I get (sometime very different) emails

Every once in a while, I receive a particularly heartwarming email from a reader. I thought the one I received yesterday was particularly nice, so I got permission to share part of it:

You really, really helped. Sometimes, you get hatemail, and sometimes people say cruel things aimed at hurting you, but you don’t just lock yourself in a room and cry about it, which I have to admit was my worst habit. Or at least, if you do, you at least do it with the glare of a computer screen, so that you can eventually dissect these criticisms and usually end up laughing them off. This is something I am trying to learn to do – I don’t want to blog, but I am learning new ways of coping with negativity in others. You also always do your best to remain measured and fair in all of your posts and I think your recent editing of the ‘dogmatic Jen’ post demonstrates that. More importantly, you helped me think about some things that I never even knew were important to me. Since my ex left me in the debt that he did, I have been single. Three years on Christmas day, in fact. Once upon a time, I told myself that if I was single at Christmas when i was 21 I would kill myself. I don’t think I really meant it, but to look back at myself then is really scary. I needed more confidence, clearly, and some of this has come from things you have helped me to think about. For example, I can now identify as an atheist, humanist and a feminist. I’ve never been especially religious, and I remember even at primary school I got upset that we had to sing hymns to a God I didn’t believe in, but I never had any real way to express this frustration. At my school, the Muslim children had to sit out of assembly because they couldn’t sing the hymns. Really inclusive, right?

The atheist identification means I no longer feel vague and confused when filling out forms that require me to indicate my religious leanings. The humanist identification reminds me that atheism isn’t selfish, because I love people and I want the best for humanity. The feminism means that I no longer measure my success by having a boyfriend, and I am now happy that I live alone, because it means I haven’t settled for someone that only wanted me for my apartment, or for someone that makes jokes about my weight. Also, I’m half-way through losing that extra weight and I now know I’m doing it for myself, not for anyone else. When you wrote briefly about losing weight a few months ago that helped me relate even more to the blog too. I think it is hugely important to have female voices like you and Greta Christina in the atheist movement, and I’m pretty sure you know why because you’ve blogged about it before. Not even just female voices; reading about JT’s struggles with anorexia has really helped to put my problems in perspective; I think it’s massively important that bloggers don’t just write about atheism, or feminism, or any other ism — it’s the personality that makes the argument persuasive; it’s the people that make the blogs what they are.

It’s touching to know that I’ve helped someone in this way.

I then clicked to see my next unread email, and found the following comment on an old post, “Stephen Colbert called me “smoking hot“”:

But you’re ugly

And I laughed. Hard. The comedic timing was perfect.

A couple of years ago, this probably wouldn’t have been my reaction. I had low enough self esteem and enough body image issues that I probably would have locked myself in my room and cried about it. But dissecting criticism through blogging has helped me grow a thick skin, and the sweet emails I get mean so much to me that they keep me motivated even with dealing with assorted drama or insults.

So now, I just laugh. I mean, really? “You’re ugly?” What’s next, that I’m a poopyhead? The fact that someone wasted their time making such a dumb comment makes me feel so much better about myself.

Keeping your mouth shut to advance your social standing

The thing in the title?

Yeah, doing that makes me miserable.

As you know, I initially wrote a post that references things some people in my department had said. I had already waited a couple of days to write the post, figuring I should give myself time to think about it instead of reacting emotionally. I later removed it because a colleague said it could be perceived as burning bridges within my department. Maybe I needed more time to think. After talking with more people within my department, within academia, and outside of academia, I decided it should go back up with some edits. I think the topic of how we view evolution acceptance and education is profoundly important. How shitty my NSF fellowship draft was not the main point of that article (though thanks to those of you who gave constructive criticism).

I know not everyone agrees with me on my decision to restore the post, so I want to try to explain.

When I was younger, I was shy. Cripplingly shy. I never spoke up because it seemed every time I did, someone would make fun of me or judge me for what I said. I was that nerdy awkward kid with no friends on the bottom of the social totem pole. When I was switching schools, I knew I’d be meeting new people and had a chance to start anew. I resolved myself to not caring about what other people thought about me. I would speak my mind and share my thoughts, and screw anyone who had a problem with it. If they thought I was abrasive or weird or offensive, did I really want to be friends with them anyway?

Doing this changed my life immensely. I was finally happy with myself. There were certainly times where my plan hurt. Like many girls, I had been socialized to be soft spoken and modest and to want everyone to like me. I still feel twinges of panic when I know someone thinks negatively of me. But overall, I find myself much happier – and surrounded by much better friends – because I embrace honesty.

And frankly, I don’t think the social dynamics of the real world – be it business or academia – are all that different from a high school cafeteria. I know that by speaking my mind, I will probably accidentally burn some bridges. There will be people out there who see me as a rabble-rouser and a trouble maker that they don’t want to be associated with. Most people expect you to Play the Game, or to at least Play the Game long enough that you can subvert it from the inside forty years later.

I refuse to play that game.

Is this going to totally ruin my potential career as a scientist? Honestly, probably not. Because for every person who sees me as a liability, there are people who respect a willingness to speak up when it’s risky. I’ve had numerous biology professors and biologists in industry across the country – almost all of them strangers – say how impressed they were that I was doing what I was doing. I’ve even had some try to recruit me to work in their lab. Being an outspoken blogger is going to be seen as a positive by some people. Do I really want to be working with the people who think otherwise?

But a fairly well-known skeptic told me recently that he hoped I was looking into alternative careers, because he thought I was screwed. No one was going to hire me. You have to wait until you have tenure to be so outspoken!

What if he’s right? What if after four more years of grad school, I find out I’m totally wrong? If I realize I can’t get a job anywhere in academia, because people have blacklisted me?

Then I’d be happy to leave academia.

I don’t want to be somewhere where I’m miserable. And being forced to play that game – the game I realize the vast majority of people have to play – is not what I want in life. I rather live my life to the fullest instead of constantly being fearful that anything I do may ruin my Grand Plan. To steal sage advice from Greta – I rather be hated for what I am than loved for what I’m not. If that leaves me trying to get by on freelance writing and blog earnings, or doing who knows what, then so be it. For all I know, it could also leave me as the next celebrated popular science writer. Who knows.

But what I do know is that I will be surrounded by people who like and respect the real me, not someone who is too fearful to speak out, or too busy kissing ass. I’m sure some of you will think I’m a naive idealist, and that I should just hunker down and play the game like everyone else. But the virtues of being honest and outspoken are more important to me than climbing the social ladder or making a couple more dollars on my paycheck.

In which I’m interviewed by an Aussie

Jack Scanlan of Young Australian Skeptics interviewed me for their podcast while we were at TAM, and it’s online! I had to listen to it since I had no idea what I said. TAM feels like it was eons ago, and our interview time slot was wretchedly early. But if you want to hear me talk about blogging and my research, plus me trying not to make lewd jokes at the end, it’s worth the time. My bit starts at about the 4 minute mark.

Now I want to go doodle me saying “IT’S BLOGGING TIME!” as I transform into some sort of Blogging Superhero. Well, what I really want is for someone else to doodle it, because I am lazy. Oh well.

Open Thread

Grad school is totally owning me this week. The second year PhD students all give a big research presentation to the department in the fall that describes what they achieved this summer, and my presentation is this Friday. Our presentations always make us frantic, but it’s extra crazy this week. Today and tomorrow is our 10th annual departmental symposium, so it’s two full days of talks from superstar scientists. Oh, and Svante Paabo (the guy whose group is behind the Neanderthal genome) decided to publish a paper on Thursday related to my work, and that has given me 1988472 new analyses to run. Thanks, Svante. Oh well, at least he didn’t totally scoop me.

Unfortunately this means I’ve been neglecting my blog. You know, for my real job. Sorry guys! Consider this an open thread to talk about whatever or plug your own stuff. The default of the efficacy of machine gun arms on dinosaurs is a good fall back if you run out of things to talk about.

Today’s dose of “My life is weird”:

I’m reading the ongoing debate on whether the Wikipedia article about me should be deleted.

It’s weird enough that I have a Wikipedia article. It’s weirder that four people have already chimed in in defense of the article, and they’re currently outnumbering those that think it should be redirected to Boobquake. Which oddly enough, has its own article as well.

EDIT: It’s also weird finding things wrong with my article and not being able to fix it, due to the rules about not editing stuff where you have conflicts of interests. I won the Undergraduate Student Research Award from the American Society of Mammlogists, not Microbiologists! And then there are other awards I’ve won that don’t have documentation available on the internet, and therefore get lost in No Citation land. Oh well.

Support Freethought Blogs by helping teachers and their students

Donors Choose is an amazing charity that helps fund projects for public school classrooms across the US. The fact that we need such a charity to make sure our children receive a proper education is depressing. Some classrooms, especially in areas with high poverty, don’t have the money to provide supplies as basic as pencils for their students – students who are on state subsidized lunches which may be the only decent meal they get all day. Others want their students to experience the same inspiring projects – like dissections or growing your own garden – as affluent schools, but need extra help. Donor’s Choose vets the projects to make sure they’re not a scam, and you make a donation to improve the education of these young students.

This cause is especially important to me for two reasons. One, both of my parents were teachers (they’re now retired). My dad taught high school history and special ed in a Chicago public school for 38 years, and my mom taught middle school art for over 30 years. I know they always went above and beyond for their classroom, and I can only imagine how much they spent out-of-pocket for extra supplies to enrich their teaching experience. Two, I was lucky enough to attend a very affluent school system. I want all students to have the chance to have the same experiences I did, because I know those experiences shaped me into a freethinker, a scientist, and a thoughtful human being.

It’s also a bit of a competition. All of the science blogging networks are competing against each other. Let’s show places like Science Blogs and Scientopia that Freethought Blogs is the awesomest! Or show the other Freethought Bloggers that Blag Hag is the awesomest of the awesomest – you can donate using the widget over at the top of the right column.

I’ve hand-picked the projects because they have some sort of personal meaning to me. You can donate to whichever fits your fancy, but in case you’re motivated by my reasoning, read on:

  • Building a Community of Learners Through Mosiac – Like I mentioned, my mother was an art teacher. Art is a huge part of my life, and it truly enriched my learning experience. I found it helped me with science, too – it made me a creative thinker, helped me plan ahead (art projects aren’t always spontaneous!), and gave me graphical abilities that really helps when it comes to presenting your research. This project is also near my home town in Indiana.
  • Science Olympiad Rocks! – Science Olympiad is an academic competition that I competed in for 4 years, and later volunteered for when I was in college. Students participate in events ranging from tests on genetics, to building a bottle rocket, to forensic investigation. SO was some of the most fun I had in high school, and was one of the main things that motivated me to become a scientist.
  • Fetal Pig Dissection – I’m not going to lie. When I was in AP Biology, the Fetal Pig Dissection grossed me out. But looking back I recognize how valuable it is to have hands-on science experiences like this. Life isn’t something you can learn by just staring at a text book. Bonus: It’s a class of all girls, and we need more lady scientists!
  • Women and Hands-on Science – Speaking of lady scientists… Heck, do I even have to explain? More lady scientists. MORE!
  • Help Deserving Student Have a True Biology Experience – Time to dissect some frogs! I still remember mine – it was full of eggs.
  • The Magic of Math – Help another all-girls classroom fall in love with mathematics. I wish I would have had something like this when I was younger – I grew up hating math because I was so frustrated while learning it. Maybe if someone had taken a chance and tried a different teaching method like this teacher is doing…
  • Let’s See – This classroom goes on monthly nature walks – how awesome is that?! Help make their trips more awesome by providing them with magnifying glasses and microscopes, so they can get extra close in their explorations.
  • Encouraging Girls to Excel at Mathematics – You know the drill.
  • You Spin Me ‘Round – Dude, this classroom wants to perform its own polymerase chain reaction! I didn’t do PCR until after my freshman year of college. Having hands on experience with genetic fingerprinting will hopefully show these students how awesome genetics is. It’s not just about Punnett Squares!
  • Drosophila Genetics – More awesome genetics experiments! This time the kids get to breed their own fruit flies and look for mutants. MUTANTS! What high schooler doesn’t want to do that?
  • Grow With Science – Okay. Sometimes I harp on how plants are boring. But this was the ONLY proposal on the whole site to mention “natural selection.” I feel like we should reward this teacher so they can have their garden for evolution experiments! Bonus – they’re in Seattle!
  • Those Genes Look Good! – Genetics is a hard concept to understand. You can’t exactly see genes with the naked eye. I know models helped me understand concepts, so help these kids understand too.
  • Evolution Literacy – A primary school teacher who understands the importance of evolution? FUND THIS CLASSROOM STAT!
  • Leaping Lizards! – This classroom in Indiana wants to raise anoles to help them learn about the scientific method. I wish I learned about the scientific method using a tank of cute lizards.
  • Manipulate This! - This classroom is from my home town in Indiana, and they want hands on tools to learn about math. Math didn’t start to click for me until my 5th grade teacher whipped out little cubes and pawns we could manipulate to balance equations. Some of us our visual learners!
  • Highlight Your Learning – Last but not least, this teacher has created a Writer’s Workshop to encourage a love in writing in their students. As a blogger, how could I not support this? It’s also one of the neighboring towns from where I grew up.
Again, you can use the widget to the right or go here to donate. Donations are open until October 22. Thanks so much for helping out!

Welcome to Blag Hag’s new home!

Just like I recently moved to a new part of Seattle and gained a roommate, my blog has moved to a new part of the internet and gained quite a number of awesome roommates. Hopefully PZ does his dishes and the walls aren’t too thin (hear that, Greta?).

To old readers – welcome to our new home! And to new readers, howdy! I dabble in a little bit of everything – atheism, skepticism, feminism, biology, sex, academia, and general geekery. Please make yourself comfortable. Unless you’re an evangelical Christian or a men’s right activist, in which case, prepare to become very uncomfortable.

I know a lot of my readers had questions about the move, so let me use this introductory filler post to address those:

Q: What attracts you to Freethought Blogs?

  1. Being part of an awesome community of bloggers and readers. I’m surprised something like Freethought Blogs hadn’t happened sooner.
  2. Increased visibility and traffic. Another perk of being nestled in with awesome bloggers.
  3. …Money. You’ve probably noticed that unlike my old blog, FtB has ads. I do put a large amount of time into the blog, and it’s nice to be compensated a little. I won’t be buying sports cars or swimming in pools of money ala Scrouge McDuck, but it’s a nice little bonus to my grad student salary.

Q: Is all the old content going to be migrated?

Theoretically. All of the old posts are here, as are most of the comments, but not all. Jason from Lousy Canuck has been my nerdy knight in shining armor and is trying to figure it out for me. Everything should be functional in the next day or so.

EDIT: Jason is amazing and the archives are all transferred over now! Huzzah!

Q: Will comments still be on Disqus?

No. All the FtBers will be using the same WordPress comment system. And after a week of banging my head into my desk trying to transfer comments from Disqus, I’m ready to be rid of it. Apologies to those of you who will have to comment with different names or logins.

Q: Will the same RSS feed work, and if not, can you post that in large bold comic sans until my dumb ass gets the message and switches feeds?

I can’t figure out how to make things Comic Sans, but…

NO, THE OLD RSS FEED WILL NOT WORK. YOU MUST UPDATE YOUR RSS FEED TO THIS.

Q: Will there be an RSS feed for just your blog, or will it include all the others on FTB as well?

Like I said, the RSS feed for my blog is here, but you can also subscribe to the RSS feed for all of FtB here.

Q: FtB is ugly. Fix the ugly.

There will be a site redesign once all the technical kinks have been ironed out. Don’t worry, it’ll look snazzy soon.

Q: Will there be a decrease in awesomeness now that you’ve sold out to the almighty dollar?

No one asked this, but no. Really I’ll just have a new fund for beer money. And we all know that a well oiled blogger is a good thing.

Feel free to introduce yourself in the comments, get settled into the new comment system, and ask any questions. And thanks for being patient while I figure out this newfangled WordPress thing, and slowly add some finishing touches to the site.

Well, this was an odd day

Today was the last day of my parent’s visit to Seattle. We were walking down to grab some Piroshky Piroshky for lunch, when a young man came up to me.
Guy: Excuse me, but… were you the one who did Boobquake?
Me: …Yes.

He sheepishly waved hi and then ran away. And then tweeted at me that he was a blog reader and was sorry for being creepy. My parents thought it was fantastic, and wouldn’t stop talking about how famous their daughter was.

I wondered what the odds were. I’m used to people recognizing me at godless or nerdy events, but randomly on the street seems way less likely. It had only happened once before, when I was on a terrible OkCupid date at the College Inn pub, and a random guy came up and asked if I had ever been on the Savage Lovecast. A potentially confusing question if the answer was “No,” but he ended up being a fan of the blog.

Of course, Seattle is pretty godless and nerdy in general, so maybe I should just expect it.

After lunch, my dad and I wandered off to the Underground Tour and left my mom to spend an hour taking photos of the stupid fish throwing. Our tour guide was really funny, and I thought the tour was super interesting. About half way through as we were walking through some of the underground tunnels, she turned to me:

Guide: Have you been on the tour before? You look really familiar.
Me: …No, but I live in Seattle.
Dad: (to me) I bet she reads your blog too!

Sure enough, at the end of the tour she very excitedly said she figured it out, she reads my blog, and omfgwtfbbq could she have my autograph!?! My dad couldn’t stop talking about it – he thought it was the coolest thing ever. I assured him I wasn’t paying these people off to make me look good while they were visiting.

Anyway, these little things totally make my day. Don’t be shy if you ever see me roaming around. I’m happy to say hello!

On the flip side, they make me feel extra guilty when I realize I just spent another weekend not updating. Whoops. I’ve been having a life lately, which is a bit unusual. I’m sure I’ll go back to my boring internet-fueled existence soon enough.

I swear I haven’t abandoned you!

Moving has taken over my life this week. I have a dozen or so bruises from hauling around boxes and assembling Ikea furniture that claims to take two people. And we’re having an apartment warming party tonight, so I’ve been preparing for that too. And by tonight, I mean it technically started 5 minutes ago, which means everyone will show up in an hour and a half. Which is why I picked an early time. I do not understand this fashionably late business.

After tonight, I only have a tiny cabinet to assemble, and then I have a three day weekend. So you will get real blog posts very soon! Until then, consider this an open thread. What have you been up to? Heck, what has the internet been up to? I haven’t checked blogs all week – for all I know atheists could have finally taken over the world and the memo is buried deep in my unchecked inbox.