Recommended Reads #51


Apparently, your paper will get more attention if it is published on hump day.

This story from last year explains how the Mathematics program at King Abdulaziz University shot from unranked to #7 in the US News global rankings. What they did is pay a full salary to some of the most heavily published professors in the world to get their permission to list them as adjunct faculty.

A detailed and cogent argument for the abandonment of bar graphs.

I find reddit is generally best avoided, but you might have trouble keeping away from this huge thread of lab safety horror stories. Don’t read right before bedtime, or right before leaving junior trainees unsupervised in the lab.

In a related theme, what do to When Trainees Go Bad.

How to make a killer map using Excel in under five minutes” Really? Okay, I’m not credulous but this looks credible.

Advice for students so that they don’t sound silly when emailing their professors. The preceding link is more respectful of students than this PhD comic on the same topic that came out the following week. The more we publicly vent about how our students are annoying, the less likely they will respect us and wish to learn from us.

Meg Duffy posted her “Important Lab Information for Duffy Lab Undergraduates,” which is very useful. Some of this is clearly targeted for undergrads inhabiting a lab at a research university, keep in mind. She’s totally cool with anybody taking this and using it.

If you find a mountain lion under your house, it’s probably a good idea to keep it a secret. No worries, P-22 got out okay. But I can see how he got lucky.

In case you missed this story, you should be aware that humankind is now using genetic engineering for eugenics. (And, no, I don’t mean ‘genetic engineering’ like the anti-anti-GMO strawman argument that traditional crop breeding is a form of genetic engineering.)

“So what, as a member of the academic alpha male club, can my fellow members and I do?

There was a disastrous mistake of a paper in PNAS that used a miserably designed experiment to claim that the gender problem in STEM hiring is fixed. The best detailed debunking of this story comes from sociologist Zuleyka Zevallos. A field guide to the other debunking responses is here.

Some members of the Iowa Legislature want to bring the Hunger Games to the state’s public universities. If not hunger games, then Survivor or American Idol or something. Seriously, they want to mandate that students must vote professors off the island. I wish this were a joke. The good news is that this didn’t get out of committee. But, crikey, man. Just speechless.

Are ecological conferences safe? Not as much as they should be.

Oh, this is cool: “Sporadic, opportunistic pollen consumption by ants is common, but not ubiquitous, in tropical forests.”

Which is a higher priority: Robotic Lawnmowers, or Astrophysics? The makers of the Roomba want to use a new portion of the radio spectrum to run robotic lawnmowers. The same part of the spectrum that is really important for astronomers to observe and measure methanol, critical to study the formation of celestial bodies. Something tells me the lawnmowing robots can find a new frequency. Yes, this article has the phrase, “Stay off our lawn.”

In higher-ed parlance the herculean act of teaching eight courses per year is what’s known as “a 4-4 load” or, alternatively, a “metric ass-ton” of classroom time. And yet a new bill currently under consideration in the North Carolina General Assembly would require every professor in the state’s public university system to do just that.

Water is wet, diamonds are hard, and universities respond to racist incidents as if the chief worry is bad PR, not the underlying racism.

How the funding of science suppresses diversity:

This isn’t a male / female issue. The funding climate is selecting for people who can work 24/7. The ones with a partner at home (usually female) or without a partner or family obligations. I am not a good choice for a postdoc, not because I am not capable, not intelligent but because I can not make your lab 110% my priority. When “the small grocers” can no longer survive because you’ve starved them out you get WALMART science.

Environmental charlatan Bjorn Lomborg just got appointed to a $4 million position with the University of Western Australia. Really?

Ecologist? Consider throwing your hat in the ring for the E4 award from Ecography. It takes just a 300 word proposal. And a letter of support, and of course I imagine if it comes from someone prestigious that will count for a lot. The award is 500 euros and a free review article in the journal. It’s for early career scientists, meaning that you are less than 13 years post-PhD. Wait, that’s early career nowadays??? Not too long ago, it’d take 12 years post-PhD to get in the neighborhood of full professor in the United States.

Keeping sane in the midst of writing proposals.

An oldie but goodie from Sean Carroll: The purpose of Harvard is not to educate people.

More adventures in obviousness: A college’s high ranking often means less time with professors.

On another related note, what is it like to be poor at any Ivy League school? Yeah, some of these places give full tuition to the small fraction of students whose parents are below upper-middle class. But it is an acceptable educational environment non-wealthy students?

On yet another related note, Bryan Alexander points to a plan: Let’s tax the wealthiest universities and use that money to fund support services at community colleges.

Does your department have a toxic culture of discrimination? Check out this post and the comments at Tenure, She Wrote.

Last year, a study came out to show that professors —  at a small number of prestigious universities, in certain fields — were less likely to respond to potential graduate students if the names of the students were associated with ethnic minorities. That study just got replicated very broadly, and the result stayed pretty much the same. If your name sounds like you’re not white, prospective PhD advisors are more likely to blow you off. That’s a fact.

Read about how Buzzfeed is the future of journalism.

The academic senate of the University of Maryland is toying with the idea of changing the employment classification of postdoc, which would cut back on basic employment benefits and retirement. Because, they, um, need to save money. On the backs of postdocs. I mean, “postdoctoral students” as they are called.

A Scientist’s Guide to Achieving Broader Impacts through K–12 STEM Collaboration

Have a nice weekend.



4 thoughts on “Recommended Reads #51

  1. Such an excellent list of links!

    In particular I found the article on Ivy League schools and socioeconomic status fascinating. Both of my parents are college-educated, but there were times in my childhood when we did not have terribly much money by anyone’s standards, and I grew up in a very poor part of the world. It would be insulting for me to pretend that I didn’t have an absurd amount of social privilege going into college…but a very substanial financial aid package and a minimum of two jobs at any one time paid for my undergrad education, and I know well the feeling of shame when you can’t afford your portion of the couch your suitemates want to buy or the awkwardness of going to a restaurant to celebrate a friend’s birthday but only being able to order a soda. The student body of the Ivy League is a fascinating place, simultaneously both more and less diverse than one might think, and as I continue my path into academia, I’m constantly trying to examine the intersection between socioeconomic status, race, class, etc, and education.

  2. Somewhat related to the links on socioeconomic status at Ivy League schools: here’s an interactive chart for a bunch of private colleges and universities, plotting proportion of Pell Grant recipients in the student body as a function of net price charged to the poorest students:!/vizhome/pellprivates_test/Sheet1 It’s a way to identify private colleges and universities that both offer sufficient financial aid for the poorest students to be able to attend, and that admit many such students.

    If you hover over individual points, you can see which college is which. Relative to the other colleges and universities in the dataset, Harvard’s one of the cheapest for the poorest students, but Pell Grant recipients comprise only 11% of the student body, one of the lowest percentages in the dataset. Elite liberal arts colleges come out looking better, led by Amherst (22% Pell Grant recipients, who pay only a few hundred dollars per year, net). Although I leave it to others to decide how distressing the absence of points in the upper-left quadrant of the chart is.

  3. Terry, given your link to the NPR piece on CRISPR, what do you think of this criticism of some of the criticism of the CRISPR embryo paper? This isn’t my area; I’m not sure I’m qualified to make this call. But I saw the Kelly Hills post when a couple of Chinese-American friends who are biology students linked to it on social media, saying that they were glad someone had written it as they were upset by the CRISPR discussion.

    Jeremy Fox: According to that Boston Globe piece, the percentage of Harvard undergrads with Pell Grants is 19%, not 11%. I think that number has changed quite a bit in the last few years, so this might be a matter of dated data.

  4. Lirael, I think this discuss would be helped out a lot if all participants somehow had no idea of the national origin of the work being done. It appears to me that the bottom line is that people have taken the first step of doing — and publishing — edits to the human genome in a way that hasn’t happened before. I think this is true, though I could be wrong because I’m not deeply familiar with this literature. But that’s the essence of the story. The other-ing associated with it can only make the situation worse, and would perhaps serve to increase rather than put a lid on this kind of thing, which I do find troublesome.

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