Tuesday, June 30, 2009

One down, one to go

All this time I have been worried about having two grants to submit in the July round. After discussing each grant with the respective colleagues I am working with on them, I decided to get started with grant number 1 about a month ago. This decision was both related to my investment in #1 being higher than that in #2 (meaning more writing and organizing on my part) and to the style of each collaborator. I knew that with grant #1 I would be able to email my co-PI and ask him to write a section or send me his budget numbers and have an answer within a couple of hours. With grant #2, I've gone weeks between communication with this colleague during writing periods, and not due to lack of effort on my part. Sometimes co-PI #2 just disappears and my only shot to get ahold of them is to call their spouse to ask whether my collaborator has been in the hospital for weeks after a brutal accident, or something (a dirty trick, but effective).

With July starting tomorrow, grant number 1 is almost done, with most of our support documents in hand. I called collaborator #2 yesterday to figure out where they were at with their portions of the grant and was told that #2 had not had time to work on it and would get on it before classes. Okaaaaay, I thought, but I'm pretty sure that classes start in September and our deadline is in July. Co-PI #2 the proceeded to wonder why I would be thinking about submitting it in the July round. These are the times I wish I had a tape recording of all my phone conversations because the answer is because that's exactly what we discussed two months ago when I agreed to do this project with you! Other than that, I have no reason.

So, the moral of the story is that I can focus entirely on the grant that is almost done and that I am more heavily invested in anyway. Since I can't turn around my recently declined grant for this round, grant #1 is all I have to deal with. It's like I could take a couple of days off and get some rest now. I have 10 whole days to finish this up.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Actual Conversation: Real Estate

The family and I are in the process of looking at houses and have come across some really interesting possibilities, but in our price range there always seems to be a catch. When it looks too good to be true... We found a house online that blew our minds. The outside was exactly what we were looking for and the inside was decorated like someone made the place for us. How the fuck is this in our price range? Let's go check it out.

Well, we found out. Across the street and barely a stone's throw away are train tracks. Not just any train tracks, but the high-speed commuter rail tracks. When we arrived the selling agent informed us that the train could only be heard for one minute and 37 seconds every day and as if on cue, the train blasted by. Yes, you could only hear it for about 4 seconds, but it shook the damn house! As we walked through the house dumbfounded by how incredible the place was, I kept picturing myself red-eyed at the breakfast table going to sip my coffee as the train whips by spilling it all over myself. No matter how serene the house, if it shakes twice an hour that might be a problem.

In any case, that led to the following discussion where I almost revealed that I'm really a 15 year-old boy trapped in a body twice that age.

Our Agent: "That was such a beautiful place, too bad about the train."

PLS: "Yeah, I'm a light sleeper so I think that would make it tough for me at night."

OA: "Hmmmm, do you guys really like mission style?"

PLS: "Uh, um...." (Wow, this is odd that our real estate agent is asking about our sex life. I mean, we barely know her. I hope there's a joke about shaking and sex positions coming up here because otherwise I may just keep stammering for the rest of the ride to the next house. Shit, say something!). "Ah, yeah, I guess."

OA: "Hmmmmm, okay."

PLS: (What the fuck? What does this have to do with houses or anything? Is she judging us now? What kind of answer was she looking for? What can I think about to keep from laughing?)

OA: "That's a very distinctive style."

PLS: "Um....." (Not sure I would go with "distinctive" here, but whatever. Why is she so serious and I feel like my head is going to explode if I don't start cracking up?")

OA: "Because that house was all done in that style and not everyone goes for that."

PLS: (Finally realizing that she's talking about a style of furniture and not reproduction) "OH! Yeah, we like that style. Sure, Mission. They had great tables." (Phew!)

Saturday, June 27, 2009

And your little dog too

I'm doing something different today and turning the comments section off for this post. This is a selfish post. It's purpose is the exorcism of this writhing black ball of words in my head so that I can move on. I know that everyone goes through this shit and I know what I have to do to improve the grant for next time. I don't need commiseration, I don't need sympathy and I have no interest in joining bloggy hands to sing Kumbya. I need to expel here because in my life I have an image to up-hold of the guy who is the promising new hire who is getting shit done. The guy who came in with a solid track-record and is going to build a lab based on the new and exciting ideas he has. I don't want them to know how much this is bothering me.

I am often asked by others what it is like to be "a scientist". To be truthful, what I am doing is in one way or another the only career I ever imagined doing ever since I was a little kid. It's part of my identity (though not what I live for) and I love it. There's much to like about this job and I appreciate the fact that I have the opportunity to do it. I've worked my ass off to get here and I regret none of what it took. I have traveled, made life-long friends and above all, never stopped learning. I work because I want to and not (mostly) because I have to.

However, what I don't tell people is that sometimes science is like the old lady who ran over my dog when I was twelve and there are times when I feel like that kid again, shocked, helpless, crushed. Unfortunately, it's a part of the job. Rejection is the norm and what pushes us to find every way possible to demonstrate that our theories and findings are not fluke or misinterpretation. We are trained to question everything and it is healthy for our disciplines to have data poked and prodded by those who disagree. It makes us diligent. It makes us think. You have to be able to handle rejection and and constant questioning to be successful in science. If you don't expect to lose a few dogs to the bevy of land-yacht-driving grandmas of science, you're not going to last.

But just because it is part of the job, it doesn't necessarily make it any easier when your favorite dog is laying in the road, a crumpled heap. It doesn't change the sting of reading groundless attacks on your ideas that you specifically addressed in a proposal or reading that someone doesn't think you will be able to handle the data you are proposing to collect, ignoring the fact that you have already done so in your past or provided data in the proposal for the parts you have not previously published on. It doesn't help when two of the reviewers suggest a "simple" fix that will increase the budget to unreasonable levels. Somehow the grant game has turned, so that ideas are no longer funded. Having a project that will be interesting if your hypothesis is supported OR refuted is not enough. Data rules the day, and using the word "preliminary" as a descriptor is just false advertising. If you don't have enough data to conclusively demonstrate that the your hypothesis will be supported, without a doubt, there is little point of taking that dog for a walk.

This is the frustration for those of us starting out. Would it have been safer to take a project from my post-doc and seamlessly continue it in my own lab? Of course. But if I wanted to do exactly what I was doing as a post-doc, I wouldn't have left. The drawback of fusing your various training into something that no else has ever thought of doing is that by stepping off the beaten path you are a risk. What if you take the money and fail? Much better to fund half-completed projects. Come back when we can skip to the end of the book and read the last few pages and maybe we'll buy it.

So, that's what I'm going to have to do. There is no sense in fighting against the system, because it is what it is. Complaining won't do anything but waste time and energy. The review process took so long this year that I have no hope of re-submitting this project in the July round, meaning I will have to send it in for January and hear back a year from now. The prospect of having to wait another year to find out if this project will get funded makes me want to vomit in my desk trash can, but that's the reality. Sure, I have other grants pending and about to be submitted, but this is MY project. These are solely MY ideas and this is what I tell people about when they ask what I do. I realize that I will still be doing it, just with start-up dollars, but for some reason that makes it feel hollow in some way I can't really explain.

There was more good than bad in the reviews and I know how to fix it up. Nearly all of the reviews expressed excitement about the project and the unique system I have chosen to ask my questions. The bigger problem is the weight of feeling like I am not living up to the expectations of people at my university, my colleagues and myself. Could I have pushed to get enough data to satisfy the reviewers before last January? I don't know. Probably not. But there will be by next January, I've already started to gather it. Hopefully this will be the last time to the vet for this puppy.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Do you mind if I use your bucket?

Well, at least I don't have to wait to hear back anymore. The stats on my grant feedback: 6 reviews! Six. Three "Excellents" and three "Very Good" ratings. I know very good doesn't get you shit, but damnit. The primary concerns in the summary are so completely off-base, I don't even know what to do. Obviously I didn't make some things as crystal clear as I should have, but these concerns make zero sense. Of course, the not enough preliminary data crit reared it's ugly head in one of the reviews, with the tacit implication that I basically need to have the work done to show it will work, because I have everything I need to complete it in hand, I just haven't spent the money to actually do it. Well, that ends next week. I'm blowing a butt load of start up on the material sitting in my bag right now (I'm in the airport) to basically do this project. Once it's done and published, maybe I'll get the money. I can't eve fucking write about this right now.

p.s. Never check your grant status while waiting at a gate to fly across the country.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

If you're keeping score at home

In the race for "you have to be fucking kidding me", 'home' started out in typical fashion with the Wee One busting up her nose and the theft of our GPS device from our car in our driveway, the day before I left. 'Away' was not to be outdone, however, and broke out the "loss of important keys" card at the very inception of the trip. Then, out of no where, 'away' upped the ante and threw in "searched by someone with the authority to jail and/or fine" today, but it was an empty threat in the end, as neither jail nor fine were incurred. Buoyed by the challenge, 'home' decided to go for pay dirt and broke out the "your child was bitten three times at day care by the child of people you work with and there's not a damn thing you can do from across the country" gauntlet. Only two days in and the 'home' and 'away gremlins are hard at work, coming up with new and imaginative ways to fuck with me while I am traveling. Luckily there is still time, so naturally it's time to place bets. The odds are below and there is no limit to the number of bets, but the house caps total moneys for an individual at $100K.

10 to 1 minor failure of service at home (electrical, phone, appliance)
20 to 1 minor vehicular issue away (engine failure, flat tire)
50 to 1 massive act of nature at home (flooded basement, tree fall involving house or car, lightning)
100 to 1 Natural disaster away (earthquake, forest fire)
234 to 1 Famine (home or away)
382 to 1 Pestilence (home or away)
592 to 1 Plague (home or away)

Monday, June 22, 2009

Off with a bang

Well well well. Couldn't make it easy,could I? Here I thought that the Wee One falling nose first into an ottoman last night so that she would look like she had gone a few rounds with Iron Mike for her doctor's appointment today would be this trip's exciting twist. Oh no, that would be waaaay to easy. Minor facial injuries are just part of being a kid, right? Unsatisfied with that offering, fate decided to push a little harder. So, while waiting to board my plane I was surprised to hear my phone ringing. I pick it up to hear "you don't have the keys" and knew instantly what that semi-cryptic message conveyed.

Have you ever had something that you really wanted to put in a place you would never forget it, so you put it somewhere that you never put anything and then couldn't find it for weeks, despite a rampage of searching? That's kinda what I did with the keys for the apartment that I am staying in for this week, but backwards. They got sent to my work and I brought them home early, lest I forget on the final day before leaving. Everything was packed a double-checked, but those damn keys were just sitting with all of our keys so that the Wee One wouldn't grab them or the cats wouldn't push them down the heating vent. Seemed like a logical place until I forgot them among all of the other keys and left them to hang while I went to their home.

But fate wasn't done twisting the knife just yet! There is another researcher staying in the apartment and my logical response was to contact him! The message I got back was that he would love to help, but that he had locked himself out this very morning and was waiting for us to arrive and let him back in. Fail.

The long and the short of it is that we did end up getting in, but I look like a real fuckwit, which is always nice. Luckily I'm used to it, but how was I cursed as a child to bear this travel issue? Just one trip without problems for me or at home, is all I ask.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Packin up. Again.

In an effort to rack up as many frequent flier miles as possible, I'm headed to the west coast for next week. Should be fun, but the packing is never a good time. As much as I try and think up everything we're going to need, there is always that nagging feeling that I'm forgetting something basic and that we'll spend a week in California twiddling our thumbs. There are worse places to do that, but it's an expensive way to pass the time. The trip we made in December was a warm up for this one, so it's going to be important to really crank and get as much done as possible. When we get back I will be starting up the next phase of the lab's main line of research and it all hinges on what we manage to get next week. No pressure....

Lest I look forward to a cross-country plane ride to sleep or otherwise relax, my programming books came today. I'm not sure whether I'll find the time on the plane to be useful to dig into the text or if it will simply expedite my descent into slumber.

Now, what calamity will ensue pre-departure?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Kids these days

One of the great joys of being a parent (for me at least) is watching your kid "get" something. You see, when they first arrive, kids are a lump that basically has an intake and an outflow, and screams when either of those need attention. They don't do a whole lot so you get overly excited when the little things happen. "Honey, come quick! She opened her eyes again!" It's all fairly amazing, but from the outside you look a bit crazy. In the first three months I never thought I would spend so much time staring at a sleeping human being without being slapped with a restraining order.

As they grow and become more interactive, you don't get less crazy but the milestones get a little more exciting. First word, putting words together with the objects associated with them (I was all excited when the Wee One first said "Dada", but my enthusiasm was tempered by the fact that she was addressing the lamp at the time), crawling, walking, etc. You spend a lot of time telling your child something and trying to teach them while the look at you blankly, then suddenly they do it when you are least expecting it and it's like you just won a gold medal. I TAUGHT HER TO DO SOMETHING! You would think that seeing a concept actually learned would be less exciting to someone who has taught a lot of students in the past, but you would be wrong. The first time that I asked the Wee One what noise a cow makes and she finally responded with "mooo", it rocked my world. Yes, "mooo" rocked my world.

That's why I stopped in my tracks the other night. See, the Wee One has only been at day care for around 3 months. Prior to that we knew what she was being taught because we were doing the teaching. When she did something new or said a new word, it was the result of our efforts. The other night we needed to clean up a few things and prep for the next day while she was still awake, so we relented to her cries for "Mo! Mo! El-Mo!" and put on an Elmo DVD for her to oggle for a few minutes. I put in "singing" because we had never used that one before, and I walked away to do a few things. A few minutes later I peeked in to see how she was doing and the "Itsy Bitsy Spider" was being sung by some crazed cartoon lady. The Wee One wasn't just sitting watching it though, she was standing and doing the hand motions in a little dance. I was struck by the conflicting emotions of "Holy shit, that is awesome!" and "Holy shit, why didn't I have any idea that she knew this?" Clearly this is the first of many such occasions and it's something I should have expected, but it doesn't make it any less painful to see your little girl growing up and learning new things that you don't even know she is learning. It's a good thing and I didn't expect it to bother me, but just like almost everything with kids, it came a little sooner than I was ready.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

My shifty criminal mind

On and off I've been thinking a bit about Dr. No's criminal intent posting and what types of crime I might commit in given free reign. It turns out that I was wasting my time because Employment U has been thinking about this a LOT. I finally managed to get into the limited training sessions they have for issuing purchasing cards so that I could wield one and not have thousands of dollars of travel expenses sitting on my personal cards. I knew I was in for a treat when the Pcard lady put up her presentation and I caught 1 / 128 on the bottom. 128 slides to tell me how to use a purchasing card? How is that possible?

Let me tell you how. You spend the vast majority of that time telling people how NOT to use the card and the consequences for using the card improperly. It felt like I was in program for criminals being re-integrated back into society. How many ways can you be told not to make personal purchases on your university card? Well, I lost count after 7 or 8, but the message was clear - We assume that you only want this card to find a way to defraud the University. About halfway through I want to stand up and say "Well, if I can't buy precious metals (a specifically pointed out no no, BTW), flower baskets (ditto) or booze, why the fuck would I want one of these things?" and storming out. The only thing that stopped me was the prospect of having to sit through the whole thing again. By the end of the presentation I was expecting to see armed guards at the door to frisk us on the way out.

The moral of the story is that the University can turn anything into a bureaucratic black hole of red tape and paperwork because they need to protect themselves against the hardened criminals they employ. A Pcard is something that is supposed to make my life easier and make doing research involve less paperwork, and yet somehow there is more bullshit involved if I even sign the back of this insidious thing than if I just slog through things the old way.

I would write more but a guy just showed up at my door with a clip board and little cup.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Why house hunting is kinda like reviewing grants....

We've been looking at houses recently and one thing I've noticed is how similar the whole process can be to reviewing grants. Don't believe me? Let me explain.

When you are asked to review a grant, you receive a summary of the grant with some important details so that you can decide whether or not you are qualified or want to review it. On the housing market, your realtor or website sends you a write up on each house that fits your search. It has details about the house, beds/baths, square footage, features, etc., that help you determine whether you want to spend the time taking a look. In both cases there can be warning signs that you are in for trouble. Often the spelling and grammar in the summary can be a subtle clue that you may be tearing your hair out once you receive the whole thing. Terms in the house summary such as "sold as is" or "needs work" are basically advertising the same thing. If you decide to take on the challenge, in both cases you need to get in there, try and ignore the exposed wires and dangling participles and figure out if there is anything worth salvaging.

It's all about potential. Is there something to work with here? Can you see this being successful or if you remove one load-bearing assumption does the whole thing fall apart around you? With a grant, if the ideas are tired and outdated it has no hope, but at least with a house it's possible to see through the decor and imagine what it could look like if you just had a crow bar and could tear the fucking wood paneling off the wall and remove the stained carpets to let the hardwood floors free.

What is the obsession with wood paneling? Seriously? People, this is not a good look unless you live in a log cabin, and even then....

If you decide to bid on a house it's time to call in the house inspector who looks under all the places you weren't qualified to reach into and brings a different viewpoint to the structure. In some ways the other reviewers fill this role, particularly if their background and experience is different from yours. Maybe you didn't want to crawl into the basement and bang on the pipes because you don't know jack about plumbing. Well, that's the specialty of the inspector. He'll put on the coveralls and git on in there.

Finally there are the money matters. That's when the bank and agents get involved and take on the tasks of the panel. They look over all of the opinions and and there is some wrangling over how much money, who gets approved for what and sometimes a focus on seemingly inconsequential details can make or break the whole thing. You see more duds than winners and the whole process seems to drag on, but each time there's an inkling of excitement to check out what's next.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Badges?! Oh yes, I need badges....

DrDrA has a post up where she links to the Science Scouts page of badges. If I only I had known about this sooner, I would have taunted more monkeys. I really wish I could add all of the ones I've earned here without making it too obvious what I do, because there are some good ones.

Certainly the following is appropriate, which I have talked about previously.

The “somewhat confused as to what scientific field I actually belong to” badge

And I don't think I even know anyone who would not place the following dead center on their sash.

The “I’m a scientist who is fundamentally opposed to administrative duties” badge.

And by combining this badge:

The “works with very small and potentially dangerous organisms” badge.

With this one:

The “has done science whilst under the influence” badge.

I've managed to earn this one:

The “what I do for science dictates my having to wash my hands before I use the toilet” badge.

This badge is also wrapped up, but that's a story for another time...

The “I may look like a scientist, but I’m actually also a pirate” badge.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Why do Texas nut jobs set evolution standards for the country?

There have been several recent court cases in which Intelligent Design (ID) advocates (or their thinly veiled minions) have tried to challenge the way science, specifically evolution, are taught in schools. Thus far the rulings have gone in favor of evolution advocates, including the recent one by Judge John E. Jones, III in Dover PA, which was widely viewed as a sound beat-down of ID as a science. The school board that voted in favor of the initial change to the science policy got blown up by the voters and 8 of 9 pro-ID members were sent packing. Overall, it warms my heart.

However, as much as it is nice to see these small pockets of idiocy stomped out as they pop up like some bizarre irrationalist whack-a-mole game, there is one state that has the power to change what science students read on a national scale. Good thing it's a reasonable... oh wait, it's Texas. Fuck.

Yup, Texas has the influence to change what is in the science text books in your children's and students' hands, no matter what state you live in. How is that possible, you ask? Well, simple economics. In case you've never seen a map, Texas is kinda big. A corollary to having a big state is having a big school system and if you're following along, you can see where this is going. The Texas State Board of Education is the defacto "kingmaker" of science text books by virtue of their buying power. Publishers run themselves ragged trying to please the TSBE so that they can ship freighters of their texts to Texas. Therefore, any change in the TSBE policy force the hand of publishers, whereby they change wording in text books used nation-wide. All it takes is a couple of asshats in the right positions (in Texas, no less) to alter how evolution is presented to students. Consider the following from today's Science:

'In March, the Texas school board approved new science standards that omit the "strengths and weaknesses" line (Science, 3 April, p. 25). But many scientists view the new version as more insidious than the previous one. Among other things, it requires that students have the chance to "analyze and evaluate scientific explanations concerning the complexity of the cell." The language is seen as an opening for ID proponents to argue that such "irreducible complexity" points to an external organizing force.'

'Don McLeroy had wanted the standards to require textbooks and other materials to offer an even more skeptical view of evolution. But McLeroy, whom the state legislature declined to reappoint as chair last month although he remains on the board, says he's satisfied that requiring "more scientific evolutionary discussions" will serve students well. "The explanations offered [in the texts] will be so weak that students who are skeptical of evolution will see the weakness for themselves," he says.'

Do I want this guy picking the language in any text book. Heeeeeells no! But this is what's happening. The authors of the texts being considered or already used by the TSBE say that they will appease the TSBE by beefing up their explanation of eukaryotic evolution in order to provide more detailed evidence for the "scientific explanations concerning the complexity of the cell", but this is not how things have gone in the past. On previous occasions, the authors/publishers have taken the easy way out and altered only a few lines of text, which served to soften the language on evolution. If they do chose this opportunity to increase the section on evolution, then the TSBE has inadvertently done science a favor. I, however, remain unconvinced this will happen.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The magnet

More powerful than the NHMFL magnet and it works on people!

I had to pick up the Wee One from daycare yesterday because she was running a slight temperature and "generally irritable" (apparently our daycare only deals with happy kids). On the way back to my office I walked through the business office of our college with the Wee One in my arms and before I knew it every office was empty and I was surrounded. The Dean's making funny faces at her, the CFO of the college is tickling her - it was like the whole place momentarily lost their minds. It's nice that there is generally a pro-family vibe here, but now I know that if I have to run the gauntlet of the business hallway with the Wee One again, I will do it at a full sprint or risk being there for 30 minutes and becoming "generally irritable" myself.

Grumpy kids love to be prodded by strangers.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

After all that...

A couple of months ago I struggled with trying to figure out whether to take on a particular undergrad student (UgS) in the lab for the summer. I did a lot of thinking about the situation and the program that I had committed to being a part of and finally decided that it was a good idea to do so, even if it meant UgS might turn out to be a huge time sink. After agreeing to this and prepping myself to better deal with the situation, UgS has recently bailed from the program and I found out today that they will not be in the lab this summer.

As you might imagine, I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand I am selfishly happy not to be faced with the amount of training I was going to have to do. On the other, it seems like an opportunity lost. However, under the circumstances by which UgS decided not to be involved with the program this year, it is probably for the best. Of course now I'm stuck with a project and no one to work on it.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Sad realization

I had a great time at the conference last week and learned a lot, but I had a realization about something I have been successfully ignoring for a little while. I need to learn some programming. I don't know when the day will magically get longer so I will have the time, but I need to find a way. My field is moving in a way that I really have no choice if I want to continue to be competitive. I was hoping that I could leave that to students or technicians, but I know that I won't feel comfortable with the meal I am served unless I understand what goes into the recipe. It's why I don't eat hotdogs.

Now I need to do some poking and figure out whether to start with Perl or Python. I wonder if I should shave my head now so I don't end up pulling all of my hair out.

Saturday, June 6, 2009


Moderators, you have two tasks. 1) Introduce the speakers without butchering their names or their titles, too badly. 2) Keep the speakers on time. It's a pretty cushy job and really shouldn't be all that taxing, but I think we're going to have to institute an opportunity for our moderators to bow out if they feel those tasks are asking too much (sort of like when the flight attendant asks if you want to be responsible for opening the door in case of an emergency when you sit in an exit row), because those two tasks have apparently been overwhelming to a few session leaders today. When there are parallel session you have to keep people on schedule or else it screws up everything. So, Dr. moderator who let a "30 minute" talk run 42 minutes today, maybe it's time to hang up the moderator mic and stick with the lab job.

And Dr. speaker who talked 50% too long today, what the hell were you thinking? When you had spoken for your entire time allotment already and then launched into another study to illustrate your point I almost threw up. You see, no one is listening at that point. You could be describing cold fusion or your own genitalia in detail and not a single person would notice because we all checked out when it was clear you had no regard for your audience or the speakers after you. We just sat there watching the clock while you turned into Charlie Brown's teacher.

Finally, my fellow conferencees. You do realize that the session isn't over until after the questions, right? I know that the talks can be tiresome at times, but can't you wait two more minutes before loudly gathering your things and starting conversations with the people you met last night? If the undergrads in your classes behaved the way I have seen many conduct themselves today, you would be livid. Why are you so anxious to get to the snack cart to have the same cookies and weak coffee that we've had for days? If you can't respect the fact that some people actually want to hear the question and answer period, go shopping instead of coming to the talks.

And p.s. Wearing the conference shirt at the conference is like wearing the shirt with the band on it, who's concert you are at. It's like running advertisements for your hospital only to those who are forced to watch TV from your hospital beds. Don't be that person.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Conference Observations

Why do people coming into any session duck when they come into the room and have to cross in front of people, even if ducking has no effect on how much they block the view of said people?

I just got an Godfather offer that if our March grant doesn't get through we can get the work done in Germany for free... with a trip and "all you can carry schnitzel". Tempting, but if we can do this ourselves, all the better.

Lots of feedback on my student's talk today, mostly good. When you're floating an unusual idea you never know you what you're going to get.

I got to talk for a while with my science crush.

Middle America is a different breed of place, no matter where you come from (if it ain't here).

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The other shoe

It's a law of nature. Whenever I travel there must be an accompanying catastrophe at home the makes my absence that much worse. The last time I was away the Wee One's 20 gallon fish tank sprung a leak and was only found by my wife when she was putting the Wee One to bed after she had vomited all over the floor.

This week both of them are sick, but that can't be the problem because they are each recovering. Barring some enormous back-slide, that situation is only going to improve. So, the mystery has been when the other shoe will drop and what is going to explode, implode, catch on fire, leak or turn into a black hole that sucks the entire Earth in, this week. Up until last night it seemed that I would have to wait until the mid-conference phone call to find out, but mail was delivered early instead. While I was getting the Wee One ready for her bath last night I noticed she had something in her armpit. Fuzz? Food? Dirt? No, no and no. Deer tick! Yay, in an area rife with Lyme disease, my daughter has a deer tick attached to her. Not much we can do now but check her for the characteristic bruise if the tick was carrying Lyme disease. The one saving grace to her being sick this week with a bad ear infection is that she is on super powered antibiotics right now, which may act as a preemptive strike against the disease causing bacteria, should the tick have had it. And now we wait. And now I leave.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

In season

This week officially kicks off the lab's summer season of crazy travel and writing. Tomorrow we heading to a major conference in our field, which should be a lot of fun. It'll be an opportunity for me to catch up with a lot of old friends and a chance for my students to be involved in an international conference, even if it is in the US this year. As much as I am always conflicted about leaving home, the truth is that I need this in a big way. Not only am I looking forward to being immersed in the science, but I need a break from my desk. It's taking me way too long to get writing done at the moment and I'm having trouble focusing on the day-to-day things that just need to get done for everything to keep running. I need a change of scenery, however brief, to get me back in the right mind-set so I can make this next push without combusting just shy of the finish line. This job is a series of peaks and valleys of intensity and if you don't spend time in the valleys clearing the decks and finding a bit of time for yourself, each peak starts to look bigger.

The funny thing is that as much as I have traveled to some amazing places in this job, this week we will be going to a place I never imagined I would ever be, in an area of the country I have previously never even thought twice (or even once) about visiting. Perhaps that's another benefit of work-related travel - being forced to experience places and people one would otherwise just fly over on the way to somewhere else. I'm sure I will let you know.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Working from a cave, under a bunker, under a rock

I have a love / hate relationship when it comes to dealing with one Senior Collaborator (SC), with whom I have recently submitted a rather large grant proposal. I love working with SC because they are the kind of person who is a wealth of information and has something useful to add to just about any topic I am interested in. SC has worked with and knows a lot about a wide variety of organisms, knowledge that has come in handy on a number of occasions. What I don't like about working with SC is the unpredictability. You never know quite what you're gonna get with SC. Last time we submitted a grant, everything came down to the last minute and I was fairly uncomfortable with the "process". There were a bunch of complicating factors, but when SC asked me if I was interested in collaborating on a second proposal for July, I had to think about it for a bit. In the end, the scientific opportunity (and the need to get money in the lab) won out over how I felt about the last grant. As much as I did not like the process, it's a collaboration and I can't always get things done the way I want them done (*twitch, twitch*). In the end the proposal was solid, despite some minor issues.

I had assumed that it would be a couple of weeks before I heard from SC about this grant, since we have 6 weeks before the deadline. To my surprise, I got an email on Friday with a few pages of rough draft and a commitment for more this week. SC also wanted to talk on the phone about some progress they had made on our first collaborative project and to get an update on where we stood on our end. No problem! I let SC know when to call me and carried on my way. No call. I called SC's office and cell. No Answer. Tried again over the weekend and again today. Nothing. So begins what will undoubtedly be another epic writing process.

Important issue

Things are a little crazy here after getting almost no sleep last night and prepping to leave for a conference on Wednesday, but please please please go check out CPP's post today.