#Impactfactorwarz (updated)

This morning I was multitasking during a seminar and came across some tweets from my esteemed colleague Dr. Isis with the hashtag #Impactfactorwarz, and I started reading the associated conversation that revolved around use of impact factor in important decisions like promotion. The conversation could apply equally, however, to academic hiring, and other important career makers or breakers like grant review.

Let’s just focus for a minute on the following bit of Isis fact:

It means when my promotion committee looks at IF>5 papers, that’s where I have to publish.

Indeed, but this is a dirty little fact that we all know is true. Go ahead- wave your hands and protest that it is all about the scienz- but know that you are living in an alternate reality lying to yourself when you do that. Search committees, promotion & tenure committees, and review panels DO care about impact factor, and whether or not you publish in the ‘single word journals’ as another esteemed colleague of mine (Dr. Casadevall, I do adore you) is fond of calling them. But here is the deal- these committees and review panels are made up of individual scientists, living, breathing, flawed, busy, lazy, worried, idealistic, distracted, competitive scientists. So while we can point fingers and vilify this committee and that committee- remember also that it is us as working academic scientists that are perpetuating this culture. Uh huh, that’s right- its YOUR fault. That’s the second dirty little fact we don’t want to admit to ourselves.

And these #Impactfactorwarz are killing science. OH- I hear you cry, that’s bold DrdrA. Really, why? Let’s just agree that you don’t are so much less likely pass the search committee, the P&T committee or receive a score on your grant without the ‘single word journal’ pub. You don’t get an interview in this tight academic market without such a pub. No interview = No job. Our work takes longer and longer to get into press as you attempt to jump the moving target that is the high bar at the ‘single word journal’.  This lost time is just unnecessary, it slows the pace of progress, and costs junior people precious time producing the reims of data in the revision requested by the reviewers… for that sparkly glamormagz pub that you are going to get a rejection notice from anyway. And we have become afraid to show our data to each other.

You know what else- that ‘single word journal’ publication has become so overwhelmingly important- that people cheat their way into it. Yes, CHEAT. I know that sounds kind of dirty and we cringe a little inside when we read those words. But remember that scientists are not, as a rule, operating on some higher moral plane than the rest of society- even though we like to imagine that to be true. We know from some fine recent work- that misconduct is to blame for the majority of paper retractions, and that the number of retractions due to fraud has risen dramatically in recent years. We also know, from the same work, that the higher the impact factor the greater the incidence of a retraction due to fraud.… and if you don’t believe me, have a look at the data in Figure 3.

Now comes the hard part though. Let’s recognize that we, as working academic scientists, have created and perpetuate this system Every.Single.Day. We’ve leaned on impact factor as a proxy for quality and for influence in a given field, and we use that  honestly just out of laziness for the most part. Ask yourself, each of you- what can we do to change this system before it chokes us off- and before we end up with only a few funded scientists who have cheated their way to the grant money.

Updated: Drugmonkey just put up a post on the same topic

Job Search Question(s)…(UPDATED)

I’ve had a couple of questions about the academic job search in the last couple of days. You all know that demistifying this process is one of my favorite things to do….. and since I’m re-submission writing with renewed energy- y’all get to help me answer this one for DSKS:

Job application question.

If you are a Newbie and, although not in the fundable zone, you reckon you got an okay score and addressable criticisms for your first shot at an R01, can you (should you?) express this in an initial job application? (in this instance, the R01 goals are very much an integral part of the research statement?)

If so, in the cover letter or in the CV or both?

Or is this of absolutely no value whatsoever to a search committee, or even straightforwardly deleterious because it’s tantamount to drawing attention to failure?

It’s not for me. It’s for an, erm, acquaintance of mine… Bob Bobson’s his name. Haw haw. Silly bugger’s trying to get a job in 2009, and he’s to old to join the Navy.

I say ol’ Bob should definitely include the fact that he got a scored R01 application- and on the first submission – on his CV (Should appear under pending grant applications- or some such).  Search committees definitely, definitely care about that kind of stuff, and they know how freaking difficult it is out there right now. If this were me, I’d probably include the score itself and the percentile ranking, and my plan for resubmission dates -on the CV as well. I’m not sure I would write a bunch of bla bla bla about what appeared in the summary statement either in the letter or on the CV- because it would seem obvious to me as a search committee member that if a candidate had a scored R01 they would be pretty foolish NOT to try to resubmit it. As a search committee member if I saw the scored R01 bit on a candidate’s CV- and we chose to interview that candidate- I would likely have a conversation with the candidate about what was in the summary statement- and how they think the criticisms could/should be answered. I imagine that this kind of conversation might come up in a chalk-talk as well.

As for whether or not this information should appear in the cover letter- I’m still undecided on that one.  If I mentioned this in the cover letter my gut feeling would be to say – I submitted an R01 and it got scored on it’s A0 submission…. we think the criticisms are easily addressable and will do this and resubmit on XYZ date. I just don’t think the cover letter is the place to do a lot of explaining about how the reviewer’s issues could be rectified- and so bringing up a score here might lead the applicant into feeling like they must to explain. I could EASILY be wrong about this though.

What say you, readers of teh blog… to Q #1?

On to Q#2…from Enrique:

is it a no-no for a postdoc looking for a TT position to include significant contributions towards said postdoc advisor’s grants on a CV?

Never having encountered this situation myself, I’m not sure what advice to give on this one. My sense is that it would be difficult to fit this in on a CV… but I really need your combined opinions!

On Hiring.

Over at YoungFemaleScientist, MsPhD has a brief survey up for those of us in the biomedical sciences that either make or participate in hiring decisions for faculty (I can only presume that she meant faculty). The opening question is this:

Which single criterion is most important for making the first cut?

And the options are:

  • Name of Postdoc’s PI
  • Institution of Postdoc’s PI
  • Minimum number of papers (regardless of journal)
  • Minimum one high impact paper
  • Other (please explain)

Wow. Thinking about my own experiences in this area I can honestly say it’s not so simple for me. Allow me to explain.

First, let’s define the ‘first cut’. When I have a big stack of applications on my desk, I have to have an efficient way to go through them and figure out which applicants in that pile are competitive for the open position. This makes the first cut divide the non-competitive applications from those that are competitive- even moderately so. Continue reading

Unsolicited Advice: Job Search (Pt. 4)

Here we go again- more unsolicited advice. I was working up to cover letters and which jobs you should apply for when you look at the ads (only to be interrupted by multiple soccer games, all of which were won- but that’s not the point- everyone had fun!).

Cover letters– (also see ‘Application Pkg.’). These letters are your introduction to the search committee, and should be written very carefully. I have seen cover letters that are pages and pages… and I don’t recommend doing this. Search committees are made up of busy busy faculty… who… in addition to their regular jobs generating data/writing papers and such… are now invited to review piles and piles of applications. I recently was on one that reviewed nearly 100 applications, and this was on the lighter side for some of the other searches that I know about going on around campus. So in the letter- state what job you are applying for and how you heard about it. Then, briefly introduce yourself and your work… in such a way as to make the reader WANT to look at the rest of your paperwork. Spelling and Grammar should be immaculate, that goes without saying…

As for what ads you should respond to- here’s my humble unsolicited opinion. You may find out about jobs from various sources, print or online ads or word of mouth, but apply for EVERY job in your field that you seem to fit, DO NOT limit yourself and your options at this early stage!!

First, apply regardless of whether or not you fit EVERY criterion in the ad. It’s pretty rare that the search committee finds the exact candidate that they fantasize about… and in my experience search committees like to entertain really high quality candidates- whether or not they fit the exact description of the position. Take a look at the advertising departments’ web pages- check out their faculty and what they do (Other advice on where to find information about a department/institution can be found here courtesy of the Chronicle of Higher Education) . I have been on search committees that ended up being wowed by candidates that weren’t at all what was advertised for… and those resulted in multiple hires… so don’t be afraid to send in an application for a job that you don’t completely fit the description for- especially if you know the makeup of the department and think you might find colleagues with overlapping or complementary interests, and a good fit there.

Second, a couple of words about geography- apply for positions regardless of whether or not they are in a geographic area where you want to live. You narrow yourself unnecessarily too early in the search by using geography as a criterion. The goal here is to get a job, and you get an academic job by getting an interview… and preferably multiple interviews, and the deal gets closed when you have a written offer- preferably multiple written offers… and your chances of making this happen are just better if you apply to as many positions as possible.

And third, spouses- this is a tricky subject, but I think doesn’t really impact things at this stage. Of course you and your spouse will talk about these places, but unless you get beyond the interview, don’t limit yourself now…