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Panoptikum.io: Podcast "Science for Progress"
Postdocs are, besides graduate students, the main workforce in academic research. Following the PhD, the postdoc position is the only way to follow a research career within academia. Many PhDs around the world are advised to go to the USA for a postdo...
Postdocs are, besides graduate students, the main workforce in academic research. Following the PhD, the postdoc position is the only way to follow a research career within academia. Many PhDs around the world are advised to go to the USA for a postdoc - or two - because it is known for its large research output and high-quality research institutes. Around two-thirds of postdocs in the USA are foreign-born. In this episode, I talk to Gary McDowell, a UK born scientist in protein research who, over the last few years, worked with “Future of Research” to investigate the conditions postdocs in the USA are facing. The situation appears to be far from optimal. And this doesn’t just hurt the postdocs and their families; it also impacts research productivity. The extended edition of our podcast appears on Patreon! The goals of Future of Research are to enable PhDs to make better career decisions about whether a postdoc is a good decision, and if so, how to choose the right place to apply to. Another fundamental problem is the disconnect between the lived experience of junior academics and their senior supervisors. At the same time, the data they collected unveil systemic problems with postdocs in the USA, and Future of Research is working to change academia for the better. Postdoc: Advertisement and Reality The postdoc, as advertised, is a sort of apprenticeship position where PhDs develop their independent research projects to become leading scientists heading their own labs. The reality is that postdocs have replaced staff researchers, working on their Principal Investigator’s project, and hardly ever being mentored or trained in leadership and management. Even training in essential day-to-day parts of the work as an academic scholar - like conducting peer review - doesn’t seem to be part of their experience. At the same time, postdocs are still being classified as “trainees” to justify not paying them their worth, and to deny them benefits such as proper health care. Salary Because postdocs are paid below their skill and experience levels, and most are not given the mentoring and training promised, they are exploited as cheap labor by the academic system. A few years ago, Obama tried to change a labor law, which would have affected that institutions would need to give postdocs a raise - or face the issue of having actually to keep track of postdoc working hours. Unfortunately, this change didn’t become active. On the bright side, most universities still implemented the raise - even though some universities were trying to take it back. So this was good news. Future of Research collected salary data from postdocs just after this happened (and continues to do so for a longitudinal study), and found a median income of about $47500. This number clearly could be related to the planned labor law adjustment. So this was a positive finding. However, we should not forget that taking all people with doctorates in the USA, median salaries range from $70 000 to $100 000. Even worse: a postdoc negatively affects income up to 15 years following graduation to a PhD. This seems to come as a surprise to many, including industry representatives. Benefits The USA are infamous for their inadequate health care and labor protection situation. Many PhDs from countries with socialized or mandated benefits, like in Europe, will be surprised that things like basic health care, vacation time of more than two weeks,
For this episode, I spoke with Dr. Jonathan Köhler who studies the transformation of the transportation and mobility sectors using computational models at Competence Centre Sustainability and Infrastructure Systems of Fraunhofer Institute.
For this episode, I spoke with Dr. Jonathan Köhler who studies the transformation of the transportation and mobility sectors using computational models at Competence Centre Sustainability and Infrastructure Systems of Fraunhofer Institute. He discusses how ships and aircraft can become carbon neutral, and answers some common questions on the topic. He then talks about his experience with Scientists for Future and Fridays for Future. In the end, he gives us a vision of how mobility could look like in a climate-neutral city. Listen to the Full Conversation on Patreon! Resources: * Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research ISI* Dr. Köhler on KIKA: "Fliegen - muss das sein?" [GER]* More on synthetic fuels / Power to X: 29 Climate Action: Energiewende – with Rüdiger Eichel* Scientists for Future (international)* Scientists for Future (German-speaking countries)
For this episode, Bart and I had a rather spontaneous chat about conspiracy beliefs and science communication during the COVID-19 pandemic. Worldwide conspiracy myths about SARS-CoV-2 appear to be on the rise,
For this episode, Bart and I had a rather spontaneous chat about conspiracy beliefs and science communication during the COVID-19 pandemic. Worldwide conspiracy myths about SARS-CoV-2 appear to be on the rise, and conspiracy narrators team up with other cranks in demonstrations - 'hygiene demos' they call it in Germany. And the far right is taking advantage of them. Listen to the Full Conversation on Patreon! At the same time, science communication is at the center of the social discussions surrounding COVID-19. Several virologists have reached a certain celebrity status, which is having a lot of ... interesting ... effects. At the time we recorded this, the juiciest one, had not happened yet, unfortunately. But still, we had some things to say. Disclaimer: as mentioned, this conversation was completely unprepared (usually we at least have some articles at hand). Feel free to fact check us, and let us know! And please take everything we say with a grain of salt. Resources: * How are Germany's coronavirus protests different? (Deutsche Welle)* Coronavirus, ‘Plandemic’ and the seven traits of conspiratorial thinking* Streeck, Laschet, StoryMachine: Vom PR-Plan zum Exit-Rush [GER]* Heinsberg Study Results Published (University of Bonn)* 8 Cognitive Biases in Science and Society – with Dr. Bart Geurten
For this episode, Dennis talked to Dmitry Kopelyanskiy, a contest-winning science communicator who gives entertaining science talks on stage – mostly about his own research on tropical diseases. But here, Dimitry also talks about his academic career o
For this episode, Dennis talked to Dmitry Kopelyanskiy, a contest-winning science communicator who gives entertaining science talks on stage – mostly about his own research on tropical diseases. But here, Dimitry also talks about his academic career odyssey (from Russia to Switzerland via Israel and Germany), his path to science communication, and his involvement in “Skills for Scientists” – a career development program at the University of Lausanne. Over the past two years, Dmitry Kopelyanskiy has been quite successful at science communication contests. At FameLab he made it all the way to the international finals in the UK! But he also did rather well at a number of Science Slam events. Last year he had been involved with Pint of Science in Lausanne as an organizer, and he has become a moderator at FameLab. In the contests, the candidates must explain their science in a clear AND entertaining way. This is – as he says - a skill every scientist should have in order to defend their science; be it as a publishing academic, as a graduating Ph.D. student, or as a scientist who finds himself in a heated discussion with an antivax cab driver – as he once did. And if you can make it fun and interesting, even better! Listen to the Full Conversation on Patreon! But being a successful speaker did not come to Dmitry naturally. He remembers his first presentation as a Master’s student in Germany to be horrible! He mumbled while he was reading directly from his slides; his back turned to the class. When he finally turned around, he found the whole class holding their foreheads with their hands. His professor described the presentation as “not the worst” he had ever heard; which Dmitry thinks meant that it - indeed - had been the worst. Fortunately, he overcame his disheartenment and decided to go out of his comfort zone. Dmitry joined the Toastmaster clubs where people from different backgrounds practice public speaking and learn about storytelling and leadership. He continued working on his presentation skills, and he is still taking every opportunity to go on a stage and demonstrate his growth. To Dmitry, training your skills is one of the most important aspects of developing your career. Thinking about his own career outside academia after graduation, Dmitry wants to combine his best skill (public speaking) with his passion: science. Resources * Dmitry Kopelyanskiy's Website* Slap in the face: How pathogens trick your immune system (Dmitry Kopelyanskiy– Science Slam)* Skills for Scientists, Uni Lausanne* Pint of Science, Switzerland* 15x4 Munich*
During this season, once every 4 weeks, I pick one of the 13 most popular episodes from the first two years and post the original interview. These extended editions contain a couple of parts that didn’t make it into the final cut and give an insight i
During this season, once every 4 weeks, I pick one of the 13 most popular episodes from the first two years and post the original interview. These extended editions contain a couple of parts that didn’t make it into the final cut and give an insight into the underlying conversation. Supporters on Patreon have immediate access to these versions, btw. If you are one of them, thank you very much! If not, think about it! Find the final edition here! Academics are Spoiled. Right? The stereotype of academics is that they live a well-protected life in the ivory tower. But this is not the case for most of them. Maria Pinto from Portugal is a Ph.D. student in marine microbiology in Austria. With the final stages of her work approaching, Maria is beginning to think about the future. Forgoing Salaries, Benefits, and Life Planning Security in your Late 20s to 40s. We talk about the many uncertainties in academia, particularly for early career researchers. In general, the salaries are not good, but in poorer countries, where the salaries are particularly low and may not even include social security, there is also an expectation of students to pay fieldwork trips themselves. Traveling in order to present your work at conferences is important to researchers and their careers, but for many, this is not affordable. Ph.D. students and postdocs are in the typical age for founding families. The academic career, however, demands mobility. For many, this means that they need to move countries several times – a factor that greatly affects life planning security negatively. And all of this is happening in a climate of increasing Ph.D. graduations and stagnating long-term or permanent job openings. Yet, leaving academia is often discouraged. Among early-career academics and their advisers it’s simply expected to try hard for an academic career. This often means that PhDs think about a possible transition outside of academia very late. And then there is always the gnawing question: Do I have any value on the private market? We don’t have an answer to the problems we highlight, but maybe we can work a little bit against the stereotype of the spoiled academic. And maybe we can push some early career researchers to think about plan B, earlier. sources: • YouTube Channel “Sea&me – Marine stuff with Maria”• The Stagnating Job Market for Young Scientists• Why a postdoc might not advance your career• These studies offer a realistic view of postdoc life—and guidance for making career decisions that work for you• How Ph.D.s Romanticize the ‘Regular’ Job Market
The initial statement of Scientists for Future in support of Fridays for Future came out just at the right time. In the public debate, it was a swift response to politicians who were trying to mute the student strikes by telling them to "leave it to th...
The initial statement of Scientists for Future in support of Fridays for Future came out just at the right time. In the public debate, it was a swift response to politicians who were trying to mute the student strikes by telling them to "leave it to the experts". In reality, scientists who had been concerned about the climate and the ecological damages human activities for decades had been working on the statement for a while. Among the authors was our guest Thomas Loew. Listen to the Full Conversation on Patreon! Thomas Loew is a German researcher who started his own Institute for Sustainability. He studies how companies can and should respond to the risks posed by ecological damages - on a management level. These studies are usually for the German federal government. Besides academic articles, the outcomes of his research are published in the shape of guidelines or recommendations to company managers. He finds that companies are ready for a change in order to address climate change. What is holding them back is that regulators hesitate to create market conditions to incentivize change and to decrease the economical risks of investing in new products and production lines. Understanding that climate action is too slow due to lacking regulation is what brought Scientists for Future together. And they quickly outgrew the initial statement. While not planned as such, some of the more than 26 000 signatories decided to continue and become more active for the cause. Today, Scientists for Future consists of many local groups that are loosely organized. Although Thomas Loew is officially an organizer of the movement across Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and Northern Italy, he usually learns about the activities of local groups through the news. However, to uphold consistency across the movement, Scientists for Future set up a kind of "Carta" that regulates which types of activities conform with the agreed-upon role of science in society: to research, to inform, and to consult. Resources * Scientists for Future (international)* Scientists for Future (German-speaking countries)* Thomas Loew's Institute for Sustainability* YouTube video "The Destruction of the CDU" by Rezo (GER)
In this episode, Bart and I invited Ph.D. candidate Daniela Buchwald from the German Primate Center. We compare how the University of Göttingen and the German Primate Center responded to the impending shutdown of most research activities - with a focus
In this episode, Bart and I invited Ph.D. candidate Daniela Buchwald from the German Primate Center. We compare how the University of Göttingen and the German Primate Center responded to the impending shutdown of most research activities - with a focus on how the animals are being cared for. The conversation was recorded on Tuesday, March 17, just after the German local government began to take serious action to reduce public life in order to slow the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Remember, that when we talk about news reaching us on Monday, we mean “yesterday” at the time of recording. Listen to the Full Conversation on Patreon! Resources * Daniela Buchwald on Twitter
Dennis’s guest for this episode is David Spencer, a researcher in plant physiology and phytopathology in Germany. In his Ph.D., David uses genetic engineering to fortify soybeans against fungal infection. They explain why
Dennis’s guest for this episode is David Spencer, a researcher in plant physiology and phytopathology in Germany. In his Ph.D., David uses genetic engineering to fortify soybeans against fungal infection. They explain why we need more resilient crops fast, why this would be great for the environment, and how genetic engineering can help achieve this. The episode complements the previous one (extended throwback with Hélène Pidon) which focused on explaining different breeding methods and how artificially induced mutations compare to naturally occurring ones. Listen to the Full Conversation on Patreon! How can biotechnology make agriculture more environment-friendly? While wild plants defend themselves against pathogens and insects, our food crops lost their resilience. So, protective measures are needed to ensure yields: pesticides. When we spray a field with a pesticide, we apply large quantities and it gets everywhere, affecting the wildlife, the soil and the water. But when each plant produces its own insecticide, it applies just the right amount and only where it is needed. This is why David advocates for using genetic engineering to create crops that have both the high yield of modern crops, and the resilience of their wild relatives. The perfect plants to use in organic farming in the face of climate change and population growth. What is hindering implementation in the EU? Of course, breeders and scientists need to test the crops to ensure that they are safe for us and the environment. But the current EU regulations make the approval process so difficult and expensive that only the biggest companies can afford it – and only if large profit margins are to be expected. Public researchers and NGOs who predominantly have the good of the people in mind have no chance. Also, the EU does not allow for genetically altered plants to be tested in the field, preventing tests for environmental impact under realistic conditions. Not only do these regulations effectively prohibit the development and establishment of environmentally friendly crops with high nutritional value in Europe, but it also causes a ‘brain drain’: researchers are moving to countries with more reasonable regulations. What’s the flaw in EU regulations? First of all, for the approval of crops, the EU focuses on production methods instead of the actual safety of the food. The genetically identical plant, if bred through hybridization and crossing, faces lower hurdles, than if it was bred through genetic engineering; Although alterations made using gene editing are predictable and often indistinguishable from even the subtlest naturally occurring mutations, and alterations caused by hybridization are unpredictable and enormous. Further, regulators try to draw the line at alterations that ‘could not occur naturally’. But David points out that every imaginable gene alteration happens in nature, all the time. There are more than 3000 crops in use in the EU that had been created through random mutageneses – such as treatment with radioactivity – decades ago. But, because we have consumed them for generations with no harm, the regulation makes an exception for those.
During this season, once every 4 weeks, I pick one of the 13 most popular episodes from the first two years and post the original interview. These extended editions contain a couple of parts that didn’t make it into the final cut and give an insight i
During this season, once every 4 weeks, I pick one of the 13 most popular episodes from the first two years and post the original interview. These extended editions contain a couple of parts that didn’t make it into the final cut and give an insight into the underlying conversation.Supporters on Patreon have immediate access to these versions, btw. If you are one of them, thank you very much! If not, think about it! This time I present to you the full conversation to 11: Genetically Modified Crops and the European Union – with Hélène Pidon Plant geneticists are not happy with the European judgment on gene editing Dr. Hélène Pidon is a postdoctoral researcher at the Leibniz Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research. She searches for genes that give plants resistance to diseases. She wants to use these genes to fortify cultivated Barley against these diseases, and thus reduce the number of pesticides used to grow the plant. When the European Court of Justice ruled on the status of crops modified with gene-editing methods like CRISPR, Hélène contacted me to talk with me about GMO crops. Crops have been genetically modified for millennia I was curious about the origins of agriculture and how simple artificial selection of nice-looking plants affected their genomes. For Millennia, farmers would choose a particularly good looking plant to sow its seeds in the next season. Unknowingly, they had a major impact on the whole genome of domesticated plants. For example, the size of the wheat genome tripled – a rather drastic modification. Plant scientists often view the cultivated plants as completely new species that can’t reproduce with their wild counterparts. Domesticated crops like these would not be able to survive in the wild and need constant attendance. Industrialized Agriculture With the population boom at the end of the 19th century, farmers needed to outsource their breeding efforts. Companies stepped in producing fertilizers, and pesticides, and also new breeding procedures. Now, specialized breeders would search for plants with valuable traits. These plants would then cross with the currently used crop plant in order to create a new variety with the new trait. However, if you breed your ‘elite’ plant with another plant, the offspring also inherits many unwanted traits. In order to get back to a plant that has all the traits of the current elite crop, and the additional new one, the plants need to be backcrossed with the elite variant many times. This is a very slow and tedious process. Mutagenesis To speed things up, breeders figured that it would be better to increase the variability in the offspring of the elite crop. This way they could simply select an elite crop with the new randomly added trait. To do so, breeders use radiation or chemicals to induce a mutation rate that is higher than under natural conditions. This method has been very successful. Today, every major crop has undergone mutagenesis at some point. Transgenesis and Gene Editing Today, the latest discoveries in genetics and developments of genetic methods allow identifying the genes underlying the beneficial traits breeders want to add to their crops. With transgenesis, scientists have first become able to introduce complete genes into a genome. The source of this gene is irrelevant. So-called ‘BT crops’ for example, are transgenic plants that received a bacterial gene that makes them resistant to certain insects.
This episode marks the official end of the second year of this podcast! (unfortunately, there was still no present for Bart - consider becoming a Patron to help!) Apart from the plans for year 3, Bart & Dennis discussed the hot topic of the
This episode marks the official end of the second year of this podcast! (unfortunately, there was still no present for Bart - consider becoming a Patron to help!) Apart from the plans for year 3, Bart & Dennis discussed the hot topic of the week: a provocative tweet by Richard Dawkins on Eugenics, and the dos and don’ts, and pros and cons of university rankings. Listen to the Full Conversation on Patreon! AN AMBIGUOUS(?) TWEET Richard Dawkins (a famous evolutionary biologist and member of the royal society) tweeted that, while he deplores eugenic practice, ”it” would still “work”, as “it” would work in farm animals and pets – as if breeding animals was the same as eugenics. https://twitter.com/RichardDawkins/status/1229060502984306689 https://twitter.com/RichardDawkins/status/1229083369641824266 His tweet – as you have probably guessed - led to a heated debate on eugenics. And geneticists joined the uproar arguing that breeding would not even work in humans: all inbreeding (animals or crops) leads to genetic weakness - just look at pugs! Or the Lannister family! Bart acknowledges that certain opinions based on science are offensive to certain groups. But how could we communicate such opinions? Especially on a platform like Twitter? Regularly, the lives of people at the center of outrage are affected negatively. In the end, you can’t separate a term like eugenics from its fascist ideology. And if you make divisive tweets, you must expect a strong reaction. EVALUATING UNIVERSITIES Bart and Dennis compare two very distinct ways of ranking universities, and they discuss whether such a ranking is useful at all – or possibly even harmful. On the one hand, there is “Nature Index” by nature publishing group. It ranks institutes based on the number of papers published in a selected set of journals and by how often these papers are shared with authors from other institutes (as a measure of collaboration). Dennis points out that the journals considered are subjectively selected by an undisclosed number of scientists with undisclosed affiliations. The selection is further restricted to journals listed on Web of Science, a database that excludes many journals described as “local” – mostly journals that don’t publish in English, or simply aren’t “Western”. It also comes at no surprise that more than 20% of the journals considered by Nature Index are publications of nature publishing group. At least they didn’t use the Journal Impact Factor – you would say - but is this better? On the other hand, there is the NGO “CHE” (Centrum für Hochschulentwicklung - which Dennis would translate to Centre for the Development of Higher Education) who rank Universities in German-language-areas. Their criteria are very different: they look, for example, at the job prospects of graduates, the facilities at the university (gym, library, dorm), and even at the town and the general quality of life. High school graduates looking for a place to live and study are certainly better served with a CHE-kind of ranking than with the publication-based Nature Index. Having