Thursday, June 25, 2015

STEM Readers: Can You Help Advise a Student Reader?

Hey everybody!

I received the following email from an undergraduate student in biochemistry who is currently enrolled as a senior in a university in the United States.

This student wrote to me yesterday to see whether I might be able to offer some advice, as they've come to think that grad school might not be the best option for them after all.

Unfortunately, since I haven't taken a "hard" science course since my freshman year in undergrad and my only two friends who come from the biosciences are currently enrolled in graduate programs, I don't think that I can be much personal help for this student. So I thought I would pass their question along to you, dear readers, to see if anyone has any advice.

If you can offer any advice for this student, please leave a comment below! I allow anonymous commenting and don't review/approve comments before they're posted, so advise away!

The student writes:

I’m an undergraduate biochemistry senior. Lately I have become sort of disinterested (sort of disillusioned) about graduate school in the sciences and pursuing a science career. From my undergraduate research experience this summer to interacting with professors, I don’t feel like I could handle the lifestyle nor would I want to. I don’t know what options there are though. Biochemistry isn’t really extendable to other careers, and I’m not even sure where to begin. Most of my professors advocate for graduate school too. What would you say to someone in my position? Thanks for any help!

So what do you say, dear readers? Can anyone offer any advice to an undergrad who really needs it?

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Some Thoughts on the LaCour Scandal

So as I've learned this week, apparently there is at least one thing that will get me sucked back into reading and writing and thinking about academic work and the controversies therein. And that one thing is an instance of research fraud so massive that it almost defies imagination.

I mean......really, Michael LaCour? You published a huge study in Science with a fancy glittery co-author, and it turns out that you completely fabricated your data? And apparently didn't even bother to get IRB approval for a face-to-face survey until after you already "carried out the interviews?" (Scare quotes intentional, obviously.) And then you faked a few grants and a teaching award, just because the research fakery wasn't enough? And you even stopped to falsify a document of research integrity along the way?

Wow. Wow. That's...astounding.

(For those who don't know what I'm talking about, here is a good overview of both his fraud and of the excellent work by the grad student who uncovered it.

Or just google LaCour's name. Even if you think you're done reading about academia, this scandal might just suck you back in for an hour or two or ten. Or maybe that's just me.)

Anyway, many people smarter and more engaged in these issues than me have done great work writing about the underlying issues about research ethics and coauthor relationships, etc., that are related to this fraud. I don't have much to add on those issues since I haven't done research in almost five years, so I'll leave it to others to dig in on those important and relevant topics.

I do have a few things to say about this scandal, though, from the "postacademic, cynical-about-academia" side of the aisle.