Archive for: January, 2015

Meditation on "third places"

Jan 30 2015 Published by under Uncategorized

I am not quite sure where I learned about third places - I think it may have been Virigina Postrel. She is an author for whom I have very strong positive and negative views. Her book "The Future and its Enemies" is an interesting, and parts are very good and parts are not so very good (she gets ecology/Ecology wrong). She has an interesting analysis on why some of Al Gore's social policies are not much different from Pat Buchanan's.

But third places - first & second are home and work. Third places are the corner bar. When I was at MRU and lived in the inner city/working class part of town, there was one on every corner. Sometimes they are churches/places of worship. Bowling Alleys. The small pocket of wilderness within 20 min of home or work. The existence of third places and support of third places and acknowledgement of third places means that there are times when you want to be somewhere other than home and work. And that you sometimes want to be away from your co-workers or your family (categories that are more fluid in early adult life). Or that you have people who are not co-workers or family, with whom you want to spend time. These are called "friends".

I surely struggled with this for much of my younger life. When you have little children who depend on you, the very concept of third places becomes foreign, or a dream, or not something there is even room to think about.

I think that as much as we, at any age, at any stage, can make room for even a small amount of third places in our life we will live lives. Yeah, yeah, yeah, its easier for me as a blue hair to recommend this. After all, I've got tenure. Yet, one of my biggest challenges right now is helping younger faculty. I think that pulling all-nighters after you are 25 is ridiculous. I think taking an hour to go for a hike is not. Its a marginal return to effort. Its this. Finding the third place you need is a way of shifting those curves from B to A. Go read "From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler" again. Or for the first time.

I have a third place. It is a wonderful Grown-Up-Bar. They serve very good wine by the glass, which is better for my morning work than their very good scotch by the glass. Yes, I make a grown-up salary so buying a glass of wine for me is not issue. But best of all, I have friends who live near by. They know I hang out in the GUB. They sometimes come by. I have invited my young colleagues to come and have a glass of wine, or if they don't care about carbs, a Good Beer, with me. We  can talk. It's mixing 2nd place with 3rd place, but it lets me help them a lot. Its one way I can signal to them that they are real people to me, that they are worth my time and effort. It means that they are more likely to believe me when I say the world is not ending tomorrow. That tenure is not impossible and that their science is good. It means I can say "I am Groot" and people actually smile, and sometimes laugh, and no one compares me to their grandfather.



No responses yet

Why you should check study section rosters

Jan 29 2015 Published by under Uncategorized

Convo on teh twits:

Stunned noobPI that they needed to be checking your standing study section roosters.

— Namaste, Ish(@Namaste_Ish) January 29, 2015

.@Namaste_Ish you know new PIs that don't know to check study section rosters? Srsly?

— Drug Monkey (@drugmonkeyblog) January 29, 2015

@drugmonkeyblog @Namaste_Ish please elaborate what you check for. I've not found it helpful personally.

— Anne Carpenter (@DrAnneCarpenter) January 29, 2015

Why? Because while you will not know who you reviewers are, everyone on the SS has a vote on your grant. You need to know who is evaluating you. You need to read at least abstracts of their pubs. You need to know what meetings they go to.

Now this may be distasteful playing of the game to you. You may feel that this kind of politics is beneath you, and lacking in honor. Fuck that shit.

Do you want to be funded or not? There is a meeting I go to, not every year, but every so often. Lots of people on my study section show up. I hope they come to my /my students talks. I certainly go to theirs. I keep track of what they are working on. One of the most damning critiques of a proposal is "this has been done before and obviously this PI is less than rigorous in their review of the literature".

Finally, this is a way to learn something new. Get out of your little warm intellectual pigpen, and think about new ideas. You do not need to waste a lifetime reading their stuff/going to meetings. But, folks, this is a team sport. You belong to a community. The benefits may not be immediately obvious, and the help may be down the road, but its there.

4 responses so far

Telling Women (of any age) to Calm Down

Jan 29 2015 Published by under Uncategorized

I've had someone, from another land, come and talk to me about problems in her lab. She's not the PI, she's an older, experienced tech. Someone who knows what "He's dead, Jim" means. Her PI is young and not tenured. The PI is jumpy.

And jumpy is a kind and gentle way to put it. I do know the PI, a little. I'd say the PI is borderline neurotic. I'd also say there are underlying reasons for this. Not excuses, observations. The PI is worried about tenure. The PI has issues with her research program. If the PI came up for tenure now, it would not be A Good Thing. But, the PI also has time (3 years), brains, and good ideas. The PI works hard. The PI does not have to be jumpy.

Part of me would like to say to this PI: calm the fuck down. But I can't and I won't. If anyone says to me now, let alone back when I was a whelp, "calm down", I (now) stifle (only sometimes) my preferred response which is "I am calm" and then punch them in the throat, so that I break their hyoid and larynx and cause them to asphyxiate. If I am in a slightly good mood, I give them my best steely eye (which is saying I am about to punch you in throat, but you're not worth it), and say "telling a woman to calm down is insulting, patronizing and feeding into gender-stereotypic roles about behavior and enthusiasm".  I say to them "my passion and enthusiasm are me, and I'm dreadfully sorry that you don't feel the same way about your science /work / exercise regime".

So what to do about this PI? I believe she would be happier if she could look at the tenure issues somewhat differently. I know her lab would be happier. And while a drawer of chocolate is a good thing, it won't consistently solve the problems of a jumpy PI. My current solution: I will take the PI out for a glass of wine. I will give her a place, in confidence, outside of her tenure hierarchy to unload. I will refrain from advice unless asked, and just try to show that the world is not coming to an end. At least not in the next three years.


9 responses so far

Things that frost my shorts - reviewing grants edition

Jan 27 2015 Published by under Uncategorized

Doc Becca tweeted:

which set off a discussion of review papers, etc (again).

But, my current irritation with the sods who write grants is not so much the number of cites. Nor is it a total failure to cite me. Because, in fact they did. In a most infuriating way. The following is a paraphrase, and I hope, non-specific enough not to be violating confidentiality.

No one has worked on X, and as a result, understands problem Y, for which data from X are necessary (except see [154]).

Well, cite [154] is one paper of a series of about 20 that I did lo those many years ago. I'm not first author - the student was, and students are the first authors on all (I think) of the 20 papers.  We (my students and I) solved X pretty thoroughly before many of you were born. Not all aspects, and lots of interesting parts remain unsolved, and I changed fields because. But the fundamental problem of X has been worked on, even if you don't like what my students and I found. One may take it and run from there, but as it stands, what is proposed is significantly duplication. I don't object to the duplication, but I suspect these guys would not be getting a major grant to do so.

I am considering recusing myself from the review. I try to  never to cite myself in anonymous reviews. I do not want to be the reviewer who sniffs and says "this paper neglects the most important thing ever done since eukaryotes invented sex". I do not know the PI's. I do not want to know the PI's. I do not want to tell them that their mastery of the literature leaves a great deal to be desired.

It must be scotch o'clock somewhere.


7 responses so far

What Makes A Successful Lab

Jan 27 2015 Published by under Uncategorized

Lots of people have posted on this. If I wasn't such a lazy git, I'd find the links and add them. But... that can certainly happen in the future.

Meantime, two junior colleagues have come to me and asked the same question. One explicitly and one not so explicitly: why is everyone in your lab as happy as they are? That's not to say my lab is a barrel of laughs, and everyone gets all the chocolate they want all the time. But I do put high value on my lab being A Good Place To Work. How?

I doubt I can answer this in one post. AND... I would appreciate the usual suspects weighing in with their perceptions. But, here goes, first pass:

My peeps are happy because my lab is good place to work. It is a place of respect. I have never yelled at anyone in this lab (the last time I yelled at someone was so damn traumatic for me, I vowed I would never get to that place again. It was years ago, and besides the wanker is dead). I do not tolerate anyone else yelling. Respect is not just refraining from bad behavior, but also seeing people as what they are and what their limits/goals/pluses are.

For example, lots of experiments are team efforts. Yes, everyone needs to be there at 8am start for surgery. But when its over, everyone can have an hour for lunch. Go away and de-compress. Yes, you are a night person, and you want to do the 2am feedings? Fine. But then, also, you do not have to show up for 8am surgery. If there is weekend duty - would you rather do sat and sun once a month, or sat twice a month? A fundamental for me, which took a while, is to realize that the folks who work in my lab Are Not Me. And they don't necessarily want to grow up to be me.

Now, I have never had any faculty person disagree with this (oh, yes, I love yelling at my peeps. Of COURSE I see my trainees as individuals). But there is many a slip 'twixt cup and lip. Or worse... the junior faculty so frazzled and frizzled and stressed out over tenure that they don't see what they are doing. Or postdocs, so stressed over getting a job that they treat the techs and students like stepping stones.  I know, in one case, of someone who sees themselves as a pillar of personnel virtue, yet their tech hates them. This person was in my office twice a week before tenure time, totally freaking out. I finally threw them out and said go have a beer and think about the children in Africa. It helped, a bit, but they could never keep a tech.

Just keep clicking your heels together (obscure reference that your grandfather would get) and saying "a happy lab is a productive lab".



5 responses so far

Something is very wrong. Very very Wrong.

Jan 26 2015 Published by under Uncategorized

Get Home Safely: 10 Rules of Survival from SALT Project on Vimeo.

That someone needs to make this video is wrong. That little children need to watch this video is wrong. That little children need to learn from this video is wrong. And, if this does not make you think that our society needs to change, then something is very wrong with you.

One response so far

Everybody has the right to decide what they are called.

Jan 24 2015 Published by under Uncategorized

My real name has a dimunitive. I do not use it. I never have. In fact, I started using my initials in grad school so no one would automatically turn me into a Potty instead of Potnia.

I remember when I was a new asst. prof, and went to see the "executive associate dean". I walked in to meet him, and he said "Hello, Potty, I am glad to meet you". Not missing a beat, I said "hello Davey, nice to meet you". This attitude was not nearly as charming then as it might be perceived now.

So when I saw the Washington Redskins on  TV, all I can think of now (besides the fact that I need to turn the channel as quickly as  possible) is  "wrong name, dude". (I recognize this is now out of season. It was written A While Ago. I am not A Sports Person).


2 responses so far

Where I was

Jan 23 2015 Published by under Uncategorized

aus 2014 020


aus 2014 106

aus 2014 371

aus 2014 484

No responses yet

I'm home

Jan 23 2015 Published by under Uncategorized

aus2014 023Where have I been? I have some gorgeous images, but as  is true of much after one has been gone... it isn't working for me. Images will have to wait.

What I did do, was unplug for a month. I went to stay with friends, in Australia. They're still building their house, and I spent time putting wiring and plumbing in for them. Needless to say, electricity was limited, and there was minimal (if any ) internet.

 I didn't speak to anyone on this side of the world, or any side of the world. It was good.

I am now back writing a grant ('cause you don't let a deadline pass...).

One response so far