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UO neuroscience at the crossroads. Cluster of excellence, or rebuild effort?

Last updated on 10/06/2014

UO’s overpaid VP for Research Brad Shelton is going to have an interesting time rationalizing these low retention offers.

Diane Dietz has the story in the RG, here:

At least one UO brain researcher has already been poached.

Clifford Kentros, a neuroscientist in the psychology department, who designed and produced a new species of mouse, left for Norway in spring 2013 — although he’s maintaining his laboratory at the UO for a while yet.

Kentros went to work at the Kavli Institute for Systems Neuroscience after getting an employment contract that’s the envy of his peers, who live in a constant state of grant-seeking to pay their salaries.

“They offered him a fantastic salary and research support package,” Awh said. “One back-of-the-napkin way to describe his package was that he doesn’t have to write any more grants and he will have (research) funding until he’s 70.”

Kentros — and others scientists — left behind a state-of-the-art animal vivarium in the new Lewis Integrative Science Building. It has room for 4,000 cages but only about 1,000 are in use, according to the cluster proposal.

More departures in neurosciences “could very well spark a chain reaction,” Awh said, that would put the UO on the defensive. In that event, “neuroscience at Oregon will have to focus on rebuilding rather than on expanding.”

Oregon State University has shown cluster hires can work, he said. “I was impressed that there were actual hires — it happened,” Awh said. “We all hope there will be a similar way to describe this (at the UO) some day, but it’s not today.”

For more on how UO got to this point, check out the Espy posts.

Instead of paying faculty competitive wages, we’re paying failed former provost Jim Bean $245,000 a year to work on “experiential learning”. Apparently that doesn’t involve actually teaching a class.


  1. Dog 10/06/2014

    a lot of things are in rebuild status, especially the need to invest in better scientific research infrastructure. Investments in this rebuild effort can lead to excellence so the two terms are not mutually exclusive.

  2. allisduckie 10/06/2014

    Uhhh, I don’t think Kentros produced a new species of mouse.

  3. Anonymous 10/06/2014

    Two of the just-announced winners of the 2014 Nobel Prize in Medicine, May-Britt Moser and Edvard Moser, are the directors of the Kavli Institute for Systems Neuroscience, the institution that lured Kentros away:

    Espy let Kentros go with little resistance, despite clear signals from these eminent scientists and from his UO colleagues that he was an emerging star and well worth keeping. Maybe she thought she knew better.

    Fortunately, lots has changed since then. Let’s hope the new guard puts up more of a fight.

  4. anonymous 10/09/2014

    Ed Awh should be embarrassed by that story. It should have been much less about him and WAY more about ION. Yes, Kentros was a loss, but he didn’t have grant money for most of his time here – that does not sound like an “emerging star”.

    • uomatters Post author | 10/09/2014

      Diane Dietz wrote the story, not Ed Awh. As for Kentros, the Kavli job speaks for itself.

    • ScienceDuck 10/09/2014

      I know a few others interviewed for these cluster hire articles, and all of them cringed a bit at what their quotes were. They were quoted accurately, but some context was removed or in hindsight they wish the questions weren’t so heavily in a particular area. Diane is doing a good job of tackling explaining complex subjects, but she also has to find a hook or theme and that can slant things. So I think, sure it wasn’t perfect but cut the people being interviewed a little slack.

  5. anonymous 10/09/2014

    Yes, Dietz wrote the story, but as someone who has been interviewed by the media multiple times, you can lead a reporter (and thus the direction of the story) one way or another by the nature of your responses. You of all people know that given the number of times you have been cited/quoted the past couple of years.

    As for the Kavli job, only time will tell if they truly saw a “diamond in the rough” versus the “floater in the toilet” many of us outside ION saw/evaluated. FYI – Kentros’ h-index, according to Web of Science today (, is a paltry 15, Ed Awh’s is 24, Ed Vogel’s is 24, Helen Neville’s is 33, Mike Posner’s is 59, and for comparison, mine is over 41. It would be useful if people focus on substantive, quantitative metrics such as these (though not perfect) when making statements about how “eminent” a scientist a person really is when the data do not back that statement up.

    • Anonymous 10/09/2014

      What kind of person slams someone’s h-index online, and then brags about their own – anonymously? Seriously. Who are you anonymous h-41?

      • Dog 10/09/2014

        when computing H-scores one should use different engines
        and average the result.

        I find the Harzing Publish or Parish “app” to be quite robust,
        and I am pretty sure its reliably calibrated because my H-score
        is negative, and that is most certainly correct.

      • anonymous 10/09/2014

        I was just trying to point out that baseless statements such as “emerging star and well worth keeping” are not supported by metrics which decisions should be made by. I have heard time and again in my multiple decades at UO how great person X or person Y is but the various statistics by which our academic careers should be measured – papers, grants, citations, talks, etc – often do not back up the rosy, somewhat myopic views of colleagues within a person’s own department or discipline.

        As for my own h-index number, that was the first time I had looked it up in over two years. While it may be high relative to some of the individuals previously mentioned, I do not have a chaired professor position, I do not have my own little institute to lord over, I am not in shiny new research space. I am just a rank and file professor with a few grad students running a couple of single PI grants in crappy outdated lab space. Bragging? No.

      • What kind of person? 10/09/2014

        I guess it’s also the type of person who can control the direction of a reporter’s story through his/her own sheer will and superior intellect. The rest of us, sadly, must fall into the “Floater” category.

        Though, despite this impressive quality, this type of person has a weak and tortured grasp of metaphor. “Floater in the toilet” makes absolutely no sense when juxtaposed with “Diamond in the rough” in this context.

        Of course, the crude message indicating that this person thought that Kentros was a piece of shit as a scientist still comes across quite clearly and effectively. It’s even more impressive when you consider the assertion that he/she was in an evaluative role during this particular retention process.

    • Anonymous 10/09/2014

      Before lecturing us on the need to rely on quantitative metrics for evaluating faculty, you might want to take a refresher course on simple counting. Posner’s H-index is a lot higher than 59 on that web of knowledge index you linked to. At the moment, it’s actually 79. In fact, aside from the one for Kentros, all of the numbers you quote are way off what is actually listed. Likely an honest mistake. Of course, I’m sure you made no such mistake in calculating your own.

      • Laughing out loud 10/09/2014

        “Anonymous H41” was lying about the numbers that were supposed so precious to him?? That is so hilariously lame and sad!

  6. uomatters Post author | 10/09/2014

    I’m no physicist, but by “emerging star” economists mean someone who is undervalued: i.e. low in terms of current observables like pubs and citations and h-indexes, but likely to do better in the future. Presumably we were paying Espy so much because Jim Bean thought she could identify and encourage such people. Whether from incompetence or self-interest, she didn’t. Or maybe Bean hired her to chase off the scientists, so he could promote his sports product design plan and stay on the JH dole forever, like Lorraine Davis?

  7. Dick Wayver 10/09/2014

    Do female science faculty also compare their h-indices? Or do they mainly concentrate on just doing good science?

    • anon 10/11/2014

      Faculty of all genders can be humble or egotistical, in my experience.

  8. Eyes opened 10/10/2014

    Thank you Dick, for helping us realize that this discussion *is* all about gender. So insightful. I am humbled.

  9. anonymous 10/10/2014

    Oh Anonymous H41, it is you who should be embarrassed. People who are secure in their own academic merit don’t need to waste time attempting to discredit their colleagues with inaccurate “quantitative metrics” and juvenile metaphors.

  10. Old Man 10/11/2014

    To anonymous 10/09/2014 at 12:46 pm: George Streisinger’s H-score would have been mighty low (had there been such a metric in the 60’s and 70’s). His contributions were in a young field with few practitioners (bacteriophage biology) and in a field (zebra fish genetics) being invented by him for the purpose of genetically dissecting the pathways by which ocular perception is linked to cerebral recognition. He characteristically published his phage work only long after it was completed and his zebra fish grant applications were dissed by the review panels. He survived at Oregon only because those in his Department and in the discipline of phage biology KNEW that he was a rising star.

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