Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Combining clinical and experimental careers

Once upon a time in the last century I was admitted to the medical school at Uppsala university; to a special branch program for just twelve students who thought they wanted to do research as well as become Real Doctors(TM). That program was canceled just a few years later because not enough people went into basic research.

I did, but, like the cellophane man, I am all but invisible. After having done research exclusively for a couple of years I am now trying to get back to clinical work and hopefully work out a combination of sorts. This may sound stupid to you (as it should), it even sounds stupid to me. As of today I know no one in my generation who has done it successfully, and I know of very few in the earlier generation. Most whom were already consultants when they started doing research, and produce somewhere upwards of half a day per week of clinical work.

That may be enough for a consultant but as a junior doctor working half a day a week will get you nowhere. Possibly make you dangerous. I have been considering a fifty/fifty arrangement, but how do you compete for grants while putting in only half the work of the competition? The result will inevitably be that I become a cellophane man in research as well.

Ignoring my all knowing, prescient and synical self I set out to get such a fifty/fifty position.

Damn it's hard. I didn't really mean all that about being a cellophane man, but damn. I thought I had been working pretty hard, writing papers and doing generally important stuff, but what does the hospital think about that?

Me: - I have done some really interesting research.

Hosp. - So, you haven't even worked as a temp in the ER?

Me: - But I have external funding.

Hosp. - So, you haven't even worked as a temp in the ER?

Me: -mmmf...

Then my limbs start sticking toghether like cellophane does and I crumple into a small ball of see-through plastic.

So now I am trying to juggle research and grant writing with getting a temporary position as a clinician so that I can apply for a proper job at some future time.

Wish me luck,


Saturday, September 26, 2009

ESH Summer School

I am just back from the Summer School of the European Society of Hypertension, and this time it will be a timely post. The summer school was held in Smolenice in Slovakia quite close to the Austrian border.

It was graced by some 60 school children (mostly cardiologists around 30 years of age) and some very well prepared speakers (there were some of the other kind of speakers as well, but that is a secret). The main clinical questions in hypertension were very well handled, with presentations of overwhelming evidence. As is usual at any scientific meeting, very few of the presenters showed us any remorse and the coffee breaks were often quite a bit shorter than planned.

The physiology of hypertension was not as thoroughly covered, but the most important bases were at least touched upon. Among those, the crucial role of the kidney in hypertension (it being the most important organ and all that) was quite adequately presented. Micro vascular disease was one of the few areas that was well covered both from a clinical and an experimental perspective.

As with all schools there was an ample supply of suggested reading. Some 60 articles, and some books. Having learned nothing from my previous 25 years of schooling, I obviously thought that everyone would have printed and read all these beforehand. Consequently I felt a little bad that I had not. Need I say that there was no need for worry.

In the end we were 60 doctors and scientist locked away in a castle that would have made Disney (or Dracula) proud. The social program was quite intensive. Luckily the beer at the local pizzeria was maybe the cheapest in all of Europe and it was quite strong as well. In combination with a too long trip home, I was hung over jet lagged for three days.

I can only recommend you to go to the ESH summer school if you are in any way interested in hypertension and have the opportunity (your national hypertension society is the way in). It will be in Rovinj, Croatia in 2010 (the beer should be cheap), and in Barcelona 2011.


Michael Hultström

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Experiment planning - logistics, or how to keep track of all the stuff

After I have had a good run in one experiment I often plan for too much work to be done in too little time in the next one. Vice versa, after running an experiment where everything goes wrong and takes double the time it should; I tend to plan rather less work per day, often leading to dead air and general inefficiency.

I have a feeling that this will repeat it self in absurdum.

This thought got me thinking of one of the hardest, least often discussed and maybe most important parts of the scientific endeavour, logistics. That is, who does what when and what does he (or she) need to do it.

"Logistics, I don't know nothing about these logistics, are but I want some." General Patton (from Actually I was looking for a source for the more well known quote: "Amateurs talk tactics, professionals talk logistics," but it seems to be too ubiquitous to have a known origin.

At the moment I am working with large hand-drawn sheets with one column for each experiment/project and one row per week. This works because you can see what is to be done every week and you can see all the projects at once. On the otherhand, it sucks because it can't be emailed or shared over the internet and is difficult to change or update. What I would like would be a scheduling and to-do system that was computer based, and had very good visualisation possibilities.

I have tried to work with google calendar, which is very easy to share, but it is not so good for keeping track of multiple projects. Keeping them each in a separate calendar is a horrible solution.

I guess it is possible in org-mode, but I haven't really gotten that far with it and visualisation probably has to be implemented separately (which could be fun, but which I don't have the time for).

So, does anyone have a good system for project tracking that would be appropriate for experimental science?



Friday, September 04, 2009

Report from SPS annual meeting in Uppsala

This was meant to be a timely post, but that is apparently not my forte. It was also meant to include some interesting science, but I thought it was time to get this out, seeing that the next meeting is just around the corner.

Now it is a week couple of weeks month since the annual meeting of the Scandinavian Physiological Society, which was held in Uppsala, Sweden this year. The meeting provided the best renal sessions I have visited so far at a SPS meeting. This obviously does honour to the Kidney Resösh Group [sic] in Uppsala.

By far the best part of the meeting was the extra curricular activities. I got to meet up with many of my old friends and colleagues in Uppsala and then we got drunk together.

So thanks to everyone. I hope to see you again next year, maybe already at Experimental Biology.


Thursday, September 03, 2009

Pilot experiments: Wasting your time

What is a pilot experiment and when should you do it? More importantly, when should you not do it?

In my mind there are two kinds of pilot experiments. Either it's something you do as you go by while investigating something else, like testing another agonist in a model you're already working with. In that case, yes. You should do it. That's how I have found lot's of the interesting things that I eventually got published.

The other kind, the kind where you have something you are really interested in but decide to save time or money by doing a small first series. This is the kind of pilot experiment that you should never do. What you will end up with is either a positive result that will need additional experiments to be convincing, or a negative result that is not quite certain.

There is actually a third kind. The kind where you do some experiments and have to add new groups, controls or what ever, after the rest of the experiment is done. This is in many ways like the second kind, but can be harder to avoid. To some degree you can avoid it by always insisting on running a full experiment, with all reasonable controls. The problem is that this is very work intensive, and may often not be necessary. Or, your reviewers may favour other control groups than you do. In anycase case, once you find yourself there, your only recourse is to suck it up and hope that the baseline values doesn't end up being too much different.

Did I just do it?

You bet.

Sucks to be me (as a friend of mine would say).