Archive for: June, 2009

One down, one to go

Jun 30 2009 Published by under Uncategorized

All this time I have been worried about having two grants to submit in the July round. After discussing each grant with the respective colleagues I am working with on them, I decided to get started with grant number 1 about a month ago. This decision was both related to my investment in #1 being higher than that in #2 (meaning more writing and organizing on my part) and to the style of each collaborator. I knew that with grant #1 I would be able to email my co-PI and ask him to write a section or send me his budget numbers and have an answer within a couple of hours. With grant #2, I've gone weeks between communication with this colleague during writing periods, and not due to lack of effort on my part. Sometimes co-PI #2 just disappears and my only shot to get ahold of them is to call their spouse to ask whether my collaborator has been in the hospital for weeks after a brutal accident, or something (a dirty trick, but effective).

With July starting tomorrow, grant number 1 is almost done, with most of our support documents in hand. I called collaborator #2 yesterday to figure out where they were at with their portions of the grant and was told that #2 had not had time to work on it and would get on it before classes. Okaaaaay, I thought, but I'm pretty sure that classes start in September and our deadline is in July. Co-PI #2 the proceeded to wonder why I would be thinking about submitting it in the July round. These are the times I wish I had a tape recording of all my phone conversations because the answer is because that's exactly what we discussed two months ago when I agreed to do this project with you! Other than that, I have no reason.

So, the moral of the story is that I can focus entirely on the grant that is almost done and that I am more heavily invested in anyway. Since I can't turn around my recently declined grant for this round, grant #1 is all I have to deal with. It's like I could take a couple of days off and get some rest now. I have 10 whole days to finish this up.

4 responses so far

Actual Conversation: Real Estate

Jun 29 2009 Published by under Uncategorized

The family and I are in the process of looking at houses and have come across some really interesting possibilities, but in our price range there always seems to be a catch. When it looks too good to be true... We found a house online that blew our minds. The outside was exactly what we were looking for and the inside was decorated like someone made the place for us. How the fuck is this in our price range? Let's go check it out.

Well, we found out. Across the street and barely a stone's throw away are train tracks. Not just any train tracks, but the high-speed commuter rail tracks. When we arrived the selling agent informed us that the train could only be heard for one minute and 37 seconds every day and as if on cue, the train blasted by. Yes, you could only hear it for about 4 seconds, but it shook the damn house! As we walked through the house dumbfounded by how incredible the place was, I kept picturing myself red-eyed at the breakfast table going to sip my coffee as the train whips by spilling it all over myself. No matter how serene the house, if it shakes twice an hour that might be a problem.

In any case, that led to the following discussion where I almost revealed that I'm really a 15 year-old boy trapped in a body twice that age.

Our Agent: "That was such a beautiful place, too bad about the train."

PLS: "Yeah, I'm a light sleeper so I think that would make it tough for me at night."

OA: "Hmmmm, do you guys really like mission style?"

PLS: "Uh, um...." (Wow, this is odd that our real estate agent is asking about our sex life. I mean, we barely know her. I hope there's a joke about shaking and sex positions coming up here because otherwise I may just keep stammering for the rest of the ride to the next house. Shit, say something!). "Ah, yeah, I guess."

OA: "Hmmmmm, okay."

PLS: (What the fuck? What does this have to do with houses or anything? Is she judging us now? What kind of answer was she looking for? What can I think about to keep from laughing?)

OA: "That's a very distinctive style."

PLS: "Um....." (Not sure I would go with "distinctive" here, but whatever. Why is she so serious and I feel like my head is going to explode if I don't start cracking up?")

OA: "Because that house was all done in that style and not everyone goes for that."

PLS: (Finally realizing that she's talking about a style of furniture and not reproduction) "OH! Yeah, we like that style. Sure, Mission. They had great tables." (Phew!)

7 responses so far

And your little dog too

Jun 27 2009 Published by under Uncategorized

I'm doing something different today and turning the comments section off for this post. This is a selfish post. It's purpose is the exorcism of this writhing black ball of words in my head so that I can move on. I know that everyone goes through this shit and I know what I have to do to improve the grant for next time. I don't need commiseration, I don't need sympathy and I have no interest in joining bloggy hands to sing Kumbya. I need to expel here because in my life I have an image to up-hold of the guy who is the promising new hire who is getting shit done. The guy who came in with a solid track-record and is going to build a lab based on the new and exciting ideas he has. I don't want them to know how much this is bothering me.

I am often asked by others what it is like to be "a scientist". To be truthful, what I am doing is in one way or another the only career I ever imagined doing ever since I was a little kid. It's part of my identity (though not what I live for) and I love it. There's much to like about this job and I appreciate the fact that I have the opportunity to do it. I've worked my ass off to get here and I regret none of what it took. I have traveled, made life-long friends and above all, never stopped learning. I work because I want to and not (mostly) because I have to.

However, what I don't tell people is that sometimes science is like the old lady who ran over my dog when I was twelve and there are times when I feel like that kid again, shocked, helpless, crushed. Unfortunately, it's a part of the job. Rejection is the norm and what pushes us to find every way possible to demonstrate that our theories and findings are not fluke or misinterpretation. We are trained to question everything and it is healthy for our disciplines to have data poked and prodded by those who disagree. It makes us diligent. It makes us think. You have to be able to handle rejection and and constant questioning to be successful in science. If you don't expect to lose a few dogs to the bevy of land-yacht-driving grandmas of science, you're not going to last.

But just because it is part of the job, it doesn't necessarily make it any easier when your favorite dog is laying in the road, a crumpled heap. It doesn't change the sting of reading groundless attacks on your ideas that you specifically addressed in a proposal or reading that someone doesn't think you will be able to handle the data you are proposing to collect, ignoring the fact that you have already done so in your past or provided data in the proposal for the parts you have not previously published on. It doesn't help when two of the reviewers suggest a "simple" fix that will increase the budget to unreasonable levels. Somehow the grant game has turned, so that ideas are no longer funded. Having a project that will be interesting if your hypothesis is supported OR refuted is not enough. Data rules the day, and using the word "preliminary" as a descriptor is just false advertising. If you don't have enough data to conclusively demonstrate that the your hypothesis will be supported, without a doubt, there is little point of taking that dog for a walk.

This is the frustration for those of us starting out. Would it have been safer to take a project from my post-doc and seamlessly continue it in my own lab? Of course. But if I wanted to do exactly what I was doing as a post-doc, I wouldn't have left. The drawback of fusing your various training into something that no else has ever thought of doing is that by stepping off the beaten path you are a risk. What if you take the money and fail? Much better to fund half-completed projects. Come back when we can skip to the end of the book and read the last few pages and maybe we'll buy it.

So, that's what I'm going to have to do. There is no sense in fighting against the system, because it is what it is. Complaining won't do anything but waste time and energy. The review process took so long this year that I have no hope of re-submitting this project in the July round, meaning I will have to send it in for January and hear back a year from now. The prospect of having to wait another year to find out if this project will get funded makes me want to vomit in my desk trash can, but that's the reality. Sure, I have other grants pending and about to be submitted, but this is MY project. These are solely MY ideas and this is what I tell people about when they ask what I do. I realize that I will still be doing it, just with start-up dollars, but for some reason that makes it feel hollow in some way I can't really explain.

There was more good than bad in the reviews and I know how to fix it up. Nearly all of the reviews expressed excitement about the project and the unique system I have chosen to ask my questions. The bigger problem is the weight of feeling like I am not living up to the expectations of people at my university, my colleagues and myself. Could I have pushed to get enough data to satisfy the reviewers before last January? I don't know. Probably not. But there will be by next January, I've already started to gather it. Hopefully this will be the last time to the vet for this puppy.

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Do you mind if I use your bucket?

Jun 26 2009 Published by under Uncategorized

Well, at least I don't have to wait to hear back anymore. The stats on my grant feedback: 6 reviews! Six. Three "Excellents" and three "Very Good" ratings. I know very good doesn't get you shit, but damnit. The primary concerns in the summary are so completely off-base, I don't even know what to do. Obviously I didn't make some things as crystal clear as I should have, but these concerns make zero sense. Of course, the not enough preliminary data crit reared it's ugly head in one of the reviews, with the tacit implication that I basically need to have the work done to show it will work, because I have everything I need to complete it in hand, I just haven't spent the money to actually do it. Well, that ends next week. I'm blowing a butt load of start up on the material sitting in my bag right now (I'm in the airport) to basically do this project. Once it's done and published, maybe I'll get the money. I can't eve fucking write about this right now.

p.s. Never check your grant status while waiting at a gate to fly across the country.

10 responses so far

If you're keeping score at home

Jun 24 2009 Published by under Uncategorized

In the race for "you have to be fucking kidding me", 'home' started out in typical fashion with the Wee One busting up her nose and the theft of our GPS device from our car in our driveway, the day before I left. 'Away' was not to be outdone, however, and broke out the "loss of important keys" card at the very inception of the trip. Then, out of no where, 'away' upped the ante and threw in "searched by someone with the authority to jail and/or fine" today, but it was an empty threat in the end, as neither jail nor fine were incurred. Buoyed by the challenge, 'home' decided to go for pay dirt and broke out the "your child was bitten three times at day care by the child of people you work with and there's not a damn thing you can do from across the country" gauntlet. Only two days in and the 'home' and 'away gremlins are hard at work, coming up with new and imaginative ways to fuck with me while I am traveling. Luckily there is still time, so naturally it's time to place bets. The odds are below and there is no limit to the number of bets, but the house caps total moneys for an individual at $100K.

10 to 1 minor failure of service at home (electrical, phone, appliance)
20 to 1 minor vehicular issue away (engine failure, flat tire)
50 to 1 massive act of nature at home (flooded basement, tree fall involving house or car, lightning)
100 to 1 Natural disaster away (earthquake, forest fire)
234 to 1 Famine (home or away)
382 to 1 Pestilence (home or away)
592 to 1 Plague (home or away)

8 responses so far

Off with a bang

Jun 23 2009 Published by under Uncategorized

Well well well. Couldn't make it easy,could I? Here I thought that the Wee One falling nose first into an ottoman last night so that she would look like she had gone a few rounds with Iron Mike for her doctor's appointment today would be this trip's exciting twist. Oh no, that would be waaaay to easy. Minor facial injuries are just part of being a kid, right? Unsatisfied with that offering, fate decided to push a little harder. So, while waiting to board my plane I was surprised to hear my phone ringing. I pick it up to hear "you don't have the keys" and knew instantly what that semi-cryptic message conveyed.

Have you ever had something that you really wanted to put in a place you would never forget it, so you put it somewhere that you never put anything and then couldn't find it for weeks, despite a rampage of searching? That's kinda what I did with the keys for the apartment that I am staying in for this week, but backwards. They got sent to my work and I brought them home early, lest I forget on the final day before leaving. Everything was packed a double-checked, but those damn keys were just sitting with all of our keys so that the Wee One wouldn't grab them or the cats wouldn't push them down the heating vent. Seemed like a logical place until I forgot them among all of the other keys and left them to hang while I went to their home.

But fate wasn't done twisting the knife just yet! There is another researcher staying in the apartment and my logical response was to contact him! The message I got back was that he would love to help, but that he had locked himself out this very morning and was waiting for us to arrive and let him back in. Fail.

The long and the short of it is that we did end up getting in, but I look like a real fuckwit, which is always nice. Luckily I'm used to it, but how was I cursed as a child to bear this travel issue? Just one trip without problems for me or at home, is all I ask.

6 responses so far

Packin up. Again.

Jun 19 2009 Published by under Uncategorized

In an effort to rack up as many frequent flier miles as possible, I'm headed to the west coast for next week. Should be fun, but the packing is never a good time. As much as I try and think up everything we're going to need, there is always that nagging feeling that I'm forgetting something basic and that we'll spend a week in California twiddling our thumbs. There are worse places to do that, but it's an expensive way to pass the time. The trip we made in December was a warm up for this one, so it's going to be important to really crank and get as much done as possible. When we get back I will be starting up the next phase of the lab's main line of research and it all hinges on what we manage to get next week. No pressure....

Lest I look forward to a cross-country plane ride to sleep or otherwise relax, my programming books came today. I'm not sure whether I'll find the time on the plane to be useful to dig into the text or if it will simply expedite my descent into slumber.

Now, what calamity will ensue pre-departure?

2 responses so far

Kids these days

Jun 18 2009 Published by under Uncategorized

One of the great joys of being a parent (for me at least) is watching your kid "get" something. You see, when they first arrive, kids are a lump that basically has an intake and an outflow, and screams when either of those need attention. They don't do a whole lot so you get overly excited when the little things happen. "Honey, come quick! She opened her eyes again!" It's all fairly amazing, but from the outside you look a bit crazy. In the first three months I never thought I would spend so much time staring at a sleeping human being without being slapped with a restraining order.

As they grow and become more interactive, you don't get less crazy but the milestones get a little more exciting. First word, putting words together with the objects associated with them (I was all excited when the Wee One first said "Dada", but my enthusiasm was tempered by the fact that she was addressing the lamp at the time), crawling, walking, etc. You spend a lot of time telling your child something and trying to teach them while the look at you blankly, then suddenly they do it when you are least expecting it and it's like you just won a gold medal. I TAUGHT HER TO DO SOMETHING! You would think that seeing a concept actually learned would be less exciting to someone who has taught a lot of students in the past, but you would be wrong. The first time that I asked the Wee One what noise a cow makes and she finally responded with "mooo", it rocked my world. Yes, "mooo" rocked my world.

That's why I stopped in my tracks the other night. See, the Wee One has only been at day care for around 3 months. Prior to that we knew what she was being taught because we were doing the teaching. When she did something new or said a new word, it was the result of our efforts. The other night we needed to clean up a few things and prep for the next day while she was still awake, so we relented to her cries for "Mo! Mo! El-Mo!" and put on an Elmo DVD for her to oggle for a few minutes. I put in "singing" because we had never used that one before, and I walked away to do a few things. A few minutes later I peeked in to see how she was doing and the "Itsy Bitsy Spider" was being sung by some crazed cartoon lady. The Wee One wasn't just sitting watching it though, she was standing and doing the hand motions in a little dance. I was struck by the conflicting emotions of "Holy shit, that is awesome!" and "Holy shit, why didn't I have any idea that she knew this?" Clearly this is the first of many such occasions and it's something I should have expected, but it doesn't make it any less painful to see your little girl growing up and learning new things that you don't even know she is learning. It's a good thing and I didn't expect it to bother me, but just like almost everything with kids, it came a little sooner than I was ready.

4 responses so far

My shifty criminal mind

Jun 17 2009 Published by under Uncategorized

On and off I've been thinking a bit about Dr. No's criminal intent posting and what types of crime I might commit in given free reign. It turns out that I was wasting my time because Employment U has been thinking about this a LOT. I finally managed to get into the limited training sessions they have for issuing purchasing cards so that I could wield one and not have thousands of dollars of travel expenses sitting on my personal cards. I knew I was in for a treat when the Pcard lady put up her presentation and I caught 1 / 128 on the bottom. 128 slides to tell me how to use a purchasing card? How is that possible?

Let me tell you how. You spend the vast majority of that time telling people how NOT to use the card and the consequences for using the card improperly. It felt like I was in program for criminals being re-integrated back into society. How many ways can you be told not to make personal purchases on your university card? Well, I lost count after 7 or 8, but the message was clear - We assume that you only want this card to find a way to defraud the University. About halfway through I want to stand up and say "Well, if I can't buy precious metals (a specifically pointed out no no, BTW), flower baskets (ditto) or booze, why the fuck would I want one of these things?" and storming out. The only thing that stopped me was the prospect of having to sit through the whole thing again. By the end of the presentation I was expecting to see armed guards at the door to frisk us on the way out.

The moral of the story is that the University can turn anything into a bureaucratic black hole of red tape and paperwork because they need to protect themselves against the hardened criminals they employ. A Pcard is something that is supposed to make my life easier and make doing research involve less paperwork, and yet somehow there is more bullshit involved if I even sign the back of this insidious thing than if I just slog through things the old way.

I would write more but a guy just showed up at my door with a clip board and little cup.

10 responses so far

Badges?! Oh yes, I need badges....

Jun 15 2009 Published by under Uncategorized

DrDrA has a post up where she links to the Science Scouts page of badges. If I only I had known about this sooner, I would have taunted more monkeys. I really wish I could add all of the ones I've earned here without making it too obvious what I do, because there are some good ones.

Certainly the following is appropriate, which I have talked about previously.

The “somewhat confused as to what scientific field I actually belong to” badge

And I don't think I even know anyone who would not place the following dead center on their sash.

The “I’m a scientist who is fundamentally opposed to administrative duties” badge.

And by combining this badge:


The “works with very small and potentially dangerous organisms” badge.

With this one:

The “has done science whilst under the influence” badge.

I've managed to earn this one:

The “what I do for science dictates my having to wash my hands before I use the toilet” badge.

This badge is also wrapped up, but that's a story for another time...

The “I may look like a scientist, but I’m actually also a pirate” badge.

One response so far

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