Friday, May 29, 2009

Double dippin'

Who ever came up with the accounting system for grants was either a genius or a crook. Maybe both. I spent a lot of yesterday deal with the budget I am putting together for one of my grant proposals. In said grant, I am budgeting a sub-contract so that a student can live at a tropical field station for a year (any takers?). The field station, as a place of research, has an overhead rate that gets charged to any subcontract. Their rate is 55.01% (why the .01, I have no clue). So, the breakdown of costs there goes something like this.

Room 575/month = $6900
food 30/day = $10950
Total = $17850

Field station overhead (55.01%) = $9820
Total with O/H = $27,670

Fair enough, but wait! It gets better. Because the money is being paid as a sub-contract through Employment U, they want their cut too. Do you think that they take O/H on just the cost of room and board? No way. They take O/H on the whole amount, including the field station O/H. Well, because it's a sub-contract only $25K is eligible for O/H, but they are still taking overhead on another institution's overhead. If we do the math on that, it looks like this:

Employment U O/H (49%, but only on the first $25K of a subcontract) = $12,250
GRAND total = $39,920

So, in order to spend $17850 of fed money to pay for room and board, we have to spend $39,920, or 124% more than the original cost. Gotta love academic finances.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Brady overload

I'm a big fan of the Patriots, always have been. But even I'm getting sick of the coverage of Tom Brady. Click on any sports website, or even news website, and you'll be treated to minute-by-minute accounts of his every move. He practiced today... in the light rain! He must be fine then. Give me a break down of every snap and what his knee looked like, please! I haven't seen this many leg updates since Barbaro. Let it go people, we'll see what things look like in September. In the mean time there are more than 1600 other players currently in the league. Let's hear about any of them.

This is why I have students!

As a lab, we have been banging our heads against a basic technique for a couple of months. This is a method I have successfully used countless times over the past 4 years and based a substantial part of my post-doc around. Both of my students are using this method in their respective projects and it has been a major roadblock because we cannot seem to get results. Positive controls work just fine, as if mocking us, but the data we care about defies our grasp. In one case we thought we would have to troubleshoot a bit to get publishable data, but in the other the technique is so routine that there is no conceivable reason why it would not work, even if we had to tweak it here or there.

Why no data? How are we treating the positive controls and the sample differently? Normally they are treated identically, but because of the multi-step sample prep, we tend to take a short cut with the positive controls for the final step, but there are controls along the way to indicate that the early steps are working. All the controls were fine, and so around and around we went, looking for the problem. What is the fucking difference?

We have a conference coming up next week, and this last piece of data would really demonstrate that we're not blowing smoke here. We've changed every variable we could think of and started from scratch multiple times and yesterday afternoon we were met with the same result. Nothing. One of my students and I were sitting in my office wracking our brains to figure this out and the student blurted out "What about substance X, that we take for granted because it is such a basic part of every procedure we do in the lab? It works for everything else, but it might be affecting this procedure because it's different in Y way. Were you using substance X in your old lab or an alternative?" All I could think was "holy fucking cannoli, I bet they're right. Why didn't I think of that?"

I didn't think of it because I've done this a gazillion times and there is no reason to think that substance X would be a problem because it works in everything else we do. But we don't use substance X on the final step positive controls and there is a distinct possibility that the difference between substance X and the one I was using in Post-doc lab could be blocking what we are trying to do. I will know tomorrow for sure.

Oddly enough, I am not arguing for having a positive control that is taken through the whole process, because if the positive in the final step was not working we would still be scratching our heads as to what is going on. It's the fact that we had a difference between out final step positive and the sample that made it possible to figure this out. While I'm still not sure this is the problem, it might be the only rock we haven't turned over and I'm not sure I would have thought to do so without talking it over with my students a dozen times until one of them tossed the idea out there. If this works, I owe this student some beer next week.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Actual Conversation:Health and Safety Version

PLS: "Hey, I'm just calling to find out what you guys suggest doing with large plastic tubes that have had phenol and chloroform in them."

Health and Safety Officer: "Hmmmm, can you hold on for a second?"

PLS: "Sure." *Mentally humming the theme to Final Jeopardy while listening to the muffled conversation behind the hand over the receiver at the other end of the line.*

HaSO: "Just put them in a clear plastic bag, autoclave them and throw them out."

PLS: "Wait, they're volatile chemicals. You want me to heat them under high pressure? How will that make them less hazardous?" *Imagining finding an unconscious undergrad in front of an open autoclave with organic fumes everywhere.*

HaSO: "Well, it should make the tubes unrecognizable."

PLS: "So you want to melt the tubes and plastic together with the volatile chemicals and then throw them in the garbage."

HaSO: "As long as the tubes are destroyed it should be fine."

PLS: "...Um, for who?"

HaSO: "Was that your only question?"

PLS: "Yes." *Thinking: Until I have to call and ask about the treatment for hot phenol vapor inhalation, yes.*

So, uh, yeah. That's not what we did with those tubes. At least now I know that the office is interested in the safety of the university.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Dear NSF

Just me, checking in to see how things are going. I know we haven't talked much lately, but I've been thinking about you. Remember all of the fun we had in January, when I submitted that grant? Well, I saw on your website that you sent it out for external review in mid-March, and well, I thought it might be nice for me to write you and see how things are going and whether two months is enough time for you to pick it over? You know the summer submission deadline is looming and that I am already working on two grants for July. Do you think you could make a decision before the last possible second so I'll know whether I'm going to be submitting three grants? I know it's a lot to ask and all, but it really would be nice to hear one way or another. See, this summer is already jamming up and I stupidly just agreed to write a book chapter that I now know needs to be about 20,000 words long. I'm just curious if I'm going to get to see my family this summer or if I should fully commit to going feral and convert my office window into a urinal. Once the pizza guy has my credit card on the rolodex and I move a cot in, I should be pretty set. So, drop me a line to let me know if I need to head to Home Depot. Hugs.

Taking the plunge

We moved here on August 1st, 2008, having visited prior to that only once as a family to look for a place to live. We did not have long to look and decided it would be best to find a place to rent for our first year while we figured out the area and where we would like to buy a house. Well, the time is upon us to start the house hunt. We have a meeting with the bank tomorrow to figure out what we would be pre-approved at before we start searching, but it's a process that I am viewing with a mix of excitement and dread. Even though it is a good time to buy in terms of prices, we have also heard (from people here in almost our exact situation) that the houses on the market that we would be interested in are mostly being held be people who are not under huge pressure to sell. Those that HAD to sell have already done so at reduced prices and those that can afford to wait for an offer they deem acceptable are now in the majority, leaving either run down places that need a lot of work or houses just out of our range. As if the summer weren't already jammed enough, we will now be searching far and wide for a place to live once our lease runs out Sept. 1. Not sure how this is going to go.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Exercise can be dangerous

As I have mentioned before, I've started doing a bit of exercise recently. I'm not exactly on pace to run a marathon, but I'm getting out and doing some cardio and weights so that I don't have to add hydraulic fluid to my desk chair. One of the nice features of our new building is a locker room downstairs where I can change before a run and shower when I get back. It's a small room through an unmarked door in the bathroom on the bottom floor, so not a lot of people know it's there.

This morning I was changing into my running clothes and just as I had reached a critical point in the transition from one pair of shorts to another, the door swings open. While this did not bother me much, the man who had opened the door did clearly not expect to find someone without pants on behind door number one. He apologized, but rather than going on his merry way he felt it necessary to explain that he was here with his son (standing behind him looking embarrassed) checking out the new building because his son was enrolled for the fall, etc.

This is where I have to admit that I have a problem. It's not a physical thing, but in fact my issue is I sometimes blurt things out before thinking it through. I grew up in a family where the speed at which you could verbally assault your relatives with sarcastic humor determined your spot in the hierarchy, and as the eldest grandchild, I learned without training wheels. In the right circumstances this has been a very good thing for me, but for the unsuspecting there have been occasions when I have come off a bit harsh.

Nevertheless, standing in a small room with no pants on and listening to a parent explain to me the rationale for barging through unmarked bathroom doors is apparently a situation where I talk faster than I think. Rather than saying "If you don't mind...", or something socially acceptable, out came "Well, are you finished checking out this facility or do you want me to take my shirt off too?" I believe the shade of red the man turned would be classified in catalogue-speak as "hot salmon".

And why haven't I been asked to be a faculty ambassador for recruitment yet?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Reader Poll: Professional Development

As part of my Exec Committee duties for a society I am heavily involved in, I am planning some professional development sessions geared toward graduate students and post-docs. I am doing this for a 2010 meeting, so there's a is plenty of time to hash out the details, but these things sneak up on you and I want to put a proposal together for the rest of the committee to follow on the heels of this year's meeting. I have a few ideas, but I thought this might be an excellent forum to gather suggestions from. Ideally, the sessions would occur on one day over a couple of hours. They could be partitioned into a few topics or it could be one big "This is what you need to know" kinda thing. What I would like to know from you is A) What topics should be covered, and B) What do you feel would be the most helpful way to cover the topics (straight lecture, interactive exercise, interpretive dance performance, etc.)?

So, if you are a grad student of post-doc, let me know the things you wish you knew more about. If you're a PI, what topics would have helped you in your transition? If you are neither and just want to throw in your two cents, have at it.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Incremental Successes

As grainy and out of focus as this picture is, it's still the best thing I've seen in months. It's a beautiful thing when lab stuff actually works like it is supposed to. One more giant hurdle out of the way!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Contrasting Evolution

There are many different ways to engage kids and the general public in discussions about evolution, and some are more successful than others. Whereas I previously brought up one strategy that I did not think was very effective, this set of videos does a much better job at getting across some interesting examples of and stories about evolution. The "O as Origin" video is a bit whacky, but their ant video is great, which I think is an excellent example of different evolutionary strategies for kids. You can find more videos and more about the project here.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Appreciating what you had

When I left my post-doc I somehow managed to put to bed everything that I was the primary researcher on. At the time it was great because it allowed me to focus entirely on my new ventures, which are more or less distantly related to what I was doing as a post-doc. The downside of the situation is that I haven't written a manuscript in what is getting dangerously close to a year. Between writing grants and getting the lab going I have managed to keep this fact in the back of my head, but the little bastard gnawed it's way through with the end of the semester.

I think we're getting really close to having enough data on one project in the lab which will lead to a nice publication, but I've decided I've had enough waiting for a writing project to come to me and rather that I should get back on the saddle in a different way. So, I have been batting around an idea for an opinion piece for a while and have been putting it off for various reasons, but mainly because I'm lacking he final piece to the puzzle. Without that it has just been an idea that had potential.

Over the weekend I had a visitor from Europe who I had significantly overlapped with as a post-doc in post-doc city. European Visitor is one of these people who likes to talk a lot of science and has always been a good sounding board, even if their ideas are sometimes from left field. We were chatting about projects we were doing and those which we have been kicking around ideas for and I started explaining my ideas on this opinion piece. EV pointed out a couple of areas I was aware of where the argument might be weak, but then mentioned one way to tie the theories together that made a shit-ton of sense. Why hadn't I seen this when it was right in front of me? Why hadn't it come up in my conversations with others on the topic? Because EV is one of those people who thinks more broadly than everyone else, that's why.

More than most things, I miss the people from post-doc university. The community there was so strong and so thoughtful on a variety of topics that it kept pushing me to be better without me even realizing it. I have good colleagues here, but there is no quiet and friendly competition for excellence that I was used to. I miss that constant pulse that you can't help but get caught up in. I miss being able to walk down the hall and get insight through conversation on something you have been wrestling with for a couple of weeks. It's taken me a while to put my finger on this or even really appreciate what I had.

Now it's time to gather some literature and dig in.

Broader impact idea

This really is the type of outreach we need to be doing more of. It's all about getting kids into science.

Friday, May 15, 2009

An academic year in review

Graduation is finally here. I can tell because I can park near my building for the first time since spring break. There's been a lot going on here in the last couple of weeks and the summer is looking to be plenty busy, but I thought I might take a second to look back on my first academic year as a PI and recount what the hell happened in the last 9 months.

Mid-July, Submitted my first grant for my new position. Submitting a grant through an institution you are not at after having officially been an employee for about a week is harder than it should be.

Aug 1, Completed a multi-day international move with all of our belongings, two cats, a 5 month old baby and a mother in law.

Aug 4, Walked into an empty lab and office, got out a pen and started ordering everything I could think of. From computers to paper clips to chemicals. Our finance person and I got to know each other very quickly.

August, fended off as many sales reps as I could while contacting the ones I wanted to deal with. To a sales rep, the smell of a new lab with start-up money is like blood in the water to a shark. They circle in from miles away the minute you jump in the water.

Early September, My first grad student started up and we spent the first month opening boxes and getting things set up. One can argue whether or not it is productive to have a student from day 1 but for me it was tremendously helpful. It also allowed me to train a student who did not have a lot of experience with the techniques in the lab from the very beginning on all the little stuff like, "why are we putting this equipment close to that?"

Mid-September, Buried in so much paperwork and meetings I have no idea which end is up. I spend most of my days trying to figure out why something is not going through the finance system or meeting new people who always start out every meeting with "So. How are you really doing?" Also told I am coordinating the fall seminar series. Start calling everyone who owes me a favor. This month is all a blur.

End of September, Submitted a grant to a condescending private foundation before going back to post-doc city for a week.

October, Handed a fellowship to cover another grad student. Start calling around to the people I trust who might be graduating a student before the end of the year. Amazingly, this works out and I end up recruiting a second excellent student. Also told that I need to submit my paperwork for the course I'm going to teach in the spring. Make up a course and submit it.

October 23, Start blogging just to chronicle everything with the idea that it might help someone else avoid some of the issues I ran into. At this point I had not read any science blogs or discovered that there were lots of people doing the same thing (which might have helped me). Turns out that other people had already thought of this.

November, More paperwork, more buying, more getting things going. Start scheduling research-related trips to get material. Start producing actual data. Also start running into issues in the lab and get the tattered remains of my July grant back. Take off on my first research trip. The first comments show up on the blog and I begin to realize that other people are doing the same thing I am.

December, Go on two more trips, essentially back-to-back in different corners of the US, all while using serious amounts of "parenting credit" with WLS. Got blog rolled by Drug Monkey, found out while walking onto a plane and spent the whole flight wondering if the plane would crash if I connected to the internet (turns out you get no signal... not that I checked...). I basically worked through Christmas (took Christmas and the 26th to visit family) and took half a day while my insides were ripped out by a nasty bug. Otherwise, it was data production time for two grants with a January deadline.

January, Submitted my solo grant and ran into a few issues with the collaborative one. Switched programs to one with a March deadline. My second student started, I started teaching a grad-level course and the fit hit the shan in terms of blowing up the departmental structure of the whole college. I was also told two days after the deadline that the deadline for September grad students is in January. On top of that, the prospect of moving into a new building was constantly hanging over us. It was a busy month.

February, We ran into more lab mishaps and we moved into the new building with about two hours notice. I also had some major personal things come up in my life and the combination of everything at once made for some difficult times. While resolution hasn't entirely happened, things are a bit better now. I also posted my 100 post here.

March, I turned 32 years old and the Wee One turned 1. I wrestled with and after some craziness we got the collaborative grant submitted. I recruited another student for September and did a bit more traveling as the lab settled into the new digs. WLS started a new job and the Wee One started disease central day care.

April, I don't even know what happened to April, it was here and gone so fast. Research wise the lab seems to have worked through the kinks and is churning along. The new space is essentially done and everything was in place. I dealt with issues regarding undergrad students and teaching evolution through soccer. My class transitioned into something slightly different for the last few weeks and I survived meetings and life in general.

And now here we are in May. I'm starting to feel like I'm hitting my stride, both in my job and also a little bit here as well. I am burnt as hell from the year, but it feels like things are moving forward and I don't have that running-in-quicksand sensation about everything anymore. I have two more grants to write from scratch for July, two trips between now and then and a shit load of data to collect. But today feels like a bit of an odd transition in a lot of ways as the last day of my first academic year. I don't know where the next few months will take us, but all-in-all, I feel like I did a pretty decent job of all this to get where I am now and I'm looking forward to continuing from here.

Theme of the Day: Cage the Elephant, "Ain't No Rest for the Wicked"

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The walking wounded

Work is far too frustrating to post about today, so you get a family post instead...

It finally happened. A week ago, the Wee One decided that she'd had enough of crawling and it was time to join the bipedal nation. Without much warning or practice that wasn't forced upon her, she just started walking... and walking... and walking. Suddenly she has halved the time we have to react to her attempts to destroy the house and now almost everything is within reach. They don't tell you in those pregnancy classes that you should start buying furniture with flat surfaces no lower than 4 feet, but you should. Especially if you have the rare combination of a thrower/climber. Some children like to throw things and others enjoy climbing whatever they can get on to and the Wee One has incorporated both traits into her arsenal. I think the only safe storage place right now is the freezer and I'm not sure how long that will last.

The combination of new walking, climbing and throwing things (sometimes directly up so that they come down on her head) has resulted in a child who looks like she's gone toe to toe with Mike Tyson for a few rounds. Everyday she has some new scratch or giant red mark to the point where I think people are questioning call DSS in the grocery store. They go away quickly, but there always seem to be a fresh crop. If she wasn't such a happy kid who spends most of her time in public trying to get strangers to wave back to her, I think we might get more strange looks. We would like to be taking more pictures of her at this stage and would do so if we felt like we could distribute them without concerned phone calls from relatives. Hopefully this is just a phase and I will be able to return the 6 first aid kits I bought yesterday.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Sorry, you're too fundable

As part of throwing my hat in every funding ring I can, I applied for an institutional grant in order to pay for a small project that I am already doing but would like someone else to pay for. I figured that being new faculty and having a proposal that would fit nicely with some of the federal proposals I have out would make for a fairly strong application. Indeed, the comments are got back were very positive on both the science and the training students would receive. In fact, the comments were in direct conflict with the cover letter letting me know that I was not receiving the funding. Puzzled, I looked over the comments again and one stuck out. "Has federal funding potential." On first pass I had seen this as a good thing. Shouldn't all ideas under consideration for institutional funding also be ideas that can be modeled into federal proposals based on the results from this small pot of institutional money? The more I thought about it, however, the more I realized that this was a knock on the proposal. If it can be federally funded, why spend tight institutional money on it?

What pisses me off about this odd little conundrum, is that the project is NOT CURRENTLY funded. Yes, I am waiting to hear back from NSF on a proposal that has similar, but not entirely overlapping, goals. Do I have the money in hand? No. If it doesn't get funded in this round would it be REALLY helpful to have a small pot of money to help produce more data for the next round? Yes. Next year I'll have to send in a project to the institutional competition which is less thought out or less likely to get funded. In the mean time I'll just keep burning that start-up funny money.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Lessons learned in the last 26 minutes

1) Having a milkshake made with a chunky ice cream is a bad idea. Chunks and straws are mortal enemies in the wild.

2) Sipping a blackberry chocolate chip milkshake in a clear cup from a straw is NOT the most masculine thing one can do. Probably best to avoid walking down the business office hallway on the way back to the building.

3) Neither getting out of my office for almost half an hour, nor a milkshake, are making this grant review itself.

Software for sequence data

Part of being efficient in a lab is find the best ways to organize your data. Scientist Mother has a post up about the best ways to organize the PDF files we all have scattered all over the place and a few people have mentioned the program Papers (Mac only, PCs get the short stick again). I've started playing around with it and it seems like a decent program that may be helpful, which got me thinking about data organization in general.

Every lab has their way of doing things and often get entrenched in using certain programs for reasons ranging from "It does what we want it to and we've all learned it" to "It's what our PI uses so we have to generate files in this program so he / she can read them". I've been through enough labs doing things differently that I wanted to figure out the best way for my lab going forward when I first set up, without the constraints of having software already established. In some cases I found new software and in others I stuck with what I knew because it seemed to fit my needs the best. However, in one area I made such a huge discovery that I thought I would share it.

If you handle any type of sequence data at all and are not using this program, you are making your life more difficult than it should be. Trust me on this and give it a try if you have a use for such a program. I promise that you will go from using multiple different programs in order to get things done to being able to do it all with Geneious. I don't have any ties to this company other than being extremely happy with their software, so give it a whirl and don't say I never gave you anything.

Monday, May 11, 2009

The impotence of bad writing

There have to be a hundred posts out there about how important it is to write well in science, but here's 101. I can't tell you how many students I had as a TA tell me they didn't care about writing because they wanted to be a scientist and how many more were shocked and appalled when I took off points from an assignment for atrocious grammar or spelling. I wasn't crazy about it, but I have my limits that were constantly pushed by the students. Ironically, I'm a horrible speller. However, I know this and make sure to spell-check everything I am writing that might be seen by others. I consider myself a decent writer who is always looking for ways to improve and most often I do that through reading and noticing when someone really gets their point across effectively. I look at how they have structured their point or argument and keep it in the back of my head. What did they say that convinced me and how did they get there? If you can lead the reader along so that they reach your conclusion about a sentence before you spell it out, you've done a good job.

When it comes to manuscripts, I always remark on grammar and spelling though I don't take the time to mark up everything as that is not necessarily the job of the reviewer. The gray area is when it comes to grants. In theory we are supposed to be evaluating the science (and broader impacts in the case of NSF) and not necessarily the ability of the writer to actually write, but they are inseparable. Maybe I get hung up on the writing a bit too much, but I find nothing more distracting than a poorly written grant. I have on my desk a proposal for a project including 6 PIs with a budget in excess of a million dollars and I had to put it down after reading the first two pages because the writing just sucks and it was pissing me off. Is that how you want a reviewer reading through your grant? No. Angry reviewers are bad and if they are angry because your writing is the equivalent of nails on a chalk board how likely are they to think your science is kick ass? Like it or not, your writing is a direct reflection of you as an academic and as much as I try to see through the grammatical train-wreck and missing words in the back of my head I am thinking that if this proposal wasn't worth your time to edit and clarify, why is it worth my time to read and thoughtfully respond to.

So, dear readers, repeat after me - "Both verbal and written communication are essential facets of science and should be skills that are constantly honed, just like the techniques you use in the lab or field (or PLS will send you back the charred and shredded remains of your crappy grant)."

Aaaaaaannnnnd she's back

Well, it looks like our friend DGT couldn't leave us all in the lurch, pining for the perspective of industry technicians any longer. I'm really happy that 1) she's had a chance to explain things in her own words, and 2) that she's come up with a way to continue that will work for her. I, for one, am looking forward to future posts.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Committee jitters

Today was the first time I sat on an exam committee. The student is in another department, and although related to what I do, the topic was not exactly my bag. It was only a proposal exam, but I have to say that it made me a bit nervous because I didn't want to either run out of questions to ask the student or have questions that were not open-ended enough, etc. There were five people on the exam committee, leaving the distinct possibility that if I didn't come up with a bunch of questions and ended up being the last person to ask, my questions might have already been asked by others. Since I dedicated maybe about 3 hours of time to reading and thinking about the student's proposal, I walked wondering if I was going to look like an unprepared ass in front of four of my colleagues.

The break-down of the committee was two senior faculty, one just-recent-full-prof, a third year assistant prof and myself. I was the only person from my department, but that turned out to be a good thing. It also worked out that they topic of people's questions strictly correlated with career stage. The senior folks asked either broad philosophical questions or nitty-gritty knowledge-testing details about the sub-sub-topic of the proposal. My guess is that they glanced at the proposal briefly and figured "been there, done that". The recent full prof had clearly read the whole thing and asked question geared at getting the student to synthesize a couple of fields that the proposal cut across, as well as delving into specific methods. The two junior profs spent most of our time pushing the candidate on parts of the proposal we thought were most interesting and try to get the candidate to reach into areas related to the proposal, but closer to our work. I had no problem with question overlap because I do some very different things than the other people who were in the room, which was nice, and my questions generated a decent amount of discussion. As much as I have a lot of confidence in what I am doing, there's always that lingering bit of impostor syndrome that speaks up in situations like that, when I'm not quite sure what to expect or how it will all play out. Now that I've gone through one I'll know what the deal is next time around and not be as concerned about it.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The magical disappearing DGT

As some of you may have noticed, friend of the blog, DGT, has had to remove her blog from ye olde interwebs. Apparently someone at Massive Pharma reads blogs, connects dots and thought it was a good idea to complain to HR. DGT's candor and humor were not appreciated by her boss-folk and, well, you can figure out how the rest went. I have been asked to at least let people know about the disappearing act and the reasons behind it, as I think DGT will be laying low for a while. However, she can still be reached at damngoodtechnician[at]g mail[dot]com.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Is it asking too much?

A number of months ago I applied for a grant from a private foundation. I knew it was a reach because they don't give out many grants and they almost exclusively fund people at glamour schools, but it was an opportunity. I was surprised that even though the company started by the man who endowed the foundation was and is an institution fundamentally based on technology, that the application process was all hardcopy (don't dare use staples or you will be disqualified!) with CD, etc., etc. Nevertheless, I forged on and sent in everything that they required because I'm the one asking for their money. Almost two months after sending in the application I get an email informing me that they received it and that the decision would be made in April. Okay, a six month turn-around, but whatever.

You may have noticed that April is over. No email. I had checked their website on April 27th and found no news but I went to check their webpage on May 1 and motherfucker if they didn't have the results announced on their home page. I am not surprised that may name was not among the list of awardees, but I am shocked that they did not even have the decency to send out a blanket form letter letting people know that their application was denied. Nothing. not even a Eff U post card cranked out by a machine with the word "denied" in bold red letters. I'm pretty sure that any response is better than them deciding that it's not even worth the electrons to fire off a one-liner email. Again, I realize that I'm not in the power seat here as the Oliver Twist character, but shouldn't there be some level of common decency?

Monday, May 4, 2009

Parents in the workplace

If you are new to a workplace and interested in the lives of the people you work with, here a few tips to figure out who has young kids at home.
- We're the ones who come to work with smushed food or snot on our clothes without realizing it. Kids have an amazing ability to transfer these items to the one place you can't see on yourself, but everyone else can.
- We're the ones who come in on Monday looking more disheveled than Friday. Some weekends are far more tiring than weekdays.
- We're the ones who look like we were at a late night party or concert on a weeknight by the way we look some mornings. We weren't. More likely we were up much of the night because our kid is sick or just decided they would rather scream than sleep.
- We're the ones who have a cold 5x more than everyone else. Daycare is ground zero for every outbreak of every virus.
- We're the ones that are nodding off at 8:30 during dinner parties or evening departmental functions. When you are up at 5:30 am every day....
- We're the ones who will trap you in monologue conversation for 30 minutes if you ask us how are kids are. Want to see the pixelated pictures of my kid on my phone?
- We're also the ones with a constant source of amazement and amusement at home, no batteries required.

Friday, May 1, 2009

A note to dining services...

Dear university dining services,
I get the fact that you like to "cater" all university events with the same "fill-in-the-blank-with-an-animal-salad" sandwiches that are more mayo then mystery meat, but could you give us some sort of indicator of which is which? Because, quite frankly, I can't tell by the hue of each ground substance in mayo and you've taken to creating some weird shit. I thought I was getting tuna salad this afternoon because it was my best guess at the meat-product that was likely unceremoniously applied to a roll with an ice cream scoop. Despite my eyes seeing tuna my taste buds were assaulted by "smokey", "salty" and "canned" as the flavors that erupted once I bit down. I gagged down the one bite while trying to figure out what I had just consumed. It took six people to identify the atrocity as "ham salad". Ham salad? What the fuck dining services? We were in no danger of running out of meat products to chop and apply mayo to! Why the fuck would you decide that doing this to ham was a good idea? Who even thought of this shit? It offends every human sense, with the exception of auditory, and I have yet to find the right thing to eat that will wash this taste out of my mouth. We're working our way from oatmeal cookie up to lab ethanol and flame, and I am disturbingly high up that chain. Dude. Fuck. Sigh.

Conference excitement

I'm heading to two more conferences this summer, both of which I'm really amped about. The first is a meeting that brings together a lot of the big names in my field and is like an all-you-can-eat sushi buffet of science. The program came out today and I got all giddy looking at the different sessions and who is going to be giving talks, etc. I found out my science crush is giving a plenary and a whole ton of other people I want to talk with are going to be there. My students are giving a talk and a poster, respectively, which is what each wanted for the meeting and a number of my friends will be there so I can catch up with what they are doing. The only drawback is that the conference is in a state that I can't see myself going to for any reason other than because there is a conference there or because I have to drive through it to get somewhere else, but since I'm not going for the sight-seeing it won't matter. Can't. wait.

The second conference I am headed to is a Gordon Research Conference. I've never been to a GRC but this year there is one in my field that is not too far away, so I figured why not. I sent in my application and got it approved and promised Wife-like Substance nice things because it means one more week this summer of her single-parenting, which sucks. This morning I was surprised to see an email from Prof. Bigshot from Uber Uni. who is organizing the GRC but whom I have never met. The email thanked me for registering, blah blah blah, but there was a paragraph at the end congratulating me on my position at Employment Uni and expressing excitement about me being in the same geographic region as Uber Uni. Seriously? I'm guessing Prof. Bigshot got the info from my application, but the possibility that Prof. Bigshot might be familiar with my research got me worked up enough that I'm glad I have a spare pair of work jeans in my office. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to find a mop.