Sunday, October 30, 2005

Integrity in Science - backwards progress

Maybe it's just my limited perception, but it seems like there have been a lot of allegations of falsified data lately.

Here's just a shallow sampling:


MIT professor fired last week over fake data.

A couple of years ago, a Bell Labs professor was fired over fake data. The number of papers in question: more than a dozen.

A year before that, a fake claim to a new element of the periodic table .


National Library of Medicine has a list of four Medline retractions so far in 2005.

A Nature paper retracted recently .

Article on several papers shown to be based on fake data .

Human <--> Nature <--> Science <--> ?

I've been aware of this kind of thing going on more or less since grad school, when I read some of The Baltimore Case . I actually couldn't bring myself to read the whole thing since it was so upsetting to me.

I think the reason I find this whole topic upsetting is that I have seen serious accusations only from a distance. And in many cases, as in the Baltimore Case, the accuser really does think they are serving the progress of science by making the accusation. And it always ruins the career of the accused person, no matter what the outcome.

But in the cases I've seen from closer up, the accused person always insists the accusations were false. In the cases I know about, the retractions and/or firings were always triggered by a personal dispute with the accuser. And we may never know if the paper should have been retracted at all, or if politics just trumped progress.

One of the things I've always found most encouraging about science is that, on some level, it doesn't matter who you are: it only matters what the data say. The data can stand alone. Except, of course, when the accuser has more political power than the author.

The Search for Truth

But more than anything, it's the cases where the accused person actually admits to having concocted imaginary data that really blow my mind.

It's interesting because it almost makes a case for giving no rewards for success.

I think success is the biggest pressure on scientists: ego, acclaim, and perhaps a little more job security. But maybe if those rewards weren't there, we'd be 'humble servants', or whatever: we'd just do it because we want to know the answer, we want to cure cancer, AIDS, diabetes. We want to save the endangered birds.

In short, we'd do the job because we understand that science is meaningless if it's based on anything fake, and the process of learning something new should be reward enough.

Shouldn't it?

Lord knows I've argued for fair salaries and more appreciation for science as a whole. I've even thought that having more tv shows or movies glorifying scientists might work in our favor. But the real fact is, I hate the stratification of American, the celebrity-worship. I hate what it has already done to science, and I hate to think where it's going when the Famous People in science have all the power. So I don't always think that capitalism is the best model.

The Rats That Race

I think the problem is that kids feel so much pressure to get straight A's in school that they cheat (see for example this article ). And the mentality of getting away with it just carries on until they get caught. My hypothesis is that these people are drawn to cheating, that they have probably been cheating for years before they admit to anything, not that these are isolated cases. But I could be wrong. Maybe one day something just snaps and they decide to go for it, like robbing a bank at gunpoint. Maybe they think it's worth the risk, because they're only thinking about themselves, and not about the scientific community as a whole. They're worried they won't be in the scientific community anymore if they don't continue to perform at a certain level.

I'm sure there are social psychologists out there who have studied this in great depth... I'd love to hear what the percentages are for people's motivations and the length of time the average cheater got away with it before it backfired on them.

I'm becoming more passionate about ethics as I get older, and not just because of these people who claim there's no evidence for evolution, or the lack of fetal consciousness, or the dangers of global pollution. If we're not unassailable, these lunatics are going to destroy whatever progress we make.

I'm also concerned about ethics because I have heard way too many stories of people unable to reproduce published results, and wasting huge amounts of time blaming themselves. And I've been in the situation lately that my results contradict those that were published by others previously, and the default conclusion seems to be that I must have done something wrong, not that I have uncovered something new. Now I have twice the work cut out for me: I not only have to prove that I'm right, but I have to take the precarious political step of proving that what others have shown is actually false, or perhaps only a small part of a much more complicated story.

Publishing incorrect data hurts everybody, and has such extreme and long-ranging repercussions that it hurts my head to think about all the work that would be required to correct all of it. I would be interested to see a mathematical projection of how much damage is done, for every one paper that turns out to be fake, how much it slows the production of papers that can be considered progress.

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Friday, October 28, 2005

Made it to Friday- Barely.

Well, thanks for your comments. I'm amused by the pipette fan mail. Gilson and Drummond and Rainin might be worth buying stock in!

Sadly, Wednesday and Thursday were no better than Monday and Tuesday, but it's not even worth whining about.

I gotta say, though, the Sexual Harassment Training session was incredibly boring, even while being somewhat informative. Some of the little factoids were quite fun, and it made me realize I should definitely look into the schools I applied to, if I should actually be invited for any interviews. Always good to know who's being sued and for what.

Random Aside: Speaking of, one of my friends has already been invited for his first interview. We were the same year in grad school, but very different specialties. And he's in another country (he's a permanent resident there). I'm genuinely happy for him, and not jealous like I might have thought I would be, maybe because he's not the slightest bit arrogant about it. But it does kind of make me worry that maybe I should have started hearing something by now.

Pointless rant: I just hate these things we have to attend because of University liability, when they're clearly geared for people with an I.Q of less than 100. And I don't usually make reference to IQ tests because I think they're crap in general, but I think you know what I mean. Anything like these safety classes, they remind me of going to driving school when I was 15. They show you a video and then ask, Socratic-style, "What's wrong with this picture?" And then wait expectantly for people to actually answer their incredibly stupid questions. What a waste of time!

Sigh. I can't see myself wanting to ever take another class in my life. Maybe not the best attitude for a potential would-be eventual Professor who will have to do some teaching herself should she actually get a job somewhere.

Was that enough qualifiers? Hmmm?

Today I am happy that I got a helpful suggestion on a buffer to make my samples less goopy, so I am hopeful that This Gel will be The Last Gel of its kind, that the endless repetitions of this experiment with thereafter go extinct and that This Gel can be the Published Gel. I hope.

I am also the happy recipient of hand-me-downs from someone who is leaving. The lesson from all this: it's worth it to give stuff away and help by teaching people how to do stuff, no matter how annoying they make themselves. It all comes back, many-fold more than what you gave them. Including the stuff they were hoarding from the common lab stocks...

But, unfortunately, due to the screwups in my schedule from the problems that were out of my control and handled badly by the person whose job it was.... I will be working again tomorrow. So I guess I am a bit resentful and lazy today in retaliation. So there! Somebody somewhere owes me a weekend.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Tuesday = the hits just keep coming.

Thanks to those of you who sent good wishes for the rest of the week. Unfortunately we'll need a few more donations to meet our goal.

Yesterday I went home feeling horribly ill with mystery pains. I took some Alka Seltzer (major dose of aspirin = yay!), drank some Aveda tea, and tried to rest up. I came in this morning feeling kind of fragile and oscillating between paying attention to see how I was feeling and trying not to think about it for fear that panicking would make it worse. I called my doctor- guess how soon she can see me? Say it with me, people: Today is October 25th, 2005. When can my doctor see me? February 2006. No kidding. I guess I will be going to the emergency room if the mystery pain does not continue to abate.

First thing this morning, my current advisor calls me into her office and tells me that my former advisor is very ill. I had heard rumors about this, but apparently it's really bad. She was obviously upset about it, and she barely knows the guy, but they're the same age, so I can see why. Meanwhile I've been feeling strangely empty about it. While I feel sorry for his family, I wasn't quite to the point of forgiving him yet, so I'm not sure how I feel about him being ill. Mostly I feel nothing (see the movie of the Broadway show A Chorus Line if you don't know what I mean). But I feel bad about it.

Then this afternoon I finally got up the energy to deal with my cells, and we found out there is a problem with the carbon dioxide supply, so we can't use the incubators until it gets fixed. If it doesn't get fixed, my cells are certainly going to die. If I don't deal with them today, they are likely to be very unhappy with me tomorrow, even if they do survive. Either way, it is very likely to set me back a week by the time I thaw new ones, etc. Assuming the incubators get fixed before next week.

No, I'm not annoyed. I'm to the point of assuming this is the status quo for me. As soon as my experiments get going with any kind of regularity, something will intervene to prevent me from doing them. Murphy's Law of the Lab. The perpetual doom of my career. Fortunately I'm more or less used to it. When I was in grad school, this would have sent me into a tantrum. The kind of tantrum that involves a large chocolate chip cookie, followed by guilt and depression about gaining weight. But now I am much better, I know that junk food will not help anything. Instead I will just sit here and meditate on better things...

In other news, another one of my recommendation letters went missing, according to an email I got this morning. So I had to send another email asking for it to be re-sent. I'm trying not to assume this was on purpose, but I'm worried there is something more going on here than just random, coincidental problems with the mail, since the two letters reported missing were from the same person. Hopefully it was just one batch that got lost! And I'm looking on the bright side: no rejection letters yet. I am going to assume for the moment that the emails I've gotten saying they will contact candidates early in 2006 are a good sign that I can hang on until at least after the holiday break.

One good thing happened today: I got my pipettes calibrated (yay!). I love pipettes. Not that I can use them right now (see above). I should probably sit here and do some more job applications while I am waiting for the stars to realign, or whatever has to happen to make this week get better.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Monday = ugh.

Yesterday I went shopping. All day.

I didn't find a single thing I liked.

Last night I was being so clever, I used our timed coffee maker so there would be coffee ready this morning. But for some unknown reason it came out really weak, so I had to make it over this morning anyway. Not a good omen.

Had to put gas in my car. In the rain. Also not a good omen.

Traffic sucked. I was pretty irritated by that, too.

Got here and ran around like crazy for about 5 hours, then had a late lunch. Now I have a little time before I have to go to a talk, and I'm trying to decide if I should do another set of transfections and start another gel. Usuallly I'm so annoyed after these talks, though, that I just want to leave. So I'm not wild about getting stuck here late. But this is going to be a busy week for my boyfriend, so I might as well work late if he's going to be working late. So the logic goes.

Two guys just walked into my office and said there's a leak from the roof and they might have to open up the dry wall. So much for peace and quiet.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Why Bush nominated Miers

Ok, so I have a theory. I think the Bush administration felt pressured to nominate a woman to the Supreme Court, but they didn't want to. So they picked someone who is patently unqualified, knowing that if she doesn't get confirmed, they can then nominate a man without compunction.

And/or, they can just sit back and watch while Congress looks like a bunch of idiots trying to give her a hard time. I thought they looked like fools trying to tell John Roberts he needed to admit to being biased. I also thought it was pathetic that, given the Republican majority right now, there was nothing else the Democrats could do about him getting confirmed, even if they wanted to block it. You'd think they would have been more prepared with better questions, more clever about it. But instead they seemed desperate at worst, whiny at best. I suspect they will be even more shrill and irrational while questioning Miers. And I've very curious to see, if it makes it that far, how she handles it, considering the excerpts I've heard from her answers to the questionnaire.

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Thursday, October 20, 2005

B(lo)gger all

I actually posted a comment to someone else's comment from my last post... suffice it to say, Blogger apparently lost the comment and it never showed up. Lovely!

I had this whole thing about how you can't be a smartass when you're a nobody, but the when you're supposed to be an 'expert' nobody can hear enough of your opinions. It changes as your career status improves.

Suffice it to say I am perfectly capable of coming up with questions to ask at seminars, but none of them are very nice. So I usually keep my mouth shut. When I can come up with a suitably innocent question, I usually assume I can go home, see what's in the literature, and if that doesn't work, email the speaker. Unless I'm certain the answer to my question is unpublished, and that the speaker is likely to be able to answer it, I usually don't bother. Maybe that's a bad attitude, but I'm sure it will change as I gain in status.

Anyway. I'm having a cruddy day. I'm not sure whether it's just due to me being tired, or the fact that I'm going to work all day and have no data until tomorrow at the earliest, the fact that I had to buy an overpriced, neither healthy nor filling lunch, because my working on the weekend led to a complete lack of groceries in the house... probably all of the above.

Tomorrow night I'll hang out with a friend, perhaps for the last time before she moves away to start her new job. I think I'm a little resentful about her leaving me. And I've been playing phone tag with my best friend, which is irritating in its own special way, since we can never seem to coordinate our schedules and wind up doing this back-and-forth every single time we try to talk. Of course she's too busy during the day, and goes to bed early, so there's only a small window of time when she's available.

Was trying to come up with some obvious way to get into a better mood when our admin finally got back to me about something I tried to order last spring. Yes, last spring. It's coming from a foreign country and they requested a materials transfer agreement... well we finally found out the reason the thing never came was because our legal office here apparently offended the people over there, or something, because they have never responded to us since. Lovely!

Anyway I guess I should be hunting down an alternative source for this thing. Last spring, no one else had it, but who knows, it has been several months!!

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

After the rain

Yesterday sucked. I came in and finished a western that didn't work very well. I am getting pretty fed up with stuff working just well enough to convince me that I should do it again. Rinse and repeat, the results never look any better on the 2nd or 3rd try, and it's all technical crap having nothing to do with whether my hypothesis is correct or not. I think I know what the problems might be, but as usual they are things I'm not sure I have any control over in this lab.

Ran around finishing up some stuff so I could go to a series of seminars where I knew I would run into some people I don't like very much.

Some of the seminars were good. A couple of them were terrible. But one was given by a guy who never misses the opportunity to trash my thesis advisor, nevermind acting as if my work never existed. I admit that at one point I was very upset with my thesis advisor, but I'm over it and now I'm back to getting really mad when other people say nasty things about him.

What really galls me about this guy is that he was on my thesis committee, and he used to be pretty nice to me, despite having a reputation for being a jerk. And despite my having done nothing to deserve it, the last couple of years he started treating me like dirt. So I've come around to the majority opinion.

For whatever reason, when I left, I was pretty depressed. In theory if this guy had written me a recommendation letter for jobs, that might have helped me. And I considered going to his lab at one point. Now we're essentially competitors, which was more than obvious since he presented only published data, some of it more than 5 years old. If nothing else, yesterday convinced me that I'm really glad I picked this lab instead of going to work for him!

And yet, despite his obviously being threatened by me, I still felt invisible yesterday. I deliberately snuck in the back door and sat in the back of the room for the seminars because I didn't feel like having people ask me how it's going, yada fucking yada. But it pissed me off that two women separately commented on whether I was there for this or that talk, like my attendance was being monitored and I should be concerned about getting credit! I still haven't gotten up the nerve to ask obnoxious questions in seminars just so people know I'm there. Perhaps that will come later in my career.

I went home and watched hockey and Medium . I really should have gone to the gym instead. I will have to go tonight.

Today I had an email from a school saying that one of my letters never arrived. I'm sure it just got lost somehow, the person who was supposed to have sent it has otherwise been very prompt. Something about the way the email was worded made me think they actually planned on reading the letter, having already read my other two letters. This might be a good sign, I don't know. I'm just hoping the third letter gets there right away and that they like what it says!

I set up some experiments this morning and sent out a few more job applications today. I'm not sure what I'll do for the rest of the day. Just trying to kick the hangover of gloom from yesterday. I wish it were easier for me to brush off worrying about the politics of work so I could actually get some done.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Whining and dining

It's Saturday and I'm at my desk, blasting music to ward off the deathly silence of a mostly-empty building. My gels are transferring and incubating in antibody, my cells are growing, and I will be here until it's time for dinner & going out tonight. My feet hurt already and I have about 5 hours left to go, so I'm just happy to be sitting down. The only food I have with me is an apple, and there are no vending machines here.


Actually it is kind of nice, except that when I'm actually doing a lot of work, I am constantly finding broken equipment. I'm trying not to think too hard about why no one else noticed one of the gel boxes and stir plates aren't working, or if they just don't care. No matter what, it's a bit depressing since I'm always the one who needs to use the stuff. And because of the way things are set up here, I have very little control over any of it actually getting fixed.

I'm also avoiding one of the only other people who is here today. The last few days I've been listening to a lot of ranting about my advisor. From time to time, I have mentioned a few ridiculous things that she has said or done, but from my perspective, in general she has been nothing but encouraging and helpful to me. I know that she doesn't treat everyone equally. They all say she's nice to you at the beginning, and I haven't been here that long.

I don't want to tell them they can't talk to me, since I really do believe that talking about it generally helps alleviate some of the stress. If anything, I am a bit jealous that everyone here has each other to lean on, while I had nobody when I was being verbally abused by my thesis advisor. It is interesting to see how uniting against a common enemy brings everyone together. But it makes me really uncomfortable listening to these people bitch and moan about how horrible and mean she is.

I have made some headway in pointing out that all PIs say stupid or mean things sometimes, that if they didn't learn from this experience they would go on to be just as shocked when they find the same thing in their next lab. That there is really no such thing as the perfect advisor, or boss, in any field, and the few really great ones are very hard to find. And so on.

It is hard for me because I think my advisor and I have a lot in common. While we would both like to think I won't make all the same mistakes she has- she has freely admitted regretting some of the interpersonal conflicts she ignited as a young professor- naturally, I am terrified. The idea of being a PI and having everyone in my lab complaining about me behind my back... shades of elementary school come to mind. Or for that matter, anyone seen Mean Girls ?

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Hump Day

So I have two, totally unrelated topics to write about (so far) today. Look for the ***'s if this one bores you.

One of the grad students in our lab had a committee meeting yesterday. She's been doing a gene chip array, bioinformatics type of project, coupled with verifying some of the hits by hand. She has a tremendous amount of data but seems timid about really analyzing most of it. I have been hinting for a while that she needs to spend some more time on that.

Her committee is supposed to be 6 people, but two of them flaked at the last minute. I thought it was weird that the grad office here didn't just reschedule her meeting- that's what they would have done where I went to school. If you make them know that they will have to go sooner or later, they learn to modify their behavior!

Anyway our advisor apparently said, in front of the other committee members who showed up, that in order to graduate, she really should verify *all* the hits from her array data. We're talking ~ 200 genes: she would have to design and order primers and do individual real-time PCR reactions for all of them.

This is completely ridiculous, since the whole point of arrays is to save you the pain of having to do these things one at a time. Nevermind all the time and money it would waste. Nevermind that grad students shouldn't be doing endlessly repetitive work. Nevermind that they already have all this data and haven't really even looked at it. Nevermind that it wouldn't tell them much of anything new. Other people have established that the array technology works, more or less, and she has done multiple repeats... and she has already validated nearly 10% of the hits by hand, with only about 1% conflict between the arrays and the PCR. I think that's good enough, personally, since nobody in their right mind would depend solely on array data for drawing a conclusion anyway. But what do I know. I haven't done any array experiments myself (yet?).

I told the student I would help try to come up with a creative way to follow up on the data she has, and told her AGAIN that she really needs to do some more reading & analysis on her own. I think our advisor will go along with us if we come up with something really insightful for her to do, but I'm kind of disgusted that

a) she didn't have any better suggestions for the student-she's usually more creative than that
b) she didn't try to brainstorm with the student- isn't that what grad school is about? learning how to THINK?
c) she actually implied that graduate students should be doing technician's work (see b, above on LEARNING HOW TO THINK).

Exploitation, anyone?

In other news, there was a rejection letter under my door this morning. I'm not sure why it wasn't just in my mailbox, but whatever.

It was from a school I'm pretty sure I applied to sometime last year. The letter said they looked ~230 applications and interviewed ~15 people.

Thing is, I'm pretty sure they sent me a rejection letter already!

I don't think the other letter had this many details in it, but I think it said I didn't make the short list, so I assumed that was the end of that.

Anyway my complete senility in the face of this event has prompted me to finally start a spreadsheet, since with more than 30 applications, I already can't remember which ones acknowledged my stuff arriving, which ones sent affirmative action forms, etc.

Last year I stopped doing it because I either wasn't hearing anything, or they were all a categorical 'no.' Hopefully this year will be more promising. Doesn't bode too well for Wednesday, though.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Scientists Behaving Badly

I'm writing this offline because Blogger is misbehaving. That's the second time in a week that I've had problems with the website.

I've gotten so many responses to a previous post ( Well-meaning bureaucrats ) that I want to discuss some of the righteous indignation over, as one person put it, the farce that science has become.

First of all, one of the goals of this blog is to dispel naive misconceptions most people have about how science actually works. So if it's news to you that these things go on, then I'm doing my (self-described) job.

Second, I'm just being honest. There are only so many battles one person can fight. Criticizing me for accepting my PI's sometimes questionable policies is not going to change my behavior. Obviously I'm aware that it's questionable, or I wouldn't be writing about it. I feel I'm doing some service to the world by documenting the fact. But overall, I'm just grateful to have an advisor who likes me and is willing to look over the letters, make minor changes, and sign her name. My previous advisor flatly refused, and that's why I left his lab, and it's also why I have a gap in my CV. It's not like I'm spineless, people!

Third, arguing about the best way to get recommendation letters is extremely naive. Clearly you don't understand that looking a gift horse in the mouth- especially a PhD horse with a PhD mouth- would be ridiculous. Jobs are so very scarce these days. An immense amount of anxiety goes into collecting these letters and sending out applications. For example, a few of the schools I'm applying to want 4 letters, not 3. Now I'm faced with the additional anxiety of trying to find a fourth person who knows enough about my current work, and likes me enough, and has time and is responsible enough, to fill that role. I don't have time for that! So I have to decide if there's any point in trying to apply to these places.

I talked to a friend yesterday who, for personal reasons (translation: wife can't relocate yet, she's still in grad school) turned down a couple of really awesome job offers last year. Instead he took a postdoc position, which is relatively unusual in his field, just so he could put off relocating for another year or two. So this year he'd like to apply for jobs again, with the aim of moving next year, but now he's really gotten himself into a bind. While he was a stellar grad student and had job offers even with no postdoc experience on his CV, now he's concerned because he thinks his postdoc advisor isn't too happy with him, and he's worried the guy won't write him a good letter. To me, this is an incredibly depressing story. But it's true: depending on how you're perceived at a personal level, getting more experience can actually hurt your career.

Fourth, and here is where I have to say that fundamentally I agree with the righteous indignation: why do we get jobs based on recommendation letters at all? On the one hand, we pride ourselves as being oh-so-objective as scientists. But the fact of the matter is, science is done by people. There is really no getting around it, at least until the protein folding problem is completely solved and predictable. Until every last base pair of every last genome is sequenced, until cancer and alzheimer's and parkinson's are all cured, science will be done by people, not robots. And working together is something scientists traditionally suck at. Collaboration has only recently become "the" buzzword of the job search.

So in my view, hopefully the recommendation letters are there to give some indication about how you are to work with, as a person, and maybe something about your independence and creative thinking abilities, which is to say, that your work was your own idea and not the PI's. But I don't think letters should be making any kind of subjective statements about the quality of your actual work. Your publication record should be the best statement about that. But I see all kinds of abuses in the system when it comes to letters. For example, I've seen people claim that their postdoc is on the verge of getting a Cell paper, when they were really nowhere near any such thing.

That said, anyone who hires someone for a faculty position based solely on their letters is a moron. Have you seen the statistics on the failure rates for young professors in getting and maintaining their first NIH grants? It's shockingly high. And it's hard to know if that's because young people are writing crappy grants, because nobody ever taught them how, or if it's because the system is biased in favor of the more established folks. It's probably some of both.

But based solely on the success rate of young professors at getting grants, one could hypothesize that these people suck, and they were hired for the wrong reasons. So then one must conclude that the hiring system is supremely flawed (she says, but if she gets a job, she will claim that it's working just fine!). I'd like to think that my friends who have jobs will mostly figure out what they're doing and manage to succeed, whether they're really prepared for what they've gotten themselves into, or not. But maybe some of my friends- and I can think of one, particularly whiny and arrogant one in particular- are exactly among those who will not get their second or third NIH grant, and won't get tenure. Only time, or majors changes in the system, will tell.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

The thick and thin of it

So last night I got a big (8 1/2 x 11") envelope from University Up North. In it was the usual affirmative action form (yawn), as well as information about the city, the school's benefits, and the department newsletter!!! I was pretty excited because I figure it either means:

a) This is a good sign
b) They're really concerned that nobody wants to move there, so they're pretty desperate (in which case I might have more of a chance!).

I'm going with (a) for now, since I figure a thick envelope is always better than a thin one. But I'd love to know if this is something some schools do for all their applicants, and they're just trying to brag about how great the school is, or if it's reserved for a select few & usually associated with a subsequent phone call??? Seems to me it's unusually cruel to brag about how great the school is if you have no intention of inviting someone for an interview.

In other news, this morning I got this lovely message from the wireless server when I tried to connect to the internet:

The device that this client is associated with has exceeded the allowed user limit.

WTF??? Nobody knew what that meant, and nobody else was having a problem connecting. After futzing with it for almost an hour with one of our local computer gurus, the connection came back just as magically as it had disappeared. Lovely! And always amusing to find out that no one around here has any more of a clue than I do.


Also had the luck to be invited to lunch with a friend who was having a bad day. I hadn't seen her in a while, and I was more than happy to escape for an hour. I rarely go out to lunch, so her bad day worked in my favor.

Anyway it made me feel like Ms. Problem Solver, since she's always having all kinds of horrible personal problems, including family members who are ill or insane, and the boyfriend who claims he's serious but then isn't terribly considerate of her feelings. Sometimes it's amazing how listening to someone else's complaints can make you feel so much better about your own life! And I think she'll be fine, part of it is that she's feeling really isolated as the one woman at a small company. I figure eventually they will a) hire another woman, or b) she will find another job. In the meantime she has to figure out whether she wants to try to c) hang with the guys, d) ignore them, or e) say something to her boss about how uncomfortable she is. I can't come up with any other options.

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Wednesday, October 05, 2005

I love feedback

Check out the new issue of Tangled Bank . GirlScientist nominated my rant about grouchy lab members- not my best work, I have to say, but I guess it's a universal issue. Anyway I'm looking forward to reading many of the other posts, including one by BotanicalGirl that I think I missed previously.

Anyway, thanks GirlScientist, I really do love feeling like someone out there is listening.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Job Search Stress with a capital J S S

I sent another one today. I'm up to about 30 so far. The only 'feedback' I've received are those occasional affirmative action forms you get in the mail. You know, the ones they swear won't be linked back to your applications? I think I mentioned this before, one of my friends noted that she only got those forms from places that rejected her outright. Our theory is that they have to get the paperwork done so at least they can say they had a certain number of women apply , even though they had no intention of actually hiring any .


Meanwhile I'm taking Tagamet, drinking Aveda tea and having nightmares. This morning's nightmare was bizarre, it involved some kind of large bear/dog-like animal arriving on the ocean, there were two of them. I was in a house on the beach, I think there may have been a couple of other people there, I think they were women. Anyway we were terrified the animals would get in, and we closed all the doors and I started to open the back window to escape. But then the animals got in and they turned into guys with red spots on their faces.

???? According to my dream book, dogs are good, the ocean is good, windows are good, I think. Nothing about guys with red spots on their faces.

Anyway, I am an expert at coping with stress, really I am. I exercise, I eat healthy stuff, and all that. I only drink 1 cup of coffee a day, but I think I should try to cut that out again, too. Very sad. I was so enjoying being able to drink coffee!

But I am wishing I had some kind of magical cure for this stress, since I am pretty sure it's irrational. Either I get interviews this year, or I don't. Either way, it's not the end of the world. So why do I feel like I have cancer of the puppy?

Speaking of Joss Whedon references, we went to see Serenity this weekend. It was great, btw. And I'm doing experiments again, which is kind of fun for the moment (until I find out whether anything actually worked).

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Sunday, October 02, 2005

Authorship antics

I think I've mentioned this in an earlier blog, so maybe some of you will remember hearing a little bit about this before.

Sometime last year I picked up several collaborations. One worked out in a timely manner. One didn't work out at all. Another was somewhere in between, and this is where the story gets interesting.

They originally wanted me to do one experiment, and fast. I wanted more papers so I could apply for jobs, so I was more than eager to get something easy to contribute and let someone else do the hard part. They were going to submit the paper shortly thereafter.

But didn't. And didn't. And months went by. I talked to them once or twice and they said they had gotten some really exciting new results and wanted to follow up on those and make the paper higher-impact, etc.

Ok, fine, I've got time, I thought, job applications aren't until the fall, and higher-impact is always a good thing.

More months went by. I never did get a draft of the paper from them, and I was thinking about it this week because I was looking at my CV and how annoying that was.

So I contacted them and they said, oh yeah, we're going to send it next week.

I said, you know, technically I'm supposed to get a chance to read it before that happens.

The response: we'll send you a copy the day before it goes out.

Now, I don't know about you guys, but I was required to take ethics classes. And I know this is not the way it's supposed to work. I certainly don't treat my co-authors this way when I do collaborations. So I'm seriously wondering if I'm going to have to take my name off this thing. At this point it's not going to help me anyway, since I've already sent most of my applications, with this paper listed as 'in preparation' (= totally worthless).

But hey, at least they let me put it on my CV. One of my other collaborators is too terrified of getting scooped to even let me do that-!

My gut instinct is that if it's really bad, I wouldn't even want my data in there, but I'm not even sure I can ask them to take my data out of it, or if I should just ask for an acknowledgment, or what. I'm only going to have one day- maybe less- to decide. And I don't imagine they would put in any edits I might want to suggest, since they're not going to have time.

I want to be especially careful because someone we know (distantly) is having a really hard time getting her grants, after having to retract some collaborative papers she published with a coauthor who later got caught for fabricating results. To me, that's really a nightmare scenario, especially in this day and age where you can't possibly know for sure, since you're almost always collaborating across (sometimes way across) disciplines.

At some point you really have to wonder if it's fair to hold the whole list of authors responsible for the sins of one greedy person, whom you're depending on to be the resident expert in their field.

And when the review process fails to detect it, you really have to wonder if the other authors should be expected to know. Since everything thinks peer review is so great and all that.

Anyway I let them know that this is not cool and in the future they should be more careful, but I already had the impression that my voice, especially since it's of a female pitch, will get filtered out.

Maybe I'm wrong and the paper really is amazing and really carefully controlled and I should just be glad to have my name on it. But I have a really bad feeling that these people tend to err on whichever side comes down in their favor.