Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Gender equality a quality issue

With discrimination sadly still being an active force behind faculty composition - especially at higher career stages - and with Sweden not being an exception however much we would like it to be, it is good to remind ourselves that gender inequality is not a "women's problem"- it is a quality problem that should concern everyone. When recruitment and quality assessment procedures are clouded by well documented biases (see below for a few links) we do not make a fair judgement of scientific value. If we let mediocre science slip by because the first name author is a man, or let superb science stand by the side because the principle investigator is a women we are not doing are jobs right.

Are we really going to be OK with that?

In academia we proudly defend our right to moderate our own, to assess quality and to determine scientific value. If we are to live up to that trust we have to take an active stand against discrimination, based on gender and based on other factors. We have to do more than notice the problem - we have to take active part, starting with our own biases.

A seminar on gender equality in academia organized by Lynn Kamerlin at Uppsala University lead to an constructive discussion about how to empower women in science with several good suggestions.

  • Educate everyone involved in application processes in the biases involved
  • Train yourself to be aware of your own biases
  • Form mentorship programs
  • Provide career support
  • Work actively to include women in panels and conferences, but avoid getting them boggled in busywork.
  • Critically evaluate who does what works at the department, big and small
  • Highlight outstanding women
  • Speak up about problems you encounter
  • Discuss discrimination as a science quality issue

    We were also reminded not to lose hope. Even if the statistics can be incredibly depressing things are getting better. And we can make a HUGE difference for ourselves and those around us.

    Test your own biases

    Nepotism and sexism in peer-review

    The different worlds of academia: a horizontal analysis of gender equality in Swedish higher education

    Science faculty’s subtle gender biases favor male students

    Women’s equality in the Scandinavian academy: a distant dream?

  • Wednesday, October 7, 2015

    Motivating the motivators

    "Just tell me what will come on the exam... Just tell me the pedagogic tools I should use..."

    A seminar discussing THIS paper led to an interesting discussion on teaching pedagogics. Many familiar classroom situations are recognizable also among the teachers themselves when they are taught pedagogics. There will be the highly motivated squad that uses every new trick and pedagogic tool, there will be those that are stuck in their rut and there will be the ones that only do minimal effort and would most of all like to get back to their lab. And just as we can use our fancy activation techniques to catch help students forward, you should be able to do the same with their teachers.

    The thing is, teachers WANT to be good at what they do. That is part of our academic self image and, as Jerome K. Jerome reminds us, every kid wants to be the one with the pointer, telling the others what to do. And just as students, teachers want to take the easy road and just learn a few tricks when what they really need is to get into a new way of thinking.

    What teachers need is again the same as what students need - supervision, help to build a culture and fora to foster communication. To what extent do course supervisors create meetings between their TAs? To what extent to heads of programs have teachers exchange pedagogic expectations with each other? To what extent do the university offer pedagogic courses and seminars?

    There is a persistant idea that teaching is less valued than research. I feel the university fairly easy could take the edge of. To put it bluntly - if we are to feel that time and effort spent on education is valued we actually have to value it. At Uppsala University formal education in pedagogics is a requirement to teaching positions and it is part of the evaluation criteria for new hires. That is excellent, but more can be done. How about a fund for research money with educational professioncey as the highest prioritized selection criteria? That way researchers can put in the extra hours in education and still be able to send a PhD to a conference.

    Wednesday, September 23, 2015

    The mystery of the pink lake

    Listen to me explain (in Swedish) in Aftonbladet's Morning TV why a lake in California is turning pink.

    Spoiler alert: Purple Sulfur Bacteria

    Tuesday, September 22, 2015

    From hells heart I stab at theeee, thaumarchaea

    After a career in the lab, where sampling meant walking to the -80 upstairs I was VERY exited to finally be on a real research vessel. Watch me pipett in the sun on M/S Fyrbyggaren, hunting for archaea in the Baltic Sea.

    The day I met the king of Sweden

    Photo: Markus Marcetic, Royal Swedish Academy of Science

    What does it feel like to - as a young researcher, unsure of yourself and your ability to make it in your chosen field - get validation in the most bombastic way possible?

    Pretty neat, let me tell you.

    I didn't quite realize what I signed up for when I applied to the Crafoord stipend. I merely wanted to test out my idea and maybe get some sequencing money. I didn't realize I would be invited to the Royal Swedish Academy of Science for dinner, or that I would shake hands with the king, or that I would meet Tomoko Ohta!!!!!

    The proud receivers of the Crafoord stipend

    Photo: Markus Marcetic, Royal Swedish Academy of Science

    I'm very happy for the honor, but more importantly for the validation. I have been told as clear as can be that, yes, my ideas are worth listening to.

    Dark Microbial Matter

    Crafoord prize winner Tomoko Ohta - Progress of the near-neutrality concept in evolution

    My favorite Crafoord lecturer Lindell Bromham - From mutation to macroevolution: Connecting genetic variation to the generation of biodiversity

    All Crafoord seminar holders

    Tuesday, September 1, 2015

    What is growing in the water bath? Master student wanted to find out!

    Archaea is the least studied of the three domains of life. Known to live in the most extreme habitats they are nevertheless common in all parts of the biosphere. Varied, understudied and immune to most forms of antibiotics they pose unique challenges to study, and that is where you enter the picture.

    The Archaea lab at the Limnology department studies population structure of archaea in their natural habitat, and we want to correlate those studies with the properties of cells in cultivation.

    In this project you will cultivate two strains of archaea - a halophile that is adapted to extreme levels of salt, and a thaumarchaeon that is adapted to the harsh life in the oxygen limited ocean. You will start the cultivations, explore different techniques to monitor and manipulate growth and characterize growth parameters.

    You will be in the startup phase of the project, so your ability to learn, adapt and communicate methods is very important. At the end of the project you will not only report your result - you will teach the rest of the lab how to do it.

    For contact and further information, please email Erik.Pelve@ebc.uu.se

    Friday, July 31, 2015

    Archaea Online Journal Club

    So many new articles, so little time. Let us help each other. Welcome to Archaea Online - a digital journal club about everything archaeal. We discuss new articles using the PeerWise platform.

    The goal of the journal club is to gather grad students and researchers of all fields that study archaea - be it metabolism, cell biology, ecology, evolution or anything else. We will discuss a broad selection of articles to reflect the wide range of our field.

    PeerWise is a system originally developed as an educational tool for classrooms that allows the users to help each other dissect the material by writing and answering questions. That way we build up a question bank together and can focus on the most relevant aspects of the article.

    We will read one paper per month. What is next in your todo-pile?

    To join , please subscribe to the google group and you will get a PeerWise ID within a few days. https://groups.google.com/forum/#!forum/archaea-online

    How it works:

    You read the paper, you write questions, you answer questions and evaluate the quality of other people’s questions - that’s really all there is to it :-)

    As any teacher know, there are no better way to learn something than to teach it, and by writing questions we have to put ourselves in that position. Not only will we decide what from the article is worth asking about, we also have to think of suitable answers and - because of the multiple choice format - possible ways of misunderstanding the material.

    We refine the questions continuously during the month, so you can work through them whenever it suits you best. If you have a busy months and just want to skim through other people’s question that is fine too - as long as a few people contribute questions each month we will have enough to get by. There is also nothing stopping you from going back to old papers. In time we will have built up a question bank that can be useful for new people in the field, e.g. as introduction for new students.

    PeerWise Introduction: https://peerwise.cs.auckland.ac.nz/docs/students/

    The group is run by Erik Pelve, postdoc at Uppsala University who dabbles both in cell biology, evolution and ecology of the most interesting organisms in the world. I also run the twitter archaea outreach account ThirdDomain. For any question, don’t hesitate to get in touch: erik.pelve@ebc.uu.se

    Join: https://groups.google.com/forum/#!forum/archaea-online

    Oktober 2016: Back to the classics - the paper who gave us one of the most known phylogenetic trees and the phylum korarchaeota
    Tag: Barns_etal_1996
    Perspectives on archaeal diversity, thermophily and monophyly from environmental rRNA sequences.

    September 2016: Methane production in hydrothermal vents
    Tag: Topcuoglu_etal_2016
    Hydrogen Limitation and Syntrophic Growth among Natural Assemblages of Thermophilic Methanogens at Deep-sea Hydrothermal Vents.

    August  2016: The untapped potential of archaeal pili
    Tag: Makarova_etal_2016
    Diversity and Evolution of Type IV pili Systems in Archaea

    September 2015: Let's start off the journal club with some ecology/metabolism. In a recent Nature paper Palatinszky et. al. finds a new way to feed into the nitrifyng process, with a little (a lot of) help from our friends the thaumarchaea.

    August 2015: The first paper is THE first paper - Woese and Fox 1977, the first conceptual description of archaea as something other than bacteria.