Friday, December 25, 2015

Update: Christmas edition

It's been a while since my last post. Life has been crazy busy. Things are going mostly well though. Learning more about start-up culture, and it is definitely a culture, almost a cult. I like the general high level of energy and excitement of people starting and working for start-ups. Mine is having its ups and downs, but continuing to build moment. A word of advice though to faculty out there: you have to keep a discerning eye regarding what should be commercialized. I've encountered a few loud-mouth professors that think every project they have is a start-up that is ready to go. This is definitely not the case, people! One was sharing how the industrial mentor he was working with was an idiot. According to this professor, the industrial mentor, who had started several successful companies, was the one that didn't know the market or the value of the technology versus the professor who has never held a job in industry. Hilarious!
In other news, my tenure package is moving along smoothly so far. 2015 was productive on the student and publishing side, but not so much on the funding side. I'm looking forward to 2016 and balancing my priorities some more. I've been handed my first real college and university level service commitments. I'm learning to hate administrators and figuring out how to undermine their ridiculous initiatives.
Finals week was insane, but now my grades are in, and I'm drinking away those memories while small children scream and run around me as I visit family. I have a nagging feeling of how I should be doing work, but the start of the spring semester is still a few weeks away and I need to purge before I dive back in.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

We need revolution in the sensor community

A pet peeve of mine is engineers in academia developing technology that has zero practical application. I'm fine when scientists do it and I encourage them to keep doing it, but engineers need to stop. This is particularly a problem among people that develop sensors. THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NO NEED TO MAKE MORE SENSIVITE SENSORS THAT HAVE NO SELECTIVITY. After tenure I'm going to start writing perspective articles trashing all of the sensor papers that only measure control samples under ideal conditions. Electrical engineers are the worst offenders. They get their crap published in Science because their technology is filled with buzzwords like graphene, plasmonics, and single-molecule. This type of research is getting more and more expensive and yet provides no return on investment. I have several EE colleagues that are well-funded through the NSF and especially through the DoD to make this crap and then they go around campus asking faculty in other departments if they might have a use for this technology. NO, THERE IS NO PRACTICAL USE FOR YOUR SENSOR THAT MEASURES A 0.0000001% CHANGE OF A PHYSICAL PROPERTY. Sure it can measure the wind generated by a fart three blocks away, but it will only work in outer space. Studying the mating habits of calling ducks is 100000X more practical than what you folks are doing.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

2 months later

For those two or three of you that follow my blog, you might have noticed that I tend to blog less when things are going well. Well this isn't the case necessarily this time, I've really just been busy.

I tell people that I've been working on my tenure package, but in reality, that accounts for only 4-5 days. It wasn't a hard task because I've been updating my dossier regularly during the last 5 years. Most of my time went into formatting and complaining about how much crap my university requires in the package. I have over 700 pages in the appendices documenting all the stuff I've done. My colleagues say I'm in good shape and shouldn't worry about tenure. I'm not worried, I've done everything that's expected of a TT professor, although I do feel some inferiority compared to some folks in other departments and schools that raised more money than me, published in more prestigious journals, won more honors and awards. I would say my package is average, not outstanding by any means, which drives me nuts as a competitive person, but I'm not at a top 20 program, so in my mind you can't really expect me to do much more than I did.

The real time sinks were moving into a new house and vacation travel (not really a vacation since I was mostly visiting family that I haven't seen for a long time). It's hard to get anything done while doing things like that. That's normal and part of life, but as a professor I feel this guilt for having a life. I really need to get over that, it's not like I was even getting paid during those 2 months.

Now the semester is back in full swing and all the stuff I've been putting off for the last few months feels like an overwhelming insurmountable task. Everything is due or overdue, which freezes me up like a deer in headlights. I really need to just start churning through things again and it will all be fine. I've always had this problem though, and that is why I'm writing this post instead of working :P

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Translational Research

I haven't talked about it here too much before, but I'm actively working on commercializing some of the technology my lab has developed over the last few years. I've had a hard time getting subsequent funding for some of the projects in my lab after obtaining initial internal and external grants for them. We got a few papers out that the proposed ideas do work, and then I've applied for new grants that build on the things we developed. I had this idea that this is how science works, but the proposals keep getting rejected. Yet people in industry and medicine keep telling me how this is important and they would actually use it. I have IP filed through the university on a lot of these things, and tech transfer has me meet with companies and investors, but they keep saying that it still needs more work to be proven to the point where they would jump in and they want me or one of my students to be involved when they do license it. So after several such interactions, I've decided to just make the jump myself.
Where before I've been struggling to get academic collaborators to try things out and them waiting until a grant gets funded before anything gets done, now I have actual product users testing out our technology because they will actually use it long term if it really works. I've applied for several small business grants over the last few months. I should hear the results fairly soon. The panels for SBIR/STTR reviews include business people, not just academics, so I'm hopeful that the importance of product development and validation isn't lost on them the way it is on many of my colleagues. For example, one of the comments I get in paper and proposal reviews all the time is that making nanochannels is easy and that I'm spending too much time on the device and not enough on the science. And if your only source of information is NanoLetters, then you think that making nanostructures is the easiest thing to do in the world. This one journal alone publishes hundreds of papers on this topic. Yet not one single company makes these structures commercially. Nanoparticles yes, channels no. So obviously there is something challenging about it that needs additional research and development. Anyway, we'll see how my latest move plays out. I'll keep the blog world posted.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Academic Exploitation

I love this comment from NeuroDojo. It sums up my feelings completely, even as I approach the final battle at the gates of tenure.

"There is a myth that being a scientist isn’t a job or a career, but a calling or vocation. The corollary is that people who want to do science must be willing to put with anything. That, my friends, is bull.

As I mentioned on Twitter, it isn’t reasonable to ask people to put up with an indefinite among of crap for an indefinite amount of time to join a profession. People do not have infinite patience, and they shouldn’t be expected to have infinite patience.

Make no mistake: people, particularly young people, will walk away from scientific careers..."

Monday, June 8, 2015

Finding the right fit

I think I might finally be discovering what I like to do. It only took 30+ years. I'm really enjoying my adventure of building a new venture. I'm consistently excited by the work and it moves at a faster pace than academia. It also doesn't have all of the administrative crap. Honestly, I feel like this is what engineering in academia should be, but isn't because truly useful ideas are very rare.

Most of my ideas are mediocre, but I admit it. I have lots of decent ideas for experiments that will advance our knowledge or understanding of a problem, but they won't solve anything. So far, I think I've had 2-3 ideas in my life that I think really have any sort of even minimal chance at changing the world. Insight for it's own sake is awesome, but it is science, not engineering. Most engineers in academia refuse to admit that. We have to keep busy while we struggle to come up with the next great idea, and advancing science is great, but just admit that that is what you are doing. Putting a bow on a turd doesn't make it any better, but professors are great at pontificating broader impacts without any facts to back up their claims. Sure the broader impacts statements are based on sound logic, but they are always, at best, substantiated by other journal papers that are equally based on a very limit world view. The entrepreneurs and successful business people I've been around the last few weeks have no qualms about calling folks out on their bullshit. I love that. Many profs don't, and a few even refuse to accept facts when confronted by people that work in their fields in industry. It was amusing and sad to see them try to argue, it was almost as bad as the anti-vaxers.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

A need to gloat

I like the English language. There are so many words with nuanced meanings. My word for today is gloat. I need to do some gloating to make myself feel better. I don't feel like I have anyone I can really gloat to (partly because I was raised with the notion that it's inconsiderate brag about one's successes, stupid catholics and their humbleness) so I'll do it here on the interwebz. The problem with being meek and humble in the professors line of work is that there is then very little to talk about besides complaining, and I don't like constantly being Mr. Negativity. I had a couple proposals rejected this week as everyone can commiserate with, but I also have a lot of successes in the pipeline. With the end of the semester approaching, there is a lot of time that I'm spending informally with my work colleagues at various graduation events, appreciation lunches, etc., and I don't really know what to talk about with them. They're not my friends, and they can't relate to anything in my life. None of them watch South Park or Family Guy, or go to see the Avengers movies, or follow any professional sports. They just have their work and their families. I don't really have much to say about their work, since they work on different things from me and I think some of them are wasting their time on stupid research (they probably think the same about my stuff) and I've never met most of their families. We don't really have many things organized that include families and the few times we tried almost everyone backed out at the last minute (going back on your word/promise/commitment: a whole separate pet peeve of mine).

So that leaves complaining and gloating. We don't have any clear-cut superstar in my department that does every aspect of their job well. I certainly don't either, but I wish we had that person that I could aspire to and gloat to because I know their doing great professionally and won't mind my sharing. Most of my colleagues are hurting on the research funding side even more than me. They also don't publish very much. I think we have 1 person currently that publishes more than me. I have 3 papers currently under review at decent journals, I'm revising 1 for resubmission, and I'm formatting one to submit that we've collected all the data for already. My students have another 3-4 in various stages of the pipeline where they are collecting the data. None of these will go to glamour journals, but it's all decent mid-society level work and I usually get them through without rejections these days. One might argue that I could be trying for higher level journals based on this fact, but I don't like dealing with the time delays and formatting hoops going down the journal ladder. Plus I'm going up for tenure and need to pad the old CV with "accepted" papers. I have a pet side research project that is going pretty well and I'm generally happy with my students. Maybe this isn't really gloating, but it feels like it in my mind, especially given that most of my colleagues can't make these statements.

So that is me right now. Also, what should I talk about with folks? Should I just stand around awkwardly, as is typical of nerdy academics? I think I offended some folks yesterday by complaining that I can't do things anymore with my friends that now have little kids. I guess I can share stories about how cute my pets are, but I think that makes me look weird as well.