Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Matching Faculty and Graduate Students

As a graduate student, the whole process of student-faculty matching was such an enigma. I had visions of faculty in a dark room staring at student pictures, arguing over who got who, blatantly ignoring the student's preferences.

In reality, nothing could be further from that vision. And contrary to what I thought, the process is different every year. The only constant is that the process is a cluster-f***. Here is how it generally works:

1. Students meet with faculty.

2. Students indicate their top choices.

3. The graduate coordinator goes to the faculty member and says, "Hey, student X put you down as #1. Do you want them?"

4. The faculty member says yes or no.

5. Discarded students (and discarded faculty) then go through another round of matching. Believe it or not, there are some faculty (discarded faculty) that no students indicate a preference for. This can be because the faculty member has a bad reputation, has a boring project, or is super-new. Discarded students are those that didn't get their first choice and things just didn't work out. It often does not reflect badly on the student - it is just a matter of bad luck. Sometimes it isn't, where the student clearly isn't going to pass quals, so the faculty don't want them. But students, I assure you that most of the time it is just bad bad luck.

6. And then the politics. And that's where the sh**-storm commences. Super-senior-famous faculty might try to pluck a student from a previously happy faculty student-match. (This is happening to me now). Or your department head might demand that you take student X because no one else wanted them. Or we have students that demand to pursue topic X, even though no one doing topic X has funding that year. Else, we have faculty that decide to take students from other depts, which disrupts the balance of openings to students internally. When people start meddling - and they do every year - it gets crazy.

So that's why it takes so long for the faculty-student matching process. And that is why it is different and bizarre every year. Most of the time, I am the #1 choice for the students I get. Other times, I am the #2 choice. I just want the best people and I usually get them. Most of the time it all works out. But damn it's a mess.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

My Successful Proposal

I've been lucky with funding. So I've been thinking - what so special about those proposals that got funded vs. those that got rejected? It's been over 5 years, and I've written a lot of proposals. A LOT. The general thing that I see about all these proposals is that they each were slightly out of comfort zone and that I was super excited about the topic.

When I say out of my comfort zone, I mean that I was proposing a project that was slightly out of my current skill set. I knew I could do it, I just hadn't done it before. As I was writing, I was required to teach myself about some new field or new measurement technique. And through that, it made me excited about the topic. I'd be bored if I was researching the same old bread-n-butter crap. I want to learn new stuff. Even if someone else has already studied it, maybe I could to it better or with a different technique to learn something new. As I was writing, I felt a combination of scientific curiosity and imposter syndrome. Not that imposter syndrome is a bad thing. Maybe, if anything, it was a good thing. I felt so insecure, that I thoroughly researched the project and tried to cover every hole. And maybe I did, because some people gave me some money.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Just Checking In… I'm Not Dead

It's been a while! I've been meaning to post, but everything I want to write about is so private that those who actually know me and this blog might get to know me a bit too well! Or, they might get to know my colleagues' misbehaviors too well.

Since July, not much has happened. I've published some papers, given some talks, graduated my first Ph.D ... The usual. I've been greatly enjoying my lab and my teaching. I feel like I finally have a free pass to be myself, dress how I want, say what I want, and just be true. That didn't please our dean too much at a recent meeting, where I was later told that she was upset about my tone of voice, but again, eh.

My sister, Dr. Mom, is still cancer-free, which is fantastic!

Soon I'll be applying for tenure, and it shouldn't be too bad, considering my track record up to-date. I have been given, however, really odd and mixed messages about where the bar is for getting tenure. I don't worry over it because there is no point. Here are examples of the weird things I have been told about getting tenure at my university (some may be true, but I still find it strange):

(1) You must have 11 published papers in which you are corresponding author. 11? That is a really weird number that you must have surely pulled out of your ass. Why not 10? or 12? Hell, let's just make it lucky 13!

(2) Your work at your 1st institution will not count at all towards your tenure here. Really? Really? Because that would mean that my Ph.D. student that I just graduated from my 1st institution doesn't count? Other department heads that I have talked to and that have agreed to write me letters, say that that doesn't make sense and that they would count it in their own considerations.

(3) A paper that is "submitted" doesn't count. Huh, interesting, but I can see the logic in that.

(4) Any tenure letter writers that I recommend outside my department's discipline, say "sheep shearing" will not be asked. This is really tough because my work is really interdisciplinary and I specialize in "sheep shearing", "sheep making", and "sheep butchering". Most of my best contacts are outside my discipline. Hmmph.

(5) You must have given at least one talk at an international conference. So that's not a problem for me, but where in the guidelines does it say that? What about others who didn't know about this secret guideline and didn't have time to submit to and plan for an international talk?

(6) You must bring in funding greater than or equal to the value of your start-up package. Huh - ok.

(7) You must get at least one unsolicited grant from NSF. Are you f***ing me? NSF is closed! Closed!  No really, not all people get their funding from NSF. Some get their funding from DoD or DOE. Even industry. Should it really matter what the flavor of the money is?

Maybe yall have heard some other crazy things. I must say that many of these are conflicting with colleagues on the other side of the hall say. The whole tenure process is nebulous and gray. Can't wait to dive in.