Search Results for "mother"

Mar 10 2016

More thoughts on my aging mother

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The sadness I feel when I visit my mother is often close to unbearable. But obviously, bear it one must. When I leave I often physically shake, like a wet dog, to shake off the feelings and move into the rest of the day.

But sometimes the feelings stay with me, like a burr on your sock. You know,  the kind that you notice because its got a small itch or irritation from the spines going through to the skin. You reach down and try and pull it off, but it won't come, because it and its 15 sibs are stuck tightly in the fabric of your socks. So you pull on them, and pull the sock away from your leg, and it seems better for about 10 minutes, and then that creeping little itchy irritating feeling starts coming back, gradually until you feel like you can't stand it any more.

Some days, that's how I feel after seeing my Mom. I am thinking about how she was, when intact (a very mixed bag indeed). I am thinking about what she is like now and what I can do to make it better for her (probably nothing, other than visit more). Sometimes I am thinking about how furious I am with my brother and sister who have effectively abandoned her. Yes they know that I am here, and I am watching and taking care. And if I wasn't, I believe that they would step in. Except, except.... the long cathartic paragraph I just erased about my sibs was best as a catharsis, and not necessarily entertaining for all of you.

So I write about my mother to honor her. I write about my mother to remove that burr from my sock so I can get on with my day. I write about my mother so that even if you don't know her name, her accomplishments, or just her, what she has done lives just a little bit longer.

2 responses so far

Oct 12 2014

Dreams and Mothers

I read a marvelous post by activist Deborah Jiang-Stein which is an excerpt from her new book. I don't want to give away the punch line, which is very powerful.

Part of that power was to make me think about lost children and lost mothers. No, not think, feel. I've written some about my mother, who was a powerful mentor to me from when I first thought I wanted to be a scientist. Aside 1: here is a difference between a boomer & a younger: My instinct is to say "when thought I wanted to be ..." and my junior colleagues would say "when I knew I was going to be...". Moving on.

My mother has end-stage Alzheimer's disease. When I moved to my new almost-MRU, I brought her with me. I had taken my last job at the old-MRU to be in the same city as my parents at the ends of their lives. My mother now needs 24-care, and I am extremely lucky that she saved enough money for this wretched end of life. Aside 2: anyone struggling with this issue who would like advice and suggestions based on my history, email me, we can talk. Right now, my mother is not the person who mentored me, fought with me, and over the years said many hurtful things. The person she is now is a different person. This is very hard for my sibs to understand, and they seldom visit her any more.

It's not entirely wretched. She has a little speech, but no language. She cannot feed herself but she loves ice cream. She smiles at me, sometimes. She gets angry, still. And she will occasionally kiss me, though she gets kissing and eating mixed up sometimes. And once when I laid my head down on her shoulder and started crying, she put her arms around me and made soothing noises.

One memory of her, of something that infuriated me at the time. Earlier in her disease, she'd have no time sense and call at all hours. She went through a couple of months where she'd call in the middle of the night and ask about the "little ones" or "my small ones". Sometimes she would be in a panic, not knowing where they were. I learned to say "Mom, I have the little ones. They are with me tonight. They are sleeping but they love you". Sometimes she would ask "are they safe?". Sometimes, she would say "that's good" and then just hang up. Now I hold onto this memory like a worn-out good luck charm.

I am friends with some of her friends, now in their 90's. Women of that generation at any MRU all knew each other. Most are sharp and insightful and a joy to talk with. They tell me stories about my Mom, and often those stories will trigger dreams. In my dreams my mother is intact, and talks to me. We fight a lot, which we did before. But she's there. She's talking to me. And that is enough.

Oh, one of my mother's best comments to me:

Get a PhD, not a husband. A PhD is more useful.


2 responses so far

Oct 16 2017

My day for surveys

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I got a survey, sent to people who were on study section from an independent scientist to ask about Sex as Biological Variable (see here and here).

Some of their questions were posed as "did proposals treat SAVB appropriately, yes/no" when the answer was "sometimes". Here is what I told them at the end:

The last few q's are difficult in that some proposals did and others did not, yet the questions are framed as all or nothing. Many/most proposals dealt with SABV appropriately. A few did not. Those were pointed out, and that was considered in the scoring.

In my experience (over 10 years on various study sections), the SABV policy has changed how proposals deal with sex.

Further, as a brief bit of history: My mother sat on study sections in the 70s & 80s. She was also part of a large (epidemiological) project that, at that time, was rejected to study heart disease in women because "we have the answers for men".

The world has changed.


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Aug 15 2017

We've forgotten (if we ever knew) what dead means

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On August 12th, a woman, a woman named Heather Heyer was killed. Murdered. She was young and was doing something she believed in, something which someone else decided she did not have the right to do and he was going to stop her.

She is now "the woman who was killed when...". And you read about all the other terrorists who had incidents of domestic violence in their pasts, and you remember all those other incidents you try to forget. All the people killed because someone else didn't think they had the right to live.

There is injury that maims, inside and out. There are scars and ugliness and things that are very hard to fix, if at all. Those are in people who are alive. We help them, we try to stop it from happening again.

But a woman is dead, and that cannot be changed. fixed. undone.

We'll move on, except for the people in her life.

Dead. Gone. Not coming back.

Sometimes, when it is your elderly, ill mother, you can do a little rationalizing dance in your head about it being her time, or better off now. You miss the person, and remember the life full of good and bad and try to stay on the good.

But when you lose a child or a partner or a best friend, there is a hole in your heart. Sometimes hot hot burning pain pours out of that hole. Sometimes its just cold and grey and filled with the I don't want anything of depression.

Gone. Never coming back.

Somewhere, many wheres, there is a mother, a father, a lover, saying: I just want to hear my child, my partner, my sister laugh one more time. I just want to tell her that I love her, one more time. There's so much I didn't get to say. There's so much we didn't get to do. Please.

I just want to hold my baby one more time.

7 responses so far

Aug 11 2017

Two perspectives on "dis"-ability

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WaPo just had two op-eds with  interesting perspectives by people that if one is not a clinician taking care of people with achrondoplasia or stroke survivors, one would not meet or work with every day. One is by Rebecca Cokley, a former exec director of National Council on Disability, who has achrondoplasia,  a disease that reduces bone growth, and as she says "the most common form of dwarfism".  The other is by Robert Fowler who had an ischemic stroke (blood clot in the brain). These two are different perspectives, and dealing with different issues. What united them in my mind was yet another reminder to me about the world out there. We, I, get so wrapped up in life that I can easily lose track of other people and their stories. People with physical challenges, people with "dis-abilities" often more so than people who just look different, are easily swept under the rug, and locked in a mental closet out of site.

Surviving a stroke is difficult, and Mr. Fowler is wrestling not only with  different physical capabilities, but with the shame of asking for help. He didn't intend to be ill or poor but has been dealt a rather bum hand. Not his fault that his parents weren't rich and that he can't afford the best health care that private insurance can buy.

There are good reasons, defensible reasons to promote a culture of "a hand up not a handout", and we are all or should be Clint Eastwood and Chuck Norris and totally self-reliant. Except, of course when we are not. And then it's hard. We are supposed to battle cancer, and be warriors in our own life. The metaphors of illness are of war and battle and fight. When I was very ill, I was just too damn tired of being sick to explore metaphor. And the asking for emotional and psychological help carries a stigma that makes the physical burden even more. Mr. Fowler paints this picture clearly.

Ms. Cokley has had achrondoplasia since birth, and is the third generation in her family. Her concerns are based on the announced breakthrough in gene editing and represent a much more difficult ethical dilemma. She makes the strong point that this announcement came on the anniversary of the ADA (Americans w/ Disabilities Act), a landmark piece of legislation that our current president has yet to understand. Ms. Cokley rightly points out that the language in many of the press releases talks about "unfit" and editing out mutations as "progress" and "remediation".  Her language is beautiful in describing the pain that "adult little people" felt when the gene was discovered:

I remember clearly when John Wasmuth discovered fibroblast growth factor receptor 3 in 1994. He was searching for the Down syndrome gene and found us. I remember my mother’s horrified reaction when she heard the news. And I remember watching other adult little people react in fear while average-height parents cheered it as “progress.”

How, if you are an average-height parent, do you explain to children whom you’ve spent years telling are beautiful the way they are, that if you could change them — fix them in a minute — you would?

Her discussion of the community and culture of little people is similar to what my Deaf friends, and my friends who sign, talk about for their life and community. They do not want cochlear implants at birth, they do not want their culture and their society, rich and complex, taken away. I freely admit to struggling with this. Music is so central to my life, how could I trade anything for that? But I try and listen, and Ms. Cokley's story is a good listen.

Her argument against gene-editing has two parts. Firstly, again, she talks about the beauty and the potential and the culture of being different. What is lost if every "imperfection" is corrected? What is lost if we all became perfect. This may seem to us, able-bodied as a reducto ad absurdum. How can we fix everything? But it is not for people within that culture.  Her other point is the ugliness of, as she says "society’s fear of the deviant — that boogeyman of imperfection'. It is what people, maybe too old for gene-editing, hear when normal-height (and that word sticks as I type it) say "fixing". In some ways physical differences, that are not skin color, or body size, are things we apply "dis" and "non" and "anomaly" and other words that mean "less" and "ugly".

Ms. Cokley implies that she wants to pass this culture, her culture,  on to her children, and does not want "fixes". She talks about how the vague language of the scientists and clinicians who talk about fixing "serious disease" avoids pinpointing what needs to be, or ought to be, or should be, fixed, once the "can be fixed" is done. There are discussions that have no occurred, part of her point. The articles about gene-editing do not talk to the people who might or might not be fixed and edited.

What is a parent to do in this situation? A parent who has not grown up in the culture of little people or Deafness might only want the best for their child. And one issue is that some of these "fixes" might likely have to be done at birth, or in utero, well before the human being who bears the gene can make a decision for him/her/xe self. If teenagers can rage about "why didn't you make me practice the piano" as much as "why did you torture me so much to practice piano", how much more rage will there be over the choice to edit or not edit one's genes? Is gene editing like gender fixing surgery of years gone by, when decisions were made about ambiguous genitalia at birth, something we now rightly regard with horror? Or is it like vaccines, where the ultimate good, to the individual is so strong, we want to mandate it (and yes, I recognize there is societal good to vaccines that may not apply here)?

I am grateful for these voices that make me think, once again, about the problems I do not understand.

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Jul 28 2017

Skills a PI needs or a snowflake's chance in hell

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H/T to Adam Kucharski

pointing to an article about training in management, titled "Not all PhD supervisors are natural mentors – some need training".

So let's look at a bunch of things.

Firstly, Adam is right. You may think you don't need that "leadership training", because you're not going to run for public office. But you do. There will be at least something worthwhile in terms of dealing with problematic students, techs, trainees and most likely Chairs-from-Hell. In the world of cost/benefit decisions, the immediate benefit may not seem so large, but it can be. It sure beats the school of hard knocks.

But secondly. Oye. This article was not going to convince me that I should get training, let alone work towards being a better human being. The sub-headline on the article is:

My supervisor’s high standards and cold manner made me feel inadequate. If only he had been taught how to encourage me.

WTF? Somehow the mentor is responsible for making someone feel inadequate? This is how legends of snowflakes rise. Reading on, the first part of the article is a litany of how bad the trainee felt. All the horrible and terrible and discouraging things that happened to her that were the mentor's fault. There was not one whit of self-introspection in the article.

Yes, it would be lovely if we all could be Mr. Rogers, Captain Kangeroo, or some wonderful grandmotherly figure (i.e., true, real life course evaluation: Dr. Theron is insufficiently nurturing to be a good teacher". That's not real life. But lots of us are Tony Stark, but without the money and nifty electronic things.

Yes, I do think its worthwhile shopping around for a good mentor. Let me put the list from that post here:

  • Look for individuals as mentors who enjoy their roles and responsibilities
  • Look for individuals as your mentors who are experienced yet willing to listen to your concerns and needs
  • Look for individual mentors with whom you can build a relationship on trust, mutual respect and confidentiality
  • Consider any personal and/or professional biases that they may bring to your mentoring relationship

But, in The Guardian article, the writer put the blame for failure on someone else's (lack of) people skills. Yeah, the mentor was a jerk. No, he wasn't encouraging, and perhaps did cross the line "between constructive criticism and cruelty". Yes, it would be great if every mentor was a psychiatrist and counselor and Buddhist spiritual guide. But they're not. They are human beings with the whole range of problems that human beings bring to the table that is human interactions.

The article concludes with the suggestion that

Academic institutions should develop and require mentorship training for staff at all levels, not just those who are early in their careers.

Let me suggest that this would have exactly no influence on the jerk who was so discouraging. Let me suggest that senior people are pretty damn resentful of being required to take training. Let me suggest that this is the suggestion of someone who is not mentoring or supervising or more importantly swimming as hard as they can to stay afloat in the competitive world of academia. This doesn't mean that such training wouldn't have the potential to help. Go see the first para of this post. But by and large, the BSD's of this world who might need this, if they went, which is unlikely to start with, would go with a phone or laptop full of Other Things To Do.  Required touchy feely seminars and workshops are not the way to change the system.

So grow up. If you want to do science, take some responsibility for finding the people who can help. The writer says she went looking for help and everyone turned her down. Really? She could not find a single person to help mentor her? A single friend, even outside of academia to help her with the confidence issues? I do not have much faith that this person will last long in any endevour. Find what you need. No one is going to hand it to you on a silver platter.

26 responses so far

Jul 24 2017

I've got your back

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There was an article about goddesses in the New Yorker last week. Darwin spare us, but not just goddesses, but Mischievous Goddess Parties for little girls with mothers who have more money than sense. Getting beyond the entitlement, I agree that anything that gives little girls power and authority and role models is probably a Good Thing. There is a quote from the article (sorry, can't find a link) from a mother after one of the parties:

I don't think she's latched on to the goddess part yet, but she likes the magic. All kids need to believe in something that's out there to help them.

Kids? Us Grups, too. (Points for identifying classical reference). I remember, clearly and painfully, a time when I really needed the support of my department chair. The old one. The chair from hell. One of the main reasons I left old-MRU. I was "leadership". I had a portfolio and people I needed to support. I had a problem. The problem had to do with getting proposals in to NIH in a timely fashion. In fact, just getting them done in time, without putting an extra-month burden on junior faculty. I was getting lots and lots of push-back from the business people in the department. Really, I was being road-blocked at every turn, and was doing clerical work myself to get the proposals done. Senior vice-chairs should not be doing clerical work.  I should have been spending that time reading & reviewing & editing proposals.  I spent months trying to solve this on my own. I told the chair what I was doing, and got nods of approval, and lots of "atta girl"s. But it didn't work. In the end, I went and pleaded with him. Laid out what wasn't working, why it was problem. How other departments solved this problem, all of which cost money and personnel. And that fucker turned to me and said something like "I have no respect for people who can't solve their own problems". And that was the end of the conversation about this problem. There were more Bad Things between us that happened after this. The problem in submitting proposals went on, with lots of consequences. But the consequences didn't get tied to the problem, and eventually, people just did their own proposals, and frequently, left the department.

What has stayed with me, years and continents later, was asking for help and being so perfunctorily turned down. Painfully turned down. Not acknowledged as working on something that I couldn't solve. Not getting the help I needed to do the job. Everyone wants to think there is someone out there who will help. As one gets older, one becomes more realistic about who or what is out there. It's one of the source of religions and belief in "higher powers". This can be a very comforting source of support, just as belief in an after-life is an anodyne to the slings and arrows of a less than satisfying life in the here and now.

But for those of us who chose to live in the here and now, or at least do not expect help from beyond whilst wrestling with the personal and professional villains, we tend to look to our flesh and blood allies. Ally is a word that has been both lauded and abused within other contexts of late. It has come to carry baggage. But here, I mean it in the most prosaic, unembroidered form. An ally is someone who should have your damn back.

This is the flip side of what do you own? (which ties back to the chair from hell, who didn't know what it means to be an ally). This is the real circle of life, the web of helping people and having others help you. Today's musical soundtrack for this are the symphonies of Sibelius, in particular a motif in the first movement of the 5th symphony. I hear my friends and allies singing to me.

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Jul 19 2017

Thoughts on funding and support for medical schools (part 1)

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Nobody thinks of medical schools as being particularly poor, or in financial trouble. Yet one comment  in an older post, together with a meeting I went to a few weeks ago, got me thinking.

Many people (here, IRL) are outraged that the university would try and make money on postdocs. Although I crashed the meeting to hear about the postdoc stuff, there was another presentation, first, from the chief financial officer. Because this is such a small place, people like the CFO do come talk to the faculty, which was not true of other, larger places. I have found that in MRU, policy, budgets and implementation strategies come down from on high to the plebs. Here, there is at least an effort to share information, although one's ability to actually do anything about it may be just as limited as in the Big Important Universities.

This presentation was based on percentages and compared a number of public medical schools, and some private ones thrown in for contrast. There is an awful lot that can be said about this, stuff that impacts me, the younger faculty I care about, and as a bell weather signal for the future in general. I want to make two points, one data analytic and one substantive about funding. But they're linked.

The statistical point is that he presented percentage data: where the money comes from divided into broad categories. One really needs to see the absolute data as well as the percent data. The broad categories were: tuition, research, state subsidy, and medical income (hospital/professional fees). The biggest difference was the percentages attributable to tuition and state subsidy (large in small schools) vs. research income (large in bigger schools).  The percentages may vary, but the absolute number is close to a constant across schools of all sizes. Tuition and class size are variable. But bigger places tend to have higher tuition and smaller classes, and it works out to a narrow range in the end, certainly the same order of magnitude in dollars. The state subsidy varies, but not greatly. It is a subsidy per student, so while it varies, it will be roughly the same dollar amount. [I want to set clinical income aside for a moment, and just take a look at research. There are many different models, with hospitals separate from med schools, etc etc, and without more information it makes this part of the equation difficult to assess].

So if you look at the percentages, they vary tremendously across Universities, pretty much a function of a size. But I bet that the size of the budgets vary by an order of magnitude. That means if one component is a constant in absolute dollars, that order of magnitude is shifted to the other components. Bad data analysis.

But even looking at the percentages, research is a much smaller part. So the money guys wring their hands and say "the researchers aren't doing enough". But of course, per capita, we are. We are just much fewer in number than at the Big Places. Of course this doesn't translate into policy to either: hire more researchers or provide better support the ones we've got. No, this is part of a justification for developing a two-set faculty: BigDog researchers, who bring in >80% of their salary, and teachers, who teach the equivalent of 18-20 credit hours per term (ie two big med school classes, each term). The model of the teacher/scholar is in danger.

But this is not the end of the analysis. As always, context is important, in this case political context.  States are actively, hostilely, and with total conscious intent, reducing their subsidies to public higher education, including professional schools. It is not a matter of "the states being successful" in reducing contributions. They are being successful at this.

Which actually brings up another point: control of state legislatures is overlooked. But it is critical.  It is critical for being able to call a constitutional convention (and get rid of such pesky things as same sex marriage, birth control, and voting rights). It is critical for support of "extra stuff", like education, clean water, and public prisons. Some of the states, such as Wisconsin, make headlines, when they do headline-making things (like try to get rid of tenure). But as far as I can tell, these trends are pervasive, even in democratic controlled states.

The data for my state, and my tiny medical school are out there with an in your face message: state support has been reduced, consistently, significantly, no matter what percentage or absolute number you look at. If tuition is capped by the states  (which it is here, and in many other states), and the subsidy is being reduced, the difference has to come from somewhere. States, unlike the federal gov't, have bigger problems if they run in the red, and they by and large do not let their univerisities do so. There are many sequellae, many implications, many problems that arise from this. There are people who say that public higher education is not necessary. They say that private schools do a damn good job; let them do it. Private schools have their own issues, which may ultimately translate into the same bottom line issues: the world is changing. We, little ants on the ground, see the part about reduced funding success, NIH grant demographics, extended postdocs. But the issues are greater. As the mother of one of my trainees said at her child's (same-sex) marriage: just because this is possible today, we cannot be complacent.



5 responses so far

Jun 23 2017

Criticizing people based on their age

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I object to the across the board, frequently negative, characterizations of "millennials" for a bunch of reasons, but they fall largely into three baskets.

In no particular order:

Firstly, I object to the whole damn generation thing on statistical grounds. See here.

Secondly, It's easy to find people who have negative traits or embody things you dislike or distain. You can probably find those characteristics in people of any age, and people with those characteristics at any point in historical time. Is it about the person or about the group? Do this trait appear more frequently in  a given group, defined by some other group characteristic?

And thirdly, which is really an extension of secondly, when someone does or says something you don't like, it's easy to paint with a broad brush and attribute it to their group membership. It's ok to do that with age groups (both young and old) these days, but we've sort of come to our senses about doing this when the group is race, religions, gender, orientation, and maybe a few more. (Note, this is different from Political Party Membership, which is much more of an active choice, but still, one needs to stop and think).

Now, maybe the thing they said or did or didn't do or didn't say that was objectionable to you was because of their group membership. But maybe they're just an asshole.  When you start making group generalizations, you run the risk of characterizing people who you might like, who you might find as a friend or an ally, who might help catalyze your growth, as being just like the asshole.

So why write this now? There was a comment on this blog, and it was considered rude and wrong and horrible by many people on the tweets. I'm not going to censor the comment, nor unfollow because of some very strong tweets. The discussion has had many good points that have made me think, and made me take some actions to support and defend young people, where I have the power to do so.  But I'm not interested in that broad brush that says "discount all the oldies". Discount me, because I'm ignorant or selfish or dress inappropriately. Unfollow me, because I'm a jerk, or insensitive or I like coffee too much. But because I'm old? It won't matter to me, but it might matter to you.

My mother, the gerontologist, was a life long democrat. She worked for Adlai Stevenson (ok, go read the link, I've made it easy for you) in the 50s and Civil Rights in the 60s. When Ronald Regan ran for office, there was a lot of talk about his not being able, because he was so old. She was furiously opposed to this line of thinking. "Criticize him because he's wrong. Because his policies are selfish. Because he's not too smart. But leave his age out of it. What if the guy you really liked for policy reasons was that old?".


6 responses so far

Jun 22 2017

Is it really 99.9% drivel, and how do you know what the other 0.1% is?

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In the post on "genius" and publication rate, someone remarked on the "the incremental drivel that populates 99.9% of journals today".

Nope. Nopity-nope-nope-nope.

Here's a better model than genius and drivel: explorers/pioneers/settlers. I won't guess %'s because I suspect it is a constantly evolving thing, with %settlers increasing over time.

Explorers sometimes find things and sometimes don't. Its hard to be a full time explorer today. Even for older, funded people, because its tough to get money to support exploration. Pioneers follow where the explorers found a hint of something, a suggestion of something. Pioneers can get money, sometimes. Settlers come after the Pioneers have done some land clearing and make a living there.

Now, one thing that can happen is that Explorers find a New and Exciting! method. Pioneers often find an application for the method, but the progress in science doesn't happen till the Settlers get there. Sometimes. Sometimes, you need a lot of Settlers, collecting a lot of data, till a larger pattern emerges, with New! Ideas!  We can all think of examples. PCR? Xrays?

Now as for incremental drivel? We can do basic science/evolution/ecology. We can do medical research. Lots of that incremental stuff is important. It may not be as exciting to the BSD's of this world. It may not get the headlines. But it's absolutely necessary.

Let's think about evolution for a moment. Or even Ecology. Finding fossils, describing distributions of plants,  may fall in a social category of exploring, but its often damn incremental work in terms of the science. It is the basic data of what tests theories and drives new ones. Heck, even doing population genetics can require a lot of tedious, incremental bench work. Let's not forgot that Mendel raised peas for years before he got to genetics. Darwin studied worms and corals as well as finches.

The tedious work of documenting ecological networks is often done on a set of species by set of species projects. It can be years in the making, and Image result for polyalthia rogstadyoung folks, heck old folks, publish a bit of it each year. What if you have a set of 10 species in a genus? They exist in sympatric (living in the same place) groups of 2-4 across a very large region (say, Thailand through Malaysia, Borneo, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea). How did closely related species evolve in the same place? How did they get to be different? How did evolution work in this case?  One may be able to visit a country or two a year. One must first show they are distinct species: cross breeding experiments? pollen distinction? different pollinators? differences in flower morphology (anyone who has taught or taken multivariate stats knows Fisher's famous Iris flower dataset)? I'm sure documenting the differences in 3 species that are found in Sumatra, Java and Kalimantan would count as "incremental". The person doing the research did. But after 2 or 3 or 4 years of data collection, and having reviewed, published, (validated?) the differences, to find out how distinct species can be right next to each other, tells us something about the ecology and the evolution of this (possibly obscure) set of tropical rainforest trees. They don't have much commercial value (they are small, and the flowers not spectacular). But we've learned something about how evolution works. Someone else does a similar project with small mammals, and small lizards. And one day, either the researchers get together and put it out together, or someone else sweeps in and organizes it, but A Big Picture Emerges! And we learn how this ecosystem works, together, with its diversity. And maybe some poor soul has been laboring to do the same thing in high latitudes, and they put it together, but their together is different from lowland tropical rainforest. That may be a Big Deal. But dammit, it couldn't be done with lots of incremental stuff.

The same thing can happen in medicine, the incremental improvement in chemotherapy drugs. Those increments can mean a lot to you, if it is you, or your mother, or your sister, or your daughter, who is dying. My friend, my beloved friend, who had Stage IV breast cancer is now, 18 months later, free of cancer. Yes, she has many sequelae and will live with a range of health issues. But she is alive. Five, ten years ago, she would be dead. I thank those unknown-to-me settlers who improved the drugs so that my friend is here.

I suspect we'd all like to be explorers, or pioneers. Maybe that's the dream we had when we were 10 or 15. And maybe we can hang onto that dream as we slog through the reality of grad school and being a post-doc cog in someone else's dream machine.

But to call that "incremental" work drivel is to truly miss the point. There is good work there. You may not know it. You may not recognize it. But there is work there that moves science forward. There is work that saves lives. How dare you denigrate that.



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