In our annual end-of-year episode, we talk about noteworthy reflections and events from the year that just passed. Alexa reflects on breakups, and wonders why we don’t take them more seriously as a significant disruption to other people’s lives. Sanjay talks about hitting a low point and deciding to finally do something about it. And Simine talks about starting a new relationship and finding a new job that will take her halfway around the world. Plus: we answer a letter about whether scientists should mix advocacy and science.
Peer review is a major part of how science works today. In this episode we talk about how we approach doing peer reviews. How do you distinguish between differences in approach or preference – “I would have done it a different way” – versus things that you should treat as objections? How much weight do you put on different considerations – the importance of the research question, the novelty, the theory, the methods, the results, and other factors? What’s your actual process – do you read front-to-back, or jump around? How much do you edit and wordsmith your reviews? When there are appendices, supplements, open code and materials, and preregistrations, which things do you read and how do you factor them in? How do you think about your potential biases and how to mitigate them? Plus: We answer a letter about deciding whether to pursue a postdoc versus other options.
To get your PhD you have to do a dissertation. For some this is an important product that demonstrates your ability to produce original research. To others, it’s a vestigial ritual and a waste of time on the way to becoming a productive scholar. In this episode we discuss dissertations – what they’ve been in the past, what they are today, and where they might go in the future. Is a dissertation necessary for the kinds of work that someone might do with a PhD? As graduate training has evolved, how well has the dissertation kept up? Are oral defenses a valuable part of the process or an elaborate hazing ritual? Are they better if they’re public, private, or don’t happen at all? And most importantly, should all defenses involve swords? Plus: We discuss a letter about escaping from a toxic and abusive advisor.
Speaking up about injustice and bad behavior in a professional setting – as a witness, or as the target of it – is hard. It’s uncomfortable, it’s difficult, and it can generate backlash and other risks for yourself and your career. In this episode, we talk about that moment when people finally decide to say something or do something. Simine shares the story of how she decided to go on the record about being groped at a conference – what brought her to that decision, and what happened as a result. And we talk about other cases of people speaking up about harassment, discrimination, professional misconduct, and more, including Jennifer Freyd’s pay discrimination lawsuit against the University of Oregon. We talk about the burden of knowing something is wrong, how this dilemma often falls disproportionately on people who are vulnerable in other ways, and what factors can help somebody speak out. Plus: we respond to a letter about department leaders who are obsessed with bean-counting of grant dollars and impact factors.
Academics give a lot of talks. Job talks, conference talks, colloquium talks, brownbag talks, pub talks. In this episode we talk about talks. How do you approach different audiences and formats? How do you manage a format or audience where interrupting with questions is the norm? How, and how much, do you prepare for different kinds of talks? How do you handle nerves when the stakes feel high? We share some of our own observations and experiences about giving academic presentations. Plus: We answer a letter about how “alt-acs” are perceived within academia.
Scientists have to follow a lot of rules. We have IRB rules, journal submission rules, university rules – lots of rules. But some of the most important rules in science aren’t rules at all – they are norms. Guiding principles that shape the work we do. In this episode, we discuss a classic paper by the sociologist Robert Merton on 4 norms that govern scientific work. Are these norms an expression of scientific values, or just a means to an end? How well do scientists follow them, individually or collectively? Is science doing as well today as Merton thought it was back in 1942 – and is following these norms really the way to make science work right? Plus: We answer a letter about question to ask a prospective PhD advisor.
In a previous episode we talked about making small talk in academic life and in general. In this episode we continue the theme, taking a break from our usual Very Serious Topics to answer the ultimate small-talk question: What do you do for fun? We talk about what a week in our lives is like outside of work. How do we spend time when we’re not “on the clock”? What is the right amount of socializing? (spoiler: not everybody has the same answer) How do our hobbies and avocations reflect back on our work – or give us a break from it? Plus: A letter about getting a mystifying cold shoulder from a senior colleague.
The three pillars of academic work are research, teaching, and service – in that order. But service is incredibly important for universities and professions to function well and for academics to contribute to their communities. In this episode we talk about how we think about service. How do decide what service to do, and how much? How do you manage service in relation to your other work? What are different kinds of service, and what do you get out of them? What should we do about colleagues who get less service because they won’t do it or will do it badly? Plus: A letter about getting credit for open peer reviews.
In the past decade, scientists in psychology and elsewhere have changed a lot in how we evaluate what makes research replicable, robust, and credible. New theories and findings in metascience and methodology – and repopularization of old ones – have given us new ways to think critically about research. But what do we do when these concepts and arguments are used poorly or bad faith – applied wrongly or selectively, or misused to sow broad doubt in science? In this episode we talk about what happens when people try to claim the mantle of open science to advance some other agenda. How can we distinguish good use of open-science arguments from bad? How can scientists who care about open science effectively call out these arguments? Plus: A letter about negotiating for a partner who has a non-academic job.
Part of academic life means talking to new people about yourself and your work – whether it’s on a job interview, at a conference, or casual conversations outside of academic settings. In this episode we talk about talking to strangers. How do you answer default academic small-talk questions like “tell me about your work?” How do you shake out of them to move a conversation somewhere more interesting? Should you prepare or practice an elevator pitch? And when, if ever, is it safe to take off your headphones on an airplane? Plus: We try to answer a letter about how the academic job market in the U.S. views doctoral degrees from Australia.