Friday, July 31, 2009

One year ago today....

I was saying goodbye to the place that had been my home for the previous four years and embarking on the two day move marathon with my wife, a 4 month old Wee One, two cats and a mother-in-law. It was not a fun trip, but we made it with all of our stuff and sanity mostly intact. It's odd that it both seems like yesterday and forever ago, but it's been a good first year, overall. A lot has changed and I'm finally starting to not feel like the new guy all the time (only when it's to my advantage). I'm also submitting my last grant of this calendar year (hopefully) today, a few days early, and got a copy of the fully "executed" purchase and sales on our house. Seems a fitting way to tie up year one on the job.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Some things just shouldn't be complicated

Yesterday I got an email from our building manager notifying everyone that we would be have training sessions on the new copier on Monday. He asked that people kindly sign up for 30 minute sessions in groups smaller than 10 people and arrive on time. I have a grant due Monday and it's a fucking copier. You put a document on the glass, close the lid and hit the button. I've never found myself having copier-related issues and couldn't foresee this as a major issue in my life. That was until I walked into the mail room and saw this machine, that is larger than my car and probably costs 10x as much.

It'll make your copies and transport them into the future, if you like. Don't forget to try the Chai Latte dispenser.

Did a Kinkos branch move in upstairs? What could I possibly need to copy that would necessitate the use of this thing? I'm scared that if I get too close it'll clone my ass. I'm pretty sure it holds a forest of paper at any one time - either that or I'm going to open it one day and 43 clowns are going to pile out. Every time I copy something it's going to take me 10 minutes to find where the paper came out and if there is ever a paper jam, the damn thing has more doors and closets than Liberace's New York apartment. Here's to hoping there is a button on it that says "copy".

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Make a fucking call people!

So the house saga dragged on until this morning. I'm not quite sure what the hell was going on, but a brief timeline of yesterday's events:

9:00 am - Our realtor calls the Selling Agent (SA) to see where to fax our offer. No answer. She faxes the offer to his office.

11:00 am - Hearing nothing, our agent is getting nervous and texts the SA. Nothing.

1:00 pm - SA fucking texts our agent to let her know that he never got the offer at his office and to send it to his house. Our agent obliges.

1:30 pm - SA again texts our agent to say that he got our offer just in time because his fax machine ran out of ink and that he was only able to print the first few pages, but that's fine. Our agent calls. No answer.

6:00 pm - Deadline for all bids.

8:00 pm - Hearing nothing our agent decides to text SA (since he doesn't seem to be able to pick up his phone) and gets a text back saying that SA's clients are going to decide any minute and it looks good for us.

9:00 pm - Nothing.

10:00 pm - Nothing.

10:30 pm - We go to bed with my phone on the nightstand. Toss and turn all night, finally turning my phone off at 1:30 so I don't have to listen to my inbox fill through the night.

5:30 am - Rise and shine. No news. We drag our asses through the morning routine, tied as hell and grumpy because the Wee One is pulling her "terrible twos at 17 months" thing and practicing her two favorite words, "No" and "Mine".

8:00 am - Get a call from our agent, congratulating us on having our offer accepted. Apparently SA emailed our agent just after 10:30. WTF? I've met this guy, he is not mute. Pick up the fucking phone! It's shocking that he can't talk to a bidder's agent at any point during the day when they are putting in a highest and best bid. I actually got the call from our agent while I was writing this post, and I have to say that I barely feel any excitement at all. I'm glad this is over, but I'm so damn tired that I barely care. I'm pretty sure this isn't what buying your first house is supposed to be like, but these milestones are often anti-climatic.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Too much?

I'm thinking of standing outside the house we want, "Say Anything" style at about 6:00 tonight. I wonder if this would help or hurt....

And what song to play?

Housing update

When we first went to see the house we are bidding on, our real estate agent couldn't make it with us so we went by ourselves and chatted with the seller's agent. He is a friend of the sellers and a little more revealing than he probably should be. For instance, does it help his clients to let potential buyers know that the woman's family is loaded and that the couple just bought a new place and got their "financing" via daddy? Probably not. But we were looking for whatever information we could get so we listened. Our agent went by yesterday to see the house and did the same. She found out that there were four offers received, but ours was the highest, which was interesting because we originally bid about $7 less than asking. People are low-balling in this market, but we thought we were bidding for a starting point for negotiations and would eventually pay between that price and the asking. The seller's agent indicated that they had considered taking our offer, but with that many offers he is ethically required to give everyone another shot. Sucks.

But now the game changes by going into "highest and best", because everyone has the opportunity to blindly up the ante. We spent a while thinking through whether we should just increase our offer by a couple thousand, go to the asking price or go above the asking by a couple thousand to make sure we get the house. With three other bidders, is it worth the risk to stay low? We finally decided to exceed the asking price by about $200 was the way to go. We would be kicking ourselves if we stayed under the asking and didn't get the house and a couple of thousand spread over the life of the mortgage really isn't going to matter. Plus, we could be in the house in 30 days, which will save us having to resign our lease for another 6 months and ensure that we get in on the government $8K tax rebate. So, technically, we're saving money by going all out to get the house. I know that sounds like the justification of a shopaholic just home from a shoe sale, but we're also ready to be done with the circus of house hunting and really like this place. The sellers get everything at 6:00 tonight and we have our fingers crossed that our asking price offer and our Top 11 Reasons We Want to Buy Your House get us in the door. Tick tick tick.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Offer in

 We finally found a house we like at the price we like, close-ish to campus and that is not a short sale. The house listed on Friday and we were the first ones in on Saturday to see it. We put together an offer as fast as we could and had it in before Saturday night. By Sunday there were two other offers in and the house shows three more times today before the seller is going to be presented with all offers. We now apparently go into sudden death overtime, called "highest and best". I had never heard of this until recently, but I guess we throw our best offer in the ring tonight and see what the sellers pick. 

 We are in good shape for all the intangibles. We have nothing to sell, so our offer is not contingent on us selling our house. The price is well below our uncomfortably high approval amount and we will have a letter waiving the mortgage contingency. On top of that, after cyber-stalking the owners (a couple around our age) for a while, we've written them a letter about why we want their house in the form of a top 11 list. There's a reason for the 11, but I won't get into it. We're hoping that'll put a "face" to the offer, but it could also blow up in our face if they think it's not funny. Whatever, I think it's worth a try. We should know in the next two days if our house search is finally over or if we're back to square one. 

Friday, July 24, 2009

Dealing with a loss

About halfway through a conversation, a colleague just let me know that they are considering an offer somewhere else. While I am happy for this person, they are also my closest colleague at the university on both a personal and professional level. We share lab space, our grad students are in the same office and we have plotted world domination research directions together. In a lot of ways their presence here made my decision to take this job a lot easier. Although we do different things, the similarities in our methods have been complementary and our students have benefited immensely.

I wasn't really sure how to take the news, so I put on a happy face. I'm not foolish enough to feel betrayed in any way, it has nothing to do with me at all. Part of the issue is family and part is research community, both of which would be stronger for them in the location they are considering. I can't really argue with that, but it will be a huge loss for me if they decide to leave in terms of critical mass for the projects I am working on, the intellectual community here for my students and I and other faculty who are going through similar things. There's been no decision yet, but I will surprised if they stay. Not sure what to do. Not sure there is anything I can do. Sigh.


Sometimes I get so caught up in dealing with lab issues and research in general that I forget about the undergraduate side of my job. This has especially been true in the summer, when the only undergrads around are those doing work in labs. About two weeks ago I was asked if I could meet with a student and his mother today to explain our program. The person who normally does this is out of town and for some reason thought that the guy who had been here the shortest amount of time and who has had almost no interaction with undergrads since starting should be the one to recruit a high school student to the program. I said I would do it and was immediately forward the email trail between the parties.

The first thing that struck me was that the contact was entirely between our head of program and the perspective student's mother. It's not as though the mother was overbearing, it appeared more as though the student just did not want to be the one making the contacts. I don't know how common this is, but it surprised me when I first got the emails.

In any case, I realized yesterday that I had the meeting this morning. Crap! What do I know about the things incoming freshman should be thinking about or doing? So, when I got in this morning I went though all of the online and print resources I could find on our particular program, printed out some pages and forms and tried to think up everything that they would want to know.

As much as that was a useful exercise for me, it turns out that I could have done something else with my time this morning because our meeting lasted about half the time that I thought it would and was dominated by predictable parental questions about the prospects of various opportunities during, and job prospect after, the student's time in our program. Luckily, we try not to graduate students into a career of hoboism, but what I want to tell all these parents is that the program matters far less than what your kid does with it. Worry more about the fact that your kid is the "silent starey type" and that you won't be there to make there contacts for them and ask their questions. Our programs turns out lots of great students every year, let's hope your child takes the opportunity to be one.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Crap-Shoot hypothesis: One doodz opinion

In the comments on yesterday's post, Sara asked the following:

This fall I am starting the first year of a PhD program, with the eventual goal of heading an academic lab in a faculty position. The impression I have gotten so far from completing an undergraduate thesis, working in labs as a technician, and reading various science blogs was that two people could be equally productive in their research and clever in their networking, but still one may go on to have a successful career and one may not. 

Your post may be read to suggest that hard work will prepare a budding scientist for opportunities, and if you do the legwork, are productive in your research, and stay connected to potential opportunities, then you'll likely be successful. Do you think science careers are "fair" in this manner, or do you think it is sort of a crap shoot? What happens when someone picks what seems to be a promising research topic but finds out later that the line of research was a dead end?

 There's a lot going on in your question and everyone you ask will have a different opinion. This may also be somewhat field-specific, so I can only tell you what I have seen in my field. That said, the number of trainees produced in any one field is proportional to the amount of money (and PI positions) in that field, so it may just be a question of scale. 

In a lot of ways, applying for a TT job is like applying to college (which, ironically, you are). By the time you are applying, you should have a good feel for the schools that are reaches, those on par with your abilities and your "safety" schools. To me, the "crap shoot" argument is the same one people use for not getting into a top-ranked university. "There are so many good applicants, I'm as good as any of them but didn't get into (insert Ivy) because it's all just a crap shoot!" Yes, not everyone gets their dream position, but dreams and reality are often discongruent. If your CV is on par with one level of institution, but you are convinced you deserve something more competitive, you will wind up bitter and find all sorts of perceived slights and roadblocks to your career. I have never personally witnessed an instance where someone whose CV is appropriately competitive for the institutions they are applying to, and is willing and excited to work at that level, has ended up with no job in the end, though I'm sure it happens. Have some people settled for less-than-ideal situations? Absolutely. Have others decided to go in a different direction after some initial frustration? Yup. Might it take 30, 40 or more applications before you find something that works? Hell yes. I think I sent out somewhere in the neighborhood of 35 applications out over two years.

I'm sure you have heard or read that only a small proportion of people who get PhDs actually end up in faculty positions. While on the surface, that's some scary data, you have to realize that A) Not everyone who gets a PhD wants an academic position, B) Not everyone with a PhD is cut out for an academic position (whether or not they know it) C) Some people will just never interview well, which is a big problem unless you are so brilliant that the committee doesn't care that you mumble 90% of the time, and finally D) Some qualified people won't get the position they think they deserve and give up. I would argue that those who work hard to fill their CV and who are realistic in their job search, have a better than average chance of landing a faculty position. What I would not say is that the process is "fair", in the sense that you are guaranteed a job if you do the right things, but no less so than any other competitive position. There will be those who have the skills and never make it, but IMO they are a small percentage.

As far as a research project being a dead end and a student getting screwed because of it, this shouldn't happen for two reasons. It's the PIs job to make sure that if a student goes far enough down a path of research, they'll have something to show for it in the end. I realize that some PIs suck at mentoring, but it is still in their best interest to get a publication out the student's work. Of course, there's the possibility of being scooped, but even still, there should be some angle you can exploit to get a publication from the data. On top of that, it's the student's job to make sure that they have more than one iron in the fire, so that if one project sputters out, it's not terminal. The student who does not branch out from their initial project is probably not going to make it as a PI anyway. It's important to following interesting data and see where it leads, while keeping the initial project running at full steam. Sometimes you may wish you had a third hand, but the ability to multi-task and have a couple of different project running at the same time is what makes people successful in this job. 

Finally, do your work with eye to the next step. You don't need to have a PI-ready CV as a grad student, but it is important to be competitive for a solid postdoc and find a lab that will increase your skill set and make you more competitive in the TT hiring process than those who were happy to stay the course in their training. Again, that's my opinion, but I have found that broad experience has allowed me to ask different questions and apply techniques in new ways. 

There is nothing inherently "fair" about science jobs, but I don't know what competitive jobs out there have a fair and predictable path these days. However, you can put yourself in the position to succeed by working hard, reading and getting to know as many people in your field as you can. If your science is good and you show that you can think independently, you will be sought after at each stage of the game. 

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Serendipity in Science Careers

 Yesterday I had an interesting experience that made me think about the seemingly minor twists and turns in one's career that can have massive consequences down the line. I realized that if I look all the way back to my initial involvement in research, I can think of dozens of examples where things have gone my way because I was in the right place at the right time. In most cases, I put myself in that place on purpose, but didn't know where it would lead. I think there is an important distinction between being lucky and appearing to be lucky because you find the right place to be.

I got into grad school in a pizza restaurant, over a couple of beers. That was the "interview" and it just so happened that the person I wanted to work with had money and I project I wanted to be involved in. It helped that I was coming with a couple of undergrad publications and a strong recommendation from a colleague he trusts, but it still may not have worked out.

Similarly, I fell into a postdoc after a talk I gave in another university's seminar series. The timing worked out that I was looking when my postdoc advisor needed someone new, but neither of us had talked prior to that point. I actually gave the seminar with the hopes of joining a different lab, but after talking with my (future) postdoc advisor about the project he was working on, we basically agreed that I would start a couple of months later. Again, no application, no search, just two people excited about the science they could do. BUT, if I hadn't presented a boat load of data from my PhD, that conversation likely would not have happened. 

I actually did apply for faculty jobs. For me that process worked out like everyone else - you interview at a couple of places and eventually there's the right fit between what you want and what they need. Granted, not everyone finds exactly what they are looking for, but even as much as I bitch about the particular peculiarities of Employment University, it fits much of what I was looking for. And even since taking the job, having a particular skill set and research that encompasses a wide range of subjects has allowed me to take advantage of several opportunities, including getting additional personnel in the lab, that have been the result having needed expertise and being in the right place at the right time. 

I'll be sending some things out today that have the potential to produce some data that will set us up for the next 6 months and will almost certainly result in some important publications for the lab, not to mention provide overwhelming "preliminary" data for grants if I still need to submit revisions in the next round. So? You ask. How is that related to the topic at hand? The answer is that I am having this work done at a large facility, but by working with the head of the facility, rather than having them work for me. Subtle, but important difference, because rather than paying a facility to just do the work and having to follow all of their strict rules regarding amount of material sent, etc., I am skirting some potential issues that would set me back a couple of months because the director of the facility was at a presentation I gave and is genuinely interested in the results. After chatting for a while after my talk, the director agreed to use some of their lab protocols and help us optimize the process, even if we could not easily provide the amount and quantity of material they generally require. Like I said, this is something that is going to save me months of time and substantially speed up the process of getting that all important first "independent lab" paper out and virtually ensures we'll have the data to publish the results in a broad-interest journal. Assuming this works...

So, have I been lucky up to this point in my career? To a degree, yes. But the interpretation of events would be very different if I wasn't busting my ass to produce the data that gets one invited to give talks, and then taking every opportunity to talk about my research with anyone who is interested (or doesn't flee fast enough). Sometimes you can make your own good luck. 

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Death by 1000 papercuts

I have just been offered a tremendous opportunity. I have been in discussions with the director of a large facility to do some work for me. We've bounced a few ideas and thoughts back and forth and now it turns out that the facility will perform a pilot project for me if I send them the samples I need worked on. Did I mention that they are going to do this for free, which will save me a good chunk of change? My reaction was "Email me the address and I will have them out in the morning!" 

So, I go down to the office to ask for a package slip to fill out. Nope, can't do it that way. We have no account with FedEx (WTF!?) and all UPS shipments go out through central post. Okay, can it happen overnight? Probably not, but it's hard to say because it depends on the timing and how long it sits. Basically, what I found out was that sending something that needs to get somewhere off campus the next day is almost impossible unless I do a lot of the leg work and take my package across campus myself. I'll likely have to pay for it myself and get reimbursed (not clear yet if I can use my Pcard, but it's not looking good). 

How is this possible? Of all the things I have to do in a day, can't shipping a package be handled by paid staff? Seriously? I have to micromanage the mail now? Dude. Fuck! Sigh. 

Monday, July 20, 2009

The battle rages on

 I get periodic emails from the American institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) and those often include an update on evolution education in the US. I have to say that it is a bit depressing when the best news these reports convey is about things that were not acted on. Italicized text below is from the report.

Battles over evolution education continue around the country. Most recently, on 10 July 2009, Texas Governor Rick Perry (R) named Gail Rowe to chair the State Board of Education (SBOE). Lowe will replace Don McLeroy, the avowed creationist who failed to win confirmation from the Texas Senate on 28 May 2009. Evolution advocates are not happy with the appointment of Ms. Lowe, who in 2003 and 2009, voted to include creationist criticisms of evolution in science textbooks and curriculum standards.

I've covered this situation a bit already, but this is the same old game of pseudoaction that happens all the time in this whack-a-loon game. Someone gets ousted for being a little too crazy, but is replaced by someone just as crazy, but less loud about it. That's not to say that it's all bad in Texas! Our one bit of good news comes from the state.

Also in Texas, House Bills (HB) 2800 and 4224 died when the state legislature adjourned on 1 June 2009. HB 2800 would have allowed institutions such as the Institute for Creation Research's (ICR) graduate school to offer a master's degree in science education despite the Texas Higher Education Coordination Board (THECB) 2008 decision to deny the ICR's request to offer the degree. The ICR is currently suing in federal court over the THECB decision. The second bill, HB 4224, would have required the SBOE to restore the controversial "strengths and weaknesses" language in the Texas state science standards that was removed after a vote during the 25-27 March 2009 meeting of the SBOE.

Yay! No one did anything! Basically, but letting these two balls drop it at least represents a significant delay to both efforts, if not more. Each would have to be reintroduced in the next session of the house and wait their turn again. Often if bills die on the floor without a vote, they are not introduced again. Sometimes they are re-worded to sound different and thrown back in the ring. We'll have to see. 

Not to be outdone, South Carolina wants part of the nut-o spotlight.

In South Carolina, Senate Bill 873 was introduced on 21 May 2009. This bill, if enacted, would require the state board of education to review all science curricula for neutrality towards religion to ensure that it does not show preference for "those who believe in no religion over those who hold religious beliefs." The sponsor of the bill, Senator Michael Fair (R-District 6), has previously sponsored bills that would support the teaching of intelligent design in science courses.

Oh, how coy of you Senator Fair! Let's make this a religious persecution issue AND not specify any poor, poor attacked religion, just to we can hold hands in unity against this injustice! We wouldn't want people persecuted for their beliefs! Unless they believe in a different deity, no deity, wear different hats or even read a slightly different version of the same book. Those people are the enemy.

Lest we forget that these issues are not only from Southern states, let's crank the crazo-meter to 11. 

In Ohio, the John Freshwater saga continues. Freshwater, the eighth grade science teacher facing dismissal for allegedly preaching in the classroom, has reportedly filed a lawsuit against the Mount Vernon School Board, four district administrators, and several others involved in the 2008 federal lawsuit against him. Freshwater had been sued in June 2008 for allegedly bringing religion into school by posting the Ten Commandments and Bible verses in his classroom, branding crosses into students arms with an electrical device, and teaching creationism. The Mount Vernon City School District Board of Education has been involved in proceedings to terminate his employment since October 2008.

What? You want to fire a guy for branding his students with crosses in science class. Come on. If we can't brand our students, how are we supposed to know which ones have already taken the course? Mr. Freshwater totally sounds like a stand up guy and pillar of the community. What do you think is the basis of his wrongful termination suit? I'll be curious to find out, because I am always looking for new sources of unintentional comedy.

Conference Lag

I think we need a term for the feeling of jet lag after a conference, even when it's in your own time zone or +/- 1 hour. A couple of times this summer I've come back from a conference and basically felt like I just spent a week in Hawaii, without the tan. At first I attributed it to just being burned out after a conference, between the all out science and the typical shenanigans that occur when you get a bunch of scientists together in a place that offers adult libation. However, that wouldn't account for having a hard time getting to sleep at my normal "home" time once getting back. After a recent conference I got thinking about it and realized that I basically live in a different time frame during a conference, even in the same time zone. At home, the Wee One wakes up between 5:00 and 6:00 pretty much everyday and that's about it for sleeping. For that reason we are typically in bed between 10:00 and 11:00 (a significant departure from pre-child days). My conference schedule is quite different, however, typically lasting well into the early AM and getting up in time to scarf down some breakfast before the morning session (or maybe sleep in a bit of the morning talks aren't doing it for me). For all intents and purposes, it's as much a time shift as traveling a few hours west. Maybe I need to start attending more conferences in Europe so I can stay on my home schedule while away.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Congratulations, jerk

I never knew or particularly cared who else applied for the job I currently have. It may have been interesting to know at the time I was interviewing to see who I was up against, but after I got the offer there wasn't much reason to care who hadn't gotten the job. However, just because those who were interviewed remain anonymous to me, any one of them could look and see who ended up with the position. Over this summer I have twice seen a reaction to my affiliation that made it pretty clear (along with the individual's research) that the person I was talking to had at least applied, if not interviewed for, my job. I guess that's bound to happen and I'm not sure how I would react in the same situation, but the hollow congratulations through gritted teeth still take me off guard.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

All request week

It turns out that my friend wasn't blowing smoke when I got the heads up about being an external for a PhD defense and traveling for the defense. Honestly, I'm honored, a bit freaked out by the responsibility and excited for the event, but I am also watching my last semester of almost no teaching get filled up before my eyes. People have asked me what the time sinks are in this job outside of the nebulous "meetings" and I'm not usually sure exactly how to answer that question. I guess I would say that there is always something lurking which needs to be done. Here's a brief run down of the commitments I have for this fall semester, which have nothing to do with teaching, data analysis or getting my own work done:

The Albatross: The 20,000 word chapter I agreed to write.
Organizing the department's invited seminar series (which wipes out an afternoon a week).
An invited seminar that I will be giving.
Chairing a societal Education Committee and organizing a training workshop for next summer's meeting.
Co-organizing a local sub-discipline meeting for about 120 people.
Serving on a PhD defense committee and traveling for the defense.
Serving on our department's grad committee

The potential commitments:
Serving on a journal editorial board.
Being a panel member for NSF.

I'm sure I forgot a few things, but that's all the shit I can think of right now that I would consider outside of the regular day-to-day stuff. That doesn't include supervising my three grad students, preparing for a lecture/lab course in the spring, writing grants or data papers, reviewing papers, etc. I'm sure people more senior to me are looking at that list and thinking "that dude has it easy!", but I guess that's the point. The commitments just keep building in this job and it's not always easy to define all the things that suck your time like a million mosquitoes. I'm not complaining so much as trying to keep the long and short term tasks in my head so that I can prioritize what I do each day. There's a lot to juggle and every now and then someone tosses another ball into the mix.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Editorial Bored

I don't have much time to post at the moment, but I was asked today whether I would be willing to stand for election to the editorial board of one of the bigger journals in my sub-sub-discipline. As a junior faculty member just about to start my second year, my first inclination is to say "I need more work like I need fewer fingers, thanks but no thanks." On the other hand, it would look good for tenure, etc. Still, I think it can wait a couple of years. So, dear readers, thoughts?

Friday, July 10, 2009

One. More Trip.

Well, at least this is my last trip planned for the next couple of months. I've already been warned about the possibility that I might be asked to be an external for a PhD student in a foreign country, but I don't have a formal invite yet, and I did tell an NSF PO that I would serve on their panel if they needed someone... But, as of right now, my trip next week is the last of the summer and the last chance fate has to rattle my cage for a bit with some type of crisis while I am gone. Even if nothing explodes or implodes, it should still be an exciting week.

For one, I'm going on this trip without people from my lab, which means that any inkling I may have towards a "supervisor mode" is not in play (and by that I mean "making sure that my students have the chance to meet people, have fun and check out lots of good science", not some oppressive alternative where they are treated like children). I also think, for various reasons, that this trip will be a bit out of the ordinary for me, which is always intriguing. I don't think I will know anyone at this particular gathering, so it'll be a good opportunity to not get sucked into the safety of old acquaintances and meet some new people - something that I actually enjoy.

And finally, I'm driving. No planes, trains or boats. No Elmo singing or Rockabye Baby! renditions of classic albums (These CDs do kick ass, however. There aren't many kid-friendly CDs that don't make you stabby, but these do the trick. Where else can you find The Cure, Bjork and Tool songs played on the glockenspiel?). Just me driving and having some time to think without distraction and play whatever I want on the radio. Those moments are rare these days.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

That "not so fresh" feeling

After weeks of writing and re-writing what seem like the same pages, days of harassing colleagues for letters of support or other documents and what seems like forever digging through papers and data looking for that one last piece of the grant puzzle, anyone can start to take on some funk. It's the sour stink of ideas made stale by the number of times they were rolled over and over. The unmistakeable odor that a massive deadline leaves in it's wake. Well, now there's a way to rid yourself and your office of grant-stench.

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Blog meme: Who are you, what are you doing and why do you keep looking at me!!??!

I think this s a timely meme, given recent conversations regarding writing a blog and how bloggers are perceived by their readers. Also, it would give me an idea of who is actually reading and what your interests are. I'm not saying it's going to change what or how I write, but there's some curiosity on my side as well, seeing as only a small minority of readers actually ever comment. So, here goes.

As Seen On DrugMonkey:

Ed Yong of Not Exactly Rocket Science has revived an old thread to ask his readers the following:

Identify yourself in the comments. Even if you've never commented before, speak up. Who are you? Do you have a background in science? Are you interesting lay-person, practicing scientist, journalist, sentient virus, or something else? Are you a close friend, colleague, acquaintance or stranger?

Enlighten me.

It's a simple but interesting request that DrugMonkey has picked up on and turned into a meme. So, if you have been reading the blog, let me know what keeps you coming back and why you read this blog instead of (or in addition to) the blogs that delve into the science more.

While you do that, I'm going to finish and submit this grant today.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Important info for NSF resubmits

I was not planing on resubmitting my proposal that recently got declined by NSF for the July round because the reviews came out so late this year and the timing didn't seem like it could work. However, I just talked with my PO who bot only encouraged me to resubmit (after dispelling what was apparently a major hang-up for the panel with a single sentence) in this round, but let me in on a secret. Due to the fact that the reviews came out so late as a result of delays incurred while they tried to figure out how the stimulus money was going to go down, NSF is allowing a three week extension for anyone who wants to resubmit their grant. All you have to do is write your PO with the request and they will confirm. I just thought you should know.

How to approach a blogger without getting bitten

The topic of blogger identity (in all its myriad of potential meanings) is a constant hot button issue, for obvious reason. Every now and again someone will run into massive real life issues based on their blogging activity, as our friend DGT did most recently, and the shock wave will be felt throughout the blogosphere in various ways. It should not be surprising that those of us who blog under a pseudonym can be protective of our identities, even if we go out of the way to ensure we don't reveal much that might get us into any trouble. Nevertheless, there are readers who feel they will somehow be enriched by knowing the blogger's identity, even if it really has no bearing on what they reading. I can promise you that you know far more about me by reading the blog than you will ever learn from my CV or by browsing my publications. Perhaps for some, the ability to find my lab website or verify my track record gives some credence to my opinions, but you will only find that I don't claim to be anything I am not.

On three occasions I have been contacted by people who had "discovered" my identity - twice by an email from people who know me personally that recognized something on the blog, and once by an anonymous comment left on the blog yesterday morning on an earlier post. Though yesterday's commenter was complimentary of the blog and suggested that they had no intention of "outing me", there remains an element of discomfort in reading that an anonymous stranger spent time digging through potential candidates to figure out who I might be, while content to remain anonymous themselves. It is one thing to have a friend write and say "This has to be you", and yet another for an anonymous entity hailing from a city where you have never been to be searching you out. Perhaps there is an alternate version of Science Scouts out there, where merit badges are earned with each blogger identity determined.

Whereas I do not take special effort to conceal my identity, I also try and limit any details that might make it easy for someone to figure it out. Anyone who reads this or most blogs for long enough will probably gather enough information over time to narrow their search, but the question remains, what is gained in doing so? For those who find the search some sort of internet scavenger hunt and who feel the need to inform the blogger of their success, I would suggest doing so in a manner that is not entirely anonymous. We don't come to your house at night to whisper "I know who you are" through your window and it would be nice if we could expect the same. Though I am not particularly bothered by a few readers being able to find my lab website, the reason I blog under a pseudonym is because I try to be open about what I am going through to give those who are interested a feel for the trials and tribulations of this job. Can I do that honestly while getting "I found you!" notes slipped under my door? I'm not entirely sure. I guess it comes with the territory in our "US Weekly culture" that seems unable to separate the public from the private.