Today is a bit of a day of appreciation for one of the steadiest presences in the Blogging As Scientist game. Whereas I haven't been blogging here in.... a while, there was a time when I had 4-5 posts a week rattling around in my head. Everything was new, and I had no idea what I was doing in this job, but blurting it all out on a screen somehow made me feel a bit better about the chaos. For a while I was writing for only me, in the sense that I didn't really have an audience and I was just writing to write. Somehow, Drugmonkey noticed a tiny blog and linked to it, significantly changing my audience and approach.
Much has changed in the 8 years since then, but ultimately blogging changed me. I know that sounds corny AF, but through conversations here and on other bogs, my perspective on several issues evolved in ways it wouldn't have otherwise. This is in no small part due to Drugmonkey's influence and tireless writing.
More directly, I never would have tried my hand at obtaining NIH funding without reading the near endless supply of NIH information on Drugmonkey's blog. Between a variety of posts and his patience in answering a stream of n00b questions, I can actually say that I've been able to trick NIH into giving me some money successfully obtain some funding from NIH.
In many small ways and some large ones, a person whom I have never met has been a significant mentor throughout my early career development. For those who would argue that blogging is a waste of your time as an academic, just send them over to Drugmonkey's place for a bit of an education.
Deterrence. This argument often surfaces in the aftermath of school shootings, which have become almost commonplace in the US. If we simply armed teachers, it would keep would-be school shooters from carrying out their plans. It's an opinion that is gaining traction nationally. I even had this conversation yesterday:
@bassem_masri Arming teachers a terrible idea. More guns is not the solution. I'm not packing in front of a class. Ever.
You can follow the thread, but there's several major flaws in this argument. First off, the data just flat out don't support that claim. Even the casual observation that the US has by far the most guns in the hands of citizens, yet the highest national gun violence stats, should tell you all you need to know. There is NO QUESTION that more guns = more gun violence.
But but but, we just need the right people to have the guns! Well, this is also a favorite NRA argument. Spoiler: it doesn't hold weight, either. Check out this 20/20 episode where they trained students well beyond the normal training for concealed carry, told them they would have to fend off a shooter and not one managed to pull their weapon when shot got real and they all got shot.
Now we want to argue for putting guns in the hands of professors. Okaaaaaay, how's that gonna go? Well, to start with, the vast majority of profs I know would refuse. Why? there's probably an infinite number of reasons, but they would start with the fact that even trained professionals often make mistakes in live shooter situations and kill innocent people. Now you want Dr. Smith to seamlessly transition from their economics lecture to gunning down some dude who bursts into a classroom with an assault rifle? Yeah. Ok. How many of the professors you have met would you trust to react to a live shooter incident, fire a weapon accurately at a distance and not accidentally hit an innocent student in the mayhem?
Even if we only secretly hire new professors with Navy Seal training, what would be the effect of having professors toting guns to class? You think your professor is unapproachable now? I'm sure a loaded .38 will help. "He seems much more nurturing now that I know he could gun me down at any moment!" The reality of any open carry movement is that the primaryuse of visible guns is intimidation. Any professor that would volunteer to carry a gun to class is almost certainly not one I would want to carry a gun to class.
Now, would armed professors make any difference? Doubtful. If someone wants to shoot up a school, is the presence armed professors going to make them change their plans? "I was going to go on a rampage with my assault rifle, but the thought of Dr. Ratcliff's .22 made me reconsider and channel my efforts to community service!" Yeah, no. Mentally stable, rational people don't gun down innocent people on a whim. Assuming that they are taking risk into consideration is absurd when almost every school shooting has ended with the death of the shooter. They know they are not making it out alive, so the idea of armed professors would mean nothing.
Knee jerk reaction aside, there is no evidence at all that would suggest that arming professors would curb the violence we have seen. More guns are not the solution, no matter what the NRA has conditioned us to believe. We need gun laws that actually make sense (see: almost every other first world nation) and the citizenry to actually give two fucks about curbing gun violence.
Last night I asked a question on twitter about whether PIs felt some specific allegiance to their institution and I got some interesting responses. My thought was simply that many of us may feel ties to our department or even one's specific college, but I was trying to get at what it takes to extend that feeling to the institution as a whole?
Does it matter if you're at a university, national lab, medical center, museum or other?
Does it have to do with whether you did your undergraduate or grad degree there?
Do those working at elite universities take more pride in their affiliation, and thus feel an allegiance to their place of employment?
In my particular case, I see the university as the overall body that allows me to do what I like to do, but I don't feel any particular need to fly it's colors or celebrate the institution. I like our geographic area. I DO have strong feelings about my department, our majors and faculty. I do feel a strong tie to our college administration, who have been exceptionally supportive. As a result I do the general PR stuff that we are asked to do for student recruitment, etc. Outside of that?
But I certainly see examples out there of faculty who embrace the university in a broader way, such as @LSU_FISH. So I'm curious in what circumstances do people buy into the institution, as an entity?
"Maybe we can take the girls out for dinner after the last day of Kindergarten for the Wee One."
"We'll have to eat early. Graduation is at 5:30."
"Why would we go to graduation? We don't know any of the kids in the oldest grade at the school."
"No, kindergarten graduation is at 5:30 on the last day."
"Every grade has a graduation ceremony."
Seriously folks, is there anything more ridiculous than a graduation ceremony for Every. Damn. Grade? What could possibly be the point? Is anyone out there going "Well, Joey was really struggling with shapes this year, but we're so happy he was able to pull it up so he could walk across that stage with the rest of the kindergarten!"
You want to graduate high school? Great! Let's throw a damn party. College? Sure! I might even get you present! But Kindergarten graduation? Second grade? WHY? Isn't that called "cleaning out your locker for the summer? Isn't that all the reward a kid at that age needs?
And it's the culmination of two things here: The constant drum beat of one event or the other that has families stretched in every direction AND the apparent societal need to recognize every minor youth step with a piece of paper, plaque or trophy. My kids are 2 and 6 and already have a collection of awards and trophies the Lebron James would be impressed by.
I am all for raising confident kids. I want nothing more than for my kids to grow up sure of themselves with the feeling they can accomplish anything. But will they be able to separate real accomplishments from just showing up? I don't know, but here's a trophy for reading this far.
This week has not been a good one on the sleep front. Last night I finally had an opportunity to get some decent sleep and went to bed early. At 12:30am my youngest was screaming and I got out of bed and trudged up the stairs, trying to keep my swearing quiet enough not to wake my older daughter. I was not pleased.
I got into her room and groggily asked her what was wrong. "I missed you and needed a hug." was the response. My sleep patterns had thus been tossed into a blender for want of a midnight hug. So I picked her up and she clung to me and whispered "I love you daddy" and I stopped caring about my mental state the next morning and just held her. I put her back into bed, covered her and we said goodnight.
And then I lay awake for two hours, battling for some semblance of a decent night's sleep.
If you're not aware, there's been some new activity here on Scientopia and elsewhere as we're starting to make some changes geared at refreshing our network a bit. We're expanding in some ways and looking for opportunities to get the community at large a bit more involved. For now I just want to make you aware of the new blogs we've started up, which are mostly relocations of blogs you may already be familiar with.
Dr. 24hours has started a blog here called Complex Roots, where he plans to expand his blogging abut science and technology. His Infactorium blog will also remain active.
Former NIGMS director at NIH, Jeremy Berg, has started a blog digging into the grant data from NIH. You can find him at Datahound.
InBabyAttachMode has migrated her blog to our network and we're looking forward to getting a feel for science culture in Europe, where she has recently returned to after a US postdoc.
Likewise, Mistress of Animals has moved on to our network to add another more senior perspective to the grant game and academic culture.
Stay tuned for more additions as we move forward in the next couple of months.
Finally, I wanted to draw your attention to the new IOS blog from NSF, that will hopefully be following in the footsteps of its counterpart at DEB. Both blogs are the result of POs who wanted better and more interactive ways to communicate with you. I encourage you to visit them often and comment.
I think readers and bloggers get a relatively skewed perspective on each other, on occasion. I say this because I get emails from people suggesting that I have been very helpful in their career development. Don't get me wrong, I'm thrilled that people have found the information here useful. I also understand that perspective, having gained substantially from the writing of others. But there at least appears to be an under-appreciation of what we gain on this side of the keyboard from these interactions.
It's no exaggeration that a combination of readers and other bloggers have significantly shaped my outlook on this job, and science more generally. I have an enormously greater appreciation for not only my own field, but for the variety of jobs out there that all fall under the umbrella of academic PI. But most of all, blogging has made this job fun at times when fun was hard to come by. Would I have survived year three on the job without this outlet and an unruly mob to tell me to buck the fuck up? Not sure. I've blocked a lot of that year out.
But, a strange thing happened as I kept writing things down and casting it into the void of the internet - People kept writing back. There were people with shared experiences and those who had questions about what lies ahead for them. Some agreed and others didn't, but even some of the trolls have come around at times to offer something useful. Importantly, these interactions have allowed me to forge some significant friendships with people from a range of scientific fields I am rarely exposed to IRL*. That's been wildly illuminating and something I depend on often to navigate the murky waters.
So without getting too navel gazing**, thanks for sharing a few minutes of your day with me. I hope it's been helpful for you. I know it's probably kept me out of the police report.
*And seriously, there are way more neuroscientists out there than I ever would have predicted. They are everywhere. I think there's one hiding behind my chair right now.