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  • : "We're almost there and nowhere near it. All that matters is, we're going" - errements culinaires et pseudo-artistiques d'une dilletante à DC.
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17 décembre 2013 2 17 /12 /décembre /2013 11:08

I read a few blogs written by academics with great interest as they address issues related to research, student supervision, grant writing, publication, work-life balance and much more. One topic of particular interest is that of women in science, which is often discussed by FSP and GMP among others. As a women in the field of computer science, I have often been in a male-dominated evironment. However, either because I'm lucky or because it happens in too subltle ways to pinpoint, I do not feel that I have been treated differently from my male peers throughout my career, nor have I witnessed blatant gender-differenciated treatment.


That's why I want to report something that happened a few days ago as my lab was going through a round of external evaluation by peers. There was a specific meeting where our branch chief presented the branch research activities over the period and answered questions from the evaluation committee. One question was related to the time to graduation for PhD students. The expected time to graduation in France is 3 years and about 50% of the branch students graduated in 4 years or more, which was a concern to the committee. So they asked why students took so long to graduate. Our branch chief (a male colleague) clearly did not expect the question, and just told them the first thing that came through his mind: the female students tend to go on maternity leave which delays their graduation. In all fairness, the conversation was quickly back on a more professional and accurate track - the committee spokesperson noted that many of the students with the longer time to graduation seemed to have male first names and another colleague came to the rescue to explain that while our research topic is multidisciplinary, many graduate students come to the lab with training in only one of the relevant disciplines, so the first few months of their time at the lab is spent on complementing their training in the other discipline sometimes at the expense of immediate progress on their research. It should also be noted that the colleague who blurted out the unfortunate response is one of the most fair persons that I know, always trying to make everyone feel included and appreciated for their contribution.


Yet, when 25% of a "problem" student cohort (12% of the total student pool) fits a particular women profile, the knee-jerk reaction is to just blame it on the women! While I can understand why he would say that (he was taken by surprised, and he advised at least one of the students who did go on maternity leave so it would be natural to think about that person as a token student), the disastrous notion that "the lab average graduation time is delayed by female students" might be remembered more than the rationale discussion that ensued. So in addition to unfairly blaming former female students, this might also hurt the chances of female applicants to the PhD program.


The harm is done, and brushed off as a funny faux-pas that everyone can laugh about in the hallways for weeks to come.

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26 novembre 2013 2 26 /11 /novembre /2013 02:41

One thing that I just love here is the roadside spirituality offered by local churches...


Although the service announcements seem to superseed at rush hour :)



[Sunday 11:00 AM Traditionnal Service]





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22 novembre 2013 5 22 /11 /novembre /2013 00:42

Christmas gift ideas, live from Dupont Circle...



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28 août 2013 3 28 /08 /août /2013 08:44

...we landed at Charles de Gaule, exhausted and excited in anticipation. New jobs, new home, a new country for my son. A year later, we're just about catching our breath, but overall I believe this was the right choice for our family. Here is my assessment of the situation at Y+1:


The Good.

My job is awesome. Landing this position was nothing short of a miracle, and one year later I still feel truly blessed. My colleagues are a group of friendly, knowledgeable and competent scientists. I am happy with my new research project and the way things are setting up - and, well, my project was one of the lucky 12% to get funded in my study section for the French equivalent of a junior R01. Also, I expect to get tenure in a couple of months and job stability does wonders for my stress level and general happiness :-)

I had some time off over the holidays. I took two weeks off in May and I did not look at my work e-mail once. I flew to Spain for a long week-end  for a friends' wedding in June. I took another two weeks off in July - and worked every single day, but who's complaining when there's a BBQ and hammock waiting riverside when you're done? Vacation time and the flexibility to work from home whenever convenient, no questions asked, is really a must.

We're finally caught up with family, enjoying a helping hand or two (or three!) to entertain our son during evenings, week-ends, holidays. It's nice to have cousins, brothers and sisters drop by and to know that it won't be another year or so before you see them again. The urgency to tour the country to visit every single relative within a week time is also down.

The Bad.

We have another job situation in the family that is not so awesome. The European rule of "permanently in or out after <4 years" is tough. This is our sore black spot.

The Ugly.

Transportation in the greater Paris area is a nightmare. I guess it is the case in most big cities but seriously? Getting anywhere from our place by public transport takes at least an hour in ideal conditions, i.e. when there is no major strike, bad weather or construction going on. In any case you can expect to be crammed in a tight space with a bunch of tired fellow commuters who also just want to get there already. I can't decide whether driving is better or worse. I still can't get used to the narrow streets lined with bloody flower beds, bumps and other car-unfriendly devices that make it a challenge to have opposing traffic of small sized cars coming through in a two-way street. Then, there are the trucks and utility vehicles of all kinds. And the constant double parking. And the street construction sites that sprout with no warning during summer.  Getting from point A to point B can take anywhere between 30 and 150 minutes - even if there are general rules that apply (of course a particular drive will be longer than ideal at rush hour) the smallest straw will break the Camel's back and spin your timing out of control.

The Blue.

I miss Rumba Cafe, Teaism,  R & R Nails, decent sushi, DC shopping, the odd bacon cheese burger.
More importantly, we miss our friends. The casual BBQ and pool parties just around the corner, the takeout game nights, the pedicure chats, the brunch dates... But hopefully an upcoming trip in a few weeks will help with that. 

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8 juillet 2013 1 08 /07 /juillet /2013 10:04

Right now, we are in the middle of the "summer sale" period in France. My step mother found some great deals on children clothes and came by with gifts for my son. Including a T-shirt with a surf board and a map of California that reads "Good Vacations". I couldn't help but cringe. Good Vacations? What the hell is that supposed to mean? Even Google Translate can come up with "Happy Holidays" as a translation for "Bonnes Vacances"! Of course, it would make more sense to have Santa and Rudolf next to that instead of the surf board, but at least it would be a proper English phrase.

When all is said and done, I really don't want my son to wear a shirt that will make me want to yell "Have a good effin' vacation, dummmass" every time I see it. However, I have to confess I am not completely innocent of the gibberish T-shirt buy. This winter, I did get a shirt for my poor baby from the same shop: it had a very cute picture of a bear... and read "King of Wood". I also cringed a little, but the bear was so cute! Surely everyone realizes he is the king of the woods!


The "Good Vacations" shirt does not have the cute bear factor, and it opened my eyes to the obvious: Carter's, I miss you!!!! French kids stores have nothing on you! Also, I spent seven years in the US doing my best to avoid Faux French restaurants with their grammatically foul menus and tomato-sauce blanquette dishes. I think it's time to enforce a new behaviour: Oy with the Engrish T-Shirts already!

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8 avril 2013 1 08 /04 /avril /2013 09:06

En cherchant une recette de financiers, je me suis rendu compte qu'il en existait une infinité de variantes; du coup, j'ai pris celle-ci comme base et adapté a ma sauce... Le résultat est plutot satisfaisant, quoiqu'un peu sucré, je trouve. La prochaine fois je mettrai plutot 100 g. de sucre, ca devrait suffire.



- 85 g de poudre d'amandes
- 85 g de farine fluide
- 150 g de sucre
- 85 g de beurre
- 4 blancs d'œufs
- 1 cuillère à café de poudre Matcha
- 1 petite pincée de sel 



- Préchauffer le four à 200°C (thermostat 6-7).
- Mélanger la poudre d'amandes, le sucre, la farine, la poudre matcha.
- Fais fondre le beurre dans une casserole jusqu'a qu'il soit roux et mélanger.
- Monter les blancs en neige ferme avec une pincée de sel

- Ajouter au mélange précédent.
- Verser dans les moules et cuire au four 15 à 20 min.

- Démouler tiede (important pour éviter d'effriter les gateaux ou d'accrocher au moule...)


D'autres détails intéressants, j'ai mis environ une heure pour faire ces financiers, plus des cremes desserts (7-8) pour utiliser les jaunes d'oeuf. Bon, j'ai utilisé des moules mini-muffin et mini-mignardises pour les gateaux, ce qui prend surement plus de temps que les moules a financier classiques a remplir. Au final, j'ai fait: 20 mini-muffins, 9 mini-migniardises et 3 muffins normaux.


Voici la version mignardises (un peu craquelées):




Et les muffins:




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3 avril 2013 3 03 /04 /avril /2013 20:19

 Last week, I attended the new employee day at my institute. It was quite a contrast from the last shindig of the sort that I had the privilege of attending two years ago. No flags, no pledging. What they told us was, in essence: "Congratulations. You are gathered here today as employees of the premier research institute in Europe because you have been identified as the best scientists of your generation." To this day, I am still not entirely sure they didn't have me mixed up with the batrachian model of disease guy, but... OK, who wouldn't like to hear this?


Then, somewhat addressing my recent concerns, they went on about what you're supposed to do in your first year: "You have been working really hard to get where you are now. You made it. So lighten up! Look around you. Take time to understand the system. Take time to understand the diversity of experience and expertise of your labmates. Enjoy the opportunity to develop your research in this environment. We, the institute and your country, expect a lot from you. But we have chosen you. We have chosen you because we trust that you will deliver. And we pledge to be by your side to provide the help you need along the way."

Folks, I was quite blown away. Who said France wasn't good at pep talks?


Beyond this ephemeral warm, uplifting feeling, I am not sure what I am taking from this meeting, really. Perhaps I should linger with my impression of that day: when all is said and done, I like the idea of mutual trust that science will advance better than that of unilateral obligation for defense against all ennemies, so help us God.

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22 mars 2013 5 22 /03 /mars /2013 12:41

A long time ago, I had this lovely meal at a restaurant, involving scallops and Jerusalem artichoke bits. I can't remember much of it, except that it was really delicious. So, with that in mind, I tried to improvise something the other day. It is not much of a recipe, really, since I basically cooked the artichokes into a puree, fried the cut-up carrots with olive oil in a pan and threw everything together in a plate:   




It just happened to fall together quite nicely :-)


For two servings of a small dish (as in the photo), I used:

- 1/2 lb jerusalem artichokes

- 2 carrots

- 2 scallops


For an entree version of the same, I would serve rice and extra scallops on the side (about 5 additional scallops per person).


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21 mars 2013 4 21 /03 /mars /2013 10:49

We have been back for over 6 months now, and yet I still feel completely overwhelmed by... life itself, it seems. At this point, it is hard to pinpoint the problem: is it adapting to a different country, a different position at work, being a parent? Was that too many changes at once?


I am getting nervous as all the important conference deadlines in my field for this year are coming and going and I still don't have anything to submit on my current research - over the past few months, I have been submitting 7 single PI or collaborative grants, which seems like a lot but is apparently only the obvious thing to do, I have experienced some issues with getting work material (also a classic new independant investigator obstacle, I know...) and got a taste of administrative and student-related adventures. Technically, things are starting to fall into place and I can start working properly while waiting for the grant results and new deadlines, *but* it seems there is so much to do and so little time to get it done! In the end, I guess that's the bottom line: I am just not putting in the time anymore. Nor could I do it if I wanted to. Between family duties and local logistics, I am basically in the office between 8:30 am and 5pm and I am so toast in the evening (with the prospect of getting up at 6:30 am!) and having my hands full during the week-end that I am down to the proverbial 40-hour week that my postdoc self would qualify as a walk in the park. While everybody else is going full steam ahead...


So, I have to come to terms with the fact that in the grand scheme of life it is not a big deal to skip a couple of conference deadlines, and that "every body else" is not necessarily without qualms. This post in partcular resonated with me, as well as this other post on work-life balance and on a less personnal level, this post about the emerging requirements for reseachers. In fact, I even recently saw a workshop at a major conference proposing a discussion of the challenges new independant investigators face: moving on from working on your own research project to in addition get funded, hire students and other collaborators, set up a lab, and so on.

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13 mars 2013 3 13 /03 /mars /2013 20:50

I have been looking for this mini-cheesecake recipe all over the place, until I finally realized I had it in the draft section of the blog, waiting for a long overdue post to be written. What I like about this recipe is the use of vanilla extract. From my experience, I make about 7 full mini-cheesecakes with it.


In the mean time, I had to use this other recipe, which is also good (and similar). It makes smaller cakes, since with the recommended amounts you can only fill the cups about halfway:




I initially thought they were annoyingly tiny, but in the end, it makes for a small dessert that goes well with a big meal, and can also be used as the centerpiece for a café  gourmand


I serve the cheesecakes with a fruit sauce made of 1/2 lb fresh fruits (frozen can also be used), 1/2 cup sugar and the juice of 1/2 a lemon, blended together. For added fun, I tried to top that with a pyramid of fresh fruits: 




To be perfectly honest, it looks nice, but it is hard to make the fruits hold steady for long enough to take the picture!




Here are the (French) ingredients I used for my last batch of 12 mini-cheesecakes:


(for crust)

- 1 cup speculoos biscuits, crushed
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 40 grams butter, melted


Use a glass to pack at the bottom of the cup.


(for filling)

- 2 (150 g.) packages of Philadelphia cream cheese, softened

- 1 petit suisse

- 2 large eggs
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 1/3 cup sugar



Bake 15 minutes at T6 or 180 C 






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