Search Results for "old fart"

Oct 13 2015

Repost: Hard Thoughts about the Death of Old Farts

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I wrote this nearly three years ago, when I was blogging with Mama Isis. This post was cathartic for me. But for people who think what happened in Berkeley is unique, I am here to say, it's not (take a look at the comments from the original post). For people who think academic in particular lets people get away with this because of tenure, you are wrong. For people who think it's just about women, that's wrong too.

The world is not changing fast for many. And I hear lots of "the message of Berkeley is that it doesn't matter and you can get away with it". I see something else. If think that right now that whole department is filled with unhappy puppies. Things don't ever change fast enough. But they are changing and that makes me happy.


I had a rough time when I got my Ph.D. My degrees were not in life sciences (that came later), and in fact I was just about the only woman in my major in college, and usually the only woman in my major’s classes. One of the hard lessons I learned, and painfully at that, was that no one cares if it is someone else’s bad behavior that elicits your own stupidity. I did stupid things, things that did not help my career, frequently in response to male professor’s unpleasantness (much of which would be actionable, now). It’s the Mommy Solution writ large (“I don’t care who started the fight, you are both in time out for the rest of your life”).  For women in science,  there is a very real conflict here: it doesn’t matter what he did, you cannot use that as an excuse for your unacceptable behavior. BUT… we shouldn’t have to deal with HIS bad behavior to start with.

When I was a grad student, I was rather crudely propositioned by a senior male faculty known for tearing through the few female grad students like spoiled fish through a tender digestive tract. I went to the (only) senior female faculty member in the department. She was quite the feminist and supporter of students. She sat me down and said that I wouldn’t like her advice. I didn’t. She said “My recommendation in general  to take this up the line and fight it. This guy is a jerk and has done this to many others. However, my advice to you in particular is to forget it. 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”. I did nothing. It was horrible for a while, and then I finished and got over it and became successful. The senior woman ended her advice to me with “and… you will outlive him and that will be a good thing”.

The schmuck died recently. I’m not sure that it’s a good thing. But, he doesn’t, and hasn’t for a long time, really mattered to me.

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Apr 14 2017

Quote of the Day: Olde Farte Survival

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Apropos ongoing discussions about giving time of day to evil human beings:

If you wait by the river long enough, the bodies of your enemies will float by. ― Sun Tzu

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Mar 25 2015

Best Birthday Cards (Olde Farte Edition)

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



So me...

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Jan 19 2016

Course Reviews & The Older Woman

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I got my course reviews from last term. Its a big class (the entire first year medical class) and I give about 10 lectures and many many hours of lab. This year nothing approximated the best comment from my first year teaching at almost-MRU:

Dr. Theron is insufficiently nurturing,

a comment that I am sure men have received through the ages.

This year I was compared (unfavorably) to the two young, relatively goodlooking men who teach in the course.

Why can't Dr. Theron be more like Dr. Good and Dr. Looking? They are incredible teachers who really care about students.

Actually, if the students knew the truth about Drs Good & Looking's sentiments about students they might feel differently.

There has been lots of work on perceptions of teaching and student evaluations. One interesting place to look is here, from Ben Schmidt. He took the the 14 million reviews from and turned it an interactive website that lets you type in words and see the gender split measured in "uses per millions words text". For example (in a very bad image, I encourage you to go the web page itself):

gender diffs

The yellow dots are occurrences of "happy" for female instructors and blue dots the occurrences  for male instructors, again, per million instances, over a number of fields.

gen dif 2Try "good" and "excellent" and "challenging" and "valuable". Try "nurturing" or "evil". Unless you really believe that females make more evil professors than males, there is a problem here (and not just my inability to capture images from this web page). Although see this for another view. And this.  Age also factors into perception, with significant interaction between age and gender, with young males getting the highest ratings for a limited number of variables.

For me, this is not so much of problem, except for my slightly bruised ego. The head of the course (older, male) basically said that he didn't give a damn about the specific comments. My overall numbers were sufficiently good, and he thought my lectures were fine, even strong. Its also not a problem as I am not up for tenure. If the bias is against older women, it won't play into tenure too much, because we all know that older women don't need jobs because they are supported by their partners (unless of course you've got two older lesbians).

Part of my problem, to my thinking which includes a sample size small, is the change in students. This is material I've been teaching for many years, taught in medical schools, and undergraduate courses, and grad programs. I've kept up with the "new pedagogy" and even (yes, that old) weathered the transition from overheads to powerpoint. Over time, my reviews have changed, for the worse.

Now, it could be less enthusiasm for teaching on my part. It could be less fear about promotion and evaluations. I do not hold that I have stayed the same. Obviously not, I'm significantly heavier than I was as an assistant professor with more pubs, and my bad attitude has subsided, a little. But my reviews have followed a nice parabolic trajectory. Dreadful in the beginning (when I was younger than the medical students), improving, but then dropping about 5-7 years ago. In this latter time period, I've improved those scores (at least) as I try & modify to meet the needs of "today's students". I now give detailed handouts, despite this:

To provide or not to provide course PowerPoint slides? The impact of instructor-provided slides upon student attendance and performance Debra L. Worthington, David G. Levasseur Computers & Education Computers & Education 85 (2015)

 As PowerPoint has pervaded today's college classrooms, instructors have struggled with the issue of whether or not to provide students' with copies of course PowerPoint slides (instructor-provided slides).While students report that such slides assist them academically, many instructors have expressed concerns that these slides encourage absenteeism and classroom passivity. To help assess the academic impact of instructor-provided slides, the present study examined two semesters of students' progress in a communication theory course. Across these semesters, the study charted the relationship between access/use of various types of instructor-provided slides on class attendance and exam performance. In its key findings, the study found that instructor-provided slides had no impact on class attendance and an adverse impact on course performance for students using these slides in their notetaking process.


My second favorite comment, 2-3 years ago was:

Dr. Theron actually expects us to take notes during her lectures. Why can't she put all the information in her handouts?

America, these are your future doctors.

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Feb 05 2016

The New NIH Biosketch & Their Do's and Don'ts: Part 2

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Ok... so part 2 is a little later than I would have hoped (here is part 1). But, shall we plow on? Yes, we shall. The rest of their advice from this page.

Don’t stuff your biosketch with data and information that do not belong there.

Oye. I'm reviewing grants right now, and I can tell you, the temptation to put all sorts of stuff here must be very high, since a full half of the biosketchs I've seen have things that I am just not interested in, not relevant, and irritating. Remember that the very last thing you want to do is irritate the reviewer. I've often said the meta-advice for writing grants is: do not piss off the reviewer. What is irrelevant and does not belong here? Preliminary data. The list of everything you have ever published. More difficult to discern are things that are not in support of your grant or career that explain your delay. You are supposed to put stuff in the Personal Statement such as:

May include a description of factors e.g. family care responsibilities, illness, disability, active duty military service to explain impediments to past productivity

but everyone I've talked to says that you need to be very careful about this. There may be hidden prejudices (against time out for pregnancy or military service). Such may be illegal, and even unethical. That doesn't mean they don't exist. Certainly if your pub record has a hole in it because you were gone, its worth noting here. One example that I think worked was a new colleague hired at a MRU. Everyone there got a lighter teaching load the first year, but the course in which  my friend was hired lost its course director, and they asked her to step in & run the (gulp) enormous first year med school class. They promised (and made good on) a year's break from teaching in her year 3 of employment. It worked brilliantly, to the point, where it could be a strategy for others to consider: she didn't have a lab the first year, and spent it organizing, but in year 3, rather than teaching she had a mini-sabbatical and was massively productive. She put this in the personal statement, and it was positively noted in the reviews.


Take advantage of the option to provide links to your publications via SciENcv or My lBibliography. 

Only 1 in 3 or 4 bothered to do this. I can see the Old Fartes not doing something new (they didn't seem to read the instructions, either, but that's another story). But why oh why would a young person not do this? Many people have said (on the tweets or in person to me) that they are not going to waste time reading all the nonsense in the new format, they just want to see the pubs. If this is the case, then providing the reviewer with a one-link, one-click place to get that info is going to be very valuable. Putting the list in your biosketch is (allegedly) forbidden. It is also another way to piss of a reviewer who cares about the rules. For my part, I try and ignore rule-breaches, but probably in the way that we all have biases of which we may be unaware, its probably there in the back of my mind.

Relax if you are a new investigator: the new requirement can only help you, since study sections cluster the reviews of new investigator R01 applications.

Hahahahaha. Relax, new investigator, NIH has your back. Tone-unbelievable-deaf.

Update on being a new investigator from DataHound: The NIH Early Career Reviewer Program-Some Key Parameters. I have long advocated doing this. Here are the statistics to support it.

Bottom Line: List only pertinent information in your biosketch, and know your application could be withdrawn if you don’t use the new biosketch format.

Given the number I've seen that have either ignored this part or that, I am not sure this is true. Its one thing if the whole biosketch is in the old format. Someone just didn't care enough, etc etc. But when parts conform (ie the five areas with four pubs, or is it four areas with five pubs? I am sure that after doing this 6 or 7 times, I will have it memorized), and others don't (as in, oh by the way here is a list of my favorite 26 pubs since 1966), its a sure indication someone read the rules, and said screw this.

But, for young investigators, new investigators, and really any of us that want to get funded, following the logistic rules is a small thing. Why give the reviewers any cause for rejecting you, or even just being annoyed?

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Jul 13 2015


From my journals, not edited:

I've started to write this several times, without much success. Partly, I am very tired, tired of traveling, tired of packing and unpacking. I hesitate to say that they had it right 100 years ago. Traveling more slowly, with enormous trunks of clothes, was it easier? But 100 years ago, I would not be traveling - it was limited to a stratum of society to which I would not have belonged. Sometimes  I wonder whether I would have ever fit into society. It is romantic to think not, but I suspect most women were sufficiently socialized to accept the roles that were available to them.

Vienna  was larger in many ways than either Krakow or even Budapest. The buildings felt larger, the characters felt larger, the life being lived was louder and larger. Krakow was very touristy, but in Vienna there was a glimpse of life being lived. Yet, of course, Americans, when they think at all, think of Austria being dead. And in ways it was - the glory was in the past. It was not clear that a young and vibrant community was building anything.

[Which brings up a side-thought - are there young and vibrant communities building things anywhere? Or am I an old fart who does not see the accomplishments of youth?  Is anyone building a city the way Vienna was built? Or do you have to be a Hapsburg? Do most youth of any point in time indulge themselves, and see themselves as the tortured and misunderstood geniuses of their city?]

The concert, as was true of the concert in Warsaw, was saccharine. I did not share this view with anyone but Ann. But the Mozart and Strauss they played could have been supermarket music. The group was accomplished, the dancing and singing diverting. But the choice was to appeal to a base denominator of taste.

I enjoyed the House of Music more. This is a museum of sound, and was quite different from anything else I saw or did so far on this trip. The third floor was the science of sound, some about hearing, some about production, they even explained Fourier transforms. The fourth floor was a museum of the greats, starting with Haydn, but Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, and then Strauss, Mahler and lesser lights.

I learned some about the history of these men (they were mostly schmucks, each in their own schmucky way, and nothing was said about women, except as wives and mistresses, and nothing about anyone who was not a white protestant male). This in turn raises the ongoing discussion about the life of the artist vs. the art that they create.

I have always preferred to not know the life. I'd also rather not know the name. Should the art be appreciated for itself? Yes, I believe in the purest form. But within even the context of that purity, there is room for more, defensibly arguing for the setting, the history, the story behind. In one simple, outside the art argument - one can find what one loves better with such guideposts. While not being prejudiced in advance, one has the potential to discover new and different and grow beyond the old. But there is so much, that having the guideposts helps. Could guideposts be on content? (say piano rather than electric guitar) Could one remove the cult of the person ?

The more powerful defense is that context enriches the art. That understanding the influences, the teachers, even the patrons clarifies what the artist was trying to accomplish. The change in Haydn's music from the time in the employ of the Esterhazy's to the London symphonies is a reflection of who was footing the bill and their tastes. Knowing what was going on when Haydn started composing, what each of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert heard, makes the novelty, the genius of their work stand more starkly forth.  Finally, knowing that all of the guys started out relatively poor (except maybe Mozart) and worked their way to fame and greatness is not just inspiring to musicians but to all of us.

Yet, at what point does knowing context tip over into the cult of the person? This happens all the time in science. Why should it matter what beer Einstein drank? Or  where Francis Crick summered? Does where Marie Curie lived matter? One could argue yes, to understand what she gave up to devote herself to science. But Einstein's beer? This cult is more obvious in artists, especially today's pop artists. It was true of Mozart and Haydn, and others. Does it matter if the artist is dead or alive? Alive they have a chance to earn a living as an artist, always a precarious proposition.

But me, my experience, what did learning about Haydn's parrot (who could allegedly say "Papa Haydn") and seeing his handwriting, and the houses where he lived matter to my perception? I learned more of the "why" behind his invention of the string quartet (those were the players available to him when he started writing). And of course, I appreciated the long work, hard work to get where he was. I cannot answer for now. No answer popped out.

As we drive through the countryside, there are huge windfarms. 100s and 100s of modern windmills with red and white striped (for Austria?) tips. I understand how the folks on Martha's Vinyard, etc object to the offshore farms, but I think they are wrong. We live with wires and buildings and all sorts of structural detritus of human existence, and windfarms are just one more. But one that might make a difference in the long run.

More on the Jews of Austria later.

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Apr 02 2015

Home from EB

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I had a Good Meeting. Things that went well:

My talk.  I was going to say I have become one of the olde farts about which I used to complain. That I dashed off my talk and didn't put energy/time/effort into it. One of the old farts who stands, or usually sits, at a table and Holds Court.

But I haven't. I went to all the posters in my society, I reached out to students I didn't know and asked about their work. My sense that I have become one of the jerks that doesn't put energy into their talks isn't true. What is true is that writing and giving talks has over the years become much much easier for me. What is also true is that I no longer obsess about the very small stylistic/design issues that keep one up at night in the hotel the night before one's talk. I was able to do my talk before I left, and didn't take a computer. My shoulders thank me. My talk was good. I had good context that put my work in a place that others could understand. I made good specific points. I made my peeps co-authors and had their names big on the first slide. Someone noticed that, and asked me about it. I love my peeps.

Other things that were good: Talking with tweep friends. Breakfast with @doc_becca: her hand-nails are the same color as my toe-Dr. Isisnails. I saw Mom.  Seeing Mom is always good for me. Mom looks good. Mom always looks good. I love Mom.

I missed the tweet-up on Sunday night. I missed it because I had dinner with one of my long-time fuzzcollaborators. He is in his late 80s and gave a kick-ass talk at the meetings. I said to him that I am now older than he was when we started working together. It's been a long time. I am a scientist because of his intellectual generosity.  I love the tweeps, but dinner with him was the second best thing that happened in Boston to me.

The best thing was having dinner with my nephew who is an undergrad at Tufts. He is going to major in geology. Woot! woot! (I was a geologist in a previous life. Um, that would be before you were born, but after I was). We went to a fancy restaurant in Harvard Sq and had a fantastic time. I love my nephew. He is smart and witty and a great person to talk with. The two hours went by way too quickly.

I also learned a lot, heard some good talks. My favorite was on sea horse tails by seahorse tailDominique Adriaens. Great biomechanics. Great research and a good solid story about why something looks the way it does and works the way it does.

There were some not great things. It is always wonderful to see people, and talk with people. But I was left with some real concerns. Nothing new. The same story about survival in science. Survival in all the age groups/generations. But it was very visceral to me. These merit a separate post, and this is coming.



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Feb 03 2015

Having hands, and keeping hands

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Its no secret that I am an old fart scientist. Blue hair. I'm even getting to have a grey beard (though I shave regularly). I don't feel old. But then I can still remember my 60+ year old grandmother, thumping her not inconsiderable chest, saying "in here is a 17 year old girl". At the time (age 13? 15?) I remember being baffled and disbelieving. Now, not so much.

In the past few days three different people, of different ages have commented on how I am running my lab as "an oldie". Ha ha ha ha. Screw that oldie crap. One of the people, one of my oldest friends (as she says, I have to be her friend, she knows where the bodies are buried. Which is to say, by the time you do get to my age, there are a lot of buried bodies), said that I had kept my hands.

Yes, I still "do" science. I still do lab work. My lab is a physiology/biomechanics lab, and I don't run gels, mix reagents, or work with cells. I work with whole, live, pissing and puking (large-ish) animals. No rodents. No treble either. The bottom line: I like science, nay, I love science. I like doing science.

I know there has been some debate about this on DM's blog, and I am too damn lazy to go back and find it. But, its the idea/argument/debate about as you become senior how much time you spend in the lab. I don't do everything any more. I do not pull the night-time shift to feed infant animals. I remember CPP (??) whether you need to be able to do everything that happens in your lab, or whether its ok to have postdocs who know how to do things.

As usual its green - bluish-yellow problem of being in the middle. Totally hands off is bad. Totally hands on is bad. Finding the balance is tough. Could I go into my lab and run an experiment? Yup. Could I do it as well as my post-doc and tech? No fucking way. Do they know this? I hope so.

Meantime, I intend to keep my hands. I have lots of friends (well, maybe not lots, I am too damn difficult to have lots) my age who are sad, tired, or just discouraged. They are 60+, and have to be working. They are doctors, lawyers, even artists and social workers. They want to quit. They are cutting back. Some of these folks don't have the resources to cut back, let alone retire. This is not an opening for the self-diagnosed disenfranchised to yell at me about stepping out of the way so that they can have an R01/job/lab. Yes there are old farts clogging up the system. There are also plenty of older people living on the edge.

I am not going to argue there is a 17-year old inside of me. Hell, my 17-year old self, if not laughing her ass off at me, would be really pissed at the number of important (to her) dreams I've given up on. But I have my hands. I love science.




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Jul 29 2014

Writing a PhD thesis and thoughts from The Thesis Whisperer

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I've just found the thesis whisper blog. The post I read first was about academic assholes, something that resonated deeply with me. I spend a lot of time on a subspecies of AA, the BSD.

I started reading other posts from TTW and came across this one on The Zombie Thesis. Her idea of a Zombie thesis was one that didn't live - it was ideas but no structure. One of her examples was a thesis with the comments:

he got his draft back from his supervisors with comments like “it is not a thesis yet”, “Where is your voice?” and “this is boring”.


A Zombie thesis can walk and talk, but it isn’t really alive.

A zombie thesis looks like a thesis – with title pages, chapters, graphs and charts – but the parts aren’t quite hanging together yet. This is largely because the apparatus we rely on to orient us in the text: introductions, transitions, topic sentences and so on, are not always in the right order, or they are missing in action.


Although the post was interesting, after reading it I can't give you a one sentence summary. I'm not sure why these problems make it a zombie thesis. But it did make me think about what makes a good thesis.

I think some, if not many, of the problems that TTW outlines in her blog can be / are easily avoided by science PhD's. If you think in terms of scientific papers. The best thesis, which I blogged about before, is one that you get published before you defend. This is not easy. I know. If you write your thesis as a series of publishable papers, then you are being held (by the journal) to a slightly different standard that a "normal/usual thesis". With respect to science, the standard is usually higher. With respect to clarity of presentation, it is almost always higher. With respect to filling in the little details, literature review, and a bunch of other stuff that I think unimportant, the standard in a journal will be lower. No one there cares about a lit review.

I have never understood people who say "you must write a classical thesis, with chapters, and a lit review". In The Olden Dayes, when scientists wrote Bookes, this made sense.  One was producing one's first piece of adult work. Now a days, many of the BSD's write books for their own greater glory, but seldom are they (the books, but possibly the BSD's) the cutting edge science that gets jobs, tenure and grants. Why make students do something that has little relationship to what their Growne-Uppe Job is going to be?

I often joke with my lab that we are a factory that is assessed on our widget production and our widgets are scientific papers. (I know this is a dreadful reductionism that leaches the joy and substance out of what we do. Please, its a joke). If you are going to go work in a widget factory, why insist that the student build a dishwashing machine, if they are never going to do that again (or at least not till they are an old fart)?

My PhD advisor occasionally had a good thing or two to say to his students. One of them was: doing science is not putting another brick in a large edifice. Doing science was part of a living organism that could grow, and contract, and remodel itself. The parts were interactive with other parts. But the bits we make that interact are the papers, the posters, the talks we give. I believe, strongly, that asking trainees to do something that has nothing to do with what they are being trained for is a waste of their time, my time, and an insult to the organism.




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Jun 12 2014

Disappointment in Science: Do I really have to be the adult in the room?

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Sometimes I am proud of myself, for example, when I don't give in to my childish impulses to sass the department chair from hell during our interminable faculty meetings. It only leads to trouble. But there are other times when it is hard work to Do The Right Thing (as Spike Lee would have it).

As I tweeted yesterday (and got lots of wonderful support - thank you peeps), my competitive renewal (which is I think of a competing continuation, because thats the old name, and I am an old farte) did not get scored. When I was younger, I would have left work then, and gone and  cried or huffed and given vent to my unhappiness. I would have eventually drunk a lot of scotch and eaten a lot of chocolate. Now I have too many people depending on me. . My point in tweeting about this is: it is fucking hard to get funded. Even for the bluehairs.  But responding this way wasn't the hardest thing I've done this week.

We had an animal die in surgery. Not a rodent. A large animal. At the end of a very complex surgery. After 5.5 hrs of work. After more than a week of training. It was my fault, I wasn't paying enough attention to the person paying attention to the vitals. I brushed the tech off and keep going. The person at the vitals thinks it was their fault for not being insistent enough. The post-doc thinks it was their fault for not paying attention to everything, because it is their project. But right after it happened, and we were doing the post with the vet, both the assistant and postdoc looked bad. Green-unhappy-about-to-cry-or-puke bad. I wrenched myself out of my feelings and told both of them to go get a cup of coffee and sit in the courtyard and take a moment. I stayed with the vet, as did the medical students (M1's) who were avid to see the autopsy.

Later both came to me to thank me for responding the way I did. They felt that it was OK to make a mistake (despite my insisting it was my mistake/responsibility as head surgeon for that procedure). They also said they appreciated my response. Do PI's really yell at their trainees and techs when they, the PI, does something wrong? WTF? Anyway, I feel wretched about the animal, depressed about the grant but incredibly good about my team.


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