Monday, November 23, 2015


The world has been enveloped in fear and confusion as of late, and with good reason. Terrifying acts have been committed to other human beings. People have responded with anger, shock and mistrust. Many, perhaps most, Europeans have expressed opposition to the onslaught of Middle Eastern and African refugees flowing into their countries. Now, Americans are having similar reactions, concerned that letting in refugees will bring similar violence to the US. People have every right to be concerned.

I can across this article ( The Legacy of Nuremberg, 70 Years On | UConn Today) today shortly after finding out that my 93 year old poppy was hospitalized. My poppy lived in Poland for a dozen years before and during World War II.  When I was a child, his stories about "living in the woods" didn't make any sense to me, and I mostly ignored them. But as an adult I'm stunned by the heart-rending teenage years he spent dodging German capture. His younger sister was taken to a work camp-she volunteered to spare their older aunt from having to go (his sister, my aunt, survived and returned to American with my poppy, but would never speak about the subject, even with her children).  Being born in America, the Nazis interrogated my poppy and accused him of being an American spy, which is why he hid in the woods for two years, until he was chased down and discovered by Nazi-wielding dogs. He was enrolled to work on building a tunnel and although his treatment was better than that of those at the infamous concentration camps, he and others were forced to "escape" to walk miles back to his village to collect food to bring back to the camps to avoid starvation. Keeping my poppy was a conundrum for the Nazis, who were hesitant to kill him since he was American, and he used this to leverage power and save other men at the camp from punishment.

Two months after the war was over, he and the rest of his siblings returned to America. When he was ten they had moved to Poland from the US because my great grandfather believed that it would bring them a better life, where the family could live on a farm instead of working in a factory or at other blue-collar jobs in a bustling, impersonal New England city.

My poppy survived, but other Polish citizens weren't so fortunate, nor were the millions of Jews killed at the hands of the Nazis. The Nuremburg Trials for Nazi war crimes were not just about punishing those who had hurt others. The trials also integrated ideas about basic human rights into International Law. In the article I cited above, Glenn Mitoma, a professor of human rights and education, is quoted as stating,
“The kind of guiding ideology of the Nuremberg Trials was laying down principles that there is a baseline of natural law of universal human rights that’s there at all times. That guiding theory informs the emergence of human rights; the idea [is] that we have to advocate for human rights on a global level, and there are dimensions to our basic humanity that give us moral rights that form the fundamental basis of our morality and our humanity.”
I'm by no means a scholar on the Middle East. But I have read several books, including A House in the Sky, an autobiography of a female reporter kidnapped in Syria, and The Pearl That Broke Its Shell, a fictional book written by the American-born daughter of Afghani immigrants about the prison-like life of Afghani women both in the distant and not-so-distant past. I'm having a very difficult time trying to reconcile what I've learned from these and other sources with the idea that Syrian and other Middle Eastern refugees should be left to solve their own problems. Preventing terrorism is absolutely a priority, but in reflecting on what my poppy went through, I can't conclude that the American (or European, or Catholic, etc) answer to this problem is to do nothing. I don't have the answers, and I don't know if bringing Syrian refugees here to the US is a solution. But I do know that it's too complicated an issue to have a knee-jerk response. Do you know how many refugees they propose to bring in? Do you know the demographics of those refugees (half will be children, and a large portion of the adult males will be over the age of 60). Do you know that only one of the terrorists involved in the Paris attacks posed as a Syrian refugee? In the proposed plan, bringing refugees here to the United States would have a big price tag but even so, each family would get barely enough to rent an apartment and feed themselves.

Many people are pointing out that we have our own crises to face at home in the US- millions of homeless veterans, school violence, budget cuts in school systems, dozens of problems caused by global climate change... the list goes on. All of these problems are important and need to be addressed, and bringing in refugees to America might not be the best option for us or for the refugees. But to simply stand idly and not offer any type of help at all is simply shameful. Talk about the 1%- nearly all present-day Americans were once refugees or immigrants, the problematic people looking for a new home. People fleeing fear and violence, like my poppy and his family- whose abuses were ignored by an international community that didn't want to make enemies nor take on charitable cases. This time around though, we don't have the excuse of ignorance.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Five ways to test whether your boyfriend is addicted DOTA.

Many males pride themselves on being devoted "gamers," while others are more secretive about their online interactive adventures.  Either way, it's annoying.

The following is a guide to determine if your man (or woman! I'm sure it's just as soul-sucking to have your female partner plastered to the A, S and W keys of their keyboard) is on the path to destruction obsession. OR if they're already hopelessly absorbed in the virtual subculture (as my mother reminds me, it's too late to get a refund...oh well!)

Use these tests to work out how absorbed your partner becomes while playing. The more responsive your partner is, the better they score. 

Test 1- Ask your partner a simple question, such as how their day was. Points should be detracted for hesitation or if you need to repeat the question.

Test 2- Arrange your cat in a cute position (for a lazy cushion cat), or entice your cat to wrestle with some adorable stuffed toy. Announce, "Aw, [you cat's name] is being SO cute!" No points for affirmative responses without actually turning to look.

Test 3- This test steps it up a notch, and works particularly well if you have a loft-style dwelling. Drop a piece of dirty clothing (preferably underwear or socks) onto your partner's head while playing. Your partner receives high scores for getting up and demanding an explanation, but should get some points for merely removing the clothing from their head. Negative points if they leave it there.

Test 4- Go into the bedroom and yell, "I'm naked!" This test really goes to prove how uninterested in sexy men can be when they're distracted.

Test 5- FOR EMERGENCY USE ONLY. Obtain a honey badger. Obtain some honeycomb. Toss both onto gamer's lap. Major points for only minor injuries.

If your partner gets a high score: Good-for-freaking-you. Just shut up, ok?

What to do if your partner gets a low/no score: Additional levels of positive distraction can be assessed, and might have varying results (anecdotal evidence suggests that food could work well here) but as your desperation increases, it's not uncommon to try negative attention-getting methods (eg yelling "The stove is on fire!" and "I left your iphone on the stove!"). However alternative methods of coping, such as learning to accept this disability, can yield unexpected outcomes beneficial to both sides. For example, my boyfriend is roughly 90% more likely to let me choose a channel without dispute while he plays DOTA. If all else fails, try working on your own imitations of the "heroes'" voices in order to penetrate into your partner's dense cloud of concentration. You'll probably at least get a laugh.


Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Forced procrastination

One of the reasons that being a mid-level worker is frustrating is because you get constantly interrupted.  This has been a huge problem in my current job.  While I was a graduate student, the post docs and professors who had once been post docs told me that they had finished up papers from their PhD during their post docs, that they had networked and written reviews, met people who became important connections for their careers, and explored interests while learning new techniques. I'm missing out on much of this.

My boss has figured out that I am productive, so whenever he needs something done that is even marginally related to my project, he asks me to do it. Nay, tells me. No matter how trivial, no matter if it could be done by an undergrad or a grad student (the male grad student continues to spend most of his day sitting in the office playing games on his phone. No exaggeration- he's doing it right now and has been since I came in at 10. The other grad student hasn't yet arrived.)

The problem with be productive in a selfish lab is that you never become productive for yourself. I've spent every day, all day, since Friday working on experiments for our grant due next week. Today I thought I would have some time to prepare the class lecture I'm giving on Friday for a friend's course, and my boss came in and reminded me of yet another experiment I'm supposed to do.

So do I point out that no one else has done anything today? Or suck it up and once again push off the tasks that will directly benefit me?

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Tim Hunt's not the only asshole in science

My new lab is so stressful.  People barely ever talk to each other, because my boss constantly admonishes us (as a group; he's never had the balls to address a problem with one person specifically) for not working enough and has said that people socializing in the lab or doing work other than lab work are a "productivity suck". However he evidently feels that he is above having to follow his own rules, and when he's bored (he admits this) he will come into the lab to talk for anywhere from ten minutes to a half hour, joking and laughing loudly and making uncomfortable comments that the rest of us feel we need to tolerate.

This environment has been unpleasant, and several of my mentors have pointed out that my boss is a "baby" professor, extremely green and new to the job, so I had hopes that things might improve slowly over time.  Despite these hopes, the latest development is that my boss has begun to lie to further his control over me and the graduate students.

Several weeks ago, he sent an email saying that we needed to get some samples to a colleague by this week at the absolute latest, or else this person's students wouldn't be able to process them. The day before they were "due", my boss came in and said we should meet to talk about the samples the next day, and left. I was confused, because I needed to grow the samples, and if we needed them the next day, discussing them that morning wouldn't be sufficient.

So I went to the office of our colleague and they said that they didn't need all the samples the next day, and if I only had a few that was fine.

None of the urgency or the ultimatum-like attitude of my boss's email.

Then, at our meeting the next day, he assigned four tasks each to me and the other female grad student, and one to the male grad student (it's not sexist, it's just "the way things work out". Every. Friggin. Time.)  When I told him afterward that I felt my workload was a little overwhelming, he asked if I thought there was something wrong with the structure of the lab (um, trick question?? -especially coming from someone as pompous and self-assured as himself).  I then tried to bide for some freedom in another way, asking if it was ok with him if I go to a cafe sometimes to read papers and write (as many academics do) he said yes but that I needed to let him know, because he needed to be able to justify to the undergrads where I am and that I am doing enough work, because they evidently asked about this.

Guess what? Probably not true. Especially since I always let the undergrads know where I'm going, why, and how they can reach me.

Tim Hunt's not the only asshole in science.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Watchcat Night Overview

Step 1. Watch humans from floor.  Survey bed from at least two sides. (This should be normal operating protocol.)  If anything appears suspicious, such as humans being awake, stretch up and claw the side of the bed.  This will communicate to any enemies nearby that this is your bed.  As an additional bonus, it will announce to any lightly sleeping humans of your approach.

Step 2. Jump on bed, landing lightly to show your skill and dexterity.

Step 3. Walk over pillows, stomping on owners' hair and purring loudly. The key is to place your paw as close as possible to the scalp, so that it will pull painfully when you put your weight on it.  This way, there is the most chance of waking them while still reasonably using the pretense that you weren't trying to wake them, but only passing through.

Step 4. Sniff mother's head. Really get your nose in there and snuff.  This is to make entirely sure that it is ACTUALLY your mommy and not an impostor.  This is a cat's duty.

Step 5. Repeat Step 4 with dad.

Step 6. Repeat Step 4 on mom, just in case.

Step 7. Practice your balance by pretending that mom's sleeping form is a mountain ridge.  Walk purposefully yet carefully so as not to slide off.  Find a comfy spot and settle in.  Stay still just until mom falls back asleep.  Get back up and return to pillows.

Step 8. At this point, resume sniffing and stepping on hair until owners acknowledge your vigilance.  Your reward is to allow yourself to be petted once, quickly, before returning to patrol.  After all, you don't want to disturb your owners.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Excellent reasons to have your boyfriend move in

His messiness conceals your messiness (at least during the initial "things are still in boxes" phase)

Extra snuggles

Someone to swing by the store after you get home and realize you've forgotten to buy the sweet potatoes for your bean and sweet potato burritos+ (d'oh!)

Shoulder to cry on

Someone else to yell at the cat when she's chewing on electrical wires for attention at 6am

Constant access to oversized sweats, boxers, and t shirts (my boyfriend is closer to my size and body shape than any of my college roommates were... Damn short people!)

Partner for spontaneous dance parties

And, for the scientists in the crowd.... An excellent, reliable guinea pig for at-home experiments (with an option for blind studies possible!). Case in point: there are a lot of "natural" remedies that use Apple cider vinegar to remove moles (what's natural about applying a smelly, stingingly acidic brown liquid to your body?) which I have begun to evaluate using my lovely, live-in boyfriend. (And so far, it's looking like it's going to work! The mole got all swollen and now is shriveling up....although the skin around is is red an irritated so hopefully that will resolve itself.)

posted from Bloggeroid

Tuesday, March 17, 2015


Bonehead #1 forgot to order small sharps containers for the PCR hood (Bonehead rating: 2)
Bonehead #2, who hasn't produced any data this year (Bonehead rating: 8), decided to start his most important experiment at 4pm on the Friday before he left for break (Bonehead rating: 9) and, clearly too busy to walk into the adjoining room, he devised a sharps container from the only beaker within a 10ft radius- the ethidium bromide tip waste container (Bonehead rating: 10).

Thanks everyone I work with. You're jerks.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Amendment to last entry-

UPDATE: Grad student 2, who I forgot to mention is completely sexist, just approached me and said, "It seems totally misogynistic to call you a Post-doctoral Fellow, so is there a word for a female fellow?"

(Proceed with ripping hair out of head)

Escape from Toyland

This is the dynamic of the lab I work for:

Grad student 1 - runs around doing benchwork all day and answering open-ended questions from boss such as "see if Prof X can help"; she cannot "code" and thus is spoken down to whenever instructions are given

Grad student 2- sits at computer all day, tasked with "making a DNA library", which has yet to happen in the 2 years he has been here- however he can "code" and thus is given a great deal of respect. All interesting research questions are reserved for him, as he and boss have "discussed" them in the past. Has been asked to help a student with a single task (measure growth curve) and failed, despite his regularly repeating the mantra "growth curves were my LIFE in my rotation"

Postdoc (me)- splits time between running around doing lab work and coordinating the work of two undergrads, each of whom the boss made clear should have their own project. I, meanwhile, have no concrete project of my own. Am treated like an undergrad myself- eg, when I expressed concern over the centrifuges heating up samples due to misalignment, boss informed me that the centrifuges are not temperature controlled. (Fucking DUH)

Undergrad 1- actually helpful, so the boss has given him 63,000 additional duties to prevent him from actually becoming useful to me

Undergrad 2- needs almost literally constant instruction and supervision, yet constantly interrupts me while I am speaking. Never brings work to do during down time, preferring to relate inappropriate personal anecdotes (causing the boss to privately tell me he would speak to Undergrad 2 about this, although he ended up failing to do so, as he made a group announcement condemning such practices while Undergraduate 2 was absent).

Fun, fun, fun.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The ability to ignore

This is a photo of the Biohazard sign outside our lab. The tape around it peels off the wall periodically and needs to be replaced, lest the sign fall down and not be able to warn visitors that there are "microorganisms" in our Microbiology lab.

A few weeks ago, the part that had curled away from the wall captured an impressive clump of hair and dust. I don't know if this particular tumbleweed was caught roaming down the hallway or if the tape attacked some unfortunate soul leaving the lab (Rule #1:Never leave the lab) but it was undeniably disgusting.

I eyed this ball of grossness each time I entered and exited the lab for several weeks. I was half hoping that the cleaning people would dispose of it, but no dice. The distasteful flotsam continued to greet me each morning. After a while, I began to hope that my boss might get rid of it, thinking that it was a poor reflection on our lab cleanliness. Again, no such hope. The wretched debris continued to hang there, mocking me.

It reminded me of hair stuck in the drain or on a pool deck, two of my least favorite things. I've always hated how peeling tape collects dirt and dust, and hate not knowing what else that particular length of stickiness might have collected over the ages. Seeing this monstrosity each day was a horror, and the longer it hung there the more it began to initiate my gag reflex.

Finally, today, after becoming annoyed with things in general due to a serious lack of protocol and organization by my lab mates ( to be excused (?) since they're only graduate students) I strode towards the door with a pair of scissors. "I'm going to take care of that disgusting ball of hair stuck to the sign on our door," I declared to my boss. I was expecting a thank you, a confirmation, or at least an "I was going to get to it later." However, what I didn't expect was, "What hairball?"

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the difference between a man and a woman.

posted from Bloggeroid

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Selling out

I’ve been kind of lazy about posting here, so I got a Twitter account. @EmersnianIdeals Hooray(?)

Monday, January 12, 2015

My L(Kiwi-Multi)D

My Little Black Kiwi-Multi Dress

I've been invited to be a bridesmaid for the first time ever.  I'm very excited because although I had several close friends get married, they all had extensive families and/or childhood friends who were "first in line" for the jobs of bridesmaid. I always thought I would make a great bridesmaid, not the least because I'm not afraid to tell people that they're being ridiculous (a real go-to quality for today's bride!) but now that I am one, I realize that the job has some unfavorable aspects as well.  For example, the closest I've ever been to having to hold someone's dress while peeing is... not close at all.  However the most commonplace cliche of power and delusion going straight to the bride's head is the dreaded dreadful bridesmaid dress.

The product description reads, "Inspired by a vintage piece from the '50s (we imagine it was worn to a Sadie Hawkins dance), this feminine, flowy dress has an easy silhouette and romantic details like delicate shirring at the bodice. With a low V-neck and dramatic cape sleeves, it's equal parts sweet and sultry—and it's the kind of dress that goes easily from a gallery opening to a gala and everywhere in between."

However I would edit it to say, "Inspired by the curtains hung in my grandmother's bathroom, (we imagine it was worn to a Sadie Hawkins dance by someone whose date didn't show up), this Amish-feminine idea of a dress has an easy silhouette and what those with poor taste might consider romantic details like delicate shirring at the bodice. (Nobody besides J crew employees cares about, less knows the definition of, "shirring".) With a low V-neck that doesn't make up for the bulk of the dress elsewhere and dramatic cape sleeves reminiscent of bat wings, it's equal parts sweet and sultry from the view of a father of a sixteen year old daughter going on her first date—and it's the kind of dress that goes easily from pajama party to a meeting of the members of Goodwill Shoppers Anonymous.

It's just maniacal of J Crew to market this dress. Oh, and the color is listed as "kiwi-multi".  That alone would ward off any normal person.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Celebrating a new year on January 1st seemed a little soon to me.  I started a new job on October 31st, so it's felt like a new year since then.  It's come with many new challenges and some things I just can't seem to figure out.  It's been exciting, and disappointing, and fulfilling all at the same time.

I defended my PhD thesis in early October, to an audience of my peers, superiors, friends and family.  The closure of a certain long and arduous period of my life was wonderful and at the same time almost unbelievable.  It was particularly appropriate that those people whom I relied so heavily upon for support were there to share it with me.  Looking at the audience and sharing dinner with certain members later in the evening, my heart was filled with joy rivaling that originating from my life transition that day.  To have maintained these friends despite time, distance, and even disagreements reminded me that they were not friends of circumstance, but people who truly cared.

That night at dinner I also found out that I had been offered a job as a post doc.  I was overjoyed.  I'm still happy and grateful to have the job.  It's not everything I wished and hoped for in terms of research topics, but it's the next step on my career ladder.  I'm not going to complain.

It hasn't solved all of my problems, though.  I was looking forward to leaving all of the shortfalls of my graduate institution behind, but that, alas, has not been the case.  The isolation I felt in graduate school, which I attributed to the small graduate student population and the liberal arts focus of the institution, has followed me to my new job.  The post doctoral community's size is equally limited here.  In addition, I work in a lab with only two other graduate students and no other post docs- plus, the lab is considered a biosafety hazard and the door must remain locked at all times.  Kind of puts a damper on casual socialization.

Have I mentioned that one of the grad students is a masochistic self-centered know-it-all who actually knows nothing about laboratory science?

Still, I'm enjoying having new surroundings and challenges.  Transitioning from a 3 minute to a 35 minute commute has been interesting, but my new apartment is lovely and makes me feel both peaceful and energized.  I'm happy to be back at the bench (lab bench) after spending months and stupid months writing.  My new boss is funny, genial, and I think I can learn a lot from him.  Another unfortunate aspect of this place is that there are very, very few female roll models (i.e. tenured professors).  I guess these are just more challenges, more obstacles, which I will surmount as needed.