Thursday, March 13, 2008

Remembering why science is fun.

I haven't been blogging much because I've been too busy having fun doing science.

Hooray! There's a phrase I can never use too much.

Had an adorable encounter with a visiting student who said my lab would be the one to join, and how soon would that be possible?

So cute. Wish I could have said 'soon'.

Otherwise, I'm enjoying, sort of, compiling mounds of data and making them into presentable formats.

I say sort of because it's still pretty tedious. I hate making sure everything is lined up perfectly and exactly the same size, but it has to be done.

I say enjoying because hey, I can put on my iTunes and whenever I finish something and print it out, it looks pretty good.

My main problem right now is actually also why I've always liked science: switching back and forth from visual to verbal and back again is really challenging.

It never occurred to me that this can be so hard, until recently when I was reading a book that described exercises for switching among the senses.

One of the exercises is perfect for most of us in a very zen way, regardless of your profession.

It was simply to practice throwing a ball up in the air, and catching it.

The idea is to think about how when you're throwing, that's active, and when you release it, that's passive. Waiting for it to come back down is observant, and catching it is making a connection.

Or something like that. I'm paraphrasing from memory here.

Anyway the point being that it's a lot like research. There's the wind up to the experiment, then putting everything in motion. Then you wait for the result. Then you have to figure out what it means.

I'm on the part where I'm building up to put the meaning out there, out in the world.

In a way it is putting a lot of things in motion.

It's very easy to just do experiments and never tell anyone about them. We all do it. The weird results that don't fit with anyone else's, the ones that we can't explain.

Some people are satisfied to stop at that point. (You don't want one of those people as your advisor!)

In the current climate, the process of putting it out there is at least as important, if not more important, than doing the experiment.

It has its own wind up (making the figures, writing the text, practicing the talk), delivery, waiting (especially if you apply for jobs!) and hopefully, if all goes well, making that connection.

I'm struggling with being in visual mode and then having to go into verbal mode. It's hard!

The wind up part can be really fun. Nobody is judging your data or your interpretation of it, and best of all, nobody is judging you personally.

But eventually they will. That part is scary.

In the meantime, you have to enjoy the part where you know something they don't know: you already know the answer.

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At 7:58 PM, Anonymous JaneB said...

hurrah for the fun bits of science! I do love that pattern-detecting stage... one reason I've stuck it out in science is not knowing in what other lines of work you can get this particular kind of intellectual pleasures (yes, OK, they may be perverse and minority pleasures, but we assure you that the data are all consenting...). Ooops, maybe 3am local time is a bit late to write a comment?? :-)

At 7:50 AM, Blogger Marrenta said...

What an insightful post! I was a collegiate ball player in my undergrad years and admit to throwing the ball in the air to myself during many bored times.

Now, as a grad student and soon to be post-doc, I never associated how the processes were related. I could go on forever on this topic, relating the two, but I probably should be writing my dissertation. Keep up the cool posts MsPhd!

At 8:44 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


It is time to smell the LB!!!!! You need to comment on this!!!!!

At 8:39 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

Oh don't get me started.

None of this is news.

What irritates me is that the FUNDING is not the problem. It's the management.

They can keep throwing money at the problem, but if they keep giving it to the same people, it will be like throwing it out the window.

Meanwhile I love how they made a big deal about these FACULTY as the "young investigators" that we're losing.

Um, hello??? People are quitting after grad school or during their postdoc IN DROVES.

The really smart ones are already gone long before the PI stage.

Someone who really knew what was up would have had the hotshot grad student and postdoc talking to congress, not the PIs.

Instead, the testimonials seemed to indicate that if you know what you're doing, you're better off applying to ACS or Howard Hughes or ANYWHERE other than NIH.

Maybe privatizing is the way to go for all things healthcare, including research funding. I don't know. My impressions thus far of private funding have not been rosy.

And I just heard yet another story about an HHMI professor that makes me think privatizing is probably not going to do much for the quality of science in this country.

Yuck. I can't share. Suffice it to say that as usual, my worst fears have been confirmed, and then some.

Yes, it is every bit as bad as I blog about, and it is almost everywhere.

Too bad NIH doesn't understand how to spot realistic people doing risky science, instead of funding idealistic people failing to do any science.

I can do it from a mile away. Why can't they?

At 2:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I read the broken pipeline report too. Perhaps a mandatory retirement age of 65 or 70 for faculty would solve the problem? Are the oldsters really being productive? It seems like they sit back and let their postdocs/junior faculty do the work, while they use their names to get the funding. With the baby boomers reaching retirement age, they are going to totally clog up the system for the rest of us.

At 8:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know--- I have been contacted by someone at 'science debate 2008' and have basically been telling him that WE rae the ones to talk to about this. I know this isn't any news... and my worst fears are also true. In telling the person about the situation, I am told that the only way people listen is if you get the 'high profile' people involved... (Nobel Laureates, etc). SORRY, I told him, there has never been a situation as dire as the one we are currently facing and, unless, you know what it is like to be a postdoc now, you have no idea what is REALLY going on. I told this person at science debate the sentiments that I had and he said that he was just trying to facilitate people coming together to talk about it. It is just not the way to do it. I am thinking about one of those AAAS Congressional fellowships... you in? :) Let's get a bunch of people in; then get something done.

At 2:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

check out the comment by the bearded guy at the end of the video. his point of view is to support the people who are 'young investigators' (who they constantly define as asst/assoc profs) now and their mentors and screw the current postdocs. because those 'young investigators' "came on in good faith during the period of the doubling". so basically support people who were postdocs but not grad students during the doubling? I mean that's just pushing the problem back a few years. it's just like panspermia. it doesn't address the problem at all, but pushes it out a little farther.

and the whole concept that junior faculty are 'young investigators' is hogwash, too. i mean, by the time you're an asst prof you've had 10+ (and probably more like 15+) years of 'training'.

sorry for the excessive use of '', but there are way too many ironic ideas embodied in the language that is used.

At 2:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

don't hate on the oldsters. some of them are still training people, some of them are still innovative, and some of them are still very productive. why should it be a zero-sum game? the system can be improved without hurting the "haves."


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