I am scientist, hear me roar

23 04 2015

Dear Public,

I am a scientist that studies epithelial cell development. Guess what? I can tell you a lot about epithelial cell development. The different types of epithelial cells. Their roles in tissue and organ development as well as what we know about their roles in cancer and other diseases. I can tell you about how basic immunology works from being in an immunology lab. The similarities and difference between invertebrate and vertebrate organisms. Why studying an invertebrate model is so useful. I can also tell you a whole lot of what we don’t know. Basically we know shit. Even small, relatively genetically simple organisms such as Drosophila are an amazingly complex system. Don’t even get me started on how complex human bodies are.

As a scientist that studies cell biology, I use alot of genetic techniques used by many researchers in a diverse field, from agriculture to ecology to cell biology. I know about DNA and the techniques used to manipulate it. I know how to read biomedical research and basic science developmental articles. From over a decade of experience I have learned which questions to ask, what controls to look for etc.

Wanna know what I don’t know? I don’t shit about any other scientific field. Being an expert in cell biology does not make me an expert in nutrition. Or climate change. Or geology. Or astronomy. Or medicine. Or farming. Or computers. Or coding.

Similarly, being a cardiac surgeon does not make you an expert in anything other than cardiac surgery. Despite what Grey Anatomy might portray. Or Dr. Oz.

I also understand that you don’t trust some institutions. Historically, power was in the hands of white males and I understand that some government institutions condoned very bad behaviour. As a women and person of color, I understand systemic bias first hand.

What I don’t understand is why you trust someone making a shitload of money off of you versus the  thousand and thousands of people who work doing the research, often with poor wages and little job security.

Most of the research published is done by grad students and postdocs. The PIs are too busy writing grants to try and keep the lab afloat.  We don’t make a lot of money. Lots and lots of non-scientists make way more than I do. When I try and explain to you why Jenny McCarthy or Dr.Oz are lying for the purpose of selling their books and making money, the accusation that I”m in the pocket of Monsantos or Big Pharm pisses me the fuck off. I am not the one living in Hollywood and going on exotic vacations. Trust me I wish I could lie to you because then I would make a shit load of money instead of worrying about how I am going to pay for my kids activities / new shoes / clothes.

Let me tell you. I do not have multimillion dollar book sales. I do not have my own TV show, I don’t even have a job unless you the public feel my research is worthy. Yet you don’t trust me or the thousands of others like me that spend their days trying to find out the why to so many questions. You trust the asshole who lies and contradicts himself  all the time. What the fuck. For every “coverup” that was real, someone blew the whistle! Because you can not pay us enough to keep our mouth shut. Do you really think I am sitting here on twitter or this blog because I am getting paid? Right now I would rather being doing some yoga.

Please dear public stop being so fucking stupid. Ask questions but remember that asking questions and being cynical does not equal critical thinking. Critical thinking requires you to understand the answers to your question and whether the answer really does address the question. How does the information you have integrate with what you know to be true. Stop being lazy.

For the last time, we scientist are not perfect. Just like in medicine and society at large,  we have the assholes, the frauds, and the cheats within our community. Look at what the person has to gain. What do I have to gain? If you listen to this my blood pressure will not rise to the point that my head is popping off from anger at your accusation that I am making money or am in someones pocket.

Please and thank you.





How the funding of science suppresses diversity

20 04 2015

A fair warning, what follows is not going to be the most articulate, well written piece on this I have a kid whose midnight wake up is coming up.

Last week Dr.Hollenbach wrote a blog describing how he’s closing his lab. If you look at him, he is the stereotypical image that pops up when you use google image with the word scientist. Though they’ve added some females and a splattering of color since Dr.Isis last did this. The stereotypical guy in science didn’t make it. If you read Namaste, Ish at Drugmonkey’s or even DrugMonkeys own take on it, Dr.Hollenbach failed because he wasn’t productive enough.

At least that is how I read it. He was not doing cool enough, exciting enough science, fast enough. The fast enough is what it comes to. The funding climate is crap, both above and below the 49th parallel. Pressure is on PIs to publish in high impact journals. Its getting hard and harder to publish. Only the elite of an already elite group (of intelligent, hardworking people) are successful.

Here is what all the above looks like to a non-stereotypical soon to be PhD:

– In my field of study (broadly cell biology in a fly model system), 10 years ago the PhDs at the time were graduating with 4-5 papers. Most had at least 3 papers because the data within a thesis chapter was thought to be equivalent to the data required for a paper. That does not happen now. Most of my cohort has 1 submitted paper. Some have 1 published IF they were collaborating with another person. Which means its a shared first author publication. At my last committee meeting, I was told to write up as I had enough data for 1 paper submission and additional data for another chapter, as it told a story. It clearly showed differences in the role of two proteins. I have not shown why or how these proteins have different roles. Most likely I can not publish that data until I can define at least 1 of the processes that Protein A is involved in but Protein B is not. This is not a simple or non-time consuming project. In the end, I will have 2 maybe 3 papers IF I”m lucky enough for my PI to be able to keep me on after I defend (i’m not because of a lack of funding!!). I will need to because most papers are not accepted in the first submission. Yes I have started the “for reviewers” experiments, or at least the ones I can think of. High productivity in a tough publishing environment stacks the deck against you from the start. Now what if you have diverse students? Smart students with physical disabilities that slow them down or require them to work less hours? What if english is a second language so they take longer to master concepts? What if the student has a kid or two while doing their PhD? How will that impact the PI’s productivity?

I am 1 of 6 students. I have taken a total of 2 years off for mat leave and have essentially worked part time over the last 2 years as I could not afford fulltime care for my kids. I do not complete my science as quickly as someone that can put in 12 hour days/ 7 days a week. Even if I had fulltime childcare, I would be working 9-5. I can not come in on the weekends. Of course I work at night. I regularly analyze my data from 9pm-1am. I am a drag to my PI. Not because “hands” are good. They are great. I am extremely good at what I do. I will not give conclusive statements until I’ve repeated an experiment more than 3x. My PI knows that every thing I do has been  quadrupled checked.  My lack of availability means I’m not getting my data into a paper fast enough. No matter how much I work at night, I am limited by the time I can spend in the lab. If I don’t get the data for a paper, My PI can’t apply for grants.

We had a not so good student before me and a crappy postdoc so that equals 6 years of science not published. This can happen to many PIs. One bad student or one bad postdoc and they are screwed. We also had an AWESOME postdoc and a good student. Both got 2 publications since I’ve been in the lab. This means in 6 years we’ve had 4 publications. Not good according to DrugMonkey and Namaste, Ish.

The lab next door? The PI is exactly like Dr. Hollenback. A good mentor, I’ve known five of his students all but one have been really happy. The one that wasn’t happy, had issues outside of hir abilities in the lab, but those issues effected hir science and s/he  did not publish. The crappy student cost the PI to lose funding for a round. He rebounded but didnt get a renewal again and had to let his amazing lab manager go. It was a pretty shitty time. He’s gone into admin parttime…..

You’ve gotten to the bottom of this and you’re asking. WTF does this have to do with diversity in science? Everything. My PI has been amazingly supportive of me (outside of the thesis fiasco), despite the fact that I am hurting her productivity simply for being a parent with a working spouse.

I am not fast. I am through. I am knowledgeable and I am not slow. I am graduating with my cohort despite taking a year off and working parttime. But I am still not fast enough. I am not productive enough. I am not writing the papers that get my PI into C/N/S.

Those papers that are the fundamentally awesome papers that move fields forward are not in CNS. As I write my thesis and dive into the literature, I’ve noticed the papers that started areas of research or made groundbreaking observations were published in Development, Developmental Biology and other society journals. Really crappy papers got published in higher impact journals (and the society journals) not because of the science but because of the (male) senior author(s).

I am a parent with 2 kids. I am not going out to dinner, staying for the pizza/beer/science chit chat to network so that I too can get my name recognized. I can’t as I have kids I have to pick up from childcare.  I”m not going out to lunch / coffer for the science chat / networking. I can not because I have to get my shit done so I can leave at 2:30 to pick up my kid. Which means no one knows who I am. The scientist without the partner / kids / ageing parents.  They can focus.

This isn’t a male / female issue. The funding climate is selecting for people who can work 24/7. The ones with a partner at home (usually female) or without a partner or family obligations. I am not a good choice for a postdoc, not because I am not capable, not intelligent but because I can not make your lab 110% my priority. When “the small grocers” can no longer survive because you’ve starved them out you get WALMART science.

Why would I, the poster child of diversity for science want to stay where I am not welcome?





8

10 04 2015

Dear Monkey, This is letter is so overdue. Its partly late partly because mommy is trying to finish school and partly because mommy can’t believe you’re already 8. How did this happen so fast? And how is it that you’ve instantly gone from this sweet little boy to this confident 8 year old boy with all the boyish obsession over body parts and sillyness that comes with 8. I have to admit, sweetheart I am unequipped to deal with this change. I can see that you sense that. You seem to be closer to your dad, which is so great because lets be honest, I was never an eight-year old boy. You still continue to amaze me with your kindness and intelligence. Now as you grow older, you challenge me to think about life in different ways. The questions you ask are no longer easy to answer and that I don’t know everything. I’m lucky that you’re OK with that and together we’re learning together. This also seems to be the year where you are starting to practice the all important preteen/teenage attitude. I have to admit, its been driving me a bit nutty. But I think some deep breathing on my part will help. I promise to keep trying to be patient if you promise to keep letting me snuggle with ya before you go to sleep. LOVE YOU mom





its been awhile

1 04 2015

I apparently haven’t written a post since bears birthday. Which means I haven’t written monkeys birthday letter. Its been getting harder and harder to write those. I should, as i’m sure he will love it if I ever let him read it.

this is me trying to re-connect. After having bear, I stopped blogging. I was finding it hard to stay on top of it what with balancin 2 kids, my commute and lab work. Plus it was getting harder and harder to keep my pseud. But I need to write. I miss my bloggy friends. In the last 6 months I’ve stopping being on twitter as well so I feel disconnected from my science community. I’m trying to get back on twitter. It requires me to give up my candy crush addiction. Which is so damn hard. But hopefully I’m still in your feeds.

I’m writing my thesis right now so…..





Three going on I’m ready to rule the world

11 08 2014

Dear Bear,

You’re three! A big girl that can swim to the dock by yourself, pick you own clothes and play for laughs with the best of them. My dear readers here don’t know you very well as you don’t give me even a moment to write down how amazing you are. You have given me lots of opportunities to take pictures and video, but not give you 110% of my attention at all times is unacceptable. Its not too bad, you’re big brother is more than happy to help fill your “look at me” desires. Might have something to do with the fact that you know just how to go running to him when I say no. It amazes me to see how well wrapped he and your dad is. You can play them like fiddles.  I am impressed.

You are the daughter I always wanted.  A girl who will cuddle with me, hug me, a girl that I can show all the amazing things she can do. Just only when you want too. You cuddle on your terms, when you want. You own the world and let everyone know it. You have no fear of consequences for not listening or anything else. You challenge every boundary we set. Everyday. All day. Multiple times. I love your tenacity and never want you to lose it, even though it makes me want scream multiple times a day.

My littlest bear you are so smart. It amazes me how quickly you learn. How much you can remember. You heard a song once in the morning and in the evening you were singing and dancing to it. You love to dance. You love to sing. I love to watch you rocking out as you change your clothes, eat your dinner or just simply to dance and sing in the middle of a lake. About how you love to be in the middle of the lake.

There is so much I love about you. You are my dearest little bear, sweetheart. I hope I can foster your fearlessness, nurture your intelligence and let you know that I am always here for you. To support, encourage and yes to let you grow.

love you babe,

mama





I don’t know how to help ScienceMama

17 04 2014

I started blogging a long long time ago. When monkey was just barely 1.5 years old, I was coming back from my first maternity leave, returning to lab that was in a downward spiral. Thanks to some great readers, whom provided amazing advice I was able to make some really really good choices. Now 6 years and 2 kids later I’m in my final year, trying finish up papers and full of confidence.

6 + years ago the science blogging commmunity was small, I both was so excited and intimidated by the some of the people I read, and who read my words. I was lucky enough to be able to have some really amazing relationships. To become friends off line with some of the bloggers. One such amazing person is ScienceMama – Her blog Mother of all Scientists has been dormant since she had her second kid and finished her post-doc. I’ve been fortunate to maintain contact with her though facebook.

It was a punch in the gut to learn today that her partner has been diagnosed with a terminal illness. I’m not sure how much private information to put on a public blog, but a donation page has been set up for her family. I don’t know if I should link to it here or have people send me emails. I just know she needs our help. Posting her info would be outing her. Medical help in the USA is extra-ordinarily expensive. I just don’t know. love and hugs to ScienceMama





Calling all bio-stats ppl

8 01 2014

Ok folks, I need help and trying to describe what I need on twitter isn’t really working because of the whole 140 character thing. So has many of you know, I am a drosophilist, which means I work on the best model organism EVAH, unless of course you work on something else but can still help me. cough *not* cough….

Seriously, though I’m going to ask some Qs without giving away any specific details because this isn’t published yet etc. I work on the imaginal wing disc of the drosophila and because flies are the most awesomist organism ever, we use the UAS-GAL4  which allows us to knock down genes in specific regions of the disc, which is really cool because we always have an internal wildtype control. You can do a google search of imaginal disc with uas gal 4 and you’ll find amazing images like these ones

So I use a driver to knockdown geneA and look at its effect. I’m specifically interested in looking at the effects, more specifically if any changes occur in the distrubution of proteinB after RNAi knockdown of geneA. I’ve done this experiment multiple times and imaged alot of discs. I’ve taken z-projections and looked at the mean gray values of ProteinB in the z-projection analysis

I’m not looking at the solid red lines, I’m looking at the red dashes within each box. I’m asking if the mean gray value of the WT box is different than the mean gray value of the RNAi box? IE are there less dashes in RNAi box vs the WT.  I did this analysis in ImageJ and recognize its a crude estimate as there is a lot of white space one both sides, which may mask changes but a girl can’t be picky.

So say  I have done this analysis on 30 discs, each with a WT and RNAi mean gray value (MGV). I’ve used Prism to set up a 1 variable group, with WT in ColumnA and RNAi in ColumnB. I ran a pair-wise t-test but I don’t think that is correct because a pair-wise T-test is asking if the differences between the WT and RNAi is consistent. I don’t care if the differences are consistent because there are many factors which may make 1 disc have a greater difference than another disc. I want to know if the difference is important. If I divide each RNAi MGV by the its WT  by its internal MGV, I get a value that is different than 1. How do I test if this is significant? Do I use a ratio t test? or is any difference significant?

Any ideas on how to do this analysis? Because proteinB is a phospho proteins its staining is very punctate so if you have better idea for how to analysis the images that would be awesome too.

thanks!








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