30 September 2004

Aftermath, or, "We're so screwed" (even if they want to help)

It's hard to know what came out of the meeting yesterday. The Biology Department conveyed in no uncertain terms why sticking our stuff in the RAHC is not acceptable as far as we're concerned. But in terms of what we will do about our animal facilities, and how soon, and everything else... well, that's still up in the air. The big problem is that even if we get what we want – a new facility – it's several years away, and we have users in a substandard facility trying to run projects now. Even renovating the current building (short term solution) will probably result in a substantial interruption for the current users.

And just in general, the reluctance by administration to work on research space is angering me and a few of my colleagues.

We have a meeting with our new president, Bambi, in two weeks. I hope we can get some of these issues on the table then.

29 September 2004


The latest kafuffle between the biology department and upper administration is about to come to a head at noon. Here's the lowdown.

The Biology Department used to be in a different building (now the Health and Human Science Building). But when the Biology Department moved to the new digs, the Science Building, around 1996, one building containing the department's animal facilities got left behind. It's called the Biology Annex.

The Annex is in pretty bad shape, and because it's halfway across campus, it's underused. Initially, we were talking about renovating – fixing the air conditioning, etc. Then, at a meeting, our new president, Bambi Cardenas, suggested, "Why don't we tear it down and rebuild it?"

But somewhere along the way, something changed. Now administration wants to move our animal facilities into the University of Texas Health Sciences Center at San Antonio's Regional Academic Health Center research division (this is the RAHC that I've shown pictures of in this journal before).

From my point of view – and everyone else in the department I've talked to – this is just an all-around bad idea from every angle. Nobody has seen a positive side.

We're having a meeting about it with some administrators today. Not sure which ones yet. The meetings at moon. About 90 minutes from now. I fully expect there to be – what's the politician's euphemism? – "a full and frank exchange of views." (Personally, I'll be trying to restrain myself from asking the administrators present what the hell they've been smoking.)

I could have a very interesting second post today...

23 September 2004

Give it back!

Spent most of today trying to undo the damage that was foisted upon me by having my file munched by computer or software. Ran into a new problem with importing text – no matter how much I insist that I am importing English (a.k.a. "Latin") text, not Asian text, it still keeps marking the text as Asian with a limited font range. I got around it by importing plain text, but had to redo all the formatting. Annoying. But I think I'm almost back to where I was yesterday.

22 September 2004


I spent a good chunk of the day working on my Society for Neuroscience poster today. The meeting is next week, and I like to have these things done in advance as much as possible.

And something went wrong. The drawing software crashed. I couldn't open the file with my poster on it any more. "Ah, that's okay," methought. "I'll open the automatic backup that's created every time I save the file.

And that wouldn't open either. Oh, no, no, no... ARGH!

I lost a lot of work. Nothing irreplaceable, but... damn. Just... damn.

21 September 2004

Hot off the (virtual) press

Just got email in the last couple of minutes that my latest paper is now available online.

Now, let's see here... (opens file cabinet, pulls out folder, pulls out papers and scans them closely.) According to the publisher's "Copyright transfer statement," before I can link this page here, I have to mention that Springer-Verlag is the copyright owner, and this text must accompany the link:

"The original publication is at springerlink.com"

Although there are a couple of linking options for this article, I'm supposed to use one with a digital object identifier (DOI).

I think that covers all the legalese. If you have a subscription, you can now jump to my latest paper, "Mechanisms of behavioral switching," here.

(I wanted it to be "Mechanisms of behavioural switching." The editor for this set of articles was American, and I lost that argument.)

16 September 2004

The proof of the paper is in the correcting

It's still mid-morning, but today is already a good day. I received the proofs for my latest (short) article that is forthcoming in Journal of Comparative Physiology A. For those who have a subscription to this journal, the article should be up about one week from today in the "Online first" section. It won't be much, as it's a short introduction to a special series of papers, but it's a publication. And according to tenure requirements here, a publication is a publication is a publication. It doesn't matter if its a one page comment in a journal that nobody's heard of or a massive magnum opus that makes the cover of Science or Nature -- it's still one publication for tenure purposes.

The proof also contained an order form for reprints, and I couldn't help but notice the cost of reprints. Now, I like reprints. It's nice to have something professionally printed on acid-free, archival paper. But for a short article like this (probably 2 pages, tops), it's so not worth it. The cost of 50 copies is...

(Wait for it!)

US$275! And the reprint order form notes, "If you order offprints after the issue has gone to press, costs are much higher." The mind boggles at who could actually afford reprints then. The guy who owns Wal-Mart, maybe. It's one of those things that makes me very glad that scientific publishing has gone digital. Most people will be able to get PDFs and print their own copies at a fraction of the cost of what the publisher can offer.

But... having to do something like this makes me feel good. It reminds me that I have actually accomplished some stuff this year. And that's an important thing when so often, I feel frustrated at my inability to get things done fast enough.

15 September 2004

The animals do what they please

One of the logical corollaries to Murphy's Law is known as the Harvard Rule of Animal Behaviour. It goes something along the lines of, "You can have the most beautifully designed experiment with the most carefully controlled variables, and the animal will do what it damn well pleases."

That is currently one of my biggest problems. I changed my entire teaching schedule on the idea that the ascidian species I was working with last year would be back again this year.


These little babies just have not shown up again. Whether it's En Nino, sunspots, bad luck, or whatever, I'm sort of stuck without the animals I wanted to work with. 'Tis a quandry. It wouldn't be so bad if I didn't have a student who worked with me last year ready to do a series of follow-up experiments. Eeep! So now I have to think of a back-up plan.

Still, I find this problem less aggravating than my other major problem, which is the seeming inability of getting anything I order here promptly.

14 September 2004

A surprisingly good day

A few positive things happened today.

First, free food! We had a social with our graduate students today (a suggestion of mine, as it happens), and they brought in some food for the students. I was reasonably pleased. We got about a dozen of our students there, and I met two new ones for the first time. It was good to have a chance to chat to them a little. And there was pretty good cake.

Second. I whipped off a quick letter of intent for a grant that's due at the start of October. I wouldn't bet on my chances, as I've submitted to these guys several times before and have yet to go to the full proposal stage. The problem with this particular grant system is that they only provide you with a rejection, and no indication of why they're not asking you to submit a full proposal. But I keep kicking at the can nevertheless.

Third, I finally got some supplies that I ordered back in... June? April? May? It's been so long I honestly don't remember. But it has been months since I tried to order it – not days or weeks. But it is here, which means I actually have something for one of my students to start working on now.

Fourth, I got word from a copy editor asking for fixes to one of my upcoming manuscripts. Now, "fixes" usually aren't a good thing, because it reminds you of the mistakes you've made. In this case, though, the fixes were easily done. This is good, because it means the paper is in the production pipeline, and hopefully will be out either at the end of this year or early next. Right now, anything to do with a manuscript coming out makes me happy, because it makes me feel a teensy bit like a waste of space, scientifically.

There might have been one or two other things that went right today. But for the moment, I'll just savour those little pleasures.

08 September 2004

People unclear on the concept?

This morning, I got an email asking if people would be willing to teach classes between Christmas and New Year.

Our university has a traditional fall and spring semester, and two summer sessions. This year, they experimented with a "mini term" in the few weeks between the spring and summer sessions, which apparently was reasonably successful. Administration is now asking about the possibility of a winter mini term between the fall and spring semesters. It would run December 20 to 11 January, with three days off for Christmas and two for New Year's.

My reply was, "You have got to be ****ing kidding."

I cannot help but wonder at the split personality of administrative decisions. On the one hand, we hear, "We want to become a research university." On the other hand, we get this email that says, "More classes. More, more, more!" When are faculty supposed to be doing research? Writing grant applications? Having a chance to even think about these issues?

Now, I don't want to give anyone the wrong impression here. It's not like faculty would be forced into teaching these mini terms. They'd be an opportunity for extra money for those faculty who wanted to teach them.

Still, I think it amply demonstrates how far administration's mindset is in thinking about research. This university has grown on the back of ever increasing student enrollment, and has chugged along quite nicely on student fees. I think university administration smells an opportunity for more tuition, and are chasing that with far more seriousness than they are talking about investing in faculty's ability to write and secure major external research grants.

07 September 2004

Mysterious deaths, 7 day work weeks, and other reasons for cheer

I drove out to the Coastal Studies Lab last week, and brought back many animals. Some hermit crabs, ghost shrimp, sand crabs, and tunicates. All had survived well in tanks recently. But for some mysterious unknown reason, just about all of the hermit crabs and ghost shrimp keeled over in less than a week this time! About half died on Sunday, the other half on Labour Day.

This is one reason I was glad to have come into the uni every day this week. It would have stunk to high heaven – both literally and figuratively – to have come in to all those corpses after a long weekend.

The tunicates didn't die prematurely, but the work I was trying to do with them was not encouraging, either. They're about as easy to dissect as old boot leather.

On the plus side, I'm more glad than ever that I live within walking distance of the university.