Friday, 22 June 2012

Quantity not Quality?

Academia seems to be more & more obsessed with quantity these days.  I'm no exception, I'm an avid fan of the new google scholar metrics page.  But recently a letter was published in Trends in Ecology and Evolution suggesting that this may not be a great idea.

One of the really interesting points from my point of view was that the increased pressure to have more of everything (papers, citations, grants etc.) leads to bigger and bigger groups, which causes more of the people, papers and funding to be concentrated on certain areas, which may not be the best areas for scientific advancement. These groups may not be doing the most exciting research, they're just publishing the most, drowning out the other papers.

The concept of big groups is always one that's irked me, mainly because you do so much better in a big group.  You can get your name on more papers, you have more colleagues to bounce ideas off and to use as contacts later on in your career. So from my point of view, always having worked in very small groups, it was mostly jealousy that set me against large groups.  But I'm beginning to think, after reading this letter, that there may be some actually good reasons for being anti-big group.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Back in 2010, dunkin’ donuts carried out a survey in the US to find out which professions need the most coffee to get through the day.

These are the results:
  1. Nurses 
  2.  Physicians
  3. Hotel workers
  4. Designers/Architects
  5. Financial/Insurance sales representatives 
  6. Food preparers 
  7. Engineers 
  8. Teachers 
  9. Marketing/Public Relations professionals 
  10. Scientists 
  11. Machine operators 
  12. Government workers

I couldn't find a comparative survey in the UK, but I have a feeling that tea definitely clouds the issue.
Nurses in particular are definitely all about the tea (my girlfriend being a nurse, I know about these sort of things).  This may be due to the disgusting coffee available in the NHS.

The other point I found interesting was that scientists were only 10th.  Maybe they just looking in industry.  In academia I would suggest it was way higher!

Monday, 11 June 2012

Conference Funding Opportunities in Bioinformatics

Following on from my previous post about applying for travel funding for conferences, I thought I’d do a bit of research into where you can get travel money as a Postdoc or Phd student.  And then I thought I’d share some of the results.


The International Society for Computational Biology has a number of travel fellowships for all its major conferences.
  • Pacific Symposium on Biocomputing (PSB)
  • Conference on Research in Computational Molecular Biology (RECOMB)
  • Conference on Intelligent Systems for Molecular Biology (ISMB)
  • European Conference on Computational Biology (ECCB)
  • APBioNet's International Conference on Computational Biology (InCoB).

A number of conferences are also eligible for the Minority Access to Research Careers (MARC) travel fellowship program
  • ISMB
  • Rocky
  • ISCB-Africa
  • ISCB-Asia
  • ISCB-Latin America

ColdSprings Harbour Conferences 

Funding is available for meeting arranged by Cold Springs Harbour, more details can be got from 

Societa di BioinfomaticaItaliana 

The Italian Bioinformatics society provides travel grants for members up to 35 years old to attend its annual meeting.  Priority is given to people who haven’t had one before.

It’s possible you have to be Italian to take this one up!


The European Molecular Biology Laboratory provides Registration Fee Fellowships for a number of their conferences and courses.    They are primarily for participants from countries in need of ‘scientific strengthening’.

International Conference on Bioinformaticsof Genome Regulation and Structure/Systems Biology

This Russian based conference provides travel funding for participants under 35 years old.  However, you also have to be a Russian citizen to qualify.

IEEE InternationalConference Bioinformatics & Biomedicine 

In 2011 travel grants of up to $US 800 were given by the National Science Foundation (NSF)  to 28 students. Unfortunately, this one isn’t available to Postdocs.

Feel free to add anything you know about that I've missed in my very quick search.

Applying for Conference Money

As a PhD student I was ridiculously well funded, as a bioinformatician I basically spent nothing, and yet was given the same amount to spend as those lab monkeys who had to spend it all on reagents.  So I went to a lot of cool conferences!

The down side of all this money was that I never considered applying for external travel money.  Now I’m a postdoc, I really wish I had.


  1. It looks great on your CV – someone thought you were good enough to spend money on.
  2. When you start applying for bigger grants e.g. fellowships and the like, one of the things they ask for is proof of independence.  One of the best ways to prove independence is to have received money that’s just for you, not funnelled through your PI.
  3. If you don’t do it during your PhD, you may find the boat has sailed.  Some places will still fund a postdoc (I’m in the process of applying for one from the European Conference on Computational Biology), but in general it’s much harder.

So in conclusion, I just want to say:  If you’re a PhD student and aim to stay in Academia, apply for money.  If you’re a postdoc, also apply for money, you just might find it a lot harder.