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 The purpose of the article was to describe a recent situation experienced by a female scientist who was rescinded an invitation to speak at a conference due to her being 7-months pregnant.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.

Mission Statements

The purpose of a mission statement is to define the overall aims and goals of an entity, defined here as a learning institution. The first institution I have chosen to look at is a large state, land-grant University and my own undergraduate alma mater, University of Maryland-College Park. Their mission statement reads:

 

“The mission of the University of Maryland, College Park is to provide excellent teaching, research, and service. The University educates students and advances knowledge in areas of importance to the State, the nation, and the world. The University is committed to being a preeminent national center for research and for graduate education, and the institution of choice for Maryland’s undergraduates of exceptional ability and promise.”

 

The second institution that I have chosen to look at is a small liberal arts college originally started as an all-girls institution but has now become co-ed, Randolph College. Their mission statement reads:

 

“Randolph College prepares students to engage the world critically and creatively, live and work honorably, and experience life abundantly.”

 

These two mission statements are very different in both their wording and their focus, however, I think they very well reflect the institutions that they represent. The University of Maryland-College Park is a large, state university situated in a large city right outside of Washington, D.C. It was originally deemed a land grant university. Its mission seems to focus on the student body as a whole rather than addressing the students as individuals. This makes sense at a large university as class sizes are large and faculty-to-student ratios are low. Similarly, this holds true for such a populated area where despite the decreased physical distance, some would argue that there are less personal relationships in highly populated areas as opposed to more rural areas. UMCP also focuses on the students as a representation of the university rather than vice versa. It is not surprising that UMCP uses words like “Nation” and “State” as Washington D.C. is so close. Finally, the UMCP mission statement mentions research multiple times. This is a large university that relies a great deal on research funding. Additionally, other large research institutions such as NIH, Johns Hopkins, and Walter Reed Army Institute of Research are close to the UMCP campus. UMCP has to have high standards and be dedicated to research in order to be on par with these other institutions.

 

Randolph College’s mission statement is smaller, literally and figuratively. Randolph College is a small, private, liberal arts college in Lynchburg, VA. It was originally founded as a women’s-only college but has since become co-ed. Their mission statement appears to focus on the student as an individual. This, like UMCP, reflects the location and size of the school. At a smaller school, more attention can be paid to individual students. Faculty members have more opportunity to address students both within and outside of the classroom. Moreover, the mission statement of Randolph College not only focuses on the students, but focuses on the student as a whole. They discuss things like “living and working honestly and experiencing life abundantly”. The UMCP mission statement addresses primarily scholastic achievement, however, Randolph College mentions life outside of scholastics. Finally, there is no mention of research in RC’s mission statement. Again, this school is a small, private school from which the majority of their funds come from students, alumni, donors, etc. Research is not likely a large focus of their efforts and so is not as important in their mission statement. Though these two mission statements appear very different at face value, they both provide a reflection of their size, university type, and location. One can get a pretty good feel for these institutions from these statements.