because science is fundamental in the 21st century
While the number of PhD graduates per year is rising worldwide, the number of proper long-term or permanent positions in academia isn’t. This leaves PhDs with ever decreasing chances of staying in academia. And it means that increasing numbers PhDs stay postdocs for a decade or longer, only to have to leave after all.
This episode is the first ‘Q&A’ episode, where my new co-host Dr. Bart Geurten (see episode 8) and I talk about what’s new in academia. Our conversations are free form and may lead us astray here and there.
We discuss the concept of ‘merit’ in the natural sciences. And we begin with a quick recap on episode 9, where I talked to Dr. Björn Brembs about the Journal Impact Factor (JIF). The JIF is a metric designed to measure the impact a journal had in the scientific community. There are many problems with how JIFs are generated. What is even worse is the misuse of this metric for estimating the scientific ability of a single author of one article published in a journal.
Dr. Hélène Pidon is a postdoctoral researcher at the Leibniz Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research. She searches for genes that give plants resistance to diseases. She wants to use these genes to fortify cultivated Barley against these diseases, and thus reduce the amount of pesticides used to grow the plant. When the European Court of Justice ruled on the status of crops modified with gene editing methods like CRISPR, Hélène contacted me to talk with me about GMO crops.
In contrast to what was promised in the last podcast episode, we don’t have a full question and answer episode this time. I hope this will not happen too often, in future.
The Journal Impact Factor is widely used as a tool to evaluate studies, and researchers. It supposedly measures the quality of a journal by scoring how many citations an average article in this journal achieves. Committees making hiring and funding decisions use the ‘JIF’ as an approximation for the quality of the work a researcher has published, and in extension as an approximation for the capabilities of an applicant.
Science compensates for the shortcomings of human cognition. It allows us to apply methods of investigation that are independent of our own subjective notions and irrationality. As a result we have overcome common sense, traditional beliefs, and other misconceptions through thorough investigation. We even describe and utilize phenomena that are as incomprehensible as quantum mechanics, which defies our everyday experience in unimaginable ways. (more…)
Most academics won’t stay in academia… or let’s say, not every PhD will land a permanent position as a researcher. With the increasing numbers of PhDs this situation is becoming more serious. In this context, we want to interview people who work in so called ‘alternative careers’. Some of these careers are still related to academia. We hope these interviews will be of interest to people in general, since they may learn something more about how academia works. For PhDs who may not stay researchers, it should be interesting to know what kinds of careers they can have beyond the ivory tower.
This is the 2nd part of my conversation with Diana Barbosa from COMCEPT, the Portuguese Skeptics Community (find the 1st episode here). In the first part of the episode we got an overview over scientific skepticism and what kinds of topics they would usually discuss. In a nutshell, skeptics are fighting against non-scientific viewpoints making their ways into mainstream opinion.
I had an extended conversation with Diana Barbosa (@diraquel on Twitter) from the skeptical society in Portugal, COMCEPT. This is the first of two parts to this episode where Diana Barbosa answers questions about what skepticism is, what skepticism is NOT, and how it is different from other, related movements. We get an overview of the goals and activities of COMCEPT meetings, and how to become a member!
Working on your PhD is a stressful phase, and the academic culture isn’t making it better. In this episode I talk to Lauriane Nallet, who is a PhD student in Switzerland. She has a personal history with depression and even PTSD. Lauriane shares what she learned at a workshop on mental health issues in grad school, and also her own experience with mental health issues: symptoms to look out for, how she found help, and what therapy could do for her. We also talk about some aspects of academia that contribute to the stress, including high expectations for work load and ‘passion’, and the ‘publish or perish’ culture.
Visit Lauriane’s blog!
We mention an article claiming a 6x increased prevalence of depression in graduate students. The article is being criticized for methodological confines. However, another study which was conducted using methods with fewer confines, still finds a 2.8x higher prevalence for depression in PhD students when compared to highly educated workers.