Thursday, January 27, 2011

Quick tips for TT interviews

It is interview season in my fields, and we have a few searches going on here at ProdigalU (and keeping me out of trouble). I know I've blathered on about interviews here, here, and here before, but more tips can't hurt, right? Here are a few things I've been noticing this time around:

  • You MUST be able to answer questions/think on your feet. If this is a weakness, practice! When you give a practice talk, ask your colleagues, friends, or labmates to grill you. Even the best prepared talk will not erase that "deer in the headlights" look.
  • You should be able to articulate the central problem(s) your lab will working on and how many people you need to do this.
  • Both your job talk AND your chalk talk need to be accessible to people outside your sub-field. Everyone gets a say on the candidates (even if only the committee votes).
  • Your research plans should look like they will last more than then next 3-5 years.
  • Be ready to answer questions about your competitor labs--who are they? What will be special/different/better about your lab or approach? What is your edge? Do not position yourself in competition with your advisor(s) if you can avoid it.
  • You should be able to articulate clearly why you need anything on your startup list (especially the really expensive stuff and/or stuff you could potentially share) AND talk about the research significance of the resulting data.
  • You don't need to propose formal collaborations, nor do you need to know what everyone in the department is doing before you arrive. However, if after meeting with someone one-on-one, you see a new overlap possibility, it is a great idea to mention it in your chalk talk! We had someone do this to nice effect.
  • Try to behave like a colleague (but not an arrogant ass). If you feel and act like a student or postdoc, the faculty will respond to you like one. If you feel and act like a colleague, the faculty will see you as one.
  • Be nice to the students! We listen to them.
Good luck to all those on the TT job hunt this year!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Quickie Mendeley review update

For anyone following my Mendeley experiences, I just updated to the latest version, and the integration with MS Word is much, much nicer. There is now a hotkey to use (instead of just the toolbar), you can search in a toolbar that pops up within Word, and it is even easier to add multiple citations at once. I am revising a paper this week, and I am much happier with this new version.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Choosing a journal when writing a paper

We are about to start writing a manuscript in an area that represents a change in direction from all of my prior work. My usual journals are not really a good fit for this work, so I am thinking hard about where to send it. Even in the age of Google Scholar and Web of Science, I think journal selection is important (especially for those who are TT and earlier in their careers).

At National Lab, where bean counting was becoming more and more important, the impact factor trumped all. All raises and promotions had to be justified to non-scientists and/or former researchers in a wide array of fields. To make things easy, they would rank papers by impact factor, regardless of field. This is hugely distorting, since a great specialty journal in physics can have a smaller impact factor than a decent specialty journal in biomedical research (just due to the number of researchers in the sub-field). To get ahead, many people would find the journal with the highest impact factor that would publish the research.

My preferred style is to find a journal where my target audience is likely to read it. So if I am doing physics-type measurements on a protein, I would prefer to put it in a physics-type journal (where others might pick up on it and find it useful) rather than a protein-type journal where most readers could care less about this physics-type measurement, even if the impact factor is lower. Even though my bean-counting impact might be lower, I am counting on the actual impact being higher. What is the point of a high-impact publication if no one reads it? That said, when DrugMonkeyasked people about their citation practices, many commenters said they prefer to cite papers from higher impact journals, so clearly impact factor must be balanced with target audience.

This type of selection is much easier when I am intimately familiar with the sub-field. In that case, I know well which journals I read and cite, and can select accordingly. In this particular case, I don't have any knowledgeable colleagues or collaborators I can talk to, but that is generally my first stop in deciding where. How do you all pick where to submit your work (especially work in a new area for you)?

Monday, January 17, 2011

The kerfuffle about UC Davis

I've been thinking a lot lately about the public shaming of a pregnant vet student at UC Davis, the response of the administration, other academic scientists, and related situations. First of all, I really appreciate the extensive coverage by Dr. Isis on this issue. This is something she was able to do because of her track record in issues of women and science, and her approachability such that fellow vet students at UC Davis felt comfortable in mailing her.

I am totally horrified and yet (unfortunately) unsurprised that a professor decided to treat a student's personal and academic lives as something to be commented on by her fellow students. I have a really hard time believing that Dr. Feldman would have conducted a poll to deal with how to evaluate a student who got hit by a car. I also find it hard to believe that something like this (an extended absence from class due to outside issues) has never happened to him before, given that it has already happened to me twice!

To be honest, though, I am more upset by the comments from current students. It is depressing beyond words to see the sexism (conscious or unconscious) displayed by many of the student commenters. I get that some students felt defensive when they saw their University being talked about in an unflattering way. But seriously, if UC Davis didn't want this to be news, Dr. Feldman should not have polled his class. In the age of the Internet, there is NO WAY this would have stayed a secret forever.

It is really frustrating to see the number of young scientists defending the status quo. How can this possibly ever have been appropriate? Why should students get to 1) know the personal situation of a fellow students and 2) get to comment on it? Does anyone really think that if the pregnant vet student had been a male student in a car accident that Dr. Feldman would have polled the class on what to do? Anyone who has EVER entertained the notion that for real equality, we just need to wait for the racists, sexists, and homophobes to die is seriously delusional, and this is just the latest evidence.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Tenure clocks, stopped and otherwise

FSP has a really interesting discussion of tenure clocks and women in science over the last two days. Basically, she is responding to yet another call for allowing women to stop their tenure clock if/when they have kids on the TT, this time from a NYT article discussing recommendations released last year by researchers at Berkeley.

On day one, FSP notes:
What North American universities do not yet have this policy?

Can anyone name names? Can we make a list? I think there should be a list, easily accessible by an internet search, of universities that donot provide for tenure clock-stoppage for the birth or adoption of a child. Does such a list exist? If not, let's start one here.

As I would have expected not a single commenter listed a university where stopping the clock was not an option. As many commenters noted, there is a huge difference between what is technically "available" and what is culturally acceptable. I think that tenure clock stoppage is easy for universities to offer to look "family friendly" and not effective in retaining more women for a few reasons.

1. It's the culture, not the policies! Putting lipstick on the women-unfriendly academic culture pig won't change the pig. If people (not just women, although that might be more noticeable due to their relative underrepresentation) are leaving the TT because their daily lives are unpleasant, a stopped clock means nothing.

2. Many women in science don't want kids, so this policy has no impact on them and why they leave the TT.

3. No paid parental leave means tenure policies have little chance to help parents who can't afford to go without pay. And not just without pay--workers out on FMLA have to continue to pay their share of health insurance costs, and sometimes their employers' share too. Real (paid!) parental leave is far more helpful and "family friendly" (and also more costly to implement than tenure clock stoppage).

4. Many people are not convinced (and possibly rightly so, considering the comments here, here, and here) that their stopped tenure clock will not count against them.

As I've said before, I think many of the "pipeline" problems for underrepresented groups in science are symptomatic of professional work culture in the US in general. Discussing things like tenure clocks is easier than trying to change an ingrained academic culture where work is given priority over nearly everything else in life. I am lucky to work in a truly family friendly department, but that is local culture. I certainly am well aware that many people are not nearly so lucky.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Long delayed Mendeley review

Way back in August, I started playing around with Mendeley after getting annoyed with Endnote. I said that I would write up a review after I had been using it a while, and I think I have enough experience with it to compare it to Endnote.

There are many things I really like about Mendeley. I really like reading papers in it, since I can save notes about the paper that I can search and share if so desired. Searching inside pdf files also works very well, and it is much, much easier for me to use Mendeley than to try to remember which paper I was thinking of and then open it in Adobe Reader. I never really got into Endnote's pdf features--the pdf search and import features were buggy and irritating when first introduced, so I never got into the habit of using them.

The pdf import feature in Mendeley works very well for me. I was able to convert over most of my library directly from my pdf files. This also works well with my new literature review system. Now that I am trying to use RSS to keep up, it is very easy for me to download pdfs into a directory that Mendeley watches. I also use Web of Science for searches and download pdfs through there. This is a huge improvement from my old system of exporting Endnote data, then importing the reference, since bibliographic imports happen automagically. Correcting errors in imported files is really easy, and can be done manually or via Google Scholar search. I spent a bunch of time initially correcting entries, but now I don't really have to. There is a pretty decent time investment in importing hundreds of pdf files at once, especially if you want to be able to properly search by author (since the author names MUST be imported properly for this to work). I did not try importing my Endnote library, but that is another option.

There are a few downsides I've found to Mendeley. I find the cite while you write interface a little clunky. It is not unusably so, and it is really easy to find the paper I want to cite using Mendeley's search functions. I thought the same about Endnote's interface, so this wasn't a major downgrade for me. One minor quibble--it is not possible to do unrestricted edits in the bibliography generated by Mendeley. This is something I have only just started playing with, so I am not sure what exactly I did to cause Mendeley to complain about it.

One big issue I discovered is that Mendeley and Endnote DID NOT play well together in one document I was working with. The references got corrupted and I had to strip out all the references and redo it all using just Endnote (since that is what my collaborator uses), which was really annoying. This is hopefully just a minor glitch for me, but may become a problem when I am writing with collaborators who still use Endnote. I haven't had this problem in some of my own documents (updating old proposals, for example). I plan to avoid on using two reference management systems in the same document as much as possible, but be careful if you do!

Mendeley was very disappointing in one area, and that is in keeping a library synced between two computers. I used to use a laptop and a desktop, and I tried to use Mendeley to sync my library between them, but this caused me lots of grief. I had lots of duplicates in my library, and Mendeley sometimes lost track of where the pdf files were on my laptop. I have solved this problem for myself by switching to using one computer (a laptop with a dock), but this seems like a feature in Mendeley that needs a lot of work, but could be very useful.

I don't really use the online features of Mendeley much, but in theory, you can grab citations while surfing and also have access to pdfs through the Web interface. I am not sure how well this works, since I always download pdfs when I want to cite and/or read something, but this is something that might be useful to people who use Google Scholar for searching and/or don't always work on the computer where their pdf library resides.

In short, I am keeping Mendeley. That it is free is only icing on the cake!

UPDATE: Thoughts on the latest update here.