Tuesday, 02 July 2013 20:00

Please comment on why you don't comment

Scientific work progresses through the communication of ideas and almost every scientist I have ever met tends to talk ad nauseum about their research or science in general. Yet as much as scientists like to talk about their work and to publish their work, very few comment on articles. Indeed, every COMPASS Blog post has been read well over 100 times, yet there have been 0 comments. I published one research article that has been read over 22,000 times but has received only eight comments, two of which were our own (1).

I wonder why scientists do not comment on articles? So, rather boldly I ask you to comment below on why you may not typically comment on science articles.

1. Nicholson JM and Ioannidis JP (2012) Research grants: Conform and be funded. Nature 492, 34-36

Published in COMPASS Points
Monday, 24 June 2013 14:57

3D Print Your Favorite Protein

I have a poster session coming up, and I wanted to show a homology model built by my collaborator Justin Kollman. In the past, I've found that "feelies" (like flip books) are a great way to engage visitors. Given that my department just got a MakerBot Replicator 2X, why not 3D print the .pdb? In going through this process, I enjoyed an unexpected benefit: handling a physical model led me to a far deeper understanding of the structure than I've been able to get by spinning it in virtual space.

Published in COMPASS Points

The COMPASS career development subcommittee is a new team dedicated to expanding career development and training through ASCB. We have been assembling several initiatives, ranging from events for the Annual Meeting to year-round resources. We are excited about what we have in store and we are looking forward to making a splash in New Orleans this December!

Our first project is a series of Career Perspectives, in which we bring together the collective wisdom of today's biomedical workforce to provide first-hand insight into the vast array of career options open to cell biology trainees. We reached out to recently-hired friends and colleagues in a variety of positions, including academic faculty and staff, industry scientists, science communication experts and business administrators. We asked them to share their personal career pathways and to give advice on how to successfully follow in their footsteps. We will be publishing more than thirty career perspectives on the ASCB website in the near future, so stay tuned for some interesting and enlightening stories!

Published in COMPASS Points
Friday, 14 June 2013 14:06

What’s the beak of a scientist?

Over a hundred and fifty years ago in the Galapagos Islands Charles Darwin observed that different finches had different beak sizes and that these beak sizes corresponded to their functionality. A finch with a long slender beak could more easily eat the seeds off the fruit of a cactus than a finch with a shorter broader beak. Such phenotypic differences translated into differences in fitness for the finches. These seminal observations led to the theory of evolution, a theory so important that Theodosius Dobzhansky once wrote, "Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution." But what if Darwin never observed his finches and instead landed on a very bizarre island inhabited by some other creatures, perhaps much more strange than finches...modern-day scientists! What would Darwin have observed? Perhaps he would have noticed first that scientists work in groups and that there is a hierarchy among the groups. Some groups would be smaller than others, some led by males and some led by females. Maybe he would have noticed that some scientists are better at theorizing while others show great technical expertise. Or maybe he would have noticed that some scientists have many grants and others very few. Remarkably, since this whole situation is hypothetical, I have his notes! I invite you to read over them and to vote for what you believe the metaphorical beak of scientists to be (i.e. that which dictates scientific fitness).

Published in COMPASS Points
Wednesday, 29 May 2013 20:00

Building a COMPASS

As any boy scout knows, you can make a compass from water, a cork, and a needle, but you need to spend time brushing that needle over and over with a magnet to align the dipoles in the right direction. New committees also require considerable brushing up. To properly orient ASCB's newest, COMPASS (the Committee for Postdocs and Students), its 15 members and eight associates have exchanged thousands of words by email, committed over 300 edits to our internal wiki, and interrupted each other dozens of times in our first all-committee conference call.

We've outlined our plan for taking our first steps toward making the ASCB a more useful and supportive community for trainees in science. But, in this formative time, we need a few more brushes of feedback from you on how ASCB can serve you better. Please read on, and let us know what you think.

Published in COMPASS Points
Tuesday, 11 June 2013 11:16

Say ‘No’ to the Impact Factor

"For the sake of science, the emphasis [on the impact factor] needs to change."
Randy Schekman & Mark Patterson (1).

Do you know someone who has had a paper out for review for more than six months at one of the 'best' journals? Yeah, I do too. Welcome to the absurdity of the scientific publication process with tales of year-long waiting times between submission and acceptance, of second and even third rounds of reviews, of long lists of experiments to do. Then we race against time to turn those experiments into equally long files of supplementary material. The publication process as we know it should only exist in our worst nightmares.

Instead, it permeates the daily life of every scientist. We all know that in the land of publish-or-perish there are three magic words: Nature, Science and Cell. Publications in these journals are the key to stability in the increasingly unstable world of academic research. To the group leader they bring money, promotions, invitations to speak all around the world, and an endless supply of students and postdocs eager to join their lab. For the young scientist they are critical to getting a job and securing abundant funding to start a lab. But the 'magic words' in themselves don't have any special powers; these largely come from their impact factors.

Published in COMPASS Points
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