#DiversityJC recap, guest post by @DrEmilySKlein

“According to my clock it’s 1100EST, let’s get this #DiversityJC rolling!”

 

And with that, we were off.

 

You know, it’s funny how things get started these days (especially for a twitter newbie like myself). One little tweet can ring so true, and next thing you know, you’re talking with complete strangers over the interwebs. But they don’t really feel like strangers, do they?

 

The Diversity Journal Club (#DiveristyJC) was born of conversations between Jonathan Goaya (@jkgoya), Doctor PMS (@Doctor_PMS) and myself (@DrEmilySKlein). For our first paper, we discussed the one that got it all started (learn more here, and read the article here. The premise of the paper was that women get more positive feedback on their grant proposals than men do.

 

And our thoughts?

 

First and foremost, many had concerns with the methods used. Of course, as scientists assessing study in an unfamiliar field, we tempered that with a healthy dose of “well, the methodology was new for me so…”. Regardless, we generally agreed that the methods had to be somewhat addressed to assess the limitations of the study and critique results.

 

Concerns with methods included weighting very different words with the same value (i.e. being a genius is apparently the same as having a knack for something), distribution of words used, and how words were categorized and what those categories meant. Re-doing the study as a double-blind would also help, as well as a more narrow choice of words in general (such words like “queen*” and “king*” seemed… excessive, and were – let’s hope – doubtful found in a single response.) Authors should have limited the words addressed by their analysis to those that may have actually been used by reviewers instead of what appears to be a standard list of YAY and NAY words. Also, pretty small sample size. Of course, as Beth Hellen (@PhdGeek) pointed out, it could be a pilot study. In any event, we agreed that the methods needed some work, but we’d all like someone versed in them to provide a better critique.

 

However, a note: My understanding was the words used did come from other, published studies and methodologies. Either way, there did appear to be a underlying bias in the words used – perhaps indicating a larger, systemic problem with the words we use to define people along the gender binary, and how we code and value those words. As Cheng H. Lee (@chenghlee) noted, “In perhaps not-so-subtle way, this could have incorporated broader biases about masculine vs feminine words into the analysis.”

 

Moving on to those “larger issues.” First and foremost, why would women be praised more than men? Especially given the increasing evidence that women are seen as less competent and are overlooked for jobs, tenure, even mentoring, and described using less capable words even by people trying to get them a job/money (e.g. in letters of rec)?

 

Given the findings argued by this study… What’s going on with grants?

 

Well. Perhaps we should be looking at it a bit differently. As Jonathan Goya (@jkgoya), the premise could be seen another way: “Do reviewers use different language to review women and men?” Ahhhh… now we’re getting somewhere…

 

For the first potential explanation, an old favorite of mine: Chivalry and the gender binary. Ladies be all soft and sensitive, duh, and, moreover, a true gentleman is not rude to ladies. Yes that’s an exaggeration, but you get my drift: Men used “nicer” language when speaking with women than with men.

 

Although… the women were also better funded, according to the study, so there’s less evidence that men were just being nice and letting the ladies down easy. That said, Jonathan Goya (@jkgoya) still noted “from personal [experience], I’m pretty sure men speak to each other in much more directly critical language than between men and women.” Also personally believing this to be true, I’m unwilling to throw out this explanation as a possibility. In addition, R. Deborah Overath (@scienceknitsteryes on that name) pointed out that, given how awesome the words were for women, they should actually have scored better.

 

Alternatively, as Ruth Hufbauer (@hufbauer) suggested, maybe men are becoming more aware of their biases and are overcompensating or being too careful… ?

 

Another explanation: The bar is lower for women. Many people are just surprised (surprised!) when women write a stellar grant proposal. They don’t expect it, so are more glowing in response. Moreover, Jonathan Goya noted “…to get the same scores, women have to really wow the reviewers” and Lauren Sakowski (@LaSaks87) reiterated that the women may have put in “extra effort for the same funding/recognition”.

 

Basically, we either don’t expect women to do well, or they have to put in the extra effort for the same recognition. Or both.

 

As some additional evident, Beth Hellen (@PhdGeek) noted that there is a larger difference between the positive and negative words used for funded women, but little difference for men. Perhaps the actual content of proposals from men somehow counted more. In addition, again to R. Deborah Overath’s (@scienceknitster) point that women possibly should have gotten better scores given the words used in their reviews. Perhaps the bias is not in the language used, but in the actual score that, you know, actually matters.

 

Of course, perhaps women just write better grants.

 

Or… they have more experience with them and exactly what reviewers are looking for. We all know grants can be formulaic. We also know women are less likely to be tenured or in leadership positions. Maybe these women have spent more time in soft-money jobs that simply require more grant writing to stay afloat in the world. Consequently, they’re just better at it.

 

Yet, again, as scientists assessing a study from a generally unfamiliar field, we craved more information. We speculated on additional variables that may help us piece apart the methods and the results, and really assess why this paper, on its surface, seems to contradict what more and more studies are telling us, and what many if not most of us know from experience: women are biased against in the sciences. We are still going up the stairs, when men have had an elevator.

 

 

Finally, Ruth Hufbauer reminds us that, yes, we’re scientist, but we’re also human. Just like the reviewers and the authors. It’s difficult to do things, like be on review panels, without either being biased in some way, or at least being worried about it.

 

This would be the final point I’d make, and I hope it’s one we come back to repeatedly in the Diversity Journal Club: As Dr. Wrasse (@labroides) asked: does a fish know it’s in water?

 

How do we recognize our own biases?

 

And what do we do about them when we start to figure them out? How do we deal with them in others?

 

That was where the Diversity Journal Club left off: contemplating how we become more self-aware, how we educate ourselves and others, and how we raise awareness.

 

We hope we’re doing our little part of this, in our own little corner of the twitterverse. Until next time, kids…

 

Lastly, a quick but very important note from Jonathan Goya and Beth Hellen that I was absolutely guilty of: avoid using karyotype (e.g. XX or XY) when discussing men or women. This automatically assumes sex, and negates a person’s right to self-identify their gender. Therefore, please instead use M, F or alternative. And please keep these critical hints coming!

 

 

The next Journal Club will be next week! We will post a paper on Monday 9/29 to review on Friday 10/3 at 11am EST. Have one we should read? Let us know! Since we just did one on gender, let’s have a new diversity topic for the next one – any and all welcome.

 

Thank you to all participants (and give them a follow, they’re awesome!)*

 

Doctor PMS (@Doctor_PMS) – the one who got us started with one little tweet!

Jonathan Goya (@jkgoya)

Dr. Wrasse (@labroides)

Beth Hellen (@PhdGeek)

biochem belle (@biochembelle)

Ruth Hufbauer (@hufbauer)

Mark (@NE14NaCl_aq)

PinkGlitteryBrain (@aiquintero)

Cheng H. Lee (@chenghlee)

Lauren Sakowski (@LaSaks87)

Deborah Overath (@scienceknitster)

Ian Street (@IHStreet)

Storify of the #DiversityJC

 

… and anyone else who checked in and followed the discussion. Again, we invite any and all participants, as long as you read the article and no trolling, please (although that just means we’ll ignore you. Which is a bummer. For you.)

 

‘Til next time!

 

Emily (@DrEmilySKlein)

 

*Let me know if I got any names wrong or you have trouble finding someone!

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Existential Crisis

I don’t know exactly how it started, but suddenly I started to feel very unmotivated. Twitter is awesome because you meet so many friends willing to help, but also can bring your mood down when you have access to so much information… Talking to a friend on Skype I learned about the RU/VH type of University and went to check my 10 applications. 9 out of 10 are in RU/VH institutions. Then I saw this on twitter:

@AntiLabUCF From our latest search: top candidates ave: ~4 yrs post doc, 17.5 pubs, 1-2 PNAS/Sci/Nat, 5-10+ 1st author, $, fit job descript

Then I felt like... Fuck. I’m nowhere near this description, I have 8 years of PD, 15 publications and none of them in glam journals. No funding yet (although I submitted my very first R03 – low expectations). From the 10 applications I’m submitting only one is a perfect fit. Meh. It’s going to be hard to get a job this season… So I was talking to @IHStreet on Twitter and he told me he was giving up the idea of getting a TT position because he was choosing LIFE! And although our conversation put a bug in his head (see his blog post here), he also put a big big bug into my head! Is this really what I want for my life? This craziness of writing grants no stop, of having to adapt your research to something more appealing, the paranoid of becoming tenure…

I realized I spent too much time of my PD years just focused on personal life and not caring about what I wanted professionally. It’s not that I didn’t know where I wanted to go, but I was just waiting to see what was going to happen. When I finally woke up it was already kind of too late. Now I am trying to fill the holes of my CV, but as Jack Bauer would say “I’m running out of time”! And to put the cherry on the top, in our last lab meeting our PI told me and the other PDs to start looking for jobs because he thinks that our R01 has little chance to be renewed. The alternative would be to bring new things to our grant. New techniques! But for that we need preliminary data but we don’t have a lot of time or money. So it feels like we have no way out.

And now I start to freak out because I’ll probably be jobless in an year from now. And although I really think I want my own lab, where I can have my students and do my research, I feel like it’s a fairy tale that it’s not going to happen. IHStreet also mentioned that 80% of PDs will not end up in tenure track jobs. And now I regret that I didn’t apply to all those tiny teaching positions of my list. Time to look for alternatives? I believe in the end I know that I still want a TT position. I just wished that it was easier to get one and to have a life along with it!

Should I be bothered or be proud?

Before I start my whining I need to set up the context. I came to work as a postdoc in a multidisciplinary lab, that combines “theoreticians” and “experimentalists”. Two PIs, two R01s. NIH complained about experiments overlapping, we just got the experimental grant renewed. A couple of years ago the experimentalist PI retired and I’ve been pretty much “bossless”. My current PI doesn’t have a clue about what I actually do in the lab! Despite being really smart and able to give me a lot of science insights, there’s no lab experience. None. But things have been working fine so far. Got used to be on my own. Graduate student is also under my direct supervision, as well as two undergrads.

Now we have little more than a year left for our R01 to finish and it’s time to send a renewal. Current PI put some ideas together and it kind of looks nice, but… just too old fashioned and not sexy. Our research is not glam enough for us to submit just that! The other two research associates (that will be co-PIs in the grant) also gave some contributions, but mainly to their in vitro experiments, that’s about one third of the grant. So as I pointed the weakness of our grant I was awarded with the task to fix it.

So I submitted my very first R03 grant and I’m applying for a couple of jobs. I’m also working on writing another NSF grant with collaborator. But every chance I have I stop to read and try to work in our R01. Slowly. And every time I tried and couldn’t work I was feeling guilty. Thinking that if our R01 is not renewed everybody is going to lose their jobs. Terrified with this idea, but still unable to make it look better. Thought it may be something that cannot be fixed, or that I just can’t do it. But I have tons of ideas for my own future research, I know where I want to go and things flow so easy with no pressure!

So before leaving for SFN I sent the updated version for the PIs to see what I’ve done and complement, as there’s still a lot of work to do. Coming back after more than a week, guess what? Nothing changed! No one worked a single bit in the grant. Then I realized. It’s not that I can’t do it, but in fact I’m bothered, and now that I realized it I’m angry and tired. This is just not my job. I can’t have all this responsibility in my back. That’s their job. Their salary is about double than mine. My name is not going to appear as a co-PI in the grant.

I know one might think it’s good for me, that’s learning and it will help me long term. But in the middle of all this I have little time (almost no time, actually) to go to the bench and do MY experiments. Gotta publish too. Ahhhhh right now I’m just tired. But I’m really wondering… should I be bothered or be proud?

Sciquest is here

Shutdown is over. So what? Things are still pretty bad for research. With less money to spend, less people are getting funded and more people are applying for funding, making it all much harder. I feel like I am in a black hole and can’t see a way out. I’m back to the US for a little more than a month and all I’ve been doing is to work at the damn computer. Applied for a job (that didn’t work) and now just *kind of* finished writing my first R03 grant.

My PI told me that our budget allows us to order and mantain about 30 rats/month. That’s nothing if you think that there is a grad student, another postdoc and me working with animals in the lab! So we have to take shifts in ordering rats! That’s terrible. Then I look at my CV and see that I didn’t publish a paper as a first author since 2011. That looks bad, no? But how can I write a grant and work in the bench at the same time? I’m a freshman, it takes me forever to come up with a decent text for my grant…. Also, no money for rats!

Then it’s job season. Yesterday I spent hours looking at adds and choosing which ones I’d fit in. There are some nice jobs out there, but then I look at my CV with any glam publication and with no American funding or history of funding. This makes me wonder if it’s really worth “waste” time on all those job applications…

Sorry about the bad post, probably just tired and will feel better tomorrow….