Archive for: September, 2012

weekend fun: the twitter bed time story

Sep 29 2012 Published by under hilarity

About a week ago, I made up a bedtime story on twitter. You can read The Princess and the Coffee Bean here (thanks to @dr24hours for storifying it). Last night, Drug Monkey raised the stakes. Here is the first part of his story, which is apparently a chapter book. I can't wait to find out how it ends!


I like the peasants. Good people, with good beer = WIN!. But then it got a little scary:

But luckily, help is on the way:

I hope the Knight and QR Gertzin (who sounds freaking amazing) can help! Hopefully Chapter 2 will be published soon!!!

4 responses so far

Is it cheating to propose experiments in a grant that are "done"?

Sep 27 2012 Published by under academia, grants

If you have already FINISHED the studies, why would you propose them in a grant? I know that there is a common meme that "you have to have done the work to get it funded", but I have never behaved that this is an actual real expectation.

This comes up because Fred, a new PI, left a comment over at Dr. Becca's place*:

...we are seriously thinking about publishing most of the preliminary data (and data not shown in the grant) about 1-2 months after submitting the grant. This manuscript would show we have completed more than half of proposed studies in the grant.

Fred wanted to know whether it is a good idea to publish the paper. But I am wondering WHY that was the grant that was written. If you had done the experiment wouldn't it be cooler to talk about what new awesome thing you could do next? I get that you need preliminary data for a grant. I have always written my grants with preliminary data that showed I was able to do the experimental procedure. I have always written my grants using Preliminary Data to demonstrate feasibility. But the reason I needed money was to actually DO the experiment. I may "know" the answer (or at least think that I do), but I haven't actually done the experiment.

It feel like holding back data, and proposing experiments that you have already done is kind of sketchy. And I don't understand the motivation. Is the idea that you will be able to show fast progress on the grant (if it's funded) and that will be awesome?

Help me out, guys. Am I totally off base here? What am I missing?

Also, FTR, in my n=1 experience on study section, if there is evidence that you have already published the results of the proposed research it is viewed poorly by the reviewers.


*I started to comment over there but realized that I was going off on a tangent.

30 responses so far

Uninteresting questions

Sep 21 2012 Published by under academia

I have been to a lot of seminars over the years. One of my favorite parts of seminars is the question session at the end. It is fun to interact with the person about their work and see how their interpretation fits in with your perspective of the results. It is also a lot of fun as a speaker, IMO. Almost always someone will ask a question which you, the speaker, won't know the answer to. It may be that there is no answer, or it could be that YOU just don't know what it is. Either is OK. There are graceful ways out of this situation. I think the best option is to start with "I don't know" and then expand on either what you know is NOT the answer - based on experiments you've done or other published work - and/or discuss ways that you could address the issue. These are also good strategies for grad students giving a qualifying exam, by the way. A skilled (non)answer makes it clear that you are well-read and knowledgeable, because you are able to understand the question, but recognize the limits of what you know.

BUT this assumes that you have been asked a question that is interesting. This is not always the case. I ask a LOT of questions at seminars. It is possible to ask misguided, out-of-context, or just plain ridiculous questions. I know, I have done it (NOT ON PURPOSE!). And this is why I find it SO irritating when speakers start every answer (or just answers to the questions that they don't know the answer to) with "that is an interesting question!" or something similar. Because it is NOT always an interesting or even good question.

It is OK to not answer a question that is not interesting, and it is possible to do it while being pleasant and diplomatic. If you are really good, you may even be able to twist the ridiculous into something interesting. YAY!

But please, don't pander to me.

10 responses so far

Grant writing RBOC

Sep 20 2012 Published by under academia, exhaustion, venting

There have been a lot of things bouncing around in my head that I have thought "I should write a post about that"! But I'm also in the middle of writing a grant so I've been a little, well, preoccupied/sleep deprived/distracted from blogging. Such is life. Anywho...look at these things that caught my attention when I was too fried to write on my grant anymore tonight:

  • Did you all see how our good friend Abel Pharmboy had to deal with this person who was very, very upset that the NC museum of Natural Sciences did not outright ban scientists from companies that sell GMO (go here and here).
  • Chick-Fil-A said that they would stop giving money to hatey orgs!! Yay! was not true. Equality Fail.
  • OMG the students are back. For REAL. I have given lectures to the new grad students, and we'll see how they make the transition. There are also undergrads around, but I'm ignoring that because it just reminds me I have to start teaching the Big Class soon.
  • DADT died a YEAR AGO! My favorite thing that I have seen about this so far is when Barney Frank was on Maddow tonight. When asked what he would say to those *cough* McCain *cough* that predicted doom and gloom when this happened he replied "nyanya". I love that dude.
  • I have finally had to start sitting through MY OWN STUDENTS taking their qualifying exams. This is both awesome and extremely stressful. FTR, my grad students kick ass. Like, a lot.
  • The fucking NHL is in a lock-out. gah.
  • I don't know what my h-index is, and I will not be taking the time to figure it out. It is stupid enough that this is used by some places as a metric for evaluation. But using an "algorithm" to predict the future is just stupid.
  • Who is in charge of the timing to make sure that the reviews for papers that you submit come back right when you are working on a grant deadline? Because that sucks.

Have I missed anything important?

4 responses so far

so you need to write a CV

Sep 12 2012 Published by under academia

This morning on the twitter, there has been a discussion about CV's. What do you include, format, etc. DrugMonkey reacted to the conversation. And he's correct, of course. EVERYONE should have a long-form CV. That has everything (it is your "life's work"). And it should be updated frequently.

I actually have two CV's. The one formatted for MRU and my NIH Biosketch (rules for formating and template here). So I'm going to focus on the free-form version for the rest of this post. First: make it look nice! White space, consistent margins, etc. If you give it to someone and it looks crappy then they may assume that you are generally inattentive to detail. Use section headings so that it is easy to find what you are looking for. This is the order of mine (YMMV):

These are my "headings" on the long-form CV
Contact information - you know, how to get a hold of me! I include my lab webpage here. But don't include personal info that is irrelevant (such as your birthday, marital status, etc).

Education - what degrees and where.

Professional appointments and research experience - more detailed than the education section. includes who i did my grad and postdoc work with.

Faculty Affiliations - departments and grad programs that I am affiliated with

Awards and Honors - all the way back to the National Merit scholarship (that's from HS). I have lost some "little" awards from this over time. But I keep things like National awards, phi beta kappa, etc.

Peer Reviewed Publications - these are sub-headed into "research articles" and "reviews and book chapters". I also have a separate sections for "in review". If in your field abstracts are peer-reviewed then i would put a separate section here.

Presentations - these are sub-headed into "speaking engagements" and I note which were selected abstracts and which were invited lectures. If you are BFD then you may also want a section for named lectures, etc. I also have a "poster abstracts" section here. In my field for many meetings basically every abstract submitted is allowed to give a poster.

Patent Filings - you know, for your IP

Research Support - these are subheaded as "ongoing", "pending", and "completed". My role (PI, fellow, etc) the dates and total award amount are included.

Teaching Experience - for MRU teaching I include ~# of students, level of course, and my role in the class (if team-taught). I have a separate subheading "prior to faculty appointment" which has this info but is a little shorter.

Mentoring - these are subheaded as "postdoctoral fellows", "graduate student trainees", "undergraduate research associates", "high school research interns", "graduate rotation students", and "graduate thesis committees". I include what program grad students are from, when they defend, and where my grad students and postdocs go after they leave my lab.

University Service - committees, etc.

Other Professional Activities - service to the science community, outreach, peer review service, grant panel review service, and any SAB

Professional Societies - where I am a member, and the years that I was a member


Now that is a LOT of info. And it is really hard to remember all that shit after the fact. So start your CV NOW and KEEP IT UP TO DATE.



35 responses so far

Marriage equality - yet another reason to love football?

Sep 07 2012 Published by under queer

Marriage equality has a pretty shitty record when it is put to a popular vote.

This fall, at least three states will be voting on marriage equality: MarylandMinnesota, and Washington. In these states voters will decide whether LGBT citizens have the right to marry the person of their choice. Things are (hopefully) a little different this time. For the first time ever, there is popular support for marriage equality. President Obama voiced his support for marriage equality, and this is now part of the official Democratic platform. The NAACP has followed suit, as did famous people like rappers (BTW, you did watch Jane Lynch on the Maddow show, right?).

Of course, some folks don't agree. A delegate to the Maryland General Assembly, Emmett C. Burns, got a little miffed when Baltimore Raven's linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo voiced his support for marriage equality. Delegate Burns jumped into action, sending a letter to the Ravens organization asking them to "take the necessary action, as a National Football Franchise Owner, to inhibit such expressions from your employees". What followed is the best response ever, in the form of an open letter to Del. Burns from Vikings punter Chris Kluwe. The whole letter is awesome, and you should read it. And not just because he uses the phrases "lustful cockmonster",  "narcissistic fromunda stain", and "mindfucking obscenely hypocritical". Seriously, go read it.

Do you wan to know why marriage matters? Imagine that a couple goes to the hospital because of complications in a pregnancy. The woman sits in a room, terrified, as she loses her child. Her partner is not allowed to be with her, because the hospital doesn't have the right papers. That is fucked up, right? Does it matter that the partner was another woman? In this situation, even the legal domestic partnership didn't sway the hospital to recognize her as "next of kin". Everything about this is just fucking wrong.

This is not an abstract scenario for me - it is personal. There are a multitude of rights that I am denied in my relationship because I have partnered up with another woman (1138 federal rights and protections). I have spent the time and money to make sure that I have a will, power of attorney, and the other legal documents that may be required in an emergency (an extra thing that I have to worry about if something horrible ever happens - where is the nearest copy of the legal paperwork?). I'm lucky that I can do those things - it's not cheap - but even so, there is no guarantee that the papers will be enough.

That I have to ask for permission to get married from my neighbors makes me sad and angry. I don't know what's the best way to make the case. I have no idea what talking points or arguments work. I LOVE that there has been people willing to go public with their support of marriage equality. Thank you Mr. Kluwe, Mr. Ayanbadejo, President Obama, 50 Cent, et al. But what matters now is that folks vote in favor of marriage equality when given the chance. I don't think that folks standing in line at Chik-Fil-A are going to change their mind. But I want to be hopeful that many of my fellow citizens can empathize. That everyone can think of how they would feel if they were in my situation. Because the odds are good that you know someone in my situation. Maybe, like Dr. Isis, you are related to someone in my situation.

Right now, I need your help. We need your help. Please don't stay out of the way, above the fray. If you can, give some money to organizations that support marriage equality (PBO, MDMN, and WA). If you live in a state where this issue is on the ballot this fall, put a sign up in your yard. And when you go to vote, think of me and my family.

Cory Booker's excellent argument in support of marriage equality


UPDATE: There is now a version of the letter that Kluwe has edited so it does not have swear words. It is still full of win.


7 responses so far

myIDP - a test run and quick evaluation

Sep 06 2012 Published by under academia

Today while I was playing on the internet I ran across myIDP, an online career development tool at Science Careers. You can find the article explaining the rational behind myIDP here. According to the myIDP website:

An individual development plan (IDP) helps you explore career possibilities and set goals to follow the career path that fits you best.

I encourage my trainees to come up with an IDP, and I work with them on this. I think it is useful to consider what options there are, but also to make sure that you are engaging in the career development activities necessary to advance professionally. I did not intentionally make an IDP myself (I had never heard of it when I was a postdoc, TBH), though writing my K99 application certainly made me think explicitly about career development and what I was doing to make up for deficiencies (real and perceived).

I decided to give myIDP a test drive to see how it worked.

This schematic from the myIDP website shows the general methodology

First, I filled out the assessments, trying to be brutally honest. IMO this is important if you want a IDP that is worthwhile. There are three lists of questions (skill, values, interests). Then you get a list of career options with "scores" of how well your skills, values, and interests match up. So how well does it work? Well...kinda?

my top five "matches"

In what may be a horrible sign of things to come, tenure-track research PI was not even in the top 15*!! Research admin was #7 (blech!), Research staff was #12, and Industry research was #13. But I actually like my job, and think I'm pretty decent at it. I guess I don't give myIDP high scores in prediction FWIW. I can tell you for SURE I would suck at "public health related careers" and technical support (I really don't have the patience OR technical knowledge). And SALES?! FFS HELL NO. ahem.

To summarize, I think that any IDP has to be, well, more personal. I am not sure that the question sets are really thorough enough to actually start sending someone down one career path or another. But they are a great starting point. It doesn't take that long, and might be useful. I think postdocs should try it out. But then also work with your PI to develop a real, actionable IDP for yourself.


*for all I know, this isn't even an option. But if it is then how in the hell is in not in my wheelhouse??!!!


24 responses so far

Year 3: put up or shut up

Sep 05 2012 Published by under academia, jr faculty, on the job training

I have started to notice that the density of people on sidewalks around MRU has increased. It is not quite as light in the morning when I get up - soon I'll be running in the dark. The bus is more crowded, and I'm older than most of the other riders. There is no avoiding the fact that the school year is starting up again.

This is my third year on the tenure track.  I'm not going to lie...I'm a little terrified. Looking to those who went before me, I can't help notice a trend. Prof-Like Substance poetically noted that "year 3 licks goat scroti". It was also frighteningly busy for Prof-in-Training. I am pretty sure that I am going to be in the same situation.

I need cute puppies to keep me from panic! This one from @emergencypuppy

My first two years have gone pretty well, I think. I have assembled a pretty kick-ass lab group. My first student is preparing for hir qualifying exam, and I'm proud of how well ze is doing. I'm also terrified of sitting in the room during the exam - not because I think it will go poorly, but I'm sure I will be a total wreck. But I digress. In the lab, projects are moving forward. We published a methods-based paper this year and have a review article in the pipeline. I expect that we will get at least two (and hopefully three) papers with NEW AND AWESOME results submitted this year. I have secured a reasonable amount of funding for my lab, including my K99/R00 award, pilot awards, and foundation money. I sat on a tenure-track faculty search committee, and served as an Early Career Reviewer for the NIH (and I blogged about it!). I have submitted two R01 applications and have another planned for the fall deadline. There have also been some bumps. I had to fire someone (that sucked!), and my first grant was triaged :(, so I will probably be resubmitting that one in the spring.

This year I will definitely have some new things to consider, though. For instance, I start teaching (YIKES!). A big undergrad class. Luckily I don't have to do this alone, and the other profs teaching with me are very helpful and I think (hope?) it will go pretty smoothly. Oh yeah, and I will get to sit on SO MANY GRADUATE QUALIFYING EXAMS! I am also being given more responsibilities (and some leadership opportunities) in the service that I do. This is mostly a good thing, but will definitely be another drain of time and energy. But where SHIT GETS REAL is the money. This is the last year of my R00, so that cushion is going to disappear soon. I need to land an R01 so that the lab can continue to function...and it needs to be soon, before my tenure package goes out for review.  *gulp*

MOAR @emergencypuppy!

And that is how shit is getting real for me. The first couple of years there was the excitement of setting up a lab. Everything was full of potential. But now...well, now potential isn't enough. It's time to cash in on the potential and make something awesome happen.

Guess which one of these guys I'm relating to:

6 responses so far

Snarky advice for undergraduates

Sep 05 2012 Published by under linky links

Prof. Snarky has some great advice for undergrads that are working in a lab this year. Go check it out.

No responses yet