28 June 2004


I'm here at home tonight and not exercising like I want to be. I got a phone call this afternoon from one of my colleagues, who had some bad abdominal pain last week. This guy's had heart problems in the past, so went to see a cardiologist and is going to have a bit of surgery tomorrow. It turns out there aren't too many people available who have any other expertise in the summer class he's teaching, and asked if I would do it for a day or two. Me, being a nice guys, said sure. But this means I've got a lecture to write for a (groan) 7:45 am class tomorrow.

Back to work I go...

24 June 2004

I feel pretty, oh so pretty...

Two of my students met. After they had parted, one said of the other, with a tone of surprise in his voice, "She's pretty." It apparently had never occurred to him that someone good-looking would be involved in research projects. I made some comment about being wary of stereotypes.

Obviously, there's still more consciousness raising to do.

22 June 2004

President Bambi

Our new president-designate, Blandina Cardenas, also goes by the name (nickname? dimuntive?) of Bambi.


I kid you not.


As an essayist, I have to say that it's wonderful knowing that a rich mine of comedic opportunity has just dropped into your lap.

Be that as it may, I rushed to the Coastal Studies Lab this morning, did some very quick animal collection and pick-up, rushed back to the university in time to see President-delegate Bambi's introduction to the university. I sat in the university auditorium, still with sand and salt in my shorts. My buddy Mike offered me a dollar if I went up to our president delgate and introduced myself and declared that I has sand in my shorts. Didn't take him up on the offer.

President-designate Bambi said a few encouraging things about research and workload, but I still get a vibe when I hear her speaking that makes me uneasy. Just a little too much like a seasoned politician. She has the sort of delivery that leaves you wondering how much is an act for the occasion, and the cameras, and how much is real.

How to win friends and influence people

Now isn't this an interesting way to start a new job... Our new president said some things in public that she thought was private, according to this story. It should certainly add a certain frisson to her coming into the new position with people knowing she wants to swing the axe at a few people.

21 June 2004

New President

Blandina Cardenas is our new university president. In my book, this is not great news, but it's not bad news, either. I reckoned she was in the middle of the pack in my assessment of the candidates. I was personally hoping for someone with more research experience. Instead, we get another president who's background is in education -- just like we've had for the last two decades.

Time will tell if she'll work out. It always does.


Whew. I was kept busy today with all four students working non-stop on their projects and needing guidance from me. I am pretty tired. And it'll probably get worse before it gets better; I'm planning to run out to the Coastal Studies Lab tomorrow to dig up more sand crabs and the like, which is usually fun, but not relaxing.

Less than an hour until the new President for the University is announced. The new preident will be on campus tomorrow afternoon; I don't know if I'll be back in time for the conference they're holding at 2:00 pm. Doubtful.

19 June 2004


Here’s an example of one of the "cherries" of data that lined up in my scientifc slot machine at the end of this week.

Lobster ganglion

Each one of those small black spheres is the cell body of a motor neuron. The lines extending into the center are the axons. You can’t see them go all the way out the nerve because this piece of nervous system is thick enough that the microscope doesn’t have enough depth of field to focus on everything you’d like to see at once.

This is a very good example of a technique called cobalt backfilling. The editor for one of my papers called this technique “old-fashioned,” but so what? I can see everything I need.


After grumbling in my last entry about having to work late on Thursday to work (made necessary by a couple of animals dying en route from our Coastal Studies Lab to my lab), I was working even later yesterday finishing what I'd started on Thursday.

The lobsters I was working with on Thursday were intended to be part of a project for my student Alana. I planned to have her finish yesterday what I'd started on Thursday. Alana who usually arrives in the morning, but didn't come in until afternoon yesterday. She started to finish the tissue staining I started, but didn't quite get all the way through. SO I was left to do the last few steps on my own.

But it was well worth it. Everything worked. And not only did everything work, it did so near perfectly. It was definitely a "Yessssssssss!" moment when I looked at what we'd done. I was pumped.

I often compare the experience of doing science to being a gambler. (Or, for you psychologists in the audience, a rat in a Skinner box on a random reinforcement schedule.) You keep pulling the lever on the slot machine, but you never, ever know when those three little cherries are going to line up in a row. The jackpot comes at random. And that, according to much psychological research, is the situation that tends to lead to the strongest drive to perform the behaviour. Rats trained on the "jackpot" schedule press their little bars for food faster than any other reinforcement schedule.

I probably shouldn't be comparing my profession to unhealthy addictions. Though I doubt I'm the first to do so.

17 June 2004

Give me strength!

I think everyone has days where they ask what it is that keeps you going. This was one for me. I had been holding some spiny lobsters out at the Coastal Studies Lab. I had three of them shipped into our main campus today. When I got them in mid-afternoon, two had died! Not again! These animals seem dedicated to being pains in my butt. This meant that if I was to get any useful information from these animals, I pretty much had to dissect and stain both of them now before the tissue started to go bad. Which pretty much shot any other plans I might have had for that afternoon and early evening.

But what might keep me going is that if I come in tomorrow, and get some beautiful stains of neurons... all will be forgiven, and it will all be worth it.

14 June 2004

More grants...

I was just informed that the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston got a major grant to help funnel students into graduate studies in research (I believe it's a Bridges to the Future grant). Why do I care? Because our university is a partner in that program. I'm one of the faculty who's listed as a participant. I should be able to get money to support some students and their research, which is good and useful.

I seem to be unable to generate a successful grant on my own, but at least I'm a small part of teams that put together successful grants.

12 June 2004

The big squeeze

After we finished interviewing candidates this week, I spent most of the rest of the week working with students on research projects. I've been really pleased: they've all entered into the spirit of things, have been attentive, and generally making excellent efforts. And because they need guidance, I've been spending time in the lab, slowly organizing and cleaning (which the place needs!).

The downside is that while I'm working there, I'm not able to write. And I really need to write grant applications and manuscripts. I'm stuck for time. And I'm not sure how I'm going to make time to do both yet. I need to train student students to generate data, but I also need to get that data on the printed page.

'Tis a quandry.

A new President

My University will be getting a new President in a little over a week. I'm quite anxious to learn the outcome of this process. One of the administrators here pointed out that at most universities, Presidents come and go with little impact on the daily routine of the institution. In this case, however, a new President will be a big deal, considering that this institution has had the same president for well over two decades. The right person now could make a huge difference to this place. Huge.

09 June 2004

The end is near

Of my job as Biology Search Committee chair, that is. That was the twelth on-site job interview since February, all of which I was responsible for overseeing. (Remember, you can't have a dozen without "Zen!") Our last on-site interview ended today, with our candidate getting on the plane as scheduled. At least something went as scheduled -- these last three job interviews have been rife with moved appointments, missed appointments, rooms that were supposed to be reserved for seminars being switched over to classroom use with no notification... argh!

With so many people coming and going, I'm just glad we didn't injure anyone.

Meanwhile, I've got four(!) students doing summer research projects with me so far: Mike, Eric, Alana, and Jessica. In typical Pan Am fashion, I had some students express interest in doing summer projects who never showed up and nevercontacted me to say, "I'm not going to be able to do this." Fortunately, a couple of the students above joined at the 11th hour, so I should be able to hand off projects planned for the deadbeats -- I mean, other students -- to them.

But for now? I'm going home after a day of getting candidates on planes and showing students techniques. I'm kind of burned out.

04 June 2004

A day at the beach...

...Is no day at the beach. At least, not when you're a biologist. I went out to muck around and dig for sand crabs for stduent projects. And as pleasant going out to dig on the beach sounds, it's hot, backbreaking work. Lots of shoveling and bending in about 35 degrees C weather. Fortunately, a CSL intern from UT Brownsville named Gibbs was there to help me out.

We managed to get our 11th on-site job candidate away without injury. Only one more on-site interview to go, at the start of next week. And one way or another, we are done after that.

03 June 2004

The week that exploded...

...and it was only Tuesday.

We're having two more on-site interviews this week. Monday, as I noted, was a holiday, so nobody was around. On Tuesday, it seemed like every time I turned around, something was going annoyingly – but luckily, not badly – wrong. The room we had reserved for the candidate’s seminar got taken over by a class (with no warning that our reservation had been pre-empted), then we had to try three more rooms before finding one that was empty where we could hold the seminar.

And it seemed absolutely everyone wanted to reschedule meetings with the candidate.

And we ran out of money for snacks at the afternoon social.

And I have about five undergraduates who want to start research projects.

And... Well, I think you probably get the idea. But by this time next week, come what may, there will be no more job interviews! No more phone interviews. No more campus visits. So my job as Search Chair will be done soon.