June 12th, 2012 by pcahn
Associate professors register more job dissatisfaction than faculty of other ranks according to a national survey conducted by the Collaborative on Academic Careers in Higher Education.
In several categories, associate professors feel less valued and less supported. Their dissatisfaction may reflect a concentration of resources for early career faculty and the let-down of having achieved a major promotion only to face the next hurdle.
Focus groups with midcareer faculty in the Department of Medicine revealed similar feelings of frustration. At the same time, their professional needs differ from the needs of assistant professors. Faculty development specifically tailored to associate professors would help them see the path to full.
May 25th, 2012 by pcahn
A report from the UK warns about the declining appeal of academic careers for female scientists. In focus groups and telephone interviews with chemistry doctoral students, the authors found that female scientists are less likely than their male counterparts to pursue a career in academic research.
What’s particularly troubling is that women at the beginning of their studies are more likely than men to declare an interest in pursuing academic careers. By their third year of the PhD, the proportion of men keen on the academic track barely budges, but the percentage of women plummets by half.
The main reasons for this drop-off:
- The constant search for funds in academic science is unappealing.
- The uncertainty of securing a stable, long-term position turns off women.
- The personal sacrifices do not outweigh the rewards.
As dispiriting as the conclusions are, it is even more grim that by the third year, 21% of men and 12% of women view academia as their preferred career path. So, while women may be disproportionately soured on academic research, many men also find it an unattractive career.
May 8th, 2012 by pcahn
On October 5-6, 2012, the Department of Medicine will celebrate its centennial with a symposium. In planning the agenda of speakers and sessions, the organizing committee left time for questions from the audience. As important as this interaction is, I am reminded of how rare it is to hear a good question after a presentation.
Commonly, the so-called questions are really comments. If forced to abide by the interrogative form, the questioner will add a perfunctory, “Don’t you agree?” Other times, the questions are rambling and disconnected from the speaker’s main argument. Sometimes I hear very specific methodological questions that interest only specialists.
What all these kinds of questions have in common is that they are more interested in showcasing the asker than eliciting an answer. I was relieved to read that other academics have the same pet peeve. Peter Wood from the National Association of Scholars describes a panel he participated in where none of the questions started with “who,” “what,” “when,” “where,” or “how.”
In the service of restoring the A and A period to a Q and A, he offers several useful suggestions:
- Have a single point.
- Don’t ask clarifying factual details.
- Avoid talking about the question; just ask it.
- If someone else asks your question, put your hand down.
- Resist speaking for an entire category of people.
- At the same time, resist giving your autobiography.
- Add value to the conversation.
The burden to be witty may be too heavy, so just focus on being concise and curious.
May 4th, 2012 by pcahn
Movie depictions of higher education have not caught up to the way learning happens at universities nowadays. Instead of the authoritative professor in the front of the classroom lecturing to rows of students, college and medical school classes are more likely to resemble chaotic laboratories with students working in teams to solve problems.
Online tools have made this transformation possible. What used to occur in person–the efficient delivery of content via lecture–has now migrated to home viewing. The problem sets and homework that used to take place at home now go on in the classroom with the professor as facilitator.
There’s evidence that the active learning approach improves student outcomes in an undergraduate physics course. Stanford Medical School “flipped” its biochemistry course and saw a surge in student attendance. Khan Academy has popularized this model, bringing short video lessons to millions of Internet students.
So, why doesn’t every faculty member teach this way? I can think of a few barriers:
- The effort required to revamp an existing course can be daunting.
- If assessment measures of student learning rely on memorization of content, lecturing may be most appropriate.
- Some students resist active learning. They feel they learn best from an expert.
- Physical classroom space hinders group exercises.
Have you encountered other hurdles to flipping your teaching?
April 27th, 2012 by pcahn
When Mark Schuster was a medical student, he served on the admissions committee. He recalls interviewing a particularly well qualified candidate and rating him with perfect scores. After the interview, he was surprised to compare notes with a faculty member who had given the applicant very low marks. Curious what flaw he had missed, Schuster listened as the interviewer explained he just didn’t feel “comfortable” with the applicant.
Stellar as he was, the student was also an effeminate man. Schuster recalls this incident and others that occurred on his way to becoming chief of general pediatrics at Children’s Hospital Boston. Since his training, medical schools have become more visible in their support for LGBT students and diversity. At the same time, decisions still get made in small committee meetings far from public view. Training in unconscious bias may help search committees and admissions deans become more aware of submerged prejudices that have overt consequences.
April 4th, 2012 by pcahn
In the traditional academic workplace, compensation is set from top. That way resources get distributed fairly and institutional priorities can take precedence.
The Wall Street Journal is reporting about a new model for bonuses in which colleagues reward each other. As practiced at a coffee shop in San Francisco, employees receive a certain amount of shares that they can distribute to their coworkers, in essence voting for how much they value each other’s contributions.
This model requires leadership to cede some control but can also bring to their attention the work of some less visible employees. If academic medicine is going to take the concept of collaboration seriously, peer bonuses are one way to recognize excellence in that area.
Of course, tying teamwork to compensation is not the only way to do that. Praise comes in many forms.
April 2nd, 2012 by pcahn
Even though we all know rankings are flawed, we still use them as indicators of quality. When BU’s School of Medicine advanced in the annual U.S. News and World Report survey of medical schools, the news appeared on the school’s website. Citation counts and impact factors play a role in promotion decisions despite accusations that the numbers can be manipulated.
When it comes to departmental bragging rights, one marker of excellence is total NIH funds garnered. The NIH used to release a ranking of where they allotted funds, but decided to devote its resources elsewhere. Robert Roskoski, Jr. stepped in to compile his own unofficial rankings. The retired LSU biochemistry professor analyzes raw data released by the NIH RePORTER to calculate his own ranking of grant recipients by medical school, department, and PI.
By his tally, BU’s Department of Medicine ranks 22nd among all departments of internal medicine in NIH funding for 2011. The $48 million the department brings in puts it ahead of the University of Iowa (with $45 million) but behind nationally leading Johns Hopkins with $153 million.
The count does not include funding received by Boston Medical Center (another $38 million in 2011). In fact, BMC ranks 11th of 110 teaching hospitals in grants received.
It’s absorbing to view the slices of data from different angles, but in the end the dollar totals tell only one measure of excellence.
March 22nd, 2012 by pcahn
We talk about global economies and global science, but when it comes to how we run our universities, higher education in the United States rarely looks outside. A joint project between the Higher School for Economics in Moscow, Russia and the Boston College Center for International Higher Education has collected data on universities in 28 countries.
Although the project’s focus is on comparisons of compensation, I found another result more provocative. The investigators asked how many ranks are used in universities across 28 countries. It turns out that only India and Italy join the United States in designating three rungs of academic promotion.
The most common systems is to have four ranks, but several countries used systems with five or six steps. Because number of ranks was not the focus of the study, the researchers did not make conclusions about the benefits of different systems, but it does raise the question of what promotion would be like if the choices were not simply assistant, associate, or full.
March 15th, 2012 by pcahn
“The proportion of biopsies that occur because of these false-positive results that are retrospectively deemed unnecessary (that is, the woman did not have cancer) is about 7%; therefore, many more women will undergo unnecessary biopsies under annual screening than biennial screening.”
The University of Chicago Writing Program offered this passage from a medical journal as its sentence of the week. It’s not a particularly egregious example of bad writing, but it does not convey its meaning as clearly as possible. They identify three main weaknesses:
- A long wait for the verb in the first clause.
- A long chain of modifiers for “biopsies.”
- A missing statistic
Their rewritten sentence reads:
When women between the ages of forty and sixty-nine receive annual mammograms, they get almost twice as many false-positive results as they would if they received mammograms biennially. These false-positive results can lead to unnecessary biopsies. When women in this age group get a positive result on an annual mammogram and then get a biopsy, only X% of them prove to have cancer. But the other Y% prove to be cancer free. Therefore, many more women will undergo unnecessary biopsies under annual screening than biennial screening.
Significantly, the new version is longer than the original. Usually brevity is desirable, but in this case it can squeeze out important statistics and cloud meaning.