Archive for: June, 2011

When buildings have too much control

Jun 15 2011 Published by under [Et Al]

My office and lab are in a fairly new building which has a lot of "automated" features that are supposed to make it more eco-friendly. Lights, shades, windows, doors, all have some element of computer control, which basically means that there is one technician or another here almost daily fixing one of these technological wonders.

Our bathrooms are no different. There is a motion sensor in the middle of the room that turns the lights on when people enter and then turns them off after a certain period without motion. I have no idea what the time setting for turning off the lights is in the bathroom on my floor, but I occasionally find myself on a different floor when I need to use more than just the urinal.

For some unknown reason the motion detector in this bathroom is set to 30 seconds. While I have never been one to require reading material in the bathroom, unless I'm just getting home form a habenaro pepper eating competition, 30 seconds is a tad on the short side to take care of business.

Of course, the motion detector is mounted near the door, with limited range in the direction of the bathroom stall, making a simple arm waving futile for re-illuminating the lights. Instead, one has to make exaggerated flailing motions to engage the small opaque eye on the ceiling. Every. 30. Seconds. The absurdity of sitting on the commode while gesticulating like a rhythmless cheerleader is not lost on me and I can only wonder if the timer was set to such a short length on purpose and scenes from that bathroom are being shown live to a studio audience in Japan.

The departmental retreat is going to be at a ski lodge? Great!

Certainly there have to be other instances of building "conveniences" gone awry. Many things that seem like a good idea on paper turn out to be a ridiculous hassle upon implementation.

11 responses so far

The bad good week

Jun 14 2011 Published by under [Education&Careers]

There's nothing quite like being so close, yet so far, but this week has pretty much fit that to a T.

First I got a call from NSF to let me know that my proposal has been recommended for funding... but there probably won't be money in the budget this round so I may have to resubmit and hope for the best next round.

Then the NIH scores come out on a different proposal and we got a 27. Payline last round was 24.

FFS, we've got two proposals on very different topics teetering on the edge and I'm supposed to be prepping resubmits for July, which could be a waste of my time, but are needed to cover my ass in case one or both proposals don't fly. It's great that we're close, but this is not horseshoes. In the mean time, I wait.

And write. Which is hard to do with your fingers crossed.

13 responses so far

No, it is not like slavery

Jun 13 2011 Published by under [Et Al], [Information&Communication]

Dear clueless douchebags,

Can we make an agreement? Unless you are discussing other forms of human trafficking, let's not compare things to slavery and the horrors that slaves went through, m'kay? Whereas I wasn't there, I can be pretty certain that slave ships bore very little resemblance to air planes. Yeah, having the luxury of flying anywhere on Earth you would like is just like being captured, shackled, taken on a long boat trip and forced to work in a strange place for strange people*. Practically identical.

Another thing that slavery is not like, is being paid millions of dollars to play a game for a living. Again, this is not my area of expertise, but I don't recall any slave quarters being feature on Cribs. Can you walk away from playing football anytime you want to one of your 5 houses? Yes. Could slaves walk away from anything? No.

I realize that American slavery happened a while ago and it's easy to trivialize, but just try and think about the absurdity of your statements briefly before making such inane points.

<small* And for the record, starting a sentence with "I don’t want to trivialize the inhumane horrors that African slaves endured on slave ships destined for the Americas... BUT" does not make it okay for you trivialize the inhumane horrors that African slaves endured on slave ships

12 responses so far

Sometimes I feel this way about data

Jun 10 2011 Published by under [Et Al]

9 responses so far

Publication ready?

Jun 10 2011 Published by under [Education&Careers]

A recent post of Drugmonkey's on the role of review in the scientific discussion got me thinking. Specifically, his statement:

After all, we wouldn't have submitted the dang thing in the first place if we didn't think it was ready for publication as-is, right?

I started wondering to myself whether or not I would spend more time on a manuscript if I thought it was going directly to print or if the review stage is an unconscious safety net. We know we're going to have another crack at it post-review, right?

8 responses so far

Locked and loaded

This summer I will hit my three year anniversary of starting this position. A lot has happened, but a lot has changed. As a lab we have accomplished a significant amount and I have learned more than I imagined when I started this job.

For the first time, though, I really feel like we're in position to compete.

Starting the lab and getting the research going has been slower than I expected. Yes, we have gotten papers out, managed to find money here and there and even graduated a student, but all of that has felt like the warm up. Certainly part of that was my decision to embark on a few new lines of research that had to get established, but at this stage we have the data, we have the people and we're rolling.

0-60 in three years.

I'm not sure how long I expected it to take and each lab is going to face different challenges along the way, but I didn't expect to wait three years to finally feel like I can stop wondering if I am doing things right or stop questioning the research track we have set off on. I can point to the data now and say "I told you it would work". I can feel confident that I am not leading my trainees into the abyss. We set out with a plan and the data are paving the way.

Tis the Summer of Writing and there is much data to release unto the world.

11 responses so far


For most people the academic career path is a nomadic one, often involving moving oneself and any associated family (if they exist) to various points around the globe. Some get lucky and can pick their locations to a certain extent, some get stuck in places they would never consider living long term if the job had not brought them there.

On top of that, the constant turn-over of people in your life and an often changing situation as you work through graduate school and a postdoc typically results in moving apartments several times, even within a given location. A year on the south side of town, two on the west end, one downtown.... You get in the habit of not accumulating to much crap.

I was no exception. The longest time I spent in one apartment over a 15 year span was three years and I only managed that feat once during that time, which was dominated by one year stays. After a while it just gets ingrained in you that the next move is right around the corner.

This is just one more reason why landing a PI job leads to an entirely new set of experiences. For the first time in memory we have a lasting stake in our community. It never mattered what was going on with the school system wherever we were previously because we were never going to be faced with those issues. Local politics? They could only do so much that would affect our lives and we weren't even able to vote in the first place. For better or for worse, it was like having diplomatic immunity.

These days I do care about the community because I am likely to be here a while. I own property here (and by that I mean the bank owns property here that I inhabit) and want to make sure that the school system is strong. To that end I have gotten involved in providing science teachers the tools to do their job more effectively. There are a number of advantages to me for doing this, but it is a much larger time suck than I expected and several of the deadlines fall at particularly bad times for me. After a few recent meetings I have walked away wondering if the advantages outweigh the time and effort I am putting in to this and I have realized that they wouldn't have been until recently. I am now part of a community and not just living in a place. My kids will grow up here* and this is one way I can contribute to raising standards in local schools. I do wonder sometimes if it is foolish to use precious summer hours to teach 6-12 teachers when I need to worry about getting tenure*, but I can't help thinking that there is more required of me than just paying taxes.

I'm invested.

* Yes, I am aware that getting tenure is an important component in determining whether my kids will indeed grow up here.

5 responses so far

Being someone's review bitch

Jun 07 2011 Published by under [Education&Careers], [Et Al]

At first I thought it was coincidence.

Then it kept happening.

Over and over, I kept getting the emails.

I have become a review bitch*.

A very influential scientist in my field clearly has me on their "suggested reviewer" list, which in some ways is flattering, but the trouble with this phenotype is that they are prolific publishers. Whereas it is nice to be reviewing for top-shelf journals on a regular basis, I'm starting to feel like a one trick pony here. Facing limited time and two reviews, I'm going to pick the review for a top ten journal over the society-level journal. At this rate, though, I'm going to be in an involuntary one-way relationship pretty soon.

I suppose I could break the cycle by trashing one of these papers, but this person's science is tight.

Wait, what's that? You have another submitted manuscript? I guess I'm not that busy this week.

Dude, fuck. Sigh.

*In the prison sense, not the derogatory towards women sense.

9 responses so far

When defense isn't enough

Jun 07 2011 Published by under [Et Al]

Sometimes you gotta let the other guys know you're not gonna sit back and get pelted all night.

11 responses so far

Are trainee/advisor boundaries field-dependent?

Jun 03 2011 Published by under [Education&Careers]

FSP posted recently about the relationships between trainees and advisors, and whether or not those should affect the work relationship. I always find these discussions interesting because many PIs draw lines in the sand and take a rather righteous stand in doing so. PIs are teh BOSSEZ! Others claim to have no overlapping interests with their students and not even be comfortable around them outside of the hallowed halls.

Everyone has their style, but I seem to notice that the most strident of opinions from the Employer/Employee camp are almost always people who do exclusively lab-based work. That's fine and the model works in that environment, but must we paint all of science with the same brush? Is there A model for how the PI/trainee relationship works or, just like in the real world, is it always faulty logic to employ a single model, based on one set of conditions, to a diverse landscape?

For labs that have a field component to their work, there is a very different dynamic to interactions because so many hours are spent outside the office. Maybe you're on a boat for three months with your lab or in a tent for two weeks, it doesn't really matter. The point is that when you spend long hours in one-on-one situations with trainees under varying conditions, there is a different dynamic that develops between people. In some cases you might be literally entrusting your safety to a trainee or PI you are with. The typical "me boss, you trainee" model just doesn't translate to these conditions.

I'm not trying to justify a relationship lacking in clear distinctions as to where the buck stops, but I do think there is room to know the people in the lab in a broader context than their existence in said lab without it turning into a managerial disaster. The PI needs to be able to make hard decisions based on the performance of the lab peeps, and those can't be clouded too heavily by personal interactions, but anyone who tells you that they can judge all of their peeps completely objectively is full of shit themselves.

In the end, the person in charge is responsible for maintaining boundaries that allow them to keep the lab functioning the way they need it to. People in the lab are not confidants, party buddies or there to fill some social void in your life. Some of them will want to share things about their lives and others will not, and it shouldn't matter one way or another. But I firmly believe that there is a balance that can be reached between Boss and Person when it comes to mentoring.

11 responses so far

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