Saturday, March 29, 2008

Fools and Foolishness

I've been a reader of the Scientiae Carnival, but I've never felt particularly relevant to the women-in-science blogosphere. I still don't, but this month's topic resonated and I'm more comfortable sharing from this new space than I have been from my more personal blog.

As a grad student stepping up to her defense in approximately one month, I've been thinking a little bit lately about what got me into this mess in the first place. I don't think I would have chosen any other path, in retrospect, but I do feel that I've somehow blundered into a good situation for me, completely by accident. My adviser is great, my projects have worked out, I've gotten funding, I've managed to write, I got a job. And yet my subfield is the one that the rest of my department looks down upon, as if those of us working in it are just "playing" at science and are just too cute, or annoying, for words. I have a hard time getting access to supposedly "open department" equipment and supplies, usually because someone doing flashier science or a project with a huge budget gets bumped to the head of the line. The journals that are top in my subfield aren't particularly exciting to the rest of the discipline. And yet, I love what I do and I wouldn't have chosen a different subfield even if someone had offered me the funding and resources to do so.

I like to think it's the outside opinions that make me worry that I'm not "worthy," that I'll make some horrible mistake that will get me kicked out of academia forever. Maybe I have a little bit of Imposter Syndrome after all, or maybe it's just pre-defense butterflies. I envision the chair of my department looking at my articles with disdain, saying something like, "you think this is science?!" I worry just a little bit that I should have ignored my own preferences and tried to find a job at a larger University, where my employment would be looked upon as a step forward by my current department; I know that they consider employment at a small college just slightly better than dropping out of academia all together, and most of them think that a focus on undergraduate education is ridiculous, or at the very least a boring pursuit.

These are all small doubts that I squirrel away, which don't bug me very often, but every once in a while they show their ugly heads. I know that paying them any attention at all makes me the fool, and I hope I'll be done with the doubt when I walk out of my defense. In the end, I think I need to develop a bit more faith in my own choices, and get rid of the ego that makes me think about academic prestige even when I have very little interest in dealing with high-pressure, high-profile science. Hopefully that will happen as I orient myself as a professional instead of a student.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

10,000 BC

Don't go see this movie. Even if you, like me, have a vaguely career-related excuse to go see it, and an interest in the subject matter, don't do it. Rent it, later, and you can have a good laugh, but whomever you sucker into going to the theater with you isn't going to be happy about paying for it.

I admit that I knew it would be bad, and went anyway. A better title would have been, as one of my movie-goer companions commented afterward, "Stuff We Saw on National Geographic and Thought Might Have Happened at Some Point in Human History." There was no scientific or historic adviser, in any case. But I knew that would probably be true, too, and I went anyway. This movie is so wrong that I can't even go into detail without spending far too much time on it than it deserves, and there are some issues regarding racist portrayals of kitchy Native American-like culture and an inability of African groups, who are apparently a few thousand years ahead of the main characters anyway, to deal with slavers (and of course one white guy makes it all better), but those probably aren't even worth discussion.

Some of my favorites:

- Good enunciation = proto-language and/or exotic dialect
- Hunters manage to walk out of a snow-covered mountainous terrain and into a rainforest, without losing sight of those snow-capped peaks
- One group has domesticated horses, bows/arrows, and metalworking while some other poor slobs are still hunting mammoths
- They walk out of the mountains, through a rainforest, and into Africa..?
- Africa has domesticated plants, including corn, and sends that technology back with the mammoth hunters; the plants apparently do fine up north
- Mammoths are in use as pyramid-building labor in what has to be an Egypt analog (of course! Why didn't we think of that before!)

Really, I have no idea if these were correctly-portrayed mammoths, and not mastodons. They are referred to in the movie as "mammut", which is the mastodon genus name, but they're furry enough that I assume they're supposed to be mammoths. I am a fan of the portrayal of the terror bird, even though they had to stretch a few hundred thousand years to make it applicable (not that they had much of a problem with that, I'm sure); terror birds should be in more movies.

Some of the effects were fun, particularly if you're interested in Egyptian history or the recreation of Plio-Pleistocene megafauna. That almost made it worth it, but not quite.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

A little bit of drama

A lot of us have been awaiting the release of Expelled, a documentary that purportedly supports the teaching of Intelligent Design (ID) in schools alongside Evolution. I'm particularly interested in seeing how well this movie does in theaters, and whether there's any significant public reaction. I doubt there will be, but you never know.

At a recent screening of the movie at the Mall of America, Pharyngula (PZ Myers) was forced to leave the screening, presumably because he was seen as a threat of some kind, while Richard Dawkins was allowed in.

You can probably google a number of interesting links at this point, but the summary is also available at:
New York Times
Salon

PZ Myers outlines his removal from the line and the aftermath, due primarily to the reactions of pro-Expelled bloggers. Dawkins and Myers talk about the events at RichardDawkins.net.

It's funny, though maybe not quite deserving of all the press. The reaction is certainly a measure of the emotions involved in the pro-ID/anti-ID debate, and I have to wonder what this will mean for the rest of the movie's promotion. I'm curious, but maybe not curious enough to sit through it, and in any case I'm not sure I want to deal with the internal rage that will most likely ensue.

On a related note, I wanted to point out Citizens for Science, which is more or less relevant to you depending on your state of residence. If you're interested in the ID issue you can go there for information or action.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Helium

Maybe I'm just out of the loop, but I was recently made aware of the looming helium shortage when a prof. at R1U commented on the situation in the university newsletter (though I may be the only one who reads it). A quick google search revealed news stories dating back to 2001 that discussed the issue of helium depletion, though almost always couched in terms of party balloon shortages. I'm a little more concerned, personally, about the use of helium in medical and research laboratories, and I'm more than a little stricken by this unexpected evidence of our extreme impact on this planet. Here's an unquestionably significant change that no one will be able to argue was non-anthropogenic: we managed to rid our planet of an element! An ELEMENT!

Apparently this has been more news-worthy over the past few months, particularly in late 2007, which is probably why I finally caught on to the "hot topic." But it was a great opportunity for me to finally learn where helium comes from. I realized, I've never even wondered where helium comes from. Not surprisingly, it comes from Texas. I'll let an archived article from Wired fill in the details. From the variety of articles I read (with different publication dates, mind you) it seems our helium supplies will run out in eight to twenty-five years, so it looks like we won't have to wait long to see what the consequences of a helium-free planet (economy, etc.) will be. I'm fairly certain that whatever those consequences are, they will make me sad.

Blogroll

I've listed on the right a number of blogs that I read/have read on occasion, many of which deal with issues of women in academia, some of which don't, and all of which I would recommend to anyone who asked. Not that anyone asked. If I've missed any you'd suggest, let me know! I'm always open to finding new reasons to procrastinate...er...interesting blogs to read.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

An Introduction

Anonymous blogs! All the rage! Or, at least, during my recent job search I've found a lot of good advice and perspective in the blogs that do exist out there, particularly (but not limited to!) Science Women. As a woman looking to remain in academia, blogs by experienced women scientists have been a huge help in deciding exactly what I want to do with the next stage of my life. These women may not realize that they have a huge following of younger female wanna-be professors!

Somehow, I managed to land a tenure-track position for the coming academic year, at a small liberal arts institution in the Midwest. As a graduate of a similar institution who went on to Research 1 University (R1U) for her graduate work, the smaller school was my preference; I received an offer and passed up interviews at larger institutions. Who knows if I would have actually ended up with offers from larger schools, but I'm happy with my current situation and I'm hopeful that it will be everything I was looking for!

And there, most likely, is the rub: I realize I'm incredibly naive, idealistic and hopeful at this point. Perhaps that's not such a bad thing, or maybe it will be beaten out of me all too soon. I'm starting this blog as a record of my journey as an Assistant Professor at a smaller school, as larger Universities seem to be better-represented in the blogosphere. I'd also like to make my experiences readable and accessible to people I know without having to friend-protect my posts, which I would have to do on a more personal blog.

I'm currently finishing up my PhD, and this blog probably won't see much action until I actually move on, both physically and mentally, from graduate school. However, I recently submitted my course descriptions for the coming academic year and am becoming increasingly distracted from the dissertation! Hopefully, that won't keep me from meeting upcoming deadlines....