The Jadavji Laboratory is 4 years old! There sure has been a lot going on, but we are happy to celebrate our accomplishments and reflect on what worked and what can be improved in the coming years. So, this blog post will contain some bragging, but also thoughtful reflection.
We have trained over 29 students in the lab! Wow, I can’t believe it myself. The students include 1 high school, 3 undergraduates, 3 Masters of Biomedical Sciences, 6 veterinary, 13 medical, 2 pharmacy, and 3 dental students. These students have contributed to research projects and helped me develop my mentoring/supervising skills.
We have published 11 papers (6 data papers and 5 review articles) and below is a list of all our students and their publications. Most days I feel like I am the rate limiting step for getting papers out the door, but I think we have done well for being a new lab during a global pandemic.
Our grant game has been on fire, I have applied for 19 grants – definitively honing in on my grantmanship skills! We have obtained $456,435 (extramural) and $8510 (intramural) in funding during the past 4 years, which I am very proud of. I am still developing my grant writing skills and was happy to take part of the Utah NRMN Grant Writing Coaching Groups Study.
We also had a junior member of the lab arrive in October 2021; he is an absolute bundle of joy and will be 2 soon!
Things that I think have worked well since starting an independent research group include writing a lab manual which includes details for safety training and expectations of myself and students – I think this is a good resource for me and students. I have learned a lot about mentoring and supervising students. Through advice from the Twitterverse, I have set up a lab mentoring survey which has helped me obtain a lot of information on what works well and what does not. Another success is keeping notes from all meetings, everything is electronic (Word documents, Google docs, or Apple Notes); these are helpful to keep track of experimental plans, goals, planning, etc. I have also continued to build my community, this is essential for anyone in science, but I think vital for a new parent, PI, and women in academia. I have written about building a community before, here is a link to the post.
Things I am still working on include taking it slow, being an academic researcher is not a sprint, but a marathon. It is important to leave time to polish off grants, manuscripts, etc. and not have too much going on. As a postdoc I was able to do many things at once, but with more responsibilities I am learning I cannot do this. I think it is important to reflect on what is working and not working, so every 6 months I try to schedule strategic planning for my lab, which includes updating projects and lots of long-term planning. I have learned as PI you are not only a scientist but HR, psychologist, etc. I am working on developing my leadership skills in my laboratory and my profession through different venues. This year I completed the American Society of Nutrition 2022 Nutrition Leadership Academy and the Research Leadership Program.
The past four years have been challenging in so many ways and I have been pushed, but I have also grown and adapted – all of which I am proud of! Every day, I enjoy working with motivated students and colleagues and I am excited to see what happens next!
Jadavji Lab Student Publications
Hurley L, Jauhal J, Ille S, Pull K, Malysheva OV, Jadavji NM. (2023) Maternal dietary deficiencies in one-carbon metabolism during early neurodevelopment result in larger damage volume, reduced neurodegeneration and neuroinflammation and changes in choline metabolites after ischemic stroke in middle-aged offspring. Nutrients. 15:1556 (Invited)
Veterinary Students: Lauren Hurley
Master’s Biomedical Science student: Jesse Jauhal
Dental Studyent: Sharadyn Ille
Yahn GB, Wasek B, Bottiglieri T, Malysheva O, Caudill MA, Jadavji NM. (2023) A dietary vitamin B12 deficiency impairs motor function and changes neuronal survival and choline metabolism after ischemic stroke to the sensorimotor cortex in middle aged male and female mice. Nutritional Neuroscience, In Press https://doi.org/10.1080/1028415X.2023.2188639.
Master’s in Biomedical Science student: Gyllian Yahn
Clementson M, Hurley L, Coonrod S, Bennett C, Marella P, Pascual AS, Pull K, Wasek B, Bottiglieri T, Malysheva O, Caudill M, Jadavji NM. (2023) Maternal dietary deficiencies in folates or choline during pregnancy and lactation worsen stroke outcome in 3-month-old male and female mouse offspring, Neural Regeneration Research. 18:2443-2448
Medical students: McCoy Clementson, Calli Bennett, Purvaja Marella
Veterinary Students: Lauren Hurley
Clementson M, Jauhal J, Jadavji NM (2023) Dietary B-vitamins deficiencies and maternal over supplementation on neurodevelopment: an updated narrative. Vitamins and Minerals in Neurological Disorders. Editor: Colin Martin,
Vinood Patel, and Victor Preedy. Elsevier. (invited).
Medical student: McCoy Clementson
Master’s Biomedical Science student: Jesse Jauhal
Virdi S, Jadavji NM* The impact of maternal folates on brain development and function after birth. Metabolites 12(9): 876 (Invited).
Medical student: Sapna Virdi
Poole J, Jasbi J, Pascual AS, North S, Kwatra N, Weissig V, Gu H, Bottiglieri T, Jadavji NM.(2022) Ischemic stroke and dietary vitamin B12 deficiency in old-aged females impaired motor function, increased ischemic damage size, andchanged metabolite profiles in brain and cecum tissue. Nutrients, 14(14), 2960; https://doi.org/10.3390/nu14142960.
Medical students: Joshua Poole; Sean North
Dental student: Neha Kwatra
Marella P, Yahn GB, Kang J, Jadavji NM. (2022) The impact of homocysteine on ischemic stroke and dementia: an updated review of clinical studies and mechanisms in Advances in Health and Disease. Nova Science Publishers Inc.
Medical students: Purvaja Marella, Jeminin Kang
Dental student: Gyllian Yahn
Bennett C, Green J, Ciancio M, Goral J, Pitstick L, Pytynia M, Meyer A, Kwatra N, Jadavji NM. (2021) Dietary folic acid deficiency impacts hippocampal morphology and cortical acetylcholine metabolism in adult male and female mice. Nutritional Neuroscience: In Press. DOI: 10.1080/1028415X.2021.1932242. PMID: 34042561.
Medical student: Calli Bennett
Dental student: Neha Kwatra
GB, Leoncio J, Jadavji NM* (2021)The role of dietary supplementation of one-carbon metabolism on stroke outcome. Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care: doi: 10.1097/MCO.0000000000000743. PMID: 33631772.
Master’s in Biomedical Science student: Gyllian Yahn
Pharmacy Student: Jeannine Leoncio
Yahn GB, Abato JE, Jadavji NM. (2021) Role of vitamin B12 deficiency in ischemic stroke risk and outcome. Neural Regen Res.16(3):470-474. PMID: 32985467. PMCID: PMC79986019.
Master’s in Biomedical Science student: Gyllian Yahn
Veterinary student: Jamie Abato
Burgess K, Bennett C, Mosnier H, Kwatra N, Bethel B, Jadavji NM*. The antioxidant role of one-carbon metabolism on stroke. Antioxidants. 9):1141 PMID: 33212887. PMCID: PMC7698340. (invited)
Medical Students: Callie Bennett, Forrest Bethel
Veterinary Students: Kassidy Burgess
Dental Student: Neha Kwatra
Undergraduate Student: Hannah Mosnier
Abato JE, Moftah M, Cron GO, Smith PD, Jadavji NM. (2020) Methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase deficiency alters cellular response after ischemic stroke in male mice. Nutritional Neuroscience. 25:558-566. PMID: 32448097.
Veterinary student: Jamie Abato
By: Nafisa Jadavji, PhD
As a scientist I have been mentored throughout my different stages of training and continue to be mentored. The mentoring relationships I have formed throughout my lifetime have been priceless. I am also a mentor and I think it is so important – this past year I helped professional students mentor undergraduate women. Through my experiences and what I observed this year, I wanted to share what I think works for a healthy mentoring relationship.
There is a lot of effort to inspire women to study and work in STEM, however the continuation of alienation from fully engaging in science related fields still occurs for women, I have seen this happen at all stages. I think mentoring and forming a community both play an important role in keeping women in STEM.
The benefits of being a mentor are vast, they include showing the ropes and sharing resources.
In academic research and STEM there is a hidden curriculum which is described by education scholars as the set of tacit rules in a formal educational context that insiders consider to be natural and universal – I was a first-generation student. Mentors helped teach this and make academic research more accessible to me as well as for those that don’t know the hidden curriculum.
Being a mentor also provides an opportunity to share experiences, including the good and bad. Mentors act as a sounding board and enriching education experience and the ability to network. As a mentor, I have improved leadership capacity and sharpened my communication skills. I have also become exposed to different thoughts and opinions. Pay it forward – in my opinion this is so important.
I think it is important to begin the relationship with a needs assessment that establishes expectations and articulates desired outcomes. Set clear boundaries and guidelines at the beginning: How often will you meet? Will you be discussing research issues, career development, personal problems, or all three? Are any topics off-limits? Strive for clear and effective communication. Give honest and objective feedback. Be encouraging and motivating, but also be realistic. Challenge your mentee to think broadly and to consider all opportunities. Maintain confidentiality to build a relationship based on trust. Create a judgment-free zone. Keep in mind that you are mentoring not just a woman in STEM, but a whole person who likely has competing professional and personal priorities. Be sensitive to this complexity and be prepared to help with time management suggestions or tips for overcoming guilt and anxiety. Recognize that your mentee may have needs, goals, values, and priorities that differ from your own. Be approachable and accessible.
With collaborators I have written an article that describes how to build and sustain mentor interactions.
I hope that this article is useful to you. Please feel free to leave a comment!
Updated: May 31st, 2023
Original Publication: June 22, 2022
I have thought a lot about writing a blog post on this topic. I still have a < 1 year old baby at home, but I am back at work, so I have a few things to reflect on and share. Number one, I am still learning a lot.
I took maternity leave in late 2021 and prior to it I spoke others and got lots of advice, which was helpful. I also did research online, but I did not find a lot, so this gave me another reason for writing this blog post.
When I went on maternity leave, I had an active foundation grant, one graduate student, 3 research assistants (2 veterinary and 1 dental medicine students), 1 medical student, and a relatively new research staff member doing research in my lab. I was also in my 3rd year on the TT. The day my baby was born I was notified about a successful grant. During my maternity leave my research did not slow down that much. My teaching and service at my institution did slow down.
I love making lists, so I have organized my advice and/or what worked best for me into a list!
1. Plan ahead – I love to plan. I made lists for all my students and we set-up goals together. We had regular check in’s while I was on leave, I think it helped both parties involved. I also made lists to prepare for the baby. When I make plans I know that sometimes things won’t work out because life is not perfect, but working towards something is helpful. Being flexible and adapting as things change helps a lot.
2. There is a new mom tax – regardless of what you have been told or read in terms of policy/rules. Someone at some point will make a comment about your inability to do science especially if you are a new mom. The best way to tackle this is form your own community and have some form of support both at work and outside of work (see previous blog post on this topic). This can take many forms, for me I have a massage therapist I am able to vent to, wonderful colleagues, and a strong friend network.
3. You are a good mom even if you are not making food for your baby and having someone else look after them. It takes a village to raise a child. I struggled taking my baby to be taken care of someone else that was not me or his father. I felt like the worst mother in the world. I thought I could do it all; take care of a 5-month-old, run a lab, teach, and keep up with my service activities. Then I learned, I can’t. What I can do is prioritize what’s important and that is different for everyone.
4. Once you have a baby, be strategic with your time – I write when my baby is sleeping and spend time with him when he is awake. Sometimes when my baby is fussy, he will sleep on my lap, and I will get things done on my tablet or phone. They way you work will change and so will your productivity – this is not a bad thing.
5. You will make mistakes, you might be new to being a mom, so you are learning. Give yourself lots of grace and time. This is something I am still learning. You will or won’t be supported, again make a community, and learn to think outside the box/be flexible. Celebrate the wins! They will likely carry you through the rough times until you hit your next win.
6. Read lots about raising babies from different sources, but in the end trust your gut/initiation. I love evidence-based recommendation, but sometimes things just won’t work for your baby, or they might work very well. When I was pregnant, I listened to several audiobooks because reading just put me to sleep. When you don’t know just Google it – I have and will continue to do this for many years.
I would highly recommend reading “Ambitious Like a Mother” by Lara Bazelon. I ate each word up and it really helped reinforce how I want to raise my baby. The irrational thoughts run wild after having a baby. This book helped ground me again.
An update to this piece of advice, I recently (2023) read ‘Mother Brain’ by Chelsea Conaboy and as I neuroscientist I would highly recommend this book to all mothers! I wish I read it before I had my little one. It is terrifying to hear about all the changes your brain undergoes, but I think it helps with understanding the changes. I would highly recommend it to all, mothers, fathers, and anyone supporting parents.
I wish more policies around being a parent were based on research. Parents undergo a dynamic change after the birth of a baby and they need support. Most of the time the support is not there.
7. Do something for yourself everyday, even if it’s 5 minutes of sitting still or drinking your favorite coffee. I love Chai lattes; my husband does a great job of making them and so does Starbucks.
8. I did not exercise after I returned to work, there was no time and that was a huge mistake for me. Exercise helps me focus and relieve a lot of my stress that comes from being in an academic. I had no outlet, so it sucked a lot. I have changed that now, my baby joins me when I go for a run or plays with his toys if I have a weight training day.
9. Focus inwards: if you, your baby, and family are doing good everything else will fall into place. People will ‘mom sham’ you, but remember what is best for you, your baby, and family is different.
10. Babies are wonderful, it’s amazing to see how fast they grow up and as a neuroscientist I am always wondering how many neurons he has already lost – nerd alert! I love picking up my baby at the of the day and giving him a tight squeeze and being silly with him. My new 20 pound and growing boss has brought some much-needed perspective into my life.
Nafisa M. Jadavji PhD1,2,3, Emily Furlong PhD1, Gyan Prakash Mishra MS1,3
1 Ambassador Program, eLife Community, Cambridge, UK
2 Biomedical Sciences, Midwestern University, Glendale, AZ, USA
3 Infectious Disease Biology, Institute of Life Sciences, Bhubaneswar, India
We are a group of early-career researchers working to highlight the prevalence of bullying in academia, and our first blog post in November 2019, served to raise awareness of the issue through a series of stories from people around the world who have faced being bullied in academia.
To follow up, we ran a voluntary international survey for four months (December 2019 to March 2020). The survey was promoted via social media and through personal networks. Because of the global pandemic we have had some delays with sharing our results. The survey attracted a total of 364 respondents that comprised of undergraduates, graduate students, postdocs, research associates, and principal investigators. The majority of respondents were from North America and Europe, with females making up 64%, males 34%, and the remaining 2% choosing not to identify.
We would like to highlight that 76% of our respondents identified that they were bullied during their academic career. This included feeling belittled when presenting their data at an academic meeting (59%). But, only 33% of respondents had approached a relevant authority (e.g. supervisor, human resources) at their institutions about being bullied, which hints at the practice of normalizing behavior or a fear of retribution.
Only 51% of the respondents knew that workplace bullying is a punishable offence that could lead to disciplinary action. This leaves us wondering whether organizations can do more to highlight the consequences of engaging in bullying during the recruitment or funding process.
While 47% percent of respondents said that they would provide emotional support if they observed a colleague that was being bullied, a small number of respondents reported facing consequences, such as intimidation for having supported their colleagues. In Figure 1, we have summarized our findings on what universities and institutions worldwide are doing to help people who experience bullying. The answers vary greatly and show that some policies are not effective.
The impact of being bullied in academia on the victims’ career plans are not well known (Klein and Lester, 2012). In our survey, 45% of respondents said that being bullied did impact their career in academia, this result requires further investigation.
The results of our survey, and the fact that reports of bullying in academia have been increasing over the past decade (Klein and Lester, 2012), highlight that it is time to address the issue. At present, there are limited numbers of resources that are available as support for anyone that has experienced bullying in academia. We as a group of early-career researchers, aim to next create an online platform where victims can get resources and also share their stories to get advice. We also think research institutions worldwide need to create policies that are targeted at helping victims and that this help does not in fact harm the victim and future career opportunities.
Acknowledgements: Renuka Kudva PhD
I have made it to the end of year 2 of being on the tenure track; it’s been a world-wind. The global pandemic has not made things easier. Overall, I feel like I am even more behind on what I hoped to accomplish, so I am taking some time to pause and reflect on the accomplishments and challenges of this year.
In terms of accomplishments, this year the lab put out 4 publications. One data paper, 100% of the experiments were done in my independent lab! This paper was a collaborative effort in terms of getting samples with Jaci Green and others at the Midwestern University Downers Grove campus. The work was also led by very motivated students, Calli Bennett and Neha Kwatra.
The lab also put out 3 review papers and contributed to a book chapter, this was a result of lots of student involvement, which I think is great! In terms of grants, it’s been a year of rejections, we got one maybe (waiting until September 2021) and then a COVID-19 supplement for one of our current grants.
Several students have been involved in research and we also have two research staff, which has kept me busy! The students and staff have pushed me to keep things moving in the lab and not get stuck behind my desk writing. Our first graduate student, Gyllian Yahn, MBS, defended her thesis in May and graduated. She will be starting dental school in the fall; I could not be prouder!
I had the opportunity to participate in a NIH study section, which was beneficial and a great learning experience. I was resubmitting my R15 around the same time, so the knowledge I gained was invaluable. The PO was very helpful and met with me prior to the study section and gave me feedback on my reviews. I learned so much from those two days of attending the study section, I would highly recommend this to anyone who is writing an NIH application. If you are a new PI, you might qualify for the NIH Early Career Review Program.
Several collaborative projects outside the lab also came to fruitarian this year (aka we made it through peer review and published them). Most of this work was during my time as an eLife ambassador. I was a co-author on a fair funding paper, mentorship and writing effective letters of recommendation. We published the Reproducibility 4 Everyone paper. I am very proud of these publications, and I hope they are helpful to others and help move towards changing the culture of academic research.
The challenges of the past year have been plentiful. Rather than listing them all, I want to focus on the fact that a lot has been done despite everything and that doing a little bit everyday adds up.
The Jadavji Laboratory is two years old!
We are excited to see what the next year will bring!
Today, I celebrate! The Jadavji Lab is a year old! It has been a year since I started a tenure track position and my overall feelings are; I survived! I still like what I do. I really like working with students. They are a driving force for me, to become a better scientist and teacher. It has been a busy year and combined with the pandemic, things have been even more intense! I think the biggest lesson I learned this year was to embrace the chaos.
As a postdoc for several years prior to starting my faculty position, I managed experiments, writing, teaching, and service activities. I had all the activities planned out and the expectations were clear as my training was self-driven. Being a new faculty member is very different, firstly there is a change in expectations of what is required from me as well as a change in my own perception of what my role is. Over the past year, there were several instances and situations where I forgot I was a faculty member, I am getting better at this, but it’s a work in progress. The chair of our program told me it takes about 5 years to make the mental shift.
Prior to starting my TT position, I had the luxury to only work part-time as an instructor for ~2 months. I took the time to write a grant (which was funded!) and set up my lab/research related materials. I also rested, since I was working at a slower pace and packed/organized for the cross continent move. The research materials I set up included drafting lab mission and vision statements, a website, lab manual including policies, as well as protocols for research techniques I was planning to use. I also started exploring electronic lab notebooks. The status for lab notebooks, I love using them! I also did some long-term planning in terms of experiments, and manuscripts. I think having the time to think through things and write was incredible gift to myself. I would recommend this to any other new faculty, if it is possible. I started a an electronic and hardcopy folder for tenure related materials, I am already finding this useful especially when I wrote my faculty activity report for the past year. I have also gotten into a good habit of mentally training myself to file these materials away as I get them.
I had a reduced teaching load this past year, which was nice. I did take time out and watch lectures of other faculty members in the department, especially since our departmental courses are team taught. I have been teaching for several years, so I was not too worried about it, but reflecting back on teaching in the Fall quarter, it would have been prudent to have spent more time on preparing for lectures. I helped teach a neuroscience course in our spring quarter, and really enjoyed it, even with the pandemic and adapting to virtual teaching. I wrote a blog about teaching in academia earlier this year and that has more details.
In terms of managing my lab, I hired an RA and also lost her this year, it was a difficult situation. I did learn a lot from the hiring and managing aspects, I hope that my next RA will be a better fit. I have spent most of the year without any technical help, but I managed. I asked when I need help and pushed through. The lab was successfully in obtaining a grant from the American Heart Association as well as an internal grant, which was combined with funds from the state of Arizona. The lab published three papers; two were accepted after March 2020 (when the pandemic hit the US), which I think is a huge feat, especially with homeschooling fulltime. In the lab, I took on a graduate student, as well as two medical students, a few federal work-study students, and one veterinary fellow. The lab has grown a lot and we are hammering out data this summer, despite all the challenges. I am super excited about the data!
I was able to keep my on-campus service activities to a minimum this year, I served on an admission committee, spoke about being a scientist at a local elementary, and also was a judge for a brain bee competition on-campus. I participated in a lot of service outside of the university including, chairing the Journal of Young Investigators Board of Directors, an eLife ambassador, and reviewing several manuscripts/studies. I also did several grant reviews, which was fun and taught me more about grant presentation and writing. It was on the busy side, but I really enjoyed the work.
There isn’t a formal mentoring program at the university where I work, but I did set up several informal mentorship relationships with senior faculty, as well as other new and junior faculty. As I have written before, I tried to create a network of people I could consult about different things that came up during year. My network is still growing, as I meet more people and develop relationships. I am also an avid user of New PI Slack. I think it is a good resource to get feedback and ask questions. I have asked for advice many times and offered up my own personal experiences. It is so nice to have a community of people.
It has been a learning process this year. I think it was hard to be in a place where I do not know much, but I tried to embrace it and learn from it. I think I became better when asking questions. I think my first year in a tenure track position was a good challenge; I am looking forward to future chaos and adventures!
During my PhD I was in a very social environment and made lifelong friends, it was a collaborative environment to work in. After I started my postdoctorate (posdoc), things were a lot different. I was in a different country and didn’t speak the language. Unfortunately, the language in the lab was not English. Making friends in the department was very difficult, so I looked to outside sources, including social media (e.g. MeetUp) and I met some great people. An added bonus was that these people were not scientists, so they did not understand the culture and pressure of academic research. It was really nice to get that mental break and travel, try different restaurants, and attend festivals. The same thing continued during my second postdoc position, where I was back in my home country, so I could speak the language. During both my postdoc positions, the feeling of isolation was tough, especially when dealing with an uncertain future. However, I tried to build a social network, one way I accomplished it was through social media.
Sometimes social media gets a bad rap, but I think it can also be used for good. I think the current situation (COVID-19) is a good example, when social distancing is increasing in prevalence. During scientific training (e.g. PhD or postdoctorate) social isolation can also occur, I experienced it. I think social media can provide me a lot of opportunities to not feel so isolated. For me, social media helped me learn about new opportunities (e.g. funding, and open lab positions), meet other scientists to network. I think I tried most new platforms that are available (e.g. ResearchGate, Government of Canada Collab, Academics.edu), although TikTok is still foreign to me, so I have not tried them all. Some of these sites worked out and others did not. I was surprised at how much academic support I found on Twitter. One of the connections I made resulted in me publishing a blog about my research and then an entire book! Through my network on Twitter I have learned that some of my scientist role models also face rejection!
I think building a network is very important in academic research, as I outlined in a previous blog post. A support system is needed when things are going well and also when they are going not so well. I was reminded of the importance of a network earlier this week when I was listening to a podcast from the Professor Is In. Since 2016, the Professor Is In have been a part of my community as I tune into weekly sessions with Dr. Karen Kelsky and Kel Weinhold.
Academia is hard, we fail a lot, and that’s OK. Having people, you can talk and work through things is so important, as I have come to realize. If you are in academic research or science, I would encourage you to build a network. And in today’s reality, I think this can be done both in person and electronically.
Stay safe and healthy!
Recently, I have been reflecting back on my time as a teaching assistant, trying to understand what changed? Why do I like teaching now? I think for me it was exposure to teaching that helped me build my confidence. Part of my studentship for my MSc was teaching assistantship, so I had no choice, but to teach. I found the first-year classes hard to manage, maybe because of the number of students? The 3rd and 4th year classes were a lot of fun, and I really enjoyed interacting with the students.
I began teaching when I was a first year MSc student. At that point, I had no confidence and felt like I knew nothing. I think how I felt was apparent to the students when I ran tutorials. What I did enjoy about teaching was marking, providing feedback, and one on one student interactions in the lab.
After I completed my MSc in Neuroscience, I continued to teach during my PhD, even though it was not required for my studentship. The extra money was nice, and so was the exposure to teaching. I stumbled again when I ran tutorials, but then I had an opportunity to teach a small introductory lab section and loved every minute of it. The students were great! I taught the same course for 2 years. During my postdoctorate in Germany, I designed and taught a course for graduate students. When I returned to Canada, I also designed and taught courses during my time at Carleton University. I taught retired students through the Learning and Retirement program. This was really interesting, since I was the youngest person in the room and was their instructor, but I think it helped me with building my confidence and made me more assertive with students, as well as being clearer when I communicated. The process of teaching an undergraduate class taught me the importance of servicing the student.
During the 2017-18 academic year I taught a brand-new course in the Department of Neuroscience. The course was an honors class but was targeted towards students who did not want to go to graduate school. The focus was on communicating scientific knowledge to a non-scientist audience. It was an 8-month long course and I worked with another instructor to design the course, we planned out several assignments over the course of the year. The course was a bit outside my expertise, but I was excited to teach it. I conducted a mid-year anonymous evaluation with students and tried to address the concerns that were brought up by the students. At the end of the year, my teaching evaluations were bad, it was a bit daunting! I spoke with the department chair and took the feedback and applied it when I taught the same course the following year (2018-19). I conducted a mid-year evaluation, but this time I went through the comments with students and listed out how I was trying to accommodate their feedback into the remaining months of the year. My teaching evaluations scores increased significantly. This experience was an important lesson in remaining flexible when teaching. Also getting feedback from people that have taught in the same setting is priceless.
In July 2019, I started as an Assistant Professor, I learned a lot from teaching in a large lecture setting. The students were extremely motivated and pushed me from the first lecture, all in good ways. I tried some new things in terms of incorporating active learning into my lectures as well as information presentation. I am planning to incorporate the new knowledge into the course next year.
Throughout my career, I have participated in some sort of training to help me become a better instructor. In graduate school I participated in a day long teaching course. When I was in my postdoctorate I took a weekly course for a semester that went through all the nuts and bolts of teaching. During this course I had the opportunity to give a lecture that was video recorded. Other participants and the course instructor provided me feedback, as well as I was able to see myself when I lecture and my different mannerisms, it was entertaining and embarrassing all at once.
As an instructor I thought it was important to participate in training, read books, and consult teaching centers on campus. During the end of my PhD I began to put together a teaching portfolio including my student evaluations, reference letters from both students and instructors I worked with. This was helpful when I was in my postdoctorate applying for instructor positions. It also helped when I was putting my teaching portfolio together for faculty position.
I think teaching is a process, you try something and see if it works. Exposure to teaching has helped me get where I am now, somewhat comfortable lecturing to a classroom of +150 graduate students. Despite the challenges, I think teaching is one of best parts of my job as an academic. Science still continues to fascinate me, and I am grateful to have the opportunity to share it with others.
“Those who can do, also teach”
-Joshua Schimel, author of Writing Science
Originally published on ecrLife (11/04/2019) https://ecrlife.org/bullying-in-academia-tales-from victims-and-a-call-to-action/
Nafisa M. Jadavji, Emily Furlong, Pawel Grzechnik, Małgorzata Anna Gazda, Sarah Hainer, Juniper Kiss, Renuka Kudva, Samantha Seah, Huanan Shi
Workplace bullying--repetitive abusive, threatening, humiliating and intimidating behaviour--is on the rise globally. And matters are worse in academia. In the UK, for example, up to 42% of academics report being bullied in the workplace. The national average by contrast ranges from just 10-20%.
Why do bullies bully? According to researchers from Brock University in Canada the goals of bullying come from internal motivations and desires, which can be conscious or not. Bullying takes many forms: the malicious mistreatment of someone including persistent criticism, inaccurate accusations, exclusion and ostracism, public humiliation, the spreading of rumors, setting people up to fail, or overloading someone with work. Bullying is different from accidental or reactive aggression, since it is goal-directed meaning that the purpose is to harm someone when there is a power imbalance.
While anyone is at risk of being bullied in academia, research has found that some of us are more vulnerable compared to others. For example, early career researchers (ECRs), including trainees (e.g. graduate students, postdocs), minority groups, adjunct professors, research associates, and untenured professors are at a higher risk to experience bullying. Employees with more years in a job report feeling less bullied than others subordinate to them, meaning that junior members of a research group or Faculty may be at greater risk of bullying.
An explanation for why particular groups are more vulnerable to bullying than others lies in the fact that the existence of power differentials are a major contributing factor to bullying in academia. For example, men and supervisors of large successful research groups are observed to perpetrate bullying behavior more often than women and other minorities, though exceptions do exist. Other research has shown that the pressure associated with publishing, getting research funding, and lack of leadership and people management training in science may also contribute to bullying.
In some cases, principal investigators (PI) can also experience bullying from students, peers, or administrators. Take the example of one PI who was bullied by an administrator for being too ambitious, making her overly conscious of her success. When she moved to another institution, she did not make collaborations with other researchers in different departments, as she had previously, because she did not want to appear to be too ambitious. This is also an example of the long-term impact bullying can have on future work.
To highlight that bullying can take different forms and occur at all career stages, we include here four anonymous testimonials from victims of academic bullying in the life sciences:
International Female PhD Student
I got pregnant during my PhD and I was told it was not an issue. However, during the course of my pregnancy, I was removed from my projects and left out of discussions about the work that needed to be done. When I asked for an explanation, I was told that science could not wait for me while I was pregnant, even though I was eager to work, and the law permitted me to do so. After my child was born, I was made to return to work after just three weeks, while legally I was permitted up to a year off work.
In the lab, I was given bits and pieces of others’ projects and not permitted to work on my own project. I worked without complaining but this took a toll on my emotional health with time. It was after my then-toddler son broke his arm that everything got worse. I needed to take a week off for his hospital stay, but my supervisor called me to his office and told me that I was a useless researcher and that I didn’t belong in science, and then he fired me. I knew it was illegal for him to do so, but I didn’t want to fight him because I was dependent on him to finish my PhD. I met with him after a week and he told me that I could work, but without pay, to make up for the duration of my pregnancy when I was paid. I did as I was told for the next six months, and somehow with the support of my husband and my best friend, was able to graduate and leave. I now have a permanent faculty position at a university in my home country, but my PhD broke me.
Male Graduate Student Completing His Graduate Studies in His Home Country
After I joined the lab, my supervisors told me that they needed to re-apply for funding, and that they were relying on my results for the application. Unfortunately, they wanted to employ a method that they were unfamiliar with, and as a beginner, I had very limited resources. I managed to get help from someone at another department and it took me three months to set up the method in the lab, but it turned out to be unsuitable for our project. My supervisors were unhappy about this and started blaming me for not smart enough to get the results they expected. I was constantly told that things didn’t work in my hands, and that they would need to decide whether to prolong my contract. This threat was dangled in front of me every few months, and it scared me. I contemplated leaving the lab and moving on, but my supervisors told me that it would look bad for them and offered me another project instead. Things didn’t improve after this either: my project worked fine, but my supervisors continued threatening to terminate my contract.
I decided to graduate after three and a half years of enduring this, but my supervisors then threatened to block me from finishing. I was gas lighted throughout my Master’s and never understood what they really wanted. Why did they offer me a position if I wasn’t good enough? I decided to switch fields after my PhD and am much happier now.
Female Research Associate in Home Country
Within 3-weeks of starting a new research associate position, I was asked to lead the writing of a grant. The research focus of the group was beyond my experience, and I had little exposure to the research environment of the group. The PI had not established the big picture of the grant; it was left up to me. Furthermore, he provided little to no guidance with writing the grant (e.g. his expectations, what had previously been done, etc.). It was a very overwhelming experience.
When I sent out a draft of the grant, I was pulled into a private meeting with the PI and the co-PI, who both told me that my work was crap and that since I was the highest paid member of the group I should have been producing amazing work. They said that all my responsibilities would be given to someone else in the group. I was given menial tasks like uploading files on the One Drive for several months. Most days, I would not have enough work to do or struggle with the work I was required to do because there was not enough guidance. I have been doing research for 16 years but had never been so bored as I was in this position. A few months later, I was asked to do a few more projects, but again was told my work was not good. The culture in the research group was unforgiving and exclusive.
Outside of the job, through my hard work and determination, I obtained another position and was able to leave. When I sent in my resignation, I was even intimidated to leave earlier than I planned because it would cost them less. I stood my ground and left when I planned to. This job increased my imposter syndrome by a hundred-fold. I was convinced that I was the problem and the dumb one. When I told my husband about the interactions with the PI, he would comment on how ridiculous the situation was. When I was in this situation, it was too hard to see how crappy it was. It’s been about a month since I left, and I feel so much better. I have worked hard to combat my imposter syndrome, and this summer I will begin a tenure track position in a STEM field. In 2019, this is so rare, so I celebrate that!
International Male Postdoc
I work as a postdoctoral researcher and my supervisor routinely tells us whom we can talk to, eat our lunch or take coffee breaks with. I recently started collaborating on a project with another postdoctoral researcher in the department but only after discussing it with my supervisor and gaining his approval.
We worked on the project part-time for a few months. I approached my supervisor after we had some interesting results, and he suddenly decided that I needed to stop working on it despite the fact that it looked promising. He informed me that he was shocked that I was working on it in the first place and that he didn’t like me to do things behind his back. He also accused me of leaving him out of my activities in the lab. I was also tasked with informing my collaborator, who was livid that we needed to end the project abruptly. However, he understood and let it go, even though it was unfair for him too. My supervisor then blamed my collaborator for inciting me into doing the project in the first place and threatened him too. I do whatever my supervisor asks of me, but I am not sure if that’s the right thing to do. Unfortunately, I feel as though I have no choice since he pays me.
The impacts of bullying are manifold. Studies have reported a long-term health effects in bullying victims, such as anxiety, sleep disorders, chronic fatigue, anger, depression, destabilization of identity, aggression, low self-esteem, loss of confidence, and other health problems. Bullying also has an impact on the institutions where the victims work, including negative work environments, absenteeism, lower engagement, higher turnover, and reduced performance. The impact of bullying is far reaching, policies need to be put into place to tackle the negative impact.
Recognizing what bullying looks like is just the first step towards tackling it. Many institutions have opted to use a top-down approach to tackle the problem through policies to report bullying via the human resource office or sometimes an ombudsman. Other institutions may not have specific policies to deal with bullying and often victims are not made aware of existing avenues of recourse. Funding agencies may also choose to get involved, for example after being accused of bullying by her colleagues in 2018 Professor Nazneem Rahman lost 3.5 million GBP in funding from the Wellcome Trust in the UK. In addition to what is currently being done at research institutions and funding agencies, legislation should be put into place by the government to ensure that victims are heard and that there are consequences for the perpetrators.
Apart from institutional actions, bottom-up approaches are also available, such as overcoming the bystander effect. The bystander effect is when individuals are less likely to offer help to a victim when other people are present. Research since the 60s has shown that the presence of other people will inhibit one’s own intention to help and overcoming this effect could be an effective way to mitigate bullying in academia.
A study of whistleblowers found that 71% of employees tend not to directly report wrongdoing as the perceived personal cost is higher than the perceived reward. People tend to feel that personal costs may be higher if reporting happens through face-to-face meetings with authorities. Hence, anonymous reporting channels are needed.
Bullying is an entrenched problem in academia, supported by workplaces with power differentials. Combating bullying is a challenging task at multiple levels and over the next year a group of us eLife Community Ambassadors will embark on an initiative to shine a light on the problem, investigate its root causes and eventually formulate a set of universal measures to tackle bullying in the workplace and give relief to its victims. Stay tuned for more on our progress!
Postdoctoral (postdoctorate) training is a period of time when you can focus on your research and carve out your niche, so that you can begin to make a name for yourself in your given field. This training period can be challenging, so building a network is essential. An African proverb says that it takes a village to raise a child, and I think the same can be applied to becoming a successful scientist.
If you are in STEM, your postdoctoral training will likely be completed in a lab or team environment. Supervisors are essential for support on big picture research goals, writing grants, and manuscripts, as well as with providing guidance in terms of attending scientific meetings, and forming collaborations. During postdoctoral training it is great to get involved in grant writing, specially, operating grants, being listed as a co-applicant adds to your CV.
Other lab members like research assistants, research associates, other postdocs can be a great resource for technical and day to day help, as well as sounding boards for experiments or when you are putting data together for presentations/papers. Mentoring undergraduate and graduate students in the lab is a lot of work, but you learn a lot about yourself and it’s also a good time to figure your personal mentorship style. Well trained students can support you with data collection. For example, a graduate student that I co-supervised helped me write a review article, she sorted through lots of data and was able to respond to the reviewer’s comments, it made the writing process a bit easier.
During my postdoctoral training I found it very useful to seek support outside of my lab, I built a network. I did this through networking at scientific meetings and training courses. For example, I was at a meeting in Denmark in 2017 and met a big name in my field. After the meeting I followed up with an e-mail and was then invited to speak at a seminar at his institution. Currently we are collaborating on a book project, as well as we have submitted two proposals for symposia at scientific meetings.
I have also attended a few training courses during my postdoctoral training, which also helped me meet people and make connections. If you can’t attend meetings or courses, I would recommend trying to work with people in similar areas, send out e-mails expressing your interest and ask about presenting your research findings at seminar series. Don’t be shy. Form collaborations with others, share your expertise, being open to opportunities can be very beneficial.
I think another way of building your network is through your personal connections, for example friends you make in graduate school and during your postdoctoral training might make great collaborations. I have a current collaboration combining my area of expertise with a cancer researcher (not my area of expertise), this collaboration came about through a friend I made in graduate school.
In the last 4 years I started to get more involved with social media, through Twitter and writing blog posts. At points during my postdoctoral training I felt isolated and I think that having a network and community online helped with managing the loneliness, depression, and anxiety that comes with being a postdoc on the job market in STEM. Through Twitter I learned about Future PI Slack. By joining this community, I got feedback on my job applications, ideas for publishing my research, and I also offered any advice I had.
I think the benefits of having a network both in your lab and outside is much needed for all postdocs or postdocs wanting a career in academia. Being a postdoc in the 21st century is hard and requires lots of resilience. It is important to note that not everyone you meet will be a part of your network, I have tried to be selective, but I still have been let down. But the benefits outweigh the costs. I have connected with each person differently in my network, which has enriched my training and I think my success in my chosen career path.