Friday, February 20, 2009

Dirty little secret

Lately I've felt really positive about doing statistical analyses.  Not just on my own data, though that is a lot more fun than class work, but I'm enjoying the class work too.  Lecture is interesting, and I like discussing various methods for analysis with classmates and my professor.  I'm not sure what king of turning point this is, but it  must be significant when something you once loathed and avoided becomes enjoyable.  I'm curious if something in me has changed, or if I've finally progressed far enough in the science for it to be more interesting.  I'm hoping it's the latter, because I'm not sure I'd embrace a personal change that resulted in finding joy in statistics.  I mean it's good to find happiness anywhere you can in life, but stats?  There is something a little unnatural about it.

Thursday, February 19, 2009


I think that the peanuts and the departments vending machine are meeting weekly to plot my demise.  (Maybe it's not as likely as ninja monkey's, but everybody knows peanuts are wicked evil).  I've generally ignored the peanut recall because I don't have cupboards full of peanut products at home and I assume that anything on the shelf at the grocery store is safe, but vending machines?  can we really trust them?  It wouldn't have been a problem except for that fact that our departments vending machine is old and poorly maintained so most of the letters and numbers identifying the row your snack-product-of-choice occupies have fallen off.  It's embarrassing to admit how often I eat from the machine, let alone how many times I counted rows incorrectly and ended up with stale granola instead of m&m's or Nutter Butters instead of grandmas cookies.  Luckily a quick internet search left me with the reassuring knowledge that the cookies shouldn't kill me (this time).  I always knew the peanuts had it out for us, but now they've recruited the vending machines.  The world really is a cruel place when I have to google my snack food for safety before eating it.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Spiritual epiphany

This amazing bolt of insight hit me the other night that I felt like sharing.  I wasn't doing anything special.  It was late, I was done working for the night, so I was knitting on a hat and ignoring an old episode of "House" on my laptop.  I was a little spaced out (which is normal when I knit) and my mind wasn't even on spiritual matters, and then out of left field it struck me: 

Everyone in the world is equally wrong about god, the after life, and everything else that we try to explain in spiritual terms.  

It sounds dumb, but I actually find it reassuring.   To me this means that it's okay not to agree with how anyone has laid out religion or atheism because they are all wrong.  In fact I don't think that we are biologically capable of coming up with the right answer to any of life's big questions.  That doesn't mean we can't try, but it sure takes the stress out of coming up with the right answer.  Like most academics knowledge is of paramount importance to me, so it's weird to be comforted by the realization that in this life I'll never be capable of answering a question correctly.  

Friday, February 6, 2009

The Jack of all trades......

Is the master of none.

It's a problem I've faced for a long time.  Having eclectic interests hinders your ability to become an expert in one thing.  I've been dwelling on this a lot lately.  I like taking a wide range of classes, looking at my project from every point of view, learning as much about other peoples work as I can.  But I overheard a comment from an office-mate the other day and it's been niggling at me ever since.  The comment could be summarized as: grad students shouldn't take many classes, but should instead stay focused on their own project only taking courses that directly relate to our work.  I guess I can see their point but I've always thought of grad school as my opportunity to increase my knowledge about everything, not just to get my own project done.

During a class yesterday the professor said: "the jack of all trades is the master of none."  Now they were referring to the evolution of host specificity in herbivorous insects, not my future as a scientist, but I was still struck by the statement.  It's funny how passing comment like that can stick with you.  Along the same lines, a soils professor I took a class from once said that everyone is an expert on something.  I've never been able to land on anything I'm an expert on.  I know quite a lot about many things, I know just a little about a lot more things, and I know very little about most of the rest.  But I am an expert on nothing.

So what is the point of education?  Becoming an expert in your area? or Learning about everything you can?  Or is there some other reason for all this knowledge that hasn't occurred to me?