Just a little tenure humor

I found this comic on phdcomics.com while procrastinating studying for finals.

 

I thought this might make the fodder for a blog post.  We have discussed the many problems with tenure (achieving it as well as learning from it) in class and I thought I would use this comic as a brief reminder of some of the things we have discussed in class.  This cartoon reflects a general lackadaisical attitude toward attending a meeting on time, however one can extend this context to include other aspects of being a professor such as teaching responsibilities or potentially research accomplishments or publicatios.  This is certainly not true in all cases, however, the accountability for tenured professors is often questionable.  Tenured professors, at least historically, are looked at as untouchable.  But this is not entirely true.  According to the NEA (National Education Association), about 2% of tenured professors are dismissed each year.  They discuss the fact that it is difficult to fire a tenured professor (though it does happen), but it is arguably just as difficult to become one.  They also address the fact that most tenured professors apparently came teaching as one of their favorite responsibilities.  For more on the NEA’s brochure on “The Truth About Tenure in Higher Education”, please see the included link.

http://www.nea.org/home/33067.htm

Hunger and homelessness in community college students

While looking through the Motherblog (I love that name), I spotted an article in the Chronicle that caught my eye.  This article discusses a study looking at the incredibly shocking rates of community college students that experience, what they term, ‘food insecurity’ (aka either decreased access to food, hunger, etc.) as well as homelessness.

Link to article

This headline caught me completely off guard.  Though I more often have my head stuck in an Immunology textbook or manual discussing rodent techniques to prepare for my next experiment, I do not consider myself completely oblivious to world problems.  But I was, in fact, completely oblivious to hunger and homelessness being issues experienced by community college students.  This study looked at 4,000 students representing 10 different institutions.  Almost half (HALF!) of all respondents reported having marginal food insecurity in the past 30 days.  Marginal food insecurity was defined as having anxiety over shortness of food.  HALF!  I know we as students all struggle with money but to see a statistic where people are actually concerned about where their next meal might come from is heart breaking.  Similar numbers had experienced home insecurity represented by difficulty paying for rent and utilities.  How can one properly obtain an education and focus on studying when their bellies are growling and they are not sure if they will make rent this month??

Additionally the article points out that many students facing these issues do not take advantage of programs currently available to help them.  I wonder though, if this is more likely due to a lack of knowledge about these programs as opposed to any other reason.

Finally, the article posits many ways in which these statistics can be addressed and changed.  They discuss public policy changes, increasing public awareness of programs to assist in acquiring food and shelter, and expanding support programs (including mental health programs) on community college campuses.  I found this article interesting as well as important in highlighting a problem to which I have unfortunately been blissfully ignorant.

If I could have one wish . . . what would it be . . .

One thing I would like to change about higher education . . . I would like to see an improvement in the work-life balance.  This is one topic that I address in my scholarly essay.  Unfortunately, from here on, I can only mostly comment on the female experience with respect to work-life balance, as my essay focuses mostly on the role of women in academic medicine.

 

One really interesting article I read was written by Tessie W. October and found in Frontiers in pediatrics this year.  I won’t go into too much detail as I discuss this further in my essay but basically this is an article discussing a woman’s various thoughts during maternity leave for each of her three children.  It chronicles some of the really important bias and stereotypes that women in academic medicine, who also have families, face.  It discusses the bias she has of herself when she tries to be the perfect mother as well as the perfect academic physician.  Also it discusses the biases of society when they chastise her for utilizing her maternity leave in a way they feel is unmotherly.  I really enjoyed the article (and will include a link at the end of this blog) as a way to capture many of the reasons, in my opinion, women feel that they are constantly failing at work-life balance . . . especially in academic medicine.

 

I feel like an improvement in this aspect is important to not only maintaining women in academic medicine (and likely higher education), but too also simply improving the institution as a workplace.  Again, I am biased towards the female aspect as that what what my paper focused on, but many of the studies I looked at evaluated both men and women.  In general, women generally were more dissatisfied with work-life balance then men.  So, if we as an institution can make it easier to achieve such a balance through the use of emergency daycare options, flexible maternity leave, work-at-home options, lactation rooms, etc., I think we can improve the working capabilities of women in academic medicine (and higher education).

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4585105/

Can women have babies and do science too?

I wanted to share a quick article that popped up on my Facebook feed and, interestingly, was very relevant to the essay I am finishing up. My essay pertains to women in academia and the gender disparities they experience. The full length version of the article can be found here: http://www.nature.com/news/scientist-disinvited-from-speaking-at-conference-because-of-her-pregnancy-1.18946?WT.mc_id=FBK_NatureNews. The purpose of the article was to describe a recent situation experienced by a female scientist who was rescinded an invitation to speak at a conference due to her being 7-months pregnant. According to the article, the woman accepted an invitation to speak at the European Commission (EC) conference in Brussels. When making her travel arrangements, she told the agent that she preferred to travel by train as opposed to airplane because, at the time, she would be 7 months along. After that, she was contacted by someone from the conference rescinding her invitation. They claimed they did not want to compromise her safety that late in pregnancy. When she pursued the matter further, a variety of other excuses were made and, though they apologized and said they would look into the matter further, there was no change in their decision for her to not speak.

This is an interesting article because it brings up an important gender difference that we cannot ignore. Women can have babies and men cannot. There is nothing in science (yet) that can change this. However, how society treats and makes assumptions about pregnant women can. For examples, in this situation, they claimed that the EC was concerned about this woman’s health. Her health and the health of her unborn child is no business of theirs. How and where she can travel are between her and her doctor. So what is the underlying reason for the cancellation. Is it really her health? Or is it the perception that a pregnant woman is a fragile being who couldn’t stand the stress of travel and/or speaking in front of colleagues?

Facebook in your personal vs. professional life

I recently went to a conference where a session was hosted to help attendees understand how important having a web presence is nowadays.  I was somewhat surprised to learn that many companies will actually search job candidates on social media.  Now I am not one to post crazy pictures of myself or write completely inappropriate messages on Facebook, however, I do sometimes take a few moments to vent about a bad day at work or sarcastically joke about my life as a forever student.  However, since hearing this, I have noticed myself becoming more and more hesitant about using social media as it was intended . . . to be social.  Simple things like posting pictures of my son for the grandparents now make me question how it might affect my career.  What if my next interview is an employer who doesn’t like hiring mothers?  Or maybe that employer will choose the other candidate because s/he is not going to call out for a child’s illness.  And though I do not agree with posting inappropriate pictures or messages on social media like Facebook, ultimately, I feel that it is that person’s prerogative to so.  I guess I sort of feel like it is an invasion of privacy (of sorts) for a company to use that in making a decision to hire someone or not.

Does the perfect trifecta exist?

One of the topics we have discussed before in class is the traditional expectation that professors should excel at all three pillars of academia-teaching, research, and service.  This has always made me a little apprehensive about going into higher education as it seems virtually impossible to be the best at all 3.  I find it interesting that these 3 are mentioned in the mission statements of the land grant universities.  Does this expectation then simply reflect the university as a whole trying to achieve what they stated they could?  Like we have discussed, I think that rather than put that on the individual professors, why can’t a university achieve this trifecta through the collective effort of all its professors.  Wouldn’t we be better suited to try and find the best of the best in each pillar?  Meaning why don’t we let those that excel at teaching teach and those that excel; at research do research and so on.  It seems like when you try and have everyone be the best of the best, you really just end up with a lot of mediocrity.  And what university strives to be the best at being average?

Scientific integrity affects us all

The case that I have chosen to blog about is “Anil Potti” from the ORI website which occurred in 2015, a great example of straightforward research misconduct.    According to the Office of Research and Misconduct, research misconduct is defined as “fabrication, falsification, or plagiarism in proposing, performing, or reviewing research, or in reporting research results”.  In this case, Dr. Potti was found guilty of reporting data from patients that were never enrolled in clinical trials and changing clinical data to make it fit her conclusions.

To me, as a student, sitting at my computer writing this blog, something like this seems almost unbelievable.  First of all, don’t we all want to be good researchers, and, by default, ethical?  And second, why would such an educated person feel the need to commit such a direct act of . . . well . . . wrongness.  But, the truth is that there is an incredible amount of pressure in the scientific field to publish and produce results.  As I learn more and more about being a primary investigator (either in industry or academia), I realize how much this is true.  In an ideal world, all our experiments would work out and all our grants would get funded, but, that just isn’t true.  And especially with the economy as it is and decreases in grant funding, the competition only gets worse.

Unfortunately, the effects of research misconduct go well beyond the researcher doing it.  Not only do they subject themselves to consequences, but those in their lab as well.  And, on an even broader scale, it effects the whole scientific community.  It not only reduces our credibility as a field, but also puts others’ research at risk.  Other scientists often build their own research off of what has been published.  False data can lead to wasted time and bad results for others.

Ethical Guidelines as set out by the AVMA

I have chosen to blog about the code of conduct laid out by the American Veterinary Medical Association which can be found here: https://www.avma.org/KB/Policies/Pages/Principles-of-Veterinary-Medical-Ethics-of-the-AVMA.aspx .  As veterinary students, we are taught that we are entering one of the most well-respected professions.  In order to have become so well-respected and in order to keep that public respect, it is important that we hold ourselves to an exceptionally high standard of ethics and responsibility.  This document addresses 8 important principles that veterinarians shall adhere to and then goes on to give specific instances in which these principles apply.  For example, some very controversial topics include the fixing of genetic defects in animals used for show and breeding.  It mentions this as unethical and even specifies that if medical necessity overrides this and the genetic defect must be fixed in order for the animal to maintain quality of life, the veterinarian should then render the animal unable to reproduce.  They specifically discuss ending veterinarian-client relationship with tact and courtesy.  They even address how these principles and ethics should be monitored to make sure veterinarians are abiding by them.  They task the local and state veterinary associations with this and have a judicial council as well. In addition, they say that a veterinarian with supervisory authority over another should make sure that vet conforms to the principles.  They mention that ethics should be part of the veterinary curriculum and include it on examinations.  In looking further, it appears that the AVMA code of ethics is generally modeled against those for the American Medical Association.  The doctor-patient relationship is so important in medicine and, since our patients can’t talk, even more so in veterinary medicine.  Having such specific guidelines on ethics not only helps guide veterinarians, but also helps to ensure that they are acting in the most ethical way possible and keeping the trust that is needed in a medical relationship.

 

Is open access a good thing?

We were asked to do a blog about open access journals which I think are incredibly important in making information accessible. One of the points brought up in our communicating science class was how important sharing our research is.  If we can’t share it, does it really mean anything?  The answer is no and open access journals speak to this.  What better way to reach a global audience quickly and efficiently than putting the information on-line.  I do understand, however, that some drawbacks do exist.  First, One example of a good open access journal (in my opinion)-BMC veterinary Research.  This is an open access journal focusing on a variety of topics related to veterinary medicine.  It has a good impact factor (at least as far as veterinary journals go) and is peer-reviewed.  They are part of the overarching BMC series (BioMed Central) which is an open access publisher of subject-specific journals.  There is a whole page dedicated to their explanation of open access and why they support such an entity.  For example, they suggest that publishing in their open access journal allows you to reach a much more global audience.  They also discuss the fact that open access publishing on-line increases the speed of publication and increases the flexibility with which they can accommodate your research (i.e. makes it easier to publish larger data sets, images, etc.).

 

On the other hand, one of the critiques that I have heard regarding open access research is whether or not it might undermine peer review and/or diminish the quality of research published. I can definitely see where this idea might come from, however, I feel that we as readers need to be critical of what we are reading.  And this really is no different from “closed-access journals”.  However, in reading up for this blog post, I found that open access has made it easier for “predatory open access publishers”.  In my searches I came across “Beall’s List of Predatory Publishers 2015” (http://scholarlyoa.com/2015/01/02/bealls-list-of-predatory-publishers-2015/). Though I think predatory journals have always existed, I think the popularity and overall support of open access publishing has allowed these predatory journals to increase and maybe seem less obvious.  However, again, I don’t necessarily think that this is a huge negative for open access.  We just need to continue to be critical thinkers and always consider what we are reading and why/if we believe it.

General education classes-Too general?

Some interesting points were raised in class last week regarding specialty general education classes. For example, instead of a general English and writing class, in some disciplines, freshman can satisfy a general education (here on referred to as “GE”) requirement with a “technical writing for engineers” course.  Many feel that this is helpful in providing skills that may be more useful to an undergraduate in their field.  However, I wonder how “general education” it is if we end up tailoring it to each discipline.  Like most undergraduates, there were a great deal of GE credits that I felt were unnecessary and I found difficult to find relative to my own career.  However, I feel that your undergraduate career, especially those GE requirements most people get out of the way their first and second years are super important.  First, they build a foundational knowledge that sort of puts people on the same page.  No matter what backgrounds students come from, they are all exposed to basic writing, math, and science credits that are more about acquiring basic skills in these disciplines than anything else.  Additionally, from a social perspective, these courses force student from all disciplines to interact.  And in the most basic sense, these GE courses are so important for helping students to decide what their chosen discipline might be.  It seems more and more these days, students are trained to have college courses under their belt and careers picked before they graduate high school.  But so much changes when you go to college both socially and intellectually that giving students exposure to different disciplines may make them realize they want to do something different.  I do understand the desire for GE requirements that tailor to a given field but I don’t think these are then GE courses.  I don’t know that I have a great idea regarding how to make GE courses more relevant to each individual student without losing their “Gen edness”, but Dean DePauw made a good point about how potentially rather than the disciplines trying to host their own GE courses, why aren’t the GE courses attempting to provide some diversity of discipline in their work.  Instead of a “technical writing for engineers” put on by the engineering department, how about a “multi-disciplinary writing course” put on by the English department to address not only basic writing skills but also some of the differences in technical writing as well.