Friday, March 17, 2017

Am I still a scientist?

This question came to me (again) a few weeks back when there was a meme on twitter asking to post a picture of yourself "as a scientist". I asked "Am I still a scientist?" (working as a project coordinator). The answer from three people was yes. (I ended up not posting a picture, mainly due to the pseud and not having a good "covered picture".)

Then I ran into it again in a conversation at work with some of my coworkers and a few post-docs looking for their next job. The identification and how important it might be to your self image that "I'm a scientist" and "what do you do in your job/life" and "what's your title". All of these things make a nice mess and confuse each other.

Then I listened to Recovering Academic podcast (found here). And tweeted "I found myself shifting views a lot during the episode" and sort of promising to write a blog post about it (and here I am... trying to make it coherent and relevant...) I'm sure this doesn't read as well as I wanted it to but I hope it gives a little insight in what I think about the whole thing. Feel free to add a comment and point out agreement, disagreement, confusions and other thoughts!

The short version

  • I started agreeing with the idea that "once a scientist always a scientist"
  • Although, not agreeing that your job is making you a scientist... but sometimes it does... but I'm not sure you should keep calling yourself a scientist if you leave science and work as a gravel layer...
  • the difference between "a job title" and "who you are"
  • that you could leave science but science doesn't leave you so you add on your new experience like a "modifier" to add to you (also called "the German discussion - addingwordstoeachother = makes a new word)
  • I missed an aspect in the episode - the EGO aspect where a lot of people would like it to be special (there was a lot of good thinking on being and needing to be inclusive, which I like) but science have a long tradition of not wanting to be inclusive
  • comparing "I am now [as in right this second]" compared to "I am now [as in generally now]"[also called "the Spanish lesson", making it tempting to say that other languages have more opportunities to explain this better than English, either by "adding words" or by using words that "explain a present state compared to 'over time'state" ;) ]

The long version
Isn't the whole question founded a little in the idea that being a scientist is "better"? I mean, how would you view someone who has worked as an actor for a few years in their twenties and then at 50 call themselves an actor? Or, someone who trained and worked as a teacher for a few years but then moved into a job as an accountant? Are they still a teacher? Based on experience or based on a degree or both?

I personally feel that there are a few jobs/callings/careers that make me think "you always stay somewhat in that role and can call your self that forever". Lawyer, judge, police, teacher, physician, university professor, welder, mechanic, coal miner...

As you can see I added a few things in the end, not necessarily the most obvious jobs but it touches on the "identity and authenticity" that we are surrounded with every day. The idea that when you self identify as "something", it brings you more credibility to that specific community as well as the touching communities. That a person who is identifying as scientist or coal miner will be accepted more by people who also identify as that.

[I realise I took the discussion a little too far into the land of words and leaving the scientist discussion into a more generic one....]

The pod mentions bench work a lot, as in "if you leave the bench". I have a little bit of an issue with equating scientist with "wet bench science work" and vice versa, I think this is very much a biomedical issue and that it has moved away from the old school interpretation of scientist as an researcher/inventor testings hypothesis[ideas] in a structured manner. It could be gathering samples from the outside, counting birds, running computer simulations, interviewing people, reading other people's papers and drawing up conclusions on your own and testing them, drawing equations to prove that prime is really random even when a number is 23 numbers long...  while these things can be used in science and in a scientific way, not everything related to the activities is scientific (imho). A lot of the "leaving bench work" comments end with the conclusion: "You are still a scientist even if you don't work as a researcher or in science anymore."

This ties quite nicely into the "doctor discussion"; that an MD is a physcian (and a doctor) while a doctor is people with a PhD/JD/MD and means the degree, rather than the more colloquial use of the word by society today... "You're always going to be a doctor, even if you don't work in science." I think this is the main point of degrees (and other types of Journeyman or Master craftsman in a guild after an apprenticeship getting a 'gesällbrev'). That "scientist" is somewhat of a journeyman?

The podcast ends with this conclusion "science has to be inclusive, and it's more than a title. even if you leave academia and the bench, you are still a scientist".

While I like this conclusion, there are a lot of things in there that are controversial. It links together with the everlasting conversation "who should be included in a paper" (also called "should a tech/post-doc be included just because they did some bench work?"). My issue is with "bench work", since it doesn't equate with "thinking up the experiments". It does mean "actually pipetting into the tubes". Does that pipetting though, make you a scientist? Or is it the "over all process" or the "training" that makes you a scientist?

While I would love to call myself a scientist regardless of my job - I do so now since I am involved with planning experimental set ups and interpreting data and drawing conclusions - I acknowledge that I want to call myself a scientist partly because I know it gives me a little touch of stardust and makes some of the people I meet look at me differently. The ego part of it shouldn't be neglected, nor should it be regarded as the main point of it.

I think my training as a scientist (my doctorate degree) gives it validity to keep calling myself a scientist long after I leave the actual "job in science with a title" - but I think it would be good to keep reminding ourselves that "there is a difference between a job and what we are and identify us as". It's also mentioned in the pod cast. That is something very much in the time we live in and something I anticipate we will continue to struggle with through the future.

Friday, March 10, 2017

genetic testing in congress

This is good article about what's being debated in congress at the moment. A bill discussing that employees HAVE to disclose their genetic testing to the employer. It might even mean that you have to do some genetic testing if your employer asks for it.

Over all, I have a couple of thoughts on the genetic testing things that's been going on since I saw Gattaca back in the early days of the testing. (don't worry, I can back my worries up with university courses in medical genetics and genetic counselling, so not only dystopian scifi.)

Anyhow, the main issue (according to me) with genetic testing as it is done and stored today is

  • there is an overstating from the companies what the results mean (we really don't know that certain how much the genes mean since there are a lot of other factors at play like epigenetics, penetrance and redundancy)
  • there is currently issues with how the results are stored (23andme is not anonymous as you might think)

and then the biggest issue - which may or may not be exacerbated in the United States of America since there is no universal health care but using insurance companies that will use any tests to try and lower their payments for care.

  • IF you have a genetic test, you HAVE to disclose it and people will act on it.

It's a little bit like the old thing, if you don't check for cholesterol you will never be deemed "bad cholesterol" and get punished for it. The system is made for "being healthy" but also for not checking since you will get punished if you do check.

Why I have an issue with it (in general)? Since the market for genetic testing is not as regulated as one would want. Never mind that there are never any numbers of "false positives or false negatives" being listed together with the tests. And then of course, "that we don't know what this allele really mean"... it makes it a nice mix of "unknown knowns and arbitrary guidelines" that is left to (mostly) the insurance companies to decide what to do with it. This has implications for employers too, if they provide health insurance for their employees... just as the article points out.

If you want to really get scared, please take a look at the new diagnosis kits for early prenatal screenings. I agree that a lot of it is probably straight forward, however - and this is the really tricky part - when the result doesn't fall in the "clearly normal" or "clearly abnormal" categories, then the false positive/negative issues really come out to play. Although, "it's a test result and a lot of people and companies will say that they rely on the test result"....

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

International Day of Women - links and practical things

If you read this blog (thank you if you do), you know that I have an opinion on equal rights, women in science and that the world is not a fair place at the moment. I've gone through my old posts and I wanted to write something new for today - being the 8th of March - and figured I could do some practical link love.

There is so much to do to work for equality still. (No, I don't think we are considered equal, us woman and men.) Every where you read research says that if women are given the opportunity to control their reproductive rights (read: not get pregnant too close together aka spacing children or postpone their first child to after 18 years of age) they will have a higher chance of finishing school, thus having a higher chance of supporting themselves and their families. It's one of the things that make me upset knowing that current politics of the USA is removing this opportunity since they are pulling the funds for all health aid IF they even mention abortion (they don't even have to provide it, just the mere fact of talking about it makes the money void).

Well, instead of making this a venting upset rant - I'll go right ahead with some links to things I find important this March 8th of 2017.

Site from United Nations on women and "changing the work today". Lots of facts and explanations on WHY it's important to work towards equality and what we could have in the future.

A Mighty girl; my "go-to-site" for inspiration and presents for my friends who are parents, and also to myself when I I need a pep talk and be inspired by all the great girls and woman all around us in the world.

For more practical "what can I do to help" - consider where you can be a lender to micro loans to women (men and groups) all over the world with a small risk. The micro lending makes it possible for a lot of people to finish school, purchase that small extra that is needed to sustain their business and other things. You can choose places, people and projects that you feel are important. They have a special drive for March 8th, go take a look.

The book I would like every undergrad to have to balance the male dominance of all the science history and reports every day.

"We should all be feminists" by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie - there's a TED talk and a small book (based from the TED talk). It might interest you to know that the book was handed out to a lot of 8th graders in Sweden last year.

A list of the 100 most powerful women in 2016 from Forbes

Some self promoting (but at least I'm not rewriting the same things this year) - my old posts from March 8th:
Silly slut on Woman's day 2010
IWD this March 8th 2012 
being just enough woman, IWD edition 2016 

An old blog carnival: "IWD How To Do It All, one woman's perspective" lots of good posts

And finally, I found my blog post about the book Seducing boys club  that I never bought since I thought it was too "post-modern American" but now in a better mind frame to read and contemplate. Anyone read it? Any thoughts?

Now, let's go to work.

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

selective information

One of the first things I hear from people when talking about "being honest with your boss" is always; "oh no, you shouldn't trust them and tell them personal things, you'll get mistreated". Being an introvert, who plays their personal cards very close to the chest, this makes me feel safe. Not sharing personal things with my coworkers, and most definitely my boss, feels safe. If they don't know, they can't hurt me. 

However, the more years I've worked the more I have realized that I'm not really like that. I have tended to tell my bosses over the years the really big things. My divorce, my (subsequent) depressed time, my parents visiting and me having to take time to take care of them, my "I should leave academia", my "I'm going to look for a job since there's no promotion" and some other things. And I've come to appreciate the fact that I don't want to work for a boss that I don't trust, and that I can't feel respects me and want to support me.

It's probably mostly on how you tell these complicated things and what you share. I'm not talking about constant babbling about your personal things, this is more strategic opening up on specific things that might affect you in the work place and your boss having your back in case things get dicey. And most often, as a lot of things, these things are best to tell when you have a plan or know what you're going to do. Compare "they cheated on me with some young thing and I don't know what to do" to "my partner and I are going through a rough spot and I'm having a lot to process at the time". Not getting bogged down in details, but keeping the over all personal thing going.

I'm sure it helps that I work too much and pride myself of always being there for them when they need something. Flipside of that is, so far anyway, that they respect me and even support&help me find a new job "you're done with this phase of your life, let's find you a new thing and still keep in touch and want to promote me and my work". It's scary, don't let me tell you otherwise. It's very scary for me. I second-guess opening up every single time. I wonder the day after: "was it right, I told them this very private personal thing". And then I resign that there is nothing I can do anymore since the cat's out of the bag and you just have to move on.

The thing is though, that sometimes you can get some surprising insights and support. It's a trust-bonding exercise and so far *knock wood* it's been in my favour to have this trust with my bosses.

I'm not writing this out of the blue, obviously. I had one of those moments with my present boss. Now, this is the boss I know the least of so far. They play their cards very close to the vest as well. I'm not sure if it's based on something special, most likely because there is a division between personal life and work, and we mainly talk work. However, they have always indicated that if I wanted to enter personal space, they would respect and be mindful of it. 

So, I did. It was very awkward. Don't get me wrong. I don't think I've been that scared and uncomfortable in many years. And then it came, the words that made me relax and accept that maybe, just maybe, my personal thing that I needed to tell them wasn't all that horrible or would make me a pariah or something. Maybe it would actually work out with them? The words were, of course, "Oh I remember when I went through this time X" and the very personal account came back, the sharing. Followed up by "what can I do", said with sincerity.

I understand that this is not something everyone can do with their bosses. And maybe I was mistaken in the trust and time will tell. However, I feel better now that I've let them see a part of my personal space, not to mention a lot better since I know a little more of their personal space. Just enough, not too much.

It's also worth remembering, that if you are going through something that has you leave work for check ups and stuff, it's most likely best to get out in front of it with your boss rather than hiding it. If nothing else, they can shield you from when your coworkers might get grumpy that you leave or aren't as available as before. You don't have to tell your boss the exact details but I'm in the camp "forewarned is better than ask forgiveness later"....