Archive for: October, 2015

Doing it right: supporting your faculty edition

Oct 07 2015 Published by under Uncategorized

I have always since the last five years, subscribed to the view that you can't win the lottery if you don't buy a ticket, and if funding is <10% then you gotta put in ~10 grants to get funded (more or less).

So, I've been hitting at least one R01, and often an additional lesser  proposal (r21/non-NIH) per cycle for the last 4 cycles. A year and a third. It takes a toll. I've been good (hahaha) about not getting funded. Mostly.

Today, I got a score back for an  r21. Scored, but not fundable. For a first submission, I'm happy. So is the young scientist who  wants this project. It was in danger of "who the fuck cares" since it is a very women's health/science issue. Scoring means there were problems but someone thought it worthwhile at some level. We'll see when get the reviews.

But thats not the doing it right part. The doing it right part is my chair at almost-MRU.

I found a potential (non-NIH) source for some funds. Enough to get a new project going, get some prelim data. This is  important because I am on a no-cost-extension of my current grant (ie I didnt spend all the money, I asked for another year from NIH to spend it. They said yes, mostly because I moved from MRU to almost-MRU in the middle of hte project and lost a year without a lab). My dept chair saw this as a VeryGoodThing for me to be doing. Commitment. Initiative. He said so.

But this still isn't what I'm thinking is doing it right. The next part of the conversation was show me your budget. Do the math. How much are you going to need to keep your lab going? At this point I re-iterated that I was trying to make every NIH deadline, and in get 1-2 proposals in for each cycle. He didn't ask how I felt about it (which is fucking tired), he just said: thats too much. You will kill yourself. He said that he appreciated I was working hard, but that that pace would kill him, and he knows, because he's done it. He would rather get me some bridge funding.

Everybody (that would DrugMonkey and Comradde Physioproffe, here, but others, too IRL)  always says that the caveat on making every deadline is that what goes in has to be great. The best you can do. That making every deadline with half-assed attempts isn't worth it. I think, for me, in my head, that I am reaching the point where I need to stop writing proposals and go back and do science.

I am not going to stop writing proposals, but perhaps not so many. I do remember when I *loved* writing them. I loved taking a new idea and what happened to that idea as the design solidified to become a submittable proposal. When PCs (ah yes... I did grants before word processing) took away the mechanical/logistic angst of producing something neat looking, I was ecstatic. But I have to say, while it still seems not a huge burden to write a grant, I don't love the process as much as I used to.

I am going to go back and do some research. If I get a bit of seed money to do the new project, and if I can get some loose ends tied up with old projects, these will be deeply satisfying. Then there is this other possible thing that can be done, and a med student thinking about doing a PhD with me which is a whole nuther thing. I think I will be happier.

What is doing it right? My chair has an idea about what life is like for me, doesn't think its good, and took some concrete steps to give me the tools & resources to make it better. I'm going to pass this on to the folks in my lab.  Here's to getting funded, but more, here's to doing what we love that brought us here in the first place.


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Class issues - the cost of being working class

Oct 06 2015 Published by under Uncategorized


A few caveats on this post: American education still has a class system. This exacerbates a number of the racial issues, as the racial groups in America are not evenly distributed across socioeconomic classes. I do not ignore race, and I do not think any right thinking person can. But, I want to focus on class issues, so this post is not about the racial aspects of these issues. They are there, and there is a class-race interaction, in the statistical sense of interaction. Also, I have spent enough time working abroad, in Europe, in Southeast Asia and Australia, to realize that America's class issues are not as bad as some other places, where class is determined at birth, and there is bloody all one can do about it. But my objective here is not to address those societies and systems, which often revolve around racial groups that many Americans wouldn't even recognize.

Incident of last week. I have, working in my lab, for money, a young (~19) college student, Cordelia, who wants to be a clinician (a therapist, but not of the mind, of the body). I know her Mom, from where I work and hang out. Her Mom is in her mid-late 30s (yes do the math, no Mom did not go to college). They live in a multi-generational household, and there are financial struggles. They are not the desperate struggles of the inner city, no one is going hungry. But these are working class people who put in long, often hard, days to make sure their children have a better life than they had.

Because this is not the city, one cannot get to almost-MRU on public transportation. Or rather it is possible, but the buses run every 90-120 minutes, and timing is everything. (yes, that's a whole additional issue, but not for this post). Cordelia's Mom's car broke down. There isn't money for a new car. Cordelia's Mom took Cordelia's car, but Mom said she'd take Cordelia to work (with me).  Last week, Mom overslept, and forgot to pick up Cordelia.

The best-tech-in-the-universe, and I, actually mostly the Btintu, who watches out for Cordelia, noticed she didn't show up. Cordelia also hadn't answered a bunch of emails from HR (the most evil part of almost-MRU) to get her on the payroll. We were irritated, as one is when one is counting on someone who doesn’t show. . But Btintu, is someone who will give anyone who works hard a 2nd or 3rd chance, but kick the slackers out the door in a heartbeat. Cordelia was in danger of having moved from category one to category two in Btintu eye's.

However, Cordelia called in, explained that there had been "miscommunications about rides, and that she didn't have a car right now," and also said that she didn't realize she had an almost-MRU email account (she goes to a different college), and would take care of everything. Mom found me later in the week and explained (almost with tears) that it was HER fault, and that Cordelia had been furious with her. Which, btw, Cordelia had not mentioned. She blamed no one. So Cordelia is back in good graces at work, and I am doing what I can to help promote her career. She is bright and hard working.

In the end, this is not about one hardworking undergrad (although of course it is). This is about the working-class penalty in life. If Cordelia came from a wealthy or professional (depending on how you want to count wealthy) family, this issue would never have come up. Not only would Mom have a car that worked, but Cordelia would have her own car, and plenty of gas money (and rent and ability to live near excellent public transportation).

But when you're rubbing pennies together (as my Mom used to say, so hard that Lincoln is back sitting in his memorial), little things like transportation, reliable transportation, can be the difference between keeping a job and being on the street.

As is true of everything, personal experience makes a difference in perceptions. Senator Rob Portman, a relatively conservative Ohio senator, was stridently homophobic and anti-same-sex-marriage… until his son came out. Although he's not marching in the parades with a rainbow flag, he does, perhaps too quietly for some, support LBGT issues. Abstraction versus reality. Or rather, your own child versus someone else’s

It's easy to think that one doesn't interact much with members of the working class. Except for the grocery store or my Mom's AD facility. The folks that clean at almost-MRU, or serve food in the cafeteria line. It’s easy to assume everyone is “just like me”. It is so easy to forget what it’s like to struggle to make it to work because you can't afford another car. I am grateful to Cordelia for showing me.

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quote of day - misanthrope edition

Oct 05 2015 Published by under Uncategorized

From Lemony Snicket (I found this first one, but there were so very many good ones, it was hard to chose)

As I am sure you know, when people say 'It's my pleasure,' they usually mean something along the lines of, 'There's nothing on Earth I would rather do less...


Literature doesn’t exactly have a strong mental-health track record.


No matter how many slow and complicated mysteries I encounters in my life, I still hope that one day a slow and complicated mystery will be solved quickly and simply. An associate of mine calls this feeling “the triumph of hope over experience”, which simply means that it’s never going to happen ...


There are those who say life is like a book, with chapters for each event in your life and a limited number of pages on which to spend your time. But I prefer to think that is a book is like life, particularly a good one, which is worth staying up all night to finish.

I've spent way too many nights up late, finishing a bit of life or a good book.

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Quote of the day

Oct 02 2015 Published by under Uncategorized

Lawrence Clark Powell was a librarian and author. He was friends with M.F.K. Fisher, a very interesting person in her own right, and Henry Miller and John Steinbeck.

“We are the children of a technological age. We have found streamlined ways of doing much of our routine work. Printing is no longer the only way of reproducing books. Reading them, however, has not changed; it is the same as it has always been, since Callimachus administered the great library in Alexandrea.

This may not always be true.

Depending on how you parse the following, it may or may not be true (whether it is about rising to greatness or maintaining it).

No university in the world has ever risen to greatness without a correspondingly great library... When this is no longer true, then will our civilization have come to an end.

Mr. Powell died before the internet became a thing.

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Quote of the day (Jay Leno knew about snowflakes)

Oct 01 2015 Published by under Uncategorized

I think high self-esteem is overrated. A little low self-esteem is actually quite good. Maybe you're not the best, so you should work a little harder.  ―Jay Leno

Bonus: an old  favorite:

Here's something to think about: How come you never see a headline like 'Psychic Wins Lottery'?

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