Archive for: December, 2012

Specific Aims

Dec 20 2012 Published by under Uncategorized

via conversation on the twitter, the new desktop wallpaper..

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Diversity is Hard!

Dec 18 2012 Published by under Uncategorized

As job applications pile up, metaphorically at least, on my desk I find that I'm reading this refrain over and over again.

Diversity. Commitment. Encourage. Diversity. Commitment. Encourage.

It seems that many scientific organizations, academic, industry and federal, realize their membership is quite homogenous and, at least, say they'd like to do something about it. From my perspective, that's good. I won't get into the merits of institutional diversity, since so many organizations seem to agree I will take that as a given.

Here are the steps towards institutional diversity.
1. Decide that diversity might be a good thing
2. Tell everyone, internally and externally, that your institution values diversity
3. Do something about it.

ah, the 3rd step is the rub. Even the most eloquent statement of diversity, equity and inclusiveness is marginally valuable compared to actual action in that regard. That is where a lot of institutions fall down, in my experience. Some because what they really want is to appear to value diversity, and are allergic to any of the actual actions involved. Others because they are convinced the problem is intractable and thus actions would be pointless.

Pointing out the differences between well meaning talk and actions can get you a bit of push back.

"Diversity is Hard! We are doing our best!"

A good example of this are the past to-dos regarding the lack of female speakers at a science conferences. Organizers insist that it is *so hard* to find women scientists which is why they have 25 men and 1 woman. Invariably will someone will quickly supply a many options, which makes you wonder how hard it actually is if a blogger can pull a couple of dozen names of qualified women out of a hat. (some relevant links on that, here, here and here).

It can be hard certainly depending on the situation and goals. I was involved in a plan to evaluate diversity and equity in my grad program. It was hard work without of definite or immediate pay off. Still there are plenty of success stories.

One university has about 10% of all African-American faculty in computer science. Think about that. Think about how many computer science departments there are. This isn't even an HBCU we're talking about. This is not due to random fluctuations, or statements of value, it seems to be due to recruitment effort and an inclusive environment.

Or consider the experience of Eve Marder (Marder, E.. "Why so long?." Curr Biol 20. 10 (2010): R426.)

"I started as an assistant professor in the biology department at Brandeis University in 1978. Unlike most of my female peers who were the first woman to be hired in their departments, I was the 5th woman in a department of 19. Today, my department has 13 women and 16 men, with many female tenured full professors.

That is why I have no patience when I visit other universities around the world and discover that the number of female faculty is still low in many departments of biomedical science."
(emphasis mine)

I feel the same way. I have sat through way too many discussions where some institutional decision maker will insist that there just aren't any qualified minority candidates out there for jobs/talks/etc. (a few times about something I was qualified for while I was literally siting right there).

That is in part why I hold a bit of skepticism for statements of diversity, inclusiveness and what not. In my experience there is a wide chasm between writing up values and acting on them. Many organizations can't, won't or just don't make the leap.

That of course brings us to the recent news about once of the bigger institutions in science, NIH and their 'diversity issues' (e.g, here and here). That situation deserves its own post.



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Fixing NIH postdoc awards?

Dec 13 2012 Published by under Uncategorized

Many of you science peeps are familiar with NIH and their constant worry over the careers of early investigators. How to help postdocs transition to independent researcher positions, etc etc. I am in the middle of all that myself.

A possible improvement struck me. The process of applying for funding takes a long time. Even if you ignore writing the proposal and producing pilot data. Just from application submission to funding is about a year. Postdoc positions are almost by nature unstable. The amount of time needed to secure a TT job is certainly more than how much funding can usually be obtained at once. I don't think it's uncommon to patch together funding, 2 years of this, 1 year of that, during a postdoc. If you are interested in one of those NIH grants for postdocs you basically need to get funding in order to apply for funding. Two years of funding might give you enough time to put together something and apply. Three if you plan for the inevitable resubmission. (Four if you are a person I know who waited >6 months after being recommended for funding).

This strikes me as not good. Particularly given the stated purpose of these postdoc awards. Why not try to speed up the process just for the postdoc mechanisms. Cut down the waiting time to something  like 4 or even 3 months? Is that crazy? Not possible?

6 responses so far