Last night I had the following conversation:
"Maybe we can take the girls out for dinner after the last day of Kindergarten for the Wee One."
"We'll have to eat early. Graduation is at 5:30."
"Why would we go to graduation? We don't know any of the kids in the oldest grade at the school."
"No, kindergarten graduation is at 5:30 on the last day."
"Every grade has a graduation ceremony."
Seriously folks, is there anything more ridiculous than a graduation ceremony for Every. Damn. Grade? What could possibly be the point? Is anyone out there going "Well, Joey was really struggling with shapes this year, but we're so happy he was able to pull it up so he could walk across that stage with the rest of the kindergarten!"
You want to graduate high school? Great! Let's throw a damn party. College? Sure! I might even get you present! But Kindergarten graduation? Second grade? WHY? Isn't that called "cleaning out your locker for the summer? Isn't that all the reward a kid at that age needs?
And it's the culmination of two things here: The constant drum beat of one event or the other that has families stretched in every direction AND the apparent societal need to recognize every minor youth step with a piece of paper, plaque or trophy. My kids are 2 and 6 and already have a collection of awards and trophies the Lebron James would be impressed by.
I am all for raising confident kids. I want nothing more than for my kids to grow up sure of themselves with the feeling they can accomplish anything. But will they be able to separate real accomplishments from just showing up? I don't know, but here's a trophy for reading this far.
This week has not been a good one on the sleep front. Last night I finally had an opportunity to get some decent sleep and went to bed early. At 12:30am my youngest was screaming and I got out of bed and trudged up the stairs, trying to keep my swearing quiet enough not to wake my older daughter. I was not pleased.
I got into her room and groggily asked her what was wrong. "I missed you and needed a hug." was the response. My sleep patterns had thus been tossed into a blender for want of a midnight hug. So I picked her up and she clung to me and whispered "I love you daddy" and I stopped caring about my mental state the next morning and just held her. I put her back into bed, covered her and we said goodnight.
And then I lay awake for two hours, battling for some semblance of a decent night's sleep.
Evolution is a funny thing.
If you're not aware, there's been some new activity here on Scientopia and elsewhere as we're starting to make some changes geared at refreshing our network a bit. We're expanding in some ways and looking for opportunities to get the community at large a bit more involved. For now I just want to make you aware of the new blogs we've started up, which are mostly relocations of blogs you may already be familiar with.
Dr. 24hours has started a blog here called Complex Roots, where he plans to expand his blogging abut science and technology. His Infactorium blog will also remain active.
Former NIGMS director at NIH, Jeremy Berg, has started a blog digging into the grant data from NIH. You can find him at Datahound.
InBabyAttachMode has migrated her blog to our network and we're looking forward to getting a feel for science culture in Europe, where she has recently returned to after a US postdoc.
Likewise, Mistress of Animals has moved on to our network to add another more senior perspective to the grant game and academic culture.
Stay tuned for more additions as we move forward in the next couple of months.
Finally, I wanted to draw your attention to the new IOS blog from NSF, that will hopefully be following in the footsteps of its counterpart at DEB. Both blogs are the result of POs who wanted better and more interactive ways to communicate with you. I encourage you to visit them often and comment.
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?