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.