Archive for: January, 2012

Repost: I do not like green eggs and hamsters

Jan 31 2012 Published by under [Education&Careers]

Since I'm in my Prof CrankyPants mode this week, I'll bust this out from almost exactly a year ago. Oddly, nothing has changed.

Dear Undergrad I am,
why must you send me much spam?
You fill my inbox with emails
more persistent than a swarm of snails.

Yes, you missed class I see
but concerned about this I can hardly be.
A vast array of details does not help your case.
In fact, you thinking that I even care is off base.

It is a shame that you were out in a boat
which after hitting a rock did not float,
but it is more than suffice to say
that you missed class and we'll be on our way.

I am sorry that your hamster died
and that you missed class because you cried
but a paragraph on how he was so fluffy
makes me want to stab myself like Buffy

I really don't want to hear about your friend Rob
whose member did start to throb.
He had to be taken to the doctor,
a trip you felt the need to proctor.

Don't eat the green eggs in the dining hall
a lesson that should be obvious to all
but you did not take the cue
and spent all class time in the lou.

Spare me the details of how much you were sick
and that you threw up all over your friend Rick.
I do not need to hear from your Mom
nor your roommate who witnessed it all, Tom.

You might notice in our classroom that smells like feet
that there are many, many a seat.
Is it that big of a surprise
that I did not miss your staring eyes?

It's time you grew up and get bright,
the slides are on the class website.
The readings are on the handout
your absence did not stand out.

Know the material for the test
and I hope you will do your best.
But please stop sending me excuses that are incomplete
because all I do is hit delete.

One response so far

Don't bother asking, I'll answer them now

Jan 31 2012 Published by under [Education&Careers], [Et Al]

Every semester I hear a lot of the same questions from students. It gets a bit tiresome answering the same questions all the time, so I thought I would use this venue to write out the answers and forward them along to my classes.

Q1. Will this material be on the exam?

Excellent question! Actually, I like nothing better than standing in front of you and blathering on about my own personal ideological concepts, with little to no relation to the course material. Did you wonder why we are taking a class period next week to discuss my tax return? Now you know. Feel free to ignore all this lecture material I've spent a few years refining, it's all fluff.

Q2. Do I need to buy the book for the class?

It turns out that I get an enormous kick back from publishers for requiring you to buy the paperback version of a three-year-old book that I also sent you a cheaper ebook link for. The book isn't at all helpful for clarifying concepts discussed in class or studying, I just want all the kick back dough.

Q3. Is coming to class important?

No no, see Q1 for details. It's not like most of my lectures are images that I talk through or anything. I'm just spewing whatever comes into my head.

Q4. Is it okay if I hand that assignment in late?

Hey, whenever you want sport. All that text in the syllabus about points deducted each late day was just me pandering to the Admin request that we take a tough stance on late work. I'm not going to read it anyway!

Q5. Why is the classroom always locked

Its not. What appears to be conceptually difficult is that the door handle does not turn. However, the minor application of force on said door opens it rather easily. Although it is a fascinating psychological experiment to watch a class of students stymied by their concept of how a door should work, I can assure that I have no magical powers and you watch me just push the door open everyday.

Any other questions, class?

18 responses so far

Sunday night stupidity

Jan 29 2012 Published by under [Et Al]

For some reason I've had this stupid idea kicking around in my head all day, about a statue of limitations. Yes, I've been thinking about answering the question, "if I had to commission a statue of my limitations, what would it look like?"

So far I've settled on a dude juggling 23 things while someone else tosses another in the mix. The plaque in front would read "Fuck, really?", but it would be misspelled "Fuck, realy?" There should probably be some baby vomit on the statue's shirt. That about sums it up.

What would your statue look like?

6 responses so far

A semester of women in science

Here's a question I have been pondering this evening and I would like some help getting and answer: How many departments can we convince to field an all female invited speaker slate for the fall semester of 2012?

This was spurred by a twitter conversation with @phylogenomics and @duffy_ma that began with Jonathan Eisen suggesting that he wanted to start a conference with all women presenters.

In my limited scientific capacity I have tried a version of this experiment. I organize my department's seminar series, and a year ago I decided I was going to invite only women and not tell anyone in my department. I was nearly able to fill the semester with all female speakers, but a few visiting scientists ruined my sweep. However, not a single person in the department ever appeared to notice.

But I would like to take this a step further. For the fall of 2012 I would like to not only invite a full slate of female scientists as speakers, but I plan to get my colleagues on board with the plan. Beyond that, I want to get you, dear readers, on board as well. Between you and I, let's see just how many departments we can convince to invite only women to give talks in the fall of 2012.

I plan to bring it up in faculty meeting. I'll inform my department that I'm doing this and ask for suggestions to be sent. By doing it publicly, anyone who scoffs will be announcing that they are an asshole. It may already be widely known, but it never hurts to let these people self identify. By presenting my plan as a done deal, my guess is that people will buy in. Everyone likes something a little different and also likes someone else to do the work.

At the same time, I'm not going to make a big deal of it! No announcements, no drawing attention so that people will say "Oh, look. Affirmative action!" because you and I know that such a sentiment will only make people put a mental asterisk next to the speaker list, which is bullshit. In fact, I have been trying to get three female speakers in for two years and they have been too busy traveling. I'm not looking for any reason for people to view the speaker list as anything different, just like no one would bat an eye if it was an all white sausage party.

I like this evening idea for lots of reasons, but 1) I'm hoping it will help me convince a couple of my favorite scientists to make the visit in support of the notion, and 2) I want my colleagues to at least get it in the back of their mind that we generally invite too many old white dudes.

So help me out people. Who else thinks they can convince their department to spend a semester listing to some awesome science done by kick ass women?

34 responses so far

Some relationships just don't work out

Jan 26 2012 Published by under [Education&Careers]

Relationships are a lot of work if you want to keep them healthy and productive, no matter whether they are personal or professional. At times I have under-appreciated this in a professional capacity and let things slide. In a lot of cases the consequences are minimal, as the parties gradually drift in different directions, but in other cases there is more at stake and the relationship needs to be maintained or ended, with no gray zone.

I don't consider myself overly conflict averse but I think, like most people, I have a tendency to push addressing a conflict off when I am overwhelmed with other issues. It's not the right strategy because the conflict looms and rarely resolves itself when ignored, but it's easy to say "I can't deal with that right now". Eventually, however, the situation while rear its ugly head and often need to be dealt with at the least convenient time possible.

One thing I feel I really need to work on as a PI is recognizing bad relationships early on and dealing with them at that time. While it sucks to professionally "break-up" with someone, it ends up being infinitely better for both parties in the end, rather than dragging out some extended and overly dramatic crawl to the inevitable.

Sometimes a relationship just isn't good for two parties and it's time to move on.

And it doesn't even have to be because someone is ill and you have a younger model waiting in the wings.

7 responses so far

Poll: Field of danger

The semester is already kicking my ass, but I have a quick hypothetical situation for your ponderation this morning.

The situation involves field work for your project, whether you be a PI with funding for an individual project, a grad student who has secured some funds to complete a project, or whatever. Anyone who has done field work knows that there is always a nature component to the work and my question today revolves around how much that controls what you do.

You've arrived at your field site and the conditions are not ideal. Weather has kicked up that makes the work you are planning a little more dangerous than the expected conditions. While you would not be prevented from doing the work, the added elements give you pause. You've spent the budgeted funds available to make the trip and the samples/data are critical to the work you proposed. Because your work is seasonally dependent, you would have to wait until next year to collect these data if you opt out of the work this time, assuming you could scrape the funds together to make the trip again.

What do you do?

19 responses so far

Incarceration music

Jan 21 2012 Published by under [Et Al]

I'm currently stuck in a small airport. The first leg of my flight has been delayed in 1-2 hour stints 4 times now, leaving us to wait in dread for each new announcement. Chances are they will drag this out for another couple hours and then cancel the flight.

They have also shut down all the food options in the terminal, but I may be good on this front because I have been feeling increasingly like I have a train wreck of a stomach bug coming on. This is getting worse before it gets better, folks.

To top it off, the GOP debate is playing at high volume on every TV in this place. To drown it out, I'm playing this:

2 responses so far

Embracing my inner Newt

Jan 18 2012 Published by under [Et Al]

Although I am in the field this week I haven't been able to sequester myself from US political news. But perhaps this is a good thing this week as Newt Gingrich gave me a great idea. Rather than working hard to stay at the forefront of my field, I'm simply going to ask my colleagues to drop the work they are doing and send me their data, just like Newt has asked competitors to drop out of the race and back his candidacy. I don't know why I didn't think of this sooner. So here it goes.

Dear Colleagues,

I know you have worked hard to get where you are and that many of you have large amounts of unpublished data in your labs that you are writing up. I urge you all to stop working on your science and to stop trying to publish. Instead, just send your data to me and my group will analyze it and publish it ourselves. We're all trying to advance science, right? Well, the best way to do that is probably just centralize all the data in my lab. I'll take care of the data and submit manuscripts and proposals so that you don't have to. It would also be great if you could go to conferences and tell everyone how awesome I am. Yeah, you'll need to pay your way too. I really think this is the best way forward, but it's your call to make. But if you love science, it would be selfish to keep doing your own thing. You owe it to science to just send me your data.

Thank you in advance,

14 responses so far

The ethics of lab spending

Jan 12 2012 Published by under [Education&Careers]

In yesterday's post, CPP made the following comment with regard to using federal grant money:

I have *always* outspent my revenues on an annual basis, with the goal of increasing the rate of scientific growth in my lab, and thus the rate at which I can obtain additional funding in the future.

I can see where this is coming from - the need to grow now to produce data to cash in later - but the problems are many. Perhaps most importantly is dealing with the issues surrounding using funds from one project to start the next. This is essentially unavoidable to a certain extent because the bar for "preliminary" data is so high in the current environment and there is no question that taking what you proposed to the next level is within the bounds of fair play. Technology changes during the lifetime of a grant and sometimes opportunities come up that are well within the scope of the funded project. As I'm writing this, Drugmonkey left the following comment on the same post basically saying the same thing:

Regarding "between projects", I suppose you have to think about whether it fits the mission of the agency or directorate/IC. I would not worry too much about, say, pursuing a topic that differed in some but not all particulars from the proposed grant. In NIDA land for example, doing work of a similar nature that involved a different abused drug. Or pursuing different outcome measures for the same drug. Investigation under some cancer model might be too far, even though it is of interest to the broader agency.

Basically, does it pass the smell test?

Interestingly I've gotten critical remarks from a program officer even when doing pretty much exactly what we proposed *plus* some other stuff that I thought was clearly related to the core goals (and subsequent progress verified this). That only happened once and that whole branch of the IC is a little odd in their thinking at present.

So where does that leave NEW projects that sit just (or way) outside your current funding? I know what the company line is here, but what is common practice? How does one get money together to pursue a novel line of research? It happens all the time, but where does the money come from? Small internal pots? Exploratory grants? PI overhead return? Skimming from other projects? Perhaps using consumables paid for by the feds on an unfunded project is a pretty gray area, but what if there is a special reagent or need to generate specific novel data?

Or are people just leaving a preliminary proposal under their pillows at night?

13 responses so far

Borrowing against the future

Jan 11 2012 Published by under [Education&Careers]

In this day and age, as congress tries to push the debt ceiling higher on a seemingly annual basis and the US continues to lose ground in trading deficits, borrowing against the future is a popular tactic. In congress there is little to no incentive not to pass a massive debt load down to our nation's children since current congress people won't be around by the time those birds come home to roost. Perhaps it's fitting that I was reading stories about this phenomenon just before I sat down to do some budget planning for our current grant.

I was surprised to find out that NSF had funded the entire budget of our grant from Day 1. My impression was that the money comes in over a couple of installments, but either this is no longer true or I was just mistaken. In any case, all of the money is in my account, just staring back at me.

This is the money you could be spending on summer travel

This summer money is going to be tight for us. I'm going to have to make some calls on travel that are based on finances more than science and I won't be able to support my people to the extent that I would like. Barring a couple of small pots of money out there falling into our lap, that is the reality.

But with the full grant funded, technically, I have the ability to fix the situation by dipping into the future. It's easy to say that we'll have other money in hand by the final year of this grant and we'll be able to play the shell game to fix whatever I do now*.

But, Here Be Dragons, I believe. I have no idea what lays ahead and I think would seriously regret running into a shortfall on this project as we are trying to wrap it up in year three. And by shorting our efforts on this proposal, could I be endangering our chances of getting funded again? Probably.

I would be curious to hear how others have handled this situation, but my inclination is tighten the belt now and keep hammering out the proposals to get these other projects funded entirely under their own power.

*Of course, there is the ethical issues of using funds for project X to prop up personnel expenses related to project Y

9 responses so far

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