Archive for the 'Uncategorized' category

Charles Darwin's health, so-called "productivity" and ambition

Oct 06 2016 Published by under Uncategorized

This is so fascinating: Charles Darwin's Health

I came across it from a Tenure She Wrote post linked to by sweetscience here on Scientopia.

Charles Darwin's lifelong intermittent symptoms are SO similar to some of the crap that I deal with (and that I have heard personally from many other scientists at many career levels)--crazy heart irregularity stuff, exhaustion and stomach problems brought on by the adrenergic fight or flight response; and what feels like deregulated fight or flight response happening a lot in our professional situations, whether it's from teaching, deadline stress, social anxiety about big meetings or talks, uncertainty stress about funding situations, betrayal by people we thought we could or should be able to trust, everything. And also hitting some of us in our personal situations, too, the relentless gut punches from all the terrible, desperate stuff happening beyond our control to us, and to/about the people and things we care about.

Then I found this one about the Ghostbusters remake and being in all-women spaces, and I loved it so much. I saw the movie a few weeks ago and I was just about crying with how awesome it was.

All these things I keep thinking about as I ponder my tendency to say I'm not ambitious... when really it's that I hate the competitive bullshit. I am ambitious, actually. I do want to be doing great things and getting recognized for them. I want to be HHMI, I want to get my work published in journals that lots of people will read. I just really, REALLY don't feel like I want to be spending all the extra energy required to push for them against the skepti-tide, feeling exhausted by the effort to get what I know is meticulously good work on innovative stuff through reviewers, and by the dudebro-ness that gets them for equivalent accomplishments just because it's louder and seen first. Like this crap: Book excerpt from an essay on science and narcissism

Charles Darwin: a giant in science, no modern respectable scientist would argue about the importance of his contributions, figured out one of the fundamental principles of nature. All while feeling like absolute crap half the time, experiencing personal tragedy, and not being able to be "fully productive". He stressed out about it constantly, always felt like he should be working more, but only was able to keep himself going intellectually and professionally by taking time out to take care of himself and manage his mental health and physical condition. We (the collective of scientists) need to let ourselves and each other do this, too.

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Sep 23 2016 Published by under Uncategorized

So, an online friend had a fantastic idea: to spend a day sharing the impact that a certain Scientopia blogger has had on us as scientists trying to navigate the NIH game.

I can say without a shadow of a doubt that Drugmonkey has majorly influenced my success onto and through the tenure track. I first started reading back in about 2007-2008, when I was a fifth year postdoc at my wits end with scored but unfunded K99/R00 submissions and one last chance to go, and a season out on the job market with only one interview (possibly contributed to by some sabotage by one of my letter writers, but you never know). I stumbled across his blog from a link on Female Science Professor, and it was like finally walking into the room where people talked to me like an adult, told me what it was really going to be like, and laid out what had worked for them in the past. You know, like mentoring is supposed to be.

Between the DM himself and his (back then more of a) co-blogger CPP, I felt like I could formulate a plan with evidence-based information. I had the extremely lucky break of both the K99 and the job happening that spring of 2008, and from there launched into the PI game. They spread the word about my own blog, and gathered me into the "fold" like I was one of the regulars. Without the community, camaraderie, specific advice and encouragement to dig in that I got from the Drugmonkey blog and interactions with those two, plus the extended relationships that grew out of their outreach to me as a young PI blogger, I would not have had the confidence in my path to tenure that I traveled with. I didn't know for sure that I was going to make it. I had some scary funding situations and scrapes against catastrophe. But I always had this network of people, built by DM (although I don't know if he realizes or would admit it), who I could turn to and let it all out, who I could trust, who were unconflicted about my progress but who just wanted to extend the potential to find satisfaction and even joy in this roller coaster of a job.

So thank you, Drugmonkey. You have had a role, a BIG role, in my success, and in my energy and enthusiasm to pay it forward to others who I try now to extend the same mentoring-at-large. If there was an award for the broadest scope and widest range of mentoring activities in the NIH research land, you would be the inaugural winner. (with CPP on deck for year 2--gotta make sure he knows how important he has been as well)

4 responses so far


Jul 08 2016 Published by under Uncategorized

Perspective-taking (stepping into another's shoes and trying to see things from their position) is a fundamental requirement of empathy. I can imagine myself in the shoes of my black neighbors who grow up to the realization that they cannot operate on the assumption that they get the automatic benefit of the doubt that comes with white privilege, and that any wrong word or move when interacting with authority could result in their agency being taken away, their injury, or even death. I can also imagine myself in the shoes of the police officers who go to work every day because they are committed to helping keep people safe, people of all colors. And of their families who can't ignore the anxiety that something like what happened last night could happen to them. These perspectives are not mutually exclusive, and once you have put yourself into all of these, you see there are no "sides," just a continuum of human experiences.

But also: the St. Anthony police department is my local police force. I know and trust these people, and I am sure that they are good people, who want to be good officers, and who think they are doing their best at approaching the complex issues of race and policing. BUT YET it was one of them that did this--one of them who lost his mind at the thought of a black man with a gun and pulled his trigger in fear of that black man who had not actually done anything that any reasonable person would consider threatening if he had been a white man (for which there is more than ample evidence to support that we culturally accept--see the machine-gun-toting white citizens who walked around Lafayette, IN when I lived there without getting even asked to stop by the police, much less shot).

This is what we need to come to terms with: that this fear is a terrible, unconscious part of how most of us think in our lizard brains underneath our rational mind. And this is what I am taking responsibility for recognizing and changing, starting in myself.

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Citing other labs in your field: professional courtesy and scientific record

Jul 27 2015 Published by under Uncategorized

*Sigh* Another paper came out recently by another group in my small sub-field, whose work is pretty darn close to ours, and whom, despite 6 years of us citing their work in everything we publish, have NEVER. ONCE. cited ours.

Initially I was unaware of their work--despite thinking I had done all my due diligence and dug up everything potentially related when planning the project, I did miss their earlier paper on the topic, due to a keyword thing; being relatively unfamiliar with the field early on, I called it something different than they had called it and only searched for the terms that fell within my definition--and was corrected during review of my lab's first paper submission in this area. Since then, we've made a few new contributions, used different techniques than they do, and have always described their work with appropriate attribution of the fundamentals they contributed when we've reported our angles on the strategy our groups use in common. I have even met the PI in person--introducing myself and letting the PI know how much I like their work and that I have been following it for years now.

But either they are REALLY not watching their Web of Science citation lists, or they are deliberately choosing not to cite our research even in cases (such as this most recent one) in which it would be pretty appropriate to do so, since we previously reported a strategy that they report as a control experiment for monitoring essentially the same thing as we monitored in our work.

I feel like this must be getting to the deliberate stage--there are too many tools available now to know who is citing you and for what, and we really are about the only other group who regularly develops the kind of stuff we both work on. For them to have missed this is either because they're really out of touch or they really just don't care and/or are trying to ignore us/make sure we are ignored. But it's frustrating to know that despite doing the right thing, both from a professional courtesy standpoint and a scientific record standpoint--acknowledging the links that exist between work going on in different groups in a very small field--others might not behave the same way.

18 responses so far

Welcome to Portrait of the Scientist as a Young Woman!

Jul 08 2015 Published by under Uncategorized

Our newest set of Scientopians! Their blog is located at:

Welcome new friends!

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Semi-urban chicken keeping

Apr 30 2015 Published by under Uncategorized

We're embarking on an adventure--baby chicks! Our daughter named them Lucy, Alice, Sally and Megan. This is Megan:

2015-04-29 20.19.43

So far it seems like less work than a new puppy, and the eggs we'll be getting from them will be more pleasant than the ones we used to get from our dog. Should be fun!


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All-Male Tetrahedron Prize for Creativity: an illustration of the climate for women in synthetic chemistry

Feb 18 2015 Published by under Uncategorized

Looking down the list of past winners of the Tetrahedron Prize for Creativity, I see NO WOMEN. Only men. This is simultaneously astonishing and totally unsurprising to me given that the description of the prize is this:

The Tetrahedron Prize for Creativity in Organic Chemistry was established in 1980 by the Executive Board of Editors and the Publisher of Tetrahedron Publications. It is intended to honour the memory of the founding co-Chairmen of these publications, Professor Sir Robert Robinson and Professor Robert Burns Woodward.

The Tetrahedron Prize is awarded on an annual basis for creativity in Organic Chemistry or Bioorganic and Medicinal Chemistry. The prize consists of a gold medal, a certificate, and a monetary award of US $10,000. It is awarded to an Organic or Medicinal Chemist who has made significant original contributions to the field, in its broadest sense (emphasis added). On some occasions, the Prize may be awarded jointly to two winners in which case two medals are presented. The winner is expected to write an appropriate article for Tetrahedron or Bioorganic & Medicinal Chemistry as part of a Symposium-in-Print compiled in their honour.

Since the 1980s, this committee has not been able to find ANY worthy female organic, bioorganic, or medicinal chemists? Seriously? Not even Gertrude Elion, a female chemist who was still alive until 1999, so that they had almost 20 years in which to notice she would have been an excellent fit, and obviously quite deserving as a winner of a Nobel Prize in Medicine (her advanced age from 1980 to 1999 is no excuse; certainly plenty of the past winners were no spring roosters when they were graced with this award). Or Gunda Georg, who has published almost 200 papers in the medicinal chemistry field, and has been a leader in that area for many years. Or Barbara Imperiali, Carolyn Bertozzi, or Laura Kiessling, just to name three prominent female chemists who grew into leadership in the field during the later 1990s and early 2000s. Or in the last five years or so, two other emerging leaders in synthetic and bioorganic chemistry, Anna Mapp and Melanie Sanford, both at Michigan and pioneers in chemical biology and synthetic methodology development, respectively.

I suspect that part of this is the culture in the synthetic organic chemistry community to value fundamental methodology more than practical application. Sorry, but I don't count natural product synthesis as practical application, because really: a 35-step synthesis to obtain 0.01 mg of the final product? That was just an excuse for you to showcase your fancy fundamental methodology, not a REAL practical application. There's this kind of dude-bro climate in organic chemistry (which I know first hand) where the rewards come for things like how stereoselective your reaction was, rather than how much it helped us learn about other things, and which may, in at least part, explain the growing divide of people (men and women alike) who are tired of that and are moving into areas like chemical biology (which is synthesis for understanding biology's sake, rather than for synthesis' sake). Organic synthesis in what some would call its "purest" form is kinda on the way out--and maybe that's partly because of the way this community has been built and has excluded a lot of enthusiastic people doing awesome, but "impure" science.

Overall, this list of past winners illustrates perfectly the retention problem that organic chemistry has for women. When the same old usual suspects continually end up in the list of who is most important and creative, it's a self-fulfilling cycle that keeps them in the lead and contributes to pushing others out. Many other organizations (like the ACS) are doing a much better job of addressing this and expanding the diversity of their awardee pool. Elsevier and the Tetrahedron Prize need to get with the times, and we as a community need to start nominating these amazing women so that they have no excuse. I think I've identified my next project...

4 responses so far

K99/R00 Eligibility clarification explicitly justifies exceptions for parental/family/etc. leave

Oct 24 2014 Published by under Uncategorized

This is good to see formalized:

It states:

Eligible Individuals (Program Director/Principal Investigator)

K99 applicants must have no more than 4 years of postdoctoral research experience at the time of the initial or the subsequent resubmission or revision application, and must be in mentored, postdoctoral training positions to be eligible to apply to the K99/R00 program. If an applicant achieves independence (i.e., any faculty or non-mentored research position) before a K99 award is made, neither the K99 award, nor the R00 award, will be issued.

Parental leave or other well-justified leave for pressing personal or family situations of generally less than 12 months duration (e.g., family care responsibilities, disability or illness, active military duty) is not included in the 4-year eligibility limit. In addition, time spent conducting postgraduate clinical training that does not involve research is not considered as part of the 4-year research training eligibility limit. Only time dedicated to research activities would count toward the 4-year limit.

Additional clarifications are provided under Frequently Asked Questions. Potential candidates are encouraged to discuss their individual situation with an NIH Institute or Center Scientific Program Contact before applying.

I hope this will help some postdocs with the conversations they have with their POs on this.

6 responses so far

Reflections on a K99/R00 datapoint

Aug 15 2014 Published by under Uncategorized

The recent analyses and discussions of gender differences in the K99/R00 transition to R01 rate are reflection provoking: as one of the 2008 K99 cohort datapoints, and (if you hadn't figured it out) a woman, I have recently succeeded in getting an R01 (April 2014). I am navel gazing because I am trying to figure out why I am one of the ones who has an R01 by now. I truly don't know what I have done differently than others in my place, but even having the luxury of thinking that may be a privilege in itself. Although I recently moved, I started out at an institution that, as far as I can tell from the tables, is >100 ranking (although, with no medical center and a hugely physical sciences centered-focus, at a major skewed disadvantage from what I observed in this list compared to peer institutions with med centers). It is also very teaching-focused, but still considered R1. My R01 was applied for from and awarded to that institution. So, let's perform a case study to gather some anecdata--and since I'm also being put up for tenure this year, hey, this information is at hand.

So, did I apply for more grants or R01s than others in my cohort bin? I don't know--I do know that in five years, I submitted five R01 proposals in total (on two distinct projects), a sixth R01-scale/length R33 proposal (but for a non-renewable opportunity), a seventh EUREKA R01, and got fundable scores on two (an R01 and the R33). I submitted a New Innovator award proposal (which I did not get). I submitted three R01-scale NSF CAREER proposals (and didn't get any of them). I submitted five R21 proposals (on four distinct projects) and got two of them, two STTR proposals (on the same project, which is not yet funded) and one DOD pilot project proposal (which I got). I also submitted numerous foundation proposals (at least one or so a year, none of which I got), and 1-2 internal proposals a year, a few of which I got. So if I average all of that together and divide it across five years, yeah: that's at least 3 major to semi-major proposals a year. The R01s were all in the last two years or so. I guess that is a lot, but it sounds like about average to me, based on what many other peers and mentors have described.

Have I "worked harder" than others in my cohort bin? I really don't think so but it seems extremely, cluelessly privileged to say that. I have had some long, intense days, and more than a few nights of staying up until 3 am (but nearly always to work on teaching lectures during teaching season, not grants--the grants happened during the day, I guess they got the special treatment). I've had a baby, my 2nd year on TT, with the luxury of not having to teach the whole following year and being on a hard-money position nevertheless (so an added luxury of not having to stress about how to pay myself). I've struggled with depression, and fairly recently started Wellbutrin (about 2 years or so now), with a lot of lost days and nights to the fog and emptiness prior to that. (it's hard to be creative about anything, or solve any problems, when you just don't feel anything about anything and can't even hold together a non-complex thought with your executive function). Even still I have what seems like a lot of nights when I stay up until 4 am reading my book BECAUSE I WANT TO AND IT MAKES ME FEEL BETTER. I don't usually work on weekends (unless something's REALLY super urgent, like teaching in which I have to stand up in front of a bunch of teenagers who already don't like me and don't like being there and are looking for any excuse...). So, unless it's my imposter syndrome talking, I don't feel like I have worked as hard as I could have or SHOULD have. But maybe that's the lie that paralyzes us into thinking we can't do it. When, apparently, we can, because, here I am.

I have benefited tremendously from mentoring and promotional support. I've managed to hit almost all of the checkboxes in the Drugmonkey/Physioprof list of things to do to give yourself the best chance at NIH success: I've been on a number of NIH review panels (because I had mentors who suggested me to SROs), including the ones that ended up funding my two R21s, my R01, and the R33 with a fundable score. They are totally right: you learn the panel culture, which pitfalls to avoid, and what catches their collective eye--as well as just what works and what doesn't in building a compelling rationale (after you've reviewed a few rounds, it really starts to jump out). I've sent in a lot of proposals, on diverse topics, crashed and burned some on the rocks of one mechanism and subsequently refined them for success at another. Have we had the perfect preliminary data? Hell no! That I can emphatically say. But, I have increasingly learned how to use what we do have, and to spread it around. We've published six papers on which I am corresponding author, and a bunch more where I'm in the middle (because I like helping, and my students have helped too). In my field, that's not a huge amount, but it's okay. My revised R01 proposal that finally got funded was read and critiqued by a mentor who had been on that study section for a long time, and so knew all the points to hit.

And then, also, I am lucky. I am a very fast writer, and pretty fast reader, so I start with an advantage towards being prolific. Maybe this is part of the key. It makes proposals flow more easily and not feel like as much work? These are things I have always had, and that I improved on in college. So maybe that, and the good mentors thing, are my lucky pass that get me through these gates more easily. That's what this reflection comes down to, ultimately: I don't feel like I have done more than others in my bin. I don't feel like I am smarter, or more perfect. I've been scrappy, but also know the feeling of the black dog (with a big disclaimer that I am extremely lucky to have it respond well to drugs that don't mess up the rest of my life). I think I'm regular, normal but lucky.

11 responses so far

Research commercialization: not just for profit

Aug 20 2013 Published by under Uncategorized

I read an opinion piece today in The Scientist by a postdoc at Manchester University in the UK, called "Should Science Be For Sale?" The author's opinion seems to be that research commercialization efforts are devaluing science and its pure pursuit, and that increased focus on applied research is harming support for fundamental science. This seems to be a common viewpoint among basic scientists, and I don't think they are correct. There are two reasons why commercializing and applying research out of academic institutions is important:

  1. It increases the economic value of the research enterprise, and yet operates with a different bottom line than in fully for-profit organizations. This means that if properly managed, profits can be turned back around and invested in fundamental research efforts that are otherwise unfundable. Yes, "properly managed" is the operative phrase; but in academic institutions, we as the academic community are a part of the system that governs how the institution is managed. As much as we might grumble and get disgruntled, we have vastly more influence over the structure of our organization than most companies.
  2. It gets the research outcomes from universities to be ACTUALLY USED in the real world--without commercialization, there is no way to distribute the findings into the wider community. New drugs, new devices, new products that come from academic research have to be optimized, they have to be put through the regulatory grinder process, they have to be manufactured and distributed. As distasteful as it might be to a purist, they do have to be marketed in order for enough people to hear about them to create demand.

I'll share the disclaimer that I am working on commercializing the research from my lab. We make things that could potentially be used as diagnostics to report the effectiveness of cancer drugs. We just do not have the resources, nor does our university, to bankroll the regulatory path that will be needed to see these things make it into widespread use. We need to turn this into a commodity that someone who does have those resources available would want to pursue. I don't really care about the profit part--in fact, I'm a pretty big hippie and I think I already make more money than I need. If I ever do end up making a lot of money from this (which is doubtful), I don't know what I'll do with it--maybe I'll invest it back into some fundamental research that isn't so commodifiable. But if we don't get aggressive and push to commercialize this, it will stay buried in the journals and people will keep dying from cancer relapse because their drugs weren't working and they developed resistance, even though there is a way to find that out right at the beginning of starting their treatment.

I don't see some kind of science-killing profit Armageddon coming to our academic system. Yes, our federal funding situation sucks, it sucks big time right now. The research structure (and thus tenure process) of universities in the US has been relying on that funding for so long that it is essentially built around it. The way things are changing, it isn't likely to go back to previous levels any time soon--so that means we all need to adapt. Sometimes economic adaptation means setting up a lemonade stand, sometimes it involves setting out a hat. It'd be great if we could just set out the hat and the public would fill it--but like that would happen (you can see examples in the "crowdfunded science" efforts that usually don't make enough to actually support the costs of a research enterprise). We need to give them something for their money, and that means giving them some things (yes, commodities) that they can use. But this is just, like, my opinion, man, so take it as you will.





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