Thursday, March 19, 2015

March Madness

March has been filled with annoyances and disappointments.

We've recently added a senior person to our department who I respect as a scientist, but can't stand their approach to serving the department. This person came from a very different institution and doesn't have a degree in engineering. They took on several service assignments in exchange for less teaching, which annoyed me off the bat. They assign all of their work to other people (junior faculty or create subcommittees) or do such a bad job that other people take over and do things for them. They don't understand what makes our degree and department unique and constantly question why things aren't done differently instead of asking why things are done the way they are.

The people that have funding buy out so they teach less and then the people that don't have money end up teaching more and have less time to apply for grants. Seams a bit backwards.

I'm a perfectionist, like most academics, so when I had my merit review this year and saw that my scores have gone down even though my output (publications and funding brought in) more than tripled over last year, I got mad to the point of disgruntled. It's affecting my work now. I had a new very small grant funded and a few new papers accepted, and I could care less. The meaningless congratulatory emails of my colleagues don't bring me any joy anymore since I know it barely moves the merit needle and just clutters up my inbox.

I'm really questioning whether my success is limited by my ability or by the environment that I'm in. I've been visiting a lot of other schools lately, and while everyone is strapped, I've yet to meet any other junior faculty with multiple funded grants that were worried they might have to downsize their lab. Yes, there are mid- and lower-tier schools where they teach more than I do, have smaller groups, and lower quality trainees, but their universities aren't putting all of their effort into improving rankings to the point where they hurt the quality of the education. The people I meet on my visits, in general, want to talk about science and get excited about new research ideas. I'm just thinking about new funding opportunities and wondering if the new ideas are fundable.

Friday, February 13, 2015

NIH Help

Fuck a duck, my R01 submission, which was meticulously developed and written, was triaged. It's probably still a few weeks until I get the summary statement. I wasn't expecting to get funded, but I thought it would at least be discussed, particularly given my NI/ESI status. I'm really curious to see what exactly the reviewers didn't agree with.

This leads me to a new dilemma. I really didn't want my proposal reviewed by this particular panel, but a dude from CSR convinced me this was the best move. So now I want to resubmit this proposal and force it into the panel I want. Can I still do this with the NI special resubmission window? Due 4/10. The other panel might be biased by the "not discussed" now though, so maybe it would be better to wait until the next standard window and apply it as a new grant. Thoughts?

I have a completely different project that I'll be submitting for the June window. We'll see how that one fairs.

Also, how many folks out there prescreen their ideas with program managers at the various institutes before submitting grants on the topic? I've heard from a few people that this is done, but I've never met anyone who has actually done this.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Snow days and complaints

Nothing highlights my childish nature more than my complaints about working on snow days. It's totally not fair. I've spent more time working this last week than during holiday breaks. The worst part is that I'm still ridiculously behind. Mostly because I've been stuck writing letters of recommendation for myself. I can churn out letters for students at this point, but 2-3 page letters describing how awesome I am drive me nuts. Of course this is all because other faculty also hate writing LORs and pawn it off by saying I know best what to include. Which of course is also a lie. I haven't won any awards yet, so how am I supposed to know if I'm highlighting the right things? I have to write 4 of them for this stupid award. It's like pulling teeth. I'm really tempted to just start going completely over the top and saying things like "he is god's gift to chemistry" and "I'll be shocked if he doesn't get a Nobel Prize for this work."

In other complaints, the number of requests I'm getting to submit manuscripts to trash journals and to present at sham conferences is starting to get out of control. This is the new spam of academia, and it's so much worse than penis pills because occasionally I get a real invite, so I have to at least open all of this crap and glance at it. At this point I'm deleting immediately any email that starts by addressing me by my full name. These are obviously cut and paste jobs from one of my papers. I've even gotten some that are addressed to my students, because they are the first author, but I'm the corresponding author. These must be just programs sending out automatic emails. The journal names are even starting to sound downright stupid. I got an invite from the journal of microscopic organisms the other day. Today, the world-renowned Ecronicon publishing company wants me to send them a paper in the next 2 weeks. I'm afraid to even click on the link since it'll probably install a virus on my computer.

Is there any money to be made in these things? I understand the usefulness of penis pills, but paying someone hundreds or even thousands of dollars to publish a paper in an unrecognizable journal or to travel to a conference that no one has ever heard of? Beyond the absurdity, who actually has money to do this?


Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Depressive side of depression

So I got 2 proposals rejected this week. I handled the first one fine, but 2 back to back like this in a week have sucked the life out of me. I couldn't get out of bed this morning, what's the point, etc. I wish I had gotten these responses months ago, I don't understand why they had to sit on this information for so long, neither was close to being funded. What really has me spiraling out of control is that the reviews really tore into the fundamentals of my research, calling it irrelevant and redundant. So apparently the majority of what my lab does is supposedly pointless and unnecessary.

It's hard to reconcile those assertions against my groups fairly good publication record and the invitations I've been getting to talk at reputable conferences in my field. I'm not sure what to think, but these reviews coming in as my cash reserves are dwindling really have cast doubt on my abilities. All of sudden, I don't know what to do next. What am I supposed to propose? These reviewers attacked the approaches I'm using to do research and questioned the big picture goal of two of the three thrusts in my lab. There's no revising and resubmitting proposals that get reviews like this. Should I shut down those projects that have been going since I started the lab and have made progress?  I think I'll have to if I can't get them funded again soon. If I propose a different technique they'll tell me I don't have expertise. AAahh! This all sucks.

Well, back to editing papers filled with interesting data and mustering enthusiasm to write a young investigator proposal that requires me to describe how awesome I am.

Monday, January 5, 2015


Happy New Year! I'm putting in my tenure package this year and I'm anxious to just get this over. I'm actually starting to get a bit bored with my job. I've sort've hit steady state and now I'm settling into a routine. Think, write, submit, repeat, edit, teach, serve, repeat. Maybe I need to move or change fields.

I'd love to get another grant funded before I go up, but that really isn't in my control and with the ridiculously long turnaround times, I only have a few more months of trying for that anyway. I'm still waiting to hear back about proposals from the summer. Most of my colleagues have heard back, but I haven't yet. This makes me nervous, I'm probably on the border for everything. Where's the stimulus package when you need one?

I got wrangled into a hiring committee and have to go through a hundred applications in the next few weeks. Separately, I've gone through a good chunk of them and I've yet to see a single US born applicant. I'm trying to figure out what this says about the US academic system and the attractiveness of TT jobs in engineering.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Semester Ending

My travel for the semester if finally wrapped up and I can start to get caught up on research projects as the fall semester comes to a close. 2014 has been quite a good year. My group published a record number of papers, I've given a bunch of talks at seminars and conferences around the world without anyone saying that my research sucks or pointing out that the work has been done before. I graduated my first PhD student, started a company, and got some new funding. So all in all, shit is going well.

Now I just have to keep doing all this stuff and then some as I become more senior and expectations continue to rise. I don't know if it's the New England winter, but I definitely don't feel as happy and energized as I did a few months ago. One thing weighing me down is a lack of funding. Experimental research and students are expensive. One grant a year doesn't cut it for a decent sized research group.

I'm still waiting to hear back about my NSF CAREER proposal from July. Several of my friends have received their rejection letters, but mine is still pending. My hope grows with each day, but I also remember that in the previous two years I was rejected in February. My proposals usually score well and the NSF kicks out the bottom and funds the top first. So each passing day also probably means I have yet another decent, but not quite fundable proposal. My other annoyance is that my R01 was not placed into the study section that I requested. The CSR convinced me this was for the best, but now I think I should have gone with my gut and stuck with my guns and told them to put me where I asked. I know some of the members of this new panel, but I highly doubt that they know me, whereas just about everyone on the panel I requested knows my work. I'm really curious to see how this plays out, but the panel doesn't meet for a few more months. Tying in with my lower energy, I've had several stories I wanted to post about, but I've been too tired and now I've forgotten most of them. Hopefully a few weeks off from class and meetings will recharge my energy level.

Monday, November 10, 2014


OMG, Doritos flavored Mountain Dew! Just what I need in the midst of my tenure tour and major conference season. That is all.