27 February 2004

The candidates have left the building...

Job candidate #8 got sent off without incident this afternoon. Huzzah! I'd like to think the end is nigh, but I know there's still work to be done. Recommendations to write, paperwork to gather -- and the part that is no fun -- writing four emails telling people that they they were not the selected candidate.

Rather tired most of today. I woke up at 5 a.m. couldn't get back to sleep, so was sitting in my office around 6:20 a.m., working on the morning's lecture. I came home a little early this afternoon and promptly fell asleep for an hour or so.

26 February 2004

Seven gone, one on campus...

I took job candidate #7 (of eight) for position #3 (of four) to the Harlingen Airport yesterday. No major problems with this interview -- hurray! Our eight (I hesitate to say "last") job candidate arrived on time and safely yesterday, so things are looking good for a smooth interview today.


Some weeks back, a friend advised me to look up at the night sky. Earlier this week, I finally did get a glimpse of a beautiful night sky. There was a crescent moon, and Venus was just a few degrees to the right of the moon, glowing brightly. It was just dark enough that no other stars were visible. Marvelous...


Most thought provoking comment this week (so far), from ABC Radio's show The Buzz: "I maintain that mobile phones are really the learning tools of the future, that we are going to see pretty much all learning take place around the world through this communication device because teaching and learning is basically a communication process."

This was part of a fascinating interview about how younger people ("digital natives") have dramatically different ways of doing things than older ("digital immigrants"). You can read the transcript here or go to the main page to listen in Real Audio.


I found a new reason to go back to Canada today: Belinda Stronach. I'd like to go back to Canada to vote against her. I couldn't support anyone who uses the word "incentivizing," which she did repeatedly on CBC Radio's show The Current this morning. I think that just displaced "prioritizing" as my answer to "What is your least favourite word?' question on Bernard Pivot's questionnaire. (Maybe later, I'll post my answers to the other nine questions.)


Oh yeah, I had a birthday this week. Not enough people brought cake. Rather anticlimactic day, in fact.

19 February 2004

Six down....

...Two to go. Our latest faculty candidate was apparently loaded onto a plane this morning without incident. We are now 75% done our on-site interview schedule! That's six accident free interviews -- a fact of which I am inordinately proud.

The other two major things I did today was to run a short faculty meeting related to faculty searches, and attend a meeting on research at UTPA. The research meeting was surprisingly... promising. It's not exactly been a secret that we have had problems with research here. The infamous ice machine saga has been one that I documented at some length in this journal. So a few of the biologists, myself included, showed up loaded for bear. We were vocal.

One of the people in the meeting, though, was a gentleman who is responsible for implementing a new computer system that is pretty much going to run UTPA. And although it took him way too long to get to the point, ultimately he got around to saying that pretty much every procedure in the entire university is being torn apart and reworked from the ground up. No more physically carrying paper around from building to building for signatures; we'll be able to send this requests through electronically and and track where requests and orders are. If something is sitting in someone's office for a week, we'll know -- sort of like tracking a package when FedEx ships it. Should be brilliant if it works as advertised.

Not only that, but I found 55 cents in the return slot of one of the Bio department vending machines! Woo-hoo! (Probably happier about that than I should be, but things like that have always made me smile.)

Other things that make me smile? Ice cream. The sound an ice cube makes when you put it into ice tea on a really hot day and it cracks. Godzilla toys. (I got this one Mechagodzilla figure on a bottle cap recently that I love. It's molded in translucent plastic that looks black, but if you hold a light behind it, is more a smoky grey. It looks sooOOOOooo cool. The picture doesn't do it justice. I was having a major geek out about pulling this out of the box because it’s one of those “can’t see what you get until you buy it” toys.)

Lest anyone think this was a good day, though, let me balance that out. I've spent most of the week mad, and yet again, anger bit back. I was reaching around a cabinet to pick up something, with a little more force than strictly necessary, and caught one of my rings on the bottom of a cabinet drawer. Ouch! My poor students got a very loud Irish curse. I am cultivating what is sure to be a lovely bruise on my ring finger. Less drastic than when I messed up my back the last time I got mad, though.

But I think I gave a pair of great lectures today. I seem to lecture really well when I’m angry.


People unclear on the concept: “You remember that? How do you remember that? Do you study?” (heard in hallway outside teaching lab).


More lines I'd like to use in a movie: “I’d rather French kiss a moose.”

Games scientist play

The techno-savvy among you may have heard of "Googlewhacking": trying to find a query on the massively popular search engine Google that produces exactly one webpage. (I actually produced a Googlewhack a couple of days back -- but, to my chagrin, can't remember what the search was.) Now, biologists have their own version: Pub-Med whacking. Pub-Med is a huge biomedical database much used by folks in my field.

Clearly, "whacking" is due for a new entry in the OED. (Incidentally, their "Word of the day" feature is free, and fun for those who love words. My favourite new word that I learned: "stour," meaning conflict or uproar.)

Lines I’d like to use in a movie

Occasionally I find myself wishing I wrote fiction. I think of good lines, and wish I had a great movie scene to put them in. Today’s line I wish I could put in a movie is:

Don’t thank me. The knives in the back are thanks enough.” (Variation: “The knives in the back are their own reward.”)

18 February 2004


Hey, did I mention that I got a memo yesterday informing me that I'd been given some money to attend a short course on electronic equipment in Bethesda, Maryland in April? About $1,200 in fact. That, plus finishing the proofreading on my latest manuscript, were about the only two bright spots in an otherwise (|>@& day. I'm pretty good at getting small internal grants. I wonder why I keep bombing on the external ones?

17 February 2004

Five down, plus mountains and molehills

Our fifth (of eight) job candidate finished her interview today, and was dispatched to the airport without incident. Which is good, because I really didn’t want to have another incident.

Turns out that today’s candidate was having difficulty walking due to a knee injury. I didn’t know this until she arrived on Sunday. On Monday, we try to make some arrangements to book one of the University’s golf carts that they have for visitors. I call the Dean’s office, and the secretary contacts Visitor Services, who says that we have a cart reserved and that there’s no special authorization needed to drive it. I get there this morning, and I get told that you do need to be authorized to drive the cart.

Fine. There's a student who can drive the cart, so I ask for her to be our driver for the morning.

The person in charge also informs me that she wasn’t there yesterday (good for her, having a workday away from campus; my total remains at one for this year), and admonishes me for not calling in advance. (Somehow, our phone calls from yesterday didn’t count because she wasn’t there, I guess. Not that we could have phone earlier, since we weren’t informed of the need earlier.)


Get the cart, take it over to the Science building, and the candidate is already in her first meeting. We leave instructions for the staff that the driver will come back to pick up our candidate and take her across campus for her next meeting with one of our Associate Vice Presidents in our administration building. After some time, I get word that the candidate is still in that office, and that she needs transport back to our building. I phone Visitor Services phone number as listed in the directory, and it doesn’t work. I phone back to the administrative office asking them to phone, because I can’t reach the number. After a few delays, our candidate is back in the building.

Just before the seminar, I am informed by the Chair of our Department that the Ass. VP our candidate met with was mad that we didn't make arrangements to have her picked up, and emailed the Dean about it, and was asking that I apologize to our job candidate.


I can deal with people complaints about me made by people without any knowledge of facts or circumstances. I apologize to our candidate after her seminar. She had thought little of it. I write an apology and send a bunch of copies to the Chair, Dean, and Ass. VP.

I did manage to finish proofreading my latest article today. I am so pleased to see my words professionally typeset and soon to be in a journal again. I answer a few more emails and make a few lecture and note revisions, and do a few more search committee things.

16 February 2004

“Work harder!”

So far today I have given two lectures on cellular respiration; walked over copies of job candidates' CVs to administration; arranged a golf cart for our job candidate who has a bum knee; wrote a draft course outline for a new class I want to teach (titled "Sex") while the curriculum committee was meeting (not an optimal strategy, but this is the price you pay for trying to relax on Valentine's Day weekend); searched for and revising a proposal for a "Neurobiology methods" course I want to create (again, while the curriculum committee was meeting); packed up and mailed two manuscripts to the Journal of Comparative Physiology A from contributers to my ABS symposium; issued ultimatums to authors who missed the deadline for their Journal of Comparative Physiology A symposium manuscripts (few things cheer me up like writing an ultimatum); talked to one of my Honors students about his research project; did a first proofreading of my most recent manuscript in press (yay!); set up a quiz for a student who couldn't take it when he was supposed to; and am just about to meet with our job candidate, then go to a social mixer for her; collect ballots for the department's choice of job candidate for two positions; and teach another lecture tonight.

I think brushing teeth and eating lunch were in there somewhere, too. Maybe even applying deordorant. I'm not sure.

14 February 2004

Valentine's Day

There's nothing wrong with being Hindu, but today, I'm glad I am not one: "Hindu nationalists who claim they are fighting against Western cultural influence have threatened to shave young lovers' heads and beat them if they exchange Valentine's Day cards and gifts." (My emphasis. Spotted in The Age. Also worth reading down the page for the story of the quarter million dollar speeding ticket in Finland. Go socialist democracy!)


Meanwhile, I spent part of the day at uni preparing for the arrival of job candidate #5 tomorrow and trying an experiment (unsuccessful; I think the tissue was too far gone).

13 February 2004

Halfway done

Job interview #4 of 8 is now completed. Two weeks down, two to go.

11 February 2004

Correlation does not imply causation (but...)

The building my department is located in has three floors. Chemistry occupies the top floor, and Biology takes the bottom two. My colleague, Scott Gunn, recently moved his office space from the second floor to the first. On his way out today, he commented, "It's a ghost town down on the first floor after 2 pm." Not like that on the second floor; people are hanging around considerably later. Intrigued by this, I felt compelled to point out an interesting correlation between activity levels and the faculty occupying those spaces.

Number of teure-track faculty on second floor: five.

Number of tenure-track faculty on first floor: zero.

Make of that what you will.

Three down...

Apparently our latest job candidate was delivered to the airport on time. That's three through the interviewing pipeline with no broken bones, lacerations, or contusions. Only five more on-site interviews to go...

10 February 2004


One of my colleagues, upon learning how much is going on around me, advised, "Go out, look up at the night sky, and try to remember the awe and wonder of it all." I thought that was good advice, so I tried that last night.

It was cloudy.

"You have got to be kidding me..."

"...another candidate didn't come in on the plane last night?" No joke. I come in, expecting our thrid job candidate to be at uni, and instead open an email from his SO saying that his flight out of his city of origin was delayed and he was stuck in Dallas last night. He's scheduled to arrive at 11:58 am. This is rather inconvenient, since he was slated to give his job seminar two minutes later. I somehow doubt that we could get him from the airport to the UTPA Science building in two minutes.

To paraphrase Clint Eastwood in Heartbreak Ridge, we are improvising, adapting, and (hopefully) will overcome. Rescheduled the seminar (though I worry about how many faculty will be there). Will see what we can do about everything else.

With two out of three candidates arriving late, I am seriously not liking these odds for dealing with the remaining five job interviews. I don't really want to have to go through this grief two or three more times this month.


Additional: It's now 2:15 pm. We had rescheduled the candidate's seminar for 2:30 pm. There has been no sign of him on campus, nor word from the faculty member who was supposed to pick him up from the airport. If he doesn't make it here PDQ, I don't know what we'll do. Probably have to invite him back for another visit, I reckon.

I should be freaking out, but that would take energy, and I already used up that before lunch.


Even more additional: To my great relief, our candidate actually showed up in time for his seminar. Whew! The poor guy, though, got about the shortest on-site interview ever. I think both he and we will be hoping that there aren't bad impressions resulting from short interview, which were nobody's fault.

08 February 2004

Another day, another dollar... *

Here I am. In my office. Again. Working on lectures. Devising questions. Writing harassing emails. Checking animals.

Earlier today, I found an old poster I made at the start of my grad school days at UVic. It proclaims:


knows no bedtime!

The text is printed against a window looking onto a nighttime moon, surrounded by icons of clocks with digits spinning off the face, file cabinets, computers, and the like. The image looks a little clunky, which is not surprising considering that I made it on a Radio Shack Color Computer and a graphic package called CoCoMax 2, and a dot-matrix printer. (I compare it to what I work on now and laugh at people who say there's no such thing as progress.)

Finding that poster seems oddly appropriate, as I was earlier tallying the number of days I haven't been on campus this year. It didn't take me long: one. That was the first Saturday after the New Year. I wasn't on campus Christmas, or the first Saturday after Christmas... I can't quite remember the last day I wasn't here before the Christmas break. Note to all grad students out there: the grass ain't much greener after the degree and the job offer, sleep wise.

I think I'm going to keep a running total of that "off-campus days" number. Out of sheer masochism. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy my work, but splud! My advice to follow and future Assistant Professors: the most important word you can learn to say -- with absolute and utmost conviction -- is "No." Add curses and/or threats if necessary.

* A saying that sometimes feels dangerously close to financial reality.

07 February 2004


Spent a good chunk of the day doing some nerve recording and even running a pilot experiment with my Honors' student, Gloria. This was a good thing. My three other Honors' students (Anna, Nisha, and Marco) are chugging along on their projects nicely; Gloria's had to go onto the back burner for a while, and then it turned out what I originally envisioned was technically more challenging than expected.

Two down, six to go

Received confirmation that we got our second job candidate of our eight back home safely. We're 25% done, and still injury free!

06 February 2004


Lord Morpheus has a long memory.

Last night, after the fairly difficult day of dealing with a late candidate (among other things), I woke up at 3 in the morning, driven awake by dreams. Not nightmares. Not exactly.

I am not, by nature, a nostalgic person. Nor do I normally remember my dreams. But my mind dragged out some old memories from my head. Memories that are tied into some very intense but not-very-pleasant emotions. And my mind decided to put those memories into my dreams. And I wake up in the middle of the night with that sort of sick tension that feels like someone has reached into your ribcage and squeezed. That tension followed me around a lot today, haunting me. I had a long drive to and from South Padre Island to pick up some animals for research, which has the unfortunate side effect of giving you too much time to ruminate.

Why is this in my research journal? I'm not sure. I can try to justify it as a proof that yes, I have an emotional life and not just the rational one that dominates my day-to-day job. Maybe it's an attempt to appease the Dream King? (Though he is subtle, and I know not what pleases him.) Or maybe to exorcise the ghosts?

With so many things going on in my life, one thing I often desire is something that no person can give: a good night's sleep.

05 February 2004


Okay, I am now officially freaking out.

Got a phone call last night around midnight from Mike, the Search Committee member who was supposed to pick up our latest visiting candidate. Plan was late. Candidate's not on the plane.

Check email this morning. Candidate misconnected due to bad weather. Phone call this morning: airport shuttle is running late. Get another phone call: plane running late. Now 15 minutes before seminar begins...

.... Oh, could it be? Sounds like the candidate is actually on campus now!

04 February 2004

More reasons for a crummy month

The sand crabs I collected last week all died. That was my own wretched fault, however. One died, and I didn't clean it out in time, and once one starts to decay, it starts a rather unpleasant chain reaction. I'll just have to go back to the beach sometime soon.

On the plus side, we've just about finished interviewing our first (of eight!) job candidates without mortally wounding him. I cannot speak to any psychological trauma at this time, however. (That, I say, that’s a joke there son!) Our second candidate arrives later today. And this keeps up for three more weeks.

02 February 2004

How crummy is this month shaping up to be?

Pretty crummy.

I came in yesterday, but didn't manage to get much done. This morning, I forgot my lecture notes at home by forgetting to pocket my memory key. The computer crashed twice in the middle of my first lecture this morning. The university won't pay for anyone to take our job candidates to lunch or dinner. And I managed to send off one of my colleagues to pick up our first job candidate about an hour before he was scheduled to arrive. Still not sure how that happened. I'll be pleased if we're able to get the job candidates through here without mortally wounding any of them.

On the plus side, my nice computer was fixed -- after two months of messing around and waiting. This, of course, meant the day was basically shot reinstalling software. Which meant I was not very productive.

I so want this month to be over.


Edit (9:39 pm): And the aikido class at my gym got cancelled. Not just for tonight, but very probably for good. And the reasons why it was cancelled do not bode well for the gym in general, which looks suspiciously like a money grab.

It bites. I'd only been there for a couple of months, but I was enjoying it and going regularly. Now, if I want to continue training in aikido, I'll have to make a much longer drive.

Bugger, blast and damn.