Monday, February 23, 2009

BBC Book meme

As seen at Sciencewoman.... (thanks for the idea!)

BBC Book List

Apparently the BBC reckons most people will have only read 6 of the 100 books here.
1) Look at the list and put an 'x' after those you have read. (I'll bold those I've read and italicize those of which I only read part.)
2) Add a '+' to the ones you LOVE.
3) Star (*) those you plan on reading.

1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
4 Harry Potter series - JK Rowling +
5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
6 The Bible
7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell*
9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott
12 Tess of the D'Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy (I think?)
13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare
15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien - I seem incapable of reading this book I started it multiple times
17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks
18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger
19 The Time Traveller's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger*
20 Middlemarch - George Eliot
21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell
22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald
23 Bleak House - Charles Dickens
24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
25 The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
26 Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck - I think I may have read in school, but don't remember
29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll +
30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
33 Chronicles of Narnia
34 Emma - Jane Austen - I'm not sure, I think I have though....
35 Persuasion - Jane Austen
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis
37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini*
38 Captain Corelli's Mandolin - Louis De Berniere*
39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden*
40 Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne
41 Animal Farm - George Orwell
42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving ++ (I'm a big John Irving fan)
45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery ++ (I've read the whole collection many times, and lots of her other books too... the Emily series, short stories, etc)
47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
48 The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood*
49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding
50 Atonement - Ian McEwan - I'm about half way through, but started another book and didn't finish yet
51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel
52 Dune - Frank Herbert
53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov*
63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold*
65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac - Want to finish this one someday...
67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones's Diary - Helen Fielding ++ (funny stuff! Also read the sequel)
69 Midnight's Children - Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville
71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
72 Dracula - Bram Stoker (I'm afraid of vampires, no way!)
73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses - James Joyce
76 The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal - Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession - AS Byatt
81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens*
82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte's Web - EB White
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle*
90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton
91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
94 Watership Down - Richard Adams - abandoned part way through
95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute (no, but I read some of his others)
97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl
100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo - started on vacation last fall, but didn't get very far

So that's 28 I've read, and lots more I've read part of... I have a bad habit of starting a book, then remembering I wanted to read another one, then forgetting the original one... I need to start finishing books!

Looks like a good reading list. Anyone have a favorite book that's not on here to recommend?

At the moment I'm reading 2 books of essays from women PhDs about combining work and family. I just finished Motherhood, the Elephant in the Laboratory, and I just started Mama, PhD. I think I'll write a review on these when I've finished both.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Pleasing Students?! Or failing them?

There have been some interesting posts lately from FSP and MrsCH about student reactions to lower than expected grades from their professors/TAs... and the comments/discussion over at FSP was up to 32 comments last time I checked. Go check it out, it's worth the read....

Now, as neither a student anymore, nor a prof yet, I think I must fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum of opinions. I don't buy this not giving grades thing, nor do I think that trying really really hard is enough for an A. Examinations test knowledge and understanding. If you don't understand and fail to answer the questions well enough to demonstrate sufficient knowledge to warrant getting the points allocated to that question, you get a low grade. Period. How can people seriously argue that someone should get a A just for showing up to class? Doesn't an A mean anything to anybody anymore?

I've read the argument that grades are so important for getting into grad school, getting a job, etc. But how does giving everyone, despite drastically different levels of mastering of the subject matter, the same (arbitrarily high) mark help matters? Then the grades again become meaningless. I see grades as a way to rank performance. Of course, at least some component of the marking scheme for a given class/assignment/exam is likely to be subjective and based on the professor's opinion of the student's "quality" performance in that subject, but really, if you haven't internalized the material for the class, why should you get credit for it?

There's a reason you need all As and a perfect GPA to get into top schools.... because so many people have them due to false inflation of grades! If students were assigned grades on a scale that actually reflected performance the overall average GPA would likely fall, and then so would the admission standards. Or not. And then many fewer people would enter graduate programs.

Now, on the other hand, I was talking with Husband last week when he got back from his most recent tenure-track interview when the topic of teaching evaluations came up. They form an important part of tenure decisions and for that reason, it is definitely in the professor's best interest to score positively in the students' eyes. But at what cost? I think this must also be part of the explanation for grade inflation. Profs don't want to be harda$$es and grade tough because they know this will be reflected as a poor score in teaching evaluations, regardless of whether the professor is actually a good teacher/mentor.

This I think relates to the bigger problem of consumerized education systems. Tuition to universities and colleges is not cheap (at least not in North America). And, in my experience as a student and a TA, many students feel a strong sense of entitlement that they are paying for their university degree, and it's the fault of the professors if they don't get it (at the stellar inflated grading level they expect). What ever happened to responsibility for your own actions? Or acknowledging that just because you want to be a (insert highly paid profession here) doesn't mean you have the aptitude to pull it off? Do you want to be treated by your doctor/represented by a lawyer who got As in all her classes just for showing up? Or would you rather have someone who has been judged objectively based on competence throughout her academic career and found to be capable? (Please, understand that I'm not saying the only qualitites required for being a top physician are academic success, personality, dedication, compassion etc are all very important factors as well, of course, and these are evaluated separately by things like recommendation letters, personal interviews and volunteer experiences in care-giving roles).

I think that it is unfortunate that so much in our society is based on numerical evaluations. It's a bit of a broken system, I know. (part of that comes from illogical pay scale differences among different professions and how our consumer society drives people to attain high paying careers over careers more suited to their own unique qualitites and talents, but that's another post) And that must be where the desire not to evaluate based on points assigned to question X lies. But it is also twisted that there seems to be a feeling that time and money (and if all else fails, whining) are enough to get whatever you want.

An inside look at Jenn, PhD

A while ago there was a series of memes with personality tests... I finally decided to procrastinate long enough and do one. I have to be honest that it's a bit scary to read... quite a bit is true. But what happens if you don't like the traits you have? Can you change your personality? How much of "personality" is circumstantial? I think different environments bring out different aspects of a person's personalities, so I'm hoping I can change... What do you think?

For anyone interested here's what Signal Patterns told me about me (my comments in italics):

Your Results You are Passionate, Rash, and Volatile.
More About You: Discover the top 10 traits out of 90 that uniquely describe you
You are in touch with your emotions, and sometimes you react before you think. The good news: you don't tamp down your feelings. The bad news: you sometimes say or do things that you later wish you could take back.

I really wish I could change this and I hate that it's the first trait!

You do not live your life on an even keel; you do not go for long periods without experiencing some mood swings.


You get excited easily, allow yourself to react without censoring your feelings, and sometimes blurt out the first thing that comes to mind.

And this is the second trait?! Aw, man, I'm doomed!

You generally don't consider what you're about to say before you open your mouth to speak.

This I actually have to kind of disagree with, usually the problem is I think too much for too long without saying something and then it explodes out without thinking...


You go with the flow when it comes to your emotions. Whether you're happy or sad, you show it, and when something upsets you, or you're feeling stressed out, those around you will know it right away.

Does anyone else get the feeling I'm an emotional wreck waiting to happen?! Maybe I'm worse off than I thought?

You are not necessarily the one person in any group who can be depended on to stay calm, cool, and collected in a crisis; you aren't known for keeping your emotions under wraps.


You like your own company; you're a very interesting person. Tracking your own mental processes, knowing what you're thinking and why you do what you do, is important to you. Often, what's going on in your mind is more compelling than what's going on outside.

You are not someone who is constantly looking to be among a group of friends; you never feel bored when you are by yourself.

For the most part, those with a high score on the "introspective" trait enjoy reading, taking long walks, learning new things, and other solitary activities.

See the last part of this one doesn't sound so bad... I do like all those things, but I like being with other people too!


You appreciate art, beauty, and design; you know that they are not superficial but absolutely crucial to living the good life. You have good taste, and you're proud of it.

As long as they're not talking about my clothes/shoes/beauty asthetic taste. Maybe I like and appreciate them, but I'm definitely not good at applying it to myself!

You don't think it's pretentious to be moved by art and beauty. You're not one of those who believe it doesn't matter what something looks like as long as it does its job.

I DO like pretty things....

Those with a high score on the "aesthetic" trait are often employed in literary or artistic professions, enjoy domestic activities — doing things around the house — and are enthusiastic about the arts, reading, and travel.

Well, except for the employment part I guess... but I've often felt I don't belong here in this profession.


You are willing to take the time to find out what's going on with other people, especially if they're in distress. You're a good listener, you don't criticize, and you offer unbiased, respectful, honest advice when it's requested.

You don't feel the need to impose your standards on others or say things that, even though true, cause pain.

With a high score on the "understanding" trait, it is likely that you are enthusiastic about charitable work, helping others, and making the world a better place.

I'd like to be more like this... I find it rather conflicting that this trait comes out together with some of the others above...


You very rarely make a move without first considering the pros and cons and, therefore, rarely do anything foolish or extravagant.

...or much of anything at all...

You are not rash; you almost never act before you think and, therefore, rarely end up doing things you later regret.

Except of course for the whole first several traits... see? Conflicting!

Stressed Out

That's a personality trait? Sheesh!

You often feel that there's too much on your plate, that you don't have the strength to deal with the bad hand you've been dealt, or that you're going to lose it if you have to deal with one more problem.

hahahaha, duh! That's the understatement of the year

You don't always bounce back quickly from adversity; sometimes when you get bad news it can hang over you for a long time.

I think that's been especially true during my years at grad school


You like to get to the bottom of things. You're not content knowing what someone did; you want to know why they did it.

You don't simply take things as they are and move on; you're not content skimming along on the surface; you don't feel you're wasting time by digging for the meaning of things.

yes! and yes!


You are an honest, fair person. You don't lie or cheat to get ahead. You treat others with respect and hope for the same in return.

You do not feel that you are above the rules that everyone else follows; you are definitely not willing to do whatever it takes to get ahead.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why I also don't think I'm cut out to do this science thing...

What DO I want?

So yesterday I met with my PI to have a chat about my postdoc applications. I had already prepared cover letters for the half dozen or so places I wanted to apply, customizing each based on the reason I was interested in their work and how I saw myself fitting in, based on my previous experience. I had my updated CV ready, and the list of the groups...

Now, it should be said that PI is actually a pretty nice guy (deep deep down inside), but in (I'm guessing typical) PI fashion, he expects a lot from his people, and wants them to go on to bigger and better places... I, on the other hand, was trying to find a more supportive environment (in terms of many factors like male:female ratio of colleagues and mentors (tipped heavily in the male direction in my current environment), geographical and cultural environment, and potential family-friendliness (just in case things ever actually work out on husband and my side project)) and a new topic/field/model organism. In other words, NOT the kind of places he would pick for himself... so I suppose it shouldn't have surprised me that he told me he was disappointed in my choices, that I was aiming "too low", that he saw me as someone who had be quite ambitious while here in his lab and that he thought I would be disappointed by the environment of smaller, perhaps less ambitious places.

Now, I know that it's MY postdoc and I can apply where ever I want to, and don't have to apply anywhere I'm not interested in, but his point was, if you don't go try it (at least apply/interview) then I'll never know... he's challenged me to re-write my list, dropping those labs I'm least convinced of myself and replacing them with "big shot" postdoc factory style labs in places that least-well fit my criteria.

I guess I understand why in a way, I mean, who wants to live with all the what-ifs and could-I-have-made-it type questions. But honestly, I'm not so sure I WANT to "make it". I'm so exhausted from this place and my time here that most days I just want to crawl up in a little ball in the closet and ask the world to leave me in peace. I just don't think I have the energy to go sell myself to the sort of super star places he wants me to go.

Before I talked to him, I was quite sure I had figured out what I wanted out of a postdoc, and now, I'm all confused again. It seems like a big decision... something you really only get to choose once (or maybe twice, but gosh I hope no more times than that!). And I can't help but think that his advice is also in *his* best interest, since so often PIs are judged based on the kind of pedigree their lab gives rise to. I've spent a great deal of my time here pretending I'm someone I'm not, and I don't like that person very much. I was really hoping for a chance to start again and be more true to myself. Not to say that such an endeavor means I can't be ambitious, just not in a ultra-competitive arrogant way that is all too strongly encouraged in this place.

So, what DO I want? Where should I apply? What should I do? ugh. I better figure this out soon.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


Oh Dearest Internetz,
Today I am happy... the email I've been waiting for for weeks just arrived and my PhD paper was (finally) accepted. We'll celebrate this afternoon with champagne with the lab. It's perfect timing as I want to send out my postdoc applications (no I still haven't sent them... still waiting to hear back from one potential reference) and will feel much better now saying that it was accepted for publication. It's been a long haul (this is the same project I started working on day 1 in the lab many moons ago) and actually, I'm quite proud that things turned out as well as they did. I couldn't really ask for more.

Of course, in my PI's typical style, he came to the lab after forwarding the email to praise the paper, but then proceeded to tell me how it's amazing because, unlike all the other papers from the lab which were great intellectual pursuits with eureka moments and great thinking/reasoning/genius hypothesis-testing experiments, this story is only successful because of organizational skills, persistance and the insanity to try crazy things that he never thought would work. Ummmm, gee thanks boss. Hope he doesn't write that in my recommendation letters! "While she produced a fantastic paper, it's not because she's intelligent or a rigorous scientist, it's because she's stubborn and crazy." riiiiiiiiight.

But in tune with my positive thinking, I just chose to say "Thank you" and leave it at that. Good thing I can spill to someone (that's you) how he yet again managed to pat me on the back with one hand while slapping me in the face with the other. I can't wait to get out of this place! (edited to add that I know he doesn't mean it in a bad way, it just somehow comes out the wrong way almost every time we talk about some achievement)...

Anyway, what's important now is the party! I've got stinky cheese on my desk, champagne in the cold room and 10 more things on my to do list for the day. Better get to it!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Well, I for one am flattered

While poking my head in over at Isis's blog I saw that the good people over at the Health Zone Blog just compiled a list of the Top 50 Women in Science Blogs. So I followed the link and imagine my surprise and delight to be included along with my blogging heros including Sciencewomen, FemaleScienceProfessor, The Happy Scientist, A Lady Scientist, Dr. Jekyll and Mrs. Hyde, A Natural Scientist and many others... well, go read the list! :) These are the women who inspired me early on when I was even too shy to comment, and continue to inspire me daily with their scientific prowless, sharp wit, dedication and senses of humour.
So a big thanks to the Health Zone Blog for the thumbs up and for including this humble little blog in their list. I'll try not to disappoint!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Interview Meme

Mrs. Comet Hunter recently posted a fun meme where she was asked 5 questions by another blogger and answered them interview style. I thought it sounded fun, so I signed up for an interview with her.

Here are the rules:
1. Leave me a comment saying, "Interview me" AND leave your email address (or blog link) in the comment! I will interview the first three commenters to ask for it.
2. I will respond by emailing you (or commenting on your blog with) five questions. I get to pick the questions.
3. You will update your blog with the answers to the questions. (If you don't have a blog, I can post your answers here).
4. You will include this explanation and an offer to interview someone else in the same post.
5. When others comment asking to be interviewed, you will ask them five questions.

Here goes!

Mrs CH: If you could no longer do "science", what would you do as a career and why?

Me: Husband and I have this crazy dream to open a small inn and restaurant. It would be near the ocean, or in the mountains in an old house... we'd grow fresh herbs and veggies in the garden and cook everything fresh from scratch. *sigh* maybe someday

Mrs CH: How did you meet Mr. Jenn, PhD?

Me: Well, as science geeky as it sounds, we met in the lab.... I was a summer student during my undergrad and he was a new PhD student. I was dating someone else at the time though, so we were "just friends" for the summer. I went back to school in the fall (1500km away) and sent him my phone number for the heck of it, figuring I'd never hear from him... he called the same night and the rest is history :)

Mrs CH: How are you doing on your general positive thinking resolution?

Me: Well, to be honest, not so great. But I do catch myself smiling more often, and being generally more enthusiastic about (some) things. I feel pretty stressed out by the total loss of control over my future (I'm a bit of a control freak, and a major planner, so it drives me kind of crazy to have so much up in the air). At least if I knew what Continent I'll be living on it would help... I'll keep trying though!

Mrs CH: Where has been your favorite place you have traveled and why?

Me: Ooooooh. That's a tough one. I love to travel and am not often disappointed by a place, because each is nice for its own reasons. I think I'd have to say hiking in the Alps. I first visited (another set of) mountains when I was 17, and I've been hooked ever sense. I love the openess of the sky, how you feel like you can see forever, and the fresh, clean air. And the colours of the mountains, lakes, wild flowers, sky! And the snow in summer! And the cows. I love the bells :)

Mrs CH: If you could give one piece of advice to a new graduate student, what would it be?

Me: Get yourself a hobby! Seriously. Build a life outside of the lab, because if lab is the only thing in your life, it's so much harder to face those inevitable days when nothing is working and you feel like a failure. Sometimes just having something else to look forward to, a reason to leave the lab by a certain time or get away for the weekend is what held me together. Husband played a big role in that, but it was also nice to have non-scientists/colleagues to talk to about different things as well. I'm sure there are lots of other scienc-ey suggestions that I could give, but that was one key to surviving grad school for me.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Back, and feeling stuck (or musings on the two body problem)

So, I've made it back to PhDCity, at least in body if not in mind. Jetlag is still a challenge, despite great efforts of blood stream caffeine level boosting. In reading ScienceWoman's post on starting over on the new year's efforts, I got thinking about mine and how I'm doing. I've managed to cross a few things from the list, but those nagging ones just won't quit. I still haven't managed to hand over those reagents, and the situation is getting desperate. Why can't I just. let. go.?! I feel like I'm on the cusp of breaking free from this place and yet it still seems so far away... case in point, my applications. Now, deciding on the future is not to be taken too lightly. But I'm afraid that I've managed to think myself into non-activity on the matter. Sure, I got that job interview offer (more on that to come), but I haven't sent the other applications yet. I made small progress today in writing to MScSupervisor to touch base and check if MSS would be willing to serve as a reference for my applications (no response yet). I also spoke to SupportiveCommitteeMember who agreed to be a reference and took the time for a nice chat on the subject. SCM isn't from PhDCity and understands my desire to return to more familiar places and ways of life, but also encouraged me not to sell myself short and perhaps broaden my acceptable application locations. Which means more thinking, and more consideration, more list making and another delay for the applications. But there's a whole other important factor in my decisions for the impending move... Husband. Husband is a talented, one career step ahead of me research scientist. And it's a crap-a$$ time to be on the job market. Of the many applications submitted, a substantial number of target institutions are currently facing a hiring freeze. Whether this is a major factor, or there are others in play, we probably won't know. But the fact remains that he had offers for 2 interviews. The first didn't result in a job offer. The second is this week. What happens if this one works out? What happens if it doesn't? This two body problem is majorly stressing me out. Do I apply for the places *I* want to go? Do I at least consider whether this would be feasible for Husband? (Keep in mind, in at least some cases, Husband would have to find a job that would sponsor a working visa. He could live where I have a work visa, but couldn't work). In an ideal world, he would find a faculty position (or some job that makes him happy) and I would find a kickass postdoc position (or some other job that makes me happy) and it would be in an environment where we could be life-happy (which may or may not include a set of criteria like proximity to family/friends, language, political climate). But I think it's going to be a case of someone compromises and follows the other person. I don't *want* to be a trailing spouse, but I also have a major guilt complex about forcing Husband to be one. Can I just skip over the next few months so I can know what the future holds? Cause right now, the situation just makes me want to crawl back under the covers and hibernate till Spring...

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Scenes from back home...

It's night time, but not dark. I've always loved the pink glow of a winter snowy sky. Mom and I are outside chipping away at the snow that's been falling for hours.... fluffy and white, it sparkles as it's thrown in the air, building the snow banks higher. SNOW! We come inside with rosy cheeks and drink another cup of tea...

... my little niece runs around the corner... "I hiding Auntie Jenn, come find me!" she says. "Where are you little one?" I ask. "I hiding behind the chair! Come find me!" :)

..."read to me Auntie Jenn, again!" We turn back to the front cover and she snuggles up closer...

Curled up in the chair in her room with her daddy, just out of the bath and in cozy pyjamas, I see my brother as a father and marvel again. "Auntie Jenn! Auntie Jenn!" she jumps up into the chair with her 3rd bedtime story for the night. "I love you Auntie Jenn!". The sweetest sound.

"This is our granddaughter, Jennifer" my grandmother proclaims when we meet her friends in the lounge. My grandfather points out another of his paintings hung on the corridor wall in their Senior's apartment building. Familiar faces, warm and open laughter, my grandfather's "Yes dear" and wink.