Archive for: October, 2015

Mistakes in Proposals

Oct 29 2015 Published by under Uncategorized

I've just finished reviewing another set of proposals. Some of the mistakes I've seen are simple things. Often they are things that someone else can catch for you.

  1. If one critique was your productivity ("it reduces enthusiasm for the proposal in raising concerns about the productivity of the PI"), and you claim in the intro that you have X new pubs and Y new things submitted, make sure that you biosketch and google scholar/pubmed link (the one that the instructions request) is up to date with these pubs. Otherwise it could look like you are stretching things.
  2. In general don't stretch things. I don't have to say that its cheating to out & out lie about results, but if the reviewers think you're pushing the limits of interpretability, you are sunk.
  3.  Typos. Bad English. Particularly ones that spell-checkers don't get. Sometimes they are worth a smile from a reviewer. More often it says: I was in such a hurry, and I am so disorganized that I did not give the proposal one last read through. One such error might be acceptable. Two raises eyebrows. Three and you've sunk your proposal.
  4. Ignorance of the literature. This is Scylla & Charybdis. You can waste half a life-time reading other things. You can waste half a life-time because you didn't read other things. It is hard to know who will review your grants (though you look for the roster). But you can make some educated guesses (go check your key words at RePorter - go see who is funded in your area).

2 responses so far

Imposter Syndrome: Scientific Research is not Poker

Oct 28 2015 Published by under Uncategorized

The Moth Radio Hour presented a woman named Annie Duke, who was one of the first (if not the first) high stakes-winning woman in professional Poker.

Her story (which is worth listening to) is a classic story of imposter syndrome. She was invited to participate in a big televised poker game because she was sure  "they needed a woman".  One of things she loved about playing poker was that her mistakes were hidden from everyone but her and that was a relief. Now, there were small cameras to see the cards, so her mistakes would be viewed by everyone on national television. She says she spent way to much time debating whether to fold on a particular hand, in public, with a camera on her cards. She heard herself apologizing to everyone for taking so long (how familiar). She triumphs in the end, and it is a wonderful and well-told story.

But Annie Duke's talk reminded me that science is not a high stakes poker game, even though we often feel like it is.  Poker at that level is a high stakes interaction with other people. Much of the story revolved around such interactions with other players. Part of her devastation was that one BSD Player came up to her and told her she blew it after making a hard decision. And later someone else came and said that the One BSD Player was wrong, and she had in fact made the right decision. How lovely to get such feedback! How lovely to be playing poker where a hand is won or a hand is lost. Where the winning hand is determined by a set of rules (at one point her brother, also a poker player gave her a list of such rules).

Doing research (as is true of many other things in life) is not so clear cut. Making decisions about one's career is not so clear cut. It is not so clear whether you have "won" or "lost" as quickly as uncovering cards, let alone the fact that you may never know. Life is not a ceteris paribus experiment that can be re-run to determine alternate futures.

This lack of both determinacy and immediacy feeds imposter syndrome. There are many trolls in life who come up to us and say, implicitly or explicitly, "well, that was a stupid thing to do", in a way that the other player said to Annie Duke. The hardest thing, besides understanding that there may be no "right" or "wrong" in any situation (a themes that has been with me for a very long time), is being able to find the balance between, on one hand, listening/accepting criticism/acting on it and, on the other, not letting the bad little voices tell you that you are a fraud. If you shut out all input that makes you feel bad, you will not grow, except inward. If you let that input in, uncritically, you will be lost in a sea of self-recrimination.

Also: Lots and lots  here and here and here has been said about imposter syndrome in science. Part of the reason for this post is to link to all that good stuff that has been written before.

8 responses so far

More job interview advice

Oct 27 2015 Published by under Uncategorized

There is a good post at the "how not to suck at graduate school" blog titled "how not to suck at academic job interviews".  I've got views on the post, but also its worthwhile for people who have jobs to re-read. I just heard a pseudo-job talk (another department at Almost-MRU is trying hire said person in a made-for position) and it was dreadful. I want to send the person who gave the talk this link. Their science may be cool, but the disorganization of the talk made me think: do I really want to work with them?

So. The list of things to take is useful. For pete's sake, invest in a detergent pen (Tide2Go). Nothing says "not prepared for the Major Leagues" like stains on your clothes. In my day there were hippie types who said "if they care how I look I don't want the job". Those people are doing something else, and its not something they chose. That hard copy of your presentation they tell you to take: its invaluable. Its good for practice. Its good for before you go to sleep (you do know that reading computer screens before sleeping is a bad idea? the blue light and all that). Backing up your talk on the web somewhere (email it to yourself, if nothing else), may you never need it, but it can be invaluable.

Memorize your talk. Usually, you can get away with memorizing the first 2-3 slides and then wing it from there. There are disciplines (humanities) where people, grown-up, BigDog, BSD people, read a script. When I've done history/philosophy of science stuff, I've been amazed at just how horrible it is to listen to some(non-professional)one reading their talk. Do not do this. You will sound terrible in our culture which values the spontaneity of no-script. Bring notes if you must. If you are good at it, you can do the double-screen thing & see your notes, but do not risk screwing this up.

Now, here is where I part company from researchtopractice: trolls. Here is what they say:

Every department has a troll. That insecure person who tries to build himself up by asking you impossible or unfair questions. Everyone else in the department has already identified this person as the troll. In this case and only in this case, you are allowed to smack them down. My favourite smack down, “Well, that is certainly a convoluted and mostly unrelated question, and here why that is not relevant to my presentation…” You will not lose any points with the rest of the faculty. Quite often, other faculty members will apologize to you for the behaviour of that troll or congratulated you on how well you managed it. Expect it. The troll seems to be a feature of every department and does not necessarily indicate that the department is flawed.

Firstly, every department doesn't have a troll. I love my dept at almost-MRU because there is no troll, as compared to former department, where not only the chair was The King of Trolls, but there were many Trolls-in-Waiting, although they seldom waited long. Secondly, you, dear young f(or olde) reader may not be able to identify the troll. What you perceive as a troll-question may in fact be something that someone asks in total innocence, or genuine curiosity. There are different sub-strands of research.  You cannot and will not know them all. Or, the troll may have friends. Powerful department chair-like friends. There are chairs who can be good to all junior faculty, but especially good to their favorite disciple.

This is a job interview. Treat everyone with respect. The suggested answer above can lose you the job. Really. You will lose points with people in the department. As a faculty you will be dealing with trolls: other faculty, administrators, students. Politeness is valued. Showing yourself to be rude (into which category the suggested answer falls) is not going to work. Some people in the dept may value it, others will not. The department may not be flawed with the existence of a troll, and it is something with which you can live, nay thrive. BUT do not shoot yourself in the foot.

I also strongly disagree with the "blowing people away" advice.

 You are trying to make the case that your research is interesting and important, but also can blow people away with its complexity and your mastery of technique. Remember you that you are not trying to communicate the details of what you do, you are trying to communicate your own awesomeness. Clarity is preferred, but it is okay for an audience member to say, “I am not really sure I understood everything, but it sure sounded impressive.”

Nope, nope, and double nope. Complexity is OK, and to show you have mastered something hard is very OK. But leaving audience confused: do not do this. Unless you are interviewing at a research institute without students, you are most likely being evaluated on your ability to teach and explain. It is acceptably awesome to have people walk away and say "I never though I could understand multivariate statistics, but that candidate made me see that I could". This does not mean over-simplify. This does not mean dumb it down. But if people can't understand what you do, they will not want to hire you.

Going to the first two lines of the above para:

Open your talk with a compelling discussion of why your material is important. Immediately after this skip ahead to the most complex aspect of your methodology or analysis.

Yes, start with why your material is important. Context. Show that you see the bigger picture. No one may care about bunny hopping, but translational research, the bigger question: it isn't just about the science, its about how you communicate the science. But to skip ahead to complex? I am not sure this is a good idea. Demonstrating that you can organize your ideas, that you can put a talk together that people can follow, is probably more important than strutting your stuff.

One of the things to keep in mind when crafting your talk is that few departments are mono-note. Biology departments include ecologists /evol bio and cell/molecular types. Med school departments can run the gamut from molecular through systems. Biomed engineering departments have modelers, cell scaffolding, and dudes building micro-hearing-aids. They are all very smart people. If you lose them in the first five minutes, they will tell this to the search committee and you will not get the job. In most departments, majority of faculty come to job talks. Interested people from other departments come to job talks. They also take the time to express opinions. They may not be the most important people on the search, and may not have the biggest voice, but if the BSD from the next department thinks what you do is cool, that will mean something.

But the closing of the post:priceless.

Have fun. Really. This is a great opportunity to present your research, your experiences, and yourself to a group of peers. Spend some time debriefing with peers or more experienced colleagues after you complete your interview. You do not typically receive feedback from your host. However, you can always work to improve your presentation and performance.

Really. Have Fun. Someone is interested in you, your work, your abilities. It's a compliment. Take it.



Important Update: If you read ONE THING about job interviews (hehehe, its not just one thing): Read THIS:

TT Job Search Advice from Around the Blogosphere

9 responses so far

Letters of Support

Oct 22 2015 Published by under Uncategorized

DM has a good post up on What I Did at SfN This Year. In he mentions someone asking him for a letter of support. This produced some badinage about letters of support attached to grants.

The dialog:

"In case it isn't clear, these letters are of the "happy to help you with your awesome project" variety, and not of the "I would like to tell the panel that this person is awesome" type of talk that is similar to the recommendation letter." --DM

Letters along the line of "this person is awesome" are ignored. Letters of support from a collaborator along the lines of "Dear Person X: I am so glad to participate in your project and do QRP for you" are not only critical but necessary. --Potnia

Here is what I wrote about this a while ago.

Here is a letter that some(marvelous)one wrote for me, about a project for which I require his support (he can do stuff I can't do). In this example, I've done bunny hopping, but not in infant bunnies. He is a Big Dog, working on infant bunnies, but not hopping. I've added interpretation between the lines:

Dear Potnia,

The letter is from my colleague to me. Not to the NIH. This suggests and supports the idea that we have a working relationship.

This letter is to document my willingness and in fact eagerness to collaborate with you on your proposal titled "The Effect of prenatal nutritional supplements on bunny hopping in neonatal rabbits”.

First, bluntly state the purpose of the letter. Do not waste words on euphemisms or betting around the bush.  Prof. Big Dog is supporting, nay he is eager, to help me. Also, get the title of the proposal right. Getting it wrong could imply that we’re not quite so close as I would like the committee to believe.

The concepts and hypotheses you have developed are very timely because of the increasing number bunnies born that have trouble hopping and are surviving birth only to meet untimely death in the jaws of vicious foxes.

This is a statement of what the proposal is about. Again, this shows that we’ve actually talked about things. Given that Prof Big Dog is over extended and doing too much, it’s important that the study section perceive that he (Prof. Big Dog) knows what he is supporting and that it’s not just a reflexive, rote letter.

As you know, I have been using pregnant and newborn rabbits for almost 20 years and 7 of those here at Massive Agricultural and Ecological University as a model to study the consequences of preterm nutrition and to understand and improve the protocols for baby bunnies.

This is a statement about what Prof. Big Dog does, and how long he’s been doing it, and that he knows something about the field (for those unaware of his reputation as a Big Dog).

We know from our numerous studies of such bunnies often have problems with hopping, although we have not addressed that issue. By focusing on the issues of hopping, you addressing a critical issue and hole in our understanding of the survival of infant bunnies.

Prof Big Dog is tying our two programs together. What he does and what’s missing, which is what I am proposing to do.

My program works with 100 pregnant rabbits each year which has provided us with valuable experience and insights into the harvest and post-delivery care of baby bunnies. By this letter I confirm my willingness to participate in your study and provide you with assistance in performing the various things necessary to get the infants you need to study hopping. This will include providing you with our protocols and training members of your research team.

Specifics on what Prof. Big Dog does. It also contains explicit statements of what he will do for me. Make sure this matches up with the text in the proposal. If it is critical to the success of the project, make sure you mention Prof. Big Dog in the places where those particular skills/methods/interpretations are important.

From a selfish perspective, I am eager to learn more about the development of hopping. It is important to emphasize how the relevance the bunny model to understanding infant human disease, and that our results have made it possible for us to translate our findings into my practice as a pediatrician.

Prof. Big Dog uses the magic word du jour of “translation” (which, mind you, may not always be the magic word. “optogenetics” or “CRISPR” is also good here, if appropriate). It also emphasizes that Prof. Big Dog understands what is important about doing this work, from the perspective of meeting the NIH mission.

I am confident it will be possible to apply your findings about hopping to the larger concerns about baby bunnies. I look forward to welcoming you to the group of labs that use bunnies as a relevant and translational model for human infants. I wish you success with this exciting and much needed research.

More nice things from Prof. Big Dog, reiterating the important points for NIH, his confidence in the importance of my proposal, but also that I am joining a community of people doing something NIH wants done.

NOW: the money point. I didn't write a draft for Prof. Big Dog. He did this, and he knows what he is doing. BUT! This is not always true. It is always acceptable/fair to write something like this to a person who has offered to help and support your proposal:

Dear Prof Big Dog,

Thank you for your willingness to support my proposal, and for writing a letter of support, on the development of hopping in baby bunnies. Your expertise on baby bunnies will be critical to the success of my project.   I am happy to provide you with bullet points for this letter, or even draft some text if that would be useful to you. The proposal is due in my grants office on Sept 20, so if you could get me the letter by Sept 17 or 18 that would be great. I look forward to a collaboration that will improve the field of baby bunny care. Sincerely, Potnia




5 responses so far

More on Saying No

Oct 16 2015 Published by under Uncategorized

An Anonymous commentator wrote (in part):

I'm not sure how this could possibly apply to people on the lower rungs of any organization. How am I supposed to say no to my graduate advisor or my postdoc advisor? Or, as TT faculty, to that senior member of the dept. or my chair?

This is a totally valid question. And reflects a very real and very difficult situation. Some on how to do this, below. Further:

 It seems to me that who is asking is very much a part of the equation and should not be separated from the request.

I disagree with this. Separating them does not mean ignoring who is asking. It's first a matter of deciding about what is being asked. There are things that are obvious "no"s: dog walking, babysitting, and, in my book, coffee fetching. Also, requests for above and beyond wrt hours/timing. For the mentors in the group, this can seem hard. You absolutely need these data for the renewal on which your tenure depends. This student/postdoc/tech is someone who can get it for you. If you need someone to work extra hours, or an experiment somewhat off their main line, it becomes a matter of requesting and discussion about the logistics. Treating trainees with respect and soliciting their help, rather than ordering tends to work best.

Back to trainees: There are things that may not seem right to you, but which you are reluctant to say no. For example, the above situation, the PI asks you do some analysis that is not part of your thesis. It is always possible to try to start a dialogue. "What is involved, why is this important, what is the time frame?". There are ways to ask these that are neutral, and not saying yes or no, but getting more information. If you are upset when the request is first presented, say something like "give me a minute/day and let's talk about this" and walk away. Gather yourself and go back to the discussion when you are not upset. But figure out if you want to do it. If you choose to do it.

As for a TT faculty talking to a senior member: this can be absolutely critical. Senior people, unscrupulous or just plain self-centered/obvlious faculty, can use up a junior person faster than a snowflake on summer asphalt. Especially if you have a method/technique/system that is very attractive or cutting edge or expensive or all three. Junior faculty absolutely must learn to say no, and say it in a non-threatening way. Again, decide whether to do the thing or not, and then figure out how to say no.

There are various strategies for this. It is possible to be blunt and to the point "Your work is really fascinating to me, and I think the questions you are asking are great. But, I am so focused on getting my lab going/getting preliminary data for a grant/getting this last paper out before my renewal is due that I am not going to have time to consider side projects for another year or so. Can we revisit this then?" I favor this as being honest.

Another is "I don't have time to do this in the next few months" or "My tech is too busy to get to this in the next few months" (see, you haven't said "no I won't" but are giving reasons why this is difficult). Follow this with "if you have a tech or student, they can come and shadow mine the next time we do this, and they can learn. But, this may not be for a while". Also, "I don't have the money to do this, can you pay for the stuff it will take?". Those are a bit more dissembling, but they can work.  If someone in response to this says to you "But we hired you to collaborate", the best response is "I am eager to extend my work into all these new areas. But until I have established my lab, I can't begin to do that".

Anonymous comment, again:

There are some people who are mature enough to hear the word, "no," and not take it personally. ... Saying no to certain people carries consequences, and to pretend there will be no ramifications because you "did the right thing" is dangerous.

Two points here: one, you need to make not personal. Your response needs not to be about the person to whom you say no, but about what your request/work is. Yes, this is hard. But its part of life.

Second, of course there are ramifications. There are ramifications to everything. This is part of the growing process for whatever you want to do in life, be it PI or otherwise. This is part of human interactions.  But if you end up saying "yes" when you mean "no" there will be other ramifications and other consequences, which in the end can be much worse than figuring out how to say no.

Which brings us back to the original point of separation. Decide what you want to do about what is being asked. Going to a meeting when your spouse/partner/offspring/parent is in the hospital (with or without newborn) is a decision about what is important in your life. Saying no to more delicate requests (like run this assay for me), is still a matter of choosing if you want to do the thing. Then, decide how to say no.



3 responses so far

Saying No

Oct 15 2015 Published by under Uncategorized

Saying no is one of those abilities that keep coming up in my discussions with colleagues and trainees and even friends of my cohort. One reasons it keeps coming up, I suspect, is because it is just so damn hard. It's still hard for me in my blue-haired dotage. Although, to be fair, as I marvel and delight in the strength of younger women, I think that socialization of women has changed  sufficiently that they will have internal resources I never will.

Anyway, I stumbled across this article by Greg McKeown from the Harvard Business Review on setting priorities in life, aka saying no. The article  is well written, in the way that we all wish could craft. Initial vignette about famous (and mostly) revered person who Did The Right Thing, check. Story about how more humble author didn't get it right, but had revelation that caused introspection about specific event, check. Generalization of results of revelation to specific actions that others can follow. Check.

The article starts with a "charming" story about Gandhi and his grandson, how Gandhi made time for his grandson. I don't want to get into arguments about Gandhi and his relationships with  women and whether he would have done the same for a granddaughter. Just google Gandhi and Women and you can read about it yourself. I have issues with Gandhi. He did good, but as are all of us, he was a flawed human being.

it is the latter two parts of McKeown's article that are not just strong, but are applicable beyond the immediate situation. That situation, about going to work right after his child was born, is one that will ring true for women. His examination of what went wrong is good:

First, I allowed social awkwardness to trump making the right decision. I wasn’t forced to attend the meeting. Instead, I was so anxious to please that even awkward silent pauses on the phone were too much for me...

Second, I believed that “I had to make this work.” Logically, I knew I had a choice, but emotionally, I felt that I had no choice...

I've certainly felt these things. It's not just when your child is born, although that is a strong and arresting point. It's many many other things happening to us all the time. The article gets even more useful in the advice. Here are his  points:

First, separate the decision from the relationship. Sometimes these seem so interconnected, we forget there are two different questions we need to answer.

I had to read this twice to get it.  This means separating the specific issue on the table ( being asked "will you do this?") from the person or entity the person represents who is doing the asking. Sometimes the larger entity is spoken ("I'm asking you to do this for the good of the college") and sometimes it's implied (the awkward silences he refers to above).

His immediate advice is:

By deliberately dividing these questions, we can make a more conscious choice. Answer the question, “What is the right decision?” and then “How can I communicate this as kindly as possible?”

Excellent, excellent. In general, I have almost always found that breaking complex things down into smaller bits, be it science content or interpersonal interactions at work is helpful to unknotting difficult problems. I think for men to think about "kindly" is very different than women. I would say "politely" and not "kindly", but you get the idea. You don't have to be "kind" to anyone in the professional arena. Polite. Yes. Honorable. Transparent. Honest. Kind? Nope. On to his next point:

Second, watch your language. Every time we say, “I have to take this call” or “I have to send this piece of work off” or “I have to go to this client meeting,” we are assuming that previous commitments are nonnegotiable.

This is the place where we take on someone else's priorities. This is being honest with yourself about the activity or task under consideration. Here is some absolutely excellent advice:

Every time you use the phrase “I have to” over the next week, stop and replace it with “I choose to.” It can feel a little odd at first — and in some cases it can even be gut-wrenching (if we are choosing the wrong priority). But ultimately, using this language reminds us that we are making choices, which enables us to make a different choice.

I think that anything that increases our ability to choose for ourselves is a good thing. I was about to write "choice is a double bladed sword" but its more like a pair of 12-sided dice. Choice means taking responsibility when stuff goes wrong. It's owning up to what you did. It also means doors open, so fast and so many that its hard to choose. I have always despised the research that says "consumers have too many choices and it makes it hard, therefore let's limit the choices to make it easier for them". I do not want anyone making it easier in this way for me. Who the hell is the "us" in the "let's" of that idea? One of the downsides of choice is that you have to sort through the options, and sometimes there just isn't enough time to do that in the way that you want. The process and multiplicity of choices can be hard and a downside, but its a glorious option, too, and one I don't want to lose.


5 responses so far

Instructions (from NIH) on Reviewing (R01) Grants

Oct 14 2015 Published by under Uncategorized

I'm doing some ad hoc reviewing this round. I do try & read the instructions, and more, follow them. Here are some of the points we've been given:

Everything to be considered in the review process should be included in the application and the folder for the application materials. Do not visit any web sites cited in the application [my red emphasis] as that might jeopardize reviewer anonymity.

Aside from the implications about the saavy of people in tracking who visits their websites, this is an important message. You can (and are supposed to) link to papers in the pubmed database from your biosketch. Papers are OK. Websites are not. What you need to say needs to be in the proposal. IN THE PROPOSAL.  Remember, page limits are your friends. Page limits tell you how much information needs to be in the proposal. You are not a special snowflake, doing special snowflake biology that requires 10pt font with 5mm margins because you have that much that is important to say. I surely (as a reviewer) am not interested in reading it.

you should score the applications AS THEY WERE SUBMITTED [caps from letter to me, not me], not as they would appear after even minor revisions.

Reviewers are not your friends. They are not supposed to guess "what you meant" or "of course that's something this PI would fix". Reviewers read the proposal, not your mind.

More on why reviewers are not your friends:

State only strengths and weaknesses, do not give advice about how the applications should be revised. That would not only be unnecessary it is actually inappropriate.

And in fact:

Your primary audience is the Program Officers and leadership at the funding institutes, not the applicants,

When you write a grant, reviewers are just that: reviewers. I (as is true of many applicants) tend to think of them as evil, maniacal, spawn of BSDs, unless of course they fund me, in which case they are a combination of angle, genius, and whatever-else-I'm-loving-at-the-moment. But they're not either of these things. They are poor slobs, like me, trying to do a job, which is review a very large stack of applications. One of your jobs is to make their job as easy as possible. As easy as possible.

When you get your pink sheets, remember: They are not writing to you, they are writing to the people who make the decisions, NIH staff. They are justifying their score to people who will balance their score with a thousand other factors in deciding who gets funding. This is a subtle difference from telling you how to improve your grant.


9 responses so far

Repost: Hard Thoughts about the Death of Old Farts

Oct 13 2015 Published by under Uncategorized

I wrote this nearly three years ago, when I was blogging with Mama Isis. This post was cathartic for me. But for people who think what happened in Berkeley is unique, I am here to say, it's not (take a look at the comments from the original post). For people who think academic in particular lets people get away with this because of tenure, you are wrong. For people who think it's just about women, that's wrong too.

The world is not changing fast for many. And I hear lots of "the message of Berkeley is that it doesn't matter and you can get away with it". I see something else. If think that right now that whole department is filled with unhappy puppies. Things don't ever change fast enough. But they are changing and that makes me happy.


I had a rough time when I got my Ph.D. My degrees were not in life sciences (that came later), and in fact I was just about the only woman in my major in college, and usually the only woman in my major’s classes. One of the hard lessons I learned, and painfully at that, was that no one cares if it is someone else’s bad behavior that elicits your own stupidity. I did stupid things, things that did not help my career, frequently in response to male professor’s unpleasantness (much of which would be actionable, now). It’s the Mommy Solution writ large (“I don’t care who started the fight, you are both in time out for the rest of your life”).  For women in science,  there is a very real conflict here: it doesn’t matter what he did, you cannot use that as an excuse for your unacceptable behavior. BUT… we shouldn’t have to deal with HIS bad behavior to start with.

When I was a grad student, I was rather crudely propositioned by a senior male faculty known for tearing through the few female grad students like spoiled fish through a tender digestive tract. I went to the (only) senior female faculty member in the department. She was quite the feminist and supporter of students. She sat me down and said that I wouldn’t like her advice. I didn’t. She said “My recommendation in general  to take this up the line and fight it. This guy is a jerk and has done this to many others. However, my advice to you in particular is to forget it. If you fight it, 1) it is his word against yours and you will lose. 2) you will lose at least a year of time in your program, if you are able to graduate at all and 3) even if you do finish, you will also be known as the ‘women who filed a grievance against…’ rather than by your science”. I did nothing. It was horrible for a while, and then I finished and got over it and became successful. The senior woman ended her advice to me with “and… you will outlive him and that will be a good thing”.

The schmuck died recently. I’m not sure that it’s a good thing. But, he doesn’t, and hasn’t for a long time, really mattered to me.

2 responses so far

It's a day for a calming manatee

Oct 13 2015 Published by under Uncategorized

Just take deep breaths, it's all rightYes, a day for a calming manatee. It seems many of the tweeples have had bad grant news. Of course, just by stats its going to be 90+% of the folks. It's hard. I can make the list of my too-full-plate-things, particularly the ones that seem insurmountable. But they're mine, and perhaps to you they won't seem so awful. I can make the list of things that are good in my life that bouy me up, but that might seem a bit arrogant. Some of them are a function of my age. The last thing I want to do is open yet another generational-war-thingie. or an entitlement-thingie. But lots of those good things are the people with whom I work. They're like rings on a tree, around me, at various depths: the lab peeps, the summer med students who are thinking about md/phds, colleagues, friends, tweeps and blog-colleagues, especially the ones who argue with me (yes, becca@sciliz I'm looking at you), that and the sweetie who is not so new anymore, but like a rock in my life.

Im here for youI am going to go do marvelous things today. I need to keep my eye on what's important. Not the little things. Not the BSD's and the wanna-be BSDs.  Not the males Who Just Don't Get It. I don't need to pull out my folder of marvelous things. In yesterday's teaching lab, one of the students came up and said: thank you, your review made all the difference to me.  That's why I'm here, still pushing rocks uphill. So, here's another manatee to help you get through the day. This is for all of my friends, and colleagues and people who love me: thank you.

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Women's work, day care, elder care and (more) class issues

Oct 09 2015 Published by under Uncategorized

Anne-Marie Slaughter had an op-ed piece a few weeks ago in the NYTimes about Women's work and how she stepped away from a fast-track job. She comes across as the anti-Sheryl-Lean-In-Sandberg [Note this is from a book of hers that just came out called "Unfinished Business", NYT review here, excerpt here,  another review here].

One of the points she touches on, but doesn't explore at length in the op-ed (but maybe in the book, I haven't read it), are the issues of the kind of jobs most women have (which is not academia or Law School Dean or professional class) and what the wages of the jobs signify. One of the quotes I liked from the NYTimes piece:

The problem is even more acute for the 42 million women in America on the brink of poverty. Not showing up for work because a child has an ear infection, schools close for a snow day, or an elderly parent must go to the doctor puts their jobs at risk, and losing their jobs means that they can no longer care properly for their children — some 28 million — and other relatives who depend on them. They are often suffering not only from too little flexibility but also too much, as many low-wage service jobs no longer have a guaranteed number of hours a week.

One of the most common calls in this corner of the blogosphere is for "affordable day care". Usually its younger people (of various genders) thinking about their kids. I'd point out that there is a lot of that going around in my generation (early-mid-boomers, 50-60ish) because our parents are still alive, and often in need of elder-care. My mom is in a wonderful facility, that is staffed by about 80-90% women. It is not cheap. It costs more than an expensive-in-America private school college education. This facility wouldn't work if one had only social security. I have sibs with resources, and my parents lived a frugal life and saved for this eventuality. In fact, it only works because I am in the middle-of-America-rural. The same facility in the Big Cities where my brother and sister live is two to three times more. Why? salaries for workers, who are not minimum wage at a place like this, but still lower here than in coastal cities.

Which brings me to the salient point. When people ask for cheap, but good day care, what are they asking  for? Care-takers who will minimally treat their children (or parents) with respect, keep them from being hungry and tired, and make sure they are allowed to run and play and learn and be children (or whatever activities are possible for people with dementia).

To do this means you need people who are capable and committed to doing taking care of someone else's children. Something that obviously the people asking are not doing for their own children (or parents) or for the caretakers children (or parents). It is a level of care that the caretaker's children often don't receive. The place where my Mom is pays better than minimum wage. There are many people who want  that job, and the place can chose good workers, caring people, and do background checks. That's why it costs so much.

Daycare costs a lot. Good daycare costs even more. And so, we come to the crux of the issue. Who should pay? As Slaughter says in her article, affordable pushes the wages down, which are wages for the most part for women.  I have heard too many grad students/postdocs say "I can't afford that". Well, actually you can afford it, you just don't want to put that much of your income into "that", and have to give up things like vacations and organic food and whatever phone/internet/etc service you have.

The next level of response is "it should be subsidized". Subsidized by whom? The universities, who claim they don't have money to cover what they do right now? Ha, I say. There is so much uni's could cut. A whole layer of middle management administrators. Professor salaries. Climbing walls for rich undergraduates. Athletics programs. But realistically, right now, this is not going to happen. Better day care will require higher fringe rates (which are now between 30-40% at most places) to cover the benefits. Where will the money come from for such postdoc/grad student benefits? NIH grants, mostly, and we are back to the arguments about what the cost of a postdoc or student is. And we've been down that path before.

The  next usual suspect for covering benefits/daycare etc  is the "government". Where does the government get its money? Right now, in our country, we are engaged in a struggle, a political struggle about what should the government do and where should the money come from. This is not likely to be settled before the need for daycare for most current students and postdocs has long expired. The question is what are you going to do about changing this now?

Every generation, not just the boomers, tends to forget what their issues were at a different life-stage. The most marvelous wonderful committed millenials I know, many working for Bernie Sanders are not much different from those of who worked for George  McGovern (go look it up, I'll wait for you). And now those McGovern workers of days gone by are the despised boomers who are stealing your NIH funding. I'll be long gone before I can say "told you so" to aging Millenials who will in turn be despised by what comes after Gen Z. I double dare you to take on an issue that is not your immediate bread-and-butter. I can't think of a single millennial or GenXer in academics, right now, who thinks elder care is a burning issue that needs to be solved. Or who thinks we should be investing more money in dementia research. Hell, I don't care if you do or don't. Personally, I think there are more pressing social issues, and (hell, its my bread-and-butter, even if not solved in my lifetime) especially what the heck is happening with NIH funding.

But back to daycare. Without government or university/employer subsidies, what does pressure for "low cost daycare" produce? More minimum wage jobs for women. Particularly women. Women who likely have children or parents or both of their own in need of care. Women who after a long day of caring for your children or parents, go home to try and love and care for their families. Women who aren't in higher education, and who are glad for a regular job with a regular paycheck, and even some small amount of healthcare benefits.

I'm all of out of solutions and suggestions here. I work to change the world, in my own little way. I try and pay people, where I have the ability, what they are worth. I don't cheat on my taxes, despite the fact I think the government wastes huge amounts of money on not doing things, and then puts more into doing things I think are Wrong. All I ask is that when you ask for "affordable day care" you think through the implications. Someone is providing that daycare, at a wage you wouldn't work for.

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