Monday, May 14, 2012

Navel Gazing: First Blogiversary

It's been 13 months since I started both my post-doc and this blog, so it's time for a performance review.

The blog
In the past year I've published 56 posts, about one a week. At the start I maintained a Mon/Thurs posting schedule, but have since slacked off.

~20 people subscribe to the blog RSS. The most popular posts are the paper summaries, which get a spike of traffic from, and then strong residual traffic from people Googling the papers. The paper summaries typically receive 50-150 hits, depending on the profile of the paper. The most popular post on the entire blog is my review of the Zuker lab's recent paper on taste hotspots in gustatory cortex, which I published within a month of the paper. That is also my personal pick for best paper summary.

The most disappointing posts, hit-wise are the data presentations. The current journal system is bullshit - delaying dissemination of information for no gain in reliability; and utterly arbitrary - so I take pride in posting my scientific results in (hopefully) meaningful chunks. I realize these would primarily be of interest to other chemosensory people, but the lack of interest (and feedback) is disheartening.

The weirdest part of blogging for the past year has been the solicitation. One person asked me to sponsor links, while another wanted to make a guest post. I was like, "Really? You want to sponsor a blog that gets five hits a day? That's worth your (and my) time?"

Journal flashcards
I'm terrible at remembering the specifics of papers, like being able to refer to them by author, so I tried to create journal flashcards using the spaced-learning program Memnosyne. I kept up with my flashcard review for a few months, before the habit got interrupted, and never restarted. Six months later, I can't recall the specifics of most papers, but I can recall the gists.

Besides spaced-learning, the key to flashcards is overlearning: that is, putting more information on the flashcards than you need to know. That way, if you forget the details, you remember the core. For example, I know that a whole host of papers have been published on the roles of AgrP and NPY neurons in feeding behaviour, and that, for example, AgrP knockout mice starve to death, but I can't remember the names of the authors of those papers. Citing them is probably the best way to consolidate that knowledge.

The other process I was interested in was writing checklists (viz. protocols), both long (read-do) and short (do-verify). I have a Google doc containing detailed protocols for wet-lab stuff including everything from recipes for anesthesia to passwords for ordering. This has been perpetually useful. I also made a Google doc for data processing and analysis, which I updated frequently at the start. As I continue to write functions, however, I have neglected to update this. Part of it is due to the one-off nature of many data analysis functions, which means I rarely refer to it. I also wrote do-verify checklists for my experiments, but never used them since most mistakes during an experiment are fixable, and I'm working alone, so communication is nonexistent.

I have some more personal reflections on my first year as a post-doc. Those, however, are best discussed over beer.


  1. well, if i find myself in geneva -- or if you find yourself in nyc -- i'm definitely taking you up on that beer.

  2. For the record, I'll travel anywhere in Europe to meet a friend. Transport here is cheap and easy, and I want to take advantage of my location while I can.