My first #AAASmtg: post-meeting personal impressions

Someone on Twitter described the AAASmtg to me as “overwhelming”. I’ve thought nothing could be more overwhelming than attending to the Society for Neuroscience meeting and dealing with 30k people! Well, it turns it can. It’s not the size of the conference or the amount of people. There is just SO. MUCH. GOING. ON.

There are so many talks happening at the same time, (and such interesting talks) that is tough to choose which one to attend. But once you finally decide which session you’re going, the talks were so rich that really sparks your interest. Besides, loved how the speakers (usually 2-3) would give their take on the subject in about 20 minutes, leaving a really long time for questions and open discussion.

I am still thinking. I am still digesting. I am still choosing which topics I want to cover here on my blog. Planning to write a blog series covering some of the topics discussed and my opinion about them. If you want to have a taste of all sessions I’ve attended, you can check the Storify I’ve created with my tweets and RT from the conference. But for now I am going to talk about my personal experience during the meeting, which was quite remarkable!

One of the first things I realized when I’ve got to the meeting was that your badge has your name and supposedly your institution’s name immediately under it. I left mine blank when I registered, simply because I’m not linked to any academic institution any more, and the name of my company wouldn’t matter less in this context. But of course I added my Twitter handle to my badge (keep wondering why the conference doesn’t add it already?!?)

After a couple of interactions, I wished my real name wasn’t on my badge. As I heard on a TED podcast today, “When we go online, we present a digital version of ourselves”. It turns that although I tend to be very truthful and honest on Twitter, my IRL and my Twitter persona live totally different lives, with totally different goals. The persona that attended to #AAASmtg was not the neuroscientist that turned into a sales person, but my digital version, the passionate scientist that loves to advocate and discuss Science. It felt liberating to introduce myself mainly by my Twitter handle, one because it is so much easier for people to say it than my real name, and also because I’ve heard many times “oh, I follow you on Twitter!” 🙂

But I needed a label. A short description for when I didn’t have enough time to tell my whole story. So I started telling people that I was a “SciComm enthusiastic”. It worked, and I like the sound of it. Not sure if it’s the right one for me, but it was the best I could find (I should have thought about this ahead of time…). I believe my Twitter voice, our DiversityJC, and our RecoveringAcademic podcast are all forms of SciComm. But not only! A big part of me loves to discuss and advocate for Science, in all aspects. How can we increase federal funding for research? How can we fight the publish or perish culture? How can we deal with the reproducibility crises that it’s going on?

In a way those (and many other) concerns were addressed during the #AAASmtg. But I feel that now is the time to think and digest all discussions and put them into action! Unfortunately most of them don’t depend only on ourselves. But acknowledging and discussing the problems and concerns is a big step into figuring out how to address them. Until I find a way where I can actively work towards this, I’ll use my voice. My words. My passion. Let’s keep trying to find where and how I can keep serving for the common good… of SCIENCE!

 

 

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Why screaming louder about Science might not be enough

Science is being seriously threatened. It is certainly amazing to see the scientific community joining efforts and resisting to it. A March for Science is currently being organized, and a newly formed group called 314 Action is encouraging scientists to run for office. Scientists are all fired up to communicate more their science to the general public. But just screaming louder may not bring optimal results. One must understand that science is political, no matter what field it is (@Hood_Biologist).

Studies show both Democrats and Republicans like the same policy better when they’re told it’s supported by their own party. This is called politically motivated reasoning, and leads people to seek out information that reinforces their ideas (confirmation bias), and counter-argue information that contradicts their ideas (disconfirmation bias). We talked about this topic on our last #DiversityJC, in which we discussed the article The Nature and Origins of Misperceptions.

“In the experiment, participants were randomly assigned to receive a table of outcome data that was labeled as either showing how a skin cream affects a rash or how gun control affects crime. The success of the intervention (i.e., skin cream, gun control) was also randomly varied between respondents.

When the table was presented as data about whether a skin cream helped a rash or not, there were no major differences in how people of different ideological leanings interpreted the data. But when the data were instead presented as evidence about the effectiveness of gun control, people’s interpretation of the results became polarized by ideology.”

So it doesn’t really matter what the facts are actually showing, people’s interpretation will vary, depending if the information reinforces or contradicts directional (party) preferences. In this excellent piece GETTING A SCIENTIFIC MESSAGE ACROSS MEANS TAKING HUMAN NATURE INTO ACCOUNT, @NeuWriteSD discusses how in reality, just knowing facts doesn’t necessarily guarantee that one’s opinions and behaviors will be consistent with them. One must first consider human nature, and overcome cognitive biases.

In fact I believe that most of the people who are anti-vaccines, anti-global warming, anti-GMO are not really anti-science. Those opinions seem to be less related to ideologies but more related to express their emotional beliefs. In other words, they seem to truly BELIEVE that those are actual threats to themselves and their loved ones. In her new book, Strangers in Their Own Land, sociologist Arlie Hochschild says that “while people might vote against their economic needs, they’re actually voting to serve their emotional needs.” (H/T) this week’s episode of the Hidden Brain.

But how can we fight it? A recent study showed that this politically motivated reasoning can be tamped down – with CURIOSITY! You can read The Atlantic’s article about it here or dig into the full paper. In that paper, the authors present evidence that, as science curiosity increases, subjects tend not to polarize in their judgements but rather adjust their opinions of them. The authors demonstrate the utility of the new “science of science communication”, suggesting that it is possible to construct a valid science curiosity
instrument to reach those people, and scientists need to be sufficiently concrete about its focus, avoids social appeal effects, and not rely exclusively on self-report measures.

One other approach that we can keep in mind is brought by the principle of behavioral economics, that states that when it comes to human beings, there is a conflict between the passions and the impartial spectator. The most famous paper published back in 1979 describes that “the ways in which alternatives are framed—not simply their relative value—heavily influence the decisions people make“. So taking those principles into account, we should aim not only to describe Science but frame it in an optimal way for our audience to “buy it”.

Easy? Of course not. But we must use all efforts and strategies to fight for Science and make sure that our message is delivered – and understood – properly.

#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!

Twitter Journal Club discussion around #diversity in #STEM

Everything started last Friday when I cited an article from Science Magazine:

In sequence, we had a very interesting convo with @DrEmilySKlein and @jkgoya about the actual paper and had the idea to start a Journal Club on Twitter around #diversity in #STEM. The initial idea is to do it every other Friday at 11am EST. I gathered people interested in a Twitter list. Please contact us if you want your name to be added to the list.

Let’s make the difference! Join #DiversityJC and spread the word!

Here is the article for next week (09/19): http://journals.lww.com/academicmedicine/Abstract/publishahead/A_Quantitative_Linguistic_Analysis_of_National.98987.aspx

Salary guidelines for postdocs

According to an NSF study, the number of postdocs increased about 25% in the last 5 years. We are a massive group of research in the academic world, doing research and mentoring graduate and undergraduate students. But still, in most of the places we are still aliens in the University world. We are not students, but we are not faculty either. I’m trying to get funding to attend to a very important meeting in Sydney and I was told by my program and University that simply there is no funding available for postdocs!

In the postdoctoral association we’ve been trying to establish some salary guideline for our University. Of course, there are the NIH salary guidelines, but this just applies to postdocs being paid from an NIH grant. We wanted to put that table in our website because at least it would be some kind of guideline, but were told that no one follows this guidelines in my University, even the labs with NIH funding. Also, as a beginning association, we shouldn’t mess with that because PIs could feel “pressured” to follow the guidelines. Seriously?

How are the salary guidelines in your University? Is there any internal minimum? Or maybe people actually follow the NIH salary guidelines? I’m curious to know how it works out there!

On pseudonymity

I’m not a big ass scientist (yet). Most of the people don’t give a fuck about what I say on twitter or when I occasionally blog. But still, I don’t write under my real name. Why? Because… academic life! How many times have you heard “Twitter is a waste of time”, “You should focus on writing papers instead of blogging”, etc… I’m a postdoc applying for jobs. I have my reasons. And so does every scientist that twits or blogs under a pseudonym. That’s why it’s not ok to out someone’s else pseudonym. I don’t care if you were insulted, or “endured 3 years of unwarranted, undeserved unpleasantness from a pseudonymous blogger”. There’s nothing preventing to answer or fight with the pseudo person! Simply outing the blogger seems such a childish way to fight. And it just shows who is the real bully of the history.

I feel like it’s easier to be yourself when you write under a pseudonym. “Hiding” behind a pseudonym may give you freedom to say whatever you wouldn’t say IRL. The good and the bad. But I’ve been actively on Twitter for more than a year and I really don’t believe that the main reason people don’t write under their real names is to insult others. The academic world is as nasty as any other world, and what’s in the internet is public and lives forever. When I started to use twitter I was writing under my real name. I would think 300 times before writing anything, wondering what my boss would think, or if it would be appropriate. After I adopted my pseudonym, I found it so much easier just to be myself and write whatever was in my mind. That makes me wonder, who is really hiding here – the ones that write under a pseudonym or the ones that write under their real names?

Regardless on how you write, personally I found the most supportive group of people on Twitter. Answers to scientific questions, proofreading of my job applications, samples of grants and statements, and most important of all: personal support. I met some of my twitter friends in real life. We do google hangouts to discuss science or just for fun. I don’t care who you are. I don’t care how many papers you have published or where do you work. All I care is people are there for me. And I’ll be there for them. That’s all.

Academic Job Season

It’s that time of the year. Job Season.

After being more than a year away from the US, it took me a while to get everything on place again. When I finally did it, decided to write my very first NIH grant proposal. Just an R03 to begin, but still, it took me A LOT of time to write it. Then when it was finally done I started to look at TT job adds. There are many positions out there! Of course, lots of glam places where they expect you to have a CNS paper (at least). Then there are those adds that are very general: “The Department invite applicants for TT positions in Neuroscience”. Do I fit there? Of course, but so do another 300 candidates!

Anyways, started making my first list. Came up with a big number for me: 26 positions. After discussing the list with some people and having in mind that I wouldn’t have time to apply to every position accordingly, came up with a short list: 11 positions. This sounds very little for what I’ve been listening around. People say that they applied to 50-80 places to get a job! What I also hear a lot is that some places don’t even read your cover letter if you don’t have funding. As a foreigner, all my history of funding has been fellowships on home country. They are really competitive and hard to get, but who gives a damn about it here? Afff

Against all the odds I’m applying to these 11 positions. There is one, a lone one, a beautiful one, that I’m a little more hopeful. They are looking for someone in the specific area of Neuro…ology that I currently work. It’s a very good University and people say the city is beautiful. I’m always afraid of having expectations high and be devastated later on, so I protect myself with a self-inflicted impostor syndrome. It will probably won’t work, but I still have some hope.

I’ll keep you posted.