I just realized that I missed my second bloggiversary by about 2 months. Bah, who cares anyway. But in realizing this, I was looking back at some of my old posts and came across this, written almost 2 years ago, and which I’d forgotten about. I read it, and I was like “I wrote this?? Holy shit, it’s actually quite good!” So, since I hope I’ve acquired new readers since I started this here blog, I’ve decided to re-post for you the story of “The lowly grad and the magic beans”. Enjoy!
Originally posted: September 26, 2010
“Lowly Grad and the Magic Beans”
You had seen him several times skulking around your poster, furiously scribbling notes. Every time he came by you recognized his pointy beard and short stature. Once he pulled out a ruler and started measuring your error bars, another time he took out his camera and took a snapshot of your poster. And every time you couldn’t read his name tag, it was flipped over, or covered by his jacket. Who was this guy?
It was your first big meeting and you were excited to be presenting your hot new results. It would have been better if your advisor had come, but he had to stay behind to finish his grant proposal. After the poster session as you were leaving with the awkward and enormous poster tube you saw him again, and this time he looked like he wanted to talk.
“I saw you stop by my poster several times, do you have any questions?”
He tugged on his beard and asked “Is it for sale?”
“For sale? My poster?”
“Yes, I’d like to buy it.”
“Who are you?”
“I’m the poster buyer.”
“Why do you want to buy my poster?”
“Because that’s what I do. I pay very well.”
You think, what the hell, I can get some extra cash and not have to lug this thing back home. “OK, let’s do it.” The poster buyer takes your poster and pulls something out of his pocket, handing it to you.
“But these are only three beans, what’s the deal here, dude?”
“Ah”, says the poster buyer, “not just beans – magic beans. I thought you were hoping to get your project published in one of those fancy Glamour Journals?”
“Well, these beans will help you do that.”
And before you have a chance to object, the poster buyer and your poster are gone.
When you return home you tell your advisor about the whole incident. “FOOL!!” He yells. “You don’t know who this guy was, he could be a competitor, or one of our ‘science enemies’. He’s totally going to scoop your project, you are totally screwed, you’ll NEVER get it published, you will now take 14 years to complete your PhD! I hope that he at least paid you well…”. Sheepishly, you say “Well he gave me these magic beans… he said they would help get my paper published in a fancy journal.” Your advisor gives you a despondent look and walks away laughing maniacally, shaking his head. Totally in the dumps, you walk home and you bitterly toss the stupid beans in your front yard before you get to your apartment. You spend the night eating Doritos and drinking heavily and fall asleep in the couch.
“Dude, you gotta check this out. Dude wake the fuck up!” You open your eyes, your head pounding, to see your housemate shaking you awake.
“What?! Leave me alone!”
“The seeds, the ones I thought were pot seeds you threw in the front yard…they’re not pot seeds.”
“I know, they’re magic beans. Now let me go back to sleep.”
“Take a look, look out the window!”
You figure that looking out the window is the only way to get rid of your housemate and as you look, you are totally astonished at what you see. The beans had grown into a giant bean stalk, twisting and curling all the way up to the clouds. “Holy crap! I’m going to climb that thing.” And after quickly dressing you run out and climb the giant beanstalk.
The beanstalk is much taller than you thought, and after 3 hours of climbing, you reach a large sign: “NO TRESPASSING. This is the laboratory of the Head Honcho, funded by NSH, NIS, DDT, CIA, PDQ, ABC, DoF, QED and the Willy Wonka Foundation. Unauthorized lowly grads are not permitted beyond this point, because your science ain’t shit compared to the stuff we do in here!” Ignoring the sign you press on, until you reach a large, warehouse-like room. In it are hundreds of ashen-looking grad students and postdocs working away in endlessly long lab benches, pipetting, running gels, imaging cells. And wandering around are large goons with whips, with tee shirts that say “Lab Manager”, ensuring everyone works harder, faster. At the end of each bench there are large bins, connected to chutes and you recognize the names of the various Glamour Journals in the labels to each chute: Journal of Sexy Science, Trendy Topics in Nature, etc. And a continuous stream of grad and postdocs are wandering over to the bins, one after another, and dropping in their manuscripts, watching them be whisked away through the corresponding chutes. After a while you realize that there’s this strange, wonderful music in the background. It’s like nothing you have ever heard before, a warm sensation fills your body, what is that?! You decide to pull over a postdoc wandering to the bins and you ask her “What is this strange music?”
“It’s the Mojo Banjo, of course.”
“The Mojo Banjo?”
“Yes, where the science mojo comes from.”
“You silly, lowly grad, the science mojo is what makes your science tick. It’s what makes it glamourous, and hot and sexy and trendy. It’s what makes people want to listen to it and publish and fund it. It’s the key to it all. Whithout science mojo, your science is bupkes! Nada! Zilch!”
“But my science is very interesting and groundbreaking, I’d like to think…”
“It doesn’t matter, without the science mojo it’s worth a handful of beans! ”
“So how do I get some of this mojo?”
“Only the Head Honcho can make science mojo by playing the mojo banjo. And he never lets go of the mojo banjo, he even sleeps with it. Now if you will excuse me, I need to deposit this manuscript in the ‘Hot Journal of Cell Science’ bin”.
You know you need to get a hold of the Mojo Banjo and mesmerized you follow the music until you get to a large banquet hall. In it is a large table, full of people eating and laughing, almost drunk on the sounds of the mojo banjo. And you recognize among the guests prominent editors and grant reviewers and representatives from funding agencies. At the head of the table is the Head Honcho himself, playing the mojo banjo, his fingers flying across the strings. And everyone seems to be eating cotton candy, which is made by these gigantic machines. And the cotton candy looks delicious and you never had breakfast, so you decide to sneak in and taste some. It tastes wonderful! Nothing like regular cotton candy! After you taste it, you taste fame, and fortune and you feel important and powerful. And mixed with the sounds of the mojo banjo, you soon fall asleep under the table. When you wake, everyone has fallen asleep. The head honcho is slumped over, cotton candy stuck to his chin and the mojo banjo dangling from his hand. Carefully, you sneak close and snatch the mojo banjo and make a run for the exit. But the Head Honcho has been woken and angrily looks around, loudly exclaiming:
“Fee, fie, fo fudent! I smell the blood of a graduate student! Be he alive, or be he dandy, I’ll grind his bones to make my cotton candy!”
And seeing you with his mojo banjo he begins to run towards you, his face beet red with ire, the room shaking as he does. You make a beeline for the beanstalk, running away from the Head Honcho you start the long climb down. But the Honcho is relentless, no matter how fast you climb down he seems to be catching up. And when you reach the bottom you can see him just a few feet away. So you have no choice, you begin to hit the base of the beanstalk with the mojo banjo until finally it topples over with a gigantic crash, crushing the Head Honcho. But the mojo banjo is destroyed! You will never get your glamour publication, your PhD WILL take 14 years!
“You did it!” exclaims a familiar voice. You turn to see the poster buyer, tugging his beard and cleaning his ear with a Q-tip.
“Did what?! I destroyed the mojo banjo. I’ll never publish in a fancy journal, ever!”
“On the contrary, lowly grad, you have set science free! No longer will those in possession of the science mojo will be granted exclusive access to Glamour Journals. Papers will be judged purely on scientific merit and not trendiness. Grant reviewers will provide useful constructive feedback, ensuring all good grant proposals get funded. PhD’s will be completed in no more that four years, graduate students and postdocs will be appreciated, and anyone showing a genuine interest in science will be reward with a faculty position. Because of you, lowly grad, a new era in science has been ushered! You are a hero!”
“Yes, now get back to work, after all you are only a lowly grad and I understand you have a thesis committee meeting you need to prepare for…”