Friday, December 12, 2008

Last Straw

I have this colleague.

This project that we're working on is cool, which is why I continue to work with him. But really, the parts that I am working on are easily decoupled from the other parts of the project, and I don't need him or his work in order for my project(s) to be viable. He might need me a little bit more than I need him, but he can find another person who provides similar benefits to his project as my work does. Conveniently, the current funding is drawing to a close and our next series of discussions are focused on securing the next phase of funds.

I have decided I am done with this colleague. The last straw for me was very minor, just another example of his strange behavior.

A blurb writer for my college alumni magazine (that is, the alumni magazine for the college whence my appointment comes) contacted me and another colleague from a different project about writing up a little five or six hundred word story about our work, and inquired about the project with Dr. Micromanager and whether or not the two projects have enough overlap that they could be promo'd in the same blurb. The overlap is mostly that both projects contain a significant element on my particular little research area, which is why I'm a co-PI on both projects.

(Although, have I mentioned that I am not technically a co-PI on the project with Dr. M? I helped to write the proposal and have been actively engaged since it was funded, but according to Dr. M there was "not rooom to include" my name in the proposal, which I have a hard time believing - but didn't find out until after the proposal was actually submitted right at the deadline, so what could I do?)

So I said to the writer, there's a good bit of overlap, both have a part that deal with [my research], just with slightly different [nuance].

The writer did up a nice schmoozy little blurb. Both projects have had formal news releases so there was a lot of written material already. Everybody mentioned in the blurb said it was fine - except Dr. M.

Dr. M. felt that combining the two projects in one blurb minimized his project. He told the writer that if they were going to give it such an unsophistocated treatment then they should not mention it at all, but that really they should write a separate blurb about his project.

The writer pointed out to him that was not likely, since space was very limited, and since he is in a different college so the primary connection of his project to the college with the alumni pub in question is . . . not him.

He sent me a message telling me that he did not like the writer's attitude that they were somehow doing us a favor by including mention of this project, and that I needed to avoid people like that.

This is very good advice. I should avoid people who act like they are doing me a big favor by using me or causing me trouble at every possible turn, for instance by having me write sections of a proposal and then not putting my name on it, or by not writing anything for a proposal I am leading and then demanding to be the primary, or by insisting that my student have another project participant as a formal co-advisor, or by sort of disallowing me from discussing my research with a lay audience my field when the opportunity arises.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Things I wish you never need to be prepared for.

It turns out that there are a number of unexpected (well, I did not expect them, anyway) things that an advisor may experience or be called upon to do in the event of the death of a graduate student. I hope you never have cause to learn what they all are for yourself, but I will tell you some.

* You may end up planning a memorial service because many people (yourself included) wanted there to be one but not being family, none of you felt like you had the authority, and under the circumstances, you are the closest thing to authority that there is. You may feel completely inappropriate for the task but you will do your best anyway because you would want somebody to do that if it had been you.

* You may wonder what kind of bizarro memorial service there would have been for you if you had died unexpectedly as a graduate student and your advisor were to plan a service. This may provide a moment of amusement in an otherwise emotionally taxing day.

* You may recieve an automated email from somebody in university records administration requesting that you mark all of the graduate student's files with

* You may have to ask the professors of the students current courses if they would prefer to assign a grade for the semester or to mark the student as having withdrawn. You might hope and then be glad that they agree to assign a grade because even though it makes next to no difference, it seems unnecessary to blemish the student's otherwise completely spotless academic record. You may also wonder why it is even an issue, and why that portion of the transcript is not simply marked DECEASED.

* Your other graduate students may stop by your office together, and you might close your office door and the little group of you may simply have a quiet moment together shedding tears.

* You may be contacted by the student health insurance office requesting a mailing address for the forms involved in the Accidental Death Benefits. You may find it weird that this task landed on your desk but you don't want to complain about it even though you probably rightfully could. You may have to call the graduate student's father to ask about whether or not her body had already flown home and if not, did they also need the forms for the Transport of Remains Benefits because those forms are time-sensitive.

* You may have to run interference for one of your other graduate students when a micromanaging project leader requests that he present his research for scrutiny the next day (since the deceased graduate student would surely want all the good work to continue), but you know the would-be presenter absolutely does not feel like dealing with being picked at right now.

* You may get a phone call from the graduate student's former supervisor from when she worked at a major lab before coming back to grad school, whom you contacted with information of the tragedy because he'd written a glowing letter of recommendation which you had in your file, and you and the other nerdy researcher may trade sniffles and acknowledgements, and you may feel a little bond even though you have never met the other guy in your life.

* You might circulate an announcement about planning the student's memorial service and then be so relieved when within minutes one of the other grad students emails back to volunteer to do an trumpet solo, because you'd had this fear that no one would step forward to have a role in the service and the whole thing would become the Average Professor Emotional Breakdown Hour, which you are certain the former student would neither want nor appreciate. You may feel even better about that when her family emails you her obituary to run in the local paper and you learn that she was also a trumpet player.

Thanksgiving and taking

One of my outstanding, vivacious, kind, and promising graduate students was killed in a car accident on Wednesday as she was traveling to visit friends for the Thanksgiving holiday.

It's hard to wrap my mind around it. One moment she is very much there, with her energy and presence filling a room, and the next moment she is completely and forever absent.

I am deeply saddened by her loss. I'm close to all my grad students, and I also considered her to be a friend. Also, being a graduate student's advisor is a sort of unique relationship and a little bit like being a parent; you invest a lot of time preparing them for a bright future. When that future evaporates in a split second, you feel a loss that is not only personal and professional but also, you feel a void that will exist in society for all the advances that person would have made, but won't. In addition, I know she looked forward to marrying and having children some day, and she would have been an excellent partner and mother.

When I was a child, my younger sister and my younger brother passed away, one suddenly and one after a long illness. My grief for them was for the future that might have been. My grief now is slightly different, because I feel like I'm grieving the future that would have been and now will not.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Schroedinger's Baby

Average Baby started at her new day care two weeks ago, and she seems to love it. As soon as we arrive, she just wants to play and zoom around the room and see what the other kids are doing.

As we reasoned when we were making the decision to move her, the new day care has a number of advantages, but so far the feature we have enjoyed the most is that one of the walls of the room is a one-way mirror so that over lunch, my husband and I can stroll over to the day care and totally spy on the bebe. In the old day care, we had no idea what she did all day, or what sort of temperement she had when we were not around. Obviously at home we don't know what she's like without us, either.

At home, Average Baby is usually very cognizant of our whereabouts, and if it's not sufficiently close to her, she gets irritable.

At day care, she is among the most independent of all the babies & toddlers, and is perfectly happy to amuse herself with this toy or that, or will crawl over to one of the other kids to show them what she is doing, or to take a closer look at what they are doing. When one of the other kids starts to cry, she regards them for a few seconds and then looks around the room for one of the providers to see if there's going to be a resolution.

We could watch this all day long, because it's so fascinating for us to observe her when she doesn't know we're there. I know that last time I said I tend not to think of her as a research project, but . . . maybe I kind of do.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Things to climb on

In the sweet little town where we live and work, day care for infants is at a premium. There are very few providers, and thus not many options for finding one that is just so. It's more a matter of just finding one.

So when we found this nice in-home Day Care Provider with an opening, like, two weeks before I was scheduled to return to the office (despite months of prior searching), we were very happy.

And she is very nice. And she has a grade school aged daughter that Average Baby is totally enamored of; every day when we drop her off she looks all around for the little girl and will be sort of whiny and agitated until the girl makes herself available to be played with a little bit. Overall it's a good scene.

BUT, the DCP finishes her D of P-ing C at 4:30 pm. Ooosh, four-thirty is a real challenge when you're two working folks. Fortunately, my husband's boss let him do year-round "summer hours" of 7:30-4, and my schedule is flexible enough that unless I have to teach until 5 (which last semester I did, 2 days a week) I can leave at 4 also. So, we alternate pick-up and drop-off and on the day one is not picking her up, one can go to the gym or stay late at work. Still, there have been times when it's been an issue.

ALSO, on days when the DCP is unavailable (once she was stuck in a snowstorm out of town, once she had to have a little outpatient surgery, etc.) we are completely without care.

AND, there are times when the DCP herself is evidently unavailable for some reason, and when we go to pick up the bebe we'll find the kiddos under the care of somebody else - one of the DCP's high school or college aged daughters, or her husband. Fortunately they are all trustworthy and good people so this is a problem only in principle and not in practice (or, really, it's not a big enough problem in practice that we would care to speak up about it, considering the scarcity of other care options).

Sooo, several months ago when we were notified that Average Baby's name was drawn in the lottery for infant openings at the lab school on campus (pretty much a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity if we wanted her to go there), we immediately saw the opportunity to eliminate the above-mentioned problems in our day care situation (albeit at twice the cost). Plus, there was the notable advantage of being able to return to our former life of not driving every day, since we live within walking distance of campus and since Average Baby is always up for a nice stroll, weather permitting. It was more of an agonizing decision than I'm making it sound here, because the great advantage in our minds of the in-home DCP is that her place is so very homey. And she kisses Average Baby on the cheek when we drop her off. And that sort of thing.

The lab school, on the other hand, appeals to me from a research standpoint but as I tend not to think of Average Baby as a research project, I sort of prefer the kisses over the lit review provided by the lab school.

But we decided to take the opening, and Baby will start there later this month. Last night we had "parent orientation" and had another look at the room where Average Baby and her cohort will be, and it had all kinds of colorful things and foamy mats to climb on, which we think Average Baby will LOVE because at the moment she is all about climbing on things. She will also probably love that one entire wall is a giant mirror (it's for the one-way observation booth) because she also finds herself pretty interesting these days. So hopefully we'll all get used to it and she will find all kinds of fun there.

When we were in the midst of trying to make the decision to move her, I asked a number of friends who have kids in day care to chime in with their thoughts about their own and/or our situation. One of my friends said, "Don't discount the value of the educational emphasis in those highly structured programs. You know, the amount of stuff a kid is supposed to know and be able to do by the time they get to kindergarten is kind of intense."

Working with college students as I do, and knowing the extent to which many of them are NOT prepared for college in terms of stuff they should know and be able to do, this made me wonder if as a society we might have things a little bit backwards. Shouldn't we have sort of minimal expectations of kids entering kindergarten, and maybe not as minimal expectations of our high school graduates?

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Maybe I'm bitchier than I thought.

Today the department Organizer of Everything (she has an administrative title that I don't know, but she pretty much runs all the everything in the department) came by my office. She said one of the offices down the hallw was being cleared out, and would I like to move?

That office is infinitesimally larger than mine. You wouldn't necessarily know it was larger by actually being in it, but you would see it was if you looked at the floor plan conveniently hanging in the hallway with the fire exit route marked on it.

I said yes, of course I will take the new digs.

I would not really like to move. Like I said, I don't actually care about office space.

But, you know, positioning and so on . . . I sort of felt like I SHOULD move, just because I had the opportunity, and because the office is technically larger than the one I'm in. (And maybe two people could meet with me and we'd all be able to see each other.)

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Office Space

As a graduation gift when I finished my Ph.D. my awesome husband bought me a 10-inch tall replica of my favorite piece of art.

I keep it on a shelf next to my desk in my office. Twice in the first year that I was here, some student that was in my office to discuss homework or advising or whatever, looked at my little statue and asked me if I broke it.

(I tried to hide my surprise - the first time, anyway, since the second time I was actually not surprised. Not every STEM undergrad had some extra space in the schedule during their senior year of high school and were able to take an 8 am art history class. In terms of courses that were really valuable to me from high school, that class and the typing class I took sophomore year have proven to be at the top of the list. The other things - calculus, say - were also very important in the long run, but were things that my college curriculum would have filled in for me had I not had them already.) (Although my high school calculus class was far superior to most college calculus courses at the kind of university I went to for my undergrad.)

The little statue is one of the only personalized elements of my office. I also have a couple of framed art posters. I had brought them in after some of my colleagues commented on the starkness of my office walls, and I'd intended to hang them but I never got around to it, so for about 4 years they've just been sitting on the floor, leaned up against the wall as if I am just moving in.

And of course I have the obligatory framed photos on my desk of my cute husband and my cute baby, and also one of me and my three awesome and loyal girlfriends from high school.

But for the most part, my office is just a desk and some cabinets and some bookshelves and I kind of hate it but not enough to try to spruce it up. Also, it's just sort of an ugly space, so any sprucing would probably have limited impact anyway.

It's also small. My office has room for me to work without problem, and it has room for exactly ONE person to come to my office to discuss something. There is theoretically space for a second person, since I have two extra chairs besides my own, but the second person would end up kind of wedged in an awkward space from which they could not really see me. But, whatever. If I have to meet with more than one person, we just go someplace else, like the coffee room, or my lab, which has a nice conference table. So, no big deal.

HOWEVER. It is becoming increasingly apparent that colleagues don't all have the same laissez faire attitude about their own offices, because there's recently been a lot of jockeying and moving around within the building, which has resulted in a number of inequalities and screwball situations, most notably the number of essentially non-productive faculty members who have two offices. I guess my department head wanted to believe them when they said that what they really needed in order to get their programs moving was a bigger office, and not instead of but in addition to the one they already have.

I don't actually care about the office space situation. But I do care about the idea that I perhaps should be bitchier than I actually am just in order to make sure I am not shafted all the time, or that I am not giving the appearance to outsiders that my contributions to the department/university/world only rate one tiny office while other colleagues have multiple sizeable ones. You know? LAME.

But maybe it would me more in keeping with my personal and professional ethic to trick out my existing tiny office, to instead give the impression that I believe in doing fantastic things with a small but excellent footprint. You know, like I could hang my posters or something.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

In which I am almost one of those academics.

So, I went to this meeting. Dr. Collaborator and a small team of faculty and grad students from his university were there, and Dr. Collaborator presented their grand vision for the new endeavour.

When Dr. C and I had chatted about the project, he gave me a quick and vague overview, so I was surprised to learn that their grand vision was to do all the things that I am already doing. A grossly oversimplified version of that part of the meeting is as follows:

Dr. C & Team: This and that problems are critically important.
Avg Prof in her head: Oh man, I totally agree! So important.
C & T: At our university, we have the critical mass of people working in all the right areas to address these problems.
AP: I am interested in who those people are and what kinds of things they are doing in this area!
C & T: Here is the approach we plan to take.
AP: HUH! That is exactly the approach that I take! . . . But I didn't know there were people at that university who do that approach . . . I have never seen any publications by this group on said approach . . .
Company Guy: Are you guys using this approach in your current research?
C & T: . . . uh, there are people at our university who have used this approach, yes.
AP: Wait, that's not really the same thing.
C & T: ANYWAY, using this approach, there are several really interesting things we can do. Like, this.
AP: I have done that! I have a slide on it in my little presentation.
C & T: Or this.
AP: I have done that too! I also have a slide on that.
C & T: Or this.
AP: Oh. No, you can't do that. I have a slide on that too, along with my alternative approach.

At that point I started to have the smallest inner conflict. In the past (i.e. when I was a particularly green assistant professor riddled with insecurity) I would have panicked and wondered if these guys knew something I didn't, such as: all about my previous/exisiting research and why it was totally flawed and thus needed to be done over, and also about how I am so dense that I didn't see how you could use that approach to do that last thing.

For a brief moment, I regressed to my former shadow-self. But then the more normal me re-emerged, and I thought, more likely: this team has never used this approach, and so they are not as familiar as I am with what can and can't be (or has and hasn't been) done with it. And that this was a nice opportunity for me to express myself on an issue about which I am a relative expert.

And then, a surprise: a little seed of "egomaniacal academic" germinated in my brain and I thought, this is a nice chance for me to stick it to Dr. Collaborator AND position myself as THE authority on this subject. (But my normal self pretty quickly eradicated this weed of an idea, because it's not consistent with my general attitude and behavior.)

Thus, when it came my time to present, I was (hopefully) balanced and matter-of-fact. As in, Dr. C and his team have nicely explained the problems that the research community is positioned to address on this topic, and now I will show you results from some of my work on the questions he raised, as well as point out some of the strengths and weaknesses of the approach he introduced.

Still a little bit of scooping, and yet, not jerky. (And, I might add: very well received.)

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

A bridge I wanted to burn but wisely did not.

I have an upcoming meeting to attend with a company with whom I have some collaborative research, though this meeting is related to some new endeavour rather than one of the projects I'm already working on with them. At the lead of this new endeavour is another collaborator, from the institution where I recieved my PhD. This collaborator was also, back in the day, a collaborator with my research supervisor and so I am well acquainted with him.

In advance of the upcoming meeting, Dr. Collaborator called me to chat about the project, having seen my name on the list of attendees and not being sure what my role was in the new endeavour (I am not sure either, actually. One of the company guys that I work with just said to the company people planning the new endeavour, "Hey, I work with this woman at this other institution who does those same things. She should come to the meeting.").

Dr. Collaborator said, "Nice to meet you." I said, "Actually, we've met before. I got my PhD five years ago at Your Institution under Dr. Research Supervisor." He said, "Aha! I thought your name sounded really familiar but I wasn't sure why I'd heard it before."

What I sort of wanted to say then, but didn't, was this: "You'll probably recognize my face, when you see it, too, because one time you spent about 45 minutes yelling and swearing right into it."

One day while I was in grad school, I was working with Research Supervisor, another of his students, and one of Dr. Collaborator's students. We were out in the "field" collecting some data using a piece of equipment that Research Supervisor and Dr. Collaborator shared, when the marine battery we used to keep the equipment powered conked out. Research Supervisor suggested we hook the equipment up to our vehicle battery for the remainder of the data collection, which we did. At the end of the day's successful work, I jauntily skipped over to Dr. Collaborator's lab to return the equipment to storage (as much as one could jauntily skip carrying a marine battery). I found Dr. Collaborator to tell him about the battery problem, and when he asked how we were able to collect the rest of the data and I explained we'd hooked the power cables to the vehicle battery instead, he flipped out, calling me several unflattering things and greatly disparaging my judgement skills while making some un-nice predictions about my academic and scientific career. For an extended period of time.

I calmly said, "I will certainly relay your concerns to Dr. Research Supervisor." And then I ran back to my office and cried white hot tears of anger and embarrassment. (Incidentally, I did relay his concerns to Research Supervisor, who several days later had a very boring conversation with Dr. Collaborator about the relative interchangeability of the two batteries for that purpose, and that was the end of that. I did not relay to Research Supervisor that the concerns had come with the free bonus of a long and passionate berating.)

Anywhoo, what I learned was: some professionals are prone to episodes of unprofessional behavior, and Dr. Collaborator is one of those people. I am glad I did not snap back at him even though I had really wanted to, but I am also glad that I already know this about him, and learned it in the relatively safety of my position as a grad student who was just caught in his crosshairs. Should the opportunity arise through this new endeavour to share any equipment or data or anything with Dr. Collaborator, I will not be all that excited about it.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Tilting in one direction.

I just returned from a conference I have attended annually for the last 7 or 8 years. Since I started going to this conference, I have noticed more and more attendees bringing along their families. I think this is not because there have actually been MORE attendees bringing along their families, but rather (1) I have been paying this kind of thing more notice in the last few years, and (2) the demographics of attendees have been shifting as some of the old guard retire and the conference gets a little younger on average, and there are thus more spouses and younger children as opposed to just spouses and the occassional teenager.

The conference tries to cater to the guests as much as possible, but they're evidently more used to the old demographics because the planned "spouse/guest" activities are things like shopping trips and a crafting and needlework show-and-tell session. (My husband was not as amused as I was when I asked him if he was sure he didn't want to attend, since I know he likes to show off his cross-stitching.)

So most of the families of the younger attendees don't do any of those events, and make their own schedules entirely.

I noticed something for the first time this year, though. Three different times, I was heading over to this or that technical session, and came across a (different) little kid, 8 or 10 years old or so, sitting on a chair in the hallway outside the conference rooms, watching a movie on a personal DVD player.

I realize that we all struggle to get keep that notorious work/life balance, but that seems weird to me. I can't quite put my finger on what bothered me about it.

Is it that I felt bad for the kids? I sort of did, but then I thought that was pretty narrow-minded of me, because if it was just one afternoon or so of movie-watching in a week of otherwise fun stuff, then likely going along with mom or dad on work-travel is cool for the kids. And the kids probably get to see and do lots of different things in much of the rest of their time. And of course, it's not like I expect that when the kids are at home, they are being actively engaged/edified/entertained by one or more parents. I watched a lot of movies and tv as a kid, travel or no.

Is it that the kids were out in the hallway essentially unsupervised? Possibly. I mean, that does bother me, but I don't know if that's over-protective or not, and I'm not sure that's the only thing that bothered me.

Is it that the conference seems not to notice the trend and keeps offering these antiquated (not to mention mildly or strongly gender-biased) guest programs? That does irritate me.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

I'm so tenurific.

In mid-August I'm supposed to submit a draft of my dossier to my departmental promotion & tenure committee (they'll not only evaluate but also give some feedback to improve it before finalizing).

My CV is in fine shape, since I'm a little obsessive about keeping it up to date, and even using it as a decision support tool when trying to decide whether to do this or that (which use of my time will have a more significant impact in a weak area on my CV?). But the materials I submit also need to contain a hefty document wherein I reflect on my excellence and tenure-worthiness and explain all about what a rising star I am and how I am poised to have such great importance to the profession & community, etc., etc.

I realize this needs to get done. And I would like to get tenure, so I want to do a good job.

But I'm having a hard time getting up the activation energy to start writing such a document. It's because things I do NOT enjoy include the following:
  • Trying to convince people I am awesome.
  • Doing fluffy stuff.
  • Camoflauging weaknesses (I prefer to just call them what they are).

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Don't come a-knockin'.

So, as I am still more or less breastfeeding my ~7 month old kiddo, I pump a couple of times during the day while I'm at work. This is no problem, as I have a private office and I can just shut the door and go about my business (several years ago a staff member, who did not have a private office, had a baby and also pumped during the day, and did it in the bathroom; I feel comparatively quite comfortable with my own arrangement).

The only thing I feel weird about is when somebody knocks on the door. Because my office door is sort of flimsy (the old-timey kind, with the large window of clouded glass on the top half, rather than the solid kind) the sound of the pump is audible from just outside the door. So I think sometimes people know I'm in there, just not answering.

Whatever. They knock; I don't respond; they maybe come back later.

But three times during the last month, somebody has knocked, I don't respond, and they jiggle the doorknob.

Fortunately, all of those times, the door has been locked, so the handle jiggling comes to nothing. But I find this very weird. Why jiggle? If I don't respond, it probably means I don't want to be disturbed. Does this person think maybe I just didn't HEAR the knock (or see their shadowy figure through the glass) and that if they just pop their head in I'll be all pleasantly surprised? Or, can they not BELIEVE that I'm really not in there or really not interested in talking to them?

But really: HOW AWKWARD would it be if the door were not locked?

Answer: Extremely awkward.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Dr. M, again.

So, this guy? He is requesting (demanding? instructing?) that our colleague "Kenneth" be added as a co-advisor to my graduate student who is working on this project. I get the sense that Dr. M feels that Kenneth needs some "incentive" to become more engaged in this research, but, both Kenneth and I agree that adding him as a co-advisor, when I am already totally in charge of the student, will have no effect, and Kenneth's lack of 24/7 participation is due mostly to the other pressing demands on his schedule and not in any way due to how he is officially listed in this grad student's academic committee.

I feel very pushed around. Selection of an advisor should be between student and advisor, and not be demanded by a third party. Right? The departmental graduate program committee chair advised me that if it's not going to pose any clear advantage to the grad student, then, we should not play games with his committee, and should leave things as they are.

At the same time, if it makes no functional difference, then we could acquiesce just for the sake of collegiality. Also, Dr. M controls the first batch of funding for this project.

Kenneth votes for appeasement. I'm torn. I'm sure the student won't care one way or the other, since it's just a matter of paperwork (and principle).

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

C is for Confrontation

Last week, one of the staff members in the department, a woman about my age with whom I've had a friendly relationship, sent an email around to the other women staff members plus me, inviting us all to participate in a "Women of XYZ Department" bake sale to raise money for a doodleybob for the department.

Ignoring the complexities of fundraising in this way (like, where will the money actually GO? I suspect it will have to route through the fundraising arm of the university as a donation, and from whom, and how would we ensure it actually was used for a doodleybob, and who made the decision that we needed a doodleybob, etc. etc.) the idea of "Women of XYZ" + bake sale was mildly unsettling to me, because it sort of perpetuates certain gender stereotypes (namely: it's a woman's role to bake things for the benefit of others) that I normally try to eschew.

So I mulled this over for a while, and finally decided to diplomatically reply to the email with my concern.

Largely unbeknownst to me, there was some backstory involved that made her already defensive about said bake sale. The woman responded to my email to note that I was not really included in Women of XYZ, it was just certain undergraduate students that she'd been talking to, that she wasn't forcing me to participate, and that I must be some kind of sexist to think there are any gender stereotypes in that activity since after all plenty of women enjoy baking and there is nothing wrong with that.

I should have just left it there, but I was so rattled by her response that I reworded my concern in a reply, you know, just in case it was a misunderstanding (which I should have known it wasn't). The situation quickly devolved: me trying to reroute the discussion to explain my viewpoint while letting her know I wasn't attacking her or the doodleybob or the general concept of a bake sale, and her telling me it was none of my business and I shouldn't pick apart somebody else's idea and by the way if I'm so smart why don't I take on some projects of my own and not waste her time with my narrow-minded issues.


I do have to have a functioning working relationship with this woman, so I'd like some resolution towards that, and while I think that we can't resolve the situation just the two of us (certainly not via email and probably not face-t0-face either) I'd be willing to engage the university ombusdman to meet with us and help us put this behind us. But that seems like a lot of effort to go through over some brownies and whatnot. Yes? No?

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

People who are not my problem.

A senior member of my department is keen on bringing in students and postdocs from developing countries and the like. He's passionate about international development issues in our discipline, and he's really supportive of nondomestic students and scientists. At any time, he has a LOT of students and visiting researchers in his group, many of them through collaborative programs designed to provide educational and training opportunities to scientists/technologists from certain countries.

But he's also reeeeeeeeally busy with some administrative responsibilities and other work things. I get the vibe that he doesn't really have as much time to devote to these students and guest researchers as he thinks he does.

He has a particular postdoc that he brought in on some semi-open funding (that is, the funding was for the person and not for a particular research project) where they then had to brainstorm a research project for the postdoc to work on. The project they came up with requires using some complex software that I use in some of my research - software that, in order to figure out, I attended an 80-hour short course on AND spent many hours fiddling with myself, and still I am not completely fluent in it.

Last semester the postdoc asked if he could borrow my copy of the software. I immediately worried that I was going to get sucked into teaching him how to use it, which I don't have the time (or expertise, really) to do. But I loaned him my software to try out, and then the Sr. guy bought him a copy to use himself once they decided to go forward.

The other day the postdoc sent me an email saying he was "having some problems with the software" and could we meet to discuss. Again . . . I think the guy is kind of in over his head and I don't want him to think I can (or should) teach him to use it, but, I'm a nice person and I like to help people out when I can, so I said sure, let's talk about it.

He came by my office. This is what he said, "I need to know how to make it go."


So, I said, "Your installation CD came with the instruction manual, have you looked at that?"

He said, "What? Oh. No. I haven't looked at it."


So, I said, "Ah, you should probably look at it. It gives you some details on how to run the software. Also, last time, I gave you some of the exercises that we went through in the training session I attended. Did you try any of them?"

He said, "What? Oh. No. I haven't looked at them."


Okay, look. I would like to be helpful. I don't want to be that person, who won't help out a fellow researcher because they're too busy or think too highly of themselves or anything, and I certainly don't want to annoy the senior researcher.

But, this guy is not my postdoc and so I don't want to invest a huge amount of time giving him the background, to be able to do a project that, given his current LACK of background on this particular point, I would have advised against, if anybody had asked me. And I don't get the sense that I can be all that helpful by investing a small amount of time.

Blah. :(

Friday, February 08, 2008

I . . . but . . .

A recent survey by the NIH paints a pretty bleak picture for women in academia. Among my numerous responses to that article was a great feeling of relief that my disciplinary research and the NIH don't really have any common ground.

But this was disturbing:

"Women are going to have a harder time than men succeeding" at every stage of the tenure-track academic career [according to Phoebe Leboy, president-elect of the Association of Women in Science]. Leboy points to data made available by the NIH that showed women lagging behind men in terms of grants per investigator, dollars per grant, success in getting grants renewed, and responsibility for big budget center grants. And because success is so closely tied to funding, particularly in academic health centers, says Leboy, all of these things mean that women are having a harder time achieving tenure than men.


Let me first say that from my limited knowledge of my colleagues' work (from their vitae and from personal communication), my own stats are very much in line with my guy counterparts ( . . . well, now I think they are. . . I know two years ago I wouldn't have said that, but it was because two years ago I was still deep in the midst of assistant professor angst).

I don't think this makes me unusual in any way. I also don't actually personally know ANY women who haven't gotten tenure, though I know some men that haven't (but of course I know way more men that have gotten tenure than women that have, because I just know more men in the first place). So even though I keep seeing reports like these, I've never seen it or felt it in my own life so it always seems really bizarre.

Am I blind?

Is my own (average) success with papers and grants and dollars actually extraordinary?


Is there something wrong with NIH-related disciplines that isn't wrong with mine?

Friday, January 25, 2008


My university employs a lobbyist. One of the jobs of the lobbyist is to pitch alluring high-dollar research projects to congress and try to snag some earmarks and whatnot.

Several projects I've been involved in have been included, at one time or another, in the bunch of projects the lobbyist shops around, with varying degrees of success.

On the one hand, I like to get funding for cool projects. And if somebody's going to get funding for cool projects, why not me?

On the other hand, I have a strong philosophical objection to congressional pork projects.

What's a girl to do?

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Am I really necessary?

So. I am back from my maternity leave. Something that strikes me as weird is how little work I did while I was off, and how smoothly my career continued to move forward while I was not working. I realize this is due to a few factors: judicious selection of excellent and independent graduate students, the fact that most projects unfold over a long time period, and the fact that I have enough written products (papers, proposals, etc.) that there's an element of fast cut/paste to subsequent similar efforts.

But in my absence: my class continued through the end of the semester with grading assistance from a TA, one of my grad students wrote a successful proposal for his next year of funding, I was a co-I on two large proposals, and two papers were accepted after just some minor revision.

If you had asked me, had I not been going on maternity leave (which was more or less mandatory, and so I didn't ask myself too many questions about it), if I could take 2+ months off work and not have everything fall apart, I would have said absolutely no. I can't even take a 2 week vacation without feeling hopelessly behind when I get back. But I don't feel hopelessly behind at all. If anything, I feel a little bit ahead, in the sense that I'm not behind, and I sort of thought I would be.

(An obvious difference is that when you're on vacation people still ask you to do things, and when you're on maternity leave, they don't. But still.)