Archive for the 'Uncategorized' category

Let's have a drink at Experimental Biology!

Apr 09 2013 Published by under Uncategorized

Are you going to the Experimental Biology meeting in 2 weeks? Would you like to have a drink with me and some of your internet friends?

If you answered "yes" and "yes" to the previous questions, keep reading.

There's little that warms the cockles of my heart more than bringing together people who would like to meet each other, but lack the motivation and organizational skills required to make it happen. As you know, I've been organizing the BANTER parties at the Society for Neuroscience meetings for the last 3 years, and I thought it might be about time to branch out. To test the Experimental Biology waters, I thought I'd just tell you guys that I'm going to be at a bar at a certain time, and we'll see who shows up and work from there in the future.

Now, I grew up in the northeast, and Boston and I have a long and colorful history. I may talk a lot of trash, but there is one thing I'll give Boston, and that's that it's got a fair amount of really cool old stuff. One of the coolest really old things in Boston is the Liberty Hotel, which is an old prison that was converted into a swanky boutique hotel. The lobby is absolutely stunning, with what's got to be a 60-foot cathedral ceiling, enormous macabre iron chandeliers, and other preserved prison-y details. So let's go hang out there! It's right off the Charles/MGH stop on the Red line of the T (Boston's adorable excuse for a subway)--just 3 stops from South Station, which I believe is the closest one to the Convention Center.

Here are the details, in easy-to-digest form:

What: Drinks with me!
When: 6:30 pm, Monday, April 22
Where: Liberty Hotel, 215 Charles Street

One thing to note about the Liberty - I am not talking about Alibi, its lower-level bar/club thing, and I am not talking about Clink, its upper-level bistro thing. I am talking about hanging out in the actual lobby, which has its own bar and is up the escalator when you first walk in. OK? Try not to get lost!

Leave a quick note in the comments here or say something to me on twitter just so I can get a sense of how many people might show up. Obviously if you happen to live in the Boston area (I hear there are one or two research institutions there) but are not attending the meeting, you are of course welcome to join us.

I hope to see you there!

23 responses so far

Discussions: Discuss.

Apr 04 2013 Published by under Uncategorized

An interesting point brought up by the ever-insightful becca in one of Drugmonkey's recent posts  made me think. Why do we write discussion sections for our papers? No--I mean, why do we really write them? I'd imagine that a good number of you agree with becca, that if we're prioritizing reading sections of a paper, the discussion is almost always last or never. Nobody cares what you have to say about your own stuff; let ME decide the significance of your work.

But when it comes to writing and reviewing manuscripts, I find that there's quite a bit of emphasis on the discussion. "The authors did not discuss the implications of their findings in light of the work of Fancypants et al 1997, 2000, and 2010a & b," "The authors overstate the clinical relevance of the results from Experiment 2," "The authors' explanation for their findings in experiment 3 are unfounded." I myself have been that reviewer--the one who demands that the authors dedicate at least 150 words to speculation (with citations, of course) on why they failed to replicate Generally Accepted Phenomenon. But what do I care? Am I on the authors' thesis committee or something? Do I reject the data if the authors can't come up with an acceptable reason for why things turned out the way they did?

It seems to me that in general, the discussion section IS like a thesis defense: are you enough of a scholar about your own work to warrant publication of the work itself? Do you know the literature, have you thought about alternate interpretations, can you see where your work is taking the field? If the answer is "no," then the paper must be revised and resubmitted until it's deemed suitably "discussed." But honestly, does anyone besides the people who review your manuscript give a shit about these things?  In other words, if a poor interpretation of one's own work is made, but nobody reads it because it was made in the discussion, does it make a sound?

15 responses so far

A bedtime story for my study section

Mar 28 2013 Published by under Uncategorized

Once upon a time, there lived a brilliant young(ish) neuroscientist and former bartender named Dr. Becca. Dr Becca lived in a decrepit old building in a small, cold hamlet called NJC. There was a dumpster outside her living room window.

But despite her sub-par living conditions, Dr Becca was generally a happy person, because she loved being a neuroscientist. She loved designing experiments and training future neuroscientists, and even teaching undergrads a little bit. One of the most important parts of her job, however, was to convince some HIGHLY INTELLIGENT and EXTREMELY GOOD-LOOKING, NOT TO MENTION WORLD-RENOWNED scientists to tell the government to give her money so that she could continue to be a neuroscientist. So she thought and she thought and she leaned back in her purportedly ergonomic desk chair that still managed to give her a mild case of sciatica until she had an idea.

And this idea--well, it was a pretty great idea. The work that Dr Becca so eloquently proposed to do, and that she illustrated so well in clearly-labeled color figures, would open up a whole new line of research that could continue for decades. Moreover, it had clear clinical relevance, in that it could help treat an underserved population that increasingly suffers from an exceptionally topical illness. It was, you might say, a perfect proposal with respect to the goals set forth in the RFA.

Dr Becca sent her great idea through a series of tubes to the DC Metro area, where the idea sat for nearly five and a half months. In the interim, Dr Becca attended several scientific meetings, got married, hired a post-doctoral fellow, created a new course for the undergrads at her university, wrote a review article, went on a honeymoon to Europe, had said review article get accepted, and watched her first grad student kick ass presenting his Masters' thesis.

And then finally, just 4 days before Dr Becca's [redacted] birthday, the INDIMIDATINGLY BRILLIANT and SERIOUSLY ATTRACTIVE scientists met to talk about Dr Becca's idea, as well as a few others. And on that day, the EMINENT, WISE, and EFFORTLESSLY STYLISH scientists agreed that it was essentially an objective truth that Dr Becca's idea was the best in the group, and they gave her a priority score and corresponding percentile that was in no uncertain terms well below payline for her IC.

Several months later, Dr Becca's institution gladly accepted the award on her behalf, and Dr Becca went on to continue her career as a paradigm-shifting but remarkably modest neuroscientist until the world was rid of mental illness. And as for the NOBEL-DESERVING, DORIAN GRAY-YOUTHFULNESS LEVEL scientists that made it all happen? Well, they all lived long, luxurious lives, devoid of health problems until they died peacefully in their sleep with their loved ones by their side, and several buildings erected in their name at their respective alma maters.



Sweet dreams, you sexy beasts of study section. Please be kind tomorrow.

6 responses so far

Everybody poops (and gets rejected)

Mar 20 2013 Published by under Uncategorized

In 2009-10--effectively, the last year of my post-doc, I applied for some things. A K99/R00, a NARSAD fellowship, and a small foundation grant, not to mention a few travel awards. And I didn't get any of them. By the time the last rejection rolled in (not to mention all the job application no-thank-yous), I actively began to think that maybe I was just not very good at applying for things, which did not bode well for my future as a TT hopeful, since a giant proportion of our job is to successfully apply for things.

But I did somehow manage to land this gig, and when I started in my new position, I applied for an R21 right away, which was funded. And with that, I thought maybe I can do this after all! I have overcome my badness at applying for things. Since then, though, I've applied for 5 grants and two travel awards. Three grants are still out for review, but 2 grants and the 2 travel awards have come back negative, and I can feel myself starting to lose faith again in my ability to compete for things. I know that this is silly, and that there are certain general principles of probability at work here, but still.

The reality is that most of us get way more rejections than acceptances, but we can lose sight of how normal that is, and allow ourselves to spiral down into self-doubt, which is v bad! So please use the comments here as an open thread to lament about all your recent rejections, triages, non-invitations to submit full applications, etc. It will make you feel better, I promise!

And to make you feel further better (or at least hungry), here's a picture from my honeymoon. This is the view from our flat in Aix-en-Provence. We ate more cheese on that trip than I have probably eaten in the last 6 months combined.


62 responses so far

Bon voyage!

Feb 27 2013 Published by under Uncategorized

In just under 48 hours, I'll be at JFK, dressed to the nines. J and I are at long last going on our honeymoon, but the fine folks at Orbitz decided not to seat two passengers whose tickets were purchased in a single order next to each other.  It made perfect sense to some algorithm-writer somewhere, I'm sure. The fine folks who answer the phones for AirFrance/Delta can't seem to do anything to help us (and yes, we've tried internet channels as well), so our only chance at starting things off right seems to be to show up looking particularly classy, and beg the gate agent for an upgrade. I can probably cry if I have to, I'll just have to revisit the Friday Night Lights series finale in my head for a minute.

Travel circumstances aside, I am SO excited for this trip. The 12 days we're gone will be the longest stretch of vacation time I've taken since before starting grad school, and the longest stretch of time that J and I will have spent together since I moved to NJC in July 2011. It is, to put it mildly, long overdue.

In anticipation of the upcoming lune de miel, I have been working my butt off this semester. In the past 7-8 weeks, I wrote and submitted 3 grant proposals and a review article, started teaching a brand new class of my own creation (my 2nd!), and brought a post-doc on board. I am exhausted, but happy. It took a little while to ramp up, but the lab's moving along at a really nice clip now, we have some super cool data, and we are just about ready to start writing two bona fide research papers!

It's all very exciting, but let's not get ahead of ourselves, here; before all that, J and I are going to eat the shit out of France. We will eat without shame; we will eat without fear. We will eat like there's no tomorrow, like it's going out of style, and like our lives depend on it (they do).  Brie. Bouillabaisse.  Steak au poivre. Croissants. Macaroons. Escargots. Haricots verts. Moules. Frites. Royale w/ cheese (JK). 

Au revoir, mes amis! And wish us bonne chance on the upgrade attempt.

18 responses so far

The data are what the data are

Feb 14 2013 Published by under Uncategorized

p < 0.05.

How many of you have seen these 6 little characters and felt The Rush? Admit it--it's better than Christmas morning, your first kiss*, and good bourbon all rolled into one! You want to run through the halls of your Classy Institution screaming, "I HAVE DATAAAAAAAA!!!!" - and you very well might do that.

But here's the thing we often forget: p > 0.05 is data, too. And having more significant differences doesn't necessarily mean your paper's going to a fancier journal. Earlier this evening, I caught whiff of a conversation on twitter, started by Sciencegurl, and it made me a little sad. She tweeted:

And that just about broke my heart. PIs, do you understand that negative data might not be the result of  your trainees being bad at science, but instead perhaps there simply are no differences?

Here in the Laboratory of Neuroscience and Awesomeness, we are getting to the point where we've collected what can only be described as a shit ton of data, and it is my job as PI to help my trainees make sense of it all. Their natural inclination is to hope that experimental and control groups are different in every measure possible, but that is of course not how things pan out, ever. For example, we recently had some interesting behavioral data, and so I asked one of my grad students to process tissue from the brains of the animals from that study (to me, running a behavioral experiment without looking at the brains in some capacity is like roasting a chicken and then throwing out the bones without making a stock. So much potential goodness to squeeze out!) So grad student worked extremely hard to do this --she worked long hours, all through winter break, and well into this semester. She trouble shot, she took gorgeous images, and she handed me a spreadsheet  full of raw data that I analyzed in every way I could think of, from every angle imaginable. But no matter how much I squinted or turned my head sideways, there were simply no significant differences between groups.

Would it have been fun if we had found differences? Of course. Does the fact that this data set happened to turn out negative mean we won't include it when we write it up? Fuck no. Like it or not, these data are part of our narrative, and it's our job as scientists to think hard about what both positive AND negative data mean for the story we're trying to tell. Not everything may fall perfectly into place the way we'd originally imagined it, but half the fun of being a scientist is trying to wrap your brain around the data you have, and coming up with a new interpretation of what's going on. Don't let your data make you sad, and for fuck's sake don't take it out on your trainees--make your data work for you. Because after all, the data are what the data are.

* truth be told, my first kiss was not all that pleasant, because braces.

16 responses so far

So God made a scientist

Feb 05 2013 Published by under Uncategorized

One of the more memorable (and perhaps controversial) ads during last night's Super Bowl was Dodge Ram's "So God Made a Farmer," which put an old Paul Harvey speech over some beautiful still images of farmers and farming-related items. The speech praises farmers for their long hours, dedication, and resourcefulness, and I have to say is pretty moving, regardless of your position on farmers or God. But because of the repetitive nature of the text, it occurred to me that it would lend itself quite well to a little meme-ification--what other group of people do we know that are hard working, dedicated, and resourceful? Why, scientists of course! And thus, #SoGodMadeAScientist  was born, and while I had been thinking of it in sort of a jokey way, some of your tweets were really quite lovely. I decided they deserved their own Ken Burns effects, and so with a little help from ShutterStock, I made this nice video for you. I could only fit a fraction of the tweets in the video, so be sure to check out the hashtag on Twitter to witness the genius in its entirety.

I highly recommend you watch the original ad first if you haven't already seen it, so that you can fully appreciate the extent of my parody skillz. Enjoy!

13 responses so far

Lab meeting musings

Jan 21 2013 Published by under Uncategorized

lab meeting [lab meet・ing] noun : a sometimes regular gathering of two or more members of one or more laboratories, during which discussion of science sometimes takes place.

One thing (of many) that's been particularly challenging in this new gig has been instilling in my lab members a sense of both independence and team spirit. It's incredibly important to me that my grad students feel like they each own their projects, and that the work that they do is part of their personal education and career growth. But I also want them to feel like they're part of something bigger--that in the end, the common themes running through our research mean we're on some level all working for the same goal. Toward the first end, I try to find regular time to chat with everyone one-on-one, sometimes through a scheduled meeting, and sometimes just by wandering into the lab. Toward the other, we have lab meeting. But how can you know what lab meeting should look like? There are so many kinds.

1. The seminar. In grad school, I did a rotation in a lab whose weekly lab meetings were huge, 35-person affairs. Catered. Each week, one of the members of the 3 or 4 labs that participated gave a full hour presentation of their recent work, followed by another half hour of heated discussion. People stressed for months preparing for their talk as if it were a prestigious speaking engagement. Luckily, as a rotation student who couldn't get anything to work, I was exempt.

2. The I-guess-maybe-we-should-have-a-lab-meeting. The lab I ultimately chose for my thesis work did not really "do" lab meetings. Once in a while we'd try to get it going, but it was mostly just to work out animal testing schedules with the technicians. It never really stuck.

3. The rapid fire. My post-doc mentor had a lot of administrative duties that kept him out of the lab most of the time, so our weekly lab meetings were generally a time for him to catch up on what equipment was currently broken. Once in a while someone would present some cool new data they had, but more often than not it was just people going around the conference table accusing each other of leaving oil on the confocal objectives.

4. The journal club. My post-doc sabbatical lab was small enough that our PIs could give us the face time we needed during the week, and so our weekly lab meetings were primarily used as an opportunity to have journal club, with a smattering of data presentation here and there. This worked out really well for me, since the focus of the lab was somewhat outside my general repertoire, so it helped catch me up on the literature.

Currently, our lab meetings are mostly journal club-style. I think that first and foremost, it's important that we as a group get together and talk about science, whatever shape that might take. We usually use 10-15 minutes in the beginning to talk about whatever's been going on in the lab during the week, make sure that any issues that arose are being dealt with. Then, all lab members--grad students, tech, and undergrads, rotate weeks presenting a journal article of their choice, which has honestly been one of my favorite parts of this job. Providing nothing majorly falls apart, we should be able to start having some data presentations soon, which will be exciting. Also, I find that I give a lot of pep talks. Do other new PIs find this, too?

Lab meetings are certainly not a one-size-fits-all kind of thing, but still I'd love to know what you've found to be successful or not. Comment away!

24 responses so far

Cocktail time!

Jan 04 2013 Published by under Uncategorized

I'm just going to go ahead and assume that whatever little fantasy you entertained about going booze-free for the month of January went out the window the moment you set foot back in your lab/office and came to grips with the mountain of work awaiting you, am I right? It's OK! You're amongst friends. And speaking of friends, tonight we're making an Old Pal--winter's Negroni, you might say.

I may have my gripes about NJC, but I will admit that they have one or two cocktail dens whose bartenders are up to snuff. Naturally, my favorite is exceedingly popular, and you can only get in without a wait if you go at, say, 5pm on a Sunday. But it was on just such a Sunday afternoon that I was introduced to the Old Pal, and my life has never been the same since.

Look, we all love a nice Manhattan, but sometimes they're just too sweet for me, even with rye instead of bourbon. The Old Pal takes rye, dry vermouth, and Campari and makes this perfectly non-sweet, fairly bitter aperitif that warms you up without giving you cavities. If you'd like it a little sweeter, you can swap out bourbon for rye and sweet vermouth for dry*, and then it's called a Boulevardier. Also lovely.

Let's make one!

2 oz rye whiskey (Rittenhouse or Old Overholt are solid affordable options)
3/4 oz dry vermouth
3/4 oz Campari
dash orange bitters

Thoroughly stir all ingredients with ice in a shaker, and then strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a nice big orange peel (they're in season!).


* a word about vermouth. I just want to make sure you all understand that it's fortified wine, right? Which means that you can't just keep a half-used bottle on the shelf with the rest of your booze for a year or whatever and then decide one day to make a Manhattan--it's gone bad at that point, and your Manhattan will taste like poop. I recommend buying it in small bottles, and keeping opened ones in the fridge. Chilled, an opened bottle will be good for maybe a month. After that, toss it and get a new one, it's like $5.

12 responses so far

12 more months of Fumbling

Jan 03 2013 Published by under Uncategorized

Hey hey hey! It's the year end meme to end all year end memes! Here are the 1st sentences from my first post from  each of the last 12 months. Thanks for all your reading and comments this year, folks, and stay tuned--later tonight, a cocktail post!

January: Big day tomorrow, you guys.

FebruaryThis is for all you folks out there who just kicked ass on your interviews.

March: So, this happened:

April: Neither my grad nor my post-doc PI was the type to say no to a photo op, and so I became accustomed to the ritual early on:

May: It's mailbag time, folks!

June: "approved for funding."

July: One of the things I'm quite sure each and every one of you has been told is that an important part of your training is having the opportunity to mentor people.

August: We've just now passed the year mark in New Job City, folks, and there has been much mulling.

September: The second year is nothing like the first year.

October: Over at Pondering Blather, the inimitable Odyssey shares his Five Stages of Grantwriting, an apt twist on the old Five Stages of Grief story.

November: Look, I'm not going to beat around the bush here, Sandy is a piece of shit.

December: A few weeks ago, I attended a fancy pants conference for the first time.


2 responses so far

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