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.

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.

The Materials Project

The Genome project coming to materials science, a resource developed by the MIT and LBNL.

Computational materials science is now powerful enough that it can predict many properties of materials before those materials are ever synthesized in the lab. By scaling materials computations over supercomputing clusters, we have computed some properties of over 80,000 materials and screened 25,000 of these for Li-ion batteries.

An interesting initiative. You could also hire 2000 students to make the compounds.

By providing materials researchers with the information they need to design better, the Materials Project aims to accelerate innovation in materials research.

I guess they have plans to develop beyond Li-ion batteries.

Google Scholar Citations: vanity page and the social potential

The service is now open for anyone. I was very curious to see how it performed, so I created my profile straight away. To put it back into context, this is a direct competitor to paying -and expensive !- services like Scopus. My take in a nutshell: it’s good. And the potential is really good too.

What is the main idea behind the service, then? It’s basically a follow-up of Google Scholar, focusing not on the papers but on the authors. A typical Google’s mission of organising the world’s knowledge, and this time, we are taking about academic knowledge. There are two ways to consider Google Scholar Citations.

The first one is the vanity page point of view. Researcher like to show off their long list of papers, their h, j, k or z-impact factor and so on. Google Scholar Citations is really good at this. Setting up your profile is really fast and frictionless, and Google’s also really efficient at finding your papers, as far as I can tell. It then build a table of your documents with the number of citations, which you can order and so on. Neat, convenient and efficient, but not ground-breaking, apart that it is a free service. Beside, it is finding more citations than Scopus or MS Academic, which is good for your ego. My score went from 150 (MS Academic) and 1000 (Scopus) to almost 1200 (Google) citations. Part of the reason is that Google is also taking into account proceedings. I actually discovered that some of my proceedings were cited. Cool. They are also indexing open access journals, which are not in Scopus, for instance. You can export your articles list (BibTex, Endnote and Reference Manager format) if you wish.

The second one, more interesting I think, is the social aspect. When setting up your profile, you can provide keywords to describe what you do. Once you’ve done that, try clicking on one of these keywords. You are brought to a page with a list of researcher sharing the same keyword, sorted out by their number of citations. The potentialities here are really interesting. You can imagine all sort of use from this service, from finding the most relevant person in a field (without forgetting, of course, that citations are just a part of the story), to identifying expert in a domain, whom you might want to contact. Similar to what Mendeley is offering, except that everything is automated here and you get the citations count as a bonus. Social is maybe not the right word here, it’s more about finding the connexion than interacting, since there are not tools but your profile to exchange information’s.

I’ve just finished reading Michael Nilsen’s book, a must read if you are interested in open and networked science. One of the interesting idea that comes back in the book is the fact that you can get stuck on a very specific problem out of your competences. Spend days or weeks to solve it (if you can), while someone, somewhere, with this very expertise, could do it much faster and more efficiently. The problem is to get the connexion. Having a global database of people’s profile and expertise could considerably speed up this process, by making the connexions possible. And I think that Google Scholar Citations might have the potential to do exactly that. The only problem so far is that the number of keywords you can provide is limited, which makes it difficult to get into a more detailed description of your domain of expertise, but that’s easy to fix.

Overall, I’m really excited by the potentialities offered by this new service. Let’s see how it evolves. Now go and try it yourself. Oh, and it’s already integrated in ScienceCard, by the way, which provide alternative metrics.