Saturday, May 15, 2010

So long, Blogger! (sort of)

The day has finally come... the day that I finally give up on Blogger.

Actually that happened a few weeks ago. After continually encountering issues with Blogger, I decided to move my blog to WordPress. Perhaps this is a cardinal sin of blogging; if so, I hope you'll forgive me and visit me at my new place and update your blogroll. For the time being, I will keep old posts and continue moderating comments here (although I hope to eventually migrate everything). A new post is no up at WordPress!

Updated 8/4/10
In case you land here via who knows where, I'm now blogging at LabSpaces. Drop by for a visit, and you might just find some familiar faces and new favorites!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Power(Point) Corrupts?

This morning was a rare occasion where I skimmed through the New York Times while enjoying my first cup of coffee. One of the first stories I saw was this:

We Have Met the Enemy and He Is PowerPoint

The story is about the near obsessive use of PowerPoint presentations in military briefings. It found it both fascinating and entertaining--there are some really fantastic quips and phrases coined by officers regarding the Powerpoint epidemic. Among others, I found this sentence particularly striking:
Commanders say that behind all the PowerPoint jokes are serious concerns that the program stifles discussion, critical thinking and thoughtful decision-making.
Although the topics we discuss do not carry the same weight, I could not help but think that we should perhaps have the same concerns about the PowerPoint (or, for the elite few who have broken free of the chains of Microsoft, Keynote) treatment of our research. PowerPoint infiltrates every data presentation time from conference talks to group meetings. It certainly has its utility and, when applied effectively, can bring order and clarity to a presentation that perhaps cannot be achieved by other means.
But how often does that happen?
Instead we end up in lecture mode: the presenter saying "As you can see here...", "I'll address that in a few moments", etc; the audience, at best, following the linear order of the presentation, expecting their question to be addressed momentarily or, at worst, switching to nap mode. And some of the atrocious slides make it all the more difficult to really think critically about what's being said.
What do you say? Does PowerPoint ever interfere with the discussion of science?
And whilst we discuss this bane of our profession, I think a poll is in order!

Note: Apologies for the technical difficulties. Thanks to several tweeps for letting me know! Sorting them out as I can. Thanks for your patience :)

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Scientiae Carnival, April Edition: Sustainability

Sorry for the brief delay in getting this up. I'm thrilled to present the April edition of the Scientiae Carnival--stories of and from women in science, technology, engineering, and math. Last month I invited bloggers to consider the following:
The theme for the spring 2010 national meeting of the American Chemical Society is Chemistry for a Sustainable World.There have been a number of reports, op eds, and blog posts about a diverse range of challenges in science. This phrase prompted me to see them as questions of sustainability. Whether discussing an individual career, a lab, funding, the academic research system, publishing, peer-review, or scientific innovation, at the heart of the issue is often the question of whether current practices are sustainable and what changes need to be made to ensure sustainability. This also brings the theme of April's carnival. From an individual to a more global perspective, definitions, successes, diversity, barriers... what makes--or breaks--sustainability in science?
Wikipedia provides a great, simple definition of sustainability as "the capacity to endure". A central connotation for this word in today's society revolves around the impact of humans on the environment. Often it's very subtle things--and simple solutions--that affect the world we live in. Aspiring ecologist Karina points to the problem of deforestation that will continue until alternative fuels are readily accessible for everyone. Amanda considers the footprint left by the research we do every day and how we (and vendors) can reduce the size of that footprint.

There are also many issues concerning the sustainability of our professional
and our personal lives. We can learn lessons in sustainability by looking at the lives of role models, and Pat at the Fairer Science blog highlights some of her role model in computing. JaneB suggests a way to assess variability in our lives and careers and how we can use it to understand what doesand doesn't work and the signs along the way. Many women in STEM have done just as part of the "Message 2 a Younger Me" series at Under the Microscope.

Dr. O broaches the subject of
sustaining her personal energy levels given the many demands placed on her. She reminds us that balance isn't about splitting each day or week evenly, but instead it is a dynamic thing that often involves temporarily sacrificing time in one area to focus intensely on another. A similar sentiment was expressed by Elizabeth Blackburn in an interview with ScienceNOW late last year. (You can check out highlights and full audio from the interview with the 2009 female Nobel laureates.)

However, Melissa of Confused at a Higher Level finds that this idea of striking balance, even of this give-and-take sort, runs counter to the
"ideal worker" norm that is emphasized in academia and points out that the pressure does not diminish with seniority. Unfortunately, this "norm" is amplified for women in STEM because the burden of proof remains higher for female scientists as compared to their male counterparts. Ms. PhD points readers to Why So Few?, a recent report from the American Association of University Women (there is great, succinct summary of the report by DrDoyenne at the Women in Wetlands blog). Ms. PhD boils down the answer a la Mastercard style. Before you get into the comments at her post, I will offer this advice from Ms. PhD: / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Just as we see disproportionate representation of women at institutions around the world, the same is seen at conferences and forums the world over. Kylie at Podblack Cat has noticed the disparity at recent meetings and considers
what barriers may hinder participation by women and minorities and what audiences can do about it. At Apple Pie and the Universe, Alyssa shares a view from the planning side; she highlights a few interesting, if disturbing, points in working to include women panelists.

In the end, a large part of sustainability--of the environment, careers, diversity--is about evaluating the situation, weighing the options, and figuring out whether or not we're moving toward a sustainable goal. On that note, I leave you with some
words from Kenny Rogers.

Thanks to all of this month's contibutors! I hope that you find some posts (and maybe some new blogs) that get you thinking about sustainability in your life. If you run across any pertinent posts not linked here, feel free to leave them in the comments section. And keep an eye out for next month's theme at
Scientiae Carnival.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Knowing when

Sustaining a career in science--whether at or away from the bench--takes a lot, in fact much more than you think starting off. You need some smarts, a good work ethic, discipline, commitment...

But there's something else you have to learn along the way. It's not something you can learn from a book, a journal, or a mentor. It's something you can only truly from experience: how to read a situation and decide whether you should stay the course or walk away. Sometimes it's an experiment or a project. Sometimes it's a career path or a step along it. Most scientists I know are stubborn--I am one of the worst. We simply don't like the idea of "giving up" or "failing".  This can be a useful trait, yet there are times when leaving the table is the best decision we can make. If we want to stay in the game for the long haul, we better learn how to play. I leave you with the immortal words of Kenny Rogers... backed up by some Muppets.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Reminder: Last day for April Scientiae Carnival submissions

To all you science bloggers out there, today is the deadline for submitting your posts for the April edition of the Scientiae carnival, which yours truly is hosting! This month's theme is sustaining science and careers. Submit a permalink of your post--it can even be an older post that you think fits--to Thanks to all who have participated so far and to all who have been spreading the word!