Could fake grants help clean up the peer review process?

My office mate and I were discussing the apparent randomness of grant assessment the other day. We traded stories of amazing grants that got shafted and horrible grants that somehow got cut a cheque for hundreds of thousands of dollars. In academia, we all have these tales, but funnily enough we don’t always agree on what “amazing” and “horrible” are. So how can we possibly improve the situation? In the face of such subjectivity, we…

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Bridging the gap between public and private research

This article is a continuation of my series on the state of translational research in North America: The opportunity cost to doing scientific research at a university A brief history of translational research funding in North America The current status of translational research funding in North America   Relevant associated articles by David Kent: Scientists can’t take risks until they are in their 40s Despite improved wages, troubling trends emerge from postdoc survey The grass…

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Advice on Athena SWAN in Canada: universities need to focus on practical changes

The last two months have featured quite a lot of chat about the planned “Made in Canada” version of the U.K.’s Athena SWAN initiative.  University Affairs has already detailed the nuts and bolts in an excellent article from Anqi Shen where some imperfections were also highlighted including the costs (financial and time) of implementing and monitoring effective programming. As a U.K.-based researcher since 2009, I’ve had nearly a decade to watch the Athena SWAN programme…

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The current status of translational research funding in North America

While university environments can restrict academic freedom, private industry will often attach strings. It is typically very rare that the sole financier of scientific innovation is also the leading scientist, and so sponsored research typically proceeds at the direction of its investors. While there are no practical limits on what can be researched, and there is certainly enough money in the hands of enough people with enough worldviews that just about anything can be financed…

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Scientists can’t take risks until they are in their 40s

When you imagine what goes on in university research centres, you probably don’t think of scientists doing boring predictable things.  Indeed, the romanticized version of academic would suggest that scientists are constantly trying new ideas, pushing the boundaries of what is possible and that out from this process (on a global scale at least) emerges knowledge that explains how the world around us works or translates into useful, practical things for the betterment of society.…

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A brief history of translational research funding in North America

There are fundamental difference between discovery and translational research. The former aims to found new knowledge while the latter transforms that knowledge into something practical. The former succeeds if even one person (usually a highly trained scientist over the course of many years) is able to demonstrate that they can validate a theory in a well-controlled experimental study one or more times. The latter requires any technically skilled person (usually a junior research technician) to…

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Scientists making science better – an eLife experiment

One of the common refrains on our website has been “if scientists don’t care enough to make their situation better, then nobody else is going to do it for them.” Universities won’t sign scores of tenured professors, publishers won’t give up millions of dollars, governments and the public won’t magically recognize the long-term value of scientific research, etc., etc. So, it is down to the scientists themselves (more or less) to make these changes and…

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Why don’t scientists work with designers more often?

I had two experiences this week that got me thinking about the potential benefits of scientists working with designers. First was when I received the proofs of an evaluation report that I’d written – since the report was to be given out to the community partners with whom the program works, it was sent to a designer to take my lowly MSWord document to spruce it up a bit. Now, this might not seem all…

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STIC Report: Unemployed PhDs

higher unemployment levels for science-based doctoral-level graduates The “private rate of return” ((Defined in the report as “The private internal rate of return represents a measure of the returns obtained, over time, relative to the costs of the initial investment in education and is equal to the discount rate that equalizes the costs of education during the period of study to the gains from education thereafter.” (Source))) on getting a post-secondary education was 9.6% for…

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The opportunity cost to doing scientific research at a university

Most of us become scientists because of a fundamental desire to improve human health and well-being. We want to make the world better, but the premise that the only way to do this is through a university is mistaken. There is an opportunity cost to doing scientific research within the confines of the university that needs to be acknowledged. The alternative, of course, is seeking independent financing. Private enterprise are the shades of gray in…

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