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random musings of a crazy cat lady

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Yik Yak Biddy Whack..

..Give the dog a bone
This old biddy came rolling home.

For those of you who are old or have better things to do, Yik Yak is an app which lets you post and read anonymous commentary.  It pings your location and you can see what people are yakking about in your general vicinity or snoop in on what people in other areas are talking about.  It's sort of like an anonymous twitter, with all the good and bad that encompasses.  According to various articles in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Yik Yak is causing all sorts of problems on some college campus.  Students have been using it to bully/harrass other students.  More recently, it was a huge problem in one class, with many of the students in this class spending more time yakking about how they hated having to be in class on Friday morning or posting hateful stuff about the professsors than they were probably spending actually paying attention to the class.  More than 100 comments were posted during the 3 hour class.
Intrigued, I downloaded Yik Yak to see if this sort of thing was going on here.  I was particularly curious to see if they were yakking about my boss, who is teaching a double lecture of second semester organic chemistry.  I glanced at it periodically to see what I would find out. 
It's not hugely popular here.  I noticed a variety of chemistry related yaks, mostly complimentary stuff about Prof. R., who is a senior lecturer and is hugely popular.  He's like their cool uncle.  Apparently he had read the same article as me, because he was giving them a hard time about yakking in class so they were yakking nice things about him. I didn't see any yaks about other chemistry profs.  The important topics of the day were...

1.  The weather
2.  More complaints about weather
3.  Complaints about hangovers, annoying roommates and tuition
4.  Odes to naps and sleeping in
5.  A heated discussion about the pros and cons of Canada Goose jackets
6.  Boners, especially ones spotted on other people
7.  The dude who accidentally opened up porn on his phone or computer in math class
8.  Making fun of other people or themselves for not wearing proper footwear in the snow
9.  Asking for love/sex advice

So really, the kids are alright.  I can see how it would become a problem in some instances, especially if it reaches critical mass and everyone starts using it, but all this hysteria over it kind of sounds like old people griping about kids these days.  I don't know if its bullying potential is that much worse than that of Twitter or Facebook.  Certainly, the little bit that I saw was a lot less threatening that a lot of the shit that went down on Gamergate or the typical trolls on the feminist websites I read. 
Thinking that maybe Cornell isn't typical, I then spied on my former neighborhood in Sunnyvale, my undergrad school, and a friend's university.  There was a lot of juvenile stuff, but nothing to worry about.  For those of you who teach or have kids, I'd be interested in knowing your take on it.
So you know what comes next, don't you..... I then found I was becoming weirdly addicted to it, so I deleted it.  I don't really need to know about the boner sightings or people slipping on the chem department steps, although now I'm wondering about those Canada Goose coats...

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

F*&k you, anti-vaccination idiots...

I am so sick of the anti-vaccination nutjobs.  This time it's personal.  Missy and her family went to Disneyland over Christmas.  They brought back a bad case of the flu* and passed it along to me, but fortunately they did not come back with measles. Not everyone was so lucky.  Missy's family's "luck" is quite possibly due to the fact that they are

a) vaccinated
b) amoung the 95%-99% of people who've had the vaccination who have immunity
c) maybe they didn't come into contact with someone who had measles

Most of the people who got it had not been immunized, some by choice and some who were too young to get it, plus a few other people who'd had the vaccine but got sick anyway.   It's contagious as heck.  Now it is getting spread around to other people.

I'm getting up on my Old Biddy soapbox here.  When I was 30, I had chickenpox.  Somehow, my brother and I avoided getting it when we were kids and had it as adults.  The chickenpox vaccine was rolled out in 1995, and it took a while for it to get implemented and for people to get herd immunity.  Furthermore, as a 20-something adult, I didn't go to the doctor very much, so from 1995-1998 it slipped under my radar.  In 1999, at age 30, I decided it was time to be a grownup and get a primary care physician and have a physical and get up to date on all my vaccines.**  I made the first appointment I could get, which was about a month after I called in and made the appointment.
While I was waiting for my physical, I went to a meeting which was also attended by an asshole*** whose kids had chickenpox.  I caught it from him.  That's how contagious it is - I was just sitting in the same room from someone who had chickenpox virus on him but was immune.  Two weeks later I started feeling a bit sore and achy on Saturday.  I thought, no big deal, I'd been playing a lot of soccer.  So I went out to a party Saturday night, and then played soccer on Sunday and had dinner with a friend.  I had one or two itchy spots but assumed they were mosquito bites.  On Monday I realized I had chickenpox, and quarantined myself.  I was sick and miserable for two weeks, lost 10 lbs of muscle, got a secondary infection and was covered with hives, and my once-photographic memory has never been the same as it was.  This is what happened to a healthy 30 year old woman.  It could've been much worse if I had been older, had a suppressed immune system, or was just more unlucky.
As far as I know, I passed it along to one other person, at least.  She was the host of the party I attended two days before I realized I had it.  I do not remember having a lot of contact with her, but, like me, she was a Californian who never had it as a kid.  I had no clue that I had it for another 2 days. It is fortunate that I did not go to Disneyland.
That is chickenpox.  Chickenpox outbreaks don't make the news. By all accounts, measles is MORE contagious and is MORE dangerous.  Don't spread that shit around.  You kid is not a precious snowflake with magical immunity due to their special diet, nor are you the only idiot out there who didn't vaccinate, nor will you know when your kid first is contagious.  And even if you keep your kid home once you realize they're sick, you may spread it around.
If you avoiding getting them vaccinated because you were worried about autism, put on your grownup pants and get them vaccinated now.  Separate out the measles vaccine from the rest if it makes you feel better, but please get it done now.  Keep your goddamned magical thinking out of the Magic Kingdom, and everywhere else too.

* This flu that's going around is nasty, and pretty much everyone has come down with it.  I got it after I got back from break, and most of my students were either sick during the break or when they got back.  One reason it's so prevalent is that this year's vaccine is not very effective against the strains going around this year, so a lot more people are spreading around.  Rather than say this means that vaccines don't work, it means they do work and we are seeing what happens when fewer people have immunity than usual.  The flu vaccine is made months in advance, and, unlike other vaccines, the vaccine makers have to guess at which strains are going to be prevalent.

**Anti-vaxxers - don't put primary blame on adults who were vaccinated as kids for not getting booster shots as adults, either.  We're not the first line of defense here - your kids are.  We're riding the herd immunity same as everyone else.  In an ideal world we'd all get booster shots the minute we need them or get new vaccines when they are introduced,  but most people don't know their exact childhood vaccine schedule or remember if the shot they got when they went off to grad school was a MMR booster or a tetanus shot.  Or they may have a one month wait for a physical at Kaiser.  So there may be a lag time, as there was with me and the chickenpox vaccine I tried to get.

*** He was an asshole for a lot of reasons which have nothing to do with him giving me chickenpox.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

On interviewing

For most of my professional career, I have operated under the assumption that I am horrible at interviewing.  This opinion is largely based on my track record for  academic interviews, which was pretty dismal, no two ways about it.* 
Lately, I have realized that I am actually pretty good at talking with scientists whom I have never met before, even those who aren't in my subfield of chemistry.  As an introvert, I'm not very charismatic, but I am good at talking science and one on one conversations. Granted, I was more nervous during those early interviews, but I don't remember too many instances where the conversation lapsed or got awkward.  Likewise, I don't remember any instances where I got grilled horribly during seminar or proposal talks.  It's easier to see that now that I am on the other side.
Just the other day, I decided to track my job search results as a function of whether there were any women influential in the interview process.  By influential, I mean either a peer or boss.  For academic interviews where they have you interview with lots of people, some of whom are not in your subdiscipline and may not have much say in the decision, I have kind of arbitrarily defined it to include both organic and inorganic chemists. The numbers are not surprising, but the outcomes are.
Between 1988 and 2010, I have gone on approximately 30 interviews (including on campus interviews, summer internships, and postdoc interviews.)  The majority of those were in the 90's. There has been at least one woman involved in the hiring process in just 8 of those.  Sadly, in all of those 8 interviews there was just one woman at my level or higher.  For those interviews, I received 3 job offers, one invitation to a full interview which I declined because it was not a good fit, two situations where it was a very close call and I was the second choice but people involved in the search still tell me they wish they could've hired me, and just two jobs where I got neither offer nor anyone telling me that it was a close decision.  (It should also be noted that those two interviews were overall quite pleasant.)  That's a pretty good track record.
In contrast, in the approximately 23 situations where there were no women involved in the hiring process, I received a grand total of 3 job offers, 2 of which I took.  To my knowledge, I was not a "close call" at any of the places who did not make me an offer, either (although I did withdraw my application early for some of them because I had taken another offer).  So instead of a 40% success rate and an 75% "close call or better", I was batting about 0.130.
I've decided to stop thinking of myself as a horrible interviewee and will henceforth work at improving my weaknesses and playing up my strengths, while acknowledging that it really wasn't a level playing field.

* The mid-1990's were not a great time to go looking for work as a synthetic inorganic chemist, either in academics or industry, so this may be one major reason as well.  The few people that did get hired for the academic jobs were mostly very application oriented.  About ten years later, the academic market really turned around, and  there are a whole slew of folks hired between 2005 and now.