Career

How Do Sexist Comments Affect Women in STEM?

The annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience brings together neuroscientists from around the world to discuss cutting edge research relevant to their fields of study.

Unfortunately, this year’s conference will be known less for advancements in neurodegenerative and neuropsychiatric disorders and more for the comments of one participant—evolutionary biologist Dr. Dario Maestripieri from the University of Chicago.  On Sunday, October 14, 2012 Dr. Maestripieri posted the following message on Facebook,

“My impressions of the Conference of the Society for Neuroscience in New Orleans.  There are thousands of people at the conference and an unusually high concentration of unattractive women.  The super model types are completely absent.  What is going on?  Are unattractive women particularly attracted to neuroscience?  Are beautiful women particularly uninterested in the brain?  No offense to anyone..”

We can argue whether or not these comments are merely an observation made by a prominent, tenured faculty member specializing in evolutionary biology.    After all, Dr. Maestripieri has openly commented on his blog  that, “Good-looking people are more appealing as potential sex partners and other people choose to interact with them (to spend time near them, talk with them, buy insurance from them, and hire them as employees) so as to increase the chances to have sex with them.”  Or, as some have suggested, a private “joke” intended for 400 Facebook friends and colleagues (personally, the phrase “No offense to anyone..” disavows any claim that this was intended to be a joke).  Regardless of his intentions, these comments provide a real world example to a recent PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy for Sciences) article examining gender biases among scientific faculty in academia.

In case you are unfamiliar with this study, Moss-Raucusin et al., determined that scientific faculty members hire fewer women, offer lower wages, and provide less mentorship to female scientists compared to their male counterparts.  In other words, female scientists, even with credentials identical to their male counterparts, are often viewed as incompetent.    Prior to this study, the misconception for a lack of tenured females in STEM fields was due to family obligations.  It was incorrectly hypothesized that women were at a disadvantage since the critical period in an associate scientist’s career typically coincides with starting a family, thus resulting in lost research year(s) necessary for tenure procurement.  Moss-Raucusin’s study has driven a rather large nail into the coffin of that theory.

Why do I bring this up?  After all, Dr. Maestripieri’s comments did not state any gender bias.  Rather, his comments have taken us further down the rabbit hole.  These comments dig directly at a rarely spoken but prevailing fear of many women in STEM.  Look unattractive and colleagues won’t pay attention to you.  Look too attractive and your research won’t be taken seriously.   There’s no better example than  Nobel laureate Dr. James Watson’s comments in The Double Helix regarding Rosalind Franklin “neglecting to emphasize her feminine qualities.”  I think we all know what happened with her X-ray crystallography data.

The most disconcerting aspect of all of this isn’t that the comments were said (obviously, one must look past the blatantly sexist remarks… made at an international convention… with 28,000 of his peers), but rather Dr. Maestripieri’s role at the University of Chicago.  Whether it be lab managers, graduate students, postdoctoral researchers, associate or tenured professors, Dr. Maestripieri has had a role in determining their career progression.  His feelings towards attractive women may or may not have influenced hiring or promotions (either consciously or subconsciously), regardless, Dr. Maestripieri has shown extreme bias towards sexualizing female colleagues while simultaneously denigrating their scientific prowess.

Dr. Maestripieri, with your Facebook post, you have single handedly trivialized every achievement made by female scientists.  Maybe it’s time to hang up your Journal of Neuroscience subscription for some other periodicals.

I think Hugh Hefner and Larry Flynt can accommodate.

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Five Things You Might Not Know About RateMyPI.com

Did you know….

You can create a membership for free?  This allows you to search and review scientists.

You can review any researcher you have ever worked with, not just your principal investigator?  This includes labmates, committee members, and other colleagues.

You can review researchers not found in our database?  Simply go to the “Submit a Review” tab, enter the name of the researcher to be reviewed and if their name does not appear, click on “add new name”.

Your reviews are anonymous?  Your name or member profile does not show up on your submitted reviews.  

You can claim reviews written about you?  You can associate reviews with your profile by viewing the review and clicking on the “This is me” button.

So, what’s stopping you from letting other know the great researchers you’ve worked with?  Review someone today at RateMyPI.com!

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Kickstarting Your Career: Crowdfunding for Scientific Research

Christopher Columbus spent 7 years convincing private investors and heads of state to fund his idea of finding a faster trade route to the East Indies.  As research scientists, we’re not much different than Columbus.  Instead of requesting court with Kings and Queens, we propose ideas to government agencies that allocate funding to academic researchers.  But, as governments around the world are looking for ways to reduce spending, grant funding is becoming more and more difficult to obtain.  This leaves young investigators floating in a never ending sea of postdoctoral positions.   Even well funded researchers are looking for alternative sources of financial support in order to fill the downtime between the 12-18 month R01 grant cycles. 

Popularized by such sites as Kickstarter, crowdfunding has become a main source of financial support for entrepreneurs with ideas ranging from clothing lines to social media.  Unfortunately, Kickstarter prohibits projects for health and medicine, making the site useless for academic researchers.  To fill this gap, Petridish, iAMscientist and MedStartr have come online in the past 6 months.  These sites are devoted to helping academic or not for profit tenured, postdoctoral and graduate scientists obtain funding for their research ideas.  Simply propose a research idea, upload video and photos describing your proposal, set a minimum funding requirement and use your social media network to alert your colleagues. 

It’s too early to determine how beneficial crowdfunding is for scientific research, nevertheless, using these sites has several pros and cons that research scientists (especially young investigators) need to consider.

Pros

High Benefit to Time Ratio

Crowdfunding sites state a good proposal can be created in 1-2 hours and successfully funded projects receive their financial support in 90 days.  Compare this with the numerous sleepless nights preparing an R01 grant that will take approximately 18 months before funding is received.  Even if your online proposal doesn’t meet its minimum funding requirements, the amount of time spent is miniscule compared to submitting grants to the NIH or NSF.

Building Your Network

Building a network of colleagues and peers is essential to career development.  At the very least, crowdfunding can provide an additional forum to discuss your research ideas.  This allows like-minded individuals to connect and collaborate on projects, which may lead to employment opportunities down the road.

Corporate Sponsorship

Many research scientists are turning into entrepreneurs to develop their ideas beyond the lab bench.   Crowdfunding provides unique opportunites for corporations to back potential ideas.  This can lead to corporate partnership that provide resources for product scale-up and distribution.  In other words, helping you take your product from development to market in considerably less time at reduced costs.

Cons:

Minimal Funding

To date, most of the successfully funded projects on MedStartr, Petridish and iAMscientist have received fewer than $10,000 USD.  A small drop in the bucket compared to a R01 grant.  Don’t expect crowdfunding to provide you with enough money to land a tenure-track positon.  You’re still going to need to rely on government support to run your own lab.  But, crowdfunding might be just what you need to take your research in a new direction.

Fraud

You take a big risk proposing ideas on social media sites.  Since the majority of projects don’t reach their funding goals, it’s easy for well funded researchers or corporations to run with your idea and claim it as their own.  If applicable, you may want to consider obtaining copyright or trademark licenses prior to posting to crowdfunding sites.

Since crowdfunding in academic research is an extremely new concept, some potential conflicts also exist that need to be considered.

Overhead Fees

Do laboratory overhead fees apply to crowdfunded sources?  I don’t know the answer this, but I have a feeling if crowdfunding becomes commonplace in research science, academic institutions are going to want their cut — potentially 50%.  While graduate students and postdoctoral researchers don’t have to worry about overhead fees, this could quickly change if scientific crowdfunding increased in popularity.

Property Rights

As a young investigator, all the equipment you use or data that you collect is “owned” by the principal investigator.   What happens when a young investigator uses crowdfunded sources to buy laboratory equipment to support their research needs.  Who owns that piece of equipment?   What happens when you leave that laboratory to continue research elsewhere?  Does that equipment come with you?  After all, it was YOUR proposal that was funded.  But I’m willing to wager some PI’s and maybe even the academic institution would lay claim to that piece of equipment.  This is something that you should discuss before posting your crowdfunding proposal.      

Scientists are generally slow to adopt new ideas, but in this tough fiscal climate, we need to consider all avenues of public or private support.  For young researchers, crowdfunding provides a unique opportunity to support your own research ideas while learning how to manage a budget.  Although government funding will be needed, at least in the foreseeable future, to land coveted tenure-track position, successfully crowdfunded proposals can give you a leg-up on your competition.

Has anyone tried crowdfunding to support their research endeavours?  Let the other readers know your thoughts on the process.

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What is RateMyPI.com

Since the launch of RateMyPI.com, we have had many inquiries as to the purpose of this website.  RateMyPI.com was founded to provide research investigators a comprehensive database to develop their profession through informative choices of career opportunities, collaborations, research materials, and community discussions.   We at RateMyPI.com feel the mentor – mentee relationship is vital to the advancement of scientific discovery.  Therefore, we are in the process of developing a comprehensive database of researchers across scientific disciplines in academia, biotech, industry, and government.  But, this can only be possible with the help of scientists like you visiting and creating profiles on RateMyPI.com. 

We have attempted to make the site as user friendly as possible.  The first time you visit RateMyPI.com you’ll need to determine if your name already exists in our database.  Click “Search Scientist” and enter your name.  If your name is available in the drop down menu, you can claim this profile by selecting your name then viewing your profile.  There you will find an option to claim that profile and create a user account.  If your name is not currently in our database, create a membership account by clicking the “Join” button on the upper right corner.  Membership is free and requires that you to enter a username, password, and email address.  Once you sign up, you’ll be directed to your member profile.  Here you can upload a photo, add pertinent contact and professional information, and provide links to your social media outlets such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn profiles.  You can highlight your field of study and career status, so like-minded scientists can connect with you.  The associations tab is used for listing current and former employers, similar to a brief resume.  Every scientist is proud of their publications, therefore, we’ve created a section specifically for these achievements.  By entering the publication title and the PubMed ID a link is provided on your public profile to direct other scientists to your publications on PubMed.  At the bottom of the member profile page, you can upload your CV and resume that can be downloaded from your public profile.  This is a great way for future employers to have access to all pertinent career information in one easy to download file.

After the required information (name, address, and email address) in your profile is completed, you can begin reviewing other researchers.  Click on the “Reviews” tab at the top of the page and type the name of a researcher.  Once you begin typing, names will auto populate based on member profiles or previously reviewed researchers.  If the scientist is already in the database, you can select their name from the drop down menu.  If neither a profile nor a review is entered in the database you can easily add their name by clicking on the “add new name” link underneath the “name of person being reviewed” field.  In order to add a new name to the database, you will need to know their name, city, state / province (if it applies) and country.  Once you have selected a scientist to review, you will be able to rate that scientist on a several different areas including funding, mentoring ability and recommendation for future employment.   A comments box is available for additional information that other researchers might find pertinent.  All reviews are anonymous to encourage honest feedback.  We’d like to think of it as a unique peer review process.

Since RateMyPI.com was developed with the idea of helping researchers with career development, we’ve added two features on the rotating banner of the homepage.  Each month, RateMyPI.com will highlight a different series of young investigators in our “Featured Scientist” category.  By clicking on this banner, you’ll be immediately directed to their member profile.  The featured scientist might be an individual who recently published a ground breaking paper or someone whose research is related to a trending scientific topic.  Either way, we feel this will be instrumental for networking and promoting the career development of young investigators. 

In keeping with the theme of career development, we also highlight the “Top Rated Scientists” on the homepage.  This is a great feature for scientists looking for potential collaborators or for future employment opportunities.  Similar to the Featured Scientist, this banner will be directed to the Top Rated Scientist profile and reviews. 

As RateMyPI.com grows, we plan on implementing additional website functionality.  A community discussion board will provide a forum where researchers can gather advice on experimental design, techniques or products for advancing their scientific endeavours.  Since the theme of RateMyPI.com is career development, we also want to implement a Job Board.  Here you will find career opportunities targeted specifically for scientists looking for postdoctoral, tenure track, or alternative career positions.  Finally, a long-term goal of RateMyPI.com is to provide yearly travel awards to young investigators (undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral researchers) to use towards attending conferences.  Conference attendance is vital for promoting your research, networking and developing future research. 

Since RateMyPI.com was launched just last week, we’re still in BETA mode and we welcome any comments or suggestions.  Feel free to email us at Info@RateMyPI.com

I hope this brief tutorial gives you a better understanding of how RateMyPI.com can help you with your career goals.  When you get a chance, check us out and create a member profile and let others know how colleagues, collaborators, and PI’s have been instrumental in your career development.   Remember, RateMyPI.com is not just for rating principle investigators.  Ask your professional colleagues, lab members and PI to comment on your scientific capabilities as well.  It might just be instrumental in landing your next big opportunity.

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