Sunday, September 30, 2012

Alcatraz Prison: Regulation 5

This morning I made coffee and pancakes for breakfast. I put the coffee in our mugs from Alcatraz:

Scott read his mug and pointed out how relevant the mug's inscription is to the recent comments from presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who said (emphasis is mine): 
There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it -- that that's an entitlement.
I agree, it is an entitlement. It is an entitlement that every prisoner has, and was even a regulation at Alcatraz Prison (I'm not sure what the regulations are at modern prisons, but I image they are the same). I think all Americans, heck, all people, should be entitled to food, clothing, shelter and medical attention.

To be fair, I don't think Romney is heartless. And, I truly don't believe he intended to imply that people don't deserve these basic needs, but he does provide some good blog fodder. 

I'm just going to leave this at our morning's observation.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012


I'll give away the punchline now. This is about poop. If you don't want to read any further, please stop now. Seriously, poop. Poop. And not the science of poop, or, "hey, here's this neat thing about poop", but, an "I am a parent, and here is one of the bizarre things that happened to me, and it involved poop. You might not want to hear about it, but this is a blog, so you don't have to continue reading, and I'm going to write it because parents need to commiserate, so here it is: poop" kind of story.

You have been warned.

Transitioning from a postdoc to an independent position

I'm in the final stages of applying for the NIH K99/R00 Pathway to Independence Award. I can blog more about this process if there is interest. For now, I wanted to write about how it has gotten me thinking about the skills necessary for transitioning successfully from a postdoc to an independent researcher.

Coincidentally a friend shared this resource from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS). It is a series of video-presentations from a workshop held on the NIH campus in March 2010. The topics are quite diverse, but the ones that jumped out at me are:

- The Right Institutional Fit: Focus on Diversity Issues
- The Job Interview and Seminar
- The Offer: Negotiating a Start-up Package
- Establishing a Lab
- Applying for and Getting a Grant
- Non-academic Careers: NIH Intramural Program, Industry, Law, Science Writing

There are many more, so I encourage you to check it out!

Scientist mom: one groove throws off the other

I didn't have time to post this last night because I was actually working, so here it is  now.
- - - - - -
I'm nearly finished with my NIH K99/R00 application. Whether I am or not, the deadline is to get it to my Sponsored Programs Office by Monday Oct 8. After receiving abundantly helpful comments from my colleagues and mentor, I really got in the groove this afternoon putting the finishing touches on the research proposal.

And... then I realized I had 15 minutes to make it to daycare. Usually I leave myself 25 minutes to get home and let Little Brown Dog out, then hike up to pick up the Bear. Today, because of a great "science" groove, I got out of my "mommy" groove. Yes, I consider myself "mommy" to both my daughter and my dog. I realized I didn't have time to get home, so I decided to go to daycare first then come home and let out Little Brown Dog. Poor Little Brown Dog.

I raced down the stairs, and about halfway through campus I realized I left the milk in the fridge at work (we were almost out of milk, so, in an effort to be efficient I picked some up on my way to work, doubling with another errand). Sigh.

At daycare the Bear was not unhappy, but not her bubbly-self. Until I tried to put her in the stroller. Then she was definitely unhappy. She voiced her displeasure at being forced to sit the entire trip home.
Once home, the Bear was very happy to see Little Brown Dog. We all went out for a walk. Little Brown Dog was relieved. The Bear happily played outside, and all was well in the world.
We came back inside and the Bear helped me eat bananas make some Banana Bread:

Don't worry, we had plenty of bananas, and she did help with lots of stirring after each ingredient addition. I accidentally mis-measured (I grabbed a 1/3 cup instead of a 1/2 cup without realizing it), so the bread isn't as sweet, but is still pretty tasty.

The Bear colored the counter on some paper while I made French Onion Soup. It was delicious with toasted rolls and melty cheese. We both ate our fill, then while I did dishes, the Bear decided to paint her head with the leftover cooked onions in her bowl. It wasn't pretty. I'm a little embarrassed to share this picture, but she was playing so quietly and contently that I just let her do it so I could finish the dishes and take the banana bread out of the oven without worrying about her getting hurt.

Oh. my. goodness:

Banana bread done. Dinner finished and cleaned up. Now it was definitely time for a bath. Afterwards the Bear and I enjoyed some quiet time sitting together on the couch, she with her warm milk and me with some hot tea. It was... very nice.

We sang some songs, told stories, and made funny faces. Then, just after 8, Scott came home. (Seriously, 5:30pm, 5:45pm by the time everyone shows up, is a terrible time to have routine lab meetings. End rant.) We brushed teeth (yay!), went potty (yay!) and she fell asleep very easily (yay!).
So, all-in-all, a pretty good night. I guess the grooves weren't so mis-aligned.

Now, we have a few hours to get some work done. I see python code in TextWrangler, and some sort of molecular orbitals on Scott's laptop. I'll be focusing on the K99, of course. :)

Friday, September 21, 2012

International Book Week

Another meme going around is "International Book Week". I couldn't find a reference to this, but I did find, "Banned Books Week", which is held the last week of September. I remember our elementary and high school libraries celebrating this, and think it is probably the origin of the "International Book Week" trend.

Still, I thought it would be fun to participate. The game I saw this morning said:
It's international book week, grab the book closest to you, turn to pg 98 and put the 2nd sentence as your status. Don't mention the book title.
So, here goes!

First closest book:
"Genital presentation is probably an adjunct to olfactory communication in such cases and this might represent one of the evolutionary origins of presentation behaviour among the diurnal anthropoids."
Second closest book:
"The simplest of these is the locator() function."

I love being a scientist.  

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Scientist mom: Despicable me

I hit some magic stride, stayed up crazy-late last night (which is only crazy late because I had no option to sleep in this morning) and finished the first draft of my research proposal. Yay! There is still a lot of work to do, but for me, getting the first draft written down is much harder than editing.

Last night and today I also found time to work on manuscript revisions, which are due the same time as the grant, and to analyze data quality for a project of mutual interest with a new labmate. And then about 4pm rolled around... and it all caught up with me.

Luckily it was near time to leave to pick up the Bear from daycare. We skipped the park today, and instead came home, painted, played monster trucks, babies, then took a bath and had dinner. Now, we're going to cuddle up and watch Despicable me. I'm hoping I don't fall asleep before she does.

Update: We ended up only watching the last half hour, then dancing, of course, to the boogie music. Chip was whining, so we all took a walk around the block, then the Bear "helped" me with dishes, brushed our teeth, Bear peed on the potty (yay!), and we read a few books (I read the last one twice, then she "read" it back to me).

Then, bedtime attempt #1: fail.

Tried the potty - nope. I made some hot tea for me, and warm milk for the Bear. We just sat in silence enjoying our drinks, then back to bed. A little rocky, but she fell asleep just after 9pm.

I'm getting up early to drive with some labmates for a lab retreat, so I'm going to get to bed... after I work on some of the supplementary grant items.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Fellowship-writing deadline

I'll be focusing on fellowship-writing for the next two weeks, so if you see me posting regularly here, please lay on the guilt until I get back to writing/proof-reading/editing, or can provide you a copy of the finalized application.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Conference planning

Are you planning a conference? Consider this:

(Also noting that not all females are XX, but, you get the idea.)

Accessible Research: Scientists want more children

In celebration of my colleague and friends becoming parents for the second time (congratulations Kirk and Charlene!!), here's a post on the desire to have children among academics.

This paper came out last year, but is very relevant. It is very short, open-access, and clearly-written, so I encourage you to click on the title, and read it for yourself.

Scientists Want More Children

Elaine Howard Ecklund1#*Anne E. Lincoln2#
Citation: Ecklund EH, Lincoln AE (2011) Scientists Want More Children. PLoS ONE 6(8): e22590. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0022590
"And, in contrast to other research, gender differences among graduate students and postdoctoral fellows disappear. Family factors impede talented young scientists of both sexes from persisting to research positions in academic science. In an era when the global competitiveness of US science is at risk, it is concerning that a significant proportion of men and women trained in the select few spots available at top US research universities are considering leaving science and that such desires to leave are related to the impact of the science career on family life."

I assume that their definitions of male/female are based solely on self-reporting (and didn't offer a transgender category), so I will use the same terminology here. Here are the take-home messages:

1. Faculty with children work fewer hours than those without, but the difference is much lower than stereotypes would suggest:

           Hours of work              
 No children      With children
Women/Men     Women/Men
     59.1/57.8           54.5/53.9

2. Women faculty have fewer children than men (although the average for both is under 2), and are twice as likely to report that they had fewer children than they wanted.

3. Even though women have fewer children than men, women are "more satisfied with their lives than men", suggesting, "that having fewer children than wanted has a more pronounced effect on life satisfaction of male scientists."

My conclusion: making the academic atmosphere more family-friendly will be beneficial to all who work there, without adversely affecting productivity.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Why I will not home-school

Okay, so I've been thinking a lot about the arguments for home-schooling and the arguments for organized-schooling, and I think that there is no benefit of home-schooling that cannot be accomplished by a parent, whether their child is in school or at home.

There is one huge, glaring difference, that will prevent me from home-schooling my daughter.

I've been struggling with exactly how to describe it, but I guess it can be boiled down to a word: Diversity.

No matter how many course materials I put together, or how many field trips I take her on, or how many sports and outside activities I enroll her in, I will always be the one teaching her. What if she doesn't learn the way that I teach?

Part of what can make school boring (aside from the subject material), is the teacher. For argument's sake, let's say I'm an effective teacher. How do I know that I am an effective teacher for my daughter's learning style? Secondly, if I am an effective teacher for her, what's to say that integrating other methods would not also be useful. There is visual learning, oral learning, kinesthetic learning, and then there are as many ways to present information as there are people. Diversity.

There is a huge benefit in learning how to learn. And, learning how to learn in different ways.

This causes our brain to switch modes, to think outside of the box. 

Perhaps there isn't enough of this in organized schools, especially schools that feel constrained by standardized theists. And we should work to change this. 

Contrary to the propaganda of some home-school advocates, not all teachers have the same opinions. Shocker. Y'know who does have generally consistent and fairly standard opinions. Each one of us. As individuals, we are biased in what we present and how we present it. Even the most open-minded person has opinions, and keeping these opinions out of all teaching is close to impossible. And, in many cases, being exposed to a diversity of opinions, relevant to the topic, can enhance education.

By allowing my child to learn from different people, especially those people whom I may disagree with, I am helping her learn how to think critically, to assess information. Of course, this does require that I, as a parent, actually engage with my child outside of school. I need to listen to what she is learning. I need to have her show me and tell me and teach me what she is learning. In this way I can not only reinforce her "learning to learn", I help her to "learn by teaching". I can also assess whether her teacher is one of the many excellent educators in our country, or one of the few that need to find a different career. If it is the latter, I can, as an involved parent, take actions to facilitate said career change, or at least ensure my child is not subjected to that individual's idiocy.

Choosing to home-school is, in my opinion, the worst form of helicopter parenting. Assuming that no one could possibly teach your child every single subject better than you is not only arrogant, it is foolish, and patently untrue. 

Friday, September 7, 2012

I'll be privileged in the ivory tower, right?

In response to this comment by a friend of a friend:
Teachers should be paid more. It's a proven fact that the childhood experience at school usually determines whether or not a person is going to go on to college. Professors have it easy and get paid too much for not caring whether a student passes or not. It's true, they get paid more that [sic] school teachers and they don't really do half the job that school teachers do. It's not they're [sic] responsibility to hold the college student's hand and make sure they pass, they're another pay check usually. 
The writer is being as dismissive of professors as many people are of school teachers.

In fact, University professors are being expected to hand-hold, more and more. They also, generally, must design course materials to effectively convey information to much larger class sizes and meet with students regularly. At the kinds of Universities I will be applying to, you must be an excellent teacher - making sure students are engaged and learning, while also participating in professional service and committee work, conducting top notch research, applying for grants and fellowships for your own graduate students and postdocs, in addition to mentoring undergraduate students (not in your courses) who also expect you to hold their hand. Professors still receive phone calls and emails from parents upset about grades, while, unlike elementary/high school, the students have the freedom to skip every class, and expect to still earn a 4.0 for their pre-med major. It doesn't help anyone to perpetuate misconceptions about how much effort some educators put in versus others.

Yes school teachers are underpaid, but I think many people over-estimate the salary for the average university professor.

EarningsDuring the 2005-2006 school year, elementary, middle, and high school teachers with a Bachelor's Degree who were just starting out in their career earned an average of $33,227 a year. In May of 2008, the median salary for all teachers in this education level was between $47,100 and $51,180. For the lowest ten percent of these teachers, the average was between $30,970 and $34,280 a year. For the top ten percent, the average was between $75,190 and $80,970 a year. Some ways that a teacher can increase their annual salary is to coach sports, monitor extracurricular activities, teach summer school, perform other job duties for the school over the summer, obtain a national certification, or become a mentor teacher. 
For college and university professors, the salary that a professor will earn depends on which college they work for, the rank of the college, the field of study they teach, and the number of years they have worked for that college. In May of 2008, the median salary for all college teaching positions was $58,830. For the middle fifty perfect of the teachers, their salary ranged from $41,600 to $83,960. For the lowest ten percent of all teachers, their salary was under $28,870. For the highest ten percent of all university professors, their salary was over $121,850. Some ways that a professor can earn more money than their salary is by teaching extra courses, doing research projects, publishing books, and other things. They also receive special benefits such as free tuition for themselves and family members, free access to university facilities and equipment, and paid leave.
Or, if you'd rather talk about comparing the highest paid professors versus highest paid high school teachers, see this reference, showing how they are astoundingly similar.

I completely agree that school teachers are undervalued and underpaid, but so are many post-secondary educators!

It's frustrating that fellow educators think that my (soon-to-be, hopefully) job is half the work of a school teacher.  The job is different. The stresses and the foci are different. The teaching styles and the grading are different. They are different jobs, with different responsibilities, dealing with students of different maturity levels. Is it harder to deal with kindergardeners, or teens, or young adults? It doesn't really matter.

We are all educators, and being divisive and dismissive is not only unfair, it distracts from the real issue: Educators, all educators, are undervalued.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

double standards

feminism |ˈfeməˌnizəm|
the advocacy of women's rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 

It is only in the past year or so that I realized I was a feminist. By simply wanting to be treated the same as a man, I am a feminist. By thinking that all genders should be treated with equal respect, I am a feminist. By working for equal parental rights, by advocating against gender discrimination, and by voting for marriage equality, I am a feminist.

And, as a parent, now, I'm worried about my child, my daughter.

Despite not having cable, and not seeking it out, I still hear celebrity gossip. What struck me recently was the emphasis placed on the breakup of Twilight co-stars, specifically the over-the-top derision of Kristen Stewart for her actions, who has now been dubbed a Trampire. From the linked article, the following paragraph was especially frustration (the bold emphasis is mine):

But for young women, the culture of slut shaming that the Kristen Stewart scandal represents won't go away. I might not be concerned for K-Stew, but I am concerned for all the young women today who are tuned into this scandal, ones who are learning that it's not okay to screw up, ever. Chris Brown can publicly beat the hell out of his girlfriend but still be played on the radio and win Grammys. However, if you ever cheat on your boyfriend, your life is over and no one will ever want to be associated with you. Almost no one will blame the much-older guy you cheated with, and it might actually make him more famous and help his career. Few will care that he was your boss and in a position of authority or that he may have have taken advantage of your youth and relative inexperience. Everything is your fault, and your life will be threatened over it. If you are a trampire, you will be publicly staked for it, even though cheater Ashton Kutcher recently emerged relatively unscathed by the media. No one asked for him to be fired from Two and a Half Men.
If the underlying culture in America is still to blame, threaten, and slut-shame a woman for infidelity, but expect and accept it from men, then we still have a long way to go.

Not allowed science anymore

Wow. This opinion/story is a little shocking, but, I think, honestly reflects the opinions of many clinicians and scientists. Perhaps most of all, this part:
You're allowed to disagree with me, I want you to disagree with me! I'd love to engage in reasoned debate with you. But until you take the trouble to understand what you're talking about, you're not allowed science any more. 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Sometimes we keep it simple

Today I made a lot of progress responding to reviewer comments on the last paper to be published from my thesis work. The project studies the evolution of the X and Y chromosome, and we received many great suggestions for ways to clarify and improve the paper. There were a couple off-the-wall comments, but I suppose that will happen any time during peer review. I was really getting into the zone, making updates and changes. I looked up and wondered how two hours could have passed, then panicked a little when I realized I had to leave to go to daycare, right now! Well, maybe in 5 minutes, I just needed to finish a couple more lines.

Taking just a few more minutes to finish some analysis meant that I didn't have time to grab the dog on my way to daycare, and even speed-walking, I just barely made it. Given that we returned late on Monday night, and hadn't gone to the grocery store, we really needed milk for our little bear. So, after politely excusing myself from spending time with a very nice pair of fellow-daycare parents and their son, the bear and I sprinted to get some milk. She convinced me we also needed some grape tomatoes ("peees, have sum", she said as she pointed to them). Really, how could I say no to that?

So, with tomatoes and milk in hand (or in stroller), we raced home to let our loving little mutt outside before his tiny bladder exploded.

After the dog-explosion crisis was averted, I realized, in my hurry, that I didn't actually pick up anything of substance at the store for dinner. So, rummaging through the cabinets, I came up with this:

Whole wheat with toasted orzo (good, but a little salty), vegetarian baked beans, and steamed frozen peas.

Perhaps not my most inspired meal, but also not the worst. What really matters is that they were all baby bear approved:

I'm also excited to report that I also have a good outline for my K99/R00 grant application, so I'll be spending the rest of the night starting to fill in the details. Good thing, because it is due in a month. Eek!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012


I'm happy to report that the trip to Nebraska was a total success.

I was able to have some great discussions with some friends and colleagues (Mathematicians, of course!), I enjoyed a couple days with family, and my little girl was fantastic on all four plane rides.

It is a little frustrating to come back from sunny, warm, quiet, safe, Nebraska to a report of an armed robbery a block from our apartment:
On Sunday, September 2, 2012 at approximately 9:00 p.m. an armed robberyoccurred.  The male and female victims, both UC students, were near Parking Structure C when they were approached by two unknown males.  One of the males was armed with a gun.  The victims were robbed of their backpacks and cell phones.  The suspects were last seen fleeing on foot northbound onEllsworth.  BPD and UCPD searched the area but were unable to find thesuspects.  The victims were not injured during the encounter.
But, I'm very happy to be home, and even more inspired to get some research done.

Here's my "little" brother and me, with our respective offspring, after a full day at Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo. If you ever have the good fortune to find yourself in Nebraska, I highly recommend you check out the zoo... but maybe not on Labor Day weekend.