Thursday, December 18, 2008

My own personal Christmas Carol

I thought I would have a good bit of time this week to get into the blogging groove before shutting down for the winter solstice, but the funding gods have laughed at me, so here I am working feverishly on two different proposals for the January NSF deadline. One of the proposals is important for my research future. The other, just rejected, proposal is critical for my research present. All I need is another proposal important to my research past, and I'll have my own personal Ebenezer Scrooge proposal trifecta. There are other ways I would love to spend my break than writing two proposals at once and I have been understandably grumpy this week. But, the posts by DrugMonkey and JuniorProf yesterday reminded me that I am lucky to have a job this holiday season which I am (to the best of my knowledge) not in imminent danger of losing. Perhaps I should see this not as a burden, but as a Xmas gift from NSF. Afterall, during the Xmas season with its whirlwind of family and socializing, we all need a little time for quiet reflection - I just get to do mine with a couple of my close, personal proposals!

Well, enough lollygagging. I have a show to run here (or at least write about running!). When I run into another writing block, I'll compile the department seminar statistics that you were all kind enough to send me and post them.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

A little search term fun

Once a week or so I check on the search terms people have entered into some search engine that have brought them to my humble blog. Much of it is rather mundane; I sadly get a lot of hits on academic bullies, thanks to the posts Academic Bully: Symptoms and Diagnosis and Academic Bully: Treatment and Side Effects. I also get a shocking number of people looking for: your carrier is not supported by blogger mobile (which of course had me all up in arms earlier this semester, too). But some of them really amuse me (either funny funny, or slightly horrified funny). So, for a little end of the semester fun, here are my favs:

excel smack my mole: honestly, I don't want to know what this person was looking for, but it seems a know.

how to get crappy ecology papers published journals: did this person wonder how crappy ecology papers get published or did they have a crappy ecology paper they wanted to get published? Inquiring minds....

how to make a professor chaos: you take 4 years of college, several years in a Ph.D program, some postdoctoral experiences, shake them up, and walla, your own professor chaos!

how to date a physicist: Use lots of equations to explain how you feel? Do they really need special handling?

just forms of gender discrimination: what? I think the word discrimination implies very clearly that is it not just. If someone is telling you otherwise, smack them.

may or may not be river tam: this one just made me laugh. I will neither confirm nor deny that I may or may not be River Tam.

Do you understand the woeds that are coming out of my mouth: LOL. No, I actually do not.

training for bullies in academic: I knew it. I wonder where one gets said training. Is there a special workshop at some annual meeting? "What do I want to learn this year? Structural Equation Modelling - useless, Uses of isotopes in ecology - pointless, ah, yes, here it is, how to be an academic bully! Perfect! Now that's going to come in handy"

general disarray blog: general disarray was touched that perhaps someone out there is interested in what he has to say. I'm trying to get him to guest blog, but he has been resistant. So sometimes I just make up things he has said to see if he'll come correct the record.

what would be the dress and grooming requirements for a ecologist: wait, we have grooming requirements? Have you seen some of the people at the annual meeting? I really don't think we do.

10 things that make you say holy crap: I hope this blog was not one of them!

The award for best series of search terms that have popped up over the the past month creates what I have been calling "The Doomed Love Saga":

The saga begins. Love blooms.: "i like my professor and i want to date him"

Does he like me too?: "signs a professor is attracted to a student",

Love reciprocated: "professor wants to date student"

Love ends, how do I extricate myself from this creep?: "best time to leave professor" (oh child. This is not a situation you should ever have entered into. But now that you're here, my advice is: break up after he has turned in your final grade)

Doomed love saga concludes: "i dated my professor"

While I seriously doubt these all came from the same person (I have not checked, too busy doing things that will actually get me tenure) but they did more or less come in sequentially like that (the last two came in almost simultaneously) so it was really too funny not to construct a story with them.

Ah, I do love the internet! What an interesting species we are.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

She was just invited because....

"As I seem to do at least once a week, I would like to point my readers over to a great discussion occurring at DrugMonkey."

That sentence was actually written for a post in Sept, but I've decided to just start using it as a heading to let people know this will be a DrugMonkey inspired post. So, once again, ladies and gentlemen, a DrugMonkey inspired post.

In Problem? What Gender Problem?,  DrugMonkey noticed at a scientific meeting that the representation of women was low. When I read his post this morning, I nodded my head sagely, thought "yep" and then spent the day working on a proposal and revising a manuscript. I had no idea that such a statement of truth could engender such a wild, interesting, and sometimes slightly bizarre discussion. Truly. I can't summarize it for you, you have to go check it out for yourself.

The truth of the matter is that the loss of women and minorities from the pipeline is a complex issue and I think the discussion over at DrugMonkey also shows that it is an emotional one for many of us. Many of us have heard, either leveled at us or at other women/minorities, "yeah, insert-name-of-speaker-who-does-not-look-like-everyone-else-here only got invited because....". Even when it's not explicitly stated, (shockingly many people do realize a statement that someone was only invited because they were female, black, hispanic, etc makes them sound like an ass), there are often enough undertones to make one seriously suspect foul play. I once had a reviewer spend the review explaining I wasn't as great as one might think from my CV....seriously, dude? The problem is, perhaps that asswipe does that crap to everyone, not just women, but there's no way to know so the recipient of such an interaction is left with the strong suspicion that this was motivated by other issues, which makes someone, like me, feel angry, betrayed, unsettled, suspicious, and worried this happens to everyone but I've become overly sensitive and unjustifiably paranoid. No wonder when those statements of "you're just an affirmative action placation invite"  come out clearly, we tend to go a little ape-shit.

But the emotional part for me is that the entire discussion made me a little sad. No doubts we've made some great strides in some areas, but as kiwi gal pointed out in her comment (#41) over at DrugMonkey:

In my field, ecology, we have a very large number of world class women scientists. At our national meeting in 2007, at an invited symposium reviewing progress in ecology over the last decade (to be published in a special issue of the journal etc etc), there was one woman speaker and 19 men.

Ouch. So much for my beloved ecology. The demoralizing thing is that this type of feedback (whether it is the review arguing why your record shows you are a hack despite how hard you worked to get those high profile papers or the lack of invites to give high profile talks when people of lesser records are praised like gods) reinforces the idea that you have to work twice as hard for half the credit.

I have to admit that after reading the discussion over at DrugMonkey, I was a little demoralized. I also have to admit, I always get demoralized when I get hung up on how I am perceived in my field, but - like always - I remember three things that make me feel better: 1) my science kicks ass. I didn't participate in the Scientiae  this month because every time I came up with something good it gave away my science (and thus me), but damn it my science is hot.  I routinely get it published in kick ass journals - despite some bizarre, occasionally angry reviews - and it is well cited for someone at my career stage.  2) I love what I do and I am a position where my gender might keep me from becoming a superstar, but it won't keep me from doing what I love. 3) I am deeply aware that I can say 1 and 2 because I was fortunate enough to have threaded some narrow, scary sections in the academia pipeline to be here today. Seriously, there was some major luck involved in my tango from undergrad to assistant professor.

So, I'm shaking off my malaise and tomorrow I'm going back to work to bust my ass on my proposal and my manuscripts that need to be resubmitted. Why? Because screw all those asses who want to come up with some reason why I'm not as good as I seem, who dismiss my speaking invites because I'm the "token woman", and my papers because its actually my co-authors carrying me, or whatever other excuse makes them feel better at night when they look at their own CVs. Besides, I have found that nothing pisses those people off more than a truly successful woman. And nothing would make me happier than to really piss them off.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Gender Ratio in Departmental Seminar series

So, ever since I wrote about Being on the Circuit, I've been wondering about the truth behind the General's Disarray new tactic for convincing me to actually get on a plane and give departmental seminar talks.

In my experience, invitations to speak at departmental seminars often arise from either a colleague issuing an invite and/or an internal nomination process with a committee (sometimes the committee is really just one person) deciding who to invite from the nominations. There are also other modes for generating speakers (i.e., press gangs roaming the department looking for students and assistant professors who may have promotion or Ph.D defense obligations), but General Disarray's argument has made me wonder what exactly is the proportion of women giving departmental seminars in a seminar series? Obviously, I have shown myself prone to obsessive compulsive data collection, but I thought this might be more fun, (and less detrimental to my tenure aspirations) if my readers helped me with this. So....if you have a few spare minutes (ha ha ha), and are also interested in this, feel free to send me the following information on whatever seminar series you tend to attend:

Number of speakers, number of women

It might also be interesting to know what the proportion of women is in the group the seminar is for (i.e. if it's a departmental seminar, then the proportion of female faculty -  I know, I know this ignores the grad students and post-docs but this can be difficult info to get) to get an idea if the gender representation of the seminar series represent the group for whom the seminar series serves (I actually suspect the gender ratio of those invited to speak is lower than the department's).... I could ask for much much more info, but its the end of the semester and I don't want to overladen people - besides this is just for curiosity. Feel free to either leave the info here as a comment or email me at (as I'm warming up to the idea that the blogosphere actually likes to talk back - not in a pejorative sense - I've decided to experiment with actually having an 'official' email address for the blog. If I decide it doesn't freak me out too much, I'll make it permanent)

To lead the way, here's the info for the seminar I attend:

8 speakers, 1 woman, 29% female at host institution

Thanks for indulging me! I promise to compile and present in a future post!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Twelve months of Professor Chaos meme

Well, really it's eight months of blogging, since Professor Chaos didn't open its doors until May. In the spirit of Abel Pharmboy, the bit of introspection I've gleaned from putting this meme together is that a lot of my blogging is inspired by my fellow bloggers discussing things that resonate in my life. The sad thing is that I'm inspired more often than I have time to write. I have reams of half finished drafts, many in direct or indirect response to things other bloggers wrote that I found intensely interesting. Anyway, here it is, the 8 months of blogging:

May: My First Blog: "I just finished a semester of editing more Ph.D. dissertations than I ever care to do again in a two week period."

June: Advisors (Pt I): One size does not fit all: "Being a new Ph.D. advisor, I spend a fair amount of time thinking about what makes a good adviser."

July: The Rabid Reviewer: "Reading Female Science Professor's post this morning about inappropriate reviewing behavior, I was inspired to muse about a common type of review I receive on my submitted manuscripts: the rabid review."

August: Role Models: "A few days ago Isis mentioned that like many young, female academics, she worshiped at the alter of FemaleScienceProfessor."

Sept: What does the authorline of a paper represent?: "As I seem to do at least once a week, I would like to point my readers over to a great discussion occurring at DrugMonkey."

Oct: When five things need to be submitted NOW...: " end up with a slightly crazed week."

November: Dreams and Travel: "One of the things I both love and loathe about being an ecologist is the travel: travel to conferences, travel for research, travel to give seminars."

December: Why I love Fridays: "I love Fridays".

Hmm. My second bit of introspection: in the future use more fascinating sentences for the first post for each month!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Why I love Fridays

I love Fridays. I love Fridays with a passion. Every Friday morning I wake up and say to myself "Thank God it's Friday!"

You might wonder if this is a sign that perhaps I should find another job. Obviously River Tam is not really enjoying her academic life if she pines for Fridays so longingly. But you would be W-R-O-N-G. I love Fridays because it is a day I jealously guard from all demands. I sit at home, with a cup of coffee or green tea (depending on time of day) and do the science that is my reason for putting up with everything else. I write manuscripts and send them lovingly off to journals. I conduct analyses. I brainstorm new and interesting things to do. Friday is sacrosanct and I will (and have) gone to war to protect it. Department Head wants me to come in and do something? Sorry, I won't be on campus that day, let's reschedule. Student desperately needs me to come for a committee meeting? Sorry, there are four other days of the week where I am available. I know it sounds a little harsh, but I have learned that if I don't protect my ability to conduct research, no one else will do it for me.

Today, I am working on a grant. This proposal already had one go at NSF a couple of years ago as a CAREER (young investigator award), but it was obvious that the panel really wanted me to do some work that was outside my area of expertise, so I have assembled a top-notch team of co-PIs and we're retooling for a regular grant. After a few collaborative experiences recently that were less than fun, I decided to focus on working with people who I know are deep thinkers, hard workers and, most importantly, are not giant, raving assholes with a touch of misogynistic tendencies thrown in for fun. I think the last criteria is something that sometimes we do not have consciously on our checklist when we evaluate a potential collaborator, but really really should. My collaborators for this proposal are fantastic. They are fun to work with, great scientists, and have no problems working with a woman. I have seriously thought about making them sign exclusive collaboration agreements. I, the undersigned, agree to work solely in collaborative scientific projects with River Tam, who in return will acknowledge in every talk she gives that I am one of the most awesomest collaborators in ecology.

So, I am off to work on my grant. Have a great Friday, everyone! I know I will!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Being on the circuit

I have been traveling an almost obscene amount recently. My travel these days is almost completely driven by a combination of travel for research collaborations and a sudden spike in invitations to talk at various departments and programs. A senior colleague of mine once complained to me about the travel demands of being on the "the circuit" - the series of seminars and other appearances that professors often get invited to - and told me: "you'll see". I'm definitely seeing something right now and am beginning to suspect that this year marks my official entry on to the circuit.

Being on the circuit has been a double-edged sword for me. On the one hand, I realize that this is a great indication that my science is being noticed. And I realize it's a great "advertising" tool for both me and my science because people come to my seminars who might not otherwise read my work and I get to meet and talk science with people I would not ordinarily get to meet. I understand the subtle psychology of the importance of "being on people's minds" which increases a variety of potential opportunities for me because people invite people to do things who are "on their minds". It's also hugely invaluable because I get to hear about research that people are currently doing but not published yet and learn about areas I may not have been exposed to previously.

The downside is that I HATE traveling. I mean LOATHE. Let me explain - I love traveling around the world seeing new places. I hate the physical act of traveling. Airplanes, cars, trains, they tend to make me physically ill and I am deathly afraid of my plane crashing. (Yes, I know it's not logical). This obviously  makes getting work done while traveling....difficult. My advisor seemed like he was most productive when he was on a plane (which was good because he travels a lot) and General Disarray has written reviews and papers on planes, in shuttles and taxis, and all sorts of other places that I am highly envious of. Unfortunately, I have found that projectile vomiting on to one's laptop tends to be the antithesis of productivity. It also results in high anxiety while traveling. You put yourself in a small enclosed space where you are often severely nauseous and also certain you are going to die and see how often you want to put yourself back in that scenario. Add to this a deep anxiety of talking to strangers, and every time it is time for me to leave on one of these things, General Disarray has to pry my fingers off the doorframe and kick me out the door. Our conversations on the morning of my departure tend to go like this:

Me: I do NOT want to go.

GD: I know, honey, but you have to.

Me (hopefully): No, actually, you could go in my place. It's not too late.

GD: No, actually it is already way too late for that. The ticket is in your name and airport security will never believe I am you.

Me: Oh, God, why do I do this to myself. I so do not want to go. This is going to be awful.

At this point in the conversation, General Disarray would normally resort to some version of "You don't actually dislike these things once you get there, when was the last time one of these things went badly". The truth is he's right. These have not gone badly recently and most of my true horror stories really are confined to my days as a post-doc on job interviews. Recent trips are much less stressful and result in exponentially fewer horror stories. Unfortunately, logic does not always work on me - see reference to fear of my plane crashing above. Recently, General Disarray has been employing an alternative argument which I see as sneaky, underhanded and tends to leave me without response:

GD: You do this because it's important that you do this. Think of all the young female scientists that will be there. For many of them, you may be the only young female assistant professor that has been invited to talk this year. You may even be the only female invited to speak period - regardless of rank. You standing up there giving your kickass talk on your kickass research sends a message that they can do this too and that their department, regardless of whether it has its own gender issues, also has sent a message that they too think young females can do research worthy of giving a talk in their department. So get yourself on that plane and go be a role model.

Shit. He's a clever little bastard. But, that is why I married him.