Friday, May 30, 2008

Random factoids about my day.

So after all that waiting (brutal waiting!) I got some pretty nice data.

And I think I got the result I was hoping for. So that's a YAY.


* (parentheses necessary to avoid jinxing it)


Was annoyed at an admin who displayed, as usual, complete cluelessness about what I do and have done in all the time I've been working here.

Yes, to the casual observer, I am a nobody who does nothing. That must be why I'm here all the time (not that the admins would know that, they're never here.)

I am just going to shake it off. Stupid #$%!.

But I have to say, that kind of thing is so especially ironic (in the Alanis Morrisette use of the word) because meanwhile I am answering everybody's questions about how to do their experiments, how to get their techniques to work, and how to collect their data.

Now as you know, I like advising.

But they are not my students, and they are not my postdocs.

And with the exception of one (one student!), they never tell anyone I was the one who gave them the tools to make their experiments actually work. And I wouldn't care if I felt like I had some support of some kind for my own projects.

Argh. I am so tempted to start telling these constant questioners 'no'.

Unfortunately I didn't do a good enough job of hiding my expertise, or I could employ the computer geek's classic ruse and just pretend I don't know.

But I can't hide, because the students know I know. It's just everybody else (the admins, the PIs, the people who should be hiring me???) who are oblivious to all this science we've got going on here.


And then I was torturing myself looking on the web for methods papers, only to find that

a) The ones I want, where people are doing EXACTLY what I'm doing, are like, industrial journals or something.
And my university does not get these journals. So I can't get these articles.

b) The companies that make the equipment now sell KITS to do this stuff. I've been banging my head against various walls for the last 2 years working out how to do this, but NOW there are KITS. Now. When it's too late to help me anyway.



And the grad students are having a drinking-fest nearby, so I can't really hear myself think anymore. Can't drink with 'em, might as well go home and drink without 'em. Definitely can't get any work done with all this noise, hence the blogging.


And then I get to come back tomorrow. And get more data. Data = good. So I am going to try to focus on that. Good. Good. Good. Data. Data. Data. I am the MsPacman of data. Or is that DrPacMs?

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Thursday, May 29, 2008


Taking a cue from FSP, who went back to look at her earliest blog posts, I went back and re-read some of my earlier posts.

I think they were pretty good. Insightful, positive, and funny, even.

Lately I feel like I am kicking a dead horse, playing the world's smallest violin, and generally repeating myself with no sense of humor whatsoever.

Anyway I don't have a whole lot of interesting things to do in lab, or I might not be blogging this time of day at all.

Yes. So. Things are incubating. I am tempted to go look at them, but that would involve movement, and I don't think these incubating things want to be moved just yet.

Maybe tomorrow I will look at them???

I am very anxious for the data, I want to know if this experiment can ever work. Advisor says it won't. Of course that just makes me want it to work, which is a totally stupid reflexive instinct on my part.

And yeah, I wanted it to work anyway or I wouldn't have tried in the first place. My worst fear, as usual with experiments, is that it won't be interpretable for some unforseen reason, and I am sitting around obsessing about extra controls I could have maybe done but shouldn't be necessary but I just hope I don't end up wishing I did them.


So overall, since I am waiting and I hate waiting, I am pretty uninspired.

I did some reading, did some planning, did some thinking, and now I am tired. Wait, I take that back. I've been tired all day.

There is nothing all that pressing I need to do, so does it count as procrastinating when you're really just putting off things that aren't going to get done for a while anyway?

I think I will go home and, whatever, watch tv. And think about taking my car to Jiffy Lube. I won't, I don't want to. I will procrastinate about that!

Aha, I have a plan. I will procrastinate about that. And then I can say I am doing something: procrastinating.

Gone are the days when I would have written a long blog post about, I don't know, the gory details of my week. Not that they would be very interesting.

One small comfort, I have been laughing at a friend whose feed on Facebook says she has been playing a lot of Scrabulous lately (she is supposed to be looking for jobs!). So I am not the only one who feels like procrastinating.

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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

I said I'd post every day.

But lately I am finding a lot of people talking shit about me on other blogs.

Like this one.

Go back and read the original ScienceWoman post, then read what DrugMonkey had to say.

I was so pissed off after that, I didn't even want to touch PhysioProf since he usually makes me even more angry.

Makes me wonder why I bother blogging, much less being part of the blogging community. It's not helping my stress levels. At all.

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Monday, May 26, 2008

It's definitely not all sexism.

Was talking to a friend last night who has run into many of the same kinds of problems I've had.

We're in different fields, and opposite in many ways, including gender.

But we do share certain personality features, which I can only describe as lack of natural talent for academic politics.

The only friends I had in grad school whom I'd say are similarly handicapped have all ended up in industry. They couldn't, or wouldn't, play that part of the game.

Four out of six are women. Three realized early on they didn't have the patience or the stomach for it. One realized painfully this was a weakness, still isn't particularly happy in industry, and sometimes talks about coming back to do a postdoc (I keep telling her not to).

The two remaining who stuck with it AND got interviews for faculty positions are guys. (Coincidence?) But they apparently never understood why none of those visits yielded offers.

And who is still sticking with it? .... Yours truly.


On the one hand, my friend says I'd make a great investigator. He thinks I'd be good at running a lab, I would know how to set things up from scratch and manage people and so on.

And his perceptions of sexism are entirely different from mine (although he himself often makes what I'd consider highly offensive comments).

Most of the women from the last lab he worked in have gotten faculty positions, so he thinks things are improving. (Somehow he forgets about the lab he worked in before that, which is more like the kind that I've worked in, where the women all end up quitting.)

But to him it's much more universal than sexism, or at least, it's not sexism alone. Even he has to admit that sexism only makes it that much worse. But he has a much broader theory about what's wrong.

He thinks this is the worst possible time to get into science.

And I've been hearing that a lot lately. My own advisors seem to think it's a bad career choice for... just about anyone. Which is probably why they're not exactly overjoyed that it's what I want to do. They keep asking me if I'm sure.

The more they ask me that, the less sure I am.

If nothing else, writing this blog has made me realize all the times people tried to discourage me from a career in science. And that I stubbornly ignored all of them.

In college, my grad student friends told me not to go, that it's a miserable existence.

During grad school, the faculty told me I wouldn't make it.

And so on until now.

Now, my friends who are PIs are all saying it's not the great fun they thought it would be.

Aside from some few happy examples like FSP, most of them are not particularly happy at all.

Almost all the new PIs say - and this really makes me cringe - they wish they could go back to being postdocs.


My former-scientist friend is doing something else these days, but all he can talk about is science.

The people he worked with, the disagreements they had, how frustrating it all was. But I have to assume the real reason he can't just let it go and get on with his life is because he really loved it.

I don't know how I could live like that. To me, the worst thing would be to quit, but then never get over it.

I would not want to end up like my friend, who might never stop obsessing over the wonderful time he spent working in lab. That part just makes me really sad.

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Sunday, May 25, 2008

More on pseudo-feminism.

The big topic on Meet the Press today was that Hillary came out and said yes, there is still sexism in the US:

"The idea that we would have a presidential campaign in which so much of what has occurred that has been very sexist would be just shrugged off I think is a very unfortunate commentary about the lack of seriousness that should be applied to any kind of discrimination or prejudice."

And Meet the Press, led by Maureen Dowd, shrugged it off once again.

They're criticizing how Hillary ran her campaign, and okay that's fair. It could be argued that she's losing because she made some bad decisions.

But aside from whether it's the cause of her winning or losing, they're discounting all the sexist things people have said in discussing the idea of women in positions of leadership. Because Hillary's out there on the frontlines, she's a very public target, and it has brought some of these sentiments into the spotlight.

But she can't even talk about it without getting criticized.

Another guest on the show, David Brody (whom I now realize is from the Christian Broadcasting Network, so it makes more sense) said she was being "whiny."

And girls, we all know what word usually follows the word "whiny" when applied to women (!).

How's that for ingrained sexism? Just think about that for a minute. Just the fact that we can all fill in that second word says a helluva lot about our culture.

The very fact that everyone refuses to talk about it, a friend pointed out, just underscores that sexism is still a very controversial topic. Until we can start to talk about it, maybe even joke about it, sexism is not going to go away. When the prevailing sentiment is one of denial, there's not much hope for progress.

One of the main arguments Maureen Dowd used was that white working-class men voted for Hillary rather than Obama. And therefore, she concluded, there is no sexism.

This is just illogical.

This fact alone does not mean that sexism is dead. On the contrary.

Women are sexist too. Just because a man has daughters does not automatically make him sensitive to this issue. Our own grandmothers are sexist, our own parents, our own sisters.

There were 4 women on the panel today, out of 6 panelists (+ Tim Russert makes 7 people).

Ruth Marcus of The Washington Post tried to put a positive spin on disagreeing with Maureen Dowd, but it was just lame. But at least she gets points for trying.

Shame on Doris Kearns Goodwin for not saying anything about this. I guess she doesn't know or care what kinds of things some of us experience on an almost-daily basis? I don't know much about her, but I'm not impressed.

And Gwen Ifill has always been someone I've admired, but not today. Why didn't she say anything? Anything at all?

My favorite part of the show was watching how uncomfortable Jon Meacham looked (editor of Newsweek). I'm sure he can't express any personal endorsements or strong opinions. I don't think you get to do that in his position. He tried to say something, but it was just as lame as what Ruth Marcus said, just wishy-washy and politically correct. So in other words, empty.

We need someone a lot stronger to stand up to Maureen Dowd, and publicly. I'm not sure who would be the appropriate opponent. Right now I'm watching America's Next Top Model and thinking I'd love to see Tyra Banks face off with her.

I see people like Maureen and think, wow, I would love to see them walk around in my shoes for a while. I would love to see Maureen Dowd try it. Maybe I could learn a thing or two; maybe she could too. A Freaky-Friday type trade would be quite interesting. Here's someone who on the one hand has been undermining Hillary's campaign all along, and on the other hand is now saying that Hillary let us down, that she's not a feminist.

Maureen Dowd is not my kind of feminist. And I want to know who elected her our representative? She doesn't speak for me.

I guess my point is, how sad is it when I find a show like America's Next Top Model more feminist-friendly than most of the news media?

And I'm glad that Hillary said something about the sexism. If nothing else, it makes me feel a little better. Even someone as obviously strong and tenacious as Hillary finds it hard not to let it get her down sometimes.

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Friday, May 23, 2008

Can I stand this person for 6 hours?

Found this post over at Mad Hatter.

It's a nice post. The airport test makes a lot of sense and I only vaguely remember having heard of this before, so it was worth thinking about.

In some ways yes, being stuck somewhere for a few hours due to bad weather is a lot like science

...except it's not.

Here's why: on a layover, there's no WORK to do.

Seems to me that if you select for people based on the airport test alone, you're going to end up with people who can't/won't do their share of the work (see recent post by Mad Hatter on lab jobs).

Of course most people screen by CV and the absence of obvious scientific faux pas, and then assume that the candidate will be reasonably competent.

But from those two things, you actually don't know anything about the candidate's competence at all.

I've posted before about this, a lot, but one of my biggest beefs with science is that we don't select for the right things.

And when we get it, we piss on it. We kick these people out whenever we get the chance.

Going home early? efficiency = laziness

Requesting reagents or equipment? work ethic = impatience

Asking for feedback? communication = aggression

I have to wonder if it's always been like this. After all, modern science began as a hobby for rich white guys, didn't it?

But since some people seem to think science is just, you know, a fun layover where all you have to do is sit around and talk about cool ideas, it's not hard to understand how it got to be this way.

The real question is whether we can do anything to change it.

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Thursday, May 22, 2008

Scrounging for something good.

Yeah, I've been sitting there trying to think of something good.

I got nothing.

Feeling rather gray today. Had a moment - just one - of feeling mildly excited about science today.

And then it passed. And was replaced, as it sometimes is, with a big dose of the usual:

a) who cares
b) who will ever know since it is very clear I will be sitting here forever waiting for things to change (like my terminally slow advisor), and they won't change fast enough for me to be happy with my career choice anytime soon.

But then I found this post and was very amused by the ranting going on in the comments.

I'm so entertained when people get all caught up arguing about what are now age-old subjects and still basically miss the whole point.

Needless to say, I have a lot of opinions on this subject, but after reading all the comments, I was too fed up to feel like writing them today. Maybe a subject for a future post. I think I've written about it before, actually, but I'm too tired to go find it.

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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

1 good thing a day.

Nothing awful happened today.

The best parts were:

a) benchwork, which is always kind of fun when there's not too much of it (just enough) and you're doing something new and feel no pressure for it to work (and fully expect that it won't, but who cares?)

b) free food...


Monday, May 19, 2008

A good tidbit.... no, two! Two good tidbits.

Tidbit 1:
Found out today that several people are using a protocol I wrote and they all swear by it. They say it is foolproof, now they can do a technique they could never otherwise do.

I said yeah, that was the idea. I wrote it for my students. It is student-proof.

Anyway I had no idea they liked it so much (or would even consider telling me that, although they haven't all publicly acknowledged it or me... I feel the need here for stealing the FSP trademark tiny sarcastic font, but I won't since it was her idea).

Still, that tidbit alone would have made my day.

Tidbit 2:
Randomly (?) advisor is suddenly (and I hope irrevocably) excited about my work.

THAT made my day.

Would be even better if I knew how to induce this state of excitement at will, but I will take what I can get.

And now I am going home to bask a little in a moment of yay!

and work a little more. Because I like to work when work is yay.

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Relating to authority figures.

I said I'd try to write one thing every day.

I am a minority in more than one way (female in science, scientist in the US, etc).

But some days I think the one minority group that best defines me is how I relate to authority figures.

So far as I am concerned, I don't care how old you are, how male or female, what color, what orientation, or what your job title is. I don't care how you dress or how you smell.

If you know what you're doing, I will respect that. If you can demonstrate obvious competence, knowledge, expertise or skills, I will respect that. Even if you're an asshole, if you're good at what you do, I'll respect that (even if I don't respect you as a person).

If you're not good at what you do, and you aren't even trying to improve, I won't respect you. Even if your job title says I have to.

I won't always say so, of course, and like most adults I know you have to go along to get along, and I usually try to do that even if it's painful and difficult most days.

But I continue to be amazed at how few scientists are like me. I guess I thought there were more of us in science than there really are. To me it's all about being objective, seeing through the bullshit, and facing the facts.

One of the facts is that there are a lot of people in positions of authority who didn't get there because they were competent, or have more knowledge, expertise or skills than anybody else. It could be argued that they have at least one skill, which is how they got the job. But it might not be at all related to their actual responsibilities on a daily basis.

This is one of the fundamental things that makes me wonder if science is really the right career for me.

In some ways, I think I would be much happier among avant-garde artists. Something about the spirit of rebellion and seeing the truth regardless of how shocking it might be.

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Sunday, May 18, 2008

Blog frequency and topics.

In a book I'm reading, there was this random off-topic observation about a new theory on journaling.

The thinking now goes that writing only about bad things is bad for your mental health.

Apparently it is now believed that it is healthier to write regularly (every day) no matter what.

I guess this could be because it forces you to take note on days when nothing particularly interesting or otherwise bad has happened (?).

It really had not crossed my mind how much writing can act to reinforce our ideas, both consciously and unconsciously. In the process of writing these blogs, I do read and re-read what I've written, and edit, and re-write, and repeat. In the process, my words do get into my eyes and ears.

So I'm curious about this theory, and I might try to find out more about it. In some ways I guess it makes sense.

I certainly had not considered that only blogging when the mood strikes might be bad for me somehow.

Sometimes the mood is funny or at least darkly humorous, but there are lots of days when things are basically fine and I just have nothing interesting to say. And this year especially I have not been blogging every day.

So I don't know if it would help me much to write something every day, even if it's not particularly pithy or insightful. But it would be worth it to do the experiment, since it might have a dual purpose: to help allay the erroneous perception seen often in the comments, that I am my blog in real life.

I'm not trying to be my blog persona. But maybe blogging is adversely affecting me psychologically in ways I never considered.

And here I thought blogging was an outlet. Maybe it's just a form of electronic wallowing that actually makes me feel worse without my knowing it.

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Saturday, May 17, 2008

Bad Mood.

Must be the upcoming full moon or something, but I'm finding my patience wearing thin with a lot of people this week.

Maybe it's because what little patience I have left is all in one pot:
waiting on my advisor.

Maybe it's the change in the weather. I'm sure it's partly pms.

Regardless, it's not good, and I'm trying to figure out what to do about it. I can't really hide in my house to avoid screaming at people, but right now I'm wondering if that's the only safe thing to do.

I'm on the verge of dissolving a collaboration because one of my co-authors is acting like a total psycho all of a sudden. I don't know where it came from. But I'm getting to the point where I might have to contact the PI and ask what the hell is going on with this person. I'm not sure that would accomplish anything, but it's either that or ditch the project entirely.

Sometimes when these moods flare up, because of stress or whatever, I find that waiting a little while will let me cool down and not burn any bridges.

It's amazing how people can push your buttons, whether they mean to or not, and even when you try to stop yourself you just have this urge to push back.

This is one of those times, I'm just furious and disgusted and don't see the point in trying to make nice.

I know that everyone goes a little nuts sometimes, and I'm in a bad mood already so it's extra hard to just rise above it.

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Sunday, May 11, 2008

Crunchy little funnies (CLFs).

I'm naming these after those ill-named things called TLC for Tasty Little Crackers (which are not at all tasty).

The title today is: How I Don't Look Like a PhD Scientist


I'm still giggling about this first one. See if you think it's funny.

Since I was out shopping, at one point I started a conversation with a stranger in a store this weekend.

Me: Yeah, we have that [set of culinary tools]. I use it a lot.

She: Yeah? I'm in culinary school and they're teaching us how to do these things the old-fashioned way, but fuck that, I'm going to buy this instead.

Me: Really? Where do you go to school? I never knew how to cook until relatively recently, but now I wonder what it would be like to do it professionally.

She: Oh I go to [insert school name here] and I work in a restaurant. You could do it. Why don't you?

Me: I'm not going back to school.


I'm not sure whether it's good, bad or just stupid that I didn't tell her what I do.
She didn't ask.

Part of me has to snicker in that nobody ever guesses I'm a scientist with a PhD kind of way.


Number of times (on campus) I was asked if I'm a grad student this week: 2
Or a junior (e.g. 2-3 years) postdoc: 2


Number of times I was asked about my career plans this week: 2
Number of times they asked me about MrPhD: 2


Number of times MrPhD was asked about his career plans this week: 2
Number of times they asked him about me: 0
Number of times he remembered to mention me without prompting: 0
Number of times he apologized about that when I pointed it out later: 1
Reasonable excuses he had for not doing it: 1 (too tired to think of it)

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Weekend part 2. So much for the "us" in the US of A.

Made a small dent in shopping & chores, which is helping somewhat to make things feel a little less overwhelming. Nothing like living in squalor to make you feel out of control.

But the political news is not helping my mood.

A few brief highlights from this week:

1. John Stewart asked John McCain to recount an anecdote on the Daily Show about taking questions from the audience. McCain chose to tell about an example of a woman who wanted to point out the Fair Pay Act and issues like reproductive rights.

McCain laughed while he was recounting this event, like these issues are ridiculous.

2. Shortly thereafter someone forwarded me one of those MoveOn things.

In response to questions about the Fair Pay Act, McCain said that women need to get more education and training.

The implication being that we're not paid equally because women are stupid and lazy.

Does any of this remind you of other civil rights movements? Anyone?

In a creative but impractical move, MoveOn was requesting women to send our CVs (with contact info removed, of course) to McCain.

Of course my CV is more or less meaningless with all relevant names removed. And since nobody knows what a postdoc is, much less how little we're paid, I'd be tempted to spend some time restructuring it to include my salary.

I'm paid less than your average high school teacher. McCain would have a hard time arguing I need more education. But he could always say - as everyone does about postdocs who want faculty positions but don't have them yet - the problem is that I don't have enough "training".


3. A few days ago I heard some mumbling accusing Hillary of hooking up with the mafia in Lake County, Indiana where the votes came in late, but she won.

The implication being that she couldn't possibly win without scare tactics, threats, or cheating.

4. Last night I saw the numbers showing that Barack has won over almost exactly an equal number of SuperDelegates as Hillary. But he's 168 delegates ahead since I guess they're still not counting Michigan and Florida.

But I thought they might have those states vote again, which might still give Hillary a chance. According to the DNC, there will be a meeting May 31st to decide what to do about this issue.

I still think it's ridiculous the way the Democratic Party controls the order of voting, and that in this day and age we still don't have a simultaneous, electronic primary where the whole country votes at once.

I'm very disappointed in Howard Dean.

5. This morning on Meet the Press they were talking about Obama vs. McCain, as if Hillary had officially dropped out already. But I didn't see any official announcements.

I'm very disappointed in Tim Russert.


I had a funny daydream this morning. I was thinking that if Hillary decided to split from the Democratic party and run as Independent or something, I would still rather vote for her than vote for Obama.

I'm sick of the Democratic Party, even while I agree with them on almost all the issues, I'm very disenfranchised and sick of the way they run things. It's stupid and unfair.


And now, back to the chores.

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Saturday, May 10, 2008

Weekend let-down.

All in all, I actually had a pretty good week. Made some progress both personally and professionally. Not as much as I would like, but progress.

And I have something to look forward to in about a month, but not much between now and then that I have any real control over.

And so, sitting quietly in my house on a Saturday, which I haven't done in a while, I'm feeling reflective and not particularly happy.

The event next month feels a bit too far off. I have things to do in the meantime, but none of them are particularly fun.

So I'm trying to get up the energy to stop reading blogs, do some laundry and/or go shopping. I have no food, and several clothing coupons I should use before they expire tomorrow.

Because I really do need to try to find more of that ever-elusive genre, the comfortable and only slightly stylish work clothes (not too stylish, see recent post) that are not too expensive to be worn at the bench (since the reason I'm shopping now is to replace my other perfectly functional clothes that got ruined by bleach spots and acid holes).

Ugh. It is a nearly impossible task, I know, but it has to be done.
(note: This is the researcher mentality!)

But a large part of me wants to sit on the couch and do nothing all day. I haven't done that in a while. But I think I'll regret being passive and lazy more than I would regret being productive yet annoyed.

Shopping with my own money is just a necessary evil. I like the products but the process annoys me. And I know I will probably just come home later tired, with several bags in tow. Consumerism is really a disease.

Sigh. I'm also torn about trading off quiet time. If I go shopping, it will be alone, and when I come home I will want to be alone.

If I stay home, it will be alone, but I would not mind trying to make plans to have dinner with a friend I rarely get to see.

I am feeling noncommittal about calling her in advance to make plans, knowing full well I might not want to deal with anyone after spending most of the day shopping.

Well I guess I am decided on shopping, or at least trying anyway. I would also like to get an oil change for my long-suffering car... and a haircut... why oh why can't you order these things on the internet.

I hate running errands on the weekend, everything is always mobbed. As a grad student I never felt guilty about taking off during the week to run errands, but as a postdoc face time seems more critical than ever, so I can never bring myself to skip out on a weekday.

Which leaves me on a Saturday feeling guilty. The things I own, and wear, own me.

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Since I'm not funny myself, a link to a funny post.

It's called Seminar Titles We Never See.


Friday, May 09, 2008

Grad Student Planet.

Get it? Like Animal Planet.

I don't actually watch Animal Planet but I briefly watched the scene in "Dude, where's my car" the other night where Animal Planet knowledge of ostriches saves the day!

Inspired by that, a brief life cycle of the average top-tier grad student:


Characterized by optimistic arrogance and denial.

Stage 1: "That will never happen to me"

Stage 2: "It will all be okay. It will all work out. It has to."


Characterized by a thickened skin and a residual form of denial.

Stage 1: Ignores scientific advice.

Stage 2: Equates success with luck (on the assumption that everyone works equally hard and that luck is the deciding factor of who succeeds.)


Cracks are showing.

Stage 1: Defensive about their advisor, even when it is pointed out that the project did not work as originally proposed, and no papers are forthcoming in the promised journals. In other words, the carrot was a fake.

Stage 2: Takes some scientific advice. Agrees to submit papers to 'lower' journals than originally planned. Begins to realize it's not just about "being good", "working hard" or "luck."

Flying away.

Bitter like an unripe kumquat.

Stage 1. Accepting of defeat. Relieved that any papers are published anywhere. Applying for jobs in industry.

Stage 2. Resentful enough of advisor to stake claims, stand ground, and set deadlines.


The optimism returns. Surely the postdoc lab will be better???


(to be continued, might do a similar one for postdocs if this is interesting to anyone.)

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La fea mas bella?

I see this Telemundo show sometimes in the tv listings, but I've never actually watched an episode of it. My Spanish is minimal but I know enough to translate it: the prettiest ugly girl.

I was especially struck by an anonymous comment I read today in response to this post on FSP.

Sigh. The upshot of the discussion on this post was that looks matter more for women, although it seems to be just as bad to be good-looking as bad-looking. But it might depend on where you are.

The post is an example from Europe where the committee actually told one female candidate that they would probably hire their other female candidate because she was better looking.

As I'm writing that I am still hoping it was said in jest (though it must have had some truth in it).

I'll admit to clinging to denial in the face of the most egregious examples of sexism. It. Just. Can't. Be. This. Bad. It's 2008. Can it really be???

In contrast, several of us noted that in the US, the women we're seeing hired lately tend to dress as much like men as possible. For women trying to get a science faculty position in the US, it seems to help if you're less-good looking.

It's a different kind of sexism, but still sexism nonetheless. I suspect they are actually stages, but I can't decide if I think that Europe is more advanced than we are or not.


I'm reprinting one anonymous comment here because it really hit home. I strongly suspect this is the same sort of thing, from top to bottom, that people would say about me (if I had any faculty interviews, that is).

Anon: "When I was doing the interview process to become a US FSP I actually thought that my looks and social skills were a detriment to my getting hired.

I was told on more than one occasion that although I interviewed wonderfully, all the faculty liked me, the students loved me, my research ideas were interesting and fundable, I was envisioned to be a great teacher and a wonderful mentor to my future students that I would not be hired because I hadn't convinced a few members of the faculty that my research would bring in heaps of money and I wasn't quite as good at selling it as I should be. Which I understand to a point"

I have heard, verbatim, the same thing this anonymous comment describes: All these good things, but that I need to figure out how to sell my work better and especially to emphasize how it will bring in money.

I can understand that in the current funding climate, this is especially critical.

But I have to wonder if there is a tendency to be especially critical of female candidates who are otherwise good in all categories? Does it really correlate with looks? In a job market where there are so many candidates to choose from, is it really possible that it comes down to splitting hairs, like it does with grant reviews?

I'm particularly curious to ask, has anybody else ever gotten this criticism in particular? Is this another example of a coded message that actually means something slightly different than the literal interpretation of the words?

In a really cynical, outdated sense, for a good-looking woman to really "sell" her work she might have to sleep with someone. Or at a minimum, respond positively to flirtation at the interview.

Surely that's not the issue nowadays, at least not in the sense of outright expectation. Right?? But that doesn't mean it doesn't play into fantasies and perhaps unconscious biases...

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Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Dear PI

Dear PI,

You may not be aware that your age is apparently affecting your memory.

That figure looks the way it does because that is how you wanted it when last we met to work on this paper. Which was, by the way, embarrassingly long ago because you are always postponing meetings.

You may not be aware of how infuriating it is that you think co-authorship means you get to re-write everything in your own words. It does not.

You may not be aware that we mostly indulge your requests because we are beholden to you in order to get jobs. Or maybe you do. It does not mean your suggestions always have merit.

You may not be aware that we notice when you are nice to some lab members and let them show crappy data without controls, while you are nasty to others and pick on every little detail on every revision including when the changes were your idea.

We notice.

You may not be aware that this letter is directed at you. You might think you are not one of 'those' PIs. Or maybe you don't care.

You may not imagine in your wildest dreams how we spend every waking minute trying to figure out how to get out of your lab and on with our lives.

We do.

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Monday, May 05, 2008


I'm trying to brainstorm a list of what I need to do and in what order.

1. Nag the advisor via email (check).

2. Nag the advisor in person.

3. Prioritize experiments to do sooner (making use of available equipment, etc. things that are available now, should take advantage of those).

4. Prioritize experiments to do for funding (e.g. to get necessarily preliminary data for future grant applications on the assumption that I will move to a new location and have no equipment for a while).

5. Catch up on reading. Must deplete accumulated piles.

6. Submit abstract(s) for meeting(s).

7. Exercise to the point of exhaustion (so as to avoid screaming at advisor).

8. Random personal errands (oil change for car; hair cut for head; pants altered, etc.)

9. Clean up desk.

10. Clean up desk at home.

11. Skype with old friends (hey, kind of counts as job networking??)

12. Read blogs (= mental health, see above under #7 so as to avoid screaming at advisor).

As you can see I've done #1 and #12 already. Maybe I'll do #9 next. This is my usual order of procrastinating. Then maybe #6??

I will not scream at my advisor. I will not scream at my advisor. I will not quit. I will not quit. I will not run screaming from the campus and go work at a coffee shop. I will not run screaming from the campus and go work at a coffee shop. I will not. I will not.

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