeuro an email...

Apr 03 2014 Published by under academia, awesomeness

The other day, a friend of the blog, @McLNeuro got an email from a sales rep. Some might just delete the email and go about their day. Lucky for this rep (and us!), that is not how Dr. McLaughlin chose to proceed...

On Mar 28, 2014, at 7:13 am, Dr. McLaughlin wrote:

Answers below

On Mar 28, 2014, at 5:46 AM, Karen [redacted] wrote:
Dear Dr. McLaughlinYou have one of the greatest lab websites I have ever seen!   Looks like a great place to work

Its not. I’m a monster.

I am reaching out to you in hopes that I could ask you a few questions around your previous purchase of Choline acetyltransferase antibody from [redacted].  Even if you don’t really remember your interaction with us, that’s fine.  I’m looking for any data I can get. I chose to contact you specifically because our records show that you purchased from us one time, but have not purchased since then and I really want to know why.The questions I have are basically:

(1)    How did you find the antibody that you bought from us (if you don’t remember, how do you generally find them)?

I tell people to get things and they do it. So we needed to look at ACh levels so that was the antibody the labbie picked. If its published, they go there first. If not they look at specificity.

(2)    Did everything you ordered arrive on time?

If it doesn’t, I yell at them about why the experiment didn’t happen, so probably

(3)    Did it perform as expected?

The graduate student? No. They are in someone else’s lab now. Also the antibody sucked.

(4)    Was there anything you couldn’t find or you wished was available?

An American public that appreciated that funding biomedical research was in their best interest and valued education as a means of societal advancement. Also, a loyal army of monkeys to do my bidding.

(5)    Why did you stop purchasing from [redacted]?

Did I mention the crappy antibody?

(6)    What would bring you back?

Trials of antibodies. Cookies. Wine. Nice pens. Sometimes the pens don’t even have to be that nice to make people in the lab buy reagents, to be honest.

If you’d write me back to share your comments I would really appreciate it.  I would be happy to send you a $5 Starbucks gift card if you respond.  If you’d prefer to call and talk instead I’ve left my work number and personal cell phone number below.  You can call me or email to set up a time to chat.

I didn’t have time to call, but did jot your cell number in a bathroom stall an told people you’d pay them $5 to call you. You’re welcome.

Thank you in advance for offering your thoughts.  I look forward to hearing from you.

I have other thoughts also available for smaller and greater amounts of money.

Best regards


[company information redacted]

2 responses so far

So you wanna do a postdoc...

Feb 23 2014 Published by under academia, mentoring

In my part of the science world, it is very common to do some postdoctoral training. I'm not going to get into whether or not doing a postdoc is a good idea, nor debate whether there are too many PhD's or anything like that. For the purposes of this post, let's assume that you have considered options and have decided that you just can't leave the academic bench yet and that you want to do a postdoc. Now what? Applying for a postdoc is not as structured as applying to graduate school. And I'm sure that the process is different for different disciplines. In my world of the "basic" biomedical research, this is basically how it goes (YMMV, etc):

1. Pick out some potential postdoc mentors.
You need to start this about 12 months before you are defending. For realz. You need to give us PI's a chance to figure out if we have the money and space to add a member to the team. If you contact me and want to start next month you might get lucky - but if you give me some notice then I may be able to juggle things and make something work. Starting early has the added bonus that you can apply for fellowships early and often! woot! 😉

There are a million ways to find labs in which you might want to postdoc. However, IME most labs don't advertise open postdoctoral positions. It's weird. We just sit there waiting for applicants. Maybe there is a announcement on our website (which may or may not be up-to-date :-/). Maybe. So don't be discouraged if a lab you are interested in doesn't seem to be looking for any new fellows. The right fit for you is going to depend on what, exactly you want to get out of your postdoctoral training. Want to learn a new technique? Move your research into a new field or subfield? Transition to industry? Get training in outreach/journalism/policy? Make a run at a tenure-track faculty position? Whatever it is, you need to identify the PI's that you think could help you advance your career.

After you generate a list of labs that you think would be a good fit for you, it is time to start vetting. Figure out how previous postdocs in the lab have done - are they in the kinds of jobs that you would like to have? Talk to people your advisor and anyone else that you trust. Ask them about the folks on your list. Do folks working in the same sub-sub-field think particularly highly of anyone on your list? Does anyone have a reputation of being difficult to work with, or unfair? Gather all the information that you can. Then pare down the list to something manageable. You should try to settle on a final list of 3-5, at most.    

2. Prepare your application.
Ok, there isn't really an application. Just a letter that you are going to send to PI's to tell them you are interested in working with them. More importantly, to convince them that THEY should be interested in having you as a postdoc. This is the key. What can you bring to the group? You don't need to go on about what you did as a grad student (that is why you are enclosing your CV!). Basically, I want to be able to quickly figure out the general area of your graduate research, including whose lab you are in, and approximately when you would want to join my lab. I also like to see some indication of WHY you picked my lab. Finally, explain to me what YOU bring to the table that should make me want to recruit you. How would you make my group better?  Put your letter in front of anyone that will read it. Constructive feedback is your friend. Also, you really don't want to have a typo in your letter.

3. Update your CV.
Your curriculum vitae - you life's work. If this is a mess, I assume you are a mess. Don't be a mess. Your CV should highlight your achievements. Organize it so that you put your best foot forward. There is no standard format for a CV, so you have some flexibility here. You should lead with your name, contact info, education, and research experience. After that the order depends on what job you are applying for. If you want to work in my lab, the next thing I want to see is publications and research funding you have been awarded. I don't need to see a list of research techniques, or a list of all the computer programs you know how to use (and please, please don't tell me how you are proficient in Word. please). If you have special skills, make sure that is obvious. If you are really good with Python or R, I should know that looking at your CV. List things in reverse-chronological order so that your most recent achievements (which are probably the most relevant) are at the top of the list.

The post-doc application CV is the only time I think it is OK to include manuscripts that are "in preparation". There are some projects that work out so that all the publications happen at the end, and you might not have them out when you are applying for postdocs. That can be OK. But DON'T list anything that isn't actually in preparation. If I ask your advisor about an "in prep" manuscript and they don't know what the hell I'm talking about that is bad.

I strongly encourage everyone to always keep the CV up to date. I have a "long-form" CV in my dropbox that I update anytime anything happens. It has EVERYTHING on it. When I need to send a CV for something I simply save this under a new name and cut out the parts that I don't need. Easy peasy.

4. Contact potential postdoc advisors.
Go time! Send an email to the potential postdoc advisor that includes your letter (in the body of the email), CV (attached as a PDF), and a list of references with contact information (can be included in CV or attached as a PDF). Now you just have to wait (sorry!). If you are writing to me you will probably wait longer if there is an approaching NIH grant deadline. If you haven't heard back in 2 weeks, you should follow up with another email asking if there is any other information that they would like to see. If you still hear nothing, then move on to someone else on the list.

And just like that, you too can be a post-doc! Good luck 🙂

6 responses so far

Go Time

Feb 20 2013 Published by under academia, politics

Hello again, friends. I have been sporadic with my blogging, I know. There is some IRL stuff going on that I can't blog about just yet. And this year I started my undergrad teaching which was...fucking crazy, honestly. More on that later. What I really wanted to talk about now is your CongressCritter (as Drugmonkey would refer to them). When was the last time you made contact with your elected representative to let them know where you stand on the "sequester"? Maybe you are a fan of biomedical research and know that the proposed cuts will totally fuck over NIH. Does your representative know how you feel about that?

Now is the time to make sure that you contact the folks that act as your voice in DC. There are a couple of ways to go about this. You could call them directly (find contact info for your Congress and Senate reps here). OR you could let the amazing @nparmalee (aka Nancy Parmalee) hand-deliver your message FOR you. How awesome is THAT!?!!

photo provided by the most awesome @bam294

image provided by the most awesome @bam294

Seriously, you can't go wrong. Nancy will be on Capitol Hill to advocate for Parkinson's research as part of Parkinson's Call in Day. She has offered to deliver messages to reps and also to "Live Yell"* from twitter.  I know that I'm writing a note for my Reps. Because what a fucking fantastic opportunity!! It's really not that much to ask. Oh, and while you are at it, the AAAS has something for you! Go here to sign the "Speak up for Science" petition.



* This will apparently involve her reading @ProfLikeSubst's tweets to the Critters. Loudly. Sounds like a winner!

3 responses so far

Better than a kick in the teeth!

Oct 05 2012 Published by under academia, grants

I woke up this morning crazy stiff from my workout with the new trainer yesterday. And then I just spent a good portion of my day in the dentist office, unexpectedly. It totally, totally sucked. But then the shitty day took a turn for the better when I got some happy grant news! My R01 that went in in June was in study section yesterday - and MY. GRANT. WAS. SCORED!!!! I had been hopeful when I hadn't gotten a "not scored" email last night, and even more guardedly optimistic when it was not waiting for me this morning. But I have now checked into Commons and there is real evidence (you know, a score!). That's right, no triage this time baby! I got a real score! Now, it is probably* not a fundable score, but it is an improvement. And scored means I get a summary statement and then I can resubmit. WOOOT!!!1!!11!!!1!!!!!


*but really, who knows. There is no budget yet, so that doesn't help. But I'll have to wait to see what my PO says about it after I get the summary statement back. Never can tell and all 🙂

6 responses so far

Announcing #AlliesFTW Q&A

Oct 04 2012 Published by under academia, gender, queer

A while back on twitter, I got in a conversation with Joe (@josephlsimonis) from charismatics are dangerous about what folks in academia can do to be allies for the queer* students in their midst, especially trans* folks**. As we were chatting about things that profs/teachers/faculty can do to help queer students feel welcome and comfortable in academia I realized that I really had no idea.  I don't know what will help other queer folks feel comfortable in any given lab group environment. And yet, I am in a position where there may be queer students in the classes that I teach. And if there is anything I can do to foster their interests in science, I want to know what it is, so that I can do it. In short, I want to be an active ally. But how? What specific steps can I take to make the academic environment better for queer students? We talked about allies in the DiS Blog Carnival earlier this year, and came up with some good ideas when Labroides asked what a new prof could do to create an environment that fostered diversity, so that ze could recruit and retain folks from different backgrounds into hir group. And now is a great time for all of us to up our game. This leads us to the announcement:


Queer students often have widely different classroom experiences that can vary based on their specific queer identity/expression, as well as and any other identities which might intersect with their queerness in the classroom. Many young adults are coming out/identifying as queer while in college, and so the classroom and other academic settings are important places to make as welcoming and affirming as possible.

We are hosting a blog Q&A to discuss the issues that queer students have in academia, and to try to figure out what those of us in a role of  professor/teacher can do to foster an environment that allows our queer students to thrive. Since every student and environment is different, we hope that we can get a diverse group of folks both asking questions and contributing answers. So here's the plan: over the next couple of weeks, we are going to be asking for you to submit questions for the Q&A carnival. If you are a teacher/prof, what questions do you have about how to be a super ally? If you are a queer student, what do you wish the teacher/prof would take into consideration? Submit your answers in the comments section here or on Joe's blog, or email your responses to me (gmail at primaryinvestigator) or her (gmail at josephlsimonis). If you would like to remain anonymous we will strip your emails from any identifying information before posting questions on the blog. And if you are on twitter, join in with the hashtag #AlliesFTW.

We will collect question/comments until Oct 19 or so. Then Joe and I will put together the list of questions and post them on our respective blogs so that you can all chime in to give us a sense of which are the best ones to answer first. Then we will try to address each question/comment on the blog. We can only speak from our personal experiences, so the hope is that we will spark a good discussion that includes and reflects the spectrum of experiences.  We will try to keep the series going as long as progress is being made. In the end we can all be better allies!


*by queer, we mean anyone who falls under the broad lgbtqgqia+ or "gender and sexual minority" banners
**the trans* notation, with asterisk,  is a way to note that gender is not binary, and there are not just "boys" and "girls". I learned about it from Joe, and it is pretty awesome.

13 responses so far

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