Monthly Archives: February 2009

Another interview

I’m at another grad school interview on Long Island until Saturday.  This time around I’m not nearly as jittery since I’ve been accepted to one program already, though it is still going to be one hell of a day tomorrow.  It’s going to be intense meeting with seven profs in less than four hours.

The university had a car service pick me up and on the ~15 minute ride from the airport to the hotel and the driver was… interesting.  He struck me as a typical new yorker with his accent and all, but what really got to me was some of the crazy shit he was talking about.  Listen to some of these gems: “Big Pharma” has a “cure for cancer” but are purposing suppressing it, you can get 40mpg in a car no problem (his friend made a car back in the ’70s that did it), scientifically we should be 300 years beyond we are right now due to purposful suppression of inventions, he thought of virtual reality while smoking weed twenty years before it came out, and, again while high, he thought of the laser measuring devices thirty years before they came out (and, of course, he has blueprints for a better one).  All of that in about 15 minutes.

I didn’t want to argue, so I just kept trying to change the subject.  Dude was loving nuts anyway, there was nothing I could say that would have changed his mind.

I hope the rest of the trip goes a bit more smoothly.


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Filed under crazy, grad school

For my fallen comrade


I did what I could, but I couldn’t save all of them.  To my fallen soldier I say “I’m sorry.”  I’ll drink one of your brothers in your honor.

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Filed under just sad, life

Adventures in TAing

One aspect of grad school I’m looking forward to is being a teaching assistant my second year.  It is a requirement, but even if it weren’t I would still have chosen to do my part in attempting to teach undergraduates some sort of biology.  I was a neurobiology TA a few years ago for my old undergrad advisor and the experience, though surprisingly difficult and time consuming, was deeply rewarding in a very personal sense.

Of course, there were some drawbacks to being the TA.  My class was roughly 40, mainly upperclassmen undergraduates and roughly a third were human biology majors (aka “pre-med”).  I never whined to my prof or TAs as a student and so went into my TAship naively thinking that there wouldn’t be that much whining.  I was wrong.  I was VERY wrong.  The amount of shit and excuses I heard from 40 students in that single semester was rather impressive.

I don’t like singling them out since I knew quite a few good ones, but the pre-med students pissed me off the most by far because they only had one thing on their minds: grades.  There were numerous safeguards in the syllabus for students to make sure a single disastrous outcome didn’t completely ruin their grade in the class.  In addition, we would regrade anything as long as the student could prove to us he/she was correct (we’d have them cite the book or some other source material), both of us held office hours every week, extra points were given to those who increased successive exam grades, we tended to be VERY generous in our grading, etc.  In all, we gave our students a great class and a fantastic environment to succeed.  Unfortunately, not all succeeded.

Correction: unfortunately FOR US, not all succeeded.  Since a few of those who gave less than stellar performances in the class were applying to med schools they wanted nothing less than 4.0s in all of their classes, so when some of them saw a 2.0 or 2.5 at the end of the semester they freaked out.  Leaving aside how they were unaware of their subpar performances all semester, which I am still baffled by, the prof and I were left to deal with these morons who thought they should have received a higher grade.  I hate to say some of my high school teachers were correct, but the vast majority of the time you earn the grade you receive; and these babies earned their grades.  Four of them were easy to take care of since they simply had no shot of earning enough extra points from regrades to increase their grade in the course.  The fifth one, well, he was another story.

This guy (I’ll call him Steve) really started to piss me off.  He had a 2.5 but he had to have at least a 3.0 on his transcripts so he would look good to med schools, so I looked over and regraded his final exam and found a point or two that I could give him since I felt very generous that day.  This still left Steve about 10 points (1% of the total class points) short of the 3.0 he desired, so he arranged a special meeting with me since the grades were due to be turned in soon.  I explained to him how generous the prof and I were in grading and how even that wouldn’t get him enough extra points to get his preferred grade.  Then he broke out the big guns: he thought he should get a little leeway because he worked really hard in the class.  This is one of my pet peeves, and one that has recently been written about quite extensively due to a recent NYT article.  I told him to take his problem directly to the professor.  He did.  Hilarity ensued.

My prof cc’d me on all her emails to the guy absolutely demolishing every point he brought up in a fairly bitchy manner (god I love that woman).  I later told her I likened it to a “bitch slap through email.”  It was awesome and Steve shut up and finally accepted his grade.

< rant
Most of the reasons why that final excuse of his, the “‘A’ for effort” spiel, so upsets me can be found in the above links, but the main reason it upsets me to the extent that it does isn’t expounded upon in those links.  I don’t want that person dragging society down with his/her ineptitude while thinking that it can be made up for with spent time.  I don’t want a kid in med school, potentially becoming a physician, who couldn’t pass an undergraduate basic neurobiology course with a solid “B.”  I don’t give a fuck how much time is spent studying if nothing was learned.  If I had a student who never came to class and aced all the exams I would be fine.  If I had a student who never missed a class, came to all the office hours, asked intelligent questions, and still failed most of the exams I would have no problem failing them from the course.  Of course, in the last example I’d try to figure out what was wrong with the individual and fix it, but if it just turned out that he/she couldn’t retain the information then so be it.

Essentially, we have to revise how we raise our children.  We have to begin to teach them that the sky isn’t always the limit and that some of them, regardless of how hard they try, can’t be some things.  Your child is not a precious snowflake.  Your child is not special.  Get over it and we’ll all be better off.

/rant >

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Filed under grad school, justice, life, pet peeve

Public Library of Science

The Public Library of Science debuted in 2003 (my sophomore year) to an overwhelmingly supportive scientific community.  It’s important not only to scientists but lay-people as well because it’s one of only a few open access scientific journals that is held in generally high regard (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences being another such journal, but most of its material has a 6 month delay before becoming open access).

The reason why this journal has become so important to the biological scientific community is that it embodies what science is about: access to knowledge.  Up until open access journals began popping up the flow of knowledge was controlled by large publishing houses.  These publishers would review and publish manuscripts in their journals and then university libraries, or anyone else who could afford them, would buy subscriptions to the journals so that the researchers of their institution would have access to them.  Unfortunately, there are some problems with this setup.

One common problem that has been occurring all over the US is libraries dropping certain journal subscriptions due to budgetary constraints and the exorbitant subscription fees.  Since good science can only occur when scientists openly share their findings these actions are directly infringing on humanities ability to scientifically advance.  Not good.  Not good at all.

The second problem deals only with money, and this is where US taxpayers should get very pissed off.  The vast majority of biological research done in this and other countries is funded directly from taxpayer money mainly through the National Institute of Health (NIH) and the National Science Foundation (NSF).  Researchers use those grants to fund their research and publish their findings in journals (because what good is it to find something out if you don’t tell other people about it).  Then, as I described above, to see those journals you must pay more money.  So, even though you, the taxpayer, gave your hard earned money to some researcher to carry out your research you must then pay again to see the fruits of those labors.  You’re essentially paying twice for the same information, and many people can’t afford that.

Not so with open access.  It’s a streamlined and cheaper process that has the researcher paying a fee for editing before publishing.  More important than all else is the fact that the research is available to everyone.  It was important enough that last year the government enacted a law forcing all research funded by the NIH must be made freely available to the public within one year of publication, but even that keeps being challenged!  Fucking bastards just want money.

I encourage all of you to check out these sites and further your knowledge.

Bora’s blog and Jonathan’s blog – Two people heavily involved in PLoS

PLoS Biology – Synopses are a great way to quickly learn some cool new biology you can pull out at parties and impress people!

PLoS Medicine – The Editorials, Debates, and Perspectives are all worth checking out and easy(ish) reads for lay people

A list of current open access journals

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Filed under social, Those Other Sciences

No right to not be offended

I’ll admit it; I like offending people.  I rarely do it to simply be an asshole, but that does happen occasionally.  Instead, when all else has failed to sway an individual and I know he/she is wrong on a particular subject I will purposely offend them with a cutting remark about whatever topic we were on.  I’m batting a 1000 on pissing them off by the way.

The most typical reply I hear is how I’ve somehow broken one of their “rights” to be talked to in a respectful manner.  What they fail to realize is that I tried that, it didn’t work, and instead of letting them keep spouting on I stepped up and not-so-subtley insulted them.  However, what really gets to me is this belief that people have the right to not be offended by what other people say or write.  There is no such right and there never has been.  In fact, if that right were to exist then the whole concept of free speech would die immediately.  (even more hysterical is how such people purport to cherish their ability to speak freely, but not those who disagree with them)

This topic typically comes up with regard to some religion being offended by another group’s “blasphemous”  actions.  It came up with the Danish Muhammad cartoons and is currently by theists all over the world with the current “there’s probably no God” ad campaign.  I can’t say I’m surprised by this considering the history of religions dealing with dissent, but that doesn’t mean I cannot be insulted (not offended) by it.  What really gets me is the exceptionalism espoused by those offended.  What they want is for them, and ONLY them, to determine what is offensive.  What they are unable to do is put themselves in the shoes of a group that differs from their view.  If they were I imagine they would quickly reverse their views and cry discrimination.

The religious currently benefit from being the majority of the US (though I highly doubt how religious the vast majority of the population claiming to be religious actually is) and therefore many times demands that their view take precedence over all others.  That is why we have the Intelligent Design Creationism manufactroversy and the continued uproar any time there is a seeming insult to what the religious hold sacred.

Well, too bad, because as long as I can speak freely I will continue to offend others when I need to.  That is what’s currently being done by the atheist bus campaign and it should continue to happen.

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Filed under justice, religion, social

Studies have shown…

Alright, I’ve had it with this.  The next time I hear someone say “studies have shown blah blah blah” and then fails to give a citation I may lose it.

Far too many arguments have been made by the “studies have shown…” line and nothing else.  I guarantee most of the time the “information” in the “study” is actually third or fourth-hand from a biased source.  Then take into consideration the telephone effect (remember that game?) of that information and you can see why it’s such a problem.  Since going into science I’ve done what I can to properly cite information I use and it has proven quite useful a number of times.

Most recently, my father, a global warming skeptic due to his listening to Dennis Miller, and I got into an argument about the issue.  He brought up a talking point of Miller’s that was how scientists used to think the world was cooling in the 1970s, it wasn’t, and somehow this proves that the current global warming scare is wrong (a common canard).  However, I remembered reading a paper from a website I regularly visit about how the 1970s global cooling consensus is actually a myth.  It was a well written article that could be understood by just about anyone.  I gave it to my father who, much to his credit, read it and then further discussed global warming with me.  By the end of the conversation he was “warming” to the idea of global warming.  Ha!  I’m hilarious.

That was just a single example of how knowing citations (and therefore knowing the actual data) is a great way of supporting your point.  However, a point of caution.  If you blindly reproduce a citation that someone else has used in support of his/her argument and you get called out on it be prepared to lose all credibility.  I don’t know how many times I’ve made fools of someone for blindly accepting the citations, and therefore information, of someone else who happens to be completely wrong.

So my little bit of wisdom for today is to read up on issues and know your citations, but always be wary of other’s citations.

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Filed under life, pet peeve, Those Other Sciences

Iranian woman blinded by acid attack

So if you’ve seen the news the past few days you probably noticed a story about an acid attack against a woman in Tehran.  Essentially, what it boils down to is this: a man threw acid on her and she was severely burned and blinded, because of this she wants her attacker blinded by acid.  Eye for an eye justice, literally, and figuratively (and then literally again).  This being Iran it actually looks like this is going to happen due to their courts holding up that sentence.

I have very conflicted feelings about this whole issue.  On one hand I want her attacker tried and convicted and then sent to prison for the rest of his life.  On the other, more emotional hand, I want acid thrown in his face.

The way it’s playing out right now in the media is essentially, which is a better justice system: a western or an Islamic one?  They are based off of completely different principles and yet have the exact same noble goal, and I personally don’t think either of them are perfect.  Being an American I am extremely biased towards a western style justice system, but at the same time I find it flawed when dealing with the worst law breakers so maybe this eye for an eye thing wouldn’t be so bad in certain cases.

However, while I speak of this I have no sure fire way to implement such a system in a western style justice system and honestly don’t even want to begin to think about it (got better shit to do).  All I know from this case is that I am not losing sleep over this man, or any others like him, being blinded for their actions.  Fuck him and all those like him.


Filed under crazy, justice, religion