Publishing purgatory

It’s no surprise that I pull funding from industry.  I knew who to contact, whether it be my old collaborators in my company, or other companies or subcontractors.  And having these contacts and understanding the shortcomings of their work and how to quantify and publish it helped me land a healthy amount of funding from industry.  In addition, the economy is relatively strong so they’re more willing to cut more checks.  And whether or not I agree with their methods, they have the most amount of money, and because of profit-motives, they have (arguably) the strongest motivation to get their devices into the clinic.  Likewise, I have bills to pay and research objectives I want to get done.  And students that work on my industry-funded projects get into the ears of those that do the hiring for when my students eventually leave.  It’s great on almost every front.  Almost.

Now, the way that the funding goes is like this: I reach out to someone in industry asking if they’re interesting in Project A.  I usually ask this over the phone after I’ve documented internally that I’m interested in it, then follow up with a formal email for protection-purposes.  I explain that I know that other people in the field would be interested, they just don’t have the resources to often do basic things.  I focus on that since most groups in industry won’t touch ‘basic’ research because it won’t turn a profit quickly.  Once they’re convinced I put together a short formal proposal and then the back and forth edits start.  Once we’ve settled on proper scope and method, I bring them in or I fly out and we have some formal brainstorming then the contract starts.  I have dealt with three types of contracts:

  1. Their company owns everything, however, we can publish immediately.  This comes with usually a 5-10x markup that goes to the school to forego the IP.
  2. We own everything, but this typically comes with a really small amount of money and only really applies to core-science.  The company is basically wanting an academic lab to corroborate results so they can point to the results for customers to get on board with their technologies.
  3. The company owns everything, and we can’t publish without their explicit permission from someone there at VP level or above.  This also comes with the 5-10x markup.

I’ve dealt with one of each of these.  The worst is number 3.  This usually comes with more money, but also more pressure.  And the students that work on this are held in a publishing purgatory.  The VP at the company I’m working with (not my past one) is habitually slow to sign paperwork.  So my students have a couple great papers to publish, but we have to wait for the VP to sign off, and a patent to get officially submitted.  This has been taking months.  Today I reached out to someone else in a separate reporting chain to get the VP and lawyers off their asses, so we’ll see how it works, but I definitely won’t be taking option 3 anymore.  I wanted more research money, but this headache isn’t worth it.

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“Just” a teacher

Unless you’ve been to grad school (and had a research focus) you don’t realize what exactly a professor does.  When I left industry, the majority of the people thought I was leaving to go teach.  And while, yes, I did partially leave because I want to teach, one of the largest factors (and the majority of my current time spent) is the research.  As a professor, I do research and make time for teaching and service.  And when I was leaving industry, the majority of people still couldn’t grasp that I was leaving to go do awesome research.  They all thought (and most still do) that I was leaving because I couldn’t handle the rigor of a lab and wanted to just teach students.  Most of these people were people that did only an undergrad so they mostly only saw the teaching side of their profs.  Or they went to schools that were more teaching focused.

So when I meet people and mention that I’m an ass prof at University of Phindustry I only get comments about teaching.  Now I don’t give a shit what they think, but I do research and build awesome devices; it’s tough when people focus in on just one part.  And it’s especially tough when they think I have a cushy gig because they think that my entire job consists of me teaching two classes a year.  Now, when I was an undergrad I understood very well that the profs do research, but when I was in high school I did not know that, so I understand that there is this disconnect in what’s done in the tower.  But even when I tell people about the rigors of research and even when there are articles published about my research a lot of people still don’t understand that I’m more than a teacher.

Now, I do love teaching (some classes), and I do love mentoring students (most students), so this isn’t a complaint.  And I like to think I don’t give a shit if they think that I am a hard worker or not.  After all, random people I meet at a party aren’t on my tenure committee, so their opinion about my work ethic doesn’t matter.  I’m conflicted.

Collaboration with the old

If you read my stuff on my previous blog it should come as no surprise that I didn’t like my advisor.  I’ve come to now realize that the opinions were misplaced.  He’s still selfish, and I won’t forget the things I didn’t like.  But being in his spot now, I totally get it.  There are times when I realize that I have to weigh the students versus me, and I have to come out on top sometimes.  But alas, I’m torn.  I still dislike him, even though I understand now why he behaves the way he did.

So now that my tenure packet is out (I submitted early…using my industry experience as ammunition), he’s realized that we can work together, collaborate if you will.  I kept a distance because I dislike him, but also my tenure advisor said it’s a good idea to distance oneself from the advisor.  So I distanced myself, but he knows as well as anyone else that my packet is submitted.  And this week he reached out to me wanting some collaboration.  The thing is-I felt partially like he may have used me in grad school to fill gaps in knowledge, results, etc. that he doesn’t have.  And at the time I didn’t care for the distraction, but now I’m glad I got the experience.  So I’m worried that he’ll be pushy and want lots of stuff and I don’t know what I will get in return.  There’s literally nothing except maybe a passing authorship I can get with him (which I acknowledge is payment in itself).  The research isn’t in my focus so it wouldn’t help me keep the lights on, so the only dial I have to turn is asking him to get on future grants to utilize the technology I’d be providing.  Which I’m definitely in favor of, but again, it’s out of my particular research interests.  In fact, I think it’s useless (though I wouldn’t tell him that).  How do I know it’s useless?  I worked on it in industry early on and there was no clinical benefit.  I won’t tell him because I still have to keep corporate secrets.  The problem is if I say ‘no’ I could see it hurting me, but if I say ‘yes’ I don’t want to be roped in with him again.

Twitter

In general, I’m not a fan of social media.  I have an Instagram to show off the art I make to my sibling, but I don’t actively do anything with it.  No liking, hashing, connecting, etc.  I literally made it so they could see, because they asked me to.  So I post, and I never log in again until my next post.  By age, I am technically a millennial, and very computer savvy, so it’s not that I can’t….I just hate everything about social media.  Everything.  It takes a decent amount of muster to stay connected even in the blogging community, and I don’t really consider this social media in the ‘traditional’ sense.  To keep in touch I text, call, video chat, email, and hand-write letters.  No one else needs to know anything besides what I’m telling individual people.

So another prof told me today that ‘Prof. Person’ has a Twitter and it helps get more exposure and helps them connect more with colleagues and students, and that I should consider doing this.  I found this kind of insulting.  I’ve been approved for $1.4million in funding in just the few years I’ve been here.  My first PhD student defended over the summer, and my next two will be in the next year.  They all have amazing jobs lined up.  Not counting the first year, I’m averaging 6 papers a year (now the impacts aren’t the greatest, but one per year has been in a very high impact for my field, journal).  I’ve also been submitting five patents per year, and I’m in communication with two groups about creating a start-up with some tech.  You’re saying this isn’t enough, and I need Twitter?  So I thought that maybe this is a service activity.  But then I looked at my service record and I’m definitely more involved than the average.

So I checked out Person’s Twitter.  It’s a lot of complaining about journals, touting themselves in areas that I don’t find impressive, and some personal crap.  In five years they’ve graduated one PhD student, have two decent funding grants (say $250k approval total), and, not including the first year, get three papers out a year with impacts about half of mine (we’re in the same field).  Now she is more social than I am so it’s easy for the department to give her public exposure to recruit students, and she does get good teaching ratings (mine are in the middle).  But that’s some fucking gall to tell me that’s the area I need to improve on.  I know that we are in a social media world, but I have exposure, people are recognizing me, and I’m getting shit done.  I’m probably taking this harder than I should be…..

The old industry group

I still collaborate with my old company, but with completely different groups.  My old group would not have been conducive to this.  I had a great relationship with the group, but what they’re doing doesn’t always mesh well with my research interests.  Having industry contacts came hugely in handy because I have been able to easily reach out to the people I know that can cut checks to fund my research.  As funding is getting tighter and tighter from federal agencies I have to lean more and more on industry.

I recently visited the old facility where my lab in industry was located.  I did the meetings and demos required, and I feel I did an okay job of keeping the funding rolling.  We’ll see in a month or so.  The questions are always so different when I visit companies versus a conference.  Companies want to know when they can take on the project and turn it into something profitable.  No one else gives a crap.  But it’s neat to see how things grow and how projects I proved out when I was there are turning into actual products that will soon hit the market.  Seeing them grow is a cool feeling.  I enjoyed it then, and I continue to appreciate a project ramping up.  But while I was there I thought it would be a good time to check out the old stomping grounds.   So I called up who I groomed to be my replacement and found out that she left.  I’ll go into the reasons in a second.  So I texted an old employee and they were gone.  So I texted another one and she said the new group leader didn’t want me there.  I’m an outsider and they have company secrets to protect.  I said that I understood and offered to grab a drink and dinner later.  She was more than happy to accept on the invite.

At dinner, she spilled the beans.  The new guy is a hardcore ‘get products out’ kind of guy.  Smart and incredibly cocky, and doesn’t really have a scientific attitude.  He likes to just make things quickly to impress higher-ups.  The rest of the team are more classically trained where they understand the theory really well.  If a new problem comes up they (like I) like to do the math to get a handle on the problem then build a device to how the theory stands up.  The new guy isn’t so strong in the theory so he makes up for it by just building tons of stuff, trying everything, and being happy when it’s good enough.  I built the team to build it the best way possible, tying in physics with medicine in new ways and we were very successful because of it.  My replacement recruited this new guy in because he seemed to have a nice knowledge set to help her manage the team.  But apparently, he took over hardcore and stroked the ego of the higher VP of the company to start usurping responsibility from my old number 2.  So she left, the next up left as well, and the remainder of the team doesn’t like his attitude.  It’s sad to see my old team falling apart because of one overcocky pseudo-psychopath (according to my old employees).  A lot of the team will never leave because they have pensions and families to think about, or aren’t as marketable.  So this new guy will definitely be very successful because of the way I set up the infrastructure of the group.  This is a regular occurrence.  A (usually) guy comes in, acts incredibly aggressive, chirps the loudest, gets their way, then riding on the shoulders of their team gets all the credit, raises, etc. and goes home happy while the other employees that can’t really go elsewhere have to shoulder the burden until they retire.  Welcome to the business world.  Seeing stuff like this makes me much happier to be in academics.  We have our problems here, but nowhere near as bad as what I’ve seen in industry.

Money

When I was in industry, money was something on my mind constantly.  Money for myself, money for my department, money from profit, money spent on stupid shit, money I donated, money I gave to the government, etc.  There was so much talk about money.  Slowly, my personal want of money became my most important goal and definitely didn’t like myself for it.  I liked that the stuff I was working on was saving patient’s lives, but slowly that part became less important.

Eventually, I realized that my own scientific goals, and not feeling like I sold out, became more and more important.  This made taking the 75% pay cut worth it.  Though I did move away from a very expensive metro to a smaller city, so the 75% isn’t as painful.  Still massive though.  I dropped a couple of tax brackets.  I don’t donate as much, but I don’t spend as much or worry as much either.  The one good part about the obsession with money is I got very good at handling it, from a laboratory perspective.  This has translated well to academia (though it doesn’t hurt that I’ve pulled in some nice funding).  I can usually budget in my head on the fly where things are going and how much we can spend on which things.  And how much risk to take depending on the awards or publications we’re trying to get.

A student (undergrad) recently asked me why I would join academia when I presumably made so much more in industry.  I explained everything I just wrote above and he had a blank stare.  I explained there are more important things than cash, and that he will become very bored if all he’s looking for in a job.  Then he said something I wasn’t expecting: “Then looks like when I graduate I’ll have to get an MBA or go to law school.”  Did I just put him on a weird path by giving him philosophical advice?  I mean, if he’s happy down the line then good for him, but I thought I was giving him some greater-purpose shit and all he took from it was that he’s maybe in the wrong field.  Very weird.

Depression

Not an academic post, but this is something I care about.  If you don’t want to read about this stuff, then fine on ya.  Here’s some comics I like instead: https://xkcd.com/http://theoatmeal.com/http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com/

So everyone who knows me personally knows I’ve been fighting depression for the past couple of decades.  On the surface when out in public I would look bubbly, be very productive at work/school, have friends I could joke around with, and behave as healthy as one could.  Then I would get home and my ex would be there so I had to keep strapping on the fake smile and laughter.  It’s a mask.  As soon as I would get alone time I would finally be able to just be depressed me.  And this would pretty much only happen in the bathroom or in the car.  I was always wondering when it would be too much for me to handle and walk away from this life.  About five years ago I started letting people know that are close to me rather than the silent battles I would constantly be fighting.  I wouldn’t just go exclaiming, “I’m depressed and hate everything and don’t want to be a part of this world!”  If the situation came up where someone would ask what’s going on if I wasn’t up to my usual bubbly self I would tell them that I have depression.  I try to make it normal to talk about this stuff.

There’s definitely a stigma from certain people after this, but I don’t give a shit.  The feeling of depression is almost impossible to describe to someone that doesn’t have it.  They usually think it’s just being sad.  Sad isn’t as crushing to me.  I wish I was sad instead of depressed.  It’s like someone with a migraine or a cluster headache describing what those headaches are to someone that has to pop an ibuprofen when they get a tension headache.  It’s still unpleasant, but everyone I’ve talked to that gets migraines wishes they had tension headaches instead.

Thoughts of suicide are definitely regular regardless of pharmaceuticals or therapy.  Though I don’t let most people know it’s that severe because I don’t want to get babied.  I have two close people who I can talk to about this and they remind me of perspective.  I don’t buy that “he/she is selfish because they ended themselves” bullshit.  When the pain is that bad, it’s almost impossible to have empathy for them.  When I see a suicide from someone I know I just think “I’m sorry for the friends and family, but I’m glad they aren’t suffering” because I know what the suffering feels like.  All the analogies about “losing sight of the horizon”, “feeling a crushing feeling”, or “feeling hopeless” don’t really do justice to the true feeling.  What I have found helps for me isn’t trying to explain to other people how I feel, or other people explaining how I should feel, or telling me jokes to cheer me.  What helps is knowing there are people there for me, that whatever I want is the right thing, and that what I’m feeling is really happening.  That I shouldn’t feel alone, and that people shouldn’t tell me to cheer up, or that it’s going to be okay.  Give me a hug, say you’re there for me and check up.  Feeling loved/wanted even if I’m not accepting it helps.  Being on an island isn’t good; this needs to be treated like any disease where a good support structure can make a huge difference.  We need to be able to talk about depression, and not just talk about talking about depression.  As human beings, we need to be there for each other and treat everyone as humans.

I don’t have a solution to this problem, but I know what helps get me over the next hump.  It’s Mental Health Awareness Day, so I thought I would put this post out there since I try to spread awareness throughout the year whenever I can, and I don’t really care so much about these special days for everything that exists in the world.  But I do know what it’s like to live with depression, and I hope that everyone out there recognizes the symptoms and maybe tries to do something useful.  Understanding that this isn’t just a mood is step one.