Bullying: The Breakdown

In early 2018 Sherry Moss, professor of organizational studies at Wake Forest University, was approached by a woman struggling under a verbally and mentally abusive adviser– the subsequent investigation led to her recently published research article regarding the atmosphere of abuse commonly found in university laboratories. Moss finds, as her title makes clear, that research is set up for bullies to thrive. In her article, Moss journeys into both the psychological premise for these bullying antics, and the reason they are not only allowed, but enabled.

 

 

Why is this happening?-

Moss finds that academic settings have higher rates of bullying than other workplaces, but claims, “I have no evidence that scientists are more likely than the general population to have characteristics of abusers or their targets.” She finds that the atmosphere of demand on supervisors to produce results can lead to displaced aggression towards students and the position they have of control commonly leads to what is called “power-poisoning.” Not only that, but because there is rarely an established system of accountability in place, the students have no guarantee that complaints will be investigated or heeded and place themselves (and their years of research) at risk. “When penalties are rare, bad behaviour can thrive.”

 

What can be done about it?-

As with any pervasive dilemma, there are a host of solutions at hand and the best one really depends on the individual situation. Clear communication of the students’ disgruntlement and expectations to either the supervisor or other faculty members is an option, but one which can prove risky, as it could easily results in loss of an essential reference and affect future positions and grant possibilities. There is also the option for students to simply not work with a supervisor who is notorious for bullying antics, but the benefit of this direct tactic is hindered by the power of prestige, Moss finds all too often students will opt to work with “a big name who has lots of publications instead of heeding warnings.” Moss’ ultimate conclusion is that “research institutions must do more to watch for and eliminate abuse.” Institutions should take more serious inquiry into not just peer-review, but also student reviews, during and following research opportunities. These practices should be in place not only for teachers suspected of abuse, but in general. Funding is also an essential reinforcement tool and should be used to reward institutions which partake of such practices. Consequences for egregious behavior should be instituted, addressing complaints with dismissal or stripping of supervision privileges. Finally, Moss calls for the creation of “navigable paths for early-career researchers to switch supervisors.”

 

Safety covers all aspects of human health, including mental and emotional. Safety in the workplace (or research facility) is a contributing factor to peace of mind, well-being, and quality of work. Following Moss’ prescribed steps to eradicate the sources of negative research atmospheres may be quite an undertaking for any institution; however, if quality of research is to be the highest priority, the reward of such an undertaking outweighs any setbacks.

 

Go Buffs!

SafetyStratus recently sponsored Broomfield local co-ed adult volleyball team, the Bumpin’ Buffs. SafetyStratus President Curtis Baker (not pictured) is a member of the team. If you are in the Broomfield area you can catch one of their upcoming games, or better yet, round up some friends and coworkers and create a team for one of the city’s many recreational leagues. No matter the time of year, city recreational centers around the country provide channels to motivate community interaction and movement. The importance of encouraging exercise and the mental break from day-to-day working grind cannot be understated. Research across the board shows that a sedentary lifestyle will significantly lead to mental and physical strain. Finding an activity to enjoy that gets your body moving is one of the best things you can do for your safety and well being. SafetyStratus is proud to be part of the local effort to invigorate individuals. Good luck getting out there, and Go Buffs!

The Future in Nuclear Energy

On September 4th, MIT News writer Francesca McCaffrey published a timely response to the MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI) report titled “The Future of Nuclear Energy in a Carbon-Constrained World.” This report came as one of a collection, each exploring a different technology meant to meet the escalating need for energy solutions with diminishing effect on the global climate, examining the full-scale effects of developing such technologies. As McCaffrey recaps, “Over the past two years, this team has examined each issue, and the resulting report contains guidance policymakers and industry leaders may find valuable as they evaluate options for the future.” Comprehensiveness being the end goal for the multidisciplinary research team, evidence for claims were even substantiated by an external advisory committee.

The planning for Nuclear Energy initiatives covers everything from business models to safety procedures for plants. The lengths that researchers at MIT took to explore all avenues of future practice and response shows the overwhelming desire for these plans to be accepted and pursued.The report illuminates initial policy-making for implementation of such plans and necessary safety regulations and construction concepts.

The report claims, “public policies to advance low-carbon generation should treat all technologies comparably. There should be no discrimination against nuclear energy. Given the notorious past events involving nuclear energy, and with regards to the future, safety is a major concern and could also make nuclear plants easier and more cost efficient to construct. McCaffrey sums up that when it comes to the production of new plants, “The researchers find that changes in reactor construction are needed to usher in an era of safer, more cost-effective reactors, including proven construction management practices that can keep nuclear projects on time and on budget.”

With practice of safer construction and protocol than has been in place, the main deterrent to realizing the cost-efficiency of nuclear energy as a provider of low-carbon electricity is recognized to be the expense of building new nuclear plants. The report finds that new nuclear plant builds are “not a profitable investment.” However, the report addresses this concern as well by uncovering that, “in most cases, existing nuclear is a cost-efficient provider of low-carbon electricity,” and adds that “premature closures of existing plants undermine efforts to reduce carbon dioxide and other power sector emissions and increase the cost of achieving emission reduction targets.”

If there is to be any shift from the current trend in carbon levels due to energy consumption, if there is a change to be made in how our use of energy affects the climate, there is a strong case that the answer lies in nuclear energy. The hurdles that remain include safety, and continuing to improve the foundation which has already been established in the nuclear field.

ACS Seminar

ACS (American Chemistry Society) will be hosting a free online seminar regarding safety in the lab one week from now on Oct. 11. Chemical safety is recognized as one of the highest priorities for the Society. During this webinar ACS President Dr. Peter Dorhout will be joined by industry experts in a discussion to help equip and prepare individuals from graduate students to faculty members for safe laboratory practices. The hour long Webinar will begin at 1 PM on October 11th.

For full details of the live Webinar and to register for the event, visit ACS’s dedicated page.

 

Human Lifespan

Prolonging the human lifespan is “the biggest thing that is going to happen in the 21st century,” says Harvard biologist, David Sinclair. The idea of the Bionic human, is conceptually one of the earliest schemes of science fiction. Thoroughly investigated through creative outlets such as books and film, the universal fantasy has reappeared time and again. However, if the mysterious example of Arthur C. Clark has taught us anything, it is that what can be imagined, could also be proven. 

A recent article from MIT Technology Review, elaborates on the theory espoused by David Sinclair, that human regeneration is now within actual reach. Though evidence of the progress of such trials has been kept relatively contained, this technological review reveals a glimpse of just how far scientists have been able to come in the biological rejuvenation of animals, especially dogs, and the confidence in human application. That the human lifespan is finite, has long been a scholarly question, and it is exciting to witness the revelation of advances to parry that question.