Listen.. people be askin me all the time,
"Yo Mos, what's gettin ready to happen with Science?"
(Where do you think Science is going?)
I tell em, "You know what's gonna happen with Science?
Whatever's happening with us"
If we smoked out, Science is gonna be smoked out
If we doin alright, Science is gonna be doing alright
People talk about Science like it's some giant living in the hillside
comin down to visit the townspeople
We are Science
Me, you, everybody, we are Science
So Science is going where we going
So the next time you ask yourself where Science is going
ask yourself.. where am I goin? How am I doin?
Listen.. people be askin me all the time,
Grants, fellowships or whatever seem to fit into three categories.
I could totally get that. Maybe it's a small award. Maybe it's right in your particular area of research. Maybe it's internal money and there's not too too much competition. Not a slam dunk, but...
At least worth a shot. Most things fit here. The big government grants. Maybe NSF, maybe NIH. Marshall some pilot data and start firing some specific aims.
Maybe once I ascend to Valhalla. Often very broad calls. Maybe also limited submission (1 applicant per university). Asking for trans-formative innovating. First question of application might be to list the *other* grants you have (seen it twice). We only give money to scientist who are so innovative they no longer require currency. I don't know if these are even worth the time.
There was a brief discussion on twitter about the demographics of members of the National Academy of Sciences. The NAS itself (or at least some intern) chimed in to note that the academy does not keep track of race/ethnic identification. As such they have no idea what those numbers are. This struck me as odd, since it's pretty easy to throw a basic demographic survey at new members. At least then you'd have some data. We are scientists after all. That's what we do.
So I did it for them (Method details below)
Out of 759 members in the last 10 years there appears to be 6 African Americans. That clocks in at 0.7% which is less than 1 per year. Here's what that looks like:
This data point actually fits in well with the trend of increasing homogeneity in science/academia as you go "up".
Method: I searched for members elected 2014-2004 with USA affiliations. 99% had pictures posted. Visual inspection isn't perfect but it's better than ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
The current wave on the science-Internets is all about a not-a-proposal-yet from NIH for what is current being called an Emeritus Award. I confess I don't entirely understand the logic but this would be funding for senior researchers on their way to closing up shop and passing the proverbial torch (I had no idea that was a costly proposition). In theory this mechanism taking researchers out of the active pool, though that is already happening all over with paylines they way they are.
Well, everyone hates it! Perhaps just in the way that everyone hates any potential new NIH move. What will this do for me? I am no different. Here is how I'd frame this potential move (yes I am going to submit a comment).
NIH's money is finite. Create a new mechanism the money has to come from some place. What they are not-proposing here is to create a mechanism aimed at the most demographically homogenous group of researchers. Take a look at the data for your field, your university or your department. I can almost guarantee you that the least diverse set of people are the most senior ones. When promotions through the ranks happen racial and gender diversity goes further out the door. This is not necessarily NIH's fault though it is certainly something NIH has to deal with.
After all that determination to do something after Ginther Report, with mentoring groups and other round-a-bout approaches aimed at eventually addressing racial disparities in grant awards, suddenly we may have a very direct new mechanism that, regardless of the underlying logic, is essentially un-diversity.
An update from year 1 in a tenure track position.
Everything they say is true. Take that as a re-recommendation to read the various blogs of junior professors if you ever find yourself staring down the barrel of a vaguely worded offer letter. Nearly all of the prophecies have been fulfilled.
-Felt like I was being pushy during negotiation. Hmm, in retrospect probably not quite pushy enough.
-Faculty meetings are both awful and hilarious. Sometimes at once. Lean towards keeping your mouth shut.
-All of those "of course you can do/have access to that! It will be fun and easy!" things from the interview turn into "umm, gee that'll probably involve a lot of forms and money. I dunno who you give either to."
-It's going to be paper work and setting things up for a while. If you have old data to write up that helps with feeling that you're still a scientist.
-The situation regarding your department's space & money can change very quickly. Provost-level sh*t can intervene at any moment. Plan for rainy days if you can.
-Basically everything that was promised, implicitly or otherwise, might happen. You just have to fill out 1000 forms and wrangle several dozen cats for each. Hopefully you can do all that before you go up for tenure.
I recently did a informal interview with some undergraduate students about grad school & academia (part of an assignment for them). I certainly did not know much about academia when at their stage. The students seems a little surprised by a few of my anwers. Here are a few things
Not every professor is a professor.
There are professors, lecturers, postdocs, etc. Many of these folks may teach a class from time to time. From the student's perspective perhaps a teach is a teacher. Though these folks may have very different status in the department.
Not everyone is a student or professor (ie what is a postdoc?)
They had no idea what a postdoc was, or more generally that there are people in the department who are mainly here for the research.
Everyone is, to some degree, winging it. Your career decisions may be as much serendipity as serious long term planning.
What drew you to your field? I turned to the wrong page in the class bulletin and saw something interesting.
What about your research topic? My undergrad advisor handed me a paper and said "figure this out"
Why did you go to the particular graduate school? I got in.
Ok, not that decisions were due to random chance. But there was not detailed grand master plan that I hatched junior year.
Relatedly, you don't have to pick a specific research project early and stick with it. They seemed a little surprised that I'd bounced around a bit while figuring out what I wanted to do. And even when I applied for grad school I wasn't totally sure.
A quick video of Neil Tyson telling a story from his autobiographical book.
(Here's the full version)
(he's such a ham!)
Five years after my postdoc started has come to an anticlimactic end. It could have ended a lot of different ways. I don't have any wise words about why I am staying in academia or how I managed to do it. I got a job. Eventually. During the last few years especially I planned for the very likely possibility that I wouldn't get an academic job. This involved some thought about what exactly it was I liked about my current job. What I wanted to try to keep.
Coding & Math
My research topic
A common misunderstanding among early-career scientists is the thought that their passion is their research focus. A more careful examination reveals that their passion is not so much the subject but rather, the promise of the life that academia might offer.
Would it be best to look for jobs related in my topic? Jobs in the field my research is applied to? Jobs that are somehow more science-y(e.g. science writer)?
It took me a while to realize I don't actually like science. No that came out wrong, I do like science, but what I enjoy about it is not present in every single "science job" and not absent in every "non-science job". The default "what am I going to go with my life if I can't be a science professor" seemed to be to try to hold on to either the Science part or Professor part. Science writer. High School teacher. These are fine occupations if that's what your interests are. That's not necessarily the case for every postdoc considering leaving academia when the job market isn't enuff.
I am a bit unimaginative and have been ensconced in academia as much as the next postdoc. My best idea of a non-science job was based on what my college classmates were doing 10 years ago. Work for Google/Microsoft/etc. I've been saying meh to that since college, so I needed a fresh look.
Long story short, I settled on "data science". I like 1) math, 2) sports 3) complaining about code. That made it seem like a good fit. I have no idea if that was the right call. At the very least it seemed like something interesting to do. At the very least I'd figured out that this myth you occasionally see floating around the university halls, that nothing else in the world besides science/academia could ever be as intellectually fulfilling, was as mentioned, a myth.
Below is a one of those "scientists' stories" videos by the American Chemical Society. They have a bunch more up which I recommend (here). I'm struck by the detail in her "how I got into science" story about her high school history teacher directly telling her 1) that she was going to be a scientist, and 2) how to get started. It seems remarkable that a student could show both an interest in and aptitude for science, for a while, but need to be told directly: "You could be a scientist." I have heard many stories like this from people who end up in science careers. Often around high school or college, some mentor-type person will say "You seem interested in this science stuff. You know you could be a scientist, right? Here's how to get started.".
You too could have a significant effect on a future-scientist by saying something that simple. See, mentoring is easy!
(blame the person that double-dog dared me)
Now I done grew up 'round some people living their life in labs
Granddaddy had the golden flask PCR every day at U Chicago
Some people like the way it feels, some people wanna kill their sorrows
Some people wanna fit in with the popular, that was my problem
I was in a dark room, loud tunes, looking to make a vow soon
That I'mma get granted up, fillin' up my cup, I see the crowd mood
Changing by the minute and the record on repeat
Took a pipette then another pipette, then somebody said to me:
sci, why you babysitting only two or three grants
I'mma show you how to turn it up a notch
First you get a swimming pool full of RFA’s, then you dive in it
Pool full of RFA’s, then you dive in it
I wave a few grants, then I watch 'em all flock
All the postdocs wanna play Kandel
I got a swimming pool full of RFAs and they dive in it
Pool full of RFA’s, I'mma dive in it"
clean version, for your sensitive ears
RFA = Request for Applications