Friday, January 29, 2010

“ ”

ok, on an up note for Friday early evening, lets try this quote:

“life is not easy for any of us. but what of that? we must have perseverance and, above all, confidence in ourselves. we must believe that we are gifted for something and that this thing must be attained.” —Marie Curie

Monday, January 18, 2010


I began this post while sitting in the lab at school on Martin Luther King Day. No one was there. It was like a post-apocalyptic world. And because of some poorly developed plot circumstance, I thought I was the only survivor. Then the locksmith swiftly keyed into our lab and scared the shit out of me. I hid my facebook page, blogger page and the off-beat scientific publication on my screen and cowered with a quick beating heart. Sal didnt notice, a thing.

Which delivers me directly into the pulsing vein of my next point: Science is scary. If you are a non-scientist, the intricacies of the scientific world can seem mysterious, intimidating or insurmountable. And if you are a scientist, you know that science really truly requires deep intellectual risks that ignite unparalleled feelings of unease. Other people might describe this as the rush of discovery, I might too. But suffice it to say that science can at once be unbelievably wonderful and atrociously heart-wrenchingly terrible.

Science takes courage, creativity and sometimes brutal honesty to practice. One has to be sensitive, deeply pensive and yet dispassionately logical and critical. And not everyone is cut out to do this.

I listen to Obama talk about how we need children to excel more in math and science. and I notice a poster at school encouraging undergraduates to pursue math and science careers. But really, really do they know what they are getting themselves in to? and really, should we be encouraging more average people to pursue a career that requires such a bizarre combination of intense dedication, intelligence and persistence to excel in? Maybe its best that just a few nerdy boys in the back of the chemistry room take this on. Maybe its best that most of us keep our distance. Maybe its best for Science that pretty girls stick to being pretty, jocks continue being sporty and that most of us just look on in some kind of half-blind respect and delight at what those hard working mal-adjusted weirdos are accomplishing.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Rude Alert

New Yorkers are not all rude. A day or two around Manhattan will reveal a lot of door holding, seats given up for elderly riders, coins dropping in cups, strangers dogs kanoodling and overall graciousness. The idea that New Yorkers are all rude is an outdated stereotype. It was once more true, in a grittier past life, but now it isnt.

So the other day I was in a wretched mood. I had nothing to give. I was not smiling or holding doors or thinking about volunteering or recycling. I was walking through the cold with my ipod on and a scowl. I felt like an actress doing a historical reenactment of a time gone by, you know, for the sake of tourists who expect rudeness. It was a retro move of mine. I thought Ed Koch or The Beastie Boys might jump out at me and give a public service announcement. But they didnt. And I went on brazenly ignoring homeless people, musicians, puppies and people handing out pamphlets. Because I could.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

X Out

Damn you Christmas. Why do you always have to come, and then go? leaving garbage bags full of wrapping paper and bleakness in your sugary wake. No other time in winter has the same timbre of bright or cheery intentions. And even though sometimes it causes stress, the real problem I have with Christmastime is that it ushers in winter with a big fat smile-only to dessert you, shoot your eye out and then desert you.

Hello second week of January, we meet, unfortunately, again.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

A Primate Love Letter

One thing that comes up continuously in the lab sections that I teach is that the writing is bad. And more seriously, flawed thinking about the topic is sometimes only captured on the written page, too elusive for multiple choice or class discussions to capture its sweet tangled inaccuracies. In some cases, students who are bright and interested will write papers that are just subtly, not. quite. right. But before I go any further, I would like to say that, I am no expert. I just know what patterns have emerged in the student writing I have seen over the years. I have not been formally taught how to evaluate science writing, or how to write.

Many students in anthropology 101 are writing a science paper for the first time at the college level. And for these students one almost universal error in their writing is that they put too much opinion and emotion into it. They get excited about the material (which is great and encouraged) but they flourish and wax inappropriately, rather than address it in the dispassionate, neutral manner that it requires. The class is about primates, which makes it accessible and easy to relate to, but also contributes to this problem. I doubt this happens at the same frequency in a course about drosophilia (fruit flies). I find too much talk of cute, emotional primates or superior species, where one is inherently better than another in some way.

Addressing this issue without extinguishing any enthusiasm requires careful consideration and I am still searching for ways to do it properly. Another problem that fuels this issue is that they arent reading the literature. So, they have nothing to say except what comes from their own warm primate heart. I need to address the issue of not reading the literature, not referencing it and just wandering through a cascade of baseless, biased claims. Its dangerous even.

I need to spend more time talking about the papers and what I expect. I fantasize about showing them a sentence that is all opiniony and cute and transforming the same general idea into more scientific terms. I also tell them, the shorter the sentences, the better. I often find long winded sentences with words like thus in them. Its an effort to sound smart. I know it. I appreciate the sentiment, I really do, and I have been there, but I need to channel their excitement into the correct format. And maybe I should spend an hour or two where we talk about how damn cute and lovely all the species are, and use all the elaborate and embellished and emotional adjectives we can find. You know, to get it out of our system, to show our appreciation without having to sound scientific about anything. Because truly, if I wasnt moved by primates, in all their fuzzy familiarity, I wouldnt be teaching this lab.