Archive for: June, 2010

Increasing your academic visibility

Jun 29 2010 Published by under Uncategorized

One of the key things every new PI has to do when you start a new lab is to get the word out. You gotta let people know where you are and what you are working on, which is why doing the conference circus circuit is really important early on. But, there is a lot more one can do and I'm really starting to see the benefit of one major thing.

When I first got to Employment University, my department asked me to take on the seminar series. At the time it was a bit hodgepoged and disjunct so I think they expected me to invite a couple of people here and there and call it a day. I had, however, been in charge of a seminar series as a grad student, so the task wasn't particularly daunting and I quickly realized I could use it to my advantage.

I sent out a request within the department for suggested speakers, and as per expectation I only got a few. That gave me freedom to pretty much ask anyone I wanted to see give a talk. I made a list of all the heavy hitters in my field within my geographic "sphere of invitation" and started working through it. I knew I was going to do the seminar series for at least two years, so I was able to spread these talks out so it wasn't blatantly obvious what I was doing.

In the process of hosting some big name folks to the department I have had the opportunity to not only increase interest in my filed within my department, but also get on the radar of some key people from other institutions. This is paying dividends both at conferences when I get the opportunity to catch up with these people and meet friends of theirs, but also because people tend to return the favor and invite you for a seminar at their institution.

More recognition + more invited talks + more interesting (for me) talks in my department = win. It can be a pain in the ass sometimes, but coordinating the seminar series can have huge up side if you use it to your advantage.

12 responses so far

Big meeting, small meeting

Jun 28 2010 Published by under Uncategorized

As a scientist, I can wear a lot of hats depending on how I want to sell the work I am doing. Like most labs, I can self identify with my study subjects, the phenomenon that we work on, the tools we use or how we approach our questions. That leaves me a pretty broad spectrum of conferences to go to, some of which I have been attending for years and others which I have only recently started to go to. I have my "must attend" list, but I try and mix it up with the other conferences I attend to both expand my exposure and to see what some of the other meetings are like.

One thing that is rapidly becoming a law for me is "Over 4 parallel sessions = far less time spent attending talks". It doesn't seem to matter what the conference is or how many people I know there, I just can't get excited about a meeting with a shit-ton of parallel sessions. Rather than seeing it as a smorgasbord of tasty science, it feels like a firehouse of information that I would rather not put my face in front of. Maybe I'm just getting lazy in my old age, but running through the maze of rooms to switch between several of the 15 parallel sessions during an afternoon just doesn't do it for me these days. And how do the organizers know to pick the two talks I really want to see and schedule them simultaneously?

I go to big meetings sometimes for a change and it's a good way to catch up with people I haven't seen in a while, but I find that I spend less time in the talks and more time chatting with people during the day. I'm not sure why that is, but big meetings get to be less about the presentations and more about socializing.

8 responses so far

Travelers remorse

Jun 27 2010 Published by under Uncategorized

Part of the job is traveling. Whether it is for conferences or field work or collaboration, there is little way to avoid it. In general, this is something I really enjoy. Through my work I have traveled to numerous places I wouldn't have gotten to another way. As enjoyable as it is, however, there is a cost.

Even on a good day, leaving my family at home adds strain to their lives and forces an accommodation of a single-parent household. It's not devastating, but it is an imposed weight that I am very aware of. To make matters worse, there is a history of bad things happening at home while I travel, and this trip is no different. Both my wife and daughter are quite sick, resulting in a double admit to the ER at 4:30 this morning. Both are doing better now and I am hoping that we have hit the point where it can't get much worse, but it's early in the trip and I will be switching continents in a few days.

I don't know that there is much point to this post other than continuing the discussion on balancing work / life demands. Whereas the travel part of the job can be a lot of fun for those of us doing the traveling, every decision to go away carries with it an implicit demand that one's partner will pick up the slack at home. Sometimes that's a lot to ask.

8 responses so far

Hellz Yeah

Jun 24 2010 Published by under Uncategorized

Why did it take so long to get internet on planes? Thank you whoever solved this issue.

That is all.

9 responses so far

Unfriendly departments

Jun 23 2010 Published by under Uncategorized

I have had the good fortune during most of my career to either be in departments that are generally very friendly or ones where battles between the different egos were kept between said egos and were not projected onto the trainees of each lab. This has been a good thing. However, in one of my training stops I landed in a fragmented department that was odd from an outsider's perspective.

Several core groups co-existed within the department, and while there was never any open hostility between them, the different groups just didn't interact. Within groups = lots of great interaction; between groups = as if each group was their own continent when the world was believed to be flat.

I am an outgoing person who likes to get to know the people I see every day. I can't help it. A silent elevator ride with the person who works in the next lab over drives me nuts. Especially when we likely have much in common.

So what's a guy to do to break through these barriers of stupidity? Borrow shit.

That's right, start asking for stuff. Doesn't matter if you need it or not. After about 4 months of lab-to-lab silence I decided that I was going to march into the other labs and start asking for the lab equivalent of a cup of sugar. Who cares that I had a pound of sugar on my bench, no one minds giving out a bit of sugar and the real mission wasn't to get reagents anyway. No, it was ninja ice breaking with the added benefit of the return visit to replenish the sugar once ours "came in".

It's easy to put on blinders when you work a lot in a lab. Maybe you have all the friends that you need either in your group or outside the work environment, but nothing bad has ever become of a sincere effort to get to know those around you and my efforts ended up paying off when I actually did need to borrow something.

Give it a try and tell me I'm wrong.

9 responses so far

Actual conversation: Time warp

Jun 22 2010 Published by under Uncategorized

PLS: I think we should get everyone together on Wednesday to look through talks for the conference. That way there will be time to fix stuff before we go.

Grad Student: Well... we're leaving at 6:20am the next day.

PLS: We're leaving Friday.

GS: No, Thursday. We spending Thursday night at that collecting site you had us book.


GS: I can go get the itinerary.

PLS: Are you shitting me?


PLS: Dude! Fuck. Sigh.

2 responses so far

Can I get a Land's End catalog, STAT?

Jun 21 2010 Published by under Uncategorized

I think I need to start buying pleated Land's End khakis and wrinkle-free dress shirts. It may be the only way that I can start to look professorial enough to stop people from assuming I'm a student.

In only the latest example, I was asked to give a 5 minute dog and pony show research explanation to a political candidate for some district somethingorother. She brought along a contingent of people, including two interns who appeared to think their job of making sure the schedule was adhered to was a life or death posting, and toured the lab. I talked about what we do, including how our science is both good for the state from a job and application perspective. She took this all in as I described the cool equipment we use and how state infrastructure is blah blah blah. A few questions were asked, suggesting the candidate had at least listened. And then... "So, are you a student here?"

I'm not sure why this flusters me every time, I should be used to it. All I could work out of my suddenly-frozen brain was, "Uh, no I'm the PI in the lab." Of course, this meant nothing to them, and the Dean had to pipe in "Principal Investigator" in the awkward seconds of blank stares following the communication logjam. Being a politician, the candidate quickly managed a backtracking two-step, claiming to be impressed by someone with my youthful appearance being in such a position and all I could do was make an awkward joke about growing up wanting to be a Magnum PI and having to settle for this instead. They laughed politely, an intern glanced at their watch while writing something down and I changed the subject.

I need a better way to deal with this question. At the age of 33, until the ravages of the job and parenthood prematurely age me, I think I'm going to be dealing with this question for a bit unless I start wearing the professor uniform. Unfortunately, pleats are my mortal enemy.

I do have the advantage of age being the single factor keeping me from fitting the prof mold in people's mind, so I am sure that many readers have had to deal with this for far longer than I. Perhaps there are effective strategies to head this shit off?

43 responses so far

What exactly is a teaching moment in the bloggosphere?

Jun 19 2010 Published by under Uncategorized

GeekMommyProf started a blog about a month ago, which burst onto the scene in a hurry. Most blogs (including this one) toil in obscurity for a while, eventually gain some steam and get enough readers coming back to get talked about a bit here and there. In the process of earning your blog chops, you make mistakes and write some stupid shit, but no really notices because, again, there are like 6 people who read it. But GMP started off with an uncharacteristically large readership for an independent blog when she hit the ground running and so when she made a mistake people noticed.

At her one month mark, she has written a post in which she suggests that the response from Isis and others to one of her early posts has left her a bit disillusioned with blogging. Specifically, she would prefer if disagreements over content were handled more discretely, rather than on a big stage. GMP suggests that her mistake was an opportunity for a "teaching moment", whereby anyone who read what she wrote and found it offensive could have contacted her by email to explain their position and she would have rewritten the post.

Fair enough, no one likes to be de-panted in front of a large audience, nor does anyone appreciate hordes of angry commenters (weel, maybe some people do). But, if your intent as a blogger is to reach a broad audience, even if mainly for the interaction between your writing and that of the commenters, occasionally you are going to step in shit. This is the nature of the beast and it is a good idea to know this going in, or at least come to this realization rather quickly once people start to read what you write. The internet is a big place and even if you have a regular group of readers who you are comfortable with, there is nothing keeping the world from reading what you write and interpreting it based on their own experiences, not your's.

If a reader gets offended by something you write, it is in your best interest to have them contact you off-blog, but not theirs, and probably not the reader's. As much as it sucks to be called out, what is important to remember is that just because something doesn't look like a teaching moment in your shoes doesn't mean that others aren't learning something. Less than 10% of people that read most blogs take the time to comment even on a good day, IME. Hell, there are many blogs that I read that I rarely comment on, but that doesn't mean I'm not interested in the the discussion or learning something from it. Even (especially?) a feisty discussion about topics that people are passionate about gives both those watching and those participating a window into the different experiences and backgrounds that the combatants come from and how that colors their views. You can agree or disagree, but the point is it makes people think about the fact that their own view is not necessarily right or the only view out there. Don't underestimate how important this is.

So, despite the contention of many that the "civil bloggosphere" is their preferred pasture in which to graze, I would argue that far more is learned in places where the discussion roams to where some get uncomfortable. Sometimes as bloggers we make mistakes in our writing and sometimes we have to defend or apologize. But a combination of a thick skin and a willingness to learn from even the heated discussions that occur will end up serving most bloggers and readers very well.

34 responses so far

Blogger Rec Letters

Jun 17 2010 Published by under Uncategorized

Many of us are writing grants this time of year because both NIH and NSF have deadlines around now, as do several foundations. Friend of the blog, Professor in Training, finds herself applying to an agency that requires recommendation letters. Not only is this annoying, but it means annoying your colleagues to do something they thought they were done with after you got a job.

But in the comments section of PiT's post, Dr. No volunteered to write a letter for PiT that she could send along and I think this is a brilliant idea. So, to keep PiT from having to bother her colleagues, I offer this letter:

Dear Important Granting Agency For Stuff I Know Nothing About,

I am writing this letter in support of the proposal entitled "Cool Shit I Want To Do" being proposed by Professor in Training. Frankly, I know nothing about the science being proposed, but PiT really loves your agency and wants to work with you. She does really cool shit in the lab, so this proposal is a natural extension of that effort. Plus, I hear she has agreed to hold off on any major surgeries to repair both old and new injuries for the duration of the proposed funding period, ensuring that she will mostly be in one piece for this work and probably won't run off with any hot doctors. An additional benefit of funding this proposal would be lighting a small candle of hope for a broad audience of us junior PIs who are starting to wonder if agencies actually give out money to anyone in their first couple of years. Finally, because PiT has a super cool accent, you will be able to read her proposal in the accent of your choice, kinda like changing the voice on your GPS to find the least condescending version of "recalculating". I know the proposal is hot shit, but with all of the reasons I have listed above, I can't imagine there is any reason not to double the budget and just send the money.


4 responses so far

The balance

Jun 15 2010 Published by under Uncategorized

There has been quite the discussion recently about work / life balance and how it relates to gender issues. Things started with Isis' commentary on a ScienceCareers piece on balancing the chores with work, that was aimed specifically at women. After a bit of a scuffle, mostly on Isis's blog, Jim Austin had this to say at ScienceCareers. Despite the "special announcement" (which ends with the dismissive Thanks for your attention. You may go back to whatever you were doing.), I'm not sure Jim ever really heard Isis and Zuska's complaint that the implicit assumption in ALL of the ScienceCareer articles aimed at work / life balance was that the target audience was women and only women.

Based on the discussion, ScientistMother called out the men, and specifically Drug Monkey, to write more about how they deal with the balance between work and life. I think that's a fair thing to ask, because by not addressing this it appears is if it isn't a problem for us and I can assure you, at least in my case, that is not true.

Most of you will know that I am married and have a daughter who is just over two. While I am not in a two body academic relationship, my wife works close enough to where I do that we own one car. I mention this because it is critical to how our lives are scheduled. Basically, our hours are daycare's hours. We drop the Wee One off at 7:30 when it opens and we pick her up at the end of the day (though not when daycare closes), usually between 4:30 and 5:00. Those are my weekday in office hours, whether I like it or not because I have no other option to get home.

At first I found this difficult because I was used to working later in the day, but now I actually appreciate the restriction. Why? Because it means that no matter what I go home with my family and we play, eat dinner and have bath/bed time with our daughter together. I can go back to the office afterwards if I want, though more often than not I work in the evenings from home. But during the week we don't see the Wee One for that long each day and this schedule means that I see her all the time she is not in daycare. It means I have to be a bit more organized and that I have to get everything I can done during the day, but it also means that I spend more time with my daughter and, importantly, that the parenting burden is not skewed. For the same reasons, I try hard not to work much on weekends, but when I have to, I pick one day to get things done and spend the other day with my family or just with my daughter if my wife has to work.

As far as chores go, we have essentially reached a balance where the overall work is split evenly without both of us doing every task equally. I do more of the cooking and dish washing, whereas my wife does more laundry and yard work. We both clean the house when it needs it, which usually either happens in concentrated bursts or in fragmented pieces (just the bathroom gets done, or just the kitchen gets cleaned) during the Wee One's naps or after dinner. We take turns giving the Wee One a bath and putting her to bed. For the most part it works.

The tough part is travel. At the moment I travel more for work than my wife and that places an enormous burden on her during those times to single parent while I am away. For some reason, when I travel is also the time when random catastrophe strikes the household, making my time away that much more difficult on my family. There have even been times when my travel and changes around the house have caused anxiety in the Wee One, which was a bit scary. Travel times are stressful times and I've tried to make careful decisions about travel to get the most out of the time I am away. Sometimes it means missing a relevant meeting. It is what it is.

Kids are a lot of work. Relationships are a lot of work. Work is a lot of work. Everyone finds their balance and what makes the most sense in their relationship to get 26 hours worth of stuff done in 24 hours. There is no one right way to make it happen but allowing home duties fluctuate between us depending on each other's work burden at the time allows us to manage.

5 responses so far

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