28 September 2016

Fifteen rounds

There are fifteen rounds in a heavyweight boxing match.

There are fifteen weeks in a semester.

Today, I feel like that isn’t a coincidence.

Sometimes, a semester can feel like a boxing match. You know when it starts, know when it ends, you get a few breaks in the middle, and you just know that there are going to be a lot of punches thrown at you in between.

You hope that you can dodge out of the way of some of those punches.

But you cannot dodge them all.

You’re going to get tired, you’re going to lose your quickness, as the rounds wear on.

The difference between the two is that in teaching, you can’t win early. You have to go the full fifteen rounds. You can only win by judge’s decision, never by knockout.

You just hope that you have trained well enough make it to the last round. You just don’t want to throw in the towel...

Or be the one who goes down in an early round.

And I think there’s a risk both fighters and academics take. They can start to lose their form after too many of these encounters. It takes its toll.

I can’t recall the last time I felt so drained so early in the semester. We’ve barely been at this a month, and I’m already looking forward to the last round.

External links

Losing Your Way as a Scientist: How Not to Suck

Round card photo by leyla.a on Flickr; used under a Creative Commons license.

25 September 2016

Our med school is not going smoothly

Earlier this year, the UTRGV medical school had its dean step down for reasons unknown.

Now, one of the communities is backing out of its financial commitment to the medical school, making it the second local city to do so.

And one of the university’s prominent supporters, a Texas senator, says the medical school is, “Not okay.

“The medical school is not okay. I don’t think people really realize how much money it costs and how complicated it is to create a new medical school,” Hinojosa told the Rio Grande Guardian. “The type of equipment that it needs, the type of infrastructure support that it needs to be successful. We cannot do a top-notch job unless we get support and help from the community.”

Basically, there is wrangling about taxes to support the medical school, and there is a vote on the November ballot about it.

Yeah. The new medical school was supposed to be the jewel in the crown of the new university. It’s not looking so shiny right now.

External links

Feud over hospital district prompts Mission to pull support for UTRGV medical schoolFrancisco Fernandez leaving leadership role, will remain on school faculty
Why is McAllen reneging on funds to UTRGV School of Medicine?
Cigarroa: Healthcare Districts are ‘an important piece of the puzzle’
Hinojosa: UTRGV medical school is not okay

23 September 2016

Day of the Monkey


It’s a word that has both a negative and positive meaning when you say it of a person. And if I had to use one word to describe the pseudonymous blogger Drugmonkey, that’s the one.

Drugmonkey is sharp.

One friend said to me, “Drugmonkey is mean.” He is quick to unleash cutting remarks. He has called a lot of people he disagrees with “wackalooons,” and that’s when he’s feeling polite. He’s impatient and profane. I can probably make his blood boil by mentioning “pit bulls,” “professional editors with English degrees,” and “numbered references” in the same sentence. He’s got opinions, and sometimes it feels like he will never admit he was wrong or change his mind in the slightest. He can be infuriating. It’s not fun being on the receiving end when he thinks you’re wrong.

Drugmonkey is sharp.

He is smart. Nobody has written more about National Institutes of Health funding, or developing careers in biomedicine and – more importantly – nobody has written about it with more insight and intelligence. And he has consistently taken agencies to task on issues like racism and sexism, and asked why they are not doing better on long standing problems in ensuring more diversity. He wants to make sure senior scientists don’t pull the ladder up behind them. He cares about other people, not just himself, and wields his razor sharp and lightning fast writing skills to advocate for them, and for fair treatment.

That makes him one of the good ones.

He’s started a lot of conversations, and made a lot of people think. You can see evidence for it in the comments in his blog. (Justin Kiggins says he reads Drugmonkey’s blog for the comments.)

I have only been in a room with Drugmonkey once, at Madhatter’s in Washington DC, at one of Dr. Becca’s BANTER meet-ups during Society for Neuroscience. We didn’t have a chat to converse at length in person. But it doesn’t matter, because online conversations are real conversations. Thank you, Drugmonkey, for the many conversations we have had. I am not sure I have ever changed your mind, but you have changed mine. I have learned a lot from you, and I grateful for it.

And thanks to whoever came up with the idea of Drugmonkey day!

External links

Drugmonkey on Twitter
Drugmonkey blog
Another Drugonkey blog
Unofficial Drugmonkey Day
An oldish dog learning new tricks #drugmonkeyday
Thank you Drugmonkey
appreciation #drugmonkeyday
Thanks Drugmonkey!
Did You Miss It? Big Research Investing and A Decade of DrugmonkeyBlog
Yesterday was #drugmonkeyday!

21 September 2016

A memo of understanding is not neutrality

Seen on Twitter this morning, from Moosesplaining Max:

A neutral stance on a contentious person is an implicit endorsement, stop kidding yourself.

The moose is right. It reminded me of this quote:

“We understand that there were two sides to this,” he said. “The students that [are part] of that certain student group is opposed to LNG and I hope you understand that there are those who are for it as well. We can’t get involved in either of those sides. We’re simply focused on providing the best educational opportunities for our students.”

And that would be Guy Bailey, our university president, arguing with a straight face that signing a memo of understanding with an energy company, NextDecade, is “not taking sides.” What rot. That’s not even an “implict” endorsement, that’s an explicit endorsement.

I also don’t buy the “We’re just focused on education” argument, either. Why do we have a South Texas Diabetes and Obesity Center? It’s not just to educate people about that; it’s an active effort to improve health in the region. This university does all kinds of things that are not related to education.

The president’s office got over 200 calls about the university’s memo of understanding with NextDecade, and almost all were against it.

I hate the crummy arguments. I wish that administrators would keep it a hundred: say there is a real controversy. Talk about the pros and cons of partnering with corporations. But I so wish they would stop kidding themselves.

Related posts

Is there any money you won’t take?
External links

LNG agreement concerns continue

09 September 2016

Is there any money you won’t take?

Here’s a picture of UTRGV president Guy Bailey from a little over a week ago, doing what he’s doing in a lot of pictures: agreeing to take money. Okay, that may be a slight exaggeration. There wasn’t a cheque from NextDecade, the other party in this agreement. Instead, the press release says this is a:

(S)trategic partnership to foster STEM-based (science, technology, engineering and math) education programs,facilitate research and job training opportunities for UTRGV students, and promote collaboration between academia and industry(.)

This is not just yesterday’s news, it’s last week’s news. Why am I blogging about this now? Because I missed it. It wasn’t on the university’s home page. It wasn’t in the daily news email we all get. No administrator – not my chair, not my dean, nobody – mentioned it, even though, as a STEM faculty, I should be one of the people potentially affected, nay, benefiting from this partnership, because it’s for STEM education, right? It snuck past my radar, almost as though the university isn’t proud of this partnership. Hm...

The partnership is with NextDecade, a company proposing to build a liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal in the region. Here’s how the Sierra Club describes it:

If built, the Rio Grande LNG export terminal would be the largest single source of air pollution in Cameron County, according to its expected emissions. Its construction would require filling in hundreds of acres of wetlands in an area that is critical habitat for the endangered ocelot and Aplomado falcon. There are also concerns that the view of the industrial landscape and associated pollution could threaten the Valley’s beach and nature tourism industries.

The Brownsville Herald reports (my emphasis)

UTRGV declined to address the controversial aspect of local LNG projects. In an emailed response to The Brownsville Herald’s request for comment on that aspect, university spokesman Patrick Gonzales wrote only that “UTRGV is excited about the education opportunities this NextDecade LLC partnership provides, especially in the STEM fields, for our students.”

UTRGV is going to deal with community controversy by pretending it doesn’t exist. That is not the way to build trust with your community.

Calling this partnership a boon for “STEM education” is too generous. This will be a partnership for TE education. I doubt there will be anything for science or math students or faculty. This might be for engineers.

It’s also coming at a time when many other universities are divesting from fossil fuels.

Is there any money our president won’t take?

Bailey has more or less said that he sees money as the solution to all the university’s problems. When he started, he accepted money from the food industry for diabetes and obesity research. That’s a conflict of interest. This NextDecade partnership is also rife with potential conflicts of interest. I wonder what would happen if biology faculty started doing research on those endangered species whose habitats could be affected by the LNG export terminal?
 A lot of old UTPA signs were swapped out for UTRGV ones last week when the semester started. Maybe they should have looked like this:

Related posts

Show me what you value
H.E.B.’s donation to UTRGV: the gift that keeps on conflicting

External links

NextDecade partnership with UTRGV aims to stimulate STEM-based learning and boost local economy
University of Texas Rio Grande Valley Makes Agreement with Rio Grande LNG. Students, Community Leaders Wont Have It
Students, environmentalists, criticize UTRGV education agreement with LNG firm
UTRGV and NextDecade sign MOU

07 September 2016

Administrator calls our students “products”

In a recent document, one of our adminstrators was talking about student learning outcomes (SLOs), and wrote (my emphasis):

Identifying which SLO a course addresses is not a huge task. It only ensures that students learn what they are required to learn so that we send a product out that we are proud of.

Wait. Did this administrator just call our students, “products”? Pretty sure the answer is yes.

When I first ran across this, I was surprised and disappointed. The more I’ve thought on it, the madder I’ve gotten. Our students are not “products.” They are people.

This is just horribly dehumanizing. I only hope the administrator who wrote this will feel a little shame for writing that when this is pointed out.

It’s such a revealing glimpse into the model of education that administrators long to have, which is an industrial model.

As few professors, oops, lecturers, oops, adjuncts, oops, workers, oops, online tutorial programs as needed to churn through as many products with as little variation as possible.

Many others have pointed out this is a trend in North American higher education. But I’ve worked under a lot of administrative teams here. These are attitudes that are specific to this administrative team now, that I have not seen under previous administrations.

Related post

Show me what you value

01 September 2016

In praise of lurkers

There’s practically a new emerging literary genre of academics writing pearl clutching thinkpieces decrying the sad effect of social media on academia and science.

Last week there was an opinion piece in PNAS. It was illustrated with this picture:

Then, there was this piece in Times Higher Education.

In return for feeding our desire for evidence of how we are doing in our social interactions – our narcissistic craving for others' approval – first Facebook and then a group of other social media corporations persuaded half of humankind to give up their most intimate personal details. 

Both of these pieces got soundly criticized, as they should, because they make some silly statements. For instance, the Egan piece says:

Students need to be helped to sever some of the ties that bind them to the people they already know and to discover new forms of connectedness in the shared writings of the wider world.

Jordan Gaines wrote:

This is...literally exactly why I started using social media more when I started as a grad student.

That’s my experience, too. Social media has given me a window into what other people are thinking in a way that I just haven’t had before.

A very common charge levied against social media is that is is mere “narcissism.” What these anti-social media types seem to forget is that there is another, largely invisible category of social media users: the lurkers. For every person who is active on social media (the “narcissists” posting material), there is an unknown number of people quietly reading, listening, learning.

If you condemn the posting of scientific or academia material on social media, you’re penalizing not just the producers of that material, but you’re saying that all the people who might learn from that don’t matter, and that their learning is somehow invalid and unworthy. Presumably because it’s not in a brick and mortar building.

This “cane shaking at social media” genre needs a catchy name. Like how people writing editorials about why they got out of academia became known as “Quit lit.”

External links

Science in the age of selfies 
Why academics should NOT make time for social media

Picture from here.