#ASAPbio is currently discussing the future of #science publication! #scicomm #starstuddedcast

Just in case you weren’t aware, ASAPbio is currently underway and is likely going to influence the future of science publication!!

Accelerating Science and Publication in Biology (ASAPbio) will be an interactive meeting to discuss the use of preprints in biology held on February 16-17, 2016. The meeting will be streamed online, and we welcome participation from all interested parties through this website and on Twitter (#ASAPbio).

For background on the issues facing science publication, especially in biomedical science and biology, check out this primer from Nature last week (Does it take too long to publish research?). We here at CauseScience think that the answer to that title is a resounding YES!! One option that ASAPbio is considering are preprints – commonly used in other science fields. Nature this week featured another article related to ASAPbio about preprints (Biologists urged to hug a preprint).

For up to date info on the conference, check out the twitter hashtag #ASAPbio, which thus far has included tweets from well-known scientists, and fun pictures of former NIH directors and Nobel Laureates!! Or just visit the ASAPbio website!!

Definitely exciting to see people discussing the problems of science publication, but more importantly, discussing potential solutions!!


Order your #RiffRaff tshirt today!

We previously discussed the offensive comments by Steven McKnight, President of the American Society for Biochemistry and Moleculary Biology (ASBMB)… and to refresh your memory, here they are again:

“the average scientist today is not of the quality of our predecessors; it’s a bit analogous to the so-called ‘greatest generation’ of men and women of the United States who fought off fascism in World War II compared with their baby boomer children. Biomedical research is a huge enterprise now; it attracts riff-raff who never would have survived as scientists in the 1960s and 1970s. There is no doubt that highly capable scientists currently participate in the grant-review process. Likewise, unfortunately, study sections are undoubtedly contaminated by riff-raff.”

There was a huge twitter response and NOW, for a limited time only (until June 2), you can purchase an official RiffRaff tshirt! #IAmRiffRaff.


The details from Science Careers:

Offered in a range of colors more flattering than McKnight’s words, the all-cotton unisex version is appropriate for wear under one’s fire-retardant lab coat. At just $15, it also fits a postdoc’s budget. The more stylish men’s and women’s tri-blend styles ($20) are perfect for adding that geeky touch so de rigueur at journal clubs, seminars, and Berlin’s finest nightclubs (or so we hear). And with the offer expiring 2 June, they have that element of exclusivity that all fashionistas crave.

All T-shirt proceeds go to support the forthcoming Boston FOR meeting, so riffraff from all fields can do good while also looking good.

Order your shirt HERE!

Make your voice heard at the NIH! #FutureOfResearch #WeAreTheFuture

The NIH is calling for a Request for Information (RFI) in order to optimize funding policies and other strategies to improve the impact and sustainability of biomedical research.  This comes at a time where our biomedical research enterprise is suffering from an unsustainable cycle of not enough funding, too many postdocs/grad students, and not enough faculty positions.

The NIH wants to maximize the impact of the taxpayers’ investments in biomedical research.  The NIH is especially interested in identifying strategies that will: a) maximize the productivity and creativity of the biomedical research workforce it funds and b) ensure funding for a broad and diverse group of investigators studying a wide range of important questions.  These strategies should enhance the stability of individual research teams and the sustainability of the overall research enterprise. The NIH seeks input from researchers, academic institutions, professional societies and other stakeholders on potential strategies to achieve these goals.  We invite comments on any or all of the following areas:

1.  Key issues that currently limit the impact of NIH’s funding for biomedical research and challenge the sustainability of the biomedical research enterprise. We welcome responses that explain why these issues are of high importance.
2.  Ideas about adjusting current funding policies to ensure both continued impact and sustainability of the NIH-supported research enterprise.  We welcome responses that point to specific strengths or weaknesses in current policies and suggest how we can build on or improve them.
3.  Ideas for new policies, strategies, and other approaches that would increase the impact and sustainability of NIH-funded biomedical research.
4.  Any other issues that respondents feel are relevant.

It is critical that anyone involved or invested in biomedical research participate.  The deadline is May 17th.  Submit your comments here!

Or for more info, example responses, and commonly raised issues, check out the Future of Research blog.

Scientists discuss the Future of Research at #ASCB2014 #FORsymp

Superstar Scientists Share visions for the Future of Research at ASCB/IFCB Meeting

by Christina Szalinski

A panel of bioscience superstars tried to throw some light on the gloomy outlook for cell research Saturday at the ASCB/IFCB 2014 meeting in Philadelphia. As NIH funding shrinks, graduate programs grow, and fewer than 10% of PhDs go on to tenure-track position, Bruce Alberts, professor at University of California, San Francisco, best-selling textbook author, and newly minted National Medal of Science winner, wondered aloud, “What brilliant young person wants to become a scientist… if they have to wait until they’re 42 to get their first independent grant?” Alberts continued, “You’re supposed to be famous to get a job as an independent investigator. You would have laughed at my CV when I got hired.” Alberts was joined on the panel by Shirley Tilghman, ASCB president elect and president emerita at Princeton University; Jon Lorsch, Director of the NIH National Institute for General Medical Sciences; and Marc Kirschner, past president of ASCB and chair of the Department of Systems Biology at Harvard Medical School (HMS); and more.


HMS postdocs Jessica Polka and Kristen Krukenberg believe that it’s time for researchers to face the new realities. To that end, they initiated this panel in Philadelphia on the “Future of Research,” pulling in leaders from across the biomedical research enterprise to a special interest subgroup session at the ASCB/IFCB meeting. Krukenberg opened the session by summarizing an earlier Future of Research symposium they organized for postdocs in Boston in October. Krukenberg reported that working groups at the Boston symposium recommended a broadening of training, changes in lab structure, diversification of funding mechanisms, and rewards for scientists who interact with the public.


In Philadelphia, Alberts had his own recommendations—techniques and equipment should be freely shared to minimize waste, scientific risk-taking should be encouraged, and labs should be a more moderate size, with 9 to 12 as the maximum. “Howard Hughes (Medical Institute) chose individual scientists to double the size of their labs, thinking they’d do twice as much work, but they started doing less interesting things because they had to manage an enterprise,” Alberts explained.


Connie Lee, Assistant Dean for Basic Research at the University of Chicago and chair of ASCB’s Public Policy Committee, said while the research situation at her university wasn’t dire yet, bridge funding for PIs caught between R01s had been increased four-fold in recent years. Lee urged institutions and researchers themselves to find other sources of funding.  “Think outside the NIH box,” Lee said. Chicago now has grant writing-workshops to give critical feedback on first drafts of grants, and someone in Washington, DC, to help them identify new sources of funding. Lee said that institutions have to help create new avenues for scientists to innovate.


Kirschner said that science best proceeds in an environment of free inquiry. He cited the example of the Hamilton Smith, who was working in the obscure field of bacterial immunity and discovered restriction endonucleases, which revolutionized DNA modification and earned a Nobel Prize. “These are the kinds of things we should promote that the system is working against,” Kirschner said. “Science progresses most rapidly when scientists can focus on science. Writing grants can stimulate creativity, but rewriting them does not.”


Referring to her time as Princeton president, Tilghman joked, “I had a 12 year sabbatical thinking about binge drinking, and college football, and financial aid… In the years that I had been away [from science] the sense of optimism had been eroded… The ground conditions we’re laying out for the next generation… are not the conditions that create the very best science.” The problem, said Tilghman, is too many people chasing too little money. An easy first step, she believes, would be to require every graduate training program that gets NIH funding to post the career outcomes of their students. “I’m begging the NIH, on my hands and knees if I have to, to do this at minimum so students can make informed decisions,” Tilghman declared. She said it’s hard to say where the workforce pipeline could or should be narrowed just as it’s hard to predict who will do well in grad school. But Tilghman said one thing is clear: “We can’t afford to send 75% of students onto postdocs.”


Kenneth Gibbs, a Cancer Prevention Fellow at the National Cancer Institute, expressed concern about the “shearing forces inside the biomedical research pipeline.” At NCI, Gibbs investigates biomedical graduate student and postdoctoral training. He said that his data indicate that many PhDs entered graduate training with poor knowledge of career options and that over time in graduate programs, students move away from the goal of reaching a faculty position.


Lorsch, whose NIH institute is the primary source of federal funding for basic cell science research, wants to change the way grants are awarded. “RNAi wouldn’t have been discovered if the PI had said, ‘That’s not one of the specific aims, so you’d better get back to working on those so we can get the grant renewed,’” Lorsch said. Soon NIGMS will be piloting a program called Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award (MIRA), which aims to provide one grant per PI that’s bigger and longer than R01 averages and not tied to specific aims, according to Lorsch. The review will be based on track record and overall research ideas and there will be modified review considerations for early-stage investigators. “NIH is taking seriously all these problems, but without reciprocal changes at institutions it won’t work. Everyone is going to have to change what they do in order to right the sinking ship,” Lorsch said.

*This article is from the ASCB Post

Gary McDowell – STEM postdoc researchers are highly trained… for what? @ConversationUK

STEM postdoc researchers are highly trained, but for what?

By Gary McDowell, Tufts University

The STEM fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics supposedly suffer from a shortage of graduates. Conventional wisdom says there’s no one for employers to hire for science and engineering jobs. This STEM shortage myth has even figured in the immigration debate in the US.

But look again. There are actually plenty of STEM graduates; the US is just training them the wrong way. It’s true there are many professional STEM vacancies but there are also many STEM grads who could fill them. The problem is the current training pipeline doesn’t direct graduates to these non-academic jobs.

STEM students aren’t prepped for the professional world. Instead, they are guided toward an academic workforce that has expanded through a dramatic rise in the number of graduate students and postdoctoral researchers. Graduate researchers and postdocs – that is, researchers with PhDs carrying out advanced research – are part of the academic career track originally designed to lead to tenured academic research positions. As renowned engineer Vannevar Bush advised President Truman in 1945, while advocating for the creation of a National Science Foundation:

The plan should be designed to attract into science only that proportion of the youthful talent appropriate to the needs of science in relation to the other needs of the nation’s high priority.

However, the number of permanent – that is, tenured – jobs has not increased since that time, leading to hyper-competition and a massive pool of postdocs. Junior researchers are shamed by a culture that perceives leaving academia as a betrayal. Colloquially non-academic jobs are referred to as “alternative” careers. But when only 10% of PhD students end up in tenured positions, the term “alternative” is highly misleading.

Training relevant to other career tracks is either not forthcoming or culturally discouraged. And there’s not even adequate training for the managerial responsibilities academic researchers will be saddled with – if they’re lucky enough to secure an academic position. Practical science, and the accumulation and publication of data is where training is directed.

Postdocs joining forces

A group of Boston postdocs, led by Jessica Polka and Kristin Krukenberg at Harvard Medical School, organized the Future of Research Symposium to bring graduate students and postdocs together to discuss these problems facing young academics and to come up with potential solutions. Attendees outlined the position of junior scientists in Boston and proposed a wide range of possible solutions in the categories of connectivity, transparency and investment.


Graduate students and postdocs should talk. Being a postdoc can be a lonely business. Most postdocs are from abroad and move out of their former networks to entirely new regions, so there are both social and academic reasons for greater connection between scientists.

These junior scientists must interact with institutions, making use of graduate student councils and postdoctoral associations, to ensure adequate training and benefits are provided. They should connect with learned societies and nominate themselves for committees that include young scientists, to make their voices heard.

Organizations including the National Association of Graduate-Professional Students and National Postdoctoral Association allow nationwide interactions. Postdocs in the University of California system have unionized, and junior scientists around the country have noted the resultant benefits, which include greater connectivity throughout the community across different campuses.


Nobody knows how many postdocs there are in the US; this is unacceptable. The National Institutes of Health only recently began tracking researchers on training grants. Institutions should monitor how many junior scientists they have and their career outcomes and make this data available.

Junior scientists lack career awareness: they need to wise up to career realities. But also institutions must be transparent about career outcomes of their trainees. We must stop telling all PhD students they will become academics; most won’t.


We postdocs don’t necessarily want more money. Doubling of the NIH budget in 2003 led to this crisis in the first place. Instead we call for more funding of graduate students and postdocs through training grants that give more power to the junior scientists to develop their own careers.

Graduate students currently need permission from their advisors to graduate; I know many who have been trapped in the lab by advisors reluctant to let go of students when they’re most productive. In the UK, my PhD was funded by a training grant: my advisor had no way to delay my graduation and indeed there was a limit of four years to submission before the funding council would actually impose penalties on future grant applications. These measures ensure security for students in their training timelines.

Continuing the conversation

This is a worldwide problem. In a report examining the culture of scientific research, the Nuffield Council on Bioethics revealed that out of 100 PhD students, 30 will get postdoctoral positions, and 4 will end up with permanent academic research positions in the UK, showing that the situation is even worse than in the US, with an added bottleneck at the PhD to postdoc transition. And this is not just a science problem: there are increasing numbers of postdocs, and particularly adjunct faculty, in the humanities.

Public money is being wasted by directing people towards nonexistent jobs. If junior scientists aren’t going to be trained for non-academic careers during PhD and postdoctoral research, the number of people in the system simply must be reduced. However, if we accept that PhDs and postdocs can and should be trained for other career paths, then we can produce highly-skilled professionals with analytical and communication skills, able to influence technology, policy and business to the benefit of society.

The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

Check the tons of cool stuff CauseScience writer @pinar_gurel is live tweeting from @ASCBiology conference!!

If you aren’t following CauseScience writer @pinar_gurel on twitter, you definitely should be!! psgurel is currently at the ACSB conference in Philadelphia and is live tweeting a lot of cool and informative stuff from the conference!! Including a call for students and trainees to become active advocates for science!!

See this previous CauseScience post encouraging scientists to become advocates for scientific research!!

[tweet https://twitter.com/ASCBiology/status/542351901946552320] [tweet https://twitter.com/pinar_gurel/status/542342746800136193] [tweet https://twitter.com/healthhashtags/status/542393609475997696]

From the looks of it, the ACSB conference has lots of innovative presentations and symposia that are the future of scientific conferences!! Future of Research, ePosters, lighting talks, selfies, to name a few!!

[tweet https://twitter.com/pinar_gurel/status/542344045193076737] [tweet https://twitter.com/ASCBiology/status/542023196015611904] [tweet https://twitter.com/pinar_gurel/status/541732016971350016] [tweet https://twitter.com/pinar_gurel/status/541297124932341760]

It’s a hard knock life for… Postdocs #TheStruggleIsReal

From Nature, an editorial on the plight of postdocs both in the USA and in the UK.  This has been a recurring theme on this blog, but the hyper-competitive atmosphere and low job security makes the current postdoc situation unlike years in the past. This editorial pinpoints data collected from two separate studies on the difficulties of post-doc life.  From the article:

Good science is tough. But is it also harsh and severe? And if so, does it need to be? At what point do the legitimate demands of competitive academic research tip into a demoralizing lack of job security and intolerable pressure? It has been said before, not least in these pages, but two reports published this week on either side of the Atlantic highlight perhaps the most common pinch point: the postdoctoral years. Although the lament of the postdoc may be a familiar cry, all who care about the current state of science and where it is heading would do well to look at the separate reports, which present a visceral and honest snapshot of opinions from life in the squeezed middle of academia.

Given a platform to complain, most people will. Both reports grumble about perennial problems that are perceived to run through research. Government funding is insufficient, external focus on journal impact factors stifles creativity, and bureaucracy and distractions mean that everyone has less time to spend on what they really want to do.

These are common legitimate concerns, but how about this: a whopping 58% of scientists in the UK report said that they were aware of colleagues feeling tempted or under pressure to compromise on research integrity or standards. Asked whether they felt this way themselves, just 21% of scientists aged 35 or over said yes; strikingly, that figure shot up to one-third of those aged under 35. In the United States, postdocs consistently called themselves “the lost people” and “the invisible people”. The US report states that “junior scientists are primarily treated as cheap labor rather than as participants in a well-rounded training program”.

It is no longer acceptable for senior scientists to ignore such complaints. Research in 2014 is a brutal business, at least for those who want to pursue academic science as a career. Perhaps the most telling line comes from the UK report: of 100 science PhD graduates, about 30 will go on to postdoc research, but just four will secure permanent academic posts with a significant research component. There are too many scientists chasing too few academic careers.

That has been the reality for some time, but the message is yet to penetrate. The US report says that lab heads train scientists “in their own image, that is, for a career in academia, though only a small minority will obtain tenure-track faculty positions”. Postdocs say that an academic career is still presented to them as the default outcome. There is a “complete lack of information on number of postdocs”, notes the US report.

The studies mentioned in the article come from the U.S., following the Future of Research symposium (G. S. McDowell et al. F1000 Res. http://doi.org/xg9; 2014), and from a report from the Nuffield Council on Bioethics in the UK.

As someone who is just about to begin a Postdoc, I am increasingly wary about the current funding climate and the situation of the U.S. biomedical research enterprise.  It is incredibly important for these conversations to take place.