Thursday, October 18, 2007


I mentioned I was busy with some vague professional issue in addition to all the other stuff, but didn’t explain in full why it meant I should take a total break from blogging. Now that I’m done with the biggest project, aren’t out of town, or building a play ground, I can take a breath, and I guess I should write a bit in this blog, huh?

This may be a boring tale but hey; it's a blog. In short, a while ago I put my business on the back burner, and decided to go back to my PhD work.

I began my PhD with a good deal of enthusiasm for my career. I was all about science, my office was full of novel inventions, and depictions of data were my idea of a creative outlet. Okay, maybe I still get off on beautiful graphs and microscopy images; I’m queer that way. Point is, that was one of my main concerns in life, moving that boundary of ignorance by whatever fraction I could.

A couple things changed that.

Right away--I’m talking the first month of my PhD research--I discovered something quite unexpected and a bit exciting; something that I probably could have gotten into Nature or Science at the time. This may sound like a lucky break for an aspiring young candidate. Not even close. I was met with strong skepticism from the professionals in that field of study, and was not able to publish for it. I was just a student, and Protein X, by the current understanding of proteins like X, wasn’t supposed to do what I was reporting in my findings.

The reaction was strong enough that I began wondering if I was fooling myself. But after a lot of work, I could find nothing wrong with my analysis and neither could my advisor. I even developed a whole new and independent method of analyzing such data, just to get confirmation on the first method.

Now, I don’t want to come off as complaining. Science should be harsh to new ideas, even mine ;-). If they survive testing then that’s great; if they don’t then that’s great too. The goal should be truth, not proving a particular belief true, and so I’d not want to have rushed it. Nevertheless, if you’re a PhD candidate, my advice would be to, at the start, stick closer to the “known” realm of that border of knowledge than the “unknown” ;-).

In the last couple years all that changed. Firstly, I learned how to explain my methods in a way most folks in that slim area of study could best understand, and I learned from them what could be going on to cause Protein X to do what I was saying it did, and how to say it in their jargon (sadly, very important). We can’t all, of course, be experts in everything and these are the problems of interdisciplinary research.

But more importantly here, established and reputable researchers began publishing findings similar to mine on related proteins. Now it wasn’t just some PhD student; it was a good deal of literature saying that proteins like X can behave in the way I was reporting. Alas, now my findings aren’t near controversial.

Sure, I really wish I could have published before they all did, when I first had my findings. But that’s the way the culture of science goes, and it admittedly should work that way. In the end, my results survived and are now “good work.” It just sucks that having a success too soon could mean a delay :-).

Then there is the biggest reason things changed for me: our kids. When they were born, my career went from a source of pride to the thing I do for them, the thing I do until I can get home to see them. I don’t care to have my name on some equation anymore or to be the first to pin down a certain phenomena. Being a parent numbed the sting of the above resistance quite a bit, but it also numbed my urgency to force my findings through.

I simply got much more work done before they were born and stuff like walks around the neighborhood with them became a priority. Once they were here, I took months off to help Rob care for them. Then I started a company and focused on what that could get my family, with my PhD moving to the backburner.

Though I'd certainly not change a thing, it is something to keep in mind if you're thinking of having kids while climbing your particular ladder. Your career will take a back seat, save for where it helps them.

Anyway, I decided last spring that, with the new friendlier climate for my findings and the boys headed to kindergarten, I was going finish my PhD. I wrote a 200-something pain in my neck of a dissertation that I don’t care to reread ever again and sent it out to my committee. A couple days ago I stood in front of those five professors and defended my work. This was stressful, but much easier than I anticipated. When I was done they had me leave the room, whilst they did their secret doctorate chant or something. I was soon asked to come back in and was told I passed, and unanimously. I’m also pleased to say I didn’t have to make any changes to my dissertation. I kind of feel now like I put too much effort into the work and could have gotten away with what I had years ago, but hey. It’s done.

So that’s it. The rest is paperwork. Sort of anticlimactic :-).

Unfortunately, with this done, though, I can’t say I’m back to blogging. I still have to get the final version to the library and am in the midst of writing another proposal. In a way it seems free time will be less available now than it ever has been. At least as a “student” with my little company I had things I could put off, like my dissertation. Now most of the things I’ve got have deadlines :-).

Anyway, after some emails and nostalgia, I just wanted to explain my not being here a bit better and to share in the good news (If I had failed to pass I’d just have claimed to have been working on our sandbox for the past 3 months ;-)).

Once my carpal tunnel calms down I think I’ll write some of the posts I’d have written in last couple months. Man, I can’t believe I was absent for the whole Larry Craig thing!


Mr. Fob said...

And for the whole posting-pseudo-porn-on-blogs controversy. Boy, you've missed out on some great stuff!

It's nice to see you pop up in my reader. Congrats on passing the defense.

playasinmar said...

Back? You're back!


Edgy said...

Congratulations and welcome back.

Don't worry about the Larry Craig and pseudo porn bit; you're back just in time for the Dumbledore Is Gay discussion.

Marmoreal said...

congrats on finishing the Phd.
nice to have ya back

iwonder said...

I still want to play in your sandbox.

Beck said...

Heartfelt congratulations! What a relief! Missing you...

Kengo Biddles said...

Glad you passed, glad you're back, glad to know you!

Scot said...

Thank you all for the very warm re-welcome.

I was half wondering if anyone would notice my being back, seeing as I’ve been gone for, what, about 7 years (in internet time).

you're back just in time for the Dumbledore Is Gay discussion.

I don’t know about Dumbledore but don’t even get me started on Gandalf. If he ain’t gay I don’t know what is.

Paul said...

Great. Now there may be something interesting to read again.

I'm nosy like that.

Congratulations. It sounds like you were somewhat stuck in the land of ABD. A very uncomfortable place to be.