Saturday, May 30, 2009

My First Meme!

I always try to rise to a challenge. After 48 years on earth, there are really very few things I haven't done. So, earlier today, I found out that Isis had tagged me for a meme:

Post your best/worst covers and tag some more muppethuggers. Oh and do a linkback to whomever tagged you if it wasn't me.

Well, I had to think long and hard to come up with examples of these. I mean, the original post had Joplin's Me & Bobby McGee, one of my faves. After a bit of free associating and some google searches, I found audio of two songs.

The good one first. I hang with baseball nuts (married one, gave birth to another, became one in the meantime), and we have watched Ken Burns Baseball at length. One song featured in the documentary was, of course, Take Me Out To the Ballgame, covered by Carly Simon. My household is in agreement that this is the best version of the song we have heard.

Many more options seemed available for the worst cover of all time; but here is my choice: Smoke on the Water on the Pat Boone album In a Metal Mood: No More Mr. Nice Guy. I get the shivers just thinking about it.

Unfortunately, I can't get videos of either of these, and the audio files don't want to post tonight. I think I can get the Carly Simon to go if I find our CD copy; however, just be glad I can't get Pat Boone doing metal loaded!

Friday, May 29, 2009

Double Standards

I just got my daily email from The with the top story about researchers and rockers. Seems GQ gussied up a bunch of scientists and posed them with rock stars for a spread in the current issue.

Now I am glad to see a magazine like GQ bringing the world of rock and roll
together with the world of science. It's the kind of mainstream media coverage that may help those of us doing research seem less like mad scientists in sci-fi or horror flicks, or those geeky ivory tower types in romantic movies. You know, the straight-laced guy with glasses who needs to be rescued by a madcap heiress, a la Bringing Up Baby. Who new Fauci and Varmus would clean up so well (photo at right from the story)?

My gripe? NO FEMALE SCIENTISTS! Now, the story explains this as a requirement of the sponsor, Geoffrey Beene Gives Back Alzheimer's Initiative, the philanthropic wing of the Beene clothing label. Since the company only makes men's clothing, only males scientists were chosen for this round. So why was a female musician chosen? Sheryl Crow, I suspect, is not wearing Geoffrey Beene in the photo.

Meryl Comer, president of the Initiative, said, "next round I'd love to do women." You can nominate Rock Stars of Science on the associated website, which is scheduled to launch June 1. The full GQ story can be seen here. Let's make sure that the face of science looks more like ALL the faces of science next time.

Or do we have to wait for a "women's magazine" to do this for us?

Movie poster for Bringing Up Baby from

Thursday, May 28, 2009

More thoughts on babies

Yesterday afternoon when technical difficulties made a lot of my effort futile, I went out to buy a gift for a baby shower. It is for a grad student with whom I have published, and it was fun to look at stuff. There are so many new gadgets and gizmos. The baby monitor we used seems so... "primative" now.

After "oohing and ahhing" over tiny little socks for awhile, I made my purchases. As much fun as the shopping was, I'm still glad it wasn't for me.

Now, I believe I could have lived a happy fulfilling life without a husband and without children. I am also glad I had children, and I am incredibly proud of my offspring. I mean, it's hard not to be when Jen is on stage or Tim fields a double play. They are also, at times, difficult, messy, and expensive. Reproducing is not a choice that should be made lightly.

Life is a series of experiences, and child-rearing is one stage of my life. I am looking forward to the "empty nest," being alone with my spouse again, and enjoying the next phase of my life. I have no regrets about my kids, including them growing up and successfully leaving my home!

Original photo courtesy

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

One of those days...

I started out good this morning, but then something happened. Our internet connection slowed, and our email client crashed on me a couple of times. Despite all good intentions my productivity slowed as well...

Now I'm at home and there is this dissertation staring at me. OK, it's a binder, it doesn't have eyes, but I SWEAR it is giving me that look!
Photo courtesy

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Genius at Work

My son, Tim, plays many roles. The photo shows his debut at third base last Friday. He did field the ground ball and made the out at first.

I'm not going to tell a baseball story tonight. Unlikely as it seems, I'm going to share a story about AP Statistics. Tim is a sophomore, but has always done well at math. The final assignment this year in his stats class was to design a study and perform it. A fair amount of work went into this, and they worked in pairs. Tim and a buddy decided to test whether colors of gummi bears are equally distributed in packages.

Tim is a gummi connoisseur. Gummi bears, worms, fish, and fruit are all fair game, although the gummi bear has the best surface to interior ratio, in his opinion. He even managed to eat these with braces!
First, they had to assure a random sample. Thanks to the internet, they were able to find out that all gummi manufacturers fill their bags randomly. They did some sample size analysis, purchased a sufficient sample size, and then got together during study hall to count their bears. After covering a table in the library with a newspaper, they poured all 4 pounds into the middle in a giant mountain of gummi. As they were dividing it into same-colored piles, the librarian inquired about their project. I believe the exact quote was "No food in the library!"

They finally convinced her that this was a legitimate homework project, and she consented to let them take the table into the hallway outside the library door. They counted up the bears and have now turned in a paper documenting that red gummi bears outnumber the others, while yellow ones are less common. I'm hoping to get a copy of the paper to post because someone out there needs to know this factoid!

OK, so you've finished your research project. Each boy now has 2 pounds of gummi bears... which each proceeded to eat! In ONE DAY. Tim has decided he doesn't need to see a gummi bear anytime soon.

This story was the funniest thing I heard for several days, so I thought I would share. Remember, these are the rewards of having a kid in an AP class!

Gummi Bears Photo: copyright

Update on Denver

I have previouslly posted about my pet, Denver the Wondercat. He has been living with chronic kidney disease for a couple of years now, and was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism late last year. He continues to receive subcutaneous fluids every 2-3 days and methimazole. His thyroid studies have normalized, although the increase in muscle mass has let his creatinine creep up to 3.
He will be old enough to vote in July, but he still seems comfortable and happy. And he is still my favorite patient!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Thoughts on Justice and Utility

I have been forced to think about 2 concepts recently.
First is justice, the practice of equitably. Second is utility, the quality of being useful.
Justice, as an ethical viewpoint, states that we all have an equal chance to obtain something. Utility, in the same ethical mode, drives allocating that same item to whoever will use it "best."
These concepts arose in a pair of articles in the May issue of ASN Kidney News discussing a proposed kidney allocation system (KAS). Mark Stegall, director of transplant surgery at the Mayo clinic, was a member of the committee that tried to bring utility to the allocation of scarce cadaver organs. John Curtis, a transplant nephrologist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, expresses concern regarding the potential for this system to undermine equality in the rationing of scarce organs. In addition to the articles, I interviewed both of these doctors about these issues in a podcast that can be found via this link.
The idea that a scarce resource that is also the best treatment for kidney failure should be given to those who will get the best (longest) use out of it is, at first, hard to dismiss. Why should someone only expected to benefit 1 year from a kidney receive it when another will potentially get a 5 year boost from the organ?
The problem is that these "benefits" are derived from database-generated computer models. First, models must rely on historical data that cannot reflect the present day situation for a potential kidney recipient. Even survival data 1 to 2 years old will not tell you the status of present treatments for kidney disease and comorbid conditions. Second, group data apply to similar groups but are difficult to generalize to individual patients. For example, patients with disease X may do worse than others after transplant. The population of transplant recipients with disease X has variability with many doing worse than the general group, but others doing as well or, perhaps, better. No formula, at present, can predict how any given individual with disease X will fare. Do we penalize all patients with disease X because many have bad results?
I would like to use another example to illustrate these concepts, one that hits me a bit closer to home. Many years ago, women were denied opportunities via utility. "Why should we give a medical school slot to a woman who will quit to have babies, when a man could use the training and do more good?" Similar thoughts were expressed in other fields as well. Never mind that not all women had children. Don't consider the possibility that women might work after having children, if given the opportunity. Let's base everything on past results and the average behavior of the group. Eventually justice triumphed in this case. Things are not yet equal for women and men in medicine or any other field, but they are closer. Current data clearly show that the assumptions of the utility mind-set in the mid-20th century is now wrong.
I have some qualms about complete equity in organ allocation. If I were donating a loved one's organs, would I want them going to an octogenarian? Eighty years seems like an adequate lifespan to me, though I might change my mind when I'm 70. In general, though, I prefer to err on the side of equity.
If you want to comment on justice vs. utility in general, feel free to do so below. If you wish to discuss the KAS proposal and organ allocation, please go to the ASN Discuss & Debate Forum.

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Power of Twitter

This morning just before 11 I tweeted a link to a news story about how HSUS spends its funds.

After just 5 retweets by 6pm, it had been directed to the eyeballs of 997 followers.

Not all of those followers are unique, nor will all of them follow the link.

But I sure could not have emailed that link to almost 1000 people during that period.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Thoughts from a Study Section

It's my lunch break at study section, and I felt compelled to share a few thoughts.
What is the MOST IMPORTANT part of your grant application? Shiny colored figures? Cover story on the JCI? Novel, patented assay?
Silly people: it's the title and abstract! Why is this so? Because your study section assignment and reviewers will be based primarily on these parts of the grant!
My current assignment is with a VA Merit Review section. We have a wonderful system where the reviewers can see titles and abstracts to pick ones they would love to review and those they absolutely should not review. Over time, I have discovered that prostaglandins confuse me. It is unfair to the PI to have me review a grant dealing primarily with prostaglandins. Thus, I exclude myself from those applications.
Every once in a while, I get assigned an application with significant prostagladin work that wasn't described in the title or abstract. I have finally decided that the PI, in these cases, deserves what they get. Which is generally me dozing off somewhere in the experimental plan. Falling asleep during a review NEVER helps.
We also see grants with titles so vague or misleading to be of no help whatsoever. I know we have limits on the length of the title, but please! If we can communicate on Twitter in 140 characters, we can say something coherent in a grant application!
So make sure your titles and abstracts communicate your topics well. Otherwise you may get me reviewing your prostaglandin grant, and neither one of us wants that to happen.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Who Am I?

I don't mean this quesion in the literal sense. I blog & comment with my real name, and the links at right will take you to more information about me than you probably want. This is more of a rhetorical question about the many identities I have, including wife, mother, scientist, doctor, and editor.

I bring this up because there has been some discussion about attempts to "out" one of my favorite bloggers, Isis, over at ScienceBlogs. This woman has kept her real identity a secret and has some very good rules for pseudonymous bloggers. She is trying to keep her online life separate from that as a scientist and her wife/mother roles.

I came down on the other side of this issue, in part I believe, because of my "advanced age" when I started this blog. About the time I hit 40 I realized that no one could really do that much to hurt me in life. I shouldn't be evil because then I would deserve retribution, but I could generally state my mind in most professional situations with little fear of the consequences. It takes a lot of energy to maintain separate identities, and I didn't see much advantage for me to do that.

I had my first identity issue when I got married. The question was whether or not to change my last name. I had not yet published anything but an abstract in a local proceedings in an unrelated field. Part of me was violently opposed to the patriarchal supposition that I would take my husband's surname. However, I started talking with those who had already walked the path. First there was the "keep your maiden name group" who found this choice was really awkward when the kidlets came along. Did mom want to be the only one in the family with a different last name? The teachers were confused, and most women were "Mrs. Daddy's Name" when the school called, just to keep everyone from thinking they were divorced. Kids taking mom's name alone is pretty rare still, and I could not bring myself to dump a hyphenated name on my offspring. What about hyphenating my own name? One friend pointed out the difficulty that presents with forms and other documents. I had other friends who used their given name professionally and their married names personally. Talk about confusion! I have been introduced to women at parties where it took 20 minutes to figure out we shared patients! In medicine and academia, the personal and professional lives overlap substantially.

In the end, I took my husband's last name. Of course, I couldn't do anything easy. See, my birth name was Ann Pascale Hammond, but no one had ever called me Ann. Compared to a hyphenated last name, using your middle name is pure hell in this country. It is not your legally recognized name! I ended up dropping the "Ann" and becoming Pascale Hammond Lane. It was the right mix for me, even though I had to jump through a bunch of hoops for a common usage name change. I like that my family has the same last name, even though it wasn't the one I was born with.

I suspect my daughter will not change her name, but you never know. Just as I had to debate myself for a few months, Jen will have to make her own decisions. We all have to make our own decisions about who we want to be and how we will balance roles as professionals, partners, and parents.

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Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Daddy Track

Earlier I wrote about childbearing. One commenter asked about the effect our kids had on my husband's career (Jim is sitting on the deck of the USS Missouri during our January vacation in Oahu).

We were married 6 months before he graduated from medical school. My final year we lived in different cities. It was difficult, but I did several electives in Chicago, where he was, and we got through it. He then had to do a year after residency to allow me to "catch up" so we could start our fellowships in Minnesota together. He was a research fellow with his endocrine section. He got a paper out of the year and had no call for the first 9 months of our daughter's life. This worked out well since I was still overnight in the hospital at least every fourth day.

Then we were in our fellowships with home call, but with a child with recurrent otitis media, AKA ear infections. I can still remember awakening at 4:30am to see if she had a fever. If she did, we could give the Tylenol and get it low enough to drop her off at daycare. By the time it went up again, one of us would have seen enough patients to go get her. We often did parking ramp hand-offs. Needless to say, the first 6 months of non-stop clinical service were brutal for us. We had a home daycare provider who we are friends with to this day, and she was often the saving grace for our sanity.

Time crunches were a bit less problematic once our research endeavors started, at least for me. I usually had something I could work on at home if Jen got sick, and her ear infections began to let up a bit. I found the lab wonderful, like Dorothy stepping into the colorful world of Oz after that dusty, B&W Kansas. My husband ended up in a molecular biology lab whose taskmaster demanded meetings first thing Monday morning and on Friday afternoons. At 5pm. Jim lost his desire to do basic science quickly.

When the end of our training approached, I found a faculty position and he went into private practice. It was during this period that we had our son. Jim's hospital had on-site daycare with extended hours to support nurses on 12 hour shifts. He often got to lunch with the kids. On the other hand, my daughter got really good at photocopying articles in the library on snow days. Her school had before and after school programs on site. We could usually drop her off and pick her up without much difficulty between the two of us.

After 7 years, we were invited to University of Nebraska. My husband is in academia again, doing clinical research. I have continued doing lab work as well as patient care, teaching, and administrative work. My schedule has remained flexible enough that a nanny who had to leave early every Wednesday or a school day starting at 8:30 could be accomodated. I was also older - old enough to realize that no one was going to fire me because I had to leave by 4:15 every Wednesday! That was the way it was. I got work done and produced papers and everyone else could just deal with it! Having half of your group get up and leave because they have to pick up the kids sends a clear message to those in charge. It also helps that I am in pediatrics; our annual meeting has long had sponsored childcare and lactation support services because we are "kid-friendly."

Did children delay my husband's career? It is hard to know what his accomplishments would have been without the kids, and the impact of the 7 years of private practice is bigger than anything we could probably attribute to the offspring.

I guess the bottom line is that you have to be flexible when you have kids. This is true whether you are in academia or a stay-at-home parent, whether you are male or female. Children are separate beings who will not necessarily repect your own plans! When it comes to career paths, we each make our own. In the end, having a fulfilling life on all fronts is what matters.

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Monday, May 4, 2009

Meeting Manners

This morning I was in a session at the annual meeting of the Pediatric Academic Societies. The gathering includes a number of organizations interested in childhood health, most notably the Society for Pediatric Research (SPR) and the American Society of Pediatric Nephrology (ASPN). These two groups number me among their members.

In a particularly crowded, clinically relevant session I was appalled when a man sitting near me began taking photographs of each slide. To say the meeting discourages this would be an understatement. There are signs outside every room stating that photography is prohibited. The slide showing between sessions also states this, and every few pages the program book has a statement about his prohibition. So why was this guy doing this?

1) He is stupid. Now, this is possible, but most health care types are intelligent enough to understand this simple command.

2) He does not speak English. I ruled this out because it would make the slides even less useful. English might not be his first language, but his working knowledge must be sufficient to understand NO.

3) He is arrogant. I believe this is usually the case. In some way this person does not believe this rule applies to him.

This guy was annoying and I found his behavior rude. Please don't let me ever catch my readers doing this at a meeting. Of course, it is not truly evil (see for an example of that).

By the way, Baltimore is a good place to play "meeting hookey." The national aquarium has expanded since I last visited; some rain forest parrots are shown today. Bet they know to turn off their phones and not photograph the slides in meetings!

Friday, May 1, 2009

The Importance of Travel

As most of you who read this know, I was in New Orleans a couple of weeks ago for Experimental Biology. I have now done some work, and I'm back on the road for the Pediatric Academic Societies' Annual Meeting.
Travel is an important component of life in academia. It's how new ideas get spread and, most importantly, how you make the contacts that will promote your ideas.
We can now do a lot of information exchange through the internet, conference calls, and other high-tech platforms. So why do we still put up with the annoyances of travel? Because, ultimately, there is no substitute for face-to-face interaction. We are social creatures, and hanging with someone in a bar or restaurant leaves a more lasting impression than a phone call.
I did miss my son's baseball game tonight, and I hear that he & his team kicked butt. But there will be another game when I get back next week, and I will have learned something new. And eaten some crab cakes.