Archive for the 'academia' category

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.

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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.

 

No responses yet

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

Still?

Karen
[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.

YAY SCIENCE!

 

* 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:

ANNOUNCING #AlliesFTW

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

Is it cheating to propose experiments in a grant that are "done"?

Sep 27 2012 Published by under academia, grants

If you have already FINISHED the studies, why would you propose them in a grant? I know that there is a common meme that "you have to have done the work to get it funded", but I have never behaved that this is an actual real expectation.

This comes up because Fred, a new PI, left a comment over at Dr. Becca's place*:

...we are seriously thinking about publishing most of the preliminary data (and data not shown in the grant) about 1-2 months after submitting the grant. This manuscript would show we have completed more than half of proposed studies in the grant.

Fred wanted to know whether it is a good idea to publish the paper. But I am wondering WHY that was the grant that was written. If you had done the experiment wouldn't it be cooler to talk about what new awesome thing you could do next? I get that you need preliminary data for a grant. I have always written my grants with preliminary data that showed I was able to do the experimental procedure. I have always written my grants using Preliminary Data to demonstrate feasibility. But the reason I needed money was to actually DO the experiment. I may "know" the answer (or at least think that I do), but I haven't actually done the experiment.

It feel like holding back data, and proposing experiments that you have already done is kind of sketchy. And I don't understand the motivation. Is the idea that you will be able to show fast progress on the grant (if it's funded) and that will be awesome?

Help me out, guys. Am I totally off base here? What am I missing?

Also, FTR, in my n=1 experience on study section, if there is evidence that you have already published the results of the proposed research it is viewed poorly by the reviewers.

 

*I started to comment over there but realized that I was going off on a tangent.

30 responses so far

Uninteresting questions

Sep 21 2012 Published by under academia

I have been to a lot of seminars over the years. One of my favorite parts of seminars is the question session at the end. It is fun to interact with the person about their work and see how their interpretation fits in with your perspective of the results. It is also a lot of fun as a speaker, IMO. Almost always someone will ask a question which you, the speaker, won't know the answer to. It may be that there is no answer, or it could be that YOU just don't know what it is. Either is OK. There are graceful ways out of this situation. I think the best option is to start with "I don't know" and then expand on either what you know is NOT the answer - based on experiments you've done or other published work - and/or discuss ways that you could address the issue. These are also good strategies for grad students giving a qualifying exam, by the way. A skilled (non)answer makes it clear that you are well-read and knowledgeable, because you are able to understand the question, but recognize the limits of what you know.

BUT this assumes that you have been asked a question that is interesting. This is not always the case. I ask a LOT of questions at seminars. It is possible to ask misguided, out-of-context, or just plain ridiculous questions. I know, I have done it (NOT ON PURPOSE!). And this is why I find it SO irritating when speakers start every answer (or just answers to the questions that they don't know the answer to) with "that is an interesting question!" or something similar. Because it is NOT always an interesting or even good question.

It is OK to not answer a question that is not interesting, and it is possible to do it while being pleasant and diplomatic. If you are really good, you may even be able to twist the ridiculous into something interesting. YAY!

But please, don't pander to me.

10 responses so far

Grant writing RBOC

Sep 20 2012 Published by under academia, exhaustion, venting

There have been a lot of things bouncing around in my head that I have thought "I should write a post about that"! But I'm also in the middle of writing a grant so I've been a little, well, preoccupied/sleep deprived/distracted from blogging. Such is life. Anywho...look at these things that caught my attention when I was too fried to write on my grant anymore tonight:

  • Did you all see how our good friend Abel Pharmboy had to deal with this person who was very, very upset that the NC museum of Natural Sciences did not outright ban scientists from companies that sell GMO (go here and here).
  • Chick-Fil-A said that they would stop giving money to hatey orgs!! Yay! Except...it was not true. Equality Fail.
  • OMG the students are back. For REAL. I have given lectures to the new grad students, and we'll see how they make the transition. There are also undergrads around, but I'm ignoring that because it just reminds me I have to start teaching the Big Class soon.
  • DADT died a YEAR AGO! My favorite thing that I have seen about this so far is when Barney Frank was on Maddow tonight. When asked what he would say to those *cough* McCain *cough* that predicted doom and gloom when this happened he replied "nyanya". I love that dude.
  • I have finally had to start sitting through MY OWN STUDENTS taking their qualifying exams. This is both awesome and extremely stressful. FTR, my grad students kick ass. Like, a lot.
  • The fucking NHL is in a lock-out. gah.
  • I don't know what my h-index is, and I will not be taking the time to figure it out. It is stupid enough that this is used by some places as a metric for evaluation. But using an "algorithm" to predict the future is just stupid.
  • Who is in charge of the timing to make sure that the reviews for papers that you submit come back right when you are working on a grant deadline? Because that sucks.

Have I missed anything important?

4 responses so far

so you need to write a CV

Sep 12 2012 Published by under academia

This morning on the twitter, there has been a discussion about CV's. What do you include, format, etc. DrugMonkey reacted to the conversation. And he's correct, of course. EVERYONE should have a long-form CV. That has everything (it is your "life's work"). And it should be updated frequently.

I actually have two CV's. The one formatted for MRU and my NIH Biosketch (rules for formating and template here). So I'm going to focus on the free-form version for the rest of this post. First: make it look nice! White space, consistent margins, etc. If you give it to someone and it looks crappy then they may assume that you are generally inattentive to detail. Use section headings so that it is easy to find what you are looking for. This is the order of mine (YMMV):

These are my "headings" on the long-form CV
Contact information - you know, how to get a hold of me! I include my lab webpage here. But don't include personal info that is irrelevant (such as your birthday, marital status, etc).

Education - what degrees and where.

Professional appointments and research experience - more detailed than the education section. includes who i did my grad and postdoc work with.

Faculty Affiliations - departments and grad programs that I am affiliated with

Awards and Honors - all the way back to the National Merit scholarship (that's from HS). I have lost some "little" awards from this over time. But I keep things like National awards, phi beta kappa, etc.

Peer Reviewed Publications - these are sub-headed into "research articles" and "reviews and book chapters". I also have a separate sections for "in review". If in your field abstracts are peer-reviewed then i would put a separate section here.

Presentations - these are sub-headed into "speaking engagements" and I note which were selected abstracts and which were invited lectures. If you are BFD then you may also want a section for named lectures, etc. I also have a "poster abstracts" section here. In my field for many meetings basically every abstract submitted is allowed to give a poster.

Patent Filings - you know, for your IP

Research Support - these are subheaded as "ongoing", "pending", and "completed". My role (PI, fellow, etc) the dates and total award amount are included.

Teaching Experience - for MRU teaching I include ~# of students, level of course, and my role in the class (if team-taught). I have a separate subheading "prior to faculty appointment" which has this info but is a little shorter.

Mentoring - these are subheaded as "postdoctoral fellows", "graduate student trainees", "undergraduate research associates", "high school research interns", "graduate rotation students", and "graduate thesis committees". I include what program grad students are from, when they defend, and where my grad students and postdocs go after they leave my lab.

University Service - committees, etc.

Other Professional Activities - service to the science community, outreach, peer review service, grant panel review service, and any SAB

Professional Societies - where I am a member, and the years that I was a member

 

Now that is a LOT of info. And it is really hard to remember all that shit after the fact. So start your CV NOW and KEEP IT UP TO DATE.

 

 

35 responses so far

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