May 29, 2011

The conference

I was at a small conference for the first time in my life last week after only having attended much larger plant society meetings before. Small conferences are much nicer in many ways. The talks were mostly good. The ones that weren't were because they were hard to follow mostly due to ineffective use of Powerpoint. During the poster session I actually talked to quite a few people about my poster, which was good, even though I'm not sure the story I was telling was all that great. It also drove home for me just now far I have to go to establish some sort of career in science. I'll keep working at it, of course, and keep trying to work towards alternatives as well. Onward and upward (I hope). Now it's back to the grind, and hopefully back to more regular and more interesting posts than this one.

May 17, 2011


I'm rushing to put together a poster and it's terrifying in many ways. I'll get something in the space and try to make it look good and all. I know I've been doing this for years, but I am still anxious about showing work in progress or early work...that's probably the perfectionist speaking. But it also speaks to an anxiety I have that everyone else expects me to be perfect too and anything short of that is unacceptable. When I was learning to do science (which I'm still learning), it seemed like the goal was to take the human out of the equation as much as possible. I have a hard time with that idea. Of course there's a part of science that is objective- standardized measures and assays are what we all rely on to interpret the natural world and to invent amazing things. Ideally, there's also an objective interpretation of the data too. But there always will require a critically thinking human brain to give the data meaning. And of course people are who do science...and we screw up sometimes and our experiments are almost all imperfect in some way. We forget facts, we haven't read every single paper on our subject of expertise, we're just doing the best we can (and no, I almost never feel that I ever do enough). I know there are a lot of decent people that practice science, it just seems that we often don't treat each other as humans. Most of my friends who work in the private sector actually take vacations and get things called weekends. I love science, I just hope I don't get posterified at this conference and that it's OK if I'm human.

May 10, 2011


NPR had a story on the other day about researchers who found a much higher prevalence of autism when they looked at every kid in a town in South Korea. One of the big signs was "social awkwardness", another I imagine was obsessiveness and a lack of interest in anything but a narrow band of subjects they were interested in. Hearing this story made me think of a lot of scientists. I'd wager that if the autism spectrum were extended just a little bit, it would catch a lot of Ph.D.'s of the world. I could be totally wrong too, but it does seem to take an obsessive focused mind to be in science, though that does seem to be changing. Now-a-days, Ph.D.'s seem expected to be all things at all programmers, math whizzes, experts in their fields, experts in other fields, knowing how to integrate different fields, create new ones, teach, write well, communicate to the broader public and just generally be an intellectual bad ass. I'm not a great scientist (yet?), but I'm trying to have better habits in work and in life...but the expectations of Ph.D.'s in 2011 seem outsized somehow. I've blamed myself for not measuring up for years...and I can confirm it's no way to live or have a successful career- in any field (it's very de-motivating and soul-crushing). Maybe what I think the expectations are is unrealistic. Now I'm attempting to do the best I can- and do what I can...and give myself some credit for what I DO accomplish.
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May 7, 2011

Not ready for prime time.

I was at the Northeast Section meeting of The ASPB yesterday. I am getting ready to put together a poster for the program directors meeting in Washington in a few weeks. I don't feel any of my data is ready for presentation (even in poster form). I like complete stories, but maybe those don't exist in science. After all, any tested hypothesis brings up more questions, or at least alternate ways to test that hypothesis to see if it's supported. I'm trying to get used to the idea of just putting my work and ideas out in the world (like writing posts like this), but I find it hard to let go of the idea that a complete story would be nice to have. I'm getting used to the idea of having a "building phase" where I just try to find my voice or the solid ideas to base the direction of my research. Hopefully by embracing the uncertainty/chaos of ideas, I'll find my way. Sort of like the way gene expression's noisy, but coherent transcripts pop out and form functional RNAs and proteins.

May 5, 2011


I've been thinking more about being constantly interrupted in lab. It breaks my concentration and it takes time to refocus on a task. It doesn't happen too often at the bench, but often at my desk when I'm trying to concentrate/work through something. As a solution, I think I'm going to try and make signs that let people know if it's OK to bother me or not. Plugging into my iPod hasn't worked so well. Hopefully this will be a successful experiment. I can just point to the sign if someone tries to interrupt, and I avoid feeling like a complete jerk by telling someone I can't talk to them right away, which seems like the expectation when someone is standing there looking impatient.

May 4, 2011

Back after 5 months- and postdocs still have issues.

OK, I've taken way too long off this blog. But I am now determined to do this more than ever as a writing/communication exercise. "Nature" did a whole issue (the news section, at least) and part of their web page to the value of a Ph.D and problems with the system of academia the world over. It is a hard system to be a part of. Though I can feel proud to be a Ph.D. at some level, I can't help but think I'm one of the ones who isn't "worthy" of it. The big issue is that there are too many Ph.D.'s and postdocs, so we're clogging the system and may give it a heart attack sometime soon. Although I know I might be smarter than average (I caught a pretty egregious error in the Washington Post crossword today...), but it does seem like the pressure is to be more perfect (this seems to be a pressure in society generally too). Not only do your own specialized research, but network, learn to be an economist, internet guru, expert communicator, master whole new fields in a single bound! That said, my research is going better lately- which is a welcome change. And I'm slightly more optimistic about my future too, which is also good. Let's hope I continue to feel more positive, despite what seems to be a permanently bleak outlook for a Ph.D.'s the world over. Science is amazing, the business side of it seems to continue to get worse.

Not sure how I did with this post...going to cut myself a slight break since I haven't posted for a long time and I don't write nearly enough.
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