Archive for: January, 2012

Part 6, for your reading pleasure

Jan 30 2012 Published by under Uncategorized

Good morning, my lambs.  It's Monday.  I'm sure that means I'm supposed to be doing something productive.


The Stone Woman, pt.6

By Lab Rockstar

The next morning, Gail got up late again.  The Scofields were out of the house already, and Gail missed breakfast for the third day.  They hadn’t forgotten her, though; there was a mug of cold, black coffee and a bowl containing a grapefruit half on the table.  But Gail wasn’t interested.

Instead, she put on her coat and hat in the mudroom and stepped heavily through the front door.  Outside, the day was gray and smelled like winter and wood smoke.  A good a day as any, she had written on her legal pad earlier that morning.

She shoved her hands into the pockets of her jack and set off across the meadow towards the edge of the woods.  Autumn frost heaves collapsed under her feet as she walked toward a trailhead marked in orange paint on a wide pine trunk.  She kept her eyes on the ground except for a few glances upward to watch where she was going.

In the woods, the wind was still cold, but slowed by all the trees.  The stone was heavy for Gail to carry, but she was starting to get used to it.  The trail went up a small hill and down the other side.  Halfway up the side of the next hill, Gail passed Mr. Scofield’s yurt perched on yellow two-by-fours like chicken legs.  Gail only stopped there for a moment to look and catch her breath, but the structure did nothing to resolve her dilemma, so she trod onward, up the next hill.  The day grew colder and the scent of winter grew stronger.  Before she knew it, several hours had gone by.

At last, the trail seemed to end at the half-frozen lake.  Gail felt vaguely frustrated that she hadn’t found a place she liked that much; even the lake looked like a hundred others she had seen.  There was a short beach that met black water, which silently slurped the few flakes of snow that fell from the sky overhead.  Smoke slid from the chimneys of scattered houses on the far shore.

But just as Gail decided to turn back, she noticed that a very faint trail actually continued into the brush to her right.  She moved toward the path to get a closer look.  It was narrow and not as well maintained; Gail even wondered if it was in fact made by deer coming down from the foothills to drink.  She would follow it, she decided.  She stepped onto the narrow footpath and trudged into the woods.

Gail followed the trail behind a rise and into a little ravine.  At times, she wondered if it really was a trail at all or just a slice of ground where no trees grew, but then she noticed a few old stumps pushing out of the brown detritus.  Their flat, gray faces spoke to Gail of being cut with a chainsaw.  The significance of this came slowly to her hardening brain: the secret of the path was kept not by forest creatures, but by Mr. Scofield.

She continued following the path across an icy stream and up a steep incline that sliced diagonally along a hillside.  Here, a glacier had precariously deposited several granite boulders.  Gail regarded them respectfully but did not stop.  Even if she could have heard their voices, she thought, her own would be as meaningless and forgettable to her wild cousins as any particular breeze across her own face.  But she admired them for their strange monumentality, and their delicate cultivation of papery lichens and green mosses.

Gail looked ahead to the top of the hill, where the trees and brush grew sparser.  She walked on from the standing stones as the snow started to fall more steadily.  As she reached the brow of the hill, the stone joints of her knees began to ache with cold.  But she pushed forward to the clearing where the trail spilled her out.

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Moving and pt.5

Jan 28 2012 Published by under Uncategorized

Hot Tottie and I are looking at new apartments.  Not that this Hooverville shoebox next to the methadone clinic isn't enough, but it would be great to have a full kitchen and room for the kids.  Saw a place today, but still haven't found the right one.

At least it wasn't next to a methadone clinic, though.  Maybe I'll miss the loud cursing and flashing blue lights.  It's kinda like living in a disco.  A sad disco.  Where all they play is the sound of desperation and unravelling lives.

Speaking of uplifting shit, here's another installment.


The Stone Woman, pt. 5

by Lab Rockstar

If only things had been different, she said to herself.  She could have seen herself and Michael, retired, living in the country.  She would have had a vegetable garden and make home-cooked meals every night.  With their kids grown and moved out, maybe they’d get a dog…but that dream was already finished.  She looked down at the cranberry juice in her glass.

“It’s just me and you, Juice,” she said aloud.  Now that she was part stone, she told herself, she wasn’t really that lonely.

She did, however, feel a faint repulsion at the thought of drinking the cranberry juice.  Gail wrapped her arms around her waist.  Why wasn’t she hungry?  She was sure that her stomach was empty.  She took the glass and let some of the cranberry juice into her mouth.  It tasted so sour that she wanted to spit it out, but she forced herself to swallow.  The juice was cold in her stomach.  Gail nearly gagged.

It was then that it occurred to her that the stone was not confined to her outsides.  The idea seemed so obvious now that Gail wondered how she could have deluded herself into thinking the stone was just a shell.  Gail lost her breath thinking of it—she was becoming stone inside as well.  She set her glass down.

Heavily, she got up and trundled back to her room.  Flipping to a new page on her legal pad, she struggled to get the cap off of her pen.  The stiffness of her fingers only confirmed what she had thought:

The stone is spreading.  It’s inside me now as well as outside, I think.  This certainly was not what I had intended.  What will I do now? 

Gail lifted her shirt and she saw what she expected.  The stone had indeed spread—she could feel it deep inside her body, transforming her tendons and bones.  Then, with a thought, calmness moved into her, and she continued:

Soon I won’t be able to move or think, I suppose.  I should find a place to stand when I am solid. 

Her first inclination was to stand on Michael’s grave, to be near him even though she could never see or touch him again.  But neither would she be able to see or know where she was, probably, so why should she go all the way back to the city?  I should save up my strength, thought Gail, so tomorrow I can walk until I find a good place.  The stone had already grown heavier, it seemed; she could barely sit up straight under the weight of it.  But with her resolution came a sense of peace.

She got back into her bed and lay very, very still.

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MTWD submitted (again) and Part 4

Jan 27 2012 Published by under Uncategorized

You'll all be thrilled to know that I managed to re-resubmit the Manuscript that Wouldn't Die last night.  Maybe they'll reject it in less than 6 months this time.  Maybe the editor will have pity on my poor, pathetic manuscript, with the sad, hopeless cover letter explaining that the data was gathered by myself and a group of inexperienced undergraduates.  We'll see.

Maybe I'll work on the second chapter of my dissertation while I'm waiting.


The Stone Woman, pt. 4

By Lab Rockstar

The next day, after checking the clock again and again for several hours, Gail could no longer bear her own dreams.  She sat up in bed.  Staring out her window to the foothills, eventually the thought occurred to her that she hadn’t yet spoken with her old teacher or even thanked him for inviting her.  Obligation forced Gail out of bed, and she got dressed.  Her feet felt strangely cumbersome as she trudged across the hallway carpet into the kitchen.

The cast-iron potbellied stove radiated warmth in the cozy, dark-paneled kitchen.  Folk art butter molds of enormous chickens and barrel-like pigs hung over the cabinets along with several decorative ladles.  The countertops were brown like bread boards, and one place was set on the dining room table.  As Gail stood examining the room, Mr. Scofield clomped into the kitchen from the mudroom with his arms full of kindling for the fire.

“Is this the time people from Boston usually get up?” he asked wryly.

“No.”  After a pause, Gail added, “Thank you for letting me come stay with you.”  For a second, the flicking movements of chickadees and blue jays outside the picture window drew Gail’s eyes.  Several birdfeeders swayed in a scraggly apple tree.

“Well, thank you for coming,” he nodded to Gail, stacking the firewood inside the stove.  “There’s eighty acres of trails if you want to take a walk.  There’s not enough snow for cross-country skiing yet, but it’s a nice walk.  I can show you the lake as well.  And up on the hillside we have a yurt you might like to see.  Also, Conway is thirty minutes north of here if you want to go shopping or ride the train up Crawford Notch.”  Mr. Scofield stirred the cinder in the stove with a skinny piece of birch.  Gail’s teacher, now retired, looked taller than his wife but had shrunk in height since Gail knew him in high school.  What was left of his hair had turned from gray to white, Gail noted, and the skin on his jaw had become jowlier.  But considering his age, she thought, Mr. Scofield still looked pretty hardy.

“Is anyone else staying here right now?” Gail asked, watching the blue jay riffraff antagonize each other in the apple tree.  Strands of wood smoke leaked from the open stove door.

“No.”  Mr. Scofield shut the stove and stood up, wiping his hands.

“We don’t have many guests this time of year,” Mrs. Scofield piped from the mudroom.  “It’s the holidays, you know.  Business picks up after the New Year usually, wouldn’t you say, dear?”

“Well we don’t get many visitors in January either.”

“Sometimes we do,” she replied, “for the skiing.”

“Year before last we did, but not usually.  Too damn cold here.  City folks need houses warmer than what we keep here.”

“Would you like something to eat, Gail?” Mrs. Scofield said, poking her head into the kitchen.  “I wish you would eat.  Coffee?”

“I’m not hungry,” Gail said, “but thank you.”

“Are you sure?  How about some pancakes?”

“It’s kind of late for pancakes,” Mr. Scofield commented.  “She’d probably rather have a sandwich.  We have some vegetable soup in the fridge too, I think.”

“Well, she just got up so maybe she’d like breakfast—”

“No, I’m fine,” Gail insisted, her voice louder than she had intended.  “I’ll have a glass of water if you tell me where the glasses are.  I can get it myself.”

Mrs. Scofield immediately swooped into the room to fetch a glass from the cupboard.  “We have cranberry juice, milk, and orange juice in the fridge.  Would you like one of those?”

“Alright.  I’ll try the cranberry juice, then.”

Mrs. Scofield set the glass of juice on the counter in front of Gail and went back to her laundry, and soon afterward Mr. Scofield went outside to stack firewood under the back porch.  Despite their Yankee banter, Gail saw how the Scofields had settled into each other over half a century of marriage until they clicked together like two interlocking cogs.  Mrs. Scofield cheerily picked her vegetables and made vegetable soup, while Mr. Scofield cut cross-country skiing paths and stacked the firewood.

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A quick note and Part 3

Jan 26 2012 Published by under Uncategorized

Yesterday I submitted the manuscript of my first dissertation chapter to a prestigious journal.  Today I will spend the day trying to revise the Manuscript that Wouldn't Die for re-resubmission. Someone, somewhere is gonna publish that damn paper.  Mark my words.

But, darlings, I have more story for you.


The Stone Woman, pt. 3

By Lab Rockstar

Gail lifted her shirt and looked at her stomach.  Whitish plates encrusted her torso, dappled with gray patches and translucent patches and white cracks where the flesh, or what was once flesh, looked like it could cleave away cleanly from the rest of her.  This is impossible, she thought, running her fingers over the cold, textured surface.  And yet, it was obviously mineral, with sections varying in patchwork shades from blue-gray to yellowish-white to green-gray and chalk-white.  To Gail’s eye, the stone even shimmered subtly.  She rubbed her hands over it in wonder.

After inspecting herself thoroughly, she went to her legal pad and wrote:

I think the stone has been there for some time, I just hadn’t seen it, or not as much of it had come to the surface.  I feel calmer now that I know it’s there.  If I still had Michael, I would worry about my brain, but somehow now it seems a most natural metamorphosis. 

Michael certainly would not have liked the stone, Gail thought.  He had been an electrician and didn’t know much about biology, but he did worry about her health and certainly would have insisted that her transformation was impossible.  But Gail reasoned that it was clearly not impossible if it was happening there on her body.

Suddenly, there was a knock at her door, and Gail quickly pulled her shirt down over her new belly.

“It’s just me,” Mrs. Scofield chirped through the door.  “Are you doing alright in there?  Do you need anything?”

Gail opened the door.  She wondered, momentarily, if Mrs. Scofield would notice there was anything different about her, but the old woman’s cheerful smile did not change.

“How are you, dear?” the old woman asked.  She was shorter than Gail, rounded in the belly and hips, with creased skin on her forehead and around her mouth.  Her hair was gray and pulled back in a barrette.

“I’m fine, thank you,” Gail said.

“I’ll be out this afternoon, but if you want anything from the kitchen, just help yourself.”

“I will.”

Mrs. Scofield waved as she turned to walk out of the hallway into the kitchen.  Gail lingered in the doorway, looking after her.  She had seen the hallway only briefly, when she had arrived, the night before.  There was a hardwood floor covered partially by a thick red carpet that looked fuchsia where the sunshine from a nearby window coursed across its surface.  A few pictures of the Scofield’s now-grown children and extended family decorated the pink walls.

Gail took a timid step onto the carpet to inspect the black and white photograph opposite her door.  In the picture sat a little girl, a toddler, wearing a frilly dress and an open-mouthed smile that revealed her lower first two baby teeth.  Looking closer, Gail saw that someone had written “Charlotte Scofield” in tight cursive in the bottom right corner of the photo.

It isn’t fair, she thought, looking at the photo, what some people can’t have and some people take for granted.  Bitterness began to rise in her, but as soon as she recognized it, the stone reminded her that it was a fragment of something larger, something eternal that would outlast love and family.  Gail went back into her room and closed the door.

Silently, she lay back down on her bed and opened A Field Guide to North American Vernal Pool Macro-Organisms.

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As promised...

Jan 25 2012 Published by under Uncategorized

Good morning, my little snowflakes.  I hope you missed me while you were sleeping.  Here is the next installment of your new favorite reading material:


The Stone Woman, pt. 2

by Lab Rockstar


Gail turned away from the window.  A corner of her little yellow legal pad peeked from the side pocket of her duffel bag at the foot of the bed.  I should write something, she thought.  Gail sighed and rubbed her forehead.  The sunlight hurt her eyes, but she pulled out the legal pad, found her pen, and wrote:

Isn’t it funny how people write stuff on gravestones like “She is sleeping”, or “He fell asleep on such a day”?   Dead people aren’t sleeping.

Gail tossed the pad onto the bed.  She looked at it for a moment, trying to think of something else to write, but she couldn’t.  Gail turned away and went into the little windowless bathroom connected to her room to look at herself in the mirror.  Her short hair stuck upward like a rooster’s comb, and her eyes had new lines on the lower lids.  As she regarded her features, her mouth bent into a thin scowl.

“You look like a street person,” she said to her reflection.

The words stung unexpectedly.  Hearing them aloud, Gail remembered Michael telling her, back when they started dating, that she looked like a “street person” when she wore his sweaters in public.

“They just don’t look good on you, Baby,” he had said.  “And you have your own sweaters.”

“I like your sweaters,” Gail had replied.  “They smell like you.”  And the irony of it all, Gail thought, was that she had spent the first week after his death with her nose buried in his laundry until she had sniffed all of his scent out of those clothes.

Her vision grew blurred as she stood in the bathroom, looking down at her nightshirt.  She turned on the hot water in the bathtub, watching the steam curl upward onto the low plaster ceiling.  Keening softly along with the rush of the water, Gail pulled off the shirt and threw it on the floor.  She looked up to the mirror again, where her cheekbones gleamed dewy and red.  The room was foggy.

Never is a very long time, she thought.  She wanted to write it down, but instead she rubbed her eyes and turned off the water.

The room grew quiet, and Gail stepped into the tub.  The water was painfully hot, but she gritted her teeth and sat down.  Her skin tightened from her lower back to her instep, but when it went numb, she slid the rest of the way into the water.  It lapped at her ears and mouth.

Closing her eyes, she wished she had brought the field guide into the bath.  She wouldn’t have read the text too much—she didn’t think she had a memory for that kind of thing anymore—but she would have liked to look at the pictures.  Absently, Gail glanced down at her stomach, which, from her viewpoint, had sunk below the rise of her ribcage.  Remembering the cover of the field guide, Gail thought about what it would be like to construct a carapace from little rocks and twigs, like a caddisfly larvae.

Gail touched her belly under the water.  The skin felt rough and lumpy, like the surface of a garden flagstone.  Her fingers found her belly button, which was soft, but all around was solid.  If this was stone, she thought, I could live inside it like a caddisfly, or maybe a clam.  She imagined the stone growing from her, rooted deeply in her muscle and bone, spreading unevenly across her waist in gnarled shoots like an asymmetrical starfish.  She stared up at the swirling plaster on the ceiling until the random curving, rolling strokes led her eye to the green fly-fishing wallpaper.  She followed it again and again.  After a while, the repetitiveness irritated Gail, so she washed herself hastily and got out of the bath.

Slipping into jeans and a sweater, she dried her hair with a towel and combed it down.  She wouldn’t bother with any makeup.  She looked down at her feet, which were fading from red to dull white.  They felt unwieldy and heavy when she lifted them.  Perhaps, Gail speculated to herself, a transformation was beginning there, just under the skin.  It was just a random thought at first, but when she touched the flesh at her waist again—yes, there was something solid where the soft pockets of fat had once been.  Something is different, Gail thought, her eyes widening.

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Decisions, decisions.

Jan 24 2012 Published by under Uncategorized

Listen up, muffins.  Normally I try to keep it light on my blog; when I start typing something all serious and stuff I usually decide it's medication time and end up posting images of a carebear wielding a plush dildo.  But here, all bets are off.  You get to see the dark underbelly.

I've decided on what gift I want to give the interwebs during the course of my 2-week tenure at Scientopia.  It's a story.  A work of fiction, written by me for all of you.

So gather 'round, you lucky bastards.  And it's even got a scientist in it, so it's totally relevant.

Or, you can go to my blog and watch a video of me and Poodle Friend crashing some ghost hunting.  You know, whatever does it for you.


The Stone Woman, pt. 1

by Lab Rockstar

In Gail’s recurring dream, Michael’s cancer was in remission and Gail was making a package of instant chocolate pudding.  The pudding firmed as she whisked it, brown and thick, in the bottom of her stainless-steel mixing bowl.  It smelled of baking cocoa.  I’m sorry, Honey, she was saying to her husband, instant isn’t as good as the regular kind.  Michael, replying from the living room, assured her that he would like it just as well.  When it was ready, Gail opened the cupboard to get two bowls, but the shelves were bare.

Waking up was a cruel disappointment for Gail.  Reality was far harsher than the hope that lived in her sleeping brain.  A month ago, Michael had relapsed, and four weeks ago, he had died.

On the twenty-ninth day since then, Gail lay awake with her eyes closed for a long time.  She thought about writing on the little legal pad her therapist had given her, but the dream wasn’t new.  Besides, behind her eyelids, the light was not so glaring.  After some time, she began to wonder if she could just go back to sleep, but by some old habit, she needed to check the time first.  Gail opened her eyes.

At first, she was startled to find herself in a foreign room, but then she remembered: it was the “Green Room” at the Scofield Bed and Breakfast.  Green and gold fishing flies decorated the wallpaper and early midday sunshine glowed on the green carpeted floor.  A week before, Gail recalled, Mr. Scofield had invited her to be his guest at the B and B—for free.  She hadn’t really wanted to go, but her therapist had pointed out how people who have experienced a loss should try not to isolate themselves and should try to keep busy and so on, until Gail conceded.  She rubbed her eyes.  The light was so bright.

The digital alarm clock on the nightstand read ten twenty-three.  There also was a box of tissues, a lamp, a coaster, and a book entitled A Field Guide to North American Vernal Pool Macro-Organisms.  Gail let her head drop back to the pillow.  This must be Mr. Scofield’s joke for me, she thought.  She eyed the cover photograph of a larval caddisfly in his stone shelter, thinking of her senior year in high school when she did an independent study of vernal pool insects with Mr. Scofield, her former biology teacher.  Gail shut her eyes again.  Things sure change, she thought.

After a while, she dozed again.  In another dream, Gail was processing animal specimens at the lab.  Perched on her high stool, she leaned over the company microscope, but the hematological slide she had placed on the microscope stage was too dark to see.  Gail began readjusting the illumination when suddenly, through her half-sleep, she heard someone snoring softly on the pillow beside her.  Gail’s hand shot out to touch her husband, but grasped instead the mound of the green down comforter.  I must have heard my own breath, she thought, blinking.  Gail stared at the empty pillow and felt her throat tighten.  She had to get up.

Pushing off her covers, Gail slid her feet to the floor.  The carpet was spongy under her bare feet as she padded to the window.  There, the foothills of the White Mountains rolled up and down behind the Scofield’s great meadow, which glistened with patches of snow like pearls amidst gray, frostbitten earth.  Closer to the farmhouse, Mrs. Scofield scratched around in her vegetable garden with a hand trowel.  The little asparagus trees that grew there looked hard and dead, and the peas and squash vines had shriveled to brown strings.


Tune in tomorrow for a riveting part 2!

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Jan 23 2012 Published by under Uncategorized


I'm Lab Rockstar.  I run "The Pipetting Diva" blog.  I'm a graduate student in evolutionary biology, sometimes-misanthrope, and laboratory maven.


My card.


My life partner's name is Hot Tottie.  He has two Little Totties that aren't mine, but are making me appreciate that Younger Rockstar had the wisdom to delay childbirth indefinitely.  Instead, I fill the baby-shaped hole in my soul with Bunneh.  On my personal blog, I combine sciencey posts with snarky personal observations.  Here, there will be less photoshopped images of Tila Tequila, more science (although that image was totally relevant).

I promised all 5 of my readers that I would make this 2-week stint at Scientopia epic.

So buckle up, biotches.

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Jan 22 2012 Published by under Uncategorized

My two weeks of guest blogging are coming to an end. It was a fun experience -- thanks for the opportunity, Scientopians!

Happy blogging to LabRockstar, who starts on Monday.

So long, everyone, and...

... live long and prosper.


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How Much to Take?

Jan 20 2012 Published by under Uncategorized

I currently have two postdocs. One of them has been with me for 2+ years and has applied to tenure track positions this past fall. His record looks very good, he has published quite a bit and I sent him to give invited talks instead of me as much as I could, so he's had a lot of exposure. He had his first phone interview and is having an on-site interview in a few weeks. I am very proud of him and very excited for him!

I looked closely at his application materials when he assembled them (the CV, research and teaching statements). His research statement was solid, he proposed several interesting and relevant directions of research that leverage his expertise and are direct outcomes of the work he did in my group. I think it's perfectly fine that he will take the projects he's been working on and start his own program.

A few weeks ago, he finally got around to creating his own webpage and sent me the link. The page is simple but looks nice and has all that it needs to describe a young aspiring faculty -- contact info, CV, papers, description of research. Actually, I found his research section to be quite extensive and carry quite a few surprises: in addition to description of the work that he has been doing and the work that he listed in his research statement, there are several research items that are directly taken from my other ongoing projects in which he was never involved, but of which he heard  in group meetings. He also wrote about some project ideas on which I have either recently submitted proposals or I am planning to do so shortly (as in, I am currently writing and will submit in the next few weeks); these ideas were tossed around in the group meeting or in the meetings with other collaborators.

I was unpleasantly surprised. I think my main feeling was a sort of disappointment.

I don't want to be a petty, selfish project-hog advisor, but it's not free for all; I don't think that all the projects that I currently work on or plan on working on are fair game to claim as your own. Some of my projects are collaborative with other people, and these collaborators don't know this postdoc; just because this work gets discussed in group meetings, that doesn't mean it's up for grabs as is. Especially projects that are currently under development, where I am excited about new ideas and have started writing proposals -- just because you have read your advisor's proposal (which, by the way, does not utilize your immediate expertise) because she asked you for comments as that is part of postdoc training, that does not mean you have the right to appropriate those ideas. Or worse yet, put descriptions of  these yet-to-be funded projects on a freely accessible web page for everyone to see.

So, the question of the day is: when a person leaves to start his or her new faculty position, how do you decide what is OK for them to take along?
Do you have a talk about non-competing, where you as senior prof stop working on some of the projects on which the new lab/group is planning to embark?
If you are a professor, have you been on either side of the equation -- that as a new professor you feel you were not allowed to take enough, or, as a more senior prof, that perhaps some ideas were appropriated in a way that wasn't entirely... well, appropriate?

I invite you to share your experiences and philosophy regarding how to best help launch a new tenure track faculty, ensuring the junior prof has a good head start and a large enough pool of ideas to start from, while also ensuring that this departure is fair to everyone involved.





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Conflicting Interests

Jan 19 2012 Published by under Uncategorized

When reviewing papers and especially proposals, you are supposed to declare conflict of interest if you are unable to be objective. For instance, reviewing the work of past collaborators generally falls under this category -- hence you include PhD and postdoc advisors, any people you may have advised, any coauthors on papers or proposals or co-editors in the last however many years on the lists of people whose materials you should not review.

But then there is a murky area of colleagues and friends who are not collaborators, i.e. there is no paper trail of collaboration (manuscripts, books, proposals coauthored).
Still, I should not review papers or proposals authored by, for instance, the woman who was the maid of honor at my wedding or any close personal friend for that matter. But what about not-so-close friends? Should everyone with whom you ever happened to have coffee or lunch at a conference be excluded? I would say this is taking the conflict of interest too far: it eliminates too a large portion of the reviewer pool -- you actually want competent people in the field to review; conferences serve as places where competent people meet and discuss science, often while consuming foods and beverages. They may end up liking one another.

Just because you like someone and know them a little doesn't mean you cannot be objective in reviewing their work. I think there is more danger in not being objective if you personally dislike someone than if you somewhat know and like them. But, honestly, how often do people recuse themselves from reviewing work of a competitor or someone they really hate rather than trash perfectly good papers or proposals in an attempt to sabotage the party they dislike or are in competition with?

The issue of properly gauging where the line of the conflict of interest lies is critical in panel review of proposals. We all want to have someone on the panel who likes our proposal and champions it, but how often does it happen that a person passionately champions a proposal authored by someone they have never heard of versus the proposal of someone they know and respect? In contrast, how often does the champion know the PI a little too well (e.g. drinking buddies over multiple decades)? At which point does being a good champion border on conflict of interest?

For instance, would you review a proposal or claim conflict of interest if the PI is:

1) Someone whom you knew in grad school way back when you were both students but you now rarely keep in touch?

2) Someone with whom you occasionally exchange emails and mostly talk shop, but you think they are an OK person and a great scientist?

3) Someone you invited to give a talk at your institution (or they invited you to talk at theirs)?

4) Someone you see regularly at conferences and may socialize in that context, but have minimal interaction between conferences?

(feel free to insert your own case...)

Dear readers, how do you decide when to claim conflict of interest and recuse yourself from reviewing because you know the author(s) a bit too much?
What level of professional and personal acquaintance is  still OK to comfortably agree to do the review and not feel like you have perhaps been playing favorites?
Has your answer been changing as your career progressed?


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