Archive for: March, 2012

Size (of a conference) Matters

Mar 30 2012 Published by under Uncategorized

I was struck by a comment today in what I can only imagine is now a record-breaking post by Scicurious: her musings on the challenges of networking. If you haven't yet stopped by, I highly recommend you do--great issues raised, and fantastic comments from her readers. But what moved me didn't have much to do with networking per se; instead, it was the mention that only her PI attends small meetings, while he sends her mainly to the biggies--SfN and sometimes Experimental Biology, I presume.

Now, the big meetings are awesome, and some might argue that you get more "bang for your buck" at those, where your entire field, in a very broad sense, is all in one place. I love SfN to pieces, but I can honestly say that at this point, SfN is (for me, YMMV) a reunion. It's less about absorbing crapload of science, and more of a chance to catch up with my friends from grad school, my post-doc, and friends I met at other meetings. Small meetings.

There's this scene in Back to the Future when Doc Brown sees the flyer for the Enchantment Under the Sea Dance and remarks, "Look, there's a rhythmic ceremonial ritual coming up," and that was basically my thought process when I, as an undergrad, saw my first flyer for a scientific conference. Look, there's a gathering of individuals intending to discuss a topic of interest coming up. I was totally fascinated without comprehending exactly what it even meant, and sent off my travel award application as fast as I could. Fortunately, they gave out a ton of travel awards for this conference, and I went. Every year, for the next six years.

Since that fateful day, I've probably been to 3 or 4 other small meetings, some for several years in a row. Small conferences (and by small I mean really small, <250 attendees) are the bomb. Here's why:

1. They can be relatively inexpensive, because they usually only last 2-3 days so you only need 1-2 nights in a hotel. Moreover, they often provide breakfast and lunch, and sometimes even dinner, depending on the meeting and its location. I went to one where they had a stocked freezer full of ice cream treats, and you could just go and take them whenever!

2. The intimacy provides much more opportunity for non-awkward shmoozing than the giant meetings, where all the BSDs are hanging out with their pals from grad school. You never know who you'll sit next to at lunch/dinner/the bar! Plus, it's easy to seek out new friends who are and will be your contemporaries. Unless you wildly change fields, these current grad students and post-docs are the faculty you'll be seeing at meetings forever. I hadn't realized how many great friends I'd made from all these small conferences until I was at a new one about two years ago. I remember looking around the opening reception and thinking, Wow, I know a lot of these people already! There really is a fantastic group of young scientists in my sub-field, and we are just about poised for total world domination! That was a fun feeling.

3. There is often a strong emphasis on highlighting the trainee attendees. In addition to travel awards, most small meetings I've been to have had one session of grad student/post-doc speakers, and all had wine-filled poster sessions. Wine + science = much, much winning, and a little liquid courage never hurt anyone.

4. You will learn a TON. Small conferences are for people in a small field to get together and share their ideas, and you get to listen in and participate, you lucky stiff! Because there is only ever one thing going on at any given time, you're afforded the luxury of paying attention to the speakers, instead of flipping through the program, stressing about what you're missing. Not only will it help you figure out who the real movers and shakers are in your sub-sub discipline, but you'll have a better opportunity to see how everyone's research fits (or doesn't fit) together, and you end up with a clearer sense of the field as a whole.

When I come back from SfN, I'm exhausted. My back hurts from standing all day, my feet are blistered, and my liver is begging for a lemonade cleanse.  But when I come back from a small conference, I'm invigorated. I feel smarter. I have ideas about where I want my research to go and how it fits into my field. If you're ever feeling down on your science, the best thing you can do is go to one of these small meetings, and you'll be all ramped up and ready to start 5 new projects when you get back. If that isn't reason enough for your PI to let you take off for two days, I don't know what is.

Finally, how do you find these conferences? You can start by checking out the lineups for the Gordon and Keystone meetings. But you can also just try googling the sciencey thing you love + conference, and see what comes up! There are SO many meetings out there--now go forth and attend them!

14 responses so far

#dinnerdare : Shrimp & grits (cakes) with wilted baby spinach and roasted red pepper coulis

Mar 14 2012 Published by under Uncategorized

If you've been on the twitterz the last couple of nights and run in the same circles I do, you may have noticed something called #dinnerdare, which is basically people trying to one-up each other with pictures of their dinner. Now, during the week my dinner is usually about 1/3 a head of iceberg lettuce with some cottage cheese and goldfish crackers, but I do like me a good old fashioned twitter challenge. Tonight I threw my hat in the ring, and this was the result.

Normally I hate it when you go to someone's house for dinner and you say This is so good, where'd you get the recipe? and they're all Oh, I just threw together whatever I found in the pantry all fake-modest and whatnot. But the reality is that throwing together what I have in the pantry cabinet (my entire kitchen is smaller than many people's pantries) is usually how I cook, because I'm not organized enough to plan actual meals when I go to the grocery store, and I sincerely loathe the grocery store near my apartment here in NJC. However, I think that in general, food will taste really good no matter how you end up putting it together, as long as you keep the seasoning simple.

The only protein I had in the kitchen was a bag of frozen EZ-peel shrimp (uncooked), so I decided to use those as a starting point. I put them in a bowl of water to defrost, and dug through the crisper drawer in the fridge for some veggies. A vidalia onion, red bell pepper, and bag of baby spinach called out to me, so I got them out. At this point, I had a couple of choices: I could make a dang quesedilla, or I could do something fun. Fun, obvs!! I switched  on the broiler, cut the bell pepper in half the long way, took out all the middle bits, and put it on some foil to roast (skin up).

Next I got out some grits, which were my only starch option besides spaghetti (yawn). I always cook grits in milk instead of water, because they come out so creamy! While the grits were cooking I chopped up about half the vidalia and put it in a pan to semi-caramelize. When the grits were done I spread them out on a plate and stuck that in the freezer to cool. Shrimp with hot creamy grits is fine, but this is a contest, people! We need to get a little fancy.

When the red peppers were done, they looked like this:
Black on the top, still a little red on the sides. I stuck them in the freezer to cool for a bit so they weren't too hot to peel by hand. Once they were cooled and peeled (the skins should come right off), I chopped them up and put them in a bowl with the onions. I added a splash of balsamic and a splash of cream, and went to town with the hand blender to make the coulis. I sauteéd the shrimp and set them aside, then quickly wilted the spinach in the same pan (this literally takes about 60 seconds) and set that aside, too.

When the grits are cool they become somewhat hardened into a rubbery grits disc.  Appetizing, right? Right! I cut two beautiful triangles and ate the cutaway bits because I was starving. I dredged the triangles in flour and fried them in some vegetable oil until they were brown and crispy. I patted them down with a paper towel, laid them on top of the spinach, dumped on the shrimp, and artistically spooned on a healthy serving of my coulis, and voilá! An aesthetically and gustatorily pleasing dinner.

Actually, this dish kind of cracks me up because I feel like it's straight out of a 2002 "tapas" menu at some cheesy lounge called Karma or something. But you know what? I don't care, because it's totally delicious, and has a lot of nice textures.

12 responses so far

Adventures in trademark law: the Sazerac saga

Mar 06 2012 Published by under Uncategorized

So, this happened:

The letter is, of course, in response to the very delicious Sazerac cocktail we all drank together during Mardi Gras a couple of weeks ago, and I have to admit that I'm pretty flattered. Moi, with my measly little 200-hits-a-day, life-in-academia-and-sometimes-cocktails blog, warrants a quasi cease-and-desist letter from a big ass IP law firm? They must think I'm super influential and/or making money off this thing! Believe me, Cooley--I wish.

Now, let's break this down a bit, shall we?

1. Sazerac brand rye is named after a bar that itself was named after the Sazerac cocktail, so let's not kid anyone that your version of the cocktail is "authentic." In fact, the original wasn't made with whiskey at all, but with cognac.

2. Though I never "purported" (your words) to be authentic, as far as I can tell, there's nothing tragically wrong with my recipe. I've got all the main ingredients--rye, absinthe rinse, sugar cube, Peychauds, lemon peel--the only distinction is that I don't insist upon your brand, and that I happened to pour myself a double. It's not like I made a rum & coke, here. I've had a veritable host of Sazeracs at countless bars in my day, and I could probably count on one hand the number that were made with actual Sazerac brand rye.

3. Either way, you know what's one thing you'll never catch me putting in a Sazerac? BOURBON. So your suggestion to use Buffalo Trace  (which you conveniently also produce) as an alternate to rye in my Sazerac cocktails is where you really lost my respect.

4. If I'm reading this post on cocktail IP rights correctly (yes, this is a thing! ht William Gunn), even if the name of a cocktail is trademarked, the trademark does not protect its ingredients or recipe, since these things are technically "mixtures," and mixtures can only be patented, not trademarked. Moreover, it's not even clear to me that the Sazerac brand TM in fact covers the Sazerac cocktail name.

5. My guess is that you may have tm'd the name "The Official Sazerac Cocktail," which--let's be honest--is about as meaningful as "Ray's Original Pizza." If you have, yay for you! But it doesn't preclude anyone from making themselves a regular old Sazerac any way they damn please, and it certainly doesn't keep that person from writing about it on the internet.

26 responses so far