Thursday, September 4, 2008

The Joy of a Clean Whiteboard

I block out time every week that is dedicated to research. During that time, I do not answer the phone, I do not answer my door, I do not respond to emails. I work on whatever research project needs my attention. This is my survival strategy which insures that I actually have something to show my tenure committee every year when I am evaluated (especially important since my university refuses to allow postdocs to be included in start-up packages and all my students are still too new to have projects rolling out).

For the past few months, these precious research moments - islands of time when I pretend I'm still a postdoc - have been dedicated to desperately trying to write, edit, and revise a vast array of projects that all seemed to reach fruition at exactly the same moment of time...and that moment in time was this summer. Part of that timing was self-imposed because I wanted to have a lot of projects out the door to make my CV look good  in case I saw some jobs I wanted to apply for this fall. But part of it was externally imposed by collaborators who, I think, also wanted to have papers out the door and possibly accepted in case they too saw jobs they wanted to apply for.  I have been a single-minded writing machine.

Yesterday, I pushed the last of these puppies off my desk (including submitting one to a journal higher than I would normally try for). And last night, it suddenly hit me - there was nothing on my docket that had to be done during my research time the next day. No papers that needed to be revised, no grants that needed to be written. No analyses that needed to be done to support some last minute statement inserted into a discussion. My mad paper writing dash had come to a pause.....and it was like the angels sang. I went to sleep with a deep sense of contentment.

Why? Because today, my friends, I get to sit in front of a fresh white board and design my next research projects. There's something really liberating about the moment of realization that I direct my own research (or perhaps it's just the realization that it's harder for people to find me when I'm not in my office). That moment when I pick up  that dry erase marker and start writing out the questions I want to address and what I will need to do that will be the moment that makes up for the politics of science - all the academic bullies, the high service load, the irritating student who still hasn't  set a date for his comprehensive exam. Today, my friends, is going to be pure fun. The fun of letting my curiosity run rampant and the intellectual challenge of figuring out a way to test my ideas - that is why I got into this biz. So, my friends, off I go to visit my whiteboard. If you don't hear from me for a few days, it probably means I ended up barricading myself in and refused to come out.

7 comments:

EcoGeoFemme said...

Good for you! It's so wonderful to read about times when people are happy with their science jobs.

PhysioProf said...

my university refuses to allow postdocs to be included in start-up packages

What!? You mean you aren't allowed to spend start-up on post-doc salaries!? What kind of blithering fuckwit bureacratic assmonkey came up with that cockamamie idea?

River Tam said...

Couldn't agree with you more, PP. The run around every new faculty member gets on that issue is quite...impressive. Higher admin doesn't understand what post-docs do or why they are important so they refuse to fund them. They also make it difficult to include them on grants, so there are only 2 postdocs in my dept (of 40 or so faculty). Then they can't understand why their brand new faculty come to a screeching halt, research-wise. I'm trying to figure out how I can share your quote with my dept head to get across that this makes us look backwater and idiotic to the research establishment!

River Tam said...

ecogeofemme-- we often blog about the things that drive us nuts, but I wouldn't give up being a science professor for anything....and yesterday morning was as amazing as I thought it would be!

Candid Engineer said...

Encouraging to hear how much you love this. (I've been feeling a bit negative lately). Hope you enjoyed your white board session and came up with something enticing.

PhysioProf said...

Higher admin doesn't understand what post-docs do or why they are important so they refuse to fund them. They also make it difficult to include them on grants, so there are only 2 postdocs in my dept (of 40 or so faculty).

Are these people fucking high on crack!?

Seriously, you need to force your chair to have a sit down with program officers from NIH and/or NSF to explain this shit. Because what you are telling me is just flat-out deranged fucking wackaloon!

River Tam said...

Ah, PhysioProf, thank you for reassuring me that while I might be crazy, my university definitely is! It always makes me feel better when someone else also thinks something is wackloonery!