“So, what do you actually do?”

(by Danielle) Jul 03 2017

Since leaving “the bench” I get a lot of questions about my work. I’ve written about my fellowship with Mozilla Science here before – the work is outside what I imagined for my career path, and very different from what I did during my nine years of bench work. I work on projects that advance open science. But the term “open science” doesn’t mean much without context. So, what do I actually do?

Open science means different things to different people. It’s an umbrella term that encompass a bunch of other ideas, research practices, and movements. To me, advocating for open science practices working to increase the transparency of science and people’s access to science.

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Under the umbrella: Open science includes using open source software or other tools that make research more transparent and reproducible. It includes creating inclusive environments and working to address equity and inclusion in the profession of science. Open science means sharing your work in a way where it can reach people, including sharing preprints of publications, posting data to data repositories, and sharing code (example of code and data shared together here).  Citizen science — when research is conducted with the participation of the public — is open science. Engaging in public communication about science and the creation of open educational resources can empower the public with a better understanding of what we do, and can begin to address equity and inclusion when diverse audiences are on consulted and considered. Open science encourages publishing in journals that are freely accessible to all, so anyone can read your work. Open access publishing enables access to knowledge and helps to dismantle the systemic gate-keeping has that has  disenfranchised scholars from communities and regions of the world, for too long.

Importantly, you don’t have to be already doing all these things to be an open science advocate in your field on at your institution. Some institutional IP policies restrict open source software development.Grad students often don’t get to pick where they publish, and supervisors often push for prestigious, pay-walled journals.  Resistance to preprints remains, though that’s changing. (If you can’t publish preprints of your work, you could start a preprint journal club to send authors feedback during the publication process.) Through my fellowship with Mozilla Science, I’ve trained people in how to use open source software, developed curriculum, discussed policy around open access and data sharing at institutions, and tried to facilitate interdisciplinary conversations about where science is now and where we want it to go.

So, what do I actually do?

My fellowship team is distributed, so we travel once a quarter to work together. These work-weeks are both an opportunity to work in the same room, and a chance to engage with the community where ever we are. I just got back from a trip to South Africa, which is the last big trip I’ll do as a fellow. On this trip, the 2016 Mozilla Fellows for Science and Mozilla Science lab joined Mozilla Science staff and special guests Chicago Hive’s Kenyatta Forbes and new Kent State faculty and 2015 fellowship alum Christie Bahlai! Together, we are research scientists, data scientists, community managers, and advocates for open scholarship practices. We gathered for a week of discussion, workshops, and exploration in Cape Town, South Africa where we were graciously hosted by Spin Street House, an inspiring co-working space in downtown Cape Town. I’ll break down this trip as a week-in-the-life of a Mozilla Science fellow and open science advocate.

Travel: Cape Town is about as far from the West Coast of the USA as you can possibly get, so I’ll skip the part where I flew for over 24 hours to get to Cape Town. Teon and I arrived a little early and prioritized finding the best coffee in Cape Town.

 

Monday: On Monday, I woke up in Cape Town after spending Sunday hanging out with my fellow-fellows Teon Brooks, PhD and Bruno Vieira. We’d checked out the Etherpad, which is an collaboratively editable document where we work out the schedule for the events and activities, to prep for the week. We pinged the people we knew in town and made some last minute invites to our event on Thursday and Friday.  I had a few people I was hoping to connect with. One was Jeremiah Pieterson, a librarian at University of Cape Town and an advocate for open access to scholarly work with SPARC Africa, who I met in 2015 at OpenCon in Brussels. And another was Mmaki Jantjies, scholar, advocate for women and girls, writer, and Head of the Department of Information Systems at the University of the Western Cape.

We started the week with coffee and an introduction to Kenyatta Forbes. Kenyatta is the Community Manager at Hive Chicago and, like, so so much more… more here, here, and here. She joined us in South Africa to learn about our curriculum and process, and we were excited to have her there to learn from her and gain her perspective on our challenges. Although we need community buy-in to accomplish anything in academia – whether it’s launching a new course, to changing a policy, to challenging the status-quo – we don’t often learn the skills that can help get things done. One spectacular thing about this fellowship has been the emphasis on community. Working with Kenyatta for a week, I learned tools and exercises from her that’ll help me better document what’s happening and be constructively critical of my vision for community in open science.

Tuesday: Funding is on everyone’s mind. There have been eight Mozilla fellows so far, and of them three have stayed (or will stay) in academia. While the five that are no longer in academia aren’t applying for research grants, most of us are still engaged in the non-profit world to some degree. On Tuesday we devoted time to discussing the funding landscape for nonprofits, the pros and cons of becoming and nonprofit, and where our projects might fit into the landscape. Well truthfully, as the fellowship as almost over, this conversation started on Sunday as soon as we’d had coffee and continued for the entire week. Looking for funding is like dating? Or is it like applying for a job? How do you network, when you’re a little bit desperate, without appearing desperate? We tossed around a lot of metaphors and ideas, but my fellow-fellow Kirstie said it best when she commented “The most important principle is to look for connections you can build between people, rather than looking for stuff for yourself.”

Wednesday: This was a ten month fellowship. At the beginning of a ten month fellowship, it seems long enough to accomplish almost anything. At the end, it seems like it was barely enough time to start. On Wednesday we worked on our talks for Thursday evening’s event, spent time to document our fellowship projects, and discussed ways of communicating our work. To this end, we worked on resumes of all our fellowship projects and events – check out my fellowship resume (I am inordinately proud of the emojis).

Thursday: We took a half a day off to visit Robben Island, but the ferry was not running due to rough weather. We opted to tour around Cape Town instead!

We then returned to Spin Street House to prep for the Working Open Workshop (WOW). The workshop sessions on Friday are designed to help participants learn more about our curriculum, run through how to teach the material, and discuss their communities needs. Thursday evening was reserved for lightning talks and mingling!

Steph getting the party started at our Working Open Workshop kick-off party.

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Lightning talks from fellows and participants kept the energy high on Thursday night. Christie talked about using other people’s data to teach research data management and analysis, Teon talked about democratizing access to science through open source, open hardware, and the Do it Yourself or DIY ethos. I shared my perspective on playing the long game in my local community. Bruno enlightened us all about the volume of genomic data in the world today and discussed growing his online open source community. Kirstie described her thought process through setting up her new lab at the Turing institute and assured us all that while she sounds very fancy she is just faking it until she makes it. And Jeremiah Pieterson of SPARC Africa told us about how libraries are advocating for greater access to scholarly resources and knowledge across Africa.

Friday: In the past, WOWs have invited participants to bring projects to in-person workshops to progress through a series of sessions designed develop open science, open community, and open source initiatives. In South Africa, our goal was to work closely with a small group of community leaders to train and catalyze them to disseminate the Working Open Workshop modules (or the spirit of the WOW process)  in their own communities. As the fellows and staff in attendance are all based in the global north, we have worked mainly in large well-funded Western universities.  We can’t tell participants what will work in their local South African scientific and scholarly communities and were eager to get the perspective on what works and what doesn’t in South Africa. We tried to create welcoming spaces for our participants to connect with each other and talk about their communities, their priorities, and their visions. We worked together to create definitions of the terms we use, like “open”, that are meaningful for our participants.

Collaborative definitions of Open in South Africa:

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Cape Town Working Open Workshop participants and session leaders!

At the end of the day, we made friends and learned from each other… and then had a fantastic dinner where bibs were required!

So, what do I actually do? It’s some teaching, but on my best days it’s probably more learning than teaching. It’s a lot of writing (and rewriting) of grants, talks, papers, and informal communication (like blogs and tweets). I run workshops and give a lot of talks – I can now give a talk with almost no preparation. On the highest level, I try to understand people’s perspectives and needs so that I can connect them and their projects to new colleagues and collaborators. I try to help people find the tools and resources to do their best work. I advocate for research practices – skills, workflows, cultural norms – that will make for a better and more inclusive future for science. And, sadly, the fellowship is almost over. Through this fellowship experience I’ve been able to prioritize developing “soft” skills like communication, public speaking, strategic planning, and project management. For now, this is the type of work I want to keep pursuing. I want to keep working with scientists to work for the future of science. I’ll keep you posted on what’s next!

*Parts of this post is repeated on the Mozilla Science Blog… because there’s only so many hours in a day.


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Moving on: or not.

(by notarealteachers) Jun 27 2017

I am a high school science teacher and I love my job. I love most of it anyway, which is probably better than most people feel about their jobs. Teaching is challenging, relational, and I get work both collaboratively and independently. I talk about science all day, but I also get to engage in engaging discussions about gender identity and the use of technology in education. I spend the summer off with my small, quickly growing children. And most importantly, I feel like I am really, truly making a difference in the world and its future citizens. Most days, anyway.

And despite all that, I’ve recently felt a need to make a change: I’ve been feeling stagnant and ready for forward momentum in my career. I’ve been trying to identify why I’m feeling this way, and I think it boils down to wanting advancement. As a teacher, there is limited room for growth and virtually no merit-based income increase. I make comically little money, given my education background. Sure, I could go into administration at some point, but I really love science.

When I stumbled upon a position for a local company that produces products for the science classroom, I decided to apply. The job description seemed to be written with my experience and career goals in mind. I found myself energized as I filled out the application and updated my resume. My husband was supportive and edited my documents for me. A week after I submitted the application, I was notified that I had a phone interview. As I prepare for that interview, I can’t help feel conflicted. I love my job—but I am ready for the next phase. So maybe it is time to move on, work more and try something else.

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I wrote the first half of this post before my phone interview. I had what I considered a moderately successful phone interview with the HR person at the company, mostly asking whether I’d be open to travel (I said yes, even though I was/am unsure about how this would work with two little kids and my husband’s job) and how I’d used the company’s product in the classroom. When asked for a salary requirement, I gave a range that was overlapping with the salary range they planned to offer for the position (which nearly TWICE as much as I currently make–it is possible that I sounded a little too excited at that possibility). We hung up, she told me she would notify me about the next phase by the end of the week, and I wrote a thank you email to follow up.

In the days the followed, I continued to feel conflicted. I love my job, and would be sad to leave and miss the opportunity to perfect my curriculum. I had been looking forward to trying some of the new Next Generation Science Standards in my own classroom. On the other hand, the job that I had applied for, despite the travel, seemed to align perfectly with my vision for my next career stage.

So when I didn’t get an in person interview, I was surprised and disappointed. I reached out to the HR person with whom I’d interviewed, and here is a summary of her response: she said that as policy they didn’t provide specific feedback to applicants, but they had received an overwhelming response. All the candidates selected to advance to the next round met all of the posting qualifications (I thought I did too) and had “substantial” teaching experience.

To me, this says that my handful of years of high school teaching was not what they were seeking. Despite this clear explanation for not advancing to the next round, I cannot help feel like I am having trouble making the leap to the next career phase. In the last few years, I have been a finalist for two fellowships (AAAS Science Policy Fellowship and ASHG Genetics and Education Fellowship) that I hoped would allow me to pursue science education policy and/or curriculum development in new and different ways. I have what I consider “substantial” teaching experience, public speaking experience and technical writing/editing skills. So, while I recognize that the field that I am aiming to break into is narrow, I’m not sure what I can do to better prepare myself. Feel free to comment with suggestions!!

In the meantime, I feel lucky to have the opportunity to spend the summer with my kids and take another run at my classes next year. I am telling myself the same thing I tell my students: failure is brave, inevitable and a chance to grow. Though somehow my internal voice is less convincing that my teacher voice.


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Portrait of a Computer Scientist

(by peirama) Jun 23 2017

I saw this blog post by a friend from grad school so I thought I would share.

My favorite part is this:

I have to add, even if you think or know you’ve been invited to an event, either to give a talk, chair a conference session, organize a workshop, sit on a thesis committee, “just” because you’re a woman and the organizers want balance, don’t let it phase you. You’ve been given this opportunity. Go ahead, make the most of it and show them they were wrong to think of you under the header “woman” before they thought of you as an expert.

Enjoy!

https://blog.f1000.com/2017/06/20/show-them-they-were-wrong-to-think-of-you-under-the-header-woman-before-they-thought-of-you-as-an-expert/


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A quick guide to interacting with a reproductively active woman in the workplace

(by sweetscience) Jun 14 2017

Doc-momma

Doc Momma designs lab coats for pregnant doctors.

Most of us here at Portrait of the Scientist as a Young Woman have had some very awkward interactions at work before and after having a baby, which shows us that many people are not comfortable speaking with a reproductively active woman. Since being pregnant is such a physically obvious state, and very exciting for most people, others somehow feel compelled and permitted to talk about it in a way they would never get personal with anyone else. You’ll want to avoid situations like these, which actually happened to us:

Student: *looks at belly* *giggles*

Me: Hi, how are you?

Student: *looks at belly, giggles* Um, good! *giggles*


Female co-worker I’ve met briefly twice: You’re pregnant! *rubs baby belly*

Me: *eyebrow raise death glare*


Male colleague: Are you going to be breastfeeding? Where are you going to pump?

Me: Well, there’s a lactation room, so probably there.

Him: You can use my office if you want.

Me: …No, thanks. The lactation room is fine.


Colleague: Have you and your husband been watching birthing videos?  Because you need to watch them.

Me: Um, yes, a few.

Colleague: Have you watched any up close?  Because there is a lot of gross stuff that comes up when the baby is born, you both need to be prepared.


Colleague: I was right behind you walking to work today.

Me: Oh.

Colleague: You don’t look pregnant at all from the back.  But you definitely waddle.

Me: Um…


Male colleague, after complaining about how unfair it is that I am taking maternity leave: I know I’m not supposed to say stuff like this but I think it might be better if women just took 5 years off to focus and raise their kids.


Post-baby:


Male colleague: You look… *stares at belly* less…

Me: Yes, I had the baby, she’s 3 months old now!


Colleague: Weren’t you… pregnant?

Me: Yes, I had the baby, she’s 3 months old now!


Here are some tips for more comfortable interactions and avoiding getting too personal – feel free to use, share, or add your own in the comments!

 

Pregnancy

  • Take a cue from her. If she doesn’t bring up her pregnancy, maybe you shouldn’t either. It’s usually not relevant for most work situations.
  • If you must say something, make sure you’re 100% certain she is in fact pregnant. Otherwise she may not have told her boss or coworkers yet, she may not be ready to talk about it with you, and she may be offended.
  • Don’t even mention her body. Unless it’s to say “You look great!” and nothing more. Why would you do this with a co-worker under any other circumstance? And certainly don’t touch her belly. Just don’t.
  • Do not assume or suggest that your pregnant colleague is disabled. She very likely knows what she can or cannot continue to do in the workplace as her physical condition changes. If you see her in a meeting or at the lab bench, she belongs there. An offer of assistance is generally welcomed by anyone; suggestions that she should not or cannot are unwelcome.
  • Unless you are in a professional role where you can make accommodations for pregnant or lactating women in general, there is no need to ask about her plans and preparations, especially where or whether she will be breastfeeding/pumping. If you are her direct boss or genuinely think you can help, simply say, “I am here for you if you need help making accommodations during pregnancy or for lactation. You can talk to [health and safety, HR, etc.] about this as well.”
  • Family leave time is an important time for all new mothers (giving birth or otherwise), as well as fathers. You have no idea how she feels about the length of her leave or her personal struggles surrounding working and spending time with her child, so please keep your opinions about appropriate leave time to yourself.

 

Post-baby

  • Maybe people are worried that something bad happened during delivery or with the baby medically and are afraid to ask specific questions. Just keep it general: “I haven’t seen you since you were out on family leave – how is everything?” She’ll probably be happy to tell you exactly as much as she wants to about her baby.
  • Do not ask for any details regarding the birthing process. Hopefully you would not do this for any other medical procedure a colleague went through, and birth is typically even more personal.
  • Again, no comment on her body is needed beyond, “You look great!”
  • If she is pumping at work, it can be very difficult physically, emotionally, and disruptive to her work schedule. Trust that she is doing the best she can to work out her schedule, it is not a “break”, and anyone mentioning or complaining about it will not improve things and only make her feel worse about an already difficult situation. If she needs to schedule something with you around her pumping time, simply work with her like you would with any other colleague with a scheduling conflict.
  • Nothing gets older than hearing “Are you getting any sleep?” Because of course she’s not, and this goes for non-birthing parents as well. Sleep is a sensitive issue for parents of newborns. Tired doesn’t begin to explain how one feels with a brand new baby (or two babies in my case). Don’t tell a new parent that they look tired. And don’t mention to a new parent how tired you are, or on the flip side that you got to sleep in or take a nap on the weekend.

As with any colleague, try to be warm open, and understanding, and you will go far!


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Ideas for a science TV show

(by torschlusspanik) Jun 07 2017

Post March for Science (that I could not attend despite this post), I have been thinking of how to maintain public’s attention on science and to submerge science even more into everyday life.  What would make people think science is “cool,” “fun,” “important,” “necessary,” “beneficial,” and ultimately where a big part of our investment for the future should go.

Grassroot outreach is essential and crucial, and we should keep doing it.  However, are there “quicker and easier (dirtier)” ways that can reach out to more people?

These days what media reaches out to more people fast?  TV?  Podcasts? Video series on Youtube?  Websites?  Facebook groups?

I personally do not watch any TV anymore, but think that TV may still be the best way to distribute “cool science.” In podcasts, web series, or social network groups, one needs to find it, like it, and subscribe it. On TV, there is still an essence of forced feeding once you turn on TV and choose a channel (you watch what TV network executives deemed worthwhile to air).  And yes, science will have to be highly entertaining for TV network executives to deem worthwhile.

There are currently well known science TV shows – Cosmos, NOVA, Bill Nye, Mythbusters, etc. These and other shows usually are more of a lecture-like format.  “This is very cool, and here is a 10-minute explanation of why/how cool it is.” You have to actually pay attention to understand. For many people TV is a pleasurable and relaxing activity, and may not want to turn full attention to comprehend. Could we brainstorm for a show that can make science more fun, funny, engaging, easily sunk in, and can be broadcasted on major networks during prime time?  

What TV shows are getting high ratings these days, and how can a science show be one of them?  

“America’s got Science”

I have never seen this show (ok, I’ve never watched any shows I’ll mention below except for the last one), but what I understand is that people showcase their talent in front of audience and judges. The audience, judges, and viewers then vote which performers should advance to a next level of competition and ultimately win a monetary prize. Could we do something similar with science — scientists showcase their research with cool visuals and presentations, and non-scientist judges and audience ask questions. In the end viewers and audience vote on “which science is cooler,” and award grant funding to a winning scientist/project.

Science is no competition (well, aside from grant reviews — collaboration) especially across disciplines. Who is to say which science is cooler or better without personal agenda and interests. But in the name of entertainment… Judgement and ranking would probably be based on how well presentations “looked,” and might not necessarily on the content (but this happens in real science, too, am I not right?)

 

“Extreme Makeover: Science laboratory edition”
“Hell’s Lab”

A struggling lab must find a way to strive again, with a guidance of a PI guru.  

I already cringe just thinking about what form this might take.  It would be painful to watch…

 

“Survivor: Scientist edition”
“Big brother: Scientist edition”
“Bachelor/Bachelorette: Scientist edition”
“Dancing with Scientists”

Ok I kid.

 

“A sit-com in a laboratory setting”

I always thought a laboratory is a perfect setting for a sit-com. Whenever there is a group of smart, overachieving, and driven people budding heads both figuratively and literally, hilarity and drama are bound to ensue. America TV has Big Bang Theory, but there is space for more nerds on TV, people passionately pursuing something. There is enough laughter in labs, while performing DNA precipitation, looking at specimens under a microscope, or, brushing dirt off dinosaur bones. Maybe one can crowdsource plot lines and episodes from different labs all over the world, across disciplines, for a such show.

 

“Is It True TV?”  

All of the above ideas are knock offs of American TV shows. The idea for this blog post actually originated from importing a Japanese “variety” TV show, translated “Is It True TV (Honma Dekka TV)”.  The show gets high ratings in Japan and covers lots of science. The show is hosted by one of most popular comedians in Japan, with no science background, and features a panel of academics and experts “the intellectual mass,” including a biologist, environmental scientist, psychologist, economist, exercise physiologist, educator, neuroscientist, lawyer, and others from various fields. The show also include non-scientist celebrities, who are there to ask questions, comment, and offer comic relief. The show is taped in front of a studio audience who are very audibly reactive when surprising or unexpected information is presented. Every week there is a theme that is relevant and/or useful to everyday life, i.e., “How to live healthy,” “Latest in medical advances,” “How to be popular,” “How to succeed in love life,” “How to have healthy relationships,” “Personality traits: how to know them, and how to deal with people with different traits,” “Successful child rearing methods / education,” “How to best save money,” “Internet common sense,” “Dangerous habits,” and so on.  

Most information presented by the academics and experts are drawn from peer-reviewed journals (sometimes demographic studies, too). Granted they might stretch implications to add to the shocking value, but they usually mention who conducted the study, sample size, and experimental design of studies they draw from.  

Each show starts with a presentation of one finding, which makes the audience and guests to react, “Is it true?” “really?” “no way!” and the academics take turns sharing various information, facts, and research findings associated with the topic.  For each subsequent presentations by the academics, the host, guests, and audience react and either agree, disagree, or ask more questions.

In one episode of the show with a theme of “the Great Mother,” the show opened with a research finding that mothers’ love received during childhood prevents illnesses well into middle ages. The host, guests, and studio audience reacts, “really?!?!”  A medical doctor introduced the study which demonstrated that those who perceived mother’s love while growing up – whether their moms understood issues and were present when needed – were less likely to develop diseases often associated with growing up in poverty.

The MC asked, what about fathers?  The same doctor claimed that currently (at the show’s airing), there is not much research done on fathers’ love.

Then one of male guests requested, “please research this right away!”  “I took my son to a park today, and are you saying there is no benefit in my doing it?”

The neuroscientist on the panel chimes in, “there is!” “The more a father spend time with his kids and teach about rules, the kids are more likely to learn and develop persistence .” [As I searched for this article, I found more studies on father’s role on child development.]

Another psychologist (parent-child relationship expert) continues, the benefits of mother’s love extends throughout one’s lifetime.  Those who were raised by a mom with good moods are likely to be more optimistic and adaptable in their adult life (I could not quite locate an article with this particular finding, but found similar findings).  

Other information provided by the experts included:

  • Children of mothers who had morning sickness are likely to have higher IQs.
  • The fat content of breast milk increases as baby drinks, giving the sense of fullness in the baby and stops feeding, and allows for more milk production in mothers.
  • Babies fed breast milk is less likely to develop allergies (I found this to be controversial in my own lit search).
  • Lower risks of breast and uterine cancer for women who breastfed.
  • Women who breastfed are less likely to get Alzheimer’s disease later in life.
  • Babies cry at night to prevent parents from making more babies – to increase their chance of survival and monopolize parents’ love and attention (I actually said “hmmm, really??” to this one).
  • Infants’ smiles are sufficient to decrease mothers’ interests in other needs and wants (I could not find a reference for this either

These studies were provided with banters between the comedians, celebrities, and academics, sometimes making fun of each other and sharing their own anecdotes for laughs.  

It is definitely an entertainment/comedy show, and not a strict educational show. Perhaps that is why it is gaining high ratings. And yet the show still does a good job of bringing science to everyday life.  The academics and experts are becoming celebrities on their own; they are publishing books, making appearances in other TV shows, and touring the country on speaking engagements.  Why should have more scientists be like heroes and celebrities, like the GE commercial, or be pursued by fashion designers to dress like movie stars.

I envision more scientists like Neil Degrasse Tyson and Michio Kaku to appear on media, but not just from astrophysics but representing different scientific disciplines. I’m sure there are many scientists with big personality and charisma who can entice and engage the public.  Who is up?

As for a TV show, would a funny science TV show lead to more funding in science?  ….hard to say.  Though I might go back to watching TV if a science show that makes me laugh out loud existed.  So TV producers, what about it?


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Choosing a research question – for science or for the public?

(by sweetscience) Jun 01 2017

There is increasing pressure and urgency for scientists to be visible and accessible to the public, but also to choose the most important and appealing research in an uncertain funding climate. To whom are scientific researchers beholden in the choice of research studies to perform? To the funding agencies who sponsor us? To the taxpayers who ultimately fund those public institutions? To ourselves to carve a niche and promising career path? Or purely to science, to go where the data and your passions take you?

A recent article in the Atlantic described one extreme – research demonstrating the lack of a link between gluten and heart disease – not because there was any reason to believe that such a link existed, but precisely because there was no evidence that one should, and yet many popular books, diets, and people espoused this idea. The researchers argue that this is how science should work – people of the world have an idea and scientists demonstrate whether there is evidence to support the idea or not.

I strongly support this approach on principle, but I have to wonder if it’s the wisest course of action today. Is it wasteful to spend precious resources on research questions that have no basis and minimal chance of adding to knowledge that will improve the human condition or the world? To be clear, I absolutely support research for the sake of knowledge, and hope it is widely understood that future revolutions will come from today’s explorations for the sake of curiosity, like cell phone capability relied on a foundation of knowledge from Hedy Lamarr’s invention of frequency hopping in the 1940s, which couldn’t be implemented with the technology of the day. But when we’re talking about biomedical research like the study mentioned above, would those resources be better spent on investigation of mechanisms and treatments for real ailments?

Furthermore, using science to disprove a popular misconception doesn’t seem to work, as has been the case for the supposed dangers of vaccines. The translation of information from scientific findings to incorporation into the public mindset and practice must be fixed for this to be effective.

These days I’m just hoping we can maintain a funding level that covers research that runs the gamut, from scientists like me, following the data and trying to help human conditions, to pure exploration, like some of my favorite researchers.


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Attitude Adjustment

(by strongerthanfiction) May 27 2017

So many things in my life are colored by my expectation and attitude. From when I was, I dunno, a middle schooler, my parents would tell me to try to be happier. Smile more, they say; don’t be such a sourpuss. One of my rather large flaws has been to get stuck on a certain thing and not be able to move past it. My partner, bless his soul, has taken the brunt of this often stressful reaction. I don’t know why it is that relationship that means the most in my life that I put to the test the most.

So, every few years, I try to make a resolution to really put that part of my personality under the microscope. For me this time, it involves several things: relationship, being a mother, family, and work. Below I discuss a couple of these things.

With my relationship, things still feel like they are in the adjustment phase after having a child. And, I do feel like I have made some headway in the “being too critical and upset” department. But, unfortunately, I think it is because I simply just don’t have time to worry about anything but eating, sleeping, trying to workout, and the catch up on the day basics. I often don’t have the ability or time anymore to worry about who is going to plan dinner, or take care of the dog. Whoever gets there first, and if it becomes urgent, there is just simply less sleep to be had. So, having to let go of things out of necessity over the last year of being a mother has had an overall positive effect on my relationship because I just don’t have the time to worry about some of the small stuff anymore. I am simply thankful when my partner takes care of something that I don’t have to feel overwhelmed with managing everything.

Work, on the other hand…. there is room for growth here, and I feel like I am going in the opposite direction. When I started at government job a few years ago, it was like heaven compared to being a postdoc in terms of available time for family and pay. And the work is extremely interesting to me. I was so confused about those coworkers who fit the stereotype of government workers – always complaining about how the system is so unfair, and how they are going to rebel by just not working as hard. It was beyond me at why they seemed to make everyone’s life harder (including their own) by being a pain in the ass. Well, here I am a few years later starting to understand. This I find my self stuck in this negative thought process of being inconvenienced and not appreciated, and feeling slighted. However, past me would have been completely understanding of this situation, and laughed off the mishaps of the week as being innocent misunderstandings that have minuscule effects on my life. I have learned to be as informed as I can about govt policies and procedures because no one else is going go to bat for me, except me. But really, my situation is no different now that it was a few years ago, so why am I starting to make mountains out of molehills? I guess because when everyone else is building up all these mountains around me, I feel pressured into building my own mountains. But there is no need to do that. I need to push back against this a a lot harder; shift my attitude.

 


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When Your Postdoc Mentor Switches Institutions, or The Amazing Community of Women in Science

(by ragamuffinphd) May 18 2017

I am 9 months into my first postdoc. I am 6 months pregnant. I will be unemployed two days after my son is due to be born.

One month ago, my postdoc mentor announced that he has accepted an incredible promotion at a university on the other side of the United States. For several reasons — including having just relocated my family, the strain on my husband’s career and the expectation of a neonate at the time of the Great Move – I will not be translocating with the lab.

My “mentor” made clear to me last week that he will not be renewing my contract two days after I give birth even though he will remain at my institution for another 1-3 months. Even though he will renew current university contracts with at least one other postdoc for several months and lied to my face about doing so. My Postdoctoral Union, the Academic Resource Center and the university Business Office have nothing to say about this. I have no protections in this situation; it is my “mentor’s” choice.

I have spent three quarters of the last month in debilitating pain because my dentist managed to kill a perfectly healthy tooth and pregnancy hormones exacerbated the effects of necrosis, inflammation and infection (lack of effective painkillers did not help either). The other quarter of the month I spent frantically scouring my current institution for potential academic postdoc opportunities in a sea of unknown or inadvisable labs. Labs that are very unlikely to be willing to contract a woman who would just entered maternity leave at the time of ideal onboarding. By this time, I may or may not have transferable salary from any of the three fellowships I’ve just finished applying for. Likely the latter, which prevents me from sweetening the deal.

‘Just find a new postdoc position by next month,’ my “mentor” advises. ‘That way you can spend a month or two in the new lab before going on maternity leave. No one would refuse you a position because of the pregnancy, that would be outrageous.’ He proceeded at my overly laudatory request to recommend potential employers who were strikingly ill-suited to my career goals or experience.

“Mentorship”.

Given the timing of my imminent unemployment and my need for not only neonatal care but regular treatments for my autoimmune disorder, avoiding a lapse in health coverage is – for the first time in my life – a priority over my career aspirations. In a time when COBRA and biologic therapy are unaffordable, my husband and I must re-budget dramatically to pay our mortgage and loans and keep our neonate (and ideally, myself) alive. I have therefore stretched my feelers into a world I was not prepared to join for several years if (and only if) I could tell with more certainty that professorship was not in the cards: non-academic science.

Mid-pregnancy does not feel like the right time to be making a career-altering decision that could mean closing the door to academia for good. Then again, if my choice is between sacrificing my family’s well-being for a sliver of a chance at a reasonable academic postdoc or sacrificing my pipe dream for a potentially happier and more rewarding life, the latter is my clear choice. This is not what everyone should or would choose in these circumstances. This is likely not what I would have chosen 5 years ago. But I love what my life is becoming and am prepared to shift gears if it means being able to do rigorous, ethical and productive science in a healthy way.

Despite the extraordinarily strenuous timing, this transition is somewhat of a blessing as I have had a miserable 9 months with my current absence of any form of mentorship, the embarrassing dysfunction of this world-renowned lab and the excruciating oppression of both my “mentor” and a male adjunct faculty. This is my way out without being the one to set fire to any bridges.

While most days I feel lost and hopeless, I am grateful to no longer be in debilitating pain and I strive to protect my active little belly parasite from my own distress. I am fueled now more by adrenaline and awe of the circumstances than by fear and depression. And I have benefited from some wonderful advice.

You know who has advised me? Not my male “mentor” who has all but thrown me into the gutter. Women. Women who are senior post docs in my lab. Women who write for this blog. Women who have agreed to interview me for positions in their labs at my current institution. Women who have talked through the circumstances of my potential unemployment and financial crisis with me. Women who have helped me identify solutions. The woman who I interviewed with today.

The ball is rolling in a sluggish but mostly forward direction. Today I have hope because of the women I have met in science.


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March for Science

(by peirama) Apr 27 2017

ScienceMarchPhoto

More umbrellas than signs by the end of the Philly Science March. Impressive how many people stuck around despite the bad weather!

Many of us here at Portrait of a Scientist marched in the March for Science this past weekend. Judging from the numbers across the country, many of you did too. Here are some of our thoughts.

peírama:

I marched because I support science. Not just because that is what I do for a job, but because I know how important it is for the world and humanity. I believe that to be true for all of the scientists who march. You do not have to be a scientist to appreciate the power of science, but being up-close and personal with it does make that easier.

I spent some time  before and after the march tabling for my local women in science group. I was really impressed by the number of people who were excited to sign up to get the newsletter and to attend happy hours. I was also impressed by the number of parents and kids who came by interested in our outreach program. I’m so excited that our group can have an impact on the next generation, not just by making more scientists, but hopefully also making more people who are not scientists as their job, but who are science-literate and appreciate science.

I hope that the march opened some people’s eyes and piqued their interest. I hope that this is not an isolated event but the beginning of a movement, where scientists are more active outside of the lab, both in sharing their science and in getting involved in shaping the future of our country. My sign said: “Resist! Science is Power!”

Danielle Robinson:

I was so impressed with the way my local march organizers handled the organization and run of show. True, I couldn’t really hear the speakers. But that’s because I was running around with a couple of little kids looking at real brains and learning to titrate. I didn’t even get to march with my group (see previous sentence about little kids). Instead I ran into OHSU friends, Science Hack Day friends, OpenCon friends, and made new science friends. Oh, and I saw a lot of great signs!! Like this little guy, these badass witches, these very sick salmon, and – I didn’t catch her – but someone got a great shot an OHSU researcher who is really too busy for this.

While all this was going on, I was in touch with my fellow-fellow* Teon Brooks, who has been tirelessly dealing with organizational challenges and holding calls for 600+ people as the Co-Chair of Partnerships for the Science March DC. He hung with Bill Nye – think he had a pretty good time.

I had a great experience and feel invigorated to continue advocating for science and science education on the local and national level. I met fantastic people at local organizations that I’d like to partner with and had a great time!

*Call for Mozilla Science Fellowship applications is OPEN. Yes, they really reimbursed 6k worth of childcare expenses. It’s been a truly transformational professional experience, I blogged some advice, and I am happy to talk if you’re considering applying, @daniellecrobins.

Megan:

I marched for science in my new city, Philadelphia (though I wish I could have marched with these guys!). Despite the heavy rain, a really diverse group turned out, many carrying signs, wearing lab coats, or dressed in costumes. A man dressed as Ben Franklin served as a reminder that scientific thinkers played a key role in the foundation of this city and country. Kids marched with their parents, and I had my baby in a stroller. 314 Action was represented, urging scientists to run for office, and letting us know about upcoming local political races. However, the overall tone of the march and speakers seemed more pep rally than political. There were even ‘science cheerleaders’, wearing tracksuits and waving pom-poms.

The most memorable moment of the day for me was when one of the speakers at the rally asked the crowd if all the scientists could raise their hands. I raised mine, and was surprised to see that only about 10% of the people there had their hands up. A young boy in front of me said in awe to his dad, “Look at ALL the scientists!” Meanwhile, I was thinking, “Look at ALL this support!”

Like a lot of scientists right now, I’m struggling to stay funded, to even maintain my job, stuck in a seemingly never-ending application process for a more permanent position. It’s hard not to get discouraged, and easy to think that what I do doesn’t matter to people– especially because of the current political sentiment in America and the blithe acceptance of ‘alternate facts’ by the governing administration and the public who elected them. But standing there, shivering in Saturday’s rain, were thousands of people who came out in support of what we do, who want to fund research, who believe that science can create a path to a better future, and who are willing to fight for it. It was incredibly affirming.

My own sign read, “Science doesn’t care if you believe. It just is.” I wanted to convey the message that there are objective truths that simply aren’t subject to negotiation. When the oceans rise because of global warming, are politicians going to stand in waders in the rising tide, legislating against it? Will they argue belief systems about evolution with antibiotic resistant microbes?

In Carl Sagan’s words, “For me, it is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.” On Saturday, it was wonderful to be surrounded by people who felt the same way.


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Silent Spring Book Club

(by sweetscience) Apr 20 2017

We recently read Silent Spring, the classic exposé of the impact of pesticides written by Rachel Carson in 1962. The book details the use of these chemicals, and the severe but overlooked impact on the environment, from widespread destruction of wildlife and domestic animals to the frightening and ubiquitous exposure to humans. Leading up to the March for Science and Earth Day, we thought this was a fitting example of the importance of scientific analysis of public concern, and the value of communicating these ideas and findings with the public.

Silent Spring

What impressed you most about the book?

Megan: What’s not to be impressed about? This book created an irrevocable social awareness of the detrimental effects of careless pesticide use, spawned a coherent fact-based environmentalist movement, and provided the legal and social leverage necessary to create the EPA. David Attenborough said that Silent Spring has probably had the most impact on the scientific world after Origin of Species, and I think he’s right.

Carson did this by creating a concise, clear, and convincing narrative. She doesn’t pander, doesn’t go on self-indulgent tangents, and is neither overly technical nor emotional. Her passion for her country and its natural beauty, however, becomes obvious through the unrelenting accumulation of anecdotal and documented evidence she meticulously catalogues regarding the destruction wreaked upon it by the wanton and widespread use of pesticides. She uses facts instead of rhetorical devices and scare tactics. The amount of gumption, research, persistence, courage, and hard work involved in the production of this book is humbling.

Carson is an inspiration to anyone who aspires to write or communicate about science—and even more so when you remember she was largely excluded from the academic scientific establishment because of her gender.

SweetScience: It is amazing that Carson pulled all this together when, as noted in E.O. Wilson’s afterward, ecology was not a supported science, and conservation biology was not even a thing! It takes a really special mind to be able to synthesize information from seemingly different realms to come to new big ideas; and to be able to then communicate all of the research to capture the hearts and minds of a lay audience is astounding.

What surprised you about the book?

SweetScience: I was shocked at how many times the same mistake was made without any regard for past experiences – states employed programs of mass pesticide use with little reason, destroying life, often in incredibly visible ways, like hundreds of birds and other animals writhing and dying in plain view, and virtually always without success eradicating the intended pest. How could they not have researched this before making the choice?

Megan: I’ve recently heard a lot of people, typically right-wing, crediting Carson for the wholesale ban of DDT. These people also blame her, and the environmentalist movement, for millions of malaria deaths worldwide. So, I was somewhat surprised to read that her position was much more nuanced. She writes: “No responsible person contends that insect-borne disease should be ignored. The question that has now urgently presented itself is whether it is either wise or responsible to attack the problem by methods that are rapidly making it worse. The world has heard much of the triumphant war against disease through the control of insect vectors of infection, but it has heard little of the other side of the story—the defeats, the short-lived triumphs that now strongly support the alarming view that the insect enemy has been made actually stronger by our efforts. Even worse, we may have destroyed our very means of fighting.“ In other words, blanket spraying of DDT leads to insect resistance to DDT. So, if blanket spraying in high concentrations were not conducted (sometimes for agricultural reasons), DDT may have proved a more effective weapon against insect-borne diseases. This is what Rachel Carson was arguing for: the use of powerful chemicals according to scientific, evidence-based, careful practice– as scalpels rather than anvils, as precision tools to cure a specific ill rather than to kill indiscriminately.

Needless Havoc

What questions did the book raise for you?

SweetScience: Since the book was published in 1962 and focuses on events of the preceding decade, I was constantly wondering how much was still true about regulations, which chemicals are commonly used, and especially whether agencies and people ignore the evidence and warnings in choosing to use mass application of pesticides. And then unfortunately that question was partially answered by the EPA’s recent rejection of scientific evidence of chemical harm. I also want to know about the differences in organic farming, especially what pesticides are allowed and how much they have been tested. I really wish there was a modern response/annotation to the book that outlined how things have changed since then.

Megan: Sooo many questions…. As a society, we’re currently facing down threats to our environment and public health, and we’re being led by a political administration with little regard for science, or even facts. How can we most effectively deal with the threat of Zika, while learning from the lessons of Silent Spring? What will the impact of the repeals of EPA regulations under Donald Trump and Scott Pruitt be? What would Rachel Carson do today? What can we do, as citizens and scientists?

Who would you recommend the book to?

SweetScience: I suggested this to someone who cares a lot about preserving the environment and is really worried about the current state of government control on these issues.

Megan: Scott Pruitt.

Also– environmentalists, feminists, scientists, science writers, US historians, politicians, voters, policy-makers, citizens, farmers, teachers…

But mostly Scott Pruitt. I may even mail him a copy.

The Other Road

Here are a few excerpts that resonated with us.

Megan: “For mankind as a whole, a possession infinitely more valuable than individual life is our genetic heritage, our link with past and future. Shaped through long eons of evolution our genes not only make us who we are but hold in their minute beings the future– be it one of promise or threat”.

I just love her writing style: “[Genes] hold in their minute beings the future”… I don’t think I’ve ever read anything about genetics phrased so eloquently!

SweetScience: “Have we fallen into a mesmerized state that makes us accept as inevitable that which is inferior or detrimental, as though having lost the will or the vision to demand that which is good?”

The description of the introduction of natural predators to maintain a forest ecosystem in the chapter “The Other Road” really struck me with its final note that “Much of the work of caring for the ant colonies (and the birds’ nesting boxes as well) is assumed by a youth corps from the local school… The costs are exceedingly low; the benefits amount to permanent protection of the forests.” which is really something to aspire to: community understanding and involvement to maintain precious resources.


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