Judgement Days

When I die and am laid in my grave and my soul ascends to the Pearly Gates and the Supreme Being peers at me over half-moon glasses and declares, “Well Stephen, it’s Judgement Day”, I will look him in the eye and reply:

“Dear God, not again!”

Because, as a scientist, my life seems to be a never-ending succession of judgement days.

Lately it’s being getting ridiculous. In the last month I have submitted three grant applications and received 14 to review (for an upcoming research council committee meeting); I have submitted a paper for publication and had three requests to review manuscripts written by others (I accepted two); and I have marked the exam scripts of my final year students and, at the same time, lectured to second years who will assess my performance at the end of term via our online evaluation system.

I seem to be spending more time judging and being judged than getting on with the business of science.

Of course I see the point of it. Science is about accumulating and sifting evidence. As a process, it is entirely a matter of judgement. But I guess what has been getting to me as a result of this particularly intense spate of submissions and reviews is the sheer amount of time that I have to devote to assessing others and being assessed by them.

The grant applications are the worst, irrespective of whatever side of the game you are on. Having sent three applications off in the past month I will allow myself a brief window of hope. I put in some bloody good work and will hope for the best, for now. But I know, from sitting on the other side of the fence, that quality is no guarantor of success in these benighted times.

You might think there would be some compensating relief in sitting in judgement of the grant applications of my peers but this is the most onerous task that I have to undertake in my professional life. I know what the awful consequences will be for those scientists who have put their heart and soul into an application that, on the day, will not make the cut. In this regard the UK system is perhaps more brutal than that which operates in the US: failed applicants are only very rarely invited to resubmit. You either have to try your luck with another funder or re-think the project.

Papers are somewhat easier to handle because, if a manuscript has to be rejected, more often than not the authors have a chance to come back with revisions or additional data, or to lower their sights to the next journal down in the impact factor rankings. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, you know as a reviewer that even if you advise rejection the authors will eventually be able to get published. But even then, we should not forget that each rejection along the way will have to be absorbed as a personal disappointment, more or less intensely felt.

For that reason I never write or submit my review immediately after reading a manuscript. I always leave at least 24 hours after the first read to give my immediate, more visceral reaction time to decay and to allow the steadier voice of reason time to assemble its case.

But one of the papers I had for review in this past week had such an obvious and fundamental logical flaw in the experimental design that the whole thing was invalidated from the start. On this occasion I was still cross with the authors even after the usual day of grace: why hadn’t they seen this problem themselves and put in place the proper controls? The report that I dispatched was crisp and concise. I couldn’t — wouldn’t? — think of a way to soften the blow.

My own paper came back with two reviews, one of which simply requested small changes to the text. We are to tone down some of the wilder flights of fancy in our discussion, which I think we can do fairly easily and without sacrificing the central thrust of our argument. The second review was more favourable but oddly, more irksome, since I got the impression that the reviewer hadn’t read the manuscript closely enough. I may have to live with judgement but I do at least want it to be done well.

Also in this past week I have been giving lectures to second years – aiming to impart to them something of the theory and practice of measuring protein-ligand interactions. This necessarily involves mathematical treatments that some of the students don’t warm to. I am unrepentant and hold to the view that no serious student of biochemistry in the 21st Century can deny the relevance of mathematics. My hardline view may earn me some opprobrium when it comes to their evaluation of my lectures but I shall brush that aside. But I will not ignore any other constructive complaints about my lecturing technique or content.    

For now, however, it is my turn to critique:  I have been marking the exam scripts of my final year students. From a class of 32 who had three questions to answer from a choice of nine, the two questions that I set received 19 and 25 answers. This shows that most of the students connected with the material on X-ray crystallography that I was trying to get across and provides a palpable measure of gratification that almost overcomes the pain of having to do a disproportionate amount of marking!

Some of these students may be naïve enough to take at face value the idea that they have just taken their ‘final’ exams. They will soon be disabused of this fanciful notion. Judgement is nigh on inescapable in all walks of life (in some of which you will even be criticised for walking).

Judgement may be an intrinsic part of the scientific life and contribute disproportionately to its painful turbulence, but at least we get to see both sides. That, I suppose, should temper the experience.

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36 Responses to Judgement Days

  1. Maxine Clarke says:

    This all has a very familiar ring. Your excellent post (which should definitely be submitted to all the blog collections going!) touches on many of the factors that are so important. I am a great believer in peer review as an independent validation of one’s output. Done well, everyone benefits because today’s reviewer is tomorrow’s author. But it has to be done properly – in other words, the editor concerned has to read the ms properly, choose appropriate reviewers, and manage a fair process. The reviewers themselves, as you write, have to actually read and assimilate the ms. (Hopefully, the author has not thrown in 100 pieces of supplementary information!) No reviewer can ever know a ms as well as the author, who has put in months of effort to write up a year or more of work, but a reviewer can “do the decent thing” by two or three hours of good concentration, in the hope/expectation she/he will get the same treatment when his/her turn comes round.
    Also, reviewers need a proper reward for what they do, which I hope is one of the things that might come out of the ORCID programme.
    Anyway, enough blathering, just wanted to say — great post. I am sure you express what many working scientists experience but don’t have time to write down because they are so busy judging things 😉 (or lots of other things, of course.)

  2. Edmund Harriss says:

    It is good to bring out the level of judgement that occurs in the scientific life. It is certainly an effective way of keeping people critical of their own work. It does worry me, however. A lot of the judgement perhaps only looks at the surface. This gets worse as the amount of judging people are required to do increases. As an example you mention one of the reports you received gave “the impression that the reviewer hadn’t read the manuscript closely enough.”
    This can have the effect of closing up science. For those working in the subject, the skill of ticking all the right boxes becomes more important than a deep understanding (of course not replacing it). This can make it harder for people to move areas, or comment on other areas.
    It could also work against efforts to improve communication with those outside the subject. Criticism’s can be written off as they will not be in the accepted form, even when they have real substance.

  3. Stephen Curry says:

    Thanks Maxine. I suspect most people do a pretty good job of peer review out of a sense of professional pride. I’d forgotten about ORCID (mentioned before in Martin’s post). I suspect it will stimulate additional commitment to the process.

  4. Stephen Curry says:

    Edmund, I think you’re right to be concerned about the possible superficiality of the process, particularly as the volume of reviewing (of grants and papers – not to mention exam marking!) increases. The example I cited above is, thankfully, fairly rare but not unknown.
    In preparing for this upcoming grant committee I have had to read the applications, the reviewers comments (usually 3-4 per application) and the applicants’ response to these. That adds up! It took me about 3 days to get through my set of applications and the committee meeting itself will take another two.
    Most of the reviewers have, I’m pleased to say, taken the task seriously so I am reasonably confident that the assessment process will be thorough. (I should also point out that at least one other committee member will read the same applications).
    The difficulty arises when trying to compare applications against one another that are from a relatively broad scientific base – we consider many aspects of the molecular and cellular life sciences.
    As to whether the judging process narrows the focus of science, I’m not sure about that. My concerns, if anything, are in the opposite direction. In the life sciences I see quite a flourishing of new techniques, many of which are very powerful (micro-arrays, RNAi) but there’s too much of a fad for ‘omics and systems biology in my view. Just because an experiment can be done, doesn’t mean that it should be!

  5. Austin Elliott says:

    Thanks, Stephen, for highlighting the sheer time and effort that goes into _”judging and being judged”._ Given that much of the wider public still thinks academics have the “Life of Riley,”:http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/the-life-of-riley.html the more this message gets out the better.
    For non-UK readers, recall that Stephen is talking here about his working life in one of the UK’s “Big Four” scientific research powerhouse Univs (Oxbridge, UCL and Imperial). Imagine what things are like lower down the (University) food chain.
    As we have “discussed elsewhere,”:http://timesonline.typepad.com/science/2010/05/a-response-to-sir-paul-nurse-its-not-only-the-elite-who-are-feeling-the-strain.html the system is clearly not sustainable long term. After all, the more people HAVE to be funded, and the more unsuccessful grant applications people have to write to TRY and get funded, the more there are to be read and graded… etc etc.
    Until eventually all everyone is doing – well, everyone apart perhaps from a very select few – is writing and reading applications.

  6. Heather Etchevers says:

    _I seem to be spending more time judging and being judged tha[n] getting on with the business of science._
    Stephen, you have masterfully described my last year. At least.
    But still: _14_ grants to review AND exam papers to boot? Yes, that is ridiculous.
    I’ve stopped moaning about rejections recently because I’ve been accumulating them faster than I can post to my blog (and addressing them usefully requires action and therefore yet more time).
    You certainly expressed what _this_ working scientist experiences. Thanks. I will link frequently to this post.

  7. Stephen Curry says:

    Totally agree Austin (though would have thought Univ. Manchester was also a major player – certainly in terms of BBSRC funding). The current system is creaking and way too stressful for all involved. I do like the idea of commitment to teaching being recognised with some regular research income. Seems pointless to appoint people to permanent positions without some basal support.
    Cheers Heather (and thanks for noticing my typo – now corrected). It is a taxing business – much left unsaid. Best of luck for the future – to all of us.

  8. Stephen Moss says:

    I once had a PhD student, a true Wildean wit and caustically amusing, who chose to leave science after completion of his thesis, because he didn’t want a career in which his success or failure was dependent on the whims of his peers. I found the reason for his decision unusually perceptive in a young scientist. In my view, the excessive use of peer review in the grant funding system in the UK undermines our creativity and competitiveness. I have long meant to blog on this topic myself – your own blog reminds me to extract my digit and get on with it.

  9. Stephen Curry says:

    That is a very interesting perspective, Stephen. I’m not so down on peer review myself but I’m intrigued. Can you conceive of an alternative system for making funding decisions that would enhance creativity? And competitiveness – (why would you want even more of that!
    If you’re saving these nuggets for your blog-post, please be sure to let us know when it appears.

  10. Austin Elliott says:

    With hindsight, if I had my time over I would likely follow Stephen M’s student – who deserves kudos for his insight _and_ self-insight – and give the whole thing the swerve in favour of something more journalistic/editorial. Had I been that clear-eyed aged 25, or whatever, of course. Ah well.
    I honestly think that the only answer to the manic whirl is to stop making people fear for their jobs the minute they are lacking a grant. As “Dorothy Bishop”:http://psyweb.psy.ox.ac.uk/oscci/dbhtml/ says “in the comments”:http://timesonline.typepad.com/science/2010/05/a-response-to-sir-paul-nurse-its-not-only-the-elite-who-are-feeling-the-strain.html#comment-6a00d83451586c69e20133ed527d71970b on my Eureka Zone piece:
    bq. “There would be less pressure on funds if people only wrote a grant when they had a piece of research they really wanted to do.”
    (Though I would add: “And that requires a grad/postdoc asst to actually do it”)
    PS SCurry – I suppose I left M’cr out on purpose, partly to avoid the discussion over whether it is a _”Big Four”_ or a _”Big Six”_, or some other number..! But agree that your reality is identical to what our more research-focussed but-also-have-to-teach academic staff are experiencing too.

  11. Grant Jacobs says:

    Stephen Moss (or anyone, really),
    Have a look at the stats for the career paths of NZ Ph.D. graduates in a recent post I put up (please do note the correction from MoRST):
    In NZ at least, it seems a decent number of Ph.D.s don’t go on into science.

  12. Stephen Curry says:

    Thanks for that Austin: Dorothy make a good point. What gets me about the current system is the enormous squandering of enthusiasm and good will that it entails. The good days in science are truly fantastic (whether through research or teaching); but there just aren’t as many of them as there used to be.
    Grant, I thought at first that MoRST was the quasi-randomly chosen name of one of your commenters. Only when I read your blog did I realise that it is the acronym for the Ministry of Research, Science and Technology in New Zealand! Good to know (?) that the powers that be are reading your output.
    The question of careers beyond a science PhD has been much debated here on NN. I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing that many PhDs end up detached from the bench, whether in science-related jobs or even something radically different. I think there are many benefits that accrue from PhD training that can be applied to all sorts of careers.
    What is still a major problem is the lack of opportunity for progression for those who enter a PhD aiming for an academic career. It seems unlikely that the number of permanent positions in universities will be revised upwards any time soon so it is important that new entrants are given a clear-eyed view of their career prospects from the outset. The most disturbing aspect of you graph is the fact that

  13. Stephen Moss says:

    Grant Jacobs
    The figures for NZ more than likely approximate to those in the UK, certainly fewer than 50% of my former PhDs have stayed in scientific research/academia. The question inevitably arises as to whether all this training represents a waste of resource, and on this point I would have to agree with Bruce Alberts who remarked that the world would be a better place if everyone had a science PhD.

  14. Grant Jacobs says:

    What gets me about the current system is the enormous squandering of enthusiasm and good will that it entails.
    I wrote a reply to this effect and canned it, worried it might come back to bite me. I am still looking for funding… (And I thought experienced computational biologists were in demand…!? I might have to start a letter-writing campaign to labs that might want collaborators…) Might drop my comment back in later if I change my mind.
    Good to know (?) that the powers that be are reading your output.
    It’s good they corrected it. The infographic in error is their’s! I’m not entirely surprised that they read it. NZ is a small place (~4 million people in total) and sciblogs is read by the media, etc. (We’re on the local news feed and google news.)
    The question of careers beyond a science PhD has been much debated here on NN.
    I’ve followed the more recent ones pretty closely, esp. that long discussion on Jennifer’s blog 🙂 (I think wrote a tiny blog post pointing others to it for that matter.)
    What is still a major problem is the lack of opportunity for progression for those who enter a PhD aiming for an academic career.
    As you probably saw, that was my own interest in the infographic, e.g. the “sidetracks” away from early and established research staff made me think “lack of progression” like you say. I’m not surprised there is some attrition, but the scale of it was a bit surprising. If you add the fact that NZ imports scientists (and accompanying graph on the originating document showed this), a concern I had was that NZ staff were losing out.

  15. Jennifer Rohn says:

    I loved your post, Stephen. Sorry to hear you’re under the cosh, and fingers crossed that one of your grants makes it through.

  16. Grant Jacobs says:

    Stephen Moss,
    While I don’t doubt the skills are useful somewhere else, it seems too heavy-weight a qualification to be used directly in too many other settings. (The self-learning, self-directed thing, not withstanding.) It’s a big cost to everyone, student, tax payer, etc.
    My current thinking would favour that a course or courses to the effect on logic, the scientific method, etc., be made compulsory for all science courses (even all courses in any degree). It’d carry much of the important effort for a wide range of careers without the heavy burden of time, cost, etc. that Ph.D.s require. I key element is that I don’t think that this isn’t formally taught at many places in the way that it might.
    And before you ask, yes, I have written a blog that touches on some aspects of this (!), as the only paper at the local university that is available for credit to any degree course is PHIL 105, Critical Thinking:
    I fear I’m encouraging this getting off-topic. The judgement thing is a bummer at times. It’s “the examined life” in more ways than one. I sometimes think that this may be symptomatic of a fault in the system, it’s unable to trust an experienced person’s judgement a little more and has to “check” even quite senior initiatives, sometimes in effect killing the initiative before it’s really started.

  17. Mike Fowler says:

    Stephen, a really interesting post. It rather begs the question: if all the PI’s are constantly writing and reviewing grants (and teaching), and most of the post-docs are constantly writing grants (and teaching), is it only PhD students who are actually doing science these days?
    As for the difficulty of imparting the importance of maths, there is hope. I taught a Master’s level ecological mathematical modelling course for a few years while in Helsinki, and was convinced most of the students were lost most of the time and I wasn’t managing to get through to them. I discovered before leaving from one student who continued to do a PhD in the dept, that actually my teaching wasn’t so bad after all – at least I’d managed to get the idea through to (one of) those who’s continued in academia. I suppose that’s a good place to start.

  18. Stephen Curry says:

    Thanks for the tea and sympathy Jenny – hope I’m not turning into an inveterate carper. As I say, there are good days still…!
    Stephen and Grant – I certainly think more scientific training all round would be a Good Thing, though I’m not sure an entire population of science PhDs is necessarily the way to go. I like Grant’s suggestion of courses in critical thinking. You might think that such a course would be implicit within any scientific undergraduate degree program but you’d be surprised. There’s still a bit too much emphasis on spoon-feeding the syllabus.
    But to return to the main topic and Grant’s final point – yes it does sometimes get to me that, even after 20 years in the game, the system gives me next to no credit for that experience. Of course I’m not saying there should be no competition; just that the experience shouldn’t be all competition, all the time. I think some of my time could be better spent on research.

  19. Stephen Curry says:

    @Mike – our comments crossed. Postdoc activities depend very much on the individual – but of course they only exist in my lab for as long as I am successful in securing grant funding.
    Good to learn that some of the Maths is sticking between the students’ ears. I kicked off my 9 am lecture this morning with a 2 min excerpt from episode 5 of The Ascent of Man, in which Bronowski tells of Pythagoras’ telling insight that Nature is underpinned by Number. May have reached a few. Was surprised to learn (though perhaps I shouldn’t have been) that not one single member of an audience of about 100 students recognised Bronowski!
    It’s official: I am an old man!

  20. David Colquhoun says:

    Your post describes eloquently what many of is feel.
    It isn’t just the marking and the grants and papers to be reviewed. but also endless assessments by HR-style criteria (rampant in some parts of Imperial see How to get good science). At best, the former may provide assessments of acceptable quality, but the latter often seemed designed to get rid of the most creative people.
    What can be done? I still think that ways can be devised that would allow self-publication on the web. The refereeing would come after you published, rather than before. Physicists and mathematicians are already quite close to doing this. It would save an enormous amount of time in refereeing and an enormous amount of money if universities no longer had to pay Elsevier to see our own work. It would also break the harmful hegemony of Nature and a handful of other groups that have quite excessive influence on people’s careers. Certainly there are problems to be overcome in this approach, but the rewards would be huge
    Your experience of trying to teach anything mathematical is very much the same as mine. Student ratings for lectures are inversely proportional to the number of equations you have in the lecture. Students who are totally innumerate often get good degrees (and some go on to be innumerate researchers and teachers). The pressure to publish is such that many of them never have time to catch up on the basics of their subject.
    That is one reason why the manifold checks on the “quality” of our work have actually reduced quality rather than improved it. It beats me why so many managers (and some senior academics) seem unable to see the damage they are doing.

  21. Heather Etchevers says:

    Stephen M – believe me, computational biologists are in high demand, especially among geneticists. But many of them undervalue the work, so they’d like you have your participation for free. That’s where the problem lies. Anything related to statistics or math overall, and it seems so easy and so behind-the-scenes to biologists.
    I like David’s expression “innumerate” because it is the perfect word, and it is the perfect description of 90% of my colleagues. I may be innumerate too, but at least I put in an effort and recognize my shortcomings.
    I also like that you are getting comments from a wider than usual field. I hope this trend continues.

  22. Kyrsten Jensen says:

    Stephen C, excellent post, and reminds me of the conversations I’ve had with my friends who are just starting to get into applying for tenured jobs. The sheer amount of reviewing that is done is quite daunting for some. Yes, most of us are avid readers, but I’ll be the first to admit that reading all those submissions wouldn’t be my idea of fun.
    As for Stephen M’s comment on scientists leaving science after PhDs – I’ve seen this many times before, and we’ve certainly discussed it before. One of my good friends whom I met in the lab when she was a postdoc, actually left science to go work in a catering company for a year. Completely took herself out of the lab. She eventually went back to the lab, but working for a different PI who was close to retirement and whose own research was slowing down, which suited her pace. She’s a brilliant girl, but she didn’t have the motivation to do 14 hr days and read all those submissions. It was also very tough for her when she was reapplying to labs, as she applied to a few tech positions, and every single one said she was overqualified. She was desperate for money – and didn’t care, but they were convinced that she’d leave as soon as she could.
    I only have a MSc, but I’ve found it far easy to convince people to hire me than most of my friends with PhDs, as I’m seen as a little less specialized.

  23. Andrew Maynard says:

    Great post Stephen – many, many resonances there! Just a couple of things worth highlighting:
    Things really aren’t much better in the US compared to the UK – in some ways, I get the impression that the “judge and be judged” culture is even more rife here. This may be masked by there being a little more money to go around, and more opportunities for recycling proposals/ideas. But the pressure is definitely there.
    The issue of scientists being spread too thin to to a good job of assessing their peers (which is certainly hinted at above) really worries me. I suspect it’s dangerous to make generalizations, but I’ve seen my fair share of really poor peer review – on papers and on proposals. And I suspect much of it stems from people just not having the time to do what is expected of them to the level that is really warranted. But the outcome is an increasing amount of questionable science slipping through the net, while worthy science is blocked (occasionally) almost on a whim.

  24. Stephen Curry says:

    Thanks David – I appreciate your comment. I had thought that, having reached professorial status I might be able to resist the pressure to seek out the highest impact journal, publish where it suited me and let the science do the talking. But it’s not really that simple, since grant funding committees are certainly looking at your cv when judging your recent output and then there is the need to make sure that student and postdoc co-workers get the best leg up. What is needed is some kind of revolution but I haven’t yet summoned up the courage to toss the first petrol bomb (metaphorically speaking, of course!).
    On the maths question, I’m going to keep chipping away. At least the majority of our biochem UGs have maths A level but I would like to make it an entry requirement. However, I have yet to win the support of the rest of the faculty. Maybe I’ll start by trying to indoctrinate the upcoming generation of students (watch out for my next blogpost…).
    Heather – thanks, though I think it was Grant Jacobs who bemoaned the lack of opportunities for computational biologists. I would have thought that was a growth industry given the rise of systems and synthetic biology (which are certainly in favour with the BBSRC). Maybe re-location to the UK is in order.
    I too am very glad to see a wide selection of people commenting, even some faces (Edmund and Andrew) that I think are new to NN. Mind you I have been pimping this post shamelessly on twitter (and am grateful for all the RTs ;-))

  25. Stephen Curry says:

    @Kyrsten – it is tough for young people (young people – listen to me!) to weigh up their career options, even after a PhD. I actually left science after my PhD and went to work in hospital management. However, it only took me a few months to realise where my heart truly lay and within a year was back in a lab as a postdoc. Recent misgivings about excessive evaluation activities aside, I know this was the right move for me and am glad (most days!) that it has worked out. But I can easily understand how many others could get frustrated with the oft-encountered roadblocks on the way to a career in science. I hope you are still enjoying yourself.
    Hi Andrew, and welcome to NN! Perhaps I overstated the case: I’m sure that even allowing for Obama’s stimulation package things are equally tough in the US. Although the NIH (for example), allows resubmissions of failed grant applications, I sense from talking to my American colleagues that they suffer just as much pain through the funding process as we do here.
    And I agree that the increasing volume of reviewing is inevitably spreading the load so thinly that some poor decisions are being made. But again, short of some kind of revolution, I don’t know who is going to sort out this creaking system. (The answer can’t be reviewing of the reviewing!). I am not yet persuaded that the evolution of HHMI-like individual support, which is being introduced here by the Wellcome Trust (and championed by Sir Paul Nurse, the incoming president of the Royal Society), is the way to go.

    And yet, and yet… although this blogpost seems to have chimed with the experiences of many others, I still wonder if I am just giving in to cynicism and resignation?

  26. Austin Elliott says:

    Sounds like you’ve been listening to me too much, Stephen…!

  27. Stephen Curry says:

    Ah, Austin, but I could listen to you all night!
    However, just to prove that I am not yet totally cynical, watch this space – this Reciprocal Space to be precise… 😉

  28. Austin Elliott says:

    I agree about the problems inherent in Wellcome’s approach, Stephen. One of my younger colleagues was just saying the other day that, as he has been in post for 5 years and 3 months, he is ineligible for their “new investigator” scheme (which has a 5 yr post-hiring cut-off). So bang goes his chance of Wellcome funding. And note that of those 5.25 years, he spent 4.25 of them on probation, fairly typical at the moment.
    Since we’re on the subject of funding and the grant chase, can I offer another plug for my recent “Eureka Zone”:http://timesonline.typepad.com/science/ rant about this and suggestion of a bit of widespread “seed” funding, rather than having everyone fighting like ferrets in a sack for the response-mode pool?
    I have now posted “the whole of my article”:http://blogs.nature.com/austinelliott/2010/05/06/funding-the-elite-is-not-the-real-problem on my _NN_ blog to make it easier to leave comments.

  29. Grant Jacobs says:

    Stephen M – believe me, computational biologists are in high demand, especially among geneticists. But many of them undervalue the work, so they’d like you have your participation for free. That’s where the problem lies. Anything related to statistics or math overall, and it seems so easy and so behind-the-scenes to biologists.
    As an independent, I can get affected by this. I generally agree with what you’re saying and have been meaning to write a post elaborating a wider view on it, using remarks from a recent national bioinformatics “get-together” I attended. I do think there danger of treating computational biologists are glorified technicians rather than collaborators for a raft of reasons (which I’ll spare you here!). It’s good to see someone thinking it through. A senior Australian scientist expressed related sentiments, so some people at least have a more appreciative view.
    To be fair, in many ways computational biology scene in this country always feels a bit backward, so there may be a “local scene” affect going on for me. (While I can work off-shore as I’m free to move, I rarely get offers outside of direct personal contacts so my work has been with the local scene.)
    (Keep meaning to reply to your “what’s in a name?” post.)

  30. Grant Jacobs says:

    I only have a MSc, but I’ve found it far easy to convince people to hire me than most of my friends with PhDs, as I’m seen as a little less specialized.
    In a similar way a remark I heard as an undergrad. was that computer scientists were more readily hired with an undergrad. degree than a post-grad degree, as the M.Sc.s and Ph.D.s were perceived as too specialised for most “programming” jobs. (I don’t know first-hand what is true today, but I can imagine it still being the same.)

  31. Stephen Curry says:

    I would encourage everyone to read Austin’s analysis of the Nurse proposals and the state of UK research funding. Sober and sobering.
    Grant, it may be frustrating at the moment but I do sense that the distance between biologists and mathematicians is diminishing. I just hope it happens fast enough for you.
    And finally tonight, the ‘space’ that I was elliptically asking people to watch in my comment to Austin above has now been filled…!

  32. Stephen Curry says:

    Perhaps this isn’t relevant but I just came across this amazing talk/animation on Twitter (HT @mekentosj) and wondered as I sat through it, “What if this sort of approach were to be applied to supporting scientists…?”

  33. Åsa Karlström says:

    Stephen> A very interesting blog post and it feels so familiar. (Not that I am a professor but the whole idea that “soon it’s over with the judging” which of course, it is not.)
    I hope you can avoid feeling too stressed and good luck with all the grading and reviewing! (and hope that your applications get the results you are looking for of course!)

  34. Stephen Curry says:

    Thanks Åsa.
    Have spent all day at the committee meeting to score grants in sunny Swindon: left the house at 6 am and not yet had dinner. It’s now 7:20 pm and I have been asked to step outside while the committee considers grant applications from my home institution – Imperial. They take potential conflicts of interest very serious.
    Or perhaps they just wanted to talk about me behind my back… wait – was that laughter?

  35. Åsa Karlström says:

    oh, that sounds rough. I hope you can find some dinner and/or rest soon.
    and noooo, they wouldn’t laugh – if not that they are exhausted and thinking about happy vacation times? 😉

  36. Stephen Curry says:

    For the record, this morning I reviewed the second manuscript that I mentioned taking on in my post. I was initially quite favourably disposed towards the paper but that was before I got to the materials and methods section, which omitted completely to tell how the protein had been purified or crystallised, even though the authors gave vague details about what was involved. Never seen anything like it. And that wasn’t the only omission.
    My review ran to three sides of A4. I do hope it will be taken seriously.

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