How to set up a research group

A couple of weeks ago I wrote down some thoughts I had while writing a paper for the JTH series on Early Career Researchers. I was asked to write how one sets up a research group, and the four points I described in my previous post can be recognised in the final paper.

But I also added some reading tips in the paper. reading on a particular topic helps me not only to learn what is written in the books, but also to get my mind in a certain mindset. So, when i knew that i was going to take over a research group in Berlin I read a couple of books, both fiction and non fiction. Some where about Berlin (e.g. Cees Nootebooms Berlijn 1989/2009), some were focussed on academic life (e.g. Porterhouse Blue). They help to get my mind in a certain gear to help me prepare of what is going on. In that sense, my bookcase says a lot about myself.

The number one on the list of recommended reads are the standard management best sellers, as I wrote in the text box:

// Management books There are many titles that I can mention here; whether it the best-seller Seven Habits of Highly Effective People or any of the smaller booklets by Ken Blanchard, I am convinced that reading some of these texts can help you in your own development as a group leader. Perhaps you will like some of the techniques and approaches that are proposed and decide to adopt them. Or, like me, you may initially find yourself irritated because you cannot envision the approaches working in the academic setting. If this happens, I encourage you to keep reading because even in these cases, I learned something about how academia works and what my role as a group leader could be through this process of reflection. My absolute top recommendation in this category is Leadership and Self-Deception: a text that initially got on my nerves but in the end taught me a lot.

I really think that is true. You should not only read books that you agree with, or which story you enjoy. Sometimes you can like a book not for its content but the way it makes you question your own preexisting beliefs and habits. But it is true that this sometimes makes it difficult to actually finnish such a book.

Next to books, I am quite into podcasts so I also wrote

// Start up. Not a book, but a podcast from Gimlet media about “what it’s really like to get a business off the ground.” It is mostly about tech start-ups, but the issues that arise when setting up a business are in many ways similar to those you encounter when you are starting up a research group. I especially enjoyed seasons 1 and 3.

I thought about including the sponsored podcast “open for business” from Gimlet Creative, as it touches upon some very relevant aspects of starting something new. But for me the jury is still out on the “sponsored podcast” concept  – it is branded content from amazon, and I am not sure to what extent I like that. For now, i do not like it enough to include it in the least in my JTH-paper.

The paper is not online due to the summer break,but I will provide a link asap.

– update 11.10.2016 – here is a link to the paper. 

 

 

 

 

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Does d-dimer really improve DVT prediction in stroke?

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elsevier.com

Good question, and even though thromboprofylaxis is already given according to guidelines in some countries, I can see the added value of a good discriminating prediction rule. Especially finding those patients with low DVT risk might be useful. But using d-dimer is a whole other question. To answer this, a thorough prediction model needs to be set up both with and without the information of d-dimer and only a direct comparison of these two models will provide the information we need.

In our view, that is not what the paper by Balogun et al did. And after critical appraisal of the tables and text, we found some inconsistencies that prohibits the reader from understanding what exactly was done and which results were obtained. In the end, we decided to write a letter to the editor, especially to prevent that other readers to mistakenly take over the conclusion of the authors. This conclusion, being that “D-dimer concentration with in 48 h of acute stroke is independently associated with development of DVT.This observation would require confirmation in a large study.” Our opinion is that the data from this study needs to be analysed properly to justify such an conclusion. One of the key elements in our letter is that the authors never compare the AUC of the model with and without d-dimer. This is needed as that would provide the bulk of the answer whether or not d-dimer should be measured. The only clue we have are the ORs of d-dimer, which range between 3-4, which is not really impressive when it comes to diagnosis and prediction. For more information on this, please check this paper on the misuse of the OR as a measure of interest for diagnosis/prediction by Pepe et al.

A final thing I want to mention is that our letter was the result of a mini-internship of one of the students at the Master programme of the CSB and was drafted in collaboration with our Virchow scholar HGdH from the Netherlands. Great team work!

The letter can be found on the website of Thrombosis Research as well as on my Mendeley profile.

 

Starting a research group: some thoughts for a new paper

isth-logo

It has been 18 months since I started in Berlin to start at the CSB to take over the lead of the clinical epidemiology research group. Recently, the ISTH early career taskforce  have contacted me whether I would be willing to write something about my experiences over the last 18 months as a rookie group leader. The idea is that these experiences, combined with a couple of other papers on similar useful topics for early career researchers, will be published in JTH.

I was a bit reluctant at first, as I believe that how people handle new situations that one encounters as a new group leader is quite dependent on personality and the individual circumstances. But then again, the new situations that i encountered might be more generalizable to other people. So I decided to go ahead and focus more on the description of the new situations I found myself in while trying to keep the personal experiences limited and only for illustrations only.

While writing, I have discerned that there are basically 4 new things about my new situations that I would have loved to realise a bit earlier.

  1. A new research group is never without context; get to know the academic landscape of your research group as this is where you find people for new collaboration etc
  2. You either start a new research group from scratch, or your inherit a research group; be aware that both have very different consequences and require different approaches.
  3. Try to find training and mentoring to help you cope with your new roles that group leaders have; it is not only the role of group leader that you need to get adjusted to. HR manager, accountant, mentor, researcher, project initiator, project manager, consultant are just a couple of roles that I also need to fulfill on a regular basis.
  4. New projects; it is tempting to put all your power, attention time and money behind a project. but sometimes new projects fail. Perhaps start a couple of small side projects as a contingency?

As said, the stuff I describe in the paper might be very specific for my situation and as such not likely to be applicable for everyone. Nonetheless, I hope that reading the paper might help other young researchers to help them prepare for the transition from post-doc to group leader. I will report back when the paper is finished and available online.

 

Causal Inference in Law: An Epidemiological Perspective

source:ejrr

Finally, it is here. The article I wrote together with WdH, MZ and RM was published in the European Journal of Risk and Regulation last week. And boy, did it take time! This whole project, an interdisciplinary project where epidemiological thinking was applied to questions of causal inference in tort law, took > 3 years – with only a couple of months writing… the rest was waiting and waiting and waiting and some peer review. but more on this later.

First some content. in the article we discuss the idea of proportional liability that adheres to the epidemiological concept of multi-causality. But the article is more: as this is a journal for non epidemiologist, we also provide a short and condensed overview of study design, bias and other epidemiological concepts such as counterfactual thinking. You might have recognised the theme from my visits to the Leiden Law school for some workshops. The EJRR editorial describes it asas: “(…) discuss the problem of causal inference in law, by providing an epidemiological viewpoint. More specifically, by scrutinizing the concept of the so-called “proportional liability”, which embraces the epidemiological notion of multi-causality, they demonstrate how the former can be made more proportional to a defendant’s relative contribution in the known causal mechanism underlying a particular damage.”

Getting this thing published was tough: the quality of the peer review was low (dare I say zero?),communication was difficult, submission system flawed etc. But most of all the editorial office was slow – first submission was June 2013! This could be a non-medical journal thing, i do not know, but still almost three years. And this all for an invited article that was planned to be part of a special edition on the link between epi and law, which never came. Due several delays (surprise!) of the other articles for this edition, it was decided that our article is not waiting for this special edition anymore. Therefore, our cool little insight into epidemiology now seems to be lost between all those legal and risk regulation articles. A shame if you ask me, but I am glad that we are not waiting any longer!

Although i do love interdisciplinary projects, and I think the result is a nice one, I do not want to go through this process again. No more EJRR for me.

Ow, one more thing… the article is behind a pay wall and i do not have access through my university, nor did the editorial office provide me with a link to a pdf of the final version. So, to be honest, I don’t have the final article myself! Feels weird. I hope EJRR will provide me with a pdf quite soon. In the meantime, anybody with access to this article, please feel free to send me a copy!

Changing stroke incidence and prevalence

changing stroke population

Lower changing incidences of disease over time do not necessarily mean that the number of patients in care also goes down, as the prevalence of the disease is a function of incidence and mortality. “Death Cures”. Combine this notion with the fact that both the incidence and mortality rates of the different stroke subtypes change different over time, and you will see that the group of patients that suffer from stroke will be quite different from the current one.

I made this picture to accompany a small text on declining stroke incidences which I have written for the newsletter of the Kompetenznetz Schlaganfall. which can be found in this pdf.

The professor as an entrepeneur

picture: onderzoeksredactie.nl

Today, I’ve read a long read from the onderzoekdsredactie, which is a Dutch initiative for high quality research journalism. In this article they present their results from their research into the conflicts of interest of profs in the Netherlands. They were very thorough: they published a summary in article from, but also made sure that all methodological choices, the questionnaire they used, the results etc are all available for further scrutiny of the reader. It is a shame though that the complete dataset is not available for further analyses (what characteristics make that some prof do not disclose their COI?)

The results are, although unpleasant to realise, not new. At least not to me. I can imagine that for most people the idea of prof with COI is indeed a rarity, but working in academia I’ve seen numbers of cases to know that this is not the case. The article that I’ve read was thorough in their analyses: it is not only because profs just want to get rich, but this concept of the prof as an entrepreneur is even supported by the Dutch government. Recent changes in the funding structure of research makes that ‘valorisation’, spinn-offs and collaboration with industry partners are promoted. this is all to further enlarge the ‘societal impact’ of science. These changes mightinded enforce such a thing, but I think that the academic freedom that researchers have should never be the victim.

How science goes wrong? we’re improving!

econ

Fraud, shoddy and sloppy science, conflicts of interest… Who said a science career is boring? When I write on these topics I sometimes have the feeling that I am doing science more harm than good; am I doing science a favor by showing its weaknesses and caveats? The answer still remains yes, for I believe that we need problems need to be identified before you can act on them. This is also the theme of this post: What is all being done on these topics in the last couple of days. A point by point list:

  • AllTrials: The AllTrials initiative which I support is going into its next round.Pharmaceutical companies are opening up (LEO, GSK), there are hearings in brussels and the debate in Medical journals (especially the BMJ, as one of the founders of AllTrials) is going on. Great stuff!
  • PubMed commons (a commenting system in PubMed, as a new post publication peer review) got online. It’s still a trial, but boy this is cool. I love its punchline: “A forum for scientific discourse”.
  • We organised a try out of our ‘on being a scientist’ workshop on which i wrote earlier this post. IN this post i say that is if going to be a LUMC workshop, but this changed to a workshop for all starting PhD students from the university Leiden, thus including all faculties. I am truly exciting and it our first run in november works out, this workshop might even become part of the official PhD education program of the university Leiden. The economist published a coverstory on How science goes wrong. It tells how science, peer review, statistical false positives etc work. It is a good read, especially when you are interested in science as a social process. Some remarks can be made: it’s not all that bad because scientist tend to be familiar with how the system works… the system might not be perfect, but it is at the moment the best we can do… luckily there are ways to get better, ways that are also discussed in the article.It is good that the economist and other media shares these concerns, because now this might up to build to critical mass to really change some of the weak points in the system. I thought about using the graph published next to the paper, but once I discovered the animated version of the graph i fell in love. See for yourself below. (PS false positives: another reason why not only to rely on statistical testing!)
  •  – edit: i changed the title of the pot… the first title was a bit pretentious –

Continue reading “How science goes wrong? we’re improving!”