Archive for: March, 2011

Pimp my lab

Mar 25 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

One of the cool things about my imminent professory situation is that my wet lab is being built out from a previously non-lab-containing space. While this is awesome because everything I get will be shiny and new, this also means is that I have a million decisions to make!

I've already discussed the broad-strokes layout with the architects, and given the size (med-small) and shape (funky) of the space, I think we're on the right track. What I want from you, dear readers, is help with the details. What do you love and hate about your labs? I'm talking drawer size, outlet height, cabinets vs open shelves, etc!

I posed this question on twitter and got a ton of useful responses, but I thought I'd open it up to the twitter-resistant among my readers, as well as allow for descriptions unrestricted by character limits.

So, fire away in the comments!

44 responses so far

Last night I made Physioprof's Fusilli bolognese

Mar 21 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

Our dear friend Physioprof has been cooking up a storm lately, and the resulting displays of culinary prowess have been both impressive and--I'll just go ahead and say it--inspirational.

Last night I decided to try his recipe for Fusilli Bolognese, which it's my understanding is Italian for "curly pasta with meat sauce." I was too lazy to go to the store to do everything exactly as PP described, so the following is my adaptation using what I already had in the house.

Here's our starting ingredients still life:

You may notice a couple of differences here. PP uses San Marzano tomatoes, which are considered by some to be the best canned tomatoes out there. But they're like 3 times as expensive as pretty much every other brand, so I just used my plebian canned tomatoes from the pantry. Additionally, while PP prefers ground baby cows veal*, I used ground beef, because again that's what I already had. Finally, while PP's calls for a full-bodied white wine, I used a Tempranillo--it was either that or a bottle of rosé someone brought to a party in like 2007.

I cooked up the mirepoix just like PP advised, adding the garlic at the end, followed by the meat. When the meat was cooked I added the wine, which made the meat kind of purple-colored, but I figured whatevs.

Then I noticed two things: 1) the meat was releasing a lot of grease, which maybe is because grown cows are fattier than baby ones? I consulted J as to whether I should strain out the grease and he was totes like "leave it in," so I did; 2) There was still A LOT of wine left in the bottle! I poured myself a glass to enjoy as I continued to prepare the feast.

After the wine reduced down, PP's next step was to add some whole milk. Now, I didn't have any whole milk, but I did have skim milk and heavy cream, which I feel like together is basically whole milk. In they went! Once that had reduced, I added my dollar-store crushed tomatoes, sprinkled in a little crushed red pepper flakes, and set the burner to low.

Then came the worst part--simmering for THREE HOURS! My apartment smelled so good I thought I would die, so I kept myself busy by roasting some asparagus and making a nice caesar salad from scratch.

Fun fact: as you probably know, traditional Caesar dressing is made with a raw egg yolk, and I am here to tell you that you need not be afraid! I learned from an intermediate bartending class at Astor Center that salmonella lives on the outside of the shell, and since almost any egg you buy in a supermarket has been washed (plus the fact that there is minimal contact between the egg inside and its outer shell), your chances of getting salmonella from eating a raw egg are something like 1 in 10,000. If you really want salmonella, your best bet is to go to a farm, take an egg right from a chicken, and lick the outside.

When the sauce was about half an hour out, I boiled some water and cooked my fusilli. From here on I followed PP's directions to a T, because I am not one to question when someone tells me to put butter and cheese on my food. I plated it up with the asparagus, poured another glass of wine, and ate that shitte.

*Only jk about being judgy here. I freaking love veal, just don't keep it in the house, as they say.

13 responses so far

On the hoarder PI and channeling MacGuyver

Mar 12 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

My new PI, it turns out, is a little bit of a hoarder. He recently inherited some new lab space, and with it came decades of equipment, supplies, and reagents from its previous inhabitant. He kept all of it. There are solutions dated from the first term of the Bush administration, boxes of unidentifiable and ancient-looking apparatus parts, and drawers full of vintage pipettes, power sources, and surgical tools.

I recently remarked on new PI's mild hoarding tendencies to one of the techs. "I don't think it's really that he's a hoarder," he said, "it's just that he thinks he might one day have a use for these things." Aha! But that is the EXACT hoarder line of thinking, is it not? This is my understanding, at least, from the one time I watched Hoarders. I feel it's worth noting that this is not a show to be watched while one is eating.

One of my tasks has been to get a particular technique up and running for the lab, and new PI was hopeful that I'd be able to piece together the setup for this technique from one or more of the magical boxes of parts lying around the lab. After much brow-furrowing, nose-wrinkling, and confused, desperate Google Image-searching, I finally came to the conclusion that the pieces just did not fit together in the way we wanted them to. Turning to my razor-sharp logic and well-honed powers of persuasion (I did, after all, just negotiate a startup package), I convinced PI to spring for a shiny new setup.

The cloud that lay within this lovely silver lining, however, was that the setup wouldn't arrive for another three weeks. Not acceptable! Three weeks is approximately 1o% of the total time I'll spend in this lab, and I'll be damned if I'm wasting it waiting for my fancy apparatus to come in. So I did what any good scientist does in such situations: I got all MacGuyver on that box of parts.

It's amazing what you can do with a little lab tape, styrofoam, tin foil, and a 24-well plate, is it not? When I showed my PI the final product, his eyes lit up like a kid on Christmas. In fact, I think it made him happier than he'll be when the new setup comes in. Naturally, I'm quite pleased with myself, not only because I made PI so happy, but because I'm able to be much more productive.  Once the new setup comes in, I'll be ready to haul.

27 responses so far

The neuroanatomy of a bi-winner

Mar 10 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

It's a rough world out there in Grantland, folks. With many ICs' paylines solidly under 10%, researchers need to choose their proposal topics carefully--something relevant, something novel, something with the potential to make a real impact on society. With that in mind, I truly feel that Genomic Repairman's got a slam dunk, here:  an interdisciplinary, Scientopia-wide PPG that will ultimately identify the biological mechanisms that underlie the magic of Charlie Sheen. It has "fundability" written all over it, does it not?

I'll be heading up the neuroanatomy side of things, and I thought I'd share some of our target areas with you:

The prefrontal cortex (PFC): As we learned over 150 years ago from the legendary Phineas Gage, damage to the PFC can lead to extreme social dysfunction, and Sheen's impulsivity, inappropriate behavior, and delusional ramblings are all textbook symptoms of compromised PFC integrity. Furthermore, it is well-documented that Sheen actively champions the cause of Better Planning; as the PFC plays a substantial role in executive functions like planning, we predict that his readily observable sub-optimal planning may also be ascribed to alterations in PFC morphology and/or connectivity.

Nucleus Accumbens (NAc): Often referred to as the brain's "pleasure center," the NAc is most commonly studied in the context of drug addiction. It should come as no surprise, then, that we intend to perform a thorough analysis of Sheen's NAc, given his highly publicized affinity for drugs of abuse like cocaine, alcohol, and goddesses. AND ALSO COCAINE, more than Sinatra and Jagger, in case you were curious.

Wernicke's Area: Patients with damage to Wernicke's Area are known to produce streams of dialogue with seemingly little regard for things like syntax or meaning (remember the mnemonic--"Wernicke, wordy!"). And I mean, have you seen Sheen's Korner? Could it BE any less coherent?*

Be sure to check out Leigh and Scicurious's plans for characterizing Sheen's complex pharmacological make up. Together, I'd say the neuro-ladies of Scientopia have a solid plan that could substantially unravel one of society's biggest mysteries. Now, where's our Tiger Blood core?

*apologies to Chandler Bing, here.

3 responses so far

Publishing probs: where next?

Mar 07 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

I have this adorable little manuscript, you see. My PI, collaborator, and I all thought its findings were super exciting, and so we initially submitted it as a Brief Communication to a very fancy journal. Sadly, despite comments from reviewers that the paper was "extremely important" and "very novel," as well as the editor's admission that we could likely "adequately address all of the reviewers' minor concerns," the paper was rejected. Space issues or something? Harumph.

Disappointed by the rejection but encouraged by such a positive review, we tried next for a not quite as fancy but extremely well-respected journal. This time, the reviewers HATED it. Oh, they were so mean! So mean, in fact, that I quickly read the comments and then archived the email until after my 2nd faculty interview, lest my self-esteem plummet so hard as to make a bad impression with the hiring committee.

Now that the fate of this paper no longer affects my job hunt, I feel less pressure to get it into somewhere impressive, and more pressure just to get it out before I start applying for grants. There are several techniques in this paper that I haven't published before, and if I'm going to be proposing projects that involve these techniques, I imagine study sections will want to see that I actually, you know, have some experience with them?

So the big question, then, is where does this poor little paper go next? In the interest of getting it in press as soon as I can, part of me is inclined to let it go to a more specialized, next-tier-down journal, but my collaborator wants to try for another medium-high journal. I do love this paper and think it belongs somewhere solid; it's the work that largely informed this year's research plan in my job apps, and a higher-profile pub could be a nice boost as I start the next set of experiments in my own lab. But if we gamble and lose, what's the delay in publication time going to cost me in terms of meeting grant deadlines and feasibility-related scores?

I'm curious as to your thoughts, lovely readers. When do you decide it's best just to get a manuscript in print, fancy pubs be damned? Do you have a decision tree? If so, do you have a diagram of your decision tree? Can I see it?

52 responses so far

The human triumph part*

Mar 01 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

My lovely, lovely readers, it fills me with immense joy to bring you the following news:

I just signed a letter. From a university. Offering me a tenure-track faculty position.

I am going to be an assistant professor!!!!1!!!!!ELEVENTY!!!!!!!!!!!

The short story is this: I only had two interviews, but both places contacted me soon after my respective visits, wishing to start negotiations for an offer. I take this to mean that while I may only be moderately impressive on paper, I am a *superstar * in person, a distinction I am willing to accept (though I do realize that being impressive on paper is what gets one grants, so...I'll work on that part). I negotiated with both, and in the end, Interview #2 came through with a package I was happy with. Really, really happy.

I am so excited, you guys! I can't wait to get my lab up and running, and fill it with happy young scientists doing happy young science. (?) I will be sad to leave NYC, but my new home will still be in the northeast, so I'll be close enough to visit regularly--you know, in my free time (LOLJK).

Maybe it's the lingering Oscar pixels in my brain, but I feel compelled to thank some people--you. I am honestly not positive I would have navigated everything so successfully without the insight and advice I gathered over the last year from my readers and fellow academia bloggers. You guys rock, seriously.

So now, the big question--do I have to change the name of the blog to simply Fumbling Towards Tenure?


*if you're all, "wha?" see side bar blurb

101 responses so far