More like every 3 weeks

I had another goal for myself to write 8 blog posts this summer.  That may be a little ambitious given my current going rate.  Alas, I am here.  As promised, updates:

1) my research student’s results?  sad to say I still don’t really know yet, there is a glimmer of hope that our experimental group might be different than our controls (by eye), but the quantification isn’t done yet and we don’t have as many n processed as I would’ve liked by this time, so it’s still a work in progress.  Add the fact that a new research student just joined our lab for the next couple of weeks and my research student hasn’t done anything on his project because he’s been busy teaching the new research student the ropes (this is a catch 22 for me, part of the point is that my senior research student is supposed to be serving as a mentor so it is better for me to let him teach stuff than me–or so I keep telling myself–but if that research student had been a little more attentive when I was teaching him how to do stuff it wouldn’t have taken him 3 tries to get one of our bread and butter techniques working and he would have more data analyzed by now).

2) my summer research project results? I should know by next week.  I got a little derailed working on prep for Fall (see 3 below) and getting stuff ready for the new research student.  I plan to get back on track tomorrow!

3) fall research prep?  A major portion has been completed successfully, yay!  I decided I should do a trial run of the procedure before the summer ends to increase my confidence, but not exactly sure when I will have time to make that happen…  Then again, maybe troubleshooting this procedure is part of the fall research project–I’ve made the tool I need, I will work with it in the fall as intended.  That’s my story and I’m sticking to it if July blows by as quickly as I think it’s gonna.

So where am I on my research roller coaster ride?  A little low today.  I tried yet another kit for this assay that I’ve been banging my head against the wall with.  I’m also starting to take it personally because this is something many labs  in the literature seem to do with ease.  The kit is simple enough, but we couldn’t get good readings even with the standards today.  One major difference is the volume used in the new kit.  Our old kit used 3ml, but this one uses 1ml.  I will try again with another spec (one I know that can do 1ml because I am not sure the one I’ve been using does).  I’m not going to call this a complete fail until I at least try that.  Trying not to prep in my head what I will do if it doesn’t work (like it hasn’t the past 100 times we’ve tried).

I think that’s all I’ve got for now.  Feeling a wee bit ominous at the thought of July approaching since we lose a dayish with the holiday. Come Tuesday, I only have 30 days to make it work (i.e. check off all the boxes on my summer goals list).  There’s some serious teaching prep I’ve been ignoring, but I also want to end this summer with some serious research progress which I see in the realm of possibility.  When I get in this place, I tend to make a new (with attempts at being more realistic/detailed) to do list.  I want to try out this app now until the end of the summer http://www.nowdothis.com/

How about you, are you feeling half full or half empty when you look at your glass of “summer”?

Scholarship Accountability Update–Everything is going my way

Can I just say that time flies?!  I am happy to report I’ve been a busy little bee and all things seem to be on the upswing for the moment.  I  worked through as much tissue as I could before my research student arrived (on Monday!) which actually wasn’t much because I was focused on completing the draft of my first scholarly publication as an independent investigator (it only took 4 years).  I finished the draft by my self imposed deadline of May 30 so I consider that triumph #1.  My student and I have been working through the low hanging fruit this week (tissue that was already sectioned) and will be taking pictures of stained tissue tomorrow.  Fingers crossed there is some obvious phenomenon waiting for us.  

Recently I reread an email from one of my mentors containing advice about managing a lab with undergraduate researchers.  One of the things he said was that he always has a project in the lab that he does by himself so that he can ensure that at least one thing will work/be publishable.  For whatever reason that spoke clearly to me this time (obviously it didn’t 2 years ago when he wrote the email to me) so I decided I would start this summer with my own research project.  Just like for my student, I mapped out what I needed to accomplish and broke it down into smaller tasks.  I am happy to report that I have figuratively cast a net for findings on my summer research project and now I wait (the procedure I am doing for my research project requires 2 weeks of incubation time before you see results).  I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly I got the ball rolling on that one.  Triumph #2.  While I was on a roll I also planned out my research project for the fall, so my next task is to make a plan for that one and break it down into smaller tasks.  There are a few things I need to do for that one this summer to be primed for fall, that is the plan for next week.

We’re at the end of 4 weeks of self-imposed productivity and I have to wonder what took me so long.  This has been a great experience so far and I can’t wait to see what all I will have to show for it at the end of the summer.  This is the first summer where I don’t feel the ominous clock ticking while the days of summer slip through my fingers.  

Stay tuned next accountability post for updates on 

  • my research student’s summer project findings 
  • my summer research project findings
  • completion of prep for my fall research project

Accountability Update (almost end of week 2)

So it’s almost the end of my 2nd week of accountability in my scholarship.  I did rerun the assay and it didn’t work (again) so I ordered new reagents so I could try it one.more.time.  I have a sneaking suspicion part of our trouble might have to do with the method we use to euthanize our animals and I’m in conversation with our vet to come up with an alternative.

I did also get up close and personal with our tissue and discovered that we have n =5 controls and n =4 experimentals (and another on the way next week) so I made an executive decision to stop collecting animals this summer and focus on analyzing what we have.  Even as I write that, I’m not sure that’s the best idea, so I may revisit that decision.  Last summer I made a handy dandy little chart to focus one of my research students and I employed that strategy again here.  I went through each animal in each of the two groups and categorized it according to the 4 stages of progress: embedded, sectioned, histostained, immunostained.  At this point at least 2 animals from each litter have been embedded.  Then I printed out calendar pages for June, July, and August and mapped out how long it would take my research student to complete the other 3 stages of the process.  I plan to recreate and expand the chart for my research student so he can see my vision.  I’ll add categories like “pictures taken” and “tissue analyzed”.  I think this will help us both stay on track with what has been done and what needs to be done.

My task now is to start working through the staining for the tissue that has already been sectioned.  Then I can hopefully find a phenomenon worth analyzing–stay tuned!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Accountability now

I recently read this post http://nicoleandmaggie.wordpress.com/2014/05/07/how-do-you-mentor-junior-faculty/  which has TONS of great tips, but the one that most strikes a cord with me at this time is the idea of setting up a research accountability group.  I encountered the idea in the past when I was working on my dissertation and loved it then (although didn’t make a writing group happen) and I would love to implement it now.  I don’t really know if that can happen, but I would like to implement a pseudo accountability group via the internet.  I am going to try to post every week what my research goals and progress on said goals.  I have other goals like drinking water every day and exercise.  The exercise seems unattainable at the moment (I don’t really even know where to start), but I could try the water again.

So to get started, I’ll catch you up on the backstory of my lab.  Essentially there are 2 major projects ongoing in my lab.  The first one I started my first year on the tenure track and am just now (3 years later) writing that story up for publication.  Basically a year into using this technique, I realized it was not ideal, but didn’t want to throw away all the data and start from scratch.  I’m hoping we can publish this manuscript with minimal revisions (and certainly no new experiments) and close this chapter.  The other project has promise (after going through many iterations, I think we are now in a good place with the model) BUT we are having technical difficulties.  Because of the nature of the model we are using, we need to measure the levels of a certain molecule in EVERY animal we analyze so that our conclusions can be categorized appropriately (i.e. low levels of the molecule, moderate levels of the molecule, high levels of the molecule).  Because most of our animals fall on the low levels side, we are having a dickens of a time getting measurements of the molecule.  This is problem #1.  Ignoring that issue, we need to figure out what the effects of this molecule are on the system we study.  At this time, I have no idea.  I have some inklings from an earlier iteration of this project, but they have not yet been validated in our current model.  My hope is that I can figure out some reproducible effects in time for my summer research students that are starting on June 2.  So essentially, my goals for this week are to 1) try yet another method to measure the molecule and 2) get one on one with our tissue to come up with a plan (see how many animals we have in each group, what processing needs to happen to analyze tissue, and comparing tissue between our 2 groups–experimental vs. control).  Looking forward to giving you a good report next week!

How about you, have you ever been part of any kind of scholarship accountability group?  Any tips to share?  Let us know in the comments!

SERIOUSLY?!…We interrupt your regularly scheduled programming for a slight rant

Dear college student,

I am sorry that you can’t be bothered to read my emails if they are longer than one line of text and do not contain graphics or animations.  In the courtesy email reminder I sent on Friday afternoon (well before I left campus for the weekend), I stated that presentation groups should be no more and no less than 3 persons.  This is information that is also written on the guidelines for presentations posted on the class webpage and was stated in class on the first day.  I’m also sorry that I did not respond to the email you sent me on Sunday afternoon when you decided to begin working on your presentation until I was back in my office this morning.  Now you’ve sent me an email asking me what I think you should do since you have found two new people to work with and ditched the person you were working with on Sunday.  I realize that in your email asking what you should do now, you stated that you had emailed that person to inform them that they were now ditched, but I guess you now feel as if you should do more and that’s why you reached out to me.  I’m sorry that I don’t know what you should do, but in reality this is not my problem.

Sincerely, 

Your Professor (not babysitter)

Fall Semester goals and progress

Here we are, almost 4 weeks into the semester and I am finally sharing my goals.  I decided to try my hand at making goals for work, family, and personal this fall:

Work

  1. write EVERY week day for at least one hour (so far, so good on that one, amazingness b/c I’ve tried this before and quickly failed as soon as classes started)
  2. schedule my time and stick to it (also so far so good)
  3. dedicated research day–I have one afternoon a week set aside to do research and I request that my research students are in the lab at the same time in case anything comes up (also so far so good partially b/c I have a much smaller lab group this semester, only 4 students, and can I just say I am loving it–why did it take so long for this to occur to me?!)

Family

  1. monthly date night (I’ve been saying I would do this one for 4 years)
  2. do something cool with the kiddos (this one is unfortunately vague, working on it)
  3. family dinner every night (so far so good, thanks to some a cookbook mag from mom and checking out a copy of the fresh 20 cookbook from the library)

Personal

  1. HYDRATE (I *never* drink water, trying to start every week day by chugging at least 16oz of the stuff; so far so good–though not perfect–I am actually finding I like water)
  2. walk outside for 30 minutes every week day (utter fail so far, today I brought my walking shoes to the office from home in hopes that I can try to make it happen)
  3. go home at 4:30pm every week day (50/50 record on this one; on the flip side, I’ve been really good at not answering student emails after this time–now if I could only stop looking at them)

What about you–do you make goals for the semester?  the year?  Let me know your thoughts in the comments.