Friday, June 30, 2006

What's a PhD Worth?

Hello dear readers,

I have an interesting philosophical question for you.

I have a new friend with a problem.

This person doesn't have a PhD, but has approximately the experience equivalent to one.

The job essentially entails maintaining a huge collection of highly specialized equipment, as well as training/helping anyone who walks through the door so that they can use any or all of it. This person has gone beyond that mundane description to establish industry contacts that provide state-of-the-art improvements to all the equipment.

Unfortunately because of administrative mumbo-jumbo I don't understand, this person is not getting paid their worth - nor given the authority they really need to do a great job- because they aren't appointed in the appropiate title, due to the status of being PhD null.

My question is, would it be so bad for the administration to change the rule requiring a PhD for this particular type of position?

I'm a little bit torn about this. Obviously there are situations where lab managers or technicians can attend classes, write a thesis and obtain a PhD while continuing their current jobs. It's been done before.

I'm just not sure I believe in perpetuating this system where everybody has to jump through these arbitrary hoops.

I think the most valuable things I learned in grad school I would have learned anyway if I had continued to work in a lab and seek out situations that allowed for advancement. The classes were largely a waste of time, and the 'program' didn't provide much in the way of, well, anything.

But the one nice thing about the PhD is, even if I left my postdoc position now, nobody can take away my degree. It's proof, so to speak, of my training.

And it's too bad there's nothing equivalent to validate time as a postdoc, although you couldn't pay me enough money to agree to do a 'training program', anyway.

So my question is, should I encourage this person to find a way to get a PhD, while at the same time trying to convince the appropriate Powers That Be to find a way to reward this person for what they contribute to the University? The last thing I want to do to anyone is encourage them to go to grad school!

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Saturday, June 24, 2006

Hypocrisy Weakens The Cause, or, Women Hating Other Women

I was talking to a postdoc today who said she could never work for a woman.

This postdoc wants her own lab, but she doesn't realize the hypocrisy of expecting other people to work for her when she's obviously discriminating against all women PIs herself.

It's infuriating because my own mother always used to say, starting when I was little, all kinds of stuff about how women were always so nasty. She always said that men, in general, were nicer.

So I grew up thinking that working for a woman would be impossibly hard. But - and we've discussed this here before - it's a bit ridiculous to make these kinds of sweeping generalizations.

I've been pretty happy with my current advisor, all things considered. And none of my complaints about her have anything to do with her being female.

One thing my advisor said to me recently was that when funding is low (the last I heard, NIH was funding to the ~8% level), the women are the first to go.

She doesn't believe it's because the women aren't as good as the men are.

It seems pretty obvious, given the way grant review committees work, that the women are shut out when men close ranks. Women don't have analogous alliances to protect their interests.

So ladies, stick together out there. And think twice about whether you deserve to have your own lab, if you think no woman should be a PI. Because that's basically what you're saying when you say you'd never work for a woman.

If we don't believe in ourselves, we can't believe in each other. But it goes the other way, too. If you don't believe your female colleagues can be successful AND fair AND be good mentors, what does that say about your own self-hatred?


Friday, June 16, 2006

Making Figures Sucks, or I Suck At Making Figures

Ugh. Maybe I just have an insecurity complex, but my thesis advisor always told me I sucked at making figures, and I think he was right.

Even if I didn't suck then, I think his saying that has made me want to quit trying. Now I look at my figures and I hate the layout and the labels all look bad, but I feel like I have no talent for this stuff, that it's the sort of thing I never learned to do in kindergarten. No matter what I do it always comes out looking sloppy.

For example, the gels are never perfectly straight, even when I align them using guides in Photoshop, everybody always seems to think it could go just slightly more one way or the other. This would be fine, but there's no right answer, since the lanes on the gels didn't run perfectly straight to begin with.

Then, if I have any pictures of cells, the contrast never comes out right, but I'm afraid to play with the contrast too much for fear of someone accusing me of altering the data. So that's a lose-lose situation.

My advisor was great at this stuff, mostly because he was obsessive and willing to spend hours lining things up to the exact pixel. But I think he didn't do me any favors by cleaning up my figures in grad school, since I still have no patience for it, and I have to wonder if there aren't some expert tricks I could be using to make my stuff look better?

At one point I tried to read some books on graphic design and layout, but I never found them very helpful. I still don't know how to get around the problems of formatting figures for column widths AND presenting things in a logical order AND having them be the right size, nevermind having the whole figure look pretty at the end when there are 6-8 pieces to each one. Yuck! It always ends up looking crowded, the labels are too small or the fonts don't match and I have to go back and re-label everything, especially when I keep changing my mind about what pieces go in which figures.

Why isn't there a whole industry devoted to this, if there are hundreds of scientific journals out there publishing zillions of figures every day? I really want somebody to invent a magic molecular weight labeler. When I draw the lines on the film, they're never straight. This doesn't bother me until I scan in the gel and have to decide, is it worth drawing them in, one at a time, with a nice perfect rectangle? This is not what I want to spend my time doing.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Separation of Church and State

Read this link

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Thought lost in all the clutter.

All day I wanted to post on Blogger, but it was down. Now it's up and I have time and I can't remember what I was going to say.

Sat around and organized my Safari bookmarks tonight. So pathetic.

Lately I always feel disorganized. I know it's because of one bad habit: I tend to get organized in little retroactive bursts. I don't always put things away in the right places as I collect them. I'm not sure how to quit doing this. I'm good for a little while but eventually I get busy or lazy and stop being conscientious.

This goes for everything I own. I usually get things close, for example, in the right freezer at work, or the place we all know and love called "somewhere on my computer." But actually being organized is another whole level.

I'm a complete Spotlight addict, it's so sad. I need Spotlight for the rest of my life.

But I've noticed lately that I have a lot less patience for hunting around, and way way way more things to keep track of. Tons of phone numbers, email addresses, data files, notebooks, tons of clothing, books, shoes, CDs... I find myself wondering whether it would be worth it to throw away most of my belongings, because then I would know where the remaining stuff actually is most of the time. Does my stuff own me, or do I own my stuff?

Does this have to do with getting old? Lately I also find myself wanting my house to be cleaner. A lot cleaner. I've been a slob for a lot of years, so this is not a bad thing, except for the part where I can't seem to stay organized consistently and end up scrambling to do the periodic mad clean-up spazz.


Wednesday, June 07, 2006


I'm going to take on this topic, knowing full well I'll probably get a lot of offensive comments that will have to go in the trash.

Not wanting to say anything too heavy. But. I would like to hear some scientific input about the gays.... [some stuff asking about why gay men like anal sex] Is this a biological mechanism for population control ?

-- Anonymous commenter

I've chosen to censor some of Anonymous' comment that was more explicit - and distractingly so - in favor of discussing the main point:

I guess I can see how a straight man might not be able to relate to being the catcher in a game of anal sex. I for one haven't tried it and I suspect it would be painful the first few times- much like more 'traditional' intercourse between a man and a woman. But that's why God invented Astroglide, am I right ladies? (Anonymous commenter apparently isn't aware of the whole industry devoted to commercial lubricants.)

Um, since when are we talking about legalizing gay sex? There are already incredibly outdated, offensive laws against gay sex in some states. Obviously those states shouldn't legalize gay marriage without fixing those laws first.

Actually, I just thought of something. What if legalizing gay marriage made it easier for the gay-bashers to find your address and show up at your house? Would all the newly-married gays wake up to burning crosses on their lawns?


I find it interesting, sociologically speaking, that some straight men freak out at the idea of gay men having sex on a regular basis.

As if the presence of gay male sex, and god forbid, giving everyone equal rights, would somehow equate with a risk to straight men of ending up on the women's side of things-?!

What could be scarier, I have to ask, than being treated like a woman in today's society?

Being treated the way we treat gays.


Is being gay a more evolved way of life and a mechanism for population control?

Yes, I've definitely thought so.

Is it genetic?

I think so. I think there are pretty good data, especially from studies of Drosophila genetics, that it is caused by biological mechanism, that it is not a choice. Furthermore, since this entire debate began, there is evidence from almost every sexual organism that homosexual pairings occur throughout nature in most species.

Does any of that matter for this debate?

I don't think the issue of being gay is the problem here. Amazingly, the conservatives seem to have learned not to make an issue out of that this time around.

No, I think equal rights, and separation of church and state, are at issue here.


What I don't understand is, why straight people in this country are so goddamned insecure about their marriages. As John Stewart put it nicely last night on the Daily Show, "It's not like 50% of marriages end in gayness."

So where's the threat?

Stewart's guest last night was particularly offensive, saying that gays only deserve to be parts of families in the roles of sons and daughters, not as partners in marriages or having children of their own. Then he went on to make the so-called 'slippery slope' argument about how legalizing gay marriage will lead to legalizing polygamy.

I find these arguments really interesting since it's absolutely not the way I think. To me, gay relationships are the most egalitarian of all, while polygamy is the least egalitarian.

I think there should be age limits on marriage, and no one should have to get married against their will. Other than that, why do we have to make laws about it?

Because, they say, it's so important. And the catchphrase they've been using is "the most important human institution"

Is there really such a thing? Do we really need to be institutionalized in every aspect of our lives?

This sounds like typical Republican framing to me.


I'm really frightened that, as someone aptly put it on tv today, we have almost 50 ELECTED BIGOTS who voted for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage today.

My own home state is going to be among those putting the issue on the ballot this fall. In the past, they've passed things like banning books.

Banning books. Banning marriages. Just think on that for a while. Then think about how we supposedly stand for freedom, and what year it is.

Welcome to 2006. Are things getting better, or are they getting worse?

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Quickest Girl in the Frying Pan

Yes, that's a Tori Amos reference for you astute listeners.

Actually I saw a great reference to the XTC song River of Orchids this morning on my way to work: grass literally growing up through the pavement, in between the two yellow lines in the center of the road. It was awesome.

So I haven't been blogging much but I keep having ideas for things I'd like to write about.

For example, how people under 40 don't think gay marriage should be an issue, but people under 40 are the group that votes the least.

How, if gay marriage is banned, I really should get out of this country. I'll be really ashamed if more than a handful of the most backward states actually go through with it. I'm assuming the constitutional amendment won't pass, but if it does, I think I'm outta here.

Or, for example, how Chile has a female president, and the students there actually protested a week or two ago about how they want better schools.

Can you imagine if that happened here? What it would take for that to happen here?

Honestly I was pretty impressed with the demonstrations against the various immigration laws, but I also think English should be the official language. I was surprised that you don't have to speak English to become a citizen, and ballots are provided in a variety of what are called 'minority languages.' I never knew that. I don't really see why it would be so bad to require everyone to at least learn enough English to vote in English?

So I'm thinking of moving to Chile. Don't know if they allow gay marriage or abortion or even birth control, though. I should read up on that stuff. I was pretty impressed that Costa Rica, for example, has the highest literacy rate of any country, and they don't have a military. On the other hand, apparently you can't actually own a house there, I think it's like Mexico where you get like a 100-year 'loan' from the government, or something.

Other than that, I'm trying to figure out whether, when my advisor asks what I think about why certain graduate students behave the way they do, I can answer truthfully and say it's her own fault, not theirs.

You know, the usual stuff.