Monday, December 22, 2008

I am the problem with the peer review process.

A short time back as I was robotically deleting all the junk mail from my inbox, my finger paused at an interesting looking message. It was addressed to my work account, and the subject was simply "Dr. Grumpy PhD" (you know how much I love when people call me that!), and it came from International Journal of...

Huh. What's this? I opened the email and found that I was being asked to review a manuscript. Me! Asked to review a manuscript! And not by my PI who didn't have time to do his own reviews himself!

I looked at the title; I immediately recognized that I had been asked based on my most recent paper. Flattered (someone must have actually read my paper!), I replied yes! Of course I can have it done by Dec. 25th! And then, like all good scientists who get asked to do this sort of thing routinely, I forgot about it. Until last night.

First thing when I got to work this morning, which was actually after noon due to snow delays and the need to go to the car wash to get rid of the snow packing my undercarriage and then that one last stop to buy the last Christmas present of 2008 (whoohoo, I'm done!)(breathe...) I scrolled through my inbox until I found the email, opened the document, and started reading.

A little later I sat back in my chair and though "Holy shit, what the hell am I doing?" It turns out that this paper is far more genetic then molecular; and my paper was published a year ago and I have since moved on to bigger and better things (I hope), so I had to dust out the cobwebs and get the wheels turning and, you know, think about this stuff again. Agh. The thing is, something about this paper is really bothering me, I feel that something is just not right, but I can't figure out what. If I could just remember what it is I am forgetting... I could ask my PI and some other MDs I know and they would give me the background info I need in a heartbeat; but it is two days before the holiday break and my lab is deserted, I haven't seen my boss in a week, and everyone is trying to finish all their own work so they can go home and have that eggnog.

Sigh. I got myself into this. I can do it. I just have to put my own eggnog back into the fridge for the night. Meantime, anyone with good advice or links to old posts about how to compose a good review... please please please hit the comment button below and clue me in.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

What's in your title?

We had our first holiday party this weekend; the Big One, by which I mean 80 or so extended family members all gathered at a VFW hall, tables piled high with gifts, Santa Claus visiting with a sack of presents for all the kids (18 and under), a plethora of pot luck food items, and lots of chatter, laughter, and fun.

We've had these parties ever since I can remember; as a kid I loved dressing up in my best Christmas dress, running around with all my cousins, and opening the first round of Christmas gifts. Also, since eating was unsupervised, I filled up on junk food and soda, and the best ham and cheese sandwiches that I have never been able to duplicate. And I've never tried to figure out who brought them to ask the secret recipe, either.

Now I am there with my own girls, watching them with a weird sort of deja vu. Of course my cousins and I have all grown and had kids; we talk about families and careers now, and lately a curious thing has been happening: my younger cousins have begun to ask me for advice. I have transitioned out of the "younger" generation.It is a strange transition... to go from that of "child" to that of "wise adult."

The problem is that most of my family don't quite understand what it is that I really do. Today I was asked about the nursing curriculum; I was asked about some of the other (medical) doctors in my department; I was asked for advice about some good educational videos for biochemistry class. And then the worst thing of all happened... someone said "You're a doctor! You can tell me why my... (long painful description about some unpleasant sounding medical issues)".

First of all, it is often the same uncle who asks me for medical advice. He also inevitably jokes "You are the big doctor, you can look after your favorite uncle in his old age." I laugh, haha, funny, and then have one of those Ally McBeal moments where I visualize myself throttling him as he slowly drowns in a downpour of his own pills.

Don't you hate those moments when you have to explain "I am not an M.D."? I feel like Ross, on Friends, who constantly had to defend himself "But I am a real doctor!" I remember once when my graduate advisor told me "A PhD is actually harder to get then an MD". At the time, I thought he was wise. Now, I realize he was probably having an "But I am a real doctor!" moment, too- because I often fight off the urge to explain "A PhD is a higher degree then an MD". If that isn't bad enough... forget about making them understand how little money I actually do make. My poor Prince Charming. Last month he made as much as I make in a year. And yet, my whole family thinks that it is I who support us. Putting aside our feminist ideologies, just imagine for a minute how irritatingly emasculating it is for him. To his credit, he just shrugs his shoulders and goes to get another beer. He knows the truth.

I do relish my teaching, as that is one of the only times when people are appropriately required to call me "Dr." Outside of that, it is fuzzy: I never correct people when they call me "Mrs." I just sigh and write in "Mr. & Dr." as a response to the invitations addressed to Mr & Mrs... and laugh that the only people who get it right are my in laws (I do love them!) and my colleagues. But oh, I wish I could just get over it and correct people when they say "Hi Mrs. Grumpy!" but I'm just not there yet.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Living life is a science, too.

I was reading one of the posts nominated as a best of for 2008, about how some of the most visited science blogs are those that are about more frivolous topics. And you know what? The title of the post, which grabbed my attention, was about science and Britney Spears. So yeah, I'm guilty of being drawn to the frivolous. So I was reading the post, and I only got so far as this:
"...It was one of those throw-away posts, with a silly title, a one-liner, a picture and a link. Something that takes no thought and about two minutes to post. Something almost all of us post sometimes, just to fill the page. For fun. Not a post that requires hours of research and writing."

Then I got depressed and stopped reading. Because all of my posts are like that. Nothing I post about in my current- and previous (here unnamed) blogs- ever requires actual research. I guess I'm just not that smart or interesting.

But wait, I think, why should I be depressed about this? The point of my blog isn't to educate about science; I do enough of that in my 'real' job; the purpose of this blog is to educate about the life of a struggling scientist/ mother/ wife. In that respect, the research I do is 24/7. If I had the time, I'd be smart. I'd be current, I'd be educational. Instead I use that time to... you know, sleep; or feed my children; rescue the dog from the pound (again); fold some laundry; or actually have a conversation with my husband.

So if you are looking for science, this is the wrong blog. If you are looking for life, stay here and witness mine.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

When the words lose their meaning.

I have just finished grading the last paper. Ahhhh! Such a relief! All that is left is to tally their scores and calculate their final grades.

I hate papers. I hate reading the same thing over and over and over and over...

I hate the fact that we've gone through so many drafts, and so many lectures about How to write... and What to include... and yet, so many of them still didn't get it. It makes me wonder... are they listening? And I find my comments getting less and less polite, and my grading getting more and more strict. And then I wonder some more... how consistent am I? Am I being fair? And how much am I factoring in my expectations to the grade? I do have a rubric, but I am finding that this is more of a pain in the ass then a help. It's easier to grade by instinct. Usually, just by reading the abstract, I know what grade I am giving, although that isn't always the truth. I just worry that when I was in a good mood yesterday I graded higher then when I was in a bad mood today.

But you know what? I don't worry enough to go back and check.

I'm just glad that I only had one plagiarizer to deal with. That one is getting an F and meeting the Dean for violating the Academic Integrity Code. Merry Christmas, and thank goodness I'm not teaching the make-up class next semester!

Monday, December 8, 2008

So eloquent and persuasive.

The concluding statement on the lab report I just finished grading, typos and all:

The resulted supported the idea that the levels would increase, due to that's what all the charts and tables showed us.

Hey, he's right. That is what the data "showed us".

However, the silver lining is the fact that I know that this student wrote this report. Not so with another. I am going through my first experience of having to penalize a student for plagiarism. By "I" I mean that the Man In Charge is taking care of the problem, but I discovered it and it is my student.

The Big Showdown is tomorrow morning, but so far the only response we've gotten from this student is "I apologize for the misunderstanding!" What misunderstanding??? When your paper is almost 70% identical to one from last year... yeah, that's plagiarism.

What would possess a person to plagiarize when they know they are submitting their paper to an online plagiarism scanning service? You know, aside from the fact that it is cheating and it is wrong?

Jeez. It is so stupid, too, because we've spent half the semester building up to this, which means all those drafts? Not theirs. All my comments and critiques? Completely ignored. As much as they should be in trouble for cheating, they should also be in trouble for wasting my time. And now, it will be on their permanent record. An F for the class and probation.

And to make matters worse, for some reason I have West Side Story music stuck in my head now:

We ain't no delinquents,
We're misunderstood.

Deep down inside us there is good!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Desperation can have its rewards.

For all my loyal readers out there who are concerned after my last post (for all zero of you, besides me, who have read this deep and witty blog)...

It turns out that desperate sex is the best sex we've ever had, and really really good sex goes a long way to bringing two people close again. So we are on Day 2 of Dr. Isis's Seven Days, and I have to give her major kudos, because it was just what we needed. She is a goddess.

And yes, I am still employed. However, I really really need to wind up this post doc and move on to a Real Job.

What I do not need, however, is a new XBox 360 Live. But that is just what Prince Charming went out and bought this morning. It is OK, though, because this is not where he plays his all consuming video game. It is only for streaming Netflix and movies, all in an effort to lose our dependency on the cable company and DVR. And that would be a good thing. As long as he excited about all these "home improvement" projects he is here with the family and not locked away with his video game. And this is just what I needed. So today, today I am Happy.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

When everything becomes clear.

I've been reading a lot of other people describe the stress and strain that science causes on their personal relationships, and to them I say "Amen, sisters".

Prince Charming has been complaining lately at our lack of intimacy- emotional and physical. Believe me, I agree. However, acknowledging the problem is a far cry from fixing it.

He is busy at work, I am busy at work. The difference is, he works hard at his job, while I work a little bit here and a little bit their and then come home to put on my "mommy" hat- there are so many things that pull me in all these different directions that not only does Prince Charming fall to the wayside, but he also neglects to appreciate the magnitude of the sum of the work I do. I think we are complaining about the same things, but it is one of those Venus-Mars moments; he gets bitter and defensive, I get frustrated and angry.

And then in the midst of it all, he poses a supposedly hypothetical question: "What if I came home one day and said 'That's it, I'm done'.?"

I have had those moments myself. I joke- but am I joking?- when I complain that he has been having an affair for the past few years and his mistress was his computer video game. He was so far from our lives- me and our girls- for so long, sitting up in his home office, that I got used to his absence. Truly, it is not healthy for a 40-ish year old man to be so obsessed with a video game, but then again, that is how he is: he gets obsessed with something and can't tear himself away. I remember when that something was me. But I always thought that as long as the problem was that I wanted more time with him, not less, then it was a problem worth fixing. And that was my response. And then, without thinking about it, I said I'd quit my job, give it all up and focus on him, on us, on the family. Because truly, that is the most important thing.

And that surprised me. But I realized in that instant that yes, I would quit. I would give it all up for my family. A few years from now I'd have to pick up the pieces of my broken career, and it would probably not be in research, but I could do it if I had to. A PhD from Ivy League University has to be worth something, even away from the bench. Better a broken career then a broken family. It isn't because I am not passionate about science... it is because I am more passionate about my family.

That is what we need. Passion. Overt, obvious, take your breath away passion. Deep down under the stress and exhaustion and loneliness, it is still there. It it time to rekindle the sparks, before they go out forever.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Job Security?

I had an interesting conversation tonight while I was sitting at a wake with Prince Charming. A good friend of mine was there, and we were talking about recent lay-offs at her company. There have been several rounds of layoffs, in fact, and each time they come as a complete surprise. A person goes into work in the morning, and an hour later is escorted out the door with a hearty handshake, a look of shock plastered across their face, carrying their small box of possessions.

The most recent person that was laid off yesterday had been with the company for 25 years.

She said it was getting scary, because you never knew when it was going to happen, and since it has happened again and again and again, who knows if they are done?

Prince Charming was talking about layoffs at his own company. He is what might be considered "middle management", and he didn't know the layoffs were coming, either. Fortunately, one of the best sellers in his group had just quit (to go work with a competitor), but the silver lining was that it negated the need to let go of anyone else.

Somehow, in my head, I twisted this into not a bad thing, but a good one...

It must be a little bit liberating to know that, one day, you can just wake up and decide to leave it all behind you, and just pack up your little box of photos and staples and post it notes and walk out the door. The end.

On one hand, working in a field where you depend on grants can be frustrating... but at least you know months and years in advance how long you will have funding. There are no surprises. On the other hand, that level of commitment can seem like chains that are tying you down and holding you back.

As a researcher I've invested so much time and energy into this, that I can't leave until I have that one last paper. When will it be ready? Soon... soon... the ever elusive "Soon."

Me? I'm ready for "Happily Ever After."

Thursday, December 4, 2008

A misconception, clarified.

A letter to the student who commented, in my evaluations:

"Sometimes, she really didn't seem to know what she was talking about."

Dear student:

There is a misconception in that statement. It was you who didn't know what I was talking about.

Next time, study.

Dr. Grumpy, PhD

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Would I be a total bitch (and get bad evaluations) if I give them a belated lesson on email etiquette?

Dear student:
I am not a facebook friend. I am not a text message-er. I am not your buddy. I am your college professor. As such, I expect a certain level of respect. I would also appreciate it if you would spell check, grammar check, and ask a question I can answer, not just make a statement.

Dr. Grumpy

Below are some of my favorite examples of my least favorite- by which I mean most irritating- email faux-pas:
• Any email that begins with the salutation: "Hey." Even no salutation would be better.
• Emails asking "is the assignment we handed in monday getting graded?" Every assignment has been graded. Maybe what you should have asked is "Is it too late to hand in the assignment?" -or- "Can I try that one again? With a little more effort on my part this time?"
• Emails telling me "The formula in my excel file isn't working." What, am I a mind reader? My equally cryptic response: "If you do it correctly, it works. So obviously, you screwed up."
• Emails with files attached, and nothing else written. Especially after I've informed them- repeatedly- that I am not accepting digital files, only hard copies. By which I mean- print them on paper.
• Emails asking me "Did you say xyz?" Especially when that email comes as a direct response to my email in which I, in fact, did say "xyz." And my email is quoted in theirs.

Ahh. Now I've started. I could go on and on... but I won't. I have to go check my email.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Why I am Grumpy

Today I am Grumpy.
Why, you ask?

Because I realized that I am 36 years old, I've got 21 years of education, 5 years in a post doc, 5 years of "other" life experience, two kids, a husband, and a house.

And I still don't know what I want to be when I grow up.