Friday, October 24, 2014

Open Access Week

The Arizona State University Library system has a series of interviews for Open Access week. I answered some questions for them about my experience with publishing in open access journals, and my thoughts about open access.

Check it out here:

What do you think about open access publishing?

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Funding 101: Mechanisms

Recently I attended a seminar giving an overview of different funding mechanisms for scientific research, and advice. This will be the first of two posts, talking about a variety of funding mechanisms. The next post will be advice from very successful researchers.

Traditional government funding 

111th US Senate class photo, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Do your homework
  • Understand the structure of the funding agency
    • what have they funded
    • what is their relationship with your home institution
    • what are you colleagues doing
    • be able to articulate what kind of research your colleagues are doing that is already funded by that agency
  • Identify who the appropriate program officer is
    • send an email with a paragraph in hand about the kind of research you do, and where you are moving. Is this the kind of research you are interested in funding? If not, can you point me in the right direction, and can I use your name?
    • Don't ask for information you could have gotten ahead of time online.
    • What concepts or priorities have already been approved? Look up the strategic plans. In particular those that are supported by the PO you are going to contact.
  • Look for requests for information, and respond with ideas in your area.

Establish relationships
  • There are no "cons" about talking with PO.
  • You cannot talk to PO about a submitted funding proposal that is in review.
  • You can (and should) ask, "Do you think this is something your funding agency is interested in in the future?" 
  • Diversify your support - don't go only to one PO or to only one funding agency.

Serve on review panels
  • The best experience you can get for preparing proposals.
  • Helps you to develop a good relationship with the PO.
  • You learn about what other panelists are expecting.
  • Hearing the way people critique, especially what can rule out a proposal.

Foundation, philanthropic, and business funding
Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, photo by Adbar via Wikimedia Commons

  • Structured foundations (corporate and foundations group) generally follow the same rules as government funding agencies.
  • Unstructured foundations - do not accept proposals! How to get an "in"?
    • Have to make a personal connection with someone who sits on the board
    • Pitch your idea in email or on the phone
    • Quickly you will hear either: "Great! Send 1 page summary." or "Not interested"

Individuals philanthropists
  • You are immediately competing with colleagues at your Institution
  • How do you interact with rich people? Be social. Join the United Way committee. Join and attend one of the balls that support hospitals.
  • Be aggressive about getting out in the community.
  • If you are going to meet people with capacity, you need to make the time to do it. Probably difficult for early career scientists.
  • Talk with your Institutional office about possible philanthropist connections.
  • Check what the past history Institution with the organization-of-interest is.

Public versus private benefits for philanthropists
  • Public benefit - Interested in scholarship, research, public outcome of the gift.
  • Private benefit - Makes the philanthropist feel good. Seat saved in the front row.
    • Most people donate money for the private benefit. Figure out what their private benefit is (prestige, recognition, intellectual discussion, name on the wall), and target that.

Pitching your idea to businesses
  • Businesses are interested in partnerships - spinoffs
  • Talking to venture capitalists can seem like talking into a vacuum
  • Put up the money to start something yourself.
  • 10% of something is better than 100% of nothing.
  • Businesses/Corporations don't give much to start (average $25-30k), but this can improve
  • Underpromise and over-deliver
  • Business endeavors are designed to solve a specific problem

Crowd funding for science?
How to capture the interest of the crowd? Photo by brand via Wikimedia Commons

When I asked about crowd funding for research, I got the general sense that most people on this particular panel were not optimistic about crowd funding as a sustainable mechanism for scientific research. Here is the small summary:
  • On average crowd funding supports $5,000 grants, generally not hundreds of thousands or millions
  • Must utilize all of your networks - at least 12-15 primary people to expand to their larger networks.
  • Need a key statement, appeal, and to sell the research
  • Often a large time investment, with fairly low pay-off.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Bidstrup Undergraduate Fellow selected

Kara Schaffer, a junior at Arizona State University, majoring in Chemical Engineering was been selected as a Bidstrup Undergraduate Fellow for the 2014-2015 academic year to work in the Wilson Sayres lab. This award is a testament to her outstanding commitment to academic excellence, and is funded through the Barrett Honors College

Pretty Woman in academia.

Being in academia for good few years now, I've heard this said directly to me several times, most recently last week. The gist:
"It isn't fair, but people don't take a pretty woman in science seriously."
"Pretty woman" could easily be replaced with many different words describing minorities in science, rural/urban accents, people with disabilities. But why would a colleague say this to someone of such a group?

After some thought, I'm pretty sure these people must be referring to the 1990 classic movie, Pretty Woman. So, let's talk about academia in general, with some help from Pretty Woman.

Some days it feels like the academic pipeline is work, work, work:

And, whether it is stated out loud by a supervisor, a colleague, or in our heads, these voices exist, reminding us that we don't fit. 

And most days you can let it run off your back; you try to remember not to take it personally.

You do the right things, you cover your bases, you do your work, and you do it well.

But every now and then someone reminds you of the cost of just being *you*… reminds you of a time when you couldn't afford (through financial or personal or social capital) to be in the position you're in now.

Some days those little voices get louder and louder, bouncing in your head, and make you wonder if you belong.

Getting through it can take different forms. Maybe you remind yourself that it isn't all luck, that you have big dreams, and by dammit, you have worked hard for those dreams, and you deserve to want these things for yourself. 

Maybe you find a friend to commiserate with. Maybe you go to a mentor. Maybe you go to the source (either to the person, or to those dark parts of your mind) and tell those voices what's up, that the focus is on your work, your awesome work, not these petty distractions.

You deserve to be here. You deserve to be recognized for your work. And any voice that tells you otherwise is making a mistake.

Big Mistake. Big. Huge.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Prepping for Class

The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Arizona State University is putting on (an excellent) series for new Assistant Professors (1st and 2nd years).

1. Advice from tenured professors for pre-tenure faculty

The second seminar I attended is about preparing for class. Some of the focus was about Arizona State University specifically, but much of the advice is applicable to anyone starting out teaching. The format was a panel discussion with three Assistant Professors (past their 3rd year review) and four Associate Professors. This group included winners of the Zebulon Pearce Award for teaching excellence, and one panelist who was invited to participate an an HHMI initiative to improve science education. The disciplines represented were wide, spanning across the Sciences and Humanities. You'll notice in my notes that there are some contradictory comments. Hey, they happens when a group of people talk about their teaching advice. Here we go:

Use the resources available to you
  • Ask to see syllabus and course notes from previous years.
  • Ask questions of those who taught before, what worked, what didn't.
  • You don't have to reinvent the wheel to prove yourself as an educator.
  • Be cautious: Just because a class has been taught before doesn't mean it was taught well.
Manage classroom time
  • Practice application of materials in class. If you expect students to do something (e.g., apply knowledge) on the exam, you need to teach them the critical thinking skills in class and in homework. They won't automatically know how to take it that extra step. 
  • Students may behave poorly. By not addressing problems, you enable them.
  • In large classes, walking around the classroom (and having TA's walk) can help keep students focused.
  • Prepare for misinformation that might be widely available about your topic.
  • Prepare for dissenting voices. Think about that one student who will antagonize you, and try to preemptively address it, or be prepared with a quick response if that voice speaks up.
Create an authentic model of authority
  • If you aren't an old white guy, don't act like an old white guy.
  • Some people command respect , but that isn't for everyone.
  • You can create a bond of respect that you are comfortable with.
Evaluate student learning and experience more than once
  • Leave a blank page at the end of each exam for students to tear off and leave anonymous comments about the class.
  • Evaluate at least once before or at the midpoint of the semester. For you. For your students. 
  • If using online technology, can run rolling quizzes. Put online at 8am Friday, and students have until 8am Monday to complete.
Interacting with students over email can require patience, and preparation
  • Wait (a day or two) to respond to emails that frustrate you.
  • Set the tone. Use a full salutation. Many students never learned how to write a proper letter.
  • Write a draft email that you can cut and paste in response to all of the similar questions you will get.
How do you stop obsessing and stressing about teaching? 
  • Assess whether it is true anxiety that affects you (if so, seek additional help). Or, check if it is care about student success and it is motivating you.
  • Allocate time for teaching. Allow yourself to stress out that day/time, and not the next.
  • Allow yourself to appreciate what you are doing right.
Structure your teaching so you don't spend all your time on it
  • Respect your prep time and respect your non-prep time. 
  • Put in your syllabus about when you will respond to questions about course materials (e.g., will not respond three hours before email).
  • Make a "need to respond" folder for student emails, then respond during your teaching time.
  • Don't waste your time trying to find "just the right picture." That picture is not going to substantially change the class.
  • Develop discussion questions.
Preparation time rules of thumb
  • 2 hours prep time to one hour of lecture
  • 4-5 hours of prep time to develop active learning activities for for each hour of class time.
  • 7 hours to prep for one completely online hour.
Manage Teaching Assistants (TAs)
  • Set up clear expectations, map out what the semester is going to look like, which weeks are busy and which are going to be lighter.
  • Require that the TAs teach.
  • Have a weekly meeting for the TAs.
  • Keep track of good students so you can ask them to be assistant TAs in future classes.
Use varied approaches to engage students in large lectures
  • Ask a lot of questions.
  • Work in pairs, upload answers to blackboard.
  • Lectures can be very boring
  • Make content into questions. Content will come out in the discussion.
  • Make nameplates for each student (they bring to class each session).
  • Cold call, but allow students to "phone a friend," asking for help from other students.
Teaching surprises (will vary from school to school) 
  • Diversity in background among the students.
  • That I liked teaching.
  • Students have many competing demands and responsibilities.
  • It is the exception that your students won't have a job (full or part); large veteran population.
  • How much students need mentoring. E.g., first generation college student.
  • Surprised and delighted by how you get to change a couple people's lives.
Things we learned the hard way so you don't have to 
  • Check the version of the book (especially if it includes a new ending and/or different material.
  • Cover the required amount of material.
  • Don't try to cover too much (especially packing slides too full).
  • Ask for feedback, but try to prepare yourself for the negative impressions.
General suggestions/thoughts
  • Design your course so that over-committed students can excel. Check in constantly. This doesn't mean cover less content, but it does mean hand-holding, mentoring, and taking a half-step back to reframe the contentt
  • It is generally not good to mirror your teaching expectations of students at your institution based on where you went to school. You will need to learn the dynamic at your new institution.
  • Have each student fill out a notecard with name, other classes, outside commitments. Even in a large class this can be useful for cold-calling.
  • Sometimes students don't read instructions. Make a difficult exam question, but within the  instructions state the answer, for example, "the answer is 'B'."
Whew! Alright, got all that? And we're just scratching the surface here. Please leave your comments and suggestions about teaching for new faculty. Happy teaching!