Thought of the Day

December 17, 2014

This blog is as much about succeeding in the world as we find it as it is about complaining about the bad things.

9 Responses to “Thought of the Day”

  1. The Other Dave Says:

    This blog is as much about succeeding in the world as we find it as it is about complaining about the bad things.

    It used to be more about the former. I remember those days. But the latter is important too. It’s what binds us together as a community.

    I started reading this blog back when I too was a new assistant professor with a shiny lab full of the latest technology and plenty of startup money, thinking that anything was possible with due diligence. I was convinced, like others, that NIH proposals could be engineered. There was a secret to success, and we were all in on it. Remember those days? It was fun reading this blog, because you and CPP and occasional-contributor BM were so upbeat and convincing and encouraging. Talk to the program officers? I can do that! Write the summary page this way? I can do that! Hire a tech? I can do that! We felt so wise after our first study section or panel meetings. We formulated grand scientific careerism laws based on a couple anecdotes. We felt in control of our destinies.

    Since then, even though I may be a full professor doing well by most standards, I now realize that I am not in control of my destiny at all. I am just a speck of crap floating in a giant ocean of science, lucky to have caught the right currents so far. I try to rationalize every accomplishment as part of some grand plan suitable for award nominations and biosketches. But deep down I know that, aside from boring old hard work, the biggest factors were luck and the kindness of colleagues.

    If I had to do it all over again, I’d spend less time trying to figure out which font looked most ‘convincing’ in proposals (I am a big fan of Franklin Gothic lately, if it’s allowed), and spend more time reading papers, focusing on getting more data, and buying people beers.

    Especially buying people beers. There’s really no downside there.


  2. drugmonkey Says:

    I was “upbeat”? Really?


  3. Philapodia Says:

    I’ve actually learned a lot from this blog over the years, both about grant-writing and how the NIH actually works. While we occasionally wallow in the slop (why not, it can be fun!), the effort that DM (and CCP when he takes off his apron) have put into starting and continuing dialogs that ultimately help us riffraff out is greatly appreciated.

    You were more upbeat DM earlier on. You’ve been getting more curmudgeonly with age.


  4. The Other Dave Says:

    Yea, sort of a ‘Yes it’s tough but you can succeed’ sort of vibe. Like a geeky biomedical Zig Ziglar.

    Then you sort of ran out stuff to say and went through your ‘NIDA-funded good citizen phase’ or whatever it was, and then got onto outraged blogger and Women in Science stuff (Sarah Silverman has a great statement about that: “Stop telling girls they can be anything they want when they’re growing up … I think it’s a mistake! Not because they can’t but because it would have never occurred to them that they couldn’t … you’re planting the seed in their brains”) I sort of got bored reading in there for a few years until you came back to tilting at various NIH administrative windmills. Not sure where you’re going next. I have always wondered how you’ve kept this going so long, and managed (apparently) to keep your career going. There is some good TV lately, you know. If you haven’t seen Breaking bad, your life is still empty.


  5. Dave Says:

    Since then, even though I may be a full professor doing well by most standards, I now realize that I am not in control of my destiny at all

    I’m sure I speak for most junior biomedical scientists when I say that we have never known any other feeling.


  6. DJMH Says:

    All I know is, the math required to keep the bots away has gotten hard enough that I am not sure I can keep visiting after drinking. I was fine with two x 1, but Eight x 7? Can’t we keep this single digit?


  7. drugmonkey Says:

    I am not in charge of that, sorry. I just work here.


  8. Grumble Says:

    The bots will figure out simple arithmetic soon enough, at which point I expect the anti-bot measures will advance to algebra (solve for x: 7x + 25 = 13). And when the bots figure that out, it will be calculus. I’m pretty sure I can handle that, but when it gets up to linear algebra and advanced differential equations I’m pretty sure I’ll be prevented from commenting.


  9. AcademicLurker Says:

    I second ToD’s first comment. I started reading here back when I was an enthusiastic/terrified beginning junior PI. Now I’ve got tenure at a good school and funding to do cool science, so things have worked out well for me, but I’m cured of the delusion that some sort of intrinsic merit separates me from the roadkill.

    There’s a tendency to fit your past into the standard “Hard work and perseverance were bound to pay off in the end” narrative, but there’s an alternate view that I think I first mentioned on YFS’s old blog.

    Suppose a compulsive gambler goes into a casino. He steadily loses his shirt until now he’s down to his last dime, having mortgaged his house, sold his car & etc. to keep going at the table. He stakes his last $$ on a final million to one shot and…he wins! He’s rich!

    Do we say “Here’s a guy whose hard work and perseverance was bound to be rewarded in the end”, or do we say, “Here’s a guy who was saved from the consequences of his own self-destructive behavior by dumb luck”?

    Sticking it out into your second postdoc in hopes of landing a TT job (like I did) can fit either description.


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