Student Contract Jobs at EPA RTP

July 13, 2009

If you know students with science backgrounds and computer skills looking for additional funding in the Research Triangle Park area, then there are several twelve month contracts available for work at the National Center for Computational Toxicology. The contracts can potentially be extended up to a total of two and a half years and pay a bit over $21 an hour. Read the rest of this entry »

Grant Wishes

May 22, 2009

I suppose I can now call myself a real scientist. I have applied for funding from the NSF.

I’m listed as a co-PI on a Course, Curriculum, and Laboratory Improvement (CCLI) grant proposal. We’ve called it Improving the APplied Physics Laboratory Experience, or iAPPLE. The purpose of the grant would be to create a junior-level lab course sequence,

Artist’s conception of iAPPLE.

Artist's conception of iAPPLE.

which hasn’t existed to date. Instead of doing the “classic” experiments, though, students would propose, design, and carry out independent projects. They would have to create mathematical models (using Mathematica, naturally) for the phenomena they’re investigating and produce some sort of physical apparatus of demonstration equipment-level quality. In turn, these would be folded back into the introductory courses, and the lab students would be responsible for assessing the quality of their work as it’s used in the intro classes. Therefore, a feedback loop is created, in which students come into the program and learn from materials more advanced students have made, then they make more materials for the next “generation”. These educational materials would accumulate in our department over time. It’s win/win/win… or so we believe.


The grant-writing process itself has been hectic, especially toward the end. I was gone on vacation for a week, though, so I missed a lot of the slog of writing and editing. I feel a bit guilty about it, but my responsibility in the actual execution of the grant is quite significant. But the last few days since I’ve gotten back have been a constant cycle of re-writes and edits and meeting to talk about grammar and re-formatting. We submitted it today, though, so the pressure’s off. We think we have a very good shot of getting funded. We’re all very excited about the project anyway, regardless of the NSF’s decision.

Now, it’s on to write another NSF grant about starting an REU program here…

Is grad school a cult?

April 12, 2009

I recently stumbled across an interesting article from the Chronicle of Higher Education, in which “Thomas Benton” (a pen name) makes the case that graduate school is something like a cult. He’s driven to this conclusion largely by his sense that most graduate students, especially in the humanities, would be better served outside academia. He quotes the following rules of thumb for identifying a cult, taken from the anti-cult Freedom of Mind Center webpage:

  • Behavior control: “major time commitment required for indoctrination sessions and group rituals”; “need to ask permission for major decisions”; “need to report thoughts, feelings, and activities to superiors.”
  • Information control: “access to non-cult sources of information minimized or discouraged (keep members so busy they don’t have time to think)” and “extensive use of cult-generated information (newsletters, magazines, journals, audio tapes, videotapes, etc.).”
  • Thought control: “need to internalize the group’s doctrine as ‘Truth’ (black and white thinking; good vs. evil; us vs. them, inside vs. outside)” and “no critical questions about leader, doctrine, or policy seen as legitimate.”
  • Emotional control: “excessive use of guilt (identity guilt: not living up to your potential; social guilt; historical guilt)”; “phobia indoctrination (irrational fears of ever leaving the group or even questioning the leader’s authority; cannot visualize a positive, fulfilled future without being in the group; shunning of leave takers; never a legitimate reason to leave”; and “from the group’s perspective, people who leave are ‘weak,’ ‘undisciplined.'”

Of course, there are plenty of points to pick at — it may speak more to the “definition” given above than it does to grad school — but I think it’s an interesting observation.

A Motley Crue of Toxicologists

March 15, 2009
Motley Crue Still Exists -- Who Knew?

Motley Crue Still Exists -- Who Knew?

Three years ago this month a phalanx of Duke physics grad students, including most all Lunchtimers except “field theory” Brian descended upon Baltimore, MD for the American Physical Society‘s “March Meeting.” At the time most of us were desperate to find post-doc positions or other jobs given that in January several of us had been told there was no funding left to continue our research past May.  I must have gone on a half-dozen interviews myself, including a memorable one for Wolfram’s theory group.

(Incidentally, nuclear people do get to go to an APS meeting every year, just not the “March Meeting.”  They have to settle for the “April” meeting, which this year is May 2-5.)

Little did I know that three year’s later would find me with a permanent job (inexplicably in toxicology) attending another March conference in grey and chilly Baltimore.  This time around I’m here for the Society of Toxicology‘s annual meetingRead the rest of this entry »

Computational Toxicology Postdoc Positions

March 3, 2009

EPA’s National Center for Computational Toxicology (NCCT) seeks qualified individuals to fill positions in our post-doctoral program.

The NCCT provides scientific leadership, understanding and tools related to the application of mathematical and computer models to technologies derived from computational chemistry, molecular biology and systems biology in order to improve the Agency’s data reporting requirements, priority setting approaches to understanding chemical toxicity, and risk assessment approaches. The major challenge of the research program is to improve the predictive capabilities of the methods, models and measurements that constitute the input materials to the computational models.
Excellent federal employee benefits:

  • Salary range of $58,155 to $90,610
  • Up to 4 year appointment duration
  • Paid relocation to EPA work location
  • Vacation and sick leave
  • Federal health benefits, life insurance and retirement program
  • Travel to professional scientific meetings
  • Active Post-doctoral Trainee Organization, onsite

Current NCCT Post-doc Opportunities:

Accepting applications January 26 – March 27, 2009

For additional information, please contact: Ms. Dorothy Carr at (800) 433-9633 or via email at .

The U.S. EPA is an Equal Opportunity Employer and Provides Reasonable Accommodations to Applicants with Disabilities

Good News Everyone

December 4, 2008

I’m happy to say that I was offered and accepted a permanent position with the National Center for Computational Toxicology within the US EPA.  I’ll be primarily working on the Virtual Liver project — an initiative to develop a computer model that can take in vitro toxicological information about an environmentally-relevant compound to determine the likelihood that that compound will cause harm to people.  In particular, I’ll be looking at how to model the spatial extent of the liver by coupling all of the constituent cells appropriately.  Right now it looks like we may be taking a cellular automata or finite state approach.

The cool thing is that my former office mate was also hired into a separate position.  For the first time since 2001 I don’t have an office mate from William and Mary (sorry Brad and Brian), but I’ll try to get by…

Doctors, Lawyers, and Captains of Industry

April 5, 2008

As described by the Detroit News, when legendary Michigan football coach Bo Schembechler (80% winning percentage) took over a struggling Michigan team in the late 1960’s, the more difficult practices and harsher coaching style drove 20-30 players to leave the team. For Michigan fans it is well known that he had a sign made reading “Those Who Stay Will Be Champions” and that he pretty much honored that claim by winning at least a share of 13 Big Ten titles in 21 seasons. What isn’t reported often is that one of the departing players added to the first sign: “And those who leave will be doctors, lawyers and captains of industry.” I think that’s an important part of the story. Read the rest of this entry »