Archive for category: Funding

On the need for replications

May 24th, 2007 by jose

Disclaimer: this post may be relevant only for social sciences/psychology people. I found a nice thread on the Judgment and decision making (JDM) mailing list on the need for replications.

Lots of good posts on an interesting discussion. The mainstream view is that we simply don’t run enough replications because they are harder to get published. This leads to studies showing that replications are actually very hard, with only a small percentage (about 40% in the social sciences) being successful.  Robyn Dawes seems to thing that replications are overrated:

the “real” scientists do is to futch around until they get it “right.” The multiple study requirement just adds “first and second and third” studies, thereby wasting space and time.

There are comments on Increasing the Percentage of Papers Replicated, and some nice book recommendations on experimenter bias.


Is being an academic worth the effort?

May 24th, 2007 by jose

Today, while googling for “tenure rat race”, I found Jonathan I. Katz’s page: “Don’t Become a Scientist!“. I find his honesty devastating:

Are you thinking of becoming a scientist? Do you want to uncover the mysteries of nature, perform experiments or carry out calculations to learn how the world works? Forget it!

Science is fun and exciting. The thrill of discovery is unique. If you are smart, ambitious and hard working you should major in science as an undergraduate. But that is as far as you should take it. After graduation, you will have to deal with the real world. That means that you should not even consider going to graduate school in science. Do something else instead: medical school, law school, computers or engineering, or something else which appeals to you.

Why am I (a tenured professor of physics) trying to discourage you from following a career path which was successful for me? Because times have changed (I received my Ph.D. in 1973, and tenure in 1976). American science no longer offers a reasonable career path. If you go to graduate school in science it is in the expectation of spending your working life doing scientific research, using your ingenuity and curiosity to solve important and interesting problems. You will almost certainly be disappointed, probably when it is too late to choose another career.

I think he is right in many levels. But let’s concentrate just on the simplest, easiest to measure: money.

If we academics do the computations proposed in Figuring Out Exactly How Much Your Time Is Worth [The Simple Dollar], we may be in for a surprise.

Basically, you determine your true hourly wage by subtracting all of your work-related expenses from your salary, then calculating the hours you devote to work each year (including commute and other time-sinks) and dividing your remaining salary by your total hours.

Since we work silly hours, the actual pay is quite ridiculous. Of course, one has to factor in the liberty to think, flexible hours etc.


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Book review: The Art of Project Management By Scott Berkun

December 4th, 2006 by jose

Are academics managing projects? The thesis of this post is that we academics are project managers without formal training in project management. You ask for money to do a research _project_. If you supervise or mentor students until they get their PhD, you are managing a project. If you teach a class, you are managing a project. Do you see where I’m going?


Ten simple rules for selecting a postdoctoral position

November 27th, 2006 by dario

The November 2006 issue of PLoS Computational Biology has a short editorial with ten rules for evaluating postdoc opportunities. An interesting — albeit commonsensical — collection of hints, if you’re approaching the end of your PhD and looking for job opportunities after your defense.

Ten Simple Rules for Selecting a Postdoctoral Position

Thanks Benoît for the pointer.

Measuring performance and immediate feedback

October 21st, 2006 by jose

Internet Marketers (IMs) have an advantage over other professions: they have pretty detailed statistics to use as feedback. For example, they have as indicators hits, time between buys, length of their customer lists, and ultimately… the money they make! They check these statistics daily.

Musicians are punished horribly when they fail performing a passage, not only by their peers but when practicing alone, by their own musical sense jumping in disgust!

In other professions, for example academics, we don’t get such a direct feedback. We may get feedback by how many papers we get published a year, but this is too coarse of a measure, and it only comes in yearly.

We may also consider our rate of success getting funding, but this is again a coarse measure, since we apply to at most dozens of grants in a lifetime.

In teaching, we may get a more direct feedback in that students are normally very expressive and their faces reflect how well our current lecture is doing. Yearly evaluations are also evidence of our performance. But nothing this immediate and direct is available when, say, you are writing a paper.