Parsing Words About IRB Statuses Pisses Me The Fuck Off..

I’ve been doing human research for better than a decade now (and, yes, I did just appeal to authority). Every study that I have ever done has at some point touched an Institutional Review Board and every study has involved some consideration of how to obtain informed consent.

IRBs can do a couple of things when they consider a study. They can approve or deny approval for a study’s conduct. They can exempt the study from review, meaning that the investigators may press on without IRB involvement. They can approve an informed consent process and document, or they can waive the requirement for informed consent.

Every paper that I have subsequently written has been published in a journal that requires two statements be made – 1) What is the study’s status vis-à-vis the IRB and 2) how was informed consent obtained?

I’ve been very fortunate because my studies have been straight forward. I’ve been able to state simply “This study was approved by the Institutional Review Board of the MRU School of Tomfoolery. All participants provided written informed consent.” Done. Moving on…

But what if your study was deemed exempt or you got a waiver to either not need to get consent or get verbal consent or some other such fuckery?

Well, then you say that.  You don’t say your protocol was approved if it was exempted from review. That’s not the same. And you don’t say anything about informed consent except the actual way you obtained it.

no me jodas

A mi, no me jodas on this one, scientists. No me jodas.

(Motivation for this rant can be found here. Carajo.)

Saving Ourselves From Our Ambitions and What Drives a Scientist

Michael Tomasson has a new post on his blog that, to quote the lyrical poet Trey Songz, has me feeling “some kind of way” about my training as a scientist. Michael remembers fondly the pre-college experiences that made him excited about science, the poor grades he received in didactic college science classes that discouraged him, and the first hands on science experiences he had that made him think he might want a career in science.

I smiled as I read it because, in some ways, our experiences are similar. I didn’t have the same cognition as a child that I “loved science” as Michael did, but in retrospect I clearly loved science. I loved  Cosmos and my telescope and almost all of the books I read as a girl revolved around science.  In college, I failed miserably in some didactic classes, mostly because I was bored. But, getting into a lab during my last semester completely turned my feeling about science around.

I can remember that, at each stage of my training (undergrad, grad, and postdoc) I had a lot of moments where I thought to myself “science is the worst decision I ever made.”  Those might be posts for another time, but there are still so many parts of science that bring me so much joy that outweigh those moments.

Yesterday I was away from my office, working on a project with a collaborator, when I got an email from the technician that helped me with my postdoc work.  He has been a technician in my field longer than I have been alive and has helped train dozens of grad students and postdocs. He’s worked with some of the biggest personalities in our field and I was curious about that. So, I once asked him, “Who has been the most difficult postdoc you’ve ever worked with?” Maybe I shouldn’t have asked a question I didn’t really want the answer to. His answer, without skipping a beat, was “Definitely you. You’re ambitious and you swear a lot.”

I tempered my swearing a bit after that, but not my ambition. We spent hours and hours and hours in the dark together, collecting data. To break up some of the monotony, we would tell jokes. Really, really corny jokes.  It made me happy when he emailed me yesterday with a single line of text…

What’s brown and sticky?

It made me feel so warm that he was thinking of me and maybe missing our tomfoolery.  Maybe he was looking back on our experiments with the fondness I did, even when we were both stressed out of gourds at the time. The joy of doing science, combined with the amazing people I’ve known is what has kept me in science. Those experiences of having my hands in the belly of science, combined with seeing the passion in others, has made me love science as a profession.

group hug

I think that’s why I read the following stand alone sentence in Michael’s post with trepidation…

Younger scientists need protection from the ambitions of their elders.

It’s a sentence that apparently also caught Drugmonkey’s eye, although I am not exactly sure why. I think the idea that ambition is a bad thing is a bag thing. I know that there are some that believe that science should be a noble and priestly calling. We should all be motivated by our love of our questions and not necessarily by indices of success.  I think that’s a load of fuckery.

I fully fess up to my ambition. I admit that it is a point of personal pride to be the expert in what I do and to be respected for it by my peers. I want to take over the world.  I want to be the best in my field and I want to be well-funded to explore the stuff I think is important. I don’t want the #struggleplate equivalent of an academic career.


Part of my ambition, however, is a desire to train the best junior scientists. If I am successful, the people that come out of my lab will be successful.  I can see where ambition can be negative when a PI nurtures that ambition on the back of those more junior to her, but it need not necessarily be that way and I reject the idea that my goals and achievements are necessarily the antithesis to those of the people more junior.

But, while I think that my own success can greatly influence the success of those I train, I also worry about infantilizing trainee scientists. Graduate students and postdocs are adults who have already survived a bachelors degree. They sometimes have families or own homes or do other grown up things. Yes, I acknowledge that there are cases of PIs who really fuck their trainees, but I also find myself growing less tolerant of people who complain that “If only their PI had done X..” they would have achieved Y and it’s their PIs fault that they didn’t accomplish their dreams. I say if there is some thing you think you’re not getting in your lab, seek it out and find it. Use your committee. Find a group of mentors to give you diverse perspectives. At the end of the day, whining gets you nowhere. Be a damned adult.

Ambition is not bad.



Dr. Isis’s Shoe of the Year…

I post a lot of pictures of very fancy, very sparkly shoes, but this is actually how I am happiest. Love…


Incremental Advances, Flirting With Your Peers and Staying Home With Your Babies..

I had a couple of thoughts rambling around in my brain. I wanted to write about all of them, but I didn’t really have enough for a post from each of them, so I thought I would just write about everything…

1) Proflike’s post about women at conferences is not about flirting at conferences.

Friend-of-the-blog ProflikeSubstance has a post up right now about the pressure women feel at scientific conferences to be the object of their male colleagues’ unchecked fuckneed. Our dear buddy writes:

So dudes, pull this apart a little bit. First off, the frequency with which inappropriate advances occur is causing some women to avoid after hours social events. Not only does that have consequences, but that very fact in itself should bother you. Also consider that even consensual sexyfuntimes have very different career implications for men versus women. These communities are small and things get around. Finally, are you going to be That Guy who women are warned against being around alone? Do you want the dumb things you say when you’re out late to be the reason a woman leaves the field or is uncomfortable attending social events? Consider that maybe your work colleagues are not the best target audience for your affections.

Now, I admit that when I first read the post, and the comments that filled the comment thread, I rolled my eyes so hard that I almost damaged my optic nerves.

beyonce eyeroll

My eye roll was born not of anything our friend and colleague had to say, but rather the onslaught of clueless d00dliness that followed in the comments.

I get it. You’re worried that you’ll be at a conference, not looking for love. Not even knowing that something is missing in your life. But, for the first time in forever you see a woman at the bar of the conference hotel and decide that she is the most beautiful creature you’ve ever seen. Your eyes meet. She moves closer to you and you ask if you can buy her next Midori sour. Next thing you know, you’re back in her room, professing your eternal love and devotion to her while she licks room service ice cream off your naked body, and discovering that you both yell “p<0.05″  when you orgasm.

However will this cosmic love connection happen if you can’t even flirt with her!?!

This post is not for you, my friend.

No,  I believe there to be a more insidious problem in academic science. There is a definitive cohort of men, mostly of the sort with saggy, wrinkly, grey-haired ballsacks, that treat academic conferences as an all-you-can-eat pussy buffet and they feel the need to try and stick their face in every dish.

buffet gif

They’re not there to treat their (especially junior) female colleagues with respect and support. They’re there to drink too much, be obnoxious, and treat their female colleagues as fuckholes. While I have admittedly found them to be in the minority, one rotten scientist spoils the bunch and there are certainly some events I avoid because the men get drunken and lecherous. While I generally stand by the fact that the safest advice is “Don’t fuck where you eat,” I’m not against finding true love…

I am against being generally creepy, sexually inappropriate, and trying to fuck everything that comes within three feet of your Cialis-fueld erection just because you’re away from home and your wife stopped fucking you in 1984. I think that is the subculture Proflike has identified and I appreciate his call to others to put an end to it when they see it.

2) There are some things that make academia the greatest job ever.

This morning I overslept a little and found Little Isis playing on the iPad. He tugged hard at my heart strings and told me that he missed being able to spend the day together. So, since I generally do what I want, I decided to do what I want and spend the day with him. I did take him to one meeting, but otherwise we ate flaming hot Cheetos and watched monster movies and cartoons all day. I’ve worked in industry and government and I can’t think of another job where I’d be able to come and go as I please so freely. Admittedly, no one is busting my nuts because I am doing pretty well here, but I enjoy a spectacular amount of freedom compared to most other jobs I could have, even if I as having similar success.

3) Rejection sucks

It sucks harder when you get smacked with the stock critique that your work wasn’t “innovative” enough or represents an “incremental advance.” I’m not saying that I completely buy Michael Eisen‘s wackadoodle Northern Californian Open Access  ideals, but I am softening a bit. Some people wouldn’t know innovative if it stood up and bit them in the face…

[Addendum: I did not have a paper rejected. Don't you all know who I am?]

Addendum for a Tuesday Afternoon…

I think I woke up a little saltier than I thought this morning. I maybe shouldn’t read anything else people have sent me, lest I be accused of not being “kind”…