Tuesday, September 24, 2013

It's the little things

I've said it before, and I'll say it again... people who tell you to "stop looking" for a partner when you're single just don't get it.

I'm bringing this up because I don't ever want to be one of those people. And because after a long time alone, I'm not anymore. And everywhere I turn, things are different.

The glasses in the sink are from wine for two- not sipping cordials by myself.

Getting regular texts throughout the day (from someone besides my mom :P) is now the norm.

I don't wonder if my dresses are going to turn to dust in the closet before I have the chance to wear them out for a night on the town.

The kitchen table is regularly cleared so that people can eat at it (instead of in the living room in front of the TV).

And at any given time, I know I don't have to face my difficult times alone. They're still my problems and I still want to find solutions myself, but I have someone to listen, commiserate, and remind me of the good things in life.
This is how it should be.

Sorry for the sap

Funny ladies

Last night to keep myself from eating due to a blood test in the morning, I made this desktop wallpaper.

Bc Tina and Amy are awesome.

Obviously I don't own any of these images and I'm not making any money from this. I'm legally required to say that, right?....

Good research vs headache

I think that undergraduates participating in professional, publishable, serious research is amazing. It's a wonderful learning experience where individuals can learn the skills they'll need to lead a miserable life as a graduate student. Sometimes, though, this might cause frustration in those actually working with the undergraduates.

For example, sometimes they leave your name off their poster, or, when it comes time to decide the authors on a publication, they neglect to mention that you spent hours helping them analyze the data. Also they sometimes misspell the name of your study organism (which, in the sciences, is basically like getting your own phone number wrong).

In addition.....

...they've been know to cut corners

For example, this solution seems a little too thick to be accurately pipetted.
But someone used it anyway.

(Otherwise it would be wasteful, right?...)

...they tend to ignore things they don't want to clean up (if you've ever had a messy roommate, you know how this game goes....whoever cleans up the dead bugs first is the loser!).

Also, they're not the best at documenting things.

When it comes time to replicate your experiments, it doesn't help much if you keep a lab notebook, but then for some reason took it with you when you graduated.

Of course, in science the bottom line is the data.

...which is when we send a grad student to the rescue:

Should have just done it myself in the first place.

...and for the rescue of the graduate students.....


Disclaimer: I should mention that in reality I think most of my undergrads are great and valuable assets to my research. I enjoy working with them and (I hope) they with me. On the other hand, every once in a while someone comes along that really doesn't care, or doesn't listen, which really gets under my skin. And they're the reason for this post.

posted from Bloggeroid

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Give me a break, people.

Ugh. I hate lies that gain people unfair rewards or advantages. But I also hate lies that are just untruths for their own sake. In fact that's almost worse, because there's literally no excuse for it. What. is. Wrong. With people.

Recently I overheard some undergrads discussing a lovely new rumor: that oral sex causes throat cancer. This seems like one of those ridiculous "facts" that spread between social groups through hype and misunderstandings, but when I mentioned how ridiculous it is to one of my non-university friends, she too had heard about it. (Apparently, when she had heard about the "fact" had morphed to specify that certain behaviors by females were the cause of the cancer.) This is the kind of thing that a feminist scientist has to get to the bottom of.

I found an article relatively easily. It quotes the CDC as saying, “that people who had at least   6 oral-sex partners during their lifetime were 3.4 times more likely to have   throat cancer. Those with 26 or more vaginal-sex partners had a 3.1   times higher risk of developing throat cancer.” NOT TRUE.

This quote is all over the friggin' internet. Except, of course, the CDC website. When you go there, then you start to actually get some facts. Throat cancer has not been directly linked to oral sex. It has been linked to HPV, the Human Papillomavirus Virus. While HPV is sexually transmitted, that still doesn't mean that oral sex causes throat cancer, by any means. The CDC website, acknowledges that "recent studies show that about 60%–70% of cancers of the oropharynx may be linked to HPV. Many of these may be caused by a combination of tobacco, alcohol, and HPV."
Considering the fact that HPV is the most common STD in the US, with the number of women reaching as high as 42.5% (and including women with only a single sexual partner), it's not all that surprising that lots of people with oropharynx cancer have HPV. Furthermore, in my biologists's mind, it's likely that even if HPV does increase risk of throat cancer, it doesn't have to be transmitted orally- viruses are tricky little buggers that can hijack cells, travel through the body in the bloodstream, avoid detection and fool immune cells by hiding in the spinal nerves.

Finally, an important FYI for all the non-scientists out there. Cells don't just get bitten by radioactive spiders and immediately become superheros. I mean cancerous. Whatever. In reality, cells develop "cancer" mutations in their DNA all the time, due to carcinogens like UV and smoke (and also just normal cell division) but these mutations can be caught and fixed by the body. The mutations only cause true danger when the same cell has multiple mutations, which is obviously made more likely by a combination of carcinogens, such as listed above (or by many frequent divisions, which is why cancers are linked to cell lines that continue to divide throughout life, but that's a totally different topic).

Why does this matter (besides making me angry)?

People pretend that we're so sexually liberated in our society, because people like Miley Cyrus strut around with barely any clothing on. And yet, people still don't bother (or are too embarrassed to) find out the facts. KNOWLEDGE IS POWER. KNOWLEDGE WILL SAVE YOUR LIFE. I hate when people spread around scary rumors like this one. Increased anxiety and distress over possible fatal diseases is not really what our society needs right now.What we need are people who are informed and responsible with their bodies and health, and the first step towards that is facing down fear and finding out the facts and actual risks we expose ourselves to. (On a related note, this reminds me of a former colleague who just didn't believe that ethidium bromide could hurt him. While it's true that limited exposure to this chemical is unlikely to negatively impact health, prolonged and repeated exposure most certainly should be predicted to, if not protected against. As biologists, we will probably be handling this chemical for a large part of our careers. As with many things, the aforementioned fellow was just too scared to accept the fact that he is not invincible and act accordingly.)

In addition, this whole fiasco bothers because this is how prejudices are born. Isn't this what happened with HIV? People who were diagnosed were stereotyped as being drug users or sex-crazed gay men. While those are two lifestyles that may lead to heightened exposure to the virus, it's still totally unfair to people who contracted HIV from moms or family members (let's be honest, it's not unusual for family members co-habitating to come into contact with each other's blood), from the workplace (not only nurses and doctors, but also vets and even loggers in Africa- who are probably exposed to the virus through eating monkey flesh), or, god forbid, a rape. Are we going to start doing the same with throat cancer- assuming that someone who gets it is a huge slut, going down on people left and right? Is it just me, or is that a really private thing to assume about someone because of a disease? 

Instead, I'd like us to be reasonable people and heed what the CDC (actually) said, which is that a medley of risk factors increase the likelihood that multiple mutations will occur in the same cell and become cancer.

Bonus rant:
You should get the HPV shot. Your children should get the HPV shot. It's total BS to say that getting the shot is somehow going to increase their likelihood of shacking up. Teens are notoriously overconfident and brash and are going to do what they do. If you raised them to care about their bodies, emotions, and spirit, then that's going to influence their sexual behavior infinitely more than getting a shot. Also, is fear really how you want to keep your young adult in line? (Don't have sex or you'll get an STD, develop throat and/or cervical cancer, and die!!) And finally, if your kid is stupid enough to have unprotected sex and isn't frightened by the possibility of becoming impregnated, having a miniature human being grow inside them, causing them to grow a belly the size of an elephant, and step on their bladder every 3 minutes for a month, then the possibility of getting HPV has almost certainly not crossed their mind.

Thursday, September 5, 2013


This tangent originated in my last post, but got out of control. So it's here, which allowed me to include pictures/figures. Yay!

I hate when people rationalize the low stipend for graduate students.

We're not getting a "free education"; in the sciences, at least, we take one or two classes a semester- or less- right now I'm taking two courses that only add up to half a credit (woooo whee). So adding $2500 to pay for that half credit to my stipend isn't really elevating me into a new pay grade.

The other common response of family members to the woes of broke graduate students is to point out that we'll be making the "big bucks" soon!

Actually, you only make decent money if you're a full professor, which only comes after 2-10 years as a post doc and/or associate professor, or if you work at a pharma (or other such) company. Of course some of us are actually doing this PhD thing to follow our dreams and aim to end up working for the government and never making much more than a contractor. I'll end this rant now but I think I've made my point.

Some salaries of jobs requiring a degree and/or other credentials.

Annnddd surgeons wreck the curve

Which is, of course why you should do this because you love it, and not for the money or prestige (although, evidently, a lot of people probably do get into it for these reasons).

Virtue is its own reward

Most people have no idea what it takes to do a PhD. People commonly think certain individuals have some kind of magic intelligence that allows them to memorize things and crank out facts and ideas like some kind of machine. My ex-aunt had such a mindset, and had an irksome habit of making comments such as, "Well you must be looking forward to starting school again. It's easy for you, because you're smart."

Yes, this woman is a bitch, and that's partly my point. Or rather, my point is that I never told her to her face that she's a bitch, because I have a lot of self control. Self control, along with self-motivation, are two of the most crucial qualities for someone attempting an advanced degree. These qualities allow you to endure the opinion of pompous tenured sexist bastards, to stay in your office and work while your friends are going on tropical vacations, and prevent you from strangling undergrads who suggest that you're not fit to be a graduate student because you can't answer their off-topic questions to their satisfaction (it's notoriously difficult to finish your thesis while in jail).

Another quality that will benefit graduate students is patience. The uses for this quality range from enduring speeches by blowhard members of the upper administration, to listening to blowhard members of your department spouting facts literally just because they enjoy the sound of their own voice. Besides the ability to endure a two-hour lab meeting culminating in zero final decisions on the matter at hand (the wording of a figure legend in an appendix of a paper that hasn't yet been accepted) a type of existential patience is also beneficial; the power to accept that some questions will never be answered, the ability to endure years of minimal pay without opportunity for advancement, and suffer a painfully low ratio of successful to failed experiments. (Tangent: I hate when people rationalize the low pay for graduate students.)

Finally, I think that one of the most important attributes that a graduate student can have is a sense of self-worth. You can certainly succeed without this, but in order to emerge with your PhD mentally and emotionally intact (no, I'm not even being dramatic here) I believe that you must have had to have started with some kind of appreciation of yourself. A PhD consists of endless criticisms and positive affirmations are few and far between (a mentor of mine suggests this is a kind of traditional academic hazing, perpetuated by the belief that it's actually necessary for the student). The position of graduate student is not only below that of professors, but also undergraduates (as they're the ones paying the university!). Some universities (mine included) see graduate students as useless parasitic drains on school resources and you become accustomed to abuses such as being charged a professor's fee for a locker at the gym ($50 vs the $10 fee for undergrads) while at the same time being denied the same benefits as professors (no vision insurance for us!) and categorically being assigned to THE worst living conditions on campus. (Have I mentioned that I've found that the secret to getting maintenance respond to a work request is to introduce myself as being from "biology" instead of saying I'm a graduate student? I swear this is true.) Not to mention your friends and family constantly make helpful comments such as "So WHEN are you supposed to finish??" (It's a freaking PhD, not a GED, jerks. It's not a matter of taking a fixed number of courses.) After five or six years of this treatment, you naturally start to believe that you're the scum of the earth (another reason why I think it's incredibly laughable when professors spout their opinions about social justice). But we must avoid giving in to this notion at all costs!! (see picture)
I think that some people might label me as argumentative, but in my mind I'm just refusing to be a doormat. I have a lot of patience, and self-control, motivation; I'm a hard worker and fairly intelligent and organized. None of those things align with me having to endure intentional OR unintentional insults, jibes, or uncalled-for/nonconstructive criticism without saying something. When you live your life acting as if you have a subservient personality, then you default to those behaviors and thoughts. Is it really a mystery why so many of our academic high fliers have such deviant personalities? At least part of that has to be a survival mechanism as a result of this kind of treatment.

To get a PhD, you have to have some smarts. You also need intense determination, maturity, self-esteem, and control to remain sane. I don't look down on people who leave our PhD program; most of them are probably doing what's best for themselves. In fact, sometimes I think they're wiser than the rest of us.

Not looking back

I was cleaning up my email inbox and saw that I still had one dating profile active.. I logged in and deleted it, but not before I saw this genuinely priceless profile pic of a guy that had recently looked at me....

Ah, how I miss the thrill of the chase.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013


So I was writing a long post but then I forgot what my point was. Enjoy this phdcomic instead: