Retiring the blog (for now)

Hey y’all.

You know how I said that if I was going to discontinue this blog, I’d announce it?

Well, I’m announcing it.

In part this is because I’m about to enter THESIS CRUNCH TIME.

In part this is because my mental health has gotten so much better (i.e., I have fewer uncontrollable feels to express) (yay correct medication) whilst my physical health is getting far worse. I’ve hit the “near or literally screaming in pain” point at least once a week since November, and I’m still waiting to see an NHS specialist about this. So far I haven’t been able to find a pain management scheme that works for me, but hopefully once I see someone who’s not my GP I can start trying to get this sorted.

In part this is because there’s some fairly awful stuff going down in my lab right now. Though I’ve ranted about my supervisor(s) on here before, it’s starting to get really serious, and I need to protect my identity on here.

Anyway, blogosphere, peace out. And if you’re reading this because you’re also a scientist and/or grad student with a chronic illness, please know this — you are so, so not alone. I can’t offer much to my fellow spoonies at the moment, except for hugs. So, *hugs.*

Linkfest: 13 February 2016

Jeremy Fox was on the committee that determined the winners of the ASN YIA, and his insights are great (definitely read the comments!).

What does a minority student bring to a physics class? Dan Zaharopol has some thoughts.

Dan also has some background on the “math revolution” and how we can encourage mathematical interest and access in underprivileged kids.

What math(s) do biology undergrads need? Stephen Heard has a provocative post with an amazing comment section — but I simply do not have the spoons to weigh in.

I’m not sure how I feel about Axios, but thanks to Jeremy Fox at least now I know what it is.

TSW has a really important discussion of race in academia, with a lot of links to great places to read more on the issue.

How do we prevent sexual harassment in the sciences? I don’t know, and neither does Terry McGlynn, but it’s a really important question.

A student who is not your advisee turns to you for help, and it’s hard to know what to do.

Balancing a PhD with kids is hard and lonely.

Even if you’re lucky enough to get a job in academia, you probably won’t have much of a choice in terms of the non-academic aspects of the job. Sarcozona, unfortunately, needs to take barometric pressure into account when she considers where to live, and that sounds absolutely awful.

Saying “I thought I was going crazy!” increases the stigma surrounding mental illness. Trust me, I know how much it sucks to have doctors ignore your symptoms pre-diagnosis (and, for that matter, post-diagnosis), but language choice is important.

Here are some fun maps of Europe colored by cool word etymologies. (h/t H)

Help me out, fellow scientists.

So my Master’s student is doing a study in which, among other things, animals are categorized as having three behaviors, Behavior A, Behavior B, and Behavior C. We want to test whether there’s any difference between Behaviors A/B/C in some response variable Y, whilst controlling for a bunch of other things.

Behaviors A/B/C are mutually exclusive, and defined in such a way that every animals will exhibit one of these behaviors. Behaviors A and B have some stuff in common, and Behaviors B and C have some stuff in common. Behaviors A and C also have some stuff in common, though admittedly less than A/B or B/C, and we don’t understand the evolution/ecology of these behaviors to even know if B is a biologically sensible category, nevermind what, if any, relationships there are amongst A, B, and C.

I told my Master’s student (who has never studied any statistics) to treat Behaviors A, B, and C as categorical variables.

My supervisor says that we should number Behaviors A, B, and C as Behaviors 1, 2, and 3 and treat them as one continuous variable.

The two of us have been fighting about this via email for over a week.

As near as I can tell, his argument boils down to: Most scientists don’t understand how continuous variables can be predicted by categorical variables, and therefore if/when we publish this, we’ll get a wider readership and/or better reviews if we only have continuous variables predicting continuous variables. (In other words “I don’t understand ANOVA/ANCOVA, therefore nobody else does either.”)

Now, I am currently employed by his former institution to teach introductory and intermediate statistics to undergraduates. I used to be employed by this same institution to teach statistics to¬†postgraduates. I do very complicated mathematics/statistics on a daily basis in my own research, and I have done so for years. I’ve even served as a stats consultant in the private sector. I have a degree in mathematics. My father is a statistician. I rarely know what I’m talking about in life, but I do know basic statistics.

My Master’s student is an adult, and she’s been CC’d on all of these emails — whether she wants to treat a categorical variable as a continuous variable is her business.

When it comes time for the three of us to write this study up for publication, however, what should I do? Should I wait for a reviewer to flag it, then do a gleeful “I told you so”? Should I find somebody my supervisor respects to back me up on this whole “you can’t just arbitrarily number categorical variables and treat them as a continuous variable” thing? Should I let it go, because indeed A/B and B/C do in fact have more in common than A/C and so there might be some sort of case for a continuum? (Though I’ve worked with categories A/B/C pretty extensively in other biological questions, and rarely if ever have I seen A/B/C having any sort of 1-2-3 linear relationship with one another.) Should I refuse to let my name be put on the paper — even though I collected all of the data, designed most of the project, am doing most of the supervision of the MSc student, and may well end up writing the paper — because I know that it’s bad statistics, even if reviewers don’t catch it?

Yes, I’m still blogging.

Despite this blog’s uncertain prognosis last month, I’ve decided to stick with it, at least for a little bit. My recent silence has not sprung from a lack of desire to blog, but a lack of energy. There is so much going on in my work life right now — teaching, job applications, supervising a Master’s student, a whole bunch of collaborations in various stages, some academic ethics nonsense going down, and so forth.

Most days, I can only work a few hours, if that, before I am utterly and completely wiped out. And if I push myself beyond my (highly stochastic and thus often difficult to predict) limits? It takes me days to recover. Fatigue, real fatigue, is not something you can push through. I couldn’t work harder if I tried — and trying often ends up with me in so much pain that I have trouble breathing.

Yes, my body’s new trick of “you’re in a lot of pain, let’s hyperventilate, that seems like an excellent idea!” seems to be here to stay. I was thinking that yoga might help with that, until a friend pointed out that yoga involved moving your head a lot (if I tilt my head back, I get extremely dizzy), and I keep meaning to look into meditation, but, well, that takes energy, and I’m so unbelievably swamped with work that adding anything new seems too overwhelming at this point.

I find it difficult to balance the academic and non-academic demands on my life when my energy is this low, and when my thesis deadline is looming its ugly head. Eating right and exercising are both really, really important — but if I can only accomplish one thing this afternoon, should that really be making a pot of vegetable soup or doing a bunch of sit-ups? Seeing my therapist each week is non-negotiable (unless I literally can’t get out of the flat, which happens sometimes), but there’s a lot more work that I could put into my mental health that I don’t seem to have the energy for. Similarly, putting time and effort into my relationship with my girlfriend is absolutely non-negotiable, though this is my first real, serious relationship, and we haven’t yet figured out what the stage between “deciding that we’re doing this for realsies” and “shacking up” should look like. (I don’t think there’s an answer to this question, to be fair, but this relationship is one that I want to make work.)

But family? As in my biological family, my parents, with whom I have a very complicated relationship, who require huge amounts of time and energy? I don’t want my relationship with my family to worsen, particularly given the likelihood that I’m going to need their help as my health declines — but dealing with my family was difficult even when I was healthy, and I don’t think I’d have the ability to solve any of these problems even if I were to suspend all sciencing.

And friendship, acquaintanceship, other forms of social interaction? If my institute is going to the pub after work, should I go with them, or should I stay in the office and try to get on top of the many, many things I have to do that other people are waiting on? Or should I go home, because if I rest tonight, I’m more likely to function tomorrow? Being a final-year postgraduate means that most of my friends have left. And since I too am almost certainly going to be leaving within the next, say, eight months, to what extent should I be trying to make new friends? If someone isn’t responding to my emails or Facebook messages, to what extent should I follow up, because I know what it’s like to drop off the face of the earth and having others still reach out to you is really important? Or do I cut my losses, only put my energy into people who can reciprocate? (Nobody can reciprocate all the time.) (And it’s not like I can afford to be picky.)

Anyway, this is where I’m at, at least for the moment. If you want actual science content, um, I don’t know, go read Terry McGlynn’s thoughts on networking or the amazing discussion on Scientist Sees Squirrel about getting students to show up to class, or something.

Getting an academic job is hard. Getting an academic job when you have a disability is harder.

Current job hunt progress:

  • Applied: 8
  • Waiting to hear back: 2
  • Interview – waiting to hear back: 1
  • Rejected pre-interview: 5

I’m not in full job-search yet, as my ideal start date is September +/- 2 months, and I have to, you know, finish my thesis first. Also, I have no idea if I can work full time, but part time postdocs aren’t really a thing. Moreover, even if part time postdocs were a thing, I’d need to work full time in order to be eligible for a visa to remain in the UK. Given that the UK has my girlfriend, my doctors, and my therapist, I’d really, really like to stay here.

When I was applying to undergraduate universities, I first determined that I definitely wanted to go to school in the US, then picked schools to apply to (and then later a school to attend) based only on properties of the school itself — quality and reputation of school, size and character of the student body, financial aid package, etc. When I was applying to graduate positions, my only non-academic requirements were “am I fluent in the language of the program?” and “can I get funding for this position?”

Now, when I’m looking at jobs, I’m being much more picky. I need to be in a place with high-quality health care, particularly with good neurologists, preferably neurologists who specialize in my type of (rare) tumor. Said healthcare needs to be either free (hello nice socialist countries) or heavily subsidized (US health insurance policies, I’m looking at you), and it needs to be conducted in a language which I speak. Furthermore, I need to be in a place where I can find a good therapist, which probably means a place with a large congregation of English-speaking therapists.

Ideally, I’d like to be within weekend-visiting distance of my girlfriend, or at least in a city with a major airport and in a timezone convenient to the UK. (The 11 hour difference to, say, Sydney or Auckland, is much better than an 8 hour difference to the west coast of the US, for example.) After spending a week with my girlfriend at my parents’ place over Christmas, a part of the world where one shouldn’t really be queer in public, I’ve learned that I want to be in a place where two women can hold hands without fear of harassment.

With my energy issues, making friends is going to be especially hard for me, so living in a place where the people around me socialize in a language in which I’m fluent would go a long way to improving my quality of life. With my balance/vision issues, I can no longer cycle, and to be honest I probably shouldn’t drive, so a place with decent public transportation and/or small enough to walk everywhere would also be important.

And, as much as it pains me to admit, fieldwork? Completely out of the question. I need a desk-based job.

So many jobs are out of the question for me, and that’s before we get to the particulars of the job.

When I was a teenager, I thought it would be really exciting to be in a career where I (must) (could) change cities or even countries every few years. Now, the thought of moving countries — of the hassle and expense to get a visa, to get a new bank account and deal with taxes in yet another foreign currency, to sell all my cheap pots and pans only to buy a new set a week later, of dealing with yet another corrupt landlord or letting agency and a new country’s confusing housing laws — is exhausting. I think in part this is the difference between being 17 and being 25, and of being single and of being in a relationship, but illness/disability of top of everything else just sucks. Academia, you are losing good people because of your terrible early career conventions.


I just realized something: out of my 15 co-authors on published/in-review/ready-to-submit papers in my field,* 12 are men. If we discount the research assistants (sorry guys), we’re down to 12 co-authors, 11 men.


*Yes, I have papers outside my field. On the one that’s actually published, 5/7 authors (including me) are female. On one that’s currently a poster but hopefully going to be written up for publication, 2/6 authors (again including me) are female, for a total of 5/11 female co-authors outside my field.