This is why I blog: gratitude from stellar student, recovering addict seeking grad school advice

[This 23rd July entry is being reposted today under the ScienceBlogs “Education” channel as its original categorization there fell victim to gremlins in the upgraded Movable Type script.]
At the outset, let me say that I have immense respect and admiration for a special commenter.
In last week’s Friday Fermentable post, we took the 40th anniversary of the Apollo XI mission as an opportunity to draw attention to Buzz Aldrin’s newly-released autobiography, Magnificent Desolation. In it, Aldrin describes his lifelong battle with depression and alcoholism and how he has managed both challenges.
Recently, several of my colleagues within and outside the ScienceBlogs network have had extensive discussions of mental illness in the context of academic training and performance (here is an example of a 60+ comment post by DrugMonkey). However, I hadn’t really thought about our relative lack of discussion of substance abuse and chemical dependence in the context of scientific training and academia.
So, it is with gratitude that I reprint this comment and ask this learned gathering for advice on her behalf:

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How to broaden the reach and legitimacy of blogging to practicing scientists

Several of my blogging colleagues have been discussing over the last few days whether there is value in cultivating fellow scientists as readers of science blogs. While some find this a waste of time, others recognize that blogs provide a useful, real-time platform for disseminating information and discussing current issues and career development challenges that cannot be done well in print format. The informality of the blog also allows for frank discussion to be had between senior scientists, trainees, and the general public that do not often (if at all) occur at one’s home institution.
Colleague Isis (and her generous readers!) has done a terrific job lately in using her blog to cultivate career development funds in support of an American Physiological Society David S. Bruce Award for outstanding undergraduate research. This effort has increased awareness among society members and leadership regarding the value of blogs to the greater scientific community.
As such, Isis has put forth this question in part two of a twopart series, Who Cares About Blogs?

[H]ow do we blog to scientists who do not know or understand blogging, or who have the pre-conceived notion that blogs are places where 16 year old girls write about what they had for breakfast?

My answer is influenced heavily by discussions I have had with my colleague DrugMonkey, an NIH-funded scientist who is outside my area of expertise but with whom I share these goals:

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Sometimes “allies” need a kick in the pants

We had one of our most active comment threads the other day when I posted my thoughts on drdrA’s own superb post about what is most important to her in being a woman in science. I noted my own desire to listen to and understand as completely as possible the issues of my women colleagues and discuss, in an upcoming ScienceOnline’09 session with Zuska and Alice Pawley (Sat 17 Jan, 11:30 am, session C), how they can enlist academic allies who have the traditional power and resource structure (i.e., white guys like me) to establish partnerships in working toward fair and equitable treatment of women in the STEM disciplines.
Much discussion ensued, particularly as pointed out by a commenter named Spaulding, that Zuska’s rightfully pissed off tone in many of her blogposts is alienating to some of the men she seeks as allies. I and others argued that potential allies must first put aside one’s defensiveness and listen to the content and reasons for the anger. I am learning this in several other aspects of my professional life from other groups who have been traditionally screwed over.
Well, I am truly blessed with some wonderful and thoughtful readers and the following note came in from a woman scientist whom I respect greatly. Everyone involved in last Tuesday’s discussion (and all men in science) should read this. It is truly outstanding:

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Do you remember your defense?

For whatever reason, I woke up really depressed and exhausted today – pretty much for no reason, I think.
I checked my schedule on my Treo – today marks 19 years since my dissertation defense.
I remember being really depressed throughout writing my dissertation thinking, “is this all I have to show for this many years of public support for my training?”
My defense was on a Monday so I spent most of Sunday practicing my seminar in the room where I’d give it – it sucked so badly that I couldn’t even get through it once.
When the time came, it was the most incoherent performance I had ever given or ever would.
I was a blithering idiot during my oral exam. There was a great deal of laughter in the room as I stood outside in the hall.
How in the hell did they give me a Ph.D.?

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Bora runs out of internet; starts new carnival – CORRECTION: Martin (The Lay Scientist) is the actual founder

CORRECTION: The following was to be a part-sincere/part-serious sendup of my buddy Bora’s penchant for monitoring the entire Internet. Bora did indeed host the first edition of Praxis, the new blog carnival of academic life.
However.
The Praxis experimental carnival of “the experience of living the scientific” was established, founded, and otherwise continues to be led by Martin, author of The Lay Scientist blog.

Martin.gifMini Bio:
Well I’m Martin, I live in Cambridge, England, and this is me on the Amazon in 2007. I did a frankly weird Ph.D. looking at the relationship between models from ecology, immunology and socioeconomics, and currently I’m a soon-to-be-unemployed post-doc working on ecological and biological modeling.

Bora did indeed suggest the idea in his comment to his own post on blog carnivals. But it was Martin who on that very same day conceived and compiled the listing, call for a name, called for hosts and posts, and all else associated with establishing a new blog carnival: guidelines, schedule, etc.
And you’ve got to love a gent who leads off Sunday morning with a post entitled, “What Does Human Flesh Taste Like?” that refers to science itself and not that crackergate fiasco.


PraxisI’ve gotta say that I sometimes feel sorry for my bud, Bora Zivkovic. It seems as though Teh Internetz aren’t big enough to exhaust his attention so he feels that he must start a new blog carnival. He mused about it a couple of weeks ago, and now here it is:
Bora is hosting the first edition of Praxis, whose mission statement is as follows:

The carnival is intended to cover all aspects of life as an academic, whether it’s the lifestyle, career progress, doing a Ph.D., getting funding, climbing the slippery pole, academic life as a minority, working with colleagues and students, dealing with the peer-review process, publishing, grants, science 2.0, amusing anecdotes, conference experiences, philosophical musings, public engagement, or even historical articles about what life was like in the good (or bad) old days.

Praxis is derived from the term by Aristotle as the activity or process of practicing or enacting knowledge.
I used to write a lot more about academic mentoring and such but have really dropped off as of late. Still, the Amazing Zivkovic was generous enough to find and grab two of our recent posts to put in Praxis, one on the NEJM article on medical curriculum revision and the other a brief blurb on the latest act of terrorism against researchers who employ animal subjects.

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Share your poor-student recipes with Jake

MD/PhD student Jake Young at Pure Pedantry came up with a great idea and is collecting recipes for cheap, grad student/med student meals. (We of Eastern European heritage love a kid who suggests an inventive application of kielbasa.).
The submissions in the comment thread remind me that our food supply system is so screwed up that the most nutritious foods are the most expensive. When one is living on a student stipend, paying your own way, or , more seriously, if you are one of millions of US citizens living in abject poverty, one usually purchases the most calories per dollar. In our country, that usually means something high in saturated fat, high-fructose corn syrup, or both. Healthy food is expensive food.
So, take the challenge and go over to Jake’s to submit one of your favorite recipes for something that is both inexpensive and healthy. It’s not as easy as it might seem.

First anniversary of DrugMonkey

We’re a little bit late here in wishing the DrugMonkey blog a happy 1st blogiversary. Contributors DrugMonkey, BikeMonkey, and PhysioProf have had a very productive year of offering valuable career advice for graduate and postgraduate trainees in the biomedical sciences, general discussions on NIH grant funding, and various topics in neuroscience.
The sci/med blogosphere is populated quite heavily by graduate students, medical students, and postdoctoral fellows. This situation is perhaps easy to explain in that most of these trainees are of an age that is comfortable with social networking and public discussions via the intertubes. For some reasons not entirely clear to me, physicians are exceptions to this rule and we see doc bloggers across the spectrum from residents and fellows to full profs, and from academia to private practice.
However, NIH/NSF/other-big-agency grant-funded PhD researchers who spend most of their bandwidth talking about the business of conducting biomedical research are less frequently found as bloggers; DrugMonkey is one of the few out there. And again, for reasons not entirely clear to me, the other ones out there are primarily women, such as FemaleScienceProfessor.

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A PI’s Perspective on the “Hypomotivated Trainee”

The always-insightful blog commenter, PhysioProf, had a terrific post yesterday on DrugMonkey about managing the various types of trainees in a research laboratory.

Some are focused on just doing interesting science. Some are working towards the goal of eventually achieving scientific independence and becoming independent PIs themselves. Some don’t know why they are doing what they are doing, and may not even have ever asked themselves. Some are preparing themselves for working as scientists in industry. Some may be preparing themselves for non-scientific careers in which they make use of their scientific training: science journalism, business, law, public policy, etc. And some are just happy to have somewhere to go every day and receive a paycheck.

A discussion of each type of trainee ensues – read the whole post.

Abel sez: Vote for Shelley!

Vote for Shelley!
Welcome readers, I am Dr John Jacob Abel, namesake of the proprietor of this blog and The Father of American Pharmacology. Among my many scientific and educational accomplishments was my establishment of the first American Department of Pharmacology at the University of Michigan in 1891.
It has come to my attention through something called a “blog” that a fellow Wolverine and neuroscience trainee, Dr-to-be Shelley Batts of Retrospectacle!, is competing for a student blogging scholarship worth $10,000 offered by CollegeScholarships.org (vote here). Shelley was very kind to take this picture of me at my display at UMich and pass it along to Dr Pharmboy before they joined ScienceBlogs. She has a deep appreciation for the history of neuropharmacology and neuroscience and is currently studying how to prevent and treat deafness. She’s a superb graduate student and a great ambassador for her university and her discipline. Her newfangled “blog” is very well-written, with a depth and breadth of understanding that I have found rarely in PhD students.
Despite the fact that I’ve been dead since 1938, I consider Shelley a friend and colleague. I understand that being a graduate student is a lot more expensive than in my day and I’m certain that your support of Shelley will pay dividends in helping her along in her career development. (Vote for Shelley!). Only one vote can be registered from a single IP address (whatever that is) but that means you can vote from your home computer, work computer, and web phone, etc.
Please consider supporting this fine young scientist….and Go Blue!
Vote for Shelley!