Archive for: October, 2011

Now is the time, procrastinators unite!

Oct 20 2011 Published by under [Education&Careers]

And don't wait until tomorrow.

Seriously, folks. DonorsChoose is pulling out all the stops now that we are in the final two days of the scienceblog challenge. Every donation between now and midnight on the 22nd will be matched by the DC Board of Directors. That means that you can DOUBLE your impact in the next two days in helping students across the country.

Here's how it works: All of the donations will be added up over the next two days and that dollar amount will be matched. The money will then be split among every donor between now and the 22nd and you will receive a gift code in your email. That amount can then be applied to any project.

It doesn't get much better than that folks, free money. So donate in the next two days and double your impact. As you know, I am still looking to close out the "Looking at the World a Little Closer" project that shows up first on my donation page. Now is the time, I think we can do it before the challenge ends.

And a BIG thank you to the people who have already donated. I know that the current economic climate is not the best to be throwing money around in, so your donations are certainly appreciated.

2 responses so far

Repost: Most shocking conference experience?

Oct 19 2011 Published by under [Education&Careers]

FSP has a post up about people's strangest conference experiences and I thought I might take a second to dig an old post out of the archives. Despite posting this a couple of years ago, it remains my strangest conference experience.

As a grad student I had the opportunity to go to a small conference, which is typically attended by a large number of heavy hitters in my field. As I read through the program it was like a who's who list of all the people who wrote the books, papers and programs I used the most. I was honored to have the opportunity to give a talk to this group, but felt rather strongly that my project was hardly worth their time. I am not the type that has a problem getting up and talking about my work, but this was a slightly more intimidating audience than I was used to. I was talking in the morning of the second day and spent the first day feeling even more inadequate after listening to talk after talk on some of the most significant research happening in my field. By the day of my talk all I wanted to do was get it over with.

The day started off with an hour-long talk by a renowned researcher giving a key note talk on his views of a particular subject on which he had written a book and many papers. The man looks VERY much like an elder Darwin, with some key exceptions - he wears a kilt and Doc Martin boots. No problem, I thought, not so unusual and scientists can be an odd lot sometimes. So, Darwin gets up to give his talk using overheads (again, not unusual at the time. Fuck, that makes me feel old), but I don't remember anything he spoke about because of one peculiarity that held my attention the entire talk. Every time Darwin approached the O/H projector the light revealed something odd through his white shirt. Specifically, he was wearing what appeared to be a lacy camisole under his shirt. On first glance I didn't believe that's what it could be, but every time he approached the glaring light I became more convinced that indeed, Darwin likes wearing ladies undergarments. By the time that it was my turn to speak I was a bit less nervous, having spent a decent amount of the morning having an internal debate as to whether I was correct in my observation. Nevertheless, I had a far more shocking discovery to make.

The auditorium was stadium seating with a decently steep incline and I stood in front of the room looking up at the audience and feeling a new wave of anxiety kick in. I got a couple of slides in before I scanned the crowd and took in an unexpected sight. It turns out that Darwin conforms to tradition when it comes to kilt wearing and in panning the audience I found more than eyes staring down at me. I don't even remember going through the two slides subsequent to the sight of Darwin and his "boys" observing my talk and am still unclear whether I even said anything or just numbly flipped through, but no one mentioned it to me afterwards, so I assume that I was at least minimally coherent. However, I am pretty sure that I will forever remember that talk, not for the significance of the data, but because I now shiver whenever anyone gives the advice "picture the audience naked", because it ain't pretty!

As if to quell debate, this same man has now taken to wearing skirts (abandoning the ambiguity of the kilt) and what can really only be described as blouses. The Doc Martins remain, however.

10 responses so far

This is why your papers are crispy

Oct 17 2011 Published by under [Et Al]

Dear class,

You will notice that the papers I am handing back to you are not exactly like you handed them to me. No, I'm not talking about the notes I scribbled all over them, I'm talking about their "baked" texture. Yes, they were in my oven. Why? Well there's a story there...

On Friday we set off for a wedding. It was our first major trip as a family of four and the most substantial drive of the Weer One's short lifetime. It started out fine, really it did. But about two hours in we heard a horrible phrase from the back seat: "I think I have a burp and it's not coming."

By itself, innocuous, but accompanied by That Look and the throat gesticulations of a small child, there was only one possible result. Almost ironically, we were in the parking lot of an eating establishment where we planned to have lunch when the Wee One emptied the snack-filled contents of her stomach all over the place. Luckily we managed to contain the eruption in the blanket she had wrapped around her, but there was still a lot of clean up. Nothing like standing in front of a chain restaurant, rummaging through the back of your car with a shirtless child standing on the sidewalk.

And thus began the weekend.

The wedding was fine, but taking a 3.5 year old and a 9 week old to a weekend of events that start at their normal bedtimes makes for some interesting times. Mixing meltdowns with parents splitting their time between the helpless and the reckless means that we've had more relaxing weekends. And then having the whole family in one hotel room adds to the challenge.

Oh right, the hotel room. That brings us back to your papers.

The hotel was very nice and we enjoyed our stay... right up until my wife asked me on Sunday morning "What is THAT?". What I had amazingly not noticed until she pointed them out was roughly 20 bug bites up the side of my body. And not just any bites. Bed Bug Bites.

Hey bro, when are we going home?

Suddenly everything in the room was a potential Trojan Horse that was just waiting to go home with us and release it's occupants. Everything was bagged up for the journey home. The porch became the decontamination staging area and Nothing went into the house (including the clothes we were wearing, sorry neighbors) without either being thoroughly hand cleaned or brought directly to the washing machine for the sanitary setting (thank you Kenmore). Things were lost, things were burned and some things happened that we weren't proud of, but those damn things are not getting in our house.

But what to do with all of the class papers I took with me? Can't wash them, probably shouldn't burn them. Bake them.

So yes, your papers spent time in my oven. Think of it as a public service, since you will likely bring them back to your home as well.

Enjoy the crispness.

7 responses so far

Science without a microscope?

Oct 17 2011 Published by under [Education&Careers]

I've made no secret here that my particular brand of science is firmly rooted in working with "non-traditional" organisms. Where many look around and see "animal", "plant" and "who cares?", I couldn't care less about the legged* and xylemated. But if you're going to check out The Other of this world, you're gonna need a microscope.

That's why I would like to focus on getting the "Looking at the World a Little Closer" DonorsChoose project funded this week. According to Mr. Spencer, his students need "a USB microscope to examine slides of various microscopic organisms and to share their findings with details other students". I have added this project to my giving page and I think we ca close it out by the end of the week. Less than $300 is required to make this happen and it doesn't matter if we get there through 32 donations or 2, we just need to finish it out.

So what say you, readers? Can we get a microscope for these students?

*Except when it comes to selling my science, in which case, what I do is totes critical to saving teh humenz.

No responses yet

Steering the ship

Oct 13 2011 Published by under [Education&Careers]

I attended a seminar yesterday in which the speaker outlined an ecological problem for which there is certainly a mechanism that could be revealed through molecular biology. The speaker then made the comment that the answer would tie up a very nice story that the lab had been working on for nearly a decade, but the speaker was not comfortable with molecular biology, and therefore, their lab would not be pursuing this important piece of the puzzle.


20 responses so far

How do you get on an NSF panel?

Oct 11 2011 Published by under [Education&Careers]

An anonymous commenter asked about getting on a panel in this morning's post.

Just curious, how do you get invited to be on a panel? Did you sign up at one point? I am an NSF-funded scientist, but have never been asked to serve on a panel.

It made me realize that this is something I've never really talked about, specifically. The short answer?


When I was a wee lad and new to this whole tenure track thing, I realized that it would make a lot of sense for me to get on an NSF panel and see how the sausage is made. I had grown up in the funding system of another country, and as such, didn't have the feel for NSF that I should have.

I asked the very question that Anon is positing above to several colleagues and they all told me to call up a PO and tell them I was interested. At the time, this was an incredibly terrifying concept, but I did as I was told and in the next round I was asked. Since then, I have put other people's names in the proverbial "hat" and they have also been asked. This includes postdocs, for those of you postdocs out there who want a jump on things.

Is it really that simple? Yes. POs spend a lot of time and energy trying to fill out there panels, finding the right mix of career stages, gender, academic background, ets., etc. More than half of the people they ask ignore them and probably another 60% - 70% of those that respond decline. Being on a panel is a huge amount of work, so it's not exactly something you just jump on. For that reason it is difficult to fill the room with able-bodied panelists who you can count on to do the work. If someone calls you up and says "I would really love to be on a panel." that person is going on the list for the next round.

Unlike NIH, NSF really does try an incorporate early career stage people into the decision making process. For all of you out there wondering about the process and what the life and times of a panelist are, take advantage of this. It was extremely helpful for me and I have received similar feedback from others who have been early-career people on panels.

Pick up the phone.

14 responses so far

Decisions, decisions

Oct 11 2011 Published by under [Education&Careers]

I've been asked to do another NSF review panel this spring. Given that I did one in the fall of 2010, a second one pre-tenure might be a little excessive. However, with the new submission policies in BIO, I am tempted. I would be reviewing preproposals, which might provide some insight into the new process. Also, there is no commitment to reviewing the full proposals in the fall*, so it would only be a spring commitment.

Good idea or bad?

*BTW, I think this is a huge miss on NSF's part. Why change the reviewers between when the bar is set and when the money is decided? I can't understand the logic here.

9 responses so far

Donation incentive

Alright folks, after starting out strong, we've stagnated on the Donors Choose donation front. Well, the good people at DC are offering an incentive to the bloggers by offering a $50 gift card to for the blogger who attracts the most new donors in the next week. It doesn't matter how much you give, just that you give something.

Why am I telling you this? Because I am willing to give that gift right back to you. If we win the gift card I will draw one donor's name out of a hat and send them the card. So now is the time people. Give $5 for the chance to get back $50 and help some budding young scientists in the process. Click on the link to the right and go look over the projects I've picked. I'm sure you can find something that you will be interested in.


No responses yet

Let's Review...

Oct 07 2011 Published by under [Education&Careers]

Can you smell it in the air? It's annual review season!

One of the early surprises when I got to Employment University was the way they handle the review and tenure process here. When I interviewed I asked a lot about expectations, timeline and general P&T type stuff, but I didn't really think to ask how the actual reviews are done.

Reviews occur at all stages of the game, but assistant profs are reviewed annually, associates every two years and full profs every four. Fair enough, no surprises, until I found out that the process is entirely transparent. The AAUP contract negotiated at the university level specifies that every tt-track person in a department gets to weigh in on the file of everyone else. That means that in my first year, I had the right* to weigh in on someone's tenure case and someone going up for full professor.

I've asked around and can't find another university that does it this way, but they may be out there. In this system there are some advantages, such as being given an in depth look at The Bar for those hoping to make tenure. It also makes a process that is generally shrouded in mystery and wrapped in an enigma, very open. The down side, of course, is that junior faculty are asked to comment on people's files who are senior to them, which can present some conflicts at times. Also, if the decision is grieved the books get opened up and everyone's signed comments are available to the candidate, further muddying the waters. Interestingly, the external evaluation letters for tenure are openly available to the candidate as well, though the letter writers are informed of this.

I do wonder if the openness leads to a more fair evaluation of the candidates or whether it tends to make people less likely to be harsh on a person, even when it is warranted. Will people be brutally honest if they think it might lead to frostiness in the department? I don't know, but I'm sure it depends on the person and their relationship with the candidate.

So how does review work in your department? What are the good and bad aspects of it?

*One can also decline to assess someone, but must do so in writing.

4 responses so far


Oct 06 2011 Published by under [Et Al]

All those Yankees fans must be so sad right now. A-Rod striking out as the final out of the season for them. Must be hard. So much promise, if only they had 28 pitchers for Girardi to use.

No responses yet

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