Overwhelmed

Don’t you ever just sit at your desk mentally counting the virtual mountain of tasks that have  to be completed and feel totally overwhelmed? I’m totally there.

Yes, this post is going to be a confession of sorts, but I’m fully aware that my life isn’t unique and each of you probably have a similar mountain to the one I’m looking at right now. I am in the middle of producing 2 R01s, which, in itself is a crazy thing to attempt. I feel like I’m banging my head against both of them, never really making the kind of progress that needs to be made. The first is a resubmission, got a score (a bad one), but I’m having trouble seeing how to make the re-write work. At the same time, the initial application got scored so I feel like I MUST resubmit.

The second is a new submission of a project that I am infatuated with- but the needed techniques are going to be somewhat outside my comfort zone- so that is a challenge as well. Anyway, I’ve got study section between the two R01 deadlines, so there are a few (not to terribly many) grants to read for that. One of my trainees has two grants of her own with deadlines in the middle of all of this, for which LORs and such are needed.. and I have one paper accepted (a little good news is *so exciting*) with minor revisions- and so someone has to do those as well. Several manuscripts in various states of preparation await my attention.  I also have a talk (also good news, right?) at an important meeting for my field immediately following the second R01 deadline. Then I applied for a leadership training in my institution- and attendance is mandatory- 1 day each week for 6 weeks- to begin around the time of the meeting.

Yesterday I discovered that I can’t get back from my meeting talk in time for one of those sessions- so that training has to get put off until next year. Spent part of my evening last night trying to sort out how to make this work so I could do both- but short of me spending an entire night in the air and coming directly to training 24 hours sleepless… it is not going to work. Disappointing because I feel I really want some formal training in this area, because it will help me with potential next steps in my career. At the same time, this is just the way it has to be.

And finally, just before bedtime last night I opened my email to find my kid-sitter quit.  I found myself worrying about in lieu of sleeping last night.  I find myself scrambling to figure out how we are going to cover the kid-shuttling duties in the midst of all these other tasks…Heavy sigh… I totally thought I had that one in the bag….

One year ago some life events made me promise myself I’d be more purposeful about what I chose to do and not to do. I am not feeling good at that right now… and the days go by….

Advertisements

Cell, Science, Nature…. and… eLife?

My better half returned from his travels yesterday with some interesting nuggets of information he learned on his trip. Among those was this:

eLife

Wow. Consider me informed. As the new guy in the OA slate of journals… eLife wants your:

“outstanding research in the life sciences and biomedicine, which ranges from the most fundamental and theoretical work, through to translational, applied, and clinical research.”

HHMI, Max Planck and Wellcome are funding this effort, and as of now publishing in eLife is free for a while, and content is open access – an improvement over S/C/N.  The editorial leadership is very strong, led by EIC Randy Schekman, even if a little XY heavy ( only 5/21 senior editors are women – just sayin’). The editorial leadership of all working scientists appears to look at every submitted manuscript and determine its suitability for peer-review- as opposed to those other single word journals that use professional editors who are not working scientists determine the impact of your work (for starters). Haven’t we all complained about that at one time or another?

Emphasis in the peer review process at eLife seems to be on rigor, brevity, and generally less painful review/revision process.. and they have a nifty little video (sorry WP won’t let me embed) about their review process:

eLife: Changing the review process from eLife on Vimeo.

Oh how I have longed for concise guidance on revisions, for limiting revisions to those that are essential to the point of the paper, and for limited rounds of review. Is it too good to be true that you could get a paper into a very selective journal in less than the two years it takes you to do three pages of additional experiments that may or may not be relevant to the conclusion of the paper?

Decisions and responses for manuscripts accepted to eLife are published with the published article (with the author’s OK). And…they keep track of the mean time for submission to acceptance on their homepage… which is info that many journals don’t share (Cell, for example- publishes their mean time from submission to first decision as 21 days… but you could still go through a year of painful revisions after that).

Could eLife be the open access answer to the glamormagz? Maybe. They certainly set themselves up that way. I only learned about this yesterday (and judging by the papers published in eLife from my field (only 23 so far), not many of my colleagues know about it either)… but I’m interested to see how this journal will evolve. I’m reading this little gem with interest right now.

Impact Factor Warz… again.

I’ve not been blogging or reading too much blog recently. Late last week, in what started as an attempt at cleaning up my blogroll, I rambled on over to Isis place, electronically of course. Seems that esteemed physiologist Isis and open access pioneer Michael Eisen had a bit of a falling out over whether or not one should forgo potential publication in teh glamormagz, and go on the perceived moral high ground to an open access journal instead. I’m pretty sure you know which side Michael Eisen was on…. and as for Isis , she’s got a higher moral high ground.

Larger than the Open Access warz, I feel that I have a moral responsibility to increase the access to science careers for women and minorities. I can’t hold the door open for those folks unless I am standing on the other side of it.

Yeah, although I am not a minority so I don’t have the same perspective as Isis, as a girl with white guys on both sides, I understand at least that part of the sentiment. I really do. But what I don’t quite get- is why the OA-high ground and the increase-of-our-kind-in-STEM-disciplines high ground have to be pitted against each other.

It has been argued by Isis and many others in the comments that glamormagz pubs are essential for advancement in academic science, and I guess I think that interpretation is pretty rigid, at least in my admittedly (but I have gone through tenure, am on P&T, and on numerous hiring committees) limited experience. Why? Because I don’t think that single word journal pubs are necessary for promotion and tenure everywhere. Not every academic institution in this country has the same view of this as Harvard, Stanford, or Berkley. In fact, for the most part, if you have $$$, and a reasonable quality and number of papers as defined by your institution, and you have made an impact on your field that is defined in the letters of your tenure packet (which will be written by experts in your field who should know what your important contributions in your field are above just calling them S/C/N papers), you have done a respectable job at teaching and you have the support of your department members and chair- I don’t know why you wouldn’t get tenure. Despite what Dr. Becca says here….

 If you are a person at any pre-tenure stage of an academic career (incl grad students & post-docs), the reality is that you are judged by a finite number of things: 1) where you did your PhD; 2) who you do your post-doc work with; and 3) the IF of the journals you publish in.

That is not my experience on P&T decisions. Not.even.close.  P&T committees work really hard to try to incorporate lots of factors into the tenure decisions- but it would be foolish not to know that grants funded trumps every item on that list above. (I’m sure someone is going to scream that you need S/C/N papers to get $$, but what are you gonna do)

Nor do I think that the IF of the journal means anything about the impact of your paper published in that journal (as was wisely pointed out by Mr. Gunn in the comments of a follow up post by Dr. Becca).  It seems to me pretty stupid (or just lazy) on the part of a P&T committee to give more weight to a paper published in IF 30 journal, that has been cited 3 times total in 5 years, than to the paradigm shifting paper in the IF 4 society journal that has been cited 500 times in 5 years.  I’ll just note that the identification of Helicobacter Pylori as the causative agent of peptic ulcers was published in a journal none of you would recognize (with an an IF at the time of probably <2 if the trend on ResearchGate is correct, anybody know the IF of the Medical Journal of Australia in the 1980s?). Those guys singlehandedly changed the treatment for that disease and associated conditions, impacting millions of people and winning the Nobel prize in the process. I hope you are not saying that because their findings didn’t appear in S/C/N pub they didn’t have impact? If that is how academic science is today, well, it is pretty (earmuffs) fucked up.

Give the P&T committee as much quantifiable information about the impact of your work as possible, and don’t just rely on journal IF. Set yourself up an account on Google scholar and see precisely how many times each of your papers has been cited in the academic literature. You should include this information in your tenure packet on the citation for each of your papers, highlighted in bold. If it were me, I’d include OA statistics as well on the papers you have published in OA journals – like downloads for example, because I don’t think that there is any one perfect measure of impact and I’m unwilling to settle for any single imperfect measure. Choose the list of people in your sub-field who you will suggest to the chair (when he asks) as your external reviewers with extreme care, talk to some of your trusted colleagues for ideas if necessary. Find someone who lives in the 21st century academia who knows how to do this and can help you be proactive in the preparation of your tenure packet.

Speaking from personal experience, it takes some balls to go OA whole hog. Even after tenure (because you have trainees relying on pubs for future jobs, and it feels like gambling with their futures to go OA all the way). So I try not to vilify others for their choices in this area- but instead I try to make small inroads where I can. I stopped reviewing manuscripts for non-OA journals, I bring up OA whenever I can at my academic society (and with their journals people), I’ve put some of our data into OA journals… and I don’t even utter the word Elsevier unless it is preceded by the words ‘the evil’ .

And now, back to our normally scheduled grant revising program. uuugh.

Working hours

My kids are in school, DrMrA is out knocking everybody’s socks off at a conference, and I’ll be working in my office working on a response to a grant review. Which brings me to something I’m mulling over today- how much, or how little, actual working we expect from our laboratory staff (trainees, techs etc). Seems timely, what with it being Labor day and all.

Here is every PIs basic problem- how do we get absolutely the most (and most reliable) data out of each individual that we pay to work in our labs? I think we should get THE MAXIMUM of correctly done, well controlled work. I say this because for the most part we are spending taxpayer dollars for trainees’ salaries, and taxpayer dollars for our experiments.

Over the years I’ve seen the entire spectrum of PI personnel management techniques- from the  ‘accept-that-I-expect-you-to-be-chained-to-the-bench-during-thy-training-here’ approach all the way to the ‘however-long-it-takes-you-to-get-the-data-is fine’ approach (OK, big fat lie- I’ve never seen that second one- but some milder permutation marked by excessive patience). I’m sure you all know at least 1 PI who wants to abolish holiday breaks (and every other break) and feels that time to tend your personal life is a little luxury you can’t afford in the cutthroat world of academic science. There are those that think that if you are not working doing experiments at the bench, you are not working. For these PIs, more time = more data. This approach is only a strategy for coaching the team you have available, and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen it work very well.

In my little universe this issue isn’t about time served in data production, it is all about motivation.  I may seem like I’m kind of a softie- I don’t count people’s hours, and I don’t really think about it when someone asks me if they can take some time off to take care of this or that (unless it is a repeated pattern). I don’t want to chain trainees to the bench (figuratively). But I’m a tough-ass certain ways-  I don’t want personnel in the lab that aren’t internally motivated to be absolutely excellent.  I can’t teach a trainee to love science, and I think it would be silly to force someone to work on a problem that I find intellectually thrilling. I want personnel that are driven to know the answers to the questions we are asking. It is frigging hard to be an academic scientist right now- and I want those that step up to that challenge, by working harder, by reading more, by thinking more creatively, by writing and presenting better. I’ll go one step farther and say we shouldn’t be training any people in academic science who don’t have these qualities- and I’ve seen many who don’t. I prefer a strategy that emphasizes starting with the right players.

I’ll do my part too- I will freely give trainees in this category all my hard earned knowledge, both from life and from the academic-school-of-hard-knocks. Us PIs and our trainees have to realize that our fates are intertwined- the ability to keep the $$ rolling in for projects we care about and said trainees’ stipends, tuition and supplies, depends fairly directly on the ability of those trainees to produce data and thus, papers.