Friday, July 25, 2008

Goodbye Blog

Well---life is proceeding as it should: busy & fun, frustrating sometimes, but mostly rich. I plan to continue focusing on writing and research, and will say goodbye to this blog.

Saturday, July 5, 2008


I have not posted in a while. Since my last post, my anxiety about tenure had been waning. I have been trying to cut my internet usage after I realized how much of my time it was sucking. The research in my lab has been interesting, and I have been working on writing papers. I attended a conference in my subfield, and discussed science and other interesting things with many colleagues. A certain colleague and I room together each year at this conference, and I have taken to calling it a “slumber party”. Several (opposite-gender) colleagues expressed regrets that they were not invited. Generally I have been enjoying the view from the ridge.

I arrived at my office on July 1st and received official news of my promotion to tenure. The last few days have consisted of a flurry of congratulations and increased somnolence. It seems the pre-tenure process is what has been keeping me awake these years.

My work/life to-do list is identical to what it was in the weeks pre-tenure. This year my goal is to enjoy the lab, continue our projects, spend time thinking about which ways to develop and deepen my research program, and write, write, write. And sleep.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Timescales of progress

Cleaning out some of the detritus in the lab, I came across large sheet of paper with the following written across the top:

EarlyToBed Lab Mid-Range/Long-Range Project Plans

On the timescale of days, weeks, and even months, it’s difficult for me to assess if I am making progress. Usually at this time of the year, I list what I’ve accomplished over the past year So here’s my opportunity with my archived progress list!

I had listed six lab projects, plus a timeline and a list of human resources. How did I do?

Project I: Part A and Part B. Part A has been done, with one paper published and a second well into the review process. Part B (the important part) has not been done; I’m not sure it can be done; though I’m funded to do it. I lost my grad student working on Project I, so it’s what I will be doing this summer in the lab.

Project II: Student passed his qualifying exam yesterday with preliminary results from this project. It is still not at the level where I want it. I’ll be working with project II student this summer.

Project III: Part A and Part B. This has been a spectacular success, with progress that has matched my dreams that summer in 2006. Only one additional paper; however there are several in preparation, and the project now has parts C, D, E, and F.

Project IV: Student made headway on project IV, and a paper is in review. However, I lost this student also, so this project (not fully funded) needs to wait for another person. It’s cool; it’s just not at the top of my priority list.

Project V: Was not a high priority project two years ago, however Grad student has made great progress. We are writing up two papers, and will propose to continue this work.

Project VI: There has been no progress on this; I heard that a colleague is working on this problem; I no longer consider it a priority for me.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Tenure Dreams

Over the last few weeks, I have been waiting--increasingly anxiously—for news of my tenure decision. Early last week I was told that my case was signed but not yet sealed, and I would know the news on Friday. Friday came slowly and went by even slower, and at the end of the day I still had no news. And then there were the dreams.

Dream one: I came into my office early in the morning to work, my son with me. Spread out on my desk were twelve piles of paper; each pile was topped by summary comments of each of the members of our University-wide tenure committee. Comments were widely variable: “Great Job! Certainly deserves tenure”; “No tenure, because she knows nothing about quantum mechanics” [Not true!! I remember thinking in my dream]; “Too creative”; “Too many things going on at once”; “Too focused on the technical”. And my favorite: written on a flaccid piece of popped blue balloon: “Her research is just not my thing.” Just those summaries; no decision. I woke up very very anxious, and it lasted all day.

Dream two: I discover the reason I did not find out about my tenure case on Friday. Here’s what I piece together, through various surreal sources of information: My department had voted positive, but with some negative votes [this is true in real life], so the tenure committee takes an extra hard look, and decides that my case is not strong enough. Since their conclusion differs from the department’s, they assign a review committee, which determines that I do deserve tenure after all. But then, everyone is concerned that my dossier elicits such inconsistent results. How unscientific! So they decide to continue reviewing and reviewing until they converge on a decision, but the decision never converges, it only oscillates back and forth. That would be bad enough, but in the end my dossier (or, “me”) is blamed for the lack of convergence. I remember yelling in my dream: “It’s the people who are examining the dossier who are the problem, not me!!” I woke up infuriated, and it took a while to get back to sleep.

You might ask, why do I not know the outcome of my own tenure decision?

Perhaps in a future post I will expand on the reasons, but for now, here’s a brief list (with commentary).

1. A female faculty member has never been ushered--successfully--through the ranks in my dept. (Yet.)

2. My dept. does not follow established university guidelines for processing tenure cases. (It will from now on.)

3. I have received consistent low-level hazing from my various people in my dept. (I will do my best not to let this happen to anyone else.)

4. All of that (and some more) is exacerbated by a few of my own persistent insecurities. (Hopefully these will continue to be ironed out as I mature.)

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Orthogonal Advice

Today, a venerated colleague stopped me in the hallway, and asked how old I am. Forty-many, I said. You know what I am going to say, he said. Tell me anyway, I said. Have another one--damn the consequences, he said.

Although I consider myself to be an exemplar of stiff-upper-lip* (*people who know me and read this are now laughing their heads off), something about me lately has encouraged friends, colleagues, acquaintances, and even strangers to give me their input. Is my biological clock alarming? Or perhaps it is that look about me that almost says aloud “Please Dear God of Science let me know about my tenure decision soon!” Or maybe I *am* actually saying that out loud. I don’t know anymore.

Since I usually dole the unsolicited advice out to others, today I’ll share the gems I’ve been collecting over the last few weeks.

Mom: “Honey, maybe you need to make a friend. Or two.”
LateToBed (spouse): “You need a hobby. Really.”
BedHater (kid): “Mommmm!! Stop staring at me!!”
Ex-PhD-advisor: “Perhaps you should consider finding a hobby.?”
Colleague in a different department: “Have another one”
Another colleague in another department: “Time to have your second”
Colleague in this department “Time to find a real hobby”

Note that most of the advice comes in two basic flavors: “Get a life” and “Have a baby”. I’m convinced that these two are orthogonal.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Self-Indulgent Birthday Post

0-5... The die is cast
5-15 ... 1/3 music, 1/3 friends, 1/3 science
15-25 ... ½ boy-crazy, ½ science-crazy,
25-30 ... ¾ science, ¼ boy-crazy (husband and precursors)
30-40 ... ½ science 3/8 boy-crazy 1/8 Long Letters to Larry Summers
Next up...?

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Powers of Ten

The always impressive ScienceWoman
delivered a pleasant challenge to start the day:

Thinking Ahead:

In 10 minutes: I will be on my way to the gym.

In 10 hours: I will be sprinting across campus (along with many campus parents-like schoolkids trying to get to class before the morning bell) to pick up my son before his cost inflates to $2/minute. Hopefully I’ll have turned around a paper in the meantime.

In 10 days: I will be celebrating a first-of-prime-number-twins birthday. Celebrating hard.

In 10 weeks: I will have submitted a proposal and (if my totally unreasonable to-do list actually gets accomplished) four papers.

In 10 months: I will either have tenure or a whole new lease on life.

In 10 years I hope I will be: either very Big, or very happy Not Being Big.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Friday night dinner report

So the other week, my postdoc gave me a look that could only mean:

“We’ve all been working hard here in the lab, and have produced some really cool data. You’re the advisor, and it’s your job to have us over to your home and feed us lots of good and homemade food.”

and I know that it was time to have Friday Night Dinner: Special Research Group Edition.

That was last Friday.

Us: EarlyToBed, LateToBed, and BedHater
Usuals: Lor, Nik & Nora & baby Egbert (now a bigger version than before!)
New Department Colleagues: Inge and Alfred
Postdoc, GradStudent and SO.

Assorted middle eastern appetizers with toast not-too-burnt
Chicken Adobo (devoured)
Lamb chops over a hot fire
Whole grain rice
Deconstructed Vietnamese summer roll salad
Wine & Beer (LateToBed and I noticed that not a lot of drinking happened in this group)
S’mores made by BedHater
Ice cream with grape nuts & maple syrup

Such a big group ended up divided in two for much of the dinner, but there was much intermixing. I sat outside with Lor & research group. We talked about politics, Australia, med school, war. We caught each other up on the many seminars we have been seeing: Climate research, wine making, snow. Inge and I chatted about research overlaps and future co-teaching. As always, we discussed nautical equations and the gap between science and art. Postdoc revealed many talents (besides the lab data talent I already know about)—he blew bubbles colored with food coloring for BedHater; helped grill the lamb; and generally had a great time. He also entertained us with some awesome didgeridoo playing, followed by BedHater on the clarinet.

I got to take the afternoon off to cook, it was fun, and afterwards, I slept great.

Friday, April 11, 2008

The Ridge Traverse

Over the last several years, between setting up a laboratory teaching/research program at a major university and raising a child, I have had few opportunities to take breaks, and fewer opportunities to participate in a lovely aspect of my academic culture, The Geology Field Trip.

So recently, for the first time in years, I packed my packsack (for two!) and my son and I hopped the ferry to Catalina Island, along with a score of Earth Scientists. It was a really nice field trip of the mellow variety—primitive camping, but the bus allowed us to bring in lots of gear. Dinners were huge plates of grilled meat and fresh salad. Daytime hikes were one-to-two milers, with lots of rockstops, lots of up and downs, and only a little bit of scrambling.

My son BedHater—at my side for three full days--was a microcosm. He exhilarated in the rock scrambles, but on the longer uphills, he drove me batty with his whining and crabbiness and aches. Downhills were joyous romps. On the flats, we conversed—about rocks and the Earth, about the vastness of the universe, about cortical development throughout childhood, about family, fears, friends.

He definitely gets it from me--the whiney uphills and glorious downhills. Being away for a few days gave me an opportunity to see that for many years I have mostly been hiking the uphill climb—sometimes steep, sometimes switchbacks, but always the difficult path.

And then I had one of my camping-trip insights. I saw clearly that my best option is to traverse the contour for a while: my opportunity to see how far I’ve come, to review what I have learned along the way, to see what parts of the path I’ve enjoyed, and what I haven’t. And to give my body and brain an active rest while I focus on evaluating the surrounding terrain.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Three nuggets of minor importance

Interaction 1:
I went to visit a faculty member in another department, Harold Smith. We had never met in person, but we had traded emails, and he had signed his “Harry”. I was looking for his office within the banks of faculty offices, and a person (male, a few years older than me perhaps) asked “Can I help you?” I responded “I’m looking for Harry’s office”. He replied “Do you mean Professor Smith?” “Yes”, I said. “Professor Smith”. Silence. “Sir” I added.

Interaction 2:
I ran into a colleague. We had talked a few months ago, and I have been meaning to follow-up with more discussion. “I wondered what that meant that I haven't heard from you” he said. And then simultaneously I said/he said “It’s just that I’m an oversubscribed assistant professor”/”I figured it’s because you’re married.” Or maybe I misheard, and he said “harried.” I'm more married than harried, but at least little bit of both.

Unsolicited advice for giving a job talk that I learned from a recent seminar
Showing pictures of your smiling (all female) research group, and acknowledging them = Good.
Pointing towards their vag1nas with the laser pointer as you are introducing each of them by name = Hilarious.