Month: June 2014

Fun-Filled Summer Plans, Professorial Edition

What people seem to think professors do all summer

A few weeks ago, I picked up Middle Boy (MB) from a play date with one of his buddies. While I was waiting for the boys to wrap up, I exchanged a few sentences with the little host’s dad, whom I rarely see (he has an advanced degree, a professional one, and seems to work a lot). He asked if we had fun-filled plans for the summer, and I said that we would take a week off to go to a nearby vacationing spot and will also have the kids at home around July 4th, but that, other than that, husband and I work and the kids go to camp or daycare. The dad was surprised and said “But I thought you worked at the university?” And there it was again, the assumption that I am on vacation all summer because I don’t teach.

I said that the local university was a big research university, where teaching was only a component of what faculty do, and that research was extremely important. I said that during the academic year professors were quite busy with teaching, especially when large undergraduate courses were involved,  so summer was prime time to catch up on writing papers and proposals and focus on advising graduate students. Then we talked a little about whether I worked in a lab (not) and what I did, and it was cool to see his eyes light up at the mention of the word “quantum.” But I should probably work a little more on my response, as I seem to come across this issue fairly often.

Around the same time, DH and I finalized the refinancing of our house, and I got to talking to the mortgage lender (we are staying with the same bank as before, so we know her fairly well). While we were waiting for something, we chatted, and she had a lot of questions about what I do, and what research entails, and how much I teach. I hope I managed to convey that running your own research group is a lot like running a small business, in the sense that you are responsible for the funding and overseeing the people who work with you. She wanted to know how high a percentage of my time goes into teaching ;  that’s a hard question to answer. I tried to convey that we have a nominal teaching load set by the college, and then research-active faculty get course load reductions proportional to how much research activity they are engaged in. Also, it’s very different to teach a 200-person freshman course  versus a 20-student advanced elective or a graduate seminar.

You know, I don’t mind that people who’ve never been to college don’t know what an academic job entails; to them, professors are just teachers. But when people who have been through college and even post-graduate education don’t know what professors do or could potentially do, that’s our own fault.

I do tell my undergrads what professors do and how research is funded. But I presume most people don’t. Also, there are many students who go to schools that are not major research universities. And it is true that many professors do take summers “off” in the sense that they cannot be found on campus. Some take the summer completely off because they say “no pay, no work” and perhaps travel for pleasure; some travel for work; some work most of the time from home. I can certainly be found on campus all summer, as can most of my colleagues. Summer is an extremely busy time, because students don’t have classes and professors don’t teach. Also, NSF proposal deadlines are in the fall, as are for several other agencies; consequently, mad paper writing during the early summer gets replaced by mad proposal writing in the late summer and early fall. (I sometimes wish I were the person who takes a month off with kids and just relaxes. The truth is, there is always a lot of work to do, but even without it, relaxing is simply not me.)

I need to have better or perhaps more varied canned responses, which help convey to nonacademic people, in a few short sentences, that us academics are not useless overpaid layabouts. Canned responses are great as they help me detach and not get worked up about questions that cause me to, well, get worked up (a  canned response I instituted in response to the annoying  “Where are you from?” is doing wonders for my sanity). For instance, I could start by saying something like “There are different universities, with some more focused on teaching and some more on research. My uni is one of the research-heavy ones, and the faculty are responsible for teaching undergraduate and graduate students, but a very large portion of our time is devoted to doing research and supervising graduate students. Research is paid for by federal monies, for which we compete by writing grant proposals. Faculty are not generally paid by the university in the summer; summer salary comes from grants…”  But then there are people who are 100% on soft money, which is insanity… How do I explain that to nonacademic folks? And there are all sorts of nuances in terms of institution type, field, seniority, group size… And before you know it, people’s eyes glaze over and you have lost them.

What say you, blogosphere? What do you say (as a prof, student, postdoc) when the general populace confronts you with the assumption that you just laze about all summer?



I have been a slacker blogger… But for a good reason! A lot of technical writing is happening these days, making sure papers variously get submitted/revised/come out before the proposal-writing lockdown commences in August.

But there’s always time for a little rant!

If you have been reading my blog for some time, you might remember that I think one of my defining qualities is impatience. I am intense and a real pain in the butt, so says pretty much everyone who knows me. I am irritated when people talk really slowly or can’t get to the point fast for whatever reason. I have colleagues whose emails I dread receiving, because they always respond to even the shortest of inquiries with multi-screen emails and I just get queasy at the thought of parsing through all that verbiage.

I do try (and unfortunately sometimes fail) to be cognizant and respectful of the fact that not everyone has the same priorities or timelines as me. However, for my own sanity, I try to stay away from people whose relevant timescales are longer than mine by an order of magnitude or more.

When it comes to writing papers, it seems I want them written up and published more passionately than most people I work with, even when those other people are first author. That’s a source of puzzlement and irritation on my part, perhaps on theirs as well.

First of all, I love working on papers. I love doing the figures, writing the text, I love all of the aspects of organizing my thoughts into something fluid and cogent. And I LOOOVE the process of uploading and submitting a paper. It’s like Christmas morning every time. I felt this way even when I was a student.

These days, my students do the uploading and paper tracking for the most part. I consider it part of training to learn to correspond with editors and referees, to fight for the publication of their work (I oversee and edit all the correspondence). But I almost never see in my students that crazy enthusiasm, which has followed and still does every submission on my part; it confuses and saddens me.

I wonder to what extent I and the likes of me really understand what motivates most graduate students to go to graduate school.  I mean, I understand intellectually — in my field, most people want to put in the time to get a degree that leads to a well-paying job — but I don’t think I actually get it at my very core. Many students have multiple hobbies to which they devote considerable energy and time. Graduate school seems just another thing they do, and not a particularly important one at that, or one that brings them much joy. Basically, it’s like a job. They do what they are told competently, but very little creativity goes into the work. I see very little pride about their work, very little desire to show their cool contributions to the world. This is very different from how I felt about graduate school or how I feel about my job even now, with the ups and downs and funding uncertainties and post-tenure slump. Being in grad school is a freakin’ privilege!

This post is motivated by a recent experience with a former group member (FGM) who is now a junior faculty member elsewehere. We are writing up our last paper together, one that should have been published a year or more ago, but FGM was preoccupied with job applications, then moving, getting settled into their first year teaching, etc., so I didn’t want to get on their case. But it’s time, and FGM really needs papers (I know they do, I hope they realize how much they do), yet working with them on this last one has been like pulling teeth. I did a large share of edits, a very lengthy referee response (3 referees), not to mention cleaning up the text and have recently had to redo a figure in a way that completely pissed me off because, while I love fiddling with figures, I am far too senior to do things like this (such as doing a point-by-point capture of experimental data from a graph in another group’s paper, to which we compare our theory). I was pissed because I was doing this work as I apparently wanted this manuscript submitted and done more than FGM, the person who is first author and considerably junior to me, and they were acting nearly disinterested. I have had to prod and poke them to submit every revision.

Another student told me that I am the only professor he knows who actually works on the figures themselves;  everybody else’s advisors just mark corrections on the paper and do that as many times as needed. I do go back and forth with students several times, but then at some point I need minor layout tweaks and to try different combinations of panels or colors etc. and with all but one or two students, who seem to have a naturally good aesthetic sense and are able to produce appealing visuals on their own without excessive intervention, it’s sometimes much less painful for me to do the tweaks than for us to exchange 6 gazillion emails.

So WTF do I want? Good question. I seem to whine about doing figures, yet also enjoy doing them.

Doing science and getting data is hard. Writing papers and making figures is necessary, but it is also much easier than doing science and and is super fun (for me, at least), and I don’t know why junior folks don’t savor it. Savor it, damnit!

What I want is for my trainees to take pride in their work and to be hungry to publish their work. I want them to chase me and nag me to finish the paper and to send me 15 versions of each figure and to be engaged in writing their work up for publication. I don’t expect them to do anything perfectly, but wish they would want to do things, on their own, without prodding. I know being effective at presenting takes time and practice, but I don’t think you can learn to have a fire in the belly.  Apparently, what I need are students with chronic indigestion…

The Life and Times of TT Academics: A Stream-of-Consciousness Post

Psycgirl had a couple of posts on mentoring that made me think about my own experiences.

A while ago, I wrote a book review of Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In”. There are several things I still remember about the book, and one is her view of mentorship: Mentors are problem solvers, give them a problem to solve. Don’t use them to vent your frustration, use their time wisely. People mentor those in whom they see something; unfortunately, the last one, more often than not, translates into people mentoring the likes of themselves; we all know how well that works out for underrepresented minorities.

There are many people who do very good, solid work. However, most of them don’t get much recognition; instead, only a select few get all the recognition. You could argue that it’s because they are the best of the best, but in my opinion that’s not true. I have met a number of people who are young superstars in their fields, and for the most part they are not all that better than many others who are not equally recognized. However, while people are comparable at 30 or 40, by 60 or 70 that means the select few are National Academy members, while most others are not. What really makes a difference is being networked with the people who have the willingness and ability to champion you, who recognize the importance of having junior colleagues nominated for stuff early and often, and who will do it for you either on their own or without much prodding. Getting recognition early is a prerequisite for getting it often, because awards beget awards.

The point is that you have to be meritorious, but you also have to have someone who will be happy to nominate you, proactive about doing it, and who knows how these nominations are written. And it needs to start early, as early as possible. Before the PhD, actually (so yes, foreigners are a bit screwed right there.)

I work with a woman who is considered a superstar, so I am closely familiar with how she does things. I can tell you that she most definitely keeps an eye on her CV and makes sure that she gets nominated for something every year, and has a great network of intra- and extra-departmental supporters who are very happy to write these nominations for her.

I work with a young  male superstar with very high energy. Recently, I watched his PhD advisor give a plenary talk. The man showed the pictures of all his students, and specifically highlighted my collaborator and a couple of others who are professors, mentioned their recent achievements, and for my collaborator used the words “high-impact assistant professor”. You cannot buy type of promotion. The collaborator’s PhD advisor is a really big name, and gives many talks, everywhere, which means that my collaborator gets this type of lip service in a lot of places, including at federal funding agencies.

I got my TT position straight out of grad school, so my PhD advisor remains someone who I presume is the person most invested in my success. Unfortunately, he is of the mind that going after awards is in poor taste, and that you do good work and the recognition will come (this is a man who really should have been in the National Academies, but is not because of personal conflicts). So when I ask him to nominate me for stuff, he does it, but he never thinks about doing it on his own. (Cue: Feel free to think I don’t deserve it; I think that all the time.)

I have various colleagues and collaborators who are happy to contribute letters of evaluation for me, but they are not invested in my career. People are too busy taking care of their own careers, and hopefully the careers of their own academic progeny, to worry about mine. Another aspect is that my immediate scientific community is truly international, with more than 50% of people in Europe. The importance of a steady trickle of recognition is probably less important, or differently important, outside of the United States.

I am now at a  position in my career where I am no longer junior, which is fine. But, I feel like I am entirely alone, that I really don’t have a community or a support network in my field.  I can see how people turn into the jackasses we know from conferences, who seem to be in your shit because you didn’t cite their paper from 30 years ago and who put down your work. It comes from realizing that they are isolated, that nobody cares about them or their work, and their options are to either get demoralized and quit working (hence deadwoodification) or they realize that the only way to keep going is to emotionally distance themselves from everything and everyone about their work, rely on their own devices, put their head down, and plow. The deadwood/jackass are two possible outcomes for smart, passionate people, who invest a lot of energy into their work but who keep getting overlooked. Sometimes they quit or retire early.

According to my unscientific observation, most men on the tenure track seem confident about what they do, most but not all women seem fraught with doubts about every aspect of their work.  For instance the first few years on my TT were really stressful for me, probably because I started out right of grad school and quickly realized the job was very different than what I had envisioned. I have no idea what I had envisioned, really, perhaps what astonished me was the sheer amount of work, the unrelenting demands on faculty time. It was a very steep learning curve, but one of my redeeming qualities is that I generally know when I am in over my head and I seek advice. In other words, I have never had the problem of being overconfident about something, and I always look for ways to improve, and then I do.  (In contrast, a supremely confident guy who started the same time as me didn’t get his contract renewed after 3 years. Some men don’t ask for help or take advice even when they really, really should. )

Unless I have a great track record doing something, I generally assume I don’t know squat, then I ask and I learn. But, a side effect is that the people I asked for help now think I don’t know squat and they will take it into account when evaluating me in the future. And this is the double-bind (or is it triple?) of asking for help, especially while female, where the default assumption is “incompetent until proven otherwise”: if you need help and ask for it, you will get it but be held in low regard for asking, which will then lead to reduced support, and could result in failure due to this second-order effect. If you need help but don’t ask for it, you will either figure it out on your own, which will generally take more time and energy than necessary but then you will succeed, or you won’t figure it out and you will fail due to incompetence.  When you objectively don’t know what you are doing, there is a small chance you will do fine by persevering on your own, but a high chance that you will either ask for help and be resented for it, or that you will downright fail.

Many young women in academia lament the lack of support (emotional and practical) for the struggles they are facing. Here is my attitude. Your department colleagues, those who evaluate you, are not your friends. They are your colleagues. They should not know your innermost dark secrets and doubts. THEY WILL EVALUATE YOU. So be prudent about what you discuss with them. I am not saying that there are no exceptions, that you can’t have real friends in the department, but it’s probably safest to do it after you are both tenured.

Who do you vent to? People who really love you, even if they don’t understand what you are going through. Then, people who really care about your success, even for selfish reasons [e.g. your former advisor(s) or non-departmental collaborators]. Then, a peer, ideally from another department or discipline, or another university; someone who is in the same boat, but with whom you are not in direct competition.

I think the key to a good peer relationship in which you can vent is that there is no power differential and that you both need each other for venting, at least at times. For instance, there is a relationship I have with a so-called peer mentor (a person a few years ahead of me career-wise), and the person never wanted to break the facade of infallibility with me, I think because it was important to them to remain superior (or just because it’s WASP thing, who knows). Since I have a deep belief that we are all human, and that we all have flaws and fears and doubts, and that everyone’s $hit stinks, I decided I wasn’t going to keep pursuing an honest relationship with someone who insisted on keeping their guard up. End of story. We now have a nice arms-length relationship, where my shell communicates with their shell, exchanging content-free sugary pleasantries. The relationship is so warm, there are icicles on my sleeves after every interaction.

I have a good mentoring relationship with a couple of senior faculty, who are so senior and so well-established that there is no way in hell they would ever consider me as an equal. But that’s fine, as I get good honest advice from them as they would give to a daughter. One is my PhD advisor, another a very senior collaborator. They are the only ones with whom I don’t mind sharing doubts and insecurities; they enjoy dispensing wisdom, and I take what makes sense and discard the rest. With everyone else, I assume they would judge or dismiss me for showing weakness, or I had already made the mistake of oversharing, which resulted in uncomfortable squirming, followed by them indeed judging and dismissing me.

(Of course, I am talking about colleagues. My DH is very supportive and listens to 100% of my whiny $hit, on repeat. He is as clued in about the life of women in academia as any man on Earth. Thank you for putting up with me, DH!)

So what’s my advice on getting mentored and championed? Based on my own experiences, this is what would say:

Get as much help and advice and learn as much as you can about being a TT professor before becoming one. Afterwards, seek help at your own risk — past the first year or two on the TT,  people will take it against you if you ask for advice about doing your job. Your colleagues will take your insecurities to mean that  you don’t have what it takes. Separate asking for specific problem-solving advice  from asking for moral support. I have found that the long-term acceptable questions have to do with personnel or university politics, because everyone assumes all scientists and engineers are clueless about dealing with other people.

Go for advice only to people you trust to really have your back or be invested in your success. For instance, your grant got trashed in review. I know how disheartening and disorienting it may be; my heart still sinks every time I get a rejection even though you’d think I’d be used to it by now. And I am, on an intellectual level, but not emotionally. So I bitch and whine and moan to my husband, but to absolutely nobody else any more. Whining about grant rejection is, as one of my colleagues says, ‘loser talk.’  Most people think the same thing, they just don’t say it. Just like most people think men are the default in STEM and women are not “real” candidates, but can be considered if exceptional, they just no longer say it. (Yes, I am disillusioned  after spending too much time serving on the recruitment committee.) So whine about grant rejection to department colleagues at your own risk; I assure you most will think it’s your fault.

What if you crave external validation, someone to give you thumbs up that you are doing a good job? I certainly do. Here’s the deal — it’s just not coming, definitely not with the frequency or the intensity that you need. People are too busy worrying about themselves, and it is assumed that, as a grownup scientist, you are confident (hahahaha). Unless you have the right network of accolade-nominating champions around you, pretty much all you have to go on are published papers, invited talks, awarded grants. They do mean that you are doing well, or at least not doing poorly. (This is me taking myself up as much as spewing advice into the ether.)

As for me, I find that focusing on my academic kids is really fulfilling. I make a point of supporting the people who are mine to support  — my students and postdocs — in the strongest possible terms, in the way I wish I had been supported by my elders, making sure they get the recognition and opportunities they deserve. So at least my scientific progeny will be able to say there is  someone out there who looks out for their careers.


The Opposite of Parent is… Tourist?

Over the past couple of months, DH and I have been hanging out more often than usual with some couples who do not have kids. For many, it’s a choice; for a few, unfortunately not. What’s curious is that all of them have said how not having kids enables them to travel, along the lines of  “Since we don’t have kids, we can travel as much as we like.”

Sure; kids, especially little ones, make travel difficult, but certainly not impossible. But why is being able to travel presumably undeterred so important anyway, why is it such a big deal?

To me, in the most abstract terms, having kids is really a long-term project with a potential to result in great personal fulfillment. I remember a while ago discussing a study with a friend, where the study conclusion was that humans in general draw considerable satisfaction from personally meaningful long-term projects (although, I assume, the conclusion probably only holds on average, the same as with just about anything in regards to people).  I could certainly imagine devoting yourself to your career,working on the next great  American novel, or doing whatever it takes to become the world’s best viola player as an alternative to having kids. One of my friends trains obsessively for Iron Man competitions. Or I could see deciding to do something like joining the Peace Corps, Doctors/Engineers without Borders,  the Red Cross or UNICEF, or perhaps becoming politically active in order to affect change.

But when people talk about travel, they don’t talk about going to live in China to learn Mandarin or to Africa to help the poor, they talk about being able to take frequent vacations in varied exotic places. I can see how that might be fun, but that’s just what it is — it’s just fun and it’s vacationing, but it’s not very creative or very meaningful (near as I can tell) and it’s certainly transient. Sure, you are drinking from the beauty of mother nature and relaxing, recharging your batteries, but then you come back home and then what?

It could totally be that I have no imagination (I likely don’t have enough money to do travel “just right” so being constantly uncomfortable probably doesn’t help), but I am personally quite sick of travel and don’t see very much that casual, vacation-length travel (say, a week or two at a time) would do for my long-term personal fulfillment. I would say that a good book does more for my well-being than travel (alas, I am very picky about books), as do interactions with students, writing technical papers, and blogging.

I promise I am not trying to be a douche here and stereotype folks without kids. I am trying to understand what it is about travel that makes it such a big deal and so important and perhaps fulfilling to some people. Is this love for serial tourism ubiquitous and many more people would globe-trot for fun if only they could afford it, or do I just happen to know some very happy travelers?


I caught an interview with Max Frost on the radio the other day and have been listening to some of his songs ever since. He’s a kid from Austin, TX who started playing the guitar at 8 and was already performing with bands at 12! In the interview he also shared a cool story about a music teacher at UT Austin who basically told him to drop out and focus on music.

“White Lies” is probably his best-known song. Enjoy!

A Grouchy Conference Travelogue

I recently came back from a conference in a big European city that is on everyone’s list of top three cities to see on the Old Continent. Anyone who heard where I was going went “Wow!” so I  had to assure them that it all sounded much more glamorous than it would be, as I had a lot of work to do and the conference had a pretty tightly packed schedule.

The trip started and ended with very uncomfortable airline travel for someone who is 6 ft tall. I needed to sit completely upright just to have a chance of actually fitting my legs in the tiny space provided (and yes, I always ask for an aisle seat). I was busy with paper and grant agency report submissions till the very last moment so didn’t have time to prep for the trip, and as a result I didn’t feel comfortable braving the subway, so I ended up paying 60 euro for (legitimate) cab to the hotel. But I met a nice cabby who spoke good English, and actually had him take me back to the airport a few days later as well. He was the most pleasant person I met during the stay.

While I travel to Europe quite often, this was my first time in this particular city, and probably the first time in the country in the last 20 years. The city is lovely, but it’s not magical. It is a big European city,  with all the hallmarks — people walking in the streets, sitting in cafes and restaurants at all hours of the day, old buildings… But also busy traffic, noise, and a lot of trash on the streets. It’s great but nothing I haven’t seen other places many times before, including where I am from. I gave up on trying to do touristy things, because I didn’t have the time or the desire to stand in line for a museum or another landmark for several hours each. One day, when I am on an actual vacation, maybe I will brave the sights; this time I did get a chance to see quite a bit from the river, as we had the conference dinner on a boat, and it was very nice.

My students and I commented on having had the pleasure (or rather the displeasure) of experiencing the stereotypes: how the locals really dislike Americans (I easily pass for American in Europe and get all the usual “stupid American” crap), how you can’t tell if it’s worse if you speak no word of the native language or try to speak it but imperfectly, either way they will grudgingly speak English (which is far from perfect, but whatever) and probably spit in your food; how service people everywhere are very rude and disinterested, probably because they don’t work for tips (it’s the same in my home country; the wonderful customer service everywhere in the US spoiled me forever for all of Europe); how everything is ridiculously expensive; how food and wine are great (and, yes, ridiculously expensive).

The bustling city reminded me of a few other things. In most European cities, walking is a way of life. The cities are conducive to walking not because Europeans are inherently smarter and more virtuous than Americans, but because the goddamn cities are very old, older than the invention of the car. As a result, downtown traffic and parking are a nightmare, but public transport is great and varied, and the city is alive throughout.  For instance, my hotel was a 25-min walk from the conference center, so I easily clocked in 50 min of walking every day, and even more to go about to restaurants or get coffee . In contrast, cities in the US are in general just not walkable, with the exception of a few (NYC, Washington DC, San Francisco, Chicago, and perhaps a few others I don’t know well or at all, like Portland). Outside of the few walkable cities, if you want exercise, you have to allot time for it and generally transport yourself by car to where you can engage in it.  If I were to walk 20-25 min from where I live in any direction, the most exciting places I would reach are my kids’ schools in one direction, a grocery store in another, my dentist in the third, and a park in the fourth. There is nothing of note in between  except  houses, and it easily happens that I run into no other human on my way to any of the exciting landmarks. So if want the same 50 min of exercise that I was getting around the fringes at the conference, I actually have to set aside an hour to go somewhere and do it, as walking around the neighborhood is pleasant but freakin’ boring and a little creepy. My folks, when they came to visit me, always commented on how uncomfortable they were to go outside and walk in the beautifully maintained neighborhoods, because there are no people anywhere. Where I live, without a car you are toast. There is bus service, but very infrequent and also creepy. In European cities, including where my folks live, there are buses, trams, metro etc. all the time, connecting all parts of the city. And people walk the rest of the way.

In the city that I visited, people are also stereotypically among the best dressed in the world, and I will concur, there were many stylish-looking specimens. There were no t-shirts, no sneakers, no flip-flops, and no pink. I don’t think I saw anyone, male or female, in shorts. There was considerably less skin showing than in the US, i.e. I saw no overtly tan young women in short shorts and tank tops, which are the staple of fashion on my campus once temperatures are above 50. And there were scarves, scarves everywhere, on both men and women. I was in line to get coffee, the temperature was in the mid-seventies, and a dude in front of me was wearing a jacket and what looked like a woolen scarf. I started sweating just looking at him, but I suppose one must suffer for fashion; if you are not uncomfortable, then it cannot be fashion.

Also, I couldn’t help but notice how tiny everyone was — not just thin, but really short. Everyone likes to hate on the fat disgusting Americans, but the thing is — where I live, people are of north European descent. Even at their thinnest, my neighbors are not the candidates for the same clothes as the fabled stylish and petite brunettes of the country I visited.

Another annoying issue, which probably had to do with conference organization as much as the city itself, was the lack of wireless access to the web. I happened not to have wireless in my hotel room (nominally I should have, but I was in some sort of no-coverage nook, so I could get a faint signal only in my bathroom, not in the room itself). Basically, I had access to the web only in the hotel lobby, so a little in the morning and evening. There was nominally wireless coverage at the conference center, but you couldn’t get on at all. On the upside, the absence of wireless at the conference helped me focus on the program, which resulted in me paying more attention to the talks and asking more questions than usual, which may or may not have been widely appreciated (mwahahahaha ;-)).

Overall, overseas travel makes me grumpy. Big European cities are not as magical when you were born and raised in one and you’ve seen a number of others, but many people will also think you are an a$$hole when you dare question the mythical magicalness (yes, I know it’s not a word) of mythically magical cities. The conference program was decent and I enjoyed catching up with colleagues. The food was good, I enjoyed walking and taking in the city, and I loved that I could open the window in my hotel room, it’s wonderful to occasionally not be subjected to airconditioning.  But, when I travel I miss my family and the comforts of the US. I love my US, and it is home, as much as some aspects of its culture scare me. But that’s perhaps material for another post…

Nine Chickweed Lane

I stumbled upon a great comic, 9 Chickweed Lane. For all I know, it could be a pop culture classic, but to me it’s new and I have wasted a shameful amount of time going through the archives.

The lead characters are three generations of Burber women (Edda, her mom Juliette, and grandma Edna) and a Siamese cat. Considering that I spent a good portion of my youth living with my grandma, mother, sister, and a Siamese cat, the comic really warmed my heart.

For the academic crowd, it might be interesting that Juliette was a tenured biology (or was it biochemistry?) professor at a university  for the better part of the comic; here are some of her assorted teaching adventures.





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