Archive for: October, 2013

Where is the networking sleaze-line?

Oct 31 2013 Published by under Uncategorized

Relating to this article on how to maximize your changes of landing an academic position.

Bashir story time:

A few years ago I’m chatting with a prof in my department. Let’s call him Prof Ted. We’re talking about mentoring and he tells the story of how great his graduate school mentor was. When Prof Ted graduated in the early 1990s from Prestigious WestCoast Uni he actually had 0 publications. Zero. But his graduate advisor knew that he was a very smart man who deserved a job at a university. So his advisor called up people he knew at other universities and made it so. Prof Ted got the job he now holds, at a pretty nice university with zero publications to his name, but one phone call.

After relaying that story Prof Ted just kind of nodded at me, as if to say see isn’t that a great story?

I nodded back, but overall I don't’ think I had the reaction that Prof Ted was expecting. It seemed to cross the "networking sleaze-line", not to mention the "old boys club" line. Would my reaction be different if Prof Ted didn't come from a prestigious university and wasn't part of the demographic that dominates my homogenous department?

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Advancing how Science is done

Oct 23 2013 Published by under Uncategorized

“The more ‘revolutionize how science is done’ proposals I read the more I am certain that lack of diversity is a critical failing of the profession”

-me

I personally have a lot of experience with systems. Education, Justice, Academic, etc. They all have conventions, incentive structures, power structures, rules, and ‘rules’. Shit is complicated. Look at the newspapers, there always some attempt or proposal to improve one of these. Or simply a lament about how fracked up and off kilter the system is.

A lot of people seem to feel that way about science. That seems totally reasonable. There is serious room for improvement. It seems we are awash with ideas of how science could, and should change. My response to these proposals is often ; How is this going to work well for everyone?

s-DARRELL-ISSA-large

Fig. 1 "don’t you worry your  little head about that"

The responses have been a bit tepid to me.

What does this have to do with current lack of diversity in science?

Story time: college aged Bashir visits the big city with a few buddies. We happen to wandering the city at the same time as a huge anti-war protest (smart move on our part). We came across an area where dozens of riot police were setting up and waiting for the protesters who were allegedly just minutes away. My buddies wanted to stay and watch. I wanted to leave immediately. I had zero interest in being near riot police in action. It did not occur to them that the system, in this case criminal-justice system manifest by riot police, would not work right. It was supposed to work. The riot police would somehow know we were just nice college kids and not protesters. I can tell you that did not match my expectations of the possibilities.

Same thing here with science (no tear gas though!). Is the shiny new system going to get fracked up and screw over some people (women, minorities, students, etc). Take a look at the back and forth about Open Access and the glamor publication game. I was really feeling Dr. Isis’ responses (here & here).

Folks who do not have a lot of experiences with systems that don't work well for them find it hard to imagine that a well intentioned system can have ill effects. Not work as advertised for everyone. That is my default because that is my experience.

Bad intentions are not required for things to not work well for everyone. Even with the best intentions. Systems are run by people. People have biases. Systems are complex. Things can add up. Ignore this possibility at your peril. Equity and diversity cannot be a side dish to be brought up every now again, it has to be baked into everything.

There are a lot of ideas out there about where to take science. Many good in principle. I appreciate the idealism that is driving this forward but the ideas require just as much critique and skepticism as we put into our work.

This is not about blame for current or even possible issues. It’s about getting it right being a high priority from the jump, not just post-hoc lip service.

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Priorities and speaking up

Oct 12 2013 Published by under Uncategorized

A few years ago while walking my department's hallway I just barely heard something odd on the air. One of those words. No, not that word, but close enough. I turned a saw one of the departmental admins smirking at me. He said hello and walked by as if nothing happened.

A lot of things went through my head that moment. I wasn't on my A+ "fuck racist" game. I didn't have a witty retort for him. I actually did nothing at all about it for a few days as I had urgent professional and personal stuff that had just come down. As the weeks rolled around I started to think about making some sort of official complaint. Looked up any rules and regulations. Thought about likely outcomes. I would have to go to the department head. Would he be sympathetic? I'd have to explain it. There'd be a lot of "well that word isn't bad, right?" or "maybe that's just how he says it". I'd be playing up the Angry Negro part. Even if I had a completely legitimate complaint. I'd be "that black guy who complains about things". Being shut down seemed like a much more likely scenario than anything else. For a variety of reasons about the environment in my department I thought any official response would be unsympathetic at best.

Sciam Blogs seems to be living this out right now in regards to their decision to censor Danielle Lee's post calling out another blog network's bad behavior. I can't tell you how disappointing this looks. It feels like one of those moments, and I've had plenty, where a person truly shows you what their priorities are. Sometimes you just have to say goodbye. I hope that this isn't that.

 

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