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.