Archive for: January, 2010

Actual conversations: My Day Yesterday

Jan 13 2010 Published by under Uncategorized

Me: Hi, I would just like to set up an appointment to go over my grant budgets
Grant Submission "Facilitator": Sure, can you send the budget to me ahead of time?
Me: Yeah, no problem. I can send it as soon as it's done which should give you a day or so to look it over.
GS"F": Would you send it in Excel.
Me: Uuuummmmm, you want the budget in Excel?
GS"F": It makes it easier for me to check through.
Me: *blink, blink*
Me: I'll see what I can do...
GS"F": K, thx. *Click*
Me: Wait, wait, wait. I need to create a whole new budget in a format that makes it easier to do your job while I'm in the midst of finishing two proposals? Hello? Fuck!

In the car
Wife: Wee One, did you get your medicine at day care today?
Wee One: Yes.
Wife: Who gave it to you?
Wee One: Um, Santa!
Wife: Santa gave you your medicine?
Wee One: Yes!
Me: What about Day Care Manager? Did she help?
Wee One: *Stares out window*
Me: Did she help with the medicine or did someone else give it to you?
Wee One: Snowman!
Wife: A snowman gave you the medicine?
Wee One: Yes!
Wife: Sigh.
Me: Alrighty then.

4 responses so far

Need.... tunes.....

Jan 12 2010 Published by under Uncategorized

These grants are almost tucked in and put to bed, but I'm running low on writing / editing music after being glued to my desk for this long. I need suggestions people. The only rules are that the music has to have some edge to it (I can't write to singer/song writer or acoustic), it can't be top 40 crap and no country... unless it involves Neko Case. Current examples on my playlist are Rise Against, Hot Springs, Mother Mother, NOFX (for nostalgia), Propagandhi, Wintersleep and Against me! with a dash of K'naan and Metric.

Any suggestions are welcome for the final push.

19 responses so far

An Open Letter

Jan 09 2010 Published by under Uncategorized

Dear Major Data Producing Centers,

You thought your machine were well protected, didn't you? Deep in your big fancy buildings with secured access for only a few trusted employees - a virtual fortress, only ever violated by the emails you decide to reply to. Otherwise unassailable, no?

Maybe you shouldn't have accepted samples from my lab. Do you think it's coincidence that machines in two MDPCs in two different countries have gone down while processing our samples in the last month? Do you? Maybe it's worth considering the possibility that what at first seemed like an innocent sample delivered to your door was actually anything but. Once you let it in the door, placed it on your machine and left it alone to run, it was all over. While your technicians slept soundly, our samples were working away. Be afraid, your machines are no longer safe.

PLS Lab samples come in innovative packaging.

6 responses so far

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

Writing an annual report

Jan 07 2010 Published by under Uncategorized

Yesterday I talked about getting my departmental annual reviews back and one commenter asked:

"Maybe you can enlighten us about how you wrote the review."

I started to write a comment, but then decided to turn it into a post. Basically, an excellent piece of advice that one of my colleagues has given me is to keep a simple Word file that tracks all of the little things that you do. Why is this important? Well, when you go to write an annual report it's easy to remember the big things like papers and grants, etc, but all the little stuff really adds up and is much harder to recall.

For example, every time I get a paper to review, I write down the date and what journal it was for. Same for grants. Represent the department at some university-wide meeting? Write it down. Receive some small recognition? Again, put it on paper. It's amazing how quickly things get forgotten when you have so much to do and getting it all on paper saves you buckets of time when it comes to writing the annual report. As another example, I gave four invited seminars last year at university around the area and because I wrote down all the details when they happened, it was easy to slot them into the review file. Rather than going through your calendar and emails looking for dates, it's all in one place.

Other than that, I asked for a template from someone a few years ahead of me whom I respect. I simply switched out their information for mine and I was off and running. Once you establish the document the first time it can just be added to in subsequent years, with the new information bolded. If you keep that sort of document up it can be the basis for your tenure package and make that process a whole lot easier as well.

8 responses so far

Annual reviews

Jan 06 2010 Published by under Uncategorized

No, I'm not going to nostalgically go through the last year of the blog, feel free to do that yourself if you like. Instead, I'm going to take a second to breathe and realize that despite my growing sense of urgency regarding funding and publications, I haven't exactly crashed and burned in this job... yet.

I got my annual reviews back from my department covering the July 08-09 period, and it doesn't seem that anyone in my department wants me kicked out just yet. Granted, it's hard to take issue with someone's progress in the first year, but there were some genuinely nice things said. Like most places we are judged in three categories - Teaching, Research and Service. Each member under review has to put together a summary of what they did in the previous year and all of the faculty weigh in on it. The Chair then gathers up what was written and summarizes it for the Dean. We have the opportunity to see the summary before it gets sent to the Dean and can decide whether to write a response of any kind or add clarification.

In the area of teaching, despite only teaching one grad class to seven students, I still scored highly in the department's eyes, with 60% of the faculty saying I met their expectations and the other 40% claiming I somehow exceeded expectations. As the first faculty member to basically be given their first three semester off from undergraduate teaching, I wasn't sure whether some sour grapes might shine through, but no one held me accountable for an ability to negotiate.

For research, it seems I have fooled people into thinking everything is going swimmingly. In reality, things are going well but it can be easy to feel like we're running in molasses. 70% of the department responded that I am exceeding expectations for research, which is good. Looking back, we have done a lot. We also had to set up a brand new lab - twice. Once we moved to the new building there was a decent amount of time spent just getting everything right again. Anyway, I'll plan to be able to put federal funding into my next review.

My scores for service were the same as research, and maybe that's a bad thing. Looking at it all on paper, I did end up doing a lot of shit for others last year that may have been better spent focused on my lab. At the same time, it is part of the job and I tried to pick things that helped me too. I think what put me over the top was working on the big institutional grant and I have to say that I would do it again. The probably that it will get funded in this round is very high (from the history of the program it was submitted to), which puts me in a good position. We should hear in a couple of months and it it does get funded I may find myself in the driver's seat for a lot of resources I wouldn't have had access to otherwise. I think you have to take the high percentage bets when they come your way.

The whole thing concludes with some nice quotes from what people wrote, suggesting that I am on the right track and people are happy with my progress. Overall, I can't say that there was anything I was concerned about or felt I should be wary of this year and based on the reviews, neither do my colleagues. I suppose that's all I can really hope for in the first year of a TT job.

15 responses so far

OF COURSE it won't be here until next week!

Jan 05 2010 Published by under Uncategorized

Regular readers may know that I've been working on getting a lot of data recently for two projects. I am submitting grant proposals to fund both of these projects in the next week, one on Friday and the other on Tuesday. In order to strengthen these proposals, I set a couple of things in motion from weeks to months ago so that I would have data to add. I have samples being processed for both projects in two different locations right now. One set has been a continuous problem for months and the other was submitted a little later than I would have liked because of some lab issues.

I've been in contact with both over the last month and yesterday I talked directly with the people running the samples in each place. I got the same answer from both: we'll send you data next week.

Oh, you mean right after I've submitted both grants?

Yes, I know I can submit an update to the grant but there's no guarantee that it will be given to the reviewers since it is up to the PO to make a call on that. Having the data in the actual proposal is kinda a big deal. I should have known that the data would miss the deadline by mere days, that's just how things have been going for the last few months.

Dude. Fuck! sigh.

5 responses so far

NFL Challenge: Um, now what?

Jan 04 2010 Published by under Uncategorized

After 17 weeks of the NFL regular season, we're now in the playoffs. It was a strange week 17 with some teams keeping starters out to try and avoid the types of injuries that may have blown the Patriots' season yesterday. Even Candid Engineer pulled her picks this week to avoid an injury that could have left her rehabbing to get back on the field before the fall job season starts. But at the top of the board, the pool has ended slightly anti-climatically... with a tie.

Alyssa made a solid effort this week and one the week with 10 points, giving her sole possession of fourth place. I had 9 points this week, which was good for third, but left me two points out of the winner's circle. Tied with 131 total points are Nat and Damn Good Technician.

So, after toying with the idea of some sort of cage match to the death, I've decided to step in and have a playoff for the two of them. No one likes ties and there is still football left to be played. Plus, Skype apparently has rules against death matches on their service, so that was a non-starter.

Here are the rules. Both Nat and DGT will pick all rounds of the playoffs this week, from the wild card to the Super Bowl. I will post their picks and the one with the most correct picks wins. No spreads, just outright wins. The tiebreaker will be the total points in the Super Bowl using Price Is Right rules (closest without going over). If there is still a tie after that, then we'll have to find a cage.

9 responses so far

New year, new strategy

Jan 03 2010 Published by under Uncategorized

I guess this is the post where I admit to being a little naive when I first stated this job. See, I didn't do my PhD or a postdoc in the US, so applying to US funding agencies wasn't something I had a chance to get involved in during my training. I wrote my fair share of proposals and read dozens more, but not for NSF. I did get my hands on some successful proposals from friends in the US when I got my job, but all of them were from people a few years ahead of me and who already had a funding track record, so in retrospect they may not have been the best choices.

Nevertheless, I made a number of classic rookie mistakes in writing my first proposals. I had people read them over and tried to make adjustments based on their feedback, but there were still issues that I didn't have a proper feel for. Scope, methodological details, proper sell, "preliminary" data, etc. But honestly, the only way to learn this stuff is to bang your head against the funding agency wall for a while.

The biggest mistake I made (so far) was in the last round. I had gotten the reviews back from one of my grants and the issue that the panel had fixated on was completely absurd and a non-factor that I would not even have imagined that the someone might dream up. I talked to the PO and he basically told me if I could explain that away I should send the proposal back in. And so I did, with minor changes. Big Mistake.

The proposal needed more than that, but I didn't look closely enough or think about it hard enough because I had too much going on and I got the false impression from the PO that the proposal was solid except for the issue in question. Although I think the science is solid, the proposal needed help before being thrown back in the ring and instead I patched it up and sent it back out there to get the shit kicked out of it again. While I'm not happy about that, it's forced me to take a good hard look at the proposal for the first time in a year and I don't like what I see. I should have done this last round, but I thought there was an easy fix and that if I changed too much I would open it up to new criticisms. Even though that may have been true, the proposal needed a serious overhaul and I didn't do it justice last round.

This time I know better. I think. I have more data, but more importantly, I have a new spin. And truthfully, it's a better project now. I went through all the reviews from two rounds and thought hard about the changes I could make. I also read through the whole thing and slashed and burned in a big way. I got rid of unnecessary background and expanded the project in one way while removing a couple major elements that I now think are weak. If I can get it done in the next day or so I might even have the time to get some feedback on it. If I get the data I am waiting on this week, this thing is going to have more hooks than a grade school coat rack.

I'm excited about the revamped proposal and it's chances. I'm sending it to a new program this time and hoping for a fresh start for the whole thing. It took me a while, but I'm finally feeling comfortable with what I need to do to get projects funded and 2010 is the year it'll happen.

11 responses so far

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