Friday, December 29, 2006

Musical Incentive

Yesterday I sent the lingering paper off to its coauthors for one last look before it gets submitted. My hope is to get it submitted before Mini makes her debut (whenever that may be). So as a reward for my productivity, I am treating myself to music from iTunes. The last time I did this was when I submitted my dissertation to my committee, so I am thinking I can make a tradition out of it. For every paper submitted, I get an iTunes shopping spree.

Here's what I got:
  • Silver Springs - Fleetwood Mac
  • Little Lies - Fleetwood Mac
  • The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald - Gordon Lightfoot
  • Christmas Dinner - Peter, Paul, and Mary (I actually cheated and bought this on the 22nd)
  • No One Has to Cry - The Fixx
  • Don't Get Me Wrong - The Pretenders
  • I'll stand by you - The pretenders
  • So & So - Kim Richardson
  • Nothing compares 2 U - Sinead O'Connor (I wanted Streets of London, but iTunes didn't have it. Hate that!)
  • Beds are Burning - Midnight Oil
They are a small departure from my normal Lilith Fair-type and sixties folk choices, but they'd tickled my ear for the last couple of months on Pandora and wherever else I'd ran across them. Actually, "Edmund Fitzgerald" has special personal meaning for me, and I'd grown up with the sheet music on the piano; "Christmas Dinner" comes from the Peter, Paul, and Mommy album that I had as a kid, and "Beds are Burning" is the fault of my friend Erik, an inveterate music reviewer who reminded me that I liked Midnight Oil both when I was in high school and when I lived in Australia. But the rest are things that caught my ear in the past 6 months or so.

Anyways, my musical incentive prompts two questions:
  1. Why do I have a hard time spending $10 on iTunes when I can easily blow that in a week on hot drinks?
  2. What do you to do reward yourself for getting a paper submitted?

Of penguins and polar bears, of warming and freezing

Science stories that caught my eye or ear this week and that those of you on vacation might have missed.

A biologist, a geographer, and a geologist proved that interdisciplinary research can generate some really fascinating results. This week, the journal Geology reports on their findings: A 45,000 year record of Adelie penguins and climate change in the Ross Sea, Antarctica. They used radiocarbon dates from penguin remains to construct a chronology of penguin habitation and ice sheet advances.

Polar Bears
Despite disavowing human-induced climate change and refusing to take actions to mitigate the threats posed by a changing climate (whether human or not, it's happening), apparently the Bush administration thinks it should list polar bears as threatened, specifically because melting Arctic sea ice is jeopardizing the bears' access to food. Listen to the NPR story (Climate Change may put polar bears on threatened lis) and see also the NY times article.

Speaking of meltic Arctic ice, is running a story on the loss of a big ice shelf from Ellesmere Island last summer. I remember this generating some (scientific?) media attention when the even was first detected, and I'm not sure why it's in the news now. My guess is that the researchers have a paper coming out now.

Some sleepless NPR staff member happened upon an error in the NWS forecast for San Jose this weekend. Apparently, a computer glitch caused the temperature to be forecast as -30,000 degrees (measurement scale not specified). It was a light news day, so they ran with it, talking to a local meteorologist and physicist about the consequences of such a chilly day. I'm so glad the physicist brought up absolute zero, and I can't believe the meteorologist didn't.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

The (other) impending arrival

Like most daughters, I have had a tumultuous relationship with my mother. In some ways we are so much alike it's almost unbearable, and in other ways we are quite different. She has a very strong personality, that's only been amplified by years of hard knocks. My parents split up when I was 8, and my mom raised brother and I alone while teaching in a female-unfriendly science department at a 4-4-4 public university. She worked incredibly hard to raise good kids and be a more conscientious teacher than many. Along the way, I think she lost the ability to speak softly and let things roll off her back. Or maybe she didn't have those traits to begin with. But she is also strongly maternal and very family-oriented. The loss of her mother in October 2005 and the consequent estrangement from her siblings (as a result of a very ugly and protracted estate situation) has occupied much of the last year for her, a year that was also her first in retirement. She's been on anti-depressants since this summer, but was hoping to get off them this winter.

With that as background, let me share that she is moving to Utopia for the next three months. She has a short-term lease on a furnished townhouse and she is planning to take a couple of classes winter term at the unversity. She is also looking forward to "being grandma." Basically, the arrival of the first grandchild provided an amazing excuse for her to leave behind her regular life for a while and to try something new in a place she has connections. I agreed to have her here partly in the hope that she would be helpful around the house, etc in the weeks after Mini arrives. But mostly, I thought it would be a good idea for her to get out of the rut she is in, one in which she calls me every few days to tell me about the latest disaster with her siblings and often degenerates into an angry, crying mess. Since college, I've had with multiple weekly hour-long phone calls where she does most all of the talking, because she doesn't have any other adults to talk to. She was so busy working and mothering all those years that she doesn't really have any friends. Well, she had her mother.

And as her arrival has approached and the pieces fell into place, I started to look forward to her presence. Maybe it was the holiday without family or maybe it was nesting, but I started to think how neat it would be to have her around for help and company in those weeks between when fish goes back to work and when I truly get my feet back on the ground. I knew I would need to set limits about when she could visit and to make sure that she was actually doing extracurriculars besides being Grandma. But those seemed reasonable. Usually my tolerance for my mom's visits is on the order of 4-5 days, but I was starting to think that with these arrangements, it might be something like 4 or 5 weeks before she drove me up the wall.

But today she and I got a piece of unwelcome news that changes both of our feelings about her stay in the PNW. Her sister, the chief antagonist in the family drama, has apparently moved to a town about 10 miles from Utopia. Apparently, she has been living there for months without telling the rest of the family. Her son, my cousin lives in that town, and my aunt's presence says quite a bit about why he hasn't returned my emails or calls this fall.

So now my mom feels she's not getting to flee the family situation and that she'll run into her sister at every inconvient opportunity. And I feel like it's just downpoured on my parade. I won't be getting that helpful grandma figure I was starting to look forward to. Instead, I'll get the child-mother, alternately furious, frustrated, and forlorn. And I don't want to be dragged down there with her.

I'm not looking for any words of reassurance or indigination from this post. I just thought you all should know about the probably addition to the regular cast of characters on this blog. Because I'm sure this won't be the last thing I have to say here on the topic.

inappropriate request/out-of-character response

I just got an email from a prospective student saying that the director of an interdisciplinary graduate program (IGP) on campus had suggested that I " would be interested in answering ... questions about the program."

Here's the thing. I wasn't in the IGP. Sure it's a related field, but it didn't exist when I arrived here. And even if it had I wouldn't have chosen it, because I learned a hard lesson during my MS that IGPs can have a lot of hidden pitfalls.

And the director of the program should have known that I wasn't in the IGP. She's been the director since the inception 3 years ago, and I never even expressed interested in switching into it.

So I sent the prospective student an email back explaining that I wasn't in the program and giving her the name of someone who was. I also gave brief answers to the two questions she had that weren't program specific. She seemed like a nice enough person, I didn't want to be rude.

And then I left a voice mail for the IGP director, explaining that I wasn't in the program and couldn't answer questions about it and I wasn't interested in talking to prospective students unless they were planning to work with my advisors.

It pissed me off. Probably more than it should have. But I'd just gotten some upsetting personal news (more on that later) and it's not the first time that the IGP director has shown a remarkable lack of good judgement and tact. To demonstate:

Two years ago, when the program first started, she asked me to be part of a keynote panel for an on-campus event. I agreed, as did 3 other female grad students. We put together and gave talks and then answered audience questions. There was only time for 4 panelists during the event. At the event, as she was introducing us, she said: "Thanks to these ladies for agreeing to be here today, I asked Guy1, Guy2, and Guy3 to participate, but they were all too busy."

Ugh. Well, hopefully in dealing with today's situation, I've been blunt and irritated enough that she'll just leave me alone from now on.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

willing to move North

So I have applied to one tenure-track faculty position in Canada and am contemplating applying to another one. I have no personal hesitation about taking a Canadian job; I grew up close enough to the border that when travelling internationally I have been able to "pass" for Canadian. Professionally, I see Canadian -ologists producing excellent research and interacting with American colleagues.

But I am not very familiar with the Canadian post-secondary educational system, and I wonder whether there might be requirements for faculty that differ from those I am used to here in the US. In some senses, this question doesn't become important until I get offered a position and need to decide whether it is the right one for me. But it may also matter in terms of the application I submit. For example, at one of the universities, it says that passive bilingualism is a condition of tenure. Does that mean that I should address it in the application? (And what is passive bilingualism anyways? I don't speak a lick of French, but I am willing to learn if need be.)

I also wonder how much effort to put into these Canadian applications. They very clearly say that preference is given to Canadians and permanent residents. I have several friends that have gotten Canadian professorships, but all but one of them are Canadian citizens. Is that because not very many Americans try for Canadian jobs or is because the bar is so much higher for non-Canadians?

So I guess I'll send off a few this go-around and see what results. It can't really hurt, as long as I am also making sure to apply to plenty of American universities as well. And in an interesting twist, the Canadian school to which I've applied is actually farther south than the American job which I most hope for this year.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

The day after...

So Christmas has come and gone...Normally it is one of my favorite holidays (the music, the candles, the spirit of giving...), but this year I had a really hard time getting into the spirit. I was just so tired and preoccupied. And fish has been preoccupied and exhausted from work. Plus, for the first time, we were neither traveling nor having visitors. We didn't even have any extra time off. So no lights or tree were put up, only one batch of Christmas cookies was made (and those on the 24th), only a handful of decorations were put up (on the 23rd), and the gift giving and getting was minimal and last-minute.

We did attempt to have two days of fun though. We took the Princess Pup on one of her favorite walks, baked cookies, played Uno, cooked a turkey and stuffing, opened presents, watched bad Christmas movies, and went to the movie theatre. So it should have made good memories.

But somehow I am left with a feeling of disappointment. Maybe it was the lack of buildup, or the lack of relatives, or the lack of post-Christmas vacation time, but somehow I'm left feeling like I lost a holiday and a weekend. And now it's the workweek again, there are things to be done, and the house is a mess (I opted to forgo the usual weekend nagging and cleaning).

On the plus side, I took the pup to the vet today and the vet gave her basically a clean bill of health. The vet trip was triggered by a Meibomian gland tumor, but as long as it's not bothering her eye, it's fine. And most of them resolve on their own. I asked the vet how long I might expect a dog her size to live (she's 8), and he said she should probably live to 15 or 16, as long as we keep her weight under control. And that means that Mini will grow to know (and long remember) the Princess Pup, so that makes me happy. I remember my mom's graduate school dog, so I think it's pretty cool that Mini will remember mine.

Hope your Christmases were more memorable (and in a good way) than mine.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Non-holiday baking

These aren't at all Christmas-y but I made them last weekend and really enjoyed them. Plus, they're reasonably healthy. So I thought I share the recipe here - consider it an early New Years Resolution gift.

Banana Oatmeal Muffins
1 1/2 cup flour
1 cup oats
1/2 cup sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
2 eggs
3 medium mashed bananas (~1 cup)
1/4 cup applesauce
1/4 cup milk
Mix the dry ingredients together and make a well in the center. In a small bowl, beat eggs until frothy. Mix the applesauce, bananas, and milk into the eggs. Add the wet ingredients to the well of the dry ingredients and stir just to moisten (it will be lumpy). Fill greased or lined muffin tins ~3/4 full. Bake at 400F for 20-25 min.
My note: These would be good with some crushed pecans or walnuts in them to give them some crunch.
Recipe source: Lois Gaudette in "Fruit of the Spirit"

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Solstice reflections

"As we enter this season we need to remember that darkness is essential; it contains the seed of light. It is not a time of perils, danger, or despair. It is a time of waiting, nesting, comfort, nourishment, and, ultimately, integration. It is a time for uncoiling rather than unraveling. Opening to the light symbolizes awareness, knowledge, and consciousness. It is what nature asks of us at this time of year. It is the season of samadhi. Stand still, if only for a moment, unfazed by the storms of life, and absorb it.”
- Julie Lawrence

I think I’ve written before about how the advent season seems like an apt metaphor for pregnancy. This quote too spoke to me on many levels and seemed appropriate to share with you on this, the shortest day of the year (in the northern Hemisphere).

I also wanted to acknowledge the winter scene above and the one that I am currently using as my banner have come from the digital slide file of Yellowstone National Park. The picture above was taken by Sam and Mary Cissel in February 1992, and my banner image was clipped from a picture taken by DL Coe in 1961. There are dozens of other gorgeous winter scenes in the files - I am sure you will find one that inspires you.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Trees + Wet + Wind = Blow Over

One of the most lasting effects of last week's wind storm will be the loss of numerous trees throughout the region. While the two big cottonwoods in our backyard only lost small branches, a lot of large trees in the area were completely uprooted and knocked over. One example is this large tree in the park near our house.

Sure, it was windy, but why did some trees fare worse than others?

  • Trees sway back and forth in the wind, as stress is loaded and unloaded from its trunk and branches. The mechanical properties of the tree (set by size, species, etc.) control the sway period, and trees with high heights relative to their basal diameter will be more susceptible to wind damage. So some species will tend to be more wind resistant than others, and big trees will respond differently than little trees.
  • As the tree roots move in response to the swaying, trees with shallow root systems will be more likely to pull out of the ground than deep rooted trees. So again, there is a species difference in the likelihood of toppling.
  • But even in trees than normally have deep root systems, if there is a shallow water table (i.e., it is saturated near the surface) at least part of the time, root systems will be a lot shallower, and there will be an increased probability of blow overs. Additionally, when soils are saturated, positive pore pressure reduces the cohesive strength of the soil, which probably makes it easier for tree roots to pull out of the ground.

  • I'd put the blame on a shallow water table for the demise of the tree in our park:

As you can see from the pictures, even though the tree was probably 40+ feet high, its major root system extended less than 2 feet below the ground surface, and the water table (post-storm at least) is even shallower.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006


  • Too much data processing can fry the brain and prevent the formation of coherent blog posts.
  • Skookumchick once again brings us news of reporting on women in science. This time she highlights the bizarre title of a recent NY Times article. FemaleScienceProfessor has also responed to the article.
  • One of my favorite science blogs (written by 2 women) has debuted a new science magazine: Inkling Magazine (On the Hunch that Science Rocks). It looks very cool and interesting, much like the pithy and humorous news tidbits that I've so enjoyed on their blog, Inky Circus. In their inaugral issue, you'll find articles on reinventing the red planet, explaining the vampire myth, and cell division, amongst other topics and sections like "green and crunchy" and "fun with food." You'll also find an essay by Thus Spake Zuska blogger, Suzanne Franks. So go read and enjoy.
  • My christmas shopping is now 3/4 complete. I'm going very minimal this year - just presents for brother, Mom, Dad, and fish. Dad's getting a basket of diabetic-friendly PNW specialty foods (ordered over the internet, arriving next week), Mom's getting a digital camera (thanks to brother for doing all the work), and brother is getting an ingot of Wood's metal. 'Cause that's what he wants. Every year his presents get more obscure (last year it was a welding mask), but that's fine with me because I always learn something along the way (Wood's metal is cool because it has a super low melting point) and he does most of the leg work. Now I've actually got to brave a store to get a present for fish.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Computer woes

My laptop worked fine last night (as evidenced by the blog posts), yet this morning it seems to be missing its system config file and won't boot to windows. Where do those files go overnight? I'm so tired of dealing with laptop crap. If it's not one thing it's another. For example, when I got to my office I turned on the backup laptop that we have, in part, for dealing with situations like these. The power comes on but the screen stays dark. I had to reboot about 10 times before I got the screen to display. So as soon as the first laptop is fixed, now the second one has to go in for repair. I don't think I'm physically hard on laptops (although both of these have endured plenty of field work in the past), so why do they insist on being hard on me? Does anyone else have these routine hardware and software problems? If I end having to buy a new laptop (out-of-pocket) to work at home with, does anyone have any brand recommendations? Macs are out.

Blogger Beta Banner problems resolved

As some of you noticed, I got my blogger beta template problems resolved this weekend. Thanks to helpful comments from Propter Doc and Skookumchick. I used skookumchick's code to put the picture in as the background, e.g.,

"#header-wrapper {
margin:0 auto 10px;
border: 1px solid $bordercolor;
border:1px solid $bordercolor;
} "

But the picture still didn't show up. Turns out that blogger wouldn't show pictures posted in blogger beta (for some idiotic reason). So I had to open a flickr account to post the picture elsewhere on the web and then link to that. This was really the only part that I figured out on my own.

Then, since I had text on my banner image, I wanted to get rid of the text generated by the widget in page elements. But I couldn't completely delete it or my title wouldn't show up in bloglines. So I made it as small as possible (using the edit colors and fonts page) and an innoccuous color (thanks to the tip provided by propter doc). I left the description blank and figured out how to remove the border under #header using the edit html.

Finally, I widened the columns to fit the prenatal ticker and the width of my banner. I couldn't figure out how to the get the ticker where it used to be, so I just pre-dated a post and stuck it there.

These obviously aren't the most elegant solutions, but I hope they help anyone who wants to do something similar.

Oh, and please tell me if you find something hard to read, not showing up properly, or too wide for your screen. I'll do my best to resolve those issues.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

It's out!

My first paper is officially published. As of this morning. 366 days from submission to publication, and I managed to sneak in a 2006 date. Now if only the next paper were actually submitted. At this rate, I'll be lucky to have a 2007 date on my CV. But for now I celebrate. And walk the pup; she's been patient all morning.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Inequality on the ground and in space...

At the conference I am not at this year, FemaleScienceProfessor relates how a cabbie assumed her husband was the scientist and she was in town for the shopping. She has a great reply.

NPR ran a story this morning about how many female astronauts can't do space walks because they don't make the space suits in small sizes. I would have written something about it, but Skookumchick beat me to it.

I'll huff and I'll puff and I'll blow your fence down

We lost power for 3 hours last night - other parts of town lost power for at least 11 hours. I learned that a big disadvantage of electric stoves is that if your power goes out as you are cooking dinner, you can't do much. But we did build a fire for some warmth and light and took an early evening nap as we listened to the wind howl and rain pound.

At some point during the evening, the wind blew part of our fence down allowing the Princess Pup access to the neighborhood this morning. I'm not sure how we are going to repair the fence any time soon - it looks like the ground was completely saturated and the posts just ripped out of the ground. On my drive this morning, I noticed several trees and branches blocking roads and stoplights without power. I'm at work now and can't check my email because the servers are still down.

And the damage isn't just local. From the news reports, it looks like ~300,000 people in Oregon and ~1 million people in Washington lost power. And thousands will be out of power for a couple of days. Apparently this was the third worst windstorm in the past 40 years. Pretty cool.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

That Crazy Northwest Weather

And those crazy northwesterners who get all excited about it...

Here's what just came through my email: "Weather advisories for the ... area forecast heavy winds and rain tonight and tomorrow, with wind gusts reaching 50 miles per hour. Previous windstorms have been responsible for damage and power outages on campus. Please shut down all personal and all non-essential electrical devices and loads by the end of business today. This will reduce risks associated with restoration of power and services. Should you have questions, please call ... Facilities Services..."

In the area where I grew up, 50 mph winds would be considered a breeze.

But also in the forecast are floods. The image on the left are the flood predictions from NOAA's Northwest River Forecast Center as of 4:30 pm today. Click the image to get current predictions. Red areas are places that are flooding or are forecasted to flood. Orange areas are/will exceed bankfull (the river is out of its banks, but no economic consequences), and yellow and green areas will get plenty wet.

And while I grew up in an area with some notable floods, around here they are quite exciting. And we've already had a couple of good ones here this fall. If this batch lasts into the weekend, maybe I'll try to get some pictures. I do enjoy a good flood.

Oh, and starting later tonight, it's supposed to be a blizzard in the mountains. It never rains but it pours.

Women in Science - a few things of note

I started to work on this post a week ago and never found the time/energy to finish it off. While I'd like to keep providing my readers with updates on all the women in science news and blogs, it's just too much of a time and energy committment right now. I guess I'll have to stick to the first person perspective for at least the next couple of months.

Women in Science Update - Asking Life's Persistent Questions

Would this work?
From Miss Prism: "Inspired by the X-Gals, many wonderful women's science blogs, and maybe perhaps a soupcon of beer, a pond-crossing friend and I have been chatting lately about the possibility of creating some kind of online resource / community / wiki type thing for women scientists (grad students, postdocs and beyond)."

Why are we still reinforcing stereotypes?

BrightStar points us to a product that does just that in her post (I'm pretty AND I do math!, 11/10)

Who can challenge the status quo?
"Those who are in the community have a lot to lose by challenging the status quo. Those who are no longer in the community can speak out without the same risk of losing their standing -- but, having no standing, they are also in a position where the community can safely ignore them." from Janet's post "Making Repairs, Staying Afloat"(Adventures in Ethics and Science, 11/15)

Is gender bias in STEM a myth?
"Over at the Cornell American Online, Rachel Brenc, a first-year student in engineering - oops, I mean, freshman - has written a little piece that ought to be titled Why There's Nothing Wrong With White Male Domination Of Every Institution In Our Society As Long As I, Personally, Have Never Experienced Any Discrimination Of Which I Am Cognizant Because I'm Just Going To Quit Working As Soon As I Get Pregnant Even Though I Love My Engineering Classes And I Will Just Cross My Fingers And Trust God That My Husband Doesn't Leave Me Or Die Or Get Disabled Or Laid Off Because I Think There Is No Discrimination Against Women And Those Ladies Who Wrote That NSF Report Are Just Whiners, Not Hard Workers (Who Know Their Place, In the Kitchen With The Babies) Like Me" from Zuska's post: Let Her Eat the Opressors Cake (11/17)
What will MIT's Tonewaga do now that he suddenly has more free time?
SciMom comments on Susan Hockfield's lack of public condemnation in her post "MIT's Tonewaga steps down." (11/18) Susan Hockfield is the president of MIT, and SciMom comments "As a woman in an extremely powerful academic and scientific position, I thought she should have been more vocal than she was."

Why does the attire of women doctors deserve such scrutiny?
"I think that we should take the fact that patients prefer to see doctors in white coats to casual clothes as an opportunity to question what authority "looks like," rather than as a carte blanche (pardon the pun) to criticize what people are wearing." asserts Skookumchick in Strut your stuff (11/21). But the author of any essay in the NY Times doesn't take the high road, calling the attire of many women doctors inappropriate.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Blog Year in Review

The meme seen everywhere today (first seen by me at Dr. Crazy's):
  1. Harken back to your archives.
  2. Collect the first sentence you wrote every month for the whole year.
  3. Entertain us.
January: "I've known what next year's resolutions will be for weeks...well, they are not resolutions exactly but more like the areas on which I want to focus my energy in 2006." I got #1 (earn a PhD) out of the way, but #s 2 and 3 are more debatable (have a healthier lifestyle, help my husband lead a happier life).

February: "Dr. Free-ride has put together another great edition of Tangled Bank, the carnival of the sciences." Of course I had to promote my one submission to Tangled Bank. These days I rarely have the energy to read blog carnivals, but I should note that there is now a physical sciences one (Philosphia Naturalis) as well as the more life science oriented Tangled Bank.

March: "As seen over at AAYOR (and probably elsewhere, I am seriously behind on my bloglines)" The US map meme - a reminder of how much of my blogging is just ideas stolen from all of you and of how much time keeping up with all of your blogs can take if you let it. But usually I let it - sometimes at the expense of my own posting. People just have such interesting things to say!

April: "Where in the world did March go?" Gosh, I have that sensation almost every month. This was one of my goals and accomplishments posts that I try to do at the beginning of most months.

May: "This is what my desk looks like when I am working hard." A post about the mental agony and physical consequences of working through reviewer comments. Right now my desk is almost as messy, but I'm not really doing anything hard. Maybe I'm just a poor housekeeper.

June: "With all the work and travel I have in the month ahead, I've decided to go on a bit of a vacation from blogging." A wisely planned vacation from blogging that coincided with a bunch of work-related travel and the fatigue of early pregnancy - and to prevent myself from saying anything about it before I was ready.

July: "Happy Canada Day." What follows is another list of monthly goals.

"I promised myself I wouldn't blog today until I had written at least a couple of good paragraphs of my current paper." That's the start of a post about the final weeks of dissertating and the frustrations that lie therein.

: "(Scientific vocabulary increasingly eludes me or fails to capture what I mean, so I am turning to other fields for help. The final paragraphs of my diss will be titled "denouement.")" 3 days before my dissertation went to the committee. I was on an emotional roller-coaster.

October: "My post-defense vacation included a trip to Eastern Oregon to witness the most complete range of Tertiary fossils found anywhere - the John Day Fossil Beds." My first science post to come up in this list - reinforcing exactly how little I blog about science around here.

November: "What a great way to start the day. A colleague just sent me this bit of scientific fun."
I guess this counts as 50% silliness and 50% science.

December: "This week has been a blur." Dude, this year has been a blur.

To summarize and quantify: If we accept the assumption that these twelve posts are a representative sample of my blogging over the past year, then the following is true:
  • 25% of posts are goals or other lists (probably an overestimate)
  • 25% of posts are about writing science for publication or dissertation and the resulting emotional fallout
  • 17% of posts are bemoaning the passage of time
  • 12.5% of the time I actually write about science itself (probably an overestimate)
  • 12.5% of posts are memes or other silliness
  • 8% of posts exist solely to promote other people's blogging (and my own)
  • 8% of the time I'm on blog-vacation (hey, that's less than the president)
In reviewing these 12 posts, I didn't find a very compelling reason to regularly read this blog. So why do you all keep doing it? And what do you want the breakdown to look like next year?

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Help! Blogger beta problems

I'm trying to make a new layout in the beta format and I am having terrible troubles getting my banner image to show up. First it showed up too small and now it won't show up at all. Anyone who could help is most appreciated. The image I want to use is located here:

Thanks in advance!

Equal opportunity for interviewing

I find myself in an interesting situation. I was recently offered an interview at a university where I think I'm a good match. The catch? They want to interview me in January. And I can't fly in those few weeks before my due date.

I offered to come in December or February but they are already on break now and they said that February would be too late. I also offered to speak to them by phone at any point. The person who contacted me said s/he'd talk to the search committee and see what they could arrange.

I'm pretty sure that since they wanted me to come to campus, they have to at least follow through with a phone interview. Of course, it'd be nicer to have a campus visit, even though the thought of travel sounds particularly unappealing right now. But I'd bet that affirmative action laws require them to make some accomodation for me. I have a call into my campus office to find out.

They can of course discriminate against me all they want after they've made some arrangement to satisfy the affirmative action requirement. And there's not much that I can do about that. But you'd think that someone offering to travel and interview either in her 8th month of pregnancy or with a brand-new newborn would be demonstrating a level of committment and enthusiasm far beyond what your typical candidate displays. So we'll see what happens...

Monday, December 11, 2006

Baby guessing contest.

Here's your chance to guess Mini's birthday, gender, and birth weight. The person or people who get closest to the correct answer will get a special reward from Mini after the big event (and it won't be a poopy diaper).

To enter the contest, put your guess in the comments. Remember, I want to know
1. birthday (I'm due January 27th)
2. gender
3. birth weight

Good luck!

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Pregnancy update: 33 weeks

Since there are at least a few of you who seem interested in the ongoing growth of my belly and the imminent expansion of my family, I thought I'd provide an update. The photo above is about a week old, but you can see it has grown substantially since last month.

I'd have to say that the honeymoon period of the pregnancy is definitely over. I have less and less energy each week, so that work is taking more and more of that finite resource even though I am not accomplishing a whole lot. A lot of mornings, I'll wake up feeling OK, but by the time I get through breakfast and a shower, I feel ready for a nap. Of course sleeping is pretty darn uncomfortable, so I usually just soldier on into the office. By 6 pm I usually have no energy at all - so evening committments are killers (like the childbirth class). I snuck out early a couple of afternoons this week, and those days really helped me recharge, even though I never succeeded in getting a nap or really any time to myself. If I manage to make myself a decent dinner and clean it up, 7:30 finds me half-comatose on the couch with a book or the remote, waiting for fish to come home from work. Then I usually manage to have a second wind (or third? or fourth?) from about 8:3o to 10:00 and we'll read a section of The Baby Book or some children's classic to the tummy. At night I am usually getting up to pee about 4 times (everytime I roll over) and although my hips are somewhat less sore than they used to be, sleeping on my side is still agony because my ribs get so sore. And rolling over is a mammoth chore, especially when you add a pillow between the knees. So when my alarm goes off or the dog whines, I usually get up with little hesitation.

I've got a nice crop of red stretchmarks on my lower belly, one boob, and my hips. Tums are my most frequently consumed food, and my prenatals recently started making me nauseous. One of my boobs leaks a lot of colostrum, and I've had a few embarrassing leak-through incidents. Many of the maternity clothes I've been wearing for the past couple of months are now getting to small, and I am moving into the big stretchy pants phase. Tying my shoes is a challenging task, but most of my shoes don't fit anyway (ligaments stretch all over the body causing your feet to widen and/or lengthen). My hair is incredibly lustrous and full, but I've got to get a haircut. My belly knocked a full cup of tea into a laptop keyboard on Thursday (no damage done).

But despite the complaining, it is the most amazing thing to feel Mini move inside me. She's getting quite big: "This week your baby weighs a little over 4 pounds and measures 17.2 inches from the top of his head to his heels. His skin is becoming less red and wrinkled, and while most of his bones are hardening, his skull is quite pliable and not completely joined" according to Babycenter. I feel kicks and hiccups almost every hour and I can sort of tell which position Mini is in by their location. Other people can sometimes see my belly move from several feet away. I love rubbing my belly (especially where I can feel a bony area) and singing it to it. Fish talks to it at bedtime and we read stories. Snowmen at Night is really really cute.

The focus of our thoughts and energy has definitely shifted from the pregnancy to the baby. We are in the process of getting our house ready. Fish gave up his dresser so that I can get Mini's clothes cleaned, sorted, and put away, and hopefully craigslist will yield a cheap changing table in the next week or two. We're planning to use a co-sleeper for the first couple of months, so if we don't get a crib before Mini arrives, I'll be OK with it. We had a wonderful baby shower last weekend, and my incredible friends gave me some really amazing stuff, so now we know what we need to get in the next few weeks. We have our infant car seat riding around in the trunk, just in case Mini makes an early arrival (plus, we've no place else to put it). Tomorrow we are rearranging our bedroom to make room for the co-sleeper.

I've decided to try for a natural (non-medicated) childbirth. I'm not wild about drugs getting into my baby's bloodstream during a critical time, epidurals sound really drastic to me, and I'm allergic to most narcotics anyway. We are planning to have a doula (labor assistant) help us out with suggestions of relaxation techniques and positions to try and to provide some been-there-done-that support, since fish, no matter how much he cares, can't really understand what I will be going through. I'm trying not to stress too much about the labor because I'm thinking about it like a wedding. I know that sounds funny, but people put all this stress on the wedding, when it only lasts one day and the marriage is the thing that lasts a lifetime. Same with labor versus the baby. And just like I got engaged to have a marriage not a wedding, I got pregnant to have a child, not to labor. It's only 48 hours or less anyway. (hopefully less).

Woo, that was a long update. And fish's alarm is going off - time to start cleaning the house and watching some football.

Friday, December 08, 2006

luck of the draw

Sometimes you can carefully tend field-deployed data loggers, checking on them every month or so, being vigilant about recording site conditions and collecting supplementary data, frequently looking over the collected data for potential problems, etc. And that doesn't guarantee that the data you get out of the dataloggers will be of a decent (usable) quality. Such is the problem with the datasets that I am working with now - ones that were supposed to be part of my dissertation and that tooks months and months of my time over the past four years.

Othertimes you can ad-hoc throw something together in a few days, deploy data loggers remotely for a few months, make several careless errors after retrieving them, and still retrieve good quality data. That's the auspicious result of my recent adventure and my pre-doc post-doc work.

Which one of these datasets will, in the end, yield a compelling scientific story that gets written up for publication? It's way to early to tell. I don't want to give up on the first dataset because I've put too much blood, sweat, and tears into it, but if the second dataset reveals its mysteries easily, it will make a much bigger contribution to my research portfolio (and my CV). Sometimes I guess it all boils down to luck.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

ipod meme

First seen at Propter Doc's (also seen at Holly's, Brazen Hussy's and elsewhere)

Silver ipod mini in a translucent blue cover, 1 year old.

How many songs: 778 at the moment because I just had to restore it to factory settings

First song: (is this alphabetical or what?) '97 Bonnie and Clyde - Tori Amos
Last song: Zombie - The Cranberries

Shortest: 14 seconds Waltz #1 (sam phillips cue from the gilmore girls soundtrack)

Longest: 13:54 Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto in E minor - movement 1 (performed by Joshua Bell)

Five most played songs:
Where Have all the cowboys gone - Paula Cole
I grieve - Peter Gabriel
Anji - Simon and Garfunkel
Glory of the '80s - Tori Amos
Watermark - Enya

First song that comes up on "shuffle”: The Boxer - Simon and Garfunkel
Number of items that come up when searching for:

"sex": 1

"death": 0

"love": 45

"you": 70

"me": 156

"cry": 4

December's goals

My lethargy in writing and posting this month's goals is something of a reflection of my current ambivalence towards work. Partly, it's that I don't have many externally imposed deadlines at the moment (except of course the big one) so it's harder for me to prioritize what I should be working on. Partly, it's that big looming arrival and the time off after it making it harder for me to feel committed to long-term projects. Partly, it's that work is taking more and more of my available energy to accomplish less and less and I just want to be at home putzing around my house. And finally, it's that a couple of things have been pushed off for several months now and I think I'll feel better when I finally put them to bed.

So here's the list:
  1. finish and submit next paper to journal (the one I was going to submit in October)
  2. review paper for journal (done, but late)
  3. Get the pre-postdoc data and take a look at it (also on the list from last month)
  4. QC and compile data from 2005-2006 for submittal to funder (new task, external deadline)
  5. develop plan for "unfunded mandate" work now that we're committed to presenting it in June (lingering on the list from last month)
  6. apply for jobs due in December, January, and early February

Monday, December 04, 2006

other people's writing

Major tasks in the past week have involved reading and critiquing other people's writing - in one case it was an NSF proposal and in the other I was reviewing a paper. Fortunately both are now submitted and I should be off the hook from reading other people's stuff for a few days. But for now, a few thoughts from my addled brain.
  1. Many people aren't great writers. Sentences that are too awkwardly constructed, or redundant show up with surprising frequency even in work that is supposedly ready for publication. Some people write around the point they are trying to make, leaving their readers to do the hard work of figuring out what they are trying to say.
  2. People have very different house-keeping standards from mine. References in multiple formats, Xs left as stand-ins for numbers (e.g., XX sq. mm), figures misnumbered or not referenced. I'm not sure whether sloppiness like this reflects the general way things go "out the door" from these people or whether they know that S and I are careful proofreaders who can't stand this sort of thing and won't let it slip through.
  3. It can be really hard to turn off the editor in me and focus on critiquing the science. And vice versa. Maybe it's because I used to be an editor, but I get so hung up on fixing sentences that I have to force myself to pay attention to the science at hand. But other times I am annoyed enough by the science that I'll let whole pages of bad writing slip by me.
  4. Giving constructive criticism is a lot harder than just noting awkward sentences, vague wording, or poorly-explained ideas. From my limited experience reading reviews, I know that I need to be constructive and specific in order to be helpful. But sometimes I feel like just highlighting an entire paragraph and saying "yuck."
  5. I'm still struggling with the level of detail that I am supposed to go into in various situations. Obviously, my level of investment in my research group's proposal should be greater than for the paper review, but what does that mean in terms of my comments? Do I have an obligation to try to fix every problem in the proposal but not in the paper? (neither of them involves funding for me) How about when the writing in question my undergraduate's thesis? Then where do I draw the line between teaching him better writing skills and rewriting too much?
  6. Reviews take a lot longer than I wish they did. Is this true for other people? I probably spent 1.5 days reviewing the paper, and by the end I was very cranky. Maybe it's because I picked all the low hanging fruit first and left the meaty scientific issues for the end.
Tomorrow I think I'll play with data.

celebration (hopefully not premature)

My data loggers are on their way back to me via FedEx. Now we'll just have to see what they contain. I'm feeling good.

Friday, December 01, 2006

what a week!

This week has been a blur. Sunday's adventure and the resulting fallout occupied the first two days almost completely and parts of the rest of the week. I tried to finish up a review on Wednesday, but instead got tasked to review/fix an NSF proposal our group is submitting today. It was a complete mess and took me half of Wednesday and most of the day yesterday to help fix. And I've got a cold and my mom is visiting. Now I'm going to take the afternoon off and try to get some rest. So for any number of reasons, blogging has not been a priority this week. Hopefully next week will be better.

Teaser: For those of you who know my real name, if you do a google news search on it, you'll get to read about the adventure.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Science vs. engineering: job app advice?

I'm in one of those fields where I could have gotten a graduate degree in either science or engineering and I opted for science for various reasons. But that doesn't mean that I haven't had a few engineering courses along the way, and some engineering departments will hire people in my field with science PhDs. That's what I am hoping as I get ready to submit the job application du jour. And that's why I am looking for advice on:
  1. How are engineering faculty job apps different than science faculty ones?
  2. How do I sell myself as someone who can "talk" engineering as well as science?
  3. My teaching philosophy statement is very science oriented - what sort of things are key to an engineering teaching philosophy?
Any advice would be appreciated!

Monday, November 27, 2006

Polar Bears and Penguins

It's that time of year again...when the coca-cola company comes out with another round of dizzingly cute but factually incorrect holiday advertising. I posted this last year and I'm still getting comments and google hits out of it, and I saw an offending billboard a few days ago, so I thought I'd repost it:

Dear Coca-Cola Company,

While I have been known to enjoy your products, and never those of your competitor, I am saddened by the misinformation you are spreading in your current advertising campaign. I am referring to the television spot in which you show a family of polar bears who espy a partying penguins and slide down the hill to join the merriment. It's a very cute advert, but is totally factually wrong. And it contributes to the misconceptions I see my students exhibit. For this reason, I am asking you to correct your advertisement and make amends by providing some educational material about polar bears.

First off, what's wrong? It's very simple really. Polar bears only live in the Arctic (the northern Hemisphere), while penguins live in the Southern Hemisphere, principally the Antarctic. Thus, the chances of a wild polar bear happening on a penguin are zero. Maybe you are saying that everyone already knows that, why does it matter if we take a little creative license with our art? Because, sadly, not everyone knows this. I had a student who suggested in a paper that the native peoples of Antarctica would do well to make clothing out of polar bear skins.

If you don't believe me, ask others. Here's a quote from Polar Bears International:
One final misconception is that polar bears live at both poles. The belief is common among school children, who grow up seeing illustrations of penguins and polar bears together. Polar bears, of course, live only in the circumpolar North. They never encounter penguins, which do not live in the same regions as polar bears.
Polar bears are a potentially endangered species, with an estimated population of 22,000 to 25,000 worldwide, about 60% of which live in Canada. Most sport hunting is now banned by international treaty, but polar bears face increasing threat from shrinking Arctic sea ice as a result of anthropogenic climate change. Polar bears also have high levels of PCBs and other pollutants in their bodies as a result of the distillation of atmospheric pollutants from all over the world. These pollutants may be the cause of higher juvenile mortality rates and suppressed immune system functions.

One of my earliest memories is of a trip to Churchill, Manitoba when I was four. We saw polar bears along the shore of Hudson Bay, and I slid down a slide shaped like a polar bear. I especially remember a post card of a polar bear looking in the window of our hotel. The next time I saw a polar bear in the wild was at age 23 from a plane window on the ice south of Ellesmere Island. These are memories I will always cherish. But most people will never see a polar bear in the wild, which is why they need the images that they see on TV to be truthful. And that's where Coca Cola Company has a responsibility to their customers.

By choosing to use the polar bear as your corporate mascot, you also chose to tie your company's fortunes to that species. Endangerment or extinction of your mascot would be bad PR. Instead, create some good public relations and media for your company. Start with the simple: Polar bears live at the North Pole, while penguins live in the south. Then tackle the more complex: Educate the public about the threats facing polar bears. Adjust your corporate operations (manufacturing, marketing, etc.) to reduce Coca Cola's impact on the Arctic and on polar bears. Lead by example, and future generations of children will know the magic of the bears.


I'm back in Utopia today after a week of family, friends, and other adventures. I have one helluva story to tell about my return trip yesterday, but I've got to figure out a way to do it in a way that does not reveal my identity.

And I've also got a backlog of work to get done. The laptop I took with me was never fully functional which is my excuse for being late on my first ever review. Triptophan induced sleepiness has nothing to do with it!

So while I ponder a way to share my adventure story and the lessons learned (so far), I'll just post a lame list of my work projects this week:
  1. deal with adventure fallout
  2. submit review (due 11/25)
  3. return proofs of article
  4. give malfunctioning laptop to computer gurus
  5. apply for a job in a mountain state
  6. reapply for federal job
  7. get next paper ready for submission

Thursday, November 23, 2006


  • I am thankful for a wonderful supportive husband who is looking forward to being a wonderful supportive father.
  • I am thankful for a family that, despite its quirks, gets along and enjoys spending time together.
  • I am thankful for a set of in-laws and extended family that is welcoming and enthusiastic.
  • I am thankful for having abundant food, adequate warmth, and a soft bed in which to sleep.
  • I am thankful for generous and loving friends.
  • I am thankful for a baby that continues to grow and amaze me, while only causing me the usual discomforts.
  • I am thankful that my husband finds my pregnant body even more attractive than usual.
  • I am thankful for a boss and colleagues that are accommodating and supportive of my choices.
  • I am thankful to live in an era where little girls can grow up to be scientists and stay-at-home moms.
  • I am thankful for my mom who encouraged my curiousity, yet kept me grounded.
  • I am thankful for my brother who is full of talent and energy.
  • I am thankful for my life.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

stopping time

Early early tomorrow morning, fish and I are getting on a plane and heading for the Midwest to spend a week with all the parents and siblings. It'll be a fun trip because fish's family and my brother haven't seen me since I got pregnant, so I am looking forward to getting a bit spoiled. Hopefully, I'll also eat some good food, and get to see a friend or two.

Unfortunately, I have to bring a fair bit of work with me (a review, some data, be available on email, etc.), so it won't be all fun and games. But the tradeoff is that I've decided not to officially take any vacation days from work. So there.

I'll have high speed internet access in both homes, so there may be blogging (or not). I may even make the switch to the beta (I like the label feature and the interfaces better), although I really don't expect it to be more reliable than the old blogger.

But one thing I won't be doing this week is getting anything ready for Mini's arrival. Which is not so good, given that every time I see that ticker on my blog I have a momentary panic attack. I'm now 3/4 the way through my pregnancy. It's unbelievable.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Cover up that clean baby with a dirty blanket! Or else.

As a pregnant woman about to get on an airplane, this story at Adventures in Ethics and Science pricked a nerve today.

As reported by the Burlington Free Press:

Emily Gillette of Santa Fe, N.M., was asked to leave a flight departing from Burlington after she declined to cover her baby as she breast-fed.

Gillette said she began to nurse her 22-month-old daughter as the plane prepared for takeoff after a three-hour delay. Gillette said a Freedom Airlines flight attendant approached her, directing her to cover up with a blanket. When Gillette refused, the attendant allegedly told her that she was offended, and Gillette and her husband say they were asked to leave the plane.

Gillette said she has filed a charge against two airlines -- Delta Air Lines and Freedom Airlines, which was operating the commuter flight for Delta -- with the Vermont Human Rights Commission because breast-feeding is protected under Vermont's Public Accommodations Law.

Neither Delta nor Freedom officials returned calls Wednesday seeking comment. Freedom Airlines spokesman Paul Skellon said Monday that he was aware of the incident.

"A breast-feeding mother is perfectly acceptable on an aircraft, providing she is feeding the child in a discreet way" that doesn't bother others, Skellon said. "She was asked to use a blanket just to provide a little more discretion, she was given a blanket, and she refused to use it, and that's all I know."

Gillette was put off the plane for refusing to breastfeed "discreetly", but it should be noted that she was seated in a window seat -- with her husband seated next to her -- in the next to last row of the plane when the breastfeeding occurred and, as far as I can tell from the news coverage, only the flight attendant was offended by the display of boobie. To the extent that flight attendants are supposed to be focused on passenger safety, Delta might want to consider hiring flight attendants who are not so easily distracted by the sight of a young human taking in nourishment.

If you'd like to sign a petition to let Delta know that this is a stupid way to treat its passengers, there's one here.

Why in the world would any mom want to cover her clean breast and her baby's head with an airplane blanket that had been used by who-kn0ws-how-many germy other passengers?

Makes me glad I'm not flying Delta.

sometimes it's a very very small town

I want to have a doula to assist in having a natural child-birth, and I finally fish on board with the idea. I mentioned this to MicrobeGirl (who is due on Tuesday) and she mentioned that she had a friend who knew someone who was a doula-in-training. (Doulas in training are free, trained doulas are ~$500).

So it turns out that:
  1. MicrobeGirl's friend (MGF) is the other pregnant lady I talk to in the breakroom at work.
  2. The doula in training is a PhD student who works in the next building.
  3. The doula in training is the woman who I contacted on Craigslist about a stroller a few weeks back. We checked out the stroller but decided not to buy it.
  4. So, MicrobeGirl's friend's friend (who I've met) may help with my childbirth. Weird.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

aspirations tinged with realism

As I go through another job search I am being more selective in my applications, feeling more confident about my prospects, and simultaneously feeling more desperate. There are many things I would like to have in my next job - but the only real requirement is that I make enough money to take the financial stress off of fish.

I'm blogging this only because I just articulated it for the first time.

the latest meme

I first saw this at Dr. Crazy's, but it's all over the 'sphere.

1. Yourself: expectant
2. Your boyfriend/girlfriend: my husband
3. Your hair: distinctive
4. Your mother: high-maintenance
5. Your father: distant
6. Your favorite item: my blog
7. Your dream last night: puppies
8. Your favorite drink: cocoa
9. Your dream car: environmentally friendly
10. The room you are in: fluorescently lit
11. Your ex: a long time ago
12. Your fear: expectations
13. What you want to be in 10 years: happy
14. Who you hung out with last night: my husband
15. What you're not: ABD
16. Muffins: blueberries
17: One of your wish list items: Zooper Boogie stroller
18: Time: fast
19. The last thing you did: lunch
20. What you are wearing: fleece
21. Your favorite weather: crisp
22. Your favorite book: Calvin and Hobbes
23. The last thing you ate: panini
24. Your life: full
25. Your mood: worn down
26. Your best friend (s): perfect
27. What are you thinking about right now: sleep
28. Your car: reliable
29. What are you doing at the moment: blogging
30. Your summer: busy
31. Your relationship status: comfortable
32. What is on your tv: dust
33. What is the weather like: rainy
34. When is the last time you laughed: yesterday

Back to the data grindstone. I have a deadline to meet.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The ideal post-doc?

There's been a lot of discussion recently about what an ideal post-doc should look like (summarized by propter doc here) . And I promised to take a swing at it myself. Yesterday I was too busy actually being a productive post-doc, but today I've decided to prioritize some reflection.

What does an ideal post-doc look like? The view from a beginner, environmental science post-doc.
  • An ideal post-doc should never ever be called a student. I absolutely hate the phrase "post-doctoral student." We have terminal degrees, dammit! And we don't get the perks that students get (discounted theatre tickets, free entrance to the gym, etc.)
  • An ideal post-doc should receive mentoring in the areas where they need it. Maybe you are completely technically competent in your field of research, but maybe you don't have much experience writing grants, reviewing papers, or hiring people. Those are the places that a post-doc PI should help you out, so that when you get your own research group, you aren't completely clueless.
  • An ideal post-doc should be involved in all stages of the research cycle. From proposal writing, data collection, analysis, paper and report writing. To participate in all the stages of the research cycle within a limited time duration may require involvement in more than one project. As a PI, you'll be involved in more than one project, so why not get the experience now.
  • An ideal post-doc should be encouraged to develop and pursue their own research ideas. Most post-docs probably come into a group where there is an already funded project, but developing (and getting funding for) your own ideas as a side project or as an extension of your post-doc time is really valuable experience for being a PI. In fact, if you can be a PI (or at least co-PI) on a grant as a post-doc, that will help you get an academic job. It's a shame that the US federal granting agencies won't allow post-docs as PIs, because a lot of us are doing a substantial amount of the proposal generation (not to mention the actual work).
  • An ideal post-doc should pay closer to the beginning assistant professor level than the graduate student level. We've had enough years of being under severe financial stress as graduate students, let it end with the completion of the PhD.
  • An ideal post-doc position should be funded for more than 1 year and less than 4. Let me explain my rationale. If you (like me) have funding for 1 year, then immediately upon starting the post-doc you have to begin looking for and applying for your next job. This not only distracts from your work but adds to your stress level. On the other hand, 4 years is as much time as it took to get the PhD and the post-doc is generally conceived of as a liminal stage between PhD and academia, so the post-doc should be shorter in duration than the Ph.D. If after four years at a post-doc, you don't have a permanent job lined up and you still want to go after a professorial position, then it seems to me that your interests are best served by widening your experiences and moving to another research group. If you are still in the same post-doc for 5+ years, then you need to face it, you are no longer in the academic job hunt game, instead you are a "research scientist" or "research associate" at your current university, in a more permanent soft-money position. At least that's the way it works in my field.
  • An ideal post-doc should be at a different institution, or at least a different research group than the one in which you did your PhD. I haven't done this one, which is part of why you will never hear me profess to have the perfect post-doc. My thoughts here stem from the idea that a post-doc should be about diversifying and refining your research expertise and experience. Part of your research experience is learning how to work within different administrative systems and with different groups of people. On a more pragmatic level, moving to a different place shows academic search committees that you aren't stuck in a rut research-wise or (god-forbid) have personal reasons for staying in one place.
  • An ideal post-doc would provide access to career resources, including those for jobs outside academia. In a lot of fields there are more PhDs granted and even post-docs post-docing than there are available tenure-track faculty jobs. There should be recognition of career opportunities outside of academia, and a career center or other resources available to help PhDs find work outside the ivory tower.
  • An ideal post-doc should be allowed to have a life outside research. Something like a third of post-docs have kids, wouldn't it be nice to be able to watch them grow up? And even for those without families, all work and no play makes Jane a dull girl.
I'm sure there's more, but that's all I can think of right now, and I've got some data that are calling my name.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Group Work: It's not any better in the real world

NewGirl, my advisor's, not-so-new grad student, has been fighting this group assignment all week. Apparently they have assigned groups and have to produce some sort of 5000-word analysis by tonight at midnight. One group member has been ineffective and another (or the same?) decided to study for a midterm rather than contributing and attending a group meeting last night. Needless to say, NewGirl is stressed. I think we've all been there.

A couple of people have recently written about group work (profgrrrl?, dr. crazy?) and how the students hate it, but that it has some real utility. The only justifiable reason I can come up with for group assignments is that "how things work in the real world."

Assuming (for the moment) that academic research is "the real world," I'm here to report that group work doesn't usually get any more fun once you've graduated. Well, actually, group brainstorming sessions can be quite fun and productive, but group For the last week I've been mainly working on two group writing assignments.

Assignment 1: A small (~$10K) grant proposal.
I was brought in as the field work specialist on a project that will be largely modeling. The field work will help calibrate the modeling efforts. The proposal is due Tuesday, and we had our first group meeting last Monday. At the first meeting, we had to figure out what they needed from the field data and to identify field sites. Based on that meeting, I wrote a paragraph on field methods, and wrote a section on historical datasets in the study region. Then partway through the week, I got a request from the PI to do some reconaissance of the field sites (data examination, not field work). So I did. But at our meeting late Thursday afternoon, we added two more field sites. So I had to do the reconaissance work on those, and I had to amend both sections that I had already written. But the upside (and it's a big one), is that I am going to be a co-PI on the grant and we wrote in a month of salary for me. So in the end, even though it was inefficient and involved a lot of me doubling back on my efforts, the payoff should be worth it. Even if we don't get the grant, the proposal will be "pending" on my CV until at least March.

Assignment 2: Report to a funding agency
NewGirl has an awesome project that involved a tremendous amount of field work all summer long and she's just starting to look at her reams of data. Her funders want a preliminary report by next week, so I was asked to help out with some "back-of-the-envelope" modeling and a short write-up. The only problem was that I didn't know anything about her field area or her datasets, and everytime I decided to try a different approach to the in-the-end not-so-simple modeling, I had to bug NewGirl to get a different dataset. Plus, I wanted to make sure that my modeling approaches were reasonable based on her on-the-ground knowledge and her reading of the literature. So we had several conversations where I ran her through what I was doing, and asked her for a critique. In the end, I probably spent about 10-15 hours working on the project, and I probably took 8-10 hours of NewGirl's time. Maybe it would have just been easier to have her do it, especially since I am still not pleased with the results, but I don't care enough to do a better job.

I'm not sure group writing results in a better nor more seamless product in all cases. Nor am I sure that is an efficient way to get things done. But it is the way science is, by and large, accomplished, so I better stop my grumbling and just go with the flow. Fortunately, this week my attention turns to a big data processing task that is by and large individual work and very different from the things I've been doing this past week. I like people, just not all the time.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Pregnancy update

(I'm going to respond to propter doc's question about what an ideal post-doc looks like, but right now my brain is in a different dimension).

Here's my belly this week, the first week of my third trimester. I feel pretty big except when I am around women closer to their due dates. Then I just feel small.

I am really enjoying being pregnant. Sure, there are uncomfortable (even painful) parts, but feeling Mini kicking inside me is the most miraculous thing I have experienced. It's amazing to think that 7 months ago there was nothing, and now there is another life inside me, just growing and getting ready to come out and join the world. I noticed the other day that the Advent season is less than a month away. I feel like I am already experiencing Advent - the season of anticipation of something wonderful. The season of getting ready for a birth that's going to change everything.

We are in our second week of childbirth classes (6 weeks total), and the class is huge (20 couples). I feel like the instructor is really rushing through things, but that I am not learning much that I hadn't already read about. However, I think there are a bunch of new things for fish, which I guess is most of the point of these classes anyway. Plus, it's actually good to practice the breathing patterns , not just read about them. I'm really leaning towards a natural (non-medicated) child-birth, and I'd actually like to have a doula (a trained labor support person). Well, I'd love for Writer Chica to be there as my second support person, but that's a bit impractical.

We also picked out a pediatrician this week, and he seems like a really nice guy. Easy going, almost Midwestern, but informed and competent. We are also now able to bring Mini home from the hospital - because my dad got us an infant carseat. It's kind of funny because carseat technology has changed a lot since they had babies and they weren't sure what the detachable base was all about, but I promised them a demo when they come out to visit next spring. Invitations went out for my baby shower (the first weekend in December) and as I got a guest list ready I thought about all my wonderful blog-friends who I'd really love to be there. But most of you live too far away, and I think it'd be a little weird to invite the 2 that I know live in the same state because I've never met either of you in person. But I am hoping you will all be with me in spirit.

I'm also ready to begin working on Mini's quilt. Because I've finally finished the quilt for gen(i)e's little one (below). It's the first quilt I've made without any help at all, and I've been intermittently working on it the whole time I've been pregnant. I finished it Tuesday night, but I am actually finding it hard to part with, so it won't go into the mail until tomorrow. I know I'll feel better as soon as Mini's quilt gets started. Plus, I've decided to make blackout curtains for the nursery, so I've got to get sewing.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Good morning, America.

Despite getting little sleep last night (between the belly and the dog, fun times), today is a good day. And this morning's announcement just made last night's victories all the sweeter. And that's all I am going to say.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Tooting my own horn...sort of

Amelie just tipped me off that Nature Structural and Molecular Biology had an editorial in their September issue called "All aboard for graduate school." The editorial provided a wealth of tips and resources for new graduate students - including encouraging them to check out blogs by other graduate students. They provided a link to a directory of science-related blogs, and they also specifically mentioned this blog. The only blog they specifically mentioned.
"If you want a different take on things, there is that virtual planet, the blogosphere. You can find out about the day-to-day life of graduate students (though crystal cultivators and the bench-bound be warned, some of your fellow biology graduate students spend their days in more tropical climes). Or you can read about anything from the graduate school experience from a female perspective ( to papers or seminars that inspired a peer. A list of interesting science-related blogs can be found at"
I have to conclude that either the editorial writer (1) had no idea of the depth of the academic blogosphere, (2) saw my blog when when Blogger featured it, or (3) is a reader. Whatever the reason, I hope that some poor beginning graduate students aren't led too far astray by the contents of these pages. :)

Monday, November 06, 2006

More on the weather

I'm kind of a weather nerd and one of the disappointing things about living in the PNW is how static the weather is compared to where I lived in the Midwest (where you'd need the AC one day and it'd snow the next, with a tornado in between). Around here, the local TV weather forecasters will sometimes tell us what it's like in other parts of the country, simply because there isn't enough local weather to fill up their segment.

So when we occasionally actually get something dynamic going on, everybody goes a little nuts. Including the National Weather Service forecasters. Below I've copied yesterday's forecast for the next couple of days. The caps lock is permanently stuck on at NWS, so I apologize for that. But I've bolded some of the "juiciest parts."





12Z SUN - 12Z MON:

Fine, maybe it's not that funny, but I thought it was. And here is something that is definitely funny (from the Onion re: the Mars rovers' lack of Spirit). Thanks to inkycircus for showing me this one.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

What does a post-doc do?

I think a lot of people (including graduate students) have a very poor idea of what a post-doc actually does with their days. And opinions seem to differ, as evidenced by the discussion over at youngfemalescientist as of late. So in my vast experience in a month and a half as a post-doc, I thought I'd try to discuss what I do with my post-doc days.

As a post-doc I don't have the one focused project that I had as a graduate student. Sure, there's one project that providing most of my funding, but that doesn't occupy a proportional part of my time now - nor will it over the long-run. Instead, I have something like 4 projects, all with competing timetables. Not all of these projects are particularly related to each other - they are at different scales, use different methodologies, and are at different stages (from design to publication).

As a post-doc, I don't just do my own research. I am trying to get my undergrad to finish his thesis, which is taking more and more of my time as he gets down to his final weeks, and produces frequent draft fragments. I am also helping a MS student in our group with some modeling in order to reduce her workload as she tries to meet a grant deadline. After this immediate deadline, I imagine I'll stay somewhat involved with her research as it has significant topical overlap (though not methodological overlap) with my funded project. I also contribute ideas, critiques, and/or labor to projects that S and Boss are working on, usually with short time-frames.

As a post-doc, I am expected to develop new project ideas and contribute to grant proposals. Unlike the biomedical fields, it is rare in -ology to have six digit multiple year grants which can fund an entire post-doc or PhD, so the process of grant-writing is much more ubiquitous. Especially if I want to keep my job past this year. To wit, Successful Woman called me up on Friday and asked me to contribute to a small grant proposal due in mid-month. So I spent a couple of hours learning some background information this afternoon.

As a post-doc, I am going to spend a fairly significant chunk of time looking for a permanent job or my next post-doc. It may not be part of my job description, but it is indelibly tied to the transitory nature of post-docs. I have funding for one year. That means that if I want to be using my PhD this time next year, I need to find a job. Maybe I shouldn't be doing this "on the clock," but the "clock" is just as elusive as a post-doc as it is during graduate school.

As a post-doc, I am going to devote some time to getting my dissertation chapters publishable/published. Fortunately in my case this is one of my "assigned" projects, because my advisor/boss as co-author has something at stake too. This one also goes with the previous one, as pubs become even more crucial to getting jobs, even at SLACs.

Other things I do as a post-doc: review papers for journals (and not just under my advisor's name), attend relevant seminars and meetings, stay marginally current in my field(s) by skimming table of contents and abstracts of journals, and deal with the hassles of university administration in order to get paid and get benefits.

Yep, that's what I do. No wonder I am having trouble summarizing it in one to two sentences for my CV. And I don't think my in-laws will understand it any better than they did when I was a graduate student.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Fall Forecast

This is a fairly typical fall forecast in Utopia. Click to embiggen. I particularly like the distinguishing between heavy rain and lots of rain. They say that the Inuit have 20+ words for snow. I think Northwesterners have at least that many ways of talking about liquid precipitation. Mist, drizzle, sprinkles, showers, rain, downpour, etc. All of which can be modified with adjectives like light, moderate, scattered, heavy, "lots of", and torrential. Fish and I have actually heard TV weather forecasters call for "heavy mist."

Thursday, November 02, 2006

The Letter Writers

I had a really interesting afternoon - material enough for several posts. But one thing that came up as an aside was the difficulty of finding appropriate people to write letters of recommendation for various jobs. Typically I am asked to provide contact info for 3-5 references. Occasionally (annoyingly) I am asked up front to provide three letters of recc. with my application. I thought I'd lay out my cast of characters because I wonder if they don't form some sort of typology that more people will identify with.

The Boss/Advisor - Gotta include him. Fortunately he likes me. Wants to see me at a high-level place, whether I want that or not, but can see the value and appeal of a liberals arts college (LAC) job. On every job app.

The Nice Guy - Committee member, professor, and one person who's seen me teach. On every app last year, but this year he's out of the country. Damn. But at least I can include the teaching evaluation he wrote for me in my LAC apps.

The Big Name - Took a class from him and had him as a committee member. Said complimentary things about me at my defense. Used him as a letter writer last year and he counseled me to focus on the 1-2 jobs I really wanted rather than a broader scattershot. This year: including him only on research-intensive or high prestige job apps.

The Successful Woman - Collaborator. Bluntly told me that I'd be wasting my potential at a LAC, really wants me at a research intensive place. Thinks that because she has kids and a big career that its what every woman should want. Using her only for letters at places with graduate programs.

The MS Advisor - Nice guy but a different field (but related) than that in which I now work. We never really clicked personality-wise but he's always been encouraging. Using him for apps in Midwest and when I can't figure out who else to use.

The Young Gun - Committee member, collaborator, presitigious degrees from prestigious universities, wicked smart. Never quite feel like I live up to his expectations, but he knows me well. Using him for ???

The Lab Rat - Collaborator. Always praises me but has seen only one side of my research. Works in a non-university setting so has no way of appraising my teaching. Has offered multiple times to write letters for me. Using him for nothing.

The Outsider - Not in my field at all, but has supervised my teaching and likes to talk big picture, interdisciplinary stuff with me. Not sure what sort of letter she'll write. Using her for those LAC apps where they want an interdisciplinarian.

Even though I've got a bunch of names up there, when it comes time to list contact info or ask for letters, I struggle with who to choose. I could analyze this further and try to dig into each of their motivations towards me but I think I'll leave it for another time, and simply ask: Do any of these people look familiar to you? How do you choose your recommenders?