The Plight of the Post-Doc


Moving Day (for the blog)

Hello, lovely readers. In case you haven't caught the news on twitter or LabSpaces, Fumbling Towards Tenure Track is moving, for real. Please come visit me in my new home,

See you there!


11th hour pre-interview freak-out

My first faculty interview is this week, and frankly, I'm losing my junk a little bit. I'm super excited and I'm sure it will be fun, but I'm also terrified of doing something horribly gauche, insulting someone, or looking stupid in general. I've been poring over the very excellent advice on such matters from Physioprof, DrDrA, and Gerty-Z (and their commenters), but I still have a bunch questions. Here they are, in no particular order:

1. Is it bad form to ask about the university city? I mean, everyone I'm talking to has chosen to live there, so would they be irked if I asked about quality of life/safety stuff?

2. I'm meeting the Dean. What does he want to talk about?

3. What do the students (grad) want to talk about?

4. Will people not take my relationship seriously because J and I are not married?

5. I'm doing a little reading about the research of each person on my itinerary, but will they expect me to be familiar with their work? How familiar?

6. What do I NEED to ask?

7. Anyone have any experience with those 5 hour energy shot thingies? Yay or Nay?

8. I seem to be coming down with a cold.

Hmm...there are probably more. I'll update as they occur to me. Any and all wisdom is much appreciated!


Cross-posted from LabSpaces.

Wow, you guys. Just wow.  In all my wildest dreams I never imagined this campaign would be so successful! But after nearly a month, LabSpaces is in 4th place in the Science Bloggers for Students Challenge, and it's all because of you! Our pet project, "Oh! Rats!" got fully funded several weeks ago, which means that I'm delivering on my promise to you--an original cocktail inspired by and named after a donor who gave through my Giving Page, and a video of me making said cocktail.
The winner was chosen randomly by a party blind to the identity of those eligible, and then I experimented a bit until I felt I'd come up with a concoction that really channeled the spirit of this winner. The video was made this afternoon with the help of some lovely friends and several rounds of mimosas.
Now, please forgive the low sound quality, as we only had a regular camera's video recorder to work with, plus it was my first time editing a video of any kind, so some of the cuts may be, shall we say, less than smooth. Also there's sort of a gratuitous ass shot because I forgot to get a glass out before starting, but hopefully that won't be too painful. Oh and yes, there are costume changes. I couldn't help myself.
And now.....the Cocktail Contest Winner!

Thanks again to everyone who donated! Cocktail or not, you all helped kids get a better education, and that is just awesome.


Bribing you for!

Hey there hangers-on to my blogger site!  On the off chance you haven't heard, this month science bloggers across the world are participating in, an amazing organization that helps kids in impoverished communities get much needed school supplies for their classrooms. It's called DonorsChoose because you, the donor, get to pick which project you'd like to help fund!

Because I really want a certain rat-focused project to get funded, I'm offering a little incentive to help motivate you to go to my Giving Page and help these kids.  Below is a description, as I posted yesterday on my LabSpaces blog. Please give to Oh Rats!!

We're getting serious here, folks. The Science Bloggers for Students Challenge is in full swing, and LabSpaces is on board, you know what I'm saying? So far, thirteen of us have set up Giving Pages, which you can view all together on our main page here.
While we're doing this as a collective and are of course happy as long as you donate at all, it's only natural that a little of that independent competitive spirit shows itself in situations like this. And so it should come as no surprise, then, that we've resorted to some...creative strategies. To be specific, we're bribing you.
Biochem Belle is offering a plush molecule to one lucky donor should her Giving Page reach $350.  And every time her donations made through any LS blogger's page reach a multiple of $500, Disgruntled Julie will bake cookies for someone. Geeka will post an embarrassing picture of herself every time one of her projects gets funded. Gerty-Z will buy an overpriced mocha (but not syphilis) for a few random donors through her page regardless of total donations. And Tideliar, well...let's just say his bribe is that if you donate, he won't demonstrate his very scary Muy Thai skills.
So what do I have for you?
Well, there is only one other thing I geek out about besides science, and that thing is cocktails. May I introduce you to my home bar?

OK, here's the deal:  one of my projects--which is on many of our Giving Pages--is called Oh Rats! and it's going to expire in 14 days. This project will help students learn about anatomy through hands-on experience--dissecting rats, of course!  Now, within the genre of science I am a real anatomy nerd, so I am way into this project. As of tonight they're short almost $650, so they really need your help! What I am offering is this:
If Oh Rats! reaches its goal in time, I will create and name a cocktail in honor of someone who donates through my page. Can you imagine? Your very own cocktail! Not only that, but I will post a video of myself (neck down, I'm afraid--gotta maintain some semblance of pseudonymity) demonstrating how to make this cocktail, so you can all make it for yourselves at home. See? EVERYBODY WINS.
Awesome, right? I mean, who wouldn't want this? Please go help Mrs. T and the Oh Rats! gang! If you go through my Giving Page (see widget to your right), it's the 4th project. Thank you thank you thank you!!!


This one's for the ladies

The ladies of twitter, that is!* I was chatting earlier this evening with the lovely @Geeka, @biochembelle, @Gerty-Z, @enniscath, @modernscientist, and @_modscientist_ (DIFFERENT PEOPLE!) about the beauty that is gin.

I love gin. Now, gin is not something whose taste appeals to everyone right away--it's somewhat acquired, and it needs to be done right. But when it is done right, it adds a dimension to cocktails to which no vodka could ever come close.  With the obvious exception of the bloody mary, vodka does not touch Dr. Becca's lips. It does not please me.

Anyway, all that ginny tweeting made me thirsty, and so I decided to make one of my absolute favorite gin cocktails--the Archangel. Fittingly, the Archangel was invented by one of my favorite bartenders in all the city, Richie Boccato--formerly of Milk & Honey, currently proprietor of Dutch Kills and Painkiller. This man is quality through and through.

The Archangel is so elegant and so delicious, there is almost no pre-dinner cocktail I prefer.  It is light and crisp and only a tiny bit sweet, and it only contains alcohol, so to those of you who are used to taking your gin with 3 parts tonic, watch out.

You will need the following:

a few slices of cucumber (seedless is best)
lemon twist

Aperol is an aperitif that's similar to Campari, but far less bitter and less alcoholic. It is a more delicate Campari, which is important since we're dealing with delicate flavors here.  Some of you might scoff at my choice of gin here, but I actually like the taste of Beefeater better than that of Tanqueray and Bombay Sapphire--it's cleaner. Hendrick's is for special occasions and martinis only, until I am rich.

So. Take your pint glass and put the cucumbers in.  Give them a couple of punches with a muddler or spoon, but don't pulverize them.  You just want to...loosen them up a little.  Put in a ton of ice, and then add 2.5 oz gin and 1 oz Aperol.  There should be so much ice that it sticks up above the level of the liquid, comme ça:

I have no idea why this isn't centering like it's supposed to. 

Stick in a long spoon, let it all sit for a minute, and then stir for at least another minute. OK, 30 seconds should be fine. You want it to be really cold, though!

Twist your lemon twist so that the oils start to ooze out of the skin. Drop it in the martini glass, and strain the contents of the pint glass on top of that.  When you look closely, you should be able to see the lemon oil floating on the surface. Enjoy!!!

Oh, and feel free to munch on the gin-and-Aperol-soaked cucumbers from your pint glass.  They're delicious!!

*This is also for Genomic Repairman, who had a shitty day.


Civic Duty, Shmivic Duty! (part 1)

 JURY DUTY.  Is there anything more annoying, when taken out of context? I mean, I got stuff to do! Important experiments, etc!! I’ll be honest—when the summons arrived in my snail mail I was annoyed, but also a little curious, never having served before except for once in grad school where we were let go after lunch because there were no cases.  Many of my friends in NY have been called for jury but only one has ever sat on a case, so I figured this would be an easy day of hanging out at the courthouse, after which I’d be let go, free of civic responsibilities for the next 8 years.  I emailed my boss that I’d be missing lab meeting but would most likely be in the next day, and headed to downtown Brooklyn.

The jury holding area is like a giant airport terminal gate, but without the stinky airplane smell or screaming infants.  Unlike an airport terminal, the wi-fi was free, so I popped open the MacBook and settled in for a little internetting.  People were sleepy and disgruntled, so to pep us up we were shown an informative video about how awesome the jury system is.  As I’m sure you’re all well aware, one effective technique in demonstrating a thing’s awesomeness is to contrast that thing with something that is not awesome.  Accordingly, our video began with a re-enactment of trial-by-drowning. 

I’m not even kidding—I’m sitting there at 8:30 in the morning watching actors dressed in rags, their faces all dirty and toothless and whatnot, drag another dirty, toothless, rag-dressed actor down to a lake, bind his hands and feet, and toss him in.  Just how I like to start my day! Then there was a man-on-the-street sort of thing in which we heard sound bites from people who were all “Boo, I hate jury duty. Such a nuisance, why me, etc!” and then Diane Sawyer came on and explained why jury duty was so important, and then we had more man-on-the-street interviews with people who were really pleased about jury duty.  It’s what makes America great, you see!

Several hours later, they started calling names for a case.  My ears pricked up, my heart started pounding, and my internal monologue went something along the lines of don’tpickmedon’tpickmedon’tpickmedon’tpickme until I heard the dreaded words, “Dr Becca.”  I let out an audible sigh, gathered my things, and joined the parade to the courtroom.

Inside, we were given the opportunity to ask the judge to be excused. Since I wasn’t smack dab in the middle of a big experiment, I didn’t feel right begging out, so I stayed seated. Out of about 50 of us, maybe 15 or so were excused from there. The rest of us were introduced to the attorneys and defendant, whom we learned was accused of a burglary. Criminal case FTW!!  We then each had to answer a string of questions, which included “Have you or has anyone in your family been the victim of a crime?” “Are any of your relatives or close friends police officers?” and which ended with “are you capable of being an impartial juror?”

Ladies and Gentlemen of my readership, you would not believe what a bunch of WHINY-ASS BITCHES your fellow citizens are.  I can’t even tell you how many people claimed not to be able to be impartial because their fucking iPod had been stolen from a bar or wherever in 2003. They sucked, and the judge looked like she saw right through their pansy lies, but there was nothing she could do. If you say you can’t be impartial, you’re excused, the end.  Interestingly, the more I listened to everyone and their pathetic attempts to get out of jury duty, the more I felt compelled to actually do my duty.  

And so when it was my turn, I responded with the honest truth about my crime-free and non-police-knowing existence (so sheltered!). Naturally, then, I made it to the top twenty-two.  The attorneys then pressed us on some of our possible biases: Would any of us find it impossible to find a defendant guilty without DNA or fingerprint evidence?  Do we think it’s possible for a police officer to lie on the stand?  Do we think a police officer is more likely than other people to lie on the stand?  There was amazingly someone who said no, they didn’t think it was possible for a police officer to lie, and I don’t think they were just saying it to get out, either. All kinds, I tell you!

After a quick break, we were called back in to hear the big news. Of the 22 of us remaining, only 9 were chosen for the jury, including…yours truly! Picky attorneys, man. Since they were 3 jurors + 3 alternates short, the trial wouldn’t start until the next afternoon, when they’d had a chance in the morning to select the rest of the group.  Finally we were dismissed, and I walked home, thinking, well…I guess here we go!


Write place, wrong time*

Already posted this over on LabSpaces, but y'all seem to keep stopping by here, so I'll oblige!

Yesterday was my first day back to the gym after my vacation, aka Lobster Week (like Shark Week, but with eating them!), and boy did it bring the pain. Not just because my Ass & Abs class (yes, it is actually called that) teacher is completely evil--it was so crowded! We were packed in like sardines and I had to use the yucky weights that make your hands smell all metally. Blech. As I was wondering why the class had seemingly doubled in size since the last time I was there, it hit me--the undergrads were back.

Now, don't get me wrong--undergrads are adorable. I hope to teach them someday! But what what their return signifies, other than the end of summer and less room to bust out my moves in hip-hop dance class, is the loss of my favorite writing spot. I wrote two grants and one paper this summer, and I did my best work in the evenings from a bustling coffee shop near one of New York's fine institutions. In the summer it's by no means empty--in fact, it's the quick pace and energy that I think keeps me alert and engaged with what I'm doing. But during the school year this place is an absolute zoo. People in every nook and cranny, on each other's laps, garbage piling up...we're talking fire code violations, here. And as a wise poet once said, I can't go for that (no can do).

Everyone has different environments in which they like to write. Some need complete isolation and quiet, so they lock themselves in their offices with some food rations, a gallon of coffee, and a roll of duct tape (hey, you never know), emerging a week later with a full beard and polished manuscript. Others might see writing as an opportunity to stay at home and not get dressed. Liberating, isn't it?

Well. I don't have an office. I have a desk in one of those giant lab spaces (hey!!!) with bay after bay of bench-desk combos. And while I love all the camaraderie and whatnot that goes along with being able to talk to my lab mates even if they are 25 feet away, I cannot get any real writing done there. It is impossible, because there is just too much 
fun being hadinteractive science going on. I do sometimes work from home if I don't have anything I absolutely need to do in lab, but it's not always that productive--the cats are all over my papers, I get distracted by things that need cleaning, and I spend way too much time playing Are You Lunch?

I like coffee shops. I wrote my entire thesis in a coffee shop in my grad school town, and it was awesome. Every day for an entire month I did nothing but drink coffee, eat bagels and cookies (I have yet to meet the person whose thesis-writing experience was not a complete carb-fest), and write. When I go to a coffee shop to write, I am not distracted, because that's the coffee shop's sole purpose. Places like lab or my apartment have lots of other purposes, which makes it hard to focus. But when I'm in my favorite coffee shop, my brain is like, 
OK, this is why we're here, and I totally lock in.

Between job applications, another grant, and probably a paper revision (it's currently under review), I have lots of writing to do in the coming months. So I have to find a new favorite coffee shop, boo. You'd be surprised how hard it is in NYC to find the perfect combination of good coffee, free wi-fi, decent music, and ample tables for working, so if my readers have any suggestions, by all means hit those comments! In the meantime, I'm working from home today, and it's almost time for Are You Lunch?

*As you might imagine, I thought long and hard about which write/right pun I'd use for the title of this post. I could have gone with the obvious, "The Write Stuff," or "The Write Moves," or abandoned that and gone with a more highbrow reference to "A Room of One's Own." In the end, "Write place, wrong time" seemed to fit the best, as I'm discussing how it is the WRONG TIME of the year to WRITE in my favorite PLACE.


No crying in science, part 2

OK, so obviously there is a lot of crying in science. It's just that whenever I try to come up with a title for a blog post all I can think of are pop culture references, and with "crying" as a theme it's either Tom Hanks' famous line from A League of Their Own--which I've never actually seen, but which is a sort-of reference itself, I think (though calling Virginia Woolf "pop culture" may be ill-advised)--or The Crying Game,   so.

Where was I?

Oh yes, running out of my PI's office in tears. Now, there are some ladies out there who look really pretty when they're crying, like delicate, weeping flowers, but I am not one of those ladies. My eyes puff up like crazy and get thoroughly bloodshot--physiologic responses that take ages to restore themselves.  If I were a damsel in distress, the knights would probably run away in disgust.

While I was waiting for the transformation back to recognizable human to occur, I emailed my graduate advisor; I was still too embarrassed to tell Famous Dude.  I told her the long, sordid story, asking her advice on the whole situation.  It was a rare feeling for me, but at that moment, I just wanted someone to tell me what to do.

My grad advisor is amazing. She got back to me in 20 minutes with names of people she knew who she thought might be good for a short post-doc, and lots of words of encouragement. And not warm squishy "poor baby" encouragement--she knows better than that. She wrote, "Inhibit that stress response and think of all the opportunities that interest you. [Learning] a new method could lead more easily to a job! Let me know what happens--DO NOT GIVE UP!!"

That helped, because my initial instinct was to write to Famous Dude something along the lines of, "I'm soooooooo sorry, but we didn't get the grant. If you think there's any way you could consider the possibility of maybe having me in the lab anyway, I would be eternally grateful!"  Instead, I realized that I had to write to Famous Dude with confidence and with purpose, not humility and desperation.  I said (and I'm paraphrasing, here), look, bad news re: the Foundation.  But this is a good grant, and I think it could be re-purposed for this new R21 FOA I just read about.  I want to write this grant with you as a co-investigator--I think we'd have a very good chance of getting funded. What do you say?

Famous Dude is not sure if he can support me without the Foundation money, and seemed perplexed by the comments from the Foundation review.  One point of issue seemed to be that the Foundation wasn't clear on what Famous Dude's role was in all of this, and they were worried that I didn't necessarily have all the support I needed to carry out the studies I'd proposed.  After emailing back and forth over the course of an hour, we decided that it might be a good idea for Famous Dude to send the Foundation a letter to clarify his full support.

Within 15 minutes I was Bcc'd on this letter, and again, the floodgates opened wide.  This letter, from this man who owes me nothing, was incredible--four solid paragraphs on his commitment to the project, and, more notably, his dedication to my career development.  He called me "an outstanding young scientist" with whom he has "long been impressed," among other nice things.

Between this and my grad advisor's correspondance, I was completely overcome with emotion.  To know, at this time when I am feeling my absolute lowest, that there are people out there who firmly believe in me and are ready and willing to go to bat for me...well, it is more than I felt I deserved.

Unfortunately, Famous Dude's letter fell upon deaf ears. The Foundation sent a brief and dismissive reply, with no indication that resubmission might be possible.  Fuckers.

So, where are we now?

Best case scenario, Famous Dude does his fall budget and is able to find funds for me.  We apply for the R21, get it, and live happily ever after.  This won't be known for at least another month, though, and I can't just sit around making no other plans.  So in the meantime, I need to start looking for another lab for a (hopefully short) second post-doc.  There are several concerns I have about this:

1. I feel like from a career standpoint, if you're going to do a 2nd post-doc, there has to be a real point to it.  In other words, I think I should go somewhere I can learn a brand new technique.  However,

2.  I'm expensive.  I've now had over 5 years of post-doc experience.  Are people going to be willing to hire someone who's not only pricey, but needs to be trained as well? I'd imagine that if someone were going to shell out the dough for an experienced post-doc, they'd want that person because she would be bringing a well-honed skill set to the lab.

3.  I talked to one of our new faculty about possibly joining his lab.  He uses some very cool techniques that would be great for me to learn and his interests broadly overlap with mine, so it seems like a good fit.  He agreed, but he doesn't have enough money.  He also made the interesting point that if I plan on applying for funding, I shouldn't be with a new faculty member like him, I need to be with someone like Famous Dude.  Given how ecstatic my K99 reviewers were over my "Environment" (all 1s!), I think he's probably right.

I'd love all your thoughts and advice, here. I feel like I'm teetering on the edge of either doing something awesome or completely blowing it--like expat postdoc notes in the comments of the last post, I don't want to take any old shitty position.  However, I do need to pay my rent--as you might imagine, living in NY on a post-doc's salary does not allow one to save much of a cushion for times like these.

Finally, thanks again to everyone who commented and sent nice messages--on the blog, twitter, or via email--I'm so grateful to have such a caring and supportive group of readers!


There's no crying in science!!?? (part 1)

Like 28% of iPhone users, I popped on the interwebs before getting out of bed Thursday morning. I was greeted by an email from the Foundation telling me that they would not be funding my proposal.  The proposal that they asked me to write, and were very enthusiastic about in general.  The proposal that would allow me to work with Famous Dude, crank out a high profile paper or two, and score a sweet TT job in another year or so (that easy!!!!).  We really thought this grant was going to be funded.

Instead of a done deal, it's simply done--all of those hopes dashed by a reviewer who seemingly did not actually read the grant.  Yeah, I know everybody says that when they get their summary statements, but seriously--how else do you explain criticisms like "it is not clear to us how many animals will be studied and what is the number of rats per experiment," when the first line of each Aim's methods states, for example, "Sixty male Sprague Dawley rats will be used for this experiment?"

The rejection has a lot of ramifications that are really quite serious in the context of my very near and very distant future.  Not only does it mean that I most likely can't go work with Famous Dude, but it may mean that I will be unemployed in a few months. For the purposes of actually getting out of bed, though, I flicked the old denial switch to "on" and went about my usual morning activities: kitty medicine, Luna Bar, gym clothes, subway.

Once in lab, however, reality set in as I repeatedly fielded "how are you's" and "what's new's" from my lab mates (we are a friendly bunch!).  Unlike Famous Dude, I have a terrible poker face, so it wasn't long before I was reaching for the Kimwipes. Per usual, my lab peeps were super supportive and awesome and agreed that the reviewer comments were probably written by the Foundation CEO's pomeranian.

When I broke the news to PI, he was extremely surprised, but had few words of comfort.  He did, however, have many words of discomfort, most of which served to inform me that the grant I'm currently on would definitely run out sometime this fall. I listened to him, pressing firmly on the bridge of my nose, willing the tears back inside their ducts. It was of little use. When there was nothing else to say, I quickly thanked PI and ran out of his office before I completely lost it.

It is as if the floor has dropped out from under me. In 2-3 months I will lose my job, my health insurance, my productivity...all at a point in my career when I really need to be working.  It is terrifying.

There is more to this story, of the not-necessarily-solving-any-problems-but-uplifting-nonetheless variety. But this is quite long already, so I'll leave it there, for now...


I AM the 3rd reviewer!

I remember being a first-year grad student, sitting and having beers with some other first-year grad students and one of the "cool" PIs. We were talking about papers, and how much we thought some of them sucked.  Cool PI smiled, and told us that she, too, had been ready to tear pretty much everything to shreds when she was a grad student and post-doc, but that as she grew older and wiser, she became more thoughtful, less quick to judge.  Naturally, we were all quite surprised to hear this--we all expected to do more tearing things to shreds!

Since beginning my post-doc, I get reviewer requests maybe 2 times a year, which is just infrequently enough for me to be sort of flattered and happy about doing it.  Cool PI's advice has really stuck with me, and I always try to be balanced in my comments, thinking carefully about the paper and finding something nice to say before considerately listing my concerns.

Sometimes, though?  I can't help it.  The paper is such absolute shit that the 3rd reviewer** in me starts begging to be let out, and I give in just a teensy bit.  In the actual review I remain, to the best of my abilities, a paragon of equanimity and tact.  In my head, however, it sounds more like this:

To the editors:

It is beyond comprehension how we live in a world in which the final author of this manuscript has an independently funded lab and I don't.  The experiments contained herein--if one could even call them experiments--are poorly defined, uncontrolled, and lack any basis in the existing literature.  To say that the methods are incomplete would be to expand the definition of "incomplete" beyond any semblance of its original meaning.  What's that?  OK fair enough, that last bit makes little sense.

The authors neglect to note the way in which their animals were sacrificed, yet it must be presumed that the animals were, indeed, sacrificed, as analysis of "the cortex" is claimed to have been done.  Pray tell, would it have been too much to report which region(s) of the cortex were analyzed?  It's just that I'm so curious!  Of course, "analyzed" may be overstating the case, as no actual measurements or calculations were done--it is simply stated that the two experimental groups look different.

In sum, to allow this manuscript to progress even one step toward publication would be an insult to all that ever was or henceforth will be considered "science."

Respectfully yours,
Dr Becca

** In case you missed it, the "3rd reviewer" refers to to one of many Downfall parodies, particularly one in which the subtitles are altered to suggest that Hitler is a PI receiving reviews of his recently submitted manuscript.  He is informed that the first two reviewers had generally favorable comments, but that a 3rd reviewer was, shall we say, considerably more harsh.  Hitler is not pleased, and utters the now-infamous catchphrase, "F%*$ REVIEWER 3!!!!!"  Naturally, this being a parody, it is also exactly how things happen in real life, too.

The 3rd Reviewer is also now a real website, where anyone can comment anonymously on recent high-profile neuroscience and microbiology publications.  Fun!


Can't read my- can't read my- no, I can't read my PI's poker face

In case you've not yet made the switch over to Lab Spaces, here's what I wrote earlier today:

If this post's title has you all "Wha?", have a listen here. Yeah, I'm referencing Lady Gaga, you want to make something of it?

Famous Collaborator Dude/probable future PI (if you've been following along on blogspot) is awesome. He's totally brilliant, and has been incredibly generous with his lab resources and time. He's also really good at emailing me back immediately when I have a question, which is nice, although sometimes he gets back to me so fast (and so without punctuation and capital letters) I wonder if he actually read the thing that I sent to him for comments?

There is one thing, though--I can't read him! 

Normally, picking up on social cues is my forté-- in person and even in writing--and it's gotten me far. And by "far" I mean "free stuff," sometimes. I didn't realize how much I rely on it to guide my interpersonal behavior, though, until I met him. He's impenetrable! And it's making me feel like I'm freaking Rainman or something. Not a good feeling.

I think I'm finding all of this especially unnerving because I'm the new kid, you know? I want to join his lab for real, and so I want to make him happy and do good work to prove my worth. But I can't tell if I'm making him happy! I just finished a manuscript on which he's last author, and he had almost no comments. Is this good or bad? I don't know!!! Some of you are PIs, right? Would you allow one of your trainees to submit a paper with your name on it that you weren't thoroughly pleased with?

I can sense that my thoughts are devolving into those of a neurotic teenager who isn't sure if the guy who sits behind her in geometry is into her. I feel it's only appropriate, then, that I send Famous Collaborator Dude this note:


Contest time!

My parents are the ultimate science/art yin and yang--Mom's a crazy smart biomed researcher, while Dad could probably recite the entire Pantone catalogue. You'd think, then, that their offspring would have been these well-rounded überkind, Renaissance Children destined for world domination. Instead, they got one of each of themselves--my sister: arty, musically inclined, naturally perfect pitch, handy with a paintbrush--and me: nerdy, science-leaning, on the math team. I can't carry a tune, nor could I re-create the simplest of drawings. But why am I telling you all of this?

It's because I need your help.

While I'm totally loving my new digs over at LabSpaces, I'm looking around my blog page and, well, the walls are a little bare. When I was setting things up I noticed that I could upload a banner, and I'd be lying if I told you I immediately knew what that meant. But now that I 
do know what a banner is, I totally want one! I feel like it could really tie the room together.

And here's where you come in! If you design a banner for me, I will love you forever. Just follow these simple rules:

2. Must say "Fumbling towards tenure track" somewhere.
3. Must look good next to my Dumbo bum avatar.
4. Must be 620px x 100 px (or thereabouts)
5. Must be emailed to [at] gmail by noon (EST) Friday, July 30.

Presuming I get more than one entry, I will pick a winner! The winning banner will become my actual banner (I may even put it up here, too), and "Banner designed by [your name or pseudonym here]" will be displayed prominently on my main blog page. Fame 
and fortune will be yours!

Thank you thank you thank you in advance, talented arty readers!


My new home away from home

Hey, if an electron can be in two places at once, why can't I?  (don't answer that)

I'm happy to announce that I've just joined the gang at LabSpaces, an awesome website full of sciency news, helpful protocols, and sweet, sweet blogging. They've got a quickly growing and diverse community of writers, including biotech badass Jade Ed, hilarious cartoonist Angry Scientist, and two of my long-time favorite gals, Biochem Belle and Disgruntled Julie.

Now, fret not--I know with all the hulabaloo over at ScienceBlogs lately your Google Reader (or RSS feed manager of choice) has been taken for quite a spin, but I have no intention of abandoning my happy blogspot home.  It's just that now I've got a...pied-à-terre of sorts.


PS- for those of you who are relatively new to OtM: FTTT, you may want to check out my first post over at LabSpaces, which provides a handy Dr Becca refresher course.


What we can all learn from Inception

If you felt like going to the movies in my grad school town, you just, you know, went to the movies.  You met up with your friends maybe 15-20 min before showtime, bought tickets, got seats. Normal, right?  This is not the case in New York.  At least, this is not the case in New York if you want to see anything even remotely new, popular, critically acclaimed, artsy, or in IMAX--if Knight and Day is at the top of your queue, by all means, live in the moment.  

Not only are most movies worth seeing sold out hours before showtime here, but people line up crazy early to get the best seats.  Like, 90 minutes early.  For a city whose residents always seem to have somewhere to go and something to do, New Yorkers love waiting in line.  We wait in line for cupcakes, to get into Trader Joe's, and of course, for Apple products.  The immense planning and standing around (not to mention pre-order ticket surcharges) required to enjoy a night at the movies means that J and I only head to the cinema when it's something we really feel like we need to see on the big screen, which means that we pretty much only see things in IMAX.  Go big or go home, amirite?

This weekend we capped off a lovely day of water-based activities with the 1 am showing of Inception at the Lincoln Center IMAX.  

It.  Was.  AWESOME.  

I want to marry this movie.  It's beautifully shot, clever but not overly smug, impeccably edited, and has a well-thought out internal logic that's surprisingly followable and mostly consistent.  The themes, too, go well beyond the whole Matrix-y what-is-"real"-reality business, and I thought there were some pretty good messages that basically anyone could take home and apply to their own lives.

One of the big ideas in Inception is that of not letting your past decisions haunt you--actively choosing not to be crippled by regret.  It's what LDC's character has to do in order to Get the Job Done, and as a reminder, Edith Piaf's "Non, je ne regrette rien" wafts in throughout the movie, penetrating each dreamer's consciousness, signaling an imminent return to wakefulness.    

I'm currently writing up a project I did over the last year or so, and I'm realizing I could have done it better.  Not that what I did isn't scientifically sound, but if I'd made some different decisions--say, collected blood from my animals, or used a different method of euthanasia, I could be asking a lot more interesting and revealing questions.  At this point in the game, every publication I put out is important, and I feel like I didn't really maximize this one's potential.  

And no, I can't do it again.  I've got neither the time nor the money (nor, to quote Nicholson, the inclination) to re-do everything.  What I can do is make the most of the data I do have, find the most appropriate journal for it, and allow all those "if I'd only"'s not to get me down, but to fuel my future work.  

Like Leo, I have a Job to Get Done.  You probably do too!  And like Leo, we have all probably made some decisions we wish we hadn't.  The key to success, just as Leo learned, is to face those decisions head on, acknowledge them, but refuse to let them own us.  OK?  It's settled, then.  Can we pinky swear on this?


PS- Candid Engineer also has a similarly-themed post up now.  Go read, if you haven't already (though you probably have)!


Is "post-doc" passé?

In Spanish and French (and probably some other languages too), you introduce yourself by saying "me llamo __" or "je m'appelle __," both of which literally translate to "I call myself __."  I like this, for unlike the passive English "my name that someone else chose for me is," it suggests that you have at least some active role in defining yourself.  Here in America, alas, I don't get much chance to exercise the old français, but I do find that it's often necessary to define myself.  And it's not easy!

The post-doc is without question the most amorphous and uncertain of stages in an academic's Life Journey (not to mention the most hair-graying, ulcer-forming, and soul-crushing). And with the past decade's advent of even more nebulous terms like "super post-doc," it's more than likely that we struggle with identity issues--especially when faced with the task of defining ourselves, particularly to non-academics.  

You grad students and professors have it easy--people have ideas, however misguided, about what it means to be one of those.  But how do post-docs tell people who they are?  You know, like at parties with people who aren't in science?  A fellow blogger recently argued that the term "post-doc" is dead--it's lost what little cachet it might once have had, and is meaningless to those outside of academia, anyway.  He opts instead for "short term contract researcher," an expression that sounds to me like the kind of thing you should say if you didn't want to talk to the person anymore.  Whoops!  Looks like I need another drink / have to find the restroom / remembered I left the stove on! The other thing I don't like about it is that it doesn't convey the fact that you have a schmancy degree!  I mean, come on--I once had to fix my Old Navy sandals with a stapler, at least let me impress you with how educated I am!

No but seriously, fair enough--all the term "post-doc" really does say about you is that you should be addressed as "Dr" (something on which you should insist whenever appropriate!). When someone asks me what I do, I tell them that I am a scientist, and smile to indicate that I know how goofy that sounds.  They like that, because "scientist" is one of those jobs that might have been in your when-I-grow-up list when you're five--you know:  1) astronaut; 2) firefighter; 3) artist; 4) vet; 5) scientist**.  Only the most hardened of souls isn't at least somewhat intrigued by someone who describes herself as a scientist, and then they get to ask you the right questions to help paint a clearer picture of what you mean, rather than you launching into a jargony mish-mash about your PI or whatever.  

In the end, I think what's important when we step outside the Ivory Tower isn't necessarily what we call ourselves, but that the words we choose foster, rather than quash, conversation.  Scientists have a notorious reputation for not being able to communicate well to the public.  If we want that reputation to change, we should at the very least find a way to define ourselves, even when that definition is in constant flux.
** My parents are in possession of paper proof that as a 4-year old I told my nursery school teacher that when I grew up I wanted to "play in institutions."  I have no idea how I'd even have known what an institution was at that age, but I mean, way to follow my dreams, right?


Standards Deviation

Growing up, there were a finite number of video tapes in our house. We didn't even have all that many, but it's like at a certain point we just stopped buying them, or bothering to record free HBO weekends. What this meant, then, is that my sister and I had seen everything we owned literally dozens of times, and could (and probably still can) quote most of them from start to finish. The brain's capacity for dialogue (and song lyrics!) is truly staggering, isn't it?

One of our favorites was the 1992 Cameron Crowe classic Singles, which while on the surface may seem to be your run-of-the-mill ensemble cast non-story about a bunch of 20-somethings looking for love in grunge-era Seattle, I'd argue that the film is notable not only for cameo appearances by some of the period's most influential figures--Chris Cornell, Eddie Vedder, and Tim Burton, to name but a few--but also for its genuine insight into the way people value themselves, and how that translates in their day-to-day interactions.

The movie is also eminently quotable, and one that has really resonated with me through the last 18 years (ZOMG) is a scene in which Campbell Scott asks Bridget Fonda what it is women really want from a guy. She replies:

Well, when I first moved out here, I wanted a guy with looks, security, caring...someone with their own place, someone who said "bless you" or "gesundheit" when I sneezed...someone who liked the same things as me, but not exactly...and someone who loves me.

He's all "Wow, that's a lot!" and she's all "Yeah, I've scaled back a little," and he's like, "So what's the list now?" and the answer:

Someone who says "gesundheit."

I feel like I've had pretty much the exact same conversation with myself over the last year or two, but regarding my job, not men (in that arena, as you might imagine, I have unwaveringly maintained the highest of standards). If you'd asked me a couple of years ago where I wanted to be in five years, I'd probably have said something like, "Well, I'd like a job in academia. Ideally, I'll be tenure track faculty somewhere, either at an R1 university or a prestigious liberal arts college. Either way, the students will be super smart. And it'll be in or near a really cool city, hopefully in the Northeast. And I'll be doing some teaching, but not too much teaching, and I'll have a perfectly small-to-medium-sized lab where we take an interdisciplinary and elegant approach to answering timely and clinically relevant questions. Etc!"

But had you asked me again, say, 6 months ago, my answer would have been more like, "Well, I'd like a job."  The unscored K99 made me seriously re-evaluate my place in the TT applicant pool, and like Bridget Fonda, I lowered my standards.  I applied EVERYWHERE, including many places that didn't at all fit my dream job description, and even started browsing job ads for non-academic positions.  Now, there are of course good reasons for doing this anyway, like experience and leverage and maybe-I'll-be-surprised-by-how-much-I-like-southwestern-Idaho, but if I'm being honest, it was at least in part out of feelings of desperation.

I HATE feelings of desperation!

Well, there's nothing like a couple of good meetings to show feelings of desperation the door, and I came back from two last month thinking to myself, Did I actually allow myself to entertain the possibility of a job in publishing?  We can DO this! (that's the royal "we," which I've found is also quite useful re: self-esteem.)

More concretely, I've been invited to apply for a grant from a Private Foundation, which would fund two years of work with Famous Dude.  I wrote the proposal, and it pleased Famous Dude.  Things are moving along.  I'm not letting myself get too excited, but I like to think of things as "definitely not not happening." If it all works out, my stock should rise significantly. And in anticipation, my standards have begun to creep up as well.


Ph.Dishes - Brandied Cherries!

Aw, I can't stay mad for long--especially when it's cherry season! Here at Chez Dr Becca, the start of cherry season means it's time for a new batch of brandied cherries, and it is a happy time indeed.  If you've never had a brandied cherry before, you've truly been missing out on one of Life's Finer Pleasures ($20 and Under), so thank heavens you stumbled across this blog when you did! These are super easy and so incredibly delicious, especially in a tasty cocktail or over ice cream.  They also make a nice gift.  So go to the store, buy a big old bag of bings, and let's get started!

The first step in making brandied cherries is to change your clothes.  No seriously. You've got to pit your cherries, and pitting cherries is a juicy mess of an endeavor, so go ahead and put on whatever you'd normally reserve for yard work or something.  Pitting is an absolute necessity, not only because it makes eating them easier, but because it allows much more of your spicy brandy concoction to soak into the cherries. You might not own a cherry pitter, but they're not too hard to find, and not that expensive. I got mine at a restaurant supply store for ~$5.  It looks not wholly unlike a primitive torture device:

Now I'm not going to sugar coat things, here--pitting isn't fun. But you must persevere, so flip on the telly or a podcast or whatever and get to work!

When you're finished, set the cherries aside, and raid your spice cabinet. Be sure to grab some cinnamon, cloves, and cardamom--whole sticks/pods are preferable, but ground is OK too. Other spices in that general family can also be good, like allspice or maybe even a teensy bit of coriander.

Add equal parts white sugar and water to a large saucepan, about a cup of each per pint of cherries you have.  Add your spices, remembering that a little goes a long way, especially when it comes to cloves (and cardamom). And you know what else?  It certainly wouldn't kill you to add a splash of vanilla extract to the mix.  Heat it all and stir until the sugar is dissolved, and then let it simmer for around 5 min.  While you're waiting, you may as well go ahead and open your bottle of brandy.  And while your bottle of brandy is open, you might as well pour yourself a little glass.  I mean, what else would you do with 5 minutes?

After making sure that the brandy hasn't been poisoned (nobody wants poisoned brandied cherries!), turn off the heat and dump your cherries into the pot.  Stir in some brandy, maybe 1/2 cup per cup of water you  put in, but no one's complaining if you round up, you know what I mean?  Cover the pot and let everything sit until it's cooled to room temp, and then transfer cherries and syrup to a sealable jar.

Stick the jar in the fridge, preferably somewhere hidden, because now comes the hard part--you've got to wait for the cherries to macerate. They're going to taunt you every time you go for a wine cooler (hypothetically speaking), but you must resist!!  Give it at least 2 weeks before breaking the seal, and then get yourself a nice pint of Haagen-Dazs Vanilla or a nice Rittenhouse Rye Manhattan, and....MMMMMM!!!!!!!



There are many beautiful features of NYC that inspire feelings of awe and wonder in me; the Brooklyn Bridge, the view of midtown from the north side of the Central Park Reservoir, and the bourbon wall at Char No. 4 in Carroll Gardens are a few examples. But on the rare occasions that I get out to the mountains, it’s a whole other kind of awe. America is so pretty sometimes!

So I was out in the mountains this week for a small meeting, the focus of which was about as close as you can get to my exact specific interests. It was so awesome.  So much nature-y and science-y goodness!  Plus, I knew a ton of folks there—some friends from grad school, some acquaintances I’d met at previous meetings over the years—I felt like I was with my people, you know?

I learned so much and had so many great conversations, and I’m returning to New York just bursting with ideas for experiments.  It’s a nice feeling to want to get back to lab.  I also learned something VERY INTERESTING from my roommate re: the flexibility of NIH funding policies.

As we were introducing ourselves and getting to know each other, I mentioned that I’d unsuccessfully applied for a K99 award.  When she asked me whether I’d resubmitted, I lamented that by the time the following due date rolled around, I’d passed the 5-year postdoc mark, making me ineligible. 

“Oh no,” she said, “a guy in my lab was in the exact same boat as you with an unscored proposal and had passed the 5-year mark as well.  But he appealed to be allowed to resubmit on the grounds that he’d started the process before the 5-year mark, and they let him and it got funded!” 

Well! I’m sure you can imagine my response to that!

I mean, WTF, NIH?  It explicitly says in the K99-R00 FAQ that

Investigators who have more than 5 years of postdoctoral research training experience at the time of initial application or subsequent resubmission(s) are not eligible.

I might be crazy, but what this suggests to me is that you cannot resubmit if you have over 5 years post-doc experience?  I’m of course totally happy for this guy who found a way to make it all happen, but obviously if I’d thought there was any wiggle room in what is an exceptionally straightforward rule of eligibility, I’d have done the same thing!  There are many instances where a well-argued appeal makes sense, but I feel like in this case, it should either be a rule or not, you know?

Look, I know this post reeks of sour grapes, and I know that life isn't fair, and that complaining rarely achieves much beyond annoying the people listening to you (sorry guys!). But sometimes you just gotta vent, and I mean, isn't that what the interwebz are for?   


Does your PI do your PR?

In case "PR" has some scientific meaning that's either not occurring to me or is relevant only in fields with which I'm not well-acquainted, I'm talking about Public Relations, here.  I've been thinking about this a lot, lately--the role of the PI in "advertising" his or her trainee, especially when the trainee is getting close to the next phase, be it grad student to post-doc, or post-doc to junior faculty.  I mean, it's in everyone's best interest for us to move onward and upward, right?  So why aren't they all selling the shit out of us?  Or if you're a PI, why aren't you selling the shit out of your trainees?  Or are you?

I'm not talking about writing letters of recommendation, here; everyone does that.  What I mean is, what extra things is your PI doing to show the world how great you are?  Or is this not happening?  And how do you feel about that? This is an essay question, to be answered in the comments by both trainees and PIs alike.

A couple of recent experiences have made me hyper-aware of this phenomenon.  First, I was at a small symposium in the city a couple of weeks ago.  Four really great talks, including one by my PI and one by a very famous collaborator dude (VFCD--different from the new Famous Dude I may work with soon).  My PI didn't present my work, but VFCD did.  And right before VFCD presented my work, he said, "this is the work of Dr Becca, who is over there (he points, I wave bashfully) and what she did that was really monumental was..." I mean, he actually said "monumental," which I thought was really nice of him.  I don't even know if I'd consider my work monumental, but it made me feel really good that he'd promote me like that.  Moreover, he deferred to me to answer any relevant questions after the talk, and not because he couldn't have answered them himself--VFCD is a bona fide brilliant person who has the mind-blowing ability to remember every tiny bit of data you've ever mentioned to him in the hallway or whatever.  So that was all really great.  I felt like I was being treated like an adult, having adult scientist conversations with other adult scientists, and I was so grateful to VFCD for that.

More recently, I was at a meeting in the Midwestern US (OMG $2.75 for Maker's Mark??!!??!).  During one of the talks, the speaker said, "this is the work of my post-doc ____, who is here at this meeting," and she showed a picture of this post-doc, which she continued to show a couple more times as she went through the data.  I saw this and thought, That is so smart and great!  Now people don't have to remember her name--they can just remember her face! And then they'll recognize her at future meetings, rather than having to randomly check her name tag and try and remember where they heard the name. I am so doing this when I am a PI.  Every time.

These truly small-in-effort gestures are, I think, really important for trainees.  While in the long run, we of course will (and should) bear the primary burden for promoting ourselves, you never know what a two-second mention, a photo, or a casual "monumental" here or there can really do for a person.


Come on, get happy!

Arg, again I am a day late for the Scientiae Carnival, but I'm doing a post anyhow, dammit!  This month's theme is celebration, and it's a great way to start the summer.  I feel like we so often focus on the trials and tribulations of being scientists (and with good reason, as the trials and tribulations of scientists are many) that we often forget (or worse, are afraid/ashamed) to allow ourselves a little joy when things go well.  So, what do I have to be happy about?

When we last checked in with each other, I was reeling from the realization that I'd soon have to leave my lab and struggling against a bizarre but deep-rooted discomfort with success.  Since then, I've been working hard to get a plan together for September, and it's actually all been kind of......awesome.

The obvious choice for a new lab is a Famous Dude at a different NYC institution with whom I've recently done a little collaboration.  I met him in his office a couple of weeks ago and said, "I'd really like to continue the work I did with you last year, studying the effects of A on measure B, with a general focus on brain region C." He said, "Well, A might be OK, but we don't really do measure B anymore, and I'm not all that interested in brain region C." At that, both my jaw and heart dropped what felt like a mile. But before the waterworks could begin, he went on: "Look, the lab is pretty full, but I'd like to help you out.  Why don't you try to come up with some ideas of things you'd like to do that fit within the current focus of the lab, and we can talk again in a week or two?"

Believe it or not, at first I was devastated.  The thought of having to leave my pet project--my pet brain region, even--behind made me super sad.  I mean, what if someone else did the experiments while I was off being unfaithful, messing around with brain region D?  MY experiments?  It was then that I realized how head-over-heels in love I'd been with my own ideas, and how monumentally stupid that was (more on this in a future post, probably).  I got a grip and said to myself, "Self, we have a chance to work with Famous Dude, who pretty much sneezes Glamour Mag pubs.  Let's think of some sexy new experiments and make it happen!"

So I had some thoughts and I wrote them up in a little 1-page specific aim-type proposal, which I nervously sent off to Famous Dude one Sunday evening.  He got back to me within the hour with a response that included the expression "home run."  Not to brag or anything!

Now of course, nothing is set in stone (there are, as always, money issues) and thus part of me thinks we shouldn't dare start celebrating just yet.  But another part of me says, you know what?  Go ahead and bask in the glow of that tiny bit of validation--heaven knows we don't get that too often.  

So as things progress on this front, I'm allowing myself to feel cautiously optimistic.

In the meantime, I'm headed to two meetings this month to present some cool new data.  I finished my poster last night, and as is customary in the Dr Becca household, I made myself a cocktail in celebration.  It's called a Bijou, and it may be the most delicious potable on earth.  Equal parts gin, sweet vermouth, and green Chartreuse, stirred with ice until very cold and then strained into a cocktail glass, it is elegant, balanced, and the perfect accompaniment to just about anything.  Garnish with a homemade brandied cherry if you like (I like).


PS: Lots of other current events of note, but I think trying to squeeze it all into a single post may be ill-advised.  Stay tuned...


Ph.Dishes - pickled cucumbers!

Huzzah, Memorial Day weekend!  It's the official start of summer, and I went out and bought a pair of white sandals yesterday just to celebrate!  OK, they are more like "nice flip-flops" than sandals per se, but whatever.  You don't care about my footwear, you care about my delicious recipes, n'est-ce pas?

With the start of summer also comes grilling season, and unless you are a total misanthrope, you will probably be invited to (or host) a BBQ party or twelve in the coming months.  But you cannot show up empty handed, can you?  Now, maybe you find that it is just so stress-free to pick up a bag of Tostitos (tm) and a jar of Old El Paso (tm) on your way to the party, but as a frequent party-thrower let me tell you, the person who brings chips and salsa to the party is LAME.  Seriously.  Don't be that guy.  Do be the guy who brings my mom's pickled cucumbers, because they are the easiest and cheapest thing in the world to make, and if you bring these to a party, rest assured that you will be invited to EVERY party henceforth.

First you need a giant English/seedless cucumber, and I will fucking hurt you if you try to do this with a standard cucumber.  I am not even kidding!  I know they're more expensive, but this entire dish is going to cost you about $2.75, which is less than half the cost of chips and salsa, so splurge on the fancy cukes already!  I was talking with one of my lab mates the other day about salad (you can see that we are the kind of lab that is not afraid to tackle the Big Issues) and I literally spoke the words "But the thing is, I'm kind of a cucumber snob?" and I totally said it in that annoying up-talking way, too.  At first I hated myself for saying something like that, but then I decided that I have no shame in my cucumber snobbery.     If it were possible for non-English cucumbers to become extinct, I would fully support the loss of species.  (Are they even different species?  I have no idea.  I'm a neuroscientist, not a botanist!)

Anyway.  Take your fancy cucumber and take a fork.  Run the fork down the length of the cucumber, all the way around, so that you've scored the skin (you have to press kind of hard).  This will make the cucumber slices look pretty and somewhat flower-like when you're done!  Then, slice the cucumber as thinly as is humanly possible.  I mean seriously, crazy thin.  Put all the slices in a bowl, and add a little also-extremely-thinly-sliced onion.  Not a ton, just enough to add a little variety.  This is "pickled cucumbers," not "pickled cucumbers and onions," you understand?  Put everything in a bowl.

Next, put equal parts white sugar and white vinegar (do NOT use a different kind of vinegar.  I will not vouch for your results) in a small saucepan.  1/2 cup of each usually works for a normal-sized cuke, but if you happen to have gotten a real big one, add a little more.  Toss in a little salt.  Cook until the sugar is dissolved or almost dissolved, which will only take a few minutes--you don't even have to boil it!

Pour the mixture over your sliced cukes and onions.  It may not quite cover everything, but this is OK, I promise!  The cucumbers are going to release a ton of water, so in a couple hours it will all be submerged.


***Important*** This reminds me, you should be doing this at least 4-5 hrs (ideally a whole day) before people are actually going to be eating your delicious pickled cucumbers.

Cover and refrigerate.  That is all!  Be aware, at first people are going to be like, "Hmm, you brought pickles.  Weird!" But then they're going to eat them and then they're going to freak out.  I had a party once and someone had brought a different salad, and even though the pickled cucumbers were long gone, people were pouring the juice from the pickle bowl onto the other salad.  I would not make this up; this is how good these pickles are.  They are great as a little crunchy side, or as a topping on burgers, pulled pork sandwiches, etc.  They are magical.

So have a great weekend, everyone!  I have loads of news and things re: my sciency life, but I'm trying to organize my thoughts and whatnot before spewing the past few weeks' events into cyberspace.  In the meantime, happy pickling!