Archive for: February, 2011

Jeremy takes on his soon-to-be-former employer

Feb 23 2011 Published by under Careers

We all have heard about the plan to abolish NCRR at the NIH. A lot of people think this is a bad, bad idea. Now Jeremy Berg, head of NIGMS, has come out swinging (also see here) noting that the process itself has been overly hasty, ignores input from the community and has side-stepped the SMRB, which was set up specifically to provide input on big NIH decisions. Doesn't matter whether you favor abolishing NCRR or not, something is really stinky in Bethesda.

4 responses so far

Beer 501: Barrel-aged Beers

Feb 18 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

By popular demand*, this class will cover a few barrel-aged brews I've had in recent times.

Beers are generally best drunk fresh. Unlike wine, most beers do not improve with age. As with wine however, there are exceptions. Barrel-aged beers tend to be brewed with some level of aging in mind. There is some history to this. Some barrel-aged beers weren't necessarily aged for the flavor the barrel imparts, but were brewed to survive long trips - for example, the many months required to sail from England to it's more distant colonies in the 1700's (think IPA's). The Belgians have been known for a few centuries to ferment red ales in oak casks before blending.

Barrel-aging is currently something of a fad at American micro- and craft-breweries. And it's resulted in some quite tasty brews. These beers tend to have higher than average alcohol contents - this helps the beer better age. Here are a few I've sampled:

Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale
If you're going to try a bourbon barrel aged beer it should be one from Kentucky. Why? 'Cos that's where you'll find the best bourbons. Kentucky Ale is described as being a cross between an Irish red ale and an English pale ale. That's not a bad description. It's more malty than hoppy. The Bourbon Barrel version has those characteristics plus a strong oaky bourbon flavor. I like bourbon and I like beer. I like this beer. If you don't like bourbon though, don't bother.

Stone Oaked Arrogant Bastard Ale
Stone makes good beer. Their Arrogant Bastard is a fine strong ale. The oaked version, which I believe is aged with oak chips rather than in a barrel, is also damned good. Malty and hoppy with oak undertones. I highly recommend this one.

Great Divide Oak Aged Yeti
This is an oak aged imperial stout. Has the coffee-like flavor you'd expect for an imperial, plus a nutty wood flavor and maybe a little caramel. If you like stouts I highly recommend you try this one.

Jolly Pumpkin La Rojas
This one is from the what-the-hell-were-they-thinking department. Supposedly a sour amber ale. Brewed using a proprietary yeast and aged in oak. Tastes like really, really bad lemonade. Mixed with dust. Seriously.

It's a short list today. Let me know in the comments what barrel-aged beers you have a liking (or distaste) for.

Next up: Buggered if I know yet.

* Okay, only PlS asked for it. But it's as good a reason as any.

21 responses so far

Til death do they part

Feb 08 2011 Published by under Careers

Of late there has been quite a bit of consternation over a very long comment left by one D. Noonan on the NIH OER director's new blog. Check DrugMonkey's excellent posts on this here, here and here. You should also read (if you have the time and patience) some of the comments following Noonan's.

All this reminds me a similar kerfuffle last year over funding at the NSF. Anyone remember the "NSF is Broken" forum?

What appears to be in common between these two outbreaks of "oh my gawd the NIH/NSF funding system is borked!!!!" is that a great many of the people claiming this are tenured individuals who are now finding it difficult to get funded. I'm not going to address whether or not these systems are broken (although they could be improved, I don't believe they're "broken"), but I do want to talk about an issue I've observed with some "established investigators" who now can't land a grant. This is anecdotal stuff, but based on conversations with colleagues, not unusual.

Times are tough in grantland. NIH funding has pretty much been flat for quite some time. In fact, with inflation* the NIH budget has declined significantly. The NSF has fared somewhat better, but not a lot despite Congress' resolution to double the NSF budget. It's getting more and more difficult to land a grant from either agency. For everyone. Sure, the ESI/NI initiatives have made it easier for young, untenured investigators to land their first grant, but that's really only leveled the playing field. And even if you qualify for those initiatives it's not easy. Single digit success rates? If you believe Jeremy Berg's numbers at NIGMS, perhaps not that bad. But not good.

Actually, why don't you go read all of that particular post of Berg's? I'll wait.

Interesting isn't it? Okay, it's just the numbers for NIGMS, but I seriously doubt that the data from the other Institutes would be all that different. A couple of interesting things about those numbers. First is that the funding rates are in double, not single, digits. The rates are still pretty bad, but not the doom and gloom some people are preaching. Secondly, and perhaps more apropos, ESI/NI's are not receiving a disproportionate slice of the pie. Not even close. These are two of the main "facts" the unfunded established investigators tend to throw around when whining discussing their own misfortunes.

Now it is quite likely that the current funding downturn is responsible for many of the funding woes of those established investigators claiming the system is borked. Times are tough indeed. But it's definitely not the NIH's ESI/NI policies that are at fault. And for some, those who inspired the title of this post, it's not even the downturn.

In my experience, those who complain the most about being unfunded are also those whose work just isn't fundable. Despite countless reviews telling them that what they're doing is just not worth pursuing, these individuals persist. 'Cos they know better. It's always the reviewers who are wrong. Always. These PI's know they are right, and they're going to stay wedded to their ideas. Til death do they part.

Some (likely very, very few) of them may be right. But that doesn't matter if the reviewers and funding agencies can't be convinced.

The rest of them? Well, they're wrong.

I understand what it's like to be told your research is at a dead end. It sucks.

But you need to listen.

Especially if you're being told the same thing again and again.

And again.

Blaming your woes on others might get you attention. It may even lead to changes in the system. Changes that aren't necessarily needed.

But it won't get you funded.

* In my experience the cost of equipment and supplies for research increases at a rate far above normal inflation.

21 responses so far

Beer 501: Stouts

Feb 07 2011 Published by under Beer, Life

So I'm a little late with this one. Sue me. I have better things to do at times than write about beer. Like drinking some.

Okay, stouts. Many will picture a Guinness when they read the word "stout." If that's the limit of your stout knowledge then you've been missing out.

There's some disagreement as to whether stouts and porters are the same thing. They are made from the same basic ingredients and are both dark beers. There is some thought that stouts are stronger (i.e. higher alcohol percentage), and that's certainly true when you get to imperial stouts, but not so much with more "regular" stouts. Today we're just going to deal with beers labeled "stout."

A lot of the variation in flavor among stouts comes from the degree to which the malt is roasted (much like with coffee beans). The darker the roast, generally the more bitter, fuller the flavor. Stouts will sometimes have things added to enhance the flavor or body. Oatmeal most commonly, but sometimes coffee and even chocolate. Interestingly stouts can be brewed to have a distinct coffee flavor without the addition of coffee.

Probably the best known worldwide. It's not a bad beer, but compared to many good stouts it's a little... watery. It has that thick creamy head and leaves lace (that lacy pattern of bubbles) on the sides of the glass as it's drunk, both good signs for a stout. Has a slightly bitter, toasty flavor from the roasted malt and perhaps a little coffee flavor (but no coffee is added).

Murphy's Irish Stout
Another common, mass-produced stout. Sweeter than Guinness with a very thick head. Perhaps a slight chocolate taste to it. It's okay - I prefer my stouts a little bitter rather than sweet.

Sierra Nevada Stout
Sometimes billed as the best American stout. I'd have to disagree. Looks like a stout - dark with a creamy head - but tastes like... an IPA! I like IPA's. One of my favorite beer styles. But when I drink a stout I want it to taste like a stout. And to be honest, the IPA flavor of this "stout" isn't wonderful. Not bad, but there are many better. I just find this one to be a schizophrenic drinking experience.

Anderson Valley Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout
Oatmeal is used in some stouts to give it more body. This is a really, really good oatmeal stout. Dry, slightly bitter, malty, toasty and even a hint of hops. This is one to sit and enjoy in front of an open fire. If only they would drop half the words in the name.

Rogue XS Imperial Stout
Russian Imperial stouts were originally brewed for the czars who wanted a beer of their own, not to be served to the common people. Or so the story goes. These tend to have higher alcohol contents - 7.5% upwards to nearly 20%. The Rogue XS clocks in at 11%. Rich, creamy, strong flavor (from the oats). A hint of coffee and chocolate in the flavor. Good, but pricey - around here a 7oz. bottle goes for about $7.

Great Divide Oak Aged Yeti
This is an imperial stout (9.5% alcohol) that has been aged in oak. Beers are typically best drunk fresh, so it's a little odd to talk about aging a beer, but there are some that have been brewed specifically to be aged, usually in oak barrels or with oak chips, but sometimes in used bourbon or gin barrels. The Yeti is currently my favorite imperial stout. Smooth and rich, with a very strong coffee flavor, despite there being no coffee added. Woody overtones from the oak. This is a great one to have with dessert.

Bells Java Stout
This one has a very strong coffee flavor. Not surprising given it's brewed with coffee added. If you don't like strong coffee, don't bother. The flavor is bitter, almost like coffee that has been allowed to "cook" in the pot too long. A glass of this starts well, but the slight "overcooked coffee" flavor builds up towards the end. Not one of Bells' better brews. If you want the coffee flavor you're probably better off with the Yeti above.

That will do for today class. Your assignment this week is to try a stout you've never had before.

Next time: I haven't decided yet. Maybe amber ales. Or barrel aged beers. Or something else.

15 responses so far

Step aside Glamourmagz!

Feb 04 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

Do I have a journal for you!

Check out the Journal of Universal Rejection.

3 responses so far

How much is it worth?

Feb 02 2011 Published by under Careers

This week Prof-likeSubstance posted a description of how his current load of grant writing, manuscript preparation, teaching, advising and service work is turning him into a workaholic. This is something many people on the tenure track in the sciences go through. Particularly prior to obtaining significant extramural funding. The TT is hard work.

But tenure isn't everything. I recently asked "how much do you need to want it?":

When I was a postdoc and while on the tenure-track (TT) I met several senior faculty who wore the divorces they went through while on TT as badges of honor. Their answer to the above question was clearly “more than anything else”. To which I had (and have) one response:


Thankfully such senior faculty are going the way of the dinosaurs (although some do still exist).

I have never believed this. And neither should anyone. One shouldn’t sacrifice family, relationships and/or having a life on the altar of tenure. It’s simply not worth that much.

You can find this in the original LabSpaces post here (or the comment-less Scientopia transplant here).

It's all a balance of course. One doesn't start on the TT unless one really, really wants to succeed. It's too damn hard to get the opportunity in the first place. On the other hand, burning yourself out trying to make tenure doesn't make much sense either. My only advice to PlS and others on the TT is to ask themselves what's really important.

It is absolutely vital to occasionally step away from the madness and get some perspective. It won't change what you need to do, but it will help you better deal with it.

And as CPP noted:

Once your lab reaches a certain size, if you recruit trainees properly, it requires a lot *less* time and effort than when you are first getting started. Now, I *never* need to work nights, weekends, or holidays.

It will get better.

6 responses so far