Friday, July 29, 2011


I listened to a story from NPR today on what the word compromise actually means and it included this great quote from On Compromise and Rotten Compromises by Israeli philosopher Avishai Margalit: 
But even so, the choices we make say something about our character. In fact, Margalit suggests that we really should be judged by our compromises more than by our ideals. As he puts it: "Ideals may tell us something important about what we would like to be. But compromises tell us who we are."
This really resonated with me. It has been bouncing around in my head since I heard it. So often a person is praised for being uncompromising, and there are times and places where that is called for, but I think compromising is praise-worthy too. 

I tend to see compromise as a weakness, as giving in, but compromise is what gets things done politically, in a marriage, amongst friends, in the workplace. I want to celebrate it more and not see it as such a negative. Life is not black and white, we live in the gray, and we all need to bend a little bit for each other. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

No I will not make my own almond butter

I was at Trader Joe's which recently opened a store about five blocks from where I live. I HEART trader joe's and now there is one super close which is super awesome. Anyway, we desperately needed groceries. We were down to eating pasta with canned tomato sauce and feeding the baby only milk because we had no proper solids about. So after a long day at work and then coming home to play with the family, feeding baby, making dinner, and doing the dishes I headed out to TJ's at around 9 pm. The hubbie was home watching the baby monitor doing laundry and law school stuff.

I am comparing the sodium levels of almond butters versus peanut butters because I want to make some sort of almond butter ball thingies for the mini-me to feed herself. She has no teeth but really really wants to feed herself and I am constantly looking for more mushy but not too mushy things I can give her.

While I am doing this some a random guy in his late 40s comes up to me and says "you know it is really easy to make your own almond butter?". My response is along the lines of I have no time. He then proceeds to tell me again in more detail about how easy it is and doesn't take that long to make. This whole time I am not making eye contact, trying to read labels, and give the signal of GO AWAY. Again I tell him I don't have time to be making my own fucking almond butter (I didn't swear but in hindsight perhaps I should have).
Seriously, it is almost 10 pm on a Monday night and I am grocery shopping. Obviously I don't have time to be making my own god damn almond butter. Yes, I realize it would be cheaper and *maybe* healthier but what the fuck dude? I don't want to discuss recipes right now. Again I tell him that I have a baby, work, and have no time. Which prompts him to share with me how now he makes his own pancakes for his kids who are 11, 8 , and 5 (side note : when did 3 kids become the norm?) with wheat germ, and almond flour, and some other shit. At this point I am actually walking away while he follows me and continues to talk to me.

I realize I live in a small town and usually I enjoy random conversations with people as part of the charm of living in a small friendly town. But there is a time and place people. When I tell you I have no time and the grocery store is almost closing... take the hint, leave me the fuck alone! This was some serious mansplaining shit and I wish I had had the energy to call him on it instead of just politely ignoring him and walking away.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Good Minions

Good undergraduate minions are difficult to find and hard to train. But when you find the right combination of eagerness to learn, native intelligence, and good attitude it is like winning the lottery. They start to run your experiments from start to finish without supervision, they analyze data and plan future experiments before you get to it, they start on their own mini-projects, they present at lab meeting, in short they become grown-up scientists.

It is a joy to watch someone's critical thinking skills coming into being. It feels so beautiful to me, like watching the sunrise over the ocean. I have had the distinct pleasure of having had three excellent minions. I love my minions and when I get a good one I do everything I can to shove every spec of knowledge I have into their brains. I also always make sure to let them know how much I appreciate their hard work.

One of my awesome minions recently graduated and has gone on to a real job making 'real' money (his words not mine). This particular minion worked with/for me while I was on maternity leave. He was a fantastic, amazing, wonderfully efficient and effective lab assistant. He single handedly generated two of the figures for my paper while I was on maternity leave. Do you have any idea how amazing that is? I went and had a baby and came back three months later to lab to find mountains of statistically significant data. STATISTICALLY SIGNIFICANT DATA! I appreciate him to no end and feel very lucky to have had such a talented person working for me.

Today he stopped by to say hello and brought me these flowers as a thank you.
He that he doesn't much like his job as a wilderness fire fighter even though it pays really well. He enjoyed being a volunteer firefighter while he was an undergraduate but he thinks working in the lab has ruined him for other kinds of jobs. He said working with me taught him how enjoyable it is to be able to work independently, to use your mind, and now he wants a job where he has to think not just 'follow orders'. He is considering some kind of graduate school, but isn't sure exactly what he wants to pursue quite yet. He told me that he never thought he was that smart before working with me.

So although I didn't receive my NIH fellowship, I still feel like a winner today.

Fellowship Fail

I did not get the fellowship. Sad times at the PQA home. The main criticism was that I have been in my lab too long (2+ years) and the 'training potential' is not high enough. I got bonus points for switching fields for my post-doc but then penalized for taking so long to submit a fellowship application from my new lab. My frustration is that it took me this long to apply specifically because I switched fields and had to learn a whole new system of critters to work with.


So close, yet so far away.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Atheists are funny

I love Ricky Gervais, I think he is hilarious and the Office is brilliant, and I love that he is an outspoken atheist. It looks like he is working on a new show called "Afterlife" about an atheist who dies and goes to heaven. Sounds interesting doesn't it?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Link, video, stuff - fest

I learned about how indirect sexism has been described as creating a "chilly environment" that can be insidiously hurtful to women.

Yes, I play video games, no you can not see my boobs is a great post that explains why I personally avoided playing video games online back when I had time to play them.

Don't douche, also this new ad campaign for summer's eve is really douchy.

Other women sweat shit-tons like me and discuss creative solutions in the comments section.

This article on raising siblings to be friends, reminded me of how lucky I am to have such a good relationship with my brother as child AND as an adult.

Via ">Boing Boing a really cool, energy efficient way to bring light to poor communities:

I don't know why but I find this video of Maru the Japanese cat super star really entertaining:

Motherhood will make you piss yourself

So the baby (9.5 months) has been sick with a high fever. When she is sick all she wants is to be held by Mom, nothing and nobody but Mom. This results in me holding her for hours on end at night while not getting any sleep. She has been sick for four days when the fever finally broke. Which is a good thing because I was beyond exhausted at this point. We wanted to give her a day before sending her back to daycare just to be sure she was better so off to the grandparents she went. They offered, very kindly, to watch her overnight.

Oh sleep, blessed sleep, all I could think about all day was how well I was going to sleep. And sleep I did! I had that, don't remember my head hitting the pillow, kind of deep deep sleep. Which was awesome.

When I woke up this morning there was something cold and wet in my bed. I jumped out and realized that the cold wet thing was my butt. Apparently I was so exhausted that I did not wake up to pee.

I, a grown, fully potty trained, completely sober, adult wet the bed. In all my years of rowdy drinking and passing out I have never not made it to the bathroom. When I was nine months pregnant and peeing every three seconds I still never had accident. I am pretty sure I didn't have any as a child either.

But now, as a mother, I can apparently get so tired and run-down that I will pass out and not wake up to use the bathroom.

Motherhood, it will make you pee your pants.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Undergraduate entertainment

Lab manager: I put the label maker on your desk, please label these files and put them away

Undergraduate: OK

24 hrs later an email is received...

Dear Lab Manager

I couldn't find the labels today, where did you say they were? I
looked around the desk and the drawers but only found a label maker machine.



Friday, July 15, 2011

Reason #1 not to move: Grandparents

Baby had a low fever last night, nothing too serious, but she can't go to daycare today. What is a working mom to do? Do I not come into work? Does husband not go into work?

Never fear - the Grandparents are here!

Baby has been dropped of at the grandparents where they dote on her ever move and my iphone addicted father sends me text message and pictures regularly. Case in point, today's text messages so far....

8:30 am "She has arrived"

9:00 am "She had advil, one bottle of milk, and we are going for a walk"

9:15 am "She is singing a lot while we walk"

9:17 am "She is doing poo-poo right now!!!!!!!!!"

The updates stopped for a while after that, I am assuming in order to deal with the clean-up of the above situation.

Grandparents are the best.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Did you know I am white?

Yesterday I was asked a question that I get quiet often, it was some version of, "Why don't you apply for minority scholarship/fellowship X it would be such a good opportunity for you?"

To which I said "I am not considered a minority, I am white."

"But you are not white!"

"Thank you, yes, I am aware that I am not white. But the US government considers me white"


"Yes, really."

Always, people are surprised. You see despite the fact that I was born in a middle-eastern country and am visibly brown, and speak a different language fluently, my ethnicity is considered Caucasian. So yes, I look 'other' and often deal with idiotic racial statements, usually because I mistaken for being Mexican or Muslin. However, I am not technically considered a minority, I am white. Yeah I know I look brown and foreign but trust me I am white, in the same class of white as Irish people and English people and the founding fathers. Crazy right?

Why am I classified as Caucasian? How was it decided that Middle-eastern people are white(ish)? I don't think the average American thinks of someone from Iraq/Afghanistan/Iran/Syria etc as being Caucasion. Probably most people think of Middle-easterns as being Muslim, which is a religion not a race people! (I will rant about that at some other time). Seriously though, ethnicity has no genetic basis, so why are Middle-easterns white?

Well according to my old friend wikipedia the 19th/20th century definition of the Caucasian race is based on 

"The study into race and ethnicity in the 18th and 19th centuries developed into what would later be termed scientific racism. During the period of the mid-19th to mid-20th century, race scientists, including most physical antropologists classified the world's populations into three, four, or five races, which, depending on the authority consulted, were further divided into various sub-races. During this period the Caucasian race, named after people of the Caucasus Mountains but extending to all Europeans, figured as one of these races, and was incorporated as a formal category of both scientific research and, in countries including the United States, social classification."
Sweet! So I am white based on the racist definitions of people from the 1800s. 

The current U.S. Census definition includes white "people having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East or North Africa. The cultural boundaries separating white Americans from other racial or ethnic categories are contested and always changing. According to John Tehranian, among those not considered white at some points in American history have been: the IrishGermansJews,ItaliansSpaniardsHispanicsSlavs, and Greeks. Studies have found that while current parameters officially encompassed Arabs as part of the White American racial category, many Arab Americans from other places feel ... that they are not white and are not perceived as white by American society.

So basically I am such a minority that I am not considered a minority? Or I am white until white people don't want to be classified in the same group as me. In a post 9/11 world where being Middle-eastern is much more noticed and known as 'other' might I some day be classified as non-white? Will I then be able to apply for new and different funding sources? It is all so confusing and weird and arbitrary.

At least I can be sure that I will always be female. Maybe I should double check that, hold on....

yup still have a vagina, still female. Good to know.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Being loud

I am a loud person, I ask lots of questions during lab meetings, I ask lots of questions during group meeting. I always make a point of giving feedback on the overall presentation to the presenter that is specific, not just saying "good job". I do these things because I think the best part of science is the dynamic interchange between smart people about cool ideas and problems. I think lab meeting is for brainstorming solutions to problems. Sadly, in most of our lab meetings my PI and I are the only ones that ever say anything.

Also it really really sucks when you spend hours preparing a presentation and then are greeted with total silence and blank stares when you finally give it.

Anyway, I got a really nice email from a graduate student in our lab thanking me for my feedback and ideas and letting me know how helpful he thought my comments were during yesterday's lab meeting.

It made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

Monday, July 11, 2011

One of these things is not like the other one

one of these things is NOT the same...

This is how I felt in grad school. Surrounded by weirdly serious ducks that kept telling me that I should be just like them and that if I wasn't just like them... serious, unhappy, non-smiling, floating on top of the water... I wasn't working hard enough. I found this to be the most ridiculous thing I had ever heard of.

If I was happy and smiling and laughing I wasn't working hard enough? WTF? What kind of sad horrible place did these people live in? You have to work so hard that you are miserable?

Grad school was a strange place, another world almost, for me. I thought that because we all loved water we would get along but it turns out some of us like to be happy swimming turtles and others like to float on top of the water being unnecessarily serious and never looking underneath the surface.

The people at my grad school, the very successful professors and such, they were WRONG! So very very wrong.... amazingly WRONG! You can be totally happy, you can swim on the surface and underneath the water, you can smile and laugh and have fun WHILE working hard. You can be happy and successful --- these things are not mutually exclusive.

So now with the distance space (about 3,000 miles) and time (two years), when I think about my graduate experience I no longer get angry sad. I just feel really really sorry for the people who have come to believe that the only way to do good science is to sacrifice your happiness.

Life is good, don't let the serious ducks convince you otherwise.*

*this moment of cheese brought to you by new awesome data, a smiling baby, and officemates who make you coffee.

Friday, July 8, 2011

I'm stalking you for your F32

Last year I decided that I wanted to apply for the Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award (NRSA) post-doctoral fellowship or F32. This was a daunting task for me. I had never written a grant or practice grant in graduate school. I had an graduate advisor that was the super secretive type that would only give you the page of the grant that pertained to you. I had never interacted with the whole NIH complex before either. 

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Love this! (edited)

Fantastic blog post giving some sound advice for men when approaching women....
Do you think I’m overreacting? One in every six American women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime. I bet you don’t think you know any rapists, but consider the sheer number of rapes that must occur. These rapes are not all committed by Phillip Garrido, Brian David Mitchell, or other members of the Brotherhood of Scary Hair and Homemade Religion. While you may assume that none of the men you know are rapists, I can assure you that at least one is. Consider: if every rapist commits an average of ten rapes (a horrifying number, isn’t it?) then the concentration of rapists in the population is still a little over one in sixty. That means four in my graduating class in high school. One among my coworkers. One in the subway car at rush hour. Eleven who work out at my gym. How do I know that you, the nice guy who wants nothing more than companionship and True Love, are not this rapist?
I don’t.
When you approach me in public, you are Schrödinger’s Rapist. You may or may not be a man who would commit rape. I won’t know for sure unless you start sexually assaulting me. I can’t see inside your head, and I don’t know your intentions. If you expect me to trust you—to accept you at face value as a nice sort of guy—you are not only failing to respect my reasonable caution, you are being cavalier about my personal safety.

Thank you for saying it all better then I ever could.

Coffee Break

I have a shared office with a mini-fridge, microwave, and coffee maker. The making of coffee in our little office happens with great frequency and is very much enjoyed. I appreciate having all these things along with a desk that I can have coffee at.

What I hate, absolutely hate, is the fact that I have to wash my cup and coffee pot out in the bathroom. There is something about washing dishes in a room that smells like poop that just makes it seem less clean. I know there is no logical scientific evidence that dishes washed in a poop smelling room are less clean, but it still grosses me out. Not to mention that I totally lose my desire for coffee by having to hang out in a poop smelling room.

Now a bathroom has a primary function, we are a floor mainly composed of women and the bathroom is in constant use. So I do don't think the ladies need to be doing stuff in a less smelly manner. I just deeply wish that I could wash my cup and coffee pot out in the lab sink.

But alas, we have an excellent lab manager, who enforces safety codes very stringently.

Friday, July 1, 2011

American Pride

This is a re-posting of something I wrote a few years ago...
There is a quote for whom I do not know the source, but it goes
"We have all picked fruit from trees we did not plant, and we have all drank from wells we did not dig."
And in a lot of ways this is how I feel about my life. You see I am an naturalized citizen of the United States and my transition from six year old immigrant to an adult PhD holding citizen of the U.S. has been smooth and unmarred by hardship or discrimination. In this, I realize I am truly lucky.
In 1882 Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, this was the first significant restriction on immigration in U.S. history and not only affected those wishing to immigrate to the U.S., but also those who had already settled here. Chinese immigrants were now permanent aliens and excluded from U.S. citizenship.
The Chinese Exclusion Act was repealed by the 1943 Magnuson Act, which allowed immigration from China and permitted Chinese residing in the country to become naturalized citizens. This was due in large part to China being an ally of the U.S. during World War II. Despite the fact that the exclusion act was repealed in 1943, the law in California against Chinese-Americans marrying whites wasn't repealed until 1948.
Until the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, all immigrants to the United States were restricted to 2% of the number of people from a given country who were already living in the United States in 1890, according to the Census of 1890. The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 abolished all national-origin quotas and allowed unlimited visas for family reunification.
Which is how, in 1983 my family immigrated to America. So I owe my opportunity to grow-up and live outside of the stifling fundamentalist laws of my country of birth to the many immigrants who came before me. I am here because a vast array of non-immigrants fought, agitated, and eventually won a chance for a greater number of immigrants to come to the U.S. I have reaped the benefits of an immigration battle I did not fight. I became a citizen of the United States in 1994.
In 1996 I voted in my first presidential election. A right that was only granted to women in 1920 after a long and hard fought battle. The Silent Sentinels, for example, protested in front of the White House for 18 months starting in 1917 to raise awareness of the issue. Again, I reap the rewards of a battle I did not fight.
In 2008 I received my PhD from the University of Pennsylvania. Founded in 1740, the university did not allow women to attend as full-time students until 1880, and then only in subjects deemed appropriate to women. It wasn't until 1956 that the first female faculty at Penn was awarded tenure. I owe my  PhD to the countless female scientist who came before me, who worked in closets and cellars without pay or titles, who fought for recognition and equality. Once again, I reap the rewards of a battle I did not fight.
All my life I have reaped a harvest of plenty from trees that I did not plant and wells I did not dig. All that I define myself by, all the privileges I enjoy, come from battles that were fought and won long before me. The rest of that quote goes something along the lines of..
"so let us plant trees and dig wells so those that come after can eat and drink as we do"
So on this Fourth of July I would like to acknowledge all those who have gone before me, who have made the life I live possible and I would also like to promise all those that will come after me that I will continue the good fight for equality, for justice, for freedom.