End of the first year

The end of my first year is fast approaching. I got here June 3 last year and started moving things around, even though my first official day wasn’t until July 1.

To be honest, I was greatly dreading the first year, since so many people told me it was the absolute worst year of their lives. No one I talked to was positive about it in retrospect.

I really liked this post, which described the feelings pretty well. I like it because it has balance, yes there’s a lot of running around like a chicken with head cut off, but there’s a lot of satisfaction.

I would describe the first year as feeling like being on a boat that is rapidly springing leaks. You are pulling around a wheelbarrow full of wood scraps, and you have a hammer and bag full of nails. You are running around trying to keep the boat from sinking and meanwhile you have to recruit passengers to help and then train them to help too.

I can see why some people hate it and miss their post-doc days. So far though, I vastly prefer it. I like being able to make a call, and have that mean something. I like being able to run four projects at once. I like that I dont have to analyze data anymore.

Maybe it’s just positive hindsight bias. Maybe it’s just that many things went my way due to luck. But it wasn’t the worst thing in the world. But I’m still glad it’s over, and looking forward to year 2.

How about the ungulate nucleus?

Here is a professor after my own heart. Dr. Kelly is a history professor at George Mason University who taught a course called “Lying about the past.” And students created an elaborate hoax where they invented a fake historical person on Wikipedia. And they got away with it. Besides teaching students not to trust Wikipedia, it’s cool.

Currently considering doing the same thing with neuroscience. Will invent a new, fictitious nucleus, ascribe some vague function (“mediates executive function”, “limbic, motor, and/or attentional roles”), and see if we can get away with it.

The next hip food: pizza rolls?

We all know how the game works. Hip chefs find some food that is totally plebian, the opposite of glamorous, and then remake it with high quality ingredients, and do interesting things with it.

It’s the cinderella factor in food.

This is part of the appeal behind all the recent hip foods: bacon (breakfast staple), cupcakes (childhood birthday parties / bake sales), sliders (bar food, white castle), meatballs (school lunches?), tacos (street food, Taco Bell), banh mi (the taco of vietnamese food), and with food truck food in general.

And I’m not complaining. Not at all. I love it, and I love all these foods.

I just want to add my personal recommendation to the list:

Pizza rolls.

Because what’s less glamorous than a tiny roll of dough that contains all the ingredients for a pizza inside? It tastes like pizza, but is a totally different shape. And it’s delicious. It’s an opportunity for chefs to add their personal distinctive tough, it’s a challenge, and it harkens back to sleepovers and junior high.

Imagine this on your next menu:

Pizza Rolls – Locally sourced chorizo pepperoni, sauteed heirloom tomato puree, fresh mozzarella di buffala, a hint of Maytag blue cheese, organic fennel, semolina flour crust.

Why hasn’t this happened yet? Or has it happened but hasn’t made its way to Cold Weather City yet?

My wife and I have a guessing game called “What’s the next cupcake?” where we guess what food will become hip next. We are both predicting the pizza roll. They dont require silverware and aren’t too greasy, so they are perfect for food trucks.

My Platform for the SFN program committee

Yes I am running for the SFN program committee *

* Not really

Here is my platform:

1. Submitting your poster also registers you for the conference. One easy step.

2. It also allows you to get your hotel. This in turn incentivises you to submit before the last minute (avoiding server malfunctions) and lets you do all your SFN planning in one day, rather than doing it in multiple steps across the summer.

* UPDATE * Come to think of it, why require people to get their membership in December? Why not let them do it all at the same time?? Let’s stop pretending that anyone joins the society in order to get a free subscription to Neuroscience Nexus.

3. Anti-linking groups. There are numerous reasons why you might want to have two posters be at different times. For example, I have two students who both take an interest in each other’s project, and they want to be there for the other one to answer overflow questions, go fetch water, see what questions are, learn the mechanics of poster presentation, etc.

4. 3 month window between deadline and conference. 1 month to fix the program and 2 months for attendees to browse.

5. One member wants more than one poster? That’s fine, make a check for $600 to the SFN. It’s a $-making opportunity, say I. Nothing wrong with it. Your third poster will cost you $1200.

6. Somewhere, a link to acceptance rates for nanosymposia. I mean, ideally, the submission deadline for nanosymposia is 2 weeks before the poster deadline, and they give you a thumbs up or down on that before the poster thing. That reduces the weirdly byzantine stragetizing a lot. But if it can’t be done, at least a plausible guess on acceptance rates.

7. Optional poster upload database. That way, no need to hand out copies of the poster. No need for people to try to sneak photos, etc.

8. Prominent links to good poster-design sites.


I have a to-do list and it’s served me well for 8 years.

Until recently, I used to go through it every day and try to get as much done as possible.

In the past few months, I have started to divide it into the “urgent” and “less urgent” sections.

In the past few weeks, I added little *’s in front of the things in the urgent things that are truly truly urgent.

This morning I decided to make a new category called “ABSOLUTELY DO OR DIE”.

Im very ready for my first year to be over.

Imposter Syndrome: don’t feel guilty

I missed the boat on the carnival of Imposter Syndrome since my wordpress has been acting really weird since I upgraded. That gave me a chance to read all the other posts first.

Here’s my two cents on Imposter Syndrome, and I speak as someone who is very familiar with it, from personal experience. I also have had lots of friends with this, and have tried to help them through it. I also have seen many of these same people give up on science, due to a variety of factors, but I felt that confidence was one.

In the past, my inclination has been to try to say things like ‘Hey, just don’t worry about it.’ or ‘Think about how fun it is to get away with it!’ And In retrospect, I think that’s not all that helpful.

Just telling someone their thoughts are illogical or unreasonable doesn’t work that well. They may go along with it, but fighting against those ego-dystonic unwanted thoughts is exhausting. It’s depleting. And when you backslide, and those thoughts reappear, then you feel guilty, and helpless, and you don’t want to bring it up again, and it just gets worse.

I don’t know whether Imposter Syndrome is an anxiety disorder, but I think it’s useful to treat it like one. And that means self-CBT and if the case is bad enough, or if typical comorbid conditions present psychotropic meds.

That means, things like reality testing. Coming up with objective tests of whether one is where one belongs, and then performing those tests. More generally, it means treating it as a serious problem, and getting help from books designed to help people with these kinds of doubts.

Whoopie pies

I love whoopie pies.
And I love devil dogs.

Whoopie pies and devil dogs are the same thing but a different shape. Chocolate cake bun with cream inside.

I love the name devil dog, since it implies you have a devil’s version of a hot dog. The devil either implies devil’s food cake or the sinfulness of eating it.

Either way, my point is that whoopie pies should be called devil burgers.


Dog grooming

In our quest to save money to buy a house, we have decided to start grooming the dog ourselves. That saves us $$$ every 3 months. You might say that dog grooming is a luxury good, and you’d be kinda right. But he gets really miserable in the summer. And we get the puppy cut, the cheapest cut.

Anyhow, here’s the results of my foray into dog grooming last night. I used youtube and google to learn how to do it.





Although they weren’t posed, the dog’s facial expressions demonstrate the effect on morale. In short, he was miserable getting shaved. He is also miserable when we leave him at the groomers.

All in all, I would grade myself at a C minus for cutting performance. There’s a lot of ragged + rough spots, and clumpy fur in places. Still, he’s presentable, and much less likely to overheat in the summer.

Grad students should travel too

Professors have a ritual called travelling. The visit some other institution and give a 1 hour talk there. They also have 6-10 appointments with other faculty members in their offices, and talk about each other’s research. They also eat lunch, often with grad students, and dinner, often with wine.

This is the professor equivalent of bumblebees visiting flowers, gathering pollen, and redistributing it. It’s a very important element of a scientific career. I think this ritual should be extended to grad students too.

Grad students can benefit from this experience in several ways. (1) They get a chance to speak in front of an unfamiliar audience. (2) They get critical evaluation of their ideas from an unfamiliar group of scientists, typically before publication. (3) They get exposure to their future colleagues, can discover potential friendships and collaborations. But most important (4) they get to see how things are done somewhere else. I think this pollination keeps departments from falling into ruts. [Also, it helps students with weird/abusive advisors realize that they are in a bad/unusual situation.]

Also, it gives grad students a convenient way-station. Grad school is often a long slog with no adventures and no rewards, and feelings of being trapped in lab forever. Finally, it can also be a reward/incentive for students to produce data. A nice carrot for advisors to use in instrumental conditioning of students.

To deal with your likely objections:

(Objection 1) Grad students give boring / bad talks, so no faculty will show up: The audience would be expressly other students (and post-docs). Faculty are allowed to attend, but only if they are keen to learn about the material. This also reduces anxiogenic audience members. As a secondary suggestion, students should write 35 minute talks, and 25 minutes will be given over to discussion. This makes the burden of writing a talk lower, and gives students practice for thinking on their feet.

(Objection 2) Faculty dont want to give up time to meet with students: same deal. The visiting students meet with other students (and post-docs).

(Objection 3) Grad students should be presenting their science in lab meetings: Lab meeting is full of people with very specialized knowledge. Students need practice talking to a general audience. Also, don’t forget the 6-10 meetings.

(Objection 4) Too many talks already: Visitors’ talks will replace the normal student journal club time. Alternatively, these could happen in the summer when there are no speakers anyhow.

(Objection 5) Hotels costs a lot: We need to come up with a more official sounding term than ‘couch surfing’ because that’s basically what I’m proposing.

(Objection 6) Airfare costs a lot: In my scheme, grad students will only go to institutions they can drive/commute to. This will limit them to the 3-4 hour radius, but that’s fine. There are plenty of good places within this limit for most grad students. Near to Cold Weather University, we have
* Cold Weather Institute of Technology
* Lakeside Ivy League University
* Orange-themed Basketball University
* Napoleon’s Defeat University
* Cold Weather State University Waterfall City

In conclusion, I want to add that this is all doubly true for post-docs. They need practice with strangers, giving talks, etc, in preparation for job talks. They need the exposure, and then need the practice selling themselves.