Category Archives: absurd

Why it annoys me if people say academics should work hard

I am annoyed and I think it is not because I can’t figure out how to hang our curtains that I just picked up from the store. It’s also not because our internet is very slow because the cable that goes into our apartment hasn’t been put in place correctly. (Sorry to my husband who I just called being annoyed with the things mentioned above, I found out I’m not annoyed because of that). I’m actually annoyed because of this blog post I read this morning. It’s about how you need to be the best post-doc in order to become an academic PI.  (it does actually have a bunch of good points about how to write efficiently and don’t waste too much time trying to get things to be perfect).

Sure, it should be possible for someone to work 37.5 hours per week and still get senior positions in academic science;  it should be the case.  However, I fear it is not.  And what incentive does the academic science have to change?  What universities have are a workforce who happily work their 37.5 hours per week and then stick an extra 10-20 hours per week on top voluntarily.  A workforce who don’t take their entire annual leave allowance.  A workforce who work when they are sick and rarely take time off.

So yeah, you need to work hard. I don’t think this is unique to academia. As I tweeted in response to this, I think academics aren’t special snowflakes who work for love instead of money. They are people too. And I think in every profession, the best people are at the top. The best soccer players probably are the ones who practice while others sit in front of the TV. The best garbage men are those who walk those extra two steps to get the garbage that people put a bit further away from the street. And the best academics are perhaps the ones that work 80 hours a week and never take vacation. But does it help anyone to keep repeating that? To keep saying that if you don’t work hard you won’t succeed? As someone who just took a month off in order to make sure our new place gets organized and our kids are supported while moving to another continent, I can so: No, this is not helpful at all. It just makes me feel like everyone is passing me left and right while I am busy being a mom and a wife and a very proficient IKEA-furniture-builder. I think we need to hear more of that: of how to be more than just a scientist and be very successful at it too.

So I’d much rather read things like this: You don’t need to work 80 hours a week to succeed in academia!



Filed under absurd, academia, disgruntled postdoc, efficiency, leaving academia, life in the lab, parenting, postdoc, role models, science, women in science, work-life balance

Judging science without looking at productivity?

The Netherlands has had its fair (or more than fair) share of scientific fraud. In an attempt to reduce this, the Dutch scientific organizations have decided to evaluate the quality of science using three instead of four criteria. This means they leave out “productivity” as a means to assess quality of the Dutch universities and institutions. The three remaining measures are “scientific quality”, “societal relevance” and whether the science is “future-proof”. The scientific organizations remark that this is a way to say that “more isn’t always better”. However, if you read further it says that scientific quality will be assessed by looking at output in the form of papers and books.

I’m a bit puzzled: productivity isn’t a measure for quality but quality is assessed by looking at papers? I don’t even want to get started about this focus on societal relevance. What will happen to all sorts of science that don’t immediately lead to curing cancer? And even worse: what does it mean that science has to be future-proof?

I think it’s important to make an effort to reduce scientific fraud but I’m unsure whether this is the way to do this. I think papers will remain the currency of science, and it seems impossible to assess scientific quality without looking at papers. Or am I wrong here?

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Filed under absurd, academia, authorship, cultural differences, ethics, in the news, review, science

On resubmitting grant applications

From the European Research Council (ERC) starting grant brochure:

A Principal Investigator whose proposal is evaluated as category C in the Starting, Consolidator or Advanced Grant calls for proposals under Work Programme 2014 may not submit a proposal to the Starting, Consolidator or Advanced Grant calls for proposals made under Work Programme 2015 and 2016.
A Principal Investigator whose proposal is finally evaluated as category B in the Starting, Consolidator or Advanced Grant calls for proposals under Work Programme 2014 may not submit a proposal to the Starting, Consolidator or Advanced Grant calls for proposals made under Work Programme 2015.
Only proposals that are scored as category A are funded, but sometimes this is only 10%. This means that everybody else, who is scored B or C won’t be allowed to resubmit for one or two years. As an explanation to this rule the brochure says the following:

These restrictions are designed to allow unsuccessful Principal Investigators the time to develop a stronger proposal.

While this sounds very friendly, I think this is a very strange rule. Because once you get review comments to a grant, you can use those to improve the proposal for the next round. However, if your score is not fundable, that means you can’t apply for the next year or even two years. And in the current job climate where for most jobs -at least in the homecountry – you need to bring your own money, this may mean you’re out of a job before you are eligible to apply again. Especially for the starting grant that is designed for early career researchers (-7 years post PhD). Not cool, ERC.


Filed under absurd, academia, disgruntled postdoc, finding a job, grant writing, life in the lab, science

The fellowship Catch-22

When you apply for a post-doctoral fellowship and the review comments say you’re not a very strong candidate because you haven’t received previous funding yet…


Filed under absurd, academia, disgruntled postdoc, funding, grant writing, life in the lab, postdoc, science

The ongoing debate about the control group

So we’re almost ready to submit a manuscript but there’s one more experiment that needs to be done. It will be the experiment many people asked for when I presented my poster at a meeting, so if it shows what we hope it does it will be a crucial figure in the paper. This was the discussion I had yesterday with my PI:
PI:”I don’t think we need to run the control animals, just the [disease model] group and the treatment group.”
Me:”I think it’s wrong not to include the control group, because people will want to see if the [disease model] group performs worse than the controls”.
PI:”We have shown that multiple times, I don’t need to see the control group again”.
Me:”I think reviewers will disagree”.
–rinse and repeat, have this discussion five times over, PI still not convinced, but said that we would do the control group “but only because I wanted to”. Fine.
Today: PI comes into our office and says:”If we do the control group I don’t want you to include it in the paper or do stats on it because then we’ll have to increase our n.”
Me: repeat all arguments from yesterday, now with steam coming out of my ears because I don’t understand how we shouldn’t include the control group. PI doesn’t want to give in and makes me feel like we only run the group because I want to.
Me:”I think that’s wrong. Also, I think people would want to compare to what extend the treatment improves the behavior in the [disease model] group.”
PI:”Oh okay, I guess that makes some sense. You’re lucky I’m so easy to convince.”
I almost gave in because it made me so angry I couldn’t convince my PI but I’m glad I stuck to what I thought was right. But this was almost another post about crying in science.

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Filed under absurd, academia, experiments, life in the lab

An animal model for psychiatric disease

Two rat syndrome:
Image source
 Okay maybe sitting inside waiting for Sandy to pass doesn’t make me much funnier…

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Filed under absurd, science

If David Lynch made kids’ TV…

Ever since I watched Twin Peaks (which was only like six years ago) I love David Lynch’ stuff. Whenever we go to a small town in the forest we have breakfast in a diner in the hopes of seeing an awkward lady with a log under her arm. Now there’s also David Lynch for kids in the form of Bumba, a Belgian-made TV show for kids (also available in English). BlueEyes loves it (although he loves any type of moving image; we don’t have a TV at home, but when we go to a restaurant he can be hypnotized by TV). 
Check it out for yourself, but especially the children dressed up as clowns clapping in an otherwise empty room make it feel very David Lynch to me.

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Filed under absurd, baby, television