We are not prepared at all for this

This post at Nature News caught my attention.

But when it comes to running our labs and managing people, we have to rely on our gut feelings, our limited know-how from mentoring a few students or our observations of our previous advisers. We can often feel ill-prepared.

Ill-prepared ? We are not prepared at all for this. As a young scientist trying to set up my own group, this is unfortunately not the only issue I am facing.

The number of science and PhD students is declining, and the blame is put on a few easy targets. Low salary. Long hours. Limited number of positions, if any. Etc. It is actually worse than this.

If, like me, you managed to secure a permanent or tenure position (congratulations), the most daunting is yet to come. Besides producing good science, a skill for which you have been trained, much more is awaiting you. You have to secure fundings through grants, hire people, manage your group, deal with administrative tasks (our favorite part of the job, isn’t it?), communicate, network locally and globally, make yourself a name in your domain, and so on. And for all these things, we received basically no training whatsoever.

As far as I am concerned, it could have been much worse. I’ve been lucky to do my postdoc in a big lab where communicating results with scientists or with the public is taken very seriously. I learned a lot from my former colleagues on how to design and give a talk, design figures, entrust people and think out of the box.

But for the rest, we are pretty much on our own. Learning as things are coming. You learn how to prepare proposal by having your first ones rejected. You learn to appreciate which people are independent and which ones need more support and attention.

Regarding funding and financial management, I have been lucky to receive a lot of support from the CNRS for my ERC grant, both for preparing the proposal (on the budget side) and for managing it now.
Spending rules are increasingly complex and vary with funding agencies and with time. It’s crazy indeed that we can secure rather big fundings, from institutions, agencies or university, and yet no one is formally trained early on on managing these funds. This should be dealt with when we graduate or shortly after. The situation is slowly changing, at least with the CNRS, but it seems to me that the change is driven more by financial considerations (ineligible money is lost money)or the perspective of being audited by funding agencies than increased efficiency of time and resources and better management of the labs.

If you like facing multiple challenges at once, science is the perfect job for you. I, for one, love it. It’s daunting and exciting.

Usage metrics, statistics from one paper

I am gradually becoming more and more interested in open access, and have followed the PLoS One evolution for a while. Working in materials science, PLoS One is not quite our common avenue for publishing our research. Although it is theoretically open to any domain of science, it is still strongly dominated by biology, for historical reasons.
Last year, though, we had cool and intriguing results about a compound exhibiting ice shaping properties, similar to that of antifreeze protein. I was very interested in having these results reaching biologists instead of ceramists. My first paper in PLoS One, thus.
One of the benefit of publishing there is the availability of usage metrics, updated daily. Curious to see how the paper would be perceived, or at least accessed, I tried to follow the usage over time. I did not manage to do it everyday, but maybe at least twice a week or so. So here are the results, with the total views and daily views for the past 5 months or so.

What we see is a very strong first increase of the views, which then decreases very fast. The window to catch attention of readers is very short, less than a week, with readers coming either from the front page when the paper is still in the recently published papers list, or through RSS or other feed. After that, there is a long tail, with 4 or 5 daily views in average.
A second peak is also visible, shortly after the first one. It corresponds to the publication of the press release by the CNRS, which was tweeted and retweeted a couple of time, and caught the attention of a number of new readers.

The other, less visible observation is the absence of a peak in the last month. I went to a conference in Germany to present these results, and apparently people did not rush to PLoS One to download the paper. Oh well.

Although these data are limited to a single paper, I suspect the general behaviour for all journals is very similar. I would be curious to see such data averaged for a journal. I wish all the journals would make such data available. I guess this is just a matter of time before they do so.

Google Scholar citations metrics

Google is now tracking the metrics of journals. They chose the h5 factor, which is basically the h factor taking into account the last 5 years. The search function works with keyword, as you can guess. So if you search for materials science journal with the keyword “materials”, you will only get results of journals whose name include “materials”, and skip journals like Nanoletters, ACS Nano or other ones.

If you click on the h5 link, you get a list of the top cited paper for that journal, neat. The 2007 graphene paper in Nature Materials of Geim and Novoselov is already cited >5600 times. Holy cow.