Thoughts on having two jobs

It’s been a while since I don’t post anything here, but I’ve been BUSY! To be honest, more mentally than physically busy.

When I first left academia to sell analytical equipment to universities everything was new and different. Being a biology person, it was hard to really understand the chemistry behind the equipments I was selling. But study and practice really pays off, and after a couple of months (?) I started to feel more comfortable when talking to professors and choosing the optimal instrument for them. But the actual selling part, the whole behind the scenes and reading in between the lines – that took over 2 years to achieve. 2018 was my best selling year ever (the first I made quota – Sold over 1.2 million dollars worth of equipment!), but I am sure I still have lots to learn.

Because I sell big pieces of equipment, I am not required to be in professor’s labs every week. No one buys a MassSpec per month, so usually deals are done over several months, or years! After a couple of years I’ve met most of my customers, and slowed down my trips. It took a while to get used to having extra time in my hands, to stop feeling that academic guilt that you should always be working on something. But humans are creatures of habits, and I’ve got used to it.

juggle-1027844_1920So when the opportunity to get a side job with Lenny at protocols.io was presented to me, I thought that was the perfect situation. I had some extra time and this second job would bring me the pleasure to finally be able to work doing something good to improve science and reproducibility! I’d only work 6 hours per week, so it should be easy, right? Well, not exactly. My initial plan to group my hours working for protocols on Monday mornings and Friday afternoons didn’t work as I planned. Life gets in the way! Those are indeed my less busy times for my primary job, but there’s always a phone call or some urgent email that needs to be answered. And although those tasks doesn’t take too long, it takes you out of your mindset, and it takes a bit to come back and refocus.

In the first months it was somewhat easy to track my hours and stay in within limits. But after a while, there was more work I wanted to do, yet not enough hours in my contract. Also, there are things that simply need to be done, and I won’t say “Sorry, I’ve worked enough hours this week”. But mainly it is SO HARD to prevent yourself to do work when you’re over excited and committed! But I’m learning to pace myself, I’m more used to juggle between the two jobs, and most important of all, I am happy 🙂

 

 

 

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My first #AAASmtg: on Reproducibility and Open Access

At first I was planning to write two separate posts on each one of those issues. Reproducibility and Open Access were extensively discussed during the #AAASmtg, and even if I wanted it would be impossible to share all with you. Also, they were discussed in totally separated sessions, and they apparently are two totally separate issues, I can’t help to see them as two big problems mainly caused by our system.

Yes, reproducibility is a real problem. According to a Nature’s survey, more than 70% of researchers have tried and failed to reproduce another scientist’s experiments, and more than half have failed to reproduce their own experiments.There has been a scary big number of published articles being retracted due to reproducibility problems. Not only experiments can give us different results when repeated, but sometimes the same data can be interpreted differently among researchers. The attempt to replicate key cancer studies with the “Reproducibility Project: Cancer Biology” is bringing more questions than answers.

Yes, science should be open and accessible to all. Most scientific research is funded by federal grants, which is supported largely by our taxes. It is logically expected to be open to the public that is actually paying for it. Open Access brings more transparency to research and can also stimulate curiosity and interest – bringing more attention to science! Openness not only regarding published articles, but also Open Data – where other researchers can access, analyze, and collaborate.

But both reproducibility and open access fall under the problem of how our system works.

Scientists are mainly judged by the number of publications, and the impact factor of the journals where they publish. One of the main requirements for publication of a scientific article is NOVELTY. Neither replication nor negative studies are encouraged to be published. Even though I totally agree when Jessica Polka said at the #AAASmtg that “We need a culture where people read papers and not the name of the journal”, unfortunately both funding and hiring committees still care about journal titles and metrics when judging scientist’s achievements.

The “publish or perish” culture not only incentive publishing unreliable data, but also decreases the quality of science. Tight funding and the increasing competition may encourage falsehood and misconduct in academia. Probably not deliberately, but who has time (and money) to repeat that experiment with those two outliers? There is a lot of cherry-picking and p-hacking that can be easily performed by the analyzer. If you don’t believe me, you should try Nate Silver’s example of how to Hack Your Way To Scientific Glory.

Landing an academic job, getting funding, and publishing science is tough business! As professor Sydney Brenner points out in this interview:

Even God wouldn’t get a grant today because somebody on the committee would say, oh those were very interesting experiments (creating the universe), but they’ve never been repeated. And then someone else would say, yes and he did it a long time ago, what’s he done recently?  And a third would say, to top it all, he published it all in an un-refereed journal (The Bible).

 

Who’s to blame? Open Access defenders blame publishers. Publishers blame academics. Academics blame funding agencies. Potential solutions? Besides a cultural change in the system, where science would be more important than metrics, reproducibility and negative results should be supported and encouraged. Some publishers are contributing to this, as Nature published a manifesto for reproducible science and Elsevier creating developing a new article type especially for replication studies.  A new kind of paper combining the flexibility of basic research with the rigour of clinical trials was recently proposed by some researchers. Data sharing and the recent incentive to use preprints in biological science can also help with this, as data and research drafts are open to other researchers feedback, and possible problems with replications.

The scientific world is paying more attention to quality of research, replication, data analysis. Change seems to be coming. Hopefully funders, publishers, and hiring committees will change along as well.

PS: This is my fourth post within the series of “My first #AAASmtg”. Previous posts include expectations, personal impressions, and public engagement.