A recent investigation finds that an alarming number of “academic” journals offered a completely fake scientist a position on their editorial boards. Read the article, published in Nature, in which the authors describe their sting and give further information on avoiding predatory journals.
Finding time to write can be difficult. As a young scientist, one can be constantly bombarded with experiments, classes, meetings… The list goes on and on. It can seem as if writing gets pushed further and further back in the “To Do List”. Developing a strategy early in one’s career to stay on top of writing projects can be extremely important. One thought is to try “the 1-hour workday”:
Taken from https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-018-01853-1
Under pressure to turn out productive lab members quickly, many PhD programmes in the biomedical sciences have shortened their courses, squeezing out opportunities for putting research into its wider context. Consequently, most PhD curricula are unlikely to nurture the big thinkers and creative problem-solvers that society needs.
That means students are taught every detail of a microbe’s life cycle but little about the life scientific. They need to be taught to recognize how errors can occur. Trainees should evaluate case studies derived from flawed real research, or use interdisciplinary detective games to find logical fallacies in the literature. Above all, students must be shown the scientific process as it is — with its limitations and potential pitfalls as well as its fun side, such as serendipitous discoveries and hilarious blunders.
This is exactly the gap that I am trying to fill at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, where a new graduate science programme is entering its second year. Microbiologist Arturo Casadevall and I began pushing for reform in early 2015, citing the need to put the philosophy back into the doctorate of philosophy: that is, the ‘Ph’ back into the PhD. We call our programme R3, which means that our students learn to apply rigour to their design and conduct of experiments; view their work through the lens of social responsibility; and to think critically, communicate better, and thus improve reproducibility. Although we are aware of many innovative individual courses developed along these lines, we are striving for more-comprehensive reform.
Our offerings are different from others at the graduate level. We have critical-thinking assignments in which students analyse errors in reasoning in a New York Times opinion piece about ‘big sugar’, and the ethical implications of the arguments made in a New Yorker piece by surgeon Atul Gawande entitled ‘The Mistrust of Science’. Our courses on rigorous research, scientific integrity, logic, and mathematical and programming skills are integrated into students’ laboratory and fieldwork. Those studying the influenza virus, for example, work with real-life patient data sets and wrestle with the challenges of applied statistics.
A new curriculum starts by winning allies. Both students and faculty members must see value in moving off the standard track. We used informal interviews and focus groups to identify areas in which students and faculty members saw gaps in their training. Recurring themes included the inability to apply theoretical knowledge in statistical tests in the laboratory, frequent mistakes in choosing an appropriate set of experimental controls, and significant difficulty in explaining work to non-experts.
Introducing our programme to colleagues in the Johns Hopkins life-sciences departments was even more sensitive. I was startled by the oft-expressed opinion that scientific productivity depended more on rote knowledge than on competence in critical thinking. Several principal investigators were uneasy about students committing more time to less conventional forms of education. The best way to gain their support was coffee: we repeatedly met lab heads to understand their concerns.
With the pilot so new, we could not provide data on students’ performance, but we could address faculty members’ scepticism. Some colleagues were apprehensive that students would take fewer courses in specialized content to make room for interdisciplinary courses on ethics, epistemology and quantitative skills. In particular, they worried that the R3 programme could lengthen the time required for students to complete their degree, leave them insufficiently knowledgeable in their subject areas and make them less productive in the lab.
We made the case that better critical thinking and fewer mandatory discipline-specific classes might actually position students to be more productive. We convinced several professors to try the new system and participate in structured evaluations on whether R3 courses contributed to students’ performance.
So far, we have built 5 new courses from scratch and have enrolled 85 students from nearly a dozen departments and divisions. The courses cover the anatomy of errors and misconduct in scientific practice and teach students how to dissect the scientific literature. An interdisciplinary discussion series encourages broad and critical thinking about science. Our students learn to consider societal consequences of research advances, such as the ability to genetically alter sperm and eggs.
Discussions about the bigger-picture problems of the scientific enterprise get students to reflect on the limits of science, and where science’s ability to do something competes with what scientists should do from a moral point of view. In addition, we have seminars and workshops on professional skills, particularly leadership skills through effective communication, teaching and mentoring.
It is still early days for assessment. So far, however, trainees have repeatedly emphasized that gaining a broader perspective has been helpful. In future, we will collect information about the impact that the R3 approach has on graduates’ career choices and achievements.
We believe that researchers who are educated more broadly will do science more thoughtfully, with the result that other scientists, and society at large, will be able to rely on this work for a better, more rational world. Science should strive to be self-improving, not just self-correcting.
Nature 554, 277 (2018)
By Jenny J. Lee
Taken from https://www.chronicle.com/article/The-Not-So-Secret-Guide-to/242186
As a professor for nearly 15 years, I have advised more doctoral students than I care to count. I’ve had my fair share of national award winners, those who gave up and vanished, and countless students in between. I have referred them to books, manuals, articles, and advice columns that provide no shortage of step-by-step guidance on how to embark upon the pinnacle of their studies — the doctoral dissertation.
Published advice can be helpful. But it often portrays the research-and-writing process as neutral and predictable, and it hardly takes into account the pitfalls and mishaps that can affect whether, and how soon, you finish. Yet it’s also a mistake to view the dissertation — as many students do — as a challenge so cryptic and clouded in ambiguous idealism that it seems insurmountable.
In fact, the dissertation process should not be a mystery at all, given that the most common problems can be easily avoided. That it is mysterious for so many means that faculty members need to better communicate those problems.
As advisers who probably wrote our own dissertations decades ago, we may too easily forget what it was like to be a student to offer the clearest advice. Or, to avoid seeming too autocratic, we may see a professional value in not directing our students’ ideas too firmly. And sometimes we may simply forget what we told which student, mistakenly assuming that the advice will somehow inevitably spread from one advisee to the next.
Here, then, are maxims that some of us may neglect to spell out clearly enough — and that students may be too afraid to ask about.
Some dissertation topics are pretty good and others are really, really bad. The onus here is on you, the student, but a successful proposal is most often a collaboration between student and adviser. We aim to nurture your ideas, but the reality is: Some are better than others. The really, really bad topics are those that fail to establish relevance to the field, do not appear to be genuine inquiries, or are unconvincingly masked as a shortcut to your educational credentials.
We have our research biases, but please don’t believe you can make a career as our clone (however much we may privately wish it). To make your dissertation worthwhile, think about an ideal — yet realistic — job you might apply for upon obtaining your Ph.D.
If you are considering a faculty job, how will your dissertation make you stand out from 100-plus other applicants seeking the same position? What are some conferences where you can start sharing your results and expanding your academic connections? If you are seeking a nonacademic career, how might your research findings inform your day-to-day work? What will you say about your dissertation during a job interview?
In this tough job market, don’t be afraid to tell us your career plans, whether or not they are in academe. If we know what you want to do, we can better advise on a career strategy. Also, keep in mind that, while you might be limited to one dissertation adviser, you are not limited in the number of mentors you can approach for job advice. So if you’re interested in nonacademic careers but your dissertation adviser doesn’t have any such expertise, find someone who does.
We do not expect you to change the world with a single study. In an ideal world, a student’s thesis would revolutionize the field and forever change how we think about a topic. But I have witnessed many students’ repeatedly extending their timeline because they are stuck on coming up with the “perfect” proposal idea.
People who pursue a Ph.D. do not, by nature, lack ambition. As an adviser, I spend far more time helping overly ambitious students scale down their research designs to make them more feasible than I do revving up the aspirations of laid-back students whose research goals are underwhelming. The bottom line: A dissertation that you can actually finish — with good-enough scholarship — can still offer something meaningful to the field.
What we perhaps don’t emphasize enough in our advising is that the dissertation is not just an end product. It’s also a process of learning how to become an independent scholar. Your dissertation probably won’t change the world, but with the skills you gain in writing it, you will be better equipped to do that down the road, or at least to make a bigger splash in your field.
We will probably come up with ideas when you have none. That’s not necessarily a good thing. Too many students sit silently, feverishly taking notes on ideas that I offer — whether on the topic, the methodological approach, or something else — without telling me what they want to do or what their ideas are.
There are pitfalls in relying on your adviser’s ideas alone. Just remember: Your adviser has a strong say here but not above your own. The dissertation is not a passive process, and so it is important that you speak up if there is something you want to do instead of what we are advising.
Otherwise we may assume you don’t care or are not thinking at all. We have no shortage of ideas, but they should not be taken as commands. And occasionally we might forget the details of our last conversation unless you remind us. Worst case, we might suggest a different topic or approach every time we meet. Idea generation is a two-way process and should come mostly from you.
We do not know everything. In rare cases, the scholarly interests of both student and adviser may align. Most of the time, however, they don’t. Your adviser may have only peripheral knowledge to guide your specific research project. Your dissertation committee then supplements the knowledge and methodological bases. That’s important to keep in mind in assembling your committee.
Dissertations are supposed to be specialized and, despite your attempts to find the right experts to guide you, you may find that you still know more about your topic than your adviser and committee members do. However, knowledge alone does not guarantee a Ph.D. As mentioned, the finished product exhibits your ability to do independent scholarly work. A reasonable expectation is that your adviser will suggest where to locate the relevant literature, recommend how best to design the study, offer feedback on your drafts, and provide some professional advice along the way.
Face-to-face meetings can give a false sense of progress. It’s vital to communicate with your adviser, especially in formulating the research proposal and making critical decisions along the way. But your dissertation is not “real” unless it is in writing. I have wasted many hours with students who wish to meet regularly to discuss their ideas — with different ideas in each meeting — but have not committed so much as a sentence to text.
Meetings between you and your adviser are not intended to be academic confessions to absolve your guilt for not writing. And we can’t provide feedback on written work that doesn’t exist.
Make writing a regular habit. Consider drafting as early as possible while still fleshing out your ideas. Then go back to your document as you continue to rethink and refine your topic.
On a related note, don’t be a writing hoarder. I mean, be prepared to toss pages of what you have already written. There is no prestige in a long dissertation if the organization is confusing and the writing unclear. Be willing to let go of your own words and use the delete key as needed to make your arguments coherent.
The finished manuscript is typically not a biographical narrative of your research journey, with unexpected twists and turns (except on those rare occasions when your personal narrative is the dissertation). In most cases, the dissertation should offer a logical stream of thinking rather than a torrent of internal consciousness.
We are not sitting by our computers waiting for your next draft. Unless, of course, the two of us have agreed to a specific timeline, in which case we expect to hear from you on certain dates.
The lack of a time-oriented structure in the dissertation process means that weeks, or even months, can go by before I hear from most of my students. And then I get an email that begins, “I am sorry I took so long.” Some have even admitted to postponing their correspondence out of fear that I would be upset with them for taking too long to update me on their progress.
Most professors are not staying up at night thinking about your dissertation or why we have not heard from you. Rather, we are juggling many other dissertations in addition to grading papers, managing our own research projects, meeting writing deadlines, and drowning in email.
More often than not, your email updates remind us that you are our student. The takeaway here is that much of your timeline and progress depends on you. Come up with a writing schedule and stick to it. And keep your adviser informed every now and then, but do not hide with guilt if it has been a while.
We sometimes forget to write back. If we do not respond to your email or latest draft after a couple of weeks, it is OK to remind us. Rather than stewing in anxiety because you have not received any response, simply email us again.
But please do not give us immediate deadlines. If you take months to write your latest version, you shouldn’t expect us to turn your draft back to you in two days. Timelines vary and should be discussed upfront, but our taking a couple of weeks to provide you with feedback is reasonable.
Your dissertation will probably never be read once it is filed. Too much anxiety has gone into perfectionistic writing that might never be seen by more than the few people on your dissertation committee. A professor of mine once said: “Put $1 in your dissertation on file at the library and check back 10 years later, and the $1 will still be there.” Dissertations are digitized nowadays, but it is still quite likely that your work may never be downloaded, except by your family members.
With that in mind, have concrete plans to publish from your dissertation, so that your hard work will have more than a few readers. Consider it a goal, not an option, to publish at least one scholarly article or book based on your dissertation research. By the time you finish, most of your work has already been done. It’s well worth the added effort, both professionally and personally, to make your work accessible to a wide pool of readers.
We work for you. It is our job to get you to graduate. We do not enjoy making your lives difficult (most of us, anyway). We challenge you because we have high standards. Regardless of rank or reputation, helping you succeed is what we are paid to do.
Too many students are afraid to ask for help when they need it. No, we will probably not offer to edit your manuscript line-by-line to fix your grammar. But we can refer you to resources if you ask. We cannot read your minds, but we can respond when you ask for clarification or request more support.
Be mindful of your own expectation biases. Some students unfairly expect more — or less — based on a faculty member’s gender, race, or other personal factors. Also, be consistent in how you address your professors. Men are not the only “Dr.s” on the faculty. I have worked with some students who decided to call me by my first name while referring to my male colleagues as “Dr.” It’s fine to ask us our preference about that.
Producing a dissertation is a process of discovery, but not only an academic one. The journey involves discovering yourself as a scholar. It helps to know the difference as you encounter obstacles along the way. Your path may not be easy, but I hope these suggestions will make it a little more clear. Just tell yourself every day: I got this.
Jenny J. Lee is a professor of educational policy studies and practice at the University of Arizona’s Center for the Study of Higher Education.
Graduate students from The Scripps Research Institute share how they prepared to enter policy, law, biotech, and beyond.
Over the last month, I have been on a quest: To find out how those of us scientists searching for jobs outside academia were faring and if my own experience in looking beyond the ivory tower was an outlier or a representative measurement. As I was preparing to leave The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI), where I had been a graduate student for the past five years, I wanted to understand why transitioning into a non-academic career could feel like taking the road less traveled, when it is, in fact, the path of most graduate students at TSRI and elsewhere.
Trained in biochemistry, I focused my graduate research on understanding time-of-day dependent metabolic fluctuations. Post-graduation, I was looking for a career that would draw on my experience but allow me to delve into a broader range of scientific discoveries. Thus, I became interested in science communication. In my current job search I am ruling out post-doctoral training.
Non-academic positions require applicants to pair their scientific knowledge and competence acquired during academic training with additional skills. Naturally, different non-academic career paths demand vastly different qualifications, the only commonality being the need to plan ahead. For instance, my former classmate Alex Krois, who earned his PhD in a structural biology lab, intends to work as a biotech-IP lawyer. He spent three months prepping for the Law School Admission Test (in addition to full-time lab work). He now studies at UC Berkeley School of Law on a scholarship.
The more inclusive that science is as a community and the more people we can call scientists, the more progress we will see.—Anne Kornahrens,
AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellow
Our colleague Anne Kornahrens performed her graduate work in synthetic organic chemistry. I reached her in Washington, DC, where she is now a AAAS Science and Technology Policy fellow. Anne says she had to precisely time her defense to enable an elaborate 10-month application process. She also joined organizations outside of TSRI’s campus to practice outreach and STEM education, which ultimately became her policy focus.
In my informal survey of fellow students, it became clear that another important form of preparation for the non-academic world is connecting with the fields they wanted to enter in advance. This was pointed out by my colleague Bryan Martin, a protein biochemist and NMR spectroscopist, who is one of many transitioning into industry research. To make these connections he conducted informational interviews with former colleagues who have acquired positions in the biotech sector. This is a great way to gather information about the job and how they got it and to propagate a professional network.
My former classmate Rebecca Miller, who performed her graduate studies in structural biology and now works for a company developing plant-based protein—in a marriage of her passion for biophysics and a desire to act on climate change—even volunteered with industry conference organizers. Running the conference registration desk put her in a prime position for making acquaintances in the field she wanted to enter.
To create opportunities to connect with professionals and explore different careers, TSRI’s Career and Postdoctoral Services Office (CPSO) organizes on-site company visits, career panels, meet-the-alumni, and other networking events. “We also recently launched a career exploration pilot program at TSRI that allows students and postdocs to visit employers to gain real-world experience working on representative projects,” says Ryan Wheeler, the director of career, international, and postdoctoral services. “Each visit lasts just one or two days and aims to increase trainees’ knowledge about a specific career path and company culture.” These efforts continue to foster interactions between the academic and other scientific communities and are crucial in making the full range of careers suitable for PhDs more accessible. I highly recommend stepping into your local Career Services Office to find out about the programs they offer.
How to decide which career path to choose? The students I spoke to were driven by finding the best fit for their interests, skills, and values, often exploring several options at first. Completing an Individual Development Plan, an online tool that matches the results of a personal assessment exercise with possible career trajectories, is a great starting-off point in this process. Additionally, many of us took advantage of CPSO’s one-on-one advising appointments. In a personalized manner, CPSO connected us with alumni who had gone down the same path, pointed out resources and ways to demonstrate specific skills (a.k.a. building a resume), and provided feed-back on application packages.
Finding small ways to try a different career on for size helped me ascertain I was moving in the right direction. For instance, the first step I took was to volunteer with the TSRI Council of Scientific Editors. Helping others express their scientific ideas and goals in research manuscripts and fellowship or grant applications gave me a heightened sense of contributing to overall scientific progress.
I am excited to contribute to driving science forward in the role that best fits my talents and passions, and so are the students I spoke to. As Anne notes from her new vantage point in DC, “the more inclusive that science is as a community and the more people we can call scientists, the more progress we will see.”
Anna Kriebs is a graduate student at The Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California.
Grants are set to dry up, space launches could be delayed and some experiments could be ruined.
Taken from https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-018-01016-2?utm_source=twt_nnc&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=naturenews&sf179847268=1
Scientists in the United States are bracing for impact after lawmakers in Congress failed to agree on a plan to fund the government, triggering its indefinite shutdown on 20 January.
As a result of the impasse, thousands of federal researchers have been ordered to stay home, barred from accessing their government e-mail and phones. That will leave many science agencies staffed by small numbers of ‘essential’ employees, interrupting government research on everything from winter snowpack in the western United States to the inner workings of the brain. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) will stop processing grants, depriving some academic researchers of crucial funding, and NASA may be forced to delay the launch of spacecraft that have spent years in development.
But worst of all, many researchers say, is that there is no clear sign when the shutdown will end. Republicans and Democrats in Congress are continuing to negotiate a budget deal, seeking to resolve a major disagreement over immigration policy, but progress has been slow. The last government shutdown, in October 2013, lasted for 16 days — cutting short the US Antarctic Program’s annual field season, delaying some grant-funding cycles by six months or more and disrupting an untold number of carefully planned experiments.
“We kind of feel like there’s not much we can do about anything,” says one NIH researcher of the current situation. “It’s very annoying. It’s very demeaning.”
For Bryan Jones, a neuroscientist at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, the current situation brings back bad memories. The 2013 shutdown caused the NIH to delay, by several months, a grant cycle for which Jones had submitted a proposal. As a result, he says, his university had to cover the costs of running his lab while he waited for the NIH’s decision.
Jones again has a grant application under review at NIH — and he says that a delayed decision this time could force him to lay off some of his employees. “From a scientist’s perspective it hurts. We get angry,” he says. “But NIH is doing what they can do.”
Other researchers face the prospect that the shutdown could cause major delays to projects that are well underway. Chad Hayes, a plant scientist at the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), says that he will lose a year’s worth of work if the shutdown persists for more than a couple of days. Hayes, who is part of a team developing a variety of drought-resistant sorghum, was set to travel to Mexico on 22 January. There, his team planned to breed the plants during the brief window when sorghum is pollinated — about one week each year.
But the USDA told Hayes to stay home if the government shut down. Now he worries that he will miss the pollination window, delaying his experiments for a year and wasting the money that his team spent to prepare for the Mexico trip. “It’s basically like walking away from your babies,” he says. “We’ve been building up to this project for a year now.”
At NASA, the funding lapse could delay the planned launch of the Parker Solar Probe, a spacecraft that is designed to monitor the Sun’s activity at close range. On 17 January, the probe entered a thermal vacuum chamber at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. There it is scheduled to undergo seven weeks of tests in conditions that mimic the extreme temperature fluctuations it will experience as it repeatedly swoops around the Sun.
If Goddard closes and the tests cannot proceed, the probe may not be ready to launch between 31 July and 19 August, the brief window during which Earth’s position relative to other planets in the Solar System would enable the probe to achieve its proper trajectory towards the Sun.
Some government programmes are prepared to weather a shutdown, at least for a few weeks, because they are operated by contractors who receive federal money in periodic chunks. Officials with the US Antarctic Program have told polar researchers that funding for the remainder of the current field season, which ends in February, is guaranteed. And the National Science Foundation recently gave a 30-day cash infusion to the construction managers supervising work on the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope in Hawaii and the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope in Chile.
Then there is the Department of Energy (DOE), which will continue normal operations until it spends money left over from prior budget years. “Bottom line: the Department of Energy will be open for business on Monday,” said spokesperson Shaylyn Hynes. She refused to say how long the department’s cash reserves might hold out.
DOE’s science facilities include 17 national laboratories that study everything from nuclear weapons to climate change. Sixteen are run by contractors, and should be largely unaffected unless the shutdown wears on for several weeks. An official at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico said that if that happens, that facility would seek to minimize disruption by slowly phasing in furloughs for non-essential employees. “We don’t at some point just magically turn off the lights,” said the official, who was not authorized to discuss the matter.
At the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), 55% of employees will stay on the job during the shutdown, in part because a significant chunk of the agency’s funding comes from fees charged to industry for reviews of drugs and medical devices. By contrast, just 0.9% of the roughly 8,000 workers at the US Geological Survey are considered essential — including seismologists at the National Earthquake Information Center in Golden, Colorado, who provide real-time analysis of earthquakes worldwide.
The longer a shutdown lasts, the bigger the potential hit to government scientists’ morale, researchers say. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator Scott Pruitt said his agency had enough funding to operate normally into next week, but it remains unclear how long such an approach could hold. The agency’s posted shutdown plan calls for fewer than 800 of its roughly 14,000 employees to report to work. EPA’s Office of Research and Development will halt active experiments, although some employees will be permitted to care for laboratory animals and maintain equipment.
“Staff will be allowed to come in and feed the fish, but they cannot take the measurements for the scientists,” says Lesley Mills, an EPA biologist in Narragansett, Rhode Island, and president of the local chapter of a union that represents agency employees. “People are going to be upset.”
Across the country in Boulder, Colorado, a skeleton crew will keep watch at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Earth System Research Laboratory. The agency’s greenhouse-gas monitoring programme will continue to collect data, but many of the scientists who analyze it expect to be locked out of their offices. During the 2013 shutdown, which lasted for 16 days, some of the researchers ended up working from home — likely in violation of federal law.
And at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, which is headquartered on the campus of the University of Colorado Boulder, researchers have been warned that they will lose access to some science facilities. That’s because the institute is a partnership between the university and NOAA, receives significant federal funding and occupies a mix of government- and university-owned buildings. And while scientists there can access their university e-mail during the shutdown, they are barred from checking their government accounts.
“We’re getting pretty good at this,” says a NOAA scientist of coping with a shutdown’s immediate effects. But the constant uncertainty over federal finances in recent years has made it hard for researchers to plan for the future, the scientist says: “Toss in some threats, like potential budget cuts, and it becomes degrading and counterproductive.”
Prepping for a shutdown poses a “real cost to agencies”, says Joel Widder, a former NSF deputy director who is now a lobbyist with the firm Federal Science Partners in Washington DC. “The threat of a shutdown makes people [at scientific agencies] not take decisions: grants have been held off. Graduate students’ stipends, traineeships, and the purchase of research instrumentation have been put on hiatus.”
A protracted shutdown could also pose more basic challenges for federal researchers — who will not be paid during a shutdown, whether they are ordered to continue working or stay home. In a 19 January e-mail, the National Institutes of Health told staff members that a private credit union associated with the agency would “provide interest-free loans to all NIH employees whose paychecks are delayed because of the shutdown”.
Although government employees are typically paid back wages after the shutdown ends, the situation tends to make many anxious, says William Hubbard, a former FDA official. Current employees may think about leaving; prospective employees may decide to work elsewhere. “A shutdown could push these people over the edge,” says Hubbard, who is now retired. “And the FDA already has a critical shortage of scientists.”
For now, researchers are left to watch and wait as politicians seek a new budget agreement. One possibility being floated in Congress is a stopgap funding bill that would run until 8 February — when the government could once again shut down if politicians do not approve another round of spending legislation. Michael Lubell, a physicist at City College in New York and a former director of public affairs for the American Physical Society, says that the current shutdown is likely to last at least a week. Beyond that, he says, “we could go the entire year with the threat of a shutdown.”
By Emily Sohn
Taken from https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-018-00112-7?utm_source=fbk&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=naturenews&sf179042072=1
Jennifer Mankoff was a mid-career researcher in 2006 when she started to experience extreme fatigue. Her condition worsened during the following year with frequent flu-like attacks, a frozen jaw, hearing loss, memory trouble and problems with fine motor control.
In 2007, Mankoff was diagnosed with Lyme disease — a tick-borne illness that can be difficult to manage, thanks to disagreements in the medical community about how to test for, diagnose and treat it. She struggled to find medical solutions, but continued to publish, teach and win grants and tenure. But it took her a while to come to terms with her physical limitations.
“My image of who I could or should be didn’t match up with reality in terms of my productivity,” she says. “I would go back and forth between frustration and pride over what I had accomplished.” Today, as an endowed professor at the University of Washington in Seattle, she studies human–computer interactions and accessible technology for those with chronic illnesses or disabilities.
Mankoff is one of many scientists worldwide who face emotional and practical challenges in their work as a result of long-lasting or recurrent medical conditions. Working as a scientist can be physically and mentally demanding, in the laboratory and in the field. It can be even harder for those with physical limitations, who might need extra rest or days off work.
Researchers who are chronically but not terminally ill might also fear bias and stigma (see ‘Know your rights’ for a summary of protections available under the law) if they leave work early or ask for extra help. This is particularly true if they have an illness that’s ‘invisible’ to others, such as arthritis or diabetes.
Selective disclosure about a condition can help to foster understanding, and an acceptance of the need to accommodate physical fatigue or weakness, or additional time away from the lab, say some who have chronic maladies. They add that it can also be useful to focus on crucial tasks — such as completing a manuscript — when energy levels are highest. Ultimately, say scientists with long-standing medical conditions, perseverance is essential to success. Sticking with a research programme also signals to superiors and colleagues, and to others with chronic illnesses, that a diagnosis need not stymie a research career.
No firm statistics are available on how many scientists worldwide have chronic illnesses, syndromes, conditions or diseases; and definitions of these differ from nation to nation. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that around half of all adults in the United States have at least one chronic condition. Although it does not define such conditions, it lists diabetes and arthritis as examples. The World Health Organization defines chronic conditions as being “of long duration and generally slow progression”; its examples include cardiovascular diseases, cancers, chronic pain and diabetes.
A neglected problem
The experience of balancing an academic career with a chronic health condition has been under-studied and its effects under-estimated, says Kate Sang, a sociologist at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, UK, who has been working on a study on illness and disability in academia.
Sang, who has degenerative nerve damage in her arm, was told that she would have trouble finding even 10 or 15 subjects, but since launching the study, she has communicated with more than 70 researchers.
In interviews, a number of those scientists said that their chronic conditions make it difficult to write enough grants and publish often enough to advance their careers. Some scientists reported that they had switched fields to reduce the load on their bodies. Attending conferences was physically difficult for many: those who use wheelchairs said that meeting rooms and other facilities were often hard to access. One study subject could not get into a room to give her own talk.
Many subjects thanked Sang for listening to them. “I found that quite upsetting, to think that this is a very articulate, very privileged group of people — academics, people with PhDs — who still felt they didn’t have a voice in academia,” Sang says.
Getting accurate diagnoses can be difficult for scientists, who often need to move from lab to lab and nation to nation, and so have to continually find new physicians. For years, geoscientist Stephanie Zihms was told that her tingly limbs, blurry vision, fatigue and other symptoms were caused by benign cysts, carpal tunnel syndrome or stress. She has moved from Germany to Scotland to England, and is now back in Scotland, at Heriot-Watt University (where she knows Sang), but her health records haven’t always been transferred. At some point, they went missing altogether. Short appointments with new doctors in each new location hadn’t given her enough time to explain her history.
She finally learnt from a doctor that she might have multiple sclerosis, but it was another ten months before she got a definitive diagnosis, in autumn 2016. Zihms says that she received no advice on where to seek support or more information, and she wept in her car for 15 minutes before she could drive home. “I think having the same doctor would have led to an earlier re-check,” she says. She recommends keeping a copy of all medical records, including communications from providers, hospitals and other facilities, even if that means requesting them under freedom-of-information laws.
To tell, or not to tell
Many scientists grapple with the question of whether to disclose their condition and, if so, when and to whom. The timing of a condition’s onset can influence those decisions. Madison Snider, a master’s student in environmental science, was diagnosed aged two with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. As an undergraduate, she found it best to tell professors early on about her illness, to avoid having to explain it to them when she most needed help.
She adopted the same strategy in 2016 while being interviewed for her current programme during a two-day visit to North Dakota State University in Fargo. She learnt that she would need to move, fill and drain large tanks of water. Snider told her potential superior that she experiences pain daily and that on some days she cannot walk. He told her that he would make sure that assistants were available to help her with the tanks. “It’s an awkward conversation because when you look at me you don’t necessarily see my arthritis,” she says. “It was really nice that he was willing to work with me. It made me feel he had confidence in me.”
Yet some opt to conceal their condition for fear of damaging their career. There’s a fine line, Mankoff adds, between advocating for oneself and coming across as a problem, and staying on the right side of that line requires constant vigilance. Even now, she is willing to ask for a classroom close to her office or a chair to sit on during lectures, but she hesitates to request extra staff, for example, because she doesn’t want to argue about whether the funding should come out of her research budget.
Zihms opted to disclose her condition to her supervisor, who was sympathetic and told her to e-mail any time she needed to stay at home. But she didn’t tell her colleagues at first, and worried that they would think she was lazy on days when she could barely move and didn’t come in.
Ultimately, she says, she decided to be open, mentioning her illness in tweets and in a blog, and she has received much support. During a weekend when she guest-tweeted for Shift.ms, a UK-based social network for people with multiple sclerosis, a college student expressed gratitude on learning from her that a research career was still possible. “Younger scientists told me it took someone to be open about their disabilities for them to become suddenly aware that there was a career out there for them,” she says.
Focus on the essentials
Navigating a research career along with a chronic illness, say many researchers, requires zeroing in on what is most essential. Leonard Jason, a psychologist who was diagnosed in 1989 with myalgic encephalopathy/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS), realized that he needed to be strategic about his work and careful not to overtax himself. His approach has led to recognition, including awards for excellence in research and, at one point, a position on a US federal panel advising about research on ME/CFS. He recommends that scientists pursue the work that matters most to them. “The reality is that you can’t do it all,” says Jason, of DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois. “Prioritization is absolutely critical when one is in a diminished state. If it’s trivial and you don’t care about it, let it go.”
Overdoing it on good days can end up backfiring. Zihms was recently laid low with exhaustion for two days after spending six hours outside on a cold, windy day doing fieldwork in Brazil. She now prepares carefully before doing fieldwork in the depths of winter and sets aside time to recover afterwards. At conferences, she saves energy by resting between sessions and staying in a hotel nearby. And because her diet affects her fatigue levels, she makes her own breakfasts and lunches.
Mankoff finds it useful to break down large tasks into smaller ones of varying lengths so that if she has, say, two good hours or ten good minutes in a day, she can accomplish at least something that day. She honed that skill in her first year as a computer-science PhD student in 1996, when she developed a repetitive strain injury after using a poorly designed keyboard. She switched to voice-recognition software, but that led to a vocal-cord injury.
Although frustrated, she realized that she had learned how to prioritize tasks and to focus on her work when she was feeling well. Today, she limits Facebook and other social-media time to avoid distraction. She also recommends a blog community called Chronically Academic.
Therapy can be useful, Zihms adds. And self-care is important, too, says Snider. Adopting a kitten has helped to fend off the anxiety and depression that are common companions to arthritis. “No matter how down I get or how much my knees hurt,” Snider says, the kitten relies on her, and caring for it is not too strenuous a task.
Coping with a chronic illness requires planning for the unexpected, and could require a job change. Julia Hubbard, a biophysicist who has type 1 diabetes and the autoimmune disease lupus, packs suitcases two weeks before trips in case she lacks the energy to pack nearer the time.
Shifting the focus of her work has also helped her to accommodate her condition. When she first became ill in the early 1990s, frequent hospital appointments and sick days made it hard for her to conduct protein-chemistry experiments as part of her job at a pharmaceutical company. She switched to a data-focused position that allowed her to work remotely when she needed to. In 2001, she retrained as a protein crystallographer and is now a research scientist at the Francis Crick Institute in London, where her manager is sympathetic to her needs, and where working remotely is an option if she needs it.
Looking back, she says, she wishes that she had been gentler with herself when she first got sick. “You’ve got to adapt to it. It’s a loss and there’s a grief cycle.”
Learning to adapt can build confidence in a researcher’s ability to handle setbacks, Mankoff adds. In the past couple of years, she has been feeling well enough to increase her publication rate and to feel excited about the work ahead. But she also knows that she could relapse at any time. Still, with a battery of well-honed coping skills, she feels optimistic about the future.
“Even though I’m a full professor, I feel like I’m just getting started in an exciting way,” she says. “I’ll accept it if I relapse or go back to doing less. I’m just having fun digging in and solving problems.”
We are a little more than a week into the new year. Hopefully, everyone is keeping up with their New Year’s resolutions. Science recently released an article highlighting some resolutions from scientists. Feel free to comment with your own science resolutions!
Photo Credit: Nicolas Tissot/Unsplash
Posted November 17, 2017 by
Researchers can often refer to at least one inspiring person or event that has instigated their academic endeavors. As a marine biologist, I have been interested in shell collection from beaches since I was 3 years old and I have always wondered what lies underneath the ocean. Eventually, I got inspired by famous scientists like Marie Curie, Brahmagupta, Francis Crick, and Carolus-Linnaeus whose major inventions in science prompted me to study zoology and biotechnology. Based on my own personal experience from shell-collector to marine biologist, I found that curiosity and dreams can play a more vital role than motivation from others, and studies now show that creativity can play a vital role in one’s scientific career. To improve creativity and vision, I would therefore like to share some simple shortcuts that I believe can facilitate scientific success.
In order to achieve what you want in science (and life in general), it is important to be able to visualize your goal and how to get there in detail. After my PhD in the taxonomy of marine sponges, if someone asked me about my life goal, I would say, “to be a marine scientist.” It did not take much time to understand that “marine scientist” is a vast term where you can jump into various career options like research fellow, lecturer, consultant, science communicator, conservationist, ecologist, biologist, etc. Many of us struggle to answer the “career goals” question. If we are not focused and specific on what we need, it will certainly be difficult to reach the right substratum. Apparently, the best time for visualization is after you wake up in the morning and before going to bed, spending at least for 5 to 10 minutes envisioning your goals.
Cultivate Selective Ignorance
Learning the art of selective ignorance is the next important step. I used to spend a lot of time reading and watching the news, but I found that it took my valuable time away from my work. As Herbert Simon rightly said, “Abundant wealth of information creates poverty of attention.” Sometimes, we tend to read one thing and then get distracted and continue reading one article after another. Instead, when you cultivate selective ignorance, and choose your priorities, it will open a lot of your own creative possibilities that you may never see otherwise. So, to develop selective ignorance, first it is important to have a clutter-free work space. Mess creates stress and disorder creates distraction. It is one of the reasons why Steve Jobs started his Apple products and his workspace in ‘White’ as he wanted clarity in thinking. Going on a ‘low information diet’ while at your lab or workplace may help us channel our thoughts for clarity of thinking and productive work.
Reach the Right Mentor
Mentors are important in any career not only for knowledge and skill transference, but to provide professional and personal support. Working with an incompatible supervisor for you is like getting on the wrong train and finding that every stop is not what you expected. If you are aware that you are on the wrong train, get off at the next station and find the right one–the supervisor that is perfect for you. You can do this by seeking out mentors in your professional community. For example, one day during lunch with one of our museum entomologists, I asked if she had any tips for a conference presentation. Without hesitation, she gave some wonderful tips. When I confirmed if the acronym for an excellent presentation is K.I.S.S. (Keep It Short and Simple), with a big smile she responded that nowadays to grab the attention of any audience, it is better to ‘Keep it Short and Stupid’ and yes, it worked. At the recent sponge conference, my presentation grabbed some attention as I didn’t give any detailed or crowded slides.
Staying positive can make a big difference to our productivity. Though we cannot avoid negative people around us, we need to be aware that we cannot allow ourselves to waste time on envisioning a pessimistic future awaiting us. Sometimes the negativity can start from home or school or workplace. You may be surrounded by doubters, critics and disbelievers. However, if your passion and dreams are stronger, you can convince your parents, teachers and friends to transform their thoughts. In India, where I was born, trends in the 1990s suggested that information technology was the ideal profession for woman to have a secured job. However, I stayed optimistic that my passion in science would lead to a good career. What lies inside you is always more important than what surrounds you.
Believe in Yourself.
Finally, whatever happens, don’t ever stop believing in yourself. As suggested in all the above four tips, thoughts are one of the most powerful catalysts to trigger our life’s happenings. To achieve what you “really” want in life and to overcome self-sabotage instead of leading to concentration, mindfulness and success, try to get some anti-procrastinating apps and start doing the impossible things you fear the most. In my case, marine research was not considered as an appropriate profession for women in India, which has varied cultures and subterranean thoughts that women should have some ‘imaginary’ limitations in the society. When I chose a marine profession with diving (I’m a rescue diver now!), none of my parents, professors, or friends discouraged me or criticized me for staying in this adventurous and fun-filled career. The reason is that I never allowed myself to be impacted by the opinions of others. My community knew that my passion and belief in myself was more powerful than negativity around me. As Thomas Alva Edison said, “If we all did the things we can do, we would literally astound ourselves.” Let success be yours!
Featured Image: Prelude To A Successful Career In Cultural Production belonging to the flickr account of Aitor Calero licensed under CC BY 2.0)
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Brainwave Power Music. When is the best time for visualize?
BY JENS NIELSEN
As researchers, we are unlikely to spend much time reflecting on one of the often-forgotten pillars of science: scientific publishing. Naturally, our focus leans more towards traditional academic activities including teaching, mentoring graduate students and post docs, and the next exciting experiment that will allow us to advance our understanding. Despite our daily dependence on the research produced by our colleagues and contemporaries in scientific papers, and an equal dependence on journals to present the results of our own research, it is uncomfortable to think that we as scientists have lost control of the majority of this infrastructure.
Traditionally, scientific publishing was controlled by learned societies such as the Royal Society and the National Academy of Science (in the USA), alongside publishers associated with key universities, Oxford University Press being one. However, as large multinational companies such as Roche, Sigma-Aldrich, and Agilent have evolved to dominate the markets for chemicals, research equipment, and various researcher services; the publication of scientific results from commercial publishers has become a highly profitable endeavour. The three largest publishers—Elsevier, Springer Nature, and Wiley-Blackwell—now represent around half of the ten billion GDP scientific publication industry, their dominance following years of consolidation in the industry. With profit margins outdoing even those of tech giants Apple and Google, it seems incredible that we as scientists are contributing significantly to the success of these journals, largely for free!
However, the scientific publication industry is undergoing dramatic changes. The number of journals continues to increase, competing for the best papers, as evidenced by the large number of invitations we receive. With many journals remaining in the traditional format, relying on library subscriptions alongside ever tighter library budgets, there are a number of new journals opting for the open access route. In this model, it is the authors paying the fees. Following acceptance (or a pre-determined embargo period), their paper is then made freely available for all.
The rapid development of open access journals, including PLOS ONE, Nature’s Scientific Reports, and Biomed Central’s Genome Biology, to name just a few, is supported by many funders who are now requiring that research papers are open access. Furthermore, the European University Association recently published a document recommending all member institutions to install policies ensuring a reduction in publication costs, that authors retain all publication rights, and that all research papers are open access.
With many journals offering ‘hybrid’ journals, a combination of open access papers and traditional library subscriptions, it could soon become problematic for these journals to maintain income from library subscriptions if more and more papers are published open access. Although fully open access journals can operate at lower costs, article processing fees are unlikely to be able to fund those journals run by editorial teams, who not only handle papers, but also provide much of the front matter including perspectives, book reviews, and research highlights. If the industry does eventually become totally open access, it is likely we will lose the various news coverage and perspectives provided by many of the high-end journals.
Another development to consider is the introduction of so-called predatory journals. Several different scenarios can result; some fake journals will request submission, take the article processing fee, and never publish the paper. Others will fake the peer review process, publishing without any kind of quality control. The severity of this problem was well illustrated by a study in Science earlier this year, in which the authors created a fictitious scientist, complete with falsified CV, and requested enrollment as an editor on several editorial boards – and was successful.
This example demonstrates the financial opportunity scientific publishing has become; therefore we as scientists need to be careful where we submit our papers. There are some key questions we need to ask:
- Are the members of the Editorial Board well-respected scientists?
- Does the journal have a clear editorial policy?
- Are publication fees clearly stated?
- Is the journal indexed, in PubMed for example?
- Does the journal publish papers on similar subjects to your own?
Finally, one vital question to ask: Who is publishing the journal? It is now more important than ever that we provide support for publications driven by not-for-profit organisations, either in the form of learned societies, academies, and others, who have clear objectives for supporting the scientific community. We as scientists benefit from these society-run journals. Why publish in a journal where profits are going to a board of investors, when instead it could be put towards a scholarship for your next post doc, or a grant for a PhD student to join an international conference? FEMS Yeast Research belongs to this last category, supporting various conferences and research fellowships through the work of the Federation of European Microbiological Societies (FEMS).
Finally, I’ll end with my original question: where is scientific publishing heading? Niels Bohr said “prediction is very difficult, especially about the future”, and of course it is impossible for me to know with any certainty. However, I do think that the traditional library subscription model will eventually disappear – and perhaps this will be good science and society as a whole. Either way, I encourage all editors, reviewers, authors, and readers to share your thoughts on journal policies, and engage with these kinds of discussions in the wider community.
Featured image credit: Office by Free-Photos. CC0 public domain via Pixabay.
Taken from http://blogs.plos.org/scicomm/2017/11/30/scientists-and-policymakers/
By Helena Lucente, Ph.D. Student, University of Utah, Cancer Research
The March for Science was a turning point in science communication. For the first time, scientists and science supporters were part of a movement to advance science education, communication, and promote science in policymaking. The current administration has threatened the scientific enterprise in this country in a number of ways, including:
- Proposing a budget that would cut funding to federal science and medical research institutions
- Appointing science deniers to positions of leadership
- Withdrawing the US from the Paris Climate Agreement
The anti-science political agenda was a call to action for scientists to get out of the lab and into the streets. The passion that motivated me to pursue my PhD is the same passion that inspired me to get involved in science communication and policy. As a scientist, I would have the opportunity to give back to the community and impact lives. Discoveries made in the scientific world today can be translated into clinical treatments for patients and new knowledge for aspiring students tomorrow. I joined the University of Utah specifically because they had created a dual degree program (Med-into-Grad Program) to train basic scientists in medicine and translational research, so they could bridge the understanding between research and medicine.
With the change in the political climate and the public outcry for science in 2017 I felt galvanized to do something to give back and help. Science communication and policy was away for me to bridge understanding this time between scientist, politicians, and the community. I enrolled in communication training through the STEM Ambassador Program (STEMAP). With the help of this program I approached Utah state representatives and discussed the role scientists can play in decision-making. I met with Representative Rebecca Chavez-Houck (D) and Representative Edward Redd (R) to get a bipartisan perspective on science in government.
To me, the worlds of science and policymaking seem far apart in culture, language, and ways of taking action, so I felt anxious in the waiting room of Representative Chavez-Houck. My expectation was that legislative priorities would leave little time to speak with a graduate student. These notions were quickly dispelled; she spent an hour patiently explaining the unique challenges legislators face and how scientists can get involved in government. In fact, I learned that Representative Chavez-Houck was as passionate as I was to involve scientists in lawmaking. She introduced me to Representative Edward Redd (R), a medical doctor who approaches his own work as a legislator with a keen understanding of how informed legislative decisions benefit from science. This meeting gave me insights on scientific culture (for more on this, see my post on the American Society for Cell Biology blog) and a bipartisan perspective on science in government. The policymakers felt the community viewed scientists as isolated and unapproachable.
Talking with Democratic and Republican leaders taught me what each party values. I learned the importance of shaping an argument that speaks to the values of both parties and their constituents and how, even with different values, they had the potential to reach the same conclusions. For example, a political agenda that greatly impacts scientists and Utahans is transferring ownership of public lands to the state. A scientist may advocate for protecting and preserving these ecological treasures by keeping them as public lands. However, that scientist must appeal to all politicians not just those who support environmental conservation. If a politician values balancing the budget, then a scientist could appeal to their economic desires. They could explain that the debt the state government may incur by maintaining public lands could far out way the financial gains they would expect to make from tourism/recreation, oil, or mining causing financial instability. It was refreshing to learn that, at the state level, representatives of different political parties with differing values could reach the same conclusion and had a strong respect for the contribution of each.
Meeting with policymakers taught me a lot about scientists’ role in the government, and I wanted to share what I learned with others who are interested in becoming more involved. For other scientists who wish to interact with legislators, I have three pieces of advice.
Understand legislators’ priorities.
Legislators must consider multiple values when they make decision, so scientific values must be weighed along with the values of their constituents. Prior to meeting with a legislator, scientists should learn the priorities of that legislator and their constituents. Many legislators have a webpage where you can view their voting history and bills sponsored. Some have a newsletter you can sign up for.
It is important that scientists remain non-partisan when presenting information. Legislators may dismiss valid scientific research presented if it is framed in a political context. One very powerful example of what happens when science becomes politically charged is when former Vice President Gore became the face of global climate change. Climate change was no longer viewed for its scientific merits, but as a liberal agenda. People who disagree with his political ideology may dismiss the valid scientific research he presented. If scientists present their data directly to lawmakers, objectively and regardless of political affiliation, politicians are more likely to consider their conclusions when making decisions moving forward.
Most importantly, trust is built overtime. Scientists need to meet their representatives and establish a relationship, so that legislators feel comfortable calling on them when making decisions. It is best to contact representatives when the legislator is out of session because they will have more time to meet. After I had established a relationship with Representative Chavez-Houck over multiple meetings, she invited me to two events for bringing STEM businesses to Utah and promoting STEM education. She identified me as a scientist who was concerned about science policy, advocacy, and education, and offered me opportunities to connect with other policymakers and constituents on these issues.
Thus, although I came to these legislators without a specific advocacy agenda, I was able to build relationships with legislators that led to a working relationship and real opportunities to provide scientifically sound insights into decisions on science education for youth in our state. With a relatively small investment of time – less than ten hours for preparation and meetings – I had a small, but real, influence on bridging science and society. My scientific pursuits will likely take me away from Utah in the future; however, I will take the important lessons I have learned here to continue to follow my passion to give back by engaging in my community and investing in my local and state government.
About Helena Lucente
Helena Lucente wants to bridge the gap between science and society through improving science advocacy, policy, education and communication. She is pursuing her Ph.D. in Oncological Sciences and M.S. in Clinical Investigation at the University of Utah. She can be reached on Twitter at @HelenaLucente1 and via email at Helena.Lucente@hci.utah.edu.
Mentoring is essential to a life in science, and we often begin our lives as mentors relatively early in our careers. A recent article published by Science provides some nice tips to get started…
Photo Credit: Robert Neubecker