August 31, 2007
A writeup in ScienceCareers on an AAAS survey of postdoctoral mentors has a few gems:
Todd Castoe, a postdoc at the University of Colorado Medical School, … “My adviser is giving me a lot of firsthand experience with the practicalities of running a lab. We talk about why we should finish specific projects and how that relates to current and future grants. We look at a pile of new data and decide what direction is most profitable to follow up,” he says. “I get to see the larger picture.”
Castoe has been involved in writing grants, reviewing papers and then discussing them with his adviser, establishing collaborations, and working on grants for large projects. “Thirty percent of my day is devoted to things other than my own research,” he says. Although he sometimes worries that all the added exposure will not be reflected on his CV when he starts to look for a job, he realizes that the training is preparing him to run his own lab. “I would call this one of the best-case scenarios for training. It is very holistic.”
Here’s a guy who understands that the job of a postdoc is not only to get a RealJob but also to prepare oneself as completely as possible for success in that RealJob. Particularly in the first few years where the learning curve is steep, anything you bring along already-learned is a GoodThing.
According to the survey, most supervisors (61 percent) spend 20 percent or less of their professional time supervising their postdocs; the remainder (39 percent) spend more than 20 percent of their time doing so. A large majority (78%) feel that they have this balance just right, while 14% would prefer to spend more time supervising, and only 6% believe this responsibility to be taking too much of their attention. “My philosophy is I could focus on publishing 20 really good papers or also make sure that I train 20 really good scientists who then each publish 20 really good papers,” says professor Graeme Mardon at Baylor College of Medicine. “In the end mentoring makes a greater contribution. For me it is more satisfying to see someone develop than the nuts and bolts of running a lab.”
A fascinating equation. Ever attend the GeezerLecture (you know your society meeting has one or three of these every year) which is either for a formal mentorship award or just from a Luminary who is proud of his (yah, generally male GeezerLectures) trainees? Are you the type that thinks “Damn, I’d be pretty happy to look back at my career and see those 20 of my trainees who are now luminaries in their own right”? Or “Aha! The path to world domination of my scientific views is to generate viable careers for scientists who think like I do!” I know I do… And yet looking at some people’s approach to mentoring and career development you can see that this isn’t even remotely on their radar for a life-accomplishment. I don’t get that.
August 30, 2007
Scientists love them some data and love them some log books. Which came first? Chicken or egg?
I think the first computer program I ever wrote was a log program to keep track of rides as a teenager. It was rudimentary and I never kept up with it; I switched to paper logs in the racing years. I’ve used The Athlete’s Diary for some time now, even though my workouts come in long-interrupted waves. Thirteen rides in the past 17 days though, thank you for asking.
At this point it isn’t really about the motivational obsession although there is a role for that. As in, “Oh no, I can’t have a week with zero hours graphed!” is not to be dismissed for those of us who have a hard time fitting working-out into our job/home/kids schedules. The thing is that with all of the aforementioned busyness, I just can’t remember a damn thing and workouts come way down the list. So how to know if you’ve been overdoing it? How long *has* that knee been throbbing after rides? Why do I feel so dead on the bike? Ahh, when was the last time I did a genuine “just spinning for 30 min” ride? etc. So logging for me tends to motivate *not* working out just as much as it does doing another ride.
A prior post was all about training intensity. This one is to remind that there is great value in rest, backing off and very light workouts on a regular basis.
August 30, 2007
In a recent post, YoungFemaleScientist opines:
as a postdoc, you’re essentially a PI with most of the drawbacks and none of the benefits. You’re frequently on your own, but they get to claim they’re training you. You’re basically doing everything yourself, but they get to be senior author on your paper and put your work in their grants. Etc. etc.
See Thus Spake Zuska discussing an offhand PI quote in a LA Times 4-parter on a neuroscience lab in which it was suggested that grad students are “cannon fodder”. These comments are also supported by a recent Nature piece on trainees as indentured servants of their PIs. These types of comments (and indeed much more of the attitude to be found on YoungFemaleScientist blog) reflect the disgruntled post-doc and disgruntled grad student mindset on “exploitation”. This is a common theme, inevitably cited as a reason for all that is wrong with this “business”. There is some truth to the complaint, of course. But the PI is not always the bad guy and sometimes “exploitation” is actually the voice of experience trying to help the trainee’s career. We’ll start with the hit-em-hard: Read the rest of this entry »
August 29, 2007
Anyone remember how EPO first reared it’s most ugly head in bike racing? Mysterious heart attacks in otherwise young and highly cardiac-fit athletes. EPO (erythropoietin) is a naturally occurring substance that promotes the development of red blood cell precursors. More red blood cells, more oxygen carrying capacity and you get improved performance in aerobic sporting activities. You also, apparently, run the risk of turning your blood into sludge (that’s a technical term) and causing your heart to stop working in the middle of the night if you overdo it.
The obvious inconsistency with the soccer player (footballer for non’Muricans) is that he died on the pitch, not in his sleep.
Nevertheless, remember how cyclists and fans started complaining that other professional sportsmen were involved in Operation Puerto? (Leading to an official denial.) It doesn’t take much to see that EPO would be a nice little help for a soccer player. In fact of the “team” sports this is probably the top suspect for EPO-dopers.
This could be a mysterious virus or congenital defect. Could be.
Update 09/10/07: One conclusion from the ME is a congenital defect, an article on goal.com reviews the issue.
August 28, 2007
Another of my societies has circulated the request from Director Scarpa of the CSR to supply screened lists of senior scientists to serve on study sections. Interestingly, the head of this one has downplayed the “screened” part of the request. So far, there is no chatter on either list respecting the implications of this request.
You can see some of the motivation for appearing to include professional societies here.
Comments from Kathy Wilson of The American Society for Cell Biology:
- Have at least 10% junior people on each section. Their freshness and honesty can counteract some of the conservatism and self-interest.
Um…wow. Somebody gets it…
But then there’s:
Dr. Gregory A. Petsko, American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
- Assistant professors should not serve on study sections
Dr. Gail Cassell, American Society for Microbiology
- No one beneath the associate professor level should serve, nor should those who have unsuccessfully competed in peer review. Peers should review grant applications.
same old drek about seniority. No explaining the reason why this is recommended…as usual.
Perhaps more telling in the Q and A:
Q: Particularly in this funding climate, it is important to use a lot of caution when using a merit-based system. We should continue to avoid cronyism and especially not bias against younger people.
No answer was supplied for Zerhouni, Tabak or Yamamoto. I’m picturing them on the dias looking at each other with blank looks…
There is still work to be done people. The comment period closes on the 7th…
August 28, 2007
Young Female Scientist has a good take on the usual “the now-departed postdoc did it” issue including a set of instructions on how to not be a faker-facilitating PI. Go read it.
Two essential points.
First, many good PIs are deathly afraid of being victimized by cheaters in their lab operating without their knowledge. The usual finding of “the postdoc/grad student/tech did it” underlines this paranoia.
Second, readers of ORI findings who are familiar with labs in which suspicious data are common wonder a LOT about the complicity of the PI in such cases. The first comment to the Young Female Scientist post explores this.
August 26, 2007
A most-confirmedly ex-competitive athlete, I. The formative years, athletically, were the overall formative years and I had the benefit of some formal coaching here and there. One might debate the quality but it was certainly coaching.
I run across the later-life convert to running or cycling, now and again, and there is a common theme. The person who “gets serious” about what-have-you. Marathons, USCF type bike racin’, etc. Being smart and dedicated people they go out and train a whole bunch and usually get pretty decent. Then, there is the plateau. “I want to qualify for Boston, my times are consistent but I can’t get faster”. “I want to do group rides but I’m not fast enough”. “I got dropped from the Cat 5s”.
Everyone has trouble with this idea, the first obvious thing for distance sports is just to go out as hard as you can for most workouts. This is wrong. Once a certain level of competency/fitness has been reached (you completed a marathon? okay, you are there) little benefit is obtained by “doing more long runs” or “training more consistently” or the like. You need to run faster to improve. Speedwork, intervals, etc are the only way.
The cycling plateau is usually the group-ride threshold because being able to stay with the group of riders is a pretty necessary calling card. I can’t tell you how many people focus on average speed. “Well I can hold 18mph for my rides but I hear the local group ride is 24mph so I have to ride more so that I can hang”. Wrongo. Once you get up to the approx 18mph average on mixed terrain you are ready for the next step. Group rides and yes, you will get dropped at times ( So know your roads). The first reason is , of course, the benefit of drafting. Otherwise known as not having to bash through the wind all by yourself. People know this intellectually, of course, but nothing like a 50 miler in a group ride to really generate understanding. The other reason is subtler. You just can’t ride that hard by yourself. Call it motivation, nod to intermittent effort, whatever. There is some weird physiology at work. You’d think all effort would be the same, right? Put out X watts because of a hill, increased wind resistance, or drag brake and it should all be the same training, no? Dunno why but it doesn’t seem to work this way. There is no substitute for sustained big gear riding that you can only maintain because of the pack. So you have to suck it up and go on those local group rides. You’ll get dropped at first, perhaps frequently. Eventually, you’ll develop the skills and power and notice you are a much better rider. You won’t get there by yourself no matter how many hours you put in.
This has something to do with science careers.
August 26, 2007
I used to do this, but it is harder now that I’m a parent…
I’ve been running every other day for the last 3.5 months. Its been great, I feel my energy level increased, my body getting into shape and my productivity increase as well. I will continue as much as I can. In the winter I cross-country ski every chance I can get.
Running is hard my knees and I know I probably don’t do it. I played soccer growing up and did short-distance (i.e. dashes & sprints) running, but I got sidetracked for oh, about 10 years and put on some weight. But I’m off the ciggies, off the junk food (though not entirely…), eating less more often and regularly running. Motivation mostly stems from wanting to be healthy to have fun with kids, and be around in good health for them as long as possible.
Who in this house holla back, aight? RealLife gets in the way of fitness and next thing you know it is TimeToMakeAChange.
I’ve run over 5,200 miles in a single calendar year and have raced about a dozen marathons. All I can say is that although I don’t think and better thanks to all this flailing around, I do think more. I’m often more focused, but with running, I can foster awful ideas with even greater clarity.
So we mortals need some strategies…
Commute: Totally efficient if your cage-commute is like mine. I can easily beat traffic on the way home which is conveniently a net downhill off the TP mesa. And hey, if you have enough, er, southern european male postdoc types around nobody will notice even if you can’t find the showers. Although come on, all science buildings have a shower somewhere. no excuse.
Lights: Gotta have decent ones, gotta do the night riding thing. Late at night or early in the morning. Look having infants and toddlers already screwed up your sleeping habits. You wake up at weird hours or take that 4pm coffee and forget to say “decaf”. Whatever. Don’t fire up the computer and work or read blogs, go for a ride! Okay, I got T-boned by one of PB’s traditional UnbelievablyDrunkChicks a couple of nights ago on the Sail Bay boardwalk but how often can that happen?
Multiple Bikes: Ok, we all know this is hard to get past the spouse unless yours happens to ride as much as you do. But you gotta. Bike geeks love to tinker around with the gear, fixing tires, cleaning, adjusting etc. This is OVER. Bike maintenance is now your hated enemy because you don’t get the extra 30 min prep time anymore to fix something you notice right at ride time. So you need as many options as possible, hopefully one of ‘em is running! Me, I have a lot of stored investment in equipment not to mention the hardware from more recent prior attempts to get back to riding. But you may have to break out the cost of a heart attack or chronic blood thinner meds to get the spouse on board with that $5K rig you want… hey, all’s fair.
Motivation: This can take multiple posts but suffice it to say this is the biggie. Whatever it takes and I mean whatever. Are you a log junkie who wants to see that nice even graph of hours? Track your cumulative miles? Sign up for some crazy endurance race (like the bro just did). Tell yourself you are going to start racing again and re-license? Whatever, just do it. Whatever gets you out for a ride as often as possible.
August 25, 2007
A letter Dr. Scarpa, Director of the CSR, has been circulating to the heads of academic professional societies. I got ahold of this on a society email list. The Society president didn’t want to supply an official Society list and solicited volunteers from the membership.
Dear [SocietyPresident], As you know, the quality of NIH's peer review process depends mightily on the quality of the reviewers serving on our study sections. Several of your fellow society presidents have sent us screened lists of volunteers from their membership who they recommend as reviewers. We greatly appreciate their help and are writing to ask for your assistance in identifying senior, experienced members of your society willing to volunteer to serve as NIH reviewers. Read the rest of this entry »
August 21, 2007
The research fields we follow here at DrugMonkey have lost another tremendous contributor. Dr. Mendelson authored some 339+ articles with a focus on the human and nonhuman primate psychopharmacology of alcohol abuse. The notice from the Research Society on Alcoholism reads:
Jack H. Mendelson, MD (8/30/29 - 8/15/07) Jack H. Mendelson MD, Professor of Psychiatry at the Harvard Medical School and Co-Director of the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Research Center at the McLean Hospital, died Wednesday, August 15th, 2007, after a brief illness. Dr. Mendelson received the Jellinek Memorial Award for research on alcoholism in 1978 and the Distinguished Research Award from the Research Society on Alcoholism in 1989. He was Editor of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol from 1984 to 1991. He leaves his wife of 33 years, Nancy K. Mello, Ph.D., two sons, John E. Mendelson, M.D. and Adam Mendelson, a daughter, Ellen Mendelson Maher, and four grandchildren. Condolences may be sent to his wife: Dr. Nancy K. Mello 1010 Memorial Drive Cambridge, MA 02138 A Memorial Service is being planned for late autumn. Those wishing to contribute to the establishment of an award for innovative research on substance abuse in honor of his memory, may send donations to the Jack H. Mendelson Memorial Fund, McLean Hospital, 115 Mill Street, Belmont, MA 02478.
August 21, 2007
We’ll start off our discussions on sports doping with the classic psychomotor stimulants, the amphetamines. You know, good old “speed”. A class of drugs primarily considered indirect dopamine agonists because they bind to the dopamine transporter with good affinity (dopamine reuptake inhibitor) and also act to facilitate dopamine release from the terminal. As with similar compounds they also tend to have some affinity for other monoaminergic transporters and will thus modulate norepinephrine and serotonin. Nevertheless, the major action usually under discussion is to increase dopamine levels in the synapse. Read the rest of this entry »
August 21, 2007
Online, we don’t know who may be reading. There’s a way in which one’s blog persona is a very public thing (and, thanks to the Google cache, a very public thing that may be available for close inspection for a long time). This can make you pretty careful about how you present yourself. At the same time, especially for those blogging while pseudonymous, communication online can feel safer — you can put your ideas and arguments out there and let them sink or swim on their own merits, rather than having them tied up with preexisting impressions about what kind of person the author of those ideas and arguments is.
As it happens, one thing I had to do was to spend a little time Googling BikeMonkey (no dumbass, my real name, duh) and cycling and some other keywords. Just to see what sort of limb I was going to put DM out on and that sort of thing. It’s bad, but not too bad, so we went with the current scheme. But if Janet only knew. Imagine when your dirty laundry stretches ‘way back into youthful indiscretion territory (no, not of the Henry Hyde midlife crisis variety of “youthful”). It is going to be pretty funny in a decade or two when DM and his frequent commentors have gone to the dark side of “old established professordom” and have to defend these comments to new asst profs! Oh, and also in the blog geekery file, look who I found here; note the page title and general area of endeavor and then page down for cycling interests!
August 20, 2007
People are just desperate. That’s all there is to it. I’m looking over grants, of course, but this even goes beyond our load this time. The appendix rules have changed as most of you know. No more inclusion of published stuff for the most part, just keep it to those accepted manuscripts that haven’t appeared on pre-press sites yet, that sort of thing. I can see that a number of people don’t trust this. Probably the same who used to innundate with their opus, even though most of it was easily available and people had read anyway. But also all kinds of “supportive” stuff that is of various use. The point is that applicants seem to be in a fever because they just don’t know anymore what makes the difference. The perfectly good and perfectly well-revised app is getting hammered. So they (and let’s face it, “we”) flail around a bit with the old kitchen sink approach. Two words.
Have you stopped swimming yet?
August 20, 2007
The NYT had an article a month ago on the fact that in bike-speak “Fit” is not always equal to “Thin”, a fact which apparently confounds Wake-Forest “exercise physiologist” Michael Berry
But, Dr. Berry added, “I quickly learned that when I was riding with someone with a 36-inch waist, I could be looking at the back of their waist when they rode away from me.”
I gotta say runners crack me up. They have a pretty hard time getting cycling, mostly because it seems like a series of “cheats” compared to what they are used to. So when they blow out their knees, grind out their hips, get heel spurs, bang their big toes or whatever, they are forced to the OneTruePath of cycling for health reasons. This leads to much hilarity. To be fair though, I’ll point to two examples of cyclists-come-lately who didn’t have a running background to expand a bit on the NYT article.
First, check out the middle two pictures in the linked article, dude, this could be before/after on Bikemonkey! (Well, those legs are a little spindly for a real cyclist but focus on the equatorial regions if you will.) Suffice it to say I’m a good 40 pounds over racing weight. Most casual friends like spousal co-workers and neighbors kinda “heard” that I “used to ride” but see pretty much the “after” picture. And there is no doubt that my current job is pretty much limited to sitting in front of a computer writing papers and grants and running a lab.
Poor suckah number one was the guy who took up mountain biking to drop some weight in maybe his early thirties. He was a pretty obsessive type and was successful in dropping some weight, getting pretty good on the MTB and finally talked me into a ride. Of course we get back from the first ride and his mouth is pretty much on the ground, not from exertion but because he can’t believe this out of shape guy was putting the hurt on him like this. I am *not* braggin’ here, I peaked out as a sort-of competitive Sport MTB racer which is no great shakes. The point, however, is partially the one raised by the great Andy Hampsten in the NYT article that efficiency means a LOT in cycling. You have to learn to put down the power on a bike in an efficient manner, using as much of the non-physiologically-correct pedal circle as possible with as many muscle groups as possible. To achieve the most efficient pedaling cadence (crank rpm). Some people are going to be better than others, of course, but there is a massive training effect. Apparently this is one of the things that leaves you last and I can still pedal circles, good on me. Efficiency demands are trebled or quadrupled when you are talking off-road riding. Where to start? Everything requires efficiency because the more time you spend slowing down/speeding up because you don’t have the technical skill burns energy. Ditto bouncing up and down because you can’t read terrain. Etc. No, this guy’s full-suspendy bike didn’t help that much.
Second poor suckah was the neighbor, maybe 5-8 years older than me but rail thin, works for a living (i.e., ironworker; more on my formative years with similar working but real bike guys later) and came to cycling recently to keep fit with the rec-triath-wife. I think this episode was in the middle of one of my little motivational bursts where I actually dust off a bike and go for a ride or two. So we go for a nice little jaunt and he’s just killing me on the hills, up Mt. Soledad (the easy way, more on the infamous Via Capri in later posts no doubt) and up onto Torrey Pines Mesa (home of much bioscience for the nerds out there). Then we get up on the flats and crank out to the top of Torrey Pines (the park and popular intervals hill) and come back. The guy’s been killing me on the hills so, ok, I get out front in the big and cruise it a bit. After a while the guy’s dying and I’m getting the “How is this fat guy killing me?” look again. This is one of the points that runners miss, the NYT article overlooked and has a geeky component. Uphill riding is (mostly) about power to weight ratio which we’ve heard all about in Lance’s TdF conquests of the past decade or so. The NYT article talks about heavy people descending fast but this only brushes on the real point. Until the road is really going up, cycling is about power to frontal area because the cost of cutting through the air is so high. Naturally, the relationships of weight-to-power and frontal-area-to-power in cyclists are not directly related. It is no accident that real time trialists look like BigMig and Jan Ulrich (Ob: MDMA!) and guys like Pantani and Sastre have to “limit their losses”; in the TT it is all about raw power output. And fat guys who put on a big belly are probably actually improving their aerodynamics! Anyhoo, NYT missed this and it leads us to our next topic which mystifies me a bit, physiologically.
Another problem for cyclists-come-lately is that it seems to take something like 3 years of serious riding for a cyclist to start to asymptote. Now, this is complete seat-of-pants anecdote but comes from watching people “get serious about cycling” over the years. I’m sure the timecourse is modified by actual training regimen, some of this is tied up with development and there are exceptions. Whatever. There is, however, I think some thing physiological going on with leg musculature and the ability to really crank out the power on a bike. It doesn’t transfer for really fit/dedicated runners. I think the long timeline (years, not months) is really confusing to people who come from other sports, they just don’t think that it might be a 3 year process. So when after a summer of “getting serious about cycling” the fat, old, out-o-shape guy is still waxing them, well, I start getting that “look” again
August 20, 2007
Dave Munger at Cognitive Daily comments briefly on a recent NY Times on the positive effects of exercise on brain function. [Update 8/22/07: Jake at Pure Pedantry waxes pedantic about the Morris Water Maze and data interpretation thereof, jeez.] The Times starts off with the findings from Rusty Gage’s lab at the Salk Institute which focus mostly on evidence of improved neurogenesis, decreased cell death and improved cognition in spatial memory tasks in mice and rats. The pubs started with van Praag et al. 1999 , got a particularly big splash with a finding of improved learning in aged mice (van Praag et al. 2005) and the most recent is van Praag et al. 2007 showing beneficial effects of a plant-derived flavinol in combination with exercise.
[As a sidebar for regular readers of DM, I should point out that San Diego is not only cycling paradise but biomedical research paradise as well. We're home to the University of California, San Diego, the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, The Scripps Research Institute, The Burnham Institute, The La Jolla Institute of Allergy and Immunology, San Diego State University (not only perennial Playboy top party school but the "top small research institute"), and bunch of smaller or less-well-known institutes. Of course, you knew that already... BM Disclosure: Yes, I work for one of these places. It is no accident that DM and I talk science on occasion.]
Getting back to the exercise-hippocampal neurogenesis-spatial learning stuff, the new finding is a report (Pereira et al, 2007) using MRI to evaluate how much blood was rushing (Cerebral Blood Volume; CBV) through the hippocampi of humans before and after a 3 mo aerobic exercise regimen. Findings were that CBV was increased in dentate gyrus after exercise, the increase was correlated with individual changes in VO2max (a good proxy for the physiological benefit of the exercise program; measured on cycling ergometer, heh!) and, importantly
a correlation between CBV and VO2max was not observed for any other hippocampal subregion, including the entorhinal cortex Fig. 4b), confirming that exercise has a selective effect on dentate
we found that changes in VO2max correlated exclusively with postexercise trial 1 learning… Additional analyses showed that the orrelatcion between changes in VO2max and cognition was selective to trial 1 learning (Fig. 4b), thereby confirming that, despite apparent increases in other cognitive measures (i.e., delayed recognition, as shown in Fig. 4a), this particular measure was selectively influenced by exercise.
The rest of the paper is laden with similar and more-invasive mouse findings similar to the Gage studies, in fact Gage is a co-author on this study.
Pretty cool. It starts to put to rest the suspicions of old-time Experimental Psychologists that rodents studies were confounded by the old “impoverished/enriched environment” deal. Basically, the complaint is that normal lab housed rats are not likely to be getting a normal amount of sensory stimulation and thus the “control” group is the abnormal one. Not a huge deal until you want to apply it to humans since there may be ceiling effects. This study tends to confirm the effects in a relatively normal human sample.
BikeMonkey has a question though:
Eleven subjects (mean age, 33 ranging from 21–45 years; 2
males and 9 females) who fulfilled the American Heart Association
criteria for below-average aerobic fitness (VO2max, <43 for men
and <37 for women) were recruited (51). The 11 enrolled subjects
engaged in an exercise training protocol for 12 weeks at Columbia
University Fitness Center at a frequency of four times a week. Each
exercise session lasted ~1hr: 5 min of low-intensity warm-up on a
treadmill or stationary bicycle, 5 min of stretching, 40 min of aerobic
training, and 10 min for cool down and stretching. During the 40
min of aerobic activity, subjects were permitted to select from
cycling on a stationary ergometer, running on a treadmill, climbing
on a StairMaster, or using an elliptical trainer.
So how many chose the bike and who got the best V02max improvement???!!!!