I think readers and bloggers get a relatively skewed perspective on each other, on occasion. I say this because I get emails from people suggesting that I have been very helpful in their career development. Don't get me wrong, I'm thrilled that people have found the information here useful. I also understand that perspective, having gained substantially from the writing of others. But there at least appears to be an under-appreciation of what we gain on this side of the keyboard from these interactions.
It's no exaggeration that a combination of readers and other bloggers have significantly shaped my outlook on this job, and science more generally. I have an enormously greater appreciation for not only my own field, but for the variety of jobs out there that all fall under the umbrella of academic PI. But most of all, blogging has made this job fun at times when fun was hard to come by. Would I have survived year three on the job without this outlet and an unruly mob to tell me to buck the fuck up? Not sure. I've blocked a lot of that year out.
But, a strange thing happened as I kept writing things down and casting it into the void of the internet - People kept writing back. There were people with shared experiences and those who had questions about what lies ahead for them. Some agreed and others didn't, but even some of the trolls have come around at times to offer something useful. Importantly, these interactions have allowed me to forge some significant friendships with people from a range of scientific fields I am rarely exposed to IRL*. That's been wildly illuminating and something I depend on often to navigate the murky waters.
So without getting too navel gazing**, thanks for sharing a few minutes of your day with me. I hope it's been helpful for you. I know it's probably kept me out of the police report.
*And seriously, there are way more neuroscientists out there than I ever would have predicted. They are everywhere. I think there's one hiding behind my chair right now.
**Alright, we're probably past that point.
Parasites are ubiquitous among eukaryotes, with some estimates suggesting that for every animal species there are at least 100 parasites and that parasites outnumber free-living species 4 to 1. For a variety of reasons, getting true estimates of parasite numbers is virtually impossible, but there is no doubt that they play a major ecological and evolutionary role. With all this competition among parasites for suitable hosts, it should not be surprising that some have gotten particularly creative in finding ways to disperse.
If you haven't heard of the fungal parasite that takes over the brains of insects, it's an amazing story. It's an amazing system that David Hughes has been working on at Penn State since staring his position there in 2011. There's certainly been no shortage of interest in the system, but the lab is looking to transition from understanding the ecology of this relationship to examining the cellular scale.
That's where postdoc Charissa de Bekker, comes in. Charissa is in the process of understanding what's going on in the heads of those ants. Literally. Using the recently published genome of the caterpillar Ophiocordyceps parasite and draft genomes of the parasite species in the ants as a backdrop, she will use the expressed genes (transcriptome) and metabolites of the parasite during infection to reveal the mechanisms for ant mind control.
Charrisa has launched a crowdfunding campaign to get this work rolling and produce the preliminary data needed to write a fundable proposal. As of now, the project has 18 days remaining and is only just over 20% of it's goal of $5,306. Beyond the fact that this is a very cool project that will produce some enticing data, you will be supporting the work of a new lab getting established in a growing field. Plus, the more we know about zombies the better prepared we will be for the Zombie Apocalypse*.
So head on over an donate to this project.
*This research is a better use of your money than stock piling food and ammo.
I'm using the royal We here, but it's an honest question. Blog posts announcing one's decision to quit are apparently shocking to some people, but for the life of me I don't understand why. When lawyers quit does everyone stand staring, mouths agape? What about when doctors chose to do something that isn't clinical?
A PhD is a highly variably degree that trains you for a lot of things. One of those things is a job in an academic setting, but there are others. This post isn't about job shortages or "alt careers" (which is a misnomer in itself), but a PhD is more flexible than it is often cast.
Being a PI is a hard job with it's pluses and minuses, just like any other competitive career with a lot of training. There are pressures and stress and constant rejection. At times things get overwhelming and you're pulled in far too many directions. For every person who appears to lead a charmed life, there are ten more who spend 40% of their time battling bureaucratic red tape. So why is it shocking when people find another opportunity that they want to explore?
In terms of worst possible timing for a government shutdown, October would be a pretty high pick for NSF's Bio directorate. October/November is pretty much panel season for IOS and DEB, and POs and panelists had the pleasure of sitting on their hands, not knowing whether they were even going to be able to meet. Once the shutdown ended everyone furiously starting getting ready for the panels that had not been interrupted by the shutdown.
...and then they were all canceled, across the board.
Any panels that met had to get special permission from the director. What that meant was that there was huge variation with how reviews were handled from one panel to the next. Some still met, others met virtually, some found an afternoon for a virtual ranking of proposals and a few never got together at all, leaving the POs to rank.
It is not totally clear what effect this will have, if any at all. You'll remember that we have data suggesting that the fine scale machinations of panel review are not particularly predictive. Whereas I have certainly seen a proposal forcefully argued up or down a category by a particularly opinionated panelist, there is generally agreement on the broad ranking of most proposals.
But all of this may be moot since these short term Continuing Resolutions force POs to short their budgets year after year. No matter what the science funding target of this administration is, the CRs lead to slow bleed out. What happens when you can only budget for 90% of last year's budget when that was only 90% of the year before?
It's getting tighter and tighter out there and there's not much light at the end of the tunnel.
"How much does you project cost per year? How much do you cost?"
It's a serious question I asked my class the other day, and none of them could tell me. Yes, I realize that how a lab runs is not really something grad students should be overly invested in, as long as they have the resources they need. At the same time, it has an enormous impact on them directly or indirectly.
So I told them to go find out. Ask their PIs, estimate their consumables and reagent costs, etc. What surprised me most was that many of them returned to class to report that their PI had either declined to provide them information or told them they didn't need to know. Not even an estimate?
Kindergarten. Who knew what giant hot mess it would make everything?
Change is often tough on kids and affects some more than others. Even the anticipation of change can set off some pretty difficult behaviors. This is what we have been facing for about 3 months now, since we made the decision to transition our older daughter out of the preschool/kindergarten program she was in, to a K-5 school not far from campus. It was a good decision - the right one - but we've been paying for it ever since like a gambling addict pays their loan shark. Suffice to say, it's been a painful transition.
I don't know if it's the age, the school switch or some magical pu-pu platter of child angst, but it's a challenge just to keep the daily tantrum total in the single digits. And bed time? Holy fuck, bed time. I would worry that our neighbors think we run some sort of insane asylum/slaughter house combo if they didn't have kids in roughly the same age bracket.
It's exhausting. To keep your composure while your child yells at you, hitting and screaming. To not give in to the urge to just lock the kid in their room and go drive for an hour. To not question whether you're a terrible parent raising a future rage-junkie. And the worst part of it all is that it is causing me to dread spending time with her - and that kills me to admit. I never imagined having to force myself to spend time with my own 5yo.
And yes, we've tried what you're going to suggest. One-on-one time, sports, time outs, hugs, etc., etc. My guess is that time is the only thing that is going to work. I'm sure there will be a time when we look back with perspective and think this was no big deal, but right now it's the black cloud that hangs over ever breakfast, every dinner prep, every bath time and every bed time. While tolerable for a while, eventually it's like living in 1980s Elizabeth, NJ.
I totally thought I had this semester all handled. I was prepared, I was ready, I had things rolling! Oh right, then the students show up.
Just when you think you have shit figured out, it is ON.
I know I'm late on this one, but it's been the only song that has been able to get "Mr. Sun" outta my head recently. For that, it deserves special praise.