Sunday, February 22, 2015

STEM survey for postgraduate women

A request from some researchers seeking postgraduate STEM women to do a survey by February 27:
Dear Colleagues,

We are conducting a study of postgraduate women in STEM fields (natural and physical sciences, technology, engineering, and mathematics) to explore aspects of job satisfaction and the ways women are experiencing and influencing departmental and institutional culture. Culture is defined here as the predominant behaviors and beliefs that characterize an academic department or institution. This survey will not ask you to provide your name or institution, will take approximately 10-15 minutes to complete, and has been approved by the human subjects institutional review board of Nazareth College. Should you have concerns or wish to learn about the results of this study, please send an email to All correspondence will be kept confidential. 

Please click on the following link to access the survey:  

Thank you for taking the time to share your experience with us. 

Beth Russell, PhD, LCSW, Assistant Professor, School of Social Work, Nazareth College
Tanya Smith, PhD, Associate Professor, Department of Human Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University

Friday, February 13, 2015

Moving Stories

Have you been involved in moving a research lab/facility from one place to another within one institution, such as during a building renovation or a move to a new building on campus? How did that go?

I am particularly interested in hearing examples of moves that involved postdocs, grad students, or other researchers paid 100% from grants: did the postdocs/students/researcher do move-related work while paid by these grants, and was that a problem?

And if it was a problem, was this because:

1 - research was disrupted owing to the time required to move the lab (including downtime as equipment was moved) -- that is, time when researchers could not do their research as they would have without the disruption of the move. What was the total duration of the disruption? (Do you have any advice about to minimize this time?)

2 - there was an administrative issue regarding paying people (from grants) to do work not originally accounted for in the grant. For example, a researcher paid 100% time on a grant is not allowed to work on another project, not even outside of normal working hours (I have a problem with that, but that is another issue and the subject of previous post-rants on effort certification). Or were you able to justify the move-related work as being relevant to the grant(s) and the effort certifiers were happy?

3 - both of the above;

4 - none of the above;

4 - other (please explain).

If you were one of the aforementioned researchers who had to do move-related activities because your lab was moving (for whatever reason), did this have a negative effect on you (e.g., your productivity?), and was there anything that was done (or that you think could realistically have been done) to help you?

Some PIs and other researchers at my university and at other universities have wildly divergent opinions about the topic of how to deal with this type of intra-campus move.

So, I am looking for your Moving Stories. There are likely some impressive tales of moving woe out there, but I am hoping there are also heartwarming moving stories with happy endings (and beginnings and middles). 

Monday, February 02, 2015

Yes of Course your Course is Rigorous, if you say so

If you write recommendation letters for undergraduate students applying for graduate school, internships, and the like, have you ever included the fact that the student got a good grade in your rigorous, challenging, demanding class?

And if you wrote that, did you back it up with data? Or did you mention the fact that your entire institution is so uber-prestigious that the students are all super-smart, ergo, anyone getting a high grade in your rigorous class is exceptional?

I don't think I have ever described one of my own classes like this. Perhaps my classes are not rigorous. Perhaps I don't think my saying so would be compelling, even if they are. 

So, how do you feel about reading recommendation letters in which someone describes their own course as rigorous (challenging etc.)? Are you convinced by this? If not, what would convince you? Data? That the student was only one of (specified low number) out of (moderate to high number) to get a (high grade) in a course? 

Some (few) institutions give some useful information in transcripts about grade distribution and class size, but most do not. So we are left with the self-described rigorous professors to guide us.

Perhaps I sound a bit cranky about this. I am not really all that cranky about it. Compared to the heartfelt stories of inspiring uncles and chemistry kits that inspired the applicants as children to pursue a passion for science, including graduate study, the self-described rigor -- although surprisingly common -- is more amusing than annoying. 

(And I certainly don't hold it against the applicants, who are, after all, typically have few choices of letter writers and know nothing of the letter-writing skills of their referees.)