Things That Make You Saltier….#NaCl2015

Little Isis’s elementary school is having a fundraiser dance tomorrow night and I received a voicemail reminder of the event from his principal this afternoon. The voicemail ended with the following sentence…

“And as a reminder, all children must be accompanied at all times by an adult or they will be asked to leave.”

I’m going to let you ponder that sentence for a while…

Peter Pan Pencil

Idiosyncracies of Academia – Part 1 in a Never-Ending Series..

My life is currently completely filled with obsessions over minutiae that I suspect most would find highly uninteresting, but that are taking over most of my brain. Onward…

When I was at my previous MRU, I had the opportunity to teach in an undergraduate honors program that worked on a completely flipped classroom model. The students were expected to do all the reading, pre-quizzes and material review before they came to class and then class was all problem-based learning. I had the luxury of walking into a program that was already designed and I only had to deliver a part of the material. I didn’t have to implement the learning model. It was really, really fun for me and the students were really engaging. I had a great experience.

Since arriving at new MRU, I’ve been teaching as a component of a team-taught series. The students attend lecture (ish), we deliver the lectures, and they take a multiple choice exam. I highlight “ish” in the students attending lecture, because our lectures are recorded so only a fraction of students actually attend. That means that I couldn’t see the look of bewilderment on their faces and they couldn’t see me draw the answers to their exam questions on the board during lecture. When it came time for the exam, their performance was…suboptimal at best. Still, it was very, very easy for me to do. I got up, delivered some lectures, had a TA run some exams through the scantron machine and *BOOM* my teaching was done.

Now I am developing courses for the upcoming year and I am left with a quandry. It would be very easy to use the traditional model, give some lectures, get  teaching evaluations good enough for my tenure committee and call it a day, but I am left the with the nagging feeling that I left my soft money gig not only for the security of hard money, but also because I wanted more opportunities to teach.  There is rationale to chill the fuck out and teach the easy way until I have things more established in my new lab, but I can’t help but feel a little obligation to do better. My conscious is a real motherfucker sometimes.

My mind is also occupied by the nuance of grant writing. Funding sucks so hard right now that everyone is desperate for the tricks that will give them that slight competitive edge and bump them into the percentile range likely to get funded. Does right and left justify makes a grant more favorably judged than left justify alone? What about 12 point Arial vs Georgia?

Even though I’ve had some grant success, I am constantly collecting other successful grants to try to glean whatever insights I can. I recently got a couple R01s from a colleague who has a track record of phenomenal success. It immediately struck me that he started every aim with “To test the hypothesis that…” instead of something like “To determine..” or “To quantify..”. I asked him about it and he said, “I do it because it immediately eliminates the stock critique that the aims are not hypothesis-driven. I’d never seen anything like this, but he has been so successful, I figured I’d give it a try in the sandbox..

As my sandbox, I got support from my college to attend a grant writing program offered by friend of the tweeple @iGrrrl. I submitted the initial draft of my aims, which I have continued to revise since, but was especially interested in the reaction to this way of phrasing my aims. Today I met with iGrrrl and the group of my peers also enrolled in the program and this new wording was not well-received. I’m intrigued by this. It would appear that sometimes one person’s gold is another person’s foil.

I’m also in the thick of my first year performance review. I can only chuckle because it was made to seem so simple by my chair and former chair. I turn in my CV with some shit highlighted,  a paragraph gets written about how I’m new and “blah, blah, blah.” Review done. I was so proud because I was a month early in submitting my CV to the person conducting my review. Then yesterday I met with the them and, turns out, it’s not so simple. They need a folder with all this stuff in it that is more than just my CV.  At the same time, I’ve been assigned to someone to review and, 6 days after my first attempt to contact them, I’ve heard no response. I have no idea how long I am supposed to wait before I am like “Dude!! WTF?!?!!!!”

February is closing in on me quickly and it is likely to be busy and insane.

A Public Service Announcement for the Open Access Nutters Everywhere

In honor of the upcoming holiday, I kindly ask for the following seven day parley..

If you feel the need to equate the struggles of your paywalled PDFs with any disenfranchised group – blacks, ,hispanics, jews, gays, etc – kindly sit on your hands until the week passes.

I get that it feels like all those data are bound in the chains of the Amistad, but someday they will all be liberated. Then scientists everywhere will bring you their marginally significant results, their negative findings, and their huddled axes yearning to be free

Addendum Thoughts For A Wednesday Evening…

I find myself with an unanticipated evening to sit around, work on my grant, and drink beer by the fire. I also find myself reflecting…

I find it very interesting to watch people that I know who, as trainees, bitched and moaned about their worthless, piece-of-shit, soul-less PIs and are now getting their first tastes of the PI hat.  Based on my preliminary data, I hypothesize that people who complained about their soul-less, manipulative PIs as trainees continue on to become soul-less, manipulative PIs themselves.

Yeah, Well, I’m No Lady..

My brand new, fancy pants, state-of-the-art laboratory is still under construction, so I find myself spending most of my time writing grants and other such nonsense.  In just a few hours all of my students from old MRU will be defended and on their way to bigger and better things and I will be free to focus entirely on building my new evil empire.

One of my jobs this month is hiring a technician. The fire was lit under me a bit when a colleague here, who uses techniques that are translatable to the work I do, was retiring and had a  great technician about to go on the market. The technician sent me an email and came over to my office and makeshift lab to talk about his experience and goals. He’s got a tremendous amount of experience and has worked in a couple labs where he’s picked up an amazing skill set. He said every single thing I could possibly have wanted to hear someone say if they wanted to work for me.

As he relaxed, though, he said, “This will be interesting. I’ve never worked for a lady before.” I was surprise by his comment and blurted out, “Well, I can assure you that I’m no lady.”

not a lady

I’ve thought a lot about this interaction in the days to follow. There’s no doubt that “lady scientists” are more rare in my field and I can see how there would be technicians and other staff that have spent their entire careers never having worked for a woman. Yet, I wonder what people expect working for a woman should be like. Warm? Nurturing? I’m wondering if I should make it a job requirement that they have to be comfortable working for a huge pain in the ass.