Visceral Reaction

**This post is not filled with eloquent writing, well argued points, subtleties etc.**

I have a very visceral reaction to this photograph, (no, not the who is Dr. Isis part, obviously).

I know this is supposed to be a joke. I can’t find it funny. People, is this what you want your colleagues (yes, predominantly men)  to imagine when you are giving a seminar… or when you are speaking up in faculty meeting?

‘Cause trust me, academia is no less like a locker room sometimes than, well, the locker room….

Perhaps you can joke about it. Perhaps you are not regularly a minority in a room …. straining every thing in you to be taken for your great ideas.  This just isn’t something I can joke about.

And yes, I’m totally prepared to be called a humorless stick-in-the-mud- but I DON’T CARE.

Please… go vote in this poll…

Drugmonkey has been posting regularly about animal rights activism going on at UCL (I’ll post the links to his posts when I’m not juggling two kids). Today, the LA Times ran an article and a poll … Poll title and choices are:

Can medical research on animals be conducted humanely?

Yes — and I support it if the animals are treated well
No — it’s inhumane by definition and I don’t support it
Not sure

Don’t vote here- go over there and vote!!

An Open Letter to ASM

Dear American Society for Microbiology:

I am definitely a devotee. I’m a long time member of your society, I attend your meetings, and I’m  a regular reader and contributor to your many excellent journals.

But here is the thing. Lately, my affection for you and your journals has been dimmed by my rising esteem for journals like PLOS Pathogens, and BMC Microbiology. Why?  Because in addition to good content, these fine publications have RSS feeds that are easy to identify and set up in my google reader, so once a week I can scan the content of all of the journals with feeds all at once. RSS feeds are handy, they don’t crowd up my email account, which, FYI, is just overwhelmed every single day of the week, causing me to spend endless hours sorting/deleting/and replying.

Oh, yes I know I can get your content freely available online, and I know I can set up a periodic dump of your new content into my email account (but do you really want your awesome content to get buried in my 200 other emails?).  But I can’t find RSS feeds for your great journals like Infection & Immunity…. Journal of Bacteriology…. and ….. even…. Microbe…. and if you don’t do RSS feeds… I must ask  …WHY the heck not?

So please ASM, hear my plea… add RSS feeds for your journals, and I promise I’ll visit every new issue!




I had grand plans for Friday. Since I’ve been a bit busy with a grant that we submitted on Thursday- I thought on Friday I would go into my office, take care of one appointment, then have lunch w/DrMrA and take my stuff and work at home for a couple of hours on some slides I need for a talk next week. … then pick up the littleA at school and we could do something fun together.

Isn’t there a saying about the best laid plans?

There was a torrential downpour. I got soaked (and I mean SOAKED) in the few steps from my building to my car. I pulled out onto the main road and stopped at the red light. One minute I was on my way out to lunch- the next minute there was a huge loud crashing noise and the car was moving. First, I thought the car had been struck by lightening. Then I realized that the car in front of me had a dented bumper- and I spent about 3 seconds (although it felt more like 5 minutes) feeling horrified that I hit the car in front of me. Then, I turned around, looked over my shoulder and realized that the back of my car was completely crushed in.  I don’t want to describe the aftermath… it was obviously not what I had planned for the day.



I’m insanely sore, but otherwise ok. No kids were in the car, thank goodness.

AUP: blanket, or one per grant?

I follow the rules, most of the time. When they seem silly to me… I argue them… which usually fails.

A question for you all:  Does your institution require one AUP per grant, or do you do blanket AUPs that cover the species and procedures in more than one grant?

**To define what I mean by “blanket”- a single AUP covering several procedures in detail, that covers the work in two grants (just for example).

What is our “duty” to those not on the TT track?

Drugmonkey reposted an older post about the ‘hierarchical nature of the modern academic bioscience labororatory’, and this repost has generated quite a long comment thread which I have been following loosely. Part of the discussion has revolved around mentorship of trainees- including trainees who choose not to pursue an academic career.

Comrade Physioprof commented  …

I would be committing malpractice if I were to attempt to advise my trainees about how to succeed in industry, SLACs, high school teaching, or anyfuckingthing other than the tenure track.

Yikes. While on some level I get where this comment is coming from, I think it’s a cop out on an important responsibility that we have as mentors- a role, which I might add is not rewarded AT ALL by the traditional methods of reward in academic bioscience ($$, papers). While I’m reluctant to get in a blog fight with  C PP (whom I otherwise adore, just so you know), but things have been a little dull lately so  I’m going to face the fear and do it anyway.

Why is this a cop out?  Well, first- we admit and train vastly larger numbers of Ph.D. students than there will be tenure track positions to fill. Let’s save ourselves now and not feign ignorance on this please. I do think that once we admit someone, we have a responsibility to the student beyond just sayin’ ‘I’ll help you if you choose/or are intellectually capable of the TT track, otherwise leave your lab coat on the chair on your way out after your 6th year…’, just as the student has a responsibility to learn and work to the best of their ability for their mentor and for their own advancement on whatever track they choose. Getting a Ph.D. isn’t like going to the police academy… an example mentioned by some of the commenters… where you spend maybe 2-3 months of your life. We are admitting people to a 5+ year program, we will spend huge $$ on their training in exchange for a big chunk of their effort and life. To me, admitting 10x more students than we know that there are TT positions for with the idea that we are only going to mentor the single one that will choose this track, essentially throwing 99% of them to the wind, is ethically wrong.

Why does this attitude bug me so much? Because it’s not just about telling them about alternative career options, it’s deeper than that. I’ve encountered PIs in my career who felt that they couldn’t mentor trainees who weren’t interested in the tenure track- those trainees became viewed/treated as labor for hire. I guess my feeling is, that if one of my Ph.D. students tells me that they want to be a teacher, that doesn’t give me permission to abdicate my responsibility to teach that person how to do experimental biology. It doesn’t give me permission to just give them a list of experiments that need doing so I can analyze their data. And it doesn’t give the student a pass to stop tryin’ to learn what there is to be learned in a Ph.D. program either.

It gives me an extra opportunity though- to try and supply additional training experiences for that student when its possible- maybe monitoring PBL sessions or teaching a lab for undergraduates or medical student’s once in a while. Hopefully this allows  that student to leave with a leg up on the teaching position that they want when they finish their degree, in addition to having learned to be an experimentalist and having made a contribution to the field.

As for mentoring people interested in other careers where they might use their biology expertise, say law or industry. Let’s face it, how difficult is this really?  I surely can’t recite the required prerequisites for law school to a trainee, they are going to have to figure that out on their own. But I can put them in contact with people that I’ve met throughout my career that DO know about this as a career path that might be able to give them a leg up. And man, don’t tell me that you don’t know any such types- if your Ph.D. class was anything like mine, you are the only one of the class in academia- the other 9 are either in law, teaching, or industry- and only an email away.

Fiinally, to come around to the ‘we’re training more than we can put in TT positions’ again- I have a colleague who only rarely takes Ph.D. students, and primarily hires post-docs. This mentor makes sure that all the postdocs that work in his/her laboratory- get teaching experience during their time in the laboratory. Why? Because this mentor has problems training too many people for too few positions, and then having put them out there with no skills to fall back on if their TT ambitions should not come to pass…

Just a thought.

P.S. Isis also has a post up about DM’s post and C PP’s comment that I didn’t see until after I wrote this post. You can find it here!

Comment on the Comment (Realism vs. Negativity)

I started out the week writing about my crazy family schedule– and then blabbered on about the importance of showing folks interested in this career what it really looks like.. day in, day out … from the inside. Many of you have posted comments on my two previous posts- and I’m just delighted by this. But gosh- it always comes back to Whimple’s comments.  His comment on the thread on my last post touched on lots of things –  what effect such crazy schedules might have on kids, on marriage, on my ability to be fair or family friendly later on in my career … should I be promoted… sit on study section etc. etc. ..

So, I started out writing a reply to Whimple- and to others of you who commented on the last post- and it just became too long… so I made it a post instead. Here goes:

Whimple-  I adore you too- but believe me, I’ve seen it all.

First, our schedule wasn’t always so crazy.  We seem to go in cycles of crazy and sane schedule wise. When I did my Ph.D., I did not have children until the very end. I worked very 8-5 , and rarely (unless to take care of cell culture) on the weekends- same after my older daughter was born for about 2 years time. In my fourth year of vet school- there were periods of craziness depending on what clinical rotation I was on.  This was unavoidable, because horses just don’t foal 9-5, and that little dog with the flail chest might crash, and it won’t be on your schedule. When I was a postdoc and my husband was a pre-tenure TT faculty,  and our children were small, our work/family schedule was easier- mostly because I bore most of the child care responsibility, and I wasn’t particularly invested in my job at the time.

Second, I’m not going to lie to you- our schedule has been nuts in the last 2 years- with cycles of continuous grant writing- while hours spent grant writing may feel productive (we write lots of pages)-unless the grant gets funded, they are not.  But these hours take away from actual productive work – running the lab, mentoring and paper writing (the only work that counts by NIH standards, I’m depressed to say). No papers… no grants … vicious cycle. I hope we are going to break that cycle now. And- needless to say- no grant equals NO JOB. I have lots of skills and am not afraid of doing something else- but I have chosen to give this career a try and give it my best effort. … and my kids are now old enough to keep telling me they don’t want to move away from this town and their friends, and they say that I better get my grant.

Third, my children are no longer day-care age (as they were at earlier points in my career). They are school age, and with school age come after school sports/ events/ and extracurricular activities- and also school events that occur during the middle of the day as well. Now we are not just juggling two adult schedules, we are also juggling schedules of two sets of kids events and activities. Instead of 2x schedules to manage, we’ve got 4x. It’s actually exponentially more difficult. (Kind of like 2 kids is more than twice the work of one.)

Fourth- then there is marriage. DrMrA is, as I’ve stated before on this blog, the bedrock of my existence. We have been together almost two decades. I’m not going to lie to you about that one either- we have so much joy- but we can also be as pissed off at each other as the next couple. There will ALWAYS be competing influences that challenge our relationship – whether they are job issues, whether they are kid issues, whether they are aging parent issues or whatever (and I can tell you we have them all!)… but in my heart I know that we have a marriage that we are both committed to- and if adjustments need to be made, they will be. And, I suppose I failed to mention that we frequently see each other during the work day- as our offices are close.  This is something we have been fortunate to be able to do for most of our relationship.

And finally- how will I behave when and if I’m so fortunate to get tenure, be promoted, and sit on P&T or study section?  I suppose only time will tell. But- I will say this. All of my grad students and my post-doc have kids (in fact, most of them have TWO kids). Two babies have been born to lab members in the last three years- and there may yet be another. One of my lab members bears the majority of the child and household responsibility because the spouse travels continuously for job responsibilities. These lab members are pretty 8-5, but when something critical needs to get done- they find a way. Personally, I think this is an excellent thing- a life skill really- that I hope I’ve been able to teach them by example. Since I’ve been here we’ve recruited 4 faculty members, the majority were women, the majority were people with children … most had >1 child. So, I think I should be judged not by what I might do at some hypothetical point in the future, not by what I might think- but by what I have actually done to change the face of science (or just my institution), or the family friendliness of science by my own actions. When it comes to P&T and study section- I might actually have to be on the inside to be able to change things for the better- I’m doing my best to make this happen.

Crappy timing.


My 24 inch screen just DIED. And 5 days before the grant deadline. MUST.HAVE.BIG.SCREEN.

Maybe if I put on my glasses I’ll be able to read this tiny one…

Now I’m backing up my hard drive because I’m suitably paranoid.

Realism vs. Negativity

There were some interesting comments on my last post- which detailed some of the crazy scheduling that goes on in our household of two kids, two academic careers. Some of these comments surprised me and kind of tied in to a couple of comments rattling around in my head from a faculty friend.

I attend a small regular gathering of faculty- a mixture of junior faculty and more senior and tenured faculty. Some of the members of this group are of the opinion that more senior people shouldn’t be negative in front of more junior people. While I agree that negativity for the sake of negativity is a bad idea- I disagree that those more senior should leave out what are >1/2 of the important details of their careers- so as only to present positive images. In fact, I STRENUOUSLY disagree.

Why? Because usually when people at these gatherings are negative about something (complaining, frustrated etc)- it’s usually because they are encountering some professional, administrative etc. or personal difficulty.  When that frustrated person details their issue for the group- it means we all can offer solutions, maybe one of us that is better with ‘the system’ already has experience with a particular issue (how to do compliance paperwork, or get compliance folks to respond to requests etc- just for example) , and for those of us who don’t- well, we can learn from those in the group that do. What I’m tryin’ to say here is that rosy faculty lunches, while fun academic faculty bonding experiences, lose a lot of their usefulness if you censor people to the positive.

Now- I know you all are saying to yourselves- how the heck did we get there- from the comments on the last post??? Well, I didn’t want to leave you with the impression from my last post that this double-academic-career-schtick is all bad. Maybe I unintentionally gave that impression to Bikemonkey….who said…

As a counterpoint, it IS possible to choose variations on a theme. In fact this ability to choose is a big plus in the crazy dual science career thing. It is possible to intentionally do less than the max- just so long as you are prepared for the potential consequences.

Just sayin’, for the dismayed readers..

Quite right Bikemonkey- I didn’t want to give the impression from my last post that my life is hell. It is not. Far from it. The scheduling task is immense. But no more immense than any other couple with two kids and two demanding careers (quite right, Mad Hatter)- let’s say physicians or attorneys. But the flexibility to come and go as I please most of the time is a bonus of this career that is rare in other, more traditional demanding careers. If I want to take time off in the middle of the day to go have lunch with my girls at their schools, I do it. I have never missed an event at their schools (well, that’s a lie- I missed K graduation for my older daughter… but I was out of town, and that’s the ONLY school event I have missed in 5 years and I still feel so freaking guilty about it that I had to bring it up here).  In fact, I once missed faculty meeting (GASP!) because I was at an event at my kid’s school.

or Whimple (whom I love to hate, hate to love, whatever)… who said…

Not that you asked or anything, but I don’t think it’s fantastic. By my family’s standards your schedule is dysfunctional. We couldn’t / wouldn’t live taking turns alternating between who “gets to” work from 8:30 am until late in the evening, arriving home after the kids are already asleep for the night.

Whimple- dude, see previous paragraph. In fact looking around at my faculty friends, esp. those in other places with 45 minute + commutes-  we have one of the more ‘functional’ existences going. More functional in fact than some of my stay-at-home mom parents who feed their kids meals in the car on the way to soccer practice, 3 sets of music lessons, and dance class 5 nights a week. We actually sit down at the table for dinner (the three of us that are present), or (gasp again) play with neighborhood kids in the evenings after the homework is done.

But- I digress. I wrote the last post to give you a shot of realism about what this two TT academic career, two kids thing REALLY entails, because I believe that any of you choosing to go this route might want to do so with your eyes open (this one is for you neurolover). You might want to know that there are other people who do it and who survive and thrive doing it. You might want to know when someone else fails at it and what the frustrations are. You might want to know that there is a lot of stuff you could sweat- but not very much of it is worth sweating (like leaving faculty meeting or seminar early for your kids school). You might want to know real details … like how we schedule out our grant deadlines so they don’t overlap. You might want to know you are not the only one handling this …

I know I wanted to know- but no one that I knew when I was in school had two kids and two tenure track careers … in fact I know very few people in my current position that do. N=1.

On Juggling

I’ve been meaning to write a post about the tight scheduling required to run my household, family, and career- and this morning I was looking over the posts in my reader and noticed something from Isis on some of the changes causing disarray in her universe. You want to know what being inside my life is really like on a daily basis- raising two active daughters, with an academic career myself and having a spouse with an academic career? Here is your big chance.

I’m up at 6:15- and some mornings I roll directly out of bed into my gym clothes. I wake up the kids, scarf down a banana, and I am out the door by 6:45 to go to the gym.  During my hour of cardio I’m reading something- like perhaps that prelim, or a manuscript draft that I’ve been working on.  I make it to work by 8:30 or so for a day of endless interruptions. DrMrA wrangles the kids- breakfast, lunches, backpacks…. and making sure everyone is appropriately dressed (not so easy with my girls who seem to want to wear shorts and t-shirts even when it is 40 degrees outside)- and getting one to the bus stop on time at 7:25, and the other to school at 7:30- then he heads off to work. Things work this way 3/5 mornings per week.  On the other mornings- I stay home to see everyone off and DrMrA takes off early.

Now- the kids are in school until mid-afternoon, and we have a sitter that picks up the LittleA, takes her home, sits with her to do homework and piano practice.  Things weren’t always like this- we previously had both kids in an after-school program at their school, where they could stay until 6 pm.  While this was economical- it wasn’t perfect. When the kids were at this program, they would come home exhausted, and we would always have some sports practice of some sort- soccer, or music lessons to attend. So- on those nights (which was 4 nights out of the weekday last year), I would leave my office at 4:30- pick up kids at school, we would go directly to practice for the one child- I would take the other child and we would arrange some dinner- (a car picnic as my kids like to call them), before picking up the now totally beat kid (after 1.5 hr on the soccer field), then we would either head home or off to the practice/lesson for the other child. On such nights- which were really more the rule than the exception- we wouldn’t get home until 7:30 or so- and the kids and I were basket cases.  I have a rule that each child can do no more than 2 extra-curricular activities- but you can still see that if one of these activities is a sport that the schedule is totally insane. But I digress- The arrangement with the sitter makes life easier- this is because she also has a car, and she can take the children to their various practices during the 3 pm-6 pm hours, at least one way.

DrMrA and I negotiate who is going to be home ‘early’.  By ‘early’ I mean 6 pm, when one of us arrives to let the sitter go and start dinner.  In the last 6-9 months, I have worked late nearly every week night. Why?  I simply have a hard time getting all the writing of papers, grants, and revising of text done during the day. There is always some fire that needs to be put out, some faculty meeting to attend, some teaching to be done, some job candidate (this can steal like 3-4 hours from your week per candidate) or seminar speaker ( at least a 2 hour deal to attend the seminar and talk with the speaker one on one) coming though, not to mention the day to day running of the lab and talking with my own students etc., that has to happen during regular business hours. This schedule was exhausting for me, and it lasted for some time such that DrMrA’s days at work were very short- which I know was frustrating for him. The pendulum has now swung the other direction such that DrMrA is having many more late evenings because he has a few upcoming deadlines. But, I hope you can appreciate that things are almost NEVER shared 50/50- it’s been more like 90/10 one direction, and now 80/20 in the other direction. This is just something we have accepted, and although it sometimes causes tension, we have learned to live with it.  Also note that although our offices are quite close together- we could not carpool and be able to have such a schedule.

From the time we hit the door in the evening we have about 2 hours with the children. This time includes making sure homework got done, playing out doors if possible, reading together,  running any errands that just can’t wait, getting ready for the next day, bathing and bedtime. And the children need to talk to us- it is no longer like when they were babies and we could finish the diaper change and multi-task while they were playing/eating/ etc. Now they are older and they need 100% of our attention, they need guidance- and this isn’t something that can be multi-tasked. Anyway, while I make the two hour evening hours sound pretty easy- the children- who remember have been at it essentially since 6:30 am, are tired and not as agreeable as they might be if their days weren’t so darn long.  The kids go to bed between 8 pm and 8:30 pm- and when I’m home with them this usually means that I have about an hour or two where I can work (or blog!) uninterrupted until DrMrA gets home.  If he comes home earlier we can actually have some semblance of grown up time, if not I am usually awake enough to have a 15 minute conversation before I pass out with exhaustion. Only to do it all again the next day.

I haven’t even mentioned when or how the house gets cleaned, the lawn gets mowed, groceries magically end up in the house, the bills get paid, the kids get to the dentist/the doctor etc, …nor have I mentioned my aging parents, my sister,  bla bla bla…

Does this schedule work? Yes, it works. Is it always fun?  No, it’s not always fun, and I don’t always know that I’m doing the right thing for myself or for my kids. There are days I’d like to give up my career and work part-time as a veterinarian in some clinic with lovely short hours (9-3), sure there are.

But- I don’t think I’d last very long at it- because the truth is that despite how crazy the schedule sounds- it all ends up working somehow.