Wednesday, August 1, 2012

New versus Junior

DrWife said something very interesting to me, which I thought warranted a blog post. First, some background. 

Yesterday, I was part of a large planning meeting involving multiple universities on a research consortium where I am the greenest person in the room. Unlike most junior (emphasis will make sense shortly), when I'm asked to be part of a meeting, I actively participate, give feedback, ask questions, etc. I really dislike just sitting in the corner, acting like another n00b prof, where its seems like I'm either too timid to join in or too worried about pissing people off while I'm untenured. I figure that if I'm asked to be a part of a meeting, then expect me to be participating in that meeting. Otherwise, it's a waste of everyone's time.

The problem with this philosophy is that I have a tendency to either 1) get dragged into tangential arguments, 2) end up putting my foot in my mouth, or 3) get "worked up" where I can't let things go. (Number 3 I know is going to be my downfall in the future unless I can get a handle on that.)

Well, in the course of the meeting, I did overstate a few things and realized that I was going down a path that was going to get me kicked out of the consortium, regardless of whether my point was correct or not. 

Later in the evening, I was filling in DrWife on the details and she said something that was pretty profound, at least to me. "Remember, you're the most junior person in the room by a long shot. It's not like me at my SuperAwesomeSauce Company. At SuperAwesomeSauce Company, I may be a new employee, but I'm not a junior employee. Academia is still a hierarchy. You may be part of the faculty, but you're junior faculty." (emphasis is mine)

Her statement really hit home, hence my post on it today. I'm not sure what do or say, if anything, about it. I feel like I am a contributing member on both of my faculties and I feel like I'm doing all of the things that a faculty member should do (research, teach, service). But I'm a junior faculty member as opposed to a new faculty member....

Thursday, June 7, 2012


It seems like I've been waiting a billion years but I can finally say:


After sifting through double-digit numbers of rejections this year, one of my smaller grants has come through on a project that I think is really promising, both academically and commercially. I even have new shining account numbers to put people and supplies on which is even better. It's not a huge amount, but it is enough to help me get inertia on a project which can hopefully lead to future funding.

This makes me feel really good because I was down in the dumps, thinking that I wasn't going to get a grant this year. I know it sounds crazy because I've had good teaching and academic service reviews, and my research review said I was on the right track. But in my eyes, that would all be for naught if I didn't get a grant this year. 

Anywho, I'm off to the lab to see the sweet smell of progress!!!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Overtime in the Lab

I think my graduate students are finally starting to gather some momentum for doing work for themselves in the lab. I had an Engineer Blogs post some time ago on momentum and how I think my students transitioned from milling around and watching me to actually being able to do stuff for themselves. Well, this past weekend, they got a taste of what it's like to have deadlines approach and not have things go the way they want them (or I want them) to go. 

I thought I wrote a post a while back, either here or at Engineer Blogs, on using conference proceedings as a stepping stone to get results for a journal submission and to set a series of deadlines. I tried looking for it but I can't find it, so let me 'splain myself right now.

I use conference abstract submissions as a good way to set a short term goal (~4-6 months away) to get some results and give you something to work towards. In my field, conference abstracts tend to be a review of the abstract, which is 1-2 pages. The acceptance is based on that abstract and then a 4-6 page full conference proceedings is then submitted prior to the conference. This contrasts to some IEEE conference that I know where there is a full proceedings review process, etc. etc. 

Well, we submitted an abstract and were accepted for an oral talk for a conference at the end of June and the proceedings is due next week. Seems like no big deal. However, we've had to borrow some equipment from other labs which needed to be returned by yesterday at the latest. And everything was going smoothly until we saw, shockingly, unexpected results*. This was around Wednesday of last week. This proceeded to send of a panicked frenzy of activity with late nights in the lab, work over the weekend with me aligning components while wearing my professorial robes, and, most importantly, my graduate students thinking independently

I think they've crossed another threshold in research. They went from just watching me in the lab, to being able to perform prescribed actions in the lab, to thinking of solutions independent from me. That's really awesome. Also, I feel like I can discussions with them on a higher level because they understand a lot more about the field they're working in. The only sad part is that we still haven't figured out the source of our problem in our system and now we're down on equipment to test with it. 

* I actually was shocked by the results because the system was designed to alleviate this problem.... :-\  

Friday, February 17, 2012

Why a Postdoc is basically needed in Academia

Today, over at Engineer Blogs, I discuss why a postdoc is pretty much mandatory to succeed in academia. In a nutshell, YIAs are, in my opinion, supremely biased towards faculty that have had long postdoc stints which screw over faculty such as yours truly who didn't postdoc.