Friday links: Fast Grants, NIH vs. harassment, and more

Also this week: Katherine Johnson’s memoir, xkcd vs. base rates, jazz vs. Billy Idol, and more.

From Jeremy:

Ainissa Ramirez reviews pioneering NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson’s memoir.

Writing in the New Yorker, here’s Hannah Fry on the history of graphs and charts. I haven’t actually read this yet, but it looks super-interesting.

I’m late to this, but last year a study commissioned by Fidelity Investments and conducted by the Chronicle of Higher Education found that 55% of tenured and tenure-track faculty are contemplating leaving academia or taking early retirement due to Covid-19. On the one hand, I’m skeptical the number is that high just because I’d expect these sources to overestimate the exact number. On the other hand, I totally believe that number, because it me. I guess the safest thing to say is: if you’re a prof who’s thinking about this, you’re definitely not alone. Don’t worry that it’s just you who feels that way. It’s not just you.

What Patrick Collison, Tyler Cowen, and Patrick Hsu learned from a year of giving out $50 million worth of Fast Grants for Covid-19 research. Very interesting piece.

This week brought a new item for my collection of statistical vignettes. You can detect 6 modes in a histogram of 29 observations, you say…

Science has a news piece on evolutionary biologist Ken A. Thompson’s so-far unsuccessful attempts to get his own first-authored paper retracted, and get Guelph University to conduct a serious investigation. Thompson discovered serious unexplained anomalies in the data provided to him by his co-author and former advisor, Steven Newmaster. Tidbit from the linked piece that caught my eye: the #pruittdata scandal inspired Ken Thompson to act on his doubts about the paper. Here’s our previous linkfest entry on this story.

Since early 2018, NIH has received 314 complaints about harassment, bullying, or discrimination by PIs, leading to 75 PIs being stripped of their grants. A large majority of all complaints, and of complaints that resulted in loss of grants, were for sexual harassment. That’s notable, because before 2018 no NIH PI had lost a grant for sexual harassment. Click through to the linked Science news piece for more details on the data. I would be interested to see a breakdown of the reasons why some complaints aren’t upheld.

Harvard University has stripped prominent archaeologist Gary Urton of his emeritus status, and banned him from campus, for serial sexual harassment. Urton retired from Harvard last year, during the investigation into his behavior.

Proof by meme. 🙂

xkcd vs. the base rate fallacy. 🙂

Bloom County vs. Calvin and Hobbes. 🙂

And finally, I love the original version of “Dancing With Myself”. But the up-tempo pop/rock tune is mismatched to the lyrics, I think (YMMV). So it was a pleasure to discover this jazz cover version, which fits the lyrics perfectly:

Have a good weekend. 🙂

9 thoughts on “Friday links: Fast Grants, NIH vs. harassment, and more

  1. I can imagine that ‘55% of tenured and tenure-track faculty are contemplating leaving academia or taking early retirement’ but I’d be very surprised if more than a fraction go through with it. However, speaking as someone who did just that back in October, I have to say that it’s amazing and liberating how your horizons and opportunities open up if you’re willing to take the leap.

    My self-employed status at the moment involves me doing most of the things that I enjoyed about being an academic but without the constraining and stifling bureaucracy and BS that goes with working in a university. Self-employment is not for everyone: the lack of financial security is a worry and doing this at a late-career stage, when you have developed a (hopefully positive!) reputation and a significant track record, is likely to work better. But from my personal experience (so far) I can recommend it.

    • And yes, it’s definitely possible that many people might contemplate early retirement or leaving academia and then not follow through. For myself, I think it will be telling how I feel in the fall. Will I be glad to be back on campus? Happy to see undergrads in in-person classes? Excited to get my new grad students started? If the answers to those questions are “no”, then it’s probably time for me to get serious about when I could retire, rather than just idly contemplating the idea.

      • Jeremy, what would you do as an alternate career? (Assuming retirement is not an option)

      • If retiring early was infeasible, I’d either stick with my current job or look into a modified version of my current job. Maybe see if I could convert my full time position to half time (which I’m not sure if I could under our collective bargaining agreement…).

      • OK, got it. I sensed a theme of academic jobs being in some senses unattractive compared to alternative jobs, but this is a different narrative: retire from the job or scale it down. But not switch.

      • Whether academic jobs are attractive or unattractive compared to alternative jobs is obviously going to be very specific to the individual. I certainly don’t think academia is a uniquely unattractive career path for *everyone*, compared to non-academic careers!

        Now, are there academics who would in fact prefer some non-academic job to their current academic job, but don’t realize it? I’m sure there are some. By her own admission, the author of that wonderful old guest post, Carla Davidson, was in that category for a while. But how many is “some”? Are such people more common in academia than in other lines of work? I have no idea. Every line of work surely has at least a few people in it who’d be happier in some other line of work. I’ve no idea if those sorts of mismatches are more common in some lines of work than others.

        Am I one of the academics who would in fact prefer some non-academic job to an academic one, but doesn’t realize it? I don’t think so. I’d like to think that I know myself pretty well. But of course, I would say that, wouldn’t I? Maybe I’m wrong about myself! Time will tell–or perhaps it won’t.

      • If you’d asked me the same questions 10 years ago I would have given the same answer: that as soon as I am not excited by the coming academic cycle, it’s time to retire.

        However when this happened to me about 3 years ago, I felt far too young to retire (I was 53) but too old to keep going on the academic hamster wheel. You could call it ‘burn out’ but I think that’s an over-used term, though not one that’s often acknowledged by academics.

        So I jumped at the chance, last year, to step down from my permanent position, maintain a visiting professorship and use of university library, etc., and walk away with a modest payout. ‘Redundancy’ has a lot of negative connotations, and rightly so, but it is possible to use it to one’s advantage.

        Good luck with making a decision, I am sure it will be the right one.

    • I know of several colleagues who’ve jumped ship and have not regretted it for one moment, Better still, their level of success has increased markedly since exiting the snakepit…

      … meaning, their academic accomplishments increased after leaving academia.

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