Tuesday, May 31, 2016

How do we build a secret advice network for scientists?

In the past few years I posted several times about the struggles I'm facing in academia. I am always
really scared of putting my thoughts out there, but the thought that this could help other people always make me click on the Publish button. The responses have been in general very positive expressing support and gratitude for sharing. While we often believe that we are unique snowflakes in our sorrows, we really are not and many scientists at different stages of their career have similar problems.

Multiple times on Twitter and on the blog people have expressed the need for a forum to meet and talk about our professional issues. I am fortunate to have a good cohort of new investigators who meets regularly to discuss what is going on and come up with hacks to get around administrative hurdles. But there are thoughts I cannot share with colleagues at the same university and sometimes I would like to learn how things are at other places or how different people solve problems.

After some thought on how to do this and some discussion with @drosophilosophy, aka Tim Mosca, who most recently raised the issue, we really like the format of Diversity Journal Club #DiversityJC on Twitter (run by the awesome @Doctor_PMS, @IHStreet and @DrEmilySKlein). They set a time once a month to discuss an issue on Twitter. Since Twitter is still a public forum, I have been looking for a private password protected chat room and I discovered Niltalk. Niltalk allows you to create a password for a room that exists for only 2 hours and then gets deleted forever. Think of it as a speakeasy! Users can be completely anonymous or not, as they prefer. We can just set a date and time, decide on a topic or a couple of topics and open as many chats as we like. Each topic should have a moderator (myself, Tim or ideally the person proposing the topic would be willing to moderate). There could also be a monthly chat on Twitter about academic career development, with a common hashtag like #profchat and this could be storified to provide a more permanent record.

I'll start one tomorrow June 1th at 10pm EST (7pm PST) just to see how it works and start the conversation. Link for the chat room and password will be posted on Twitter at 9:55pm on a dedicated Twitter account @Professor_Chat
Come hang!!


  1. This is a fantastic idea. I have one suggestion - perhaps vary the schedule in the future so that people from around the world can also participate. 10pm Eastern time is not very convenient for Europeans! Also, it's summer so I'm hoping that you mean 10pm EDT...?

    1. Definitely, the times will change to accommodate Europe. I had first thought about doing it on the weekend, but this week I could only do tonight. We'll talk about scheduling.
      Wait what? I had no idea there was something different from EST...

    2. EDT is the same as EST except it indicates that you're in daylight savings mode.

  2. Have you every read "Every Other Thursday: Stories and Strategies from Successful Women Scientists"? It's extraordinary. Basically the opposite of what you're proposing (in person meetings, big time commitment) but well worth a real in my opinion.

  3. speaking of scientists and secret networks! im very interested in such topics and i look forward to your content for more amusement and information.