Saturday, October 30, 2010


WHY are people celebrating Halloween in India?

Pep talk

Lab politics have been unfolding over the past few weeks. I have learned some more lessons. May be someday I'll get very good at playing the game the way it is played. I am definitely getting better at it.

For now, I will keep on keeping on, until I reach the end, turning every problem into an opportunity along the way. I know that sounds terribly cliched, but it really is the only way to go for me, cliches be damned.

And the other thing is, things are only as big as I make them out to be. Two years ago I was obsessing over happenings in the philly lab. It has remained but a blip. This shall too. I need to work on my science, and keep having fun while I am at it.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The weekend that was

My sis and niece came and spent the weekend with me. I had always thought about taking my niece around the city, showing her all the cool stuff and treating her to some of the best cupcakes I have ever eaten here. I finally got to do all of it and more. On Saturday we hung out in the city pretty late into the evening, taking in the crowds, the craziness and more. Against all my principles, I even took her to that big toy store i won't name and give google hits to.. :) Eventually my poor niece got tired and decided to hail a cab very expertly, all on her own. I was so proud of her taxi-hailing skills. Thereafter, she'd point to every swanky building that came in sight and ask "Is this your building, TGFI-pinni?" :) I wish. :) Speaking of cabs, another high point of the weekend was zipping about all over the place in cabs, as against long-ass subway rides, as that's my sister's preferred mode of conveyance :). Little surprise, then, that her daughter is such an expert cab-hailer. It totally spoiled me and in addition to the sadness I felt after putting my sis and niece on their train home and having to make my lonesome way back, I found myself complaining about the "long" subway ride I had ahead of me (one that I otherwise routinely do) and wished I had asked my sister for return cab fare too :).

On my second twenty-ninth birthday, (just the other day), a really nice guy played sport and brought a cake that wished me a happy 29th. This time though, I got none of that, as my niece insisted on announcing loudly in public that I was THIRTY-TWO years old. Sigh. What to do? May be I'll come around, eventually. Today we got to take part in some fun halloween stuff in the park followed by a yummy brunch in the city joined by my close friend N who was could most identify with my joy of doing stuff with my niece .The gorgeous weather was the icing on the cake, making it a super birthday weekend. Also threw in an impromptu trip to N's house which was even more fun. For probably the first time ever, I have uploaded photos from the day within record time, and couldn't help noticing that all the pics taken at at N's house have the most fun-filled, natural smiling happy faces in them. :) And over the past three years, no matter how rocky or strained my friendship has been with N, she has managed to make each of my past three birthdays so much fun - even the one time she was not here. That takes special talent. :)

On the train ride back home I began getting sad about coming back to my apartment and facing the week tomorrow. Things with nasty coworker reached a new low on Friday and I had a pretty bad blow-out with my boss. But I stopped myself from going down the misery trip so quickly- I was still riding my birthday high. As my sis and B have told me, this is life, this is the real world. I will face a lot more jealousy, pettiness and distasteful experiences as I go on and I just have to keep myself above others insecurities and not let them become mine.

So I go to bed with warm and happy thoughts. Of a lovely weekend- and an exciting week ahead, with a friend visiting tomorrow, bringing me gifts from B :) , and some interesting data waiting to be analyzed. Happy birthday to me. :)

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


Things have gotten really slow uninspiring and hopeless at work. I am unable to come up with anything positive to say about my project, my lab-life or anything. All my boss has to say is "Keep plugging along". So I will keep doing that. It doesn't help that my lab atmosphere has gotten a bit caustic to be in, thanks to an annoying coworker. That bit, I have finally decided, is mostly part of being in a lab ecosystem. There are going to be some personalities that are unfriendly, inconsiderate and I just have to stop let them bothering me.

My target is to have decent data in two months. It's either that or I call it quits. Then I'll bring the other back-burner project up to the front- the one that I know will get published in a not-so-great journal for a clinical audience.

I don't know- if my life were any different and I didn't have to R2I and I continued in post-doc hell for another 3-4 years like most people in my field are doing would I then have hit pay-dirt and got to call myself an outstanding scientist with a top tier publication? I don't know and I never will. And I am not sure if that is a good thing or a bad thing.

I sound very bitter and frustrated. I guess I am. But the upside- I am making it into lab everyday early morning. And plugging on despite all the hopelessness I feel. I am doing it quite mechanically, but I am doing it. I enjoy the early morning productivity, I must say, if not anything else.

May be a little detachment from my work is a good thing for me too. If I don't internalize it all and make it about it me, I can stop letting it drag me down and just keep at it. Work smart, work hard, and like I don't really care. That is my new mantra.

You know those combination locks? That say turn thrice clockwise, pass this number, then turn twice anticlockwise, stop at this other number, then turn once clockwise and stop at this number? And then feel the click as you unlock? I have NEVER been able to work those damn locks at work. I have two such lockers, one that I stopped using out of frustration - so my backpack, jacket, shoes etc all just spill over in my desk area- and the other locker I have to use because my clean lab coat is deposited there after laundry, I always get someone near by to open up for me after struggling with it for fifteen minutes. Half that floor knows the combination to it now. I don't care. if they want to steal my lab coat they're welcome to.

So anyhow - in other news, I am taking swimming lessons. (For the second or third time). :) Yesterday I spent my own money and bought such a lock for a locker in the gym to keep my swim gear in. I couldn't believe I was doing it but I had no other choice. So yesterday, before going in for my lesson I decided to stow my backpack in the locker. I peeled the sticker off the back of my new lock that had the code and it just tore up in the process. But I made up a smart way to remember the code. All throughout the lesson I was struggling to stay afloat while not gulping down gallons of pool-water and coughing and spluttering and all that fun stuff, AND remembering to move my legs (we're not doing the hands, yet) - so much work! It doesn't help that my teacher- an 18 year old kid - was telling me stuff like "Nice and slow like this:" and proceeded to demonstrate a slow graceful motion followed by "Not like this" and proceeded to demonstrate a cartoon character flailing and flapping about in the water and thrashing water all around her. Nice imitation, teacher. :/

So, while my teacher was mercilessly mocking my own individual swimming technique, I was thinking about how I would have to struggle again with the bloody lock once I got out. And what if I couldn't get it to open? And worse of all what if I forgot the code? Well - there were signs all over the locker room that said that lockers left locked overnight would be broken, so I figured these guys had a way to pick these locks and I'd just ask them to pick mine so I can get my stuff out. Only problem was it was the ladies locker room so I don't think they'd come in during working hours to pick my lock, unless of course- they had a woman locker-picker.

So imagine my feeling of absolute triumph when I got out dripping wet from shower after the lesson and could manage to finally work the bloody lock all by myself! Yeah! Who cares if I can't swim? I can open these darned locks now without help. :)

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Pet Peeve of the Day

"Inbox" is now a verb? I keep seeing this on facebook "Inbox me your number". Haan? Yuck.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Still haven't found what I'm looking for.

Particularly disappointing day today. Had a very productive past few weeks in terms of doing experiments- and got back most of my results today. All of them are - well- just non-informative. Pretty, clean, perfect error bars, reproducible, and non-informative. Yes yes, I know that negative results are also results, but :(.

I'm trying not to cloud my approach by going after something which will prove my hypothesis, but the sampling I have done so far doesn't effectively disprove it either. Just tells me I need to look more. Question is how much more and for how much longer? And if I go through all my precious material and keep cranking out negative results, where do I go from there?

A little late in the day to revise the design- but may be I am going after the wrong targets- If I want to address that it would mean redesigning assays, and the whole shebang. An intimidating approach, but one that I need to take a stab at. If I want this to go anywhere.

Data desperation abounds.

Tomorrow I will wake up, bright and optimistic. I will bite the bullet and redesign some assays and see what comes of it. Some intelligent, informed redesigning. May be it will pay off. I will only know if I try it. May be the assays will work out faster than earlier- I have picked up a few tricks along the way- so I shouldn't be so scared of designing new assays.

Onward and upward. Onward and upward. Hum honge kaamyaab..... :)

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Nature India

So I was quite excited when Nature began its Indian edition "Nature India". It has been a source of relevant job opportunities and a way to keep a finger on the Indian science pulse. But I recently happened upon the forum Nature India Forum- a nature networks forum, again, catering to India. I thought this would be superbly useful to me. But check this one thread out . And its not just this one- they are all like that. Seems to me like the Nature India forums is the rediff or cnn comment space of disgruntled academics in India. I have come across an articulate and reasonable post here and there, but most of it is just rediff-y. Sigh. Why is nobody moderating these forums? If I was looking for something to make me feel better about wanting to go into Industry, here is my reason this is definitely not helping: sample this

Saturday, October 09, 2010


The day before yesterday I skipped lunch because I was busy. But I had a nice dinner, and woke up yesterday, ate a healthy breakfast. None of that mattered, my body revolted with a horrible migraine around noon yesterday. After a few blinding hours, squinting through my experiments and printing out my notes in big letters so I could see what I had to do, I ate lunch and waited to let the medicines kick in. I really need to recognize, once and for all, that i cannot afford the luxury of skipping meals. The aftermath is just not worth it. Next time I decide to skip a meal, I wish my body reminds me by giving me a tiny migraine-preview. :)

There is this girl down the hallway who is an absolute sweetheart- K. She is extremely pleasant, always smiling, and always chatting me up. I asked her to take care of my experiment for me later at night because I really had to go home- in addition to that, she also gave me a mini massage, which already had me feeling better. So, instead of going straight home, I decided to get a massage at this chiropracters clinic down the street. It wasn't the best massage- the guy was too chatty and ruined the peaceful experience. I tried pretending to fall asleep and not respond but he wouldn't shut up- and what was worse, he was mostly giving self-promotional spiels. Like how people should get massages more often, how he does things, how good he is, blah blah blah. Aaargh.

Usually, the day after a migraine I wake up with a lingering pain in my head and neck muscles. Today though, I woke up feeling great! So I will credit the massage, in spite of the blabber. I wish there was an easier and more affordable way of getting massages more often. And no, not those massage chairs - those are hideous and only good for free trials in shopping malls.

I also woke up to hot steaming cup of poha. Yay for leftovers. :)

I read this last night. Gosh. The nature article touches upon all the points though: the kind of pressures that exist, the reward system in academia- the competition- surprisingly they don't mention the low pay. None of these are supposed to justify the act (A post-doc sabotages his lab-mate's experiments..they eventually catch him after setting up cameras in the lab!) - but they are all factors in the game in which some people do stupid idiotic things like this guy did.

Derek Lowe's post states this

...How often does stuff like this go on? To be honest, I'm surprised that there isn't more of it in academic labs. The competition between individuals is much more fierce than it is in industry (where people tend to work much more in large teams), and frankly, there are more unstable personalities in academia than there are in industry as well. At the same time, this is a thoroughly nasty thing to do, striking right at the basic workings of any research lab. ....

Frankly, I do think this happens very often, at all levels: your coworker gives you a protocol with one step missing, or an aliquot of something that is really old and doesn't work..or spikes your cells like in the story here. Not always do these get high profile coverage like the Nature article. Derek got some backlash for saying that there are more mentals in academia than industry - I don't know what to say to that- partly I do believe that fears of systems, rules and rigor are more in industry- for example you have to write your lab notebook in a specific way when you work in the industry- my paper-towels / post-it notes "to be transcribed" will not cut it. The other point - as was made by a comment in Derek's post - if and when such incidents happen in the industry, they more likely hush it up to avoid bad publicity and plummeting stock prices.

People that do not work in academia or science- what are parallel examples of sabotage in your work-lives?


I am going to capitalize on my good mood and get out of the house- get into lab, go out my book..have fun. Over and out.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

The WSJ: "For good luck, More Indians Opt for C-Sections".

"When the Stars Align, Indians Say, It's a Good Time to Have a C-Section" is the title of a WSJ article by Eric Bellman, with contributions from Arlene Chang.

Really? For a minute I had to glance up to see if I was reading WSJ or the Toilet paper Of India. I thought WSJ was a fairly respectable paper, no?

The reason it took me by surprise is because from my limited knowledge and interaction with moms and to-be-moms in India, I found that most of them do not want a C-sec, and that idea also partly stems from an "old-fashioned" way of thinking- that a normal delivery is a good thing and a C-sec is not. Someone I know had a C-sec and her mom related the news to me almost woefully, even though the baby and mom were fine. There is also some kind of notion that going through the pains of childbirth- particularly labour pains- is apparently fulfilling in some way and necessary.

I also know a lot of cases both in India and the US where the C-sec is the decision of the doctor. This could be due to a host of reasons: A genuine medical reason or A litigation-inspired fear that makes the doc want to cover his/her ass and carry out a C-sec or sometimes, its just a question of practicality for the doctor, his/her calendar, or no time to deal with prolonged labour. Most of the times, I know the mothers to be very keen on natural birth, but eventually give in to the doctor.

Then this from the article:

Indians have been asking astrologers for the perfect time to conceive for centuries. Now, with rising incomes and improved access to health care, many take their gurus' advice to their gynecologists to decide birth times as well.

"In the last three years, it has become rampant. Almost everyone prefers to choose timing," says Rishma Dhillon Pai, a Mumbai-based gynecologist. "It's strange, because you would think that as we grow more modern, this kind of thing would happen less."

While there are no data on how often C-section timings are decided by astrology, the number of caesarean deliveries has surged in India. In the early 1990s, around 5% of births in urban hospitals were caesarean. Today more than 20% are, doctors say, in part because of higher incomes and wider access to health care. (Bold emphasis mine)

In the U.S., the frequency of caesarean sections has risen to more than 30% of births, from around 21% in 1998. The rise has been driven by increases in the number of middle-age mothers and overweight mothers, according to doctors, as well as malpractice concerns.

While the vast majority of Indians still prefer natural birth, doctors say the number of caesarean sections where cosmic timing is a factor has jumped from perhaps one-in-10 a decade ago to as many as one-in-two today. Usually, the timing is chosen only after a C-section has been deemed necessary. But doctors say a growing number of women are opting for the procedure when there is no medical need.

Then the article goes on to describe Indians' faith in astrology, how time of birth is so significant, how in two or three anecdotal cases doctors actually gave in to performing C-secs to suit the mother's superstitious beliefs.

Now I do not expect peer-reviewed-quality in-depth reports replete with error bars and statistical significance from a newspaper, but perhaps the author should have mentioned just how many gynecs he interviewed before he wrote this story. After all, in the absence of any other data, that would've been informative.

To me it seems like the article is conflating all kinds of issues: I am not arguing the bit about how the "time of birth" is deemed important in astrology and how people make kinds of decisions based upon it, but it seems a bit far-fetched to claim that is the reason for increased C-secs in India. If the number of increased C-secs in the US can be explained by more practical reasons ["increases in the number of middle-age mothers and overweight mothers, according to doctors, as well as malpractice concerns"], I don't see why all of those can't apply to India, with the odd section of people who actually want to time their baby's birth so that it aligns with the stars. But of course, its more fun and eye-catching to cater to baseless stereotypes, no?

ETA: see this

Saturday, October 02, 2010


It's bad enough that my Ph.D. Advisor and Post-doc advisor try to brain-wash me against I have my dad sending me subtle "Why don't you contact so-and-so uncle in ". I don't have the heart to break it to him that I won't make the cut in the mentioned elite institute. Then, every now and then, my dad sends me fws from his alumni e-group, where they are discussing some alumnus who has won a renowned science prize in India, or someone else who has made it famous.

My dad got his Masters from a very prestigious institute in India, and soon after that, took up a job from which he eventually retired after 33 years. But a lot of his classmates went on to get Ph.D.s and quite a few of them are now heads-of-departments at good schools in both India and in the U.S. My dad feels a tinge of envy/sadness that he never pursued a Ph.D... and, I think, would now like me to join this hallowed academic circle. I have told him time and again that I am going to look for an industry job for now and take it from there, and then he immediately backs off, saying "Ok, ok..but no harm in getting in touch with so and so uncle..he may even have friends in his institute in your area with contacts in the industry..". :)

Sigh. I never thought I'd be having to deal with this.

You know how they say in science things come together at the end? I didn't have that happen to me in grad school- it wasn't like i had a 5-year dry spell and then whoosh all this data fell in my lap- I was consistently producing, and wrote up my first first author paper when I was in year 4 or 5. Anyhow, the post-doc thus far has been a dry spell. It's been standardize technique, optimise technique, do assay, no results, go back to fixing technique. And time's a running out. But I strongly feel that it is all beginning to come together now. One technique that me and a coworker were working on for months, trying to adapt to our system, is finally yielding. And as it may turn out, there as no magic trick or quirk - it was just repetition a zillion times until I acquired the finesse it took. In my own project which is woefully data-sparse, I have come up with some "smart" that while I take one step back, it might very well end up being two steps forward. I hope so. I am feeling optimistic. I have also learned some important lessons from my grad school struggles- if I have to tack on another author to the paper, so be it, if it gets the job done- and right now god knows I need all the help I can get, so I am not going to even attempt doing each and everything on my own, even though this project is my baby.

In my "copious amounts of spare time" as Ph.D.Adv used to put it (sarcastically), I have been printing out and reading pages from this wonderful resource on Science Careers. There is a lot of good advice in there...may be a lot of it is common sense or stuff that we pick up along the way but reading it in print really helps to fix it in my head, and adopt in my job-searching strategies. And we always learn something- for example- somewhere in there is a tip buried that tells you not to upload your resume to all company websites needlessly. Because, when the time comes to go through a contact you've made at that co., they will not be eligible for a referral bonus if your cv already exists in the company database, so you reduce the incentive for them to recommend you and push your cv in. Who knew?

Time to sleep. Over and out.