Archive for: March, 2015

Best Birthday Cards (Olde Farte Edition)

Mar 25 2015 Published by under Uncategorized


Inside: But by now you should've gotten all that crap out of your system.



So me...

One response so far

Adding Females to Animal Studies

Mar 25 2015 Published by under Uncategorized

NIH held a workshop on adding female subjects to animal studies. It caused discussion of varying degrees of concern. Here is the link to the NIH report.

The intro:

Biological sex, being female or male, is a fundamental characteristic of biological systems. Sex is a fundamental variable in preclinical biomedical research that underlies drug development research, clinical trials, and preven-tion approaches. Although the biomedical community has made major progress in human studies—women now account for roughly half of the participants in NIH-funded clinical trials—there has not been a similar pattern in preclinical research. Animal studies have focused primarily on males, and investigators studying cell models have often ignored the sex of the individual from which the cells were obtained. For the most part, considering sex as a biological variable has been a blind spot in biomedical research, leaving critical gaps in our knowledge.


Four sessions:

  • Session I addressed the basic concept of including female and male subjects in studies.
  • Session II explored the impact of including or not including sex as a basic biological variable.
  • Session III visited specific and practical methods to integrate sex as a variable in research plans and projects.
  • Session IV discussed how to introduce a "sex matters" culture across multiple disciplines.

I've not digested this yet. I will, and will blog on it as I get excited, irritated or fall asleep.

10 responses so far

New Biosketch Requirements - because your life is incomplete

Mar 25 2015 Published by under Uncategorized

Reminder: NIH and AHRQ Biosketch Requirements for Due Dates On or After May 25, 2015

Notice Number: NOT-OD-15-085

Key Dates
Release Date:  March 24, 2015

Related Announcements

Issued by
National Institutes of Health (NIH)


The National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Agency for Health Research and Quality (AHRQ) require the new biosketch format (NOT-OD-15-032) for all competing and non-competing applications submitted for due dates on or after May 25, 2015. Biosketch format pages, instructions, samples and FAQs are available on the SF 424 (R&R) Forms and Applications page (

- See more at NIH

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Snobbery and standards

Mar 24 2015 Published by under Uncategorized

I am a snob. I admit it. I am a snob about things academic. Intellectual. I actually don't give a damn where you went to school.  I care about how you think. One of my objections to politicians who don't "believe in evolution" is not that evolution makes a difference to effective government. It doesn't. But if you "believe" in magical thinking in one arena, you are quite likely to in another. I am suspicious of Francis Collins' self-professed belief in a deity:

 "the experience of sequencing the human genome, and uncovering this most remarkable of all texts, was both a stunning scientific achievement and an occasion of worship."

Worship? Worship? Worship what? I don't want to pick on Collins & his rationalizations. His insecurities. But if a deity intervened at one point, why not another? As an aside, I truly hate people who say that angels (or angles) are looking after them, and saved them from this that or the other. Are they more important than those that did not have the same intervention? And if you want to play the Holocaust card, where the fuck were those angels when kids were being shoveled into crematoria, or worse? I am sure you can make the case that each of us as adults are deeply imbedded in our sin and faults and general bad habits. But what about children?

But religion is only one thing about which my snobbery shorts become frosted. Right now I am thinking about an absolute hands down total waste of time called a focus group that I did for my almost-MRU. If one was a senior administrator, nay, a Dean or a Vice-President, and one wanted to set a "new course of academic excellence" for a under-utilized, under-supported and needless to say, under-performing unit within the University, why would you include mid-level administrators in said focus group? Or part-time faculty with a very specific mission in another college that involves one day a week teaching in a clinical specialty? Their contribution had to said focus group had nothing to do with academic excellence, but largely consisted of complaints about losing their clerical staff, and programs that might make money. Ok, if you want to make money, fine. Put that that in up-front.  Give the focus group a title, a name, a mission, a charge about raising money. I will know to stay away and at this point I know how to gracefully excuse myself from discussion to which I will make only cynical contributions.

But  I am a snob. I recognize that academic excellence involves money. It costs money. But if you lead with the money issue, you will not get to academic excellence. I am professor. I, in the words of the business mavens, create content for this university, by teaching and by research. I create the end products by which academic excellence is judged. Half of the twits in that meeting do not. I do not agree with giving the title "faculty", even with no expectation of, or contractual obligation to be considered for, tenure (Hell, tenure is another kettle of fish, and should not be part of this discussion).  The title "faculty" is not a fucking medal of participation that everyone gets so that everyone can be special and a winner.

I do not think senior administrative support people, no matter how good, how dedicated, how smart and how snobby, are faculty. A colleague of mine puts it differently: I could do their job, but they couldn't do mine. Yes, many of these people know things I do not know. Things I have no desire to learn. Accounting. Federal labor regulations. The intricacies of NIH budgetary lore. I respect their knowledge. I am grateful for their skills and efforts. They have a job, and can do it well or poorly. They may make life easier or compliant at a University. But they are not faculty. To be a University or a College, you need teachers and students. Maybe researchers. Everything else is the support system.  I am a snob.

If you want to revitalize the plains and forests and lakes and rivers and skies of Africa, you can ask the gazelles. They will say: more room to run. You can ask the cichlids, and they will say deeper, fresher lakes. You can ask the elephants and they will say more high grass and firm ground. You can ask the eagle, and they will say clear skies, strong winds. Then you can ask the Lion and they will just eat you up.

5 responses so far

Other things I hate at meetings

Mar 23 2015 Published by under Uncategorized

When the wanna-be-BSDs introduce people by saying "I'm happy to introduce my colleague from my BSD institution, where we both blah blah blah..." Yes, we know your genitalia are huge.

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Nepotism and Success in Science

Mar 23 2015 Published by under Uncategorized

With the gambler's current favorite of another Bush-Clinton contest on our political horizon, the NYTimes had an article on Sunday titled "Just How Nepotistic Are We"? Letting go, once again, of the fact that this is entirely male-driven data  (but still noting it for future ire), it seems unsurprising that the amount of nepotism is a function of the field.  It is kind of amusing that the main categories in the NYTimes story are politics (high nepotism) and sports (low nepotism). That sports is a meritocracy starts out as an assumption and justification for comparison to politics, but the implicit conclusion is that because nepotism is high in politics, the latter is not meritocratic. Yes, success in major league sports, by and large is a meritocracy. It's just depressing that it's the main example that we can come up with these days.

The only more biased outcome than success in politics is success as a billionaire. Of course, as the article says, identification of success in becoming a billionaire didn't include separating out those who earned the money from those who inherited it. I'm not sure how easy would be to determine who was able to earn a billion on their own, had they inherited it to start with.

The only place that the article touched on science is the Bohr family, where Niels' son Aage also won a Nobel.

Internationally, the greatest father-son, merit-based, same-field accomplishment is probably Niels Bohr’s son Aage matching his father’s Nobel Prize in Physics. But neither the Bohrs nor the Mannings dominated physics or football the way the Bush family dominates American politics.

A male member of the third generation of Bohrs, btw, is a biomedical scientist, and judging from the reports of trainees that emerged from that lab, Bohr-3 was/is a BSD with the best of them.

We've all noticed nepotism in all sorts of places in our professional lives irrespective of field. There is a particular moral / ethical quandary here. Parents (for the most part) love their children. They want to help their children. If one is good at something, one wants to be able to pass that good-at on to the children. If a child shows desire, skill, or aptitude in something, for something, what parent would deny their beloved any help they could give?

Children  (often or sometimes or frequently, I don't want to get into an argument about all the permutations of this) look up to their parents.  Children frequently perceive what their parents do is to be what grown-ups as a group do. Throw in all of the "I need to show them" and "I want to be them" that kids experience, and you have lots of people who want to do what their parents did, never mind that they might be better or happier at something else.

Its incredibly difficult to draw a bright and hard line between work/professional life and home/family life. We have trouble not helping those we love, whether than means a place in our lab for a spouse or partner who made lots of sacrifices along the way for our career, or calling a friend for a summer job for the children we adore.

I have written many times about my mother. She was a full professor albeit in a very different discipline than I am in. But, I became an academic too. There is no question that she helped me. She talked to me about NIH, and about professionalism, and gave me lots of mentoring in a day and age when I was not going to get that anywhere else. We have the same (not common) last name, and people who knew her ask me if we're related. The fact that I look very much like her adds to that.

Do I feel like I earned all of what I have? Hell yes. I do not think anyone ever gave me a good score on a proposal because of her. Our last name isn't Bohr or Einstein, and the fields were separate enough, and she wasn't famous enough, that anyone would just know. But I surely got more than someone, particularly a female someone of my age, got from their lawyer parents. I still remember in grad school a friends saying "you are so lucky that your parents want you to be a scientist". My thought at the time that I would give anything for a big hole in the ground to open and swallow my hugely embarrassing and irritating parents.

So what do I do about this now? I keep my eyes open for the trainees who don't have what I had. I do my damnest to pick people for my lab that are excellent in the ways I think excellence is important. But.... I am well aware that not everyone has  advantages. I am well aware that I, as does everyone in our society, have some blinders, some prejudices and biases. I try and reach  out to people who are not like me, people who didn't have my advantages,  and people I might overlook. I cannot and will not be their parent. But I can look at what my mother gave to me and pass it on to someone else.


PS: I thank Beatrix Kiddo @tehbride             for inspiration.

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Cowboys of Research

Mar 20 2015 Published by under Uncategorized

I am trying to be generous and acknowledge that at a medical meeting of mostly MD's all surgeons are not arrogant, and that at a clinical meeting of non-physician clinicians, not all MDs are jackasses. Some of my best friends. Some of the best people at  Scientopia....


A surgeon comes up to someone (me) after the following interaction:

PT: What was the question being asked in this study?

BSD: There was no question, but we just thought this might be interesting.

and accuses "scientists" of "hounding the surgeons out of the meeting" because I "harshly critiqued" a presentation, which to my eye, was devoid of research. The critique was asking what was the question in the study. I find I am not in generous mood. Note that abstracts are due almost 6 months in advance. Time to turn a "interesting case study" into something more scientific, should one get the urge.

I did try to go talk to this surgeon later. I proposed that it might be worthwhile (for the society, in my view) to consider what is research, and what we want to see happen at this meeting. He told me that he had done "the whole PhD route, and knew what research is" and, that he was "too busy saving lives" (really, he said that) to waste time on, well, essentially, talking with me. He did apologize later to me, and said that "I shouldn't take it personally". Ha. How the fuck should I take it?

I get even less generous when this surgeon had just finished evisecerating a speaker in a very public presentation, to whit:

BSD (to young trainee): Do you know the difference between a symptom and a disease? Why are you wasting our time with this presentation?

I went to talk about this with another woman of my cohort, ie. she's been round the block a couple of times. Her view is that people like our surgeon friend cloak their bully-ways in a guise of "I am saving the world. I am saving lives, and therefore whatever else I do is excused". Fucking Cowboys (which I recognize is an insult to cowboys).


4 responses so far

Gratitude and First World Problems

Mar 19 2015 Published by under Uncategorized

I have been traveling a lot. And its not over yet. Meetings, multi-PI grant planning meeting, more meetings, going to DC, more meetings. I will be, albeit briefly, at EB at the end of the month. That, I hope, will be it for Potnia's traveling for a bit, at least.

I am home briefly for my birthday party:

potnia invite

I am grumpy about many things. Not the least of which is an IRS audit that looks like it is going to cost beaucoup bucks. Lack of sleep. Trouble getting funded. My knees and back and neck. Getting old is not for the weak. The verkackt HHMI for being snobs.

But, I also want need to acknowledge all sorts of good things. The peeps in my lab knock it out of the ball park nearly every time. Friends like DM who did something wonderful thing for me. The woman who runs PT's Jazz Bar (not the real name), who is helping me organize an incredible party, and not charging me what she should. The blue boobies of the world (see above) who make my life better by just being gorgeous (yes, I took that pic). My colleagues who make me laugh and still keep working with me even when I get massively obnoxious. My new sweetie who will hold me when things get tough.

On the whole, life is good.


5 responses so far

Staying Focused On What Matters

Mar 13 2015 Published by under Uncategorized

It is easy to get distracted at any developmental stage. I'm not thinking about many of the usual, and important, distractions: children, lovers, beer. I'm thinking about professional distractions.

What are some (but obviously not all) professional distractions?  Almost anything that makes one feel insecure. A colleague, especially one that is junior, receiving an award. A colleague publishing more than you.  Someone else's bad science in a field close to yours. Someone else getting a glamour pub for bad work. Learning that someone junior to you has twice the publications, three times the grant money and is ranked triathlete. Oh, and a patent that generates a lot of money.

Now,  it's important to be able to distinguish between something that is professionally important  versus something that is just a distraction. Sometimes when it feels like you've been scooped, you have to pay attention to the results because they impinge on your work. I'm not talking about those.

So a distraction rears its head. Take a deep breath. Another. And another. Remember that these distractions happen to everyone from grad student to greyhair. It's okay to go to that folder of good things that have happended to you.

One of the most important things is to stop and look at what's going on. Dispassionately. Dispassion is hard for me, as I've often been guided by Heinlein's bon mots: Excess in everything, moderation is for monks. But there are times for dispassion. There are times to not just step back, but to turn off those feelings. Look at what's going on. Ask yourself "what does this really mean?" Really. Mean. Understand that this is just something getting in the way of what you really want to do.

Not perceving what is going on can be most of the problem. And understanding what you are feeling (and it is a feeling, much of the time) gives you the space to get back to a better place in your head.   Because its  distraction, remember?











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Things to do at a Meeting

Mar 11 2015 Published by under Uncategorized

Actually, before the meeting.

Make a list of people you want to meet. Or that you know you ought to go meet if you weren't feeling so damn shy. Print out an abstract or three to read during transit. Practice saying "Hello, Dr. Gen-X, I read your work X and thought YZ about it. I'd really like to talk to you about it".  YZ works best if it is a single phrase, not too flowery and scientific in content.

If you are an Asst Prof coming up for tenure, think about who is writing you letters. Go talk to them. If you are a postdoc, don't just talk to the people you know have or suspect will have jobs. Go to talk to people you might like to work with. Don't necessarily ask for a job. Say hello. Mention what you're doing. Ask them about their work. If you are a grad student, go to people in whose labs you might like to work. Know the application schedule and do this before you apply. Ask if they are taking new students. Show that you have read some papers, and indicate why you want to work there.

If all seems madness (for example during poster session), ask for time with a cup of coffee. Or even say, is there a better time we could talk?  Do not be disappointed if they say no. And do not underestimate the value of a 2 min convo during the poster session.

The important point: do your homework before you go. Next most important thing: do the follow-up. Send an email.

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