Archive for the 'Life' category

Monopolizing a field?

Oct 09 2014 Published by under Careers, Life

This just came out:

The scientists who get credit for peer review.


Anyone else find the number of reviews per year done by the one scientist just a bit worrying?


6 responses so far


Oct 09 2014 Published by under Careers, Life

Why are we okay with hiring someone who has essentially no teaching experience into a TT (research track) position at a major research university? We'd never hire someone into such a position with teaching experience but no research experience.




12 responses so far

Modern scientific heroes maybe aren't so much

Oct 02 2014 Published by under Careers, Life

I'm sure many of you are quite aware of the ongoing kerfuffle surrounding the ASBMB's president and his recent comments. If not, you can catch up on it at DrugMonkey's joint and read a great follow-up by Isis. I'm not going to talk about that per se, but rather something that struck me in a bio of McKnight here.

"Among the highlights are his breathtaking images of RNA synthesis and chromatin replication in Drosophila embryos,  his pioneering analysis of the transcription of the Herpes Thymidine Kinase Gene, his invention of linker scanning to discover eukaryotic transcriptional control signals, his groundbreaking analysis of the VP16 viral activator protein,  his discovery of the Leucine Zipper family of transcription factors, his discovery, purification and characterization of transcription factors C/EBP and GABP, his demonstration that the DNA-binding activity of circadian Clock proteins are influenced by NAD cofactors, his contributions to the concept that transcriptional regulatory proteins from yeast to mammals can be entrained by metabolic signals, and his pioneering contributions to our understanding of RNA granules, the subject of his lecture."

Okay, let's be fair and start by noting that McKnight most likely did not write that.*

Nonetheless, there is no way, no how, that he actually did all that. Maybe some, but certainly not all.

But... but... he published all the first/most important/glamzmagz publications on those I hear you say.

Yes, he did.

But not alone. Those weren't single author publications.**

Note that I am using this as an example. If you think this kind of thing is unusual perhaps you should open your eyes more often.

In science we've been all to quick to assign credit for many major advances made over the last five or six decades to individuals. Or maybe two or three people. But no more than that. A maximum of three can share a Nobel after all.***

But the reality is those people probably did little of the actual work. That's not the major role of a modern PI. Our job is to create and maintain an environment in which others - our trainees, technicians, research scientists - can make discoveries, push back the boundaries, generate new knowledge, innovate. If we get to directly participate a little, great, but that's not our primary role.

You might argue that the intellectual input of the PI earns him/her the major credit. Maybe. But if you're not allowing your lab personnel to make major intellectual contributions, then you're doing it wrong. Those "trainees" of yours are really just glorified technicians.****

Okay, so we all know this. After all, everyone lists the people who actually did the work on their acknowledgments slides and as co-authors on publications. We all recognize (I hope) that many hands contribute to any scientific endeavor nowadays. And I really, really hope all my fellow PI's do their best to let everyone know that the people in their labs are responsible for their latest successes. All their successes as a PI for that matter.

Maybe we should stop worshipping PI's as scientific heroes and recognize that they are often really more effective environment builders than hands-on scientists.


* The whole bio reads like the blatherings of a sycophantic groupie.

** Again, to be fair let's recognize that he almost certainly doesn't take sole credit. We assign it.

*** Yes, yes, I am aware that some Nobelists really did do most or all of the work they won the Prize for, but those are increasingly the exceptions.

**** Maybe that's where the riff-raff come from.


17 responses so far

#Ferguson Donors Choose Drive Part Deux

Aug 21 2014 Published by under Life

You done good folks. The original three projects were funded amazingly quickly. But don't worry if you didn't get a chance to offload some of those dollars burning a hole in your pockets. DrugMonkey has more for you to fund! Get to it. For the kids.

2 responses so far

#Ferguson Donors Choose Drive

Aug 21 2014 Published by under Life

If you've been looking for some tangible way to support the people of Ferguson, Missouri, head on over to DrugMonkey's and check out the Donors Choose options. For those that don't know, Donors Choose is a non-profit that partners with school teachers to raise money so they can buy stuff for their classrooms. Ferguson is classified as a high poverty area, so the teachers there need such exotic stuff as binders and paper. That's right, the kids don't have access to enough paper. You know you can spare a few. Go give.

2 responses so far

Rule for responding to reviewers #1

Aug 11 2014 Published by under Careers, Life

When reviewers don't understand what it is you've written.

When they





Nine times out of ten it's because you just haven't done a good enough job explaining it.

The tenth time it's because the reviewers are lobotomized cretins who've made ERRORS OF FACT!!!!!11!1!1!!!!!1!!!!!!!!!!

And you just haven't done a good enough job explaining it.

5 responses so far

It's not you, it's me.

Jul 08 2014 Published by under Careers, Life

We had something great. It really was. Great. And productive!


I didn't pay attention like I should have. I didn't do those little things. I became... complacent.

I'm sorry.

I've changed. Grown. I've moved on. I enjoy different things.

I'm... I'm seeing different people.

You should too.

And please...


Stop listing me as a fucking preferred reviewer!

5 responses so far

No advice on surviving the TT

Jul 03 2014 Published by under Careers, Life

There's a lot of advice that can be given on surviving your tenure track years. The single most important IMNSHO is to learn how and when to say...


Junior faculty often have a hard time with this. They worry that saying no too often will make them look like poor colleagues and hurt their tenure chances. Certainly saying no to everything will do that. But saying yes to everything will also hurt your tenure odds. You won't have enough time to work on all that other stuff (grants, papers, teaching, more grants, more papers, more teaching, etc.).

And yet, junior folk will be asked to perform service (sit on committees etc.).* Especially if they're women. Especially if they're people of color. And if you're a woman of color? You'll be asked to serve on every imaginable committee.

How much is enough, how do you choose which things to do, and how do you say no to everything else?

In terms of how much is enough, ask. Often. Find yourself a senior faculty mentor if you don't already have one.** Ask them. Ask your chair. Do some digging and try to find out how much service work recently tenured folks did. It's really not hard to get ahold of people's cv's - they're often posted online. Or you could simply ask them.

What you choose to do is largely up to you. Yes, there will be those occasions when your chair/dean/senior person will ask you to sit on a certain committee because "it will be good for you"/"you're the right person"/they just need a warm body and everyone else said no. But you really do have a lot of control here. Say yes to those things that you care about and/or you think are important.

How do you say no? That's actually much easier than you might initially think. "I would, but I've already agreed to do x, y, and z." "That sounds like a great opportunity, but unfortunately it overlaps with [insert essential task(s) here]." "My mentor thinks I'm already doing enough/too much service and has told me to say no to everything else." *** Even "The tenure clock is ticking too quickly, I don't feel I have enough publications and/or funding, so I'm going to have to decline."

Yes, they're going to try to guilt/shame/beat you into doing things you don't want to and/or shouldn't be doing. Be strong. And polite. But still say no. Especially if you think what you're being asked to do is not suitable for someone without tenure.

Learn to say no. You'll thank me.


* I talk about service/committees here for simplicity. Learning how and when to say no is useful for many other things you'll encounter on the TT (e.g. unwanted collaborators).
** I cannot stress how important this is to your survival of the TT. Find someone who will be completely honest with you. Who will have your back if necessary. It's nice if their work is related to yours, but that's not as important as the previous two criteria. Really.
*** A good mentor will do this for you. And will take the heat.

2 responses so far

Everybody Hates You: Academia

Jun 17 2014 Published by under Careers, Life

Administrators that think adjunct faculty are a good idea.

Dinosaur graybeards who maintain the status quo.

Faculty who haven't updated their teaching in fifteen years.

Faculty who won't admit academia and the research funding situation have changed dramatically, and continue to do so rapidly.

Faculty who only train future faculty.

Faculty who treat department staff like dirt.

Faculty who treat their lab personnel like dirt.

Postdocs who think they've got it all figured out.

Grad students who think a PhD is a given.

Entitled undergrads.

The third reviewer.


I've barely scratched the surface with the above. Go hog wild in the comments.

31 responses so far

Everybody hates you.

Jun 16 2014 Published by under Life

People who drive in the left lane on the highway at or below the speed of people driving in the right lane.

People who hold prolonged conversations in front of the coffee pot.

People who get to the front of a long line at the coffee shop/food place and then take their time deciding what to order.

People who don't use turn signals.

People who take carry on bags on board the plane when the bags clearly aren't going to fit anywhere.

People who reply to listserv emails asking to unsubscribe.

People who reply to people who reply to listserv emails asking to unsubscribe.


Feel free to add you own in the comments. A version of this especially for academia is coming soon, so you may want to hold off on relevant comments until then.

11 responses so far

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