Thursday, August 25, 2011

Updating my CV

I am updating my CV now in preparation for a bunch of proposals I am writing for September and October. I am new to the TT, but have more experience than the typical new prof in my field. I have a hybrid-type CV from my years at National Lab that has a long professional experience section describing what I did at each position held in my career (the norm for National Lab) and still includes experiences from PhD U.

Although I am a relative TT noob, I am not eligible for most New Investigator programs due to the time since my PhD. So it feels really weird to me to still have my TA experience and grad school awards on my CV. But it seems most of my peers at the Assistant Professor level in my field keep this stuff on (at least from looking at CVs posted online). I feel like I am a little in no-man's land.

I am thinking of cutting down the professional experience suggestion to the basics, and letting my papers/presentations/patents speak for the work I did. That seems to be more typical for an academic CV. However, I also see people who have more extensive experience descriptions like is common for researchers outside academia, so that makes me reluctant to hit the delete key. I also think I am going to remove TA details and awards and service from before I finished my PhD, but maybe this is stupid if everyone else is keeping this stuff on theirs. What would you do? Any advice?

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Wimminz in Academia Q&A, now with 100% Fewer Babies Round 2

It is that time again--Mein Hermitage has sent out an interesting and 100% baby free set of questions for her panelists to answer. I don't know how useful my responses are, but thanks again to Hermie for organizing this!

1. It seems to me that often women don't have as strong professional networks as men - the kind that gets built over shared interests (sports or drinking). People seem to gravitate towards others like them. What specific advice do you have for establishing and maintaining network with men as well as other women?

For me, this hasn't been a major problem. I have many interests that are coded male (like sports, sci-fi, and gaming), so I have happily played fantasy sports, gone to cult sci-fi TV show night, and lost sleep to various games (MMOs and others) with my group mates and colleagues. I am not a really big drinker, but I do enjoy a good beer or wine, so I am not averse to hanging out in a bar (especially now that I am not going to reek like an ashtray!). I find that I don't know that many scientists who want to get stinking drunk (though plenty like to drink), and no one cares if I nurse one drink all night or spend the evening drinking Cokes.

I am not a great networker, but the things that work for me are to be myself, try to spend time talking with people in relaxing settings, and use the "friends of friends" effect to maximum advantage (since I am not really a social butterfly). Attending a lot of meeting also helps, since you can reconnect with people at coffee breaks and other social events.

2. Early on, what was your "Oh @!#$%" moment and how did you recover?

When I was a young grad student, I accidentally crossed some wires and trashed a very expensive piece of equipment that was crucial for my project. This was particularly upsetting, since it played into stereotypes about women's competence in building and fixing things. It made me wonder if I was cut out for this work at all at the time.

What I did in response is 1) find out how to fix the problem (it turns out we could fix it on site, with a somewhat scary procedure that I set up and ran), 2) set up a protocol in my work so I couldn't make the same mistake in the future and 3) trust that everyone makes mistakes, and this wasn't a fatal flaw in me as a scientist (probably the hardest part). For years afterwards, I would get upset in thinking about what a stupid thing that was for me to do, and about how I had ruined my advisor's trust in me (which was only true in my mind).

I admit that I felt slightly empowered later on when a male colleague with a similar level of experience made the same mistake, and I was able to step him through the repair.

3. How do you deal with female health issues (heavy periods and period pain that lasts for a week, heavy migraines that strike suddenly, etc.), when you are in a predominantly male environment?

I guess I just don't give many details about health issues that come up, be they female related or not. If I don't feel well/need to take frequent breaks at work/need some time off, I just take it. I arrange breaks around my teaching schedule now. When I was at National Lab, and needed to call in for sick time or otherwise account for my time, I just said I was feeling under the weather and explained what I needed (time off, breaks every X hours, working form home certain days, etc). Most of the time, it was granted with no further information required (though once I needed a doctor's note).

I dealt with my pregnancy and nursing issues in the same way. I had to pump in my office (luckily, I had one office mate at National Lab). I arranged with him to be alone in the office at the specific times I needed and put a "Do Not Disturb" sign on the door. It probably helped that he had kids himself, but I trust my colleagues to behave like adults, and only give out personal information on a need to know basis.

4. How do you balance "assertiveness" and "bitchiness" - in the sense that it's harder as a female (than a male) to "get away with" being protective of your time, stating your opinion, and so forth?

This is a hard one for me, and it something that I still struggle with at times. I don't know that it is any easier for men on the TT to protect their time. Certainly, my male colleagues all seem to have similar trouble learning to say no to service tasks. In some ways, it seems like a personality thing, although I am well aware that both men and women are socialized to expect women to put their needs below the needs of their group.

I do find that assertiveness on my part is misinterpreted at times in a more negative light. Sometimes, I find it better to have these conversations face to face, where body language can help soften a negative response (though personally that is the most difficult for me). Email is the worst, since there is no tone or nuance at all, and words are always interpreted through the lens of the reader.

With students, I found there was a learning curve. There are classroom management techniques that I just can't do, because I come off as a bitch where an older male colleague comes off as "in charge". I find that simply being aware of this is the first step, since I am finding things that work for my personality that don't alienate my students.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Failed PhD Projects

FSP started an interesting discussion at her Scientopia blog on "pity PhDs". She is responding to a question from a PhD student about to start their 3rd year on a nonworking project. Now, given that this student still has 3-4 years left (or would in my field anyway), recognizing a potential failed project means they have plenty of time to regroup. My own project was only marginally successful at best, but that doesn't have to be a fatal flaw in getting a job, even in academia.

As I said in my comment, I would hire a postdoc with few (or one) publication who came highly recommended. I would be more likely to do so if I knew the recommender (and could guess at the likelihood of being snowed). I would not hire a postdoc with NO publications.

Students who plan a career in research KNOW that publications are key. As a PI, I want to know that someone can finish what they started, can write at least a little, and has gone through the process of converting lab work to manuscript. I do understand that not all projects are successful (which is why they call it research), but that is no excuse for having no publications in 5-6 years of grad school, especially if you plan on an academic postdoc.

My own PhD project was only marginally successful, leading to one publication that I submitted after I started my postdoc. However, like FSP's reader, I saw the writing on the wall. In my third year of grad school, I took on a side project that eventually led to 3 publications. Sometimes, things don't go the way you hope. I think this is actually a GOOD thing for a student, because it helps you learn troubleshooting and triaging skills. Unfortunately, even the very best advisor might not notice that a project has a fatal flaw until it is too late for an individual student. Anyone can fall in love with an idea or some lovely preliminary data and be unable or unwilling to respond quickly to a flawed research direction.

The thing is that no one cares about your career as much as you do. You need to be proactive, even as a student. If you think your project will not produce in time for you take have publications, YOU need to find a side project or two that will. For your side project, you can't pick something else risky and flashy--this is something that has to produce something quickly for you. You also need to go over everything you have done for your main project and see if any of it can be put together for publication. If you are funded by a particular grant, you (and your PI) are on the hook for that project. But most advisors won't care if you do something else on the side, especially if it doesn't require many resources. If one of my students came to me with some really interesting data, I would encourage them to keep working on it and help them get what they need to be successful (as long as whatever they were supposed to be doing continued to get done).

If all else fails, and you do end up with a pity PhD, I can say that the people I knew at PhD U who got pity PhDs are all working in industry quite successfully right now.Link

Thursday, August 11, 2011

No longer the departmental noob

I am no longer the most junior member of our department! Now that I am in the "older, wiser" crowd, I see why the information I received was so spotty and random. I tend to tell the new prof all the things I learned the hard way or wished I knew earlier. I am sure I am leaving out tons of useful stuff other people originally told me when I arrived, but don't remember how useful it was because it doesn't stick out in my memory. I bet all the people who helped me out did the same thing.

It is kind of fun to see how far I have come since starting out in comparison!

Monday, July 25, 2011

July is science scandal month

This month, the C&E News obtained detailed reports (summary here) on the Sezen/Sames data fabrication scandal. For those not following the details, Bengu Sezen (PhD awarded in 2005) was found guilty of 21 counts of research misconduct after it turns out that most of her results were fabricated. Her advisor, Dalibor Sames, ended up retracting 6 publications after the allegations came out and were proven true and spent lots of time and money on fake research. The details are really quite astonishing:

By the time Sezen received a Ph.D. degree in chemistry in 2005, under the supervision of Sames, her fraudulent activity had reached a crescendo, according to the reports. Specifically, the reports detail how Sezen logged into NMR spectrometry equipment under the name of at least one former Sames group member, then merged NMR data and used correction fluid to create fake spectra showing her desired reaction products.

The documents paint a picture of Sezen as a master of deception, a woman very much at ease with manipulating colleagues and supervisors alike to hide her fraudulent activity; a practiced liar who would defend the integrity of her research results in the face of all evidence to the contrary. Columbia has moved to revoke her Ph.D.

Worse, the reports document the toll on other young scientists who worked with Sezen: “Members of the [redacted] expended considerable time attempting to reproduce Respondent’s results. The Committee found that the wasted time and effort, and the onus of not being able to reproduce the work, had a severe negative impact on the graduate careers of three (3) of those students, two of whom [redacted] were asked to leave the [redacted] and one of whom decided to leave after her second year.”

Now at first, this seems like one of my worst nightmares--a very clever PhD student spends lots of time falsifying data leading to withdrawn papers, ruined research, and a damaged reputation. But the reports paint an even more troubling picture, with Sames ignoring warning signs as early as 2002 that something was wrong with the data. As irritating as it is that people wasted time trying to replicate false results, this is how science works, and is what lead to the discovery of the fraud.

What I find truly disturbing is that at least three students left the Sames group after being unable to replicate the results. Three students! Even if Sezen was the reincarnation of Marie Curie, shouldn't Sames have been worried that not one, not two, but three people IN HIS OWN LAB could not reproduce Sezen's work? This is on top of outside groups having problems. I have been guilty myself of falling in love with my own data, but surely doubts would creep in after the second failure--I could understand thinking that maybe one person was just not cut out for the work, but three?!? Also, did no one else in the department wonder that attrition was so high in the Sames group (although maybe that is not so unusual for the Columbia Chemistry department, which is in some ways even more upsetting)? In this particular scandal no one comes off particularly well, except for the unnamed members of the Sames group caught in the crossfire of this incident.

The other major science scandal news this month is that Marc Hauser (of the faked monkey research) has resigned his position at Harvard. I also find this situation troubling, since Hauser is apparently abandoning his group now that his research has been discredited and moving on to bigger and better things (for him, at least). Like the Elizabeth Goodwin case, this is yet another example of how fraud can pay for dishonest academics: boost your career with goosed results, then move on to something else (lucrative) when caught, leaving your trainees behind to pay the price. Surely research fraud should have a stronger penalty than leaving academia for industry? And again I ask what will happen to Hauser's students?


Monday, July 18, 2011

Getting scooped

Well, it happened (sort of). Another group recently published the results of an experiment we are trying to do in a prominent journal for our field. Now at first, I was upset about it, given that this experiment is the core of one of my student's PhDs. It is really easy to see this work in print, and get all freaked out.

Taking a second look, I found that Namnezia is totally right about scientific scooping (in my decidedly not crystallography/single answer field). Our experiment is similar in broad outline to what has been published, but the details vary in some very significant ways. Yes, we may be second, but at least we have had our thinking validated! First of all, this is an interesting scientific problem--at least one other good group is working on solving it. Second, our original intuition has been confirmed, demonstrating that our GENERAL approach will definitely work (which wasn't at all guaranteed). I am also hoping that a little competition will be motivating, but on that one, you never know.

Now, I would certainly have been happier to be the first to demonstrate this concept, but the sky isn't falling, this didn't wreck my tenure chances, my student will still get nice publications, and all our hard work to date isn't wasted. In some ways this is new to me (much of my prior work was on REALLY niche systems or in systems with a relatively high barrier to entry). I am actually pretty happy to have more scientific playmates now, so to speak. But everything is a mixed blessing, so working in a more populated area of science means things like this are going to happen.

Our approach has a different set of advantages and disadvantages than the one already published, so I still think our project will produce some interesting new science. Fortunately, being first doesn't really matter all that much in the grand scheme of things.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Women in Science (Now with fewer babies!)

GMP's post today reminded me that I should send you off to Hermitage's blog, where she is organizing an even bigger and better panel of female scientists to answer your questions about anything EXCEPT for babies. Go ahead and post your questions. She will pick 4 questions to be distributed to the panelists, who will answer them 4 weeks later.

Last year's questions were an interesting mix. My answers are here. This year's panel is larger, and covers a wider range of experiences from postdoc to senior scientist. Here's your chance to find out anything you want to know about women in science but were afraid to ask in real life.