15 April 2015

Comments for first half of April 2015

Awesome discussion over at Small Pond Science about the disparities in the National Science Foundations graduate research fellowship program (GRFP). It looks like institutional prestige is a great big trump card in competitions, again.

The discussion about GRFPs continues at Savage Minds.

Neuroskeptic wonders what you need to make a perfect brain scanner.

At Mistress of the Animals blog, Potnia Theron looks at why we do what science we do. (Spoiler alert: money can have a bloody awful lot to do with it.)

Pondering Blather examines a forthcoming article on papers that don’t get many citations.

Mark worries about “self-funded” doctoral degrees. Is this exploitation? Maybe, but I’m curious about where the line is drawn. Should we be drawing lines in the sand over “self-funded” master’s degrees, particularly with thesis? Undergraduate degrees that are research intensive?

14 April 2015

Tuesday Crustie: Skeletons in your closet

I’m not terribly familiar with these skeleton shrimp. When I saw the picture, I had to go look them up on Wikipedia, just like everyone else.

So many crustaceans, so little time...

Picture by Klaus Steifl on Flickr.

13 April 2015

Nature wants to eat you

I’m trying to work out which is the more terrifying image.


Or this:

The lion’s face is perhaps the purest expression of fury I have ever seen. The penguin picture is shocking because it is completely unexpected. It’s also a vivid reminder that birds are the direct descendents of meat-eating dinosaurs.

Why can’t I cite Mythbusters?

I’m sorry, Adam and Jamie. I tried.

In our most recent paper on nociception, one of the major points is that not all animals react to potentially nasty stimuli the same way. And it turns out that there’s a very nice demonstration of that idea on Mythbusters. In the 2008 Shark Week “Jawsome Special,” the Mythbusters did a segment called “Spicy Salsa Shark Shield.”

They showed that sharks were not deterred by the presence of capsaicin-laden material.

I included this in the references as:

Dallow, A. and Lentle, T. (2008). Mythbusters: Shark Week Special 2, Episode 102. Discovery Channel, USA: Beyond Entertainment Limited.

The journal copy editors wrote:

Only peer-reviewed references are permitted in the reference list.

This policy is nowhere to be found in the journal’s instructions to authors.

I took it out, because there were other references that made the point about how responses to noxious stimuli varied from species to species. It wasn’t worth fighting over, and I think I’d have lost.

Regardless of the esteem you hold for the work done by Mythbusters, the journal’s citation policing raises bigger issues. A current trend in academic publishing is to broaden the kinds of research products that people can get academic credit for. Why should only publications “count,” and not sharing a database, or writing useful code?

Consider figshare, the cloud storage data archiving service. One of their big selling points as a data repository is that they generate digital object identifiers (DOI) for stuff submitted there. The DOI itself is not the selling point, but they strongly imply that this makes whatever is archived on Figshare citable in scholarly publications. Here’s the top from their “about” page: making things citable is the first thing the list. (my emphasis):

figshare is a repository where users can make all of their research outputs available in a citable, shareable and discoverable manner.

But all those hopes can be dashed by a single sentence from a journal. “Nope, we only take peer reviewed papers.”

Interestingly, the journal let us keep in a couple of conference abstracts. The abstracts were in published in a peer-reviewed society journal, but the abstracts themselves were not peer-reviewed.

I’ve noted before that some journals have had a tradition of allowing people to cite “grey literature,” like conference abstracts, newspaper articles, web pages, or tweets. I think that is a positive thing. I worry that this sort of “journals citing (and therefore promoting) journals” policy might become more common as journals compete for scientific products. Such policies could hamper the development of academic publishing innovations.

Even worse, a “journal only” policy has the potential to force authors into intellectual dishonesty. “We got this idea from another lab’s data on figshare, but we can’t say that in the paper, so we’ll just have to say something else.”

Authors and possibly reviewers should be determining what is a legitimate citation on a case by case basis, rather than a journal setting a blanket policy favourable to itself.

10 April 2015

Feeling successful

This is sitting on my desk.

The inside says:

To celebrate the outstanding UTPA authors who have published scholarly works or been awarded major research grants in the past year.

It’s next week. I’m not going. There are more interesting things I could do. Trivia night at the pub, the Face-Off finale, cheap movie night... But most importantly, I’m not going because it doesn’t make me feel good about what I achieved.

I got thinking about what makes me feel successful after reading this article in The Chronicle of Higher Education (my emphasis):

For some of us, it’s not that we are afraid to lean in. It’s that we have jumped in head first and are barely treading water even when we are considered “successful.” It’s not that my success has come at the expense of family or that my career advancement has been stifled by raising a family. It’s that my success in academe is simply not the kind of success that I envisioned for myself. Success should feel good, make you beam with pride, feel as if all your hard work was worthy of something bigger. I envisioned, and frankly deserve, a type of success in which the next panic attack isn’t just around the corner and in which supportive spouses don’t feel like they must resort to ultimatums to cultivate a meaningful family life.

An institutional dinner doesn’t make me feel successful. If I go, I’ll just be annoyed.

First, this event isn’t for people who published a lot of papers. Oh no. “Scholarly works” is defined here as books and book chapters. That’s not the major way people in the sciences communicate their work. In fact, book chapters a good way to bury your work in science. So all my colleagues who are kicking ass writing publications... too bad. No dinner for you.

Second, that it includes people who get grants is a reminder of that my institution values money for its own sake, rather than focusing on the new knowledge that we’re supposed to be generating with the money. If you want to reward people who got grants, great. Getting a grant is hard. But don’t call it an “author’s recognition and reception”; call it an “author’s and fundraisers recognition and reception”

Third, how do you get invited to this event? By self identification. The institution can’t even be bothered to check our annual folders, our CVs that I’ve sent forward multiple copies every year, it seems, or the “digital measures” system they put in place to be able to keep track of what people are doing. No, they have to email deans and chairs to ask their faculty, “Who put out a book or a chapter in the last year?”

Nope. That invitation didn’t make me feel “celebrated.” It make me feel like a cog in an institutional public relations machine.

But there was something that made me feel successful recently. It was easy to pick out. My department chair was in the doorway of my office, and we were talking about something, and he said something like, “I noticed that you’ve been kicking ass at research lately.”

That one sentence felt really good.

It felt good because it was personal, face-to-face, from a colleague I like and trust, unsolicited, and not in response to any self-promotion I was doing. That was so much better than any institutional dinner shindig.

External links

A hockey mom seeks tenure

09 April 2015

My new work week

For several unbloggable reasons, I have spent very close to working a traditional 40 hour work week the last few months. This is a pretty substantial cut for me.

And this is the point where everyone wants me to say, “And I’m feeling much better now!”

A lot of people have written about the cult of business in academia, and how there are a lot of bad examples of overwork. A few years ago, one person (Nobel prize winner, I think) talked about how some of his best ideas he got from noodling around in the lab... on Sunday afternoons. He copped it for setting a bad example for unrealistic work expectations. Not everyone can or should spend weekends in the lab.

My feelings about moving to a more “9 to 5” schedule are not that simple.

On the one hand, if I’m honest, I did used to feel that there was nothing in my life but work. That wasn’t very pleasant.

Now, there is more to my life than work, and that’s good. But now I feel crummy about the work I do get done. I’m constantly aware of how many tasks need doing. I’m behind on grading, I’m behind on page proofs, I’m behind on administration, I’m behind on revising manuscripts... and I hate that feeling.

(Oh, and my office is a disaster area.)

Fortunately, this feeling of not getting it done isn’t showing in my productivity on paper yet. I’ve had one paper published that year, pre-prints are out for a second, and several contributions for books are in the pipeline for later this year. But I was lucky: I had a lot of projects that had a very long, slow, fuse that are just finally coming out after long delays.

And the things that are suffering are things that I like doing, that make me feel like an academic contributing to the dialogue. It feels so good when I get to blog now. I want to do more. I’m turning down students interesting in research projects, because I know I don’t have the time to give them the attention they deserve. I’ve had to cut myself off a lot in an effort to keep myself focused on the backlog.

I think I may need some time that isn’t the daily 9 to 5 grind of academia (teaching and meetings and writing) but that is still related to it. Maybe that guy was on to something with Sunday afternoons in the lab. Maybe just occasionally.

08 April 2015

Incoming: Evo devo inverts 4!

Model organisms are great, but as interest has turned to model organisms (particularly genetic ones), we’ve seen less and less attention paid to... the rest of the living world.

A new book series tries to remedy this somewhat for one field: Evolutionary Developmental Biology of Invertebrates. I contributed a little to a chapter in volume 4 with Steffen Harzsch and Jakob Kreiger on development in decapod crustaceans. I just looked at the page proofs recently, and it looks lovely.

Volumes 1, 3, 4, 5, and 6 are listed in the Springer website. I am guessing that there will be a volume 2, and the editor is not pulling some elaborate prank to leave us with non-sequential volumes.

07 April 2015

Tuesday Crustie: Bringing the thunder

The big science news that everyone is talking about today is the proposal to return the genus name Brontosaurus (translation: “thunder lizard”) a valid taxonomic moniker again. Well, dinosaurs aren’t the only thunder around...

Check out those claws! That’s clearly what it uses to bring the thunder. Myomenippe hardwickii, which the photographer designates as a “thunder crab.”

Photo by budak on Flickr; used under a Creative Commons license.