Tired and stuff

I never wanted to be someone who just stays at home under the reasoning of ‘the kids’. I have friends that have done this, and it just never sat well with me. No judgment on them, it just doesn’t mesh with how I like to do things. I’ve been trying to get out and not miss out on much with my service or research (teaching is excused this semester), but I’m beginning to just be too tired to do it. At the same time, I hate being cooped up. Also, I’ve been told I shouldn’t drink coffee. So I was just powering through all the tiredness, and I’m certain I look worse for wear because of it. At a recent service outreach event, I was able to bring the energy for the hour, but when I was driving home I had to pull over because I was so tired. Now, a new doctor said it’s fine to drink coffee. I have had a fair amount of physiology training so I assumed it was okay, but then when I was told it wasn’t I just followed blindly. Now, a couple cups a day has made a world of difference. I’m still a little too emotionally exhausted to do a lot, but it’s making a big difference. So I haven’t become the ‘I can’t go out because of the kids’ person, but it’s incredibly tempting.

One of my better students is preparing to graduate. I just finished markups on their dissertation. It took a long time because of the tired. Also, it took a long time because I look at their body of work and just keep thinking, “how the heck am I going to replace this student?”. They are heavily responsible for some big grants I brought in. I go through this every time a strong student prepares to leave, and I don’t think I’ll ever get over this. In industry, when people left I never felt this way. I would wish them well, put out a job posting, then work would slow, but always recover. They were relatively interchangeable. I don’t know why this is different. I trained up both the industry employees and my students, spent just as much time with them, and I don’t see the difference other than my internal panic. I’ve gone through this before, and I’ve written about this before, I just don’t have the energy right now to train another student. The gas is running low.

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Fluorescence versus bioluminescence

As part of my service activities, I regularly participate in a few family scientific outreach events. Some kids that come in from their schools are supervised by their teachers, and some kids are visiting with their parents. The most recent event was at an aquarium. S.O. walked around with the little one and got some funny pictures with them making big-eyes at the larger-than-them fish swimming about. I was stationed as a docent. At this aquarium, like many aquariums, there were some jellyfish. This is where I was stationed. Many a child would come up and ask why some jellies would have bright green colors, and maybe why a comb jelly had rainbow colors. I would explain fluorescence and diffraction in a simplistic way, then they stare for a bit at pretty colors, thank me, and walk off. Maybe they won’t remember that in 15 years, but for a second they got a little smarter. Cool shit.

Now, when a parent walks up with the kids and the kids inevitably ask the “where do the pretty colors come from?” question, the parents will almost always respond with “bioluminescence”. Some jellies do have bioluminescence, but these do not. And I feel like a dick if I contradict the parent in front of their kids. So I let them walk off having bad information. What I don’t understand is that the parents could have read the information blurb about the fluorescence or diffraction responsible for the pretty colors, or ask the person wearing an aquarium docent shirt (me). I’m hoping that the person just didn’t know better and thought they knew, but not knowing the differences between fluorescence, diffraction, and bioluminescence are annoying to me. And then the child asked how bioluminescence occurs and the parent said “they just glow”. I was biting my tongue hard. At a different event, a parent talked about the octopus’s ear hole at the tank I was stationed at. Octopods do allegedly have an ear-like apparatus, but it’s not the funnel. Now the kid thinks the funnel is an ear hole because dad couldn’t be bothered to ask me about it (or read).

In my day-to-day life I ask a lot of questions if I don’t know the answer. More and more I have been coming across people that act like they know, but really don’t. And I think that they don’t know that they don’t know, which is worse to me. This has been happening with my students and collaborators, too. And I never know if it’s okay to correct them/I’m too scared to. So I sit silently and just let them spew incorrect information, and educate other people that believe them. I just wanted to get this off my chest (also, this versus that). That’s it.

First day back

Being on campus was bittersweet. I had to leave the little one at home for the first time. We’ll call him Slimer. Slimer is quiet, but when he looks up at you with his hazel eyes it’s tough to not want to be around. I want to be one of those parents that’s okay with getting a sitter or leaving them with the gparents so I need to be okay with telling those hazel eyes goodbye for short period. I’m still so concerned about my career taking a tumble even though everyone says I’ll be fine. I may already be overcompensating by the amount of work I’ve been doing from home. I don’t think I’ve ever read and edited so many papers in my life in the span of a week.

On campus my students had a bunch of gifts waiting for me in my office. The other faculty didn’t really care or notice I was gone (welcome to the solitude that comes with the ivory tower). Like I anticipated, the proactive students had good progress and the less motivated students were behind. I’m mainly glad that no one went down a rabbit hole and wasted resources. The slow ones continued on good paths and made good decisions, they just didn’t work as much so they didn’t make much progress. I told them that I wanted to know what slowed them down and put in some hard deadlines for papers, results, conference submissions, etc. So we’ll see if that lights a fire. But overall it was really nice to be back on campus. I was working my ass off right until the last second so everything would be set for the semester (hence the lack of posts). I have a few meetings next week with collaborators (one from industry that provides me funding), so there’s some prep and data I’ll need from students.

Overall, I worried more than was necessary about my lab and Slimer. It’ll take some time to balance these new roles, but thank you to everyone for the reassuring words!

Working from home

This semester I am not teaching. Not because I bought out my teaching load, but because a stork dropped of this baby and need to take care of it for a little. I haven’t been to campus since the semester started. My current plan is to go in once a week for the next month then see what we can do about scaling things up and/or if I can bring the little one in as an office-mate. S.O. can only take so much time off so they’re using their paternity leave to cover the home base during my weekly visit to ensure my students haven’t burned the lab down. So far, email, Google Hangout video (what will I do when Google gets rid of Hangouts?!?!), phone calls, and text messaging have filled in the gaps okay, but there’s nothing like being on the front line to really guide the research properly. Already in planning, I will miss the next big grant deadline I wanted to hit, but I’d rather wait a cycle and put in a better application since I only get three shots. I have enough funding, and the loss of recent industry funding is kind of a blessing because it’ll force me to focus and slow down a little, which is something I’ve been wanting to do.

What I’m most concerned about at work is that my less motivated students will drop in productivity a lot.  They don’t have the highest amount of motivation, and I’m already noticing their emails have dropped off, as have the quality of emails.  I don’t care if the students are there 40+ hours per week.  I just want to see results.  And from what I’m hearing they’re not even around enough to be getting results.  These were the students where I had to tell them everything from the direction of the project down to the minute details of setting up their experiments. I asked the senior students and my post-docs to check on them, and the only reports from them are that the unmotivated students aren’t around much. I know that it falls on me to have better set them up, but they’re green and I didn’t have as much time with them as I would have chosen. During my campus visits there will be stronger words for them.

In the meantime, I hope everyone’s fall is going well. I hate being stuck at home, but this isn’t a bad reason to be here. There’s a lot of quiet for now with not a lot of excessive crying or demands. I think slowing down is going to be beautiful, I just hope that my lab productivity doesn’t take such a dip that I can’t ramp back up if I decide to pursue some new research interest. I do miss being on campus at the start of the semester. The leaves changes, the sound of students, and the energy on campus is great, but there will be future semesters. For now, I’ll be working from home in more than one way.

That forever post-doc and stuff…….

In my last post I had interviewed an amazing post-doc candidate that I felt should be in a faculty position now.  And if he took on another post-doc he’d be saddling himself and unable to achieve a faculty role.   I don’t know how many years out of grad school is too much before you can jump in, but it seemed like he was approaching some kind of upper limit.  Following advice here and with mentors I offered him a 1 year post and told him if he could help develop a new program I would work with the University to get him into a non-TT position.  So essentially he would be a pseudo-independent and I could expand my lab without really drawing myself too thin.  He countered saying that he didn’t think he could get a TT job if he accepted the non-TT one.  So I offered him the 2 year post-doc and he accepted.  Then yesterday he told me he accepted a non-TT position at a traditionally more prestigious school.  Maybe I got him thinking.  I don’t know.  But now I’m freaking scrambling to find someone decent fast.  I should’ve handled this differently.

My toes are numb, my feet hurt, my back hurts, and I get angry a little more easily than I typically would.  I’ve been trying to get a lot done before I have personal obligations about to take over my life.  The summer has been mildly productive and successful regarding grants and pubs, but I’ve hit a few roadblocks regarding some of the volatility of industry funding in particular.  Having to recruit now also isn’t the easiest timing-wise.

I’m glad I submitted my tenure packet early.  My reviewers are already contacting me wanting some details for their recommendations.  One person, who I have had small collaborations with, didn’t even realize half the stuff I work on.  I guess that’s not surprising, but now I’m concerned that people might try and steal my ideas.  I think it’s just my industry paranoia creeping in.  We were always worried about people stealing ideas, both internally and externally.

Forever post-doc

I’ve been interviewing post-docs over Skype and most are the usual international students with the occasional okay PhD student sprinkled in.  There are always so many more open post-doc positions out there than there are good post-docs.  So it’s not too easy for me to compete with the biggest names, but I’ve done okay.  However, I did find one good one who’s well experienced, mature, and would make a good fit.  He’s been a post-doc on seven years now and I’m iffy.  Not because he’s been in post-doc positions for so long and not because he might get an academic position and be gone.  His large amount of time in the post-doc is great because he brings great experience, and if he goes to an academic position I’d be happy for him.  I’m iffy because I feel wrong giving him another post-doc.  He should be at the point in his training where he should be running more of a program.  And if I saddle him here I feel I’m doing him a disservice.  I know it’s not my place to tell this person what to do, but I think it’s time to take a research prof (non-tenure track) position or skip off to industry.  He’s very smart, mature, and hard-working so he’ll do well where ever he goes.  He said he just hasn’t gotten bites on his application, which I agreed to look over, and it does seem a little run-of-the-mill.  Which usually is great if you have an Ivy league school on your CV, which he does not.  I just feel like I’d be exploiting this person by putting him in another post-doc.  I’m not sure exactly what I’m going to do, but I want to tell him that I don’t think another post-doc is the right thing for him, but I’m afraid he may be insulted.  There are a lot of non-tenure track positions out there in addition to a bunch of industry positions (the economy, while slowing, is still quite hot if you have the right skillsets).  Maybe I’m overthinking this, and should just bring in who I think will be a great researcher, but I just feel dirty doing it.

 

Losing good students to bio

My background is physics.  I eventually bridged this over to the applied world and medicine, but having a good foundation makes it possible to do anything.  Each student has to be theoretically solid and capable of getting their hands dirty when the research inevitably goes applied.  Each summer I go through the same recruiting exercise where I try to recruit very theoretically sound students.  This summer is no different than the rest in that I try to create a diverse lab with talented students on the theoretical side, computational side, and experimental side.  I’m especially hurting for an experimental person.  Especially someone more on the biology side.  But because of the nature of the work, they have to have a good physics background.  These don’t always go hand-in-hand.  Bio people want to do bio, and typically don’t have the most solid background in math or physics.  On top of this, I haven’t been happy with the lack of gender diversity lately, and want to hold my lab as an example.

Now begins my big issue: I have found a couple female students that are great theoretically, but want to do bio.  As a lot of people know, there is a general interest of women in biologically based research.  My lab does this, but not like the hardcore bio labs running blots and transgenic experiments day-and-night.  So I’m having trouble recruiting the students I want because they want more bio or maybe because they didn’t study enough math as an undergrad.  So for the first time, I’ve decided to relax my requirements and basically pull in a student from a more unfocused discipline (like bioengineering) that can maybe do a little of a lot of different fields.  This allows me to get a female student that is willing to dabble with a little variety.  I’m not happy with this, but I’ll make due.  One of my initiatives has been to get female students into more math and physics with sprinkles of biology rather than the other way around since these fields are sorely lacking.  I’ve noticed some uptick, but I’m definitely not happy with my progress.

On the personal side of things, I was having a solid couple of months, and now I am nauseous all the time.  This needs to end now.