Tag Archives: writing

Scientific Style

I’ve fallen out of the practice of writing. It’s gotten to the point where I actually fear having to do it. There’s a manuscript hanging over my head, a paper that I desperately need to publish so that I’m known for something other than finding Candida albicans haploids (although, to be fair, this study also regards ploidy variation). More importantly, to wrap up the loose ends of my postdoctoral research and develop my own independent program.IMG_4027

If only I could wish that the words would write themselves. Except the paper is already written, had even been submitted and subject to review. At first glance, the rejection was hardly a blow – all reviewers agreed it was technically sound, however there were mixed feelings to the degree in which it advanced our knowledge and thus, wasn’t impactful enough for that journal. The solution seemed simple: a few quick edits and submit to a lower-tier journal.

That was five months ago. It shames me to admit that, I don’t usually operate at snail speed. Granted, that first semester as a faculty member, combined with the cross-country relocation was a substantial transition. Unbelievably, in that time, I set up a functioning lab, hired a technician and now have experiments in progress (!!!). But the manuscript continues to sit stagnant on my desktop. I usually circumvent writers block by finding an existing document and revising, editing and re-writing the whole damn thing to transform it into something distinct from the original. Not so with this paper.


The brick wall my head keeps pounding into? I took the reviews personally. Strike that: I took the slightly less-than-glowing review personally. The positive review didn’t resonate in the least. As a naïve graduate student, some time ago now, I remember being told to not take these things personally. And most times, I think do a pretty good job of it. I’ve internalized that perspective to the point that I find myself frequently qualifying the comments I provide with the ubiquitous “it’s not you, it’s the science” statement. But is that the truth? I enthusiastically stand on my soapbox, advocating that scientists are individuals with interests and lives beyond just their science. Yet, that sentiment does not diminish the degree in which the work that we do; the research we perform and the context in which we convey the results and their significance reflects who we are.


Scientific style has been on the forefront of my mind as I’ve been making decisions after decision on establishing the lab and the direction to move towards. So the “it’s not the science, it’s the lack of impact” comment struck an overworked and exposed nerve, disabling me in a way that I am not proud of. It wasn’t that I received that particular review, I support the rigor of peer-review, it’s that I knew it wasn’t an unfair statement. The paper, as previously submitted, DID lack meaningful insight and failed to emphasize the novelty of the results. I take full responsibility for its lackluster appearance. Ultimately, I appreciate the rejection – it has given me the opportunity to give the paper a desperately needed makeover.


Why shouldn’t my scientific writing and research have a signature style? As with so many other elements of my life – I like being distinctive and striking to the beholder. I’m currently obsessed with residing at the intersection of form and function. Too ‘functional’ and you end up with boring ideas and dry writing. Too much form and flair and you run the risk of losing substance and credibility. I’ve spent hours crafting a single paragraph and months upon months playing with data visualization. Finding the balance between form and function not takes time, but an enormous amount of work, all in the hopes that it looks effortless.

In this day and age of ‘publish or perish’ in academics, my proclivity towards staying true to my style (not to mention my idealism towards mentoring) will certainly prevent me from being my most productive. I know that. But for me, external metrics (like number of papers published) are rarely sufficient for my sense of satisfaction. Up to this point, my own high expectations have guided me in my career, with measurable success. We’ll see if this holds true in the future.


Gathering Stories

I’ve been quiet lately. Partly because I’ve been travelling. Largely, because I haven’t felt like sharing. I’ve wanted to keep my life, my thoughts and my feelings to myself. I’d been feeling for a long time at a loss for words. For not knowing what I wanted. Feeling completely uninteresting, with all of my life stories being tired and well-worn. And to be perfectly honest, a little vulnerable about sharing past experiences. Previous posts about my incredibly painful loss of love have been frequented a lot recently and it’s left me uncomfortable and over-exposed. Added to that is the what seems like constant (although I realize I’m exaggerating) news of engagements, babies and new job opportunities and my feelings of inadequacy have exploded.

People preach about savoring and being thankful for everyday pleasures. For appreciating the small things in life. That’s all well and good, but sometimes you need to spike in something new and exciting to recharge you. To gather new life stories that don’t revolve around experiences in the distant past. So that you don’t feel like you peaked in high school, college or grad school. To know that you aren’t afraid of stepping out of your routine.

I’ve spent the past four weeks traveling. Simply because the opportunity presented itself. And as a single adult, I didn’t have anything preventing me. So I dropped the cats off with my friend Laura, packed my bags and gathered my passport.

 First to Paris, to spend three days with one of my dearest friends. We seized the opportunity of having work obligations (myself in Germany and her in the south of France) to meet and play in the city of light. It was my first visit to Paris and we reveled in about every touristy thing you can imagine.

From Paris I took the train to Heidelberg, the most adorable, gingerbread town in Germany for a conference. It was a  yet another opportunity to meet up with old friends and colleagues and nerd out about yeast genetics and evolution. To drink beer and eat pretzels and sausages.

After that I flew to Tel Aviv, where I could unpack my luggage and settle in for three weeks. My academic advisor has started a lab at the university there, so I went to offer my support and expertise to the newest and naive members of the lab. I was already halfway there, so why not? I was visiting Israel with a soon-to-be labmate and inevitably good friend.

I have new stories. That are interesting, quirky and beyond the everyday, simply because they are foreign. I am still keeping them close, holding them tight and waiting for the right moments to share. But they exist.