Friday links: 7-year postdoc, every major’s terrible, citation Matthew Effect, KILL BLOGS WITH FIRE, and more (UPDATED)

Also featuring: women in science stats, what to ask during your grad school interview, what scientists actually look like, and more! Oh, and the Rolling Stones get a shout-out.

From Jeremy:

The Matthew Effect is a rich-get-richer phenomenon; it occurs in many walks of life. One context in which it might occur is scientific citations. Do more famous authors get cited more just because they’re famous (thereby making them more famous, thereby causing them to be cited more, etc.)? Hard to say, since lots of things affect how often a paper is cited. A new study from researchers at MIT tries hard to isolate the Matthew Effect for scientific citations. Here’s the press release, on which I’m relying (can’t find even a preprint of the paper…) (UPDATE: see comments for a link to the paper) The study looks at the rates at which researchers receiving a prestigious award (HHMI awards) were cited before vs. after receiving the award. If getting the award makes you more famous, it should increase the rate at which your pre-award papers are cited, compared to otherwise-similar papers by otherwise-similar researchers. And that’s what happens, though the effect isn’t massive. The effect is strongest for researchers who previously weren’t prestigious, and for recent papers that were otherwise likely to be little-cited.

Terry McGlynn has a “novel”* idea: have you ever assigned a work of fiction (like, say, a novel) when teaching a science class? If not, maybe you should consider it. The post and comments have a good discussion of the whys and hows of doing this, and suggestions for works to assign. A. S. Byatt’s Morpho Eugenia, the basis for the film Angels and Insects, is the first idea that occurs to me, at least for a class on animal behavior or social insects.

The journal Ecology now rejects 50% of submissions without external review. Wow, I had no idea it was that high. I’d be curious to know how fast the rate has increased over time (pretty fast, I’d guess), and what the rates are at other leading journals. I don’t like the rate being that high, as I think it introduces too much stochasticity into the review process (and I say that as someone who very much sees a role for peer review on grounds besides “technical soundness”, and who’s comfortable with fairly high levels of stochasticity in peer review at selective journals). One motivation behind the idea of PubCreds was to try to bring about a world in which rejection without review wasn’t necessary.

Of Models and Meanings is the new(ish) blog of Giles Hooker, who works on machine learning. He’s thinking out loud about why we should care about the interpretations of our models. Why should we care about why our models work, not just how well they work in terms of predictive accuracy and precision? If you like Brian’s posts, but wish there were more of them (don’t we all!), Of Models and Meanings should be right up your alley. 🙂

The International Studies Association (an academic society for international studies) is trying to ban the editors of its journals from blogging. Like, any blogging, even LOLcats. I like imagining them taking the same approach to solving other perceived problems:

As the linked post explains, the ban is probably illegal as well as being ill-advised. That the ISA even noticed that its editors might blog, much less cared enough to have a policy about it, illustrates how much times have changed. But that the policy they chose was basically “KILL IT WITH FIRE!” (as opposed, to, say “here are some sensible policies, drawn from the extensive experience that journals in many fields have with editors who blog”) illustrates how much times have yet to change.

Using evolutionary theory to explain institutional change. I wouldn’t blame you if you’re skeptical, since there are lots of vague, arm-wavy applications of evolutionary theory to all sorts of things. But the authors (political scientist Henry Farrell and statistican Cosma Shalizi) are both really sharp, and write blogs from which I’ve learned a lot. And Cosma Shalizi in particular certainly knows his way around evolutionary theory. So if you’re interested in creative applications of evolutionary thinking, this could be worth your time. (ht Brad DeLong)

Last week I linked to a suggestion for statistical software that prevents the user from fishing for statistical significance. Perhaps it doesn’t exist because there’s no market for it? Because apparently there’s a market for the opposite. Very funny (as are the comments). Apparently the Rolling Stones had it exactly backwards–when it comes to statistical software, statistically-uninformed users can only get what they want, not what they need. 🙂

And finally: not sure what to major in? Don’t sweat it–every major’s terrible. (ht Denim and Tweed)

*Pun intended. I’m not sorry. 🙂

From Meg:

I’ve already linked to this article on the “7 year postdoc” before, but I’m going to link to it again because I find it keeps coming up in conversations I have with grad students, postdocs, and new faculty. (Plus, I checked my official Dynamic Ecology Rulebook and it doesn’t seem to be against the rules to post the same link twice.) I really like the idea of deciding what you are okay with doing (maybe you aren’t willing to move anywhere in the country/world, or you really want to do a particular type of research but aren’t sure how “tenurable” that line of work will be), and then using that to set boundaries on what you do as a faculty member. I think this perspective is really valuable for people who are considering stepping off the tenure track primarily because they’re worried about work-life balance or quality of life. Obviously getting tenure will require working hard, but the lore that it requires 80 hour work weeks and ignoring one’s non-work priorities is simply wrong, and I think this perspective is a good one for thinking about how to balance things.

This blog post has an excellent – if depressing – summary of statistics on women in science. It’s really well-written, and I think it’s really important. Even better, it includes a “solutions” section at the end. Definitely worth reading and thinking about, in my opinion.

On a somewhat related note: The dean of the Harvard business school has publicly apologized for his school’s treatment of women students and professors. One of the changes they’ve pledged to make is to have more women protagonists in the case studies that are used (which also get used at 80% of business schools around the world, which seems pretty remarkable on its own). Currently 9% of the case studies have female protagonists; they are aiming to increase that to 20% over the next five years.

For those who are about to head off on grad school interviews, here’s an interesting post on what to ask while on your interview. It’s geared towards biomedical programs (as a result, the section on what to ask first year students is not likely to be relevant to most ecology programs), but I think it’s an interesting take on what sorts of questions will reveal the most useful information on a recruiting/interview visit.

A tumblr “This is what a scientist looks like”, which aims to “change the perception of who and what a scientist is or isn’t”.

21 thoughts on “Friday links: 7-year postdoc, every major’s terrible, citation Matthew Effect, KILL BLOGS WITH FIRE, and more (UPDATED)

  1. Many years ago I talked to a newly-minted Ivy League asst. prof who said that he was treating the position as “a very lucrative 7-year postdoc”. In his case I think he took that attitude because Ivy League universities mostly don’t tenure junior faculty (though he did end up getting tenure in the end).

    • There’s always post-publication review…

      Just kidding, I think “Don’t be afraid to repeat yourself” is actually one of the Rules. Let me go check…[goes to bookshelf, takes down ancient cracked leather volume, blows dust off cover]…hmmm…

      1. How To Blog:
      a. Make zombie jokes
      b. ???
      c. Profit!

      2. When in doubt, write about bird poop.

      3. Latin mottos are cool.

      4. Don’t get jealous of Brian’s traffic numbers.
      1297. Don’t be afraid to repeat yourself.

      Ah, there is is! Ok, you’re good to go. 🙂

  2. Oh, wow, 20%. Way to stretch, Harvard Business School.

    Although, the writer of this piece, uh, doesn’t seem to think much of HBS’s women either: “[The women in the audience, including 100+ Harvard alumnae honorees] were unaware that the dean’s objective would amount to a more than doubling of the current cases in which women are portrayed as central leaders in business problems.” Yes, that’s right; these honored Harvard Business School alumnae couldn’t possibly deduce that 20 > 2 * 9.

    Well, I guess it’s off to Harvard to knock some heads together…

  3. Just out of curiosity (having not read the Matthew effect study), what are the odds that the award winning researchers were famous prior to winning the award? I’d bet that they don’t hand those awards out to nobody’s.

    • Yes, you don’t get an HHMI award unless you have a track record of achievement. But apparently there’s still sufficient variation among HHMI investigators in their pre-HHMI levels of achievement (as measured by the indices used in the study) that you can detect the effects the investigators say they detected.

      In principle, one could try to do the same analysis with any award, including those that are given to less-prominent people. The ASN’s Young Investigator Prize, for instance. In practice, I’m not sure how well it would work, due to a couple of issues. One is sample size. There are a fair number of HHMI investigators, and collectively they and the matched non-HHMI investigators have written a lot of papers, enough to do the individual paper matching. Not sure if there’s a big enough sample for awards like ASN Young Investigators. The other issue is that the award has to be a big enough deal to produce a detectable effect. HHMI awards are widely considered a really big frickin’ deal, in part because they’re *really* lucrative. Something like an ASN Young Investigator award undoubtedly is a nice pat on the back, surely makes you at least a bit more well-known than you otherwise would’ve been, and probably helps your future career in some way. But would it actually lead to people citing your pre-award work more often? I dunno, but my guess would be no, because the award just isn’t a big enough deal.

      • Ah gotcha. That does make sense. This has to be one of the trickiest effects to detect.

        As another thought on a similar topic, is there a name for the issue of reviewers reviewing the author (and not the paper), and is that a real issue? As in, do famous authors get into good journals more easily, and therefore become more heavily cited, because the referees review the author list (rather than the quality of the paper)? Should reviews be double-blind, or swap the blindness, with the authors unknown but the reviewers known, to help level the playing field for new/unknown authors (if it is even a problem)?

      • “As in, do famous authors get into good journals more easily, and therefore become more heavily cited, because the referees review the author list (rather than the quality of the paper)?”

        Good question. I’m not aware of any rigorous attempts to isolate the effect of fame of author on the reviews their mss receive. (Somebody point ’em out if you know of them)

        For what it’s worth, as far as I can tell I’m not yet famous enough to benefit from any such effect, should one exist. 🙂

        Blinding in reviewing has been much discussed, and some journals do it.

  4. “Obviously getting tenure will require working hard, but the lore that it requires 80 hour work weeks and ignoring one’s non-work priorities is simply wrong, and I think this perspective is a good one for thinking about how to balance things.”

    Thanks for saying that! In our academic society of look-how-much-busier-I-am-than-you, I think it’s really important for students to hear from faculty that some of that “busy-ness” is exaggerated.

    • It’s a little sad that it seems notable for someone to admit to not working 80 hour weeks, right? I know this has come up in the comments before, but maybe I should write a post on this. I made myself evaluate how much I was actually working when I was a postdoc, and it was a whole lot less than I had expected. That led me to pay more attention to how efficient I was being while I was working.

      • I keep a ‘time journal’ too, and I am often surprised – sometimes in a bad way and sometimes in a good way. 😛

        I think it’d make an awesome post. I’ve actually thought frequently about how it would be a good ‘experiment’ to have undergrads, grad students, post docs, and (pre and post tenure) professors all (honestly) record how many hours they actually work per week and see if varies among career stages. I’ve heard several people say that you just work more and more hours as you advance in your career, and I’m skeptical. Saying that makes students think, “Well, if I’m stressed now, I’ll never make it as a post doc!” Etc.

      • Someone, somewhere (maybe even on, or linked to from these hallowed pages, probably by Meg, either way*) went through exactly what working an 80hr week would entail, given we already work ~40hrs on a standard contract. There may or may not have been a parenting side to the story. Even if I manage to work 3 hrs each weeknight after getting the kids off to bed, before crashing myself, I’m still only at 55 hours. That still leaves a hella lot of work to catch up on at the weekend.

        So, from memory, 80 hr weeks are only basically possible if you forfeit family, sleep, internetz and wiping after bathroom breaks.

        (*Blog rule 8208: Don’t spend more than Pi seconds looking for a link)

      • It had occurred to me that one idea for an easy but possibly valuable post would be to ask people to send in questions about rumors they’ve heard about academics. Is it true that you have to work 80 hours per week? (or whatever) And then Meg, Brian, and I could debunk them.

        That was actually my main motivation for writing that old post on how faculty position search committees work–to debunk rumors like “I hear you have to have a Nature or Science paper to even be considered”, “I hear that there are 200+ applicants for every tenure-track job”, etc.

      • @Mike: I am also fairly certain that this was discussed in the comments (and that Morgan Ernest was involved in the discussion), but I can’t remember any other details. Maybe I’ll see if she can remember!

  5. Pingback: You do not need to work 80 hours a week to succeed in academia | Dynamic Ecology

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