Friday, November 4, 2011

Grown-up stuff

Wow, it’s been a while since I had a post! It was not that I was too busy to post. I guess I just didn’t get around to it. Also, perhaps having a kid can keep you slightly preoccupied at home :]

I’ve been thinking about ‘grown up stuff’ a bit…you know, getting a job and such. I recently submitted an NIH K99 app this Oct cycle. I initially thought I’ll apply for a tenure-track position next fall. I also want to get a job in a particular region. Turns out that a couple of positions have opened up in schools in the region I prefer…so I’m thinking if I should apply to a couple of places this fall itself to get (i) to see if I’ll get an interview in the first place, (ii) some practice interviewing and (iii) a job, maybe!

One of the issues is…even though the chance of getting the K99 is small, if one does get it, one should not have a TT offer at that time…given that going into a TT position with k99 in hand is better than without it, should I wait and see what happens to the k99 and then apply next fall? It’s not just about money either. The additional training can only help. On the other hand, people say it’s always better to apply early to TT positions. So, I guess I’ll most likely apply to 2 or 3 places this time, which means I should get the research and teaching statements done real soon.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Auditing with undergrads

I’m auditing an undergrad class that deals with a topic I’m quite interested in. It is taught by a very good lecturer – apparently, she has won teaching awards every year for 20-odd years. I sometimes wonder what it takes for a lecturer to be a consistent hit among students. I at least know why this particular lecturer is liked by most. Almost everything she says in class is given as a well-written handout. She has 2 different powerpoint slides projected (on separate screens, using separate projectors) *at the same time*. For instance, the left slide is for some main points while the right slide is for examples etc. I think hers is a teaching (and not a research) appointment, and I guess that helps – that way, one can afford to be this elaborate in teaching.

I’m most comfortable just sitting in the last row and being all inconspicuous (I think). Mostly because I feel a bit weird sitting among kids who are like a decade younger. Some of the students bring laptops to class and have it open. I assumed that most of them take notes with it and such. But at any instant I’ve glanced at any screen, I just see either facebook or twitter or some such site. Of course, it’s the student’s choice and all, but I can’t help but think that without the interwebular distraction, there is at least a better chance that they’ll pay attention to the lecturer. But then, there always seems to be a fraction of students who aren’t into the lecture no matter what.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Saturday, March 5, 2011


When I was in grad school, I can't recall a single time when I worried about getting scooped. Mostly because we were the only lab studying a particular protein using a particularly esoteric technique. So, the results were unique - we could look at things no one else was looking at. So much so that I didn't even know what the proper meaning of 'scooping' was. I thought it refers to a situation where someone learns what you are about to do and then does (publishes) it before you. It was only much later that I realized that it refers to the act of getting beaten to publishing something, whether or not the competing group knows what you are upto - so, it's competitive but not necessarily malicious.

On thinking about (and getting exposed to the risk of) getting scooped, one thing I realized is that, very often, it is not as bad as it is made out to be. Of course, not getting scooped at all may be ideal...but in reality, lots of people gravitate towards 'hot' topics, and one is bound to have competing groups working on similar problems more often than not. But it turns out that, most likely, different groups have different takes on the same problem. When I was writing my paper (from my postdoc work) several months ago, a paper (in a prominent journal) from another group came out that used a simple but key idea that we had also independently arrived at. But the 'flavors' of our problems and our attacks on them were quite different. The main result was also completely different. Some (well-intentioned) people, who falsely assumed that the key idea we implemented was all that there was to the work, told me that it was a setback for us. Later, it turned out that the reviewers didn't have the slightest concern that someone else had used a similar idea before. They focussed on the way we implemented the idea, what the results were and what it's implications were to the field. It even got accepted in the same journal.

I am no saint and I do have my concerns about getting scooped, but it appears that it is not as much as a setback as it's made out to be. The above does not apply to some studies like, say, publishing the genome of organism x or the mutation that is responsible for some disease. But even in those cases, it's not all or none. One can do a more rigorous analysis of the genome or something else that can make the paper really good, if not 'totally new'. At the end of the day, there is the risk of scooped. One can, may be, avoid people who are 'malicious scoopers' (if at all that is possible). Otherwise, I guess we just get scooped a little, inadvertently scoop a little, and enjoy the science.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011


Ok, this didn't happen to me - but imagining this scenario cracks me up...

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Saturday Afty Experiments

We all think of 'crazy' experiments we'd like to try 'just for the fun of it'. They are crazy either because the technique is something we are not too familiar with, or the chance of getting a definitive result is pretty slim or simply because we don't know what to expect. The other day, I was reminded of this when reading Andre Geim's interview. He talks of 'Friday evening experiments', wherein he tries things that aren't part of his main line of investigation - things that are fun but unlikely to produce any new data most of the time. As he states it, it takes courage - to just go for it - and long hours - just so you don't take time away from your main projects.
I am not that free-spirited to try things that are too far removed from my main area of study, but I do want to try techniques I've never tried before and phenomenon I've not tried to look at in my main projects. Starting today afternoon. If not every saturday afternoon, atleast every once in a while. If not anything else, I'll atleast learn something.