Thursday, May 13, 2010

"negative" data

We all have it. "Negative" data. It's the data that says "Hey, nothing changed!" or "Well, that's not what caused X response (at least under Y conditions, in Z setting)." But the question is always what to do with said data. Because after all, it does MEAN something. It means that whatever you were testing isn't the answer to that question, which is just as important as determining what is the answer to that question. It's an important and necessary part of the scientific process, the asking of the question, testing it, refining the hypothesis. I have a hard time remembering that sometimes, that negative data (that's such a bad phrase for it -- it's not bad data, there's nothing inherently negative about it at all. It just doesn't support the hypothesis. Does that really make it negative? Isn't there a better word for that? Sorry, tangent. Back to the subject at hand) is important too. It's just so much more exciting to look at a graph with nice changes, short error bars, and little asterisk denoting significance than to look at a graph of essentially the same bar repeated in differing colors.

But the question is still there -- what do we do with the negative data? After all, we've now spent money and precious time collecting the data. And it is worth something. But publishing negative data can be hard. And we don't want to be known as that lab, the lab that publishes only negative data (i.e. the lab that can't make anything work!). But in reality, if we published ALL of our data, wouldn't the magazines look something like this:

Figure 1. Realistic view of how much AWESOME science v. how much negative science a lab generates.

So really then, what's a scientist to do? Most of my (negative) data thus far has been included in publications, but not show cased (i.e. included in a "data not shown" manner).  But does it really move science forward?

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The open lab floor plan...

Our lab space is contained within a larger Lab that houses personnel and equipment which belong to a number of PIs. We just recently moved into this lab space, as the building was just recently built. Our old space was a small set of rooms in the basement of a building that used to be a gymnasium. And while it was small, it was secure (mostly). Key pads on the door, etc. So when we moved into bright shiny new lab, complete with windows (!), everything was wonderful. Except that said shiny new lab, being touted as an open space where cooperation and collaborations abound, is an open floor plan. Very open. Oh, Joe Schmoe off the street can't just walk in; there is a key card swipe at the door. But consider that 8-10 labs share essentially one large room, each lab with 4-5 people. That's 30-50 people that have access to everything from equipment to supplies to (gasp!) data. And while for the most part, people respect the property of others, there is no way to secure the space from those who don't have (or use!) that sense of respect. There's also the saftey issue of somewhat random people walking through the lab space at any given time.

And realistically, even though we've now inhabited this lab for almost six months, I know very few of the names of the students and fellow post-docs that populate the lab space in our "Lab." Maybe this is because we are from different departments and have had little forced interaction. Or because we're all anti-social scientists that barely lift our head from the bench when someone walks by (not likely, since with-in lab groups and even departments, we cackle and talk often).  So is this really promoting collaboration?

While I applaud the attempt at promoting collaboration, it strikes me as though the lab was truly not designed with necessarily the best, or safest, science in mind.  Aren't there other ways to promote collaboration?

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

About family and science...

I'm struggling to know where to begin this entry. Because, you see, there is so much background that I know (as it is my own) and that you don't (as we've just met). So let me fill you in on some of the details. First, there are some distinct disadvantages to being a woman in science (WiS), particularly a woman in science that would also like to have a family. I'm sure it's easy enough to see, but really, when a WiS becomes pregnant, she has to plan, seriously PLAN, her experiments, her contact with potentially hazardous chemicals, her grant and manuscript writing. She must prepare to explain why there will potentially be a gap in her publications and/or productivity. She will undoubtedly need to stop teaching at some point, if this is part of her position as well. Men in science (MiS), while needing to plan for their partner's impending explosion, are not nearly as hampered by the extra thirty pounds and additional life growing in their abdomen.

Now, I would not trade the opportunity to bear my children for the world. Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining that I have to do this. I'm just clarifying that a WiS has some extra concerns that a) MiS do not have, and b) women in non-science careers may not have.

So all through graduate school, whenever I was asked "When will you have children?" my answer was always a vague "Sometime after graduation." Now that I am post-graduation, that question is more difficult to answer. There are several options, all of which have been discussed ad nauseam by Mr. W and I.
A short synopsis:

1. Don't have children. Okay, so we didn't really discuss this. It's not an option for us.
2. Have a child during the postdoc.
3. Have a child pre-tenure while in an assistant professor position.
4. Have a child post-tenure while in an assistant professor position.
5. Adopt a child, at any of the aforementioned times.

In our ultimate 'life plan' we would love to have two children. So waiting to have the first child until I am in a professor position, post tenure, could potentially mean starting our family around the age of 37. And while this isn't old, with the risk of birth defects increasing with age as well as my serious concern with a huge generation gap there, I do not want to wait that long to start a family. And while adoption has always been an option for us, the expenses of it preclude it's consideration at this point in time.

So really, the choice has come down to having a child now, during my postdoc or in a few years during the first few years of a professorship. My postdoc position will likely be three years in length (having already completed nearly the first year of that) and is a steadily funded position in a good lab. I don't know where my next position will be, nor how rigorous the tenure requirements will be. And so, in the spirit of tackling the challenges we know about now, rather than (or maybe in addition to) the ones that lie ahead, Mr. W and I decided that now might be a good time to start a family.

And that is a roller coaster ride which deserves its own post.

Dr. Who?

And I'm not talking about the BBC show. I started this blog as an outlet for my celebrations and frustrations, as a place I could freely vent about all things love, life, and science that I love and I hate (and I love to hate!).  I will shortly update my "About me" so that you will know more, well, about me. But until then, let this little intro suffice. I am a fairly new postdoc at a major research university (MRU) in a physiology field. I have been married since before I started grad school and the joys of my life are (in addition to my husband) my two great dogs and a horse. No kids yet -- more about that later. I love my job, and I love my home life, and am still learning to balance the two.  Right now things are going well in that department (I think, having not been told otherwise by Mr. Wannabe or Dr. Boss).

And now a short introduction to the characters in this tale:

Dr. Wannabe: Me. A wanna be professor, currently working on a postdoc in preparation for said career.

Mr. Wannabe: Husband of several years in a non-academic position.

Dogs A and B: Dogs A and B. Providers of unconditional love, lots of laughs, and the occasional "NO! Don't EAT THAT!!"

Horse A: Spender of my dollars, eater of my carrots, and thing of beauty that allows me to ride her around pretending as if I know what I am doing.

Dr. Boss: Postdoctoral advisor. All around great guy.

Along with all of the random lab mates, friends, and family (though far away), these are those with whom I have the most interaction.  Let the games begin!