Volume 2

As I wrote yesterday, the whole family was pretty sick, except me. This morning it seemed that my son was already much better. The entire day, he was in good shape, drank a lot, had some pear, and later some pieces of toast. It all seemed to go well. He was running and playing.

Until at 6pm his body decided otherwise. Everything that had entered his body over the day was splattered across the living room floor. Volume 2 was a pretty large volume. Volume 3 and 4 came only briefly after, and covered the couch. My son aims for anything, as long as it’s not a bucket…

He’s now quietly sleeping. Let’s hope he’ll be better tomorrow. One thing I’m pretty sure of, is that the odds that I will start my own stomach adventure soon are increasing by the minute. Something is brewing, and it isn’t good. If there’s no blog tomorrow, I’m probably hanging face-down in a toilet bowl. Forgive me. Or wish me luck.

It was a lot…

Last night my wife got pretty sick. It must have been some stomach flu, as everything that entered flew out in no-time, including water. This kind of feeling sucks balls anyway, but something tells me it’s particularly heavy on breastfeeding mothers.

This morning, I let her and our baby daughter sleep, and prepared our son for the daycare. Just to be sure, we both did a covid test. My boy is a champion, and even though he’s only two, he seems to understand that we test him so we know he’s not sick. He always talks about ‘test good; not sick’ for half an hour afterwards. He was a happy chap. And he was happy to be at daycare, too. He loves going there. In the middle of a supervision meeting with a PhD candidate, I received a call. Daycare. They can’t reach my wife (doh… She’s only half alive in the room next to me). Rafa had vomited, and it was urgent that I should pick him up.

Rafa never vomits. Literally, in two years and a bit, he has vomited only twice, because something got stuck in his throat while eating. He never threw up as a baby either, and he never got sick like that before. It was quite a sad sight, that little pile of sadness, sitting in the middle of the daycare floor, covered head to toe in his own stomach contents. Usually I start retching myself, the moment I see someone vomit, but it turns out to be different when it’s your kid. I was just overwhelmed with love. I just wanted to bring my boy home. We changed clothes, and quickly left. A quick stop at the pharmacy to pick up oral rehydration salts. Mama wasn’t taking up any water, and that meant that the baby food wells dried up. While the friendly pharmacy lady explains to me the best approach to treat a breastfeeding mom with stomach flu, Rafa erupts once more. Twice actually. The carpet in the pharmacy will have a permanent mark I’m sure. I’m sorry St. Georg Apotheke… I’m sure he didn’t mean to. They were cool about it though. Proper empaths in such places.

Five minutes later, we’re home. Rafa seemed alright. He wanted to play. And drink. And eat. I gave him two sips of water, and a cracker. That seemed to go well. Until he started projectile vomiting. I changed his clothes three times today, and he must have covered another three, four cloths in a cocktail of electrolytes and stomach juices. He couldn’t hold in a couple of spoonsful. Near the evening, he still hadn’t kept in a bit. Six hours of stomach emptying is not cool, and we decide to call doctors for advice. This lousy health system here tells you they will not help kids, because they’re no children’s doctors. If I wanted advice I could ‘simply’ drive to the children’s hospital in Landshut, a good 40 kilometers away. What the fuck?

Then we tried grandma’s advice, which she kindly shared with us on the phone. A coke. Get out the gas, and give him a spoonful of coke. The drink. Not the powder. Then wait 15 minutes, then another spoon. Repeat that a couple of times, and then try some electrolyte water. That’s how I spent the last three hours, spoon-feeding my child. A child that was getting dehydrated and thirsty, but wasn’t allowed to drink more than a sip at a time. I’m not sure he understood that. But he didn’t vomit, and that’s all that matters.

He just fell asleep. Poor boy.

Now it’s time to take care of myself. It’s easy to forget your own food or drinks when you’re caring for others. Time for dinner! I’m hungry, thirsty, and not sick yet, so better enjoy it while it lasts….

The rule of two – Check!

I’ve talked before about some of the persistent unwritten rules in academia that are heavily outdated, but still spreading. Somehow, they are always about numbers. For instance, the ridiculous rule of four – which posits that as long as you write four papers per year, you should be fine. I think it’s a bunch of horse shit, to be honest. Circumstances matter. In my view it’s better to have one good paper that you’re proud of, than four shitty papers that you don’t stand by. Still, the rule of four pops up every now and then, so this must mean that many people disagree with me. Anyway, I digress. This post is about another, maybe even more ridiculous written rule. The rule of two.

You can’t make this shit up. The rule of two I have heard from so many people now, that I almost start believing it. The rule of two posits that in order to make it in academia, you need two years of foreign experience. I don’t see how this is in any way a useful prerequisite. In this day and age, it is not about collaborations. Collaborations can be done without foreign experience easily. Everything is online these days anyway. The concept of ‘experiencing other lab cultures’ I also don’t buy. You can experience different lab cultures close to home, and in much shorter time frames. Besides, if you’re in a good place, regularly collaborating with others (wherever they are), happy, and successful (whatever that means), why would the two years elsewhere be important? To me, this two year period just feels like a huge filter, to separate those that can be without access to their social circle at home, and those that cannot. I think this filter has very little to do with skill. In fact, I think it is one of the reasons why so many assholes persist.

“Hey, but you can always come back…”

Sure, I can come back, to many friendships that feel forgotten, to family that never understood why we left in the first place. All my relationships have suffered. All. Zero exceptions.

Was it worth it? I can’t deny that I have had great professional opportunities here. However, I am certain that I could have done similarly well if I had stayed in the same place. It’s just that everyone told me that I needed the two years. It’s the only reason I left. I loved my home and life in the Netherlands.

So today’s the day. My CV has magically been upgraded to a new level. There’s now a check mark at the ‘2 years of foreign experience’. It’s nice and shiny and gold! Look at my CV being all fantastic suddenly.

I can’t wait for tomorrow morning! I expect a full inbox, with more job offers than I can read. Everyone knows that great rewards come to those that stick with the rule of two!

In reality, the current job situation seems pretty grim. I don’t think I will be back home any time soon…

Now I’ve heard some rules about not staying in the same postdoc position too long. Uh oh! I may violate this important unwritten academic rule… But, but, but… Now what?

Well, at least I made some figures…

There’s just so many angry and frustrated thoughts I want to write about today, but my thoughts don’t take a proper form. I think it’s better for the world, for my blog, for everyone, if I just shut the fuck up today. It’s been a rough day. I scheduled a day entirely for manuscript writing, and let’s just say I didn’t write at all. I only got around to making four quick figures, before my schedule was interrupted. Perhaps one day I’ll write a post on the reasons why. It’s a structural problem here in Germany, and something that bothers me, and has for a while. But it’s something that requires a description with structure and nuance. Not something that I can provide today. I’d better practice mindfulness this evening…

The hardest part

Parenting is fucking hard! I knew that before we took the decision to have kids. I’m one of three kids myself, raised by a single mother, without a dad in sight. I’ve seen how my mother struggled, not just to make ends meet, but to raise me and my two younger brothers. Being the oldest of the three – and I guess quite aware from a young age – I pretty well remember the shit she went through to get us through the day to day.

We don’t even have three, and certainly don’t plan for three. Two is just fine. But yet, we struggle.

They always tell you the sleep deprivation is the worst.

I don’t know…

Sure, after our son was born in 2019, we suffered quite a bit from sleep deprivation. However, you get used to sleep deprivation. You can get by on less than eight hours for quite a while, and the interruptions you can get used to. As we figured out too late, extreme bouts of exhaustion are well dealt with by going to bed two hours early for a week or so, or however long is needed. Sleep deprivation sucks balls, because sleeping is so nice.

Sleep deprivation is not the worst.

What’s the worst for me, and something I really, really struggle with, is the lack of time to be really focused on something challenging for an extended period of time. This doesn’t have to be something hard, but it could even be reading a book. Sure, at work my focus is needed, and I try my best to make it work. But work in of itself is making it hard. I don’t have time to sit down and think. And the days where I thought after getting home are over. It’s impossible to do anything substantial while the kids are awake. I always write when I put my son to bed, in the half an hour after he’s fallen asleep and I’m still awake enough to write. This is a reason why my posts have been quick and dirty lately – writing on a phone sucks. After writing, I usually make a tea and my wife and I hang on the couch. Tired. We have three options: do something focused (and fall asleep right away), or do nothing, but at least enjoy being together until our baby daughter wakes up and requires attention, or lastly, go to bed right away.

We usually opt for the second. But I miss the first. I miss having the mental energy to read a novel. Or anything that isn’t suitable for age 2+.

Feeding time

Pre-post warning: This post contains many photographs of corn snakes feeding on (dead) prey items. Cornsnakes feed on small rodents, and due to my snakes’ young age, these are often young mice. Experience tells me that some people find this type of imagery disturbing. It is, however, an inherent part of snake-keeping. If this is not your thing, look no further than the first picture, which is a snake without a prey. Young cornsnakes, especially when not frequently handled, can be rather restless, making photography more challenging (and I have little time to explore other methods). Feeding time is one of those rare moments where they actually sit still. This, combined with the fact that I disturb them at this time anyway, gives me the opportunity to take pictures that represent them well.

Last week I ‘completed’ my cornsnake group, by adding several animals with particular color and pattern mutations. It’s hard to put to words how much satisfaction I get from keeping these fantastic animals. What can I say. Some people breed canary birds. I happen to breed snakes. Here are some of my beauties.

A male homozygous for caramel and striped, heterozygous for diffused, and palmetto, 50% possible heterozygous for hypo.
A female homozygous for caramel and striped, heterozygous for diffused, and palmetto, 50% possible heterozygous for hypo.
A female, homozygous for lavender and masque, heterozygous for diffused, hypo, motley, and possibly heterozygous for amel and charcoal.
A male, homozygous for lavender and masque, heterozygous for diffused, hypo, motley, and possibly heterozygous for amel and charcoal.
A female, homozygous for Palmetto, possible heterozygous for diffused, amel and anery.
A female, homozygous for sunkissed and caramel, 66% possible heterozygous for cinder and amel.
A male, homozygous for sunkissed and cinder, heterozygous for caramel.
A female, homozygous for sunkissed and anery, 66% possible heterozygous for hypo and motley, possible heterozygous for cinder.
A male, homozygous for amel, diffused, and pied-sided, heterozygous for lava, hypo, and motley.
A female, homozygous for diffused, possible heterozygous for hypo, charcoal, striped, pied-sided, possible heterozygous for anery.
A male, homozygous for hypo, diffused and pied-sided, heterozygous for charcoal, striped, possible heterozygous for anery.
A female, homozygous for diffused, and pied-sided, heterozygous for lava, hypo, and motley, 50% possible heterozygous for amel.
A female, homozygous for anery, hypo, diffused, and motley, possible heterozygous for sunkissed, charcoal.
A female, homozygous for hypo, diffused, and motley, heterozygous for sunkissed, anery, possible heterozygous for masque.

Winter is coming…

Winter is coming. Last winter was pretty amazing here in Freising. Lots of snow – the kind that stays for days, not the version that immediately turns into a horrible brown sludge. Ther were also lots of clear blue skies. In other words, it was a winter as I like them most (and a winter that is rare in my home country, the Netherlands). The year before it was one of those absolute shit winters, with cold days, temperatures just above zero, and fog so thick that it often felt like drizzle. This is probably cool if… Well no. There’s no scenario where this is cool. It’s just brutal, and it sucks. The beautiful snowy winter last year almost made me forget the fogged up hellish time frame between November and April from the year before – and apparently the six years before that. I was thinking about winter today, and was kind of looking forward to it. However, today was one of those foggy days. Not freezing. It’s warmer than that, but it feels colder. I was having high hopes for better days soon, until that horrible moment of realization kicked in and told me that the odds for another great winter are heavily stacked against me.

I guess we’ll have to rely on large volumes of hot tea, daily Vitamin D, and lots of sleep, and hope for the best…

Enough with this weird week already

I was off my game today. I found out at work that I didn’t bring my laptop. That never happened to me before. I was just confused. Have been all week, maybe. Not sure how it happened, but the way this week unfolded was just weird. Maybe it was because I took Monday and Tuesday off? A short week sounds like fun, but it often just means more work in the remaining days. Maybe it was the content of my work for the week. Many random things to arrange, but very little actual feeling of progress. Reviewed two papers this week, plus I taught a couple of classes (including one on life tables… more like death tables, they drain my soul). Usually, you get very little to show for these things, except perhaps you can tick them off the to-do list. Luckily, I managed to finish, erase or undo most of the weirdness before the weekend, so I can start the next week with an emptier slate.

Hopefully a cleaner slate will give me some time and brain space to pick up some of my own work from the shelf – where it’s been lying for a while – blow off the thick layer of dust that has accumulated on it, and get it done. There’s a paper with very minor revisions to resubmit. It’s a shame that has already been postponed for so long. It’s not much I need to do. I just need to get it done. Another manuscript with nice data that I already analyzed, and only need to write up results and discussion to finish it. I just haven’t gotten around doing it. For those that liked my recent invited views piece, you will love this too! It’s all about light pollution and the phytobiome. It will be my favorite data paper, perhaps because it’s the first thing I designed after my PhD? But also because I think the story will be fun and straightforward. The story line is all there, with strong data to support it. I only have to put it on paper. I need a couple of calm days to focus! Lastly, I hope to brush up and submit my written grant proposal, with the feedback from my collaborators.

All I need is some time.

How can that be so hard?

Buckle up! It’s gonna be a rough ride…

I’m scared.

There, I said it. I’m bloody scared!

This whole pandemic situation freaks me out, and it’s exhausting.

I try to do my job as an academic – teaching, supervision, research – while generally keeping in mind the safety of myself and those that I’m responsible for, being my team and my students. Before this winter semester began, mid October, COVID-19 cases were slowly on the way up, similarly to last year, the only difference being that numbers this year were higher. I knew many people were now vaccinated, but especially for that reason, something didn’t add up. Numbers were higher than before vaccines existed, in only a 30 percent segment of the population that should be ‘suitable’ as hosts for the virus. Somehow that didn’t sound credible. Perhaps it’s my limited understanding of epidemiology, but it seemed to me that the virus was simply spreading outside as well as inside the vaccinated population. I think these signs were quite obvious from September or so.

Now the universities decided late September that – in contrast to the previous three semesters – things would rerurn to normal. People on campus would all be vaccinated, recovered or tested, but they would be present. I never understood the decision. I was never asked for my opinion either. I think no one asked students what they thought. Online teaching took us time to adapt to, but struggles were overcome, and things now finally ran smoothly. I didn’t ask for presence teaching, I didn’t need it. Online worked fine for me. No. It was sort of pushed on us from the highest ranks of university. I disagreed with this cluster fuck of a decision from the start, and have felt uncomfortable since. But being the obedient little minion that I am, I spent the last three weeks doing various formats of presence teaching, and a very minor component of online teaching.

Three weeks. We’re only about three weeks in!

Yesterday there were 50.000 new cases in Germany. The weekly incidence rate lies over 400 per 100.000 for Bavaria. COVID-19 is skyrocketing. All around me vaccinated people are turning sick. Yes, mostly mild symptoms, but they’re sick nonetheless.

This just makes me really really wonder what we are doing in our teaching. Are we creating massive silent super spreader events in our classes?

I’m not sure what to think. I’m vaccinated. I’m not afraid of what the virus will do to me. I fear for others. For those that decided not to get vaccinated (please do), or those that were denied access. I fear for my kids. They’re unvaccinated. As are most kids. Why should they suffer for the stupid decisions we make as adults? I think it’s another clear example of governing bodies putting financial gain and status above the well-being of the larger population.

Today, my colleague and I decided to cancel all our presence teaching. If universities don’t take responsibility for the safety and well-being of students and employees, it’s up to us.

I will not play a role in this shit show.

I will from now on serve my students from the protected area I call Zoom. Please join me in my safe space!

Now buckle up, it’s gonna be a rough winter…

I’m scared, but this is okay!

Career perspectives in a pandemic…

A tweet came by today, and it made me think… Because the Twitter plugin on WordPress keeps failing on me, I’ll paraphrase here. The tweet suggested that the pandemic (hereafter: fucking pandemic) hits academics hard, and that productivity has severely decreased since fucking pandemic times. The tweet was also asking how to maintain a competitive profile, when productivity is experiencing a dip. The fucking pandemic impacts are heaviest among women, young parents, and people of color, as the article in the original tweet states. This fucking pandemic sucks big time. And to be honest, there is no end in sight. No matter how hard universities or even some governments pretend otherwise.

Being a young parent of two kids (2.5 yr and 4 mo), less than two years after finishing my PhD, I can only agree. This fucking pandemic hit me hard. I don’t even know how my wife and I got through it all and somehow both had some great career successes. We have survived all the previous lockdowns with a single child without day care by alternating our work hours, but it was tough. This alternating schedule enabled us to somehow do the bare necessities, while at least being available for our son. However, since the last lockdown a second baby joined the club. I’m not even sure now that I can handle the bare necessities, and there’s no lockdown yet. This fucking pandemic is really killing me.

And yet, time doesn’t stand still… I have some time left on my contract, but needless to say, it also makes sense to think about the future. And so I was thinking about what it is that I do to remain attractive on the ‘career market’, because, to be honest, working more hours is simply not an option, and to be fair, I think it shouldn’t be a desire either. Enough is enough.

So what should we do to be seen? I’m not sure, but my gut feeling tells me to spend my working hours being helpful and grateful.

I spend the majority of my hours helping others. This is either through supervision, teaching, providing feedback, and academic services. I was a bit worried about not spending enough time on my own research line at first, but my attitude has changed a bit. I can work on my own stuff whenever I want, but I don’t know, I think that investing time in helping other people is a worthy investment that will pay for itself in the longer term. Helpful people stand out in the crowd…

The second, gratitude, may sound a bit silly. Sure, you should be grateful. But are you? Are you also expressing this to the people you work with? Whenever you work with a team, there’s so many things large and small that you do for each other, and I think it’s important to realize this, and appreciate it. I try to make a habit out of it. This is not about yelling thanks at everyone all the time (although that’s certainly better than no thank you, ever), but it’s about spending time recognizing what people do, for you, for each other, or for keeping the system afloat. Germany is the country of the most insincere tokens of gratitude. You’ll often get a thank you, but usually what you have done really goes unseen, and it therefore feels underappreciated. Within my team, I try to see and point out important efforts with gratitude. I think it’s nicer to work with someone that sees these things and is grateful for them. Help is not a given. Don’t take it for granted.

If you’re helpful, and grateful, you will be seen. I think you’ll surround yourself with the right people. The right people will get you through this fucking pandemic, and improve the conditions for a flourishing career – of that I’m sure.