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?


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.


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…

Figuring Out How Offensive I Am Willing to Be…

In a lot of ways, I am really digging my new office. I like being out of the medical school, but still close enough for good coffee and meetings. I have a window.  I find my new building endearing, both in terms of its old-timey hilarity and its proximity to the gym (which I could stand to make more use of given how tight my jeans feel today). There is, however, one small thing that I am not digging.

My office has an unfortunate smell.

I have been struck by the unfortunate smell first thing in the morning for the last several months since my arrival to new MRU. The local facilities folks have not been able to identify it and I suspect that they may  be immune to it. I’ve tried opening my window and adjusting my thermostat, all to no avail. It’s definitely an interesting aroma, but I hadn’t had a way to describe it.

Until today. Today I realized that my office smells like a scabby knee wound.

knee scab

You can reply that you don’t know what that smells like, but you would be a damned liar.  Now that I know what the smell smells like, I find it even more offensive to my delicate professorial sensibilities. I have decided that I need to find a way to get this smell out of my life and if people can’t help me identify the source, then I am going to need to cover it up. I need one of those jars with the sticks that will make my office smell like vanilla bean or some other such better smell.

Office smells

The question, of course, is how offensive I really want to be to the people around me. I have a strong suspicion that any smell I pick may waft into the surrounding offices.  If I pick some kind of room fragrancing agent, can I pick a smell that will piss off the least number of my hall mates. I have looked around and, given the number of infinity scarves around here, I am thinking that “pumpkin spice” might be a strong contender. Either that or the”the inside of an Ugg.”

Even that must smell better than scabby knee smell.

Wednesday Morning Thoughts For Starting an Experiment..

There is no activity in the world that isn’t made infinitely more awesome by doing it to Eye of the Tiger…

This is Gonna Cost More than Tuppence a Bag..

Several years ago I wrote a review for Neena Schwartz’s A Lab of My Own in which I praised her book as a valuable read for any budding scientist and an important chronicling of the advancement of women in science. At least, that’s the gist of my public review. Privately to my friends and colleagues, I lamented that it is one of the greatest books I’ve ever read that I almost didn’t finish because I was so bored by the first chapter’s detailed accounts of her love of bird watching.  How could someone possibly be so obsessed with birdwatching?  As it turns out, I owe Dr. Schwartz a profound apology.

I recently have become a crazy bird lady.

When I first looked at my new place in new MRU town I noticed that the woman who was living here had several bird feeders on the outside deck. When I went outside, a flock of birds fled from the deck en masse. I thought it might be cool to get a bird feeder or bird nest or some other such bird bullshittery for the kids to look at. I mentioned this to a friend who later brought me a single bag of bird seed as a housewarming gift. This friend has doomed me to my current fate, which I cannot easily forgive him for.

Given that at my core I am a bitch on a budget, it pained me to see the bag of bird seed sitting idle on my kitchen counter. Also, the day after I received the seed a bird starting banging into the window every day and I was convinced he was organizing an assault to try to capture the bag of seed.  I took Tiny Diva to a local establishment and we purchased a bird feeder. We filled the little feeder with what I have now discovered is basically ditch seed to those in the birding community. On the first day two birds came. On the second day, five or six birds came. On the third day, I saw 10 throughout the day. On the fourth day, the feeder was empty.

My children were interested in the bird feeder for about three days. I, however, have developed an obsession.

Tiny Diva and I went back to the market and bought a bag of slightly higher end bird seed. The next day, the feeder was covered in birds all day long. They emptied the feeder in about 36 hours.  I’ve kept the feeder filled since the arrival of my original bird seed gift about a month ago and the birds keep emptying it. I have become increasingly obsessed with watching them eat and fight each other for prime feeding position. Some of these birds are hilariously rude.

The birds! The birds!

A photo posted by @isisthescientist on

I’ve also found myself researching bird feeding in the middle of the night and trying different things in the feeder – sunflower seed blends, peanuts, and fruit based feeds. Organic, gluten free, and songbird feeds.  I’ve read the online debates on shelled versus no-mess blends.  I have yet to come down on a side, but I now know the importance of added grit and calcium in your feeder. I am considering adding a suet feeder in order to attract more woodpeckers, jays and cardinals on the deck. I’ve considered starting to raise meal worms and on Sunday when a friend told me that her sister-in-law had a heated bird bath, I damned near lost my shit.

However, my new bird obsession has also left me frequently fraught with anxiety. Initially, I was concerned that my more expensive bird seed purchases were going to cut into the family budget for staples like electricity. I thought about cutting back on the frequency with which I fill the feeder, but it has started to get cold here. Late one night, past a polite hour of the evening, I found myself calling on the original feed gifter  in a panic. I had committed to feeding these little bastards. What if they failed to migrate because I give good seed and then I stop feeding them and they starve and died? I could be responsible for an ecological disaster in my neighborhood. I’m a physiologist. Not a bird-knower-abouter. What had I done? He suggested that I switch to half ditch seed/half high end feed in order to keep my costs reasonable, but I felt guilty. I realized that sacrifices may have to be made.  We have a gas fireplace to cook over and stay warm by. Electricity is a luxury item when the birds gotta eat.

Then this weekend I noticed a new disturbing trend. The adorable little titmice that visit my feeder had gone from being delightful little titnuggets to big, bloated bird balls. I again called my friend, with more than a smidge of anxiety, and wondered aloud if I had doomed the titmice to extinction. It seems like they are having a little more trouble getting off the deck railing in their currently obese state and I was worried that they would be more easier for predators to snatch.  He suggested that I get a fucking grip. Also…

That basically tells me that I am going to need another feeder.