What a day is like

When I started this blog I thought I was going to write it daily for a few minutes & you'd get a better idea of what my life is really like, but it turns out it's hard to find time for that. But here is a recap of the last couple days.

New Year's day everything was shut in the morning but we went to the town hall (which is beautiful here) & had lunch from the stands they had set up & listened a little to the Strauss or whatever they were playing, which was getting broadcast live from some concert hall. Clearly that is dance music & not for sitting on chairs in concert halls! They were the kinds of songs with that pastoral tweety bird effect in them :-)

Then we went to my favorite cafe & spent the next 8 hours mostly working. I read through about 15 articles I'd found on the topic of a paper I've written & need to resubmit to another journal. That's part of science -- maybe your paper gets rejected because of some substance issue you fix, but maybe you submitted it the wrong place in the first place too. Normally you try fixing both at the same time. So I read a bunch of articles & put them in my bibliography software along with my notes on them. That took about 5 hours, and then I spent a couple writing & running new simulations that checked a couple things the reviewers were asking about. Everything ran exactly as I expected, which is good news on the one hand since it means I knew what I was talking about, but on the other hand it means the problem with the paper is it doesn't currently convince skeptics even though it should. So I have to figure out how to explain my model better, although also it is just hard to understand tricky mechanisms, so I will also just put in more data from these new experiments that demonstrate that at least some classes of criticisms are ill-considered.

Well, assuming I'm right! Maybe the critics are right and it's I who don't understand. Hopefully now that there is more data the conversation will become clearer. That conversation is also part of the scientific process, and both sides always have to keep in mind that they may be wrong. But also, both sides need to do their best to defend their position, just like in law. If you as an expert in something abandon a position too fast, no one else is going to look at it for a very long time, so you have to really try to defend it & make sure it is well and truly dead before you abandon it.

Anyway, holidays & weekends are good days because you get to spend so much time on the real stuff. The last two days I went into the Institute, and so although I got some more models written & running, I had to spend a lot of time talking to people & reviewing their work. For example, I got a grant to hire someone, and now he has decided to take another job but wants to do mine part time, and I have to decide whether I can trust him to get the work done, and if not I have to recruit someone else which will take a ton of time. And I still have one PhD student who hasn't graduated that I have to read his dissertation drafts, and I have MSc & prospective PhD students that might want to work with me. I have to decide if they are worth the time they will take and try to recruit them if they are and try to help them find something else to do if they are not, but it isn't quite that easy, you usually have to do some recruiting before you are certain & spend a long time at it. One of my PhD supervisors, Rod Brooks, once said that connecting PhD students and supervisors was like one of those weird courtship dances they show storks doing on TV nature programs.

Today another friend is coming to visit some of you might have met -- Bettina Berendt -- we took the MSc together at Edinburgh. She and Will will be talking about a grant they are writing, so I have two journal articles with me I was meant to review in December & so am trying to finish by Monday. But first we need to clean the house & then go meet her at the airport.

I also have some other papers & models I'd promised to look at last weekend & haven't yet, but I doubt I will this weekend with Bettina here & the reviewing, so that's bad! Also, I've been invited to two different events next week & haven't bought tickets to go to either or decided which to go to yet (I've promised to go to both, accidentally). And also I spent yesterday afternoon working on expense reports & am missing a bunch of receipts so I need to go through the stuff I moved into my bedroom & see if I misplaced any. Doing receipts / expenses is one of the times I wish I was in the US or Switzerland where they give professors secretaries (even assistant professors...)

OK, so that's pretty much what it's like! Only normally there's lecturing too :-) Actually lecturing doesn't take that long (I only have to give a class once or twice, not like Barb) but writing the lectures & organising coursework for 100 undergraduates takes a lot of time. So that's what the sabbatical saves me. But, more importantly it also puts me working with people who actually do something like what I do. It looks like I may be able to help with some experiments some of the cognitive biologists are working on here because it's in an area I've modelled, so I'm very excited about that! If it happens, I'll blog about it.