Archive for: November, 2009

Burn baby, burn

Nov 18 2009 Published by under Uncategorized

Some problems just cost a lot to figure out. That's my moral of the week. I was trying to find less expensive ways to chip away at one of our research questions so that we could produce enough data to qualify as "preliminary" in a proposal and get some Fed funds to do the financial heavy lifting. We tried several different ways to get at the problem, all of which provided tantalizing clues. As a result, we have lots of suggestive data, but no smoking gun. With the January NSF deadline looming, it was time to make a call - do we step up our efforts to chip away at the question with hammer and chisel or do we get serious and blow some real cash for the experimental equivalent of some C4?

I decided it's time we get this shit done. There have been continued delays with the "free" data and I'm tired of taking baby steps on this project. I've talked to too many people about it at this point, and if we're right, this would be a project worth scooping. Plus, we're not going to get it funded until we show more results and our other ideas about how we get an answer all have the potential of still being inconclusive, even if they work.

Nope, time to burn some cash. Your safety goggles are on the right and you may want to take another step back - this fire is going to be hot.

5 responses so far

NFL Week 10: Reputation Repair

Nov 17 2009 Published by under Uncategorized

This week was much more gentle to the blogger NFL pool. After two weeks of dismal scores, things were looking up this week... for most. DGT retained her death grip on the number one spot and PiT made a move up the ranks to wrestle the 2 spot away from me as I continue to struggle to maintain the early season pace. Chall kicked it up a notch with a solid 9 points as well, but this week's winner, and the only one to get 10 points, was Genomic Repairman, who gets to sit in the winner's circle for the first time. The past three winners all posted back-to-back wins, so watch out for GR next week. The full scoreboard can be seen below, though not everyone's team name is obvious.

3 responses so far

Can you change the culture?

Nov 14 2009 Published by under Uncategorized

There's a new blogger (and potential member of the Society for blogs with Damn in their name) on the webs, PhDamned. You should go over and say hi, but I wanted to talk about something that she brings up in a post about faculty participation, because it echoes something that I've had bouncing around in my head for a bit.

Is it possible to change the culture of a department and how would one go about it?

In all honesty, I'm not thrilled about the science culture where I am at. The mentality is very 9-5 and this place is a ghost town on weekends and after about 3:00 on Fridays. I'm not advocating for around the clock work or people chained to their desks, only that a few people feel passionate about their work enough to work outside of the bare minimum hours. It's also not that I care what the other faculty members are doing, but the problem that PhDamned articulates from a student perspective, is that the attitude of the faculty is reflected in the students. So, when faculty never come in on weekends, after hours or on holidays, the students assume that there is no point to doing so. The same is true for after hours events.

Obviously, just because someone is not in their office doesn't mean they are not working, but you can tell when a department has an active and vibrant community and when it doesn't. You can feel it the same way that you can go to any sporting event anywhere in the world and gauge how much the team means to the fans - how invested they are in the teams success. It's not that my department doesn't have a good research track record, only that the sense of a vibrant research community just isn't there like I have seen it elsewhere.

So, is it possible to change this? More specifically, is it possible for a junior faculty member to change this? If so, how? Doing things by example is great, unless no one is there to see it.

16 responses so far

Dear Colleagues

Nov 12 2009 Published by under Uncategorized

Well, it's here. That big lecture that we've been promoting for a couple of months now and that the university gave me money to organize. Yup, that big-name speaker that we talked about is going to be here soon and all I need from y'all is to let me know the times you're available to meet the speaker.

Oh, you all want to go to the meals but don't seem to have any other available time? Well, what if I send you a second email specifically asking for times during the two days the speaker will be here that you would be willing to spend just 30 minutes conversing with our invited guest?

Hello? Is this thing on? Anyone out there?

After all of the organization and publicizing I've done around this event, not one of you has 30 minutes to spare to talk science? Hell, talk about your dog or something, I don't give a fuck, just commit to this minor task that should be enjoyable.


Dude. Fuck! sigh.

7 responses so far

Recruiting teachers for grad students

Nov 11 2009 Published by under Uncategorized

We're coming to the season where potential grad students are contacting people they might like to work with and a trend is starting to develop for me. Between last year and this year, almost all of the inquiries about the lab have been from either students about to graduate from their undergrad or people who are currently (or heave recently been) teachers in high school or grad school. It has been particularly noticeable this year, but once I noticed the trend I realized that all of my current students fall under one of these categories as well. So what gives?

My guess is that the people who go into teaching and then on to grad school decide that even if they enjoy teaching at their pre-grad-career level, they eventually want to teach at the college level. On the other hand, I also know of cases where teachers find out they hate teaching and go to grad school in order to take their careers in a different direction. I'm sure there's no cookie-cutter reason, but I've been surprised by the prevalence of a teaching career on many applicant CVs.

However, my question for readers is whether they would prefer someone with teaching experience over an applicant right out of school? Obviously, this is highly candidate specific, but given roughly equal CVs and no perceptible difference in attitude, is there a preference for one over the other? I'll keep my opinions to myself for the moment.

11 responses so far

The Science uniform

Nov 10 2009 Published by under Uncategorized

On my way to the conference last week I spent some time on the same large conveyance as three other people traveling to the same destination. They were traveling together, but I had never met them, nor they I. We were all aware that we were being picked up together at the end of the trip, however.

When we met up at the place we were supposed to be picked up, I introduced myself to the three of them and we started chatting. During the conversation one of the three said, "We had you picked out on the trip." When I inquired as to what had given me away, she suggested the following items (which may differ slightly from those I actually own) that I provide for you to paste onto your own scientist paper doll.


At first I found this odd, until we got to the meeting and I was struck by the phenotype of the people (who are not in my direct field) there and how clearly I matched. It was nearly comical. Maybe I'm meant to change fields and never got the memo.

In any case, it got me wondering if there are other "uniforms" in different fields and how they might differ from the model I suggest here.

9 responses so far

NFL Week 9: Change of an era

Nov 10 2009 Published by under Uncategorized

So, I asked DGT for a favor last week while I was away. I asked if she would host the NFL challenge and look after the place while I was away. Little did I know that she would throw out all my stuff, move in and take the place over. After posting back-to-back wins (last week by only a point, but this week by a decisive 4 points) DGT now sits atop the leader board. I have fallen three points behind to second and maintain only a one point advantage over PiT and three points over Tom and Nat. Suddenly there is some room at the top as we head into the home stretch. Luckily my absence was temporary and so will be me time in second place. Congrats DGT... for now... (insert evil laugh. My throat is a little scratchy, so you'll have to do it yourself).

6 responses so far

The two week sprint

Nov 09 2009 Published by under Uncategorized

What a whirlwind. The Wee One survived her weekend with my parents (although my parents looked more tired than she did by Sunday) with only a minor cold and a less minor full throttle vomiting in the back of my parent's car (something she has yet to do in our car). I guess leather seats clean up alright after all.

I think the biggest thing that going away makes you appreciate is how fast kids change. I saw the Wee One briefly on Wednesday morning, but otherwise had did not see her between Tuesday morning and Sunday evening. Even during that short amount of time she has added a number of words to her burgeoning vocab (including phrases like "more juice" and "more cookies", which are a direct result of a weekend at grandma's) and is putting words together much better. We are realizing that we have to be more and more careful about what we say around her, as little ears hear all. She's even putting concepts together, like when I grabbed a beer after work last week and she immediately pointed and said "Daddy's milk".

As much as we enjoyed our weekend away and some time hanging out in Big City, one incident on Sunday morning reminded us why we are happy living where we do. We were walking on the sidewalk and approached a cab where two parents and two kids were piling out. One of the kids was crying in rather dramatic fashion and his mother was trying to sooth him. They were dressed for church and getting out of the car in front of a small yard on the church grounds where kids were running around. Rather than pointing out the playing kids to her son, the mother said to him "Look honey. Grass!"

Now back to reality, meetings and deadlines. Oh my! I have two weeks before I travel again and a mountain of things to finish between now and then and one visiting speaker I will be entertaining for two days.

2 responses so far

Time Out

Nov 06 2009 Published by under Uncategorized

After a 12.5 hour conference day yesterday, I'm ducking out early today. I'm pretty sure if I stayed for this whole thing I would be fried anyway, but I have a better obligation. I'm meeting my wife and we're going to spend the weekend together with no Wee One and no work. I sure as hell don't have time to take a weekend off, but that matters little right now. Starting at noon today and going through to Sunday, I'm not going to be thinking about work. At all. Sorry deadlines, sorry editors, sorry giant unread thesis, but you don't make the cut this weekend. See you on Monday.

8 responses so far

Conference observations

Nov 05 2009 Published by under Uncategorized

Seriously, I can't go through the motions of that conversation any more. The one that starts out with a backhanded joke about the science of someone who gets Moore Foundation money (or other equivalents) and proceeds into a discussion (or monolog in some cases) about how much better their science would be in they took X or Y into account. The most popular target seems to be Craig Venter, of the human genome and Global Ocean Survey fame. Sure, he's a narcissist and yes, it's a bad idea to only sample the world's oceans at 2m, but we know this and I can't take rehashing it again. The most prominent offenders are almost always people who use the massive amounts of data Venter has been a force in creating, in their own work. Could it be a better resources? Probably, but I find myself feeling like I'm talking to people who don't vote but complain about politicians. If you don't like it, do something about it and stop complaining to me.

Can we institute some sort of licensing for the use of AV projection equipment that needs to be renewed every couple of years? It could be like a diver's license, where one would have to show functionality with the equipment at first, but then occasionally re-demonstrate their ability to use said equipment safely. After the age of 55, maybe it's important to demonstrate this more regularly, so that you don't get up in front of an audience and cause some massive technology pile-up. No! Don't hit the "black screen" button and then look bewildered for 30 seconds before a grad student fixes it, again!

Like I said last night, this isn't my crowd. What has been really interesting is the importance of lineage in this group. "Who did you work with?" is a regular question if the information isn't volunteered early in conversation (often it is). I can't figure out if I'm noticing this more because I don't know a lot of these people or if this behavior is indeed, unlike the circles I normally travel in, but there is no question there is huge importance on who knows who here. If someone's supervisor is not quickly recognized, a long explanation ensues to place the person's supervisor in the greater context of the field. This is curious behavior to me, but I suspect fairly common.

6 responses so far

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