Saturday, January 31, 2009

$100M short out of $1.6bn

That's the budget cut for the UT System that appears to be looming.
How should this be effected?
The administration have repeatedly said they want to cut strategically rather than across-the-board. Presumably, in this case, the ORNL/UT link would be nourished, as it is hard to think of anything more strategically critical to UT than exploiting the world's best instrumentation in neutron scattering and supercomputing as well as the bioenergy emphasis, in order to climb up the rankings.

So where should the cuts be made?

Well, poorly performing or redundant departments and institutes may be targets.
As I do not have a good overview of this I wouldn't be able to make suggestions.

And tuition is also under discussion -
- the table below indicates that UT tuition, although having rapidly increased in recent years, is still below the norm

And what, finally, about salaries?
Maybe an across-the-board percentage cut for all except the very lowest earners?

But in times of stress one always scrutinises the top salaries.
The UT top administrators, who are under flak for appearing to have made UT top heavy, have all taken a voluntary 5% pay cut already.
They earn roughly the same as the 5-10 top 'Distinguished Professors' (such as myself). Few people are talking yet about targeting salaries of the highest-paid professors, and those with UT/ORNL Joint Appointments are only partially paid by UT (75% in my case) but I would not question any cut deemed fair and necessary by both the administration and the general UT populace. Of course, however, the deeper the cut, the more eyes tend to wander for gainful employment elsewhere, but, as for me, I've only just started here and am still building things up.......

Friday, January 30, 2009

Reasons to Be Cheerful, Part I

That was the name of an old Ian Dury hit:

Great new results from the Heidelberg lab :

Bogdan T: has got his peptide confinement simulations EXPLAINED
Petra I: has got her group REALLY productive recently
Jan-H.: has a completely new representation of ligand binding pathways
Emal A: has a lot to write about for his thesis chapter
Mai Z.: understands those DNA sequence-dependent free energy plots now
Tomasz B.: has done so many different calculations he's falling over them
Xiaohu H.: has seen phase transitions in water induced by an electric field
Thomas S: discovered the SUPERCLOSED state of actin
Isabella D.: has the first comprehensive simulation explanation of peptide folding fluorescence
Thomas N.: has now got time-averaged continuous time random walks understood.
Lipi T: is getting close to convergence with her peptides
Jakob U: wowed us all with an action-packed seminar on his peptide membrane insertion
Nadia E: got some excellent DFG reviewer reports and VW looks promising
Mithun B: is getting closer to understanding DNA elasticity theory
Karine V.: had a kid last week! (and found DNA unwinding in the nucleosome)
Marie: was definitely more cheerful in January than last October!
Sebastian F: has done THOUGHTFUL work on speeding up sampling.
Dennis G.: has shown that the protein glass transition is water-model-independent
Dieter K.: has a whizzo new graphical program that represents conformational kinetics

..did I miss anything or anyone?

Part II (Tennessee) comes soon.....

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Suggestion for Steve Chu

Suggestion for Steve Chu - the new energy secretary.
Let's think about persuading the administration to release some stimulus money to specifically fund graduate students in alternative energy research.
This would have several advantages:
(1) would be cheap (they are about 20K each) (2) in fact you need tuition on top of that, but that then would help solve another crisis - the university budget shortfall. (3) would be training scientists in the administration's favourite R&D area (4) would keep bright minds off the streets and out of trouble, so that they wouldn't continue to contemplate careers on Wall Street (if it ever reopens) or similar destructive futures...

Club Mod

The title Club Mod, by the way, is stolen from the Mark Johnson used to give his team for modelling in neutron sciences at ILL. The link is here

Hello to everyone

This is a blog by the director of a high-performance computing lab who hates computers. Indeed, I don't even know how to switch the darned things on. Indeed, isn't it frustrating when you get a new desktop and a large book of instructions only to find out that the very first thing - switching it on - is not in the book anywhere. This has completely stymied me in the past.

Anyway, luckily I have a team of real experts (students/postdocs etc) who do know how to switch a computer on, so all I have to do is sit behind my desk with my (virtual) fat cigar and comment on their plots and results with a smirk on my face. Then they are the ones smirking when I can't stop Word from overwriting on my file.

This blog (we'll see who ever reads it) will contain insalubrious comments about professional life in science, and molecular biophysics in particular. We'll see if it goes anywhere, or whether I will need student help to switch it off definitively.