Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Daily Grind

Today, over at Engineer Blogs, I discuss the daily grind of a professor and toss in some work-life balance issues. A nod to GMP with her post on work-life balance. What do you think? Naive, realistic, or not possible?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

STEM Employment Data

Today, over at Engineer Blogs, I respond to Ken Cid's comment about the administration's STEM jobs report. There's charts and tables and all sorts of fun things. You should really check it out...

Monday, July 18, 2011

GEARS Consulting LLC

I've been a huge slacker over the past few weeks about posting. However, good marinades take time, which is what I've been doing. Basically, I've been making contact with local companies for possible research avenues and with colleagues that are initial collaborators. Aside from them, I was contacted by another colleague of mine to do some work that's too short to use for a project through SnowU but could bear fruit for a longer project if we're successful. This brings up a fourth aspect to being a professor that I didn't discuss at Engineer Blogs the past two weeks (part 1 and part 2): Consulting.

I didn't mention it there because consulting is not part of your activities through the university. But, many universities allow profs to consult provided it's within the stipulations of your contract. I thought I would discuss two things: why would a university let you consult and how to go about setting up a LLC. Today, I'll tackle the whys and on Wednesday, I'll tackle the hows.

Why allow consulting? Up until a few years ago, I wasn't really sure why universities let their profs consult. I knew my profs did during UG and Grad school (occasionally missing lectures) but it seems at odds with their normal job of professing. I think the reason with the biggest misconception is because profs would make more in industry so if you don't let them make something on the side, they'll eventually jump ship. While this is somewhat true, I don't hold to that school of thought that profs (especially in engineering) don't make anywhere near what they could in industry. My guess is there is a 5%-10% premium on industry jobs for the same level of competency. And while a worker at a company may get stock options and profit sharing, profs get summer salary and consulting. In the end, I think it's a wash.

But that still doesn't answer the question of why profs are allowed to consult. As near as I can tell, I think the main reason is there are often project available from companies that need to be completed in a short timeframe. This is too short to be a university project and probably not enough money to fund a prof+student+equip+50% overhead. Rather, short projects that are successful by the prof can turn into longer projects at the university. Essentially, you (as the prof) help them fix an immediate problem and they look to you to solver longer term problems through a partnership with the university.

If successful, this is a win-win for everyone involved. The prof gets some extra salary for consulting. The company gets their immediate problem solved. Also, the company has a partner to look at future problems that may/will arise but don't have the internal resources to commit to solving them. Rather, they can fund the prof and their student(s) to solve them in a more university-like pace. The university wins because they will get their 50% overhead on whatever the company sponsors at the university. And, because this money wouldn't normally be available to the university, it's an extra source of funding. Plus, it only came about because the prof did consulting on the side.

The last thing I'll say about this aspect is that funding from companies is generally much more flexible than agency/foundation funding. When you're getting money from the government, you need to explicitly spell out everything that you'll spend money on, even before any research has been done. This has the potential to hamstring you because you may commit X amount to travel each year but you actually need to travel more in the latter years rather than the early years. But when you get funding from a company, to them, it's just $X amount out the door. If you need to shuffle things around to get the research done, they don't generally care. That's very good from the prof's perspective because there's a lot of flexibility in there to work with.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Declining to Review

Over the past few days, I've had a few requests to review show up in my inbox. I accept that reviewing manuscripts is a part of my academic service and it's something you're supposed to do for the good of the global community. There is also some personal benefit because reviewing other work helps you critique your own and makes you a better writer. Unless I am travelling, I have always accepted the reviewing assignments I'm given.

Except today...

This was a fortunate case (for me) where you can see the manuscript in its entirety prior to accepting/declining to review. Some journals only let you see the abstract and then it's more difficult to decide because the abstract may sound like it's in your area but the manuscript is actually not in your area. (On a side note, I have had this happen several times and it's a bitch to do a good review.) Being able to see the manuscript in its entirety was crucial. From reading the abstract, I thought "Hmm, well this is definitely my area. Guess I have another one to add to my pile." Once that PDF was on screen, it was an entirely different story.

After skimming and picture hunting, the manuscript failed to pass any of the normal publication requirements like does this really need to be published, is the topic/data highly relevant, and isn't this just combined piecemeal from multiple places? So I took the easy way out and just said "Nope, not reviewing". I feel bad about it because I'm shirking my duties as an academic but it would have (at best) been annoying and time consuming to review.

So, for any of you out there that have done a lot of manuscript reviewing, how often does this come up for you? What do you end up doing? Is it right or wrong to just decline to review because at first glance you think there's no shot at getting it published?

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Academic Breakdown

Today, over at Engineer Blogs, I discuss why professors live and die based on their funding and give some rough indication of the amount of funding needed to sustain a research group.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Official Tenure Track: Day 1

Well, the day has finally arrived! Today starts my official tenure track position at SnowU. Officially, I switch from visiting assistant professor GEARS to GEARS, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and optics. (You'll notice a few changes to my bio and an added disclaimer just in case.)

I'm pretty excited and nervous, just like I was my first unofficial day. But, to tell you the truth, it's pretty anti-climactic. I've already been working here for a few months, submitted papers and my first proposal, and have my first grad student. Plus all the people here already assumed and acted like I was official.

My office is still a work in progress (see left). I'm still awaiting furniture, a whiteboard, and my new laptop. Also, I need to decide about adding extra chairs and a conference table or should I go with a small loveseat and a coffee table. I'm thinking the latter but not sure. Plus, I have to get my Worth Demotivator poster.

Other than that, it's the same routine for me here. Figure out which grants to go for, finish papers, work on completing prior commitments, and brainstorm for new ideas. Hopefully I'll pass muster when it comes my time for tenure review in a few years, but we'll have to wait and see how that plays out.