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November 25th, 2011:

Look! It’s another reason to dispair ;-)

Not that grad school isn’t loaded with plenty to begin with, but here’s one I hadn’t considered before:

Yes, for many people, a college town is a rather idyllic place. There is a specific subpopulation in these college towns, however, for whom the experience becomes utterly hopeless. This subpopulation: those who move to college towns, are not college-aged, and arrive without a significant other. Meet those requirements, and you’re basically hosed until you escape. It is the bog of eternal singlehood.

Well, at least as a consolation, you will find great friends, for whom your sad, lonely, single self will serve as a reminder of why they need to stay committed to their own relationships.

Yikes! I would say another big part of the puzzle is that grad student lifestyle (regardless of where you live) isn’t friendly to attempts to get out and meet new people. Take the fact that I’m sitting in the office updating my blog while waiting for one last genome to finish loading into CoGe (pigeonpea!) at seven-thirty on a Friday night.*

And that means even if you did happen to come into grad school with a significant other, things can get messy (as explained by the Genomic Repairman):

So when work builds up, I tend to act less human and more like a robot and just grind away. And unfortunately I take on a sort of tunnel vision when I’m grinding. … If its not directly related to whats happening now it gets place on the backburner, which is fine if its mundane paperwork or BS emails that need to be sent out. Its not good if its your relationship and its going to cause tension.

I think its hard for a significant other who doesn’t do science to appreciate what we do. We can’t check out of work at 5pm and not worry about it to the other day. The stakes are too high in the game we play and you must be invested in your work. I am. I wake up at night with ideas, fears, and concerns. Did I do the transfection right? Am I being scooped?

Emphasis mine.

*Just to be clear no one MADE me work late on the friday after thanksgiving. It is just really easy to get engrossed in science — at least when your research is going well — lose track of time, and ignore the rest of your life.

Using Undergrads to Improve Science On Wikipedia

I came across a fascinating article on twitter while I was procrastinating this morning. It describes a class at Davidson College where, rather than having to write research papers for final projects, students instead wrote or updated wikipedia articles on topics within the field of the class (psychology in this case). Now there are many great things about wikipedia, but many of the entries on modern scientific subjects (stuff that you wouldn’t be able to find in high school/101 level textbooks) are woefully out of date and/or badly written.

Example: here is wikipedia’s list of published plant genome sequences. It lists 16 published plant genomes. But there are actually 25 published plant genome sequences at the moment.*

Despite that, when I can’t figure out how to track down a piece of information using literature searches, wikipedia is usually one of my first fallback solutions to at least get a broad overview of some subject I know very little about. The idea of having undergrads write up the information they’ve been learning in class to make it available to the broader public really grabbed my imagination. It sounds like students really like it too:

Students have been excited from the very first day I described the project. Many, many students have told me they particularly appreciate that their work will be read by more than “just the professor.”

I’m just a lowly grad student and can’t motivate large numbers of undergrads with the threat of having to write a traditional research paper, a necessary prerequisite for starting a project like this. But it’d be a lot of fun to help out with such a project in plant biology… ::mentally runs through the list of professors he might be able to pitch the idea to::

Yeah, I’ve got nothing. But I do know this is the first time I’ve actually been sad that grad students in my department don’t get the chance to teach independent courses.

*The missing ones are: thellungiella, Brassica rapa, papaya, castor bean, cannabis, strawberry, pigeon pea, lotus, and medicago