Proper business language. NOT.

I feel free writing about this on my blog because it won’t come as news to anyone that I work with. I confess I  have a problem with cursing. I curse. A Lot. Could make a sailor blush.  I think of it as a stress relief technique.  (Some of you probably don’t believe this because I generally have a pretty clean mouth on this blog.)

When I have a huge deadline for a 30 billion page proposal, and I find out 3 minutes before the deadline  that I’m going to have to itemize out the pipet tips and coverslips. I can often be heard saying loudly that I can’t believe they want me to do that…. and F$#*, *@%#, $@*! !!!!! Somehow after I get that off my chest I’m able to pull up my big girl panties and get itemizing. Ok truthfully,  I would probably be saying that even if I found out this information 3 weeks before the deadline- ’cause I just think itemizing out the pipet tips in advance is impossible to do accurately, and is thus a total waste of time.

Anyway- I’ve heard that cursing  isn’t ladylike or proper business behavior. I couldn’t give a $%!t about the ladylike part-  and I’m only mildly disturbed about the business behavior part. Maybe I should be?  I am capable of having a moment of introspection about this. What do you all think- is cursing at work an issue in an academic environment? I never curse AT people,  no name calling, I mostly curse over stuff I have to get done that feels like it is overwhelming my abilities at any given moment.


P.S. … HaHaHa….  totally missed this… ROTFLMAO. LOVE that Dr. Cynicism …


Grad students these days…

One of my newly appointed duties post-tenure, is to serve as an advisor to graduate students (other than those in my own lab) in one of the many programs that I am affiliated with. This is my first sort of ‘real’ year doing this particular teaching/service responsibility, and so far it has been quite an interesting one. Based on my (admittedly anecdotal) observations, I have come to the conclusion that grad students today, in general, are quite a bit different than they were back in the day. A few examples.

First, it I’ve heard that the incoming graduate students are doing poorly on one or another aspect of coursework, because “they don’t know how to study”. I’m not sure what to with this observation. I recognize that one’s ability to study effectively is a learned skill- and that graduate school is a special kind of curriculum where one has to be able to take facts and evidence, and be able to put the pieces together to figure out where to go next- and that that can be a challenge if one has not done it before. But- from what I’ve been hearing the ‘don’t know how to study’ comment refers to not being able to recall facts delivered in class. Maybe I’m a bit of a hard ass- but if the instructor gives you a list of 6 facts you should be able to recall for the exam- it seems pretty obvious to me that you should probably know those 6 facts and the information delivered in class surrounding them. Is this just lazy-assed-ness or what?

Second- students aren’t taking notes in class, and aren’t seeking out faculty input or help on subjects they aren’t totally comfortable with. WHAT??? Students are apparently given the powerpoint presentations of the faculty, and are given access to taped lectures so they can re-watch the lecture (or watch it for the first time if they didn’t attend class) as they see fit. I’m all about different learning styles and whatnot- but I don’t think one gets too much from just passive listening. I’m not sure the communications revolution – making sure everyone can see the taped lecture- has been helpful as far as developing good, disciplined study habits is concerned. Back in the day, we went to lecture, we paid attention in lecture, we took notes, we did the recommended reading, we did problem set after problem set to get a handle on the material and be familiar with what kinds of questions might show on an exam. We went to lecture and we took notes because we knew we had one chance to get the material in class- if you didn’t pay attention it was at your own peril. Am I just hopelessly old fashioned?

Finally- there is the issue of seminar, journal club attendance. Seminars and journal clubs  seem to be taken as an optional obligation by grad students this year. ??? What is up with that? Now I just lost my patience. Kids – get your ass to seminar. Period. You are wasting a chance to be learning some new, cool science. You are wasting the opportunity to learn what makes a superb or really shitty seminar. You are wasting the chance to broaden your horizons.

I almost can’t believe that I’m writing a blog post about this topic. It seems so obvious. You won’t be a successful graduate student if you expect to skate through with people handing you the answers, unmotivated and un-invested in your own education and projects.  Now …..get offa my lawn!

Mama said there’d be days like this…

When I don’t reach my desk until 12:30….

8:30 Breakfast with seminar speaker.

9:30 Deliver seminar speaker to airport.

9:31 On leaving airport get call from husband, relating that BigA’s got a migraine and needs to be picked up from school.

9:45 Arrive at school, discover kid has been sent back to class, wait for kid to come to office…

9:55… still waiting

10:05… still waiting

10:15 School office staff is finally able to get BigA to office from band class- a 3 minute trip.

10:30 Drop BigA off at home…

10:33 Leave house.

10:34 Hear emergency warning on the radio that the county is under a hurricane warning and worry that I just left kid at home, spend next 10 minutes tracking down which neighbors are at home that BigA can go to in case of scary weather.

10:44 Discuss lunch plan with husband by phone- its a special day for him so lunch plan will go forward… hmmm. what to do in the interim…

10:45 Discover I’m nearly out of gas

10:45-11:05 Get gas, call municipal court to see how we are going to get jury duty rescheduled to occur when I’m not in Chile, drop of summons at the court…

11:05…… Arrive at lunch location for special lunch with spouse. Try to be relaxed while feeling like there is no time to be relaxed.

12:20 Arrive at desk….. feel like the whole day is gone… because

There is no soccer practice today and the sitter has class at 5:30- so I’ll need to pick up LittleA at piano lessons at 5 pm, and pick up a few groceries to do special day cake baking… tonight….

Tomorrow:  Wash, rinse, and repeat… except with the added twist of faculty meeting, dean’s holiday lunch, and meeting with seminar speaker #2- and hear seminar… Pray that I spend less time in my car tomorrow than I did today…

(NOT to be taken as complaining because my life is good, good, good- if not busy, busy, busy)…

So you’ve got tenure…that changes things.

Anyone who has taken a casual glance at my posts, can see that I have written quite a lot about the academic job search, and all kinds of fun things that happen leading up to tenure time. I wrote about these events in real time for the most part- and since I’ve gotten tenure I find myself on the steep part of the learning curve again. I suppose that I thought that once I got tenure, I would keep on keeping on.. doing the basic things that I was doing pre-tenure, and that my job would reach a plateau of  hum drum normal stuff that I knew I was already pretty good at. NOT.

That just didn’t happen, and that even post-tenure, my life, my job and my career continue to be filled with all kinds of interesting surprises, twists and turns, new tasks that keep me out of my comfort zone. First off, seems like the instant that letter signed by the board of regents arrived in my mailbox, there was a line-up outside my office door of various people in various positions of power, requesting that I participate in this or that new service commitment. My service on committees grew exponentially, like overnight.  This is OK with me, but I have to confess that all I really want to do is interact with my lab, look at data,  write papers, and think about where I am taking the direction of our science in the future. I know the committee stuff is necessary- and sometimes it is interesting, but most of the time I wish I could be looking at data. I don’t think that I am going to become the person that re-makes the graduate program from scratch, or the person that re-writes curricula. Maybe that is wrong of me, but I’m saying that these things don’t excite me the way they seem to excite some other faculty.

Secondly- it seems like the instant I was essentially un-fireable, there was a new emphasis on political correctness. I know, I know. Right now you all are saying … .wha…..t? Because you all thought that you had to be maximally politically correct before tenure, after which point you could just let it all hang out… NOT. I’m not sure I paid attention to how politically correct I was being pre-tenure- this was mostly because I didn’t have any energy left to be politically incorrect, or give it any thought even- I was writing nearly 30 grants, trying to get papers out, blogging, and mentoring a bunch of people. I still find it stunning when I see pre-tenure faculty trying to re-make the first year curriculum, that a more senior faculty have usually developed and been tinkering on with lots of debate for years and years… I’m not sure where they find the time for that (maybe while I’m blogging!).

Now, I find that there are some silly barriers that get in the way of projects going forward that have to be solved at levels outside my lab group. My preferred way to get these issues solved has been to be the squeaky wheel. And believe me, I can be the queen of squeaky. Funny thing though, I don’t feel like I’ve been very effective at translating the message up about what we need to happen up the line, or – alternatively- I’m not finding the people who can solve a particular problem so that we can move on. Then sometimes it seems even worse than all this. It seems like my squeaky-ness about a given problem, and my personal commitment  to getting the problem solved work against me, and for the first time I am running up against all of the negative comments that are hurled against aggressive, driven, ambitious women.

‘Can’t you be more pleasant’? (read, you’re so bitchy)

‘You are too direct.’ (read, you don’t make nice)

‘You are so emotionally involved in this topic.’ (This one leaves me speechless)

‘We can’t put you in that role because you won’t play nicely with others’. (Not a team player)

To be clear- I’m making up the exact comments as examples, they only roughly approximate the literal truth- but the thrust of each of them is real. I had read all about this sort of thing when I was more junior, but I never really felt I was being dealt these cards earlier in my career. I naively assumed that because I myself had not heard these things previously in my career- that I wasn’t going to be hearing them in the future either. Wow- was I wrong about that. In my first year or two post-tenure- I’ve heard all kinds of bullshit like this. And honestly, I’m still stunned when I hear it and I’m not sure how to get around it.

And also on the topic of this issue, even though I’m pretty squeaky- I start to see those 1000 small cuts that can disadvantage women in their careers, one of which is unequal allocation of resources- in a more immediate way than ever before. Remember those women faculty at MIT who crawled around on the floors of their labs to show (with actual data) that they were being awarded less space than the male faculty?  This kind of resource inequity can happen in about thirty-thousand different ways- and many of them are not so easy to get at as using a measuring tape. There is inequity in certain kinds of specialized  space, there is inequity in $$ awarded internally for various things, there is inequity in getting stuff fixed or making certain things a priority… and the list goes on. …  It is nearly impossible to generate an accounting of such resource inequity- and they can affect a career in very real ways. Every minute I spend fighting for a needed containment device that a man in a similar situation doesn’t have to spend- is time I’m prevented from spending on grants, papers, or mentoring.

My personal hero for the day, the week, and possibly the year: Dr. Paul Greengard

I interrupt my blogging hiatus to bring to your attention something that I totally missed- for like 8 years.

A story in the Huffington Post today by Nell Scovell entitled “The man who loves women who love science”  caught my eye. I started reading thinking- ho hum- gee this will be kinda interesting- Paul Greengard– my first job as a tech in a research lab was for one of his former postdocs, plus he won the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine in 2004- so the name rings a bell…. wonder what this will be about….

When I finished reading, I had tears in my eyes. Actually, I didn’t even get through the second paragraph:

“I’ve seen many terrible examples of prejudice against women,” Dr. Greengard said on the phone recently. “It’s built-in and people don’t even realize it. When I first announced the prize, there was an article saying I was giving money to help women in the sciences. I got 500 emails from women, each of which would make you cry. It made me realize the enormous amount of discrimination that still occurs. A lot of women are suffering more than we realize.” (This quote is from the HuffPo article)

before I started to cry. Maybe they were tears of relief. Relief at having a very distinguished male scientist openly and publicly acknowledge the difficulties and discrimination that women in general, and women in the sciences face. You see, after winning the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine, Dr. Greengard and his wife established the Pearl Meister Greengard Prize, awarded annually to honor outstanding women in the Biosciences. Dr. Greengard and his wife named this award in honor of Dr. Greengard’s mother, who died in childbirth- and whose career was limited to secretarial work. Dr. Greengard- today you are my hero, not just for recognizing systematic and sometimes subtle discrimination against women, for doing something about it, and for being a role model for us all.

I can’t say anything more appropriate or eloquent than about this subject than Dr. Greengard and the folks who award this prize have already said in their own words- somehow I stumbled upon a set of youtube videos of the 2010 Pearl Meister Greengard awards ceremony. I watched them all, and I urge you to watch them as well: 2010 Pearl Meister Greengard Award Ceremony videos (Part 1 (Sir Paul Nurse does the honors), Part 2, Part 3 (Andrea Mitchell is inspiring), Part 4 (the description of the contributions of  recipients of 2010- Drs. Janet Davidson Rowley and Mary-Claire King), Part 5 (Sir Paul has a conversation with the winners), Part 6 (conversation Pt 2)). Previous recipients of the Pearl Meister Greengard Prize can be found here.

Later today there will probably be a whole new set of videos on youtube- because the the 2011 Pearl Meister Greengard Prize will be awarded to Dr. Brenda Milner, now in her 90s, for her groundbreaking work on human memory which has ” revolutionized the way we understand the human brain.”