Tuesday, October 29, 2013

differing eating habits - or social habits?

Two to three times a year I go on field trips involving collaborators and students. Sometimes I am the "principal investigator" on these trips, sometimes I just come along as an extra pair of hands. During the last two years we were just women during most of these excursions, before that and just recently there were just 1 or 2 women in a larger group of men. While all the trips were productive and professional there is one thing I've noticed to be different: the group eating habits. And this does not mean that the alcohol and meat consumption in just women groups was lower, but it is about the social aspect of eating.
By now I have worked in several different groups on different continents and I find myself to prefer groups which have some kind of social eating habits, such as going for lunch as a group, having a coffee meeting once a day, having group BBQs every now and then,... . I usually feel a bit lost if everybody brings their own food and eats in front of the computer or just not at all.
On my field trips I've noticed that women seem to pay much more attention to this social aspect of eating. If possible a common breakfast time is arranged and the working shifts will be arranged such that everyone can still make it to the next pub or restaurant before they close. When working with just men this is not necessarily the case. Even if a breakfast time is arranged this can mean that nobody shows up at the designated place and if you meet them 15 min later some of them already had breakfast and some will go later and some are still asleep. If the group has to split to go for dinner it might be that the first group forgets that pubs close at a certain time and the second group then has a dinner consisting of gas station sandwiches and chocolate. Even though I have experienced this already a lot of times, with each new field trip I  forget that the social aspect of eating is not as important for my male colleagues as for me. This then leads to a very rushed breakfast (if at all) on the first 1-2 days until I have adopted to this behavior again. And I would feel very unsocial if I would go by myself directly on the first day - because maybe this group of guys is different. I really wonder where this difference comes from - in the end most people like food as well as company.

growing circumference

The moment you really realize that your pregnancy must show is when you walk past an automatic hand dryer installed at your favourite loo and it switches on because your belly or your bum was too close. I really have to adjust to my growing circumference.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

men have been taught to grow out, women have been taught to grow in

This poetry slam says a lot of true things! Starting questions with "sorry" is just one of them.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

"doomed" project - check!

Much later than originally planned, but finally of my desk! The "doomed" review paper is handed in, the kazilllion references I included are filed away and now we have to hope for good reviewers. In the meantime I have to find the motivation to work on all the other stuff that piles up on my desk, but right now I'm just very relieved - with a big smile on my face!

Friday, October 18, 2013

responsibilities towards your co-authors

Publishing a paper, writing a grant application or handing in a conference abstract involves co-authors in most of the cases. Comparing publications written in the 1950's with some of today clearly shows that co-authorship has become much more important. While preparing samples or conducting the experiments saved you only a place in the Acknowledgements a few decades ago, today these contributions push you in the author list. In the era of publish or perish is it important to have a lot of publications and as one can only write a limited number by themselves a spot on the co-author list is usually not declined - at least not by early-career researchers. The decision who makes it on the author list and who not has certainly led to some heated debates and broke some collaborations.
But even if you safely make it pass beyond this critical point and you have designed the perfect co-author list, there are some more pitfalls along the way:
Just very few manuscripts are written in one go, read by all the co-authors once, everybody is happy and the whole piece is handed in and gets accepted right away without further modifications. All the other papers go through a more evolutionary process. They are roughly drafted in the beginning, somebody is not happy with the content, the flow or some specific wordings, graphs are added, edited and deleted again and sometimes the story from the beginning is replaced by something totally different. All before a reviewer has even opened the file for the first time. Some main authors try to include all their co-authors along this way, asking for opinions and aim to keep everybody on the same page. But it is a lengthy process, esp. if the authors are distributed over several continents. It can sometimes take weeks (or months) before the last co-author has replied to the latest version and the whole writing process becomes very lengthy.
Some main authors try to cut this time shorter by not including the co-authors so much. This can mean that several iterations are done "in house" before a more polished version is send around again - and that is fine, as everybody has enough on their plate to not be bothered by too much detail. But the other strategy to speed up the manuscript development is to vanish with the manuscript after the first iterations and show up with it again after it is accepted by the journal. Without a notification that it was handed in at all, without sending around the final manuscript for approval, without discussing the changes suggested by the reviewers. This is not acceptable but happens all the time! And besides that having your name on a published document without your consent is surprising, it can if you are really unlucky drag you into the depths of scientific misconduct  - and you didn't even have the chance to avoid it.
This "time saving" behavior is not only common to speed up the publishing process, but to be able to hand in a conference abstract a day before the deadline and I guess a few people have found their names on grant applications as well after they were handed in. It is a tricky situation to deal with as usually the main authors are least somehow your collaborators and as an early-career researcher you need publications. So why shoot yourself in the foot by complaining to the main authors (or maybe even to the journal). Most of the time the content of the publication is still fine, even though the general behavior is not acceptable. On the other hand: this kind of behavior is not acceptable! It is disrespectful and patronizing, it shows that your main authors couldn't be bothered less about your opinion but think that maybe for political reasons your name should be on the paper. If possible I try to avoid working with people showing this publishing habit.
Sadly, the "time saving" virus infects grad students as well. It is sometimes very hard to explain to them why having the consent from your co-authors should never be harmed by their poor time management. It should not be too difficult to write the conference abstract quite a bit before the day of the deadline, so that the co-authors on the other continent in a different time zone have sufficient time to reply.
There are certainly difficult situations, e.g. when you have to deal with more than 10 authors. Keeping them all on the same page is a big task. But if you try - and lets assume the author list contains only people with a general interest in the paper and not a bunch of "political authors"- the time put into this "net working" project is well spend and last in better collaborations. Everybody likes it if their opinion is valued.

Thursday, October 3, 2013


Do you know that when something happen that makes you really upset and angry and you can't just let it go? It is circulating in your head the whole day and prevents you from working and if you've managed to distract yourself for a bit it sneaks back into the front seat of your attention at the first possible moment? And you know you really have to let it go to make a rational decision about how to deal with the upsetting situation. Especially if it is work related and your emotions on in shouldn't matter - or at least they are not helpful. Oh, how I hate this! It does not happen very often, but if so it has a tight grip. Aaarrggss! I hope sleep helps my head a bit to sort this situation!