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.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Paying for Journal Covers

I've been approached by a journal I publish some of my work in, fairly well respected in the field, large publisher, to submit artwork for the cover. They say that I was selected because of the quality of the research. This makes feel very good and appreciated. Then in small print near the bottom of the email is says that if my artwork is selected, I will have to pay over $1000. How common is this? Is this something that is determined by the publisher or by the individual journal? I've only had request for a cover once before, I got the cover that time and that publisher did not ask for any money.

If this is common, then there is a huge bias for large well funded labs to get even more recognition and highlight how awesome they are based on the fact that they or their department/university have money. I don't have $1000 to pay for open access publication, yet alone for cover art. I asked my chair and the college and they don't have money for this.

It's not Science or Nature, no one gets paper copies of middle of the road journals. So I would be paying $1000 to be listed on the front page of their website for about 2 weeks, and then be able to flaunt my cover art on my group's webpage, suggesting my work is awesome, but really it's that I had money to pay to get the cover. Question 2, is this a worthwhile investment of funds for someone going up for tenure soon?

Thursday, April 9, 2015

April Rollercoaster

We're (my colleagues) noticing a change in our incoming graduate students. They feel more entitled. I'm a huge advocate for improving working conditions for graduate students and postdocs, but there also needs to be a balance, because after all, at least in engineering, this is a major career advancement opportunity for them and they get out of it what they put in. These folks just work less and complain. We've even had students complain to the dean that too much is being expected of them. I'm talking 60 hour weeks, in my mind this is not unreasonable. Has anyone else experienced this with their new graduate students?

Beyond that, things are again getting better in my little world. I've had a particularly productive few weeks.

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.