Archive for: April, 2016

In honor of Passover: Repost (with some edits)

Apr 26 2016 Published by under Uncategorized

Triaged Grants (and a Passover Lesson)

I have tried to do my part through a bunch of grantsmanship posts. There is lots of other Good Stuff on the web. But there is also lots of help around you. There are people who will read your grant, and critique it. One of our young turks persuaded our research office to spend some money to get a “professional” critique of her proposal (ie paying a sympathetic big dog to do a review). Its not hard to organize a “grant club”. Read someone’s SA’s each week, and then have a discussion about them. Nearly every university, especially med schools in MRU, has seminars on how to write a grant. I’ve run several for my T32 and opened it up to anyone who was interested. Except lots of people had excuses on why not.

Anyone can learn the grant game.

The biggest issue, in my years of mentoring is that younger faculty don’t know that they need to learn. Or they are too arrogant to think there is anything they can learn. You could take the four children at Passover (wise, wicked, simple and the one who does not know to ask) and apply this lesson to members of the faculty, not just junior, not just young, but the middle-aged tired folks, and the greybeards, too. The four children each ask a question, my edit to apply to grant writing (leaving aside religious implications, belief in a particular deity, and no offense meant to Jewish People):

  1. The wise child asks: “What is the meaning of … the rules and guidelines, written and unwritten, the things we should do to get funded?”
  2. The wicked or selfish child asks: “These guidelines are fine for you, but they don’t apply to me”.
  3. The simple child asks: “What should I do?”
  4. This final child is incapable of asking a question.

The standard answers to the questions are also instructive:

  1. To the wise child: We should instruct this child in all the laws and customs of Passover grant writing.
  2. To the wicked/selfish child:  It is obvious that this child does not want to be included in the celebration or the community, so we answer harshly, “We celebrate Passover offer help in writing grants because someone once helped us and we pay it forward of what the Eternal did for each of us. If you had been in Egypt, you would not have been thought worthy to be redeemed funded.” [note: this is possibly one of my favorite responses, simply because I would love to say this to various trainees. But you don’t have to. They won’t get funded.]
  3. We answer simply that “with a mighty hand the Eternal brought us forth from Egypt and from the house of bondage. Here is how you start….
  4. Because the fourth child doesn’t have the capacity to ask a question, we must explain that we observe Passover in order to remember what the Eternal did for us in delivering us from Egypt. writing a grant is a difficult process, and here is how it works.

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Those jokers at the NIH eRA Commons

Apr 20 2016 Published by under Uncategorized

So funny they are. Last night, when I ought to have been sleeping I got the following email (with a few judicious changes), titled "Application Assigned to Study Section", which is the title of email one always receives when one has submitted an application and it gets assigned to study section.

Of course I freaked. I have two applics in for the next round of reviews, but both had been assigned. Then I opened the email:

PI Name: Potnia Theron
SO Name: [SOFirstLastName]
Application ID: 1 R01 BSD088561-01

There has been a change in the assignment of your grant application entitled The Effect of Muscle Damage and Malnutrition on Bunny Hopping. Specific information about your assignment is available on the eRA Commons website at  Log in with your username and password.  Your user name is POTTYT. Then select the Status menu item, retrieve the grant application, and click on the Application ID link available in the result set. 

This bunny hopping application is NOT under review at the moment. The two "pending IRG review" are different, one on bunny prosthetics and one on very young bunnies. This application was scored (go team) in a study section that met in Feb. More freaking.

Next step, at 11pm, try and logon to commons from my phone, at home. Except, I've changed the pw, and I don't remember what it is. Ask for new pw. Wait for email. Change password. Re-logon. Freak, freak, freak.

On the Commons page: not a fucking thing. Not a thing. No changes since the review (no they had not changed my score - not better, not worse). Not a different IC. Not a different name of PO or anyone else. The last update showing was Feb something-or-other, when the link to review was posted.



Check on twitter. Ah Ha! Several tweeps had the same experience. With... a similar reaction. It was mildly reassuring. NIH was not out to get me, but out to get a bunch of us.

This morning, I am assuming it was a tech problem. I am assuming there was nothing serious. I am guessing that my score was not changed, and no more and no less money will be coming my way.

Why, oh why do they play with us?

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Quote of the Day: Rachel Carson

Apr 19 2016 Published by under Uncategorized

This is how I felt about living & doing field work in Australia, standing on the west coast near Broome (not my photo):

One summer night, out on a flat headland, all but surrounded by the waters of the bay, the horizons were remote and distant rims on the edge of space. Millions of stars blazed in darkness, and on the far shore a few lights burned in cottages. Otherwise there was no reminder of human life. My companion and I were alone with the stars: the misty river of the Milky Way flowing across the sky, the patterns of the constellations standing out bright and clear, a blazing planet low on the horizon. It occurred to me that if this were a sight that could be seen only once in a century, this little headland would be thronged with spectators. But it can be seen many scores of nights in any year, and so the lights burned in the cottages and the inhabitants probably gave not a thought to the beauty overhead; and because they could see it almost any night, perhaps they never will.


If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in.

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How to interrupt (or not) microagressions.

Apr 19 2016 Published by under Uncategorized

Over at Portrait of ... Peirama had a blog post titled How to encourage a supportive environment. The story she tells, in short, is that a (male) senior prof was talking about, in a science context, another senior prof, who was a trans-male individual. The senior prof kept referring to the other as "her" or "she". Peirama asked

"What is my role? Does my silence support this kind of behavior? Would saying something raise awareness and promote respect or just irritate people? Does the power differential between me and the speaker affect how I should react?"

This, indeed, is a Hard One.

When I read this I had two sets of response-thoughts. The first, from when I was young, was "of course!" If one does not interrupt oppression (as my generation would have said), then one will see it over and over again.  I've not just been there, I lived it. For me, for others who are not like me. And then I thought about this advice, from a senior woman to me, when I was a grad student about fighting injustice (read the whole thing if you want context):

If you fight it, 1) it is his word against yours and you will lose. 2) you will lose at least a year of time in your program, if you are able to graduate at all and 3) even if you do finish, you will also be known as the ‘women who filed a grievance against…’ rather than by your science”.

And this was about fighting something far larger than "micro" and done to me (with no one else willing to fight it).

These thoughts informed what I commented on the blog to Peirama:

Bottom line, you can work towards a respectful workplace. You can interrupt racism/sexism/ageism/abled-ism/etc when you see it. But sometimes, when someone is on the path, and working towards a goal, interruption won't move the person or the workplace forward.

But the second stream of thoughts, later, is part of what prompted me to write more, now.

I remembered what it felt like to be the hearer of unwelcoming verbiage. I remembered what it felt like to want to fix the world in the face of such words. To help others who had even more problems to shoulder than I did. But I tried to stop and put myself in the shoes of the Prof who was screwing up. My immediate response would be: but of course I would never do anything so heinous. Well, not knowingly. In fact, I probably have. I've lived long enough that I know I've hurt people. That I've done and said stupid things. And probably a lot more than I know or remember or would even willingly acknowledge behind a pseudo.

So, what if I had, unwittingly, unintentionally, called someone by the wrong pronoun? And what if a graduate student or junior faculty told me, senior woman in the department (and the department before, etc), that I had said something "wrong", even in the nicest possible way?

Honestly? I would be embarrassed. I would not have meant to insult anyone. I would not have meant to make the environment less than welcoming. So my response would be  "thank you, it was a mistake on my part" to the corrector.

But, and a big but it is, I would at some level be pissed at them. Not rational. Not necessarily right. But what the fuck is this young thing, who didn't spend the years that I've spent fighting all the things I've fought telling ME what I am doing wrong? I am pretty sure I wouldn't say anything other than the thank you. I am pretty sure I'd be doubly careful in the future with pronouns (goal of corrector). But I am also pretty sure I'd avoid the corrector in the future and limit my interactions with them. I would walk on eggshells to make sure I wasn't doing anything that smacked of retribution, but I wouldn't want to interact with the corrector if I could help it. An honorable response? No, but I'm trying to follow the outcomes as honestly as I can, here and now.

Now this set of outcomes? ZThat's me, who recognized I did something less than perfect. I know I have colleagues who would give the same polite response (because they are professional) in public, and in private excoriate the corrector: who the fuck does the corrector think they are?  Others would  absolutely cut off anything but the most superficial contact required by the situation, with the justification "they obviously don't think much of me, so damned if I'm going to waste time on them".

Peirama's goal is laudable:

to make the speaker and the other people in the conversation aware of how their words affect other people.

She wants to make this little corner of the world better and more welcoming for a group of people who have a very hard social row to hoe. But Bill's reply captures what I think would be perceived by a lot of older (white, male) faculty:

Policing someone else's behavior is always a claim to power over that other person.

No matter whether the policing is the goal, it is an effect of the behavior. For many, the criticism, whether or not they agree that using the wrong pronoun is a problem, is far ruder & insulting, far less "welcoming" and in fact (though they might not use these words), a claim to power by a junior person over a senior person.

Peirama is asking for advice and strategy. One must know to whom you are speaking, and a sense of their response. It is galling to think that one must tailor one's response to the audience. If the speaker has done something awful, should it not matter who they are? Yet, there is a cost benefit analysis to be done here. What is the cost in speaking out? Is it worth the benefit (to the larger community? to one's sense of ethics?)? There are injustices everywhere in this world, one does not challenge them all. Where is the line on what to do? Or is waiting to fight, err.. interrupt -isms, another day, a better strategy in the long run?



I discussed this with some of my lab peeps. Yes, they know who I am, but I also know who they are. It works out ok. Anyway, what was said, quite succinctly was: it depends on the tone of voice. how is the correction made? Who else is involved? Anyone in earshot? Context, context, context.

My reaction to someone saying, gently, "P, do you realize what you just said? and how it might sound?" is a lot different than someone who thinks they have the truth by the balls and is accusatory about a perceived transgression & sin. And one thing is sure, in my post & Peirama's, tone, intent and subtlety is tough to convey in a narrow bandwidth post of a couple hundred words. Sigh. Which is just another reminder that wetware is still capable of much more than can be gleaned from a written page.

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When to leave the party

Apr 18 2016 Published by under Uncategorized

Whizbang wrote a series of wonderful posts about going to the Experimental Bio meetings. EB is actually a series of organizations including physiology, anatomy and....

One of her best posts (for me at least) is talking about why she is going to these meetings, despite having given up her lab. It is a beautiful tribute to the science that underlies medicine. I have taken her words to heart and will use them when I teach the first year med students, who by the end of the term are sufficiently jaded to question why they have to learn basic science.

I had another, very personal reaction to her post, as she spoke about leaving research. She's not as old as me (I think), and is certainly working hard at other important & valuable things that an MD can do. And, importantly, from her writing, she is enjoying what she does.

I've seen lots of models of how to age in this world in which we live. I know people, in their 80s still scientifically & intellectually active. I'm not talking about the big dogs, hogging R01s.  These are people writing up the last things they have to say. Not funded (so relax, my genX friends), but still thinking, still engaged. One of my early mentors, in a different field, in a different life, quit at about age 65. He left the Big City University, bought a house in a small town in the middle of Lake Michigan, and with his artist wife, lived another life, very happy life.

I've seen people who have stayed too long at the dance, the academic equivalent of drunk and ill and socially ugly. Lonely, but not knowing what else to do, until someone had to ask them to first give up their lab, then their teaching. Some of these people had early dementia, some who had other health issues, some were just tired, but didn't know what else to do.

Then, there was my friend Bob. Bob was a single dad, who had not been well treated by his -ex. He raised two great kids with whom I am still good friends). He rediscovered an old love, renewed the love, got married. But he had a job in one place and she in another. They were mid-50s, and didn't quite have enough money to retire. So they lived apart, saw each other as possible, launched their kids. Finally, after about 3,4 years, his love retired and moved to where Bob lived. They were happy. They had a new-to-them house. Just them. Bob was trying to figure out how to swing retirement, so they could do things and not be tied to the academic year. He gave up his lab, tied up his research loose ends. He was a great teacher, but told me he was teaching for the money, and wished he didn't have to. His teaching was great and he did the intro classes no one else really wanted to do. He had Plans, but they were a year or so off. And then he died. Suddenly. In a silly, stupid, horrible accident. He and his love had had dreams, but they were not to be.

I do not want to die in the saddle. I do not want to stay too long at the party. I do not want to have dreams and plans and die before I get them to them (although if I die, how will I know?). Yet, right now, I still have some science left in me. I still have lots of ideas. I have trainees who I think I am helping. But I also have an incredible partner. I see the models, but none seem to fit. Right now. Right now.







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Quote of the day: They are also called BSDs

Apr 15 2016 Published by under Uncategorized

There are two types of people--those who come into a room and say, 'Well, here I am!' and those who come in and say, 'Ah, there you are'. -- Frederick L Collins

This pairs nicely with:

I have noticed that the people who are late are often so much jollier than the people who have to wait for them --E. V. Lucas

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Best Neck in Mammalia

Apr 14 2016 Published by under Uncategorized

Giraffes of course


Link to info is here.


And stats for those who care: Gestation is roughly 14.5 months and calves are 125-150 pounds and six feet tall at birth.


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Ugh and Double Ugh

Apr 14 2016 Published by under Uncategorized

Email received:

Dear Colleague,

My name is Nicole and on behalf of Cyagen Biosciences I would like to invite you to enter our latest contest!

Would you like to help Cyagen break the stereotype of nerdy scientists and show the world that smart is sexy? If so, then please enter our "Smart is Sexy" calendar competition today! To enter, visit the official contest page and submit photos and a brief description of yourself and your research. You are qualified to enter if you are a member of the scientific community, whether a grad student, technician, post-doc, PI, or something else entirely.

Twelve men and twelve women will be selected as winners to be featured on our 2017 calendar entitled "Sexy Men and Women of Science", to be widely distributed through our extensive marketing networks. Winners will receive five free copies of the calendar plus 50% off (up to $1000) their next order at or; while runners-up will receive two free copies of the calendar plus 40% off (up to $400) on their next order at or Plus, the infinite fame and glory of being featured on the calendar! Deadline for entries is August 1, 2016, so enter today!

Best,Nicole Shellard

Marketing Outreach Coordinator

This is wrong. This is very very wrong. When did how we look become important?

Update: lots of speculation on getting the douchebag who wrote this fired. All I can think of is what I wrote in this post. Well-meaning douchebags with the empathy and emotional breadth of a gnat.

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Things that won't happen: aging parent edition

Apr 13 2016 Published by under Uncategorized

You will not see: take your aging, demented parent to work day. Or: Aging, Demented Parent Room at the gym, so you can exercise while someone else watches your parent. Or: Company/University Picnic or Christmas Party with !Special Activities! for aging, demented parents. Or: Aging, Demented Parent Care at your professional meeting, so if you have to bring your aging demented parent with you, you can attend some sessions.

Aging, demented parents have many of the same social and psychological issues as young children. Toilet issues. Inability to deal with hunger issues. Lack of executive function, self-control, and easy frustration. But aging, whether demented or not, parents are seldom as endearing as small children. Other people's demented parents are orders of magnitude less charming than other people's children. We live in a society that often warehouses our elderly. The quality of that warehouse is directly proportional to resources. At the bottom, they are called "Medicaid Mills" and meet "legal standards", but are horrific in any societal sense. They may be better than living by oneself, eating cat food, with no cleaning, personal or household, available. They may be better than taken into the woods, or out on the mountain, and left to die in the elements.

Some mornings I wake up missing my parents, who my mother used to be. Other mornings I wake up either furious or despairing of the burden I have in caring for her. And my burden is not particularly heavy, compared to others. I want to meet the children of my trainees and my colleagues. I rejoice in their families. But I do not kid myself: no one wants to meet my very sad, aging, demented mother.

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Ellen and Mississippi "its the only state I can spell"

Apr 07 2016 Published by under Uncategorized

“I was fired for being gay, and I know what it feels like,” she said. “I lost everything, but look at me now. I could buy that governor’s mansion, flip it and make a $7 million profit.”


"I advocate for less sitting and more dancing".

Can I get a witness?

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