The best and worst of times

Jan 08 2010 Published by under Uncategorized

When I started this blog I wanted to provide an honest description of what a starting faculty member goes through. I know that my experiences are probably representative of only a small percentage of TT faculty, but at least it's one honest and real-time perspective that isn't the revisionist history of more senior colleagues who offer advice. I've tried to stick to that as best I can without getting myself into trouble and hopefully it's been helpful to some who are on a similar path. As more readers have shown up, several of whom know who I am, it's gotten a bit harder for me to discuss certain things in a public forum. I'll be honest, there have been times when I've had to make myself talk about my failures. No one likes to air their dirty laundry, but I've convinced myself that letting other junior faculty who are running into the same roadblocks know that others are going through the same thing is valuable. As a postdoc I wouldn't have expected to go through as many proposals as I have to try and get funding, but here I am. The perils of starting a completely new line of research to start one's career.

In any case, last night I got to thinking about all the data we have coming in a few days and realized that I both love and hate these times. The waiting sucks but before the data arrive there are infinite possibilities. Everything could work as we hope and we could turn these data right around to high impact papers... or it could be crap and I would have been better off lighting a wad of cash on fire to warm my office. To make the stakes even higher, we're expecting critical data for the two major projects in the lab. If they turn out to not be very useful then I have some serious re-thinking to do, two student's with flailing projects and a lot less money to fix the problem with.

Yes, this is what the job is and I realize that. I know that if I always take the safe route we'll never make the big jumps we need to in order to push the edge of the field. However, my safety net isn't huge, so my margin for error is slimmer than some. The reality of huge datasets is almost always something in the middle of what you expect - useful but incomplete and needing some follow-up to make a full story. In this case, I would happily settle for just a small indication that we are not chasing a unicorn and that I haven't picked the wrong page in this chose-your-own-adventure story.

11 responses so far

  • says:

    Found it interesting to see the railway tracks... I just pressed next blog and it landed on yours.. please see mine do check out and letme know what your lab and research can do to solve the major problem...I can be reached at

  • Genomic Repairman says:

    Keep blogging, it gives me (lowly grad student) an insight as to the daily life of a TT and appreciation for what PI's have to deal with.

  • Anonymous says:

    keep going, you're doing great. not only are you giving all those wanna-be academs some fodder to chew on, but the commenters are here rooting you on and leaving hopefully helpful bits of info for you and the readers. jc

  • Anonymous says:

    Prof-like substance: You are an inspiration. Whenever I look at any TT faculty, I always wonder: how does she/he manage to do so much? In Hindu mythology, we have many gods and goddesses with multiple hands and heads. I guess all of the the TT faculty, somehow when they begin the job, must be able to sprout extra brains and hands. It is almost inhuman. And that is exactly why it is scary. I am on the market this season for the TT job, and slowly, I have started to get despaired. And I wonder: Do I have it in me? Can I manage to pull this off? So whenever you talk about your failures, it only convinces me to stay the course. It tells me that there are indeed some people, who, you know, are brilliant but they are also normal. Whenever you mention anything about your shortcomings or failures, this is what I see.

  • Le Physiologiste says:

    These kind of posts convince us that we are not alone out there !! Thank you for sharing your experiences !

  • Anonymous says:

    At lab meeting I have everyone present his/her failure for the week. Like the empty gel picture with just a ladder staring you in the face (and a droopy ladder at that). Failure is abundant in the sciences, you're just one of the few people who'll admit to it. It is the people who persevere who make their mark.

  • Aurora says:

    Glad that you blog and tell it like it is. It's a strange life isn't it. But I can't imagine doing anything else.

  • Professor in Training says:

    There are several of us all in the same damned boat chasing those motherfucking unicorns. Some days I think I would have better success at catching one by hitting my head against the wall.

  • Unmeasured Confounder says:

    I'm a recent reader, and your posts come across as very real. It's enlightening to hear about the ups and downs and everything in between.

  • biochem belle says:

    Being one of those who has convinced myself that I absolutely want to be a TT faculty (no matter how insane I must be to want it) I really appreciate blogs like yours that let me know just what I'll be getting myself into. Looking forward to more to come!

  • Prof-like Substance says:

    Now I'm a bit embarrassed because I didn't mean to invite a lovefest here - just pointing out how common failure is in our daily lives and the pressure that brings. But, rereading it, I think I missed the mark on what I was trying to get across. Not the first or last time.... Anyway, I'm not going to stop blogging or talking about all the crap that goes wrong and hopefully things will turn for the better soon. It'll make discussing our triumphs that much better. Nevertheless, thanks for all the kind words everyone.

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