Archive for: September, 2009

NFL week 3: Hellz Yeah addition

Sep 29 2009 Published by under Uncategorized

Week 3 is usually around when the perception of teams starts to transition from the preseason hype to the reality of the regular season. Nothing is set in stone yet and fortunes can change quickly, but time starts to expose the pretenders. The media darlings that wilt under the hot lights of the regular season (Carolina, Houston, Tennessee, Miami) begin to sag and their fan bases can feel the desperation. Then there are the teams that are winning, but have more questions than answers (Dallas, Chicago, New England) and those that look solid but have fan bases waiting for the other shoe to drop (Minnesota, San Francisco, NY Jets, Denver). Only a few teams charge out of the gate as true powerhouses that legitimately strike fear in the hearts of other teams (Ny Giants, New Orleans, Baltimore, Indy).

Is the Science Blog NFL pool mirroring the league? Well, Candid Engineer entered the pool with a lot of fan fare and was hounded by the media for weeks as they pestered her for projections on the season that quickly wound up in USA Today. Despite the hype, she has hung a pair of 8-win weeks on the board so far (the league automatically drops 1 lowest score). Equally consistent have been Ambivalent Academic, Chall and Damn Good Technician, who each have a pair of 9-win weeks. Can they keep up the pace or are they going to fall apart once injuries start to pile up? Former weekly winners Tom@Microworld and Mad Hatter are looking strong, and Genomic Repairman and Prof. in Training had a statement weeks with 11 wins. But only two sit atop the leader board with 21 wins after 3 weeks and commanding 12 win week 3s. Myself and Odyssey tied this week, but I pulled out the win on the tiebreaker. This week, you need not look any further to find the trophy.

8 responses so far

Back to the bench!

Sep 28 2009 Published by under Uncategorized

I'm taking on something new. Well, something new to me. It's been a while since I burned a lot of money and it's making me itchy, so I'm charging ahead with a project that I have been meaning to take on for a while. But, I want to do the bench work myself (gasp!). This work dooesn't really fit under what any of my students are currently working on and it's something I have wanted to learn for a bit. I've done the reading and looked through the protocols. Hell, I even ordered the supplies today.

Those of you who have not yet taken on the mantle of being a PI are probably reading this and saying "so what?" But the dirty little secret of academia is that all of your bench work skillz eventually land you a desk job. How often is your PI in the lab? Yes, yes, yes, it's all what you make of it and many look forward to steering the ship rather than manning an oar, but that doesn't mean I don't want to stay on top of the bench work. I miss getting away from my computer and phone to spend time in the lab. I could easily delegate the project and continue doing the mountain of writing and assorted paperwork I have sitting beside me. In fact, I probably should, but damnit, I want to do this work. Since moving into our new building in March I have done almost no bench work, save for a smattering of training here and there. It's time I rolled up the sleeves and donned some gloves.

We still have gloves my size, right?

7 responses so far

Hairy guilt

Sep 25 2009 Published by under Uncategorized

Last night I had to cut off all my little girl's hair.

Just writing that makes me feel a bit sick.

She's not ill or anything particularly horrible but since the move she has started to pull out her hair, particularly when we're in the car. She seems to have adjusted fairly well to the new house, except for this bit of anxious behavior she has picked up. We mentioned this to her doctor at her last visit and she suggested that we keep an eye on it for two reasons. 1) Kids that do this for a prolonged period of time can make it habit that follows them later in life, and 2) often kids will eat the hair, which can causes blockages in their stomach and sometimes require surgery. The doctor said that if she didn't stop after a couple of weeks it might be a good idea to cut her hair off so that she can no longer pull at it and most kids forget about doing it by the time the hair grows back. It's one of those "do something little know to save yourself something more drastic later" fixes, but it still feels horrible.

The worst part of it is that the dark side of my brian is whispering that it's as much my fault as the move. My hectic schedule recently has meant that I'm not around as much when she is awake as I was a few months ago. I've had to travel here and there; I've had to work on weekends. Prior to moving this wasn't a big deal, but I wonder if the added anxiety hasn't just pushed her a little further than before. She started sucking her finer (not thumb, for some reason) as a comfort thing over the summer while I was away, which might just be coincidence or might be another reflection of anxiety. There's no way to tell, which makes it easy to assume blame.

I know a lot of parents who travel as much or far more than I do with no apparent affect on their kids, but I'm not sure how that knowledge helps. I also know that have at least two more trips this fall that I am now looking forward to like one anticipates being tasered. Maybe it doesn't matter... maybe.

Yes, it's nothing serious and I am grateful that I am not faced with a bigger issue. I'm also probably reading too much into everything as a first-time parent. But neither of those two thoughts helped me last night while blonde locks fell past a quizzical expression on my daughter's face.

I bring this up mainly because I think many of us face the dilemma of balancing the interest of our kids with that of our job, and sometimes you get thrown a curveball that you don't know how to handle. Hopefully this will be a story we will laugh about in ten years.

14 responses so far

"Student" Athletes

Sep 24 2009 Published by under Uncategorized

I have often heard people talk about athletes at large D1 football or basketball schools and how classes are secondary to everything they do. There are complaints as well that even the non-athletic students get so wrapped up in the sports mania at their university that they choose watching or attending a game over completing their scholastic obligations. It's a problem with no easy fix and because the financial stakes are so high for both the universities and the players, there is little incentive for either to make a change. Do we need our NBA or NFL players, for example, to have a good education? Would they take it even if it was offered? Who knows?

Unfortunately, I think this culture of big name programs has more diffuse side-effects than the ones most often debated. In my new capacity as an advisor, I met with a Student Athlete to go over their schedule for the spring and chose classes. SA is a bright kid who is double majoring in two sciences, earning a very respectable GPA and playing a sport that has no professional league to go into post-university. It is not clear to me whether SA is earning a scholarship for their sport, but what was obvious is the problems these "students" can face. When we began talking about different classes I was informed by SA that classes on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons were bad because those are days they have games. In fact, Thursdays are bad entirely, because the team often leaves early Thursday morning for away games. Of course, Fridays were often missed as well for travel on Thursdays that extends through the weekend of a series of away games. Oh, and practice starts at 2:00, so after that any day is bad. Last spring SA took too many labs and ended up losing enough practice time to lose their starting position.

What the fucking what? So a promising student double majoring in two lab science majors is being discouraged from taking labs for half the year by their coach either directly by being told or indirectly by loss of playing time? Did I mention that this is a small sport with no professional league?

Basically, it looks to me as though the big U programs have made it okay for other sports to take up an incredible amount of scholastic time for sport. I'm sure the argument is "our sport is just as important!" but can we be realistic for a second? There are enough questions about the value of massive sports that garner enormous sums of money for universities, so let's not pretend that a small sport that no one is paying to watch should have similar claims to the sport/study balance in student's lives.

So far SA has been able to balance everything and pull off a near 4.0 GPA, but I would imagine that their success is rare. I am also concerned about the ambitious academic plan SA has before them and the chance of SA finishing in their intended time frame. Most of all, I want to find SA's coach and kick them in the shins for forcing a good student with lofty aspirations to compromise their studies

12 responses so far

I wasn't ready

Sep 23 2009 Published by under Uncategorized

Last year the start of the semester was a blur. Everything was new and the onslaught of things to deal with when the semester started was all part of that. I had no point of comparison, so I was ready for anything. Plus, everyone pretty much left me alone to set up my new lab. I was the new guy muttering to himself in a mostly empty room.

As the year wore on I picked up responsibilities gradually and layered them on my workload. The lab also gradually got going and each step was new success. By the time summer rolled around, things were going pretty well and I was getting ready to do a bunch of traveling. Summer was good. Lots of work got done and I finally started feeling like I knew what the hell I am doing in this job. I had the people and procedures figured out and even felt like I could stay on top of the literature without having to do it at night.

Then the summer ended.

I should have been better prepared, but I wasn't. Everything rushed in like a freight train and I saw my precious time dragged down by a feeding frenzy of obligations. Suddenly there are meetings about other meetings. I'm lucky if I get a couple of hours here or there where I can think about the work that I have to get done for me and not for everyone else who needs something. I did not plan well for the transition from summer to semester and now I'm being feasted upon.

7 responses so far

Week 2 NFL Pool

Sep 22 2009 Published by under Uncategorized

Week 2 of the NFL season is in the books and we had a clear winner this week, no need for a tie-breaker. Mad Hatter pulled out the win from the rest of the pack by getting 10 predictions right and being the only one to take the Bungles as 9 point dogs. Shockingly, not only did they cover, they won outright which proved to be the difference. Nipping at the heels of MH were a collection of 9 win predictions by PiT, AA (both performing well using unconventional metrics for picking), Nat, Mrs. Comet Hunter and myself. So confident are Candid Engineer, Genomic Repairman and Tideliar, they decided to give the rest of us a head start and made only 1 pick combined.

Like the Stanley Cup being passed around, it's time for Mad Hatter to hoist the trophy.

13 responses so far

Advising Advice?

Sep 21 2009 Published by under Uncategorized

This year I was assigned a group of advisees. They are primarily sophomores and all majors in the degree program I am most closely associated with (I have ties to multiple degrees and departments). On Friday I started getting the first meeting requests and I have one this afternoon with a student who is double majoring and has heavy athletic commitments. My question is, who is going to have learned more by the end of this meeting?

My guess is that it will be me. I know nothing about the student's other major and little about how the student's athletic schedule is going to impact their future class selection. Quite frankly, even after being here a year, I still don't know a whole lot about the undergraduate curriculum. I am familiar with the requirements and know where to get the information I need, but I certainly don't have access to any more information than the students. It'll be interesting to see how much these kids have looked into the path they want to take or whether some just want to be told what classes they need.

The way our advising is set up, these students will be my advisees for the rest of the time they are here and majors in our degree program. I think this will be good, because I will have a chance to get to know them a little bit and not have to have them explain their whole history every time they come in my office. I am thinking of starting a file on each so that I can look it up easily before the next time I meet with each student. Other than some personal information, classes taken and those to be taken, what would people suggest including in an advisee's file?

3 responses so far

So that's how Science papers are made....

Sep 17 2009 Published by under Uncategorized

An Interview With Cofactor Genomics from Grant Essig on Vimeo.

It's nice to be able to see first-hand how these new genomic technologies work. If I get into this type of thing, I think I'm going to have to buy a bigger printer.

No responses yet

The Evolution of Buzzwords

Sep 16 2009 Published by under Uncategorized

Yesterday we received a draft academic plan for the next 5 years from the higher administration. It puts forward some good ideas and is fairly ambitious in terms of the implementation of new programs and improving the efficiency of current ones. All in all, it seems like a solid effort towards pushing Employment University in a progressive direction. Whether the people central to the writing of the document will stick around long enough to make it happen or if we will have a new 5 year plan in two years written by a new administration is yet to be determined, but the less cynical side of me thinks the document is a step in the right direction.

In reading The Plan, however, I found the particular wording rather striking - not because it was different but because the wording is so similar to any "Vision" document put out by any administrative group these days. The whole thing is steeped in "integrative approaches" and "interdisciplinary" or "entrepreneurial" solutions to issues of "global change" and "green economy". The document vows to "remove barriers" and "improve efficiency" for the teaching and research missions of the university (with little detail on how that will actually happen, of course). It's almost like administrative Mad Libs, the wording seems so familiar.

How do these buzzwords spread to become so ubiquitous? Who develops new buzzwords to throw out into the administrative soup to see if they become incorporated and spread like an advantageous allele in a population with high turn-over or get weeded out by selection? Is this handled by one of those amorphous "think tanks", or do they arise spontaneously in the wild and spread like wildfire once they are seen as novel? Does it start with funding agencies? Does their wording immediately get reflected by those applying for their money, affecting the way we talk about our teaching and research to satisfy the application requirements? Someone help me out here. Can we get Malcolm Gladwell to look into this? I need more of that guy's hair in my life anyway.

5 responses so far

Week 1 in the NFL Pool

Sep 15 2009 Published by under Uncategorized

Wow, crazy week one in the NFL. Both Monday night games were supposed to be blow-outs but both were decided late in the game. In the case of the Patriots, things looked very ugly until a bone-headed play by an over-eager kick off return man resulted in them getting the ball back and a second life with about a minute left in the game. But that's week one. All we know is what the teams look like on paper until they get out on the field.

As for the forecasting abilities of scientists who blog, it turns out that we have a very narrow distribution. Picking against the spread, the highest number of games correctly predicted was 9, while the lowest was 7. Based on a set of tie-breakers, TomJoe of Micro World has been named the winner of this week, locked in a 5-way tie for most correct picks with myself, Odyssey, DGT and Chall. We'll have to get DGT to create a weekly trophy to be displayed on blogs, once she returns from her tour of the east coast. For now we can use this overly patriotic replica of the Super Bowl trophy. This week, you'll find it at MicroWorld

15 responses so far

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