Braising on a Sunday…

Because I promised I’d update Physioprof on my progress with his favorite food prep method..


Thoughts on Trainees and Writing

I had a conversation yesterday with a senior colleague who bemoaned the poor writing skills of her trainees and the glaciers pace with which they produce publications. She pondered why her trainees were not more concerned about their productivity.

My perception is that graduate students and postdocs have a skewed view of what constitutes scientific productivity. It is very easy at that stage to feel “productive” by going to the lab and generating data because, typically, they feel confident in the experimental skills they’ve established by the time they’re ready to write a paper. Writing is a new skill that they are often less confident in. Seems to me that this is easily predictable behavior. People are more likely to engage in behavior that provides them with immediate, positive feedback. It’s easier to start a new project than to write a paper about a finished one and sitting on a pile of data provides a (false) sense of productivity.

They trick is to provide tools to establish writing as a skill as quickly as possible and also remind trainees of the importance of real indices of their productivity.

Ready to Jump. Now Where’s the Pool?

It’s been a couple of weeks since I updated this blog, mostly because we’ve been busy moving to new MRU town. We’ve had packing and moving and all sorts of shenanigans as we headed to the new place, but everyone seems to be settling in to some sort of routine. The Isis children and I am currently co-habitating, while Mr. Isis focuses on his own job search and we wait for the house in old MRU town to sell.

At The ParkThey’ve really been far better behaved than I deserve.

The new place is great, the kids are great, my department is great, and all of my problems are of the “things that really shouldn’t be problems” variety. I think that when you get settled into a routine at a place, it’s easy to take for granted how much your interactions are facilitated by your knowledge of how the system and interpersonal relationships with the people that make things happen. 

I realized how many things I took for granted as second nature at my last position when I was sitting in my office yesterday and realized that I am sitting on a huge pile of money and I have no idea how to spend it. Not that I don’t know what I want to buy, but I didn’t the bureaucratic process of ordering supplies and equipment. While it certainly will be ideal to have a lab manager to delegate this to again, the timing works that I need some things now before the process of hiring someone will be completed. I then went to call our department administrator for help and realized I didn’t know which button on my new phone to place a call.

This morning I got this new pen from the general office supplies and absolutely baffled by how to make it work.

Red Pen

Pressing the end is not the answer. Pressing it for 5 minutes and swearing at it is definitely not the answer.

I know that I’m a good scientist and teacher, but it’s slightly disconcerting to feel the brakes applied by my current ignorance of how to navigate the system. I know that it’s temporary, but I’m looking forward to getting past this part.

I’m Moving On….

I remember talking with some scientists when I first had Little Isis, discussing the differences between mothers who worked and mothers who choose to stay home with their children. Some of them lamented that they absolutely could not stay at home with their kids all day. They’d “go crazy.” I agreed with them, commiserated that I would surely die if my brain wasn’t stimulated by science at least 8 hours per day.

The truth is, that’s a damned lie. As I have been planning my move to a new MRU (which happens this week), I have spent a lot of summer at home with my kids. In fact, I’ve spent every possible moment home with my children, enjoying them, and I have loved every second of it. I’ve been quiet on the blog because it meant more time with them. I know that my new job will mean a return to occasionally long hours, and occasional commuting back to my old MRU to finish a project. At 7 and 2 years old they are at such amazing ages. We’ve spent the summer doing all of the local activities we love, and a couple we hadn’t gotten to.


We played in the backyard and ate a lot of marshmallows in the kiddie pools. We’ve done some really amazing projects. If you follow Twitter, you’ve seen that Little Isis and I made weeping angels out of some cheap Barbies we found.

Weeping angelsAnd we’ve done some projects, making things for our new home.

birdhousesI could tell you that I really missed working and I went totally crazy being at home most of the summer, but that wouldn’t be true. I’ve loved it. I’ve loved being home with them and playing princess puzzles and watching MadTV and indulging in endless hours of shenanigans.

We’ve had a great summer and the truth is, I could totally see myself being a stay-at-home mom. Not to say that I am leaving science behind, or that I don’t still feel joy and passion for science, just that I also know that I could be home with these little wackaloons all the time and be very happy. I’m glad that I was able to spend so much time with them before I start work again and I hope that they’ll remember how much their mom loved being with them.


Trainee-Level Fuckery of the Worst Kind…

I won’t claim that the subsequently mentioned fuckery is a degree of fuckery that every graduate student or postdoc is necessarily guilty of, but it’s one that I see frequently and it chaps my ass in a spectacular way.

I think that it is important to have undergraduates in the lab. It gives them an opportunity to experience *actual* science, as opposed to their canned laboratory activities, and it’s good for more senior trainee scientists (graduate students and postdocs) to have the experience of mentoring someone more junior. But, sometimes these more senior trainees can be real dicks about it.

It really irritates me when I hear one of these folks comment about not having the time/it being an inconvenience/ to mentor their assigned trainees, or mention that something would being easier if they did it themselves, or talk about how much their trainee doesn’t know, or refer to them as minions as thought they shouldn’t have training goals. Sometimes these more senior trainees get all Lord of the Flies in their shit and try to establish pecking orders where their status in the world is defined by their superiority to these younger students.  The incredible irony of it is that their expectations for how they should be treated are completely different. They expect their mentor to be available “for 5 minutes…real” They expect their career trajectory to be nurtured and attended to and to receive an ever-loving amount of patience for the progress of “their work”.  At least here, I know that these students aren’t subjected to the kind of “use up and spit out” lab style that others talk about where success of the PI is predicated on burning through some grad students and postdocs without regard for their needs. So, I don’t know where it comes from.

That’s why when I see this little bit of insidiousness, the hammer must come down.