Victory, Victory, and 3AM Racist Hour

Under the category of “little victories,” I finally got a parking spot that doesn’t blow too hard. I remember when I interviewed at new MRU, the person who drove me around parked right across the street from the building. His parking was so clutch. When I started, I got a parking space that was 1.5 miles away and was told there’s a waiting list. One of my colleague gave me a tip – put myself on the waiting list for every better parking lot. Last week I made it to the top of one of the waiting lists and now my parking spot is only 0.75 miles away from my office. I feel so money…

jay-z
New MRU town and this shit parking situation have really destroyed my shoe game.  All but five ridiculously boring and practical pairs remain packed away, but for now I will take my improved parking as a victory. So money.

Also, the scabby smell of my office has improved. A colleague on Teh Facebooks suggested that something might be rotting behind my office wall.  I am mildly disgusted to think that the decrease in the smell means that the rotting process is almost finished, but I will count it as a victory that it doesn’t smell so bad anymore. Sorry, little critter. Whatever you were.

Today I am in Bethesda at a society meeting and I had my first experience flying out of the new MRU town airport, which is hilariously situated in many, many acres of cornfield. When I arrived at the airport, I discovered that my flight had been delayed. I decided to live it up, inspired by the incomparable @PHLane, and have a bloody mary for breakfast. I saddled up to the airport bar…

I ended up next to an older couple that was supposed to be headed to Cabo San Lucas for vacation, except that their first flight was delayed several hours. This had left them more than slightly salty.  They were drinking rum and coke, which I would like to think made the husband more uninhibited than usual, but I suspect this was his default setting. The following conversation was had…

Dr. Isis: Oh, you’re going to Cabo. That’s cool. Cabo’s cool.
Wife: We went to Jamaica a couple of years ago, and it was nice but we had to stay in the fences.
Dr. Isis: I bet you’ll find some fences in Cabo too, but it’s beautiful.
Husband: I’m not worried about fences. Those people jump our fences and walk all over our country, so I’m going to do the same to their country.
Wife: Honey, you’re with people.
Dr. Isis: How’s your breakfast burrito?
Husband: It’s good. Those beaners are good for something.

I figured I could deal with this one of two ways – 1) I could get all offended and try to change hearts and minds at the airport bar or 2) I could order them a round of drinks and try to figure out what the craziest thing they’d say was. I went with Option #2, and I assure you the results were hilarious. I learned about how tractors and combines are made and how you need to bring a weight for the seat if you want to stand and pee into the corn because the equipment has a kill switch to turn it off if the seat’s not weighted.  By the time I was done with our interaction, I’d was literally full of bloody marys and glad I’d worn the stretchy pants, knew all I needed to know about “those Mexicans,” and was confident that if my career in academia doesn’t work out, I have the skills required to plant corn straight and knew all the inside tips about how to pee and plant corn straight.

pee

I realize that some people simply cannot help all of the racist and sexist stuff they need to say. If they don’t say it, they’ll burst. So, I have a solution. I would like to propose “3am Racist Hour.” At 3am, you can say whatever racist shenanigans you have in your heart, but you can only say them. Not write them, not put them on Facebook, not tweet them. Just say them aloud. But, the bright side is you can say whatever the craziest thing is that’s right on the tip of your tongue.  Hate Bulgarians? Let the world know.  Because, clearly, the world *needs* to know.

Wanna Save Science? Get Off Your Daughter’s Jock

I just read this article about a dad who is concerned about his daughter’s new interest in princesses. It made my ass twitch. That’s basically the extent of my review.

Over the last several years modern parents have made the princess the scapegoat for all the gender inequality that still exists. But, I would like to propose an alternative hypothesis – Maybe what keeps women out of STEM is not the overtness of princess culture, but the subtleties of patriarchal mansplainery. The fact that we’re still obsessing over teaching girls how to be girls.

The idea of the dichotomy between the princess and the scientist/engineer/etc has always been problematic to me. You’re either a sparkly, man-loving princess or an unwashed, unshaven, man-hating lab rat and now it’s time for the enlightened dads of the world to let their children know which is the appropriate way to express their burgeoning femininity. The right way to be a daughter. The right way to be a lover. The right way to be a mother. The right way to be a professional woman.

Are we honestly to believe that even women who have eschewed princess culture from the cradle somehow have it better?  That’s some victim blaming nonsense of the highest degree.

The problem is not how women express whatever gender they choose to identify with, it’s how men treat them regardless.  If you could promise me that giving up sparkly shoes and jewelry and other tomfoolery would make all my male colleagues suddenly have some grand revelation about my worth as a scientist, I’d put it all in a box. Ish.

The thing is, women have had this shit figured out since broads my age were on the playground. If we wanted a female police officer, we took the girl head from another Lego and popped it the policeman’s body. Or scientist, or accountant, or firefighter, or whatever other job. They’ve always been there. But, society keeps screwing girls up by telling them that they’ve gotta wait until Lego takes it upon themselves to put the girl head on the scientist’s body for them because girls don’t know how to do this. False.

Modern girls have figured this out too..

girl legos

Leave our girls alone. Let them explore and play and figure out their role in society without conditioning them by age five to how fucked up its going to be for them. I think we’d get a lot further if we stopped trying to fix girls and started telling men to knock it off.

New Parents and Things to Be Thankful For..

The last of the Isis family’s Thanksgiving house guests have departed for their home states and Little Isis and I are sitting peacefully at the kitchen table, having tea and doing homework while his sister naps. We decided this year that we were going to try to have our most hilarious Thanksgiving to date. We started with mimosas, spent the day playing and puttering in the kitchen, ate until we wanted to pop, and watched ten hours of monster movies. All in all, I would call it a success.  Late last night, after the alcohol stores had been replenished by one of our guests, I invented a new drink for him. I call it the “Happy Thanksgiving.” This monstrosity was inspired by the fact that he requested a martini after braving the subfreezing temperatures to restock our liquor supplies. He returned, only to request a martini and learn that I had no vermouth.

thanksgivingtiniIt contains gin, which I don’t drink because it makes me mean, rosemary infused simple syrup, and is garnished with a couple random leftover cranberries and a chunk of white meat. He drank it like a champ and claims it was not disgusting, but I suspect he was only being polite.

Also invited to Thanksgiving was my dear friend and partner in crime, @I_is_for_Indian.  At about 11am on Thanksgiving Day I received a call from my children’s Auntie Indian telling us that her arrival would be delayed because “[our friend] is in labor and it’s my job to get the placenta and then deliver it to the lady that will make it into pills. And she’s vegan. Can you be a vegan and a cannibal at the same time?”

vegetariancanibal1

Then this morning my other friend, who is also a new mom, posted a link to this article on Facebook: The Hardest Part of Being a New Mom is Not Knowing What You’re Doing. Thinking about these two women and their angst over caring for their babies just right makes me think back to the time when my children were infants and how damned easy it was in comparison.

Granted, I won’t deny any mother of an infant or toddler her right to commiserate over sleepless nights and spit up and toilet training but, in retrospect, having an infant was the easy part. I may have stressed over some trivialities, but babies aren’t making memories. Mistakes that you make don’t require you to add money to the account for their future therapy bills. You feed them, you change them, they sleep. Repeat. Sometimes I can’t roll my eyes hard enough at the perfection we want to strive to achieve.

I realize now that I am reaching the part where I *really* don’t know what I’m doing. Over Thanksgiving, Little Isis heard some of our guests discussing the shooting in Ferguson and asked me why a policeman had shot a boy and why a fake professor had lied about the boy and how would he know if I am a fake professor.  I read in a lot of these mommy blog posts about how hard it is when your baby can’t communicate what’s wrong, but sometimes it’s harder when they can. Today, I tried my best to reassure him that getting a 98% on a test still meant he did a good job and that I wasn’t disappointed in him.  I told him that all that mattered to me was that he did his best and found things that he enjoyed, but he can be good at k3rning himself. He also had some questions about sex and how many times one must have sex in order to have a baby.  Their little problems get more nuanced as they get older and their ability to understand how fucked up the world is improves exponentially.  Sometimes I look at him and know that there’s some amount of bullshittery swirling around inside of his head that is going to bubble up to the surface when it is good and ready. All you can do is sit and wait. I hear teenagers are infinitely harder..

As I finish typing this, Little Isis is sharing his future parenting philosophies. He’s telling me that his goal is to be a calm parent who tells his children a lot how much he loves them. I am apparently also going to live with him in a room that is right next to his children’s room with a door so that they can visit me. That makes me happy and makes me think that something must be going right. Except for the part where he told me that “I will also have some medics check on you every day to make sure you’re alive because you’ll be very old and when you die I’ll give you a humongous funeral.”  That part’s kind of screwed up.

The one thing I know for sure is how very thankful I am for these two little wackaloons.

I Call This Cocktail “Toddler Shit on White Carpet”

Do any of the following apply to you?

  • Did you recently accept a new professorship in a hip new town where there is more fluorescent orange than you knew could exist?
  • Did you find a cool place to rent until you settle in that you love because it is right up against a nature preserve but has very unfortunate white Berber-style carpet?
  • Does your baby now have Norovirus?
  • Did your baby just empty her bowels all over that unfortunately white Berber-style carpet?

poo1

Then you, my friend, are going to need a cocktail. In the spirit of my dear blog friend Scribbler, allow me to offer you this little aperitif. I call it “Toddler Shit on White Carpet.” to recreate it you’ll need to following:

  • One glass prosecco, because that’s what you have right now. Don’t fucking judge me.
  • 5 raspberries to keep it cold and add seeds
  • 1 spoonful Mexican vanilla and peppercorn simple syrup you made earlier in the day
  • 2 spoonfuls balsamic vinegar syrup for the appropriate color and sourness.

Do not mix. Drink until you have forgotten that you changed 20 diapers today and cleaned up three rounds of puke.

cocktail

Embrace Uncertainty and Serendipity. Or Don’t.

This morning a couple of the Twitter folks linked indignantly to an article over at Nature Jobs titled “Enough doom and gloom Part 3: Standing upon the great infrastructure of science“.  The article offers advice to junior scientists still pondering their career futures…

Embrace serendipity and uncertainty. Like scientific research, sometimes the best personal discoveries and questions come when they are least expected. Pay attention to the trends in science funding  –  do all that you can to contribute to the conversation and to the cause of science.

Many of the tweeple, several of them self-professed members of the disgruntledocetariat, offered their discontent that the article seemed to be telling them to embrace unemployment or insecurity in their future or an inability to care for their family. This, of course, is a bit of a red herring. Unemployment continues to remain low for PhD-level scientists (2.1% and relatively unchanged since 2001). There is a reasonable amount of certainty that earning a graduate degree, which is often subsidized, is a strategically good move if you want to be employed in the long run.

Of course, sitting among the postdocitude makes it difficult to see that, but I think that is largely because of how the postdoc is regarded. Many see the postdoc as a “job” and it is, in as much as it pays a wage. But it’s really not. It’s a temporary trainee-level position whose very nature is transient. If you’re looking at it as offering any type of long-term job security, you are bound to be disappointed.

disappointment island

If you’re looking to stay in academia, the article’s advice is decent, although some might argue that it’s common sense.  The first bit from @KlassenLab, ahead of the paragraph with the seemingly offensive advice, is particularly good:

Klassen applied for about fifty positions, and from these, went on over five interviews. The entire process took about four months of tireless work, although ultimately worth it when he got a job at a major research institution. His advice to PhD students that want to continue in academic research is to “set yourself up early.” Think about the next step and align yourself with this goal long before your last year as a graduate student. There are jobs out there, just keep in mind they will be offered by an entire range of institutions, from the smallest liberal arts schools to the big name universities. “Realize where you fit according to your specific background.”

Stop thinking about your trainee-level position as a “job” where you’re just collecting data and churning out publications and start looking at it as an additional opportunity to develop translatable skills in mentoring, budget management, scientific writing, etc. And have some damned humility about it.  Set up a plan with your mentor and identify skills that you can improve and define a training plan to get there. This will make sure that, when it comes time to apply for a job, you are able to communicate that not only do you have great scientific ideas, but you are well-trained to execute the plan you propose. I have reviewed several research plans for people around the internet already this job season and this is always the part that is missing. There may be scientific ideas that are interesting, but does this person really have a plan to be successful. After I was hired at my new gig, it was communicated to me that part of the reason I was hired was because it was clear that I had been successful, that I had independence, and that it was clear that I had a plan going forward for how to build my empire.

Which brings me back to the seemingly offensive paragraph. The current funding situation is rough and institutions are risk averse in their hires. The uncertainly and serendipity that one needs to embrace is dictated by this. If you approach science saying “I study A with tool X,” it’s a recipe for failure. Understanding the uncertainty of the job market and funding climate and adapting to it is really important. Over the last year or two I have found myself surprised on several occasions. Some of the stuff that I did, that I thought was the greatest science I had ever done, had a harder time being accepted into the literature. Some of the wackier stuff was either funded or accepted for publication. In the three months I have been here, I have submitted three different grants to three different agencies, each with a different spin on my central research program. There is no certainty in science any more and if you can’t make the uncertainty part of your life and accept that you may end up working on a path that is different than you intended, it’s going to be tricky to feel successful. It’s also important to be savvy in evaluating data and experiments, looking for the serendipity that will guide the next application.  That, my friends, is the reality of the game right now. If you can’t embrace it, it’s hard to be successful.

As an aside though, I was interested in one of the responses that I got when I challenged the righteous indignation to the article. I’ve been successful. I did a very limited job search and received offers from a high proportion of them, although I was in a bit of a different place in my career at the time. Who am I to criticize the feels of someone still in the trenches? That’s some real barrio thinking – that once somone’s out of the shit, it’s no longer appropriate for them to comment on the struggles of the people. That, plus another interaction later in the morning in which I felt like my general philosophies about the conduct of science were regarded as trite is making me feel like…