Archive for the 'Uncategorized' category

Rollin' rollin' rollin'

Sep 22 2014 Published by under Uncategorized

Scientopia has meant so much to me. It has been a home, a comfortable place, for so long. It has seen me through the biggest transition of my career. My career(s). The people here have been a source of advice, mentorship, strength. Scientopia is a wonderful group of people.

With my new job came new responsibilities, and far less writing in the evenings. Let's face it, when you write all day long, coming home to write at night is a tough call. I've been sad to see my blog so inactive. But that's life, and I'm active in as many places as I can be. I'm not a scientist anymore, instead, I'm a science writer, communicator. Someday I'll be a science journalist (I hope).

So after some thought, I've decided to move on. With the help of the talented web developer Karen Wolf, I've launched a personal author site. You can find all my archives, my blog, and my contact info there, as well as links to all the current stuff I'm doing.

But don't stop reading here! Why would you ever do that! Don't forget me, Scientopians. But readers, make sure to stop by and see the wonderful and necessary views from inside the heart of science.

Internet love always,

Scicurious (Bethany Brookshire)


3 responses so far

A day in the race life

Mar 15 2014 Published by under Uncategorized

Third race down! Today was the DC Rock and Roll Half (and full, and 5K). It was a beautiful morning for a run and DC was out to support! The free beer offers from the all male houses (which...were not frat boy houses? I don't think we ran through GW...) were amusing. I saw one guy take them up on. Bet he puked later.

Considering I couldn't train really at ALL for this race (I've been sick pretty much continuously through February), this went much better than expected. Ran slow, but felt very good, in fact so good I could have kept running at the end! A very good sign.

Today, though, as I recover on the sofa with my feet up, I thought I'd give you the anatomy of a race day. Training days are just normal days. Get home from work, go for a run. Make time on the weekends, go for a run. Or do weights, or cross training, or hills. But race day has a ritual to it. Ideally, the ritual is so you will have the best race day with minimal discomfort. We'll see how well that actually works:

Race Day:

1:00AM: ACK, is that my alarm? Is it time?

2:30AM: ACK, is that my alarm? Is it time?

3:00AM: ACK, is that my alarm? Is it time?

4:30AM: ACK, is that my alarm? Is it time?

5:30AM: alarm goes off. Brew coffee. Only one cup allowed.

All items for race day have been laid out so I won't forget anything:

race day stuff

Here you can see: the race number, shoe tag and pins (left), the amphipod hand water bottle with zipper pouch (haven't switched over to belt yet, they always ride up on me), Gu in desired flavor that I know will go down well mid-race (salted caramel), ipod holder, clif bar (that's breakfast), metro card, ID, keys, and $20 (in case).

All of that will go in me (the clif bar) or on me. I don't gear check.

5:38AM: I start trying to force down the clif bar and coffee. My body takes this time to remind me, with forceful reminders from my intestine, that I have a really stupid hobby. Bathroom.

5:50AM: Dressed. Again attempt the food. Force it down, I will need this before the race is over and I know I will fall over if I don't have it.

5:55AM: Stomach again reminds me forcefully that I have a stupid hobby. I am not inclined to disagree at this time.

6:05AM: Gulp the last of the coffee. Tell the stomach that it's coming with me whether it likes it or not. Leave the house.

6:15AM: Heading to the metro. Getting nervous. When I lived in Philly, for local races, you would ALWAYS see other people walking toward the race start. Here, I see no one until I get to the metro station itself. Ah! Other runners! I'm probably not too late!

6:17AM: Get on the train. Soon joined by a nervous looking young man carrying a half bagel in a plastic bag and a very long suffering guy who's clearly headed to the train station or something. He doesn't know what to make of increasing numbers of nervous, chattering runners.

Why DO we get nervous? I know for most of us, certainly for me, it's not my first time. I know my body can do this. It's done it before, barring accident it will do it again. At this point it's not even a particularly difficult experience! But somehow, I'm always a nervous wreck. Clearly everyone else is, too.

6:50AM: Arrive at the race start. Took a good 10 min just to get out of the metro. For the first time in one of these huge, 5 digit registered corral is toward the front! I CAN SEE THE START LINE! Like really see it! And hear the announcements from the stage and not re broadcast along the line. Go me! I pause to enjoy the sight.

6:55AM: Sigh. Better go pee. Don't want to lose time during the race. Shortly find a truly awesome looking outdoor bathroom setup with an orderly line and attendants! I stand in line for 5 min before I am told that this is the VIP bathroom and I am not VIP. WTF. I ask irritably where the plebs pee. I am pointed to a bank of port o potties. Of course.

7:00AM: I can't help but notice these bathroom lines are SHOCKINGLY long. Not nearly enough port o potties. I resign myself.

7:25AM: What do you MEAN I am still only halfway to the toilet?!?


But we start in waves. And surely they'll take 2 minutes between each wave start,

7:40AM: There goes my wave. I'm not in it. I could have just run off but at this point I DO need to pee. And you don't want to lose time once your chip starts...

7:45AM: Get to the front of the line. Look at port o potty and am very, VERY grateful that I got good at squats this winter. Runners, seriously. Are we not civilized?!

7:46AM: Jogging off to the race start. Start 7 corrals behind my assigned one. And I'm OFF. Dodging people who are 7 corrals slower than me for the first 6 miles and feeling really guilty about it. I finally catch up to my assigned corral. I'm kind of glad I wasn't in my own corral. I would have been with the guy who was dribbling two basketballs the whole race.*

Favorite race sights:

1. The policeman helping close off the road who was cheering enthusiastically. Normally they just stand there. I'm so happy they are there to help us out and I hope they are getting paid (I assume?), but it was esp nice to see a guy who cared.

2. Little kids giving out high fives as you run by. Always a favorite. Also the people who bring their dogs out.

3. The guy who was handing out water at the water stop like Oprah: "YOU GET A WATER! YOU GET A WATER! EVERYBODY GETS A WATER!"

4. The all female drum line at mile 8. Awesome!

By 10:00AM I am done, through the race chute, gotten some gatorade and gotten over my shock that there are no bananas. A long metro ride and I am home to shower, and then pass out for a few hours.

It's nice to see all the people running together, finishing together, hugging at the end. I usually run the race by myself and the end feels odd. It's better when there's a friendly support crew at the end to give me a sweatshirt and Gatorade and stuff. But I know waiting at the end of a's a really charitable thing to do. It's crowded, it's loud and this can't possibly be entertaining.

Tomorrow: we start training again! Next up, April race in NC.


*These people make me grit my teeth. Yes. I'm very impressed that you have become so bored with racing that you can run a marathon backward at a 9 minute pace while juggling. Very impressed. But really? Do you have to? Are you not aware that for many, many of the people running today, this is the HARDEST THING they have ever done?! And you're going to breeze by them backward while juggling. Because you can.

2 responses so far

#scio14 Wrapup: Read the Comments!

Mar 09 2014 Published by under Academia, Activism, Synaptic Misfires, Uncategorized

It's now been a week since ScienceOnline Together 2014 (and I don't know about you guys, but I'm still down with the hideous #scioplague. I'm really ready to be done with feeling like I am swallowing a sword all the time). It was, despite some difficulties that I hope we all move forward together to solve, a fantastic opportunity to meet new people, chat with old friends, and engage in some really interesting and important discussions on how to communicate science in an online world. This year there was a little more focus on visual forms of communication, ways to get science out there that don't always involve writing lengthy explainers. While I'm a lover of a well written explainer, I am very, very glad that these different methods, using infographics, video, virtual games and other methods are getting some play. There is far more than one way to communicate science, and I want to see them all done well.

This  year I was very pleased to lead a session, proposed by the brilliant and notorious Ivan Oransky, on commenting. The following writeup is based on the GREAT notes by Kristin Harper, who was nice enough to be the note taker. It is sometimes out of order and highly biased. If you were at the session, please do write up your own summary and help me out! Or, even....put your opinions in the comments. 🙂

Everyone knows you shouldn't read the comments. Comments with a nasty tone can bring your article down. Comments are full of trolls who tell you about your comma problems and call you an "unbridled" man-hater. The idea that you shouldn't read the comments is so pervasive that there's a twitter feed for it. Due to research showing that negative comments bring down the opinion of a piece, PopSci banned comments altogether.

Why do we want comments at all? I personally like comments because often...they tell me I am wrong. I'd rather be told I am wrong, get the science right, and improve my understanding and the understanding of my readers, than let incorrect statements persist. In addition, I find my commenters are often funny, smart, and can add a lot to knowledge of a topic. Other session members said that comments added multiple answers to a single question, giving different perspectives.

But as our discussion at #scio14 showed, not all comments are bad. David Shiffman of Southern Fried Science noted that because his group blog is very focused on marine science, the commenters tend to me more knowledgeable than they might be on sites that are more general. On the other hand, Ivan Oransky pointed out that on Retraction Watch, some comments might be knowledgeable, but they can also skirt very close to being libelous, and Victoria from PLoS blogs agreed that accusations of fraud and libel cannot be left in the comments section. Tara Haelle noted that when she writes about vaccines, for example, she welcomes discussion, but doesn't want links to harmful sites to slip past, and that it is sometimes very difficult to tell the difference between a concerned parent and a troll who is "just asking a question." We discussed how some bloggers prefer pre-moderations (all comments are held for approval), or post-moderation (if something harmful appears it can be taken down). Comment moderators noted that, on high traffic sites, sorting through the comments about three times a day could do the trick to separate the wheat from the chaff.

When it comes to comment moderation, there were several different options. Bug Girl said that she uses a yellow card/red card system. My own comment policy asks people to avoid ad hominem attacks and other logical fallacies. I employ a three strike method, and should you attempt to be a jerk, I'll tell you how you are violating the comment policy, and give you a chance to re write your comment. In most of the situations, I have found volunteers gladly rewrite their comments. They'd rather make the point than insult. Others at the session recommended systems that allow you to downvote comments that are bad (enough downvotes will hide the comment altogether), and those which allow a flagged reporting system that sends an email to the administrator. Still others recommended disemvoweling a terrible comment (just taking out all the vowels) or rewriting it in haiku form. Moderation AND a form of therapy. Others, like Ivan, note that he will edit comments that are libelous or severely problematic, and often includes a note saying how he edited the comment.

I myself prefer not to edit comments. I don't want to silence voices of dissent, or those who might be unable to speak up in any other forum. Ad hominem attacks, however, cross the line.

But of course, before you can have negative comments or positive comments or even off topic comments, you have to get comments at all. We noted that a lot of comments have moved, and conversations often take place on Facebook or Twitter rather than in the comments of posts. Likes and RTs are the "nice post!" of 2014. To gather these comments into one place, Victoria Costello of PLoS Blogs recommended storify, and noted that PLoS has developed a media curation tool for its site. There are also widgets that connect Facebook comments to article comments.

But it also helps if you don't require a potential commenter to create an account, or use an interface like Discus, where one account makes it easy to log in on many platforms. Several people in the session said that for those truly desperate for comments, ask a question, even give away items for the best answer.

What came out of all of this? Ivan (who proposed the session in the first place and who I consulted for advice) both agreed that we wanted the session to be productive, to come out with something useful. We decided to crowdsource ideas for best practices in commenting. Not everyone chooses to have comments, and that's ok! But I say that comments are like sex. Not everyone will choose to have it, people may choose to have it in different ways and with different people, but if you want to have comments, it's generally a good idea to use a condom. Have a set of best practices and a comment moderation policy that you can refer to.

Below are the best practices that we came up with over an hour of discussion. These are obviously not comprehensive, and we'd love to get more feedback and ideas!

  1. Have a clear written comment policy. (But expect that people probably won't read it and you'll need to remind them.)
  2. Provide positive feedback for good comments wherever possible. For example, you can link to a comment in a follow up story, make something a featured comment, or reply to a comment with a note about how great it is.
  3. Reserve the right to edit comments or delete comments. Don't be afraid to enforce your policy.
  4. Define name calling. "This person is a fraud" is just as much name calling as "This person is a stinky carnivorous hippo."
  5. Limit the number of links. WordPress often defaults to sending comments to moderation if there are two links in them or more. This helps keep spam down. Let people know that when they complain to you about their well researched comment with many links. Keep an eye out for those comments. They aren't all spam!
  6. Most importantly: Join the conversation! A good commentariat is the result of good interaction between the bloggers and their commenters.

So, how did we do? What do you think of our best practices? Let us the comments.

2 responses so far

#Scio14 prep: Read the comments?

Feb 05 2014 Published by under Uncategorized

This year, I'm the facilitator for a Scio14 session on comments. The idea was originally Ivan Oransky's, so I asked him what he thought about the session. Based on his feedback and ideas of my own, I came up with the following:

Some might say “Don’t read the comments!” Lack of moderation and free reign of trolls can be enough to make sites like Popsci shut down comments entirely. Scientific articles have shown that negative tone in comments can influence what people think of the science presented. On the other hand, some sites are embracing comments, such as Pubmed. Should you allow the comments? Which should flourish, and which should go to the spam folder? This discussion will talk about legal obligations and different types of comment policy. The goal will be to set up a guide of best practices which bloggers, old and new, might find helpful as they don’t read the comments.

So. Which is it? Shut down comments entirely? Let them free? Moderate them carefully? I'd like to have a discussion on all three of these options, all of which may be useful in some situations.

I also think it's good when a discussion at Science Online ends productively. So I'd like to facilitate this session with a goal of coming up with "best practices" or "guidelines," for running your own comments show. How to engage and moderate, or not.

What are your thoughts on this? What commenting issues would you like to see discussed?

7 responses so far

You Will Be Assimilated.

Jan 24 2014 Published by under Academia, Uncategorized

Blame Bashir for this one.

In a previous post, I talked about how I wasn't yet free of academia. How it's still got hooks in me, in the form of papers that need to be published, and that won't get published until I get them out. Bashir noted that it was like Borg.




Borg, for those not familiar, are characters in the Star Trek universe. The most quoted phrase is 'resistance is futile, you will be assimilated.' Borg are partially cybernetic and act as part of a "hive" controlled by a queen. Like metallic, slightly slimy looking bees. But smarter (though I have always wondered why they have to look slimy). If you get assimilated into the Borg, it's very hard to leave, they give you all these cybernetic implants that influence your thoughts and dampen your feelings. Freeing someone from the Borg is a difficult experience, with lots of surgeries to remove the implants (for example your organs have to relearn how to function on their own). Often it's lifelong, and you are never truly free.

In particular, consider the character Seven of Nine, from Star Trek: Voyager. She was integrated into the Borg when she was 6. Grew up and lived her whole life as Borg. She then ends up on the Voyager, and they begin taking away her cybernetic implants. She begins to function on her own and build a life for herself. But some of the implants, esp the cortical node, can't really be removed well. She always has difficulty with some things, especially emotions. But she has some advantages as well, she can always sense Borg activity, for example.

(Seven of Nine. Pity her, she had emotional issues and had to wear a LOT of catsuits. Source)

De-assimilating from the Borg does, in a way, remind me of academia.

Obviously academia does not give you cybernetic implants in grad school (though if they are, they'd BETTER come with the health plan and a decent increase in stipend). But leaving academia and its culture behind can be jarring. I had been in it, in some way, my whole life. I believed that it was the best place. It is, in many ways, great. But it's also very much its own world. Some other careers may be similar, but I've only experienced this one.

There are so many things about academia that I have assimilated, and that, via slow and sometimes painful surgeries, I have to get rid of. Instead of cybernetic implants, maybe I shed them in a different way. Shreds of lab coat here, a nitrile glove there. A few examples:

1. I'm learning the outside way of behaving professionally. Emails in academia could get very passive aggressive or just out and out aggressive. Thankfully, it's a minority of people who do it, but in academia, that kind of behavior (along with other kinds of bad behavior) is often allowed to perpetuate, as long as the science is good.  I know you don't do that on the outside. I know people who feel physically sick checking their email sometimes. I still catch myself questioning many emails I receive. Was it meant to be snarky? Is there another way to interpret that? What did I do? At the same time, though, I know I shouldn't need to be handled with kid gloves.

I also don't seem to know how to communicate casually, yet professionally. I alternate between hyper-formal, ultra passive prose, and one-liners. I know there's a happy medium in there somehow, but I'm still learning where it is.

2. I don't know when to quit. If you don't have every spare minute in academia filled (and by spare, I mean til at least 1am every night, a family can count as a hobby), you are not doing enough. Find more things to do. More projects, more grants, more papers. Outside, well, don't overload yourself! Because if you do, you do everything worse. Better to do less, and do it well. This is still a major, major shock to my system. My gut is always telling me to do more and more and more.

3. I don't know how to take criticism. Or rather, I know how I SHOULD take criticism. I know I do not take it well. This is odd, because I remember a time when I took criticism well. I did a lot of theater and music, it was something you HAD to take well. I took it, I improved, worked harder, fixed things, and did better. Sometime during grad school, however, criticism began to paralyze me. Every critique felt like a critique of me, as a scientist. Since a scientist was what I WAS, all criticism began to feel like criticism of me, as a person. Sometimes it was indeed phrased that way. You are careless. You are not smart enough, why don't you get this?! You are not focused.

I remember once, my aunt asked me what peer review was. I explained, and to show what I meant, handed her a review of one of my manuscripts. When she handed it back, she was on the verge of tears. She asked how they could be so mean to me. It was an accept with minor revisions. But it was full of things like "the authors do not grasp...", "the authors fail to state...", "the authors smell..." (ok, no). And I remembered when I first read that review. How my heart sank and my stomach hurt and my PI had to TELL me is was accepted. Because it surely did not say that anywhere on there.

Before academia, I would have taken criticism and said "I can be more careful, I will work on focus. Intelligence will just have to deal." But after academia...criticism still makes me work harder, but I first spend a period completely paralyzed by panic. Panic, gnawing self doubt, and shame. Why couldn't I do better? What's wrong with me? Why am I such a terrible person? Why am I not smart enough? Isn't there a way to make myself more careful, more smart? Outside of academia, I am relearning to take criticism. It is a long process.

4. When the professional is often personal. Not that there weren't professional standards in academia of course. But when all your colleagues are all your friends (and often your only friends) and are often also your significant others, well, things get mixed up. There were colleagues you couldn't work with because your friend had divorced them and it got ugly. And of course, you're all talking about work outside of work. Often, you feel like you don't know HOW to talk anything else but shop.  Academia was my life. Soon you just become wrapped up in it, and everything else begins to lose importance. Outside, I've been relearning perspective.

5. You can be positive. So much of academia is based in criticism. It's important criticism. Science would not advance if we just said things looked nice and sent it along. You have to probe, you have to say "that's unacceptable with an n=3," you have to say "that explanation isn't adequate." It's incredibly important. But it also, over time, can make people really negative. Things you screw up become "how could you!?" and things you did right...well they were what you should be doing and deserve no praise. I've observed before that only academia could turn successes into mere not-failures. If you DIDN'T see something wrong with that talk you were just at, well obviously you don't know anything about the field! Too gullible!  Cynicism makes you look smart.

This isn't the case outside. I love that I can be enthusiastic about my ideas...and that's ok! Other people are too! We work with ideas and refine them, rather than ripping them apart before building them again. The net result may end up the same. But the process is so much sunnier. Even when people don't like your idea, they say "well, I don't think we're interested in that," as opposed to "how could you attempt something so stupid." People are congratulated on their achievements...and you feel they HAVE done something good. Sure, it's your job, it's what you are supposed to be doing, but you're good at it, and that deserves praise. This, above everything else, has made me happy to be where I am.

I'm sure there are others, pieces of academia that I will shed over time. But I hope I keep the positive things. Seven of Nine could sense Borg. She could also act without panic in a crisis. I hope I will keep my academic remnants, my training, my questioning, my background and my ability to do research. I hope I will keep some of my cynicism, so I remember to look for the flaws and stick to careful interpretations. There are advantages to assimilation, after all.

7 responses so far

Tips for getting out.

Jan 13 2014 Published by under Uncategorized

Deciding to leave academia can be a wrenching experience. Sometimes, people who decide to leave are bitter and angry to their core. Other times, they are sad, with constant feelings of failure. And many, many times, they feel lost.

When I first really seriously thought of getting out of academia, I remembered an 'alternative careers' seminar I attended my first year of grad school (the only one, actually, that I ever DID attend in grad school). The speaker was Nancy Baron, the author of "Escape from the Ivory Tower." At the time, her talk of alternate careers inspired me. I bought the book. I read some of it. Then, I got swept up in experiments and grants and more experiments and classes, and forgot.

But the book stayed on my shelf. So when I decided to look at other options, I went to go find it.

...and realized the book was now over six years old. Many of the recommendations seemed old fashioned, half the web addresses no longer worked, and then, I was just out of ideas. I wanted out, but where would I go? What would I do?

It's easy to fall into that feeling of helplessness. You start to realize that you want to leave academia, and you wonder what you have to offer the outside world. Well...I can pipette! And I can handle mice! And I'm very good at ANOVAs...well. Crap.

But for those who want to leave, all is not lost! Here are some tips that I've picked up along the way, and I would welcome any other tips in the comments!

1. Develop your networks, and of course, hit the internet. There are many other professions out there. Find out what they are. Go on a hunt. You may be in academia, but everyone knows someone. And with all the people who left, it never hurts to ask around. Some people are...worried that advisors and other people in the department won't take it well, and so don't want to be loud about leaving academia. In those cases, you can ask the career center (though many of them are best equipped for undergrads). You can also look around at other, closely related departments.

And of course, the internet is your friend. There are LOTS of us here, and many of us are vocal about our own career changes, and glad to help out others who are heading the same way. We can help you out, help you find people to contact and network with. Network contacts can help you get things like informational interviews, which can lead to more networks and valuable information to help you as you start on your new career.

2. Prepare a resume, and have people outside of academia look at it. This is vital. I prepped a resume based on my CV with the help of a career center. They had no idea what they were doing, it was basically the highlights of my CV in academic order. I sent it to a friend outside of academia. Three drafts later, it was a completely different document. Formatting changed, emphasis changed, everything changed. Her insights were hugely valuable...because she wasn't an academic. She knew what people on the outside were looking for. Find these people, and ask them for help.

3. Join groups. Groups like the Versatile PhD were built for those going out of academia, and are replete with advice. Many unis hold job fairs, get on the lists and go to them. Check out what's out there. See if there are groups around the uni doing things you are interested in. Maybe there's a science policy group. Maybe there's a research council that you could get experience on. Maybe there are groups that hold workshops that you can get involved in. Maybe there's a newsletter for a group you are in that you could write for.

If there's not a group for what you are interested in, start one! You'll get valuable experience, and help build up your resume with leadership roles along the way.

4. Get started. For god's sake, get started. It is never too early to start developing new talents that might help you in your future career. Many, many times, I've had people mention to me that they wanted out of academia, or ask me for advice. I tell them "what do you want to try? You may want to get some experience teaching/writing/in policy/whatever." Some of them dive in, find something to try, and start doing. Soon, they are having successes in their new field, and feeling more confident.

But often, I'll come back a few months later and say "hey, did you try that thing?" And they haven't. They've been busy. They are tired. The lab is hard.

I understand that. I do. I worked my share of long hard hours. I've been my share of busy and crazy and knocked down.

But, in the words of one of my mentors, "we're all busy." You need to make time for the things that matter to you. If getting out of academia matters to you, if seeking a different career matters to you, GET EXPERIENCE. If you don't start looking and trying, it's easy to remain on the same path in academia, grad school to postdoc, postdoc to another postdoc, just funneling along the path you know. Get experience elsewhere. Without it, you will not stand out from the herd of other PhDs who are out there looking for a career change. A PhD, funding, and publications look great in academia, but they are little-valued currency outside the ivory tower.

A side anecdote: I applied for a fellowship. I got an interview for it. I was excited, nervous, but felt like I maybe had a chance. At the interview I met two other applicants. One was about to defend their dissertation. They'd gotten some patents on the way...and founded a highly successful non-profit to help low income kids learn sports. While getting their PhD.

The other was an MD/PhD who spoke four languages, and had recently been spending their time with Doctors Without Borders in a South American Country. While they were there, they'd noticed a need, and started a successful vaccination campaign in another nearby country. THAT was what I was up against. Get experience.

For many careers that require a science PhD, you will be up against people AT LEAST AS successful as you. You need to be better. You got through grad school, you have the ability to be just as intimidating as those people. You DO. Get out there, and become it. Get experience. Maybe you can teach a class at a community college. Maybe there's a policy group at your school you can get involved in. Maybe there are internships. Maybe you can start writing a blog or a newsletter for a group, or take on editing on the side to get experience. As I said above, if there's isn't a group for this at your uni? Make one!

5. Find fellowships and internships. Some of these are listed on the Chronicle of Higher Ed. Some of them come through internal listservs. AAAS has fellowships for mass communications and for science policy. Many other groups have fellowships for science policy as well. They are out there and they are designed for people coming from academia. They know what it's like to get out of academia, and are prepared to deal with those coming from that world, to help shape our talents for our new careers.

What tips have I missed? Let me know in the comments. And for those looking to leave academia, take heart. Some of us did it. You can, too.

12 responses so far

The 'system' failed me. It should have failed me sooner.

Jan 06 2014 Published by under Academia, Uncategorized

There are some posts that punch you in the gut a little. Lately, for me, those posts have been about life in academia. About 'the system'. Whether or not it failed people. This post was one of them. It hit me hard. But it made me think, too.

The post, "The afternoon I decided to leave academe - and what happened next", describes someone who could have been me (had I been a history PhD, anyway). She loved being in academia, but in the end, facing another year of adjuncting, she decided to leave. She is now successful in a completely different career, but she still fights a nagging sense of failure.

And she could have been me. My situation, lately, is very similar. Because I am no longer in academia. I am still writing up my last few papers (which, by the way, is a HECK of a lot harder to do when you have to do the work that pays first and try to squeeze it around a completely different full time job), but I'm not a scientist anymore. Instead, I'm a writer. I love my new career. But like the author of that post, I still feel that nagging sense of failure.

I could have kept at it. Many people told me to take another post-doc, take the 'part time' (though is a 3-3 with research and service really part time?), non-TT job I was offered. To adjunct, to keep trying.

And part of me really, really wanted to. I have always wanted to be a professor. I remember seeing my father in class once, when I was very young. He is a professor, and to me, he looked like the coolest guy in the world. So knowledgeable, so inspiring, so brilliant. And I wanted to be like that when I grew up. I wanted to teach, to think big thoughts, to present new things to the world, to have everyone think I was smart.

So I went to college. I went to grad school. I did a lot of science. I felt I was doing something that would change people's lives for the better, that would help people who suffered. I wanted to save the world. In the end, I wasn't good enough to save the world, not Tenure-Track good enough. But also, in the end, I realized that I did not want to BE good enough. I no longer wanted to be big wig science professor at a big wig university.

Throughout all this, I read a lot about people who feel the academic system failed them (or their friends). They were promised jobs, or they themselves had promise, and the system weeded them out with the ruthlessness of 8% paylines. I don't know whether the system failed them or not. We're all different.

But did the system fail me? There may have been problems with funding, may have been problems with mentors, or lack of them. There may have been issues with projects or support or a million other things. There may have been problems with me, with my attitude, my smarts, my drive. Or not. Or none of the above. But in the end, yes, I DO think the system failed me.

I think it didn't kick me out fast enough.

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Tying up loose ends

Jan 01 2014 Published by under Academia, Uncategorized

A lot of people outside academia don't realize how slow the gears grind. Projects have to be conceived, funded, performed, written up. Submitted, rejected, submitted again, rejected with revisions, resubmitted, and then, finally, published. In an ideal world, the process takes months. In can take years. I'm out of academia. But I am not free of it. I have four first author papers still waiting. In my first few months out of academia, I spent all my free time writing three of them up. Checking all the data, dotting the i's and crossing the t's. Two have been submitted, and returned with major and minor revisions, respectively.

And now my spare time is devoted to revisions.

People ask me lately what it's like to be out of academia. It may be years until I'm fully "free." In some ways it feels like claws pulling me back to my old life. The revisions get harder and harder to do, as I get further and further from the lab. I begin to forget the literature, the established ways of writing, the phrasing. I forget how to think about things. It's hard to switch from your daily job to the work still unfinished. Especially when it's 10pm at night.

And unfortunately, the worse you get, the more you get chastised for doing things badly. And the more you fear and expect the chastisement. Emails from your old life make you sick to your stomach, even though most are completely innocuous. Academia loves sticks, and carrots a feel like they are deliberately undervalued. It really says something about academia that often, acceptance with minor revisions sounds EXACTLY like rejection until you ask somebody else.

This makes it very, very hard to complete those papers. Then you realize you're the one procrastinating and you feel even WORSE. I know it's my fault. I know. The papers need to go out. I know it's my responsibility to do them and do them well. But it is a slog. At best.

I'm determined not to give up. So far, I am putting in 30 min per day on a paper. Response to reviewers, reading it over, edits, reading relevant literature. Often, if I get into it, the 30 minutes will stretch to an hour or more. But sometimes I'm gritting my teeth and telling myself "30 minutes, you can do 30 stinking minutes." It's not much. It's not enough. But it is something.

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Building a new normal

Oct 21 2013 Published by under Academia, Activism, Uncategorized

This is the post about Bora. And the "community" that I thought was there. There's been other stuff going on as well. But this one is about Bora.


I warn you all that this post is very hard for me. Normally what you see here, even the longer ranting or opinion pieces on academic life, even the big reviews on opponent process theory or long posts on a paper? Those are drafted and posted on the fly. I hammer them out in a single sitting, fast as you like, and throw them onto the internet. Maybe I'll have a friend or two look over an opinion post. But usually not.

But this? This I went over, over and over, in my head. This I took notes for. I wrote an OUTLINE. It's the only way I feel I can fit all the thoughts and feelings in, and even then, I don't think that I'll hit them all.

I don't process on the internet. I don't process on twitter or write posts trying to understand my feelings. I never have, I probably never will. Partially because, when I process, I do so in far more than 140 characters. Partially because, at this point, if I say something I regret... I say it to 23,000 people. And I shudder at the idea of saying something wrong, or something hurtful to someone else, to 23,000 people. And it's partially because I just can't react that fast. It means I've been quiet on a lot of issues, even though people have told me I need to say something. I do want to say something. I just want to make sure I've processed, and that it's the thing I need to say. My silence does NOT mean I do not support the victims. Far from it.

It's taken me a lot of time to process. In the first few days, I drank more than was good for me, I admit. I ran more than was good for me, too (which is very possible). More miles vanished under my heels in two days than I'd run in the previous 10 days combined. I would think I felt better, and come back to a fresh cut. I went whole days forgetting to eat. Not sleeping, waking up in a panic thinking it couldn't be this way.

I know this seems like an over-reaction. But I felt like my world was falling down. Science blogging, BORA, who introduced me to science blogging, made me love science again. Bora, and his guidance, got me where I am. Entering into the world of science blogging showed me where my real talent lay. It gave me an entree into a new career that I am unbelievably excited about. I'm so glad to have found something that I'm good at, and that I love. For all this, I thanked Bora. I still do. Science blogging has become my world. It contains most of my friends. It's no longer a world I can step away from and back into the lab. It's my career now. My life.

But it turns out...Bora was not the man I thought he was. I trusted him implicitly. He told me to jump blogs, I would jump. He told me to apply for something, I would. Without hesitation. To me, he was a mentor. Almost paternal. He told me I was his oldest blogdaughter (from way back in '08). He was never inappropriate to me.

But he was horrible, horrible, to others. And it was chilling, and nauseating, to read. I met Bora like all of them did. In a coffee shop. Alone. Nervous. I was no different.

And now I wonder if I was just being used for my sense of loyalty. I think it's obvious to many people who know me. My college boss from the old coffee shop used to tell me I was like a big labrador retriever. I LIKE you! I like you all! I want you to like ME! I trust you implicitly and I think you're GREAT. And if you knock me down, I'll come bounding back, still thinking we're buds. I'm very, very loyal to my friends. They make mistakes, and I know that. Often, I forgive them instantly.

But when those mistakes HURT people. Hurt many, many people. Hurt their own families, possibly beyond repair. Hurt careers. Use power to take what they want. Lie to me. Lie to everyone. Hurt MY FRIENDS.

Even the friendliest dog has a line.

I feel terrible for his victims. I feel terrible that my faith in Bora, in a way, kept him able to harass others. I admire their bravery, their grace. I am with them in every way.

People have been having the uncomfortable, difficult, painful conversations. I've been having a lot of them myself. I have found out that this thing I thought was my community...was not a community to everyone. I have found out that where I tried to be inclusive...people felt excluded. This was not the "community" of everyone at all. I have found that the ScienceOnline meeting, the place where I felt the safest I have ever felt outside my own house...people did not feel safe.

Bora is not the man I thought he was. And the science communication community was not the place I thought it was.

The whole week has been full of downs. But toward the end. I started to see #ripples of hope. Not just the hashtag (though that alone is brilliant), but from other bloggers, saying, we can, in the future, be better. We want to be better. We WILL be better. People taking decisive action.

And I have been incredibly impressed with many of my colleagues. Yes, people fought, and jumped to conclusions, and etc. But there have been no death threats or rape threats, and compared to some communities I've seen...well I'm impressed. I always thought I wrote with and worked with some amazingly good people. Now, I KNOW it.

And it gives me hope. It makes me believe we can do better. It has made me think HARD about how I behave at conferences. Am I friendly? Am I too friendly? Do I exclude people by accident, without knowing? Am I ever in power over someone...even when I may not realize it?

I may have to change how I operate. All of us may. Our rose colored glasses are gone. But I am willing to change. I think many people are. They are willing to admit that what we had...wasn't as great as we thought. And willing to help build a new normal. I hope it's teaching us to listen. I hope it's teaching us to see. Even when we don't like it.

I'm working with some people to help. I would like to help make Science Online the amazing experience I have had for as many people as I can. I would like to make it safe. I've got a few ideas, and I've seen some great ones around. But does anyone else have ideas? Twitter has been a free-flowing stream, and I don't want things that I could help with to flow past. Please please put them in the comments. I'd love to keep track. I'd love to help build a new, better, more trustworthy normal.


ADDENDUM: ScienceOnline is very committed to making stuff better. Karyn is collected responses. So please if you have ideas, send her a summary (not a link or a storify or a tweet, a summary) to Together we can make this better.

35 responses so far

Friday Weird Science: Oral Sex Gets Fishy

Oct 11 2013 Published by under Friday Weird Science, Uncategorized

When it comes to parenting, some animals will go the extra mile. Possums, for example, have their young clinging on as they trundle around. Kangaroos give birth to immature young that they keep in a pouch until it's bursting at the seams. Humans let 30 year old offspring move back in.

And fish? Do mouth brooding.

The fish above has a mouthful of eggs. It's a cichlid. And some species of cichlid will go the extra...mouthful to protect their eggs. They are so worried about the predation of their eggs that the females lay eggs, circle around, and then immediately gobble them up, holding them in their mouths until the fry hatch, and often even longer, until they are big enough to make it on their own.

However, it turns out that the female fish are in such a rush to pick up their eggs, they sometimes don't even give them time to get fertilized! Holding a mouth of unfertilized eggs seems like kind of a waste. But the males have figured out not just how to get fertilization to happen...they got some oral sex out of the bargain.

Sort of.

Mrowka, W. "Oral Fertilization in a Mouthbrooding Cichlid Fish" Ethology, 1987.

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