Friday, April 27, 2007

Computers hate me and I hate them (today).


Yes, you heard me. ARGH!

I definitely need my own personal army of programmers. There is just no other way to survive, I think, and be able to do what I know needs to be done.

What's driving me nuts is that nobody else seems to realize these programs should already exist.

I don't want to start my own software company, but I might have to if I want people to be willing to code for me day and night.

I've thought a lot about going back to take classes to learn how to program, but it seems a bit ridiculous with all the other things I need to do. And given that my natural talents are a bit more on the intuitive side than the break-things-down-into-simplest-bits side, I've always found programming difficult.

I know what I want the programs to do. I just wish there were an easy button for this.


Thursday, April 26, 2007

Sum total.

I wrote a post yesterday, and blogger crashed and kicked me out just as I was hitting "publish."

Ironic, since it was about how we're such slaves to publishing and I think it's ultimately really bad for science.

Argh. Nevermind.

Of the experiments I tried to do today:

1 failed
1 half worked, but was annoying, so I'll go back to it another day
1 is half finished and I will try to get it closer to finished before I leave tonight
1 is not finished but I hope to do it tomorrow

Data sets I need to analyze: at least 6

Abstracts I need to write: 2

Forms I need to get signed by my PI: 2

Getting to sleep in on Saturday?


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Friday, April 20, 2007

Meet Hot Drunk Women.

I love you, Google Adsense. You make me smile.


Wednesday, April 18, 2007

It's not as simple as we'd wish.

Today somebody sent me yet another article on why men and women are so different.

These things always irritate me, since I think it's not interesting to discuss. It's not a point worth making.

To me, gender is like choosing teams for playing a kids' game like Kick The Can. You know, people are randomly assigned to teams in the order you show up. Every other person gets a red shirt or a blue shirt. You end up being a girl or a boy just by the dumb luck of having arrived at a blue or red moment.

To me, this is essentially how biology does it. Okay, maybe some sperm swim faster than others, but really you're an egg until you get a second X... or a Y.

And let's just assume for the purposes of this argument that it doesn't matter what Mom ate that day or how old Dad was, that it's essentially a 50:50 chance which one you got.

That is how I feel most of the time. I play for the girls team because that's what card I drew. I don't feel any great loyalty to women. Just today at lunch I felt more in common with the guy sitting next to me, not saying much, than I did with the two girls who were yammering on about shopping for dresses.

But because I play for the girls team, and because of the way I've been treated because of it, because I wear the red shirt and that is all anyone can see, I do sometimes feel oppressed by the Male Majority, especially in science.

I say Male Majority because I find it's a provocative term. The other day I heard someone use the phrase White Majority in a meeting, and I found myself sit up very straight and ask, WHAT??

But nobody knows if you feel more black on the inside than you look on the outside, or if some days you feel totally asexual, like cerevisiae. And other days you think, well actually all yeast are female, we call them all mothers or daughters! So there!

So although the article I was reading today seems to think (and, case in point, show) that it's a pipe dream, I still do wish we could all just do what we do, and not talk so much about how men or women do it. Not worry so much about putting people in little boxes to make it simpler to understand why individuals have different interests, different strengths.

I've had a number of students work with me in the lab, and they had nothing in common. One was good with her hands, another was good at math, another was terrible at it but asked great questions about biology. I can honestly say that, except for the few who typify the stereotypes, most everyone I've ever worked with, at every level, was his or her own person. Whether it was a him or a her.


Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Notes from Idiot Land: I'm in a bad mood.

Days like this, I know I would rather be at home, but I can't leave yet, so I'm going to try to stay at my desk and not interact with anyone for as much of the day as possible.

Woke up after having paid my taxes thinking it really sucks that I make ~ $40,000 a year for this nonsense and work 10 hour + days during the week, and usually come in at least half a day on the weekends.

I wouldn't care much about the money, except when my clothes look crappy because I bought the shirt and pants for $20 each at Mervyn's, my shoes are totally scuffed and down at heel, and my house is a mess.

Then I wish I had a personal assistant to do the shopping and clean the house if I'm going to work this much.

But I can't afford that!

Then I got several emails this morning, including:

-A protocol from someone asking why this prep isn't working. The protocol makes no sense whatsoever, and I'm disgusted that this person doesn't know better than to waste time throwing good samples down the drain. I'm also disgusted that I now have to tell them EXACTLY what to do. This should be the PI's job, but as usual, I am doing everyone else's work and getting nowhere near as much credit as I deserve. I should be senior author on this paper for the amount of guidance I have given, but I will be lucky if I get 2nd author.

-A comment on some data from someone who is apparently blind, since everyone else who saw it agreed that the result was pretty obvious. I don't know what to say to them except, uh, look at it again with your eyes open??

-A letter I'm supposed to edit, asking for funding. The letter is written as one giant paragraph that even I don't have the patience to read in that format. I don't know why they think anyone would want to read it like that, much less give us money.

Then I walked by another lab having their lab meeting. We all know each other and are usually at least politely friendly, but everyone pretended like they either didn't see me, or their arms are broken. Hello, I am apparently not just grouchy but also invisible!

Then everyone in lab was crowded around some samples, arguing about what was going on, and it was clear that none of them knew what they were talking about. But I really don't have the patience to try to explain it to them today, partly because I know they don't care at all what I think.

Then a piece of equipment was broken that I needed to use, and I had to hack something together to make it work well enough for what I needed (my samples being rather labile, I couldn't afford to wait around). I have no idea when it will get fixed, as there's nothing I can do to speed the process.

And it's only noon.


Monday, April 16, 2007

Notes from Science Land: typical meeting types

Someone wrote it asking what Journal Club is for.

Basically, there are two types of meetings that the uninitiated might find unfamiliar.

1. Lab meeting.

There are different ways to do this. Most groups do it once a week.

Usually depends on the PI being in town.

Then there are two common ways to conduct it, and variations thereof.

Type A:
Each person presents a 5-10 minute update on their progress.

Most common in smaller labs, or labs where the PI can't be bothered to meet with everyone individually, but wants to be up to date on the latest gel ASAP.

Type B:
One person presents each week.

More common in larger labs, particularly those with lots of postdocs who don't need or expect a lot of guidance from the PI, but who get the most useful feedback from their peers.

Sometimes exploited for kiss-ass types to show off how much they know, both in their own presentations and while criticizing their fellow lab members.

Also useful as a practice ground for job talks and thesis presentations.

These vary from lab to lab. Sometimes no one says anything, except for the presenter and the PI. In other labs, each slide is interrupted by a question from lab members, which can be productive but also lead to very lengthy meetings.

2. Journal Clubs

These vary from within the lab, to multi-lab, to topic-specific multi-lab.

Typically, someone picks a paper or three and sends these out in pdf format (nowadays... I remember when we used to xerox them all, ugh).

Then there are two main variations on this.

Type A:
The person who picked the papers gives a presentation.

This usually consists of:

-A summary of relevant background (this is the part that, in my experience, varies the most in quality)

-Going through the figures, usually in order, explaining what was shown and how believable it is, and if not, then why not, and what they should have done differently to make it more convincing.

-Usually starts with a statement on why this paper was chosen over all the other possibilities that week/month/year.

-Usually concludes with a statement basically summarizing the consensus of whether it was a good example of how to write a paper, or how this is an example of something really provocative that will change the way we think... or why it's most likely crap.

Every once in a while, someone will get riled up enough to write a letter to an editor saying that the paper is obviously crap and here's our data showing why. I'm always entertained by that.

Type B:
The group discusses the papers, with the person who picked them acting as moderator. This is the format usually used in grad-level classes where students learn to (ahem, SHOULD learn to) read papers critically.


Recently, I've noticed a number of disturbing trends with Journal Clubs.

Here are some of the most egregious:

1. Using Journal Club as a platform to present your own work (mentioned in last post). In case you're wondering, that's what lab meeting is for.

(Thanks for all the comments, I was amused.)

2. Picking only papers from collaborators (egoism next to godliness).

3. Picking only papers from Nature journals.

4. Getting rid of Journal Club altogether because nobody can be bothered to read papers, much less discuss them.

5. Picking way too many papers (on the order of 5 papers).

6. Picking papers based on the least number of figures (as if those are easier to present. HINT: THEY'RE NOT.)

7. Not bothering to prepare a presentation or look up unfamiliar jargon before showing up to give Journal Club. Then when the audience asks you, the moderator, to explain the paper, you can't, because you didn't do your homework.

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Friday, April 13, 2007

Lab assholes, continued.

Am I the only one who thinks it's tacky when someone uses their turn at journal club to present their own work?


Tuesday, April 10, 2007

For every good one, there's one of those

Yes, one of those.

Case in point: today we found out that the new guy in the lab got a piece of equipment for his own personal use that myself and another woman have been asking for...

all year.

Because we really have needed one.
No, it is not readily available for the whole lab to use.
No, we were never offered one for each of us.
No, this guy is not any more qualified or experienced than we are.
No, this guy does not need it any more- in fact probably less than- the women do.
This just scientifically speaking, here, based on the nature of the projects.

When the fact of this equipment existing in our midst was announced, we just looked at each other.

It's even worse than we thought.

There is only one - ONE - logical explanation.

Our female voices are being tuned out, but when the same thing is said by a man : voila!

Ask, and you (YOU! = XY!) shall receive.

But we (we = XX) won't.

And yes, in case you are wondering, he is getting paid more than me.

And, this is another case where the suspect admin seems to be playing her part quite nicely with the status quo of sexism.

But anyway. Let's ignore all that.

I will continue to use whatever I need wherever I can get it, or do without.

Lately I feel I am running a marathon with a peg leg.

But I am pretending that it doesn't hurt, that having a bloody stump somehow makes me stronger.

Go, pain receptors, go!

To balance things out, I am working with a male student, who, despite being almost too laid back, is really a lot of fun and a lot of help to me.

So, for every stupid, idiotic, selfish, noncommunicative, clueless bastard...

here's hoping there is at least one in the next generation who is not a complete fool.


Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Better today.

Today started out mighty crappily, but then when I was sitting at my desk trying diligently to figure out a computer problem that I really don't know how to solve, the phone rang.

It was a collaborator, saying that one of our experiments worked.


It's a small hooray, since there's still tons of things to do, but, data nonetheless.

And as you know, I love data!

And now I am almost done with my experiment for the day, so the prospect of getting even more data has me rather relieved that I will not go home empty-handed yet again.

I hate going home empty-handed.

And dinner is going to happen soon. Very soon. I like dinner.

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Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Left out.

I haven't been reading enough blogs lately, so I guess I missed the invitation.

The sheer length of The Leaky Pipeline post here depresses me.

I found it via this Scientiae blog carnival thing, which I guess is pretty new.

Maybe I will submit something for the next one. I tend to write a lot when I'm too depressed to work at night.

I'm too depressed to work right now.


Delayed gratification, continued.

Like most days, I had every intention of being in a good mood when I got up.

I was in a good mood in the shower, which is not all that common. Usually I'm not in a good mood until I'm in the car, listening to my iPod on the way to work.

This time of year, I am often happy walking in from where I park my car. It's a reasonably long walk, and things are turning green and the sun is starting to come out and make things a little warmer. We have a pretty campus, and I appreciate that. So I often look up at the sky and smile.

But today I was barely out of my neighborhood when I nearly ran over a jogger, who thumped on my car and glared.

I am pretty sure I didn't do anything wrong, so it really pissed me off.

I'm a very careful driver. I'm apologetic if I do something stupid.

So I'm pretty sure the jogger was wrong, and I really didn't deserve to have my car thumped.

And getting glared at is not a good way to start the day.

I walked in from the car and found myself dreading having to deal with people, and sure enough, most of the people I saw at work annoyed me.

And I thought, why am I in such a crappy mood today? The jogger can't possibly explain it.

Just shake it off, I said to myself, shake it off.

I realized my main problem right now is the anticlimax. I have several projects going, and none of them are anywhere near a finish line.

This has been going on for a while. I like taking small steps, but taking them assertively. I like getting results and filing them away as progress.

But the things I'm doing right now do not have obvious stopping points. There are no identifiable intermediates. I can't tell how far along I am in the process, and I'm not really sure when I can call them finished.

I used to like doing really new things, but this is the drawback:

I am doing nothing that anyone can measure relative to everything that came before.

I hate this about being a postdoc. It is infinite.

Infinitely long, infinitely slow, infinitely painful most of the time.

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Monday, April 02, 2007

Is this a female thing?

I'm having a stupid problem. At least, I think it's stupid that it's even an issue.

In my quest to find out how to get a faculty position, I've been told numerous things by people with varying levels of expertise.

One person told me to focus on publishing above all else, and don't worry about funding.

Another told me if I have funding, it will make all the difference.

And so I am in a quandary about what to spend my time on: papers, or grants?

Papers, of course, papers. But some days, I wonder if having more money wouldn't also help the papers come faster, since I'm dealing with a lot of little problems that money would cure.

So in my quest for funding, I have found some things I may be eligible for, but since I am a postdoc, all of them require some level of commitment from my advisor and/or my university.

In particular, I am at the stage where any money worth having requires that my university promote me and/or make a certain type of statement that they will promote me and provide me with sufficient lab space, etc. if and when I get one of these grants.

I have tried to make this happen in the past, with no help from my advisor at the time, and I am still adding things to the list of what I did wrong. I should have bribed the business officer, I'm told. I should have gotten more outside letters from collaborators. And so on.

All of this makes me feel like I have no aptitude for the funding game whatsoever. It seems that every time I approach the grant issue, I find out a whole slew of unwritten rules, all of which, once revealed, make me feel stupid and none of which make me feel empowered and informed.

How on earth was I supposed to know any of this?? Do they give out a handbook in the men's bathroom? Somehow I doubt it.

The people I know who have gotten funding have had supportive advisors. But I have not had one of these, nor do I expect to have one in my lifetime.

In fact I am a bit intimidated by bringing up certain topics with my advisor.

MsPhD? Intimidated? Impossible!

But seriously, I have limited interaction with my advisor, which means when I get any attention at all, I have to use it wisely. And when the answer is no, it usually stays no. And when the answer is no, it usually means I do not get an answer at all, from which I am to infer that the answer is no.

So I am back at the same old question, which is this:

How best to approach my current advisor to get the support I need, to get the funding I need, to get the job I want.

Keeping in mind, of course, that my advisor wants nothing more than to:

a) keep my project when I leave

b) keep me working only on papers and not 'distracted' by things like wanting a career

c) do nothing whatsoever, including the part that is, at least on paper, my advisor's job (e.g. getting the department and university to provide the appropriate paperwork, writing the career development letters that some of these grants require, etc.)

I've realized I've been avoiding applying for funding for precisely this reason: that I don't want to have to ask my advisor to do anything to help me get it, because I expect that the answer is no anyway, so why bother asking?

If I could get it just by writing something on my own, I would do it.

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