Important Announcement from Andy's Brain Blog

Even though I assume that the readers of this blog are a small circle of loyal fanatics willing to keep checking in on this site even after I haven't posted for months, and although I have generally treated them with the same degree of interest I would give a Tupperware container filled with armpit hair, even they are entitled to a video update that features me sitting smugly with a cheesy rictus pasted on my face as I list off several of my undeserved accomplishments, as well as giving a thorough explanation for my long absence, and why I haven't posted any truly useful information in about a year. (Hint: It starts with a "d", and rhymes with "missertation.")

Well, the wait is over! Here it is, complete with a new logo and piano music looping softly in the background that kind of sounds like Coldplay!

For those of you who don't have the patience to sit through the video (although you might learn a thing or two about drawing ROIs with fslmaths, which I may or may not have covered a while back), here are the bullet points:

  • After several long months, I have finished my dissertation. It has been proofread, edited, converted into a PDF, and sent out to my committee where it will be promptly filed away and only skimmed through furiously on the day of my defense, where I will be grilled on tough issues such as why my Acknowledgements section includes names like Jake & Amir.
  • A few months ago I was offered, and I accepted, a postdoctoral position at Haskins Laboratories at Yale. (Although technically an independent, private research institution, it includes the name Yale in its web address, so whenever anybody asks where I will be working, I just say "Yale." This has the double effect of being deliberately misleading and making me seem far more intelligent than I am.) I recently traveled out there to meet the people I would be working with, took a tour of the lab, walked around New Haven, sang karaoke, and purchased a shotgun and a Rottweiler for personal safety reasons. Well, the Rottweiler more because I'll be pretty lonely once I get out there, and I need someone to talk to.
  • When I looked at the amount of money I would be paid for this new position, I couldn't believe it. Then when I looked at the amount of money I would be paying for rent, transportation, excess nosehair taxes (only in a state like Connecticut), shotgun ammunition, and dog food, I also couldn't believe it. Bottom line is, my finances will not change considerably once I move.
  • A new logo for the site has been designed by loyal fanatic reader Kyle Dunovan who made it out of the goodness of his heart, and possibly because he is banking on bigtime royalties once we set up an online shop with coffee mugs and t-shirts. In any case, I think it perfectly captures the vibe of the blog - stylish, cool, sleek, sophisticated, red, blue, green, and Greek.
  • Lastly, I promise - for real, this time, unlike all of those other times - to be posting some cool new techniques and tools you can use, such as slice analysis, leave-one-out analysis, and k-means clustering (as soon as I figure that last one out). Once I move to Connecticut the focus will probably shift to more big data techniques, with a renewed emphasis on online databases, similar to previous posts using the ABIDE dataset.
  • I hope to catch up on some major backlogging with emails, both on the blog and on the Youtube channel. However, I can't promise that I will get to all of them (and there are a LOT). One heartening development is that more readers are commenting on other questions and posts, and helping each other out. I hope that the community continues to grow like this, which will be further bonded through coffee mugs and t-shirts with the brain blog logo on it.

How to Secure a Job in Academia

Ending graduate school and going on the job market is a terrifying prospect, especially for those nursing at the teat of a graduate student stipend. Sure, it's not an especially large amount of money, but it gets you by, pays for rent, pays for the food, and possibly pays for Netflix. The only reason you would leave it is for the more attractive teat of a professor's salary, which, if you hit the jackpot and receive tenure, you will get for the rest of your life. That is, unless you screw up bigtime by neglecting your teaching and research duties, have destructive affairs with your students, and in general completely abuse the purpose of tenure.

I am, of course, joking. There's no way you would ever lose tenure. That's why it's so popular: You can act however you want and nobody can do anything to stop you. Seriously. The U.S. military is currently experimenting with granting soldiers tenure, complete with sabbaticals every three years, and finding that they become invincible on the battlefield.

Obviously, then, securing a tenure-track job is important. If nothing else, you will need something to do for the next few decades of your life before you begin to decay and die. The rest of your friends have jobs, some of them on Wall Street. You're never quite sure what it is that they do, since most of the pictures you see of them, from what you can make out, involve cocaine-fueled orgies with celebrities. Still, they have jobs. They have purpose. The purpose of life, actually - and this is what everyone, deep down, believes in their core - is to have a secure job that pays well and that everyone else admires, even envies. The best jobs (and this is especially true in modern democracies) will dole out prizes regularly, and, ideally, you will get those prizes. 

This is the meaning of life. Anyone who tells you otherwise is wrong. I am right. The notion that there could be anything more to life is pernicious, even hateful, and you will remove it from your mind. I permit you to find the leisure time to read books, go to the opera, appreciate art, take up yoga, become politically involved, choose to become religious or to become an atheist, determine what your values are, form meaningful relationships. These activities will make you feel like a swell person, like an authentic human being, and you will derive much pleasure from comparing how well-rounded and how thoughtful you are to others. But one must never lose sight of what matters.

That is why I recommend using the website to build your job application. The website is managed by Dr. Karen Kelsky, who has had literally oodles of experience reviewing job applications and has a nose for what works and what does not work. Everybody uses her site. Everybody. If you do not use her site, you will fail. Failure means not getting the job, which means you will not have purpose in your life.

You should be terrified at this prospect. You may think there are alternatives. There are no alternatives. The most successful tyranny does not suppress alternatives, it removes awareness of alternatives. This is me establishing a tyranny over you. You will obey. This is easy, since you have already been conditioned to feel this way by graduate school. You love jobs, prizes, and the acclaim of your peers; you are horrified by poverty, debt, shame. It is natural. Everyone feels it, no matter what they do. I have known scores of individuals desperately trying to lead bohemian existences, but in the end they all came back to the importance of a good job. Even those who most fervently preach the ideal of nonconformity, sincerity, and independence of mind, are those who, underneath their outrageous behavior and wild external adornments, lead the most traditional and safest of lives. For all of the exotic places they travel to, for all the louche connections they boast about, their internal lives are flat, their sexual lives withered. It is not the divine madness Socrates praised, nor is it the direct, immediate, nonintellectual perception of reality so highly prized by Lawrence. It is a stopgap, a rearguard action; merely something to fill up the vile lacuna in the middle of their existence.

But I digress. What I mean to say is that you should follow my orders for getting a job. Following my orders is not weakness. It is rational. You will want to get the job, so you will go to the website I just gave you. You will follow its instructions. You will both smile and cringe at the anecdotes which hit close to home for you. You will compare its examples with what you have written, and find out where you are wrong and she is right.

The reason for all of this is to be secure. There was a time where desiring this above all else was considered cowardly, pusillanimous, and shameful, but that was then. This is now. You may sneer at all of this, but you know that I am right. You may have faint stirrings of indignation that rebel against everything I have said, but you will still do what I say. Do this, and you will be happy. The notion that happiness consists in anything else is laughable. Happiness is promised by health, security, and a sound mind; not by Plato, Dickens, and Hemingway. Give men bread, and then ask of them virtue.

Andy's Brain Blog Needs Your Help!

To be more specific, I (Andy) need your help; but what's good for Andy's Brain Blog is good for America - and you're all patriots, right?

As I mentioned before, I am currently applying for jobs and putting together my research and teaching portfolios, playing up all the sexy studies currently in the works, and what I plan to do for the next few years; how I can attract students to the university, students to the department, secure money, funding, recognition, and all that good stuff necessary for the vitality of the university.

However, as all of you know, this right here is one of my dearest, most ambitious projects - to make statistics, neuroimaging, and computational modeling available to everyone in straightforward, simple terms. To use online repositories to get at data unavailable to the majority of smaller, liberal arts institutions, so that students from all parts of the globe, researchers anywhere, and quite literally anyone with a computer can get a piece of the action. To make the information in dense, unreadable technical manuals accessible and easy to understand through hands-on, no-nonsense tutorials. And - perhaps most importantly - I wear a suit when I do it.

I want to continue doing this. I want to continue building, expanding, and teaching, both here and in the classroom. I will not rest: I will drink life to the lees. Heck, maybe I'll even drink the lees too.

But to do that I need your help.

Through both the comments here, on the YouTube channel, and in private correspondence, I've talked with many researchers, students, and professors around the country and around the world. Most of you I've never seen, but I've had the privilege to help out professors and scholars all the way from Italy to China; I've freelanced for PET researchers at Michigan State, schizophrenia experimenters at Indiana, designed experiments for primates in New York. The AFNI tutorials created here have been used as class material at the University of Pittsburgh, and my code for Hodgkin-Huxley simulations have been used for demonstrations at Claremont McKenna College in California. My recipe for homemade granola is used by several hungry researchers to keep them going throughout those long afternoons. The list could go on.

What I ask for is if you have ever used the materials here in an educational setting, be it for the researchers in your lab or the students in your classroom, please let me know by sending an email to ajahn [at] indiana [dot] edu. I am trying to compile a list of where it is used, to demonstrate its use and effectiveness.

Lastly - allow me to get real here for a moment - I've thought of all of you, each person that I've conversed with or replied to or Skyped with, as my children. And not as "children" in the sense of putting you all down on my tax returns as dependents; although, if the IRS isn't too strict about metaphors, I think I could get away with that. No, I've thought of you as real children: Shorter than I am, a little incoherent at times maybe, often trying to get my attention, and playing with Legos and Gak.

Regardless, it's been one of my great pleasures to help you all out. Now get away from that electrical socket.