26 June 2003


The trip to Galveston earlier this week was quite good. I went with Mohammed Farooqui (current Biology Chair), Hassan Ahmad (Chemistry), Scott Gunn (Biology’s pre-med advisor) and Michael Eastman (Dean of the College). Got to see some acquaintances, got to see a new campus (University of Texas Medical Branch), and got treated to a very good meal on the evening we arrived.

By far the coolest thing that happened, though, was that after meeting with several of the various recruitment people from the grad school and the medical school, we were slated to have a meeting with students from Pan Am who were currently on the UTMB campus for various reasons. I was expecting to see a dozen faces or so.

We walked into the room, and I estimate that there were about 60 students there. Scott said later that I looked genuinely surprised, and I was.

And they applauded when we walked in.

Now that was cool. When you're a university instructor, having a room full of students applaud you is a rare and fine thing indeed. I'm under no illusions that the major person they were applauding was Scott Gunn, who works like a dog to get students into medical school, but I’ll bask in reflected glory. (I am not proud.)

Otherwise how are things? I actually got to do a bit of lab work today, generating preliminary data for my NSF grant application, and managed to track a supplier for some animals that are important to the project I’m proposing for said grant application.

23 June 2003

Budget cuts suck

After investing a fair amount of effort into writing a good little pre-proposal for the Texas ARP competition, I come in to find that late last night the whole thing got axed.

The email I received this morning explains: "The Advanced Research Program was cut from the state budget just before it was signed by Governor Perry at midnight last night (Sunday, June 22, 2003)."

No appeal, no recompense for the time many researchers spent preparing to submit. It's the Texas government's money, so they can do what they want. End of story.

Yeah, it's a pretty crap way to start the week.

But at least I have a trip to Galveston to look forward to this afternoon.

19 June 2003

Jet set II!

I was still in a slight state of disbelief about going to Galveston next week when I got an invitation to fly to Chicago in August. The reason for this trip would be to attend the Executive Committee meeting of the International Society for Neuroethology. No pressing reason not to go... so I guess I'm going. This is going to make four plane trips in six weeks, three of which are science related.

In other news, I've been working hard on my NSF grant. I've spent the last few days on a description of the kind of university I'm at. This was a rather depressing exercise in some ways, since I was reminded again just how poor this area is. This county has an unemployment rate twice the state average; the country bordering us on the west has a jobless rate triple the state average.

Today, I've been working on the budget. So far, I've sliced off 8 months and US$78,610 from the version of the project that I submitted last year. Hopefully, reviewers will look at this and be convinced this is a "faster, cheaper, better" project than last year.

11 June 2003

Joining the jet set!

The latest distraction from finishing my grants, manuscripts, and doing research will be a trip to Galveston in a week and half.

Why go there? It happens to be the location of the rather large University of Texas Medical Branch. In the past, my university, UTPA, has sent a lot of our student up there to go into medical school. But they also have a big biomedical research aspect, and we're trying to set up a "pipeline" for graduate students similar to what's in place have for medical students.

The other attraction for me to go on this trip is that there's a marine lab, and it would be good to see what's up there. And I know a couple of people in my field who work there, so maybe I'll run into one or both of them again.

As an added bonus, Galveston also happens to be the location of one of my favourite books by an author acquaintance of mine, Sean Stewart.

10 June 2003

Money all gone (almost)

Spent part of the afternoon working my way through more enormous scientific catalogues. I now have just over $100 left to spend from my start-up money. It's surprisingly difficult; sort of the "spare change in your pocket" syndrome. What do you do, buy a stamp? Considering the cost of most scientific equipment, I'm not about to get anything major.

I also spent part of the day working on my NSF grant. I've discovered one good thing about going through this process for the second time. There's quite a few sections that don't need updating. Most grants, for instance, includea "Biographical sketch." That only needs minor tweaks, because where I got my degrees from isn't about to change. Of course, that's the easy bit. The hard part -- revising the proposal -- is still to come.

09 June 2003

Ah, power... or the illusion of it, anyway

And the results of the latest summer meeting are in. Universities are run by committees, and this one is a search committee for hiring new faculty. When our department chair asked, "Who's going to chair this committee?", I suddenly had a whole bunch of fingers pointing at me...

It looks like almost a done deal, and I'm going to be Chair of the search committee. Bwa-hah-hah-haaaaaaa... Today the search committee, tomorrow the world!


Most recent twist on the ABS symposium I'm organizing. I reckoned I'd scored a coup would I got the editors of a fairly major journal in my field to agree to publish talks from this symposium in a special issue. But last night, one of my contributors said he had other things to write that took higher priority, and might not be able to do it. Not what an organizer is wanting to hear with less than two months to go...

I've contacted one of the journal editors, and hopefully will be able to work out a timeframe that will let everyone get their papers in.

06 June 2003

The evil that tweens do

Went out to a barbeque restaurant tonight that we'd passed by once or twice. Should have passed by a few more times. Mediocore food I can take. But tonight was the night I learned that karaoke in the hands of 10 year old girls can induce almost physical pain.

They could not – I'm sorry – carry a tune with a fork lift.

I know they’re just kids. I understand letting them go up and have a go... once. But they did another one. And another. You find yourself thinking, “I never knew just how long ‘Complicated’ goes on...”

The most tragi-comic moment was in the third song, where these little kids were singing I'm Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman and hitting this line about, “wanting to find the woman in me...” “Argh! You're not going to find a woman in there for another five or six years yet!”

End rant.

In or out? Who gets to do what in a grant proposal

Although I mentioned the other day that I have to get to work on my next NSF proposal, I am also working on a short "pre-proposal." Think of a pre-proposal as a micro-proposal to write a big proposal (this sort of thing would drive lesser men mad...). This one will be for ARP. ARP is strictly a Texas thing, unlike NSF.

The latest wrinkle in writing the ARP pre-proposal is that this group is very picky about who can be listed as an investigator on the grant. Unfortunately, one of my colleagues, Virginia Scofield, falls into the "exclude" category. This meant I had to redescribe what she was doing quite significantly and change all the "we"s in the text to "me"s and a few "I"s.

Fortunately, all involved in the project are more concerned about getting the money to do the science and not adding lines on a CV.

05 June 2003

Dojo poems

That darn Neil Gaiman always finds the best websites. Of course, as a New York Times bestselling author and winner of major SF, fantasy and horror awards, he has the help of a few more readers than me. Neil pointed out a webpage with a poetry generator, and I couldn't help but see what it did to this journal...

more you use this nervous
system. This
lab to all problems, judging from
how deadlines sneak up a particular grade like
it worked well, although
I had been there will probably take
the infinite credulity of
that, will
probably take the queue!
Funny how weird or something.
to raise his grade,
not Irrelevent recommendation: Down
to my calendar
and while I
was rapidly running
If there yet.

I cheated a bit and remove a little formatting stuff. But I quite like "the infinite credulity of / that, will / probably take the queue! / Funny how weird or something."

Top of the queue!

Funny how deadlines sneak up on you.

Just looked at my calendar and realized I have about one month before the next NSF deadline. That's the big one I have to shoot for in my field, lots of work, so that's just become my #1 priority.

Starting tomorrow. It's after 5:30 pm, so I think it's quitting time for now.

04 June 2003


Yeesh. I had a meeting this morning that took up my whole morning (but was worthwhile as I got a glimpse at a large collaborative research project that our Research office is trying to put forward), I have a meeting tomorrow morning that will probably take the whole morning (but should be worthwhile as it concerns a large grant application that would benefit the entire college our department belongs to), and I have a search committee meeting Monday morning (but should be worthwhile because we might be able to figure out ways of attracting more applicants for our upcoming positions). Three meetings in six days (and two of those days are the weekend!).

Still, I can help but wonder? If I'm not getting paid, why do I have so many meetings to go to? I think I must just be too nice or something.


Am also still trying to sped the last of my start-up money. Thought I had it under control when I walked forms over to Dean's office. Had Dean's secretary, Gloria, tell me, "You can get these faster if you use this form." Decided fast is good, so went back and got told by our secretary, Dora, "No, you can't use this form, you have to use that form" (which is the one I'd walked over with in the first place.

I left while the two secretaries got on the same page and to fume over the frustrations of working in a bureaucracy and pull at my hair. Quietly.

I think I have the right forms now. Hopeful that someone will spend money for me soon.

03 June 2003

Can't talk -- spending money!

Realized the other day that with the end of the financial year approaching, I was rapidly running out of time to spend the last of my start-up money. So I've spent yesterday and today combing though technical catalogues.

Think this is easy? Consider that one technical catalogue on my desk, the VWR catalogue weighs in at a whopping 2,500+ pages.

I have no problem spending money, but spending money in a hurry always worries me.

I will soldier on, however, bouyed (or is that distracted?) by the music coming through my computer speakers (Big Sugar, if you're curious).

02 June 2003

More blogging in the news, academics this time

The Chronicle of Higher Education has an article up titled, “Scholars who blog.” The overarching question asked is whether blogging is simply an ephemeral bit of intellectual fashion that will disappear in a few months. Heaven knows the Internet is famous for such things. (Internet users of a certain experience will remember “the age of Gopher,” which immediately preceded the explosion of the Web.)

And no, this blog didn't get mentioned. [pout]


Today is the first day of summer session, which means students are back on campus. That is not necessarily a good thing for me. I had one of my students from last semester who needed a particular grade in one of my classes to graduate -- and didn’t get it. So he came into my office asking if there was something he could do to raise his grade, like an extra paper or something. “An extra paper” seems to be some sort of student stock solution to all problems, judging from how many students have asked me about this. But from my perspective, if I do something to help out one student that I don’t make available to all the rest... not very fair to the rest of the students in the class, is it?

Nonetheless, while I am happy to stick to my principles, it still really sucks to be the one to have to say, “No, I’m sorry, I’m not raising your grade” (not in so many words, mind you), which translates into, “No, you can’t graduate.”


A few entries back, I mentioned my theory about the infinite credulity of the human brain. To give credit where it’s due, that particular line of though may have been prompted by a comment by Teresa Nielsen Hayden. In her blog, said succinctly, “Folly is fractal. The more you look, the more of it there is.”