Wednesday, July 16, 2014

A Terrible Cover of Science Magazine & An Example of The Power of Today's Social Media

I checked my mailbox this afternoon, and looked at the cover of my Science magazine and thought: “Whoa, this should have been in a brown paper covering like they had for dirty magazines.” I saw an image on the cover of provocatively clothed women, the title being “Staying a Step Ahead of HIV/AIDS.” Why did this picture need to be on the cover for that story I thought? The image made me think that Science was trying to be incendiary, hip or edgy or something. I put the magazine and my thoughts about it aside; then just before I was about to have a meeting in my office, I decided I needed to put the journal face down and out of view.

I tweeted the joke about the brown paper covering but then decided the cover was still bugging me and tweeted. “When we said we wanted more women in Science this is not what we meant.” and tagged @AAASmember

I thought that would be the end of it, but then Jim Austin (@SciCareerEditor) the Editor of Science Careers (from Science) quoted my tweet and sarcastically replied “Good one.” Shortly after he tweeted, “Am I the only one who finds moral indignation really boring?” I was off Twitter, but Jacquelyn Gill (@JacquelynGill) and others were luckily paying attention. They called him out and the twitterverse went after him and the stupidity of that cover pretty strongly. A few hours later we got a response from Marcia McNutt (@Marcia4Science) Editor-in-Chief of Science magazine, “From us at Science, we apologize to those offended by recent cover. Intent was to highlight solutions to HIV, and it badly missed the mark.”

It was nice of them to apologize especially after Jim Austin’s comments. Read more about the entire exchange from the tweets I highlighted on Storify

The cover is still up on-line, and the magazine is still on my desk face down. I was disappointed in Science for publishing a cover that I thought objectified the people in the image, and I was more disappointed by the initial response from Jim Austin. I’m glad the head editor apologized but I was most moved by the quick response from Twitter. In the old days (when they really did put brown paper over dirty magazines) we’d see something like this, maybe shake our fists, maybe even write a letter (like actually write a letter) to the offending party and maybe in 3-6 weeks something would come of it (usually nothing). We might have thought, “well just another example of sexism” and let it slide. Thanks to social media I’m glad at least we all got to vent and share our collective impressions and opinions. I found out I was not alone in being offended, and we all shared a common message that the image was inappropriate. We even got a rapid apology from the editor. And maybe, just maybe, I think the people behind that cover of Science will think twice next time they consider a cover that might be sexist, homophobic, or otherwise just wrong.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

I “made it” in academia, and that means you can too!

I’ve seen many posts recently about people quitting academia (check out hashtag, #QuitLit on Twitter if you don’t believe me, or this post, or this one) but I don’t see that many positive alternatives. (There are a few, I still love “The Awesomest 7-Year Postdoc) I want to tell my positive story because I don’t think it is all that unusual or special, and that isn’t because I’m special or different. I don’t want to call it a success story because success is defined by how you reach the goals you set, it doesn’t matter if you change them along the way. I hate when people look down on someone who dropped out of a Ph.D. program, or didn’t land a postdoc, or didn’t get a tenure-track position. Those people didn’t fail, they ran into a roadblock or had a change of heart that took them on a new career path: they found success elsewhere.

I think luck had a lot to do with my version of success, as did having a loving and understanding partner. I also think I had something to do with my version of success. I’m still relatively young (35) and I am one final step from tenure (positive faculty vote, Dean and President all give the thumbs up – waiting on the Board of Regents). Most of the people I went to grad school with at the University of Michigan are happy and I’d consider them successful (some are on the tenure track, others are still postdocs, some are teaching at liberal arts schools, others are doing soft money research, some are working in policy). I think most of these people initially envisioned eventually landing a tenure-track position – probably because you are essentially taught this is the only option. We all know this goal is not realistic for everyone. One of the much discussed graphics that came out recently shows less than 10% of PhD students get a faculty position (link here). There aren’t enough academic jobs for everyone in the graduate pool, a combination of talent, luck and support gets you there. But some of the people in the training pool decide this wasn’t the place for them after all.

Rather than be discouraged by all the negativity out there, I say – enjoy the process. Being in graduate school or a postdoctoral fellowship can be an amazing and fulfilling experience. Don’t waste your time being cynical about future prospects before you’ve given yourself a chance. I remember when my in-laws asked me what my future plans were early on in my graduate career. I said, “I want to be a professor but I’m still trying to find out if I’m good enough or not.” Around my third year of my PhD when my publications started to finally come out I started to feel like a scientist and I loved that feeling. I melted with joy when there was a proof of my new publication in my inbox and I treasured the smell of fresh new reprints in the mail (this was way back in the mid-2000s when we still used paper). I loved knowing the fruits of my labwork and fieldwork were going to get published. I loved every second of being a graduate student and my postdoc was even better: I travelled throughout Asia collecting fishes and would come back in between trips to write a paper. It was such awesomeness. If you don’t feel that joy, academia might not be for you. If you do love your “job” then stick with it and don’t worry so much about the next step. It’ll work out, trust me, I’m a scientist.

Of course there is more to it. I’m in a niche discipline, ichthyology. I’m also an evolutionary biologist and systematists but all my papers are on fish. I wanted to be a curator of fishes like my undergrad, Ph.D and postdoc advisors. I did everything I could to get a curator position in ichthyology. There aren’t many of these (very few actually) but I tried not to think of the few job prospects and just rolled with whatever happened. Except I did think ahead enough to put myself in contention when a job did become available. I went to meetings, especially the big ichthyology meetings every year so that I could get to be part of the community that would eventually hire me. I volunteered for everything, and I built a good network. I also made lots of mistakes and tried to learn from them. As I went through the process I steadily learned to write papers and do science and I got enough pubs that I landed a great postdoc at the American Museum of Natural History. Luckily for me a few curator positions in ichthyology opened up around that time. I interviewed at three places and had some heartache, but I got a great gig here at LSU. I’ve had many more failed attempts at grants than positive ones but I’ve had just enough to be doing okay. I’ve trained grad students and postdocs and they’ve helped me build a career, as have my many mentors and collaborators.
The point is I think that there isn’t enough voices saying “I made it, so can you - I know the road can be tough - but you can still make it if you still want it and if you are enjoying the process.” The toughest times in academia are when you don’t know your next gig: when you are a finishing Ph.D. student looking for a postdoc, or a postdoc running out of time waiting for a job. Maybe if I didn’t get the LSU job I wouldn’t have gotten another offer. I don’t know what would have happened then, I’ll try not to think about it. So yes circumstances have to be in your favor. If you stay positive, chances are the right opportunity will come your way.
I certainly feel like I’m living the dream. I’ve got great colleagues, a lab of students that are more productive and smarter than me, and a job that I real love. I get to write papers on stuff that interest me and write grants that help me fund that research. I’ve got enough flexibility to have plenty of time to hang with my twin daughters (my actual favorite thing to do). Yes, some days are tougher than others but I can’t imagine being in another profession. If your dream is still to be an academic, don’t give up on that dream if you are enjoying the process. Work hard and stay positive and there will plenty of room for you in academia.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

A Proposal for a New #Altmetric, the Influence Score, to Accompany the H-Index and to Help Evaluate a Scientist’s Impact on Society

The H-index is among the most widely used metrics for evaluating the quality and quantity of a scientist’s publications; but what about their influence on society? Here I introduce the Influence Score that can help an outside reviewer better understand a person’s impact not just among other scientists but among the general public and those outside of academia. If the ultimate goal is to evaluate a person’s true overall role as a scientist, I think we should be considering how they communicate with all people not just other scientists (which is the case with the H-index). The new index can be used to accompany the H-index, but also incorporates it. All elements of the Influence Score can be looked up through simple Google and Twitter/Facebook searches.
            The H-index can be easily calculated in Google Scholar, I prefer it to the Web of Science or Scopus because Google Scholar counts books and other
Fig.1. Google Scholar Profile Page Showing H-Index in Red Box.
non-traditional peer-reviewed publications: and it is free! To calculate the H-index you essentially count down the number of publications and their citations until the numbers no longer overlap. A person with an H-index of 5, has at least 5 papers with 5 citations. Read more HERE to learn how to calculate the H-index.) Because a scientist’s main role is still to communicate their science among peers (via peer review), the Influence Score multiples their H-index by 100, and down weights the other elements, which are a little easier to accumulate (e.g., # of twitter followers).  I chose the H-index over say, total number of citations (which might be more similar to # of followers), because it is easier to calculate for a given researcher, especially one without a Google Scholar profile (Fig.1). 
            The other measures of the Influence score includes a measure of their visibility with the press (i.e, the Press Index or P-Index for short). Using Google News, one simple puts the person’s name in the search box and counts the number of articles that are found, which Google also does for you (Fig.2). Because
Fig 2. Red box shows Google News P-index.
Google News is only searching through a relatively recent window of time, few scientists will have much more than a few articles about them. Sometimes it is worth googling the person with “science” following their name, as I did for James Watson (e.g., “James Watson science”), to distinguish him from other news articles about people with the same name. This measure largely is to bump up those scientists truly making a social impact as newsmakers. That is without bumping them up too much, I’m trying to avoid giving too much influence to “celebrity scientists” that don’t do much science of their own. Therefore, I suggest that you divide the total number of search results of the Press Index by 100 so that this score is not completely overweighing the person’s academic accomplishments represented by the (albeit crude) measure of the H-index. Folks like James Cameron that are great promoters of science, but are best known for other things, are intentionally excluded here. If someone could separate press about science related activities from all others, they obviously could still be included. This is also the most dynamic element of the score because it can change so rapidly. Jane Goodall can skyrocket to the top of the list with the publication of a new book.
Fig.3. Twitter and Facebook Fan pages showing # of followers.
            The third part of the Influence Score considers your sway in social media (i.e, the Social Media Index or SM-index for short), specifically Twitter or Facebook. For someone on Twitter you get 1pt for every follower. For someone not on Twitter but that has either a Facebook “Fan” Page or Facebook “followers,” you get 1pt per fan or follower. You don’t get points for regular old Facebook “friends” because that isn’t necessarily measuring your scientific influence. If they have both a Facebook Fan page and a Twitter handle you only get points for whichever is the higher value. To learn more about the role of twitter for outreach read David Shiffman’s @whysharksmatter excellent article HERE).  As with the Press-Index you divide the total number by 100; again this is to allow the more academic H-index to still have some weight. The reason being that someone with 40,000 Twitter followers and an H-index of 0 might not really be more influential than a scientist with an H-index of 40 and only 4000 twitter followers.
            The Influence Score is then the total of your (H-Index X 100) + (Press index/100) + (Social Media-Index/100). I would round this to the nearest integer. All three can be discovered relatively easily through searches (e.g. GoogleScholar, GoogleNews, and a Facebook/Twitter search). Below I’ve compiled a list of some of the most well known scientists and have calculated their Influence Score. I’ve also added folks randomly that I admire that might not be the most famous folks but that I hope will be one day, I think adopting the Influence Score might help them get the recognition they deserve for the impact they have in society. This metric is imperfect: but I hope it is a good start.

I would like to thank Paige Brown @FromTheLabBench and her class #manship4002 for helping me figure out a more user-friendly way to compile this Influence Score. Also would like to thank Joshua Drew (@Drew_Lab) and David Shiffman (@WhySharksMatter) for their comments and advice.

H-Index x 100
Press Index /100 (total articles according to GoogleNews)
Social Media Index
(Twitter/or Facebook followers)
Influence Score
Stephen Hawking
Neil deGrasse Tyson
Richard Dawkins
Bill Nye
Jared Diamond
J. Craig Venter
E.O. Wilson
Steven Chu
Buzz Aldrin
Sean B. Carroll
Jane Goodall
Ed Yong
Jane Lubchenco
Jack Horner
Carl Zimmer
Amanda Vincent
Neil Shubin
David Attenborough
James Watson
Hope Jahren
Eugenie Clark
Eugenie Scott
David Shiffman
Sylvia Earle

Note: As always I would like feedback on this post and if people have suggestions for changes or additions to the metric. Please e-mail me at