rebeccmeister: (cricket)
In the last week or two, I've gotten several of those emails that say, "Oh yeah, by the way, that job you applied for way back in September? Well...in case you couldn't read between the lines by now...we picked someone else."

Someone who had slightly better luck than me wrote an article that just got published about his experience job-hunting. I am hoping the detailed quantitative information that he tracked for his job application process will be helpful for people who haven't yet realized that this is how things now work within the biological sciences.* While the author provides the appropriate caveats (he's presenting his own anecdata), my conversations with other people who have recently been hired or who are currently on the job market suggest his experience is at least reasonably representative of the current norm.

The author applied for 60 jobs last fall, during the time when I struggled just to turn in 11 applications because of a grueling circadian research schedule, conference travel, and some concerns about not overburdening my letter-writers.

I don't mean for this to be a pity party, but my subconscious has other ideas. It keeps seeing fit to remind me that I don't know what I'm going to do next, and keeps suggesting that maybe I should have some sort of massive freakout or massive depressive episode. Meanwhile, I'd like to get data analyzed and manuscripts submitted, thankyouverymuch, and I'd like to carve out more time for working towards future prospects. A freakout won't help, but on the other hand, we don't exactly get to choose our emotions, and at least part of my emotional state has more to do with life circumstances outside of professional prospects anyway.**

-

Anyway, here is another thing to consider, from a very different angle: a detailed article on the sources and uses of US science funding. This is useful for perspective on what it means to support science in a substantive manner (as much fun as it is to march for science...).

In case you aren't immediately enticed to read the article, a couple elements to consider:

-The two main funding sources for basic research are the federal government and industry, which both vastly outpower state and local government spending (Figure 4).

-Industry spending has greatly outpaced government spending (Figure 4). However, if we examine total research spending as a percentage of GDP (Figure 2 in the article), it's apparent that there has actually been a general long-term increase in research spending since 1994.

-There are a lot of interesting shifts between different aspects of research - for example, between money devoted to "defense" versus "nondefense," or in totals devoted to things like medical research (big boost between 1998-2004) vs. space exploration (declining) vs. energy research (intermittent).

-If R&D expenditures are considered as a percentage of GDP, the US spends more than the EU as a whole, but less than Japan, South Korea, and China. The US also spends more based on several other comparison methods.

-The final section comments on the translation from these specific numbers to policy analysis, asking some important questions about social goals with research spending (basic research, applied research, development) and how various different goals should be balanced.


I think this article paints a useful picture that's different from what you might hear from a lot of scientists working in the trenches. As best I understand, competition for funding has gone up in the same manner as competition for academic jobs: more grant proposals submitted, fewer grants funded. I have to wonder if this side of things is partly due to pushes to increase STEM training. Anyway, from the vantage point of this article, for the moment the US is still looking pretty good in terms of its investment in science, which is some comfort. Obviously big changes to the federal budget could quickly alter the picture, but the longer-term view isn't so bad.



* I hope this audience includes at least one of my letter-writers.
** This isn't a super articulate sentence because this point isn't my main focus for this post and I don't want to elaborate right now.
rebeccmeister: (bikegirl)
The Visiting Scholars and Postdoc Association here continues to be a helpful asset for me. Last night, they sponsored a [pep] talk by a guy named Peter Fiske, author of a book titled Put Your Science to Work, about alt-academic careers. Talking to one of the VSPA workers, it sounds like they bring him in about once a year, to which I say, good.

It never ceases to amaze me how much it helps just to hear words of encouragement, especially after feeling beaten-down within the academic system. It's very easy to forget that this little academic universe is its own pernicious sort of bubble, and that in the real world I do, in fact, have a lot of useful and valuable skills and qualities.
rebeccmeister: (cricket)
We're back on deck with the circadian experiment.

One of the most challenging aspects, for me, is when I have these long evenings that I can't really put to effective use. I tried to work on some statistical analyses last night, but I really needed to look stuff up in Zar, which was at home. So I just ate too many biscotti instead.

I have this other massive stats book at work called Applied Linear Statistical Models (which I will call NKNW after its authors), but it's ever-so-slightly more mathematical and less pragmatic than Biostatistical Analysis (aka Zar). So when I need to look up something like how to calculate statistical power, NKNW doesn't actually help.

Nor does the internet, because as we all know the internet isn't a vetted source, and you'll find about 12 different sources with 12 different styles of calculations. In addition, for a lot of stats stuff it's helpful to learn a consistent set of variables and calculations because there's a hell of a lot of sloppy work out there and it's easy to get stuck in a swamp of incomprehension because someone defines things in a slightly different fashion. And that's how "Data Science" got invented.

Today, however, I have Zar again, so maybe I can fwump myself over this hurdle and on to the next thing (job applications again).
rebeccmeister: (Acromyrmex)
One of the questions that I have been practicing asking myself lately is, "What is the broader significance of this finding?"

I find it challenging to draw myself back out to the level of generalities. In the leafcutter literature, it seems to me like there are a lot of cases where people don't bother trying to do this. It's a matter of getting stuck in the specific mechanisms at hand.

TZ is much better-practiced at this art. In some respects, that's just a product of having experience working in the same system for a long time. But to some extent it has probably also been a product of having spent a lot of time thinking about his field of interest (life-history evolution), and only subsequently picking a specific study system within that field.

In that respect, my story has been more convoluted because I got into the study of social insects based on an interest in network systems. My initial argument was simple: social insects are useful because they're easier to manipulate than many other kinds of network systems. Then, of course, I had to learn a tremendous amount about social evolution and nutrition and a bunch of other nonsense.

But think, for example, about trying to manipulate nutrition in a developing brain. I've been sitting in on a seminar led by a researcher who has been interested in how nutrition in the brain intersects with recovery prospects for traumatic brain injury patients. Very challenging to study, but with obvious rewards. It's funny, though, because he's neatly back in the category of "this is useful because direct human benefits," whereas I'm happier working in a more purely theoretical context.

Anyway. I have just sent the current Leafcutter Manuscript of Doom back over to my Ph.D. advisor. I hope she can give it an extremely thorough going-over. One can hope. Otherwise, it's probably time for me to set it down for a while and work on other things where my energy and ideas feel more fresh.
rebeccmeister: (Acromyrmex)
Step 1: Find ads. Note deadlines. Organize spreadsheet and decide whether or not to apply.

Step 2: Work on individual applications. For each application, look up info about the department so as to re-tailor materials to specifics of job ad description and department interests.

Step 3: Start individual online application process for individual application. Discover, partway through, that some totally random piece of information is needed. Hunt down the random information.

Step 4: Submit application. Send copies of materials in highly-organized format to reference letter writers, thanking them profusely yet again for writing reference letters for you.

Step 5: Wait several months without hearing anything.

The academic job hiring cycle is annual: ads come out in the summer and early fall up through around January for positions that generally start the following fall. Good luck getting other employment options to line up with that timeline!

-

Meanwhile, in the garden. [livejournal.com profile] sytharin has been out of town on vacation, so it has been up to [livejournal.com profile] scrottie and me to harvest and cook as much as we can. Here was last week's harvest:

Weekly garden harvest

That's a plant pot full of the Black Prince tomatoes. A-plus, would grow again. That bucket got turned mostly into ketchup.

The cucumbers are more challenging to use up. I finally took some time yesterday to turn a bunch of the pickling cucumbers into refrigerator pickles:

Cucumber problem (halfway) solved

Today I picked a two-thirds plant pot of tomatoes and used them plus that giant cucumber (size of my foot!) to make another batch of cucumber pico de gallo. So, only three medium-large slicing cucumbers left to deal with for now.

Tomato production is starting to wind down, for the Black Princes, at least. There are a couple other varieties in the backyard that look like they're just starting to pick up, but the plants aren't as crazily overgrown as the Black Prince plants, so the net haul won't be as large. Oh - [livejournal.com profile] scrottie picked about a gallon of cherry tomatoes, too. I think we're doing all right with tomatoes for the year.
rebeccmeister: (Acromyrmex)
Fun and rewarding stuff:

I'm attending two conferences in Florida at the end of the month. The main one is the International Congress of Entomology, held every four years. The previous Congress was held in South Korea, and I was lucky to get to attend it thanks to the grant that funded my work in Texas and Nebraska.

Orlando is a slightly less exciting destination. On the flipside, I'll give a talk about some of the cricket work from Nebraska, on amino acid metabolism in the context of nutrition and the cricket life history trade-off between flight and reproduction. Yesterday I finally had a few minutes to revisit the book Protein Turnover, which is mammal-focused but has a great chapter covering amino acid metabolism. I'm looking forward to making progress on the Nebraska work.

The second conference is a day-long satellite meeting of the North American Section of the International Union for the Study of Social Insects (IUSSI-NAS).

Things could get weird at the IUSSI-NAS meeting. There's a researcher from another group who did some fairly slapdash but high-profile studies on nutrition in a primitive fungus-growing species, who will be giving a talk about his findings. Another grad student from my PhD lab and I (=academic siblings) are both going to present on our work with desert leafcutter ants, in which we've come to a different set of conclusions via different means. We're going to keep the emphasis on high-quality science and insights that can apply to systems beyond fungus-growing ants. I also hope to have the associated manuscript finally off my desk by around the time the meeting rolls around. It still needs a couple more days of hiding in the library and intense concentration.

Other than that, there's not a whole lot going on (as [livejournal.com profile] scrottie would say, I'm being boring). Rowing has been helpful for taking my mind off of academic concerns, but the academic matters are pressing and are still keeping me busy at the moment. I always hold on to some optimism that things will settle down in a month or so, but I don't know how realistic that optimism is. I may just need to be even more proactive about managing my time and priorities to ensure I leave time and space for life outside of academic work.
rebeccmeister: (cricket)
I took the year off from applying for academic jobs last year. I just couldn't stomach it, and was way too busy with experiments to have the gumption and energy.

I've also felt like, to some degree, I haven't had a clear picture of my desired trajectory. I've had a couple of discussions about this with my current boss, and the thing is, she is 100% great. Last week she said, "I think you and I should go over your job application materials soon," so we made an appointment to do so and she said to send her copies regardless of their current state. Spending those 9 months working with TZ was also pivotal. I have moved in some very positive directions.

I still struggle with confidence, but at the same time I feel like I am in a much better position now to go for it. I've been able to spend more time thinking here, and reading some key pieces of the scientific literature. Getting to work with stable isotopes is also nicely rounding out my scientific toolbox to the point where I am feeling like I have the skills I need to move forward with the systems I want to study.

I'm going to take it as a good omen that a job ad for an awesome job also just appeared in my e-mail inbox. LET'S DO THIS.

Also, as J said yesterday, "If I waited until I was completely ready before I did anything, I would never get anything done."
rebeccmeister: (Acromyrmex)
While faffing around today in between productive bouts of working on the leafcutter manuscript (!), I came across a link to this article by Kieran Healey on social media and sociology. The excerpt posted on the Dynamic Ecology blog has convinced me to read and consider it further, and actually, it's relevant to the leafcutter manuscript in addition to being relevant to the act of blogging. Here's are some of those tantalizing excerpts:

"Here is also a natural connection here to the world of scholarly research. Although by now thoroughly professionalized, academic life has deep roots in the desire to talk about scholarly preoccupations in public, and in one’s spare time. It is in this sense an aspect of civil society. On a personal level, having the desire to go and tell people about your work is a good a sign that you are substantively absorbed by what you are doing. The point generalizes to disciplines. To the degree that thinking, talking, and arguing about research in one’s spare time and in public is a feature your field, it is a sign that your discipline is confident about what it does. Modern social media brings together these shared features of civil society and academic discourse in a new way. Social media platforms facilitate and accelerate the possibilities for talking about one’s
work in public, assuming we want to take advantage of it."

"In “Science as a Vocation”, Weber remarks that although we do not get our best
ideas while sitting at our desks all day doing regular work, we wouldn’t get any good ideas unless we sat at our desks all day doing regular work. In a similar way, successfully engaging with the public means doing it somewhat unsuccessfully very regularly. This fact is closely connected to the value of doing your everyday work somewhat publicly. You cannot drop a lump of text onto the Internet and expect anyone to pay attention if you have not been engaging with them in some ongoing way. You cannot put your work up on your website, or “do a blog”, or manufacture interest in your research like that. There is a demand side as well as a supply side to “content”, and most of the time the demand side does not care about what you have to say. This is why, in my view, one’s public work ought to be be continuous with the intellectual work you are intrinsically motivated to do. It is a mistake to think that there is a research phase and a publicity phase. Your employer might see it that way, but from a first-personal point of view it
is much better—both intrinsically and in terms of any public engagement you might
want—to think of yourself as routinely doing your work “slightly in public”. You write about it as you go, you are in regular conversation with other like-minded researchers or interested parties, and some of those people may have or be connected to larger audiences with a periodic interest in what you are up to."


...and so on.

Dear draft

May. 19th, 2016 04:53 pm
rebeccmeister: (Acromyrmex)
Dear draft,

I will set you down for now. I know you'll try to keep speaking to me, as I ride my bike home, as I try to sleep. I know you say something, in between saying nothing and saying everything. Nothing says nothing, and nothing says everything. There is no perfect experiment.

I have laid down a thousand tiny threads to try and tell your story, and I can never get it quite right because no story is ever perfect. I have tried to weave you together over the shouting of so many voices and interests and doubts, tried to figure out how you fit in, where you stand out. I am tired and frustrated but I will keep coming back. It is hard to know that the impact isn't proportional to the struggle after all. ["No one will ask how long it took. They will only ask, 'Who built it?']. I wish you did not cause me such feelings of sorrow and regret for your imperfections, but I hope I have the will to keep going.
rebeccmeister: (Acromyrmex)
Wouldn't it be nice if demanding a revised draft of a manuscript NOW resulted in such a thing?

Sigh.

Instead it seems to just push me over the edge of the stress-performance inverted U-function.

To some degree, this has to do with how I process feedback from other people. It's an instinct to drag my heels and fight because I *know* that I know the literature way better than coauthors and am trying to think it through on a deeper level than they are. I refuse to turn in embarrassing and shoddy work. And I know this is to my detriment at a certain point, but I've also observed firsthand that turning in stuff that's half-baked is seriously embarrassing and an even larger waste of everyone's time.
rebeccmeister: (Acromyrmex)
On Friday and today, I've been working on that leafcutter manuscript I mentioned. I've gotten all the way to the Discussion, but have been feeling stuck on the Discussion. What to talk about, at what length? How to structure the damn thing? My PhD advisor offered one clue, in the form of "talk about your results first, THEN the other literature," based on the material that's currently there under the label of Discussion, but I have still been hung up on something. How to structure it so it all hangs together as a coherent story? What's the most efficient way to bang out a Discussion for an academic paper? In writing about the subject, I tend to wander off into the forest, admiring all the different trees and flowers, reading all the papers that are only remotely related to what I'm working on, and then reading all the interesting papers that are cited in those remote papers. Basically.

Just now, I had a flash of insight, based on something clever I learned from my first postdoc advisor. His strategy is to sketch out the main talking points based around the figures. Bring it back to the data, the heart of the story.

Duh.

I think I can do this now.
rebeccmeister: (Acromyrmex)
Ants that don't appear to age: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/these-unusual-american-ants-never-get-old-180957887/?no-ist

I have been reading about ageing recently, because I am working on a manuscript on the nature of connections between nutrition, reproduction, and lifespan in crickets. I should probably read the primary article in this case, at least to get an idea of ways to characterize senescence.

Comments on reviewing the statistics in that manuscript you're reviewing: https://methodsblog.wordpress.com/2015/06/03/reviewing_statistics/

This diagram on why dishes pile up in the kitchen sink makes me think about what we call the "Dishwasher Model" for the division of labor in social insect colonies. Essentially, it is based on the idea that different individuals have different stimulus thresholds for the various tasks that need to be done in a colony (or apartment). Once the level of stimulus (amount of dishes in the sink) reaches the threshold for the person most sensitive to the task, he or she will do it, and so the stimulus won't ever reach the threshold of the others and the sensitive person will become a task specialist for that task.

Okay, this one isn't quite so academic, but it's sorta related? Apparently, a Liverpool student has created insect haggis. S bought a can of vegetarian haggis once, when we were in Boston. I think it was made of lentils. It was all right.

Tips for responding to illegal questions asked during job interviews. Or, related ideas in comic book form.
rebeccmeister: (bikegirl)
This morning I packed up the bug nerd corner.

Nerd corner

I have no idea when, if ever, I'll have another bug nerd corner. That's the uncertainty of life, moving, and academia. While I am feeling more human these days, as a result of not working quite so many 12-hour days in the past week, starting the moving process inevitably dredges up a whole bunch of emotions. This is happening in particular because I will be going from a two-bedroom apartment back to a room in someone else's house. I am going to miss having my own kitchen, even though I know that there can be many rewards to a shared kitchen if one lives with other creative cooks.

There won't be room for the door-desk, so I am at least initially planning on using my sewing machine table as a desk again, which is what I did for a month when I lived with [livejournal.com profile] scrottie. But that is forcing me to look again at the pile of creative projects: how to arrange various postcards, stamps, punches, old calendars, sewing supplies, oil paints, and watercolors, so things are both reasonably accessible but able to be put away? Will I even have time for these things in the next phase? I've made some progress on the quilting project, but not nearly as much as hoped.

Packing things for longer-term storage (1-2 years) is also different from packing things for 6-month storage. I don't expect to be able to answer the question of whether or not it is worthwhile to save things for that long.

However, I would say that I am glad to have gotten rid of as much stuff as easily possible. It's just those intermediate and uncertain categories that are hard to scrutinize.

-

One of the hardest parts - I am still not applying for any jobs this year. I need to phrase that in an active tense. I am anxiously thinking about it, but despite having some time I have not been updating my website and CV, revisiting my research and teaching statements, or keeping a list of job ads and deadlines. Why am I stalling out? Did I burn myself out too early by trying to apply in previous years? Is it because reference letters feel like a sticking point, given present circumstances? Is it because I don't know how to phrase things about "Berkeley - pending Nov 30"? Is it that feeling that I don't have a broader research vision (even if the state of my ideas is actually on par with peers, which is something I don't know)? Is it that I just can't work up enthusiasm for any of the job ads I've read? Is it that it's exhausting to bash one's head up against this process where there will always be at least 35-40 highly-qualified people applying for one job? Is it the lack of an in-person social support system?

On this last point - more than one person who's made it to the next stage has spoken warmly of they help they received from postdoc peers when applying for jobs - giving practice talks to each other, going over each others' application materials. This has strongly reminded me of how, when I was working on my comps and dissertation, other people spoke warmly of friends and loved ones who cooked for them, kept them fed and housed and clothed. My life and job circumstances just haven't afforded me those kinds of luxuries. Research has kept me locked in the lab too much (especially here!), and who knows whether that's my own damn fault or not, because I know I managed to develop good social supports in Arizona. More likely, it's the lack of adequate time, because it takes more than 9 months to find the right people to be friends.
rebeccmeister: (Acromyrmex)
I read this thing over the weekend, on how to not drop out of graduate school, and it made me sort of angry. Don't get me wrong - it's full of useful and constructive ideas that are comforting when it comes to coping with the trials and tribulations of grad school. Just wait, though, innocent students, until you hit the postdoc stage. You have no idea what's coming next, and if you thought grad school was hard, you're in for a wake-up call.

Just now I encountered this post on how moving is the hardest part of academia.

Yep. Nine months later and I really don't have any friends here. First-year syndrome. I don't mean to state that in a complaining fashion - that's just how it is. The closest I've come is the Randonneuring dudes, and I know there are other awesome cyclists afoot but I don't make it out to 'cross races or to the bike co-op or basically out of the house much at all, so it's hard to get to know anyone.

The hard part is trying to dig up motivation without any social support. C'mon, motivation, help me out here!
rebeccmeister: (bikegirl)
It feels so strange to be here without [livejournal.com profile] scrottie. Coming back is starting to feel like returning to Boston, the familiar intermingled with the new, trying to make sense of my sense of identity. Thinking about some of the influential individuals here who became a part of my local family but have passed away too soon, too recently (Okie, BCH). Thinking about other individuals who used to live here but who have also moved on to other places, other lives.

It's hard to be here, scrambling to write a presentation that feels so intellectually important, but for which I cannot do full justice because I am just too.damn.busy. I need to practice it so I don't stumble too horribly during delivery. It is simultaneously important (on the level of a job talk) and unimportant (instead I should be applying for jobs, working on the current experiments, writing papers, helping new-boss with grant-writing). The perpetual PhD question, too: is this really going to be an earth-shattering subject? Or is it so much fuss over a subject so trivial? I don't think so but I struggle the most with the higher-order thinking, especially when my nose is shoved up against the trees.

There's a limit to my ability to think, one that I can exercise, but a limit, nonetheless. There's a limit to how much work I can do - something I can also stretch, but only up to a point. I have to operate within these limits and not give up, in the hopes that all this work will be a worthwhile exercise.
rebeccmeister: (bikegirl)
Let me see if I can remember how yesterday went. This is so I can remember the insanity some day in the future.

8:30 am: Arrive at lab.
Check scintillation counter for yesterday's results. Write them down, then wash the scintillation trays so they will be dry in time for use later in the day.
Go to walk-in cooler and centrifuge sample set 1 (first TCA precipitation; 24 samples in each of the numbered sets I reference)
Put sample set 2 in scintillation tray and put in scintillation counter to count radioactivity (protein samples from 4-5 days ago, stored in drawer)
Add scintillation fluid to sample set 3 (lipid samples from yesterday) and put in drawer to dark-adapt for at least 1 hour
Pull styrofoam cooler out of plastic cooler inside the walk-in cooler and bring to main lab space
Write out labels for the 24 crickets to be injected on a set of thick-walled glass tubes and a set of 25-mL Erlenmeyer flasks
Put tubes in styrofoam cooler, walk up five stories and one building over to get dry ice, then put styrofoam cooler back in plastic cooler back in walk-in cooler
Prepare 8 more corks for the flasks (folding and pinning filter paper to the corks; didn't have enough dry the night before to prepare all of them in advance)
Inject crickets with radiolabeled acetate (around an hour and change of nonstop motion, averaging ~2 minutes between injections, plus additional prep work between sets of 8 crickets to make controls and keep crickets at 27 degrees C in one of the cricket rooms) - they then incubate in the flasks for 3 hours when acetate-injected
Retrieve sample set 1 from the walk-in cooler, remove TCA with a pulled pipette and discard; add second batch of TCA, vortex, and put back in the walk-in cooler
Get final weights for food dishes and frass dishes from yesterday's 21 crickets (these have to sit out in ambient conditions for 24 hours before being re-weighed)
Pick frass out of the food dishes for the crickets that were just injected and put it in 1-ounce deli cups to sit out; leave food dishes to sit out, too. Think the same thought every day: if I ever switch careers and try to get a job as a cake decorator, I am totally going to list "picking insect frass out of food with fine forceps" as relevant experience.
Set up 24 scintillation vials to collect the filter paper strips from the crickets

Eat lunch for 20 minutes

Grab first set of 8 crickets from the cricket room, grab styrofoam cooler
Every two minutes: pop off a cork, shake out a cricket, lift the lid to the styrofoam cooler and stuff her into one of the freezing-cold tubes and then cap the tube. Then use a pair of forceps to strip the filter paper off the pins and stuff it into a scintillation vial. To the vial add scintillation fluid, cap, label, and put in a tray.
In the one-minute increments between crickets, work on other incremental tasks: pour sample set 4 (yesterday's protein samples) into scintillation vials, add scintillation fluid, cap, number, and store in drawer to dark-adapt and count two days later
Centrifuge sample set 1 again, remove the second batch of TCA, then add sodium hydroxide and tissue solubilizer and put back in the walk-in cooler until there's enough time to sonicate them
Pull out another set of 24 cricket ovarioles from the freezer to thaw and prep for lipid extraction, and write them down in my lab notebook (sample set 4)
…Crickets done. Go to scintillation counter, write down results from sample set 2, put sample set 3 plus the freshly collected filter paper samples (carbon dioxide) into the counter and start to count (lipid tray gets counted first so the carbon dioxide samples have time to dark-adapt while sitting in the scintillation counter). Bring sample set 2 back to the lab and stick back in a drawer for storage.
Okay, time to start the day's lipid samples. I guess that's sample set 5? They have been marinating in chloroform-methanol in the walk-in cooler for ~24 hours. They get sonicated, then stuck in the centrifuge. While they are centrifuging, I sonicate sample set 1 and stick it on the heat block, caps open.
Remove chloroform-methanol from sample set 5 with a pulled pipette and transfer to a clean set of eppendorf tubes (contains extracted lipids). Tedious.
Add more chloroform-methanol to sample set 5, sonicate again, and centrifuge again. Meanwhile, add the first bit of chloroform-methanol to sample set 4 so they can marinate overnight
…several more detailed steps to purify the chloroform-extracted lipids from sample set 5. These samples wind up in scintillation vials and are left in the fume hood overnight so all of the chloroform-methanol will evaporate out (it interferes with detection of radioactivity). Then leave the lipid-free remnants in the fume hood to dry out for 1-2 hours. At some point I close the caps to sample set 1 so they can cook overnight without drying out. Also pull out the first set of 8 crickets (now dead) so they can thaw out for dissection.
Dissect the 24 crickets: cut open, pin in place, remove ovarioles and weigh them, note the flight muscle characteristics. When finished, store in the freezer for now.
Add TCA to the lipid-free remnants from sample set 5, sonicate, and leave in the walk-in cooler overnight. Phew, done in there, it gets COLD after a while at 4 degrees Celsius.
Go to cricket room and sort crickets: remove all of the winged adults from the 12 focal aquaria and either kill them or move them to a new aquarium to be kept as breeders. Keep track of how many long-winged vs. short-winged females I remove.
Double-check current sample sizes for different treatments (especially how many long-winged crickets with pink flight muscle). Portion out fresh diets for the crickets that I will sort out and set up tomorrow (diets need to sit out in ambient conditions for 24 hours before given to crickets) - these will be ready to inject next Monday.
Wash the radioactive labware
Wash the cricket cages from the day's crickets so they'll be ready for tomorrow
6:30 pm: Leave lab and hurry to bike shop before it closes at 7 pm.

It would be interesting to wear a pedometer on days like today. Also, I am SO RELIEVED to have discovered that my old bike shoes (Specialized) are actually shaped right to take the pressure off of my metatarsals/metatarsalgia.

Tomorrow in addition to repeating the above I will need to also: prepare fresh radiolabel, prepare a full set of corks, and set up crickets on the diets. I'll be relieved if I get done before 8 pm tomorrow.
rebeccmeister: (cricket)
So, life in Postdoc-Limbo is going to continue for another year and a half, at least. I just got my official offer letter from UC Berkeley, so I can make the announcement more public. I'm extremely excited to be working with a top-notch evolutionary physiologist there, on a project that will continue from the work I've been doing with these wing-dimorphic crickets. It looks like I'll be moving out there in October.

The thing is, to some extent, California is wasted on me. I'm a Pacific Northwest girl. At least it's not permanent. I am also coming to grips with what it's like to live as a postdoc. I'm still learning new things, which is great, even if the life-in-limbo aspect absolutely SUCKS.

But I should give you something science-themed to ogle, in addition to this announcement.

Here's a snapshot of what I've been working on, recently:
Tracking the metabolic fate of glycine: trapping cricket carbon dioxide

I've written out a more detailed description of the current research within this photo album - click through to see that and several other photos.

Edit: This photo sends you to my photostream, not the album, arg. The album is here, with my most recent work featured towards the very end.
rebeccmeister: (cricket)
Just a brief update regarding that troublesome manuscript I vaguely referenced earlier in the week. Somehow*, between yesterday and today, things started coming together, so today I got it turned back over to my co-authorsbosses. Ka-POW!

Now back to eleventy-hundred other projects. But still - this is the pace of writing, for me. Several agonizing days that feel slow, stupid, and sluggish, and then finally, an actual sense of progress. I think some interesting things can come of this particular manuscript, but it's going to take a lot of brain-power to get it there.


*I was in really bad physical shape yesterday, which partly explains some of my woes. I woke up with a sinus headache at 5 am, which didn't go away until I took a Tylenol at 11 am, and even after that, the weird leg muscle thing was bothering me and I was generally sleepy and stupid and unproductive. A classic example of why experts caution people against just diving in to a new exercise regime. I knew that was a risk when showing up to a new ride, and repeatedly checked in with the other riders. Even with all that, it's too easy for me to get all excited and push myself too hard. Live and learn, hopefully.
rebeccmeister: (cricket)
I'm struggling with the current cricket manuscript, but it occurs to me that one of the subliminal elements in the struggle is an underlying power struggle. When I started my PhD, one of the things I strongly respected about my advisor was the emphasis she put on her students owning their own dissertation research. This emphasis is not an easy one for anybody involved, and comes at certain costs, but with certain benefits as well. She actually developed this emphasis in reaction to several unfortunate events, one of which I'll briefly describe. The main unfortunate event involved a student mentored by her husband (also an academic), who was carefully shepherded through the early stages of their* PhD, up until they had to take their comprehensive oral exam and defend their dissertation proposal. Well, this student got up in front of their committee and couldn't explain themselves to the committee.

It is important to know how to collaborate, yes, but in the American system it is unacceptable to outsource one's intellectual development, so clearly this situation did not stand, and it was a hard experience for all involved - a great sense of shame. When an advisor lets an unprepared student get up in front of a committee, it usually indicates poor mentorship, not failure on the part of the student - at least, mature committee members should be cognizant of this distinction and not abusive of their power over the student. At the same time, it's also impossible to predict how committee dynamics will shake out. Sometimes committee members feel it's important to prove their intellectual chops to each other, and use the unfortunate student as a punching bag in this exercise. I hope this generally isn't the case, and more than anything it again can reflect poor mentorship on the part of the advisor, who is hopefully sensitive to the interpersonal dynamics among the faculty to a degree that he or she can steer a student clear from such trouble. In my own case, I intentionally chose an intellectually challenging committee, and was rewarded by some tough questions, but I did so for the purpose of putting together as good a dissertation as I could muster. And I intentionally avoided having certain people as committee members based on recommendations about how well (or unwell?) they worked with my advisor's academic style.

So then, the postdoctoral experience. There are some fields where one's personal research activities are most effective if they're closely guided by more established researchers. In physiology, it's very difficult to throw undergraduates into a laboratory and expect them to come up with groundbreaking experiments. In many cases, it makes more sense to hand them a chunk of a larger puzzle, so they can make a meaningful contribution over a shorter timeframe.

But that's undergrads, and I'm referring to the postdoctoral experience. Postdocs can fall into a similar category, depending on the nature of the project, funding, and the project timeline. If I had been successful in acquiring my own funding, presumably I would be working on a project over which I felt and had more ownership, and would feel more power to steer the ship myself. However, in accepting the postdoc position I accepted, I voluntarily gave up some of that power. But I did so knowingly, because I saw the position as an opportunity to gain a number of useful skills that I could apply to other contexts in the future. And I've definitely gained those useful skills.

The challenge is, that doesn't make the power struggle go away, and it's a double-edged sword. On the one hand, my co-authors are awesomely enthusiastic and excited about my experiments and the papers I'm working on. On the other hand, at times I have followed suggestions and pressures down blind alleys due to this power differential, when a part of me was quietly raising doubts about the navigational decisions early on. This leads to regrets.

The difficulty of the situation tends to manifest most strongly when staring at a half-written manuscript. I find myself rehashing out the whole series of decisions that led to the present state of the manuscript (the data analysis), and start experiencing doubts over the direction of the manuscript and what to do next (massive "Now where was I and how did I get here?" reiterations). By this point, I know that I have to think myself out of this particular box at this particular point, and find myself wishing I were willing to be just a bit more obstinate about things in the early stages. Then again, I've always liked to collect lots of data, and in a lot of cases more data makes things harder, not easier.

Despite all of this emotional baggage, I must still forge on, and persevere. As my graduate advisor would say, there's no such thing as a perfect experiment. That said, there are insights to be gained from all experiments, but we must get back to work to find them.

And on that note, perhaps now I can get back to work on this pesky manuscript.


*I don't know the student's gender, and this pronoun seems more straightforward than "she/he."
rebeccmeister: (bikegirl)
Some reasonably useful things have popped up today.

Time to review adjunct employment policies - from the Chronicle of Higher Ed

Should you settle on the red pill, here's how to get into graduate school. (I say, run away! run away! to most people, or, consider a master's degree).

And if that's successful, your job isn't done. Assess the lab culture in your prospective lab.

And, don't rush the good work.

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