Category Archives: authorship

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

Is it okay to cry in the lab?

So I almost did it again this week; so much stuff was not working, or breaking, my rats were getting sick for no good reason and on top of that the lab got into some serious IACUC trouble (not my fault, but it does involve the protocol that I work on). All this together literally made me cry. So I took a couple breaths and realized that this is also part of doing science, and that it is just what I do and not what I am.
But this is not the first time this has happened. I cried when I was writing my first paper (because my PI wanted it finished before I was allowed to go to a conference and my co-PI had a lot of other things to do before he had time to look at my manuscript), I cried when I applied for a fellowship and didn’t get it, and I sometimes cry when I work very hard and things don’t go as I want to. In all these cases I usually cry for a bit but then walk outside, drink some coffee, eat some chocolate, and carry on (I have the feeling that crying for a short while to then be done with it works way better for me than to keep ruminating about it).
However, there is also this other type of crying, when I am so angry or frustrated about something and there is no other way to say it but crying (and I don’t mean the cute crying when one beautiful tear runs down your cheek, but the ugly kind of crying with red spots on your face). By far the worst occasion that this happened was at the end of my PhD. My thesis project was turning out quite well and we were thinking of submitting it to a High Impact Factor Journal. However, for this it needed some extra-sexy technique that our lab didn’t have. So we turned to our upstairs neighbors who gladly accepted the invitation. Some time and a lot of frustration about who was going to do the sucky part of the experiments (like injecting animals on the weekend (that turned out to be me)) later, the experiments showed what we hoped they would and I started writing the manuscript after I had asked my PI and co-PI whether indeed I would be the first author. They assured me that that would be the case. However, during a meeting with our upstairs neighbors, the upstairs PI said that his grad student should be shared first author with me. Still, I was pretty sure that my PI would say that that wouldn’t happen, but instead he agreed. He later told me he mostly agreed because he wanted to continue to work with the upstairs neighbors and didn’t want to upset them (I would imagine DrugMonkey would have something to say here). Anyway, I was pretty upset since I felt that I had done most of the work and since my PI has said that he would back me up when I asked him, and that all came out in that meeting accompanied by a flood of tears. (what I omitted from this story to make it less recognizable were the various personal relationships between people in the different departments).
My PI later told me that he felt that I should have walked away before I started crying and that I should have said I wanted to talk about it later. I’m not sure if I would have ever been able to say how I felt without crying. And even though I surely hoped that I didn’t have to cry about it, I felt that I did get my point across. I still believe that there was just no other way. 
The irony of the whole situation was that the paper did get accepted in Pretty High Impact Factor Journal, and that journal did not allow more than one shared authorship. And since my PI and upstairs PI were co-last author, that made me the first author.
What do you think about crying in the lab (or at work in general)? And please, don’t think that all I do is cry all day; I laugh, scream, and dance in the lab too!

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Filed under authorship, life in the lab, neuroscience, publishing papers