THE Manuscript

I have this one project that is so far my magnus opus.  It started out with some really basic science that has blossomed into some uncharted territory and is changing the way the biomedical community approaches a specific type of disease.  Then this was tied into some design work and has resulted in a physical device that is giving some pretty interesting preclinical data and treating an aspect of disease thought untreatable.  I’m in talks with some physicians about ways to get this into the clinic and maybe creating a start-up built from this.  I’ve been delaying publishing a lot of this because it has the makings of an incredible megamanuscript for a high-profile journal.  Higher than any impact factor I’ve ever even tried for.  One of those journals that have a pre-review before it can even go before the ‘real’ reviewers.  I submitted earlier this year and just got notice it’s past pre-review and now in the ‘real’ review stage.  I’m nervous, but the students are not.  The main student that worked on this has stated that she would rather just have a few smaller ones to pad her CV, and can’t seem to grasp the importance of the higher impact.

I hate pulling rank in a situation like this, but it has to happen to gather some traction rather than get lost in the web of smaller-impact journals.  She is definitely unhappy about this because she wants to pad her CV.  I’m hoping that once this (hopefully) accepted that she realizes the benefit.  I remember being the same way, but learned that it’s easier to get your name out there when it’s attached to good high-profile work.  It will take time, I guess.  I just don’t want to be a lab that’s constantly putting out tech briefs in low impact journals just to get my numbers up.  That being said, I’ve realized that this journal is definitely a ‘boys club’, so convincing them our work belongs is going to be a battle.  One that I’m very much willing to fight.

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After the holiday/before the busy

The holiday was interesting.  Did some travel both inside and outside the US, encouraged my students to take time off (unless they had tests on living specimens), spent the minimal amount of time on family, got a bunch of reading and drawing done, and really recharged the batteries.  I should have taken a little more time, but research needs to continue.  Some students have taken work home with them, which I am very glad to hear status reports of, but I have no ill-will for taking a couple weeks off during the holiday.  We’ll have some one-on-one kick-off meetings this week to get goals set up along with some general housekeeping stuff.  I have a new project I got a seed grant for that I need to start on.  I will have a post about the starting-up of a new project I’ve been wanting to write.

This upcoming semester I have a new class that I never taught.  It will be a challenge because this will be the largest class I’ve ever taught (~60 students).  And because I rely heavily on whiteboard lectures with very few Powerpoint slides I have to become an expert on a topic I’m not exactly an expert on.  Instead of submitting in the January cycle of applications I will be focusing on becoming not the expert my students need, but the one they deserve.

Side note: I fucking love this cold weather.  Getting all bundled up to walk around, doing a little snow shoveling, and snuggling at home are awesome.

Few topics I’m going to address this year:

  1. Undergraduate researchers
  2. Shifting funding sources
  3. Connecting collaborators with industry
  4. Starting up a brand new project
  5. I’m getting recruited
  6. Discrimination at conferences

Bye bye slacker

A few months ago I wrote about a student I had who was a great student but has since become lazy and unproductive.  After some helpful advice here and talking to other colleagues and my department head I had a stern talking with him.  I tried my hardest to figure out what happened, but he’s just become complacent and distant from everyone in the lab-though incredibly chummy with a neighboring lab.  So I gave him a couple months to shape up and NOTHING has happened.  I talked with the PI who’s students are seemingly his friends and he has space in his lab and said he would be willing to take him on.  Then we talked about my student’s work ethic and the other PI wasn’t on board anymore.  I talked to the department head and we have decided to give him notice that he will be leaving with an MS in the Spring unless he finds another lab.  I’ll have to pay for another semester for the student, but he won’t be allowed in the lab.  He’ll be writing his thesis, which he’ll defend in a few months then be gone if he hasn’t found another PI.

So this brings me to yesterday.  I finally told him that he hasn’t turned around and this is his last chance to make an excuse.  He gave me nothing.  So I let him know that I can’t justify funding him using tax-payer dollars when he’s not going to produce results in exchange for the tax dollars.  This is where I notified him that his work is complete and he should begin writing a thesis or find another PI.  I notified him I would pay his stipend/tuition for one last semester to allow him to write and look for a job and that would be it.  I know, firing someone right before Christmas is very GM-ey of me, but I wanted to give him as much of a heads-up as possible.

He said (yelled) that I’m a horrible person and that everyone only pretends to like me, and that I need to be put in my place (whatever that means).  Then he told me he has a job lined up!  I just calmly told him that’s great, and does he want to rush through the thesis to at least get the MS so he can have it when he starts his job.  He’s one short thesis away from finishing it, after all.  He said he’s not interested and he’ll be gone.  So I guess his laziness in my lab kind of won out, after all?  I would have gladly rushed through it to get the credentials, but whatever, he’s gone, and I get to save some cash and headaches.

Bosses are the worst

A few things have reminded me of how much I dislike authority.  I won’t bore you with that (eh, I probably will….but later), but I will just rant about it.

I hate being told what to do.  I’m always good with authority (teachers, coaches, bosses), and they’ve always taken well to me, but inside my blood boils when I get told what to do and because they told me to do it, I just don’t want to do it.  Raising me must have been difficult for my parents because of how stubborn I can be.  On top of that, I really hate when I make a decision that I want to do something and being told I can’t when there’s no logical reason otherwise.  I’m a fucking adult and I want to make adult decisions and deal with the consequences.  I have a friend who has to get every little purchase cleared by their spouse, and that doesn’t sit well for me.  Especially in a situation where they’re each pulling in roughly the same amount of income.  This is partly why I like being where I am right now.  I fucking hate having a work boss, a home boss, any boss really.  Right now I’m in a pretty good place so I thought I would compare types of bosses I’ve experienced.

Work boss: Before I became a team leader the boss gets all the credit unless you force your way into the visibility (which I did).  I prefer to own my accomplishments, thank you very much.  This made me hate the boss at times, and correspondingly, the job.  And then having the boss check up on progress-I hated that.  Eventually, I became a group leader and got a lot more freedom, but then there was another boss.  And I hated taking orders from that one, too.  I’m so grateful that I have pseudo-bosses right now that leave me the fuck alone.  I like being able to show up when I want, leave when I want, direct projects how I see fit and screw off for a whole day if I want to…not that I ever do….mostly.

Home boss: A couple years ago I was in a complicated relationship.  I hated being scolded for spending money the way I wanted (I was the breadwinner) and spending my time as I wanted.  I’m a grown-up (mostly) and I wanted to make grown-up decisions.  And then having someone so clingy around me didn’t sit well either.  I liken it to having a boss that’s constantly hovering around you like at work.  My current SO and I are very attached, but we understand having space and being our own person.

Parent (kind-of boss): I have one parent alive still, but they each had a very different parenting style when I was growing up.  They were both hyper-demanding of me academically and extracurricularly, however, one pushed me on the day-to-day and the other just waited for periodic reports.  After a while, they both stopped their nagging entirely because I was doing well.  But the pressure was still severe.  When I have a kid, I would hope that I would be somewhere between pushy and supportive.  But I have no idea.  My parents’ styles definitely put me on rough footing with them, which continues to today.

Coach: This was one of the few bosses I actually took too.  I hated running laps or doing certain tedious activities, but I realized pretty early on that all of it was helpful.  I’m cool with coaches.

From a being-the-boss perspective, I feel I’m pretty relaxed.  I let people do what they want, and just keep them guided in the proper direction.  This seems to work and it seems people like me, but we’ll see.  Overall, I just hate being told what to do, and I prefer controlling my actions (proof I’m not a robot).  I only hope that I don’t appear as overbearing as the bosses I’ve had.

Taking back the wheel

This is a personal post-fair warning.  Sometimes these personal posts help me digest what’s happening in my head, and something about not only writing but publishing online, helps me feel clearer.  Even if no one reads them.

When I started looking for a job in academia a few years back I was married, had a high paying job, ran a lab, had a nice set of friends, but I felt kind of fake.  I wanted to like all of it because I was supposed to.  I wasn’t happy in the marriage (I couldn’t imagine having kids with that person), I realized that the corporate world wasn’t for me, and I only had the wide net of friends I could feel like I had friends.  I faked being happy in so many aspects of my life.  Until I realized that I shouldn’t fake it anymore and I was honest with myself and everyone around me and decided to drop it.  When I finally dropped the ball that I was leaving in a year (I took an extra year before leaving my job to finish a project), it was felt hard.  No one had any idea and it was a tough separation.  But I’m so much happier in my work now.  Holding onto unhappiness and faking it is bad for the soul.  I had to “break up” with many aspects of my life.

When I started looking for an academic position my SO was on-board.  They didn’t really work much (which is a small part of why I was irked with them), and they were proud of being ‘lazy’, so they could come wherever I went.  This got me thinking about all the things I disliked in my SO at the time.  But stupidly I tried to continue on with it and continued faking being happy.  We moved to the new city and I realized that it was a mistake to continue in the relationship.  This led to a separation and eventual divorce.  All around the time that I had a parent and friend pass around the same time.  So in a change of societal norms, I was stuck paying spousal support to someone who is fully capable of having a good job.  And this spousal support came on the heels of me taking a huge pay cut to come to academics.  The money doesn’t matter as much, but when someone doesn’t even have to work and takes a chunk of my income, it stings.  This also led to me realizing that it was time to break up with friends that weren’t healthy for me.  I have friendquaintances all over the place that I love to hang out with, but I wasn’t going to water a plant that I didn’t want to water, so to speak.

I eventually met someone new that I couldn’t be closer to.  Even in the worse of times, it’s still better than the best of times previously.  And my job and friends are exactly how I want it (though I wish I lived closer to some of my friends).  I don’t feel like I have to be fake and pretend to like everything because I’m supposed to be happy with everything I have.  I was afraid to let people know that I wasn’t awesome all the time and correspondingly let myself be put into situations I didn’t want to be in.  Well, when I’m unhappy now I’m not afraid to tell people, and if I don’t like a situation I change it or myself.  After all, I only have control over myself.  Life is too short for me to not be living the way I want to.  I understand concessions need to be made but always within reason.  Present me feels like I have so much more control over myself and it’s a great feeling.  There are obviously things I would prefer differently like my ex-bum taking care of themself, my friends living close, or teaching a class I’d like to teach, but I feel so much better that I’m driving my ship.

Recruitment

Last year I took on/was-volunteered-for a new initiative by my department to recruit more underrepresented students in.  I suspect it’s because I look and talk differently than the rest of the people here.  My only caveat to leading this was that I wanted to develop the initiative from the ground-up myself.  The goal of this is that there are a lot of kids graduating from local high schools all around our metro that 1. Aren’t coming to University of Phindustry, and 2. Aren’t majoring in STEMs.  The surrounding area is mainly white, and the minority students that are here are already coming to either my school or a neighboring one.  However, the neighboring one doesn’t have the type of program I’m in, so I have that working for me.  So I split this into two focus areas, women and minorities.

To get women interested I have focused on getting them into my field specifically (more of applied than theoretical).  If I can do this then the only local school is mine.  The neighboring university doesn’t have a good applied program.  Ultimately, if the kid is good enough to get into MIT they’re going there regardless.  I specifically focus on recruiting girls interested in STEMs, just not sure which area they want to enter.  Once I have them excited about my field I get them into the university to do some research for pay.  The money comes from my grants.  The majority of the recruiting is focused on girls so correspondingly more of my time is spent on this.  And this has been working very well.  Every single one of my recruits has come into my school and are getting involved in research already this semester (though none in my lab).  If this is successful I’m going to write an outreach grant so I don’t have to use my own grant funding for these ‘employees’.

For minority students, it’s a little different.  A lot of students have no idea what to do for their lives (shit, I still don’t).  So I have to recruit very broadly.  Instead of going to science fairs I start with community centers.  I have to sell them that science and math are cool.  And the vast majority like the technology but hate the science.  I don’t have time to convince everyone, but there is a subset of interested kids.  Especially when I mention that they can get paid.  But I can’t keep them interested.  I’ve tried taking them on tours, showing technology, getting amped, bringing by students, having local events, and talking to parents and I just can’t connect.  There has been just one student interested.  I’m visiting a program a little ways away that has had good success since there’s a conference there next month, so hopefully, they’ll shed some helpful tips.

Thanksgiving criticism

I don’t always visit my family for Thanksgiving because I have a hypercritical parent. Things I’ve been criticized so far in these two days:

1. My lifestyle (they just don’t like how I live)

2. My relationships

3. My photography hobby

4. My drawing hobby

5. That I read too much

6. My backpacking habit (they think it’s dumb)

7. Quitting my high paying corporate job to ‘teach’

8. My eyes (allergies make them a little puffy)

My siblings defend me, though most of it they just give weird looks since a lot of the criticism doesn’t make any damn sense.

I’m thinking about next year writing a life proposal ahead of time so I can just get parental review comments rather than having to hear it when I show up. It would be cheaper than a flight 🙂

To all of you who celebrate, I hope you are having a great Thanksgiving with only minimal family drama and plenty of full bellies!