Science, like politics, can elicit polarizing opinions. But with an ever-expanding body of knowledge — and the especially dizzying flurry of findings during the pandemic — is it fair to say that views on science are becoming more extreme? Measuring the polarization “A standard way of measuring polarization in the U.S. is asking Democrats and Republicans how warmly they … [Read more...] about Flushing Out Absolutism in Science
A 17% drop in proposals over the past decade to the National Science Foundation (NSF) may be a mixed blessing. A consistently rising budget – and this is in billions of dollars – is the preferred method of keeping the number of funded proposals ever higher. But a dip in the number of proposals submitted in the first place can have a similar effect of increasing the number of … [Read more...] about Drop in NSF Proposals: More Proposals Funded?
Why do you need a data management plan? It mitigates error, increases research integrity and allows your research to be replicated – despite the “replication crisis” that the research enterprise has been wrestling with for some time. Error! Error! There are many horror stories of researchers losing their data. You can just plain lose your laptop or an external hard drive. … [Read more...] about Gone, Baby, Gone
Plagiarism is the use of someone else’s words, ideas, or visuals as if they were your original work. Unintentional plagiarism is plagiarism that results from the disregard for proper scholarly procedures. It’s much easier to commit than one would think, and it has toppled giants in the research enterprise. From 2007-2020, the National Science Foundation made 200 research … [Read more...] about Unintentional Plagiarism: Is it Avoidable?
Alternative metrics, or “altmetrics,” refers to the use of non-traditional methods for judging a researcher’s reach and impact. Being published in a peer-reviewed journal is surely a great feat. It’s the typical way professors get their research out there. But the tools established to measure this output might end up giving the skewed impression about an author’s impact in … [Read more...] about Expanding The Story of Your Research with Altmetrics
Is it necessary to share ALL your data? Is transparency a good thing or does it make researchers “vulnerable,” as author Nathan Schneider suggests in the Chronicle of Higher Education article, “Why Researchers Shouldn’t Share All Their Data.” Dark Data Defined Dark data is defined as the universe of information an organization collects, processes and stores – oftentimes … [Read more...] about Dark Data
Fresh on the heels of an Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) integrity overhaul, its leader, Eric Lander resigned in early February. This doesn’t look particularly good for the OSTP, an office trying to quell fraud and increase scientific accountability in society. For instance, the White House OSTP stated: “Violations of scientific integrity should be considered on … [Read more...] about Eric Lander Resigns from OSTP Among Accusations of Disrespectful Behavior
The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) is rolling out five principles of scientific integrity. This ambitious plan will attempt to repair the reputation of science in society, which may prove tricky. Allow for Dissent Scientific dissent is healthy. It leads to questioning. While hypotheses are necessary for true scientific research, sometimes the … [Read more...] about OSTP’s Science Integrity Overhaul
Time for a quick pulse-check on the Biden presidency. You may recall his Tweet: “Science will always be at the forefront of my administration,” (@JoeBiden). So, we ask again at the The Big Idea: how has the Biden administration gone about implementing a return to science through appointments, funding and policy? Uphill Battle According to the article Has Biden … [Read more...] about Biden Administration: Following the Science?
Let’s be honest, it’s always been difficult and now it seems even trickier to get a job in academia with a postdoc. Ending up as a tenured professor is just not in the cards for the majority of Ph.D.s. “In 2020, only 10% of engineering Ph.D. graduates and 16% of those in physical and earth sciences ended up in academic positions in the United States” according to … [Read more...] about To Tenure or Not to Tenure: Making the Shift from Academia to Industry
According to Allison Master, assistant professor of psychological, health and learning sciences at the University of Houston: "Stereotypes that STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] is for boys begin in grade school, and by the time they reach high school, many girls have made their decision not to pursue degrees in computer science and engineering because they feel … [Read more...] about Like A Girl: STEM and the Gender Disparity
In 1996, a physicist at New York University, Alan Sokol, wrote an article that was published in Social Text. It was entitled, “Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity.” It sounds innocent enough, if rather obtuse. Except that the entire article was a joke. Relativism in academia According to Eric Kelderman of The … [Read more...] about The Joker: Pranking the Academy
All research is valuable, but research at the University of Houston that informs policy translates to a qualitative improvement in the lives of Houstonians. For instance, Andrew Stearns, a graduate student, used millions of dollars’ worth of commercially collected LiDAR data to study the erosion and deposition of sediment caused by floodwaters from Hurricane Harvey. What he … [Read more...] about On Research Informing Policy
In 1917, President Woodrow Wilson signed the Jones-Shafroth Act that extended Puerto Ricans citizenship in the United States. The first large wave of immigrants from Puerto Rico arrived soon after but were hardly welcomed with open arms by those in the U.S. In fact, they were treated as second-class citizens. Puerto Rican writers have endured colonialist practices, including … [Read more...] about On Giving Underserved Communities a Voice
The commute, the water cooler talks, the in-person meetings. Have we missed these things? Or can the research enterprise, for the most part, stay virtual? "Many people who have been working from home are experiencing a void they can't quite name," said Jerry Useem in The Atlantic. Maybe getting back to our old routine will do us good. Tracy Brower in Forbes wrote, "Many … [Read more...] about The Post-Pandemic 8 to 5
Who you hire in your lab matters when it comes to employment regulations. Two students stand in a lab, pipetting their hearts out. They look as though they are doing identical tasks, but one is training and one is working. Which is which? It depends on the funding sources and their requirements, and not necessarily on the nature of the activity performed. In fact, … [Read more...] about The Student Worker vs. The Fellow
"Funny You Should Ask" is The Big Idea Magazine's recurring segment in which UH professors are asked to weigh in on an idiomatic saying, and their musings on this edition's adage couldn't be more different. The pandemic was indeed a strange predicament, as social distancing and isolation became the new normal. We changed the way we worked, interacted with family and friends, … [Read more...] about Funny You Should Ask: Does Absence Really Make The Heart Grow Fonder?
What is the difference between a professor teaching and conducting research? When does a professor need an Institutional Review Board to provide oversight on their project? The NSF has had this come up often enough, presumably, that they wrote a vignette on their website. So, let's take a quiz! The NSF presented the following scenario: “Professor Speakwell teaches … [Read more...] about Is it Teaching or is it Research: When Do You Need an IRB?
With Loretta Byrne, ResearchMatch and Danielle Griffin, University of Houston “Up to 75 percent of Pacific Islanders are unable to convert an antiplatelet drug into its active form and therefore are at higher risk for adverse outcomes following angioplasty,” said the University of California San Francisco Participant Recruitment website. “And if the study population had not … [Read more...] about Diversify Your Human Subjects
In psychology, “the file drawer effect,” coined in 1979 by Robert Rosenthal, refers to the fact that in science many results remain unpublished, especially negative ones. Publication bias is more widespread than scientists might like to think. The file drawer problem reflects the influence of the results of a study on whether the study is published. Some things to consider … [Read more...] about ‘Behind Closed Drawers’: The File Drawer Effect
Travel Do's and Don'ts for Research Projects Travel expenses can be confusing. There are four main things to consider when deciding whether to engage in business travel. Scan this list for answers to pressing questions regarding expenses and travel audit red flags, which is brought to you by Beverly Rymer, University of Houston Director of Contracts and Grants. And, away … [Read more...] about Away We Go!
“The pace of normal scientific progress seems hard to justify in the middle of a global crisis. So, everyone is doing their best to contribute and move at warp speed,” said Madhukar Pai, a tuberculosis researcher at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, in Nature Medicine. He also stated, “There is a fear of missing out. And it’s turned into a feeding frenzy.” Are we rushing … [Read more...] about Rushing Research
It has been – and for a while, will be – everywhere. The words: COVID-19, coronavirus and pandemic. According to an article by Holly Else in Nature, “coined in April by Madhukar Pai, a tuberculosis researcher at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, ‘covidization’ describes the distorting impact of the pandemic on the way science is funded, produced, published and reported … [Read more...] about The “Covidization” of Science
Some say that the tenure process at universities is inherently flawed and geared toward white faculty while faculty of color are left behind. According to an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, 70 percent of the academic labor force was employed full time in 1975, compared with only 48 percent in 2019. Of the diminished ranks of tenured faculty, in 2018, Black … [Read more...] about Diversity and the Tenure Process
Aristotle, one of the most famous philosophers and scientists of all time, once said, “Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet.” What the phrase conveys is all too familiar to those in the scientific community. Patience needs to be cultivated by researchers who wait for the outcome of their studies. History is full of success stories of the science community showing … [Read more...] about How Researchers Can Cultivate Patience
Trying to make your lab greener? Here are some practical examples of how to reduce your lab’s carbon footprint and increase sustainability. Since China stopped accepting certain types of plastic waste from the United States and Europe in 2017, the need to dispose of hundreds of single-use plastic vials and other materials (per researcher, each year!) has created an avalanche of … [Read more...] about Make Your Lab Greener
Exploding refrigerator? Chemical splash on the face? These are not just personally devastating lab incidents, they are also expensive. For instance, awhile back, the University of Hawaii faced a total $115,500 fine for 15 workplace safety violations after a laboratory explosion where a postdoctoral researcher lost one of her arms. Beryl Lieff Benderly wrote in Science … [Read more...] about Incidentally … Reporting Lab Incidents
The NSF has a Big Idea The NSF has 10 major thrusts for the future of funding and research – 10 research and process "big ideas" that will drive important aspects of NSF's long-term research agenda, push forward the frontiers of U.S. science and engineering research and lead to new discoveries and innovations. One of them asserts that we will live in a quantum world in a … [Read more...] about NSF’s Quantum Leap
You go to conferences; you network; you collaborate – all researchers and academics do. But do you need more than 150 contacts? Linkedin, Facebook, Twitter – all of these platforms open us up to the possibility of thousands of acquaintances, though fewer we would refer to as “friends.” Studying the primate brain Robin Dunbar, an anthropologist from England, has been … [Read more...] about Dunbar’s Number: How many contacts do researchers really need?
Special shoes are almost always required for working in a lab. Unlike Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) that you would leave in the lab, the shoes you wear are a decision you make before you head to work. It’s something many employers even reimburse cost-wise for their research employees. Shoes as barriers “Closed-toe shoes are mandated by the CDC through the Biosafety … [Read more...] about Walk This Way: Shoes To Wear In the Lab
Your university doesn’t just discourage eating in the research or computer lab – the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) actually prohibits food and beverages from being stored or consumed in the same environment where hazardous materials are found. You’re actually not allowed to put on cosmetics, take or apply medicines or handle contact lenses in labs, … [Read more...] about Hey, Don’t Eat That! Food in the Research Lab
What is the difference between a project with Multiple Principal Investigators and Co-PIS? Well, it depends on the sponsor. According to the NIH, changing from a single PI model to one of Multiple Principal Investigators (MPI) model has a goal: “to maximize the potential of team science efforts in order to be responsive to the challenges and opportunities of the 21st … [Read more...] about MPIs: Team Science!
Summer Salary is any compensation paid during the summer period to an individual in excess of their Institutional Base Salary (IBS). It is calculated and paid at a percent effort rate, not in excess of the individual's official IBS divided by the number of months in which IBS is paid. In other words, if you are a full-time, nine-month faculty member working in the summer, you … [Read more...] about Summer Salaries: How Are They Calculated?
Where do First Amendment Rights and academic freedom coexist and where do they leave off from one another? Teaching and research go hand in hand, so it’s a question that affects many in academia. Garcetti v. Ceballos In 2006, the Court ruled that statements made by public employees pursuant to their official duties may be disciplined by their employer. This was actually a … [Read more...] about Free Speech and Academic Freedom
How many of the research administrator’s duties can be done from home? COVID-19 is showing us emphatically that the answer is many. There are some aspects that take a little bit of inventive scheduling to make happen, but overall, the telework paradigm may be here to stay in research long after the COVID pandemic tapers off. Meetings and more meetings Research … [Read more...] about Telework and the Research Enterprise
When a grant is awarded, the auditor's job typically involves reading financial reports, accounting transaction processes and internal controls. The auditor also reviews and evaluates complex financial statements. But did you know that the auditors also read the technical/progress reports as part of their financial review? So, let me get this straight... A PI must verify … [Read more...] about Auditors Read Your Technical Reports Too!
The #MeToo Movement was explosive for science, just as it was for every profession. “The goal of the perpetrator, most commonly but not exclusively a man, is to objectify, exclude, demoralize, diminish and coerce the victim, most commonly a woman, to exert power over her,” said the NIH. 50 percent Long hours in the lab. Field experiments with just two scientists in a … [Read more...] about Sexual Harassment in the Sciences: #MeToo
A data management plan is invaluable to researchers and to their universities. “You should plan at the outset for managing output long-term,” said Reid Boehm, research data management librarian at University of Houston Libraries. At the University of Houston, research data generated while individuals are pursuing research studies as faculty, staff or students of the … [Read more...] about Manage Your Data Better: Data Management Plans
Financial compliance is a very important aspect of any researcher’s work, but more so for a faculty member with multiple projects and different funding sources. It can be a tricky mathematical challenge to handle cost allocation appropriately and document it properly. First, let’s consider costs that are for items that benefit multiple projects or university activities. In … [Read more...] about Cost Allocation: Multiple Projects, One Funding Source
A meteorologist named Kelvin Droegemeier, whose main concern was cybersecurity and artificial intelligence, wasn’t appointed to the Office of Science Policy and Technology (OSTP) by Donald Trump until over one and a half years into his presidency. President Joe Biden appointed his new OSTP leader before his inauguration. Since 1976 when the OSTP was created, only four heads … [Read more...] about “Just the Facts, Please…” Will Biden’s Appointments Mean Funding?
Charles Lieber was the head of Harvard University’s Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology until he and two additional Chinese academics in Boston were arrested last year. According to a U.S. Department of Justice press release: “These cases are part of the Department of Justice’s China Initiative, which reflects the strategic priority of countering Chinese national … [Read more...] about Do Ask, Do Tell: Disclosing Research Collaborations
Facilities and Administrative costs (F&A), also known as Indirect Costs or IDC, are at the very least misunderstood by researchers. At their worst, they smack of “Big Brother.” But F&A costs truly are transparent and nothing to fear (or despise!) Keeping the Lights On F&A are costs that cannot be uniquely associated with a particular project, but which are … [Read more...] about F&A: Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood
As far as COVID-19 goes, Level 1 is the worst threat level. Harris County remains at Level 1, or “Severe Threat” for infection of the novel coronavirus. Yet, as they say in the theater, “The show must go on!” And for the most part, research is continuing in many ways. Surveys, interviews and other socially-distanced research has been easy to keep up during the COVID … [Read more...] about Too Close for Comfort: Human Subjects Research in the Age of COVID
What is your university doing to celebrate Corporate Compliance and Ethics Week? If you said “Striving to do better” you would not be the only institution to make that its goal. November 1-7 is a week set aside for reviewing your university’s rules and regulations. While difficult to stay in strict compliance since laws that govern institutions are constantly in flux, … [Read more...] about Corporate Compliance and Ethics Week
This is The Big Idea’s reoccurring segment where we ask some of our top professors from across the University of Houston to weigh in on a truism or idiom – a safe place for them to rant, wax poetic or dazzle us with their clever take on age-old adages. First, a photographer… As most photographers can confirm, when people say a picture is worth a thousand words, they … [Read more...] about Funny You Should Ask: Is a Picture Worth a Thousand Words?
The road to the next life-altering discovery, invention or device often begins with university-imagined Intellectual Property (IP) and ends when an outside company makes the investment to productize the discovery. Is there enough emphasis placed on this pipeline nationwide? The more one looks at this complicated question, we see there are numerous problems; in a rush to publish … [Read more...] about From Concept to Commercialization: The Importance of Supporting IP in our Universities
We’re not spending money on that anymore. We consider that to be a waste of your money. These words regarding climate change were spoken by Mick Mulvaney, director of the Trump Administration’s Office of Management and Budget. The government has rolled back policies that aimed to slow down climate change and reduce environmental pollution. It has also limited federal funding … [Read more...] about Getting (Un)Involved: Climate Change Researchers and The Paris Agreement
Avoiding errors When you ask anyone, including researchers, how they are sleeping these days, the typical answer is an invitation to hear about myriad sleep disturbances: vivid or lucid dreams, waking throughout the night, restless leg syndrome and just plain old insomnia. COVID-19, civil unrest and uncertainty about the future of our nation have brought about huge … [Read more...] about How Are You Sleeping?
These months have been difficult. Every person has tired of the quarantine. Tired of the anxiety, the endless memes on social media, the debates. At the same time, we're facing issues of race relations. These issues are taxing. But higher education is strong. Universities are using its font of resources to understand these important issues better. Internal awards Many … [Read more...] about Internal Awards for COVID and Racial Justice Research
One might not expect the game of checkers to have anything to do with Artificial Intelligence, but the game really marked the beginning of machine learning in 1959. Pioneered by an MIT professor named Arthur Lee Samuel, it was discovered that teaching a simple strategy game to a computer is not so simple when every move needs to be anticipated. Smart machines Additionally, … [Read more...] about Opening Moves: Expanding Research in Machine Learning