Why QCist.com?

  • Qian-Chen Yong
  • July 26, 2017

It has been about 3 months since we launched the website, QCist.com. However, we clearly forgot to explain the obvious question. Why are we creating and working on this website?


First, why is it called QCist?


Well, QC stands for Quality Control and we are hoping to control the quality (scientific integrity, mentoring skill, etc.) of scientists through this website. We were initially thinking QCscientist.com, however QC scientist itself could be confused with the profession in which scientists specialize in Quality Control. Moreover, we didn’t want to limit the scope of the website. Eventually, we hope to QC all the mentors for professions with “ist”, for example economist, psychologist, chemist and engineers (without “ist”). Therefore we called this website QCist.


Why are we creating and working on this website?


Many good and bad experiences throughout my own career, as well as those of my peers and colleagues, have laid the foundation for QCist.com. The current political and social climates affecting scientific progress have only amplified the importance of this website. It is vital that scientific integrity is maintained through all of these challenges, and that we can continue to promote human health and improve quality of life, which is our ultimate charge as scientists. Unfortunately, there are people who have not responded accurately to these challenges. We want to help create great teams of scientists with similar interests and goals, while filtering out those researchers who do not maintain good laboratory practice or negatively affect the growth of our next generation of scientists. Creating productive, efficient, positive environments in which scientific progress can thrive is our main goal.


The most recent event that motivated me to create QCist.com was when I was searching for my second postdoc position. After my first postdoc, I came to understand what kind of mentors I would need in order to succeed in academia. However, finding these mentors proved to be a very tedious and seemingly insurmountable task. Some labs have up-to-date websites while others have none; some departments provide descriptions of their faculty or post their full CV, which may contain pertinent information but some may not. Also, some mentors are only found through networking at conferences or “cold-calling” to see if they have any openings in their lab. What I really needed was a database that I could search and make a shortlist of the mentors I found interesting and with whom I shared common goals. I could then contact them with confidence to talk more about the possibility of joining their lab. I know that it can be a useful platform for all stages of trainees alike.


Another major issue that inspired me to create this website was that quite a few of trainees around me were physically or verbally abused by their mentors. These friends and colleagues of mine were too afraid to speak out, as their careers were likely to be affected negatively in some way. Some of these abusive mentors are well funded and regularly publish in high impact journals; therefore they are usually “protected” by the department/institute they work for. Any accuser would need very solid evidence (like audio/video recordings) to file a viable complaint, which even then may or may not lead to any additional investigation. This made me realize that if there was a website that allowed trainees/researchers to comment about those abusive mentors, without direct repercussions, other prospective trainees may think twice before making a decision to go to a lab that looks good from the outside (good grants and publications), but may have negative trade-offs in terms of personal development.


An additional importance in promoting good mentorship is to prevent trainees from receiving incorrect teachings regarding experimental methods and study design. For example, one person I talked to was told that running real time PCR in quadruplicate in 1 single run makes the sample size equal to 4. Another was told that it is okay to remove one (or more) data points as an outlier, without tangible justification, to make a group of data become statistically significant. We already have issues with reproducibility in science, and if these misleading practices continue, the integrity of the next generation of scientists will be polluted. These teachings will likely be passed down to the next generation, and so on creating a downward spiral. Consequently, another important reason for QCist.com is to share knowledge about the correct way to carry out experiments, and to facilitate trainees to identify a good scientist with great scientific integrity to be their mentor.


QCist.com is in its infancy, so getting the word out about what we are trying to accomplish is key! Currently, the most important growth we need is to get more users to add and review mentors they know in order to generate a database that is large enough to be used as a reference for prospective trainees. To accomplish this, we have started to volunteer at conferences around us, actively join seminars, and speak to people who may be interested in promoting the concept and goals of QCist.com. Fortunately, we recently had the opportunity to interact with a pioneer in research integrity, Retraction Watch (RW). This blog aims to increase the transparency of the paper retraction process and was the true inspiration that influenced me early on about scientific integrity. There was a point in my research career where I was so frustrated by some of the scientific misconducts around me that I felt lost and disappointed with science. I began to feel that science had fallen, until I found RW! RW reported scientific misconducts that usually led to investigation and retraction as well as described data fabrication, in detail. At the time they were the only channel that people could report problematic data, although now there are other post-publication peer review websites, like PubPeer. RW basically taught me that there are still many researchers out there who care about robustness of data and the right way to carry out experiments. They are truly inspirational. Hopefully, we will be able to interact with RW more and more in the future to promote research openness and increase the accountability of scientists.


For now, you can help improve the process of scientific research for your colleagues, and for future generations, by providing your personal testimony about mentors you know. Create a free account today and help us QC scientists today! You may also receive a promotional free upgrade on your account, see our FAQ for details.


Appreciation goes to Dr. Stephanie Kidder and Mr. Alexander Griffith for their editorial and other comments.

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