I am not a bioethicist, and I have never conducted human research or, for that matter, animal research requiring much regulation. So while I have some awareness of the legacies of Tuskegee and the many other evils large and small carried out in the name of research, and think these are incredibly important and not taken seriously enough, I have not grappled first-hand with the concept of Informed Consent or real-life IRBs. So my disclaimer here is that my views come from a place of extreme ignorance, but hey, this is the internet, right?
My first poorly-informed impression: I would guess that the default, baseline level of being “informed” (not in any paperwork sense, but just level of understanding) of a 23andme customer seeking out the company and purchasing their own SNP data from them for $100—without any disclaimers or literature from the company—is much higher than the “informed consent” that is routinely obtained in situations and countries where perceptions of authority and individual choice in medical care are very different from in the US. Yet the US model for informed consent is used globally, both by US researchers abroad and by local researchers around the world. So…if 23andMe is conducting research, is it a problem if they don’t use IRBs? Yes. Given the number of people involved, the kind of research/data, and the relative wealth/security of the participants, is it a big problem relative in the context of medical ethics and how informed consents and IRBs are used, under the FDA’s mandate or not? I don’t think so.
It feels like an important distinction to me that customers seek out 23andMe, not the other way around. They are not recruited to a study. 23andMe is selling information: your own SNP data along with a lot of published associations on a slick web site. That fact that consumers might do something misinformed/stupid/harmful with this information is a given for every service/product for all time. Not trying to sound libertarian—I am somewhere between Canadian and Vulcan on the “collective good” vs. “individual rights” spectrum.
Of course, what services like 23andMe do potentially do is create an industry of snake oil, quack remedies, fear, and self-diagnosis. OK: so right now that’s already about 20% of the internet (“Edit your genome with this one weird trick”). I’d say personal genomics is going to increase the general level of health stupidity and exploitation of fear for profit in this country by ~3-5 farts in the current shitstorm of anti-vax, homeopath, faith healing garbage.
Finally… I don’t know the history of 23andMe’s IRB issues, but here’s what it says in the one paper I’ve read (on cilantro tasting like shit to some poor souls):
Participants were drawn from the customer base of 23andMe, Inc., a consumer genetics company. This cohort has been described in detail previously [14, 28]. Participants provided informed consent and participated in the research online, under a protocol approved by the external AAHRPP-accredited IRB, Ethical and Independent Review Services (E&I Review).
So, I don’t know. I could be easily convinced 23andMe has been sloppy about this stuff, but I can’t get worked up that they are a risk to consumers to any alarming degree, especially compared to the shit FDA is doing on behalf of big pharma, like approving drugs that are purposefully designed and marketed to be abused. 23andMe is not sloppy in their service… I checked a bunch their SNP data for me against my whole genome sequence and the error rate was 0, so that’s cool.
There are 3 ways to know that a job search is fake and you are there for no reason:
1. You don’t meet the Department Chair
2. Everyone is shifty and seems to feel sorry for you.
3. You are told you will hear back in a day or two.
Through these and other ways, it should become obvious to you during a visit. How to avoid putting yourself in this position? Spot them in advance! I received an anonymous email pointing out this add from Columbia.
The Division of Integrative Neuroscience of the Department of Psychiatry at Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons is seeking to fill the position of Assistant Professor. The position will be an independent lab position investigating the neural basis of learning and memory and requiring a degree of PhD in Neuroscience, Postdoctoral Fellowship experience, and at least 10 years of experience doing optogenetic manipulation, behavior and immunohistochemistry. The project will include developing and implementing a research program studying the neural basis of learning impairments in aged and Alzheimer’s disease mice. The applicant must be an expert in all aspects of behavior and optogenetic, from implant construction to surgery, trouble shooting, and analysis.
Your first double take should be “10 years of experience” for an assistant professor.
The second should be “10 years of experience” doing optogenetics. Because I don’t think Karl Deisseroth has 10 years of experience doing optogenetics.
Also, freakily specific: you will do learning and memory in mice that we are going to pretend have Alzheimer’s disease. It is pretty weird for a hiring department to tell you exactly what you will be working on with what methods.
It would be terrific if you were a board certified psychiatrist.
Oh, and also? You start December 1, less than 2 weeks after the close date of the listing. (When exactly are the interviews?) So relocation will be a little hectic… oh, wait, you and your family already live on the West Side? Fancy that.
I think there are very occasionally valid reasons to create a position for someone. There are spousal hires, people who have worked on an alternative track (staff scientist, RAP) who have made important contributions to the department already and need to be retained, etc. But there is also patronage, back room hiring, and all that nasty old boy stuff. But let’s assume it is legit sometimes. If an institution decides that this is sometimes something that they should do, they are ethically bound to create a different hiring process for this purpose (like spousal hires in most places). Conducting fake searches is lying. It is a waste of resources and is seriously harmful to the candidates who apply and interview in good faith. It is also harmful to your own faculty, who are coerced into to behaving unethically and lying to applicants. I sometimes wonder if when public institutions do this if there isn’t a valid due process (not likely) or equal protection (maybe?) claim.
Note the straight faced inclusion of an “Equal Opportunity” statement.
I teach a graduate seminar where we train the next generation of neuroscientists to design experiments to uncover principles of brain function. For most of the course, students design experiments constrained by existing technologies. But at the end of the course, we encourage them to dream big and imagine what they would do if they had the ability to measure anything they wanted about the brain—every molecule, structural detail, and electrical signal of every neuron. As students engage in this exercise, they quickly realize that better experimental tools and more data cannot replace the need for thoughtfully designed experiments to address specific questions. Supporters of the Obama/NIH and European brain initiatives must likewise recognize that the tools and databases they are promising are only half of the solution. We also need scientists who can skillfully apply such tools to specific questions about how neural circuits function. Unfortunately, scientists with this expertise are now struggling to survive low research-funding levels, and talented young scientists are seeing this and rejecting research careers because they don’t seem like a viable option. Thus, the success of the “big data” brain initiatives in accelerating discovery and cures will depend entirely on whether they are accompanied by improved support for investigator-initiated, hypothesis-driven research. Investment in better hammers will not pay off if the skilled carpenters go out of business.
The mean age is 60.4. The youngest was born in 1961 (52), the same year as the U.S. President (the average age of Obama’s first term cabinet was 54, criticized for being one of the oldest in recent history). At Apollo 11 splash-down, the average age of NASA scientist/engineer was 28, in 2009 there was criticism that that average had gone up to a sadly-greyed 47. Forty-seven too old! For the average biomedical scientist, you are still a spring chicken, failing to renew your R01 for the first time.
And we wonder why the concerns junior PIs and trainees don’t seem to be top of the agenda.
*I could not determine the age of 3 of them, but these all got their PhD or MD in the 1970s, which would have wouldn’t have changed the result much.
Update: Forgot to link to comment by GenXPI at Drugmonkey that inspired me to look.
Enough people have sent me this beautifully depressing picture that I figured I'd put it up here for posterity. It would be nice to see it broken up into field - this figure is for science and engineering, but science and engineering tend to have very different career paths! My friends who have PhDs in biology are much more likely to try the academic route than my friends in bioengineering, for instance, and physics and chemistry seem to have more post-PhD career options than biologists (in my experience).
Postdoc salaries: A revised opinion (a long blog post I’ve tried to lighten up by turning it into modern poetry)Posted: October 3, 2013
I. I’ve argued a few times that salaries
are not the important issues facing postdocs*. The problems are
a funding system that promotes training too many PhDs,
multiple/long postdocs becoming the norm, and a scientific culture that favors
prestige and connections over substance.
II. But guess what?
III. No one remotely
in any position of power has any intention
of doing anything
about “biomedical workforce” issues in the U.S.
In fact, Francis Collins and Sally Rockey have publicly stated they aren’t sure a problem exists.
III. So fuck it. This system offers you almost nothing,
so take whatever you can get.
And I mean take. Fight for as high a salary as you can get. Unionize. Demand the benefits of full time employees.
Strain the system, make PIs and universities hurt, put sand in the gears of the trainee meat grinder, write your Congressthing.
Forget about the sequester,
forget about paylines…
don’t let them make their problems your problems.
We are not all in this together.
IV. PIs are in leaky lifeboats, but you are in the water… if I were you, I would not be helping us bail.
V. Of course these things are bad and hurt Science
and even hurt trainee careers,
but not much more relative to how they are already hurting.
You don’t have a voice at the table, and you won’t
unless you can get some leverage.
The biggest mistake labor makes
is to be suckered into thinking
that they have substantially the same interests as management.
(If you want a model for this kind of failure,
take a look at how faculty unions have faired
against university administrations in the last 25 years…
and yes, these are now the people giving you career advice.
VII. Did you, Congressthing, know the NIH is spending millions intended for research to “train” scientists we don’t need? That health research is being performed by students and temps instead of professional scientists? The we train thousands of scientists who leave the U.S. right afterwards because we don’t let them stay? That we provide free employee training for the pharma industry? That should lather up the dummies, and you’ve got your pick of dummies.
Obviously, Congress is not the answer to anything. But why not stir shit up?
The NIH doesn’t care about you.
They care about perpetuating a cheap labor boondoggle.
No one** cares about your career, so the only way to have a voice at the table is
somewhere to push
VIII. I don’t think this will work.
You might as well be trying
to unionize an iPad factory
in a Shenzen free trade zone.
But I have no ideas anymore.
Become an engineer.
Learn to code.
* In a nutshell, if there were reasonable expectations of a research career and training was not unreasonable long, I really don’t think postdoc working terms are bad. But in the current context, trainee labor is almost purely exploitative, and there is no rational or substantive argument that we should be training the number of biomedical PhDs that we are, let alone the number of postdocs.
** Yes, on a personal level (and let’s note with some self-interest) your PI cares about your career. They like you and want you to do well (or, you work on a glam assembly line and your PI mistakes you for a guy who came to fix the incubator. Ha ha. Kidding. How could something like that happen? It’s just a silly story. I heard it like third-hand). But take note that a huge fraction of PIs, funders, universities, and societies have not even acknowledged there is a problem that can’t be solved by more PhDs going into pharma or teaching. If you are paid from an R01, you don’t exist as far as the NIH is concerned. And if you’re on an F32, well… have you filled out your Individual Development Plan? Problem solved.
Collins & Rockey:
Furthermore, there is no definitive evidence that Ph.D. production exceeds current employment opportunities.
Frankly, I am too appalled and depressed by this to write anything else. What fucking weasels. Head over to DrugMonkey if you want any discussion other than “Well, fuck it, I guess.” Cuz that’s all I’ve got.