Monday, February 28, 2005

Give yourself credit

My horrorscope said to "give myself credit", so here goes:

my paper got in today.

I am SO relieved.

And then, literally just as I finished reading the email and went to give my advisor a thank-you hug for being my moral support, my student showed up. So, I celebrated by teaching her how to do a transfection, and then we went to lunch and talked about the goods and bads of science, very openly. She knows, because her father does some research. And I really do believe that students should go in with their eyes open, if they are going to go into research.

And regarding a previous blog, I don't think I said this outright, but I think that it ultimately hurts everybody to recruit students on false pretenses. They just end up quitting anyway, somewhere down the line, or they end up miserable and make everyone around them miserable, too.

I know, because I worked for someone like that. And I have worked with plenty of students and postdocs like that. They are no fun to work with.

Science is bad enough, even when you're pretty sure you want to be in it!

Sigh. Anyway.... didn't get much done today, but THAT'S OK. Today I just say, I worked hard for this, that particular saga is OVER.

Except, I have to send hard copies for color matching. Argh. Must go get special paper for color printer....


And I'm sure it's not the last saga, but boy did I learn a lot! I am a big believer in the motto: try not to make the same mistakes over and over again, try to make new ones. Research is great for that. So many mistakes to be made... so little handbook.

Moving on to new horizons, new potential pitfalls and all.... a change in the scenery.

Hope you all had a great Monday, or at least a bearable one.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Propagation of Indoctrination

This is inspired by the one, very sad, anonymous comment on my last blog. It's so sad because it's so true.

To paraphrase: This person mentions a postdoc who says he was always taught not to discourage grad students, depiste knowing everything that's wrong with academia.

Not discouraging grad students is just a survival thing. To do well as a young professor, grad students are your best, cheapest source of labor. Grad students stay longer than postdocs, as a rule, so they're a good investment in terms of training time. And you need grad students to succeed if you want to get more of them. It's literally in a PI's best interest to make more copies of themselves (you have to report job placement of previous disciples when you apply for fellowships for new ones).

Take-home message on why everyone lies to grad students: You don't discourage the hand that feeds you.

Herein lies a lesson for all grad students everywhere: NEVER FORGET THAT THEY DEPEND ON YOU TO DO THE WORK THEY CAN'T DO THEMSELVES.

This next part seems like a tangent but I swear it's not:

I was watching Arnold Schwarzenegger this morning on George Stephanopoulos' show, and he was saying how he can go all-out because he's not a career politician. And I started thinking, yeah, this really is our problem in this country. You shouldn't be allowed to be a career politician. You should have to have a day job, something to go back to when your term limit kicks in. It would really get rid of a lot of corruption, if you think about it.

I sometimes wonder if this isn't the case with science as well. If everyone knew that they would only be doing science for a few, peak years - the way ballerinas and olympic athletes know that they are physically limited from working forever - I think science would be a totally different place. We would make decisions on a totally different basis.

People claim that your peak years in science are before you hit, say, 40. They claim that most people who are going to get a big prize (you know which one I mean) will get it for work they did when they were younger.

Then.... the rest is mostly downhill, so the feeling goes. There are a few, outstanding people who continue to build on their early work, and there are some late-bloomers who work their whole lives toward one goal and finally reach it at the end. But this is not that common. In general, sort of like with pop music these days, the newcomers who burst onto the scene with a huge, flashy splash are the ones who will get all the glory.

But back to my main point. Let's say that you know that you're going to get kicked out of science when you hit 40. Here's what you would do differently:

1. Kiss ass? Not as much. What's the point?

2. Take risks? Sure, why not. What is there to lose?

3. Tell the truth? Sure, why not. Oh wait, that's taking a risk... But seriously, science couldn't rely on false advertising because more people would get a chance to take a turn. And it would select for people who really belong in science. And there would be more options for people when they leave. Right now we have an overabundance of people who wandered down the wrong hall and don't know how to get back out.

4. Work harder? Maybe. Maybe if you know your time is limited, you'll try to get more done before you have to leave. Maybe knowing that it's a short-term thing will make you realize what a privilege it is, so you'll work harder for your country, or whatever. This is the Olympic athlete argument. It might also make science more competitive (is that possible?).

The flip side of this is that people might say they're less invested in science because they won't get as much out of the system in the long run (tenure, security). But there are a lot of people who think that something like the French system, where you essentially get tenure as soon as you get a job (and you have to do that before you turn 30), ultimately backfires because people aren't motivated to work hard.

So the question becomes, are people more motivated by potential glory with lack of job security, or by optimism that they can earn job security (whether it's true or not)? Are the best scientists the ones who think like Olympic athletes?

5. Contribute to society? Probably. The older, ex-scientists can be better ambassadors to the public, and for longer. They could even take a turn at being a 1-term politician.

Friday, February 25, 2005


Was standing in line at the local cafe on campus just now and overheard the conversation in front of me. The woman was wearing a bag that said "Smart women vote 2004" and she was talking to a guy about grad school. She said yesterday her advisor pulled her aside and said that maybe a PhD is not what she should be aiming for, since she knows she wants to go into policy and doesn't want to be head of a lab. Then he said maybe they could make a program for her with the policy department on campus, or something. She was in shock, because she thinks he wouldn't be saying this if she were performing really well in lab (I couldn't hear what she said about whether she is or not). The guy said, "So, are you going to have to ride the little bus to your new program?"

Anyway I was just standing there wondering how to insinuate myself into their conversation, or introduce myself, or whatever socially competent people do. I ended up saying something to the guy while we were waiting for our food (the woman had since gone to their table). But I didn't introduce myself or anything because I knew I had to get back to lab, my timer is actually just about to go off and I'm kind of running late already. But sometimes I wonder if that's a situation where I'm supposed to drop what I'm doing and try to help-? Maybe I'm missing my calling, one confused grad student at a time?

In other news, did you see this bizarre petition that AWIS is sending around? The wording is really strange. They talk about how we need to prevent the removal of women from science, and how it's a national security issue, somehow. Now, I get that they want to make it sound really dire, and that national security is the buzziest of buzzwords, but I really don't understand where they're coming from or if they really think this is the best way to effect change. I didn't sign it. But I'm pretty disenchanted with internet petitions, I'm not sure they help.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Rebuttal Letter, version 2

Dear Editor (and I'm not sure if the Reviewers will see this, hopefully you will just accept it without sending it back out!):

Here is the revised version of my manuscript. I'm sure it's a little better. I'm not sure it's a whole lot better, since the reviewers this time didn't really have that much to contribute. But hey, I'm not complaining, because they weren't that picky, and I just want the paper to get in. At this point, I am so sick of looking at it, I would publish it on a postage stamp if I could list that on my CV and reference it in my next paper.

I want to kiss your ass a little so it will be more likely to get in. If you send this letter back to the reviewers, then I really want to kiss their asses to prevent them from coming up with more petty crap for me to address.

So, thanks. You were sooo thoughtful, your painstaking attention to detail really made all the difference.


I tried to modify the text so that it contains the information the reviewers were apparently lacking, which is to say, I tried to add details without being too condescending. As usual, I have to wonder if these are really somebody's grad students reviewing these papers. Apparently it is really too much to ask that the reviewers actually be peers , that they actually know something about my system, and that, god forbid, they would actually go and LOOK UP A FEW OF THE REFERENCES on their own before they ask why we didn't try this, that, or the other.

Anyway, part of me- the not-so-cautiously optimistic part- is already rubbing its little rodential hands together and thinking with glee that we need to have a BIG PARTY if this paper actually gets published.

Would everyone reading this please cross their fingers for me? And if/when it does get in, we should do a virtual toast at the virtual bar . I like the one that goes "May we be happy, and may our enemies know it." (I might be on virtual crack for thinking that it will actually happen this time, but here's hoping.)

Thanks so much,

Hopefully Published Author-to-be


Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Rebuttal Letter

Dear Editor and Reviewers,

I do not know if you are well-meaning, but I invite you to re-read what you write before you send it to me, the author of the paper you were ostensibly reviewing oh-so-conscientiously.

Do not send me reviews with a plethora of typos and grammatical mistakes. Please use a spellchecker!

Do not send me something you obviously dashed off in half an hour after skimming my paper. I spent years writing the paper, I don't think it's asking too much for you to spend an afternoon reading it carefully, and god forbid, maybe even re-reading it before you write the review!

Do please consider, and I cannot reiterate this enough, that I spent years writing and rewriting and revising, rather laboriously, the experiments, data, and text of this manuscript. It just might be too much more work for me to now throw in an additional, pointless 'control' just because you think it would make the data set more complete, or something.

Do not use this as an opportunity to inform me that another paper has come out since I submitted my paper for your review, and then ask me to address this other paper. It is irrelevant what is in that other paper since we are contemporaneous, and it is only a fluke of our current internet-based system that you can even ask such a thing! Haven't you ever heard of Heisenberg?

Do not betray that you are my competitor by asking for the tiniest, most petty changes to figures and legends (and references to your own work).

Please, have an ounce of self-respect and respect for the system. I know you won't, but I'm asking anyway. This is supposed to be an objective, disinterested review. Recuse yourself if you know I'm your competitor!

And as I've mentioned before and will mention again, please let's consider standardizing the format of scientific papers. Chemistry already does it, quite well I might add. Furthermore, let's get rid of papers altogether and go to a pure database format, where we just submit one figure with a legend and a method. Then we can blog day and night to discuss what it might all mean. What do you think about that, huh?

Finally, let's kill this ridiculous argument about whether funding a free database of research would take away from funding (research dollars). We're already spending god knows how much research money to pay for journal subscriptions and publishing fees. Why NIH has to support scientific journals, I will never understand. It's not like we make up such a huge chunk of the economy that the value of the US dollar would crash if we suddenly put all the scientific journals out of business. Would it? Seems unlikely to me.

To hell with it. I just hope that journals go the way of the dodo and I won't need the skill of writing sufficiently slimy, suck-ass rebuttal letters thanking the reviewers for their 'thoughtful' comments. It's a bunch of bullshit.


Yours Truly, Dr. Sick-of-this system

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Friday, February 18, 2005

Oversupply of PhDs: consequence, not conspiracy

So, an alert reader sent me this link economics of science? and asked what do I think.

I think the first 3/4 of it are right on, I agree with everything.

Then in the last 2 paragraphs, it seems that this person has a hypothesis but they don't support it very well, they are asking a question, I guess, but it is kind of strange.

This oversupply created by academia and the immigration of foreign scientist creates a high supply and low demand in the U.S., which allows industry to be highly selective of employees. They demand highly qualified and trained personnel, yet providing less on the job training. Also, their salaries are lower than other jobs requiring personnel with less academic training due to oversupply of Ph.Ds and a cheap but highly-skilled foreign workforce.

This makes no sense to me. Keep in mind, I don't work in industry, so I can't say from firsthand experience, but here goes:

First, I wouldn't say that industry is any more selective of employees than academia, they just use different criteria. For example, experience with teamwork, success with teamwork, and a personal preference for teamwork is usually much more important for industry. Academia still values independence and self-sufficiency more highly than social skills (although not much more highly).

I wouldn't say that there is less on-the-job training in industry. There is essentially no training involved in a postdoc or a PI position, beyond what you can glean from your own efforts (asking questions, mostly). If anything, industry seems to provide more training, from my perspective.

The last sentence of this paragraph makes the least sense of all. Industry salaries are not lower, but this sentence is grammatically strange so I'm not sure what they're trying to say. I wouldn't say that foreign workers are more highly trained than American scientists. If anything with the language barrier and differences in the educational systems, foreign workers are usually at a disadvantage, at least during an initial adjustment period. And most companies don't want to pay for visa/Greencard lawyer fees if they don't have to. There are distinct advantages to hiring American in industry. In contrast, in Academia, for a long time no one was paying any attention to how much postdocs were getting paid, so foreign postdocs frequently got the short end of the stick, and didn't even know they should be asking for more. Fortunately, this is starting to change.

As for obtaining a government job (e.g. NIH), I have very little information, but I'm assuming it is similar to the structure of academia. Except the positions are far more stable and the pay is a bit better. I'm assuming these positions are few and very coveted?

I wouldn't say that government positions are more coveted than academic ones. Working for the government involves a lot more paperwork, many more regulations and restrictions on personal freedom - as well as creative, intellectual freedom- than working in academia. I think it appeals to a different sort of person than the ones who are really gung-ho for being professors.

The whole oversupply or Ph.Ds through academia providing a limitless supply of workers for industry sounds very much like a conspiracy theory to me. In a way it sounds unbelievable.

I have no idea whose conspiracy theory this is, but it's just wrong. Industry doesn't directly fuel the oversupply, Universities do. Universities have an immediate need to expand their graduate programs: teaching assistants. They don't care what happens to these graduate students once they are done with their teaching obligation. Despite many studies and very vocal complaints from the scientific community, Universities keep expanding their graduate programs. I would blame them long before I would blame industry. Industry just profits from the spoils.

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Thursday, February 17, 2005

Swimming to Cambodia

Well, today started out pretty well. I've made myself virtually indispensable to our visiting scientist on sabbatical, which is sort of an ego boost, feeling like I know useful things and can help. It's also sort of a hassle, she's constantly interrupting my work with questions.

It's just like having a student, except she's not working on my project or anything related to it. So the benefits are very indirect.

Went to lunch with a friend who is very much in the same place as me, we're to the point where we think we can stand one more year of postdoc- barely- and want to get a job, any job, after that. After that, we said, that is the end of it. We can only stand so much, even if it means giving up on being a professional academic. She gets all the issues about stupid male advisors, crazy advisors, competitive backstabbing peers, etc.

It was actually pretty therapeutic. And even she had to admit, we're kind of glad to see people dropping like flies. Anytime someone quits, or turns down a job we would have taken, we view it as working in our favor. It's horrible, but this is human nature in a time of famine.

I'd rather be a cheeseburger in paradise.

Came back to find I had an email from The Journal about The Paper. It's kind of hard to understand, but I think they're saying they want me to revise it. They don't say it is accepted or rejected. They don't say if it will have to go back out for review. I think they're saying it will go back out. Which means another month, and absolutely no guarantees. But I am thinking I might write or call the editor to try to wring an actual answer out of her before I bust my butt doing revisions.

There should be guarantees. Publishing should be standardized. We waste way too much time trying to unravel the mystery of each journal's layout, website, etc. And each editor's semantics. It's ridiculous, when you think about it.

WE WASTE WAY TOO MUCH TIME!! Doesn't anybody care about curing cancer??

My advisor says to revise it over the next week or two. Personally I'd rather do it fast and quick, like ripping out hair, and get it over with. This has certainly dragged on long enough already.

So that kind of ruined my day. It's like when an experiment doesn't succeed or fail, and you're not sure why so you have no idea how to fix it. No clear outcome, no useful information upon which to base the decision.

And I am really sick of trial and error. It's unscientific, this brute force, repetitive approach to learning how to publish. I think it's insane that our whole livelihood depends on publishing, but NOBODY TEACHES YOU HOW. You write maybe a handful of papers in school, if you're lucky, but you don't always get a lot of feedback either way. And you NEVER learn how to write a cover letter for a paper, much less a rebuttal letter, in school. Nobody teaches you how to decode reviews, or letters from editors. Nobody teaches you how to try to care about a paper you've long since given up on.

And don't give me that crap about how your advisor is supposed to teach you how to publish. That's a bullshit answer, and you know it. The apprentice system simply doesn't work with this many people in it.

I went to a seminar today, it was a young hotshot professor, and he gave a great talk. But I can't help going to these seminars now and wondering if I will ever get there. Do I really want to become one of these people? Right now, it just seems impossible. No matter whether this western works today, or if the data I haven't finished analyzing yet looks amazing, it is still such a long way to dry land.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Every day is like Monday: fear of Professoring to know something about anything

I always wondered why Morrissey picked Sunday in the title of his song. Was it a particular Sunday? Is it because most stores are closed on Sunday? Every day is dismal and gray...

Anyway I am having a Mon-day of a Tuesday. Everything is getting on my nerves (well, most people are, anyway). We have a new faculty member doing a sabbatical in our lab, and she is asking me questions all the time. She is very sweet, but it's like having an undergrad.

Speaking of, I'm thinking about taking on a student to help me with repetitive stuff. I'm finally to a point where I think I could give a student stuff to do and be reasonably sure it would work. My last student was a real star, she was very conscientious and made very few mistakes because she was very alert and observant. I miss her!

But since I am having a not-so-great science day, I'm having those second thoughts again about how I'm going to fit into an educational system I don't like. Sometimes I can't wait to be a Professor, but other days all I want is a bunch of people working for me and to hell with the teaching classes bit. I was watching one of the grad students printing out powerpoint slides for the class she TAs. It's such crap, they have them memorizing details that will be outdated by next year, if they aren't factually wrong already. Nobody teaches concepts in Biology, it really makes me angry- and nauseous.

My advisor told me yesterday she has to set the mean for her course at a B, because it's like, University policy to inflate grades and graduate kids who know a lot less than they should, and not have that reflected in their grades. Or something.

Basically everybody hates you if you try to set the mean lower, she said.

I really have to wonder how I am ever going to be a professor. Much as I like research and teaching, and think learning is perhaps the most important thing in life, I am categorically opposed to grades, and if we have to give grades, then we should have them mean something , i.e. the mean should be set at a C.

How am I ever going to survive in academia with issues like this?? Aren't you supposed to buy in, hook-line-and-sinker?

Thursday, February 10, 2005


Ever notice how doing experiments that don't work takes 10 times more energy out of you than doing ones that give you interesting, useful data?

I am sooooooo tired. Today I finished an uninteresting western blot and did some uninteresting FACS. I don't think either of those things will end up being useful. Then I went to a mostly boring seminar from someone everyone describes as a 'star.'

The boss is sick and went home. My boyfriend is abandoning me for some much-needed 'guy' time tonight- he rarely does this, but it always pisses me off when he doesn't give me enough advanced notice to make plans with my friends.

Of course, my friends are all working tonight anyway, so it's not like they could do anything fun with me! One of them is working up a huge, 2-liter prep that involves some kind of black tar rotavap step... it sounded awful.

So, it could be worse. I could be working with black tar.

Sigh. I have been trying for the last 2 weeks to drag myself back to the gym. As backwards as it sounds, I know that exercising will help me feel less tired.

It's just so backwards. All I want to do is sleep! And sit on my couch and watch tv and eat junk food!

I really wish there were some magical food I could eat that would cure me of being tired and craving stuff that is bad for me. I try to eat fruit and drink water and do all that stuff they say should help, but it's just not enough. A person just can't go on like this forever, it's ridiculous. Is everyone constantly exhausted in this business, or is it just me?

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Women, power, power in numbers?

First, several random things to fill you in on.

My best friend's husband got laid off, which I knew. The reason she was having a hard time is because he's not an American citizen, and his visa is going to run out now that he's not employed. So they're starting the paperwork for a Greencard... very stressful since there is a time limit, lots of paperwork, etc.


Today I went to a lab meeting, someone else's lab but we're collaborating with them and I've been to a couple of their meetings previously. Well, the PI was out of town and the guy who was speaking was a Class A, full-on prick. Maybe I was being obnoxious, and I don't always do this, but I asked if he could just explain really fast what his assay was, since he was giving the kind of talk that jumps right in, gives no background, and assumes the people listening think about this stuff all the time (Wake-up call, asshole, NOBODY THINKS ABOUT YOUR STUFF BUT YOU!!). Anyway I said, "I'm sorry, I'm lost, can you explain the assay?"

And he said, and I'm not making this up, "You're going to stay lost, because I'm not going to explain the assay, since everyone else here has been over this."

So I left.

I mean, don't I have better things to do?

Yes, I certainly do.

It's funny, because a couple years ago I would have been more upset if someone talked to me that way, because for a long time I really had the impression that some people- usually men- get away with being arrogant assholes and everyone chalks it up to them being oh-so-smart. But now I really don't think that's true. I think the people who get ahead are not the smartest, but they're good at playing the political game of being nice- however phony they are- to everyone. Manipulative, even. Condescending, perhaps. But not arrogant. At least, that's my impression right now.

Anyway I'm less concerned about competing with someone like that, since I know he's not likely to get far with that attitude... you never know when that stranger in the back of the room might be someone useful to you someday.

Or someone who might jump at the chance to screw you!

I learned this the hard way. But at least I learned it.

Women and power?

And last night my neighbor told us that the Associate Dean in her department is trying to screw her over. Basically, she always gave credit to her top assistant, and everyone else on her team. She grew her department and has done really well, she's really well known outside the University, etc. But this Associate Dean (a man), is now saying that her top assistant really did everything, and the top assistant is gone, so he's saying he might not reappoint my neighbor this year.

She's upset. I told her she needs to be more self-promoting, they always say it's a catch-22 for women because we're not supposed to be self-promoting but if we aren't, we're seen as incompetent because no one realizes how much work we do.

She's thinking she's going to fight to keep her job, but I think she should leave. She's been talking about leaving all this past year anyway. But I can understand being conflicted, especially about changing jobs.

Power in numbers?

Female Physicist wrote and asked what I think about the increase in women in science, especially in graduate programs. (I'm sorry I don't know where that comment went, I didn't see it just now when I logged in-?)

Anyway this is a reallly interesting question and I hesitate to say I know, but I can surmise about some reasons and what I think might happen if things continue in this trend.

My impression is that most of the women I meet who go to grad school do it because they were science majors undergrad and have no clue what to do next. They didn't want to go to med school and they don't know anything about industry jobs.

Most universities push grad school because most universities have grad schools: it's just advertising a product. Grad school also gives you more time to think about what to do next. Women seem to allow themselves more room for wondering, I think, and view a career as a choice: men still view a career as an obligation. We're still using our parents as our primary role models, to some degree. My mom had a master's degree in math and only worked full-time for a couple of years before she had me. And never went back to a full-time job. So even though my parents have always pushed me, and my sister, to have careers, my mom couldn't be an example of that. And Dad never talked that much about his work.

Women do better in school, if you look at the statistics, most colleges graduate more women with better grades in just about every field. Even the majors that have fewer women, the women usually do pretty well, grade-wise.

Since most grad schools recruit based on grades, rather than experience or hands-on ability, it makes sense that they might start admitting more women. Women look better on paper at the level of applying to grad school. Smart schools know this.

The nice thing about this is, we might actually reach a critical mass, at least in grad school. My class was about 50-50, which was good. My thesis lab, and my current lab, are mostly women. It's amazing how much of a difference this makes. My first postdoc was in a lab that was very male-heavy, and although the guys weren't macho at all, the PI definitely treated us differently from the get-go.

So I got gone.

Critical mass in grad school aside, we still lose women in the postdoc stage. It's largely because women want to have kids, want to have a secure income, and who can blame them for not wanting to be treated like a second-class citizen for another 2-7 years? But men seem more committed to having a career at all costs, probably because they feel obligated to have a job to have an identity. So the men struggle through, maybe also because they're less likely to really consider what other options are open to them. Women are more likely go off and do writing, and policy, and law, and MBA programs, etc. At least, that's my very qualitative impression.

The few women who stick to it have pretty much the same landscape our female advisors had to look forward to: being a minority, not having many mentors, having to be twice as good as our male colleagues. Not a lot has changed in the upper echelons. Hello, Larry Summers.

And Larry Summers, Jr. Much as we might have hoped the old sexist jerks would die off, it's amazing how quickly their sons take their place. New sexist jerks are being born every day. Even if the degree of sexism isn't the same, there are still a lot of latent biases that come out when the going gets rough.

When the going gets rough, step on the women on your way to the top, the feeling goes. Women are guilty of doing it to each other, too. As long as we keep doing that, we're treading water.

Anyway I guess my point is, it doesn't really matter. Critical mass at one level will eventually spill over to critical mass at the next level, but that's the slow way to go. If we fixed the pipeline now, women might dominate science.

It's hard to know what would happen if that were the case. Once upon a time, say, about a hundred years ago, women got lucky when the men went off to War and we got to take over their jobs. And many women were technicians in labs and made a lot of critical discoveries.

But then the men came back and women let them have their jobs again. I can kind of understand, you missed your husband, you're just glad he's alive, there aren't enough jobs to go around anyway, etc. But part of me has a hard time forgiving the loss of so much progress. And the men were so goddamned ungrateful for all the work their wives did!

I guess I just worry it's going to become one of those professions, like teaching in public schools. More women do it, the pay is lousy, the quality is declining, and it's not viewed as a prestigious undertaking. Which is ridiculous, I think education is the most important thing and teachers have a huge effect on the futures of so many children...

On the other hand, nursing is becoming more popular with men, so who knows.

Personally, I like diversity in all things. I think the melting pot was a great idea, and it's too bad people seem unwilling to melt well together.

But yeah, I worry that if science becomes all-female, it will be devalued, underfunded, and decline in quality, simply because we live in a country that still hasn't had a female president. The conglomerate that is The Man In Charge- say of the NIH budget, for example- is still mostly made of men.

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Friday, February 04, 2005

Guilt, laziness, confusion... relief at no major bad news.

Got the official letter for the meeting in Japan. I feel so privileged- they clearly have to fulfill some requirement to bring foreigners, and they don't seem to care as long as we're warm bodies. I'm not even sure they care if we actually attend the meeting once we get there... poster session my ass.

Finally got an email from my best friend, who admitted she's been really depressed. I don't know what this is about... as usual I have theories, but she's one of those people who generally tries to keep the bad stuff to herself. Military families train you to do that. I think it's very unhealthy.

So I'm feeling guilty because I'm annoyed that my data are confusing and I have a ton of work to do... but mostly I'm doing okay this week, and meanwhile my best friend is miserable and she doesn't live here so there's not much I can do to help...

And I'm feeling overwhelmed because my data are confusing. I have some ideas for what I could do, but this is the same confusion I tried to investigate a couple years ago, and I still have all the data, but everybody just looks at me like I'm nuts when I tell them what the gels look like (or worse, show them the gels)...

So, okay, maybe I'm crazy, but I really wish I had at least one other crazy person to talk to who knows about this stuff... I'm thinking next week I might try again to talk to my crazy advisor. Mostly she's great, but sometimes she says the same kinds of stupid, discouraging things my last crazy advisor used to say, and I would really prefer to maintain my image of her as much smarter than him...

...the latest stupid thing she said made me laugh. I have this high molecular-weight band on my protein gels, and she said it was 'insoluble' protein. It runs into the gel, and always at the same size, but it's insoluble? Just a cop-out, I think. Translation from PI language= "I have no fucking clue what to tell you, I have never seen anything like that/ last time I saw something like that we were equally confused and never did figure out what it was."

Grrr. I really hope I never say things like that. "I don't have a fucking clue" will always remain a stalwart part of my vocabulary.

But since I'm feeling overwhelmed, and really looking forward to taking the weekend off, I will probably take the lazy way out and hope that I have some ideas for experiments that would be quick & easy & actually tell me something that helps advance my understanding, rather than just augmenting the confusion...

The first time this happened, I had this faith that eventually I would accumulate enough data, however confusing, but there would be some pattern to it that I could eventually recognize if I looked at the data enough.

That does work sometimes... but the faith component is somewhat lacking this time around, since there's also the voice that reminds me that it doesn't matter if I figure it out unless I can then get it published.

And the paper from hell is still in review.Those bastards at the journals seem to think it's more humane, or something, to always send rejections on Fridays. So, sad as it may sound, I'm relieved I haven't heard anything about my paper yet.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Collaborations, etc.

Rejection letters: 5

I was actually having a pretty decent week- still am, really. My experiments seem to be moving in a detectable forward direction... and at this point, it's late enough in the year that I think the only letters I will be getting will be of the rejection type.

Went to a seminar today by a very successful woman scientist. She had some pretty sad stories- her PhD advisor died while she was halfway through grad school, she's been repeatedly turned down for promotion and always ended up having to go to another school to get to the next level. But now she's Chair of her Division, and a full professor. And she's 37.

Needless to say, she's not in my field.

Speaking of people in my field and jobs, I found out through a random encounter today that a friend of mine got offered one of the jobs I applied for. It's one of the ones where I got the rejection letter a week ago, so in a way I'm kind of glad because he's been a postdoc forever and works really hard. And he's a decent human being.

But I'm a little worried he's going to be too burned out by the time he gets there, assuming he even takes the offer. He's one of those people who gradually went completely gray-haired as a postdoc.

And it also makes me worry, because he was starting his postdoc when I was barely in my thesis lab. I really don't know if I want to keep doing this for 3-4 more years with no guarantee that it will increase my chances of getting a position!

Other than that, it seems like my collaborators are mostly asking me for more and more experiments. It's always supposed to be just one figure, quick and easy and an extra publication for the CV. Instead it ends up being several experiments, and then extra controls after the fact that nobody thought of sooner, and the papers still aren't accepted (and in one case, the paper hasn't even been submitted).

Sigh. No good deeds go unpunished.

Tonight I am going out to dinner with some friends, kind of a last-minute thing where we made reservations yesterday online, and now my experiments are running late and I'm going to have to come back here afterwards. All I can say is, I hope it's worth coming back for.

No rewards without suffering.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Read this article

My dad sent me this awesome article about the Larry Summers controversy. It does a much better job of discussing what I think is most relevant: what the day say about women's abilities and cultural biases that affect women's performance and the outcomes of evaluations. Also, there's a great little sidebar with statistics on how many tenured women faculty there are in the 'hard sciences' (biology-related stuff is not there, but still), as well as a discussion of what 'stereotype threat' is- basically enforcing stereotypes that generate anxiety and drive down performance.

Read it now . Tell me what you think.

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