Category Archives: science

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!

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

Infertility and academia

We often talk about how and when to combine having babies and an academic career, but we don’t often recognize (at least openly) that having babies is not something you can always plan. I was fortunate enough to not have to struggle to have my two children, but I have seen the pain and suffering that infertility causes very closely. This week is Infertility Awareness Week and TenureSheWrote has a great post about dealing with infertility as an academic scientist. Go check it out!

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Filed under academia, baby, health insurance, postdoc, pregnancy, science, women in science

My thoughts on (yet another) rejection

This morning I found out that I didn’t make it to the interview round of the homecountry fellowship I applied for. This was the second time I applied for this fellowship and the tenth time I applied for anything. This fellowship would make sure I could stay for another 3 years and have some time to apply for other things to try to establish my own group. You can only apply twice and this was my second try. For your reading pleasure I have organized these thoughts in two categories.

1. Pessimistic thoughts

Crap, now I only have 1 year and 3 months of postdoc time left if I don’t get another grant or fellowship. And with zero out of ten so far, why on earth would number 11 be more successful. Why would I even bother trying. If I didn’t get this one, why would I be more successful with a more senior fellowship? And why am I trying to get my poor little baby who is having quite some trouble sleeping at daycare used to this place if I’m going to then do something that a couple of reviewers and a committee think I suck at? Why have I spend the past four years as a post-doc instead of invest in trying to find another job? Because so far it seems the only skill I got from this is that I am remotely capable of dealing with a whole bunch of rejections. Is that useful anywhere?

2. Optimistic thoughts

Okay so I didn’t get this grant, but a lot of the review comments were actually pretty positive. It sucks that this one guy (yes I know who you are if you ask me to only cite papers from your own group) was very negative and said my CV was poor, but other than that they liked my ideas. The new lab that I will work in is headed by this professor who is really good at writing grants and might be able to help me improve. Also, I appear to be the only one who can do what I do in this group so they might want to try to keep me beyond the 1 year and 3 months that I have signed for now. And that would give me some time to try for the next things. Because I just found out that getting an ERC starting grant or the homecountry equivalent gets you a tenure track position at this university. Maybe if I get around this corner I can see the top of the mountain?

For the past two years I have told myself that if I got to ten unfunded grants I would stop and find a job outside of academia. But I think I’m going to try again. Because I tend to be optimistic most days.

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Filed under academia, decisions, disgruntled postdoc, finding a job, funding, grant writing, leaving academia, life in the lab, postdoc, review, science, women in science, worrying

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.

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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…

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

Advice for productive #naptimescience

Being still partly on maternity leave (I work 1 day a week in the lab, husband 4 days a week so Little Brother doesn’t have to start daycare until we are in the homecountry), I do most of my work as #naptimescience. This is tricky because you never know when it ends: sometimes you get a long stretch of productive time, but other times you have just laid out everything you needed to complete a task and then the baby wakes up and you have to stop. I guess kind of the same as for faculty as you never know when the next desperate grad student or disgruntled post-doc will run into your office to show you some ugly Western blog they just did. What I try to do to be productive during these unknown amounts of time is break things up in the smallest unit possible. When I have to write something I make bullet points of all the things that I have to write and then break the bullet points up into even smaller units. This way, I can take one unit at a time instead of being right in the middle of a lengthy discussion when the baby wakes up and then not know where you wanted to go next. When I do something else, like analyze data, do stats or make figures, I try to take notes of what I have been doing so that if I start again during the next bout of naptimescience I can pick up right where I have left off.

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Filed under academia, baby, disgruntled postdoc, life in the lab, maternity leave, postdoc, science, work-life balance, working mom