Monday, September 27, 2010

Any Day But Today

I cannot blog today. I am much too busy drafting articles that I'm really interested in and simultaneously convincing myself not to write them. It's exhausting.

There were two articles in the September issue of Science that made me jot down notes for articles in which I discuss THEIR articles. Then I realized that to be taken seriously, I would probably have to read all the stuff they read to write their article, and one of them is about the recent STEM proposals to the Obama administration. Those proposals are long (I assume, I haven't actually read them) and there are lots of other articles written about those proposals, some of which I have read when I attempted half-heartedly to find the original proposals. In doing this, I remembered how politically uneducated I am and that everything the government does is accompanied with an overwhelming amount of coverage, coverage of that coverage, and opinions from people who feel more strongly than I have about anything, ever, in my life.

And then I decide that no one really wants to read my article anyway. That everyone will know I didn't read the original proposals or they will see inconsistencies in my arguments and expose me for the pretend-writer that I am, a poser who just decided what her stance was as she was typing it and doesn't know the journalist rules for properly researching.

And my Trash grows fat with my insecurities and my half-drafts as I talk myself out of yet another opportunity to get published, get noticed, get heard.

So I cannot blog today. I am quite busy, thank you.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Hardly Conscious

As I was riding the bus home Monday evening, I was not paying any attention at all to where I was going. My least favorite bus driver was on shift, the driver that plays uncomfortable pop music as loudly as possible then sings at the top of his lungs, so I had my headphones in tightly, with my Regina Spektor turned way up. I was also on the last leg of a book I had been engrossed in, so I was sprinting towards the finish line. I was not paying attention... or so I thought.

Around the 15-minute mark, I knew the video shop was on our right, then that bicycle that's been tethered to that stop sign for years, then that eyelash extension place on the left... and I looked up and saw exactly what I expected. How did I know where we were? I had been looking down the entire time, sound blocked out, in my own little world, yet I knew exactly what was around me.

As I prepared to write this, I thought of driving home when I was a kid. I grew up in a small Texas town, about an hour and a half from the nearest big city, a sprawling metropolitan area where most of my relatives lived. Over the course of my childhood, we took a lot of weekend day-trips to the city to see family and would return late in the evening. My sister and I would usually fall asleep, but I would always start to wake up a few blocks from our house. Before I opened my eyes, I knew exactly where we were. This stop sign, that bump in the road, turn right, another bump, a stoplight... these kinetic cues told me where we were on the familiar route and I could sleep right up until we pulled into the driveway, when the slow, long turn into the driveway told me we were home.

Isn't it fascinating how our brains pay attention when we think we're not paying attention? Some mix of stops and gos, bumps and curves, and peripheral vision is being constantly monitored and interpreted. Once the route is familiar enough, you know where you are without thinking about it.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Dilettante Fo Life

This recent post at Ed Yong's blog, "Not Exactly Rocket Science," (as if you didn't know. psh.) is about one of the scads of scientific discoveries that I find fascinating, that I would love to work on... but probably wouldn't really love to work on.

In the post, Ed talks about a gene therapy treatment for thalassemia that uses the patient's stem cells and a lentivirus modified to contain the working gene for the patient's faulty haemoglobin subunit. The virus infects the patient's stem cells, some of the cells get the right gene in the right place, the cells are put back in the person, and hopefully the patient starts making their very own functional haemoglobin.

How. Cool. Is That. I originally went to graduate school wanting to work on viral-mediated gene therapy. This is what I wanted to do. Unfortunately, I didn't really look around much for graduate schools. This was partly due to my atrocious long-range planning skills and partly due to the fact that I was single-parenting a two-month-old and didn't want to move too far from my family. So I ended up at a research institution that is large and well-regarded, but did not have anyone doing what I wanted to do. The closest thing I could find was a bacteriophage lab, so I joined it.

It did not go well.

I blinded myself to a lot of things, most importantly that A) it had nothing to do with what I was interested in and B) the PI and I did not get along at all.

So I transferred to another lab, the lab I am currently in and will receive my Ph.D. from. I like my lab. I think very highly of my PI, I get along with my labmates more than it seems like most people do, I have a good balance of autonomy and guidance, we have at least some money... but the last five years have made it abundantly clear that this is not what I'm going to do for much longer. After I get my degree, I will not stay in academia. This decision was originally precipitated by the realization that no matter how many interesting questions I came up with, I got tired of them after a couple of papers. I have no scientific follow-through. I am, if I may steal the label from a friend of mine, a dilettante. I REALLY LIKE SCIENCE. I just don't want to do it. I want to learn about it and hear about it and talk about it... but I don't want to DO IT. 

So. What to do? This brought me to science writing (albeit through a long, painful path). What do you think, Internet? If I really like science but don't want to do it, can appreciate the minutiae but only for about two days, am smart, have been trained in assimilating and obtaining information fairly quickly, have an extensive understanding of some fields but am interested in almost all of them, can write, like to be busy, work best under deadlines... could science writing be for me?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Good Wifey

Apologies for the radio silence. I was preparing to give a talk at a conference, giving a talk, and getting my act together for the beginning of the semester, in that order. Back to our regularly scheduled programming.

Why are household duties split up within marriages the way that they are? Is one sex actually better at some chores than the other? Do female brains find, for example, folding laundry more rewarding than male brains? Or, alternately, just less "punishing"? 

Obviously there is a strong social component that determines which chores are done by which spouse, but if we were somehow free of this influence, would we naturally end up with the same distribution of responsibilities after a few months of trial and error?

A friend of mine, a fellow (female) graduate student, recently got married. She is a fiercely intelligent, independent scientist and it would not be inaccurate to describe her as slightly more Vulcan than the general population. (And I don't think she would be insulted by such a description.) She is extremely logical and this logic largely trumps tradition, emotion, and general opinion when they conflict. In other words, she does not conjure up images of June Cleaver. That being said, she has found herself deriving a surprising satisfaction from cooking dinner for her new husband and folding his boxers while he lays down new flooring and takes out the trash.

Why does she find this satisfying? Is it because she is a better cook and he is a better floor-layer (I'm sure there's a technical term for this, but.. whatever)? Is it because they enjoy their respective duties more than the alternatives? My husband and I have also come to a pretty stereotypical delegation of household chores after a few years. I cook, clean, get the offspring ready for school, do the laundry and grocery shopping; he takes out the trash, minds the car maintenance, fixes electronic things... We do these things because we are both better at them AND we find them less infuriating (probably because we're better at them). Our inherent abilities and the satisfaction we derive are inseparable. We've tried doing each others' jobs and we end up with dirty dishes, broken machines, and bad attitudes. But is this a true sexual dimorphism that is generally applicable to humans? Or are these gender stereotypes just so deeply ingrained that no amount of education and "enlightenment" is likely to change our marital expectations? If I do enjoy getting my Swiffer on, is it because I'm naturally better at it/inherently appreciate a clean floor more, or is it because I've been taught to think that I'm a bad wife if I don't do it?

Once again, I find myself on the Fence of Feminism, probably saying things women have fought against for years. But maybe we really are better at doing dishes. Maybe he really doesn't see the dirty socks under the coffee table. We know our brains are sexually dimorphic; is it unreasonable that this could translate to a division of household labor talent?

I am in no way suggesting that we should not raise our little girls to change flat tires or our boys to scrub pots. Every adult should be prepared to take on all of the household duties and it is our job as parents to train them. However, is it so wrong for me to enjoy tying my apron on and baking an apple pie*?

*I make really good apple pie.