Oprah Winfrey's speech at the Golden Globes was posted on my social media feeds so many times that I finally gave in. During a break from working 10-hour days on a major deadline, I clicked on the link with one hand while holding a bowl of plain rice (my dinner) on the other.
For the first time ever, I felt like one of these "celebrities" was speaking directly to me.
Me too, as a young girl of color, aspired for more than sitting on my mom's linoleum floor. And I too still look up to other people of color who have achieved the impossible -they have managed to be seen and heard.
Every day, it seems, brings another prominent man accused of sexual harassment. The diversity of the men who have been recently revealed as sexual predators is disconcerting. Some of them even cultivated a "good guy" persona and publicly championed women's causes.
One example of this might be Harvey Weinstein, a man whom some argue, had made it possible for several female actresses to get important leading roles in big movies. By some opinions, he had promoted women in the film industry, yet, he also used his power to abuse women.
Now we hear about other "good guys" who also abused and harassed their female colleagues. One such "good guy" is Al Franken. The photo of Senator Franken groping a sleeping colleague is so disturbing that it is hard to believe that this IS the same guy who supported "women's" issues such as the Family Coverage Act.
If it is hard for us in the general public to reconcile those two sides of these good guys, then just imagine what it must feel to be a professional woman working with these men.
Olivia was a star in my research team. Degree in epidemiology, totally competent in biostatistics, good writing skills, and wonderful at presenting seminars. All of that wrapped in a joyful personality. And even bilingual in English and Spanish. She is Puerto Rican, like me!
In short, Olivia was the perfect. Our research was going well when one day she came to me and said: "I am leaving research to become public school teacher".
After my initial shock, I don't remember (or don't want to remember) what my overt reaction was at her news. But I am quite sure that I was not supportive.
I was "training" Olivia to become a mini-me. Go on to get her doctorate degree, become a faculty member, get her own lab... Now to see her jump off that track was disconcerting. Had I been a good mentor? Did I fail in steering in the "right" direction?
"Despues de la tormenta, vienen los tormentos", that is what my mother says. "After the storm, come the torments". She got that saying from her mother, who endured many hurricanes before this one, Maria, hit Puerto Rico. I suppose that this saying goes back many generations in my family, and it is true now more than ever.
Maybe the time has come to add a new saying to my family's repertoire: "Cuando lo pierdes todo, empieza como si nunca lo hubieses tenido." "When you lose everything, restart as if you never had anything."
People ask me how is my family surviving. Their resilience comes mainly from three things:
First, my family is close. They are physically close, most live less than an hour from each other. And they are emotionally close. My aunts, uncles, cousins, all get together often. So, those who have lost or damaged houses are doubled up with sisters, uncles, or cousins. They are sharing food, shelter, water, and everything they have with each other, with their neighbors, and with their community.
Like many of you, I watch the news in shock. Whole islands in the Caribbean rendered uninhabitable by unprecedented hurricanes. Major cities under water. Forest fires threaten urban areas. Tropical storms hit temperate zones. Extreme monsoons and cyclones.
It feels like the dystopian future that seemed farfetched in so many bad movies, is now real. Having seen the water rushing through the subway tunnels after Hurricane Sandy hit New York made me rub my eyes in disbelief. It looked just like another movie in which they destroy Manhattan had actually come to life.
Now worries about hurricanes affecting family in Puerto Rico, colleagues in Texas, and friends in Florida and Cuba keep me up at night.
I suspect that I am not alone in this state of worry.
If you are not being directly affected by these climate-related disasters, you probably have close friends or relatives who are.
There is much fear about what is next. There is frustration about continued denial even though things are happening right in front of our eyes and you don't have to be a scientist to see. The reality is that climate effects that seemed so far in the future are here, now.
What work-life balance?!
It was my first book signing event at a national conference. 'Excited' did not begin to describe how I felt. Being able to present my book to a crowd of like-minded people was such a great thrill!
But when I realized that the dates of the conference conflicted with my husband's planned business trip, I went into panic mode. Will I have to cancel my book signing event? I had no one who could take care of my daughter for the weekend while I attended the conference. So, breathing deep and hoping for the best, I paid the train ticket to take my daughter to the conference with me. Had no choice.
Today is Independence Day.
in·de·pend·enceˌ indəpendəns/ noun synonyms:
self-government, self-rule, home rule, separation, self determination, sovereignty, autonomy, freedom, liberty.
This definition of the word 'independence' feels personal, more personal than the US holiday can celebrate with its barbecues and fireworks. It is about being who we want to be as a people and as individuals.
For many people, especially women, being who we want to be can require a revolution, as significant and bloody as any war. Independence is scary. It is costly, and it leaves casualties, even some from friendly fire. You have to pay, one way or another, for your independence.
Being whom we want to be requires first finding out what we want to be, a painfully long process for many. My own process took a while and did not follow a straight line, but eventually, I became a doctor/scientist. How can I best guide my female students and my daughter in this process?
With the summer break just around the corner, I imagine that many of you are also starting to think about how to best utilize this opportunity to do something productive and beneficial to your academic and professional career. Internship, as you know, is one of the most popular summer activities that students take on to hone on their skills, learn from professionals, and even receive mentorship. Whether you have already secured a great internship or you’re still looking for one, let’s take a moment and think about how to become a successful intern, so that you can get the most of out of your experience. After all, landing an internship is just a beginning, and it is up to you to make it a productive experience. So what are some of the key components to a successful internship?
Six Key Attitudes for Success Your Global Health Research Experiences- Presentation at the Unite for Sight Conference, Yale University 2017
I had the honor of presenting last week at the 14th Annual Global Health & Innovation Conference organized by Unite for Sight. The Global Health & Innovation Conference (#GHIC) is the world's leading and largest global health conference as well as the largest social entrepreneurship conference, with 2,200 professionals and students from all 50 states and more than 55 countries. This conference convenes leaders, changemakers, and participants from all sectors of global health, international development, and social entrepreneurship.
I was recently asked by a reporter about the mentors who helped me along my scientific career. I've been blessed with many mentors over the years, but one always stands out in my memory: Dr. Celia Brosnan. She was my main thesis mentor during the doctoral program at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. Dr. Brosnan's method of mentoring me was simply this: focus on your strengths.
Once she identified that I was a strong writer, she gave me more writing assignments. Getting some wins early in scientific writing gave me the confidence to stay in the program and to gain the other skills that I needed to succeed in STEM. I have found the hard way that not every mentor will do this.
On last week’s blog post, we talked about practical steps to selecting the right journal for your research papers. If you missed it, you can read it here: 7 Tips for Choosing a Journal to Publish your Scientific Paper.
This week, we’ll talk about the pros and cons of Open Access (OA) versus Traditional Publishing journals. First, the definitions: Traditionally-published journals are mostly funded through subscriptions or advertising. In the OA publication model, scholarly journals make their content freely available online to all readers without needing a subscription, pay-per-download or other fees. The cost of publication is still paid by someone, either the journal is OA because it is subsidized (by a government entity, professional society, or the like), or the publication costs are paid by you, the author of the research paper.
But the OA system has spawned a darker side, the world of “predatory journals”. For more on ways to tell whether you are dealing with a “predatory” journals, read this 10 Signs you are Dealing with a Predatory Journal.
On last week’s blogpost, we focused on tips for identifying “predatory journals”. Those are journals that exploit scientists' need to publish their research by charging publication fees to authors without providing legitimate peer-review or editorial services. If you have not read that blogpost, check it out here.
Now you know which journals to avoid. Let's talk now about how to choose the right journal for your paper.
Given the vast number of scientific journals out there, (as of today, there are 5,635 indexed in Medline, the publisher of PubMed) choosing the right journal for your paper may seem like a daunting task, but it’s one of the key factors that will determine whether your paper gets published or not. Here are 7 things to consider when making your selection.
A checklist for spotting predatory journals
Every morning I wake up to an inbox full of messages. Along with the blogs that I subscribe to, the special offers, and the occasional actual personal message from a colleague overseas, there are those like these (this is an actual message from this morning, I just took out the name of the journal):
"Special Greetings! We would like to request you to submit a 2-5 pages short communication/ Research / Review/ Case Report to the upcoming issue.
Journal of _____is a peer reviewed open access journal, aims to publish high quality basic and clinical research in all the disciplines of Nutrition Science.
Kindly submit your valuable contribution on or before 30 March, 2017. If you are interested, kindly respond to this invitation within 48 hours.
Sincerely, Editor in Chief"
It used to be so easy to spot the fake, predatory journals that advertise in these emails. They used to be full of bad spellings, weird grammar, flowery language and were sent from odd places or were on topics unrelated to my area of work.
Things have changed.
Even with the long time it takes to publish a research paper, you can still keep a consistent flow of publications.
---Last week, I posted a blog about the long time it takes for scientific papers to get published. (Thanks to all who submitted emails on their "paper waits". Samuel C. from Atlanta submitted the longest time between submission and publication, 22 months. He will receive the free book).--
This week, we talk about how to consistently publish scientific papers, in spite of this paper wait. This is important because employers, promotion committees and anyone who might evaluate your productivity will look carefully at your bibliography. Long gaps between publications could be viewed as lapses in productivity.
I was recently interviewed by John R. Platt for an article published in the website of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, IEEE-USA on the importance of presenting posters at professional conferences. (You can view the article here).
In the article, I said that “Poster sessions are a great way to get feedback on your work and for you to see what other people in your field are doing.” The three main points of the article were:
Time between submission and publication seems to be getting longer, doesn't it?
We just got a new paper accepted for publication. Yay!
As I was reviewing the pre-print, I noticed something peculiar. It said:
Date of submission February 2014!
It was now January! 2017!
Is it me...? Or do you think that scientific papers are taking longer to get published?
Looking into this, I found an article in Nature, an analysis of the length of time between submission and acceptance of papers in journals that listed those dates in Pubmed. The article apparently showed that the median "paper wait" time has stayed the same for over 30 years, about 100 days. But this wait time was not the same across all journals. According to the article, journals with the lowest and highest impact factors had the longest wait times. (What the..?!). Does that make sense to you? Let's look at this more closely.
There are journals that do not publish the submission dates on Pubmed, so those would not have been included in the article's analysis. Worse, some journals use the resubmission date rather than the first submission date as their benchmark, potentially skewing the data. The resubmission date can be many months after the date of first submission.
Your years as an undergraduate, graduate student, postdoctoral fellow or even as a junior faculty have not prepared you for this. You need to get your own funding! You can feel the mounting pressure and it is very real.
How do you start even thinking of applying and getting your own grants when you've never done it? Sure, you have written and published some good research papers in peer-reviewed journals, but writing a grant proposal is a whole new different ball game. As I have said before, writing papers is about saying what you have done. Writing grant proposals is about convincingly telling someone what you will do if they give you thousands of dollars to do it.
So how do you write a grant proposal?
Well, it is the same as for so many other journeys in life, starting is the most difficult part. But once you start and have a plan, you will have conquered the toughest hurdle.
So, the male candidate for president is caught on tape making sexually vile comments about women. He dismisses the episode as "locker room talk". This response implies that this is the sort of language that you can expect when a couple of guys are comfortably talking to each other while wearing nothing but towels around their waists after a friendly football game.
Well, I don't know if that is what happens in a locker room. I've never been in one. But I do know one thing, I have heard this sort of talk in other places: at work, at a restaurant, at a conference... Just a few examples:
I'm going to a conference in a few weeks together with some of my postdocs and students. Most of us have been asked by conference organizers to present our works in poster form. But one "unlucky" soul was asked to do an oral presentation. She is terrified and considering not going to the conference, even though it is in beautiful Rome! Who would give up a trip to Rome? I tell you who would! Someone for whom 10 minutes of public speaking feel as pleasant as two hours of tooth drilling at the dentist's office.
Well, I can certainly identify with my student's feelings, as I used to be terrified of public speaking too. Once, just before I was to be introduced for one of the most important presentations that I have ever given, my friend had to come find me hiding in the ladies room. Her pep talk for me was: "you know more about this than anyone else in the room". This clicked with me. I straightened myself up, splashed water on my face and gave a killer presentation. Thanks, Karen!
As academic professors, we aim to train people in our fields. We have good intentions, but we make one key mistake: we try to create our trainees in our image, for them to be the younger copies of ourselves. Our job is to train students to follow in our footsteps, even when this may not be the best choice for them.
We help students to get their PhDs, then land postdoctoral positions in the hopes of having them eventually get academic faculty appointments -ideally, a tenure-track one. We create an army of Mini-Me’s ready to continue the same scientific quests that we have been working on, and so we perpetuate the circle of life in academia.
Are we setting trainees up for failure? For many new research scientists, the academic career path becomes a series of dead-end postdoctoral positions with little prospects for their own independent academic careers. According to a recent New York Times article, we are training many more research scientist than there are faculty positions. So why are we doing this?
US Doctoral Students May Find that Their Dissertation Committee can Double as a Board of Career Mentors - Nature Jobs Feature, May 2016
I was featured in Nature, vol 533: 429-430, May, 2016 by Alaina Levine. The article is about how you can better utilize your dissertation committee by doing the following : 1) choose a diverse group of committee members who can provide you guidance in different aspects of your thesis research and also advise you on your career goals, 2) communicate individually with each adviser early and often, 3) be honest with your committee members about your career goals, 4) keep committee members informed of your achievements and challenges, 5) realize that you are an asset to your advisers and not a drain or a burden to them. To this last point, I want to add that you should understand that your advisers want you to succeed. They accepted to be on your committee for altruistic reasons and they genuinely want you to do well. But you should also understand that their success as mentors is measured by the level of success that their students achieve. In the article, I am quoted as saying: "Students should remind faculty members whom they invite to serve on their dissertation committee that they are likely to benefit. “One measure of success for professors is the success of their students,” says Dr. Luz Claudio. “When you are up for promotion and tenure, the better your students do, the better you look.” Read the full article here.
Asthma is the most common chronic disease among children in industrialized countries. In some communities, childhood asthma is so common that parents expect it as just another part of growing up, like tantrums and falling baby teeth. For instance, in many of our Latino communities, childhood asthma is referred to as “fatiga” or fatigue, and may not be recognized as a major illness. This may also prompt a sense that there is nothing that can be done because so many children have it, it is a fact of life. In our work, we have identified some schools in which one in every 5 children had symptoms of asthma.
So why, why, why do so many children have asthma? And why, at least until recently, it seemed to be on the up, and up, and up? No one really knows, but I will venture an educated guess.
During my years of medical research training, I was taught that air pollution did not cause asthma. It was believed that air pollution triggered asthma symptoms in those who already had it. That was the dogma for many years and that is what medical professionals have been taught.
With the letters 'PhD' freshly-minted after my name in 1991, I thought that I could go off and discover the cure for some disease. Multiple sclerosis or maybe Alzheimer's were on my list... But the microscopic approach that I was taking on this research as a laboratory scientist made me feel removed from the real world. It was hard for me to believe that by mixing potions in test tubes and looking at cells in a microscope would help people one day. One far, far away day, maybe.
My work was tedious (read -boring). But worse of all, it was lonely. There were days that I might spend 8 hours sitting in a darkroom looking through a microscope measuring tiny vesicles in endothelial cells extracted from rat brains. I was also the only minority faculty in the department, which made for an even lonelier work existence.
Incredible but true. It has been 20 years since president Clinton signed the Environmental Justice Executive Order. Ah, I remember it well ...
President Bill Clinton signed Executive Order 12898, titled “Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low Income Populations.” It mandated federal agencies to create programs that would ensure environmental equity among affected populations. The order followed on the heels of the 1994 Clean Air Act, a federal law that set limits on how many pollutants states could allow to be released into the air. "Environmental Justice" became a buzzword for fed agencies, a rallying cry for community groups, and a way to study health disparities for medical institutions.
By then, I had worked at EPA for a little while and was a lowly faculty instructor in academia. Then EJ became all the rage. There were rallies, there were demonstrations, there were marches, there were politicians talking about it, and, there were requests for proposals from the government to study the problem.
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Dr. Luz Claudio is an environmental health scientist, mother and consultant, originally from Puerto Rico. She is a tenured professor of environmental medicine and public health. Luz recently published her first book: How to Write and Publish a Scientific Paper: The Step-by-Step Guide. Dr. Claudio has internship programs and resources for young scientists. Opinions expressed in this blog are solely her own and may not reflect her employer's views.