Objectivity

As smart as we think we are, we humans are hopeless at objectivity. This struck me as I was reading about peak oil on Wikipedia. I mean the issue is pretty serious. Within the next few decades we could potentially run out of the single most important natural resource that literally and figuratively fuels our civilization. And people, sometimes very smart people, cannot agree on whether something ought to be done right now or whether we have centuries of uninterrupted oil supply ahead of us. Continue reading

Research excellence in Poland

Research excellence is a very common theme that comes up in any discussion of science policy. Recently the Polish Science and Education Minister, Dr. Jarosław Gowin, talked about his views on this subject in Poznań. The venue was one of a series of conferences in preparation for the National Science Congress (Narodowy Kongress Nauki) later this year, where he will present the draft of his baby – the new research and education bill, so called Ustawa 2.0. I will do my best to sum up his views and give some short commentary. Continue reading

Polish research in the spotlight

Poland has just been highlighted in a Nature feature as an up and coming contender in the international research landscape. The piece was well-researched and I think it pretty much sums up all the pros and cons of Poland as a destination for international talent. The pros are the relatively plentiful funding, and lots of newly constructed modern labs and institutes that have many vacancies. The cons are the sometimes hierarchical power structure, the resistance to change on the structural level by the established “old guard”, and the sometimes inadequate logistical support for researchers from abroad. Continue reading

On the 40h work week in academia

There has been a bit of talk on Twitter and among my colleagues IRL and online about work-life balance in academia. See for example this excellent post by @TheNewPI. The gist of it is: is a normal 40h work week, which is the norm everywhere, feasible for academics? I think the answer is yes and no. It really depends on what your goals and priorities are. If you really want to develop an independent research program as PI of a lab at a decent research university or institute, then I don’t think sticking to a strict 9-5 schedule will serve you very well. The more time (up to a certain limit) you put into your work, the better you will become, the more you will accomplish. However, I think there are a few points worth elaborating on here. Continue reading

My take on preprints

I am sure you’ve heard the buzz about preprints in biology. Preprints have been a thing for a long time now in physics and math. The idea is that you submit your paper in a more or less finished form to a server called arXiv (pronounced archive), where their manuscript only undergoes very cursory approval but no formal peer review. It is then available for anyone to read and comment on. Biology took much longer to accept preprints, but the movement has been gaining momentum in recent years. There is a biological arXiv twin called biorXiv, and it has become very popular, especially among computational biologists.There are many advantages of preprints. First, you get to get your story out quicker and people can find out about it sooner. Continue reading

Grieving for failed ideas

As scientists we always come up with ideas – solutions to more or less well known problems in our areas of interest. The ideas may be applicable only to our specific project, or they may be general solutions to a much broader set of problems. The more specific the idea is to our area of expertise, the more likely it is to be feasible, but sometimes an outsider can see the problem from a completely new angle and come up with a novel solution that no-one had thought of before. That’s why it’s sometimes good to go out of your comfort zone and try to come up with solutions to problems that are a bit outside your immediate sub-field. The flip-side is that the solutions that you will come up with typically have a fundamental flaw that makes them unfeasible.

I have recently spend a couple of days trying to devise what I thought was an interesting strategy to address a relatively broad set of problems in molecular biology. Turns out, similar solutions had been tried and work only in a very limited set of circumstances. Continue reading

Hacking the microscope

You know those super-expensive accessories that research equipment manufacturers make you pay through the nose for? A while back I bought a pretty expensive Olympus microscope. Since my budget was limited and I really wanted a best-of-the-best objective lens and a state-of-the art camera, I had to find savings wherever I could.  For that reason I did not get a filter wheel/shutter hand switch, which is a must if you want to operate the scope without the software running. Having to launch the the cellSens software to switch fluorescence filters was so frustrating that I caved in and requested a quote for the switch. Believe it or not, but this plastic box with a couple of buttons costs almost $1000. Continue reading

Polish funding agency gets its own public grant database

Those of you familiar with the US National Institutes of Health are probably aware of the NIH RePORTER – a public database of grants funded by the NIH with an advanced search system. I was really impressed that the Polish national funding agency (NCN – Narodowe Centrum Nauki – National Science Centre) set up its own equivalent – the “projekty” database. Continue reading

FUGA is dead, long live SONATINA

The report of the most recent National Science Centre council meeting is up on the NCN website. The most interesting piece of info for me was some new details of the upcoming SONATINA call for proposals. The SONATINA grant replaces the now officially burried FUGA grant, which used to be addressed exclusively to “mobile” postdoctoral fellows, who changed institutions and voivodships and wanted to seek better career prospects away from the institution where they did their PhDs. This worked out great for my new postdoc Łukasz, who got one of the FUGA grants and was able to move from Łódź to Warsaw. The SONATINA is different in many ways, but in some ways also resembles the FUGA grant. Continue reading

Can we solve research misconduct?

Just the other day I was reading a Nature opinion piece on deliberate research misconduct: how it affects the reproducibility science, and what we can do about it. The authors proposed a number of solutions, but most of them focused on punishing the perpetrators. Punishments should be more severe, they argued, the PIs should be held accountable for their trainees’ misconduct, and institutions should be forced to give back money gained by research dishonesty. I’m not sure I agree with this solution. Continue reading