30 June 2005

Post(er) it notes

Yesterday was sort of another day that got away from me in terms of research. The morning was spent getting my annual eye check-up, then back to work in time to celebrate a colleague's birthday (fellow chocoholic Anita received a big, deadly triple choccy cake), then I spent most of the afternoon chatting with our new faculty hire, cell biologist "Crazy" Jon Lieman, about teaching technology. (I didn't dub him Crazy Jon, by the way; his buddy Mike did.) About the only thing I managed to do, research-wise, was to straighten out my travel arrangements for the upcoming Tunicate Meeting, which is just a little over a week away. Eep!

That put me in sufficient panic that today was spent preparing the poster that I'm supposed to present at said meeting. And I pretty much finished it! Ha! Luckily, I've been writing all this stuff up for not one, but two grant proposals, so it's all very fresh in my mind, and all the information was pretty much all at my fingertips. Plus, I had the power of the newest version (12) of CorelDRAW!, one of my favourite pieces of software, working for me. I made up a small version of the poster (i.e., not the two meter long version I'm going to print next week) and sent it off to my colleagues and students to review in case I did anything stupid with it.

I'm getting closer to actually being able to spend time in the lab generating data. Soon. But not yet.

27 June 2005

Nuthin' but news

I found out this afternoon that all my teaching release requests for next year have been granted. This is great news, because it means I'll be moving from six classes per academic year to four. Which is (best Chris Eccleston voice) fantastic, because it means I can slate just one for the fall, when I need to be doing research on animals that are only available then, and do the rest of the courses in the spring. It reduces the chance of my head exploding sometime later in the year, too.

I am largely finished another grant proposal for the NSF. This one will be a bit of a risk, because it's venturing into a new area of research for me, getting away from the emphasis on neurobiology and behaviour that has been my mainstay to date. But you live and learn, or you don't live long, as Heinlein said.

Next writing project is my poster for the International Tunicate Conference in California next month. The news there is that my co-author on the poster, Virginia, informed me today that she's had minor surgery on her arm and can't go with us as planned. So our travel plans have been completely thrown up in the air. It just isn't easy going anywhere this summer! Louisiana visit falls through, California trip all wonky, and loose plans for other trips are still just that -- loose.

But speaking of writing the poster, how am I able to do all this writing? All thanks to the power of having minions! My two students, Michael and Sandra, have been given the task of going to the beach today. They get to muck around in the warm water and collect animals while I stay in my office and write, and write, and write some more. I'm not sure which of us is getting the better deal. Sunburn or repetitive strain injury? Hmmmm. Decisions, decisions...

Here's the new Dean, same as the old Dean. Literally. After we lost Michael Eastman, who went back to University of Texas El Paso, the assistant dean, Ed LeMaster, stepped in as interim dean. There was a search, and Ed put his hat in the ring. Somewhat to my surprise (surprise not because I think the less of Ed, but for other reasons), he got the gig and will be the real, actual, factual Dean for a while. I think that means the university now has two colleges (out of six!) with actual Deans instead of interim Deans.

Additional: I believe I noted some time ago that a kid's magazine, Spider, was doing a story about sand crabs (or, as they called them, mole crabs). I supplied them with some photos for that. I just now received the copies of the July issue that feature the article. I'll see if I can't get a small thumbnail scan up here a little later.

And that's just some of the stories we're following this week.

26 June 2005

Sometimes it's good to miss things

In the last entry, I mentioned I was a little disappointed that I missed the afternoon mail on Friday, because my manuscript wasn't on the way out. Of course, now I'm kind of glad it didn't, because here I am this afternoon, fixing two trivial little things I forgot to do. One was that the author's instructions for this journal tell you to put where figure should go in pencil in the margin. Forgot that. While I was doing that and looking at the instructions, I realized that they want tables numbered I, II, III and IV instead of 1, 2, 3, and 4. So I fixed that, too. Neither is a big deal, but I should get as many of them right as I can.

24 June 2005

Back into the fray

I missed the afternoon mail. Drat. I just finished up the revisions on my recently rejected manuscript, and was hoping to get it physically out of the building with the afternoon mail. But at least it's now in an envelope, off my desk, and ready for the next go round in the great game of scientific publishing. I think I did a pretty good job the turn around time for the revision, and I think (hope?) that the paper is a tighter overall. We'll see what the reviewers think.

23 June 2005

Rejection and obsession

... Or, how writing a scientific manuscript is a little like dating.

I always get wound up reading reviews for a paper or grant proposal I submitted. Even after all this time, I still get little shakes and trembles and a weird feeling in my chest. That was as true of this most recent manuscript rejection as anything. So what is the normal behaviour following rejection? Well, my entry title kind of gives it away. I have been obsessing about revising this manuscript, and getting it into the hands of another journal editor. After sitting on the paper for years, literally, I feel more than a little desperate about not losing momentum.

Get back on the horse. Plenty of other fish in the sea. Get over it!

Contender for best scientific paper title of the year

Scientific papers are far too often dry affairs. So I respect and appreciate authors David Ayre and Richard Grosberg for giving me a research paper title that made me laugh out loud. Their new paper in Animal Behaviour is, "Behind anemone lines: factors affecting division of labour in the social cnidarian Anthopleura elegantissima." This link to the article may not be available to all readers (due to subscription blackouts).

22 June 2005

Short turnaround, at least

One of my three recent manuscripts was rejected. The reviewers suggested it was more appropriate to a different journal, so back into revision it goes.

21 June 2005

The perversity of the Universe

I was supposed to be in Louisiana today, giving a talk. I canceled the trip, because my passport was getting renewed, which meant that I didn't have my passport or driver's license. No ID is not a happy thing for a foreigner traveling in the U.S. Of course, the perversity of the Universe demands that the day I was supposed to give my talk, my passport and other paperwork arrives. :(

20 June 2005

The day that got away

Odd day. I ended up spending most of the morning in an impromptu meeting about a new graduate class, then spent a good chunk of the afternoon talking to a prospective new graduate student, actually missed a meeting in the middle of the day (oops), and just didn't quite manage to close in on any accomplishments.

Yesterday, on the other hand, was refreshingly non-science. Went shopping with a little "windfall" cash. Spend pretty much all day buying about six items. But luckily, we came in at a good weekend, with lots of semi-annual sales. About three of our purchases were 50-60% off, which was good news.

16 June 2005


I've talked a little bit before in this journal about the aesthetic pleasure of realizing that something you thought were two things are actually only one. That "A-ha!" moment. It's often small, but it's always nice. I had one today, working on my latest grant proposal. I wanted to include two sort of separate projects that I've been working on -- one on the experimental animals' responses to stress, and the other on the animal's decision making. I was thinking and thinking about which to include, or how to link them together somehow. And I thought of one! I was very pleased. Sadly, the nature of the proposal process is such that I can't go into more detail than that right now. Can't give the game away yet!

In less thrilling news, a trip I had planned for next week to Louisiana State University is now in serious jeopardy, because I haven't got back paperwork from Canada yet. I'm having my passport renewed, and I want my passport back and some associated paperwork before I travel. I wasn't planning on flying, but because I'm nudged right up against the Mexican border, there are road checkpoints, mainly for drugs and illegal immigrants. And I have been pulled over and asked for my passport at one of these things before. So Finagle's Law says if I try to travel without this stuff, I will end up needing it.

More time to work on grant proposals. And manuscripts. And supervise students. And update courses. And fix the graduate program. And... and... and...

15 June 2005

Odd measures we have known

I learned today, from our university's Stats at a Glance booklet, that UTPA has 66 students per acre. Why anyone would want to know that is completely beyond me. The sheer oddity of the figure makes me want to find a way to work it into my next grant proposal. Just because. I'd have to convert it into students per hectare, though, since scientific writing demands metric.

13 June 2005

"Dang" minimization

I just had a look at the reviews for the last proposal I submitted, and am encouraged. Sure, it's a rejection, but it's one of the most positive rejections I've seen so far. Strong encouragement to revise and resubmit the proposal, which is exactly what I'll aim for.

12 June 2005


Can't escape rejection even on the weekends. I got notice today that another grant proposal, this one for equipment, got rejected. Oh well, I'll read the reviews to see how much they hated it and see if it can't be fixed. I kind of expected it, truth be told, since it was the first crack we'd had at this particular program.

11 June 2005

The end of an era (sort of)

I just printed off and am ready to stuff in an envelope my third manuscript in as many weeks. Wow. I'm very, very pleased about getting all those out.

I do have a confession to make, though, about something of which I'm not so proud. All of those manuscripts were based on my last post-doc, which I finished slightly over four years ago. Ouch. Those really should have been put into the hands of editors a lot sooner, but when you become a new assistant professor, trying to find uninterrupted time to concentrate and finish these things is sometimes hard to come by. That said, my colleague Virginia told me research has shown that if a scientist didn't write a paper about their research before they left the institution, the chances of it ever getting done were vanishingly close to zero. So I am a teensy, tiny bit proud that I've bucked the trend.

In other news, my recent ascension to graduate program director has come with an unexpected side effect. I now seem to be one of the people in the short-list to substitute for the Department Chair when he can't make a meeting. I'll be going to a meeting about faculty credentials (yawn) this Tuesday. Turns out that UTPA is getting ready for re-accreditation, and one of the big things is to show that all the faculty are 24 carat, bona fide, certified academics with degrees. Somewhere along the way, some documentation was never asked for or got lost.

In fact, I was one of the ones they asked to provide with a new undergraduate transcript. I was prepared to be quite miffed at this, and was prepared to ask who was going to pay for all this documentation that apparently administration lost. It turned out, though, that the missing transcript from my undergraduate institution, the University of Lethbridge

, was free for the asking. And I can't get too upset when it doesn't cost me anything.

I doubt other faculty will be so lucky, though.

08 June 2005

Write, write, write...

After working hard on the beach to collect animals yesterday (with no much payoff, sad to say), today I've spent almost the entire day earning chairsores (they're like bedsores, but from inactivity in a chair instead of a sickbed). I have been writing, and writing, and writing some more, working on a manuscript that is long overdue. As in, the data were all collected at least four years ago. Sigh. It's amazing what a teaching job keeps you from getting done in a timely manner. The good news is that I've very pleased with the progress I've made today. I think I'll have a draft I can ship off to an editor in the not too distance future. The end is in sight!

05 June 2005

I'm not myself...

I am, apparently, Isaac Newton. This according to ABC's "Which scientist are you?" quiz. I was rather disappointed to find out I wasn't me...

04 June 2005

Summertime, and the living is... hectic

A lots gone on in the last little while. I've got a new research assistant, a graduate student named Sandra who I've worked with as an undergraduate. She's decided to complete a Masters degree. I'm very pleased I was able to find her some cash as my research assistant to get her started.

That's if the university decides to pay her like they're supposed to, that is. My HHMI undergraduate student, Michael, informed me last week that none of the students in that program have been paid since December. Wha—? It's not like there's no money, it's over a million dollar grant. But a big chunk of the institution doesn't seem to care if we treat what are ostensibly our best and brightest students like rubbish. I wrote an email to our university president today informing her of this situation. Don't know if it'll do any good, but at least I can say I tried.

Still, a day at the beach might relieve some of the stress. I was able to do that last week, when Sandra and I went out to collect mud shrimp on the beach at South Padre Island. It went well; god day, low tide, animals coming up quite easily. We're planning on making another run out this Tuesday, only this time, the whole lab (Sandra and Michael and incoming HHMI student Veronica) will be heading out for an afternoon trip to our Coastal Studies Lab to collect and plot and plan.

Of course, I still have other irons in the fire. As new graduate program coordinator, I'm meeting with our dean to talk about the state of the program. I've spend the last couple of days chewing through some data so I'll be able to convince him of a few things (I hope). No shortage of things to fix in our graduate program.