Should I worry?

Jan 07 2009 Published by under Uncategorized

When I took this job there were three features that made it very attractive. 1) Location. Both my and my wife's families are within a 2 hour drive from where we live. After spending nearly a decade in a distant place and with a child under a year old, it was very appealing to finally be near family again. 2) Collaborations. The university is investing heavily in my subfield and has made several hires in that area recently, with another planned (assuming they lift the hiring freeze one day). 3) Work/Life balance. Though Employment U is not a superpower R1 research juggernaut, research is a major focus and well supported. Our class load is not overwhelming 1:1.5 (with the .5 being a journal club-type "class") and the deans are generous about accommodating active research. At the same time, one could putter along with a small research group and limited funding and still get tenure.

I have no plans to putter, but unlike Isis, I am too tall to sleep on my desk. I aim to build a decent sized lab (not a small corporation) and juggle between 2 and 4 grants at any one time. That's what I think it will take for me to feel happy with the progress my group is making and still be able to spend time with my family. There are people in the department who pull this off, but they are the minority.

Obviously, I have been pushing hard in the last month with the two grants I am about to submit, but I would say that I am generally here longer hours than most (maybe all) of the other PIs. I have been told several times in the last couple of weeks something to the effect of "people here just don't work as hard as you are", and if my experiences being the only person in the building over the holiday are any indication, they're right. This situation might change entirely when I move to the new building, in which only active labs are going, but maybe not.

Now, I may not get any of the grants I have submitted and might find myself nursing a single grant along for several years, I have no idea. I don't think that will be the case, but at this early stage I can only speak to my ambitions and nothing more. Nevertheless, am I going to be motivated to churn out grant proposals at this rate in five years if I am one of a few who are pushing that hard? The culture of your environment can have conscience and sub-conscience effects that influence your actions. I am (perhaps naively) relying on my internal drive and the pace of others in my field to keep me motivated to keep running, but will that be enough to keep from starting to jog?

Of course, the running metaphors are also serving to remind me that even jogging would be an improvement to sitting behind my desk or standing in the lab all day. Must. Get. Exercise. Fat ass.

8 responses so far

  • Odyssey says:

    I'm personally not aware of anyone who was denied tenure for working too hard and succeeding. Perhaps your example will inspire others in your department to pull their fingers out.And can you keep it up? Only time will tell. If you're inspired by your science, then I suspect you will.

  • Professor in Training says:

    I'm in a similar position and am being constantly reminded by friends, mentors and ex-colleagues that I need to look out for myself and do whatever I need to do to succeed in my position, particularly in the current economic climate. The more senior people that are telling you that you are working too hard relative to others are the ones that are going to have a say when it comes to your annual and tenure reviews. I'd much rather have someone say that I'm working too hard than having a quiet word about my slacking off.

  • gnuma says:

    You raise some good questions. I would suggest drive is internal, based on my experiences so far -- I've always driven faster than other peeps in the lab -- specially post-doc lab. The mentalities of those around us can be powerful forces, however, you are soo right to acknowledge that. I attempt to try and recognize statements like that from other people for what they are -- sometimes I think I hear it as passive aggressive bs in an attempt to knock you down, other times it comes across as more like personal reflection from others...My solution is to recognize the people that support me in a positive way -- rely on them for feedback...the difficult part is figuring out who is truly supportive....and it's terrible when someone you want to be supportive of your work (cause you think they are bomb and whatnot) are a little to busy to give a shit? But I digress.I say work at your comfort level! If you're happy working a lot, go for it, dig in...if you're happier at a slower pace, then don't apologize for it.

  • PhysioProf says:

    Nevertheless, am I going to be motivated to churn out grant proposals at this rate in five years if I am one of a few who are pushing that hard? The culture of your environment can have conscience and sub-conscience effects that influence your actions.The culture of your environment defined by your colleagues in your field/subfield is much more salient than the culture of your departmental/institutional environment, as you will find out when you start going to field/subfield-specific conferences and giving presentations as a PI.

  • Prof-like Substance says:

    I honestly don't think people are trying to slow me down - more let me know that I don't have to run myself ragged to make tenure here or impress those who make those decisions. But that's just it, I don't really care what those people think is the right pace, as long as I am not below their arbitrary line. I'm more concerned with my place in my field than that in my department, at least from a research perspective. With that said, there is always the pull of wanting more family time, especially if everyone around me is taking that time. I think it's going to take me a while to find the right balance for me and that the first two years are not going to be good calibration points because so many things are new.

  • gnuma says:

    Yeah, the balance. Meh. You know how they measure the nutrition of toddlers now -- over the course of a week rather than a day? Maybe the balance of work/life isn't a daily thing, more like a monthly or bi-monthly thing....

  • Drugmonkey says:

    i'd say do what you think is right and get your shit going*. around about year three you can start thinking about how the launch went and how your life is going and all that. *with that said, kids are only young once holmes.

  • Prof-like Substance says:

    Well, for me, I have to agree with gnuma. In non-grant-writing times I can get home to see the wee one before she goes to bed and even *gasp* take weekends to spend with my family, so it's not like I'm putting in 80 weeks all the time. There are busy times, but probably only a third of the time.

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