Be well, do good work, and keep in touch..

It sounds silly to say that I have a “life philosophy”, but sounding silly has never stopped me in the past.

I didn’t really discover public radio until after I graduated from college. I was living in New England, commuting an hour to work each day, and found Maine Public Radio on the lower end of the dial. I’d listen to Morning Edition each day and then sit in the car to hear The Writer’s Almanac. I liked that Garrison Keillor ended each day’s program with

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.

It seems like such perfect, simple advice. Care for your inner and outer well-being, take pride in your work, and make sure that those that you love know their value to you.

I’ve got some great people that I am collaborating with now, but Friday’s experiments were a damned fiasco. I don’t quite know how it was catalyzed, but people were rushed and tired and everything unraveled.  I’ve been fussy about it since because I know that my major role in this project is to provide scientific experience and mentorship and I did not more aggressively tell people to slow-the-fuck-down.  There’s a part of me that has been dreading returning to it today…

…until I got some reviews this morning from some work that I did previous that had been in submission. The reviews contain statements like…

This study highlights this important issue…I only have some minor issues..
This well-written paper from…
The methods employed to answer this question are gold standard, which is admirable, and the experiments are well-executed…

I’m reminded of the pay off that comes with slowing down, taking our time, being peaceful, and encouraging my collaborators to do flawless science.  In the words of Garrison Keillor, we’re going to do good work today.

I’m going to shake off my since-Friday-fussiness, find myself some backup dancers and a bejeweled hype man to whisper in my ear, and get back to it like the diva I am.

We’re going to have one less problem today, my lovelies.


Dr. Isis’s Shoe of the…(sigh)

You may recall that I am in the process of moving to a new MRU. It’s putting a serious, serious cramp in my style. I am all about celebrating every small victory in my professional life, frequently with a pair of shoes. I am having a stone cold winner of a year, but my desire to reward myself is at odds with my desire to sell my house. We’ve got the new carpet down (that’s a saga for another day) and I have seriously culled my closet.  Once upon a time, my closet stood in glory and majesty..a beacon to all well-shod women…

Closet before

Now, behold the sadness and disappointment of this poor, poor closet..

cleaned out closet

Granted, I am on board with the culling and relocation of my footwear if it means making some dough on the sale of this house, but still…le sigh. Especially since everything I am seeing is making me ache a little. Take, for example, these boots..

Joshlyn bootJoshlyn boot – $39.95 at JustFab.

That’s a red zipper, friends. A red zipper. My poor, poor tattered heart is destroyed.  Also, these…

blue leopardGwendle Multicolor Pump by Nine West – $59.95 at DSW.

I am typically reluctant to purchase anything in an animal print, lest I be confused with a woman who is embracing her cougar-y years, but I think these are amazing.

But, alas, neither are meant to be and I must retreat into my happy place and find peace in my clutter-free closet. A closet void of joy, light, and at least six pairs of sequined heels. Pero, no se preocupen, queridos. Dr. Isis will be just fine..

Parsing Words About IRB Statuses Pisses Me The Fuck Off..

I’ve been doing human research for better than a decade now (and, yes, I did just appeal to authority). Every study that I have ever done has at some point touched an Institutional Review Board and every study has involved some consideration of how to obtain informed consent.

IRBs can do a couple of things when they consider a study. They can approve or deny approval for a study’s conduct. They can exempt the study from review, meaning that the investigators may press on without IRB involvement. They can approve an informed consent process and document, or they can waive the requirement for informed consent.

Every paper that I have subsequently written has been published in a journal that requires two statements be made – 1) What is the study’s status vis-à-vis the IRB and 2) how was informed consent obtained?

I’ve been very fortunate because my studies have been straight forward. I’ve been able to state simply “This study was approved by the Institutional Review Board of the MRU School of Tomfoolery. All participants provided written informed consent.” Done. Moving on…

But what if your study was deemed exempt or you got a waiver to either not need to get consent or get verbal consent or some other such fuckery?

Well, then you say that.  You don’t say your protocol was approved if it was exempted from review. That’s not the same. And you don’t say anything about informed consent except the actual way you obtained it.

no me jodas

A mi, no me jodas on this one, scientists. No me jodas.

(Motivation for this rant can be found here. Carajo.)

Saving Ourselves From Our Ambitions and What Drives a Scientist

Michael Tomasson has a new post on his blog that, to quote the lyrical poet Trey Songz, has me feeling “some kind of way” about my training as a scientist. Michael remembers fondly the pre-college experiences that made him excited about science, the poor grades he received in didactic college science classes that discouraged him, and the first hands on science experiences he had that made him think he might want a career in science.

I smiled as I read it because, in some ways, our experiences are similar. I didn’t have the same cognition as a child that I “loved science” as Michael did, but in retrospect I clearly loved science. I loved  Cosmos and my telescope and almost all of the books I read as a girl revolved around science.  In college, I failed miserably in some didactic classes, mostly because I was bored. But, getting into a lab during my last semester completely turned my feeling about science around.

I can remember that, at each stage of my training (undergrad, grad, and postdoc) I had a lot of moments where I thought to myself “science is the worst decision I ever made.”  Those might be posts for another time, but there are still so many parts of science that bring me so much joy that outweigh those moments.

Yesterday I was away from my office, working on a project with a collaborator, when I got an email from the technician that helped me with my postdoc work.  He has been a technician in my field longer than I have been alive and has helped train dozens of grad students and postdocs. He’s worked with some of the biggest personalities in our field and I was curious about that. So, I once asked him, “Who has been the most difficult postdoc you’ve ever worked with?” Maybe I shouldn’t have asked a question I didn’t really want the answer to. His answer, without skipping a beat, was “Definitely you. You’re ambitious and you swear a lot.”

I tempered my swearing a bit after that, but not my ambition. We spent hours and hours and hours in the dark together, collecting data. To break up some of the monotony, we would tell jokes. Really, really corny jokes.  It made me happy when he emailed me yesterday with a single line of text…

What’s brown and sticky?

It made me feel so warm that he was thinking of me and maybe missing our tomfoolery.  Maybe he was looking back on our experiments with the fondness I did, even when we were both stressed out of gourds at the time. The joy of doing science, combined with the amazing people I’ve known is what has kept me in science. Those experiences of having my hands in the belly of science, combined with seeing the passion in others, has made me love science as a profession.

group hug

I think that’s why I read the following stand alone sentence in Michael’s post with trepidation…

Younger scientists need protection from the ambitions of their elders.

It’s a sentence that apparently also caught Drugmonkey’s eye, although I am not exactly sure why. I think the idea that ambition is a bad thing is a bag thing. I know that there are some that believe that science should be a noble and priestly calling. We should all be motivated by our love of our questions and not necessarily by indices of success.  I think that’s a load of fuckery.

I fully fess up to my ambition. I admit that it is a point of personal pride to be the expert in what I do and to be respected for it by my peers. I want to take over the world.  I want to be the best in my field and I want to be well-funded to explore the stuff I think is important. I don’t want the #struggleplate equivalent of an academic career.


Part of my ambition, however, is a desire to train the best junior scientists. If I am successful, the people that come out of my lab will be successful.  I can see where ambition can be negative when a PI nurtures that ambition on the back of those more junior to her, but it need not necessarily be that way and I reject the idea that my goals and achievements are necessarily the antithesis to those of the people more junior.

But, while I think that my own success can greatly influence the success of those I train, I also worry about infantilizing trainee scientists. Graduate students and postdocs are adults who have already survived a bachelors degree. They sometimes have families or own homes or do other grown up things. Yes, I acknowledge that there are cases of PIs who really fuck their trainees, but I also find myself growing less tolerant of people who complain that “If only their PI had done X..” they would have achieved Y and it’s their PIs fault that they didn’t accomplish their dreams. I say if there is some thing you think you’re not getting in your lab, seek it out and find it. Use your committee. Find a group of mentors to give you diverse perspectives. At the end of the day, whining gets you nowhere. Be a damned adult.

Ambition is not bad.



Dr. Isis’s Shoe of the Year…

I post a lot of pictures of very fancy, very sparkly shoes, but this is actually how I am happiest. Love…