Monday, July 31, 2006


“you’ll never have to worry,” my uncle said upon my responding to his question of what I might do once I finished my phd in biochemistry.

Worry about rent money, about buying enough food for the week, gas money, car payment, bus change, electricity, diapers, taxes, phone, heat, shoes. Worry about how do I get the money for this thing I need when I already don’t have the money for these other things I need.

But I do worry. What if I got sick? What if I couldn’t work for a little while? How would I make it?

Not to mention… so many things. Not to mention my family. And the world. And that worry.

That worry that never goes away.

Seeing that worry in my mother’s face as she calculated up our cartload of groceries before getting to the register so she would never have to put something back that we couldn’t afford with the food stamps she had.

That worry as the bills lay spread out on the kitchen table, her checkbook by her side, her notepad scratched with 10 for this, 20 for this.

Consternation at the idea of another field trip at school: could she afford to send me? Should I ask, dare I ask when there is so much we already don’t have? When I already take so much?

Worrying at school about my second hand clothes, my salvation army clothes, my lack of toys and stuff to list off as christmas presents. How do I get money to go to the movies or mcdonald’s with my friends? How do I pretend I’m not poor?

Worrying about getting into a college we could “afford”. Worrying about affording the colleges I got into. Worrying about what to do with my life, picking a career that would be financially stable but that I could get to being poor. You dismiss the idea of med school because being $150,000 in debt is unimaginable. How do you think about going to a school which costs more than your mother makes in a year? Calculating how many hours I need to work to pay for school books, phone, bus tickets home, and everything else one needs for college life?

But I made it through. I made it up. I made it out. Supposedly. According to people still on the inside, I have nothing to worry about. and they're right. i can't dismiss that they are right.

Being a grad student is certainly not a wealthy lifestyle, by any means. But I am stable and I don’t struggle to pay my bills. I don’t have to think about every dollar I spend on groceries, and if it’s going to come from somewhere else. And, moreover, I’ve learned very well how to “pretend I’m not poor”—how to interact and dress in ways that belie my origins. In those things, I do not have to worry.

After grad school I should be able to get a job which will be able to more than supply the necessities. In that, I do not have to worry. And yet I will. I will feel that, carry that anxiety with me. I will always struggle over whether I really need something before spending my money. Agonize and then regret the purchase if I think I could have done without it.

Despite my uncle’s assurances, I will worry, even if I don’t have to.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

sweet little poem


Some days I find myself
putting my foot in
the same stream twice;
leading a horse to water
and making him drink.
I have a clue.
I can see the forest
for the trees.
All around me people
are making silk purses
out of sows' ears,
getting blood from turnips,
building Rome in a day.
There's a business
like show business.
There's something new
under the sun.
Some days misery
no longer loves company;
it puts itself out of its.
There's rest for the weary.
There's turning back.
There are guarantees.
I can be serious.
I can mean that.
You can quite
put your finger on it.

Some days i know
I am long for this world.
I can go home again.
And when i go
I can
take it with me.

~ronald wallace

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

scientific methods

there is this whole ongoing debate in science circles about how to present science to non-scientists. how much science should non scientists know? what should be our role as scientists and what should be their role as 'regular' people?

dlamming, over at saccharomyces, describes something that i want to get more into by offering my solution to the problem.

a lot of folks have suggested that more, or better, science education in high school level education is the solution.

well, i certainly disagree with the premise that the general public needs to know more science (at least in terms of scientific details, which is what classes generally are). what i do think, is that the general public should know better how to think.

dlamming talks about how science and the scientific method is not necessarily intuitive and took much learning for it to become intuitive for him:

First, at this point in my life, I consider the scientific method rather intuitive... but is it? Over four years of college, I took numerous courses in which I was taught how to figure out how to solve a problem instead of simply regurgitating answers. A lot of these classes were really hard... at least until I started to figure things out.

it's not that folks don't get enough science education, it's that they don't get the right kind.

generally, your first few (required) years of science are: memorize and regurgitate. first off, this is worthless if you're not going on in science. why the hell do you need to know how many chromosomes a mouse has? secondly, it's worthless even if you are going on because you're not going to remember anything you've memorized and regurgitated anyway.

as dlamming says, it took several (many?) upper level classes to learn to THINK the right way.

those classes that taught him, and all scientists, to think should be the introductory classes. the first thing you should do when you approach science (which is just the modern day incarnation of early philosophy) is learning to think about the problem, the solution and how to get from the former to the latter.

after those introductory classes, after you've learned to think and problem solve, then you get into the general knowledge stuff.

further, i think when teaching general science knowledge classes it should always be in the context of science history. how did we learn this? what was the problem people saw and what did they do to solve it? again, couching it all in the method of: how do you think about problems? how do you go from first principles? how do you problem solve?

once people know how to think through issues it is infinitely easier to feed them information that they will be able to process on their own, while coming to more intelligent conclusions.

the legendary

so i clicked on an article on cnn about rep. cynthia mckinney.

most of the article is not about her tho, but about the republican primary, and thus the opponent whom she will be facing in the election in the fall.

one of the repubs battling it out for the nom was george wallace, jr. son, of course, of that george wallace. here's how cnn describes him:

In Alabama, George Wallace Jr. -- son of the legendary Alabama governor and presidential candidate -- lost his bid...

legendary? doesn't that have a somewhat positive connotation? wouldn't infamous be a better term? perhaps notorious? or even more neutral, just "well known"?

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

vegetable medley

as my mom would say, we were never big meat eaters. we could never afford to be. meat was expensive and a single mom on welfare, and then a part time school bus driving gig had to make the meal stretch.

add a can of kidney beans to the pasta sauce. that and a quarter pound of hamburger was enough for the two of us for dinner one night and lunch the next day. add a few more potatoes to the sausage, pepper, potato casserole. meat was not a big thing.

and yet, it was. culturally, it was. it is. meat is 'healthy', it's a staple. it's down-home and common. i may have known a few folks growing up who dabbled in vegetarianism. but it seemed out there. that's not what poor folks do. that's not what my people do. how do you live like that everyday? besides, i never had a problem with the idea of animals as living beings and yet there for us to eat. i still don't know that i think using animals for food is always a wrong. but it came down to other things.

i knew cassie all through her three years at university with me. by senior year we were friends and then we worked together the summer after graduating. she had made a commitment to go a year without eating meat. our boss questioned her about it one day. that was the first time i heard the word agribusiness. i had always considered myself an environmentalist. recycling, alternative energy, stopping the whaling, reducing purchasing and packaging--i was all for it.

the more i learned about the waste and destruction created by agribusiness, the inhumane treatment of animals, and the health factors of living without animal products the more i realized that i would have to change.

it didn't happen overnight. it was easy enough to cut out red meat, pork, most dairy products (being lactose intolerant helped in that area). then came chicken, and not for a few more months did i give up my tuna sandwiches and general seafood eating at restaurants. a few months after that i ate my last dairy yogurt, about three years ago.

it's easy enough to live this way, especially at home. especially living in a large enough city that there are many grocery options for me, many restaurant options, even, if i want to not cook one night.

but it can get tiring and frustrating too. going back to where i grew up; family picnics; vacations; hearing everyone criticize me for what i'm eating. not that i've considered eating meat again (okay, maybe seafood, sometimes). i think the slow transition helped me in that respect. it's mostly frustration at this world. at people who even know better, and still do what is easy, or common for them. at a society who chooses to ignore reality rather than change it.

but mostly i live this life quietly. i don't proselytize. if people ask, i'll explain my reasons. but i also know many people aren't ready for the truth. aren't ready to change what they do, and who they are. what i hope most is only to show that this life can be lived. that it isn't hard, it isn't out there. i recommend cookbooks, recipes. i cook for people. i live my life to show other people that this life can be lived. i think that is how change often begins. that's how it began for me.

Monday, July 17, 2006


a shocking number of people have told me in the last few years that i should become a prof at an undergrad only university.

in one respect this makes sense: i love being at the bench and i enjoy teaching. not only that, but i'm really good at teaching. it is both an innate ability and something i have worked hard at to be very good.

in another respect, this makes no sense at all. why? because i hate undergrads. despise them. they waste my time, destroy reagents, generally fuck up experiments and require constant hand holding. worst of all, they pretend to understand things that they don't.

this is the thing that gets me the most. you pretending to understand things will only mess things up more in the long run. mess things up for ME.

Friday, July 07, 2006

grad school depression

someone defended today.

this is always both a sad, and encouraging event.

it's always nice to see someone get out. (make it out alive, with degree intact, that is.) but it's also sad and frustrating to realize that one is not there yet.

with the beginning of july comes the realization that i'm now a fifth year grad student. gah. when i came i felt like i didn't even need to get to know the fifth years because they'd be gone soon. of course, that was also when i still believed the lie that the "average" time to graduate was five years. try six. maybe six and a quarter. with a significant number of seven (and a few eight) years.

i don't write much about grad school. and there's a reason for that. i hate it.

not that i hate science. in fact, i love bench work. i love figuring out problems and solutions and doing the experiments to get there. it's just the whole set-up of the program.

the idea of grad school is basically to demoralize grad students. before i started i heard someone joke about how grad school makes you paranoid. i thought (at the time): how could that possibly be true? i still wonder how it could be true. because you know what they say: it's not paranoia if they really are out to get you.

granted, i work at a small research university, with few grad students, few options, little money, and poor resources. to make it worse, i'm in a (fairly) new lab. the first grad student will graduate in a few months. which will be especially sad. to lose an integral part of our lab, which is small anyway. he is someone i rely on for support: scientifically and mentally. it will be a long two years without him.

but such is life. especially life in grad school. high turnover. although it doesn't necessarily feel like that when you're the one going through the wood-chipper.