Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Oh, well.

Guess I'm working on an NIH challenge grant after all.

There goes April.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Bean-girl is a geek in the making

When the last story book has been read and the lights are off, Bean-girl will often ask my husband or I for a story told “out of your head.” I sometimes re-tell her stories about how her father and I met, or of our wedding (she loves these), or of the day she was born or the day that Baby Legume was born. Sometimes I make up a story about Moon the white unicorn, a chapter in our private serial involving unicorns and the Bean-girl. She’s got a unicorn obsession these days, along with her dinosaur obsession. Moon the silver-white unicorn usually takes Bean-girl on a flight somewhere, or sometimes goes to Bean-girl’s school for show-and-tell. I have a poor imagination, so the other day I threw in some Tolkien, and had Moon and Bean-girl taking tea with Bilbo Baggins in the forest. But after I had explained what a hobbit was, Bean-girl insisted that the hobbit be female, so the story morphed into one of Moon and Bean-girl taking tea with Rose the hobbit (I told you, I have a poor imagination).

What stories does the Bean-dad tell his four-year old at night? He tells her the saga of Anakin Skywalker and the Skywalker twins.

Not long ago, I overhead him telling Bean-girl about how Anakin gets his hand cut off by Obi-wan Kenobe. “Is that really an appropriate story for her at this age?” I thought, but did not voice. Then over the past two weeks, both trilogies of the Star Wars series were shown on cable TV. Last weekend I saw Bean-girl and her father cuddled on the couch, watching the climactic battle scene between Anakin and Obi-wan, fought above rivers of flowing lava (shades of Mount Doom…). “Do you really think this is appropriate for Bean-girl,” I said aloud this time. Husband waved me off, and Bean-girl watched as Anakin first got his hand sliced off, then burst into flame and was abandoned to die by his mentor. She appeared fascinated.

This morning the kids invaded our bed as usual. Bean-girl demanded to watch cartoons, and Husband sleepily reached for the remote. “Empire Strikes Back” was playing. In a scene that I had completely forgotten, Luke Skywalker was captured by what appeared to be the Abominable Snowman. To escape, Luke sliced off the Abominable Snowman’s hand. “There is a LOT of slicing off of hands in this series!” I announced.

Thankfully, we had places to be and things to do, and the Star Wars marathon was temporarily halted. But tonight, as I went to collect Bean-girl for bed, I found her sitting with her father, watching the end of “Empire Strikes Back”, nearing the climactic scene where Luke get his hand sliced off.

“I DON’T think Bean-girl should be watching this,” I said, and swept Bean-girl away just before Luke followed family tradition and got his hand severed.

“But Mom,” Bean-girl wailed. “I LOVE Star Wars! I really do! And I’m not scared at all, not at all, and I don’t know why you won’t let me watch it and I LOVE it!”

Uh, right. Can a four-year old really love this stuff?

She’s such a little chicken, scared of the playground slide and going too fast on a swing, stopping me when a bedtime story gets too scary for her, bursting into tears the time we took her to a movie theatre to see “Horton Hears a Who.” Shouldn’t watching dismemberment be at least as disturbing?

Then again, one of the last times her grandfather was here, Bean-girl joined him in watching “Dr. Who” and the scary Daleks and whatever ugly monster race was featured that week. I dragged her away to bed, and she spent the next two days proclaiming that she loved Dr. Who and had to find out what happened at the end of that episode…

Between a mama who tell crazy unicorn/hobbit stories and a dad who lets her watch Star Wars, Bean-girl is going to grow up to be a helpless geek, isn’t she?

Hopefully she won't be traumatized as well.

*By the way, though I count myself as a sci-fi geek, I never ever could get into the Star Wars saga. Not even during college, when I was subjected to multiple marathon viewing sessions in the dorms. It has always just seemed rather cheesy to me. And don’t get me started on the wretched “Phantom Menace”, the only one of the “new” trilogy that I’ve seen all the way through. *

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Why I loved my job today

Since starting in my current position, I have worked closely with one particular postdoc, helping her to prepare an RO1 based on her work. While I was gone on vacation these past several days, she finally completed a crucial experiment. You know, the obvious experiment that all the reviewers will demand. The one that you demand, to know whether or not this project is really viable. The big-time experiment that will make or break your entire hypothesis.

It worked.

She got awesome, beautiful data. She didn’t tell me until I wandered by her desk this afternoon… but it is gorgeous. Has the boss seen this? I demanded. Boss has indeed seen it, and was so excited that he took it to our new institute director (and that is an entirely separate and probably unbloggable topic—the major reorganization at our institute). Big Pharma Collaborator/Representative apparently also stopped by the lab while I was on vacation, saw the data, and got super excited. I’m excited and I’m just a bystander in this all. The postdoc has the wary demeanor I recognize, the I’m-not-going-to-jinx-this-so-I’ll-just-play-it-real-cool demeanor. In her place, I would think that I’d be jumping out of my frigging skin (maybe she did, when she first saw her results in private).

It’s not the same as being the first person in the world to see the data, the first person to understand something new about our universe. But peering over someone else’s shoulders will do for me. And I don’t envy having to do mouse work at all.


Today I had an interesting chat with the staff science editor at our institute. S.E. is the editor for our entire institute, working with any lab who requests his services. I work for only one laboratory. S.E. edits other people’s words, but I actually do a lot of de novo writing and very substantive editing (to the point where the line between editing and writing becomes very blurred).

S.E. was involved in my hiring, and today I asked him something I’ve been long curious about. What were the backgrounds of the other candidates who interviewed for my job?

I should note that I applied for this position with naïve confidence. Our institute is not a well-known one, and it is located in flyover country. I know that our location makes recruitment of American Ph.Ds. difficult. The faculty are all great (heck, people will accept faculty jobs wherever they can get them, right?). But there are very very few American postdocs here. The few that are here all have family ties of some kind to the area.

So I figured the job posting I applied to probably wouldn’t get many qualified American Ph.D.s The job description did not formally require a Ph.D., although the degree was described as useful. I applied with inward swagger, thinking: I have a Ph.D. from a prestigious program and a postdoc from Big Research U! Who could possible be my competition?

Well, today S.E. told me who my competitors were. Folks, it is a brutal world out there (like you didn’t already know that).

The job wasn’t nationally advertised, but yeah, there were other Ph.D.s applying for this position. Ph.Ds with postdoctoral experience. The other leading candidate was a faculty member from a teaching-oriented school several hours away. I was floored that a faculty member would apply for such an editing job. Apparently, the hiring committee was also surprised, and concerned about how committed this faculty member really was to the position (hence my hiring).

Then S.E. told me about other positions he’d hired for. S.E. is a long-time editor; he’s worked at a number of places, including Big Pharma, and in different fields. He told me that once he was hiring for an assistant editor and got flooded with 50 applications from people with advanced degrees. It was incredible, S.E. recalled. Most people had Ph.Ds., and it was a position that did not require a Ph.D. One person had a J.D. (I didn’t get that at all, S.E. told me. He was a lawyer—why wasn’t he out making good money as a lawyer? Maybe he hated being a lawyer? I offered).

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Even before this latest economic downturn, there was a desperate postdoc glut and plenty of trained scientists looking for a way out. I am luckier than I thought. And the job market—even in “alternative” fields—is more brutal than I had believed.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

What you should be reading

A while back Sciencegirl gave me this lovely Inspiration Award.

Following Cath’s example, I am bending the rules and passing it on to one special blogger. SciMom’s blog was one of the first women-in-science blogs I stumbled upon. I never commented back then, but when she left blogging two years ago I missed her and always wondered how she was doing with her transition from academic research to industry.

Guess what? SciMom is back! And the last two years of her life have been tumultuous indeed. I hope she doesn’t mind if I quote from one of her introductory posts to her new blog:

"I haven't blogged for awhile because I realized my previous blog, which I called Doubleloop, just didn't fit my life anymore. So I've updated my blog look and changed the name (Tripleloop) to acknowledge what I now accept - that the last year's trip through breast cancer diagnosis and treatment has changed things. It's a part of my every day life now and what I blog about will often have some component related to that life changing experience.I will still write about academic science, hopefully in a more positive note with the new incoming administration. I will also blog about what it's like to juggle two science careers with two small children. I will blog about what it's like to be an "academic" in the world of biotech. And I will blog about breast cancer research, survivorship and it's impact on my life."

Check out SciMom's Tripleloop. An “Inspiration Award” seems more than appropriate.