Archive for: December, 2011

Good Monday Morning

Dec 12 2011 Published by under [Education&Careers]

This should be an interesting week.

If there's one thing that keeps me up at night in this job it is keeping my trainees in a good environment and a lot of that has to do with making sure people get paid and have opportunities to do the research they need to do. That part of my job just got harder.

4 responses so far

Tunes for the end of an odd week

Dec 09 2011 Published by under [Et Al]

No responses yet

Something new

Dec 08 2011 Published by under [Life Trajectories]

In 2008, Abel Pharmboy live-blogged his vasectomy using a Palm Treo 700p. By today's smart phone standards, that's a bit like calling home with this:

Abel had the traditional procedure done, that includes an incision of slightly less than an inch at the base of the scrotum. While a fairly quick and complication-free procedure, most men experience significant discomfort for a few days following the surgery.

The good news is that there is better phone technology and approaches to vasectomy these days. I bring this up for two reasons. First because I'm going to be have a vasectomy in a few days, and second, because I'm finally going to cave and take to twitter (ProfLikeSubst) to chronicle the experience.

Why am I going to publicize a personal medical procedure? Well, because I don't think we (as a society) talk a lot about men being responsible for contraception. Outside of condoms, virtually all other types of readily available birth control are lady business. Whereas a vasectomy is not the kind of thing you do unless you are done having kids, the idea that women should be responsible for birth control typically lasts long past the point where a couple has decided not to have more kids. This is often justified in the "But what if we suddenly change our mind based on unforeseen future circumstances!" But I'm betting that more often than not, this is just a convenient excuse not to have to go under the knife.

And this is another reason why I want to blog/tweet about my vasectomy - because I'm not doing the traditional method that Abel has already covered. Instead I'm doing the "no scalpel vasectomy" that uses a small puncture rather than a large incision. Yes, things still get cut and closed off, etc., but there are no stitches afterward and apparently a shorter recovery time.

Abel's post has served as a useful source of information for me and hopefully my coverage will help others make a choice in the future. I will recap things on the blog next week to those who are twitter averse, since I should have some time sitting around afterwards. Otherwise, you can get the live action on twitter. Hopefully I'm fast with this new medium, since the procedure is supposed to be about 12 minutes.

After spending several hours in the chair of a tattoo parlor, this should be a piece of cake!

31 responses so far

Class panel

Dec 07 2011 Published by under [Education&Careers]

This semester I have been teaching a sort of "How Science Works" class for grad students. We've covered a lot of things, but one part of the class I really wanted to see work was doing a grant panel. I asked the class to write an NSF preproposal according to the new standards of Bio's DEB and IOS programs. Once they were handed in, I split the class into two parts and gave each student a "primary" and "secondary" proposal from the opposite class section.

I anonymized the proposals as best I could and distributed them. The panels were held during two separate class periods and every proposal was discussed with the class, led by the primary reviewer. All the proposals were rated and the ratings went up on the board. At the end of class I told them they could only put 1/3 of the proposals through and that they had to make a call on which preproposals get requested for a full proposal (we're not doing the full proposals).

I really didn't know what to expect from the class or how they would react to the exercise. I have to say I was very happy with how it all went. My primary concern was that they would all be afraid to criticize their peers, but that did not turn out to be the case. If anything, they were harsher than I expected - in a good way. Both panels were forced to make a tough call for the final spot and a lot of discussion ensued about the proposals in question.

The only things about the exercise that did not work as well as I had hoped mainly had to do with time. I did not ask the secondaries to do a panel summary, which I would have if there was a bit more time. I also would have liked to give each person three proposals, but we barely had time for the discussion we had with two each. I may consider scheduling the panels for a longer session next year, maybe in the evening rather than our typical class time.

All in all, however, I think it was a very valuable experience. With permission I have posted the proposals that did make the cut to the class internal webpage, do give all the students access to examples of good proposals. I have also sent the anonymized reviews of their proposal to all of the students for feedback. We'll be discussing the process later in the week, but several students have already expressed how much they got out of the experience. If you can fit this kind of thing into a graduate class, I highly recommend it.

6 responses so far

Sentences: Is less more?

Dec 06 2011 Published by under [Information&Communication]

Everyone learns to write in different ways. I don't mean how to physically form letters or even string a few words together, but to really write. It takes practice to get to the point where one can be an effective writer, and most good writers are constantly finding ways to improve.

One thing I've noticed is a recent trend towards a call for shorter sentences, highlighted by an article by the Editor of Bioessays. In this editorial, Dr. Moore contends that the internet age has placed a premium on small, digestible sentences in the neighborhood of 20 words. He contends that since information is easy to find, easily understandable information will be that which is consumed over more dense material. He is, afterall, an editor with a vested interest in having his journal's stuff referenced and the crux of it is really here:

The Internet places diverse genres of written works side-by-side. Ever more researchers use Google et al. to find relevant literature; and if a reader finds one particular paper too taxing to read, an alternative source of the information–in more digestible form–is increasingly frequently just a click away. Ever more, bloggers and other science writers write for audiences that include researchers. And a growing number of scientists–some of them almost professional bloggers themselves–write brief communications for their own community. I believe that scientific articles are, increasingly, in competition with such writings. Whether scientists or not, few of us will disagree that the short-winded sentences of science writers are usually more pleasing to read than the average peer-reviewed scientific article.... Crucial information should be written in short chunks. A few massive sentences can seriously diminish reader understanding, and hence gratification!

Whereas I agree that that clarity is key, I think I disagree that short sentences is the only way to achieve that goal. In fact, I think well-constructed longer sentences covey more information than those same thoughts chopped up. But do I practice that?

We all like data, so I took a few minutes and put a number of bloggers to the test, but for the hell of it, I included a bunch of papers and grants I have written over the last few years. I pulled out text in paragraph form from 10 posts* by 7 bloggers, including myself. I also pulled random pages from 10 of my IRL writing as comparison, and calculated the mean sentence length using Flesh. I averaged the value from the 10 selected pieces for each person and got the following:

CPP 30.4
IRL Me 24.6
Ed Yong 23.3
FSP 21.9
PLS 20.5
Dr. Becca 19.2
Carl Zimmer 17.8
DM 16.6

I'm not sure what to make of the pattern, even in this small sample size. Bloggers who do science writing for a living, Ed Yong and Carl Zimmer, were towards each end of the spectrum. Those who don't, as far as I know, were all over the map and at both extremes.

One pattern that does emerge from my own writing is that I write shorter sentences on the blog (for a wider audience) than I do in my science writing. This comes as no surprise to me and I'm not sure I see any issue with that. An editor of a journal like Bioessays, that depends on broad readership, might be right in claiming that shorter sentences make for "better" papers for their purposes. However, I don't believe that holds true for all of science writing. Sometimes we are writing for a broad audience, and sometimes we are not.

I would be interested to hear if others find there is a difference in the mean sentence length between blog and IRL.

*I could only find 9 posts from CPP that fit the criteria in about 80 that I searched.

17 responses so far

The incident sheet or the clothes bag; pick your poison

Dec 04 2011 Published by under [Life Trajectories]

You never know what you're gonna get when it comes to daycare pick ups. For the most part it's either easy or you escape with minor difficulty. And then there are days where you are faced with one of the two dreaded cubby discoveries: the incident sheet or the clothes bag. For those of you without daycare in your lives, I'll explain.

The incident sheet is about as good as a police report. Basically it means that your child was on the giving or receiving end of some sort of youth on youth violence. We went through a string of these sheets when there was a biter in the the group, and again when a wave of pushing (usually face first into something) struck much of the class. It sucks when your child is the injured party, but not nearly as much as when they prove to be the perpetrator. Those are the days to take the back door out of the place.

The clothes bag, on the other hand, is the black box you get when your child has had to change their clothes during the day. If you're exceedingly lucky they spilled their drink at lunch, but that rarely happens. More often than not, there was a bathroom related incident and you have to hope that they just waited too long to pee. I won't lie, I have thrown a bag away in the classroom after hearing about the incident that resulted in the bagged clothes. If the word "explosive" is used in the description, it's best just to move on.

11 responses so far

You just do that now

Dec 02 2011 Published by under [Education&Careers]

It seems like every year in this job there is something else that "you just do now". It may not be in the same sense of turning 40, but it's not all that different either.

The teaching and research goals are fairly obvious and then there's the service. I don't really mean departmental and university service - I try and keep those as close to the acceptable threshold as possible - but research service.

A little while back I organized a local research conference for 120 people. Why? Because that's what you do now. I review a lot of grants and papers and put my name up for review panels at NSF for a similar reason, although these help me as well.

I'm now in my forth year and facing a new task: Associate Editor. I've been asked to serve as AE by an incoming editor of an important journal in my field and even though I need the extra work like a kick in the teeth, it's one of those things that you do now.

I have no idea how this is going to go, but hopefully I won't need ten Aleve a day.

5 responses so far

Raising a little feminist and trying not to screw it up

Dec 01 2011 Published by under [Life Trajectories], Uncategorized

My daughter turns four years old in a few months. How time has flown. I have no idea how she became this little person so quickly, emerging from the murkiness of toddlerhood. It's like I looked up one day and had a little girl on my hands, and she is her own person.

With two parents who do not spend a lot of time or thought on fashion, she has somehow become a kid who is exceedingly aware of what she wears on a daily basis and that it makes a statement about her. It's as humorous at times to me as it is puzzling. Whereas we don't really encourage that attitude, we also haven't seen much of a reason to dissuade her either. For as long as I can remember she has been a princess loving, unicorn riding, glitter throwing maniac wrapped in pink and I have no clue where this came from.

But over thanksgiving she said something that has stuck with me and caused me to think a lot about the values kids get in their early years. My wife's family has a tradition of talking about what we are thankful for at Thanksgiving dinner. It's kind of a nice moment to put some things in perspective. The Wee One was happy to chime in at her turn and say that she was thankful for her family, which was cute. Everyone went around and we started the meal. Then the Wee One suddenly needed to add another thing she was thankful for. With great excitement she exclaimed "I'm thankful I'm beautiful!"

Okay, it's funny and cute once you get past the idea that we are raising a vain little princess, but she's 3 and whatever, right?

Well, it bugs me a bit and here's why - "being beautiful" was the first thing that sprang to her mind as she thought about the good qualities about herself*. Even if, for arguments sake, she is beautiful, it bothers me that she is making that part of her identity already. She didn't say that she was thankful for being smart, or good at puzzles, or happy all the time. Instead she placed value on her appearance and I can't shake the feeling that I'm failing her.

Now it is entirely possible that I'm over-reacting to an innocent comment, although her comment is hardly the first time she has equated beauty with worth. I will say that she does not lack self-confidence, which I am happy about, but I also want her to believe she is beautiful in lots of ways. But this was one of the first times that I really felt like outside influences were playing a role that went directly against how I would like her to see herself, and it was a bit jarring. I'm pitted against Disney and their damsel in distress princess pigeonhole and I all of a sudden I realized how much of that she has internalized already and it's creeping me the fuck out.

It'll be fine, she'll be fine and I certainly believe that we can instill in her the kinds of values we believe in. I guess I just didn't expect the Trojan Horse of the patriarchy to be sitting at the gates so soon. Now if I can just keep her out of JC Penny...

*Yes, she completely meant it in the physical sense.

19 responses so far

« Newer posts