Battling Sexism with Humor?

In class on Monday evening, the discussion of discrimination and harassment focused primarily on race. One colleague did briefly bring up sexism, speaking about how she is often complimented on her appearance and dress, while males in her lab are complimented on their performance. While I have no answer for overcoming racism, sexism, ageism, etc. after Tim Wise’s presentation on 11/2/15 I’ve been thinking about the role of humor in bringing attention – and possibly change – to these issues.

The first example I have seen recently is a movement called #CoverTheAthlete. It’s purpose is to get media outlets to treat female athletes in a manner similar to their male counterparts, rather than focusing on their looks and love life. To get their point across, the group asked male athletes questions which are commonly posed to female athletes. Watch for yourself!

The second example is a parody account on Twitter called @manwhohasitall: “Top tips for men juggling a successful career and fatherhood.” This account turns advice given to women (sometimes exaggerated) around to be directed at men in order to make the point for how ridiculous it seems. It also re-frames common quotes about women in the workplace to be about men.

For instance:



What do you think – Will humor help, hurt, or do nothing to help decrease various -icisms?



Posted in PFP15F

“It’s Oxidation, Actually”

The New York Times article “Alan Alda’s Challenge to Make Science Easier to Understand” begins with a story. Young Alan asks his teacher, “What is a flame?” and is dissatisfied with her answer, “It’s oxidation”. This was a response that he did not comprehend.


The article goes on to provide an overview of Mr. Alda’s acting career and long-held interest in science. In recent years these two aspects of his identity have merged together with the formation of the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University. The mission of this center is to use theater improv. techniques to train scientists to better communicate their work with people outside of their discipline. I agree wholeheartedly that this is important to do. However, I disagree with the notion which often emerges that ‘if someone doesn’t understand what an expert is saying, it’s because the person talking/teaching/etc didn’t explain it well enough’. Just because we don’t ‘get something’, doesn’t necessarily mean it wasn’t explained well, our teacher isn’t good, or so on. It just means we don’t get it! Could it have been explained differently? Possibly. But, perhaps we just don’t have enough knowledge at the time to fully understand the information presented. At a surface level, we can likely appreciate and comprehend the work of another researcher, or at least understand why it is important, just as young Alan could describe a flame and its properties. Can we understand the nuances of an experts’ work? Highly unlikely. Not because they did not explain it well, but because we don’t have much, if any, education in that area.

It seems that may have been the case with 11 year old Alan’s inquiry about a flame. At the end of this article the reporter asks how he would now answer his own question of “What is a flame?”. Mr. Alan’s response: “It’s oxidation, actually”.

Agree? Disagree?


Posted in communicating science, PFP15F

Communicating Science on Social Media

Tomorrow night in the Preparing the Future Professoriate class we are participating in a “Communicating Science” workshop. While this workshop will focus on improvisation games to increase oral communication skills, another area for science communication I believe is important is via social media. Here are a few:

1. Communication is your responsibility. Who is the ultimate “consumer” of your research? For many of us, if we get down to it, the ultimate mission of our work is to positively impact people in some way. Unfortunately, researchers rarely communicate the findings of their work to the lay population. Manuscripts published in traditional scientific journals are often locked behind paywalls. Those that are freely available via Open Access platforms and publishers are still rarely accessible since the discipline specific jargon is a barrier for anyone not in that specific field.

2. It’s where the people are. Especially young people. About half of young Americans get their news from…Facebook. Yup, Facebook! I heard someone (I forget who now) say, “If you’re trying to communicate, but you’re not on social media, you’re like a tree falling in an empty forest – yes, you’re making noise, but no one is listening”. So get on-line and get in to the conversation!


3. Unqualified people are the go to source. Not to name names on this one, but folks with a large social media presence tend to be used frequently as a source for nutrition information [my field], despite lack of qualifications and accuracy of information. I imagine this is the case in other disciplines as well. Scientists need to be out there on these social media networks to help spread accurate information and correct misconceptions.

4. Increase the spread of your research. The more your work is promoted via social media channels, the greater the likelihood of it: being shared with those who will benefit from the findings; picked up by media sources; and cited by other scientists. And really, who among us doesn’t want to increase our h-index?


Personally, I’m drawn to Twitter as my main channel for communicating research and nutrition/exercise information via social media. This is partly because of the brevity of this channel (combined w/ my current lack of time to blog more about my field) and ability to link to outside content. However, the primary reason I utilize Twitter is because the majority of conversations on food, diet, health, and nutrition topics occur on Twitter. Therefore, for my field, using Twitter makes the most sense.

What social media channel is the most heavily utilized in your field of study? Do you have accounts you regularly maintain for professional purposes on social media channels? If not, what hesitations do you have about doing so?


Posted in communicating science, PFP15F, social media

Predatory Journals: The Downside of the Push for Open Access

In theory, I agree with the concept of the “Open Access” movement. In reality, this push for open access seems to have resulted in an exponential increase in predatory journals and publishers. One just needs to look at the history of Beall’s List to see this in action. In only 5 years, the number of potential  possible, or probably predatory scholarly open-access publishers has increased from 18 in 2011 to 693 as of this past January. Furthermore, in just 3 years, the list of potential, possible, or probably predatory scholarly open-access journals has increased from 126 in 2011 to 507 as of this past January.


From Beall's List Website
From Beall’s List Website

For our Open Access Journal blog prompt, I selected one from Beall’s list. The International Journal of Food and Nutritional Sciences (IJFANS), sounds scholarly enough, and would likely not seem suspect to the general public. It may very well be legitimate, but since it is on Beall’s list, that is concerning.

Where Is the Journal From?: The Editor in Chief of the IJFANS is a professor at the University of Oslo in Oslo, Norway. The Managing, Associate, and Assistant Editors are all from institutions in India.  I looked up the Editor in Chief from the University of Oslo, and he does indeed work at this institution. However, when I searched for the Managing Editor, my computer gave me a scary-looking warning and emitted a loud and startling beeping noise warning me to NOT proceed to the webpage. This was concerning, so I stopped my investigation of the editorial board there! More over, the managing editor has only 3 publications which are indexed on PubMed, which further increases my doubts about this open access journal.

What are the Purpose, Goals, and Scope of the Journal?: The Aim & Hope of the IJFANS is…“To publish research articles in rapidly developing field of Food Sciences and Clinical Nutrition… Aim of IJFANS is to publish review and research articles in rapidly developing field of Food Sciences and Clinical Nutrition…The journal aims to cover the latest outstanding developments in the field of Food Sciences and Clinical Nutrition specifically in their respective following branches.”

How Does the Journal Address/Explain Open Access? How (if at all) does it position itself within the open access movement?: “This journal is an online journal having full access to the published review and research papers. Manuscripts submitted to the editor are first reviewed by journal’s reviewer and, if necessary, by other experts. All review and research articles will be subject to thorough and fair review by the Editors….As this is an open access journal and if the manuscript is accepted for publication, the authors has to pay US dollar $100 or Euro 80 (Foreign Authors) or Rs. 3500 (Indian Authors) per article towards processing and publishing may be intimated within one week from the date of manuscript submission. The modes of fee payment will also be intimated in the acceptance letter”

Basically, this journal only briefly addresses the Open Access portion. Apparently, so long as you pay, your article can be published within a week of submission. This is a prime example of the downside to the push for open access, more predatory journals! Several times a week I get email solicitations to submit papers for publication in these open access journals. While I recognize them as being predatory thanks to VT librarians presenting on this topic in my department seminar, I worry that other researchers may not be aware of this trend. In addition, I’m concerned that the public will not distinguish between high-quality open access journals and those which are predatory.

What experiences with predatory journals do you have?





Posted in Beall's List, open access, PFP15F, predatory journals

The Missing Mice – ORI Case Summary

For our assignment to blog about a case of research misconduct listed on the Office of Research Integrity‘s website, I selected a case from 2012 in which former University of Kentucky researcher, Eric J. Smart was found to have falsified and fabricated data included in several manuscripts and grant applications. Through their investigation, ORI determined that in many of the reports, Dr. Smart presented data from mice that never existed in the laboratory at the time the research was supposedly conducted. What I find most intriguing about this is that Dr. Smart was not the sole author of these manuscripts. Several individuals share authorship, yet others listed appear to still have their jobs. While specifics of the investigation were not available, I wonder why other people listed as authors were seemingly not involved with the data collection (aka the lack thereof) to call out this out, as well as why they were not punished as well.

More concerning than the individual cases of research misconduct are the implications for the fields of study as a whole. For instance, the papers which were retracted following the 2012 closing of the investigation were primarily published in the early 2000s. That is 12 years of this data potentially being cited as correct and having implications for medical practice and additional research questions. Furthermore, it is likely that research dollars were wasted in an attempt to replicate the findings of this group without success. While sanctions need to occur when research misconduct is detected, arguably more important is the creation of procedures which prevent deceit from occurring in the first place.

What policies and procedures are in place in your lab group or department which limit the chance of research misconduct occurring?


Posted in PFP15F

Shades of Gray: Professional Codes of Ethics in Action

In addition to being a PhD candidate, I am first and foremost a Registered Dietitian. As such, I have agreed to abide by the Code of Ethics for the Profession of Dietetics set forth by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. This code consists of 19 principles, grouped in to 5 categories: Fundamental Principles; Responsibilities to the Public; Responsibilities to Clients; Responsibilities to the Profession; and Responsibilities to Colleagues and Other Professionals.

Like most documents guiding ethical conduct I have come across, upon reading the Code Of Ethics for my profession, it is easy to endorse and agree that they should be followed. However, in practice, there is a lot of gray area between “right” and “wrong”. This can lead to confusion and disagreement regarding the course of action which should be taken. For example, consider this case study (obtained from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Ethics Resource page) specific to the dietetics field:

A skilled long-term facility patient with severe dementia tells a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) that she no longer wants to be fed via her gastrostomy feeding tube. She has no advanced directive. The resident’s daughter wants her mother to be fed. What is the RDN’s role in this situation and what should be done?

Even without being in my field, I am certain most of you will realize the potential issues (both ethical and legal) involved, and appreciate the challenge of applying the Code of Ethics in this situation.

Principle #12 states: “The dietetics practitioner practices dietetics based on evidence-based principles and current information”. I’ll assume the RD followed this principle while making the initial recommendation for feeding tube placement and use. However, Principle #9 states, “The dietetics practitioner treats clients and patients with respect and consideration”. This principle is further clarified by:

  • a. The dietetics practitioner provides sufficient information to enable clients and others to make their own informed decisions.
  • b. The dietetics practitioner respects the client’s right to make decisions regarding the recommended plan of care, including consent, modification, or refusal.

Thus, while continuing with the feeding tube is likely the most evidence-based decision for the client’s nutritional status and overall health, the RD must also take the patient’s wish and quality of life/comfort in to consideration. Further complicating the issue: the resident has severe dementia, so may not be viewed as capable of making this decision for herself; and no advance directives are available.

In this case we see a clashing of the principles listed in the Code of Ethics. There is not a clear answer about how the RD, along with the rest of the medical team and the patient’s family should proceed.

I bring this situation up not to ask you to evaluate it and determine what you would do, but rather to provide one of many real-world examples in which applying professional Codes of Ethics is not straightforward.

I’d love to hear about similar shades of gray in your fields as they relate to your ethical obligations.


Posted in Case Study, Dietetics, Ethics, PFP15F

Jack of All Trades and a Master at Each

It seems the case that faculty are often put in a position where they are expected to be a jack of all trades and a master at each. Certainly an ambitious and unattainable goal given the multitude of responsibilities faculty (particularly those with dual research and teaching roles at institutions like Virginia Tech) face. The reading about Dr. Bonnie C. Yankaskas fighting demotion after a data security breach associated with Unit 2 in our Preparing the Future Professoriate class brought to light an unfortunate case study where requiring faculty to be experts in (seemingly) everything is potentially problematic. The write-up doesn’t provide enough information for a true judgement call to be made about the degree to which this researcher and others involved should each be held accountable for a hacker accessing research study files that contained personal identifying data of participants, and likely all are partially responsible. However, as principal investigator, the ultimate responsibility for everything related to a study does fall on her. To me, this seems unfair that researchers should also be expected to be IT experts as well, and that perhaps more indirect funds should be allocated to funding research-related IT personnel.

Thoughts? How is data security handled in your respective labs?


Posted in PFP15F

Are Faculty Neglecting Their Teaching Responsibilities?

I have to admit that I get annoyed with the faculty bashing that seems to occur, and in my opinion, started to surface in last week’s class. The view of many seemed to be that good researchers tend to neglect their teaching responsibilities and not put time in to their courses and students. While that may be true for some professors, I doubt it represents the majority of faculty juggling significant teaching and research loads.

A study out of Boise State (an institution classified as a doctoral university) found that faculty spend a majority of their time teaching and in meetings. A much smaller amount of time that we likely expect is spent on research-related tasks.

John Ziker, PhD - Faculty Time Allocation Study
John Ziker, PhD – Faculty Time Allocation Study

As someone who has been fortunate enough to teach my own courses during my time as a PhD student, I can attest to how time consuming it can be. Class sessions need to be developed, tweaked, and delivered several times a week; assignments need to be graded and reviewed; and student emails and meetings attended to. These deadlines are consistent and immediate. This tends to result in research-related tasks being pushed to the back-burner (or even moved totally off of the figurative ‘stove’).

While there will certainly always be room for improving teaching skills (and research abilities!), my wish is that as future faculty we work to acknowledge and appreciate the time professors put in to teaching (often at the expense of their research responsibilities), rather than bashing faculty we believe did not do us justice when we were students in their courses. For those holding this view that researchers do not devote enough time and effort to teaching, I imagine it will change once you get experience on the other side of the desk!

Agree? Disagree? I’d up for dialoging on this topic!






Posted in PFP15F

Academic Freedom – What Does It Mean to You?

I started reading the book Academic Duty by Donald Kennedy, former president of Stanford University. He begins by describing Academic Duty as the counterpart to “Academic Freedom” – which traditionally refers to the “insulation of professors and their institutions  from political interference”. While I see the importance of this, particularly in the past, this is not how I would have defined academic freedom if given the chance.

So, how would I define it? Well, I would probably first, jokingly (though, not really joking) repeat a line I heard a faculty member tell me once. “Academic freedom is the flexibility to decide which 90 hours a week you work”. And seemingly, I am not alone in having my initial thought be related to the often loose and undefined start and stop point of working. Dr. Kennedy goes on to write that “Indeed, academic freedom connotes loose structure and minimal interference. There are no time clocks and few regulations about the direction of effort or even about the locations at which it is to take place”.

Perhaps this seemingly “easy life” of working when you want and sometimes from where you want is what draws some people in, and makes some students enroll in doctoral programs. Undoubtedly, like in any similar field, some people will take advantage of this and actually work very little. However, I perceive those as being the minority of faculty members. More often than not, academe seems to be full of passionate, intrinsically motivated, “do-ers”. So while we may spend a day working in our pajamas from home (umm…welcome to every Sunday of my life…okay, and a few Tuesdays thrown in for good measure!), we usually are working much more than folks on the outside of the ‘ivory tower’ would think. Beyond that, when I think of life as a faculty member, I am drawn to the quote, “To Whom Much is Given, Much is Expected”. With this freedom, comes a whole lot of responsibility (or “duty” as Dr. Kennedy prefers to call it).  But, that is a topic for another blog (or several).

How would you define “academic freedom”? Is this part of what drew you in to higher education to begin with?


Posted in academic duty, Academic freedom, higher education, PFP15F

Mission Statements: Land Grant Institute vs. Academic Medical Center

My undergraduate education took me from Massachusetts out to the University of Wyoming – a land grant institute, and the only 4-year university in the state. Without several in-state universities or professional sports teams competing for the affection and loyalty of residents, there was strong support for, and pride in the University nestled in Laramie, WY. Despite the massive land area of the state, the connection to being “Cowboy Tough”, having “Poke Pride”, and a “Get ‘Er Done” attitude united everyone.  In turn, the University was also committed to serving the residents and taking care of the beautiful, wide open spaces and jagged mountain peaks that make up landscape of Wyoming. While some mission statements seem to be just documents no one pays much attention to, at the University of Wyoming, the mission statement (last updated in 2009) seems to be embraced and acted upon daily from the administration and extension agents, to the faculty and students.

University of Wyoming Mission Statement (March 2009)

The University of Wyoming aspires to be one of the nation’s finest public land-grant research universities. We serve as a statewide resource for accessible and affordable higher education of the highest quality; rigorous scholarship; technology transfer; economic and community development; and responsible stewardship of our cultural, historical, and natural resources.

In the exercise of our primary mission to promote learning, we seek to provide academic and co-curricular opportunities that will:

  • Expose students to the frontiers of scholarship and creative activity and the complexities of an interdependent world;
  • Ensure individual interactions among students, faculty, and staff;
  • Nurture an environment that values and manifests diversity, free expression, academic freedom, personal integrity, and mutual respect; and
  • Promote opportunities for personal growth, physical health, athletic competition, and leadership development for all members of the university community.

As Wyoming’s only university, we are committed to outreach and service that extend our human talent and technological capacity to serve the people in our communities, our state, the nation, and the world.

While I don’t recall ever actually reading this Mission Statement until this assignment for the Preparing the Future Professoriate Course at Virginia Tech, based on my 5 years there, I would have correctly identified several components of it! The feature that most sticks out to me is the dedication to the primary mission of educating students (and in an affordable manner!). There were stickers that faculty and administrators often had displayed in their office saying “Students: The Reason We’re Here”. Supporting that primary mission is a dedication to research, outreach, and service – with a specific emphasis on responsible stewardship of natural resources.

As I apply for postdoctoral research training positions and faculty jobs, I think that I would be very happy ending up in a land grant institution like Wyoming (and Virginia Tech). However, I am also eager to see what other options exist and am considering research specific institutions as well. This assignment related to Mission Statements came at a perfect time for me as examining the Mission Statements may help educate me as to the environment and culture that could be experienced at a research-intensive campus. To compare what I know (land grants in small towns), with what I only have a small taste of (research universities in a more urban environment; e.g.- time spent at the University of Houston) I sought out the Mission Statement for the University of Alabama at Birmingham – one of the places I am investigating for postdoc training. Since I haven’t yet stepped foot on UAB’s campus, I can’t speak to if and how their mission statement is embodied and expressed.

University of Alabama at Birmingham Mission Statement

UAB’s vision is to be an internationally renowned research university — a first choice for education and health care.

UAB’s mission is to be a research university and academic health center that discovers, teaches and applies knowledge for the intellectual, cultural, social and economic benefit of Birmingham, the state and beyond.

In the past year, UAB has produced groundbreaking discoveries and innovations, delivering on our promise of “knowledge that will change your world.” Our overarching mission pillars embody our commitment to educate, advance research and discovery, care for the sick, respond to the needs of our community and use knowledge to establish Alabama as a progressive economic center that can change the world. We are investing in mission-critical infrastructure and institution-wide initiatives that under-gird the support of our faculty, staff, students, alumni, and community. Every school and department is identifying top priorities and actively collaborating to achieve them. We are aligning our greatest strengths for the benefit of UAB, Birmingham, Alabama, and beyond.

Overarching Mission Pillars

Provide education that prepares diverse students to lead, teach, provide professional services and become the prominent scholars and societal leaders of the future.

II  Pursue research that benefits society, delivers new treatments and cures for serious diseases, spurs innovation and expands UAB’s capability to continually discover and share new knowledge.

III  Deliver the highest quality patient care that reflects our ability to translate discoveries into revolutionary therapies in one of the nation’s largest academic medical centers.

IV  Encourage partnerships that improve education, health, economic prosperity and quality of life through service at home and around the globe.

V  Foster and stimulate innovation and entrepreneurship that contributes to the economic development and prosperity of the city of Birmingham, the state of Alabama and beyond.

 The thing that sticks out to me in this mission statement, which clearly differs from Wyoming, is that the primary mission and overarching vision are to be a top-notch research institution and academic health center. This is expected as I knew they were different institutions from the onset. Other notable features of UAB’s mission statement is the focus on entrepreneurship and innovation. Furthermore, while providing education is a priority to both institutions, the nuances differ. UAB seeks to educate diverse students who will go on to contribute to the university’s main missions of research and providing world-class medical care, while Wyoming is focused on providing primarily undergraduate education. The biggest similarities between the two mission statements is that both institutions seem devoted to connecting with -and improving – their local community and state.  As someone who loves participating in community service work, this similarity makes me feel confident that [should I move to Birmingham] I will be able to put the knowledge I have and work I do to use in my immediate surroundings through programs and events UAB is involved in.

I’m curious – have you been a student at, or worked at institutions of higher education which differ in their “label” [e.g. – small liberal arts vs. community college vs. whatever]? If so, how were their different purposes and missions seen and felt on campus? What similarities did you find between them?




Posted in PFP15F