Tuesday, September 30, 2008


For those who are at or considering an R1 university, you already know what the 40/40/20 rule is. For those who don't, 40/40/20 refers to how an Assistant professor is supposed to split their time: 40% research, 40% teaching, 20% service.

This seems very well-defined. It seems straightforward. It seems like, given these parameters, why doesn't everyone get tenure - just follow the 40/40/20 rule and you're golden. Well, it really doesn't work out that way.

Just as in grad school, the percentages don't really count. (in case you don't know to what I'm referring: if homework counts for 60% of the grade, and the final exam counts for 40%, it would appear that both homework and the final exam are important. However, since everyone gets 100% on all of the homeworks, really the only factor which plays a role in determining the final grade is the final exam, unless you completely blow off your homework.)

Everyone follows the 40/40/20 successfully (unless they are just completely clueless), just like everyone got 100% on the homework. Therefore, in the end, what really matters are the letters. Reference letters of sort. Letters from complete strangers (because, they aren't going to ask people who have a vested interest in seeing you do well - ie your thesis advisor, your post-doc advisor, your collaborators, etc). And, apparently, there will be something like 6 of these letters.

And they need to say things like "she would get tenure at my institution" and "she is the top of her field" and "she is amazing, fantastic, glorious, god-like". (Okay, maybe the last one was over the top).

Based upon my experience with strangers commenting on my work (ie journal referrees), I'm not too confident in this system. I have about a 50% track record of getting positive comments (and by positive, I mean good enough to get the manuscript published, not good enough to qualify in the "she is fantastic" column).

The one good thing about this system - my thesis advisor is automatically dis-allowed as a letter writer. Not really for the right reason (typically advisors would write an overly positive letter, when in reality he would write a negative one), but he is still excluded, which is the important thing.

Friday, September 26, 2008

My students are awesomer than yours...

I know everyone thinks their kids are the best. But as I don't have any kids yet, I think my graduate students (and my undergrad) are the best. Whether or not this is true, I have no idea, but I think they are. I am fully aware that I am biased. However, I have gotten confirmation that my undergrad is indeed awesome - she got an award. And, today, I got confirmation that one of my grad students is awesome - he won a fellowship.

His fellowship benefits both of us. I didn't fully appreciate this fact when I was a graduate student (by the way, I did not get a fellowship). I saw fellowships as mostly benefiting the student - after all, fellowship students make more than non-fellowship students. However, now that I am not paying my student 36k+overhead a year, I can buy more equipment, which is overhead free. So I basically get 60-ish% more for my money. (Yes, overhead is overly high).

And he is extremely happy with the extra money. He doesn't realize it yet, but he should be more happy with the title which will help him get a job in the future. And as he wants to go into academia, the more "honors and awards" one has, the better.

In any case, this particular grad student is exceptionally awesome. Every assistant professor should have a graduate student like him. He works on weekends, is extremely independently motivated, and never complains that something is "not science". For example, I worked with grad students as a post-doc that complained that writing software to analyze data was "not science". Taking data was science, but building the testing set-up to take the data or writing the software to analyze the data was "not science". Essentially, if it couldn't be plotted, the grad student didn't want to do it.

Anyway, my grad students are awesome. They have all dug in and helped build the fundamental backbone components of my lab. If only I could get them all fellowships.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Journals (pt 2)...

This post is in reference/follow-up to my previous post "Journals".

I heard back from the editor (yes, it took awhile), and he agreed with my assessment of the reviews and has accepted my manuscript!

Interestingly, I have read numerous blogs/articles discussing that men are more likely to argue with editors than females, and that females will more likely accept a rejection and"fade into night". This follows the trend discussed in the book "Women don't ask", in which the authors say that women are less likely to ask for things than men, and as such (in the long run) end up with less. Women essentially expect to be rewarded for good deeds, while men ask to be rewarded. I agree with much of this and have seen it in many of my female colleagues, but I have come to discover that it doesn't really apply to me. I'm not trying to sound arrogant - I actually don't think it applies to most females who went to an all-girls high school.

I think this is because women who attend all-girls high school learn at an early age to accept leadership roles, and they become comfortable in them. It doesn't seem strange for a girl to be the president of a club or of the class, because, by default, it will be a girl. Therefore, when these women go to college, they continue to pursue these leadership roles that they have grown to enjoy. And in these roles, they have to negotiate for things like funding, they have organize events and run meetings. Often undergraduate clubs have annual budgets of 5k or more, and a single event, if it is school wide (like a Mardi Gras party or orientation week), can have a much larger budget.

Then, in graduate school or as a faculty member, the budgets and the responsibilities get larger. Much, much larger. I just evaluated my annual burn rate.

After being responsible for organizing a large event or for orchestrating the construction of a lab, asking an editor to re-evaluate a decision on a paper seems pretty easy. Especially, if the decision was clearly incorrect.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Committee assignment

I have received my first committee assignment. And it came the same week that I have two grants due and that my lasers finally arrived. I would much rather be playing with my lasers. I have been waiting 4 months for them. Next on my list would be writing the grants - money will buy more lasers.

I downloaded the committee assignment last night - after glancing at it, I really don't want to do it now. The committee I'm on is the Undergraduate Curriculum Committee or some such lengthy title. Essentially, every time any department wants to change their curriculum, they have to ask us. That is the reality. The description of the committee was a little different. It said that we discussed how to change the undergrad curriculum to modernize it. As an undergrad and a grad student, I was involved in such discussions, and I really enjoyed seeing them implemented. So, I thought I would enjoy being part of a committee that was "progressive".

This committee - not progressive. It reads paperwork. The people who submit the paperwork - they are the progressive ones. The committee actually is anti-progressive.

So, as I said, my first assignment came last night. I have to read about 100 pages of proposed changes that another department wants to make to their curriculum. Not minor changes either - additions of about 5 classes, deletions of about 3 classes, addition of a minor and addition of an interdisciplinary minor. They grouped the whole thing together into a single submission, so I (and another committee member) have to evaluate it as a package. We can approve sections, but still, if they had submitted it in parts, then the work could be split up.

The entertaining part - until last night, I had never heard of this department or this major. I had to look up the discipline on the web to find out what the field was. I guess I have learned something already, though not exactly what I had intended to.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Undergraduate emails

It is the second or third or fourth week of the semester (I'm not teaching this semester, so I've kind of lost track), and my department holds a freshman seminar class to orient the freshman to the department. There is homework, but it is "orienting" homework. Apparently, last week's homework was to interview a faculty member to find out why they chose to be in science/engineering, why they chose academia, what they do, etc. They get two weeks.

I got a lot of emails (based on the size of the class), and I have determined that I got a statistically large number of emails - more than half. I know I got all of the females. But I also got a significant portion of the guys as well. If I was egotistical at all, I would say it was for appearance reasons - but I think it is because of laziness - my name falls near the beginning of the alphabet. The male profs who fall before me, well, I wouldn't want to interview them.

As I'm not in town right now, I clearly can't do these interviews this week. So, next week will be spent being interviewed by undergrads. I'm viewing as a two way interview - I would like to have some undergrad researchers in my group, so now I have the perfect chance to pre-screen and recruit early.

The undergrad school I went to didn't do this type of freshman seminar and I think it is a really good idea. I never interacted with faculty - except in my courses where they were the teacher. And those interactions were less than positive. And when I started undergrad I didn't even consider grad school, until I met a grad student who encouraged me. So, now I have a chance to meet with a bunch of undergrads and plant the seed early.

I realize that not every undergrad should go to grad school - I'm not that type of professor - but I also realize that not every undergrad is given the kind of encouragement they should be either. So now I have this chance. At least for ~50% of the class. Maybe I should change my last name to Aardvark to seal the deal.

(Now if they would just stop emailing me as Mrs. X, everything would be great... Maybe I'll suggest that can be included in the seminar as well - etiquette in communication)

International Traveling

I'm in Europe right now - I'm not calling Europe a single country, I'm just being vague.

I have been on this side of the Atlantic several times this year, every time in a different country. However, I always fly into the same airport first. This is simply because I have a favorite airline, which flies non-stop from where I live to one airport in Europe. It is my favorite for several reasons: 1) it gives me a 50% mileage bonus for free which is transferable to my FF club, so I get 150% of the miles (ie I don't have to join their FF club) , 2) they serve really good food, 3) the seats are all equipped with the mini-TVs which are uniquely controlled - ie the movies can be started and stopped whenever you choose. These may seem like small things, but they add up. Especially the movies - the only time I watch movies is when I am on planes - I view my airplane time as my time. It is really the only time I get alone without email interruption. Although right now I'm not getting many emails, as almost everyone I know is asleep.

And about the first point - I know many airlines have the joint membership programs, but very few give you the 50% mileage bonus. On ~20hrs of flying (roundtrip), it adds up.

But that wasn't the point. My favorite part about being in Europe is the coffee and the sandwiches. I realize this seems strange (maybe not the coffee part), but I really love prosciutto and brie sandwiches. If you have never had one, you are truly missing out. And they are everywhere over here - even in airports. Or at least so I thought.

I spent this morning trying to find the sandwich - no such luck. I didn't want it for breakfast, but I wanted to figure out where I would go for lunch. I found coffee (it was everywhere, par normal). I found Subway (bizarre) - and they only had the standard American selection. I found a lot of food I really didn't want to smell, let alone eat, at 6am. But I didn't find any stores which even looked like sandwich stores or bakeries (except the Subway). And there were alot of people having subway for breakfast, which I could understand given the alternative.

I'm quite disappointed to be honest. It is really how I motivate myself to get on the plane and travel for typically 12+ hrs to get here (including the secondary leg which can be a plane/train/bus/taxi), and travel far away from my husband, my cat and my dog. I love all of them very much, and while I love going to conferences and giving talks at schools/universities, I love being with them too.

I realize I came for the science not the food - and I'm sure the science will be great too. But I'm only here for 1 day. So, 1 day of science vs. 2 days of traveling... The prospect of getting the prosciutto really played a big role in my decision to come. And I know I can get prosciutto in the US (and in the airport), but I can't get the bread and the same quality Brie in the US. So, really, it just isn't the same.

But I'll stop now. I know there are much worse problems in the world - and even in the US. People in TX would love to have Subway for breakfast.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Ode to Campus Joy pt 2

So I thought about posting a comment on FSP's post today, but then I realized my comment would be far too long, so I decided I would just write the comment here.

When I started reading her post, I began thinking about my favorite aspect of my new campus, and it was, indeed, the marching band.

The past two schools I have attended have been without football teams - really sports programs - to speak of. Case in point - I played soccer in college. Not intramural. I had a school jersey and traveled and everything. I am not trying to convince you of my athletic prowess - I am not an athlete. I am far from an athlete. I am more saying how anyone could compete - I had friends (science friends) on the cross country team. Therefore, accompanying things, such as cheerleaders, marching bands, etc didn't exist.

On my current campus, athletics is big. Therefore, the marching band practices almost every day (from 6-8pm). In fact, my undergrad researcher is in the marching band. Everyday as I leave work, I hear the marching band practicing. I think it is awesome. It is almost like a pep rally everyday for the whole campus (and for me).

At the end of a long day (and at this point, a day is ~10-12 hrs), there is really nothing better than walking by the marching band playing happy music. It really lifts your spirits - after all, the music they play is designed to do just that.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Student seeking position

There have been many posts on many blogs about the correct way and the incorrect way to get into grad school, get a post-doc position and get an academic job. While I realize that the people who probably should be reading the present post, won't, maybe word will spread, and people will learn.

Things not to do:

don't send emails like:

Dear Prof. X,

I am a student at X university. I am interested in a research position in X field in your group this fall. My GRE/TOEFL scores are ###. Can I join your research group this fall?

Interested student

Maybe not all professors, but I explicitly say on my web-page when I have openings and when I don't (right now I don't). And even if I did - it is fall! If you haven't already been admitted to the school, you aren't going to be starting now! You kind of missed the cycle.

Second, I don't admit students, the school does. Only after a student applies to the school should they bother contacting me. Yes - profs can pull strings, but if an application doesn't exist in the "system" there are no strings to pull.

Don't address the email to the wrong professor. This may seem obvious - but I actually got an email from a person looking for a post-doc position which was addressed to a different prof at a different school. Clearly, the wrong cover letter. It just starts things out on the wrong foot. And don't address "Dear sir/madam". Also annoying. I have a picture on my webpage. I'm clearly not a sir.

If you have applied to the school, and verified your application is in, then, yes, by all means, contact professors. In fact, I would encourage undergrads to contact profs in that tentative in between time after the app is submitted but before they have heard something. That is the crucial time.

If you get in, contact profs early (not once the school year has started), but in the spring, to inquire about openings for the next year. Especially if it is a prof with a popular group. I stopped taking new students in June, long before the start of the school year.

But don't send fishing emails before you have even applied. It is very annoying. I still respond. I know many profs who don't (which I think it rather rude - but then I only get 2-3/day, I'm sure they get many more).

Tuesday, September 9, 2008


There is significant background, so please bear with me.

A friend (in a different lab) and I decided to try something (just for fun) once when I was in grad school - using my materials and his equipment. And it worked. My PhD advisor didn't believe/understand the results as he didn't understand the equipment, so he wouldn't let me publish. My friend's advisor thought it was awesome (and that my advisor was an idiot), but he let it go.

Fast forward two years.

Everyone has come to the realization that my advisor is an idiot (the other advisor was in a different department, so it took him some time, unlike my friend who was bombarded with daily stories). So, we decide to submit without my advisor. We choose Nature Materials - long shot, but if we haven't been scooped at this point, probably not going to happen.

Not surprisingly, we don't get in. Not really heart broken...

We choose another, more realistic journal - the reviews come back "this is great work, but it would really be more appropriate for X journal, but that is the Editor's decision". The Editor chooses to bounce it. That I was slightly more peeved about - especially as that submission was 3 months.

Now, third submission at highly specialized journal: 90days after submission, we get response (3 reviewers): 2 are extremely positive - say things like: " this work deserves to be published in an international journal like X". Third reviewer is an idiot. Really. He/she completely missed the point of the paper, compares it to irrelevant papers which focused on completely different topics, etc. The Editor rejects the paper. Um, what?

So, I email the journal directly (they didn't even give me a link to argue) with my "respectfully disagree" letter. That was a week ago - I still haven't heard anything.

Today, an article came out that is very, very similar. Not similar enough to keep ours from getting published (ie not the same). But it is similar enough to prove that we did submit to the right journal, our work is relevant to this community, etc. And it is also similar enough to make me think that one of the authors could have been one of the reviewers, either at this journal or the previous one. That would really make me peeved (and perhaps another word).

Anyway, sorry for the bitter post, but I'm just really frustrated... I know it won't be the last time, but did it have to be the first time (that I was submitting as the last author)?

Monday, September 8, 2008

Faculty Meeting (pt 1)

As I mentioned on Friday, I went to my first faculty meeting last week. Actually, it was double header - I went to both a dept faculty meeting and a university committee meeting, back to back. So, 4 hrs of "meeting", with a location change in between. I'll limit myself to the dept. faculty meeting for today.

I'm the secretary this year. Apparently, the new professor is always the secretary. I checked; this isn't some evil joke. I really, really hope they hire someone else this year (there is an active search), so I can stop taking notes next year. I have never been good at taking notes. I like listening too much.

Also, when I was an undergrad, I always used to think that profs would hang out after work and talk about us. When I became a grad student/post-doc, I realized that profs were way too busy to hang out and talk about us. I now realize that it was a little of both. They don't hang out and talk about us after work, they do it during faculty meetings! Maybe not specific students, more general - like, "what do you think happened to the sophomore class? I gave them the same test as I gave to the juniors last year, and they all failed it." As I'm not teaching, I can't really join in, but I was kind of taken aback.

The majority of the meeting was actually spent going over the plans for the semester (seminars, hiring etc), with one small exception when we talked about the tenure/review process. A lot of people would like to see it standardized (numerically), and many people are quite happy with the personal touch (namely, the ones with friends in high places). As I'm new, and have neither friends in admin nor any idea what the proposed numeric system is, I asked for information but didn't really say much. But, this did lead to the discussion of the general review process - namely, how we (profs) get reviewed every year, and students get reviewed every semester, but who reviews the staff?

Apparently, our chair! And he feels they are doing a great job! (Doesn't everyone? he asked). Um, no. So, we all asked to be included or asked for input when the next round of reviews were due. I have a feeling that this years reviews are going to be significantly different than the last decade of reviews.

And maybe our chair will finally realize he gets preferential treatment...

Friday, September 5, 2008


Unlike the title may imply, I'm not referring the benefits of being a professor, I'm referring to the Benefits Office, or the people who control things like health insurance. This is my least favorite part of changing jobs - dealing with changing health insurance. In fact, next to moving, I would have to say this is my next "least favorite task" - if I was asked to rank them - assuming major things like surgery, death, etc were taken out of the rankings.

In fact, I hate dealing with these people so much, I almost missed the deadline to sign up. I made it by a day - and my transactions with them today have been equally, if not more, nightmarish than at my last three jobs.

The people in the office are extremely rude - irregardless of how nice you are to them. Okay, I shouldn't generalize. The person I spoke to last week was very nice. But, I guess she is out this week. The person I spoke to today verged on being obstinate just for fun. An example:

The school has very good health care, in part because there is a medical school/hospital on campus, and if you go there, you get very, very good prices (free with very low monthly payment). So, I wanted to sign both me and my husband up (me +1 adult). This meant I had to show I was married - ie bring proof of marriage to the office. So, I called the office to find out where they were located (I'm still working on figuring out where all of the buildings are) so I could bring it over. I was first berated for not attending orientation (which I did), then I was berated for not paying attention during orientation (which I did). It wasn't covered in my orientation - mine was 3hrs long, and Benefits simply handed out a book, said to do everything in it, and call with any questions.

Now, after talking to my dept's admin asst, apparently the staff orientation is given in three parts, each one is a day long, and in theirs, things like which building Benefits is in are covered.

In any case, we (the Benefits guy and I) finally decided I would simply fax it to him. So I did. I called back to verify he got it and make sure he didn't need anything else and find out a timeframe. Apparently, things like timeframes were also covered in orientation - um, not mine.

At this point, I explained (calmly) that my orientation and his were different. Mine was 1 day, and his was longer. Mine did not involve a presentation from Benefits, and his clearly did. And that I would appreciate if he would simply answer my question, as I was told he would do, because this discussion was a waste of time. In the end he answered my question. But, seriously, why all of the drama?

I know, I shouldn't let this kind of stuff bother me (my husband just told me as much). But really, I know the reason he treated me like crap is that I sound like I'm 12 on the phone, so he thinks I'm 12 (or maybe 20), and a graduate student, and so he can treat me like crap. If I sounded like I was 50 and male, he probably wouldn't have treated me the same. I realize I sound like I'm viewing everything through the gender lens and all, but the person last week knew I was a professor, and the person this week didn't. And the person last week was extremely helpful.

Since I tend not to call and say "hi, I'm Prof X, can you please answer my question?", I can only assume that the difference is based on this knowledge - otherwise, all I can assume is that the person I spoke to today really enjoys making other people miserable. And I would really rather not jump to this conclusion.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

New Office Furniture

I'm sitting on the floor right now waiting for my new office furniture to arrive. It was supposed to get here at 9am, so I rounded up a couple of my students at 8:30 to help me move out my old furniture (circa 1970) to make room for my new furniture. It is now 10:30 and some of the furniture has arrived (it is in boxes outside of my office door), but the people (and the rest of the furniture) who are going to put it together haven't arrived. They are one floor down putting someone else's furniture together.

Therefore, I'm sitting on the floor and waiting. I waited turn on my laptop until a few minutes because I kept hoping it would be just a few more minutes until they arrived, but a few minutes would go by, and they wouldn't arrive. So, now I turned it on. I'm betting they show up any minute now.

In any case, it will be nice to have furniture because I can unpack and organize, finally.

I have felt like I have been living out of a box the past few months, both in the lab and in my office, and it has been taking a toll on my sanity. Hopefully by the end of today, my desk will be organized (assuming it actually gets unpacked), and then my office will be organized. Next, I'll tackle the labs.

I spent a large portion of yesterday in them (when I wasn't in two committee meetings), and part of this morning in them. I am fully planning on spending this weekend in them, and dragging my husband along for the ride...

Well, the desk hasn't shown up - so much for hoping that turning on my laptop would do the trick!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Labs Done!!!!!

In case you can't tell, my labs are done. Well, 99% done - and done to the point that I (and more importantly) my students can move in. Technically, I no longer get a desk in the lab, so they are really the ones moving in. We spent all day yesterday moving. Yes, we labored on Labor Day. My husband and I were going to do it irregardless of the day - we have had boxes and boxes of stuff in our apt for the last few months, so at the first sign of approval, it was getting re-located.

My students volunteered to come. I didn't force or in any other way require them to come in and I tried to make it clear that if they didn't, I wouldn't hold it against them. But they came just the same. And, I have to say as much as I want to say it doesn't effect my opinion of them, it really does. Their enthusiasm does make me happy.

So, we spent the day moving stuff - both my textbooks and lab equipment - into the lab and my office. And, since a bunch of equipment arrived last Friday in crates, we also spent part of yesterday, uncrating equipment and setting it up. (In anticipation of moving stuff Monday, I went to a tool store on Saturday and bought a ton of tools, including a crowbar).

As my undergrad said, it was like a very, very expensive Christmas. I don't think they quite understand just how expensive most of this equipment is, so I'm thinking this afternoon, we may just take a walk around the lab and do an inventory.

Oh, and the reason I had so much equipment in my apt - I bought a lot (all) of it used from start-up companies which were going under or consolidating (ie in stages of going under). So, they don't really ship. Therefore, I picked it up. And they were closer to my apt, than to my school, so I took it there. And, while I paid very little for most of it (when compared to retail), the replacement cost is very high.

In any case, I'm extremely happy right now - even though one company forgot to put some adapter in the crate so I can't finish setting up the really expensive piece of equipment (that I did pay full price for). But I still have that feeling of someone who got everything she asked for.