30 November 2004

Slower even than grant applications!

Remember the Hulk movie from last year? Lots of hype, impressive in lots of ways, stuck with a confusing ending? There was no shortage of advertising tie-ins, one of which was run by Hershey's. I received an email today informing me that I'd won a Hulk T-shirt in their sweepstakes.


I admit, I need some new scruff around the flat on the weekend shirts, but wow. The movie was out, like, a year and a half ago, and just now they're giving out promotional T-shirts?

Maybe Hershey's should make molasses in January in addition to chocolate.

It was a dark and stormy day...

I drove out to the Coastal Studies Lab today to pick up some ascidians and mud shrimp. I only came back with ascidians. A bit of a storm blew in overnight, so it was wonderfully chilly (only 10 degrees C!), and not so wonderfully windy. A tarp that had been proecting our ascidian tank from rainwater, extreme sunlight and the like had blown off the rails and was flapping around in the tank. I pulled out what animals we had, and turned around and headed back to the main campus. I decided that going out on the beach and trying to pump out mud shrimp on my own was, frankly, not worth it in this weather.

In other news, I've just submitted my most recent NSF proposal. That's two to the NSF this year, which is double what I've submitted the previous two years. These, however, are both teaching grants rather than research grants. Let's see, though: that's five external grants I've submitted for the year so far, of which I'm waiting some word for four.

My next research grant I'll be working on over December to get ready by January. I'll probably start work on it in earnest next week, when classes end.

25 November 2004

Is there anybody out there?

I've been getting odd looks from the Americans surrounding me this week. They've all been wishing me a happy Thanksgiving, and I keep telling them, "That was last month. Thursday's just another day to me. I'll go into my office and work." That was pretty accurate description of my day. The one thing I didn't expect was just how quite it was going to be here! You can come in at night, on Sunday afternoon, Saturday morning, and there's usually someone else around. Not today. The only other soul I saw was my student Sandra, who had to come in to do a couple of steps in some tissue processing.


Miscommunication of the week: I set an appointment with my student Yajaira yesterday for 8 in the morning. I got to my office on time, and waited. And waited. Did quite a bit of work while I waited. Finally ran into her late in the afternoon: she was waiting for me in the lab. D'oh!


So long to Triple J's Adam & Wil, who've amused me for many an afternoon with their morning show. (Isn't live streaming radio on the Internet a grand thing?) In particular, I'll miss listening to Adam Spencer, who shows how funny a bloke with a Ph.D. in mathematics can be. And who is also a shining example of someone get a job not in their chosen field, because the field in Australia is too small. I'm not sure if his success in being one of Australia's most recognized doctorate holders is the sort of thing that gives academics hope or despair.

22 November 2004

Research Google

It's fair to say that search engines have revolutionized how people use the internet, and in fact, much of their lives. And the 900 pound gorilla on the search engine block is, of course, Google: the only search engine whose name has entered the language as a verb. One of my colleagues said to me at a meeting, "I solve all my problems with Google now. 'Daughter annoying'? 'Common problem' comes the reply." (The name of said colleague will not be revealed on the off chance that his daughter Googles his name and hits this blog.)

I've just learned from this article in Nature that Google has put up a scientific version of its search engine called Google Scholar. It's still "beta testing," but usually these test versions work fine.

I bookmarked this page as fast as I could. This is going to be an amazingly powerful work tool. There are other science related search engines, chief among them Pub Med, but they tend to be focused on single areas of specialization (biomedical research in the case of PubMed) or run by publishers. Google Scholar will probably avoid those issues.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm just going to wipe the drool off the corners of my mouth now. OoooOOoooooh, it even links to articles that cite the ones you're interested in....

21 November 2004

Wanna sauna?

I'm working today (as usual), walked into my lab, and was just about bowled over. It was hot! Way hotter than Mike's lab next door. (While I was typing this entry, he walked into my office and said, "Your air conditioning's FUBAR.") I took a temperature reading, and it was 27 degrees C in there. I called Physical Plant and was surprised that there was actually someone there to answer my call. He claims he can adjust the temperature from where he is (some central building somewhere on campus). I suspect a thermostat or other control device has gone and someone's going to be crawling around in the ducting to fix things.

Luckily, most of my animals should feel quite comfortable with 27 degree C temperatures. But I sure don't! Heck, it's just reaching the time of year now where I can enjoy lower temperatures outside. Now I'm being forced to deal with them inside? Unfair!

17 November 2004

Frustration defined

Frustration (n): Losing your glasses and not being able to look for them—because you've lost your glasses.

Yes, I am experiencing this right now. My nose is very close to the computer screen. I took my contacts out, put them in the disinfectant, and started looking for my specs and couldn't find them. And I can't take my contacts out of the disinfectant, because that stuff stings if it hasn't been neutralized.

Still no word on the teaching award.

Edit: Got my glasses! My S.O. walked out of the apartment with them in her purse, thinking they were hers.

16 November 2004

One and a half proposals done, and recruiting for science

I've tidied two things off my plate (more or less) today, both related to the NSF. I sent off a preproposal for a major equipment grant and an almost complete proposal for a course improvement grant. The latter is just missing a couple of letters of support, but those can go in while the administration is busy signing forms and worrying about whether I've committed institutional support that they didn't know about (or whatever it is they read those things for, because I sincerely doubt they're reading them for the science).

Another thing I did today that was kind of fun was to chat at a meeting of the new Biology Club on campus. This is a new student group on campus. It's so new they just announced at the meeting that they just got their constitution approved, and it's not on the October 2004 list of organizations. The Bio Club is trying to do a few things for the general biology students (i.e., those who don't have their eye on a career in the health professions). With the help of my colleagues Fred and Kristi, and a few grad students, we talked to the undergraduates about what graduate school is about, how you get in, and why you might want to stay in a university even longer. I think it went over pretty well (people laughed at the right bits), and I think it was pretty useful and informative for the students.

The one small thing that I didn't expect was how much it sounded like we were dumping on medical school -- which was not what we were trying to do! But around here (like many biology departments), med school is the 900 pound gorilla: you may like it or hate it, but you cannot ignore it.

In retrospect, given how many people have dramas with completing grad school, I sort of feel a little like a science pusher. "Hey little girl, want some... data? It'll make you feel really good..."

15 November 2004


Still no news on the teaching award. I notice that it's listed on the agenda for the upcoming faculty council meeting for Wednesday, so maybe I'll find out then. I don't think I got it, though. I suspect having a chemist and a biologist nominated means the vote among scientists will be split, leaving the door wide open for the French instructor.

10 November 2004

Grants, grants, grants

It seems like I'm spending the vast majority of my time trying to get people to give me money. I am currently working on three grant proposals, all for the National Science Foundation (NSF). I'm just putting the finishing touches on a Course Curriculum and Laboratory Instrumentation grant proposal, worth just under US$100,000 if it hits. Second, there's a "basic" research grant, which isn't due until January, but I have to get working on it now if I hope to finish in time. Don't know how much cash that'll end up being requested in that one. Third, I'm working on a preproposal for a major equipment grant. This program only allows an institution to submit three applications to the program, so we have to put in a short paper to our research office saying why we should be allowed to submit our proposal instead of those pesky engineers (or whoever).

At some point, I'm going to have to lift my head up and look in my lab again. But if I don't get some cash soon, it's going to be very hard to get anything done.

In other news, voting for the teaching award was supposed to end yesterday at 5:00 pm, but no word yet on who won.

04 November 2004

It's bigger than I thought

When I last checked the tally board at the Society for Neuroscience meeting in San Diego, attendance was around 25,000. Of course, I left early, but I suspected that it wouldn't hit 30,000, guessing that most of the people would have arrived for the start of the meeting. Wrong! Email from the Society says final attendance for scientists was a staggering 31,549!

One of the concerns that I have when I see a number like that, though, is where will the growth end? And, as my former Ph.D. committee member Craig Hawryshyn once mused in my presence, "Who's going to fund all this research?"


Another thing I forgot to mention about Tuesday: autumn arrived! It was the first day that I stepped outside the door and thought I might actually be more comfortable in long pasts instead of shorts. I'm going to enjoy the next few months of less than screaming hot temperatures...

03 November 2004


I had a ballot delivered to me yesterday—with my name on it. I'm one of three finalists for the UTPA Chancellor's Award for Teaching Excellence. The winner is chosen by a vote of all faculty. If I win, I get an honorarium (not sure how much -- the paperwork didn't say), a nice siny line in my CV, and I then become the university's nominee for the state-wide Minnie Stevens Piper Award.

I also got a ballot in the mail to elect the new councillors and executive committee for the International Society for Neuroethology. It's as though someone up there has decided, “I don't care that you're a Canadian living in America, you're going to vote for something!”


But that was yesterday. Today was good because I submitted a grant proposal, this time to a new program called SOMAS. It's not for a lot of money, but every little bit helps. This was just the first of several that are coming up. In the next two and a half months, I have three big grant deadlines for the National Science Foundation that I'm trying to meet. One deadlines early December, the other two in mid-January. The ones in January will be tough, since the university slows down so much between semesters.

But I'll worry about that tomorrow. Lots of writing to do!

01 November 2004

Letter from the President

I was interested that we got a memo from our new President, Bambi Cardenas, today. President Bambi has been meeting with representatives from various groups in the university (I described Biology's encounter with her previously). Today, a memo comes out saying that she's of the opinion that there's an urgent need to review teaching loads, and associated issues with merit and tenure. There's a task force being formed to put a new policy in place by Fall 2005.

Given my discussions with colleagues here and at other universities, I suspect / hope that this will translate into lighter teaching loads, and that merit and tenure requirements in other departments will be brought up to Biology's levels. Apparently, our department has the highest standard of any at our university, and they're not all that high compared to a lot of other places, particularly with regards to research.


So I'm almost all caught up from the madness that was preparing for the Neuroscience meeting, attending the Neuroscience meeting, and catching up on all the work that I couldn't do while I was at the Neuroscience meeting. Which only leaves me with my regular insanity to deal with.

Like, for instance, teaching, finishing a grant due on 2 December or so, reviewing someone else's grant application, tracking down where my last grant proposal is in the UTPA great chain of signatory paperwork, teaching, and making a trip to the Coastal Studies Lab to deliver a much-needed new computer and take back a much-needed fresh batch of ascidians and other critters.


Nobel laureates spotted at Neuroscience this year: One. Eric Kandel, who won the prize around 2000 for his work on learning and memory in a sea slug, Aplysia californica. I learned that his bow tie really always does seem to be that crooked. He's also doing some fascinating new work on how prion-like proteins might be involved in memory.

I think this brings my total number of Nobel sightings to two: I once heard David Hubel give a talk at McGill University.


Best thing about Neuroscience meeting: Getting to present my poster, explain my work, and have generally positive response to it. Now, if I could just turn that positive response at meetings into a positive response when I'm trying to get a grant funded.

Other good things: The ability to eat good food at restaurants, knowing it will be reimbursed. Seeing old friends. Making new friends. Networking. Being able to visit the Chuck Jones Studio Gallery in old San Diego. Finding a little cafe across from the convention center still stocks Violet Crumble from Australia.

Most disappointing thing about trip to Neuroscience: That there was so much interesting stuff to do, and not enough time to do it.

Second most disappointing thing about trip: Having White Chicks be the in-flight movie on the way out, and Dodgeball be in the in-flight movie on the way back. One stupid movie in a trip is just unlucky, but two is Just Not Fair(TM).

Other disappointments: Motel charging for internet. Long shuttle bus trips back to the hotel (sometimes well over an hour between waiting for the bus and the drive). Having to come back to Texas heat.

Spent a large portion of Sunday and today day feeling awful for a completely uncalled for comment I made to a friend over the weekend. I can't wait to apologize.