Friday, November 6, 2009

Things I've learned while returning to work

Things I've learned while I've been slowly ramping up how much time I spend working versus doing baby-related things:

1) Working at home is still more productive than working at school...if Baby Mayhem agrees to take her naps or her grandmother is visiting. I really thought that going to work would be critical for managing to get work done. But I'm only at school 1-2 days per week and those days often get jam packed with meetings. Even though Baby Mayhem's good days only give me 1-3 hours of time to get work done, that's still more time than I get at school. Of course on the bad days, being home is kinda like  being stuck in a faculty meeting all day - lots of crying, yelling, spitting, and general frustration.

2) You do actually get used to baring your breasts at work (behind locked doors, with the blinds drawn closed, and the lights off). I now regularly pump when I go to school. What's hard is making sure I get time to do it. Since my day is often booked from beginning to end, it's hard to find 30 minutes to deal with the breast pump. It's not like I can schedule a meeting with a student or administrator and pump during it. I have, however, used milking myself as an excuse to get out of a painfully long committee meeting. Let's just say a room full of men have no comeback to that one...

3) I'm less worried about other people's whiny problems. A senior professor fussed at me because I hadn't sent a mundane email that he thought I should have sent. Before Baby Mayhem I would have gone home and worried about whether the incident made that professor think less of me. Now, I just looked at him and thought "pfft. I'm getting 3 hours of sleep at night and still working while on 'maternity leave' and taking care of a newborn. Write your own damn emails."

4) The state of my appearance is generally unchanged. Over the years, I have seen mothers of newborns generally stop investing in their appearance. They stop brushing their hair, putting on makeup, wearing nice clothes, etc. However, I never did those things before I had the baby so there is no discernable change in my appearance. The only real difference is that instead of having white deodorant stains on my shirt, I now have white spit up stains.

5) Sleep deprivation will drive you slowly insane, but your graduate students may not notice. I'll let you decide whether that's because I'm good at hiding my insanity or because my graduate students already thought I was crazy...

and last but not least

6) Not having much opportunity to do science for the past few weeks has bothered me personally much more than I thought it would. Getting little done scientifically doesn't worry me professionally (I worked my butt off before Baby Mayhem arrived to make sure things were going through the pipelines before the lull hit). But personally, I really miss working on my science. However, I take it as a good sign that I still love that aspect of my job and I've chosen the right career for myself!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

"Ruining" one's career

A while back, FSP and Drugmonkey had posts about "ruining one's career". These really hit home with me in a deep and personal way and I've been trying to figure out how to blog about it ever since. You see, my name is Professor Chaos and I am an inveterate "career ruiner". I have violated almost every 'rule' out there for how to have a successful career. We've all heard these 'rules'. They range from topics to avoid for your dissertation, to not taking a postdoc or phd position at your ph.d/undergrad institute, to not having a baby before tenure (if you're a woman, this rule doesn't seem to apply to men). The exact details of the 'rules', and how severe the consequences for violating them are, vary from field to field, but for my field I have violated most of them.

Along the way, I've learned a few things about  so-called 'rules for success'. 1) They often assume only one type of success: becoming a high-powered R1 rockstar. However, there are many types of 'success' even in just academia and definitely in science more broadly. The key is deciding what your definition of success is. 2) People seem to confuse correlation with causation. The guidelines are correlated with people who have been R1 successful, they are not causative. Which leads me to: 3) By far, the most important thing is to publish interesting research in good journals. Everything else is window dressing. Window dressing only goes so far if you don't have windows (or even a house).

I won't say that violating the rules didn't have its costs. There isn't a stage in my career where someone hasn't used one of the violated rules to argue that I'm not actually as good as I might seem or to tell me I was ruining my career.  I'm sure there were many people over the years who felt like I was Nero fiddling on the rooftop while my career went down in flames. And I know for a fact that this has cost me various postdoc fellowships and jobs. But each time I violated a rule, it was for personal reasons - preferring to follow my own curiosity over scientific trendiness, balancing an academic couple, etc. In the process, however, I have carved out a career I am very happy with, professionally and personally. I have also come to grips with my own definition of success. I no longer strive to become a rock star. Instead, I've created my own category that I strive to be successful at: Indigo Girl. Like the Indigo Girls, I strive to produce high quality product on my own terms. If that's ruining one's career, well, it works for me. In fact, perhaps I should work a little harder at ruining my career. I'm sure there must be at least one rule I still haven't violated!

Friday, October 23, 2009

My own personal assistant

I've been getting a great deal of amusement out of the coverage of a Georgetown University student who advertised for a personal assistant. He will pay his assistant an hourly rate and I particularly loved some of his pay restrictions. For example, he would not pay for the full time to do laundry because much of that time was 'dead time' and the assistant could do their own thing while waiting for the laundry to wash or dry.

This has gotten me thinking, however, about what my own ad for a personal assistant would look like. What skills would I want? What things would I have them do to make my life easier and allow me to focus more on the fun aspects of life like doing my research and playing with my baby?

1) Wet Nurse. It may make me a bad mom in some eyes, but I loathe breast feeding. I loathe lugging a pump around. I loathe hiding in my office hooked up to the pump like a milk cow hoping no one can see through the substantial gaps in my blinds. And I really hate having to worry about my breasts leaking during a meeting with students or colleagues. I would pay big money for a wet nurse. Some might think that this rules out men from becoming my personal assistant, but I would like to assure you that I am not sexist. Male lactation has apparently become more common. Lactating women or men are welcome to apply.

2) Doppelganger. My personal assistant needs to look enough like me that I can send them to faculty meetings and pointless committee meetings while I focus on more interesting aspects of my job. Since I normally don't say much at meetings, no one will think it odd if the doppelganger sits there quietly, staring blankly at the walls. As with the Georgetown student and his laundry policy, most of this time can be spent doing something else, so I will only pay for a subset of the time spent in the conference room. Cross-dressing men are welcome to apply.

3) Editing student papers. I am tired of spending my very limited time reading a sentence like "Dawrin, he be high flying"* What does that even mean?! Having the writing assignments that actually reach me know... intelligible would be a big bonus in my quality of life and I could then focus on the big picture 0f grading for content and logic - if I'm not trying to figure out what that sentence actually says...

*yes, I did once receive a student paper with sentence construction and sentiment that was not much different. Misspelling Darwin in my own touch.

4) University Spam Filter. Yes, my university email does filter spam. However, my university itself is the biggest generator of spam and apparently it does not filter itself. I'm sent everything from thrice yearly announcements that the music department is selling old pianos to messages forwarded from the Vice Provost of Research to the Sponsored Programs Office, from Sponsored Programs to the Dean, from the Dean to her assistant, from the assistant to everyone in the college (email addresses of all 100+ of us in the email header) on a research opportunity that expired three weeks ago. Definitely pre-filtering my email for me will be a major component of my assistant's job.

5) Laundry. Long gone are the days when General Disarray and I could go two weeks between laundry days. I won't say that Baby Mayhem is capable of spinning her head around 360 degrees to projectile vomit on everything within a 6 foot radius, but somehow we now seem to do laundry daily. Much of this laundry involves the three different outfits I have to change into each day because of 'mishaps'.

I'm sure I'm missing other duties I would expect of my personal assistant, but this seems like a good start. If anyone sees any glaring holes in duties, feel free to suggest them! You might want to suggest quickly, though, because as soon as I get a raise from my University, I'll post my ad. Oh..right...the raise...well, take your time...

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Baby Mayhem's "Full Powers"

Yesterday, Nat left the following comment:

Be sure to keep us updated as Baby Mayhem fully grows into her powers!

I present my vision of what Baby Mayhem's full powers may look like:

I also think the baby sitter accurately reflects the state of mind of the first time parent of a newborn, where Jack Jack's tricks are actually random spewings from all orifices. Also, the scene where the baby sitter gladly gives the baby to Syndrome - the person who comes to get the baby - is actually a good representation of me when my mother showed up to help (I, of course, was the baby sitter).

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Baby Mayhem

Well, it's been a long time since I've done this. Let's see if I remember how this goes...

As one or two of you may have noticed, I've been off line for the past couple of months. I blame the new addition to the family. So let me do this all formal like (clears throat): General Disarray and Professor Chaos proudly introduce their daughter Baby Mayhem. Of course she's a couple months old so it's not like she's brand new or anything, but she's new to you!

Baby Mayhem has already taught me much about work/life balance strategies. 1) It is critically important to become an effective multitasker. The number of issues I've dealt with over email while nursing, pumping, or holding a sleeping baby who refuses to rest anywhere but my lap? Innumerable. 2) The multitasking bestfriend of nursing mom? the iPhone. I cannot even fathom surviving the past few months without it. I can email with one hand and cradle a nursing baby with the other. If you are an academic planning on having a child in the near future, I would strongly recommend getting an iPhone or iPhone equivalent.  And if you love reading books (and have an iPhone), the amazon kindle app is a must. I've already read two books on my iPhone and am well into a third. And with a shortcut to your google reader, you can even keep up with all your favorite bloggers. My reader has never been so empty. And when your brain refuses to do anything useful during that 3 am feeding, there are always the cool games. I'm really fond of Flight Control right now

Of course, none of that is science, but I have hope that with a little more efficiency (and getting my stupid tenure binder finished) it will become so in the not too distant future.  In the meantime: Viva Baby Mayhem!

Friday, July 10, 2009

The Tenure Binder

Well, I cleaned my office the other day and while I cannot say I'm joyous, I do feel less like a giant rock is sitting on my soul every time I sit at my computer! Thanks to everyone for encouraging to just take the time and do it. Of course, after the cleaning, the grant writing flurry hit high speed and now I need to buy a can of grant-be-gone. Part of my funk this summer is that while I'm not mole-whacking, I am not spending my time the way I wanted. Everything I'm doing right now is super important and relevant to my career, but it's not the same as doing science, which is - afterall - why I got into this biz.

An example of my conundrum is the current albatross hanging around my neck: the tenure packet.  Obviously, this is something that has to get done, regardless of my preferences. Here, we submit a binder, and it has been sitting in my office staring at me like this:


Like Harry Potter's Monster Book of Monsters, I strongly suspect some of the destruction in my office is due to it running around shredding my shit.

I have a number of frustrations with my Monster Binder. My main angst comes from the self-assessment letters. I have to write a letter assessing my qualifications for tenure. I have to write a statement assessing my research program. I have to write another statement assessing my teaching program. All of these are separate 2-page documents that I need to generate that are apparently "super important". Dude. The thing I find funny about all the self-assessment letters is the implicit assumption that I'm trustworthy to assess my own worth. Does anyone really write self-assessment letters that say: "I'd love to get tenure, but you and I both know from my current record that I would immediately stop publishing, only show up to teach classes and be a pain in the ass in faculty meetings, and generally spend the remainder of my time investing in whatever hobby actually brings joy to my life"?

Another frustration is with assembling all the damn documentation -which often comes with weird and esoteric explanations/demands from the higher administration. For example, I need to document that my students "learned" in my classes. However, grades don't count. I need to show "product". I teach a 170 person lecture class with no TA help. My "product" for that class is 170 scantrons X 4 exams X 3 sections. The spiteful, petty part of me wants to simply hole punch 2,040 scantrons and shove them into my binder.

My final frustration stems from the fact that I've talked (off the record) with everyone from my PNT committee to a member of the central committee (faculty don't vote here on tenure), and I have been told that as long as my student evaluations aren't horrific, no one will even look at all that stuff....but it better be there. What?! You mean I could spend 4 hours hole punching my 2,040 scantrons and no one would even look at them? Shocking.

Ah well, enough complaining. Those scantrons are not going to hole-punch themselves!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009


Well, I did it. I submitted my grants yesterday. I cannot tell you what a feeling of freedom and relief I feel! I have now submitted five grants while pregnant - often multiples at a time. For those of you wondering what it feels like to write five grants while teaching large lecture classes, doing research, mentoring students, serving on budget crisis committees, and being pregnant ...well, pictures speak a thousand words:


Doable with a little creativity. On that note, I have to admit that I never realized how much hard work went into gestating. I've been trying to decide how many publications gestation alone should be worth on my CV. I'm leaning right now toward 5-ish. One day, I'd love to serve on a search committee and say: "Look, in 2015 Dr. Amazing had 2 papers in Ecology and a baby. That is some sick-ass fucking productivity". (Sadly, I think it is much more likely that I will be able to get away with saying "sick-ass fucking" than count a baby as scientific productivity).

Anyway, I'm hoping that I will now be liberated enough to start blogging with more regularity since I will no longer be feeling like this:


Where I'm the one on the left and my proposals are on the right.

Good luck to those of you racing to finish your proposals for upcoming deadlines!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Eulogy for my Summer of Bliss

When I started this summer, I had all sorts of glorious plans. No, I wasn't running away to Cinque Terre (though I wish right now that I had). For the last few years I have been pushing hard - working like a machine to get papers out the door, build my lab, and write grants. The fruits of that labor have been more or less paying off this past year - the papers are coming out and my students are making great progress. The grant thing has been a little stymied by the 8% fund rates that have haunted my panel, but putting the proposals together has helped me cook up some cool science ideas, so not a complete waste. In addition to things rolling along, I come up for tenure this fall. I have been told that once my packet is submitted  in Sept, nothing published after that date "counts", so I figured this summer was a good time to shift gears; there was no way anything I started now would be out in time anway. So, I planned on picking up and babying a languishing pet project but otherwise I would devote myself to a bunch of reading and thinking and strategic planning about my research path for the next 5 years; oh and clean my office as a physical symbol of my fresh start. My mental image of my summer was something like this:


Instead it has turned out to be more like this:


One by one my summer plans have vaporized (Perhaps I'll blog more about that later) and I have been feeling more and more down about it.  A couple of days ago, General Disarray came into my office, looked around, and said "Your office looks like a  college dorm room". When I nearly burst into tears, I realized that it had nothing to do with his criticism of my office, which does frankly look like this:


My despair had everything to do with the fact that my office had come to symbolize the dead and decaying body of my blissful summer of joy and self-investment. 

To quote one of my favorite bloggers: Dude, Fuck, Sigh.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Why won't they call?

It's that time of year again; that nail biting, anxious, 'why don't they love me', maybe they called while I was in the bathroom, time of year. No, no, no, I don't mean the new National Academy of Science members announcements. That came out end of April, and I noticed I was passed over once again this year in what I can only interpret as blatant ageism. I mean, how is someone as young as me supposed to accumulate the absurdly high research record the Academy 'demands' for consideration?

No, it's the time of year when the yays and nays start to filter out of NSF for the DEB panels (that's Division of Environmental Biology for my non-ecology/evolution friends). NSF program directors tend to call with good news (or send you a blanket form letter with bad news). This results in all sorts of interesting behavior this time of year, especially from junior people. I find it surprisingly similar to those awkward early stages of dating:

1) Excitement: I know the odds are not in my favor. Afterall, NSF is so totally hot right now. They've been rejecting 92% of the proposals that hit on them....but my proposal(s) totally rocked! How could they reject me?

2) Doubt: The "yays' are supposed to filter out quickly...if NSF was totally into me, I think perhaps maybe I should have heard by now?

3) Denial: No one else seems to have heard anything. Well, no one but that one guy who got a 'yes', but that was for such a totally different panel. I'm sure my panel is just busy or, you know, out of town or something. They'll call. Hopefully. Maybe.

4) Insanity: Maybe they just don't like to leave messages. I have been out of my office lately, working in the lab. Did I put the lab phone on my profile? What happens if they call and I'm not there? Do they give my money to the next person on the list? Maybe my phone doesn't work (pick up phone, hear dial tone)..oh shit, maybe they  tried to call right then! God I have to pee but I don't dare leave the phone.

5) Depression: They're not going to call. I'm such a loser. How could I have been so stupid to think NSF would ever love someone like me?

6) Binge Eating: ummm, chocolate good.

7) Resignation/delusion: Well, there are more proposal deadlines in the sea. July is starting to look pretty good. In fact, I bet the July panel will LOVE me.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Professor Chaos and the Case of the Missing Brain

As school came to a close, I - like many of the professoriate - became excited about all the time I would have to work on the things that have languished during the school year. Writing exciting papers, generating interesting grant ideas, reading stacks of cool papers published this past year, these were the things I was salivating to do. After school ended, I sat down at my computer, cracked my knuckles, and opened a document to work on. Imagine my surprise, when after staring blankly at the screen for several minutes, I noticed the following post-it note stuck to the computer display:

Dear Prof Chaos:

On vacation. Be back "soon".


Your Brain

P.S. Don't bother looking for me, you'll never find me.

Shit. For over a week I searched for my brain. I looked in video games, books, and long naps. I even cleaned my office looking for it (though I'm not sure you could tell by the current state of said office). Nada. I don't know where it went, but yesterday it showed back up when I sat down to work on a new paper. Crappy thing didn't even apologize for its long absence. We did, however, make some kick ass progress together on the manuscript. However, this morning when I sat down to finish up one last paragraph, I found the following note:

Dear Prof:

Yesterday was lovely but its beautiful outside today. Gone fishing. See you tomorrow...maybe.


Your Brain.


Friday, April 17, 2009

The Vampires in the Hall

There is one class of people on this campus that I fear the most. If I see them in the hallway, I flee quickly to my office and shut the door. If they knock on my door, I pretend I'm not there. I once had one of them wait outside my closed office door for almost a half-hour (I know this because I texted General Disarray to let me know when it was safe to emerge. He offered to come down and scare the person off, but I was actually getting a lot done trapped in my office). If one of these people manages to find me in my office with the door open, it is invariably at the most inconvenient time. And they never, ever, ever take no for an answer. "Oh, I understand, BUT...". Who are these people terrorizing my academic existence? It's book representatives (you thought I was going to say students, didn't you). Yes, those people who work for the big textbook publishers who roam the halls to talk to you about their latest, greatest textbook for your class.

I think most people probably don't understand why this is the bane of my existence. For example, I don't think General Disarray has ever had a publishing rep ambush him in his office. But then most of his classes are less than 20 students. I on the other hand teach a 160 person course, which is one of five sections of the course taught yearly- collectively fluxing close to 1000 students a year (the other sections are much bigger than mine, a fortunate side-effect of demanding a teaching time when none of the truly huge lecture halls are available). A course that fluxes this many students yearly is like waving red meat in front of a pack of pit bulls. And the outcome is just as unpleasant. In vampire lore (and Buffy the Vampire-Slayer and spin off Angel - don't ask I won't admit anything anyway), vampires cannot come into someone's home without an invite. I have learned that there is a corollary for book reps. Except with them, the trick is to make sure they DON'T come over the office threshold. If you can keep them in the hall, they move along quickly. But woe befalls you if they put both feet across the threshold. The results are pretty much the same as if you invited in the vampire: it is a battle to get them out again and the encounter will probably not end until they have sucked you dry.

I don't mean to imply that I think these are truly evil people in the employ of the devil. It's just that I know their sales tactic is to ambush me and hold me captive until either I agree to use their book or a half hour has passed, whichever comes first. This is why they never set up appointments before showing up on campus and why when I tell them I'm too busy to talk right now, they try to cross the threshold to extend the conversation. I once showed one of them my schedule and told her that if she really wanted to meet with me she needed to make an appointment two weeks in advance. I never heard from her until she stopped by unannounced again in a couple of months.

The crux of my problem, of course, is that I am incapable of being rude to these people. Salesperson and telemarketer pretty much top my nightmares of "what might I have to do if I get fired", so I am pretty much crippled in my interactions with them the "God, what if that was me" reflex - much to General Disarray's dismay.  General Disarray has fewer problems with face-to-face confrontation than I do. But, in a moment of irrationality, trapped in my locked office wondering if I can wedge my pregnant belly through the tiny window that doesn't open very far (I will neither confirm nor deny that I have installed a webcam over my door to see who is coming down the hall), I may have hit upon a brilliant plan. I am going to post the following sign on my door:

If you are here to convince Professor Chaos to use your book for her class, you are in the wrong place. Professor Chaos does not have that authority. All book decisions for Professor Chao's class must have the approval of Dr. General Disarray. General Disarray hates book reps.

Oh yes, I think this is the perfect solution.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Lost Generation

I hadn't realized how irritated I was with my various pregnancy-related interactions until I sat down to write my previous post. The combination of the writing of the post and the awesome feedback acted as a much-needed aggravation purge (thank you everyone!). But I particularly enjoyed the comments by PhysioProf and Toaster Sunshine:

Toaster Sunshine "My own mother recently admitted that I was raised on Benadryl and whiskey to keep her sane. And formula. And I turned out all right! She then told me when and how I was conceived. I didn't need that."

PhysioProf:"My thinking on all this child-rearing "advice" is that mammals that can't even fucking talk--and thus cannot possibly give each other advice--manage to raise their offspring just fine."

These comments struck a cord with me because I have slowly been formulating my rhetorical defense against aggressive mother-to-be bullying around the concept that there can't be one "true" way to raise a child. Each generation seems to have a new "right way" and if one of them was actually right  there should be evidence that the other generations aren't doing so well, you know a "lost" generation. For example, I feel like the push for breast feeding has primarily been a recent phenomena (you know aside from the millions of years where that was really the only choice) and since many people of my generation (including me) were probably raised on formula I take this as evidence that formula does not=brain death. I was feeling very smug about my lost generation argument until the following interactions occurred with students from the large lecture class I'm currently teaching:


Interaction 1: I have two students with the same last name, let's say Smith. Interestingly, they get almost the exact same grade on every exam. One of them has the initials AB and the other BA. On the last exam, only one of them turned in an exam. Weirdly, the exam contained the name of one of them (Smith, BA) and the student identification number of the other (Smith AB). Smith BA emailed me very unhappy (because I went with the student ID number in assigning the grade), implying that they had received an email from the scantron people with their grade and I must have lost it. Since I pretty much went straight from the exam to the scantron place, there is no place I could have lost the thing and if they received an email with their grade so should I. I explained the situation in my reply and asked that they forward me their email from the scantron people so I could sort this out. They never got back to me. Either the exam score was not actually all that important to Smith BA or there's something going on here I don't understand. Oh, and the kicker? Smith BA sent the complaining email during the middle of class. I HATE that!

Interaction 2: Student begs and pleads to get into my class. After two weeks enough people drop that I can add her, so I sign her add form. She fails miserably (like, statistically would have done better on the exams if she had randomly guessed), has something come up the requires me to give her an Incomplete and it turns out she never actually turned in the registration form so is not actually signed up for my class. Now wants me to fix this because she'll lose her scholarship if she falls below a certain  number of credits so she has to be registered for my class.

Interaction 3: For the past month, during every class period I have been announcing an assignment that is due. The assignment, due date, and instructions are also up on the class website; have been for a month (which was also announced every day in class). A couple of weeks ago I received the following email:

Dear Professor Chaos,
Im in your class and i missed the lecture that you 
assigned the writing assignment in and I was wondering if there was  any way I could make up those 50 points either by doing the assignment and getting some points docked due to the assignment being late or if I could do a different assignment for extra credit. Thank you for considering my request.
Clueless Student

Interesting thing was that this was sent 4 days before the deadline. Apparently they had missed more than a couple of lectures. (Oh, and even the point total was wrong).

Interaction 4: After the last exam, each of my students received notification of their current grade in the class. The notice included their scores on each of the exams, their total exam points, their current percent going into the final exam, and whether or not I had received their assignment (see interaction 3). Each entry had an explanatory heading. In class, I then went over the notice they received and what everything meant just in case it was not clear. I received the following email after class:

Thank you for sending me this.
Can you please explain it for me because I don't quite get it!
Thank you
Aggravating Student

Pasted in her email were the scores I sent her. I explained that I had covered that in class but was happy to explain again, and reiterated what the various scores meant and that the "n" meant that I did not have an assignment from her. Then I received this email:

Hey Professor Chaos,
I understand that but,Does that mean Im ganna be able to pass this class or not? And also you have N for my writing assignment but I handed it in Some time last week.Does that mean you dont have it or you haven't graded it yet?
Aggravating Student

No Aggravating Student. You apparently did not understand at all. Since all that info was literally in the email I sent her before, I wasn't sure what to write - so I admit I ignored it.  She then proceeded to send the exact same email several hours later. I finally emailed her back, explaining that if she failed the final exam she would fail the class but if she didn't fail the final she wouldn't fail the class and then offered to let her "resubmit" her writing assignment (I have been distracted this semester afterall. Maybe her's is the only one I lost for some reason). That was two weeks ago and I still haven't received that assignment.


I'm not so proud of my lost generation argument anymore. I'm beginning to suspect that the lost generation is actually sitting in my class. All that's left of my once mighty argument now is the following burning and important question: Is it really gauche to contact the mothers of these people and ask  "Did you feed your child breast milk or formula?"

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

What I've learned about pregnancy... an academic setting.

1) Even highly educated normally well-adjusted women seem to go insane. Not me. I'm still highly rational (just don't ask General Disarray, he's biased). No, I'm not talking about random fits of crying. I'm talking about the women who keep stopping by my office to give me mothering advice. Things like: "You're going to take the year off from work, right? You'll need to stay home for at least that long with the baby because of all the breast feeding. It's best for the baby"; "If you don't only buy 100% organic cotton for the baby's clothes horrible things will happen"; "I went ahead and had by baby vaccinated and I'm hoping I did the right thing". Reason is completely lost in these discussions. Counterarguments like: I do have a husband, breast milk has this rare property of storing well under refrigeration, that's what baby bottles were invented for, and my job keeps be sane and what's best for the baby is that I don't go insane and murder it, make no dent and only illicit bizarre counter-counterarguments. Apparently baby bottles are bad for babies, fresh breast milk is the only milk that will keep your child's brain from shriveling into a raisin, what good mother wouldn't want to stop working, and god knows that husbands are good for but apparently they're only sperm donors anyway. The interesting thing is that, unlike Fia's recent conversation with her departmental secretary, these are fellow professors....SCIENCE professors. So, when my fellow science professor told me that parmesan was on the list of things I can't eat because it'll harm the baby, I was petrified because a) I love parmesan like some people do opiates, and b) I had assumed she had actually looked at the scientific basis for such a statement instead of just parroting something off some chatroom. (For those who are curious, it turns out that it's fine if it's pasteurized). I have become convinced that there's some weird peer-pressure that occurs in chat-rooms, daycares, playgroups, etc, that results in all women, regardless of education level, being afraid of having their baby vaccinated and believing that being a working mother is a crime. I'm with Fia, fuck that shit. For the record, I have also been avoiding drinking the kool-aid they keep offering me.

2) Having a child is a disabling illness. Apparently my university does not have a maternity policy. Instead, I can use my sick leave and when that runs out I can switch to short-term disability. Now, I'm not looking to take a year off to stay home and be an udder (I am the personality type that would go on a murderous rampage if trapped at home for long periods of time with day time TV and no adult company), but I would really love to have some time where my time split was "research, advising my students, and not accidentally killing my newborn because I have no idea what I'm doing", and not "research, advising my students, teaching a full course load, serving on my overloaded committee schedule, and not accidentally killing my newborn because I have no idea what I'm doing". The former scenario gives me some shot at staying afloat and not flushing my career or ending up in jail. I suspect the latter scenario ends with me insane or in prison.

3) Submitting two proposals for the same deadline will seem easy from here on out. Once you have submitted two proposals while teaching a large lecture class and dealing with intense morning sickness (see lesson 4 below), "difficult" takes on a whole new meaning.

4) Morning sickness is a big fat lie. Morning sickness will not necessarily occur in the morning. It may not even be confined to half of your day. Furthermore, it can be triggered by things that used to smell really good to you but suddenly smell like someone took a crap in a bag and left it sitting on your desk for several days. (ah, coffee, one day I'll be able to face you again).

Well, that's about it for now. I gotta get back to work or my next academic pregnancy lesson will be that universities have no problem firing unproductive pregnant assistant professors during a budget crunch! Ciao bellas!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Professor Chaos: She's not dead yet

I've been feeling guilty of late for my complete blog silence, especially since in response to my last post everyone gave me such great feedback about contacting editors about bizarre reviews. I haven't had a chance to test that advice (despite a manuscript currently getting bizarre blow back from some reviewers), but that's really a story for another post. So I came back and visited my orphaned blog the other day and saw that I had 10 or so new comments. This made me feel even worse until I realized that 9 of them were spam ads (do they move in to neglected blogs like meth-labs into deserted buildings?). But one was a very sweet note which arrived just as General Disarray was trying to convince me to return to my blog:

"River Tam, a search party has been dispatched to determine whether or not you still have a pulse. Results hopefully to follow..." -- Prof-like Substance

Yes, I am still alive (technically).  My utter blog silence is the result of a confluence of events that have put me in extreme survival mode. Over the past few months I have: been teaching my large lecture class (for a sampling of my experiences in this realm see this post by new blogger Professor Anonymous), served on the departmental "oh my god how are we going to meet the current budget cuts" committee (depressing work for a  number of reasons best left for another post), worked on a proposal for a bold, ambitious (read: slight crazy) project that I love but know has little chance, battled one of my lightening rod manuscripts into acceptance (I still won't believe this one until it's in print), had a biopsy for breast cancer (clean, thank God), and found out I was pregnant (when my doctor monitoring the suspicious lump found out I was pregnant all thoughts of not cutting into me went right out of his head. This either indicates that he was less willing to take a risk with a pregnant woman or has deep seated issues regarding pregnancy better not explored; my experiences as a pregnant assistant professor are undoubtedly my next post).

Every single one of these things has been happening concurrently, so the best I could do bloggospherically was keep up with my favorite bloggers as a lurker while Professor Chaos languished in silence. But I have been keeping up with everyone. Some of my favorite story lines have been: PiTs continuing TP2 saga (I both laugh and cringe with every post since I have TP2s in my department, but my department is big enough for me to hide from them), Prof-life Substance's battles with his collaborator on a proposal and grant office (loved the grant office story so much that I considered doing the same to my voicemail), posts over at Drugmonkey on the NIH responses to the stimulus bill (and then me comparing that with the flurry of emails I've been getting about NSF), PhysioProf's random spewings on basketball (I don't give a rat's ass about football, but at least in college basketball I have a couple alma maters I care about that get to the NCAA tournament), and Isis' flashbacks to being pregnant and a new mother which I have found most timely! Oh, and thanks to both Isis and Odyssey for blogrolling Professor Anonymous. If you haven't read that blog yet, go over and check Prof Anon out - I haven't laughed that hard consistently in a long long while!

I'm hoping to get back up and running here soon...I may not be real regular until school ends, but I promise I haven't given up on Professor Chaos! When I started Professor Chaos I promised myself I would stop  if a) academia stopped being absurd (for some reason something about pigs and wings comes to mind) or b) the absurdity stopped being funny to me. The former has definitely not happened and now that I'm getting some energy back, my sense of humor about academia is rapidly returning. Thanks to those who haven't given up on me!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Yo, Dr. Editor, WTF?

Along with my blogging, I've been way behind on my blog reading and just finished reading a "recent" post by Dr. Jekyll and Mrs Hyde about a paper she just had soft rejected. What caught my attention was the following statement: "I sort of wish that GradAdvisor would call the editor for a chat, just to get more information (did the normal reviewers vote for revise/resubmit? were there other comments we should be aware of? does the editor realize how insane a few of Crazy Reviewer's comments were?) but that doesn't seem to be the plan."

Whoa. Can we do that? Can we call up editors and ask WTF? I mean, I've joked about calling up editors and suggesting they send an ambulance to Reviewer 1's office because their review is a clear diagnostic of a brain aneurysm, but I never thought about seriously contacting them. This is totally news to me, so I really am asking if that's legit. And if so, is this a biomed/cell/molec thing? Do you need to be "friends" with the editor? Is this only a viable route for serious bigwigs? My advisor was a serious bigwig and not once in all my years did he ever do such a thing - for anyone, not even himself. Now, he is also not good at "playing the game" or whatever you want to call it. I don't think I've ever seen him wield whatever Jedi power is bestowed on bigwigs. (I have to admit while I suspect this has hampered his career in some ways, it has also given me some hope that serious science skills alone can get you pretty damn far). So, perhaps he's not a good indication of whether or not this is acceptable in my field.

But now that the possibility presents itself, my head is full of conversations I could have. Questions I've been burning to ask, like: Do you seriously want me to revise in the light of reviewer 1's wackaloon belief that a core concept in my field - that has been tested and used for decades and frequently published on in the Glamour Magz - doesn't actually exist ? Or do you secretly want me to knee cap this deluded jackass in my reviewer response, causing you to hail me as your intellectual hero? Inquiring minds want to know....

EDIT: Whoops, forgot to link to DJMH's post, which is here

Saturday, February 7, 2009

The River Tam Blues

As I mentioned in my last post, I've been having some....completion issues. As I sat and thought about this last night, I realized that my completion issues resulted from a lack in my normal zeal for science. I would get part way through the post and realize that I was simply too demoralized to finish. So why am I demoralized?

The main part is that science hasn't been a lot of fun recently. I've had a variety of papers going through the review process over the past year and the crazy blowback I've been getting has really started to take a toll. Don't get me wrong, I'm a big girl. I know how the review process works, but it has definitely seemed stranger and angrier lately. Every paper is a multi-round trench warfare-type slugfest, often lasting double (if not triple) the typical time from submission to acceptance for that journal. (I won't go into all the details because one of my half-finished posts is about the bizzaritude I've been experiencing). The Professor Chaos part of my personality knows that the weird blow back is actually a good sign for my research direction, but the River Tam part is feeling a little battered and bruised.

You might be wondering why my bitter reviewer battles might give me the impression that I'm on a good research direction? Let me digress for a moment. A while back, Drugmonkey made an open meme on creating your own index/law. When I was a graduate student a big name professor told me a story about one of his papers that is now a citation classic. He said that the responses to his work fell in one of two categories: it was wrong or it was trivial. Over the years, I have listened to other big names say similar things and based on this data, I have created the novelty test - a modified version of what the big name told me when I was a young whelp. I present: The Professor Chaos Novelty Litmus Test. The Professor Chaos Novelty Litmus works as follows: if the response to your work contains all of the following three elements (either separately from different individuals or all together from one individual) there's a high probability that your work ranks high in novelty:

1) "This work is wrong". This can take the form of nitpicky details that actually don't affect your results - which you may already have demonstrated in said paper - that are blown up as if you committed scientific fraud. This is the low - but still indicative -end of the "wrong" scale. Or it can take more bizarre turns resulting in weird statements that make you feel like you just had a stroke, like: "The author's logic about the nth dimensional constraint on the ecology of dogs rests on a critical assumption that dogs behave like dogs, but trees don't behave like dogs. This obviously invalidates this entire study on dog ecology." In my opinion, the more bizarre the reason, the more your work has messed with a reviewer's preconceived notions and therefore it is more likely you are truly on to something. Congratulations.

2) "This is not novel because it has been done before by a really big name". The key for this one to count as a positive novelty result is that the paper must not actually exist. There are two forms of this response. The first is an explicit reference to the "original" paper (i.e. you could easily locate the paper that is being referred to), but upon examination, the paper may be on dogs, but that's the end to the overlap. This ranks low on the "not original scale",  because its always possible the reviewer honestly didn't understand your paper.  On the high end of this scale is the "you have displayed your complete lack of competence in this area because you have missed the fundamental paper that has already published your idea which was published by either big name X, big name Y, big name Z, big name A. But I don't have the time to tell you which one of them did this, or which of their over 100 papers is the one you should care about. I won't even give you hints on journal or year. But boy it makes you look bad that you didn't know about this paper." I used to think this was just sloppy reviewing, but in my cynical older age, I am beginning to suspect that these are actually either conscious or subconscious attempts to throw the novelty of the paper in to doubt when the reviewer actually has no evidence of such...especially since I have on more than one occasion now gone through the multitude of papers by the list of big names and never found that my work had been done previously.

3) "This is just trivial". In contrast to #2 which may not debate the importance of the idea only that its already been done, this is the 2+2 argument. Your idea is so fundamentally trivially true that its not even worth publishing. Variants of this include: Everyone already knows this, its common knowledge, even if there is no record of the idea ever being tested - or maybe even proposed - in the literature. What's important about this critique is that you can go to the top journals in your field and pull out numerous, highly regarded papers published in the last 2 years that clearly ignore this "trivially true" statement about how the world works and in fact are actually operating on an assumption that the world does not work that way at all. You cannot, however, find any papers that actually are using the "trivially true" idea that everyone already knows.

So that's it, the Professor Chaos Litmus Test for Novelty. This is really only an indicator and not a measure of novelty - but the more absurd the responses the higher the likelihood that you're on to something good. Oh, and you get extra bonus points for receiving a review or other response that actually says all 3 of the above points.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Music Meme

You are not aware of this, but I have been a blogging fiend. The problem is I haven't finished any of them. There are six different half-finished posts sitting on my computer. I don't know what's wrong with me, I could blame my class or how busy I am or anxiety over the budget crisis but the fact is I am having focus problems right now. But maybe I can do a meme, so if it works a 'thanks' to DamnGoodTechnician for giving me something I could complete! However, after seeing how oddly my iPod answered the questions below, I don't think it's going to replace the Magic 8 Ball anytime soon.

a) Put your MP3 player, iTunes, Windows Media Player, etc. on shuffle
b) For each question, press the next button to get your answer.
d) Tag at least 5 people
e) Everyone tagged has to do the same thing
f) Have Fun!

Drift & Die (Puddle of Mudd)

I am feeling a little antisocial these days...
Breaking the Habit (Linkin Park)
On Almost Any Sunday Morning (Counting Crows)
Know your enemy (rage against the machine)
He Got Game (Public Enemy)
Caring is Creepy (The Shins)

Huh, not exactly my motto, but if its my iPod's motto, I'm a little disturbed
Stones in the Road (Mary Chapin Carpenter)
Gardening at Night (R.E.M)
Shed Your Skin (Indigo Girls)
10. WHAT IS 2 + 2?
7 minutes in heaven (Fall Out Boy)

Goodbye (Alicia Keys)
Hunter (Dido)
Sophmore Slump or Comeback (Fall Out Boy)
Paddle Out (Sublime)
Mayonaise (Smashing Pumpkins)
The Gunner's Dream (Pink Floyd)

Wow, that one is a little eerie....perhaps I should fear the Pod
Crime for Crime (Ani DiFranco)

Come Alive (Foo Fighters)
Trynna Finda Way (Nelly Furtado)

F**k Me Pumps (Amy Winehouse)

LOL! What are the odds?

Get Busy Living or Get Busy Dying (Fall Out Boy)
Good Times (Tommy Lee)

Don't ask about how that song ended up on my iPod....I won't answer anyway.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Disagreeable, hermit who loves new ideas looking for...

So, I took the personality quiz and like PiT, I'm not sure what to make of my results, especially since Comrade Physioprof was deemed a conscientious and agreeable person, but here it goes.


Neuroticism (sometimes also called Emotional Instability) is the tendency to experience negative emotions such as sadness or anxiety. People who score high on neuroticism are vulnerable to stress and tend to experience negative feelings more often. People who score low in neuroticism tend to be less susceptible to stress, and experience negative feelings relatively infrequently.

You scored 21 out of 50. This score is higher than 26.0% of people who have taken this test.

I can accept this. I definitely think I'm less neurotic than a large fraction of the people I interact with. General Disarray might disagree, but he doesn't live with those other people so what does he know!


Extraversion (or Extroversion) is the tendency to experience positive emotions and seek out stimulating situations. People who score high on extraversion tend to be active, energetic, and enjoy being around other people. In contrast, people who score low on extraversion, known as introverts, tend to be quiet, low-key, and are typically less involved in the social world.

You scored 18 out of 50. This score is higher than 5.1% of people who have taken this test.

Hey PiT, I'm more introverted than you are! Whoohoo. Yeah, this one is pretty accurate.  Guilty as charged.

Openness to experience

Openness to experience is a general tendency to appreciate emotion, adventure, and unusual ideas or experiences. People who are open to experience are intellectually curious, appreciative of art, and sensitive to beauty. People with low scores on openness tend to have more conventional, traditional interests.

You scored 48 out of 50. This score is higher than 92.8% of people who have taken this test.

I'm good with this one as well. For example, I know I'm much more open-minded as a reviewer than 92.8% of the people who review my papers!! (I'll let you decide whether I'm joking or not)


Conscientiousness is the tendency to show self-discipline and persistence. People who score high on conscientiousness tend to be persistent, responsible, and duty-driven, but are sometimes perceived as being overly perfectionistic and concerned with order. Individuals low on conscientiousness tend to show less persistence and may have trouble seeing things through.

You scored 33 out of 50. This score is higher than 41.2% of people who have taken this test.

Apparently if you're a persistent, duty driven slob, you're ranked low on conscientiousness. Well, I have had at least one boyfriend who would agree that my tendency to leave towels on the floor showed a high lack of respect for others (namely him). I just thought he was an anal ass who was not open to new experiences. I'm beginning to understand now why it didn't work out. At least this personality test is cheaper than a therapist...


Agreeableness is the tendency to be sympathetic and cooperative towards others. People who score high on agreeableness strive for social harmony and value getting along with others. Disagreeable people tend to be more suspicious and hostile towards others.

You scored 34 out of 50. This score is higher than 31.7% of people who have taken this test.

Most people who know me (I mean the five people who actually know me) would think this is way off base. I am only suspicious and hostile towards people who give me reason to be. Otherwise, I'm just happier to be left alone. Hostility really takes more social energy than I'm capable of. Besides, social harmony is way over rated. I've always found that social harmony is a phrase used primarily by people who want to be in charge when they want everyone else to do what they want them to! Hmmm, maybe this is what got me ranked as "suspicious and hostile"

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The value of having an alter ego

I once saw an interview with Beyonce where she explained that that she had created a separate name for her stage-self because the person she needed to be on stage was so different from how she saw herself.

I totally get this. I too have an alter ego and she is much better at being a professor than I am.  You see, I find talking to people...draining. I can't explain it any better than that. Talking to people takes a lot of thought on my part, and often involves conversations in my head like, "Okay, what would a normal person say at this point?....pause....oh I should probably ask how their family is doing". It's draining maintaining a conversation not only with someone but also in your head about what you should or should not be saying. As I have recently discovered, however, talking to strangers is a common, actually daily, part of my job. Whether it is students at office hours, my new graduate students, scientists at other universities, attending meetings, there really isn't any aspect of this job that doesn't seem to involve me having conversations I would rather avoid.

So, what is a poor anti-social misfit to do? Like Beyonce, I have created an alter ego: Professor Chaos. She is my professional persona. When in a conversation with a big name scientist, Professor Chaos knows she's doing interesting novel science that is relevant and interesting. She also knows she's smart enough to maintain a scientific conversation with Professor Bigwig. She knows that speaking her mind will not cause everyone to suddenly realize she's an idiot. She gives confident lectures and seminars. She converses with colleagues with ease and grace (mostly).  And when she is done, she is folded back into her box and River Tam reemerges (often a little freaked out and wondering if Professor Chaos just embarrassed her by making her sound like an idiot). The trick of course, is figuring out exactly how to construct an appropriate alter ego. After all, one wrong turn, and I could be giving my seminars like this:


While this persona seems to works very well for a musical superstar, I suspect that it might take my scientific reputation down a pathway I would rather it not go!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

This year, I will...

So, my big plans for this year revolve around tenure...but perhaps not in the way you might be thinking. I go up for tenure this fall. My plans for this year are not to make a big push of grants and papers to secure my promotion. The way things work here, as soon as my binder goes in front of my committee early this fall, it is written in stone and nothing else that comes out after that moment counts. So, if its not already in the pipeline (or about to enter it), it's too late.  This is a major reason I became such a hard ass last year; I knew that was my critical moment to turn around my productivity and set myself up for the tenure process. By staying on top of things, I had several papers make it out by the end of the last year and I have several more making their way through the review process right now. I also now have two grants wending their way through the bowels of NSF.  I feel I'm in as good a shape as I can be right now (it'll be better if I get at least one of those grants, but that is currently out of my hands). Don't get me wrong, I'm not planning on stopping writing papers this year - I have various things (a book chapter here, a reviewy thing there, another proposal being submitted in a couple of months) that I have promised, but I have grander plans for this year.

Since my last remaining tenure goal is staying on top of papers going through the review process to get them out before my binder is turned in, now seems like the perfect time to take a breath and assess what I want to do with my research time for the next five years. The last few years have been a whirlwind, which has felt a bit like I was living the infinite loop of the shampoo bottle instructions. Instead of lather, rinse, repeat, the instructions have been: analyze, write, submit, repeat as fast as humanly possible while dodging people in the hallway who want you to do more service. (Apparently assistant professor instructions are more verbose).

In part, I've already started looking ahead. One of the grants I just submitted is focused on taking an idea I've been puttering with for years now and really getting serious about it. In the past, I have felt like that idea was viewed by many as being borderline insane, but this year I felt like perhaps it was an idea that (some) people were ready to consider - thus the grant proposal. If it worked, it would be really exciting. But this is just taking a lot I bought in the past and finally building the house. If I don't always want to be doing the same old things, I need to figure out where to buy new land. And that's the goal of this year: to read the literature, think about where the field is going (and whether or not I agree with that), and plan what new area I want to explore. Last year started with grim determination. This year...this year I think will be fun.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Career Reflections: did I accomplish what I wanted last year?

Now that my grant and manuscript deadlines are past and my class is under control, I'm finally feeling like I have enough time to reflect on life. Usually every January, either consciously or subconsciously, I reflect on the current status of my life and assess whether or not I'm happy with things. For most of my career, this has been done mainly subconsciously as I had been very pleased with my productivity, work experiences, and career track. Last year was different. I was very unhappy. I was beginning to realize that I was pulling a much higher service load than any of my colleagues. By colleagues, I don't mean the other assistant professors (who had no service requirements), I mean the tenured faculty. I had tried politely to point this out to the powers that be, but just when I negotiated my way out of one thing, suddenly I was being committed to several more. The extreme university service, plus the ordinary service of proposal and manuscript reviews, on top of prepping new classes and submitting proposals, all without a postdoc because my university in its "infinite wisdom" does not believe in funding postdocs from start-up funds, had started to weigh on my paper productivity. I was starting to pull up my publication record in Web of Science and snivel sadly. Now, my research productivity was still much higher than many of our tenured faculty, but it was starting to slip behind the people I considered my peers in my field. This left me starting last spring semester feeling something like this:

image Figure 1. How River Tam looked walking around her department halls last January

Something had to change. So I made several plans: 1) ratchet up the "outlandish service loads makes Tam angry" pressure, 2) become ruthless with my time commitments (thus the "Fridays are for research and you can just fuck off" plan), and 3) publish,publish,publish. I had a ton of papers that I was lead on that just couldn't get out the door because too much other shit was in the way. Goals 2 and 3 were relatively easy because they were completely in my control. Goal 1 proved harder. At heart, I'm a nice person and I hate saying no to people. But it all came together one afternoon when I was shanghai'd into giving a presentation to a university board on something I had no experience/knowledge/interest in while I was prepping and teaching a new class and already on two other time intensive committees.  I pointed out the numerous other people better qualified (with non-existent service loads) who could give the presentation and was told that they needed a woman and the other women did not have a good presentation presence. And that's when I looked more like this:


And just in having to say it, the person in power realized just how ridiculously awful that sounded. And whether that has affected their behavior, I cannot say, but it sure had an impact on mine. I now flat out refuse piddly-shit service (no more high school presentations on 'Biology Day', no more undergraduate recruitment tours of my lab) and every time they want to add a committee, I must be taken off a committee. I play the "untenured assistant professor" card every time someone opens their mouth ("you know I'm coming up for tenure soon and I really need to focus on my research"). After all, I already have more than enough service to prove that I "contribute to the department and university". And you know what? My productivity is back up where I want it to be and I am happy again with my career path. But I learned a valuable lesson from last year: its never too early to think strategically about what you need to do to make sure your career is going the direction that makes you happy and not sniveling at your desk. So, to keep this new tradition going: for my next post "River Tam's plans for the coming year".

Friday, January 9, 2009

i DID it (kinda)

So, as I mentioned yesterday I've been slightly overwhelmed lately. I had two grants initially due today. I begged shamelessly for an extension on one of them because we received the reviews from the previous submission so late (NSF program calls are target dates and thus program officers can bend them if they wish but its always better to ask ahead of time because they don't have to accept late submissions).  One of the things I forgot to mention yesterday was that I also had two manuscript revisions that were due today. Kinda like some awful academic deadline alignment. I forgot to mention them because one of them was done a week ago (thanks to an awesome collaborator who stepped up and did it for me) and the other I had already written off as being a lost cause after the following internal conversation:

Good me: This thing is a shoo in to get in. I have to make that deadline

Bad me: Look girl. Two grants, another manuscript that you know the editor would love an excuse to reject, preparing your class, and not vomiting on yourself. You know they want this paper, if you have to completely resubmit, you'll probably be fine.

Good me: probably is not definitely. This will definitely get in now if I send in the revision.

Bad me: You're obviously a little slow, so let me boil this down for you. If you try to get all of this done, you will go insane.

Good me: Hmm. The fact that I'm talking to myself is probably not a good sign for me, is it?

Bad me: Exactly.

It was a hard choice but I made the decision to let that manuscript lapse in lieu of other, more important, deadlines. But last night I woke up and I knew - I can do this!! I can get that manuscript finished today! And that's what I did. I got that bad boy back in. It wasn't pretty, but it's done.

Funny enough, I also submitted two grants today. A Laurel and Hardy combination of a miscommunication with the Sponsored Program lady and me pushing the "enable SRO access" on the wrong grant resulted in the proposal that is NOT supposed to be submitted until next week getting submitted today. Needless to say, that's a bit of a nightmare, but I think it'll all work out okay.

So, here I am. In a week's time I have gone from certain that there was a good chance that I might not be able to get 1 of my grants and 1 on my manuscripts submitted to technically having everything submitted. I am so the woman right now....

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Out of the mouths of undergrads

I've been watching with great envy as Prof-like Substance worked on two grants, had his entire family succumb to stomach virus, took time off for Xmas, and still had the ability to blog about his travails. I too have been writing two grants, battled uncomfortable stomach conditions, took a couple of days off to visit family, and I have not been able to muster the will to blog about any of it. My only defense is that classes here begin shocking early and I also had to start teaching my soul-sucking course this week (by soul-sucking I don't mean I teach on the sucking of souls - that might actually be fun - its my class that is so demoralizing that every time I step into class its like my soul is being sucked out of my body with a lot of force through a very narrow straw). In summary, I have found the past month to be a whole lot less fun than one might initially think. But today I gave the grant office permission to push the button on one of them and the other is shockingly well under control - giving me hope. When I was on the couch, trying not to vomit on my keyboard, working on revisions, I was pretty sure I wasn't actually going to survive this.

But what motivated me to return to the blogosphere was class today. I teach a big lecture course aimed at non-majors. I try very hard to make this class relevant to the student population. Since many of these students will be part of a society grappling with climate change, collapsing fisheries, stem cells, increasing antibiotic resistance in bacteria, and benefiting from medical research, I feel very passionately about the importance of this class. But most of the students take the class because they need a science course and think this is the best of a bunch of bad options and its clear they just don't want to be there. I've taught this class several times now, but I think today was the first time a student made be speechless. On my second slide today, while I'm in full swing explaining the slide, a student raised their hand. Thinking they had an important question, I stopped and signaled them to ask their question. "So, will we be tested on what you're saying as well as what's on the slide?" Like I was up there reciting War and Peace, or Who's on First? Or telling 'knock knock' jokes. I was literally explaining the slide.

I was so confused by the question, that I stood there blinking at her for several seconds while my brain reprocessed the sound bite to make sure I hadn't misheard something. Then, when the reality of the question was starkly clear, all I could hear was that giant sucking noise of my soul rushing through that tiny little straw. The bad news is that this is going to be a long semester. The good news is I have a whole new source of blog fodder!