Saturday, June 24, 2017

Summer Travels, Part I and My #MicrobialHeroes

So the #DocMartinWorld tour for Summer 2017 has begun.  Yes, I need to create a "tour" T-shirt and poster....

First I traveled to Stanford University (where I earned my PhD) to visit with my former undergraduate research student Paula Welander.  There I was able to teach a couple of first year classes, visit with Paula's lab, and walk around a campus I hadn't visited in decades.

Gulp.  I couldn't get into my old building where I earned my PhD, or the new building, and that is probably a good thing.  A LOT of time has passed.

Then it was #ASMicrobe in New Orleans, where I had a wonderful time.

Next was a visit with Pat Schloss' lab at the University of Michigan, where I have been learning to how to perform 16S analysis of microbial communities----trying to use mothur and R.

Whew. I wish I was smarter, but I remember what Pat Schloss has written about learning new things.  

While I am here in Ann Arbor, I have been thinking of all the microbiologists who have been instrumental in my professional life:  teachers, mentors, colleagues, and collaborators.  

My wife Jennifer Quinn made me a mobile last year, and "shrinky-dink" portraits of my #MicrobialHeroes.

Here is my mobile.

Do you recognize everyone?  

Each of these people have played important roles in my life, and I am very appreciative to Every. Single. One. Of. Them.  Most of them are still with me, and some have passed away, but they are all important to my life and profession.

Here are my #MicrobialHeroes in this mobile, in alphabetical order.  

  • Dave Baltrus (as a tireless and patient collaborator who has my back during tough times).
  • Seth Bordenstein (for enthusiastic support, letter writing, and skyping into my classes).
  • Jonathan Eisen (for encouraging me when things were very dark, and for encouraging his students to listen to me).
  • Jack Gilbert (for trying to help me begin to learn about 16S analysis, and endless positivity and energy).
  • Heidi Goodrich-Blair (for standing by me in truly awful times).
  • Jo Handelsman (for being perhaps the longest standing #DocMartinSupporter by letter writing, coming to give seminars, inviting me to work in her lab, and believing in me when I decidedly did not).
  • John Ingraham (for being an amazing role model who bridged "old" and "new" microbiology with elegance and humor).
  • Ed Leadbetter (for being another wonderful role model who invited me to be part of a PhD committee, for being one of my instructors in the Microbial Diversity course at Woods Hole long ago, and knowing so very much about microbiology and being a fine human being).
  • Rich Lenski (for being the first professional to encourage me to return to academia, and treating me like a valued colleague when I applied for a job in his lab---even when I didn't get it!).
  • Lynn Margulis (for knowing so much about predatory microbes and symbiosis, and being a wonderful example of never giving up).
  • Margaret McFall-Ngai (for believing in me, supporting me, thinking better of me than I do, and endless letters over the years...did I mention never giving up on me?).
  • Ken Nealson (for being the fellow I should have done postdoctoral work for, offering me a job when I had none, being both encouraging and kind, and sharing my enthusiastic fascination with the deeply strange in microbiology).
  • Norm Pace (as a role model in many ways, even though I used the forbidden "p" word).
  • Syd Rittenberg (my first microbiology professor at UCLA, who introduced me to Bdellovibrio, and told me I was really a microbiologist).
  • Ned Ruby (for being a role model of role models, as a scientist, mentor, and person---I want to be Ned when I grow up).
  • Abigail Salyers (for being my instructor at the Woods Hole Microbial Diversity course, who encouraged me to be myself as a scientist, and who actually offered me money when she worried about me being without a job).
  • Elio Schaechter (for being just about the finest and most engaged microbiologist I know, who gave me a chance to write a little for his blog, and who always was so supportive of me...and who knows everything about #MattersMicrobial!)
  • Pat Schloss (for working with me directly as a collaborator and mentor, being a tireless supporter, and for his fine example of work-life balance).
  • Carl Woese (for telling me to "stand by your data" and never giving up).

I remain very grateful to these and my other #MicrobialHeroes.

Who are your "professional heroes," and why?  Have you told them how you feel?  Don't delay.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Microbe 2017 and Thanking Colleagues

Such a hectic year!  I have just come up for air, and there is so much to discuss.

This summer, I will be traveling quite a bit to forge collaborations and learn new techniques.  Since I don't have a grant at present, I am paying out of my pocket for this summer soiree, but I don't mind.  It's necessary for me in order to have another try at getting a promotion to Full Professor in the coming year. 

I hope to post some fun updates as the summer progresses while I travel to Stanford, Ann Arbor, Nottingham, Tampa, and Denver. And maybe Tucson!

Call it the #DocMartinWorldTour.  Sort of.

I have long been a microbial advocate (#MicrobialAdvocate?).  I can't call myself a #MicrobialAmbassador, since that is a honorary position of the American Society for Microbiology.  But when I was at the recent general meeting of the American Society for Microbiology (#ASMicrobe) in New Orleans, I did my best to show the #MicrobialFlag.

I handed out #MicrobialSupremacy buttons and stickers to folks who recognized me and share my #MicrobialMania.  Here were the types I brought to #ASMicrobe.  Remember, I make these each year for my microbiology course.  I've been doing this for a for a while!

I ran out of buttons and stickers in a hurry.  This is a good thing, since #MicrobialPR is very important to me.

But there was something else that was also important to me.  I have had a challenging climb through academia.  Some of that is my fault. Some of it is not.  But there have been some people who have really stuck by me during my odd and often unpleasant stroll through the academic maze.  These people believed in me and supported me relentlessly, even when I started to give up on myself. So I wanted to give such people a meaningful token of my appreciation.

Two years ago, in my Microbiology course here at the University of Puget Sound, I had a very creative student, Mariko.

On the last day of that class, Mariko gave me this.

It is a summary of various things I had told my microbiology students during the class that really impacted Mariko, artistically rendered.  I have it framed, because it is beyond awesome.  

Look to the upper left of Mariko's drawing.

For many years, I have been calling my microbiology students #Micronauts.  Mariko added the motto:  "Micronauts we soar!"

My artist pal "Vexed Muddler" converted Mariko's drawing into a colored cartoon.  I then had enameled lapel pins made.  I think they came out well.

I was able to hand these out to some of my endlessly patient #MarkSupporters at #ASMicrobe.  I have more to send out to people who didn't attend the general meeting.  Some folks wrote powerful letters of support for me over the years.  Others have helped me with experiments.  Some have invited me into their labs and offered collaborations.  And of course, my undergraduate research students make everything possible.

Short version:  if I give you one of these pins, it means you have made a genuine and lasting impression on my life, and are part of my #QualityQuorum.  I cannot fully express my gratitude in words; I will not forget what you have done for me.

Thank you so very much, #MarkSupporters!

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Freshman Biology, #SciArt, and the Amoeba Sisters!

Yes, it has been some time since I have blogged.  Apologies.  It has been a complicated time:  trying to rethink promotion issues (you know the gist of the Sayres' quote:  the reason academic infighting is so bitter is that the stakes are so low), planning a summer where I travel to several laboratories to learn techniques and forge collaborations, trying to set up a microbiology podcast (hopefully titled Your Microbial Minute), and dealing with a large freshman biology course.  

Let's be honest here:  I'm luckier than a lot of fabulous people I know in academia.  It's very easy to focus on the negative and ignore the positives.  After a while, that kind of etches your spirit with negativity.  And as my late father put it when I complained about about academic politics once, "It ain't exactly digging ditches, kid.  Get over it."  So get over it I shall.

But I have some fun stuff to share about my classroom!

My first year biology course, Biology 111, is actually quite enjoyable (other than the large size of the course for our institution).  It remains, to me, a vital course.  This is because, for future STEM majors, I am setting up a common series of concepts, skills, and paradigms.  Think of it as a tree with bare branches. Later courses provide the leaves and decorations on that beautiful Tree of Biology.

For non-STEM majors (and in the Spring, I have many of them enrolled in the course), I still believe that Biology 111 is very important.  After all, as I remind the students, they know more about biology than most decision makers in Washington D.C. or Olympia!

In recent years, I have incorporated a "Science-Art" component into my classes.  I have blogged about this a fair amount (and by no means do I intend to imply I am unique with this approach!).  I continue to find that there are many ways to learn (and to teach); one size does not fit all. So the #SciArt approach in the classroom is decidedly *not* trivial; I have had many students tell me how helpful it can be to them, both in terms of preparing for exam, and for retention over the long term.

It's not a surprise:  ownership and investment always pay off.  The student chooses the topic, creates the art with an investment of time and effort.  Such things stay with a person. 

There are two wonderful artists in Texas who style themselves "The Amoeba Sisters."  

They create GIFs, videos, cartoons, and other #SciArt that delivers a scientific message in an engaging and accurate fashion.  If you are a science educator, you should definitely check them out, immediately.  In any event, the Amoeba Sisters noticed some of the #SciArt my students have produced and I have posted on Twitter, and wrote to me. 

After some discussion and mutual admiration (well, admiration for my students) I created an "extra credit" #SciArt project for my Biology 111 class.  Students would create some kind of artwork that explained or illustrated a course concept from Biology 111.  I would forward these masterpieces to the Amoeba Sisters, who would then judge the top three by their standards.

23 students took up the challenge!

Here is what the Amoeba Sisters wrote when they viewed the #SciArt produced by my class.
We were SO impressed with the student creations, and we had such a fun time looking over these. We wanted to let you know how we judged them. We had a spreadsheet where Petunia judged (A) creativity and (B) difficulty and rigor in the creation of product while Pinky judged for (C) creation's demonstration of content understanding and (D) usefulness in sharing of creation for content. Each of these categories had a 1 (low) to 5 (high) numerical score.

Here is their 3rd place choice, along with their certificate, and social media award.  

Lauren did an interesting job here!  Several concepts were folded into this cartoon confection:  crossing over, meiosis (and a clever pun about cleavage furrows and microfilaments), ATPases spinning away, motor proteins working in concert in a flagellum, exon shuffling to create genes with new functions, and even the centrality of mitochondria to aerobic life.

Here is the award that the Amoeba Sisters created:

And here is Lauren receiving her award certificate (again, created by the Amoeba Sisters) and the applause of her classmates (well deserved!).  Sorry about the text on her face!

What did the Amoeba sisters say about Lauren's artwork, specifically?
Such an original piece, and we love the "personality" given to the structures as this makes it more memorable. Great use of humor. We thought the "Centre of Fuge" cell school was so brilliant and loved the ATP going around the disco ball! 
Here is their second place choice.

Naturally, it would be difficult for me not to adore this one, given how I feel about #MattersMicrobial.  Here, the joke is that my institution used to be called "The University of Prokaryotic Schooling," and it explains how eukaryotes co-opted mitochondria and chloroplasts over evolutionary time.  It's a different way of seeing endosymbiosis, certainly.

Here is Rae's second place award.

And here is Rae receiving her certificate and applause.

The Amoeba Sisters commented about Rae's cartoon as follows:

Great humor and storyline! Panels are very well planned.
Finally, here is the Amoeba Sisters' first place choice for my course competition/showcase.

Zara's cartoon takes us back to earlier in the course, with a fresh approach to think about enzyme inhibition!  Since that kind of thing is sure to be on the final exam, this is a good choice.

Here is Zara's first place award (with, to make my heart sing, a very cool tardigrade).

And Zara receiving her award and wild approval from the class!

The Amoeba Sisters' commented as follows about Zara's artwork.

Very dynamic flow in this panel comic---extremely original idea! Great way to share a concept. We could see this being expanded into a comic book or series as it has so much potential!
Those were the top three winners, according to the Amoeba Sisters. I think that all of the students had interesting ideas and approaches, and I would like to share them. To that end, here is a slideshow of the other twenty participants.

Which ones did YOU like best?

I think that this idea worked out quite well.  Thanks again---so very much---to the Amoeba Sisters for their support of what we do here on campus, with our great students.

Consider using this #SciArt approach in your classroom.  You will be glad you did!  And if you are anything like me, the creativity and energy of your students will inspire you.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Chatting about #MattersMicrobial on the University of Puget Sound podcast

Given the state of our short attention span/bumper sticker mentality society, I have long been concerned with the way that microbiology is portrayed in the media.  We need far, far better #MicrobialPR.

Microbes are not #DevilMicrobes, always causing disease and bad things.  

Microbes are not #AngelMicrobes, who can solve all problems.

So what are microbes?  First evolved.  Last extinct.  Basis of the biosphere.  When you put aside the natural human-centric narcissism from which we all suffer, you can see that ours is truly a microbial planet.

So I was delighted to have a chance to talk a bit about #MattersMicrobial with the University of Puget Sound "What We Do" podcast.   It is a nice production that showcases great stories from our campus.

I am including the link to my podcast on Soundcloud (click here), and you can also find it on iTunes.

I am no Jack Gilbert, Seth Bordenstein, or Jonathan Eisen. But I adore the microbial world, and telling students about its depth, breadth, and wonders.

Plus I have a perfect face for radio!

Monday, March 6, 2017

Student Created Science Artwork in My Laboratory

I have been feeling a little low recently, so I wanted to write about something positive.  Care to tag along with me?

The other day on Twitter, the subject of #SciArt came up:  art influenced by science.  I have long encouraged students in my first year introduction to cell and molecular biology course (Biology 111, "The Unity of Life"), as well as my junior/senior level microbiology course, to explore their creativity as it relates to topics in class.  I contend that this approach allows students to "see" topics in a new light, which can help with their understanding of concepts and even improve course outcomes.   I have written about this philosophy several times on this blog.  

In every case, I have been awestruck by the creativity, humor, and perceptiveness of my students---most of whom claim that they "aren't creative."


Here at the University of Puget Sound, I have a modest lab in which I work with a few undergraduates.  This isn't an RO1 institution, with postdoctoral students, or graduate students (PhD or MS).  So with basic equipment, and currently no grant support (I pay out of pocket these days), I do my best to mentor my research students and help them develop into scientists.  Over too many years, I have sent 18 of my research students to PhD programs across the country; 15 of them women.

I may not do cutting edge research, but I believe I can call myself a good scientific talent scout!  There is surely value in that.

Thus, my little laboratory is where I like to spend my time; I have many good memories here. As a joke, my students and I call my lab and my research group "Martin's Microbial Menagerie," and label ourselves "microbial supremacists."

That last was my co-opting a departmental joke at my expense into a proud slogan!  The great artist Kaitlin Reiss even came up with a logo for my lab.

I don't have a ton of room in my little lab, but it is truly a fun place for me.  My geriatric -80 freezer, two PCR thermocyclers, a shaking water bath, a -20 freezer,  agarose gel rigs,  three incubators, a luminometer, and a microfuge.  What more do I need?

In any event, I have decorated my lab with some of the art created over the past few years by students in my "Unity of Life" and "Microbiology" courses.

May I take you on a virtual tour of some of the student-made #SciArt in my lab?

I hope you are as impressed as I am by what my students have created.  I look up at their art, each day, and feel inspired.  

One of my microbiology students insisted that she had no artistic talent.  But these pastel drawings of viruses argue otherwise.

This is a nice example of art created by two groups of students.  A microbiology student painted the wonderful large bacteriophage image you see. Above and below, you can see "mini-canvasses" that illustrate various stages of mitosis, made by a first year student. He told me it helped him keep the stages straight, and what to look for in each.

One quiet first year student turned out to have lovely sculpting skills.  Above you can see a small cross section of a eukaryotic cell that she made, hanging on one of my walls, complete with various organelles.    

Another first year student was quite taken with DNA agarose gels under the UV transilluminator.  So she checked out the internet, bought a canvas, and now I can display this lovely painting.

One of my microbiology students was clearly quite taken by the Marvel Universe, as you can see above:  casting various microbes as superheroes.  

One of my first year students had quite evident artistic talent.  She presented me with this painting of cancer cells, along with a summary of how proto-oncogenes and tumour suppressor genes are involved in the process of carcinogenesis.  

I could see this painting at an art gallery, can't you?

I also had a microbiology student make two "shadow boxes" with sculptures illustrating Gram negative and Gram positive cell walls. You can be sure he knew these structures inside and out when the final exam arrived.

Then there was a microbiology student I had a few years ago with impressive artistic talent.  Here you can see two of her woodcuts (that's right, these are printed from a woodcut) of a Type VI secretion system above, and a colony of the fascinating bacterium Paenibacillus below. 

One of my first year students became very, very interested in amniocentesis and genetic counseling.  The result?  A large canvas hanging near my shaking water bath.

Another one of my first year students decided to make "mini-pillows" depicting the various stages of mitosis.  Her work is quite wonderful, as you can see (I tacked it to the wall, because I want people to see it).  Quite intricate.

Finally, I would like to share three very special pieces of student-created #SciArt, if I may.

A number of years ago, I had a very quiet student in one of my classes and a semester of research in my lab.  Some students banter (or sass) with me, others are too shy.  It's all good, regardless; my lab students are like family to me.  

A year after this student graduated, she came back to see me in the summer, and brought me this enormous crocheted bacteriophage! That was a lot of work, and I will accept her labor as a compliment to me and my research students.

A few years ago, one of my microbiology students told me that she couldn't do a creative project for the class; she was too busy.  I told her that was too bad, but that I understood.  A while later, she told me that she was taking a ceramics class, and had made me something.  The student told me she would drop by my office with it.

And she did.  The student pulled the above large sculpture out of her backpack!  I tell you, that would have broken into a million pieces had I carried it.  But her sculpture was sturdy and quite lovely!  

Here is the last stop of this virtual tour of student-made #SciArt in my little laboratory.

Two years ago, I had a microbiology student turn in a lab report. Paper clipped to the report was the above, which I have since had framed.  It was a surprise, not for an assignment.  

It's true I prattle on.  But what "got" me about this artwork is how it summarized some of the points I tried to emphasize in my microbiology course.  If the student thought these were important, maybe I have been on the right track.  

Here are the concepts/facts/ideas that most stood out to this wonderful student.

  • I have long called my microbiology students "micronauts." This student created a wonderful motto:  "Micronauts We Soar," which will be the motto for next year's course T-shirt.
  • MRSA in a cape---a "superbug"---is to be expected.
  • A quite nice and accurate diagram of attenuation in the tryptophan operon of E. coli.
  • I often told students there is evidence for thin biofilm on the very surface of the ocean, and there it is---a "sea of microbes."
  • It's not microbiology without honoring Carl Woese and his Tree of Life.
  • I particularly liked seeing a bacteriophage giving the side-eye to a bottle of antibiotics.  Phage therapy is the future!
  • My students are always alarmed by the story of poor little Jimmy Phipps, the orphan who Edward Jenner tested his vaccinia small pox inoculation.  Wouldn't you love to have seen that IRB form?

There are many other pieces of student-made art around my cluttered lab and office, and every one of them mean a great deal to me.  Even on a sad day, it's nice to know that I have made some kind of impact among such creative and wonderful students.

I'm lucky at home.  And I am lucky at work.

Thank you for taking this virtual tour with me.  Best wishes.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Happy Microbial Valentines' Day!

How about that January?  I know.  I do my best to just focus on my students and my research thoughts.

Today is Valentines' Day, and I would like to share some "bioluminescent art"---#LuxArt---for that occasion.  Again, I use Photobacterium leignothi strain KNH6, which I find to be very bright.  

First up, a salute to my beautiful and brilliant wife Dr. Jennifer Quinn.  Truly, she deserves every good thing (particularly based on her full time job putting up with my veering approach to reality!). Love you, Jennigirl.

Next,  there is nothing wrong with a bit of a Valentines' Day poem dedicated to my wife, is there?

How about a microbially relevant Valentines' Day haiku?

But no matter what, let's keep the next image in mind today.

My very, very best wishes to all of you.  And your microbiota!

May you be happy holobionts, one and all!

Sunday, January 1, 2017

The First Day of 2017

I have been blogging, irregularly, for several years here.  Some folks read what I write, most people do not. I am grateful for the former, but understand the latter.

This post is going to be different.  The first thing I want to say at the outset is that I am very lucky, and many people have far greater difficulties than I do.  That needs emphasis.

The past several years have been challenging for me both personally and professionally.  The death of my mother.  The death of my father. A fight to earn tenure at my current institution. A lack of research progress, and grant support.  Most recently, an attempt to be promoted to full professor being tabled in a way I find, um, a bit unfair.  So I have experienced some negatives personally and professionally.

Yes, there have been many positives, too.  My wife Jenny, my sons Anson and Zachary.  The continued successes of former research students (the most important thing I have ever done professionally is identify and mentor scientific talent in others). I have received some recognition and appreciation, especially off campus (it turned into an accurate joke with a former student:  I'm popular, but not in person).  

So why cannot these positive things outweigh the bad?

I would like to write about myself and my journey in this post. More importantly, I would like to write about how we all treat each other, particularly in these odd and turbulent times.  So:  no microbiology, no education, no students.  It's okay if you don't feel like reading more.  But I wanted to say a few things to people who might be interested.

I have suffered from depression for many, many years.  I say that with the full knowledge that I have much to be happy about, and a great deal of which to be proud.  I am well aware of the stigma that is attached to any form of mental difficulty.  That said, let me repeat:  I suffer from depression.  I work hard to hide it. 

Winston Churchill used to call depression his "black dog," and there is some truth to that.  This video explains things very well, I think.  It certainly struck powerful chords in me.

Given my challenges, it is remarkable I have come as far as I have; I certainly didn't expect that I would (i) get into a PhD program, (ii) complete a postdoc, (iii) get a job, (iv) return to academia, (v) have my career survive being denied tenure, (vi) get a new academic job, (vii) earn tenure at that new job, and (most of all) (viii) have my career survive all the spectacularly dumb things I have done over the years.

And I haven't even started on my personal life.  Yet there too, I have done far better than many.  I would say "better than I deserve," but that feeds into the whole self-deprecation thing again. Sigh.

Even with depression I survived all these things, did well, and am still standing.

We all know the story of the missing sheep. In a perverse way, I (and others like me) tend to focus on the negative.  To give more impact and credence to failures than to successes.  Worst of all for me is that I am very aware that my mindset is counterproductive. It's frustrating for others, and bothers the heck out of me, too.  

As an example, I dislike compliments and will minimize or negate them. I used to joke that my late mother was "psychologically Amish," because she would deflect or negate compliments.  To my mother, arrogance was a Sin among sins.  Arrogance is indeed unpleasant, but she took it too far, and so have I.

As you can see, my odd journey has impacted me in many ways.  I tend to understate my own abilities.  I avoid fighting or disagreements as much as possible---which I have found counterproductive.  I expect the worst from others (and from myself).  I see things illuminated by what I have called for many years "dark light."

I have let this affliction own me for many years, and yet I still have accomplished more than I objectively could have predicted.  I have trouble calling myself a winner, so perhaps I can call myself a survivor.  

I don't give up, despite all my complaining and negativity.  

So in the coming year, I will work very hard indeed to make some changes:  to be more positive, productive, supportive, and energetic.  I want to create the world in which I want to live---by being that person, and rewarding/encouraging those who think the same way.

When they were little, I use to joke with my sons that we needed a family motto:  we aren't problem complainers, we are problem solvers.

I need to take that to heart. 

We all---me included---need to change our ways.  Much of this is derived from the lessons we supposedly learned in kindergarten. I have seen a lot of hurt and cruelty, even in academic environments. Perhaps especially in academic environments.  The longer I am in academia, the more I see that Sayres was right.

True enough.  I often think we academics are the ones no one wanted on that fourth grade kickball team.  It explains a lot. 

It is true I have had to deal with some, um, not-fans of yours truly. It's a challenge to me to have people think poorly of me, and see me in the worst light possible. Still, there is some use in having folks like that around, to be honest: we all have room to improve.  My late father used to remind me that everyone in San Quentin Prison maintained that they were innocent; we all must own some of our own difficulties. We just need to find proportion.  And by "we," I mean "me." 

This is amusing and also true.

So what to do?  Persevere, again.  Not give up.  Not give in.  I do have supporters who think well of me, and I need to pay more attention to them. And I need to prove my detractors wrong, and rather silly, by my actions and example.  It's easier to just let things go and feel sorry for myself; energy is required to climb upwards into the light.  

When someone says or does something I do not care for, I need to stop.  Take a breath.  And then I need to ask myself:  do I do or say things just like that?  If so, I need to change.  Because the only person I can really change is myself.

There is a great book with an amusing title.  I recommend it to anyone in academia.  If you don't have time to read it, here is a short synapsis by the author.  

You see, bullying is contagious, even in academia.  It's all about folks in one group dissing folks in another group----just like middle school.  If you and your group are smart and good, why, folks in another group must be stupid and bad.  Again, just like middle school.

Few people (and no administrator) will stand up to most bullying, except in its most extreme forms.  It's easier to allow someone to be treated badly than to induce a bully to behave decently. So all I have is to take the better path.  To show by example I am not like that; to try to create the environment in which I want to live and work.  This is important for people other than myself; allowing bullies to do their thing---even in academia---leads to more bullies and less enjoyment in life.

And it's true in other areas than academia, as we all see.

But standing up has a personal cost, to me. My father used to tell me that the measure of a person was not how they treated people they liked or who treated them well. That was easy.  No, the measure of a person was how they treated people they did not like, and who did not treat them well.  

I want to follow my father's example.  It's not easy, but I am making progress.

In a larger context, here are some guidelines that might help create a better environment for us all.  They apply to me, too.

  • Tactlessness is not honesty.
  • Being overbearing is not the same as being forthright.
  • Cruelty to others is not a type of strength.
  • Kindness is not a form of weakness.
  • If you are talking, you are not listening.
  • If you are waiting to talk, you are not listening, either.
  • Be certain that what you call snark is not cruelty.
  • Avoid hypocrisy; if it is wrong when one person does it, it is wrong when another person does it.

I cannot speak for you, but hypocrisy drives me up a wall.  We all see people who have two sets of rules:  one for people they like (or themselves) and one for others.  I certainly see a lot of it on social media.  Sigh.  

Putting the proverbial shoe on the other foot is an important skill. People who believe differently than you do are not evil or stupid. But our internet world is all about snap judgement and narrative, so it seems to me....instead of about people, and the kind of environment in which most of us want to live.  

For me, the big take home lesson brings us home to Henry James.

And even to the late, great Randy Pausch.

I would encourage everyone to be kinder and more patient, as Henry James and Randy Pausch suggest. There is evidence helping others helps both parties, as the fearless Amy Alkon champions here.

I think she has a point. I believe that we should all strive to do one kindness for a stranger each day. And two kindnesses for people we know!

So the new year begins today.  I actually do have some resolutions:

  • Be less negative.
  • Be more grateful.
  • Get more sleep.
  • Get more exercise.
  • Become more organized.
  • Make things happen.
  • Do better research.
  • Get more papers published.
  • Blog more often.

Several scientists have offered to help me with the research part; another reason to feel lucky and grateful.  I intend to take them up on it.   It's time to bring that black dog to heel.  Wish me luck?

I may not succeed.  But I will keep trying.  And that is the one thing my life objectively demonstrates:  if you don't give up, and keep trying, you will arrive somewhere very near your goals. 

I will try to live by one of my old, old mottos:  
Loquere minus
Audi plus
Cogita semper
It means:
Talk less
Listen more
Think always
There is a saying I very much like.  "The future will not be as terrible as our nightmares, or as wonderful as our daydreams."

Finally, I want to wish each of you a wonderful 2017.  And I recently found a post by the essential and uplifting author Neil Gaiman (have you read his "American Gods"?) that is hopeful, positive, and genuine.  Here it is.

Notice the importance of kindness, again?

Ray Bradbury is another literary hero of mine.  Brother Ray speaks for me here:  I am fine being the person I am.  If some people don't like it, I would rather spend time around people who don't mind my quirks and talents.

Being yourself is important.

Brother Ray is also giving me good advice about my own future here.

If you will pardon me, I have some wings to build.  And many thanks to the folks who have offered to help me build them. I'm a bit of a group project.  As I get older, I am finally understanding that we are all group projects.

I'll settle for less anger, and more positivity, from me.  What about you?