Are NIH Conflict of Interest Rules Working?

An analysis in Nature explores the impact of new rules, enacted in 2012, on conflict of interest by researchers supported by the National Institutes of Health. The findings are largely negative. Universities complain about the cost of compliance. But watchdog groups see universities applying the rules in inconsistent ways, without providing enough assurance that conflicts are prevented or revealed.

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Essay on preparing an effective presentation for an academic job talk

If you don't follow certain standard conventions when giving an academic job talk, you risk communicating a lack of professionalism, writes Philip N. Howard.

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Essay says child care shouldn't still be an issue at scholarly meetings

Why are we still discussing conference child care arrangements?

In 2001, I attended the women’s caucus of the Association for Jewish Studies for the first time. The topic of the discussion was child care arrangements for conference attendees. At the AJS, it has remained the major topic of discussion every year since -- crowding out all the other issues that face women in academe. Women continue to experience a significant wage gap. Women negotiating for research funds, summer salary, class sizes and leave are often treated differently from men. Women on average take longer to reach tenure and to become full professors.

Women may publish less than male peers because they are afforded less time and fewer opportunities to do so, hampering their professional advancement.

Combined, these issues mean that women have less capital within the higher education system and serve in less prestigious service roles, with lower salary bumps for doing so. All of this is assuming women can even get tenure-track jobs. Women make up a larger percentage of contingent faculty members, a rate that is increasing as tenure lines are cut and service courses need to be provided. These are major issues that face women within the profession. In 2001, I was a single and childless student; later, as a junior faculty member, I wanted to be mentored in a way that would allow me to navigate many of these pitfalls -- and yet child care remained the dominant conversation at the table.

And here we are, 14 years later, and I now have a baby, and no conference provisions for child care at the AJS. While a limited number of grants are available to help pay for up to 10 hours of child care (during a three-day conference) there is no provision of a child minder for me to pay. At most, this would allow me to fulfill my obligations at three sessions, including giving a paper, chairing a panel and introducing a cultural event -- that is, if I can find a caregiver. It does not enable me to attend the keynote, other papers in my section or any of the evening receptions.

At the Modern Language Association in January, I am scheduled to speak on the first day and the last day of the conference. This requires a four- or five-day trip, due to flight scheduling. After contacting the MLA in July I was informed that organized child care arrangements depend on the number of requests the conference receives. If there are not enough requests for the organization to arrange babysitting, then the hotel may be able to refer me to a company and some compensation will be provided -- though the details at present are unclear and no information would be available until September. (See MLA website.) In order to have my submission for a paper accepted, I had to register for the conference by March, long before there was clarity on the child care issue. This attitude toward child care is common across the profession.

At the recent American Political Science Association conference, which hires an external service provider to offer excellent child care provisions that cover the long hours of the five-day conference, these offerings come at a significant price -- one met by the parents. Those who thought that they could skip some of this cost by taking their child with them to the exhibition hall found they were denied admission. While the APSA provided activities in a dedicated location, at most conferences no such facilities are offered. For those sourcing private child care, where no other alternatives exist, a hotel bedroom is hardly a suitable location for a child to spend several days.

The APSA is actually an exception. It is rare for there to be organized child care, and more often faculty are directed to outside agencies, with no guarantee about the availability of caregivers, nor their quality. Similarly, organizations often provide a limited number of stipends that can help defray some of the expenses involved, but these grants are rarely more than partial and symbolic, and do not alleviate the additional burden of what for many is an unreimbursed trip.

The political scientist who wrote in to defend the APSA policy, saying, “I leave my kids at home with their other parent. I know others who leave kids with grandparents,” assumes an idealistic domestic situation -- one that does not reflect many people’s reality. Academics often live far from their families, may have older or deceased parents, may have spouses who work outside academia, if they have spouses at all, and lack the kind of support that allows many to leave children for extended periods. Rarely do academics in their childbearing years earn enough money to be able to afford full-time care, day and night, while traveling to conferences.

Because here is the rub: In what other profession are people expected and even required to travel for their work without full reimbursement for the cost of flights, accommodation, fees, transport and expensive banquet events? It is only a very lucky few who receive more than partial reimbursement from their institutions (and for many even that is unavailable) without adding the additional burden of child care costs to this trip. Yet conference attendance is a critical aspect of a professional career in academia and not only includes sharing scholarship and creating networking opportunities; it may include job interviews and is a vital part of a career profile in hiring, tenure and promotion decisions.

Child care is a systemic issue within the profession and one that needs to be addressed by the organizing committees at the planning stage. Like receptions, catering, events, awards and book fairs, child care needs to be offered on-site and cover the same long hours that the conference sessions and proceedings do. Child care needs to be affordable not just for tenured academics at wealthy and prestigious institutions but for graduate students, contingent and junior faculty. The questions should not be about the few who benefit from these services, or the risk that associations may lose money by providing these services -- instead we should view providing and subsidizing this resource as an opportunity to hear from scholars who would otherwise be unable to participate. The benefit to the many is the rich contribution that can be made by those who otherwise cut short their attendance, avoid service roles, miss sessions or entirely refrain from conference participation.

Organizations need to provide realistic options for academic parents, male and female, who are primary caregivers (including single parents) that allows participants to take advantage of the networking and mentoring opportunities that ultimately lead to more publications, strengthen research agendas, and acquire and develop skills for professional advancement -- that is, tackle all the other issues facing women in the profession.

It is disingenuous to ask why this topic remains a women’s problem, but it should not be the problem of women’s groups. Instead it is time that program committees and academic associations more broadly take responsibility. For many women to be able to attend conferences, child care facilities need to be provided -- so that this no longer needs to be the dominant topic of the conversation.

Rachel S. Harris is associate professor of Israeli literature and culture at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

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Professor Dead in Shooting at Delta State U

A professor at Delta State University in Mississippi was shot dead on campus Monday morning. The university identified the victim as Ethan Schmidt, a professor of history. The campus was on lockdown for much of the day as police worked to clear buildings and move stranded faculty, staff and students to a sports arena on the north side of campus. No other on-campus casualties were reported.

The man officials believe was the shooter, Shannon Lamb, fatally shot himself after Greenville police officers approached him Monday night. Lamb was an instructor of geography at Delta State. The Associated Press reported that Lamb was a suspect in a separate murder committed Monday 300 miles away from Delta State (the victim of that murder was a woman).

Classes are canceled today at Delta State. Counselors will be on campus to conduct group and individual sessions. Michelle Roberts, a university spokeswoman, said in a statement, “We are grieving on this campus with this loss, and our condolences are with the [Schmidt] family at this time.”

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Stanford Dean Resigns Amid Suit Over Relationship

Garth Saloner is resigning as dean of the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University amid allegations over his relationship with a faculty member, The Wall Street Journal reported. Stanford is being sued by a former professor who says he was dismissed while Saloner had a relationship with the former professor's wife, also a professor. Stanford has denied wrongdoing and said that there were no conflicts of interest, and that the former professor's dismissal was for legitimate reasons -- namely taking too many leaves of absence. Saloner sent an email to faculty members and others, saying, “I have become increasingly concerned that the ongoing litigation and growing media interest will distract all of you from the important work that you are doing and unfairly impact this stellar school’s deserved reputation.”

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Sacramento State student says she was kicked out of class for arguing that Native Americans were victims of genocide

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At Sacramento State, student says she was kicked out of class for insisting that Native Americans were victims of genocide. As incident is investigated, debate grows over whether she was treated unfairly -- and how to handle classroom discussions of this sort.

Gesundheit, Not 'God Bless You'

A professor at the University of Texas at Rio Grande Valley asked students in a class syllabus to “Please refrain from saying ‘God bless you,’” before the statement was removed amid outcry from students, KGBT reported. Neither the station nor the university has named the professor, whose syllabus turned up on social media last week as some criticized the request as limiting free speech. But the university said in a statement that the syllabus “sought to identify examples of potentially disruptive behavior the professor believed could hinder the classroom learning environment, including use of cellphones.” The intent was not to limit the religious freedoms of students, the university said, “but to avoid unsolicited comments that might distract others.”

Advice for new Ph.D.s on using third-party recruiters to find jobs


Natalie Lundsteen offers advice for doctoral students and postdocs looking for nonacademic jobs and considering working with headhunters.

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Reflections on the reality of a first year on the tenure track (essay)

Christopher Garland found unexpected challenges and rewards in his new faculty job, and he shares some lessons for others seeking that holy grail.

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Indiana U Puts $300M Into Research on Global Problems

Indiana University will invest $300 million over the next five years in a Grand Challenges research program aimed at solving some of the planet’s most urgent problems. Up to five large-scale research projects will be selected for funding, based on their potential impact on the state of Indiana, its economy and the campus. But the projects, such as those related to international water supply issues, energy availability, infectious diseases and climate change, will have global implications. They’ll involve interdisciplinary research and new partnerships with nonprofits, industry and government. The university announced Wednesday that it is seeking preliminary proposals from faculty teams for the first two Grand Challenge grants, to begin next year. The initiative will be paid for through a combination of donations, existing university funds and reallocated planned expenditures, and other sources.

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