To my dedicated readers: you can now read even more of my exhilarating stories and insightful thoughts on science at Scizzle, a new blog dedicated to what is sizzling in science. My first post investigates the five W’s of synthetic chromosomes and to be sure, you should be in the know. So click clack, Jack.
I recently had the chance to sit down for a talk with a great friend of mine, Dr. Joseph Parker. He’s a classically trained Drosophila geneticist and self-taught field entomologist, which are really just fancy names for insect guru. In this interview, Dr. Parker and I discuss his most recent publication, Jubogaster towai, a new Neotropical genus and species of Trogastrini (Coleoptera: Staphylinidae: Pselaphinae) exhibiting myrmecophily and extreme body enlargement, where he classifies a new species of beetle. This beetle is especially interesting because it can mimic ants and lives amongst them, which is no small feat. What’s even better is that the ants end up taking care of all of the beetles needs…well, just watch the video.
There are three flavors of the interview; a highly edited video (3:00) for those of you into brevity that just want the facts about this new species, a slightly longer video (6:30) with some tidbits on Joe’s crowd funding efforts and the full, 22 minute interview in audio form where Joe gives us the little details and I give him a little shit, plus we discuss the sexual dangers of walking into a large ant colony. If you have the time, it’s well worth it.
3 Minute Version:
6:30 Minute Version:
Dr. Joseph Parker Full Interview:
After watching the video while editing it I’ve realized my interview style is REALLY un-animated. Jesus! I apologize and promise to work on that. Also, I think Joe’s cat is a bit of a myrmecophile itself, or at least it managed to slink around fairly unnoticed while we were shooting this. I’ll try to enforce a ‘no pets on set’ rule from here on out.
I recently wrote this article as a submission to the journal Nature — it was rejected, probably because what I suggest would require a reworking of the publication process, something that lies in contrast with their business model. Data sharing is, however, something scientists and research could benefit greatly from and I hope something scientists (especially those just entering the field) will see the importance of and push for. Data is essential to discovery and history is very clear on the power of people working together to better the world.
As a younger person than I am now, just out of undergrad, I had a burning passion for science. I wanted to explore it and get my hands dirty. I wanted to work with animals and manipulate DNA. I wanted to make a big contribution that would affect the scientific community and the world.
It took me about two weeks of graduate school to realize research is a really slow process. Since scientist’s establish hypotheses based on previous studies and ongoing research, the more known about a problem, the more informed a hypothesis can be. Research is then conducted using tools, which, if you’re lucky, already exist. If not, it can add years to research, so, the more the better. To my dismay, my project lacked both previous research knowledge and existing tools…until I found out it didn’t. In fact, three other labs around the world were doing almost the same experiments I was. So why was I in the dark for so long?
Simple. Experimental secrecy.
And it’s understandable; fame, glory and money go to the winner – the first to the finish line. Technology companies live and die by this creed – we know that Apple will release an iPhone this year, but looks and functionality will only be certain when it’s revealed on stage. If it were common knowledge, another tech giant may copy the design and rush it to market, stealing millions of dollars in potential sales.
For consumer electronics companies however, being sneaky and underhanded in order to get the upper hand on rival companies really only affects other companies, and maybe some shareholders. With scientific research, it affects humanity.
As a rule, scientists are obligated to make their tools available to the community after they have been published. Does this always happen? No. Scientists should also be forthcoming with specific experimental methods following publication. Does this always happen? No. And that’s a sad reality. As scientists, we are conducting research in the study of truth, and yet some are conducting it with lies and deceit.
Unfortunately, it’s hard to blame scientists for being protective of their research. Novel research equals publications, which equal funding, and so it is money, as usual, that drives us to this necessary evil. The fact is that there simply isn’t enough money to fund all labs equally and hence the competition, but this is impeding the goals of our pursuit.
I’m not saying competition is bad, or that the scientific community should consider results true based on the word of one scientist and move on, but what makes science and the scientific community so strong is individual expertise. ‘Two heads are better than one’ isn’t a well-known proverb for nothing. Openness and collaboration have the ability to greatly speed the progress of science, leading to amazing discoveries (the Higgs Boson and Human Genome Project, for example). It’s somewhat ironic that the very people that elucidated the evolutionary benefits of social communities with regards to progress and survival hide things from their peers and make a go of it alone.
And if you’re wondering how the expedition of research will affect you, consider how experimental secrecy could delay drugs and technologies capable of curing cancer, organ failure and climate change.
So how can we, as scientists and citizens, address this issue? First, we can educate the public on the importance of scientific research. A well-informed and supportive constituency is our best bet for convincing governments to increase research spending. Encouraging and educating a next generation of scientists on the importance of progress and the power of collaboration will be critical. And maybe, by relieving the pressures of publishing complete studies in high-impact journals or being the first to publish, we can encourage regular data sharing.
Scientific advancement is the one sure avenue to improving the quality of all life worldwide. It seems morally reprehensible to knowingly stand in the way of that. Maybe in the end, my great scientific contribution, and hopefully that of others, will be in the pursuit of this idea.
After reading the guest article by OnlinePhDPrograms.com posted here yesterday, I got to thinking about my own PhD. I definitely have days where I think it was time that could have better been spent grabbing a foot-hold in the job market, especially since it’s obvious that academia has all but completely slipped my grasp. Industry has never been that appealing to me either, so what does it leave? Well, plenty, but how much of that actually necessitates the seven years of hard labor? Since I haven’t put myself out into the market much to speak of, I’ll have to be content with the skills I’ve picked up and simply say, ‘I guess I’ll find out’ and ‘God. You better hope so’ (*points to heavens, viciously shakes fist*).
But what about you? I know many of you have finished or are in the midst of completing a PhD. Do you think it helped you in securing employment outside of academia or industry? Could you have done it without? If you don’t already have the PhD, are you planning on finishing considering the state of government funding and the ultra-competitive nature of group leader-type positions? In short, would you do it again/are you going to finish?
Chime in with the poll below, and if you’re thinking of applying to a PhD program, take note.
**OnlinePhDPrograms.com approached me about sharing an article they posted recently regarding graduate studies, employment opportunities and what is right for you as an academic. It takes a thorough and fair look at many things to consider when pursuing higher education and I would highly recommend it to anyone thinking of taking that next step — it’s rarely a short (or cheap) one. Enjoy. — BRENT**
Over the past few years, the value of a college degree has been questioned, though perhaps not quite so harshly as the Ph.D. While criticisms of doctoral study have not been entirely unfounded (Ph.D.s are struggling a bit more in the current job market than they have in years past) the reality is that earning a doctorate in most fields can be a solid career move that offers potential for advancement and can potentially open up entirely new career avenues.
Still, the time and money poured into a Ph.D. can make many prospective students (and current ones, too) wonder if getting a Ph.D. is really all it’s cracked up to be. While there’s no simple answer to that question (it can differ quite a bit based on individual goals and the field of study), a Ph.D. does offer some career advantages that other programs, whether master’s or professional, simply can’t match. With so many resources out there telling you not to pursue a Ph.D., it’s important to also look at the reasons a Ph.D. can be good for you and to explore some of the practical skills a Ph.D. will teach you that will make you a desirable commodity on the job market.
What Will a Ph.D. Do for You?
The Onion has always been a solid and dependable go-to for me when I needed a satirical rant on the state of this backwards world we live in. At the very least, it reminds me that I’m not alone in believing that far too many people are dragging the rest of us down. So for fun, I wanted to throw out a few hilarious articles targeted at the science community and I think you’ll find that while absurd, there’s a lot of spot-on observations to take away.
Check out more in The Onion Science and Tech Section