Sunday, May 20, 2012

Vegetables for lunch

I'm always looking for delicious new ways to incorporate more (or different) vegetables into meals, and especially for easy, healthy lunches to take to work. Below is a simple, easily adaptable soup. Let's call it miso-plus. The recipe below is to be divided between four lunches:

Miso-plus (divide into four containers equally):
8 teaspoons white miso paste
1 bunch of green onions, chopped
1 bunch cilantro, chopped
1 12oz container tofu, diced

You can prepare it all at the start of the week, and then when you get to work (or wherever you're going to eat it, just add hot water and microwave for 2-4 minutes until the vegetables are cooked to your preference. Generally the daikon will cook to a tender-crisp in just a couple minutes if it is diced in 1/2 inch cubes. 

I mix it up each week, playing with different vegetables. I've switched out spinach and chinese broccoli for the bok choy, and added mushrooms instead of the daikon, and it's always delicious. If you get very hungry, I'd recommend making a side dish. Last week we had the soup with grilled cheese sandwiches for dinner - yum!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The perfect time to have a baby: for academics

So, let's say you've decided you're mentally and financially prepared to care for a child (eek!). If you're an academic, especially one just starting out, you might be concerned about applying for jobs, finishing grant applications, traveling to summer conferences, and all of the other research we need to do. 

I've done all the hard work for you, and figured out the "perfect time to have a baby":

Mike asks: How do you know you're ready for kids?

Mike asks:

I'm just curious about how you knew you were ready to have a child, both mentally and financially?  I'm really worried that it will be a financial strain on us because I have absolutely no idea how much it costs per month to raise child.  I'm just completely lost (and frankly scared out of my mind) because it's not the type of decision you can call a mulligan on once it's happened.  My wife is less of a worrier and says, "We'll find a way," or, "We'll figure it out as we go," but I like to have as many of my ducks in a row as possible before going ahead with something so life changing.
Anyway, any details you can give about your experiences before and after Claire was born would be a big help.
I don't know if anyone ever truly knows that they are ready. And, no matter how much planning and preparing you do (which is all good and definitely useful), I think it really comes down to "We'll figure it out as we go". I think this is especially for people in academia, or anyone who has a high likelihood of moving for their job often. 

Regarding the financial concerns, you are right, childcare can be crazy expensive. Options range from an in-home, full-time nanny (which will be on the high end), to a large daycare, to in-home daycares, to nanny shares, to being a stay-at-home mom/dad. In any financial situation, you will be able to find childcare options that fit your budget. Now, they might not be your ideal childcare options, but your baby will be taken care of, by you, by family, or by an individual/group you pay. Did we know we were financially ready? Yes and no. We knew we had savings that we could use in a worst-case-scenario. When we found out we were pregnant, though, we didn't have long-term plans, neither of us had accepted postdoc positions, and we didn't know where in the world we would be moving after I defended. We knew that we both had health insurance, and that we could get additional coverage for the baby. We accepted positions at UC Berkeley just a few weeks after our daughter was born, and had no idea what sort of childcare arrangements we would have when we moved. 

I was fortunate in that I did computational work, and was able to work from home part-time when our daughter was first born. We found a babysitter (a Masters student in early childhood education) who came and babysat for us half-days, three-days a week). It worked out perfectly for us. Then, when we moved to Berkeley, when baby girl was 5 months old, we budgeted so that I could take another month off to help us get settled and to find a childcare situation we would all be happy with, and could afford. Nannies can be upwards of $25-$30 an hour (ouch!), and even the University-affiliated daycare here at UCB is ~$2200 per month for infants. There are nanny-shares that are $8-10 per hour, or even co-op daycares, where each parent helps out one day a week, and can be a fraction of the cost. We had to budget to balance our living (rent/utilities/driving) expenses with childcare, and eventually found options for everything that worked with our postdoc budgets. Friends of ours have family that assist with daycare several times a week, or stagger hours (which we do sometimes also). There are lots of options for making it all work out. We can talk about the process of identifying childcare options later, if you'd like.

Now, how did we know we were mentally ready to have a child. That's harder, and a lot more personal. It is so scary thinking about being solely responsible for EVERYTHING for a tiny, breathing, growing, learning, being. I still go in and check periodically just to make sure our daughter is still breathing. More than anything, I guess just thinking about whether you're mentally ready is one of the largest steps to being ready. It means you're assessing yourself critically, and realizing where you might need some help as a new parent, and where you will likely excel. I think part of being mentally ready is putting safety nets in place, and realizing during the hard times, you have an outlet (or many outlets). It is also good to talk about all your concerns with your partner, so that you can assuage each other's concerns, and provide additional support. When talking about mental health, I also want to mention that prenatal depression is as common as postpartum depression, but is more taboo to speak about because it is generally assumed that pregnant women should be "glowing" and happy. Also, many people develop pre/postpartum depression who had never experienced depression prior to becoming pregnant so may not know what the signs/symptoms are. 

In case it helps, I'll let you know that after we decided we were ready, and then found out we were pregnant, we both (at least I know I did) went through waves of being so excited I couldn't stand it, to being terrified I would mess everything up. So far, our baby girl is happy, healthy, and friendly. She loves books, and giraffes, and cheese. I constantly reassess how I can be the best parent to her, but the sound of her laughter, watching her imagination work, and her little monkey hugs remind me that doing my best is working out pretty well so far. 

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Showing versus showing up

At some point between birth and adulthood (whenever that happens), it becomes unacceptable to ask, "why?". Maybe this is because, as children, we thought that adults had all the answers, and when we grow up, we think we should know it all. Asking questions, admitting what we don't know, makes us vulnerable. We worry that we might be ridiculed, or that people we respect will think we are foolish or uniformed. 

But, is it really, "better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than open your mouth and remove all doubt"?

I don't think it is. In science, especially, it is foolish to make assumptions (that might be wrong) than to take the time to ask, or investigate. But even with our science on the line, we contribute to the atmosphere of embarrassment, both within science, and to the general public. We forget that we should be showing, teaching, and sharing, instead of showing up others with all that we know. This can be subtle and unintentional. For example, telling a colleague, "XX found [insert specific descriptive statement] regarding this topic", versus, "I'm sure your familiar with the work of XX on this topic". Or making fun of someone for misspeaking, or a typo. Or, scoffing at someone when they don't know something that you consider to be something "everyone should know", instead of taking the time to share the information with them. 

I think the cartoon today captures this exactly.

The mouse-over of the cartoon sums it up:
"Saying, 'what kind of idiot doesn't know about the Yellowstone supervolcano' is so much more boring than telling someone about the Yellowstone supervolcano for the first time."
Let's do more showing, and less showing up.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Onion phone

Our 16 month old daughter already likes talking on the phone. She usually uses a toy phone we have, or picks up my phone, but she recently decided that a toy green onion we have is also an acceptable phone. She also prefers to give the phone to her daddy. Apparently he is better at answering phone calls than mommy is.

Below is a video of our funny baby, showing how she patiently waits to be able to pass the phone call off to her daddy.

Introduction to R

Reposted from my entry here.

Understanding and correctly applying statistics is at the heart of population genetics. Many of us in the Nielsen lab use R, a freely available package for statistics. Many default analyses are standard in R, but one of its greatest benefits is the ability to code your own, or use code that other people have submitted.

A group of Berkeley graduate students have developed a set of 3-5 minute videos for introducing statistics students to the R environment as well as an overview of specific analyses.  They are available on YouTube and can be found at

These videos are accompanied by exercises, and soon the transcripts of the R code used in the videos will be made available at the website above.  Enjoy!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Insight into the NSF pre-proposal process

Reposted from my post here.

For some grants the NSF recently changed the structure of applying for funding, and now have a pre proposal process. Ideally these shorter proposals will be less burdensome on the panel reviewers, facilitating faster turn-around time, and also less burdensome on the bulk of PIs who will be rejected from the first round. However, if your pre proposal is accepted, you still have to write a full proposal, for the time being.

Here is an account from one of the reviewers of these new pre proposals, giving some useful advice and observations for time on the panel. Some things that stuck out to me:

"- The Big Idea is no more important than before. In talking to people leading up to writing the preproposals, there was a lot of emphasis on selling your Big Idea. Theoretically there was going to be less emphasis on methods and more on potential. Well, that kinda turned out to be bullshit. They were essentially judged like mini-proposals."


"- BI still matters. Thought you could short the Broader Impacts section just because it was a preproposal? Wrong. A crappy BI section bumped several proposals to DNI (Do Not Invite)".

I'd also encourage you to read through the comments section. Reviewers from different panels described alternative experiences with the pre-proposals:

"As long as the panel felt that the PI had had adequate training (for noobies) or had a track record, feasibility was a given."

And there is a sort of question-answer session about the process. For example:

Cyn April 16, 2012 at 11:43 am
"Theoretically there was going to be less emphasis on methods and more on potential. Well, that kinda turned out to be bullshit." = Why do you think that happened? Very interesting.

proflikesubstance April 16, 2012 at 11:47 am
The panelists looked over the preproposals and became wary of someone selling a project on hand waving, and there was a lot of it. The better proposals had a Big Idea and backed up the analysis ideas with data, much like a typical full proposal. The POs can say "sell your Big Idea" all they want, but if the panelists aren't buying you are not getting to the next round.

Good luck, and may the odds be ever in your favor.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Mike asks... about girls and science

I'm going to try something new here. My friend Mike and I have wonderful conversations over email, and, with his permission, I'm going to be posting some of them here. He even suggested a monthly, "Mike asks" segment. I think it's a great idea! So, here's the first one:

Mike asks,

This question is still a bit of an academic one, but I'm curious about your real life experiences thus far.  I was reading a blog post the other day where a physics prof. was discussing gender identity and the role it is playing in the women in science gap.  He was saying that he thinks the efforts to get girls into more scientific pursuits needs to start much earlier than people are currently trying.  Even at 2-3 years old, girls (as well as boys) are already being explicitly and implicitly guided as to what is "gender appropriate" behavior.  Even in such a seemingly small thing as the toy isle, girls are driven away from mechanical/engineering type toys and into princesses/dresses and cooking.  You never see a toy model rocket that is pink and glittery aimed at girls, let alone a normal looking rocket or space ship for them.  It's really sad, but at only a few years of age it seems as though we as a society are already turning girls away from STEM.
I was wondering if you, being a mother of a young girl, have had any experience with these gender issues/biases as of yet?  Have you encountered other parents "correcting" their kids on proper gender behavior at a party or daycare?  Have you noticed yourself implicitly doing these types of things and not realizing it till after the fact?  As a (hopefully) potential father in the not-so-distance future I'm curious as to how you deal with these things.
Here is a link to the post in question (link to the post).  I would love to hear your thoughts on it.
My daughter is 16 months old, and I am struck that the post claims 2-3 years old. I've noticed an obvious gender bias since she was born. Immediately all the clothes and toys for girls come in hot pinks, and purples, with fairies and teddy bears, and cute little kitties and puppies on them, while boys clothes and toys (even infants) are blues and greens, covered with trucks, dinosaurs, and sports equipment.

Okay, sure maybe what the baby is wearing doesn't have an impact, but soon they start crawling (about 5 months for us), then around 12 months she started playing pretend. For her birthday and holidays we have only received "girly" toys, such as dolls, a mini-stroller, and a kitchen playset. There's nothing wrong with these toys - we'll use them if we have a boy - but I've been surprised by how biased the gifts we've received have been. As a result, we've made an effort to balance these toys with other "boy" toys or gender-neutral toys. So, our little girl also plays with tools, blocks, and trains. Tonight she pretended to cook for awhile, then used her tools to "fix" the play kitchen doors and handles.

Even books are geared towards boys or girls - about fairies learning to use magic versus about super-heroes figuring out how to save the world. We have so many kinds of books, and try to rotate them, with her favorites showing up more often, like "Goodnight Gorilla".


Another issue that quickly separates girls from boys is that boys are more often encouraged to play outside and get dirty, while girls are encouraged to be clean (don't rip your dress!) and play indoors. Although we don't have a backyard, we try to make it to the park several times a week, and do outdoorsy things on the weekend (like go to the farm, or the park), as well as visiting children's museums and Science museums. It keeps us pretty busy, but I love being so engaged with her learning, and, totally subjectively, think that it has already made a difference.

I haven't seen other parents "correcting" their children on the "proper" gender roles, but I've definitely seen them reinforce the stereotypes. I haven't had enough experience with other parents to comment thoroughly on this though.

Regarding my own actions, I think I've been hyper-sensitized to this issue, especially in the past couple of years. I guess becoming a parent can do that to you. As a result, I've tried to be very cognizant of how we treat our daughter, and continually ask myself whether it is the same way I would treat a son. If not, I ask myself, why am I acting differently? If anything, I try to remind myself that it's okay for her to play with "girly" toys, or want to be clean, if that's her personality.

As an aside, our little girl is one of the cleanest babies I've encountered. She likes to get a washcloth or wipe so she can clean her face and hands, she doesn't like sand on her hands (but dirt is okay), and she will ask me to wipe off her hands or face if she knows there is food on them. But even as a little baby she really didn't like having dirty diapers and would calm right down after being changed. So, remembering that her personality might fit some gender stereotypes has been useful.

In the end the overall goal is to do our best to expose her to as many different options for toys/play/learning as we can, and reinforce our support for whatever she chooses to do.