An academic year in review

May 15 2009 Published by under Uncategorized

Graduation is finally here. I can tell because I can park near my building for the first time since spring break. There's been a lot going on here in the last couple of weeks and the summer is looking to be plenty busy, but I thought I might take a second to look back on my first academic year as a PI and recount what the hell happened in the last 9 months.

Mid-July, Submitted my first grant for my new position. Submitting a grant through an institution you are not at after having officially been an employee for about a week is harder than it should be.

Aug 1, Completed a multi-day international move with all of our belongings, two cats, a 5 month old baby and a mother in law.

Aug 4, Walked into an empty lab and office, got out a pen and started ordering everything I could think of. From computers to paper clips to chemicals. Our finance person and I got to know each other very quickly.

August, fended off as many sales reps as I could while contacting the ones I wanted to deal with. To a sales rep, the smell of a new lab with start-up money is like blood in the water to a shark. They circle in from miles away the minute you jump in the water.

Early September, My first grad student started up and we spent the first month opening boxes and getting things set up. One can argue whether or not it is productive to have a student from day 1 but for me it was tremendously helpful. It also allowed me to train a student who did not have a lot of experience with the techniques in the lab from the very beginning on all the little stuff like, "why are we putting this equipment close to that?"

Mid-September, Buried in so much paperwork and meetings I have no idea which end is up. I spend most of my days trying to figure out why something is not going through the finance system or meeting new people who always start out every meeting with "So. How are you really doing?" Also told I am coordinating the fall seminar series. Start calling everyone who owes me a favor. This month is all a blur.

End of September, Submitted a grant to a condescending private foundation before going back to post-doc city for a week.

October, Handed a fellowship to cover another grad student. Start calling around to the people I trust who might be graduating a student before the end of the year. Amazingly, this works out and I end up recruiting a second excellent student. Also told that I need to submit my paperwork for the course I'm going to teach in the spring. Make up a course and submit it.

October 23, Start blogging just to chronicle everything with the idea that it might help someone else avoid some of the issues I ran into. At this point I had not read any science blogs or discovered that there were lots of people doing the same thing (which might have helped me). Turns out that other people had already thought of this.

November, More paperwork, more buying, more getting things going. Start scheduling research-related trips to get material. Start producing actual data. Also start running into issues in the lab and get the tattered remains of my July grant back. Take off on my first research trip. The first comments show up on the blog and I begin to realize that other people are doing the same thing I am.

December, Go on two more trips, essentially back-to-back in different corners of the US, all while using serious amounts of "parenting credit" with WLS. Got blog rolled by Drug Monkey, found out while walking onto a plane and spent the whole flight wondering if the plane would crash if I connected to the internet (turns out you get no signal... not that I checked...). I basically worked through Christmas (took Christmas and the 26th to visit family) and took half a day while my insides were ripped out by a nasty bug. Otherwise, it was data production time for two grants with a January deadline.

January, Submitted my solo grant and ran into a few issues with the collaborative one. Switched programs to one with a March deadline. My second student started, I started teaching a grad-level course and the fit hit the shan in terms of blowing up the departmental structure of the whole college. I was also told two days after the deadline that the deadline for September grad students is in January. On top of that, the prospect of moving into a new building was constantly hanging over us. It was a busy month.

February, We ran into more lab mishaps and we moved into the new building with about two hours notice. I also had some major personal things come up in my life and the combination of everything at once made for some difficult times. While resolution hasn't entirely happened, things are a bit better now. I also posted my 100 post here.

March, I turned 32 years old and the Wee One turned 1. I wrestled with and after some craziness we got the collaborative grant submitted. I recruited another student for September and did a bit more traveling as the lab settled into the new digs. WLS started a new job and the Wee One started disease central day care.

April, I don't even know what happened to April, it was here and gone so fast. Research wise the lab seems to have worked through the kinks and is churning along. The new space is essentially done and everything was in place. I dealt with issues regarding undergrad students and teaching evolution through soccer. My class transitioned into something slightly different for the last few weeks and I survived meetings and life in general.

And now here we are in May. I'm starting to feel like I'm hitting my stride, both in my job and also a little bit here as well. I am burnt as hell from the year, but it feels like things are moving forward and I don't have that running-in-quicksand sensation about everything anymore. I have two more grants to write from scratch for July, two trips between now and then and a shit load of data to collect. But today feels like a bit of an odd transition in a lot of ways as the last day of my first academic year. I don't know where the next few months will take us, but all-in-all, I feel like I did a pretty decent job of all this to get where I am now and I'm looking forward to continuing from here.

Theme of the Day: Cage the Elephant, "Ain't No Rest for the Wicked"

10 responses so far

  • Professor in Training says:

    Congrats for surviving 🙂 I am also planning a reflective post about my hellish first year but need to calm down before I write it.

  • tideliar says:

    Hey dude, that's a nice post. I didn't realise you only started blogging back in October. Congrats on surviving the first academic year. I'll raise a toast, tonight, to all my academic-blog chums:"Here's to a fun summer of research, which is why we do what we do."

  • Prof-like Substance says:

    PiT - After all you have endured I guess we'll expect that summary around August.tideliar - No one realized I started blogging in October because I was doing it in a vacuum. Well, I wasn't in a vacuum, you know what I mean. Looking forward to the summer!

  • Successful Researcher: How to Become One says:

    Keep going!

  • Arlenna says:

    Yay congrats! I feel about the same as you, it is funny how our tracks are very similar in a lot of ways. At some point I too will get my act together for my retrospective on the second semester.

  • Hermitage says:

    Damn that's a lot of shit done in so little time. Congrats to you!

  • Anonymous says:

    You're doing great. Congrats on a successful year and many more.

  • Anonymous says:

    PLS, you are my hero.

  • Prof-like Substance says:

    Thanks everyone, it doesn't feel like a lot until you take the time to write everything down. Like most (I assume), I underestimated just how long it would take to get everything up and running. Nothing works right the first time around, no matter how many times you did it in your previous lab. I'm just happy that we seem to be making progress now.Anon@12:31 - Let me pull in some Fed money before I get fitted for tights, but thanks.

  • Ink says:

    Whew! What amazing for that year!

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