Archive for: March, 2014
Because I'm inhabiting The Grant Cave and because this video makes me smile, I give you this from three years ago.
All this talk of honey badgers this week got me thinking, which is always dangerous. With this as my input...
...my sleep deprived brain has made way too many honey badger / grad student comments over the past few days. My new narration works out something like this:
This is the grad student. Watch it pipette in slow motion. It's pretty badass.
Look. It runs all over the place. "Whoa, watch out." says that undergrad.
Ew, it's got some cells, oh, it's running a pulse chase experiment. Oh my gosh, the grad students are just crazy.
The grad student has been referred to in the Guinness Book of World Records as the lowest rung on the academic totem poll, but it really doesn't give a shit. If it's hungry, it's hungry... ew what's that in its mouth? Bagels from last week's journal club? Pizza that's been on the counter for three days?
Look at this, there's a college function in the building with free food. The grad student just goes in there and takes what it wants. It doesn't care that the Dean and her assistant are staring at it, it just takes it. OMG those are mayonnaise packets. Grad student doesn't give a shit, it's tearing those mayonnaise packets open with its fucking TEETH. Isn't that disgusting? Mayonnaise packets!
Look at this, it's typing.
The grad student is really pretty bad ass. They have no regard nutrition.
It's eating Ramen. Isn't that gross, Ramen. Grad student doesn't give a shit. It's increasing it's blood pressure by like 10 points, but it doesn't give a shit. Nothing can stop the grad student when it's hungry. Nasty.
There it is, pipetting in slow motion again.
Now, what's interesting is that other academics, like this PI here, just wait for the grad student to make some data and swoop in to cherry pick the findings. "You do all the work for us grad student and we'll just publish what you find. How's that? What do you say, stupid? Thanks for the data, stupid."
"Hey, I want authorship" says the grad student, but PIs don't care. And look, the postdocs do it too. They're like "Thanks stupid. Thanks for running my samples, see ya later."
The grad student does all the work while these other academics just cherry pick the findings.
At night time the grad student is sitting in the lab, because it needs data. Look! Here comes a fierce battle between a grad student and procrastination. I wonder what will happen. There's the grad student, just surfing the web, and then look a new blog post is up. "You shouldn't read me, you have work to do or sleep to get" says the blog, but grad student doesn't care. Grad student reads the shit out of it.
Little does the grad student know, there are comments! There's like 60 comments on the thread and while the grad student is reading the post and eating slightly moldy bread, ew, that's disgusting, there's all these comments to read.
Now the grad student is gonna zone out for a minute, just zone right out. Then it's gonna get right back up and polish off those Doritos someone left in the office. Like nothing happened. How disgusting.
And of course, what does the grad student have for lunch for the next two weeks?
The grad student.
The author would like to thank Dr. Becca for helpful feedback and for contributing text on mayonnaise
I've made this point numerous times before, but it bears repeating: Eukaryotic diversity is NOT just the living things you see around you. Yes, everyone likes cute fuzzy animals and will acknowledge that plants and fungi are tasty and probably important, but that's about where people stop. Part of this is because of our tendency to stick with what we can observe and part is because it gets reinforced all the damn time! Even in places that should know better.
I bring this up again this morning because I happened to catch last night's episode of Cosmos, which was centered on evolution. I'm not a Cosmos fanboi and only new it was on because half my twitter feed was drooling in anticipation, but overall I enjoyed it. Sure, there were some odd things about the presentation of some facts, but they got way more right than wrong. As I said at the time, I thought the episode was infinitely more effective the Bill Nye's circus creationist debate. I loved the contrast between natural selection and artificial, and the deconstruction of the Too Complex argument. They unquestionably targeted fav hobby horses of the creationist movement and broke them down, one after the other.
BUT. That freakin' "Tree of Life" (which was conveniently pictured on a real tree, as if the metaphor needed to be sold any harder). As Dr. Tyson's voice over discussed all the diversity of life and complex forms, we were treated to one animal after another popping out of each branch. At the end they added one plant and one mushroom, just to cover the bases.
This isn't a new problem, not at all. In fact, 96% of described species are animals, land plants or fungi. However, if you look at the DNA present in all sorts of different environmental samples, those lineages only account for about 24% of the actual eukaryotic organisms present. While we really like to describe new species of beetles and butterflies, we're often ignoring the majority of what is out there and usually of the more critical players of an ecosystem.
So the next time someone says they looked at something "in a huge variety of eukaryotes, from mice to YEAST!" ask them when they plan to look at the remaining 90% of eukaryotic diversity.
The new NSF Grant Proposal Guide (GPG) came out a few weeks ago, and the front cover is just dying for a caption. I already made a few cracks on twitter, but I know my readers can get creative on a Friday.
Cover Image: NSF rolls out new proposal review criteria. May the odds be ever in your favor.
This has come up before, but I heard it again in conversation with a PO this week: The average length of an NSF award is going up.
The NSF core programs have always had the ability to award anything from 1-5 years in duration. For whatever reason, PIs have settled on 3 years as the "normal" time for an NSF award. I don't know the history here, I just know that when I first started applying everyone told me not to do anything (on the non-scientific side) that would stand out to reviewers. This is not unlike NIH n00bs being told to stay with the modular budget.
Three years wasn't so bad when funding rates were higher, but these days it means that you really can't take a break on submitting if you want to keep the lab continuously funded. Yeah, you can use no-cost extensions to effectively make a grant last 4 years, but it seems that people are just starting to ask for 4.
File that away for all of you who are waiting to hear back on preproposals.
Based on the feedback I have gotten at all levels short of the university, things look good on the tenure front. Should that be officially bestowed, I'll be spending part of next year on sabbatical
sleeping planning further world domination. Whereas I had to submit an application for sabbatical that included A Plan, the reality is that I have no sweet clue what I'm going to do yet.
But one aspect that concerns me a little is making sure that my students get the support they need while I am on sabbatical. I think I'll be taking more of the "staycation" approach, but I don't plan to be in my office in the same way that I normally am. I've seen several approaches to absentee lab running and it appears difficult to balance the mentoring with also getting some time away.
So, I'm curious today if people have found methods that are particularly effective, from the PI or trainee side, at meeting the lab needs while on sabbatical without feeling like the PI never left. As it currently stands, I won't still have a technician in the lab at that time to place "in charge".
Tight funding budgets make for tough times in academic labs. Some PIs who were used to a certain approach in their funding strategy (i.e. renewal of a single award) are running into funding gaps that they did not worry about before. University budgets to bridge these gaps and support labs in other ways are also feeling the squeeze.
At my institution, the major resource that is critical to many of the laboratories is the pool of Teaching Assistants. This academic year support for students means the difference between some labs having students to do research, or not. Labs with no personnel money depend on the TA pool to continue running, but labs with active grants also utilize this resource to spread the funding (e.g. split an RA between two students) and allow more funded work to get done.
This year, available TA slots are extremely restricted. In programs where PIs would like to accept a cohort of 10 students, there might be 2 or 3 TAs available. How do you pick which labs get the support? Rank the students? Rank the labs? Support the supported or keep the boat afloat? Many departments around the country are asking these same questions and there's no good answer.
I think the hardest hit are the mid-career folks. Everyone can agree that our pre-tenure people need to be supported and there's general agreement about certain labs at the other end of the spectrum that they really aren't in the game anymore. In the middle is where the debate lies. Who is likely to get funded even if they currently are not? Who has a production record that affords them another shot? Who is just spinning their wheels? Who just hasn't admitted to themselves that it's over?
And once you go down the rabbit hole where lack of funding means more teaching, which means less time to ramp up the granting effort.... Are you going to bounce back? Should a student be placed in your lab and then be subject to the outcome of your funding situation that could be pretty bleak? And who says no? The department? The Dean? The grad program? The grad committee? Where does the buck stop for that decision?
I wish I had the answer, because it isn't getting any easier.