This really is the type of outreach we need to be doing more of. It's all about getting kids into science.
Archive for: May, 2009
Graduation is finally here. I can tell because I can park near my building for the first time since spring break. There's been a lot going on here in the last couple of weeks and the summer is looking to be plenty busy, but I thought I might take a second to look back on my first academic year as a PI and recount what the hell happened in the last 9 months.
Mid-July, Submitted my first grant for my new position. Submitting a grant through an institution you are not at after having officially been an employee for about a week is harder than it should be.
Aug 1, Completed a multi-day international move with all of our belongings, two cats, a 5 month old baby and a mother in law.
Aug 4, Walked into an empty lab and office, got out a pen and started ordering everything I could think of. From computers to paper clips to chemicals. Our finance person and I got to know each other very quickly.
August, fended off as many sales reps as I could while contacting the ones I wanted to deal with. To a sales rep, the smell of a new lab with start-up money is like blood in the water to a shark. They circle in from miles away the minute you jump in the water.
Early September, My first grad student started up and we spent the first month opening boxes and getting things set up. One can argue whether or not it is productive to have a student from day 1 but for me it was tremendously helpful. It also allowed me to train a student who did not have a lot of experience with the techniques in the lab from the very beginning on all the little stuff like, "why are we putting this equipment close to that?"
Mid-September, Buried in so much paperwork and meetings I have no idea which end is up. I spend most of my days trying to figure out why something is not going through the finance system or meeting new people who always start out every meeting with "So. How are you really doing?" Also told I am coordinating the fall seminar series. Start calling everyone who owes me a favor. This month is all a blur.
End of September, Submitted a grant to a
condescending private foundation before going back to post-doc city for a week.
October, Handed a fellowship to cover another grad student. Start calling around to the people I trust who might be graduating a student before the end of the year. Amazingly, this works out and I end up recruiting a second excellent student. Also told that I need to submit my paperwork for the course I'm going to teach in the spring. Make up a course and submit it.
October 23, Start blogging just to chronicle everything with the idea that it might help someone else avoid some of the issues I ran into. At this point I had not read any science blogs or discovered that there were lots of people doing the same thing (which might have helped me). Turns out that other people had already thought of this.
November, More paperwork, more buying, more getting things going. Start scheduling research-related trips to get material. Start producing actual data. Also start running into issues in the lab and get the tattered remains of my July grant back. Take off on my first research trip. The first comments show up on the blog and I begin to realize that other people are doing the same thing I am.
December, Go on two more trips, essentially back-to-back in different corners of the US, all while using serious amounts of "parenting credit" with WLS. Got blog rolled by Drug Monkey, found out while walking onto a plane and spent the whole flight wondering if the plane would crash if I connected to the internet (turns out you get no signal... not that I checked...). I basically worked through Christmas (took Christmas and the 26th to visit family) and took half a day while my insides were ripped out by a nasty bug. Otherwise, it was data production time for two grants with a January deadline.
January, Submitted my solo grant and ran into a few issues with the collaborative one. Switched programs to one with a March deadline. My second student started, I started teaching a grad-level course and the fit hit the shan in terms of blowing up the departmental structure of the whole college. I was also told two days after the deadline that the deadline for September grad students is in January. On top of that, the prospect of moving into a new building was constantly hanging over us. It was a busy month.
February, We ran into more lab mishaps and we moved into the new building with about two hours notice. I also had some major personal things come up in my life and the combination of everything at once made for some difficult times. While resolution hasn't entirely happened, things are a bit better now. I also posted my 100 post here.
March, I turned 32 years old and the Wee One turned 1. I wrestled with grants.gov and after some craziness we got the collaborative grant submitted. I recruited another student for September and did a bit more traveling as the lab settled into the new digs. WLS started a new job and the Wee One started
disease central day care.
April, I don't even know what happened to April, it was here and gone so fast. Research wise the lab seems to have worked through the kinks and is churning along. The new space is essentially done and everything was in place. I dealt with issues regarding undergrad students and teaching evolution through soccer. My class transitioned into something slightly different for the last few weeks and I survived meetings and life in general.
And now here we are in May. I'm starting to feel like I'm hitting my stride, both in my job and also a little bit here as well. I am burnt as hell from the year, but it feels like things are moving forward and I don't have that running-in-quicksand sensation about everything anymore. I have two more grants to write from scratch for July, two trips between now and then and a shit load of data to collect. But today feels like a bit of an odd transition in a lot of ways as the last day of my first academic year. I don't know where the next few months will take us, but all-in-all, I feel like I did a pretty decent job of all this to get where I am now and I'm looking forward to continuing from here.
Theme of the Day: Cage the Elephant, "Ain't No Rest for the Wicked"
Work is far too frustrating to post about today, so you get a family post instead...
It finally happened. A week ago, the Wee One decided that she'd had enough of crawling and it was time to join the bipedal nation. Without much warning or practice that wasn't forced upon her, she just started walking... and walking... and walking. Suddenly she has halved the time we have to react to her attempts to destroy the house and now almost everything is within reach. They don't tell you in those pregnancy classes that you should start buying furniture with flat surfaces no lower than 4 feet, but you should. Especially if you have the rare combination of a thrower/climber. Some children like to throw things and others enjoy climbing whatever they can get on to and the Wee One has incorporated both traits into her arsenal. I think the only safe storage place right now is the freezer and I'm not sure how long that will last.
The combination of new walking, climbing and throwing things (sometimes directly up so that they come down on her head) has resulted in a child who looks like she's gone toe to toe with Mike Tyson for a few rounds. Everyday she has some new scratch or giant red mark to the point where I think people are questioning call DSS in the grocery store. They go away quickly, but there always seem to be a fresh crop. If she wasn't such a happy kid who spends most of her time in public trying to get strangers to wave back to her, I think we might get more strange looks. We would like to be taking more pictures of her at this stage and would do so if we felt like we could distribute them without concerned phone calls from relatives. Hopefully this is just a phase and I will be able to return the 6 first aid kits I bought yesterday.
As part of throwing my hat in every funding ring I can, I applied for an institutional grant in order to pay for a small project that I am already doing but would like someone else to pay for. I figured that being new faculty and having a proposal that would fit nicely with some of the federal proposals I have out would make for a fairly strong application. Indeed, the comments are got back were very positive on both the science and the training students would receive. In fact, the comments were in direct conflict with the cover letter letting me know that I was not receiving the funding. Puzzled, I looked over the comments again and one stuck out. "Has federal funding potential." On first pass I had seen this as a good thing. Shouldn't all ideas under consideration for institutional funding also be ideas that can be modeled into federal proposals based on the results from this small pot of institutional money? The more I thought about it, however, the more I realized that this was a knock on the proposal. If it can be federally funded, why spend tight institutional money on it?
What pisses me off about this odd little conundrum, is that the project is NOT CURRENTLY funded. Yes, I am waiting to hear back from NSF on a proposal that has similar, but not entirely overlapping, goals. Do I have the money in hand? No. If it doesn't get funded in this round would it be REALLY helpful to have a small pot of money to help produce more data for the next round? Yes. Next year I'll have to send in a project to the institutional competition which is less thought out or less likely to get funded. In the mean time I'll just keep burning that start-up funny money.
1) Having a milkshake made with a chunky ice cream is a bad idea. Chunks and straws are mortal enemies in the wild.
2) Sipping a blackberry chocolate chip milkshake in a clear cup from a straw is NOT the most masculine thing one can do. Probably best to avoid walking down the business office hallway on the way back to the building.
3) Neither getting out of my office for almost half an hour, nor a milkshake, are making this grant review itself.
There have to be a hundred posts out there about how important it is to write well in science, but here's 101. I can't tell you how many students I had as a TA tell me they didn't care about writing because they wanted to be a scientist and how many more were shocked and appalled when I took off points from an assignment for atrocious grammar or spelling. I wasn't crazy about it, but I have my limits that were constantly pushed by the students. Ironically, I'm a horrible speller. However, I know this and make sure to spell-check everything I am writing that might be seen by others. I consider myself a decent writer who is always looking for ways to improve and most often I do that through reading and noticing when someone really gets their point across effectively. I look at how they have structured their point or argument and keep it in the back of my head. What did they say that convinced me and how did they get there? If you can lead the reader along so that they reach your conclusion about a sentence before you spell it out, you've done a good job.
When it comes to manuscripts, I always remark on grammar and spelling though I don't take the time to mark up everything as that is not necessarily the job of the reviewer. The gray area is when it comes to grants. In theory we are supposed to be evaluating the science (and broader impacts in the case of NSF) and not necessarily the ability of the writer to actually write, but they are inseparable. Maybe I get hung up on the writing a bit too much, but I find nothing more distracting than a poorly written grant. I have on my desk a proposal for a project including 6 PIs with a budget in excess of a million dollars and I had to put it down after reading the first two pages because the writing just sucks and it was pissing me off. Is that how you want a reviewer reading through your grant? No. Angry reviewers are bad and if they are angry because your writing is the equivalent of nails on a chalk board how likely are they to think your science is kick ass? Like it or not, your writing is a direct reflection of you as an academic and as much as I try to see through the grammatical train-wreck and missing words in the back of my head I am thinking that if this proposal wasn't worth your time to edit and clarify, why is it worth my time to read and thoughtfully respond to.
So, dear readers, repeat after me - "Both verbal and written communication are essential facets of science and should be skills that are constantly honed, just like the techniques you use in the lab or field (or PLS will send you back the charred and shredded remains of your crappy grant)."
Today was the first time I sat on an exam committee. The student is in another department, and although related to what I do, the topic was not exactly my bag. It was only a proposal exam, but I have to say that it made me a bit nervous because I didn't want to either run out of questions to ask the student or have questions that were not open-ended enough, etc. There were five people on the exam committee, leaving the distinct possibility that if I didn't come up with a bunch of questions and ended up being the last person to ask, my questions might have already been asked by others. Since I dedicated maybe about 3 hours of time to reading and thinking about the student's proposal, I walked wondering if I was going to look like an unprepared ass in front of four of my colleagues.
The break-down of the committee was two senior faculty, one just-recent-full-prof, a third year assistant prof and myself. I was the only person from my department, but that turned out to be a good thing. It also worked out that they topic of people's questions strictly correlated with career stage. The senior folks asked either broad philosophical questions or nitty-gritty knowledge-testing details about the sub-sub-topic of the proposal. My guess is that they glanced at the proposal briefly and figured "been there, done that". The recent full prof had clearly read the whole thing and asked question geared at getting the student to synthesize a couple of fields that the proposal cut across, as well as delving into specific methods. The two junior profs spent most of our time pushing the candidate on parts of the proposal we thought were most interesting and try to get the candidate to reach into areas related to the proposal, but closer to our work. I had no problem with question overlap because I do some very different things than the other people who were in the room, which was nice, and my questions generated a decent amount of discussion. As much as I have a lot of confidence in what I am doing, there's always that lingering bit of impostor syndrome that speaks up in situations like that, when I'm not quite sure what to expect or how it will all play out. Now that I've gone through one I'll know what the deal is next time around and not be as concerned about it.
A number of months ago I applied for a grant from a private foundation. I knew it was a reach because they don't give out many grants and they almost exclusively fund people at glamour schools, but it was an opportunity. I was surprised that even though the company started by the man who endowed the foundation was and is an institution fundamentally based on technology, that the application process was all hardcopy (don't dare use staples or you will be disqualified!) with CD, etc., etc. Nevertheless, I forged on and sent in everything that they required because I'm the one asking for their money. Almost two months after sending in the application I get an email informing me that they received it and that the decision would be made in April. Okay, a six month turn-around, but whatever.
You may have noticed that April is over. No email. I had checked their website on April 27th and found no news but I went to check their webpage on May 1 and motherfucker if they didn't have the results announced on their home page. I am not surprised that may name was not among the list of awardees, but I am shocked that they did not even have the decency to send out a blanket form letter letting people know that their application was denied. Nothing. not even a Eff U post card cranked out by a machine with the word "denied" in bold red letters. I'm pretty sure that any response is better than them deciding that it's not even worth the electrons to fire off a one-liner email. Again, I realize that I'm not in the power seat here as the Oliver Twist character, but shouldn't there be some level of common decency?
If you are new to a workplace and interested in the lives of the people you work with, here a few tips to figure out who has young kids at home.
- We're the ones who come to work with smushed food or snot on our clothes without realizing it. Kids have an amazing ability to transfer these items to the one place you can't see on yourself, but everyone else can.
- We're the ones who come in on Monday looking more disheveled than Friday. Some weekends are far more tiring than weekdays.
- We're the ones who look like we were at a late night party or concert on a weeknight by the way we look some mornings. We weren't. More likely we were up much of the night because our kid is sick or just decided they would rather scream than sleep.
- We're the ones who have a cold 5x more than everyone else. Daycare is ground zero for every outbreak of every virus.
- We're the ones that are nodding off at 8:30 during dinner parties or evening departmental functions. When you are up at 5:30 am every day....
- We're the ones who will trap you in
monologue conversation for 30 minutes if you ask us how are kids are. Want to see the pixelated pictures of my kid on my phone?
- We're also the ones with a constant source of amazement and amusement at home, no batteries required.
Dear university dining services,
I get the fact that you like to "cater" all university events with the same "fill-in-the-blank-with-an-animal-salad" sandwiches that are more mayo then mystery meat, but could you give us some sort of indicator of which is which? Because, quite frankly, I can't tell by the hue of each ground substance in mayo and you've taken to creating some weird shit. I thought I was getting tuna salad this afternoon because it was my best guess at the meat-product that was likely unceremoniously applied to a roll with an ice cream scoop. Despite my eyes seeing tuna my taste buds were assaulted by "smokey", "salty" and "canned" as the flavors that erupted once I bit down. I gagged down the one bite while trying to figure out what I had just consumed. It took six people to identify the atrocity as "ham salad". Ham salad? What the fuck dining services? We were in no danger of running out of meat products to chop and apply mayo to! Why the fuck would you decide that doing this to ham was a good idea? Who even thought of this shit? It offends every human sense, with the exception of auditory, and I have yet to find the right thing to eat that will wash this taste out of my mouth. We're working our way from oatmeal cookie up to lab ethanol and flame, and I am disturbingly high up that chain. Dude. Fuck. Sigh.