Thursday, October 31, 2013

Where manuscripts go to die

The other day Dr24hours wrote about when you decide to abandon a paper because a bunch of journals do not want to publish it. Personally, I think that if you’ve come to the point of a completely written paper, I would never abandon it, but just send it anywhere (with perhaps a lower impact factor) instead of having it die in a drawer. However, what happens in this case if you’re not the senior author on a paper?

For example, I worked in a lab for 9 months during my master’s training (which in my homecountry is required before you can enroll in a PhD program). I did a lot of work in that lab and became 2nd author on a paper that (at the time) was relatively novel and interesting (now, 10 years later, it’s not novel anymore at all). The grad student whose project I worked on was the first author and the PI was the last author. They submitted it to a pretty okay journal that rejected it. And then the grad student left science, and the PI assumed a position with a lot more administrative work and neither of them was interested in trying to publish the paper anymore. I’m still a little sad about the fact that my CV doesn’t show the work that I did (and that my H-index isn’t 1 point higher because of this…). However, in this situation I don’t think there is much I could have done.

But what if you’re a grad student or a post-doc and your PI is not interested in publishing your papers, because they are either not suitable for high impact factor journals and therefore the PI is not very eager to publish them (this happens, I’m sure) or because the PI is leaving academia? (this also happens) What if you have a finished manuscript but a very uninterested PI who does not care to look at the manuscript let alone submit it? (and I know some of you think that this will never happen, but trust me, it does). When I was afraid this might happen I decided that I needed at least a decent first author paper from my post-doc, so I took the following measures: 1) I got a collaborator involved who helped me a lot with writing the manuscript, and who was helpful in setting deadlines to get the paper out. 2) I sent it to a lower impact factor journal than I might have otherwise because I had an invitation for a special issue at that journal. This way I was pretty sure it would get reviewed and published relatively quickly and I wouldn’t end up with a manuscript with good review comments but no possibilities to address these comments.

So what else can you do when you’re feeling like you’re beating a dead horse trying to get a paper out that you need, but that the other authors don’t really seem to care about?

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Who pays for your laptop in the lab?

My graduate advisor did not like desktop computers. Ze was under the impression that people don’t really care for their desktop computers and they quickly get filled up with crap and then become slow. The lab only had desktop computers that were designated for things like the qPCR machine. So we all needed to have laptops. I think this is nice, because then you automatically have a computer if you need to work from home. However, my graduate advisor only paid for 150 euros a year (~$180) towards the purchase of a laptop (and mind you, this came from someone who hirself used laptops like lab notebooks: when one was full, ze would just buy a new one). Considering a graduate project in my homecountry takes 4 years that meant that you got $720 for a laptop (unless you worked on your own laptop for a year, and only then needed a new one, then you only got 3 years worth of money…). Given that I worked in a lab where we did a lot of “big data” type stuff, it basically meant that if you wanted to be able to still process data in your fourth year, you needed a laptop that was more expensive then what our graduate advisor would pay for.

Currently, I am in a lab where most people have desktop computers but some (including me) prefer get a laptop instead. I like to have all my stuff in one place and be able to work from more than one spot without having to remember to put my files on a hard drive or in a dropbox. My current PI paid for my laptop, and for some (but not all) people’s laptops in the lab. The rule was that if you got your own fellowship, you could get a laptop (however, as you might know I did not get a fellowship, but did get a laptop). But after nearly 3.5 years of daily use (to work in the lab and at home but also to watch TV at home) my laptop broke. I don’t have a fellowship yet to pay my own new laptop, and since I will only be in the lab for 5 more months, I decided that I didn’t want to ask my PI for another new laptop. So now I am working on a laptop that I paid for myself. And I know of more labs where people are required to bring a laptop to do work, but have to pay for those themselves. And I understand money is tight and all that, but if lab equipment and consumables are so much more costly than computers, why don’t some PIs equip the people in their lab with decent computers?

Friday, October 18, 2013

My thoughts on harassment

It took me about a week to gather my thoughts after I read that this happened earlier this week. And even trying to write this post now, I’m having a hard time to put my thoughts on paper. It seems like “it’s not that big of a deal” is engrained in me. Like @AmasianV wrote: “Because [these remarks I got] never really affected me much at the time, so why make a big deal out of nothing??” 

Thinking about this all week made me wonder: have I been harassed? I have got remarks on how I looked, comments on my body (especially when pregnant) and the occasional “you look very young” in a setting where it was not necessary to comment on my body or my looks. I wasn’t trying out to be a cheerleader; I was trying to convey my science. But at the same time I don’t mind getting compliments on my outfit for example, so that makes it kind of a grey area sometimes. I'm not sure I would be in favor of eliminating any comments people can make in this regard, but the hard part is that different people have different levels of what is acceptable. This makes it important to say something when you feel that line has been crossed.

What is worse about this, and I only fully realize that after this week, is my inability to speak up when I get comments I feel uncomfortable with. Sometimes it takes me a good 15 minutes to realize I just received an offensive comment and to come up with something to say in return. Other times (and this is much worse) I’m afraid that speaking up will come at a cost for me. If harassment happens in a professional situation where you are harassed by someone who is your superior I would be afraid that it backfires. For example, what if you tell your PI not to make certain remarks anymore and he takes it the wrong way? Even in the situation where you don’t work for this person anymore, you’re still reliant on your PI to get papers out, to get letters of recommendations and to stay in the club of scientists that you try to become a part of too. And I’m not sure if filing an official complaint makes these outcomes better or even far worse. So even if you recognize that a comment someone made makes you feel harassed, it takes a boatload of courage to speak up about this. 

It makes me wonder: what can we do to make this easier and how do you make sure speaking up doesn’t ruin your career? So my #ripplesofdoubt aren’t so much about whether I have got to this point in my career because of looks or whatever, but more about whether it is possible to do something about this without destroying where you are.

Monday, October 14, 2013

We made a co-sleeper!

Normally, I save all my craftiness for in the lab. When not in the lab, I don't really enjoy making crafty things, and if I ever attempt, I'm horrible at finishing projects. This is illustrated by the fact that I have several unfinished craft projects in my old room in my parents' house. Nowadays, I just don't really try it anymore. But last Friday Dr. BrownEyes and I did a very crafty thing: we made a co-sleeper from our IKEA Somnat crib and our IKEA Malm bed. Ours is not as fancy as this example from a slightly different crib, but I'm still very proud of the result.
We used this equation:
The Malm bed.
The crib that BlueEyes used for maybe 2 months, after which we realized we kept walking back and forth and he kept ending up in our bed anyway.
A huge bed, so prospective baby can co-sleep safely.
In short, we removed the side of the crib (which is a feature this crib already has), we elevated the crib with wooden blocks and since the Malm bed has a wooden edge next to the mattress, when elevated just enough, the crib mattress can lay on that wooden edge and align nicely with the big mattress. We pushed the crib against the wall and the bed against the crib and will fill the hole on the left in the crib with rolled-up towels, so the two mattresses are snug against each other.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Late to the party but I am #standingwithDNLee

As Dr24hours said: "If you haven't been under a rock the past couple days you already know about this". I wasn't under a rock, but I did not have time to switch on my laptop this weekend and I haven't mastered the art of posting something from my phone without getting too annoyed trying to cut and paste links.. What happened is this: DNLee, a scientist who writes a blog called "The Urban Scientist" and who happens to be female and black was asked to blog for Biology Online. When she asked how much she would get paid and the response was zero dollars, she declined and then the guy from Biology Online CALLED HER A WHORE.... You can read the whole story here because her own blog post at Scientific American got taken down...
I'm sorry that this happened and I agree with the numerous other people who posted about this that the one thing that can help here is to create awareness about what happens to women and minorities. Even if it happens a little late....

Friday, October 4, 2013

Neuroscientist Dick Swaab says gender specific toys are a natural consequence of brain development

My homecountry is getting ready for Sinterklaas, which means lots of people need to buy toys and the large toy stores send these big books full of ads to people. Bart Smit, a large toy store in my homecountry, sent a book full of ads containing this one:
Translation of pink text:"You want to be as good as mommy!"

Indeed, not very gender neutral, and it gets even worse when on subsequent pages all the sciency toys are advertised with just boys.

Last night this was discussed in one of my homecountry’s late night tv shows “Pauw & Witteman”, where one of the guests involved in this discussion was Dr. Dick Swaab, a neuroscientist and former head of the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience. You might think that a scientist is well aware of all the sociological science showing that when girls are presented with stereotypes like this (pink vacuum cleaners, women being the ones doing housework while men do science), they perform worse on things like math and science, and that therefore it would be good to try to get rid of these stereotypical images. On the contrary, Dr. Swaab stated that both research on monkeys and his own experience with his son and daughter (yes, n=1) showed that girls like to play with dolls and boys like to play with cars. He literally said that the only time when this is not the case, is when individuals have been exposed to toxins in utero. So according to him, it was totally justified to show people these stereotypical images of girls doing housework and boys doing science, because that was what they were programmed to do anyway. Yay neuroscience…. Perhaps not surprisingly, at the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience, out of the 20 research team leaders, only three are female. I could not find on the website how many of the people that clean this institute are male and female for comparison…