Tuesday, December 21, 2010

End of Semester Frenzy

Everyone goes crazy at the end of the semester. Now it's my turn.

My husband has strep, my son has an ear infection, and I've got a proposal due tomorrow. I'm running a mini-hospital at home, and all the exertion has caused my joints to flare up. It's a day like today where I just want to give up. But, I know I'll muscle through it, turn the grant in, the family will get well, and I can take a week or two off.

I don't have kleenex in my office to wipe away the tears, but I guess I could tear open a maxi pad - they're pretty absorbent.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Does a disabled person have a shortened career?

Last week I heard a rumor about goings-on during my hiring at Big State U. The rumor goes like this:

I have a colleague at Big State U in my field, but not in my department. Let's call him Dr.M. When I was on the fence about switching universities last spring, I dined with him at a conference. He asked why I was wanting to move. I responded that I had a two-body problem and RA, so I needed to simplify my life.

Recently, I heard a rumor that during my hiring process Dr. M. had made inappropriate comments to members of my present department. He allegedly remarked that I shouldn't be hired because I have RA -therefore, my career would be shortened.

Upon hearing the rumor, I immediately sought out the head of the committee that hired me. The head told me that yes, Dr. M had told everyone that I had RA. But no, he did not remark on a shortened a career, nor did he say anything similarly inappropriate. The committee head went through all his emails and documents from Dr. M on the topic, and everything came out clean.

Dr. M is the same person who said inappropriate things you can read about here.

Rumors are rumors and can get out of hand. But in no way do I think my career would be shortened. To have twisted the rumor that direction, someone must have thought that way... I don't need to waste my time identifying the person. I just plug away and let my success speak for itself.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Welcome Back, Sort Of

OK, I guess I'm back in some limited capacity. I'll post sometimes, just not a whole lot because my workload has exploded :)

@ the last person who commented - you sent me a website for a blog for someone with RA, but I accidentally deleted your comment! Please resend.

This semester has been full of proposal writing, travel, and setting up my lab from the move from Ivy League U to Big State School. I've never been happier. I wrote 8 proposals in 6 months, and got my NSF CAREER (unofficially). I gave a seminar at a top 10 school, and went to two conferences. I was elected to a leadership position in my area, and I was invited to write a review on my field in a respectable journal. I was invited by the founder of my field to give a talk at an invitation-only conference. I hired on another post-doc and two graduate students, bringing my lab up to 5 members. My lab was up and running within 4 months of the move.

I finally have the support network I've been needing. I'm living within 3 hours of my parents, 5 min of one cousin, and 90 min of my BFF cousin. My BFF labmate from graduate school also teaches at Big State School. There are many junior faculty to hang out with, and I can finally have a social life.

It's great here, and moving was one of the best decisions we ever made.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

I'm a Big Kid

Guess who just (unofficially) got their NSF CAREER? Me. Lalalala.

Friday, October 29, 2010

A Note From JP

I still don't know if I'm permanently coming back. Something happened today that reminded me of why I used to blog, and I'll share it with you.

A graduate student in my program just developed RA, and her advisor brought her to my office. I had never met another scientist with RA. I hugged her and cried. She was a first year graduate student and was worried she couldn't finish her doctorate because of RA. "You can! You can!" I said. "Once you get treatment, you'll be back in the lab. A little slower, but you can do it!" She and I talked for an hour about symptoms, meds, lifestyle changes, and everything else. This is really why I'm a professor now. I want to encourage and facilitate other scientists with disabilities to go after their dreams.

I have never felt so passionate about any cause before - people with RA can pursue their dreams, we just do it differently. We can do science just as good as anyone else. Don't let it get you down, don't let it stop you. Take care of your body first, and then go after what you want.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


I've decided to quit blogging. I'm tired of getting mean comments and I don't need that kind of "support".

The original goal of this blog was to connect with other people with bad PhD advisers, so I could make it through my PhD. I grew up, got a job, had a kid, got an autoimmune disease, and moved pre-tenure. I'm re-organizing my life and it's pretty awesome right now. Which is why I'd rather quit blogging so that I don't have to read all the shit that people send me. If I need support, I'll count on my friends. Not anonymous commentators with bad attitudes.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Notes from a Conference

I was at a conference this week (you were probably there!) and I'm packing up and heading home. This was the first conference for which I brought my entire group, all three of us. Grad student gave a poster that was very popular at the poster session. Post-doc gave a talk that seems well-received. And I gave two talks which went well, and I got some useful tips for re-analyzing the data.

It was tough to be away from my family, and my new home. Sparky would get on the phone and say, "I love you, mommy," which just makes me want to melt away in cuteness.

I talked with my old PhD adviser for about an hour, and got lots of great science-advice from her. I complained about my lack of funding and she said, "Don't worry you'll get a XXXX soon." (where XXXX is super prestigious grant). Shocked, I said, "That's not possible, how would you know? - it's way too soon to hear." But her eyes were twinkling. I hope what she said is true, because getting an award or grant - anything - will secure my future tenure case.

I also took my group to visit the lab where I did my PhD. I showed them all the equipment, and we talked with the new and old students. It was really helpful for my group because they have an example of how to set up my lab. Then, they can remember that my famous PhD adviser's lab did it a certain way, and it will give them confidence to do go forward and do it.

The conference wasn't earth-shattering, but it was really nice to see everybody and do a little shopping. I've got new lipstick, new earrings, and a new necklace.

Monday, August 23, 2010


My Dad is in town.

He ends every story with: "And that's how they getcha!"

The hamburger shop puts extra salt on the hamburgers so that you've just got to go buy a soda. And that's how they getcha!

I'm lovin it.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Current Frustrations with Starting Over Again

Starting over a lab pre-tenure is very frustrating at times. (But it's still worth it!) Having set up my lab once before, I have a clear picture of what I need and how long it's going to take to get it. Three weeks have passed, and somehow I imagined we'd be ramping up, unrealistically. Vacuum ovens generally take 4-6 weeks. Training on instrumentation (particularly microscopy) is weeks on a waiting list. We've ordered new equipment, which needs plumbing installed before we can even schedule an appointment to have it installed by the vendor. My students are coming into work everyday, but they aren't in the lab. (There's nothing to do until all these things are resolved!). We're pecking away at this slowly, and we'll get started up much faster than last time. Even then, I'm anxious to start cranking out data.

I'm particularly excited about picking up new students, which will infuse a new enthusiasm into my group. I'm planning on taking at least two, which would double my group size. New students will join in the next few months, and I'm counting the days. Wishing time would move faster. I think I need some Tim and Eric "Wait Mates."

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Whose Group Meeting Is It?

One of the benefits at new U. is that there are other Profs. in my little research field. We decided to hold a semi-weekly joint group meeting, and last week was quite an induction.

One of the Profs (Dr. Grumpy) was late to group meeting without warning, so after waiting ten minutes, we decided to proceed without him. He comes in five minutes afterward, and chews us out for starting without him. When I say "us", I mean the other Profs including myself. Dr. Grumpy bellowed, "Never start a Grumpy group meeting with out me! You should have called my cell at the very least." And then he went on about it for another 5 minutes. I was shocked. Was I at a Grumpy group meeting or was I at a joint group meeting? Was I an underling of Dr. Grumpy or a peer? The way he spoke to us was so belittling - and in front of my students! I couldn't believe he would belittle me in front of my own students! And I don't have his cell number, anyways.

He later apologized to my face about his behavior - but he never apologized to my students. I later told my students, "Dr. Grumpy apologizes to you about his awful behavior." (Even though he never apologized to them...) The students sighed and said, "Yeah, he was really scary." Will these joint meetings continue? I've decided that I'll give it one more shot, but if we have another case of disrespect, then I'm pulling my group out.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Transferring Equipment

I've been bummed since the last post, but let's move on to transfer some equipment...

As an untenured faculty switching universities, moving with your equipment can be tricky. Nearly all of the major instrumentation in my lab was purchased with start-up money from old U., so technically the major instrumentation belongs to old U. - not to me! However, I did want some items transferred from old U. to new U. to give my lab a quick start. I started by getting a list of everything I ever bought. Anything that was tagged was carefully accounted for. If I wanted to move a tagged item, I had request in writing to the dean (yes, the same dean that I walked out on) that I wanted to move the item, why I wanted to move it, and it's original price. Rather than try to take everything with me and pick a fight, I chose to request only items that were essential to my lab. The items that stayed were heavily used by my collaborators' labs, so I think I'm doing them a favor by giving them free equipment.

Now just because you "requested" the item doesn't mean you get it, and it certainly doesn't mean that it's free! The dean kindly approved my entire list, but it doesn't end there. Each item's depreciated value was calculated, and an invoice was sent to new U. Using startup funds from new U., I then purchased my depreciated equipment from old U.

If equipment is untagged (like a hotplate) or low value (like beakers), then the lines are fuzzy. Talking with your department head can help figure out if it's OK to take it or not, and it varies from head to head and school to school.

If the equipment was purchased using grant money and the grant is still active, then transferring the equipment is possible. If the grant is inactive, then it appears that university can "own" the equipment (not entirely sure on this one).

I've heard horror stories from other faculty who have switched institutions. Administrators can try to seize grants and equipment, freeze salaries, and so on, so it's best not to burn bridges. The easiest place to tick off people seems to be on the issue of equipment.

So what happens to all the equipment that I left behind? It becomes property of the school, and then other faculty can get the equipment by writing a justification for why they need it and so on. The administration then doles out my equipment based on need (one would hope).

And a word to anyone moving - take your ovens!! It takes friggin forever to replace them.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

My Eroding Hands

I saw my new rheumatologist yesterday. He used ultrasound to look at my hands. There were erosions in my bones. I saw them myself, lighting up the screen. It looked like my finger bones with dental cavities - if you can picture that. I said to Dr., "But I feel fine, how can this be?" He said that RA can still be very active even if I have no pain. He said that I'm not in remission.

I was pretty bummed yesterday, but today I'm feeling better. I'm not sure what it all means. As long as I feel fine, I'll keep going on with my life.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Transferring Grants

If you have grants awarded, and you're moving from one school to the next, then you may consider transferring your awards.

If you're just at the start of the funding period for an award, then transferring is not too much of a hassle. Paperwork is initiated by your old U to transfer the grant in question to the new U. The process is slow, so get started early. There is a potential snag where the transfer takes a while, and a student may not have funding during this gap. In that case, ask for emergency funding to cover the gap (and you can always pay it back when the grant is successfully transferred). The budget of the award may be recalculated according to the new indirect cost.

If you are towards the end of the funding period, then transferring may be more hassle than it is worth. One option is to "spend out" the account, but that could look inappropriate. In some cases, the grant is not transferable because of strings attached (or co-PI's). To maintain access to your grant money, you could set up a sub-award from old U to new U. Or, you could stay on as an adjunct at old U., and incur costs from the grant remotely.

If you have a student staying at old U, then you could either leave some grant money at old U. to fund the student until they graduate or you could transfer the grant and sub-award back to old U to fund that student. A general draw-back with sub-awards is that indirect costs are charged twice; once by new U, and once by old U.

If your student is transferring to new U., then it makes the most sense to transfer the grant to new U.

I found that the best way to explore options was to communicate with grants and contracts representatives at both universities via teleconference. It's a time consuming process. After you've thought about what you want to do, call your program manager and discuss your options. Is your grant transferable? Can you get that in writing? Can you add on a sub-award? Faculty moves are not uncommon, so program managers will know how to handle it.

The whole process is overwhelming at times, but doable. And as for me... my grant is not transferable, and I'm still trying to get a sub-award granted. Sigh.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

How "Secretaries" Change Universities

I guess I've settled in enough at home and work to reflect on the whole process of moving a lab across the country pre-tenure. Some of you have written in asking this and that, so let's get started.

My plan is to cover the following topics over the next few weeks:

1. Transferring grants from one school to another.
2. Transferring equipment (if you're allowed to!)
3. Arranging for students and postdocs to move with you
4. Managing the lab packing, moving, and unloading
5. And please write in your own questions

There are other ideas which I've covered in previous posts including how I told my bosses, how I told my group, and what it's like to be dead-woman-walking. What I write isn't necessarily advice, it's just a reflection on what I've learned in the last 4 months while moving from Ivy League U to new U (which is a large public university). And if anyone else is contemplating moving, please ask away...

Monday, August 9, 2010


Every time I start out at a new place, I get mistaken for a secretary (or an undergrad, but I'm starting to get old...).

Today, some guy barges into my office (even though I had 1 cm of door ajar), and demanded to know where Professor So and So was. I calmly asked him to go ask the undergraduates that man the front desks, and the man still wouldn't leave! I had to escort him out of my office and point him to the front desk.

Do I look like a secretary? Oh wait... I forgot. I'm a woman. Therefore, I couldn't possible be a gen-u-wine professor. I must be a card-carrying-index-filing-coffee-making-bitch of a secretary who happens to write a lot of research proposals dangit.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Friggin Awesome

I cannot express how awesome it is to be here - home! I've eaten all my favorite foods here, visited the relatives, and talked the talk. We've only been here a week, but already we have our new driver's licenses, our home is unpacked, and our lab's are as unpacked as they can get until our equipment orders get in.

I'm so excited that my son can do all the things I did growing up - if I described it, then you'd know where we are!!

Everyone at the new U is supportive, positive, and respectful. Just on first day, they all helped me with internet, phone, and ID card. It sounds simple, but it took me a bit longer at the ILU just to accomplish these little things.

I'm in a building that is entirely dedicated to my discipline! We don't have to share it with dumbass-mysoginistic-other-discipline like other places. We are in a department that will never get shut down or be combined with some other department.

For the first time in eight years, I feel like I can fully unpack and plant roots.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Home is Wherever I'm With You

(Edward Sharpe and Magnetic Zeroes)

We're here! We've got our rent house opened up, and the moving truck comes tomorrow to unload our home. Our labs are already delivered, and we view them tomorrow as well. So exciting!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Notes from the Road

We're on day 3 of the road trip to the new U. We're visiting my sister, Dr. Mom for a couple days before moving. We've got a car load of baby crap, board games, and expensive chemicals that the movers refused to pick up from the lab.

I caught Mr. JP spraying Febreeze on his pits because he couldn't find his deodorant.

The day that the movers were packing us up, I found out that a grant couldn't be transferred (!?). We're all over the place here. I've stopped being stressed over stuff because it could always get crazier!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Chaos Reigns

The movers are here, packing up our house. We should get on the road tonight...

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A Walking, Talking Lawsuit Waiting to Happen

A contemporary of mine is at the conference and we've been spending time together because we don't know other attendees very well. Getting to know this contemporary is... let's say, frustrating. He tends to steer conversations towards topics that make me uncomfortable in a professional situation. Let's make a list, and think of how many times I'm trying to hit my head on the wall while he's espousing these ideas to complete strangers...

1. "Women faculty don't work as hard as women because they take too much time off for child caring. I know one female colleague and she works from home once a week. We all know that she isn't working, but taking care of her kid." [said to table full of women including myself]

2. "Catholicism is a tainted religion" [said to a table full of Catholics including myself]

3. "Asians are just ignored. We never think of them." [said to a famous Japanese professor while I was at the table]

This guy just makes me want to scream! He's a tenured professor at a large state school, too. I don't know what to do when I encounter someone so tragically bigoted. Correcting him only resulted in arguments. And I don't like to argue, so I just gave up. Sigh.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Another Conference...

I'm at the 2nd conference. We move the day after I get back.

My talk was a big hit. I had disproved a Famous Scientist's work, and presented my results to an audience containing the big people in my field (including Famous Scientist). After the talk, FS told me he liked my work, and then he thanked me for citing him! The founder of my field also liked it, and spoke with me for ten minutes about what to investigate next.

So... this conference is at the most inconvenient time in my life, but I'm finally on the map within my field!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Last Day at DayCare

Today is Sparky's last day at Day Care before the move. He knows that something is up, and he has been reacting to it. We tell him everyday that we're moving, and that soon we will have a new house and a new day care, and that we're going to have lots of family around this month. Still, he's moody and clingy. He's been desperately hanging on to an empty bottle of bubbles for two days now. Sparky is almost 2, and even little guys get upset about a move. Grandparents will be around for the move so Sparky will have some security there. I don't ever want to move cross-country again!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Parting Ways

I've been saying my goodbyes quite a bit this week to colleagues. Most are happy for me, sad to see me leaving, but understanding.

Saying goodbye to graduate students is more difficult. In the past two weeks, four female PhD students have come into my office on separate occasions to say goodbye. All were crying or nearly crying. None are members of my group, and some I don't know well. I've always made a point to say hello to them, and maybe chat for a few minutes - but I didn't understand how much that meant to them until I've got them crying in my office. I feel like I'm letting down women at my Ivy League U, but I've got to go and take care of myself and my family. I'm sad that yet another woman (myself) is leaving this Ivy League U. It's very difficult to retain women here.... we could spend a long time talking about why, but not on a blog. Anyways, I think that female graduate students are suffering because of the lack of female leadership here. Nuf said.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Lab Handbook

A colleague of mine has developed a Lab Handbook to outline how to write papers, prepare presentations, make up graphs, etc. so that the group is all on common ground. Given that no one in my group is using spell check or citing papers for their manuscripts, I think it is appropriate to make up my own Lab Handbook. My intention is to outline the lab standards and to streamline communications between myself and lab members.

My Lab Handbook will have the following sections, but I'm looking for more. Please send suggestions.

1. How to Write a Manuscript or Thesis
2. How to Prepare and Give a Presentation
3. Standard Lab Practices for Preparing Our Samples
4. Your Suggestion Here

Monday, July 12, 2010

Spell-checking as a sign of intelligence

For all of the papers, manuscripts, presentations that my student send me - all have blatant spelling errors in them (100% of them, not joking).


Have you thought about how it makes you look when you can't spell rudimentary words? I am so tired of wiping your ass!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

How to Cite Thee

How many references are appropriate for an article?

How many for a communication?

Or a proposal?

My post-doc sends me a very nice paper that will be submitted as a full article with 16 references (Gasp!). I'm frustrated because the low # of references implies that they have only read 16 papers in the last 6 months or so. And I'm frustrated because part of my editing process will involve looking up references to support our findings. Yes, I'm a PI and should look up all these references anyways, but really... a post-doc can only find 16 citations???

Anyways, my preferences are 40+ for an article, 15+ for a communication, and 50-100 for a proposal.

Friday, July 9, 2010

To Exist or Not

My link on Ivy League University's webpage has been deleted... as if to say that I am dead and gone...

It's strange to me because I still come into work nearly everyday at ILU even though I am unemployed for this month.

When I saw that my link had been removed, I felt hurt - but why should I feel hurt when I was the one that walked away from the job?! It's like getting un-friended by someone on Facebook.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Is Cheating So Easy?

NY Times has an article on undergraduates cheating in their courses. I guess I'm not "with it" because I had never heard of some of these websites that "help" students complete their assignments. Cramster and Course Hero were mentioned, so I went and checked it out. At Cramster, there was a place holder for the textbook I was using, but no solutions were available. At Course Hero, there were no solutions available to courses from my discipline. I imagine with time that these things will change.

Do you care if your students cheat on homeworks? I am ambivalent about HW cheating because it is such a small portion of the grade. However, if I caught cheating on HW, I would turn it in.

Do you care if your students cheat on tests? Here, I care very much. My exams are open book and open notes, so to cheat would require students communicating with one another during an exam. Not cool. There, I would turn it in, too.

I've only taught 13 students in the last two years, and none have cheated. My next course will likely have 70+ students, so I'll have to keep my eyes open.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

And In Other Poop News

Yesterday's incident reminds me of my lovely undergrad days at Big State U. There was a Poop Bandit who had a habit of pooping in people's trash cans (when they accidentally left their dorm room doors open) and of pooping on the floor next to the toilet in the unisex restroom.

Everyone thought (incorrectly) that it was me.

The front office put up a sign in the unisex restroom kindly asking that the Poop Bandit poop in the toilet and not on the floor. The Poop Bandit apparently didn't like this sign, because shortly thereafter, he or she wrote "NO" on the wall using their own poop. They were never identified, but their activities ceased afterward...

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Aiming for the Toilet

No, I'm not talking about #1 - I'm talking about #2.

I go into work today at my Ivy League School and find that someone has sprayed poo all over the bathroom stall. It looks like this Ivy League person stood on the toilet and then let it all loose. In a women's restroom. At a f&&ing Ivy Leagues school. Come on people! These are tomorrow's leaders...

Sunday, July 4, 2010

1/2 Way Through The Madness

We've got just two or three more weeks left here, and I'm scrambling to stay on top of things. I've got 1 of my 2 grants submitted, I've attended 1 of my 2 conferences, and I've got one manuscript floating around with the post-doc that isn't moving with us.

The conference last week sucked the life out of me, and I've spent every spare moment this weekend sleeping or vegging out - which isn't helping me work on that other grant...

As for 4th of July celebrations... we did manage to set off an a**load of fireworks in our backyard. Who cares about the neighbors complaining, because we're moving anyways!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

On Envy

I am quite honestly envious of some colleagues and friends my age who have gotten PECASE or other young investigator awards. I want to whine, "But when's it gonna be my turn!" Of course, I realize that you have to write proposals, submit, talk with PMs, etc in order to get awards. Happily, my friends who get these awards are humble and genuinely deserve the recognition. Yet it is so easy to compare my success (or lack of?) with their recent accomplishments. Faculty a year or two ahead of me tell me that "it will come." I'll keep hammering away at the proposal process.

(So rather than whine to them, I'll just whine on my blog.)

In the big picture, with funding rates so low, one may have to submit 10 proposals to get one award where a funding rate is 10%. That's purely based on statistics, not taking into account the quality of the proposal, but the point is that a lot of effort goes into getting a little bit of money. Some older faculty who enjoyed high funding rates in days of yore can be unsympathetic. And others fully understand because they, too, experience the same current funding rate.

I am now at a conference where many junior faculty that I admire talk about how they work all the time and don't sleep. I get lots of sleep and work at my own pace, but I'm scared that it isn't enough to keep up with them. If I could just get another grant, then maybe my whining would stop :)

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Moving Plans Are In

Our move is all set (I think). Our labs and homes are going to be packed last week of July. We'll drive down, and arrive days before our start date of Aug. 1. It's going to be hectic and overwhelming, but both sets of parents are helping out.

The daycare is arranged, as is the rental house. Our current house is not yet sold, and that is the #1 frustration.

Grants are being transferred. New grants are being submitted through the new university. My graduate student is defending his thesis proposal next week so that he can pseudo-transfer (hard to explain, but we've got it worked out).

In 3 or 4 weeks, I'll be home.

Friday, June 25, 2010

We're Great Parents. Really.

Is it bad that the clerk at the liquor store knows your kid really well?

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Teaching Another Generation of Students

I speculate here that students nowadays learn very differently from when I was a student ten years ago.

When I was an undergraduate, my expectation from an course was to sit in a classroom, to take notes from the blackboard, and maybe do a project or a demo (rarely) in class. The internet was established but still new, and the idea of getting homework solutions from a class website was not an entitlement - but a privilege. Growing up, my generation learned uni-directionally - from TV, books, newspaper, and teachers that lectured to us. There was not an opportunity to "comment" or "post" or to interact with our learning tools. Talking back to a teacher was unusual.

My first two years of teaching has been based on my experiences from ten years ago. I prepare notes, I present the notes, the students write them down. The notes are based on our textbook, and I do not stray from the textbook. Rarely, we have a demo from YouTube or a printout from a website. My current teaching model is uni-directional. Students do not speak up in class very much nor do the inquire. This is very much like how I learned, and ten years ago - this may have been satisfactory. But now it is not, and I must change how I teach.

Society now receives and processes information in an interactive pathway. We can now "comment" on news stories online, we can "Twitter" to CNN on how we feel about the story, and we are entitled to see our personal responses posted on a website. The generation of students I am now teaching appear to desire more interaction in the classroom, and this is where I have failed. Our brains are now wired to seek information, and to post our opinions.

I plan to change my teaching style for the next course. I want to improve and change the same way in which technology does. I don't want to be that old professor using 20-year old transparencies! There are a number of ways to add activities and interactions to a course that look promising. What I ask is what you like to do in your courses? What worked? What didn't work?

What My Teaching Evaluations Tell Me

My teaching evaluations from Spring 2010 show scores lower than Spring 2009. My initial reaction was hurt, but then I read the comments from the students. "She followed the book too closely." "She did too many examples in class." "Her class was too easy."

What!? Keep in mind these are Ivy League students, I speculate here that they have different expectations for their classes than what I am used to. But then, I also think that the students learn differently now than 10 years ago (to be discussed in future post).

At the midterm, I asked students to write down how they would like to improve the class. The overwhelming majority requested more examples. So I gave them more examples. Now, I'm getting dinged for it on my evaluations!! I am at a loss here.

And the class was too easy? But on the 2nd and 3rd exam, the class average was low low low! So perplexed.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Conference what conference?

This blog is going to degrade to SCREAMING and YELLING until the move.

We (my lab and I) are going to a conference on Sunday. I asked my student if he had made his poster yet. He said, "Oh - when is that conference?" I said, "This Sunday." And the look of panic on his face spreads. "Did you register?" I say. Yep, he registered.

Now I'm wondering if he registered for the right conference... WTF!!! How can you not know you're going to a conference?

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Pulling Out My Hair!

Eeeek. This month just won't end. I've got two dumb proposals, a manuscript, a prospectus, three articles to review, two conferences - and then... finally a move to Home State. How much Miller Lite does it take to grease the wheels here and make things go? Have given up on taming how I eat this month, and rediscovered vegan cake.

And will somebody buy our dumbass house already?

Please...send...booze...fruity girly booze. And no, my shirt stays on. Unless you buy my DUMBASS house!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Grant Writing + Moving = Idiocy

I'm trying to write two proposals this summer - both are due during my moving week. So I'm trying to get them done now, but I have NO motivation. With the move coming up, I'm more focused on selling our house, securing daycare, finishing manuscripts, and assisting students than writing two boring grants. Because funding rates are low, I am feeling like time spent writing grants is futile. However, nothing ventured is nothing gained. I am forcing myself to go into work, forcing myself to write. It sux, but it's moving along.

Some ask me which university I'm applying through because I won't yet be an employee at new U. And the answer is that I'm applying through my new U because the budgets all have to be run through there. It's pretty common to submit grants at your future institution prior to starting your job. But it's also a pain in the ass because you're working with people that you've never met face to face.

Anyways... Friday Friday Friday!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Normal is Good

Dr. says that blood work is normal and that the X-rays came back normal! My finger has something going on, but we'll have to wait and see. I'll get more X-rays in the next year to see what is up with the hands.

I'm breathing a sigh of relief, thanking God that I have at least another year of peace with my body until I go through the work up all over again. My mind just gets out of control when I think about this too much. Must concentrate on grants. I'd rather be rejected on a grant than get bad news from the Doc.

Monday, June 14, 2010

I'm Afraid of My Hands

I see my rheumatologist tomorrow to get the X-rays, and I'm scared. I keep looking at my hands.

My left index finger is looking deformed, but maybe that's my imagination cuz I'm been staring at m'damn hands too much. I'm scared that he may tell me that the damage has begun, that I have to go on something scary like Enbrel, that I can't live my life. Yes, I'm overdramatic, but I'm so scared and just writing it out here so that my husband doesn't have to hear me for the umpteenth time.

But then - even if my finger looks deformed - it doesn't hurt, and I can bend it. So keep on the bright side, or at least try to.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Science Killed My Proposal

I just got the reviews from my rejected proposal. Apparently, basing a proposal on a recently published article in Science is grounds for rejection!

This recent article shows interesting behavior for a material. I propose, "Hey, let's do something different to that material and make it even better."

The reviewer writes that the article in Science is all wrong, and systematically debunks the article. The reviewer concludes that since my proposal is based on that article, then my proposal should be all wrong, too. Sigh.

I can't resubmit for the next round because it based on a "wrong" Science article, which is far more frustrating. You would think that if something were published in a Big Name Journal, that it would have some credibility.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Focus on This

A great article on distractions and our ability to focus on tasks is in the NY Times. This is a probably I am constantly battling.

To balance work, family, and my ridiculous commute, I must be highly efficient in how I use my time. Each task will be completed effectively and efficiently if I dedicate 100% of my attention to that task. But... emails filter in, and so do instant messages. And I feel the immediate need to answer all of them, which pulls me away from the task at hand. If I don't watch myself, a whole morning can go by and I won't be able to tell you what I did.

The article follows a technophile family. The family is so absorbed in their gadgets that they hardly talk to each other. It has infiltrated their ability to work, too. I realize this is an extreme case, but the story struck me because this behavior is familiar to me.

If I am to do this job from 8-5 (and a little more at night), then I must treat that time as sacred. Surfing the internet is just throwing away time that could be spent doing hobbies (cooking, gardening) or hanging out with the family. With moderate success, I check my email a few times a day (morning, lunch, afternoon, evening). I limit internet to news sites and literature search engines. I have specific goals for the day, and I complete them. It's rigid and boring, but I have time outside work to enjoy life.

Other faculty will work 14 hours a day, and I just can't fathom how they handle it. Surely they aren't really working during all of that time?! Perhaps they are actively working 9 hours, and being distracted for 5? In graduate school, I found that the people who worked all the time were also playing video games in the lab... Just a thought. I'll try to get off the internet now. It's a bit distracting.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

3 Hrs in My Lovely Car

There was a big wreck on the hwy on my way into work and on my way home. I spent 3 hrs in my car just to perform work that I could have easily done at home. Why do I bother coming in? I could have spent those 3 hrs playing Chronotrigger. Hmmph.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Behind Closed Doors

The administrative asst. at my new university flubbed up and sent the faculty meeting notes to Mr. JP and I. We read notes on the faculty discussion on how our interviews went and whether they should hire us or not. It is surreal to read about myself in this way, especially since the outcome is know - we were hired. Mr. JP received generally positive comments. Comments on myself were generally positive, but some thought that I wasn't well-prepared. Sigh. OK, so maybe I wasn't well prepared, there's some truth to that. I didn't look up the shared facilities. I didn't have a list of faculty that I wanted to collaborate with. My talk was not rehearsed. I hope that you future faculty candidates will be better prepared than I!

Another separate time Mr. JP saw his personal file at his old university, and found that comments on his hiring process were accidentally left in the folder. The comments, now, are funny to read. "How will this guy get funding?" Answer: He later got 4 young investigator awards, isn't that enough? "His research area is boring." Answer: If we hired everyone who did 'popular' scientific research, then we'd have a bunch of faculty with no funding. And, his research is "boring" enough to get a job elsewhere after 5 years...

So I'll be better prepared. 5% of me is wondering if this is an internal bias against women because we are perceived as being harried as we balance work and family. Gasp! Because men don't have that problem, too. But I admit that for this interview, I could have been better prepared.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Juvenile Arthritis

CNN has a nice segment on Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis. The message is to keep moving to slow the damage!

I get the results from my annual X-rays soon. Keep your fingers crossed for me!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Making Friends for Afar

Because Mr. JP live 45 minutes away from our respective universities, it has been very difficult to cultivate friendships with colleagues. No one wants to drive 45+ minutes one way to come have dinner or watch a movie. And we don't want to drive that far either to hang out with them - especially because everything seems to conflict with Sparky's naptime. Needless to say, the last two years here have been a little lonely. No family is nearby, and our friendships with colleagues are not deep. (On top of that there are practically zero women in my School so I'm especially isolated). Moving away from all of this makes me realize that there are not very many people to say goodbye to. I wonder how we would manage life had we stayed.

At our new university, we'll be sickeningly close to our colleagues - maybe even living on the same street! I get to work with and live near my close friend from graduate school. The young faculty seem very sociable, and I thrive when I can hang out with people every weekend. The new U. has many women faculty my age. I am looking forward to making new friendships, and I can't wait to move!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Font Size, Spacing, and a 15 Page Proposal

There are all sorts of permutations of formatting for an NSF proposal. I've tried many, and my favorite was Arial, 10 pt font, and 1.5 line spacing. The proposal looked great - but my program manager said it was too sparse and needed more words.

So now, I'm working on my CAREER adding 'words' to fill in the gaps. And now I find myself at 10.5 Times font with single spacing. Is that too small? 10 is the minimum font size, and I think that 10 is really tiny for people with reading glasses, etc.

So what is your favorite formatting for an NSF proposal?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010



I have pink eye, so I must miss work. Sparky has pink eye. Spend 90 minutes at Dr. and Walgreen's for pink eye.

Receive notification that my lab's second paper has been published online.

Eat leftovers for lunch.

Sparky goes to bed... his eye looks worse.

Work on CAREER.
Sparky wakes up and later Mr. JP finds him chewing on a pack of Bonine (motion sickness pills). Looks like he only ate a little...

Make bread.

Sparky's eyes are way worse, and now he is very very drowsy. Sparky won't eat dinner. Call poison control - they say he'll be fine.

Check email and see that another grant is rejected. Now I have nothing pending.

We have a house showing at Sparky's bedtime so we pack up a very drowsy, loopy child and take him to Office Depot. Home again, Sparky goes to bed, and we poke at him every 30 min. He fusses (which is good).

Now I have time to think about how much I hate rejection... so demoralizing. I enjoy the job, but the rejection makes me dislike basic science at times. It was my second time around on this one, and I thought I had addressed everything. One reviewer had even sought me out at a conference to tell me how awesome that proposal was. I really thought I was going to get it. Should I wallow in a fresh game of Chronotrigger, make vegan pies, or dive into my work to get rid of all this frustration? Rats.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Sparky Sez


Awwwwwww. Now that makes me want to have another...

Friday, May 21, 2010

Top 10 Standards

Some of my old classmates from graduate school have set incredibly (unrealistic?) high standards for their long term careers.

One peer went on the market in 2007, and only got interest from schools ranked 10-25. He was a graduate student at the time, and so decided to pursue a post-doc to increase his chances of being at a top 10 school. He has very vocally said he would accept nothing less. He is currently in his 3rd year as a post-doc, and the faculty market has now dried up.

Another peer has been lingering at a National Lab/Research Center, waiting for the number 1 school to call. His work is outstanding, as is his character, but he's been waiting for years... He, too, is vocal that he will accept nothing less.

These exceptionally high standards have left my two peers in alternative situations where they are in never-ending post-docs or well-regarded positions at governmental institutions. I get the impression that they think my institutions (future and current) aren't good enough. And maybe they would look down on me? But I'm currently living my goal, and not in limbo. Unlike a jilted bride to a top 10 school.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

More Gray Hairs

The bathrooms at the NSF have some weird lighting that make all my gray hairs illuminate like light bulbs. I was sitting on a panel, went to the bathroom, and saw a fresh crop of gray gnarly worms growing out of my head. I plucked them out, and moved on. Maybe that bad lighting is causing all my proposals to get rejected.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Goodbye, Spring Semester

The final grades are turned in, and I suddenly have so much more time (to work). I'll be spending the summer writing proposals, getting preliminary data in the lab, arranging the move, and moving.

This last semester has been a big one with lots of changes. I survived the proposed elimination of my department. Mr. JP and I secured positions elsewhere at an ideal place. I got a paper published and another one accepted. Lots of rejected grants :( I taught another class successfully. I wish I had written more proposals, but the proposed doom of my department had frozen any productivity out of me. This semester has been good considering the final outcome.

Goodbye, spring!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Email My Husband If You Want To Reach Me

Mr. JP and I are excited about moving to our new university, where we will be in the same department together. A weird side-effect of being a married couple in the same department is this whole email thing. An administrator will email my husband only with critical information, addressing the email to both of us. My husband doesn't regularly check if I'm on the recipient list, so this information doesn't reach me until something annoying happens. The same is true the other way around where I'll be emailed with information and my husband's name has been "forgotten".

I'm sure this is a genuine oversight, but it is still frustrating. We're married as "one" person on a spiritual level. On a professional level, we are two persons and have two separate email addresses!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Happy Mother's Day

I was so sick that my Mother's Day went by in a daze. Mr. JP was at commencement, so Sparky and I were alone at home most of the day.

I remember Sparky whining all day over something. Sleeping in front of Sid the Science Kid. Trying to put weed killer in the front yard and getting to tired to finish. Damn dandelions. And then giving up on the day all together and just playing Super Mario on the Wii. Mr. JP got me some awesome cards, and the night before took me out for vegan food. Yummy. Just wish I felt better.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Ebb and Flow

My graduate student's future is secure. He can move to the new U. and get a PhD from the old prestigious U. We've figured out funding, visas, and thesis committees. So I can breathe a sigh of relief...

But, now my awesome post-doc tells me that he cannot move to new U. His wife doesn't want to move to the new U area. She wants to remain near the big metropolitan area near old U so that she can pursue her fine arts studies. He is heartbroken because he wants to make the move, he loves the new U area, and has many friends there. But his duty is to his wife. Further complicating the issue is that they are international, so if they cannot find a job soon then they must leave the U.S. and the wife cannot pursue her fine arts studies here. I empathize because I know too well how two-body problems can work. I will try to find a position for him with colleagues, but funding is so tight here. I hope it can work out for them.

Monday, May 3, 2010

On Time Management

I am a bit of a time management nerd. I used to wear a digital timer on my belt so that I could time every minute of my work day from coffee breaks to manuscript writing. But lately, I've been in a funk. I've been surfing the internet (gasp!) and overmultitasking to where nothing sticks in my brain.

I recently attended an NSF workshop for junior faculty that reset my clock and I think I'm back on track. The most effective piece of advice I heard was concerning email. Checking email consumes time, and it takes X minutes to get back on task after checking the email. If you check your email 20 times a day (yes, you really do), then you waste 20X minutes getting back on task. A solution is to check your email only 3 times a day at prescribed times. I tried this for a week, and the change was immediate. Instead of checking my email (all the f**king time), I forced myself to focus on other pieces of work. For the first time in ages, I was able to leave work satisfied with my day's accomplishments. Let's keep it up.

So I think that *wasting* a day attending a workshop may have ultimately saved me 20X minutes per day...

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Department of Defense and You

NSF funding isn't enough to maintain a group. While some focus on NIH, in my field, going to DoD (army, navy, air force) is the way. All three branches of DoD have young investigator programs (YIPs). To be eligible, you have to be a U.S. citizen, and you must be no more than 5 years out from your PhD. These requirements whittle down the playing field, so your chances of being funded - if you're eligible - are seemingly high. (Although the last ONR YIP funding rate was < 10%, sigh).

The problem is with getting your foot in the door. For NSF, you can submit an idea - your idea with whatever application you like. But for DoD, you need to bounce ideas off of the program manager to find what fits into their program. If you've got a great idea but it doesn't fit in with the goals of DoD, then it won't get funded. So in other words, communicating with a program director prior to submission is critical.

Now for the YIP. I am exceedingly frustrated with the way program managers in DoD uniformly ignore young investigators - even those inquiring about YIP. You can call, email, send in unsolicited white papers, and there is a brick wall of silence. It's not just me. Mr. JP has the brick wall. Colleagues get the brick wall. So then, I ask, who is getting these YIPs? I talked with one colleague who is a star, and he gets the brick wall from other military branches. With this particular YIP that he got, someone actually wrote back. Other advice is to arrange appointments with the PMs when you are in DC. That's a great idea, and I would love for that to happen. But my emails and calls saying, "Hey, I'm in your neck of the woods, let's talk," get ignored.

So you know what? I'm submitting my YIP anyways, with or without your input. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Just Be Meaner?

Big Famous Dude (my old post-doc adviser) had a chance to meet my lab members yesterday. He gave them helpful advice, some of which I had previously given to them, on their projects. My students later told me, "Oh, Big Famous Dude is smart and confident! He told me to do X, Y, and Z, and I'm going to go try them." But, but, but the little voice in my head says, "I asked you to do that two months ago, and you never did."

I find this is a recurring situation. I give my students advice on their projects, they choose to ignore it, and then when someone else (male and/or famous) gives them the same advice, the students go try it as if it were new information. My students don't believe in my abilities as a scientist...

Today, I met another Famous Visiting Professor and mentioned to him how my students reacted to Big Famous Dude. Famous Visiting Professor said, "It's because you're female." He said that his female colleagues all had the same problem, and then he listed off the name of some of the female colleagues - all of whom were respected successful professors and scientists. So if it isn't me, then it's just my gender? Famous Visiting Professor advised me that the these women had taken the strategy of lowering their voice during discussions and being mean. Interesting approach. Must gather data.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

But Where Does the Money Come From?

In a perfect world, I could give 100% guarantee to the second-year PhD student that he could move with me to the new U, and get his PhD from the old prestigious U. I understand his reasons for wanting his PhD from the institution that is more desirable abroad - I would be pushing for the same thing if I were in his place.

As an adviser I hesitate to guarantee this path because of money. I am unable to fund him until the end of his PhD using start up funds from new U. This is because new U. doesn't want to pay old U. tuition for a PhD candidate that goes to old U. - I get that. So student can be successfully funded via my NSF grant until he has put in 3.5 years toward his PhD. After that... his tuition and stipend must come from somewhere, and that where it gets messy. I worry that if I don't get another grant in the next year, then I will not be able to support my PhD candidate in his final year. New U. won't pay for him, so we'd have to go begging to old U. for emergency funding (even though I am no longer faculty there!).

So in other words, everything is peachy for the next year... and then money becomes an issue. The last thing I want to do is tell a student they have to leave with a Masters because of money. I'd like to think that all my grant writing will pay off soon, and then we can all get what we want. If the student transfers to new U., then I can fund him all the way through his PhD using new U.'s start-up funds.

It's all very confusing and neither university is entirely helpful about it. I have written so many emails and phoned so many folks that they are tired of hearing from me, and no answers have resulted. They all say, "Don't worry, you'll get a grant and it will be fine."

Friday, April 23, 2010

Why do I Bend Over Backwards?

My second year student is continually giving me trouble. Some of this stems from me being a newbie adviser, but most of it comes from this student being inflexible. I understand that this move effects his life - where he lives, who he meets, where he may get a job later. Hmm let me explain a bit.

His desire is to obtain a PhD from prestigious old U., and to move to the new U. with me. He absolutely refuses to transfer to the new U. He is an international student, and his intention is to go back to his country and work in industry. He maintains that a degree from the internationally recognized old U. is more important than a degree from the new U. (even though new U. is much more highly ranked in my discipline). For all this to happen, he must complete his candidacy exam and register in absentia every semester. The tricky part is funding. My NSF funding for him will run out in his 4th year, and I cannot use start up funds from new U. to pay off my student from old U. I must use external funding. I must obtain a grant for his project (or some related project) in the next year to maintain his funding through his PhD. If I don't... then it gets messy.

Anyways, the student is freaking out because his project isn't working. He reasons that if his project isn't working, then he won't pass his candidacy exam, and we won't secure external funding. I tried to explain to him that this isn't really how academics works, and that he would be just fine. He didn't believe me. I'm tired of babying him and comforting him. Just suck it up already and be professional!

On top of this, he is a So-So student. I often have to ask him to do things twice. He still doesn't take notes during our meetings. His redeeming quality (or fault?) is that he is a perfectionist, so his data is robust and I have confidence in it. So why am I bending over backwards for this student?? Simply put: my doppleganger. If I leave my student behind, my doppleganger will take the student into his lab, scoop the project, and take my research ideas. I know that sounds paranoid, but this doppleganger has tried to do this to others (I finally have evidence). Is it all worth it?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

2nd Year Students Are Hard to Move

Suppose that you are a graduate student and your adviser tells you, "Guess what! We are moving the lab to more awesome university. Let's go!" What do you do? The possibilities may be broken up by how far along you are within the graduate program.

1st year student. Either you (1) find a new adviser at the old U. or (2) you transfer to the new U.

2nd year student.
You may still switch advisers at the old U. You could transfer to the new U and obtain a PhD from the new U. However, there is a slim possibility you could move to new U. but get PhD from old U.

3rd year student.
Switching advisers at the old U seems difficult now because you are so entrenched in your thesis work. By now, you've passed your candidacy exam/prospectus, so your options are more open. You could transfer to the new U and obtain a PhD from the new U. Now, there is a stronger possibility you could move to new U. but get PhD from old U, if that's what you wanted.

4th year student. You're likely stay in the same research group, but you may be able to finish all your research at old U. and obtain a PhD from old U., while being advised from afar. Or you could move to the new U. and finish up there, obtaining a PhD from either old or new U.

5+ year student. It is likely that you would stay behind at old U. since you don't have much time left and a move would just set you back. The likelihood of transferring to new U. is low because you may not have enough credits "in-state" from new U. In all likelihood, PhD will come from old U.

I've got a 2nd year and 1st year student. The 1st year decided to switch groups, and we are amicably parting. My 2nd year student is trying the most difficult route. He wants to get the PhD from old U, but work at new U. Because he isn't far along, there all these issues with funding, candidacy exam, health insurance, tuition. UGGGGH. Next post will cover that. Just transfer to new U. already!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Wish You Were Here

Last weekend we visited our future university to kick start lab renovations and to look for a rent house. We brought along some of our students so that they could get all jazzed up about the move. Sparky stayed back with in-laws.

The trip was awesome. My lab needs nearly nothing renovated. We found a rent house. My students got super excited after they saw all the facilities and the building we are to call our new home. It's a huge step up. It was great to be back in my Home State - the wildflowers were blooming, the air smelled familiar. I was so happy, and all the swelling in my fingers disappeared!

During the visit my post-doc and student met with the business officer and student coordinator to figure out the transfer. For post-docs, its a piece of cake. But my student is causing such a head ache because he refuses to transfer his academic status. He very much wants to get his PhD from Prestigious U, even though it is ranked much much lower than the new university. It deserves a whole post in itself...

Anyways, location makes all the difference, and I can't wait for the move!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Proven Wrong

Yesterday was one of those days where I question why I'm even pursuing a career in academia. Mr. JP says that everyone has those days, and he reminded me that it is just a job and we work to earn money to support our family. But still... it would be just so much easier to work in industry, be a mystery novelist, vegan baker, or just anything else.

During a weekly meeting with my graduate student, he disproved his entire last year of work (and possibly our lab's one and only publication?). I was impressed that a second year student had so conclusively debunked his own work, but I was also alarmed that we had 'lost' a year - or maybe an entire project. The student was in panic attack mode because his prospectus is this summer, and he has just debunked his entire project. I said with genuine enthusiasm, "That's great! Now you can present in your prospectus the story of how you found the error, and how you will fix it!" He did not share the enthusiasm. We then devised a new plan of attack for the project, and he calmed down a bit.

Then he says, "And I have other bad news. Our Very Expensive Instrument is broken." Arrrrrrgh!

As I drove home yesterday on my very very long commute, I sorted through the details of the day and felt defeated. 30 min into the commute, I realized, "Why am I doing this? I could do anything else with my life - anything." By the end of the commute I was determined that my best career path would be administration, because I like interacting with people and being involved with how universities work. So the moral of the story is that an excessively long commute engenders crazy thoughts and delusions. Mr. JP says that if my commute were only 20 min, I would never get to the career-crisis thoughts.

Oh, and my CAREER proposal was officially rejected yesterday.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Ironing Out Details with the Dean and Provost

My departure from Prestigious U. requires that I submit a letter of resignation. In addition, I am professionally obligated to discuss my departure with my Dean (even if the Dean is rumored to be stubbornly immovable on some aspects). In my last meeting with the Dean, I had walked out crying, saying that the plans to eliminate my department were "unacceptable." I was not looking forward to meeting the Dean presently to discuss my plans to leave P.U. Considering my mistrust for the Dean, I asked my Chair to come along to the meeting.

To my surprise, the meeting went smoothly and was everything I wanted. I negotiated for my post-docs and student's continuous financial support up until their start date at our next University. We will even maintain reasonable access to lab start-up funds so that research activities could continue up until the move. As for me, my contract ends in June so there is a lost month were I am unemployed (the Provost at P.U. is helping me with this). I'll have reasonable opportunity to take equipment with me, provided that it isn't useful to other faculty at P.U. All equipment was purchased using my set-up funds, so technically my lab belongs to P.U. The Dean was friendly, and agreed with the plans to make this transition smooth and seamless.

Another faculty member who recently left P.U. recommended that I also speak with the Provost to confirm plans for the transition. In case the Dean pulled any funny business, the Provost could iron things out. I don't anticipate funny business, but I want to protect my lab and my lab members. The Provost was immensely understanding, and agreed to all of the points on the transition. The Provost recommended that I become a Research Scientist for my lost month in July so that I can maintain access to health insurance and whatnot.

Overall, both meetings were - dare I say - pleasant? It was not what I expected. However, my departure is mostly because of health, family, and two-body problems; not because of dissatisfaction with P.U. Any humane human could empathize.

Monday, April 12, 2010

My Cursed Apartment

My husband and I lived in a nice, well-maintained apartment complex when I was pregnant. Despite appearances, that apartment was doomed.

Within months of moving in, an international family of about 8 moved into the two bedroom below us. They brought wave after wave of cockroaches zooming upwards into our kitchen. We were treated three times for roaches, and each time they came back within weeks. Our downstairs neighbors refused treatment because opening their doors would reveal the illegal overcrowding within their apartment. On top of that, they had loud domestic fights. I would bang on the floor with a broom, and scream, "Shut up!" I finally went to their apartment, and threatened to call the cops. The next day, I turned them in for overcrowding to the landlord. They were evicted within the month.

A few months after that, I came home to about 6 cop cars parked in front of my building. The landlord had "no comment" so I googled the news for my apartment complex. The "no comment" was a heroin dealer living in our building. Lovely. At least he was caught.

And just yesterday, as I was sipping morning coffee in the luxury of my own house (which we are now selling, ugh), I saw my old complex on the news again. This time in flames. Eight apartments were burnt to a crisp. I'm so glad I'm out of there!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

St. Joseph is Buried

Mr. JP buried St. Joseph, and so the house was on the market. We are hoping that we can catch some of the crowd interested in the tax credit, which expires at the end of this month. We are selling our house at a loss, and we will rent for a year to recover. So it goes.

Anyone interested in a new house?

Thursday, April 8, 2010

All is Good in the World

I work up this morning, ate bread fresh from the bread machine, and heard Electric Six's "Gay Bar" on the radio. Happy day!

Monday, April 5, 2010

How Did We Get Here? (Or how we found other t-t jobs pre-tenure)

It's no cake walk to go out on the market pre-tenure- especially in this economy where the number of open spots are few. Even fewer institutions have multiple open spots that could accommodate both me and my husband. We decided to "go-out" because my husband had had so many unsolicited invitations to apply elsewhere, and he was unhappy with his present situation. All places know that he and I are married, so they knew what they were getting themselves into when they were soliciting him. Mr. JP is going up for tenure soon, so a lot of places were jumping the gun in inviting him- I came along for the ride. (But, I'm quite a catch myself!).

Last fall, Mr. JP started responding to the calls. We attended the major conference for our discipline, and we networked as a couple. By the end of the conference, we had a good feel from friends and colleagues on who was interested in the two of us. We narrowed down the list of possible universities, and Mr. JP sent off his application. He listed me as his wife under "Personal Information" on his CV. I did not apply to any place formally. My old PhD adviser said that it would reflect badly upon me and my current institution if I were to send out apps. After all, these places were recruiting Mr. JP, not me. Our institution of choice invited Mr. JP out to give a seminar, and then invited me out for a "special seminar" the next week. Both seminars were covert interviews. We then had a second visit for the "official interview" - this time joint.

From my side, the interview process was deja vu from three years ago when I was on the market. This time, I knew what to say. At first, people were treating warily as a trailing spouse, but their demeanor changed for the better after I had a chance to "prove myself." During my research presentation for the faculty, I pretty much interviewed myself, saying, "I know you are going to ask me how I'm different from my advisers, where I'm applying for funding, blah, blah, blah." And then I addressed each point. I was relaxed because I could always return to status quo, what did I have to lose?

By the beginning of the second visit, we were negotiating our start-ups. I simply wanted a start-up comparable to what I currently had (which is ridiculously large). I got it. I wanted my tenure clock reset - got it. I wanted lots of student and post-doc support - got it. I got all of it and more. My lab space doubled. My student office space doubled. I have a matching funds program. I am starting my career all over again, but there is no reason I shouldn't succeed at this new place.

Not once did I mention my RA. I don't think it relevant to the hiring process. When I arrive, I'll talk with the chair and explain that I need more flexibility for when I am unexpectedly sick. All I need is TA support to help with classes, ergonomic tools, less service work, and whatever else equates with the situation. I will also go to the office of disability at the new place to get myself documented. I'm excited about going to this new university, because I have a greater chance to socially make an impact. There are far more students at the new place, so I have a greater opportunity to mentor aspiring impared and women scientists.

My PhD and post-doc advisers were key in making this work. They knew the situation before we started interviewing, and they were prepared to write letters all over again. They guided me in how to navigate the process the second time around, and their advice was sound. I owe them some flowers. Or a cheese log.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Are they coming with you?

Far and away, the biggest headache of moving a lab is the prospect of moving every lab member - or at least finding homes for those who wish to stay behind. I want each student to land on their feet whether they come with me or not.

My post-docs look as if they are coming, which pleases me greatly. They will be invaluable in setting up the new lab. My graduate students have been much more reluctant. I am leaving a prestigious university (that is lowly ranked in my discipline) for a less prestigious university (that is much more highly ranked in my discipline). My graduate students value the name of the prestigious university and want to receive degrees from there, and I respect that. But for my first year student, I just couldn't make it work out. She will be switching advisers, and she is perfectly fine with that. I have no doubt she will excel in another group. My second year graduate student wants to move with us, but earn a degree from prestigious university. We can make it work, but OMG, what a friggin headache. I spend about 50% of my day on the phone with Deans, writing emails to admins, coordinating between the two universities - all because my student wants his degree from PU. One faculty member asked me if the student was worth all of the effort. So is he? But I have a grant he is working on, and the project would die without him. So yeah, he is worth it. We don't always see eye to eye, sometimes I'm frustrated with him, but I need him. And he needs me. We'll make it work out, but man o man, I can see why there are deans for seemingly useless offices. For crap like this, the Dean makes a call, and then it magically works.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Star Trek Says:

"Help, I need a biomolecular physiologist! This man is dying!"

From the "Samaritan Snare" Episode, Season 2

An Open Letter: Two-Body Problem is Solved!

Dear Higher Ups at My Current Institution:

When I first joined the faculty at XXX University, I had not yet developed rheumatoid arthritis. At the time, Mr.JP was teaching 2hrs away and our two-body problem seemed manageable even with the prospect of having a baby. My commute was 45 min – 1 hr one way, or 90 min to 2 hrs roundtrip. After I had the baby, and developed rheumatoid arthritis, my life became barely manageable. Balancing work and family was constantly at odds with overwhelming pain. More and more, it became apparent that Mr.JP and I needed to resolve our two-body problem. My current state is pretty good, but the reality is that I could relapse at any time – and a relapse is 100% guaranteed if I have more children. For this reason, we needed to make a family decision which would benefit all of us. Mr. JP has always been upset at his university, and it has approached the time where he can stay there no longer. I was unwilling to go to his university to solve our two-body problem. Mr.JP was unwilling to come to here because of the recent plans to eliminate the dept (which were eventually scrapped). For this reason our family decision is to move to ZZZ University.

It is with great sadness that I must leave, but in the case of health and family, I must be near my parents, cousins, and friends for a strong support network. We now have the opportunity to live close to my numerous relatives. I love XXX University, I love the environment, I love working with my colleagues. The students are the best. Mr.JP has outgrown his university, and his career cannot expand unless he moves.

My start date is this summer. My plan is to continue with activities at XXX University up until the last possible date. My post-docs will move with me, and my students are going to move with me as well. Much of my group is funded off of set-up funds provided by the Provost here, and I kindly ask that these funds continue until the move for continuity and support of my students and post-docs. I have no hard feelings towards the department or school, and I can only speak highly of every single member of the college. I understand this decision may generate confusion, disappointment, or even anger. I remind you that this decision is made in support of my husband, my health, and my family – which ultimately supports my long-term happiness.



Thursday, March 25, 2010

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Hoarding Bug

My parents are bonafide hoarders. Not in a nasty, dirty-dishes, trash way, but in a garage sale - antiquing way. It's gotten so bad that I told them that I would not step foot in their house until they cleared out a path. They scoffed, and didn't believe me.

Their house is so full that there are little 1ft wide paths leading from room to room. They have 3 refrigerators full of food that they are hoarding. The house is full of guns, bullets, fishing rods, every year of Southern Living cookbooks (in duplicate), mismatched china sets never used, figurines, porcelain replicas of president's wives, broken antiques, expired medications, expired second-hand canned goods, broken jewelry, ugly paintings, empty frames - everything. I once caught Sparky shaking a can of bullets that were left out. I once saw a snake sliver into a pile of junk in the "formal" living room. Allergists beware - this house will kill you with dust.

The hoarding situation is humorous and awful at the same time. I laugh when I tell stories about my parents' nesting quirks. But I'm sad because I will likely never step foot into my childhood home again. Growing up, the house was clean and functioning. But when I left for college, the antique bug hit them, and the hoarding began. My sister and I have tried every approach. I'm left with giving up. They can visit me all they want. Or we'll visit, stay in a hotel, and they can visit the hotel. I just can't let me son play with bullets unattended.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Assess Your Galley Proof

I was going through my galley proof and found an error. I had intended to write "assess", but the word "asses" was there in its place. Yes my research is full of asses.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Post Travel Syndrome

I am reminded of why I don't travel as much as my colleagues. After a day's worth of flying, my fingers and wrists are in pain and I'm out of commission for about 24 hrs. I wish that I could attend more conferences, but I think one per semester, or three per year may be my upper limit. Hmmph.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Happy Conference!

This conference is so fun. I know enough people that I can socialize and network to have a great time. I've seen a few potential tenure letter writers (PTLW) and I've been able to pick their brains. They are all supportive. One PTLW told me that they had reviewed a grant of mine and though that it was great!! I hope it gets awarded.

My talk is on a day and time that no one will be attending, so the pressure is mostly off. Its fun fun fun. Weeee.

I remember being graduate student at these conferences, and feeling lonely because I didn't know so many people. It's all different now.

Monday, March 15, 2010

You're a Professor If You...

arrive at the conference without your big talk even started, and you're not worried about it all.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

We survived...now what?

Our department is officially saved! I am so happy for my colleagues and for the many undergraduates and graduates that chose our discipline. It just didn't make sense to close us down. As my colleagues uncork the champagne, I feel some skepticism about our apparent victory.

We fought hard for existence, and it wasn't pretty. Dirty laundry was aired, conspiracy theories were conceived, normally calm and reserved senior faculty let loose. I learned more about university politics than I ever cared to know.

After my disastrous meeting with the Dean, I talked with senior faculty from my department about the meeting. They cheered me on, telling me that I did the best I could. They connected me with an assistant provost in charge of faculty development. There, I found open ears to listen to my concerns about the plans, and I was able to express myself calmly and professionally. I did not mention my run-in with the Dean to the assistant provost because my main concern was saving my department - not pointing a finger.

This ordeal threatened my job security. Even though it has passed, I am still concerned for the long term stability of my department. This also brings a harsh reality to light. Long-term, my husband and I need to work in the same town or university to make things work. We don't have this right now, and it is very difficult to manage. With this drama at my university, it is clear as day that my Mr.JP will never join me here. But short term, I am happy to survive. My colleagues deserve a 'real' department, and we fought hard for it.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Schrodinger's Cat

My husband says that my department is like Schodinger's cat. The state is uncertain - one day my department is "saved", another day it is not. I've given up on trying to stay up to date on our status since it changes so much. Today, our department is "saved." The final decision will be made this month. I hide in my office trying to work, and ignore it all.

I've had the opportunity to calm down and evaluate the situation. Uprooting a junior faculty from one department to another raises a host of problems.

1. Who will be my chair?
2. Will my colleagues value my contributions to the department or school?
3. What am I teaching? I would be in a department where I would be unable to teach anything but electives.
4. Who sits on my tenure committee? Is my departmental tenure committee comprised of people from discipline A even though I am a B?
5. What happens to graduate admissions? I don't want A's in my lab - I need B's. B's won't apply if the department is eliminated.
6. Would I miss out on junior faculty awards because I am an "unwelcome" department member?
7. Who's going to advocate for me? Mentor me?

Since it looks like our department is "saved", then I won't have to learn the answers to these questions. Still, this process has left a bad taste in my mouth. Even if we succeed, I think we could easily be on the chopping block in the near future.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Crying in the Dean's Office

Because I just can't help myself from posting this...

The Dean requested to meet with me individually to discuss the proposed plan to eliminate my department. It did not go well for me, and I did not handle it well either.

The Dean was trying to show me the advantages of moving me over to some other department (where there are no women and they hate my discipline). I started crying. The Dean kept on talking. I finally said that I had to go because I was too emotional and not ready to have that discussion yet. I said that we could pick it up some other time (between sniffles). The Dean said something snarky. I left crying. I hate that I can't control my emotions when it is most important. I feel as if I have failed all women in science.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

My Job Is Disracting Me From My Work

The drama at my University eats up most days, where we shuffle between other faculty members' offices whispering. Plans have been proposed, knocked down, reconfigured. None seem to be viable.

I am dreading work tomorrow because I have a million real things to do: manuscript submission (2), homework solutions (2), lecture notes (2), test grading (8 left). I would like to just stay at home and work, but my students need me to be around more often than never.

I need to take a break from writing - perhaps a month. By then, I will know where to hang my hat.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Cherry on Top

As if to make this week any worse, my doppleganger is potentially conducting research that I am also doing - so I've recently discovered. The similarities are too much. We are both working on this one very specific system, so it cannot be overlooked. Fortunately, only two people in the nation or world are experts on this system, and one of the experts is myself.

When I approached my doppleganger, I first tried to be friendly and extend advice. I wrote that we should meet as a group to discuss the system because his student was asking around my lab and needed advice. The response from the doppleganger was simply that he would instruct his students not to speak with mine. There is a longer email thread, but he essentially comes out looking like a jerk.

What to do? I approached my official mentor, and then my chair. The emails were forwarded. I noted that another faculty member from Other University had warned me about the doppleganger in 2008. I noted that the doppleganger was present at my closed-door research proposal session when I interviewed at Other University, so he had full access to my research plan. My chair and mentor are going to meet to talk about it, and we'll see about this outcome. Its just a cherry on top of an already frustrating workplace.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Mature Response

I am seeking advice from all yall. Put yourself in my shoes: you are a junior faculty in your second year, and you find that your department is potentially being eliminated. You are already teaming up with senior faculty to draft a group response and alternative plan. But individually you have your own opinions. You want to express them in a mature and professional way that doesn't damage your career. Do you:

1. Write a letter to junior faculty to be read at the Dean+junior faculty meeting (to which you are unable to attend)? The letter would outline why you think it is a bad idea from the junior faculty point of view.

2. Write a letter to send to the Dean? The Dean has a reputation for being close minded, and a letter may have little impact.

3. Do you keep your mouth shut, and work behind the scenes with the senior faculty?

4. Do you jump ship?

5. Any other ideas?

Friday, February 12, 2010

Faculty Meetings

I now have faculty meetings every day to discuss our fate. When is there time to work??

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Identity Crisis

I deleted the last post. So here it is again with more description.

I found out this week that my department is in danger of being deleted. I belong to a department that you find at most regular universities, so it is hard to wrap my head around why we are being eliminated. I don't know how to respond or react. I feel like my career is in jeopardy.

There are still ongoing discussions, but I have a sick feeling that this is a done deal.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Vixen's Empire Greeting Cards

My friend has a new R-rated greeting card business called Vixen's Empire ! Put America to work and order some cards!!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Special Kids

I was in the "gifted and talented" program in my elementary school. I liked it for the most part. We played games, built stuff with toothpicks, did logic puzzles - all in the safety of a trailer outside the school. This trailer was like a mobile home cast aside from our large, concrete elementary school. Teachers kindly called this FEMA-shack "the portable." As if this class room could take off and go at anytime like my portable phone. Our "gifted and talented" trailer was shared with the special needs kids, which made for an odd combination of folks under one roof. For a while, I thought that us G and T kids were also special needs kids, and that people were just being nice when they said that we were Gifted. As an outsider, I don't know if anyone could pick out which class was special or gifted. We were all coloring and doing weird things - no one was sitting in their desks. And why did we all get banished from the "real" school to a "portable" school? Maybe it was so that the regular kids had one more thing to throw at us for insult?

I'm now thinking about schools again because Sparky is pretty smart and it has crossed my mind that he might benefit from some expensive, private G and T school. But the benefits aren't clear to me. I was educated in a trailer, so should he!

Monday, February 1, 2010

How We Lost Your GRE Scores

Or better known as how graduate admissions committees work.

I am serving on the Graduate Admissions committee this year in hopes of recruiting some fresh blood to my lab. I have found that the Admissions committee works very fluidly without real mathematical statistics for selecting candidates, as I previously thought. Instead, we have big stacks of paper copies of applications. We sift through them one by one and mark which ones we like. In the shuffle, papers get lost, files become de-alphabetized, and people's transcripts become mixed up. Its best to be the first one to attack the files. If you're the last, you're looking at a big disorganized mess. After about a week of sifting through the applications, we email our list of top picks around and see which candidates' names keep popping up. From there, we rank the 'popular' students and submit them for acceptance.

What makes me put a student on my top list? Grades, GRE scores, undergraduate school, recommendation letters from other people I know, publications... I hardly ever read their personal statement because they are all SO bad. 90% start with some stupid inspirational quote, and this is honestly not the time for me to be inspired. I get a little mad when people write generally about why they want to go to my school. They should be listing specific areas that we are good at, or specific faculty that make them interested. The last thing I want to read is "I like [insert name of wrong university] because it has top professors." Maybe I should forward your app to [wrong university] since you obviously wasted your admission fee on us?

Thursday, January 7, 2010

...And Changes at Home

Lastly, I describe changes at home since the RA. Having a baby can change the dynamic of a family, and coupling a baby with a raging flare of RA is even more complicated. I was unable to take care of myself or the baby so my husband took care of both of us. I never imagined that we would be testing our wedding vows like that so soon.

My husband also did all of the chores and cooking, while I spent what little energy I had on building up my lab, writing proposals, and working on lecture notes. I was trying to hang on to my job while my husband hung on to our family. I felt selfish and guilty for focusing so much attention on myself while he worked so hard. When I tried to help, I would feel worse, and he would remind me to rest.

I was aided by reading reputable websites (like Arthritis Foundation) for inspirational stories. The biggest help was reading a story where an older man with RA described how he helped around the house. He grocery shopped, but couldn't lift the sacks of groceries from his car to the house. His wife would take it from there. I realized that I could deal with the guilt by helping around the house in little ways. As my medication began to work, I helped more and more.

Now, we are a 'normal' family, where we share in most chores. I do easy stuff, and Mr. JP does the more rigorous things. We are destined to gender-defined roles this way! He does yardwork, home repairs, but also cleans bathrooms. I cook, grocery shop. We both clean and take care of Sparky. It's pretty nice now.

One that helped was practicing Mindfulness (see the book Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn). Meditation helped manage my stress load and pain. I also changed my diet. Allergy tests showed I had strong allergies to dairy and eggs, so I avoid them. I read conflicting data about the allergy-RA-inflammation thing, but I can say that I certainly feel better when I'm avoiding dairy and eggs.

So these last three posts were intended to show that someone with RA can 'have it all.' We can work, we can be mothers, we can be wives - we just do it a little differently.