Tuesday, February 03, 2009

To the website formerly known as Change.gov

Dear President Obama and VP Biden,

On your website, you wrote:

Promoting Women in Math and Science: Women constitute 45 percent of the workforce in the U.S., but hold just 12 percent of science and engineering jobs in business and industry. Women also make up just 9 percent of the recipients of engineering-related bachelor's degrees. President Obama and Vice President Biden believe that every student should have equal access to education in math, science, and technology in order to compete on a global scale.

I'm writing to ask what you're planning to DO about this. Your website talks about "promoting" but I don't see any plan of action?

Actions speak louder than words.

Right now, I'm looking at being UNEMPLOYED as a woman with a PhD in Science and >5 years of Post-doctoral research experience.

Where's my promotion?

I'm looking at grants and and university policies.

Here's what needs to change.

1. NIH should allow ANYONE AND EVERYONE with a PhD to apply for ALL GRANTS.

Grant review should be done WITHOUT regard to past performance, depending ONLY on innovation and, if necessary, preliminary data (which, by the way, I have in spades!).

Just in case you don't understand why I'm telling you this, it's because the current funding mechanisms are:

a) Hierarchical
b) Archaic
c) Terribly biased (both with regards to gender and, dare I say it, ethnicity)
d) Exclusive of young people

Don't you like the support of the youth? Well, "young" investigator in science-land is anyone under the age of 40 (or maybe 42, when you get your first real grant in the current system?).


Where do you think the innovation comes from? Those 60-year old tenured professors?

Come on, really?

2. Universities should allow ANYONE AND EVERYONE with a PhD to apply for GRANTS AND LAB SPACE.

Currently, universities are blocking everyone post-PhD and pre-faculty from applying for independent funding. They do this because lab space is tied up with teaching responsibilities, which when you think about it.... really makes no sense.

To put it simply, at universities all over this country, we have faculty who don't teach anything, and researchers with no lab space of their own.

We have thousands of young, hardworking, trained researchers who are all going to quit science if you don't do something about it PRONTO.

Even better, YOU paid to train us. You, the government. The taxpayer. You paid to train us, and now you're going to have to start over from scratch. You know all those articles about how there's a dearth of scientists? There's two things you need to know about those.

1. They're TOTALLY FALSE. There are PLENTY of scientists, we just don't have the resources we need.

2. The fears about having a shortage of actual scientists are about to become true, if you don't act now and do something about it, you'll lose a whole generation (or two) of young people who wouldn't touch science as a career. Wouldn't even consider it when they see the job prospects. And they'd be totally justified, too.

My point being, this problem should be totally avoidable, but NIH and university policies make no sense. Put them together, and the "system", such as it is, was never designed to work as a a system, and instead it works against any kind of national research progress (especially health research, which you claim to care about!) .

You may be wondering why I'm writing this now, when it's maybe too late.

I'm writing this now because I'm hearing two rumors.

Rumor 1. That the Stimulus Plan (the name of which frankly sounds like the economic version of a pornographic fluffer).. wait, I lost my train of thought. Oh, right. That the Stimulus Plan has, in the current (recent?) version, money for >1000 2-year grants.

Rumor 2. That the NIH part of the Stimulus Plan is on the chopping block (thank you, Republiscum who would rather cut taxes, like that's really going to help anything).

If Rumor 1 is right, then you have to make sure these grants are AVAILABLE and ACCESSIBLE to researchers at ALL LEVELS (even women! even non-faculty!).

If Rumor 2 is correct, none of this matters, and you've got your work cut out for you.

Uh, good luck. Have fun running the country




Thank you for your inspiring speeches, they're great. But actions still speak louder than words.


If this isn't sufficiently clear, feel free to contact me via this blog and I will happily explain it to you and your support staff.

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At 11:02 PM, Blogger Phagenista said...

You forgot to mention the faculty who are post-research yet who guard their labs with their lives. The labs are still full of (university-owned) equipment, often unavailable to active researchers, but completely empty of people... Those are the spaces I'd first put up for postdocs with independent funding.

A major problem with postdocs running their own labs at their postdoc institution, however, is the lack of startup with which to purchase basic equipment. The funding agencies expect you to have your own PCR machines, beakers, pipetmen, etc. already. So either the postdoc has to arrange to use equipment in others' labs, buy used equipment online out of pocket, scrounge for several years amassing discarded equipment (this worked for one friend of mine who doesn't mind his lab coming from the 1960s)... or the funding agencies would have to change their mind about what equipment, and at what level, they fund in a regular grant.

At 11:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yep yep - I'm waiting with you. We are all fucking waiting. Science limbo is just as bad as science hell. It ain't heaven.

In the meantime, GO CHINA! WOOT.

There was a commentary on a news show today which talked about blue collar jobs vs. 'professional jobs.' The asshats were saying that the govt can employ more blue collar people because they are cheaper than those with degrees, and that the stimulus plan should focus on blue collar. FUCKING GREAT.

Education is over-rated. HEY OBAMA - PAY MY STUDENT LOANS TOO!

At 11:28 AM, Blogger Ambivalent Academic said...

Fanfuckingtastic post! I don't even have anything to add. Seriously, I think that you should go to DC right now and say exactly this on the House and Senate floors, because they're the ones who may out the goods on the chopping block.

PS - When the hell are they going to fix stupid blogger so it stops generating all these random links?

At 4:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Award of grants should not depend on past performance but only on innovation and preliminary data? I don't know...I mean, how do you prove that you are capable of carrying out the proposed work if given the money, except through past performance? How else do you prove that you're not just a big dreamer but also a doer? (what do you mean by past performance though? if you mean past grant awards then I fully agree with you because how can you get your very first grant if by definition that IS going to be your first meaning you've not had one before? everyone has to start somewhere, right? unless we are supposed to expect some kindly old senior professor to transfer PI-status of their grant which they won over to us, is that how we are supposed to get our first grant??)

I agree about the irony that politicians are always lamenting about the supposed dearth of scientists in this country. Well, yes there is a shortage of scientists BECAUSE the surplus of qualified people waiting in the wings and eager to work, are denied jobs....so how can the government complain that there aren't enough scientists, when they are they are responsible for denying the majority of scientists their livelihoods? Or are they lamenting that there's a dearth of scientists who will work for free and without salary, benefits or professional security?

At 7:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

OMG, did you read this week's Nature? It has depression written all over it. Science sucks - when it comes to the cold hard cash facts

At 10:56 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

From my inbox this morning...

So, here we go... I am ready to stand up and go to Washington... how about you?!

"I am writing to alert you to efforts underway this morning to zero out a large portion of the science funding from the Senate American Reinvestment and Recovery Act as a part of a $77.9B reduction effort led by Senators Ben Nelson (D-NE) and Susan Collins (R-ME).

As you know better than most, science and technology are responsible for half of the economic development of the United States since WWII and yet, if current trends hold, some, such as the Business Roundtable, have predicted that 90% of all scientists and engineers will live in Asia within 5 years.

The United States simply MUST renew our investment in the single greatest economic engine this country has ever known. Small federal investments in scientific research have helped produce things like the internet and the transistor that have consistently delivered multi-trillion dollar economies.

The United States is at a critical juncture, and if this concerns you we suggest now would be a time to contact your Senators and urge them to support science funding. Here is what is being proposed to be cut from the bill, according to TPM:

NASA exploration $750,000,000 = 50%
NSF $1,402,000,000 = 100%
NOAA $427,000,000 = 34.94%
NIST $218,000,000 = 37.91%
DOE energy efficiency & renewable energy $1,000,000,000 = 38%
DOE office of science $100,000,000 = 100%



At 4:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

to follow up from Anon@ 10:56, this just in on what did get cut from the stimulus bill

Fully eliminated (these are agencies that provide funding for science research): NIST, NASA, NSF, Homeland Security

At 7:21 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

How do you know that the current funding mechanisms are biased by ethnicity?

Lots of good stuff in the post, though.

At 8:27 AM, Blogger The Urban Scientist said...


At 5:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't forget NSF, which we geologists have to go through for our science money (not all of us work for oil companies).

An example of stupidity: As a master's student last summer, I wrote a grant to NSF for a large multi-year project that would vastly improve the department I'm in and make it a regional resource.

Who did 95% of the work? Yours truly.

Who's name gets to go on the proposal? That's right, my advisor's.

What's wrong with this picture?


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