Tuesday, January 31, 2006

5 things meme

I was tagged by Statgirl for this one.

Remove the blog in the top spot from the following list and bump everyone up one place. Then add your blog to the bottom slot, like so.

1) Overread
2) BrightStar
3) Seeking Solace
4) Statgirl
5) ScienceWoman

Next select five people to tag (Sorry!):
1) Astroprof - He deserves it after tagging me on the last one.
2) Single Girl - She needs something to keep her occupied while she waits to find out where she matched.
3) Professor me - She needs a break from diss writing and planning her fabulous new professorship.
4) She Falters to Rise - She deserves a mindless task after the week she had last week.
5) Botanical Girl - Just what she needs - another cat to herd.

What were you doing 10 years ago?
And here is where I reveal my youth. Ten years ago I was a junior in high school. I was enjoying early rehearsals of the school musical (as Mrs. Squyres in Music Man), stage managing the one act play (David and Lisa) and playing in at least 2 orchestras. By the end of the February, a particularly nasty bit of ugliness with my father would have occurred and I would have gotten in my first car accident (backed into the parked car of a school board member!).

What were you doing 1 year ago?
Why is this question harder to answer than the previous one? This time last year I was a Ph.D. student (duh!)....I had finally solved a tricky data analysis problem and was starting to engage in the next one. I gave my first guest lecture and learned to ride a snowmobile. I also spent a lot of time contemplating what I wanted out of my relationships.

Five snacks you enjoy:
1. Chocolate-dark with nuts (but not almonds)
2. Ice Cream - but only the expensive, rich kind
3. Hazelnut steamers
4. Chai tea
5. Not snacking much these days (you know, a diet), but I have found myself lusting for a big piece of soft pretzel

Five songs to which you know all the lyrics:
When I was in New Zealand a few years ago I set off from Te Anau for a hike along the Kepler Track. 6 hours and as many inches of precipitation later, I was soaked through my rain gear and freezing cold. It was all I could do to will myself to keep walking back towards the hostel and a warm shower. Along that long, cold hike I tried to keep myself optimistic by singing aloud. I discovered that the only songs I knew all the words to were Christmas Carols and 60s folk-pop songs. So, in addition to those genres, ...
1. Bitch - Meredith Brooks
2. Winter - Tori Amos - and most of her songs from Little Earthquakes
3. Maria from Sound of Music - RaftWoman thinks it's hilarious that I know all of this.
4. And so it goes - Billy Joel
5. Goodbye Earl - Dixie Chicks

Five things you would do if you were a millionaire:
As pointed out by others, can't do anything too wild with just a $1 million. So with several million...
1. Stop job hunting and just plan on volunteering my time for advocacy groups once I finish my PhD
2. Buy some new clothes - I find myself clothes-lusting a lot lately
3. Travel travel travel - Antarctica, South America, Russia, Thailand
4. Visit my far-flung friends
5. Build a wonderful sustainable house on an island somewhere

Five bad habits:
1. Procrastinating
2. Procrastinating
3. Procrastinating
4. Biting my nails
5. Sitting with poor posture

Five things you like doing:
1. blogging
2. walking my dog
3. cuddling with BusinessMan
4. talking with friends
5. spending time on/near water

Five things you would never wear again:
(This one seems pretty lame to me.)
1. black nail polish and black eyeliner as face art- I'm 10 years removed from my goth phase.
2. shoulder pads - generic I know but like I said the category is lame and I did survive the eighties
3. stilleto heels - a recipe for disaster with my clutziness
4. size 4 pants - 'cause hell that was multiple sizes and puberty ago
5. cotton in wet and winter weather - Oregon has cured me of this mistake. As RaftWoman likes to say - "cotton kills." She's got me so well conditioned, when I go out, even my bra and panties aren't cotton.

Five favorite toys:
1. my ipod mini
2. my clock/radio/cd player
3. my sewing machine
4. my blog
5. my brand new teapot

January turns to February

Unlike Jo(e), February is one of my favorite months. As a child, it was because of my birthday waiting for me at the end. Now, after living in the mid-Atlantic and the PNW, I think it's the birthday combined with the first stirrings of spring. By the end of the month, the crocuses will be up and the trees will be budding. Maybe we'll even have daffodils. And the days will just keep getting longer.

On a more prosaic note, here are my goals for the upcoming month:
  1. write a complete draft of paper 2 - working on data analysis as necessary
  2. submit conference abstract for grant-on-the-side having completed some significant data analysis
  3. reach New Year's weight minus 10 pounds
  4. work on 2-3 1 day consulting projects (edit children's science book chapter, conduct a teacher follow-up visit from this summer's workshop)
  5. take at least one fun weekend with BusinessMan
And the big goal, but the one I have no control over, is to get asked for an interview at one of the 6 schools that have asked letters or 3 schools that I haven't heard from.

And to wrap up January, here's what I actually got done.

January 2006 accomplishments

  1. significant data analysis for paper 2
  2. reinvigorated efforts on grant-on-the-side
  3. lost 7 pounds, started yoga,
  4. went to the midwest for a week
  5. finished my first quilt
  6. gave a guest lecture for an intro level class and a seminar for group of grad students
  7. sat in on an interesting class

bad choice for an event name

Our campus is sponsoring the "1st Annual Graduate Student Workday." Funny, I thought that pretty much every day was a work day for graduate students.

Monday, January 30, 2006

A wildfire of controversy - science, politics, and publishing

A brevia paper in Science last week titled "Post-Wildfire Logging Hinders Regeneration and Increases Fire Risk" [PDF] touched off a storm of controversy in my neck of the woods. The topic of this paper is very political - as acknowledged by the authors in their first sentence: "Recent increases in wildfire activity in the United States have intensified controversies surrounding the management of public forests after large fires." A few years ago, President Bush pushed forward his "healthy forest initiative" aimed at timber harvest as a fire preventative measure and reducing the obstacles to post-fire salvage logging.

The paper, based on a M.S. thesis at Oregon State, looked at the effects of salvage logging in areas burned by the Biscuit Fire in the summer of 2002. The authors measured seedling density and fuel loads in 17 plots during spring 2004 and 2005. They found that seedling densities were 71% lower in areas that were burned and then salvaged than those that were only burned. They also found that both fine and coarse woody fuels were significantly higher in the logged areas than in the unburned and burned/not logged areas.

Based on their data, the authors make several broad conclusions with management implications: "Our data show that postfire logging, by removing naturally seeded conifers and increasing surface fuel loads, can be counter-productive to goals of forest regeneration and fuel reduction. In addition, forest regeneration is not neccessarily in crisis across all burned forest landscapes."

The controversy began when the paper was posted on-line a few weeks before its print publication. Several faculty members in the College of Forestry at Oregon State University immediately began to criticize the study, suggesting that its conclusions and implications were too broad based on the dataset. As reported in the Oregonian: "[Nine] professors and scientists from OSU, along with the Forest Service, took the unusual step of asking the Science editors to delay publication of the study until it addresses their criticisms. Alternatively, they asked that their concerns be included in a letter accompanying the study." Several of these scientists receive significant funding from the timber industry, and the dean of the college (not among the letter writers) has testified before Congress in favor of salvage logging.

Science declined to delay publication of the article nor did it oblige to put a letter of criticism accompanying the article. However, one controversial sentence ("The results presented here suggest that postfire logging may conflict with ecosystem recovery goals.") was removed by the authors between on-line and print publication (with no public explanation given).

So here we have some (though by no means, all) members of a university faculty publicly airing their internal dirty laundry and suggesting censorship rather than open debate. The customary method of science is that if you don't believe someone else's conclusions, you try to find data to support your position. That way, down the road, a third party can read all the relevant articles, evaluate the data for themselves, and draw their own conclusions. By custom then, the dissenting professors were totally on the wrong side of the fence.

But at a deeper level, it's more complex. First off, Science is one of the top 3 journals in all of science. This means that its rare for a topic like salvage logging to appear on its hallowed pages. And when a paper, like this one, does make the cut, it will be much more widely read and discussed than a paper appearing in some run-of-the-mill forestry journal. It'll have a higher impact - and it may end up being a more highly regarded paper whatever the relative quality of the science. So perhaps, the dissenters were right to be concerned that what they viewed as poor conclusions were going to get major attention and that their rebutting papers were not. Is that fair to readers outside of that specialty? Or to policy makers making decisions on limited information?

A second issue, in my opinion, is the <1 page nature of the paper that appeared in Science. I've now read it 4 times and I am still a bit uncertain about the details of the study. With more space, I could have seen a map of the sites and gotten more information about the methods. This information is available as a supporting document on-line, but not very many readers are likely to go look at it. In a traditional, longer format, details of methods, etc. would have been included along with the data and conclusions, allowing the reader to immediately decide for themselves whether the scope of the conclusions was warranted. How do journals like Science decide the correct balance between number of articles and depth of details presented in print? How does this effect the understanding of readers specific to the discipline and to those who are exposed to an article only because it catches their attention in a high-impact journal (or resulting media coverage)?

Finally, I feel for the grad student at the center of this firestorm. His advisor is on the paper, but other members of his department are publicly criticizing his research. Should there be standards of conduct for treatment of students and colleagues when research becomes controversial? Should it matter that the criticism is coming from his own institution? How does the instituional administration deal with issues like this? (No comment from OSU).

As for me, I'm glad that the paper got printed with its sweeping conclusions. Not only does it renew the debate about how to manage burned forests, but it also opens up discussion about academic ethics. And both of those conversations are ones that we need to be having.

For more discussion:

field trip follies

I went on a class field trip on Saturday - we left town at 7 am and didn't get back until almost 8:30 pm. Generally it was a good trip. It met one of my basic requirements in that it wasn't just pile out of the vans, stand around and listen to the prof, then climb back in and head for the next stop. Instead, we actually made some measurements - looking at differences between canopied and open areas. I think it's really important to get students engaging with the field trip topic/site rather than just feeling like they are stuck in one long lecture.

However, the trip also demonstrated one major ingredient of all class field trips in my -ology. At some point, poor organization and lack of attention to surroundings threatened the sanity and safety of the class. This has happened, in one form or another, on almost every field trip I have taken from undergraduate through Ph.D.

This weekend's example: About 4:30, with <1 hour until dark, the class (~20 people) headed out of our last field site, ~1/2 mile from the vans. The professor was in front of the group and didn't make a turn to retrace our steps going into the site. Instead she continued along a different trail. I was near the back of the class, and I thought that maybe she was leading us on a shortcut back (our way out had been circuitous), but, no, she had missed the turn. About 10 minutes later I finally dared to speak up - we were in my field area and I could tell that the topography was wrong for getting us back to the vans. She acknowledged her mistake and the class turned around and disintegrated into small groups at various speeds on two different routes back. The prof took up the rear guard position but as she approached the parking area she became convinced (because of the splitting up) that there were people still wandering the woods in the falling darkness (and snow). So she headed back in to look for them. In the meantime, the entire class waited in the parking lot for her to return. Total time lost = 1+ hours.

And this is a minor example compared to some I have experienced. I know the job of field trip leader is extremely difficult - you are teaching for 10 straight hours, coordinating logistics, and dealing with the same physical exertion as the students, yet you are generally older than them. But it seems like the frequency of these sort of incidents occuring is more than it needs to be. The original wrong turn could have been avoided by alertness to her surroundings (or marking the trail with flagging), the group disaggregation could have been avoided by forcing the group to stay together (maybe putting the prof in the lead and designating a grad student to take the rear guard), and the needless searching could have been minimized if we had brought the walkie-talkies and/or cell phones that were sitting in the vans. Hindsight is, of course, 20/20, but this sort of leadership/planning failure wouldn't be accepted among commercial wilderness guides.

It makes me wonder whether my -ology is particularly full of bad field trip logisticians or whether it is common to other disciplines to have these mishaps. But even though every time I go on a field trip I take mental or actual notes on how to do (or not to do) things, I know that this something bad is someday likely to happen on a trip I lead. I just hope that it's not every time.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Friday's random

Warning! I think this is going to be another happy post. And probably mundane, but it's Friday and nobody expects much of Friday posts anyway, right?

I'm going on a field trip tomorrow and subconciously this morning my brain and body decided to take today as a light day in compensation. I'm not sure it's the real reason I'm slacking but the field trip provides a fabulous justification. And it's turned out to be a really good day.

7:15 unsnuggle from dog and husband, force myself out of bed, and take a long leisurely shower
8:00 walk dog in between bursts of rain
8:45 eat breakfast and make lunch
9:00 drop of computer monitor for recycling (how environmentally responsible of me!)
9:15 arrive at school, check email, chat with S (my office mate), send some emails about potential collaborations, post-docs, and gym dates, chat with S, read a few blogs, discover that its Mozart's 250th birthday, remember that I own no Mozart CD's, go to Google to buy one, try to hit the magic $25 free-shipping-mark by adding a book, discover the book is buy a local author and decide to go to locally-owned book/music store and get an autographed copy and the CD (and support a local business)
10:45 graph some data, realize that it's not going to be an easy neat little story (Why is it never a neat little story?)
12:45 remember that I have class at 1:00, 15 minutes from my office and I should print the lecture notes, rush from office across campus
1:00 class
2:00 meet a friend (Raftwoman's sister) to hit the gym, have great discussions all about grad student stuff (how to organize journal articles, why stats classes are worthless unless they're applied)
3:30 head to campus coffee shop to read a paper for a discussion I'm leading next week (12 pages, 45 minutes, 14 more pages and 1 more coffee shop visit to go)
4:15 return to office, check and respond to emails, compose this silly blog post
5:00 post blog post, head downtown, go to above-mentioned bookstore for above-mentioned self-indulgent goodies
5:30 meet husband downtown (apparently he's there getting his car repaired anyways) and find someplace fun for dinner
9:30 go to bed early for once, so I can actually be at school for field trip departure tomorrow morning at 7 am

And in other random news
  • Overheard in the campus coffee shop by an undergrad: "Our teacher is this new chick..." Astroprof would throw a fit at the lack of respect (at "teacher") and I'm guessing that Profgrrrrl might not approve either (of "chick").
  • I got two letters of rejection this week (not surprised by either of them). Not disappointed in that result, but I am definitely starting to get more anxious about the schools where letters have been requested but I haven't heard anything back.
  • I am simultaneously amused by Beauty and the Geek, inspired by the idea that there is hope for even the most hopeless, and repulsed that the 1st episode repeatedly conflated beauty with vacuousness and ignorance/apathy of even the simplest things. I'm not asking for a show about beautiful PhDs, but maybe some recognition that one can have blonde hair, big boobs, and at least half a brain. Do you think a show with geeky girls and studly guys would have any chance on the networks?
Oooh. 4:57, time to wrap this up. Have a great weekend!

how do I read?

As I settle into the final phase of my graduate training, one of the biggest outstanding issues for me, is one that I think I should have mastered years ago. My challenge is to figure out how to effectively and efficiently read the literature.

When I sit down to read a journal article, it goes one of three ways. The most common way is that I attempt to read at my desk and I manage to continuously distract myself by checking email or bloglines, adding papers in Endnote, aimlessly surfing the web, or finding some non-pressing work to do instead. When I work this way it often takes me a good chunk of a day to get through an article (averaging 15-20 pages).

Realizing that read at my desk is a time-suck, my second alternative is to read at home in the evenings and weekends. Reading at home generally involves making myself some tea, getting comfy on the couch, reading about 2 pages and then taking a nap. Again, a horribly inefficient way to peruse the scientific literature.

My third option is to go to a coffee shop near campus, order a Chai and work on the paper and the tea at the same time. Generally this is the most time-efficient way for me to read (~1 hour per paper), but it has some significant drawbacks. Namely, there are always other things to read at the coffee shops (flyers, newspapers) and conversations to overhear. Plus, I have to spend money and intake non-nutritious calories.

It's not that I don't find the articles interesting and useful, but they are dense, often poorly written, and generally without that broad narrative arc that draws me so intensely into fiction. Given that I have an ever-growing stack of papers to keep up with for my thesis, for my various seminars, and for generally staying current on interesting topics and my field, I could really use some help in finding a more efficient and effective way to read.

Does anyone else have this problem? How do you cope with it? What are your effective and efficient strategies for reading? Help!!!!

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Reflections on happiness.

I was going to write on something else this evening, but then I realized that this will be my 200th post. And I felt like I ought to do something to celebrate the occasion.

made a comment on my last post: "It sounds like you're doing great, and you seem happy. That's really nice."

And her comment made me realize that I am happy. Perhaps more generally happy now than at many other points in my life. Rather than focusing on an uncertain future or a bumpy past, I'm "living in the moment" and finding that I am quite content here and now.

Sure, I've got frustrations. I don't know where/if I'll be employed this time next year. I can't get pregnant. I've got the usual academic stress of too-much-to-do in too-little-time. BusinessMan's still only marginally employed. I've got my second cold in 2 weeks (last winter I was sick all winter, and this one's looking to repeat). Most of my good girl-friends have moved away.

But I generally like what I'm doing. I get to do interesting research and a bit of teaching/outreach/mentoring. I'm working on a variety of projects with people who are excited about them and give positive feedback. I'm writing for fun (here). I love the people I interact with on a day-to-day basis (maybe the most important). I love this town, the culture here, the outdoors beckoning me on sunny days. And having that overall sound foundation allows me to view the frustrations as just that.

I think sometimes there is a temptation for many of us to focus on the negative. And I'll even postulate that our self-indulgent journal blogs may exacerabate that tendency. Dr. Crazy's been talking about how she cannot stand to write self-congratulatory posts and, in fact, prefers to not to read happy things. So if you, like her, don't want to read about happiness, with occasional speed-bumps, then check back again in a few months. Who knows when the wind will change? But for now, I'm not going to apologize for or hide my joie de vivre.

If you are still reading this, that means you've not been completley turned off by the saccharine content of this post. So I'll share the lyrics to the Dar Williams song that came on my iPod when I started to compose this post.

Here's wishing you the bluest sky
And hoping something better comes tomorrow
Hoping all the verses rhyme,
And the very best of choruses to
Follow all the doubt and sadness
I know that better things are on the way.

Here's hoping all the days ahead
Won't be as bitter as the ones behind you
Be an optimist instead,
And somehow happiness will find you.
Forget what happened yesterday,
I know that better things are on their way.

It's really good to see you rocking out
And having fun,
Living like you just begun.
Accept your life and what it brings.
I hope tomorrow you'll find better things.
I know tomorrow you'll find better things.

Here's wishing you the bluest sky
And hoping something better comes tomorrow
Hoping all the verses rhyme,
And the very best of choruses to
Follow all the drudge and sadness
I know that better things are on the way.

I know you've got a lot of good things happening up ahead.
The past is gone, it's all been said.
So here's to what the future brings,
I know tomorrow you'll find better things.
I know tomorrow you'll find better things.
And that, dear friends, is what I wish for you.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

where I been at

My goals for this week:
  1. finish last job application
  2. do a bunch of thesis research data analysis
  3. do a bunch of grant-on-the side data analysis
  4. edit book section (consulting work)
  5. read several papers for thesis research
What I've gotten done so far:
  1. given seminar for research group on one of the techniques I've used
  2. given guest lecture for one of the people writing all of those recommendations for me
  3. gone to gym
  4. looked at 1st data with undergrad thesis student
  5. struggled with exporting data into a format readable by ug thesis student (2 hours!)
  6. perused web site of last job app
Notice that I've not done any of the things on my to-do list. Of course, all of the things I've been doing are defensible even beneficial activities for a PhD candidate. But once again I find myself in the trap of not making any progress towards defending. I have faith that in the next three days I will manage to get something thesis-related done. For now however, I am going to go home and continue frantically working on the baby blanket for one of my dear readers. (I'll let you know who after she announces it).

Monday, January 23, 2006

What title would you like? (Proper name for a woman (Part III))

First off, thanks to all the wonderful comments on previous installments of this series. If you haven’t read them yet, you may want to start there. Ya'll have thought about these issues way more than I.

As far as titles go, there are two issues. The first is gender identification, and the second is marital status identification.

In English (and in every other language I know about), the title for most people immediately conveys your gender. Are you Ms. or Mr.? Do you have ovaries or a penis? Some people, by virtue of their professional status can transcend this titular distinction. They can become Dr. So-and-so and or the Honorable Such-and-such, but for mere mortals, you gender is immediately recognizable via your title.

Does this matter? Do we ever want to disguise our gender? Do adults even use titles?

Academia is pretty informal so most of the time, people are just referred to by their first name (or first and last). Besides, if we were going to be formal, many can transcend gender-based titles by virtue of their doctorate. The only time I’ve run into an issue of what to call someone was what to have my students call me during class. I settled on the informal convention of going by my first name.

But how about outside academia where things might be more formal and fewer people have doctorates. In industry, for example, you might be told to send a prospectus to Mr. So-and-so or Ms. Such-and-such. Immediately, a mental image begins to form of the client based on their gender. And is Mr. going to get better service than Ms.? I’m way outside my field here, but I’m guessing that some of the time, the answer is yes.

How about times when your gender is immediately apparent because you are face-to-face with the person addressing you? Obviously then the first issue becomes a de facto non-issue. The clerk at the grocery store is not going to know your professional status, but most people are pretty easy to binary sort into male/female. So that brings in the marital status question.

As a principle, I don’t think it’s anyone’s business whether a woman is married or not. For a man, it’s never an issue at the grocery store, bank, or post office. He’s always Mr. For women, we’ve got Ms. as the analog. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be the default speech setting for many people.

What really gets to me is the assumption that because I look young and I'm in a college town that I must be Miss. Never mind the wedding ring, and often the husband (also young looking) in tow. At the grocery store, etc. I am always told "Thank you, Miss ScienceWoman, have a nice day." And I can definitely see where if I were unmarried but had a child with me, these same people (often women themselves), would say "Thank you Mrs. ScienceWoman..."

When we are mis-titled should we just let it roll off our backs? On an individual case-by-case, this makes a lot of sense. No point in chewing out a minimum wage worker because she made a unconscious assumption. But if we let these individual slights roll off our backs, how will these women ever learn that what they are saying (and the assumption behind it) is incorrect and offensive? How do we change the system while being more polite than those who mis-title us?

Apologies for the rambling post, but what I really wanted to do was to get you (my readers) talking about these issues. Go for it!

Friday, January 20, 2006

Friday's Random Ten Five

  1. I've lost 6 pounds since January 1. Yay, me!
  2. The co-PI for my grant-on-the-side is thinking that we'll get two pubs out of it. Of course, we still have a lot of data analysis to do and it is everyone's grant-on-the-side.
  3. It looks like I'll be going to a conference in June to present the results of said grant-on-the-side. It's slightly outside my normal specialty, but 2 of the 3 organizers are the chairs of search committees to whom I have applied. 'Tis a small small world indeed.
  4. S and I went to a symphony concert in NUT (neighboring university town) last night. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, but we concluded that its a good thing we had season tickets because if either of us had been asked lyesterday afternoon (or last week) whether we wanted to go, we would have said, "No." So, yay, for planning ahead.
  5. We're having a girls weekend on Mt. Hood this weekend. This is the snowiest/rainiest/floodiest winter in a decade, so I am just itching to get out in the white stuff and go snowshoeing. Bonus for seeing my raft trip friends, watching silly movies, and drinking wine on Saturday night.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

apparently I'm a hot commodity

at least that's what one of my references said today, upon being asked to write a 5th letter of reccomendation for me.

That's right - I've made the first cut at Middle America University and that makes five schools asking for letters, but so far none asking for phone/personal interviews. Not to be a snob or anything, but I think I'd rather had an interview request from someplace than yet another set of letters requested.

For those keeping score at home, the contenders are: Middle America University, FancyPants U, UWIRTW, Big Southern School, and Women's College (although that one was so long ago that I sincerely doubt I'll ever hear from them again).

This afternoon, having survived 4 straight hours of meetings, I'm going to get a haircut. Tomorrow, I'll see if I can summon up any more to say about women's names. But I think ya'll have such great insights that I'm almost timid to join back in the chorus.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

a new one

I was just filling out an affirmative action questionaire from one of the universities to which I've applied, and after the usual questions about ethnicity, gender, veteran status, and disability was this one:
Are you in the protected age group (40 and over)?
What does THAT mean?

Proper Name for a Woman (Part II)

I figured I'd hit a sweet spot with that last post. Here's more in the same genre.

When a woman is getting married, she has several options:
  1. She can go the traditional route and take her husband's last name.
  2. She can go the independent route and retain her own last name (generally her father's).
  3. She can hyphenate the two last names, with her husband either retaining his own name or also hyphenating.
  4. She and her husband can jointly decide to choose an entirely different last name.
  5. She can opt to use her own last name legally and professionally and her husband's last name socially.
IMHO, none of these options are without significant drawbacks. And I'd argue that these drawbacks become even more pronounced if the woman has either a professional career or children or both (i.e., most women are screwed).

First of all, changing your name is never easy (I know, I've done it, but that's another story). You have to get a new passport, driver's license, school ID, credit cards, etc. Then slowly you change over your subscriptions, frequent flier cards, your friends' address books.... This isn't even mentioning how long it takes you to mentally and psychologically accept your new last name as being your true identity.

If I had chosen to take my husband's last name, by now, life in terms of airline travel, my in-laws, mass-marketers etc. would have been simple. And because we got married at the beginning of my Ph.D., I wouldn't have had to worry about multiple names appearing on publications, etc. It also would have been a strong symbol that my husband and I were now a family unit, and it would have been a cinch to decide what to name our children. But I would have been relinquishing my name's claim to my family heritage. And I, at least, felt that I would be letting go of the identity that I had forged as an independent adult. And, statistically speaking, since almost half of all marriages end in divorce, that would have left me with a good probability that later in life I would have had a last name that reflected a marriage of which I was no longer part. Then what would I have done?

So, maybe I could have hyphenated. I think to many women it seems the best of both worlds. But I used a hyphenated last name for years and had long since decided I would never hyphenate again. First, it's long and awkward. Second, what happens when two people with hyphenated last names decide to get married? If Jane Hyphen-Dash marries John Line-Runon, do they become Mr and Mrs Hyphen-Dash-Line-Runon? It has always seemed like a one generational solution to me and not one that I'd ever want to pass on to my children.

We could have picked an entirely new last name. In fact, even though my husband's name is very important to him (he's actually Business Man II, and he likes it that way), we almost did this one. We picked the last name Thomas, because it was easy to spell, easy to pronounce, and worked well with our first names. It would have been jointly deciding to relinquish our single identities and forge a new family identity. So we broached the subject the subject to our parents. I think it's the one thing they have ever all agreed upon. NO. Phrases like stupid, idiotic, destroying our heritage, etc. were used. So we caved.

OK, so how about using one name professionally and the other name socially. That's the option I initially chose. On our wedding announcement we listed Mr and Mrs Man will be residing at ____ address. Our address labels say Business and Science Man, etc. But I never changed my name. I figured that this would allow me to be unoffended by unwitting cashiers and the teachers of my future children referring to me as Mrs. Man. And I told my husband that if at some point in the future, my whole identity was wrapped up in marriage and children with his last name, I would happily change my name legally at the point.

Of course, what we neglected to realize is that we were moving to a new state to start my Ph.D. immediately after getting married. And that means that almost everyone we know in this town knows me by my professional name rather than my so-called social name. In fact, I'd wager that more people in town know my husband as Mr. Woman than know me as Mrs. Man. And it's been unwieldy with the extended family as well. Because of the wedding announcement, my side of the family all thought I had changed my name, while my husband's side of the family learned quickly that I hadn't (I was the first female not to take her husband's name.). And I've learned from others that the whole prof. vs. social names are often abandoned within a few years.

So in the end, I remain Science Woman married to a wonderful Business Man. And in my mind, that's the proper name for this woman.

Coming, someday: Part III: Ms, Mrs, Dr, other? and Part IV: But what about the kids?

Monday, January 16, 2006

The proper name for a woman (part 1)

Let me start by way of personal anecdote:

A few weeks ago I had to make some rather complicated plane reservations by phone. After working out the flight details, I carefully told the (~middle-aged female) operator that my name was Science Woman while my husband's name was Business Man. I gave her our frequently flier numbers, confirmed the flight times, and hung up.

The next morning, very early, we arrived at the airport and handed the agent at the ticket counter our IDs. The (20-something male) agent looked at our licenses and said, "Did you two just get married?"

I, very innocently and still groggy, replied, "No, we've been married 3 years. Why?"

To which the answer came, "The name on your ticket does not match your ID." (Our plane was scheduled to depart in 30 minutes.) Sure enough, rather than my boarding pass saying Science Woman, it read: Mrs. Business Man (i.e. Science Man)

After some consultation with another agent, and given that it was 4:30 am, and our tickets were booked through a different airline, they decided to let us board, but subjected us to extra security. Thankfully it was a very small airport, and the TSA folks decided to play along. We were wanded, patted down, our bags were inspected, and then we were sent merrily on our way.

After arriving in the Midwest, I called the airline. Where I was informed (by another middle-aged woman) that there was simply nothing they would do for me about the return flights, since part of the ticket had already been used. When I pressed them for advice, all the operator could recommend was to arrive at the airport early.

So on the day of our departure from Big Midwest Airport, we arrived 3 hours early. We printed boarding passes from one of the automachines and headed for TSA, hoping that since we'd been stonewalled by the airline that TSA would be able to help us.

Of course, that was wishful thinking. There was NO WAY TSA was going to let me through security without an ID matching my ticket, and I was order to go fix things with the airline.

Fortunately, we foundered upon the right queue at a ticket counter, and after explaining my situation politely, I had a new set of boarding passes with the correct name. Of course, they gave me no apology for totally subsuming my identity into that of my husbands or for the indignities of being patted down by TSA.

All because, I dare to have my own last name.

Next up: More general thoughts/philosophy on the proper name for a woman.

More useless commentary

Found this in the Detroit News (via the Boston Globe): Female scientists weigh benefits of lab-vs.-life goals. Unfortunately, it is nothing but a case study of a Harvard biology grad student with a 1-year-old who urges her undergrads to combine careers in science with a family but who is contemplating dropping out of grad school because she can't imagine holding a research job and raising her son.

The article provides no real numbers on the frequency of this situation (no context), no suggestions for what can be done to help women in this situation, and no indication of where the child's father is.

I suppose an article like this might raise the awareness of some newspaper readers - yes, Virginia, there are women grad students who have kids. But I suspect that some reading it will just say, "that's what she gets for trying to have it all" while others will say "another example of societal barriers for women." But neither response advances the discussion. Frustrating!

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Sunday Evening Meme

Here’s a quick meme I stole from Jo(e) who "got [it] from Rana who got it from New Kid who got it from Seeking Solace who got it from Clare who got it from Bright Star who got it from Michelle who got it from Witchy who got it from Susan, who was the original source of the meme. She did it on Saturday morning, and by the time it got to me it was Sunday evening."

Hair: Curly and unkempt as befits my Sunday-sick day status.

Wearing: Slouchy black pants, geeky white T-shirt and black fleece jacket. Comfy slippers. All covered with dog hair, of course.

Drinking: Gypsy cold care tea.

Listening to: Random bits of podcasts - Nature's from my computer, Bob and Tom from BusinessMan's and mp3s as we search for an untitled song (turns out it was Moby's remix of the James Bond Theme)

Reading: Blogs (duh!) but am about to start working - would already be working if my computer hadn't crashed. Really.

I guess it's just my way of saying "I'm still sick-blogging."

Big news for a changing world

Nature this week published a paper on an endangered Harlequin frogs, threatend by a fungus who's range is expanding due to climate change. Carl Zimmer provides a nice summary of the paper, pointing out the complexities of climate change and its effects on species. Bootstrap Analysis also provides some commentary and links to other media attention to the story.

The second paper of interest to me this week is also related to the complexities of our global climate system. The Nature paper reports that plants emit methane under aerobic conditions and that those emissions account for 10-30% of the annual methane flux to the atmosphere. This is a big deal because methane is a very effective greenhouse gas (i.e. traps longwave radiation (heat) from escaping the earth's atmosphere) and many policies and environmental groups propose reforestation as a sink carbon dioxide (a less effective but far more abundant greenhouse gas). Surprisingly, I haven't seen much blog activity on this paper yet (am I missing it?), so instead I'll link to Nature's commentary.

Unfortunately, you (or your university) need a subscription to read the Nature articles, but you don't need to pay to listen to their ~30 minute weekly podcast, featuring interviews with the authors of the big stories each week. I definitely reccomend it as a way to keep up with the world of science.

You also don't need to pay to keep up with some of my favorite bloggers. GrrlScientist @ Living the Scientific Life and Dr. Free-ride @ Adventures in Ethics and Science have both moved over to Scienceblogs.com. I'm looking forward to seeing what they'll be able to do on the new platform, and just reading more of their good writing on science.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Multiple working hypotheses and the common cold

One of the historical underpinnings of my field is the idea of multiple working hypotheses, as eloquently put forth by T.C. Chamberlin in 1890 in Science. Chamberlin was very concerned about "parental affection" influencing scientists' ability to objectively test (and maybe reject) a dominant hypothesis, because it became a sort of intellectual offspring. Instead he argued for the method of multiple working hypotheses:
"The effort is to bring up into view every rational explanation of new phenomena, and to develop every tenable hypothesis respecting their cause and history. The investigator thus becomes the parent of a family of hypotheses: and, by his parental relation to all, he is forbidden to fasten his affections unduly upon any one."
This idea is particularly important in the field sciences where the scientist is often making observations about what you might call a "natural experiment," which may have occurred at some point in the past. If you have but a single hypothesis it might be easy to find evidence than in your view validates the hypothesis (causes the effect). The example that Chamberlin uses is the origin of the Great Lakes. You could have a hypothesis that the lakes were gouged by glaciers and you could find plenty of evidence that supports your hypothesis. But you would still be (partially) incorrect. A better thing to do is to list many potential explanations of your phenomena and then test them all. What you may find is that there is a different "right answer" (or that there are multiple causes). The Great Lakes were occupied by glaciers, true, but they were river valleys before the glaciers, and some of them were river valleys because they were low areas as a result continental rifting that occurred more than a billion years ago. Only by proposing and testing multiple hypotheses could you find the best possible explanation.

So how does this apply to the common cold? I came down with a severe sore throat suddenly on Wednesday afternoon. I formed several working hypotheses as to the cause and the progression of the sore throat:
  1. strep throat
  2. a cold
  3. the intestinal flu that was rampant in husband's hometown
  4. tonsillitis
  5. just a plain jane vanilla sore throat
I devised experiments to test each hypothesis (i.e. watch the progression of symptoms)
  1. If strep then I would develop a high fever. If I develop a fever, I would get a strep culture.
  2. If a cold, my sore throat would dissipate when the post-nasal drip ceased and the nose blowing took over.
  3. If the flu, well, that one would be pretty obvious, don't you think? Intestinal symptoms should start within 24 hours of the beginning of the sore throat.
  4. If tonsillitis, I'm not sure. I've never had it.
  5. Plain-jane: sore throat would disappear without development of other symptoms.
So, many cups of Throat Coat tea and quiet hours on the couch later, I am happy to report that the method of multiple working hypotheses suggests that what I've got is merely a cold. And there's today's history of science lesson and personal anecdote all rolled into one. Here's hoping you all stay healthy.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

defense blues

Warning: Extreme cattiness ahead.

The only other person to start a Ph.D. in my department at the same time as me had his defense today. I'm thrilled for him - he's done some really cool work and he's one of those people that seems likely to go forth and shine in the future. But as I listened to his advisor laudingly introduce him, citing his numerous accomplishments, I felt a sense of inadequacy. Here's why: He's defending in <3.5 years, and as his advisor pointed out, he would have defended in exactly 3 years if not for some funding issues. While he's been here, he's published 2 papers from his masters (mine's been shelved, never again to see the light of day), has on Ph.D. paper accepted, another in review in Nature, and two more ready to submit (one to Science). My accomplishments just don't stack up at least not on the publication front. But I can think of a few things to console myself:
  • His specialty is more likely to publish papers in Nature and Science than is mine (I don't have data to prove this though).
  • I've gotten more teaching experience during the Ph.D. than he has (but he had a lot more going in).
  • He's been in the office early every morning and, for the first 2 years, he seemed to be there late every night. I've had other things going on in my life besides work (but what they are and when I do them I'm not sure).
  • He did way less field work than me (but probably more lab work), and as everyone knows, field work is really time intensive.
  • We've applied to a few of the same jobs, but even with his better pub record, if a department really wants someone in my specialty and only sort of wants someone in his than I may have a better chance than him at getting the interview.
  • He's defended his diss without having a job or postdoc lined up for the fall, at least I've got the good sense (and the funding and the work left to do) not to defend until August.

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Tuesday, January 10, 2006

start of quarter frenzy, and I'm not teaching or taking classes

How come I checked email every day all break and sometimes went days without a single message in my professional account, but when yesterday I visited a friend and flew cross-country I got bombarded by 800,000 messages (very slight exaggeration)?

Oh, that's right, everyone else has just come back from vacation and were busy purging their in-boxes into mine. Translation: The new quarter has begun.

So I've spent a large part of the day digging myself out. And I haven't even checked my snail-mail box yet. My formerly pleasantly vacant schedule has now become submerged in a deluge of meetings, seminars, talks to give, outreach activities, and a few social events. When the research and writing is supposed to occur, I'm not entirely sure.

I've been meaning to write another serious blog post (I've even got a title: "The proper name for a woman.") but instead today I'll just brain-dump and update you on my doings (in no particular order).
  1. Despite the sad occasion, our trip to Midwest was actually quite nice with some time with the in-laws and their whole extended family (making it feel a bit like Christmas), a quick visit to husband's best friend and a lovely day with Writer Chica and Toddler.
  2. The Northwest is truly home now. I experienced quite a bit of culture shock during the trip. I can't handle a life where au gratin potatoes are your only "vegetable" for a day or more, where the grocery store produce is pallid and limited, and the only place to get a Chai tea is referred to as "that hippie place." Granted, this was in an extremely small town, and by virtue of my profession, if I return to the Midwest it'll be to a (hopefully more enlightened) college town, but when I got to the gate for our last flight home, I found myself breathing a sigh of relief and thinking "These are my people." Yes it was pouring, and it is flooding again, but that only heightens my sense of belonging in this place.
  3. "Now the practice of yoga begins." Apparently that is the first yoga sutra (or something like that) and since I've now survived (enjoyed, even) my second yoga class I think its appropriate to mention it. The class is in my building, and there's something wonderfully satisfying and funny about doing stretches and napping (or whatever it is at the end) with a bunch of middle-age adults with whom I work.
  4. My research area gets filed differently at different schools, and I am finishing a job application for a 3rd type of department. This department is very applied, and its been interesting to think about which aspects of my C.V. I want to highlight in the cover letter and how subtle word changes in my research and teaching statements are needed to be appropriate for this job. I think I could handle this applied focus very well, but it sure is a different package to put together than for say, FancyPants University.
  5. I think I'll make a pumpkin leek soup tonight. We've had a pumpkin languishing on our counter since this fall, and I don't care whether or not my husband doesn't like pumpkin, I want to eat it. Plus, it'll be good for me.
  6. I've been struggling to come up with a proper blog moniker for my husband, having contemplated and discarding things like Mr. ScienceWoman. I think I've found one that's appropriate and that he likes: BusinessMan, BM for short. Whaddaya think?
That's all for now folks, I've got to replenish the healthy food stock from the co-op, read a journal article for tomorrow's seminar, cook that soup, and watch Gilmore Girls. Apparently it's delurking week, so if you've been visiting and not commenting, stop right now, hit the comments link and (a) tell me what you think of my husband's new moniker, (b) suggest a healthy recipe, or (c) say something else related to this post (or not).

ooh ooh ooh

FancyPants University just asked for letters of reccomendation. They said my application got there late, but they still asked for reccs. What a good way to return to the academic routine after my sojourn in the Midwest.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

5 weird things about this woman scientist

I'm it. Astroprof tagged me. So here are 5 weird things...and I'm going to try to keep them relevant to the topics on this blog.

  1. I have a different last name than the one I had when I was a child, but I do not have the same last name as my husband. More on this coming soon...
  2. My alternate/imaginary career paths are CIA analyst and/or architect. I love to analyze things and put disparate pieces of information together. If my parents and school hadn't funnelled me into science, I don't think I would be where I am now.
  3. I am getting my Ph.D. from the same school where my mom got her Ph.D. And my aunt got her Ph.D. here too, in the same field as me.
  4. My mother married (and divorced) a businessman, I married a businessman and hope to stay married to him. Hopefully the job hunt and tenure process treats us well.
  5. My ideal job would allow me to advise grad students, teach upper level seminars, and work part time.

I'm not tagging anyone with this meme, but if WriterChica, Single Girl, or Mamapants wants to join the weirdness feel free.

Friday, January 06, 2006

a marriage of equals

John Tierney's Tuesday column (NYT Select, so no link) was titled "male pride and female prejudice." In this column he presents some results from the National Survey of Families and Households and various other sources on the marriage preferences of men and women, then makes a wild leap to claim that our educational system is discriminating against boys. I'm going to excerpt part of his editorial (the block quotes) and then provide my own comments.
"Women, who were a minority on campuses a quarter century ago, today make up 57% of undergraduates...so more women, especially black and Hispanic women, will be in a position to get better-paying, more prestigious jobs than their husbands..."
OK, I've seen those statistics before. More women are getting degrees (although the most lucrative degrees, engineering and business ones, are still dominated by men) and a college degree increases your lifetime earnings potential.
"The women surveyed were less willing to marry down -- marry someone with much lower earnings or less education -- than the men were to marry up....A woman who's an executive can afford to marry a struggling musician. But that doesn't neccessarily mean she wants to....women with higher incomes, far from relaxing their standards, put more emphasis on a mate's financial resources."
So a well-educated, highly paid woman doesn't tend to want to marry an unemployed man? But a low-earning man would be quite happy to marry a sugar mama? What a surprise!
"And once they're married, women with higher incomes seem less tolerant of their husband's short comings...marriages in which the husband and wife earn roughly the same are more likely to fail than other marriages. The situation doesn't affect the husband's commitment to the marriage, [the researcher] concludes, but it weakens the wife's and makes her more likely to initiate divorce."
Note that roughly equal earnings are not what Tierney has been discussing up until now, and, in fact, "other marriages" can thus be construed to include those where the woman earns much more than a man. But Tierney didn't want us to think about this. Also note that the researcher's conclusion is not supported by the previous sentence, maybe he had some support but Tierney doesn't give it to us. Instead he expects us to believe his interpretation of the researcher's conclusions.
"Which means, on average, college-educated women and high-school-educated men will have a harder time finding partners as long as educators keep ignoring the gender gap that starts long before college. Advocates for women have been so effective politically that high schools and colleges are still focusing on supposed discrimination against women: the shortage of women in science classes and sports teams rather than the shortage of men, period. You could think of this as a victory for women's rights, but many of the victors will end up celebrating alone."

Whoa, Nelly! This is the last paragraph of the editorial; nowhere prior to this paragraph does Tierney mention anything about education. He just takes this wild leap from women's marriage preferences to discrimination against men. And his case is so weak it is laughable. Let's contemplate some other statistics:
"Women make 80¢ on the male dollar, even accounting for time off to raise kids. If that factor is not accounted for, women make 56¢.

Over her career, the average working woman loses $1.2 million to wage inequity.

Since 1963, when the Equal Pay Act was signed, the wage gap has closed by less than half a cent per year."

So if women have been so effective politically than where's the payout in economic terms? I could go on and on, but I don't need to the Mother Jones article linked above has done it for me. Women are still far behind men in terms of professional opportunities and equal pay for equal work.

OK, having dismissed Tierney's male-discrimination argument as a joke, let's contemplate why well-educated professional women might want to marry men who are their equivalents. We could think about the value of having a partner who is your intellectual equal so that you can have real conversations about important topics, or a partner who shares some of your interests and aspirations personal and professional, or a partner who can empathize with your day-to-day life because he's living it too. Those seem like sufficient explanations to me, but there's more.

Women, even professional women, still do more than half of the work of raising children and running a household. Mother Jones reports that" 40% of married professional women feel their husbands do less work around the house than they create" and "each teenage girl increases a mom’s weekly housework by 1.5 hours, but leaves a dad’s unchanged. A teenage boy adds 3 hours to mom’s chores, and an hour to dad’s." So a woman who wants to get married knows she will likely end up managing a career, a family, and a house. Why shouldn't she want a man who can help out financially (maybe hire a weekly house cleaner or a nanny?) or one who maybe took a women's studies class on the way to his college degree?

It seems like a more appropriate closing paragraph to the editorial might have said something like this: "College-educated, professional women are justifiably choosy when it comes to picking life partners. They want someone who can be their equal intellectually and professionally. Men who want to marry a smart, economically-attractive woman should get their acts together."

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

a time for dying

Husband's grandfather passed away today. We'll be going back to the Midwest for the funeral. Please keep my husband's family in your thoughts and prayers.

Monday, January 02, 2006

what I learned today

Today I read a journal article or two, listened to a Nature podcast, and analyzed data. But what did I learn?
British researchers report that on the weekends when the last two books of the series came out, young people made far fewer visits to an Oxford emergency room. The study, led by Dr. Stephen Gwilym of John Radcliffe Hospital, appears in the final 2005 issue of the journal BMJ, which tends toward the tongue-in-cheek in its year-ender. ...

The effect, it turns out, was significant. The researchers looked at how many children ages 7 to 15 went to the E.R. with musculoskeletal injuries on the 2003 weekend after "The Order of the Phoenix" was published, and on the 20o5 weekend of "The Half-Blood Prince." They compared these numbers with admissions in a three-year period.

On the Harry Potter weekends, they found, the admission rates went down by almost half - even though each was a pleasant summer weekend when business in the E.R. would ordinarily be good.

As reported in the New York Times. Here's the original article (also not very long).

14 applications, 11 states

In case you're curious, here's the geography of my job hunt so far. Green states have schools which have requested letters of recommendation, brown states I've applied to and so far heard nothing, orange states I've lost hope on (2+ months since deadline and no word). Stars show the status of schools in states where I've applied to more than 1 job.

It's actually really interesting to look at the map. You can see that my obvious target area is the northern Midwest, but I am not trying to shun the west coast (just southern California). I'd be happy to apply for jobs in Oregon, Washington, Alaska, and NorCal, but I haven't seen any that would be a good fit. On the other hand, I am not aiming for Texas, there just happen to be good jobs there.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Looking ahead

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.
  1. I will earn my Ph.D. by doing good science, publishing papers, being a good collaborator, and getting a job/post-doc.
  2. I will live a healthier lifestyle by eating less, exercising more, and losing some weight.
  3. I will help my husband lead a happier life by making life decisions that consider his needs and supporting him emotionally.
I could think of dozens of "resolutions" (watch less TV, go meatless of Mondays, spend less time in front of the computer, write better blog posts, use my electric toothbrush, go to the gym 3 times a week, only eat 1 desert per week, read a journal article every day, submit the next paper by March), some of which support my foci, but we all know how resolutions tend to go by the wayside. So instead, I will think of the big 3 as a guiding philosophy for the year ahead. Taking them as a philosophy, I can't fail. They will be the stars by which I navigate through the next year.