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Saturday, June 23, 2007

Saturday Farewell

Well, since it's traditional to post from the Saturday Markt, I'd better not skip it. Especially since it is probably my last for some time. So, the markt.

I got here early today, because I have lots of errands to do, including closing up at the institute. The stillness fit my melancholic mood, and I wandered through quietly, stopping to take my farewell from the people who have been so kind and welcoming over the past year.

I got a wonderful whole grain croissant from the baker -- clearly somebody other than me loves them, too, because if I don't get them first thing, they are all gone! -- and a couple of figs from the produce stand, and then had a little bit of cheese from my favorite stall -- the cheesemonger. As I look over now, their new van is busy, people crowding in to spend lots of
money on cheese that is completely worth it. Of all the things I will miss, and there are many, that van and its proprietors is the biggest.

When I rode past the pond on the way to the markt this morning, all the ducks were dozing around it, their little chests puffed out provocatively. It was all idyllic and charming, and even as I had the thought, I saw two crows disemboweling a starling for lunch. It was all very German -- forced practicality among the scenery. It was an interesting start to the day -- and I decided that I would not be eating my breakfast at the pond!

I walked around the markt square, got water, visited the Zitadel, and then had my breakfast (amazing cheese, croissant, and figs) sitting on the old stone wall of the castle. And then, in honor of tradition, I'm having a cup of coffee at Liebevoll (the other thing that I will sigh for!), and writing. The markt has gotten busier, and its sounds in the breeze are a nice backdrop, reminding me that, as frustrated as I am by the scientific aspects of this trip, there are wonderful things here that I have enjoyed.

I really will miss this place.


I've been thinking a lot lately about the nature of scientific collaborations; about what makes them work, or not work, and about the personal components that can make or break a partnership. Scientists are, by and large, a little weak on interpersonal skills (to be kind). This last week has shown me that the current collaboration isn't going to work. I am frustrated beyond words by the inability of one member (another PI) to recognize the importance (or even validity) of work outside his narrow field, and infuriated by the inherent selfishness shown by the fact that his only question is always a variation of "what's in it for me?" (and his apparent belief that I work for him) -- to the extent that I am now having trouble being polite. As much as I wanted this to work, I'm having to accept that it's time to cut my losses and get out. As much as we want everything to be about the work, about the science alone, the truth is that sometimes it can't be.

I think that we are also a more judgmental community as a whole. If a particular PI doesn't work to our standards, everything they do becomes questionable. This is an essential component to science, because one's work must be above reproach at all times -- we function on integrity, and when someone violates that, they undermine the entire community. This is why infractions are treated so severely. But there are more mild infractions, those of being a little sloppy, and being a little unclear, or being a little too focused. We respond to those in various ways, and as time goes by I find that I am less and less forgiving of them; I feel that such infractions make it harder for the rest of the community, and hamper forward progress. I don't want my name affiliated with such work.

There is also a gendered component. I find that I am far less selfish in my approach to our projects than are my male collaborators, and that I am the one most likely to have done a thorough literature search, and to be most careful about ensuring that the work of other groups is fairly discussed and cited. I have noticed this in discussions with broader groups, too, with other women scientists, who say that they have noticed the same thing.

This might seem petty, but it is important. Our work, indeed, the work of all scientists in the modern age, is founded on the work of others, and it is imperative that we acknowledge that. When an author fails to do so they misrepresent their own work, and that, to me, is a violation of academic integrity. I don't need to work with people who do things like that, and I find that if they show signs of this, they will have other practices I find questionable also. Maybe it's because science is the closest thing I have to religion, but I find it blasphemous.

On the plus side, I have gotten some benefits out of the collaboration, including access to some phenomenal resources, and introduction to some other early-career scientists with whom I continue to develop relationships.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Father's Day

I am one of those disgusting people who is blessed with wonderful parents, and is able to call them friends. They've supported me in everything I do, and had my back at all times (you go, Mom!). I try not to brag too much about them, because it's all luck, really. But today is a day for some bragging.

It is a beautiful day for Father's Day, pleasant and non-raining (!), and the square is quiet, the breeze carrying the voices away. I am natually reminded of last summer, when I persuaded my father to join me abroad for a week. We rode around town on bikes, and went to the markt, and sat out at the cafe drinking beer and talking with friends. And we traveled -- took the ICE, and saw castle in Heidelberg, and did the various touristy things. It was wonderful, and I am, as always, awed and grateful that I have the relationship with my Dad that allows that.

I cannot think of a time when I've called my Dad "Father" -- it's always Dad, Daddy, or Pop, the latter arising from a long tradition of stuffed animals given to me "From Pop" which are now called "Pop Gifts" and required for every holiday. When I die, it will take months to go through the fuzzy things. From skipping the beginning of grade school on random mornigs to go have waffles with strawberries and whipped cream together, to watching "Real Genius" (he can recite all the lines, too, as can my Mom, which is a bit scary when you think about it), to museum hopping in various towns, to wandering around Germany, I have a montage of times with my Dad that I wouldn't trade for anything. His belief in me and support of me in everything I do has made it possible for me to become the person I am, and it is possible that I'm the luckiest person on earth.

Happy Father's Day, Daddy.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

The Markt Post, mark 5? 6? Who knows.

I don't know what it is about the Saturday markt, but it always inspires me to write. And I knew, after the hell that was spring term, it was going to take something special to get me going again.

Today has been special: a man, in tux and tophat, with a hand-organ, singing appallingly traditional songs. Oooh! and now one of the vendors is whistling along -- well -- and several people are walking around singing along! It's like a bad Hollywood musical of Germany, but with good coffee and sincerity! You can't make this stuff up.

Sometimes I really love Germany.

Location: Currently, Berkeley, United States

I'm an academic scientist who is both abroad and a broad. I am on the road so often that I have a house solely so that my cats will have somewhere to live.

Okay, fine. If you really really want to, and don't care how long it is between mail checks, you can send email to ascientistabroad  {a}gmail{dot}com

And, okay, sometimes there are comments. But it's my blog and I'll delete anything I want.

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