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!