More tales from the recruiting committee

While I may not be the most experienced person on the faculty search committee, I definitely know what I think the students want and what we need.  I explained previously how I would like another industry ex-pat because they can help bring some more connection to the jobs the students want, and the money the faculty members need.  I want to be alive to see my research realized, and I know that industry has the greatest motivation to build stuff, use them, and sell them.  I understand that some research is very conceptual and it can be many decades before the usefulness is realized, but for a department that claims to be applied science then I feel they need to show some of the ‘applied’ side of things and bring in someone else with industry contacts and motivation.  I’m not saying the other PIs here are unmotivated, but I feel they definitely are unmotivated to get the fruits of their labor to appear in anything more than a publication.  The publications are great to disseminate their work and share with others that may build upon it, but without pushing the research further (again we claim we’re highly applied) the research will ultimately just sit in the archives collecting digital dust.

One person told me off the record that many don’t want this turning into an industry department that’s solely motivated by money.  I get that.  I left industry partially for that exact reason, but federal funding is dwindling, the public often makes fun of academic research, and people are starting to believe that nothing good comes out of academic labs.  We need to be creating collaborations not only across departments and schools but also with companies.  If you have research that could make flying safer, treat a disease, or eliminate our dependence on oil, let’s find a way to take that publication and turn it into reality.  And whether it’s right or wrong, we’ll need industry’s money.  Or at least someone from industry’s know-how to turn that concept into a tangible object that can help society, regardless of whether we’re turning a profit from it.  We need other people that have done “practical” design work, to contact the proper vendors, and get the research into the hands of subject matter experts or customers.

I know this is a contested topic and I’ve been accused of being less interested in science and more interested in ruining the sanctity of academic research.  I’m wildly interested in science!  I understand that science can do amazing things.  But ultimately money keeps our labs going, and the vast majority of our students will go into industry.  If I could just have one other faculty member on my side that has experienced something beyond the tower I would be grateful.  Funny thing in this is the faculty members that I’ve had on my grants to a couple private companies used to be anti-industry, but in these arguments, they’re on my side.  I’ve definitely converted them that industry isn’t so evil (though trust me, they are evil…kidding….mostly…..).  What do I have to do, fund every one of these prof’s labs to show them that more connection to industry, the better?

Faculty Recruitment

We’re starting to look at application packets for new TT openings we have here and I’m realized a few things that I thought I want to talk about.  Also, I’ve realized that I have opinions that very few people are listening to here.  So the internet shall be my sounding board.

  1. A lot of people are the same.  It’s amazing the number of people that come from similar backgrounds with similar research focuses and very little differentiating them.  How many Ivy league PhDs does it take to screw in a light bulb?  I don’t know, but I know where you can find dozens that are relatively indistinguishable on paper.  This also kind of speaks to science these days in general, I guess.  There are too many projects that are just slight variants of each other since that’s where the money is.  But what happened to doing novel research?  I know it’s harder to fund the research if everyone doesn’t think it’s hot.  But why can’t we, as great researchers, convince people that our research matters.  Even if no one had thought that it mattered.
  2. Some people are different-but in different ways.  There’s a huge push to hire ‘diversity’ candidates.  The r/enlightenedcentrism person in me just wants great collaborators that can help me and others around here.  I love diversity and think it should absolutely be pushed, but the quality of the last two candidates we have brought in have been very subpar.  They work in typical fields, but they can’t bring in money because, to be honest, they aren’t great researchers.  They came from very small schools with very few research papers under their belt before being offered a TT position here.  So atypical candidates are being pushed extra hard and I’m fighting it because they won’t help the school.  I’m very genetically atypical for this field, and I’d love to see more diversity, but not at the expense of bringing in researchers that can’t develop a successful program.
  3. Where are the industry folks?  My industry experienced shaped me differently than the rest of my colleagues.  I pull in industry funding, I have a different work ethic, and I connect students with leaders in the field to get them experience and jobs.  And with funding dropping, we need to be focusing on other sources for research money.  I’m advocating very hard for the couple industry folks that have applied.  These two don’t have the best pedigrees, but they have amazing work experience and plenty of patents that would really boost the department by broadening the industry expertise.  I’m from a biomedical background and have industry and clinical connections and relevance in mind when doing research.  This has helped me immensely in regard to papers and grants and connecting students.  However, if a student wants to enter aerospace or the semiconductor industry I can offer almost no help whatsoever.  I want to bring in at least one industry person to help push some of the other PIs to create more relevant research.  I think nearly every ‘applied’ department could benefit from a couple ex-pat industry folks.  Especially at the non-top-tier schools like mine (still R1, but not MIT).  This has been my biggest fight.  I’d much rather take a ‘lesser’ pedigree with successful industry experience than a good pedigree straight out of school.  Especially in my field (which is more applied).
  4. Why do some profs want people exactly like themselves even down to the way they look?  Do you want to be competing with students with a younger more energetic version of yourself?  What the fuck is up with that?

Sports and stuff

I was lucky enough to have both an academic and athletic scholarship paying for my undergraduate education.  Sports has helped me develop in so many great ways and I absolutely intend on having my children enroll in sports.  It helped teach me teamwork, the importance of exercise, navigating different social relationships, and helped me develop into the confident person I am today.  Occasionally, I’ll glance at the TV in a bar if there are sports on, but I don’t really pay attention.  Watching other people play just isn’t interesting to me.  Fine, if that’s your thing, but it’s just not for me.  I do love playing though.  I’m in two co-ed relaxed leagues and I truly do love and appreciate sports.

So now that I’ve said what I like, here’s what I dislike: big-name sports.  My university is an R1 school with big NCAA Division I teams.  This means that during football season things get wild with plenty of drunkards, fights, .  Now I’m not going to get into how much of the state money gets pumped into sports ( (; this is more about how I have to plan some of my weeknights and weekends around what sports events are happening.  I like that people can get together and cheer on their home team, but I don’t like the vomit, trash, and general hooliganery that accompanies these events.  I can deal with the fact that every once in a while the parking costs will go up for events, and that there will be crowds.  It’s no different than a concert or conference.  But why do these events bring out the worst in a lot of people?  I know that only a small percentage of the fans there are the shitty people, but they stand out, and no one does anything about it.  Just a rant.

Aside from all of that, this semester is already kicking my ass.  The new class I have, plus some projects at home, and trying to set up a new project have made my free time less sparse.  My cup is running near-empty at the end of every day.  This is where delegation will have to come in.  At home and for class I can’t delegate, so I’m giving a lab tech and my post-doc each an extra project and I’m only going to want the really high-level stuff for now.  I’m just hoping that when things clear up in a bit that I will be able to have a detailed meeting with each of them and the project won’t have progressed too far off track.  I trust my tech, but I’m not sure about my post-doc whether they’ll come through.  This will be really tough for me because it’s tough for me to break free and trust other people with my tasks.

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.

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