Archive for: December, 2008

Holiday weight loss program

Dec 30 2008 Published by under Uncategorized

I finally managed to figure out a good way to drop a few pounds following the holidays and a way to incorporate the whole family in the fun. It's actually really easy, all you need to do is find a virulent strain of the Norwalk Virus and let things take their course.

So, what worked really well for us was to have my wife wake up in the middle of the night on Christmas Eve and have to make a B-line for the bathroom. After she spent a couple hours retching, we all went downstairs in my parent's place to a nice egg breakfast, which sent her directly back upstairs. She suffered through opening presents before napping while I packed the car and the baby. At this point, we thought it might be food poisoning from the party the night before, so no precautions were being taken to avoid contaminating others. We drove the hour to her parent's place, while she managed to hold it together in the car. A second round of present opening ensued, during which she felt a bit better and even tried some liquids that stayed down. Maybe it was food poisoning and she was pulling through. That night disproved that theory, as it was a reenactment of the previous one.

The next morning we left for our own home, with me playing single parent to try and keep the baby from getting steamrolled by the virus, but to no avail. The day after, as my wife was finally feeling better, the baby began to vomit in ways that would make a Hollywood FX director jealous they couldn't duplicate. Following that, she filled her diaper (and clothes and chair) with the most horrible smelling semi-liquid I have ever encountered, and as I ran her directly to the tub, fully clothed, I was trying to figure out if my stomach was feeling ill because of the virus or what I was dealing with at the time. It turned out that I was still not infected... yet.

By Sunday the worst had passed and we had managed to keep the baby hydrated. Feeling fine and like I had dodged the bullet, I watched some of the last regular season NFL games and had a couple of beers. I don't know if that was a tipping point or not, but by 10:30 Monday morning I knew something was not right and I headed back home. By yesterday afternoon I was relegated to sitting on the toilet puking into a bucket in my hands because there was no right answer to the question "which end of my body is more explosive right now?" Luckily for me, it seems to have passed as quickly as it came and I even got a decent lunch down before coming in today.

So, nothing shaves off the pounds like not eating for 24-72 hours and purging everything from your body in a violent way. Just a suggestion for kicking those New Year's resolutions into high gear.

6 responses so far

How anonymous is anonymous blogging?

Dec 29 2008 Published by under Uncategorized

Last night I had my 1000th visitor, which is about 995 more than I ever thought would read anything here, so I thought I would take the occasion to write about something that has been in the back of my head to post for a while.
I walked into this all a bit naive about the blogging community and it has taken me a while to get settled in and feel a bit like I know what the hell I am doing. What I'm doing here is still all a bit amateur-hour compared to the more committed out there, but I'm stumbling along, happy to do what I can. I wanted to do this blog as a way to discuss my experiences as a new faculty member in the hopes that it would help others anticipate some of the challenges they would face if they have the good fortune to find themselves in a similar situation.
One thing I did not anticipate was the variety of tools available for bloggers to monitor who visits their site when and for how long. Even creepier, I can easily figure out details of a visitor, including their server, location, even the platform, OS and browser used to access my blog. Whereas this information really does me no good, an interested blogger could easily determine, at the very least, the university home of anyone who left a comment on their blog. Initially, I had set out to introduce as little information about myself and my university into the blog but over time I have gotten lazier about details. Armed with the knowledge of my university, a couple of details gleaned from what I have written and a little bit of curiosity, one could quite easily figure out who I am. I'm not saying this happens, just that it could. For my own part, I assume that anyone else doing this is less interested in who other bloggers are in person than what they have to say in this odd little community. Plus, as someone who would prefer to remain nameless here, I extend that courtesy to others and hope they do the same. Nevertheless, I already mentioned that I came here like a country boy to the city....
So, that got me thinking whether or not I would care if someone took the time to track down who I am and I don't really have an answer yet. I know that, in an effort not to be too obvious about what I do, I have avoid writing about some things that I would really like to. Perhaps that is the sacrifice for taking this approach, but I have decided to post a bit more about science in 2009 even if it means reducing the pool of scientists to hide in. After all, what's the point of discussing a science job if you can't pepper in a bit of the science you love along the way?

5 responses so far

The importance of The Post-doc

Dec 22 2008 Published by under Uncategorized

There has been a lot written about getting jobs on blogs recently, so I am not going to further that discussion here other than to recommend the jobs wiki as a resource to anyone in the market. It's not a comprehensive list of jobs, but if you get involved it is a tremendous way to get insight into the progress of searches. Waiting is the most maddening part of the process, especially when some schools (about half) never take the time to bother writing you back about your application. The community there can let you know when others have heard anything back from the same search committees you have applications into, reducing some of the wait. There is also a good discussion forum there.
However, what I would like to talk about in my final post before a brief break is the importance of getting a good post-doc position. I can only speak from my experience, but this is where many careers either float or end up timbers on the rocks. There are more than enough PhDs out there for the various tt positions that come up in the annual feeding frenzy, so if that is your ultimate goal it is essential to differentiate yourself from the rest as a post-doc. The following are a list of factors I would strongly recommend considering when looking for a post-doc position. Take it or leave it.

1) Do something different!
This varies between fields and some of the BioMed folks may take issue with this idea, but I think it is a massive mistake to stay within your comfort zone as a post-doc and pursue research that is very similar to your PhD work. By exploring a new field for a few years you can bring expertise from your PhD while continuing to learn new techniques and approaches to problems. Though it may not be obvious from the beginning, this will give you an advantage when starting your own research program. By combining diverse training you are more likely to come up with novel and innovative research questions that a peer who has spent their time in only one field may not think of.

2) Look for an interactive group.
Even though you will be working in one lab, it will be to your benefit if your lab is part of a collaborative group or center that regularly brings together (through lab meetings, or even socially) several different labs working in a particular sub-field rather than being isolated in a department. Not only does this open you up to new ideas and collaborations, but these types of groups tend to have more equipment and techniques available to their members, which is helpful when you want to chase something down that is out of your lab's expertise. Also, if the group is made up of PIs at different points in their careers (the established head honchos and a couple of rising stars), this is ideal.

3) Don't be a number.
Again, this may be different in BioMed, but IME, being in a lab that is not the size of a small corporation means that you can actually interact with the PI and regularly bounce ideas off them. This can be important if you follow #1 and speed your development. Also, enormous labs tend to just buy anything they need, which is great from a productivity stand-point, but sucks for your development as a researcher and thinker. Personally, I would rather be the scrappy motherfucker who knows where his meat comes from because he grew up on a farm and not the guy who sees steak as just something that is in every grocery store, as though delivered in the middle of the night by meat fairies.

4) Write, write, write.
I know this is hardly novel, but a bit too important to leave off the list. I have often heard the unsubstantiated rumor of The Rule of 20. Essentially, if you don't have 20 pubs on your CV (not all first author), SCs are going to file your application in the big round file that gets taken out by the janitorial staff. If you have a bunch of first author C/N/S papers and only 10 pubs, I'm sure this would not apply. But for the human among us who publish some in specialty journals, get the papers on your CV. My goal was to average 5 pubs a year as a post-doc. Seek out opportunities to write reviews and opinions whenever appropriate.

5) Review, review, review.
Grants, manuscripts, cake recipes - whatever anyone will send you. It may not make for the most productive of times in the short-term, but it will make you a better writer, editor and grantsmith (which is an art). Once your name gets on a few lists, and don't hesitate to mention to senior colleagues that you would be willing to review, quantity should not be a problem.

I'm sure I will think of other things as soon as a post this, but my point is that you have to view a post-doc as a transition between being a student and being a mentor. This is a developmental process and it is critical that you chose a place where you can develop the necessary skills and be selfish about the importance of this stage of your career. A good mentor will see a post-doc as more than a skilled set of hands and it is up to you make the most of the situation you are in by taking advantage of the resources available to you.

Happy holidays all.

2 responses so far

What I've learned in four months

Dec 21 2008 Published by under Uncategorized

Arlenna at Chemical BiLOLogy recently posted a first semster roundup, which got me thinking about what I have learned in my first semester as a tt assistant prof. As lame as Top Ten Lists are, here is my Top Ten Things I Learned About Being an Assistant Prof in the Last Four Months.

10. As willing as I was to take any job where I felt comfortable, I am glad I ended up in a department where I am treated well and have colleagues that respect each other. Many of my friends have not been so lucky.

9. Having a semester off from teaching is essential. This experience has been overwhelming enough without teaching responsibilities this semester. If I had to add teaching on top, I would be seriously behind with my research.

8. A lot of the people around me have been telling me not to be as ambitious with my attempts at funding, to build slowly, etc. As DrugMonkey discussed yesterday, fuck. That. Apply for everything that fits.

7. Hiring people is both a lot harder and a lot more important that I had first thought, and it was something that I considered key before starting.

6. I count more on the people at Post-doc U than I thought I would.

5. Spend money fast and furious in the begining to get things in the lab as fast as possible, because every day counts. I filled the lab with almost everything I needed in two months and I still feel behind.

4. My wife kicks ass and I wouldn't be able to be doing nearly as much as I have without her support and effort.

3. Hire your first students based on the recommendations of people you trust. The first few people in the lab can make or break the most important time you have.

2. Get to know the grad students in other labs, they will tell you what is really going on in the department.

1. Have I mentioned that my wife rocks my shit? This job will test your relationship, especially if you have kids. It takes two to make it work, but it helps a lot if your partner is understanding and constantly encouraging.

One response so far

An under-appreciated factor

Dec 18 2008 Published by under Uncategorized

I am not an ecologist, but everything in my lab starts in the field. It may be a small portion of the overall project, but is nevertheless essential. Because of this aspect, trips into the field are a common feature of what I do and I am just about to complete the first such trip as a faculty member, directing all of the details of a week-long quest to find very specific things in the wild. Everything worked out better than I had hoped and we should be working with the fruits of our labor for a while now.
One thing I did not really consider before the trip, however, was the impact that the student I brought with me could have on the whole week. Having been on many such trips before, I have had experiences at all points on the spectrum, from unmitigated disaster to unbridled success. For some reason I never attributed the differences specifically to the people on the trip, perhaps because they were always a complex mix of personalities who were my peers. As an advisor and planner of this trip, I have a very different perspective.
I can not understate how important it is, at least in the early stages, to have people to travel with who you are happy to spend time with. In the last 5 days I have pretty much spent every waking minute with the grad student who came along with me, in a variety of situations. Amazingly, we had a great time, had plenty to talk about and never spent awkward minutes between forced conversation. That alone made the trip infinitely more enjoyable and easy. I don't think it will be the lead criterion for selecting students in the future, but I also underestimated how important it can be. The long hours we put in are hard enough without having to look forward to time alone.

One response so far

Ethical Dilemma

Dec 16 2008 Published by under Uncategorized

As I have chronicled, I am having a bit of an issue with a potential collaborator, but the situation is a bit more tricky than what I have written about so far. The reason I have been trying so hard to contact this person is not only because they have old (10 yrs!) data I would like to analyze and publish, but because I want to avoid an ethical dilemma that I will have to deal with, should I never get in touch with this person.

The backstory: when these data were new, “Data Producer” collaborated with another individual who had far more experience analyzing these types of data. “Collaborator” put a substantial amount of time and effort into the project and then it never got written up. Collaborator has (and had) plenty of other projects on the go and never pushed very hard to get the thing out, so the data have languished. Amazingly, these data are still relevant to the field and have a very interesting story to tell.

So, fast forward ten years to a conference over the summer where I had some time to talk with Collaborator. We got talking about a number of things and I asked Collaborator if they had any knowledge of the data that never got published, not knowing that Collaborator had worked on the project. This got Collaborator a bit steamed thinking about the time invested and the fact that nothing ever happened with the data. I discussed my inability to get much communication from Data Producer and Collaborator suggested the following: We both try and get Data Producer to resurface and participate in whatever capacity they feel like towards getting the data published. BUT, the kicker is that Collaborator still has the data and suggested that they would give it to me to analyze and publish, should Data Producer ignore our communication and fade into retirement. I would then be free to use the data as if I had produced it – and herein lays the dilemma.

On the one hand, it seems silly for me to spend the time and money to reproduce the data from scratch. It’s already done and there is nothing tricky about the process, it would just take time and money. Rather than have data lost to science, it makes more sense to use the data set already completed.

On the other hand, these data are not mine, nor will they ever be. I feel extremely uncomfortable (maybe fraudulent) using data I did not produce, without the knowledge of the person who did. I’m actually not sure I could do it. Despite Collaborator’s insistence that it would be the best thing for science for the data to be available, I don’t think it would be the best thing for me.

Collaborator did get an email back from Data Producer (just as I had originally) saying that they were interested in getting the data out and that we should work it up, but nothing has happened since. Data Producer even had the gall to ask Collaborator for my email address (apparently the 10 emails I sent in the last 5 months didn’t include my address on them), but that was two months ago and I have yet to hear anything.

So, the data sit on a hard drive and will never be published unless I either get Data Producer to agree to let me deal with them or I ignore my conscience. As hard as it has been to get in touch with Data Producer, it will be far more difficult to do the alternative.

7 responses so far

Collaboration with Frustration: Part II

Dec 16 2008 Published by under Uncategorized

I posted earlier about a problem with a particular researcher who had agreed to work on a project together months ago, then never responded to any follow-up. Well, now I'm in their backyard. I tried today to drop by the person's office, but to no avail. I did, however, check out the departmental office and notice that this person was not on the vacation list, and thus, is probably around. The good news is that their office is between where we have to park and where we have lab space, so it's an easy drop-by every time we are on campus. But, with classes out, there is no assurance that the door will ever be open when we get there. Maybe I will try and call their cell number one more time tomorrow, but I just don't think there is much else worth doing. After this trip it is time to move on.

2 responses so far

Gearing up and getting out

Dec 13 2008 Published by under Uncategorized

Tomorrow I embark on the second of back-to-back research trips, this time to California. This one is different. Last week's trip was to work with a collaborator, flesh out the base of a grant and produce some more data by combining the techniques we each bring to the party. This week's trip is all me, and it's the first such trip for the lab. My grad student and I are heading across the country to get the preliminary data which will from the basis for me to be able to say "See, I told you I could do it" to the NSF reviewers who demanded more preliminary data (As a side note, I know that the current funding situation demands that reviewers find ways to not fund things, but complaining that someone might not be able to complete a technique only marginally different from the ones they have been doing for the last ten years is really weak). So, in a lot of ways, the results of this trip will largely determine the success of one of my January grants. If you don't think that has me wracking my brain to remember every last thing we need to bring and pretty much assuming I am going to remember a key item about halfway over Indiana, you would be very wrong. I have a pile of things in the middle of the lab and like Santa on meth, I've checked the list about 30 times, unable to trust the there won't be one undeserving child who found themselves on the "bad" list. I don't need a box full of coal from NSF next year. Alright, I have to stop listening to Christmas music.

Everything is good so far. We got some good work done right off the plane and worked things up until now, when we're both ready to crash. The only downside has been that there is some derranged Christmas train that keeps going slowly by where we are staying, as if mocking me for my earlier mentioned disdain for Christmas music. It's full of people badly singing Christmas carols to no one in particular and a Santa yelling HO HO HO. Did I mention that there is no one on the street watching, but that it goes by every hour? If it wakes me up in another hour I swear I'm derailing the fucker.

One response so far

Damn the girl scouts

Dec 12 2008 Published by under Uncategorized

Is it alright to hate teenage girls for selling crack tasty cookies? What about grad students for bringing them in? I need someone to blame for my lack of self-control around those damn chocolate/caramel/coconut things.

No responses yet

If I had known y'all were coming, I would have worn something nicer

Dec 12 2008 Published by under Uncategorized

Well, thanks to Drug Monkey for highlighting this site yesterday and basically increasing the traffic here ten-fold. Unfortunately, I don't have a ton of time today to be insightful or witty because the list of things I need to finish in the one day I am in the office is ridiculous and our "building that is about to be demolished so they won't fix anything in it" flooded in several places last night, leaving me with a mess to clean up as well. Instead I'll leave you with my first picture post of the blog as a figure "Dr. Isis style".

Fig. 1. I like traveling to the south and enjoy the people and culture, but I am glad not to live there because of the need to put up a sign like this. One hopes to live in a place where it is taken for granted that people know not to bring guns to airports. I don't ask much.

4 responses so far

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