Number #1 overall draft picks and minority hires

blazers-draft-greg-oden-probably-84bf5009e1d4cfd8

Greg Oden was Mr. Basketball USA coming out of high school, a college All-American, and a defensive player of the year as a freshman at Ohio State. His 7-foot 250-pound frame exuded the essence of dominance on the court. This man was not only going to be an NBA star he was going to be a franchise player. NBA scouts, who were paid a handsome sum for reporting how great he was, and their corresponding teams salivated over the possibility of winning the NBA lottery to take him #1 overall and who could blame them? He met all of the metrics. He would be the reason that the drafting team, who was typically one of the worst in the league the year before, would transition to be a title contender.

Greg Oden was indeed drafted #1 overall. Interestingly enough, there are two very productive players from that draft, Kevin Durant, an NBA all-star, champion, and MVP who was taken #2, and Marc Gasol, an NBA champion and defensive player of the year who was chosen in the second round at #48. Sadly, Greg Oden was plagued by injuries which prevented him from living up to his NBA potential. While no one would have really batted an eye if Kevin Durant was chosen #1, there would have been pandemonium if Marc Gasol was even close to the top-ten draft picks, even though his big brother was taken #3 overall and was doing wonderfully.

Now the advantage of the NBA, NFL, and other sports systems is that even after the draft, players like Marc, who as a second rounder does not have a guaranteed contract, can try out and still make the team. There is no such luck for people trying to enter the professoriate. After your post-doctoral fellowship of finite terms, it is near impossible to play the minor leagues or get off the practice squad to get enough standing and gain access to a research-intensive tenure track position. Given these constraints, it is no wonder that search committees take the #1 overall draft pick, the person that fits the mold, the Greg Oden and not the Marc Gasol. One could easily blame (and rightfully so) the woes of choosing Oden on injuries, but there are also Anthony Bennett’s, JaMarcus Russell’s, and others who fit the mold, but never lived up to their potential. To go further, in baseball, basketball, football, and hockey, no #1 draft pick has ever been considered the GOAT (greatest of all time) in their respective sport.

But what exactly is the mold for someone coming into the professoriate, specifically for a biomedical research-intensive position? By and large the first two cutoffs are funding and great papers; akin to points, rebounds, and assists in basketball. I certainly I didn’t get any NIH or society funding and I had three good, (but not CNS) papers and a review. I didn’t fit this mold at all. I am that second round pick. However, no one expects the NBA player to also coach, drive the team bus, or balance the books, but yet, these types of things are essential to be a successful professor. Professors rarely succeed if they don’t have these types of intangibles, or the ability to juggle more than just science.

In graduate school, I and many that are underrepresented minorities (URMs) did a lot of those intangible items, not only because people asked us to serve in a multitude of areas for the sake of having representation, but because we also wanted to be that representation. It was representation in the first place that inspired many of us to want, feel, and continue on to be represented. I did service, mentoring, teaching, and more. It made science more fun to do those things. Doing those things have also made me a better professor today.

The argument against looking deeper into the pool of applicants is that it takes time, money, and lots of effort. Again, sports scouts get paid lots of money to grade hundreds or thousands of prospects to see which one a team should take. It is their job to do that. This scoring happens at the college level choosing which high school students to offer a scholarship to all the way to the pros determining which college students will help a pro team win big. In science, hundreds of applications have to be distilled down to five or so people to bring in to meet and greet (if you are lucky) and that is a lot. Practicality has to be valued, especially given the juggling act of being a professor, where it is our job to do so many things.

From the ASM article, I talked about nine things that can help with hiring minorities as faculty. Those points include talking to a URM faculty to see what made them come to the university, where to find people that fit the mold that you have, and being willing to spend money and time to make these hires (because commitment without currency is counterfeit). However, there is one crucial message that I left out. A tenth point.

10. Don’t be afraid to hire a Marc Gasol.

MDLJ

This is part 3 in my minority hiring series with the ASM article (linked above) being second and the mSphere article (which instead of pipeline I use an analogy of an active transporter) being first.

 

Did I ever mention how I almost ruined a Shania Twain concert?

#MusicChronicles #Episode1

(If_You're_Not_in_It_for_Love)_I'm_Outta_Here!

This isn’t my typical science stuff, but here we go!

So, it was 1999 and I was in High School at Whitney Young in Chicago (Yep, the one that Michelle Obama went to!). One thing Shania did at the time was have high school drumlines participate in her show for the song I’m Outta Here. Her concert was at the United Center and since Whitney Young was only a few blocks away, we got to be the drum line. There were about 7 or 8 of us and we were PUMPED for this opportunity. So, we gear up and we prep to meet Shania Twain.

Ok, sound check time came and they taught us what we actually need to play, still remember it: when the time comes JD (Just Drums) will lead you all in TataTataTaTataTATA, then hold the sticks up in the air in the “its good” pose. Click on two and four, and you’re good. In the pep talk, they said, “look animated, cameras will be rolling” and we said, “can do.” Of course, Shania Twain comes out there during the check and we were star struck. Then, she came over to me looking gorgeous with a mallet of her own and hit my snare drum. Y’all, I am certain my face turned beet red and I was crushing hard. I’m getting looks from the other drummers like “DID THAT JUST HAPPEN?!?!?!”

Ok, sound check over, we go back to the hold room and OH MY GOD THEY HAVE POP (that’s how you say it in Chicago, don’t @ me!). We look around like, did we just MAKE IT FOR REAL!!!

We can hear just about everything from in there. We hear when it starts, we hear the crowd, we hear our stomachs due to the nerves. We hear the guy come get it us because, it was time. We got the last reminder to us to be animated on stage, next thing I know, we are walking out to bright lights. Thousands of scream fans for our drumli…I mean Shania Twain. Now, comes the part where I ALMOST RUINED IT ALL.

So, I had some black drumsticks and I thought I was BAD. I had also learned how to twirl my sticks. DON’T GET AHEAD OF ME. So, the song starts, and I start twirling on one and three and clicking on two and four. I hit that TataTataTaTataTATA, sticks up, and back to the groove. I’m already hammin’ it up but then I go too far. I had to throw in the point to the crowd with the drum sticks. I just had to.

And then it happened, the longest couple of seconds of my life to that point in my life, the stick slips and goes up into the air and I lose it in the lights.

There was no way I was going to catch it, but I don’t want it to go forward because if I hit Shania Twain or she slips on it and falls due to my error, I’d be over. Pack it up! Please don’t fly forward, please don’t fly forward. Cue dramatic heartbeat sound bite.

WHEW!!! It fell backwards not forward, and I am relieved. Shania Twain is safe. BUT OH NO I STILL NEED TO DO THE DITTY AND THE POSE, and I only have one stick. What am I going to do, think fast, think fast!

Ok, I got it, I can just hold my hands together to do the ditty but what to about the pose, I’ll have to figure that out later. But I’m out of time, I hit that TataTataTaTataTATA with my hands together then at the last minute decide to do a He Man, I have the power pose at the end to end the song. I hold that one stick up in the air like it is the sword of power and I bounce before I embarrass myself further.

We all get off the stage and we are hype, and despite my error, I am too. That was FANTASTIC. And right as I come off, there it is, I find the stick, out of the way from being able to harm anyone and I let out a sigh of relief.

Welp, I hope you enjoyed #MusicChronicles #Episode1. There are some other stories from High school and beyond. Cheers everyone!

MDLJ

I am a small business owner. Science is my business.

showing-off-a-bacterial-plate

It is an exciting time in my lab, I just got an NIH research grant worth about 1.9 million dollars. WOW!!! I just had two new students start WOW WOW!!! And I just graduated three students WOWOWOW!!!

As a scientist at a research-intensive university, that grant drastically increases my chances on getting tenure, which will allow me even more freedom to hit scientific home runs. But what does it all mean to me and what will the money get used for? For that, you need to understand a bit about how I got hired, what I got when I was hired, and what I need to do to stay hired.

This conversation started when I was talking to my friend Wesley, yep, that Wesley, the guy who got me into blogging. He found out that as a professor, I had to pay myself. Here is the (mostly one sided and slightly modified) conversation we had. First a few details,

1) the grant is over 5 years and of the 1.9 million, I will get 1.25 million or 250,000 per year (which gives off one heck of an ROI). It represents a public investment in trying to find new cures for bacterial infections. The university gets the 650,000 over the 5 years (we call this the indirects) but I’ll get into thatlater.

2) Nowhere near all grants are funded. Depending on the study it can be a low as 6% or as high as 28%. Researchers compete for this money but submitting a plan and having that plan review by experts in the field to make sure it will help science move forward (thats a story for another day).

Ok, here we go.

Wesley: Wait… What? The scientists have to pay themselves?

Me: Oh Wesley…oh my dear Wesley…When I got hired I got a “start-up” package that covers 100% of my salary for 3 years, and then I have to cover 50%. Some places it is 75, some it is 25% (like at land grant institutions), some it is 100% (like Harvard).

My start up package was ****** (we will say between 500,000 and 1,000,000). Think of this as an investment from the university for me to do good research and bring back the indirects I mentioned above. I will get this money is pieces across the first four years. More in the first year and less towards the end. With that money I have to pay people and buy equipment and reagents.

My technician (about 40g with base salary plus benefits), postdoc (about 60 including benefits), and also graduate students (27g per year plus their tuition which is 11 g plus health insurance and other benefits etc. which comes out to about 55g total). Yes, I pay my students tuition and a stipend.

I also buy equipment including the 105,000 plate reader/microscope, the 50,000 protein purifier, and the 65,000 metal detector. Not to mention centrifuges (2-10g), thermocyclers i.e. the thing that makes more DNA on CSI (2-5g), incubators (5-7g), -80 freezers (10g) which luckily, the department was able to give to me without me having to pay (better believe we reuse and recycle). All of these things have, are, and will lead to new scientific breakthroughs in projects that I never thought I would work on with amazing people that I am fortunate to call colleagues and friends.

I have two grad students, one postdoc, and a tech so I’m already at an operating budget of 210,000 per year so long as I have them all in the laboratory. Then starting next year, I have to pay half my salary plus benefits which comes out to about 65g (again using the average assistant professor salaries at research intensive institutions here).

So, without buying any reagents, or equipment, or consumables, or going to meetings, next year, I’m already at 275,000 which is above the 250,000 per year I’ll be getting. Now, our monthly burn rate is about 3,000 so about 36,000 per year for reagents. So, I’m over 300,000 and using up my start-up money to pay for what the grant doesn’t (which I fortunately still have some left so it is sustainable for a period of time).

You invest in the people so you can do the research to get the data for the publications so you can prove that you are being productive with the grant money that you are asking for more of. I also try to get my students funded because it frees up a slot for me to hire someone else to do more research.

Well, that’s where the research money goes and why I need to apply for grants to the National Institutes of Health and other organizations. The University supplies a location and money from my grant called indirect cost. The 650,000 pays for electricity, science core facilities, admins, building maintenance, and much more.

Let me sum up. If I don’t get grants, I can’t pay people, I can’t buy stuff, and worse, I can’t do lifesaving research.

That’s why the grant was a BIG deal.

I am a small business owner. Science is my business.

MDLJ

I wrote a research article, but what does it mean?!?!?

I am in a room full of keys made of poison (don’t ask why). I grab one poisonous key to open a very specific door, causing me to let go of the slightly different non-poisonous key that has the job of adding an extra lock to the same specific door. This door leads to the tools needed to get rid of the other poisonous keys in the room by producing two tools. One can capture the poisonous key from my hand (or anywhere in the room) and hand it off to tool two, which throw it away out of the room. This continues until all of the poisonous keys are gone or at a low enough amount that I won’t succumb to the poison. The first tool also makes a tiny modification to the poisonous key in order to put said key through the slot of the second tool that gets rid of it. Keeping the door open for no reason is a bad thing (like the fridge door), hence having the non-poisonous key is good to have around which is what I had to let go to grab the poisonous key to open the door. Hence, too much of that non-poisonous key would prevent me from responding well or grab to the poisonous key…But what does it all mean?!?!?

It occurred to me that I wrote a scientific article and didn’t exactly say what I think it means to the field or to people that aren’t in the field. I’d like to take this time to correct that. In October of last year, I published my first senior author research article at the University of Arizona. It was entitled “Copper Chaperone CupA and Zinc Control CopY Regulation of the Pneumococcal cop Operon” in a journal called mSphere, and open access journal through the American Society of Microbiology. Now, before you run away screaming, let me try to explain what all that is. If you only partially understood the first paragraph, then you are in good shape.

Ok let me start by the obligatory, copper is toxic to a variety of bacteria, including Streptococcus pneumoniae or pneumococcus (yes, the one there is a vaccine for) and other potentially antibiotic resistant bacteria. We think understanding how copper kills bacteria is important to know so we can figure out how to make copper work better. We also want to know how the bacteria tries to fight back against the copper stress. We know somethings, like they have specialized systems for kicking out copper and these systems could be drug targets.

cupA paper model

The players:

S. pneumoniae has a copper export system, or the cop operon, to export copper (the poisonous key) that consist of an export protein (this exports the copper or the second tool listed above), a chaperone (this guides copper to the exporter for export and is CupA listed in the title, the first tool), and a repressor (this protein makes sure that the bacteria doesn’t make a bunch of proteins it doesn’t need, it, CopY, stops the cop operon from being on until it, see copper, then it releases the DNA so all three proteins can eventually be made aka, me in the story above). Zinc is the non-poisonous key listed. DNA is the door.

The article (which hopefully matches with the story above):

1. I mentioned that copper makes the CopY repression release the DNA, but zinc actually makes the protein clamp down on the DNA. These metals are right by each other on the periodic table so that is quite the effect. We didn’t know that happened with a metal export system before. Adding zinc with copper prevented the repressor from “opening the door” to the operon thus have the effect of killing the bacteria faster than just with copper alone. Copper and zinc make brass so this is known as my super hero name, the Brass Dagger.

2. If you look at the picture, copper II AKA Cu2+ AKA blue lighting (ok the last one is made up) comes into the bacteria, and copper I AKA Cu1+ AKA…well it’s brown like your pipes so…I got nothing…anyway. To get kicked out the cell, it has to be the 1+ version. That 2+ to 1+ is the gain of an electron, a negative charge hence the number going down. We believe that electron has to come from inside the bacteria somehow, but from what and from where? Well, we found that the chaperone (CupA) could give the copper an electron to make it go from Cu2+ to Cu1+. But where is that protein getting electrons from, stay tuned! Or better yet, why does it matter. Loosing electrons has to come at a cost to bacteria and we think trying to keep up with the copper reduction (that’s what adding an electron is called because you are reducing the charge from 2+ to 1+, like adding a negative number). This reduction ends up really harming the bacteria. This chaperone can also take the copper away from the repressor so that it can go back to “shutting the door.”

Hopefully the story above makes a bit more sense now in context.

Cool, can we exploit that? We think so, we hope so, but we need to keep digging. Anyway, that’s the paper. I hope you enjoyed this little review of my laboratory’s recent work. Happy to answer any questions.

Cheers,

MDLJ

Reviewer (Believer Science Parody)

it-stinks

It’s time for another science parody! I’ve been hearing Imagine Dragons Believer and well, like so many songs I hear over and over again, I write some science lyrics for them. Despite the fantastic news that I did indeed get a grant, and a paper accepted in the same week (I could get used to weeks like this), these lyrics focus on the “dark side” of submitting grants. I hope you enjoy it. (Hopefully I’ll get some time to actually sing this one too!)

Reviewer (Believer Science Parody)

First things first
I’m real proud of the grant you just received
It fresh and it says all things I will achieve, oh ooh
The things I will achieve, oh ooh
Second thing second,
I got data that backs up all I said
But page limits stopped me writing all the things inside my head, oh ooh
All the things inside my head, oh ooh

As the ideas came to me
I held them tightly, don’t you flee
I spoke to my scribbles everywhere pleading out
What will work, can it work, will it work, make it work
Blood’s here in these aims
I felt the science in my veins
All these experiments from my brain
I put some down on the paper and then
(Pain)

You tore it up, you broke it down, reviewer, reviewer
(Pain)
You asked for things I said I’d do, reviewer, reviewer
(Pain)
You say it’s just an incremental gain
And the vagueness in your comments gives me
(Pain)
You tore it up, you broke it down, reviewer, reviewer

Third things third
I got the letters supporting what is here
Now trust, we got cred, so there’s nothing here to fear oh, ooh
There’s nothing here to fear oh, ooh

Get my significance up to par
Oh, my research it will go far
I can expand out of aim three
Trust in the vision I can bring
But they never did, triaged it, saying my research was
limited, done before, and overreaching
And the tears came
They rained down, like
(Pain)

You tore it up, you broke it down, reviewer, reviewer
(Pain)
You asked for things I said I’d do, reviewer, reviewer
(Pain)
You say it’s just an incremental gain
And the vagueness in your comments gives me
(Pain)
You tore it up, you broke it down, reviewer, reviewer

Last things last
Me and spellcheck we had a little fight
I had to make sure all the acronyms were right, oh ooh
The acronyms were right, oh ooh
But they never did, triaged it, saying my research was
limited, done before, and overreaching
And the tears came
They rained down, like
(Pain)

You tore it up, you broke it down, reviewer, reviewer
(Pain)
You asked for things I said I’d do, reviewer, reviewer
(Pain)
You say it’s just an incremental gain
And the vagueness in your comments gives me
(Pain)
You tore it up, you broke it down, reviewer, reviewer

Am I my ancestors’ wildest dreams come true?

gggrandmaThere has been a lot going on lately. In the news, on the job, in the home. (Although the first has made me actually weep, the last two have been very good). I think about some parts of my journey (1, 2, & 3), and I have this deep pull of responsibility.

But to what? Is it to my faith? Is it to science? Is it to communicate science? Is it to help as many black people as I can? Is it to help anyone I can? Is it to be a good father? Is it to be a good husband? A good mentor? Just another keyboard warrior? Can I start with just being an adult?

Eyes closed…Breathe…

I recently heard the phrase “I am my ancestors’ wildest dreams come true” and wondered if I actually was just that, a dream come true for them. Looking back, so many people helped me fight the battle to get where I am and I sometimes worry I am not paying it back or forward enough. What lurks behind the smile is imposter syndrome 2.0 where I can’t even pretend to be something if I don’t know what that is.

Eyes closed…Breathe…

This is a lot of pressure to put on one’s self. But if I could just get that science grant, I could help so many people. If I could just convince them that they should eat their vegetables, the could grow healthy and strong. If I could just convince them that vaccines are good, then so many lives could be spared. If I could just convince them that there aren’t always fine people on many sides, then maybe I could live without some of the fear.

Eyes closed…Breathe…

If I talked to an ancestor, how would the conversation go? What questions do you think I would get?

“You made it through college?”

“Yes Sir!”

“They call you doctor?”

“Yes Ma’am!”

“They call you professor?”

“Yes Sir!”

“You got white people working for you?”

“Yes Ma’am, and a Nigerian, Mexican, and Indian."

“Hmm, well, is there still racism?”

“Not as much as when you were alive, but unfortunately yes. Your 
battles and scars were not in vain.”

“Well, I’m proud of you, and you should be proud of yourself.”

And just like that, you imagine the warmth of the past. It surrounds you and comforts you like a spiral ham sandwich on white bread a few days after Christmas dinner or a peach cobbler, with the good crust, and ice cream on top that soothes the soul. Even if not heard, I needed to at least imagine that last line. Some of you did too.

But some of your ancestors reading this would not be so pleased with you. And for that I say thank you for fighting with us.

Eyes open…Breathe

I sometimes feel so overwhelmed with what I feel I should be, that I forget to enjoy who I am. I should be proud of where I am. I should be proud of what I have become. I should take the time to enjoy me, and those around me. That doesn’t mean we aren’t fighting, hustling, researching, praying, parenting, mentoring machines that we can be, it just means that we should breathe sometimes.

It is time for our “shoulds” to become our “will dos”, and I for one, am starting now.

Ordinary Science

I really like John Legend, and LOVE Ordinary People. Turns out, that is a hard song to sing. In what would be guaranteed to make Randy Jackson say “some areas were a bit pitchy dawg” I dusted off the old pipes and gave it a try with a scientific spin on the lyrics. Is it perfect, no, but neither is science. We never pretend to be. You know what though, we are trying to help people and “you get from it what you sow.” I hope you enjoy it!

In case you were wondering, the pin says “Hope @ NIH” 🙂

Also, if you want to read some of my other science parodies here is Please Accept (to Let it Go), A Whole New Lab (to A Whole New World), and Hallelujah.

Lyrics

Ordinary Science

(Adapted from Ordinary People by John Legend)

My daughter was really sick
We wished we could heal her quick
She had that cancer in her brain
We’re waitin’ to see the doc
Ain’t no time for idle talk
We need a cure like yesterday

They read her DNA, these mutations don’t play
And they formulated a plan
Was two different cancers
With new sci advances
And help from the bench they will save my ‘lil baby girl

It’s just ordinary science
It finds cures for folks you know
‘Cause it’s ordinary science
You get from it what you sow

What you sow, ohh
You get from it what you sow
What you sow, ohh
You get from it what you sow

My daughter was ill once more
Fever higher than seen before
The chemo made her compromised
What infection could be
These things are hard to see
Docs studied up to get advised

Examine consult
To find the result
That would get my ‘lil girl out of bed
Bacterial advances with bad circumstances
Translational med stopped it cold before further spread

It’s just ordinary science
It finds cures for folks you know
‘Cause it’s ordinary science
You get from it what you sow

What you sow, ohh
You get from it what you sow
What you sow, ohh
You get from it what you sow

What you sow
Maybe you’ll vaccinate
Maybe before too late
Maybe you will, maybe you won’t
Maybe you’ll tempt fate
Please let us fight the fight
For cures that are in sight
Will science grow
We just don’t know it’s up to you and I

It’s just ordinary science
It finds cures for folks you know
‘Cause it’s ordinary science
You get from it what you sow

It’s just ordinary science
It finds cures for folks you know
‘Cause it’s ordinary science
You get from it what you sow

What you sow, ohh
You get from it what you sow
What you sow, ohh
You get from it what you sow
What you sow, ohh
You get from it what you sow
What you sow, ohh
You get from it what you sow

-MDLJ