25 May 2005

How did that happen?

Rather unexpectedly, I submitted a manuscript today. Another one, not the one I mentioned I finished yesterday. Admittedly, it has been close to completion for a long time (way too long), but I really didn't expect to get it into the editorial pipeline today. The reason why I did so was that I discovered the journal I submitted it to had a new submission process for manuscripts: 100% online and electronic. No printing out a copy, writing in pencil the figure numbers on the back with an arrow pointing up, making two or three photocopies, plus an electronic copy on floppy disk, plus a cover letter. Because I was close to finishing, I just started tinkering with the submission process... and did some more... and some more... and by the end of the day thought, "Hey, I could get this sucker off now!"

As I said, this one had been almost done for a long time. I had keep thinking about putting some more work into it, but I finally realized I hit the point of diminishing returns quite some time ago. (A.k.a., "It's amazing what you can accomplish when you just give up.") The fastest way to improve this paper is going to be to get it in the hands of reviewers who can tell me what extra analyses, if any, they want to see.

Two manuscripts submitted in two days. My god, the pressure is on for tomorrow...

Nostalgic for spam?

Spam (the emails, not the food product) is bad enough. "Phishing" scams and identity theft are a little scarier, but luckily most of them are easily detectable when you recognize the signs. But this is a little more scary, particularly for those of us for whom computer work is essential: holding computer files hostage. I wonder if we'll reach the point where we look back at spam as innocuous and quaint.

24 May 2005


I finished off a short manuscript and stuck it in the outgoing mailbox a couple of hours ago, to be shipped off to a journal editor. I'm quite please for several reasons. First, finishing a manuscript is always pleasing. Second, I thought I would need a few more days to finish this one off. Third, although this manuscript is short, it's a case of "It could have been nothing, but it got made into something." I like how it came out more than I thought I would.

19 May 2005

A good week (so far)

I like how this week is turning out so far. I got my broken lab fridge fixed. I had an appointment with an immigration lawyer and made good progress towards the first major hurdle in getting a green card. I've got to spend some time in the lab with one of my students doing research. I've had a chance to analyze some old data and am getting very close to finishing a manuscript using it. I'm particularly pleased about that last one, and hope I might have something ready to go into the post to an editor... well, I don't want to say when. Am I being superstitious? Worried I'll jinx myself? I'm not sure.

16 May 2005

Kickin' it old school

I just received something I haven't seen in a long time. A reprint request card. It's a little postcard from someone, with a form asking me to send them a copy of a recent paper (in this case, one that came out in Journal of Comparative Phsyiology A). Without getting too nostalgic, they were something I saw a reasonable number of in graduate school -- not so much my own, of course, but there was a reasonably steady stream of them coming into the department's mailboxes.

You don't see reprint cards much now, because people will typically either send out an email, and the revolution in electronic publishing typically means that most people who are interested can just download and read the article electronically. While I'm very pleased for the increased accessibility of electronic publishing, one of the things I do miss is knowing that other people are actually reading the thing. And -- even better -- to learn that it's someone that I don't actually know personally. Sometimes, the field is so small, you wonder if you are making an impact on those outside of your own circle of friends, acquaintances, and colleagues. Reprint cards gave you a little peek at who's reading your work in a way that electronic publishing typically doesn't.

We also finished moving the last of the herbarium cabinets today. No bruises this time, thanks to having a proper dolly to move those suckers.

Oh, and I should also mention that I am now officially the Department of Biology's graduate program coordinator. Ah, the power...

Hm. Not feeling the power yet. Hang on, is this plugged in?

13 May 2005

Best use of time

The first day of no class-relayed responsibilities, so I get to...

Move freakin' heavy cabinets.

All of this relates to a big, $1.3 million dollar grant we got from the HHMI. Included was a budget for a core facility. The rooms we're going to build this facility in are currently in use for a herbarium and invertebrate museum. According to someone, work on renovation begins Monday, so we're supposed to clear out these two rooms by then.

So we had three people with Ph.D. degrees doing grunt labour. I don't mind the task (much), but the fact is: This is not my job. I could be using this time to write grants, manuscripts, work on all manner of things. We have Physical Plant guys. But they're not clearing out these rooms, because they're occupied setting up chairs for moms and dads for a graduation ceremony tomorrow.

12 May 2005

Copious free time

I just handed in my final marks for the semester, which means that I have a bunch of free time. In theory, anyway. Of course, there are always a couple of students who have little dramas about there marks, always asking if I can pull a couple of percentage points out of thin air ("Damnit, Jim, I'm a scientist, not a magician!").

On my agenda now are the takeover of the biology graduate program, writing grants, writing manuscripts, preparing for summer meetings, supervising undergraduate researchers... which reminds me, I have a final draft undergraduate thesis to review. Must dash!

10 May 2005

Never a dull moment

Lectures are done, but there's been no shortage of things that need doing the last couple of days. I've spent both afternoons the last two days interviewing undergraduate students for our HHMI undergraduate research program. I was really pleased that we had a bunch of good applicants, and it was kind of fun to talk to them all. And the interviews didn't stop there. I met with a candidate for Dean of our college this morning. Plus I was running around, getting passport pictures taken care of, and picking up birthday cake for fellow faculty member.

One of the most unusual tasks I was working on over the last couple of days, though, was writing letters. Some weeks back, as a spin-off of my Brain Awareness Week public lecture, there was a feature story in The Monitor. Some teacher apparently took that and ran with it in her grade five class, so I had this stack of letters from kids asking about the article, my research, and so on. Yesterday, I sat down and wrote individual replies to each one in the stack.

Interestingly, I also had another student who had come to my Brain Awareness Lecture, and was intrigued enough to come in and talk to me about neuroscience. It's great, because often you do these sorts of things and wonder if anyone notices at all. It's been a bit of ego boost this week to find out that my quickie jury-rigged talk made a ripple.

08 May 2005

How to lie with statistics

We had a departmental seminar on Friday. It was good, but the speaker got under my skin with one silly claim. She was discussing how life expectancy is 36 or so in a region in Africa where she works. So she asked for a show of hands of everyone in the room who was over that age. After a fair chunk of the room did so, she said, "All dead."

Rhetorically effective, but wrong. If average height is 5'8", does everyone stop growing at 5'8"? An average represents the middle of a sample. Some people will be above average and some are below average. Heck, depending on the distribution, the majority could be above average!

And she knew better, which was the most annoying thing.

05 May 2005


Not much of note happened today, but who can resist making a post on 05/05/05?

Although yesterday was the last day of classes, the pace of my days has not slowed down. I tested a new oxygen meter for a research project, met with one of my undergraduates, had a meeting about our new textbook, took care of a shipment of new crayfish, filled out some forms and a few other odds and ends.

04 May 2005

Better than expected

There was a meeting on the workload policy I mentioned recently. And huzzah! From the criticisms on the draft, they put back the various ways to get teaching release, and even recommended increasing the maximum release (thus lowering the teaching load, potentially). Whew.

03 May 2005

No good deed goes unpunished

Our university is trying to move more towards research. As part of that movement, there's a move afoot to reduce the standard teaching load across the board. This is good. A draft version of the policy, however, all but removes any possibility of teaching release. This is bad. The short version is that under the new plan, the hardest working faculty will have to do more work (because the release they had been granted won't exist any more), whereas people who haven't done anything get the benefits of a reduced teaching load. Fortunately, this is a draft document, so there might be a chance of changing it. I hope!

Speaking of teaching, my last lectures for the semester were yesterday. Time now to do some grade bookkeeping and start figuring out what projects I'm going to try to do over the summer.

Finally, in these days where getting research published is quite competitive, I found this story to be highly interesting.
(W)hen the Brown University researcher's paper was recently rejected from an occupational medicine journal, he simply bought two pages of ad space and printed the entire article in the same journal.