Annoyed with checking-in

Welp, we’re about ready to schedule some phone interviews.  I got one of the industry ex-pat candidates I really like, but the rest are relatively run-of-the-mill.  So I’m just hoping they don’t blow it.

Today at the end of the meeting, the chair was complaining about the number of check-in emails to know what’s happening with the status of the search.  I know some schools are already bringing candidates out, so us being a little later must be a little anxiety-inducing.  When he was complaining he had no sympathy for the job-seekers it twisted me up a little inside.  I’m sure it can be annoying to have to deal with this every day, but does he not remember what it was like on the other end?  I distinctly remember having to wait and wait and when I finally got emails it was great, but it would have been nice to know if I wasn’t even under consideration.  Even if the school’s job portal just had a ‘no longer under consideration’ next to my application, that would have been nice.  I remember getting a few rejections over email, but knowing I’m not a fit early on would be nice.  Especially since it allows me to say yes or no to a school knowing that the one I wanted doesn’t want me.

So I mentioned to him that he must remember how stressful the job search is, and he said it was easy for him to find a job.  He talked about how his research and teaching statements were afterthoughts and 30 years ago how easy him and everyone he know had it (I told one of my old advisors this and he disagreed though).  But (maybe) unsurprisingly he couldn’t put himself in the current candidates’ shoes about how tough the market is now.  I understand not being able to say no, but he seemed to care exactly zero about them.  Maybe I’m just more sensitive that the other members.

I think it’s okay to check on the status of a search.  I didn’t do it, but I don’t see anything wrong with wanting to know how things are going, or to update one’s CV.  Clearly, my committee doesn’t think so.

Advertisements

Academia v industry (again)

I got an anxious email from a soon-to-be-PhD about the industry versus academia decision, so I’ve done posts like this before, but given that I’m a few years in, this might be a good time to weigh the differences from a different perspective.  A lot of these will be things that plenty of people have talked about before, but with some more exact details.

The biggest thing I have noticed has been my time.  From the standpoint of how I spend it, and how much free time I have.  During the workday, I bounce between a lot of tasks.  I have one class this semester and I end up taking about 1-2 hours/day on teaching-related things.  Maybe an extra hour here or there depending on what’s happening with the class (exams to grade, lecture I’m unprepared for, etc.).  I typically put in 6-8 hours a day on pure research: meeting with students, writing grants, editing papers, meeting with collaborators, coming up with ideas, reading papers, etc.  Service bites into this, but usually only a couple hours a week.  This is all work, but something about it is just way more satisfying.  When I was in industry, it was 4-6 hours of meetings and 4-6 hours of real work.  This was a little crushing because, while these were mostly my ideas, they were ultimately going to benefit the corporate overlords and not me as much.  I really don’t mind putting in a lot of time when it’s my lab to run.  On the free time side of things, I don’t really have that much right now compared to before.  When I was in industry after work, I would get calls, emails, texts, etc, but these were quick answers not requiring much work thought.  I write, edit, respond to students and come into the lab on weekends and nights more frequently than I probably should.  So overall, I work more now, but I enjoy it more.  So if you’re considering industry versus academia, think about how much you value free time versus the type of work.

I traveled a ton for work, and very comfortably I might add.  I would usually spend an extra day or two in Turkey, France, China, Israel, Italy, England, and many more!  Being able to feed my travel bug on the company’s dime was pretty nice.  And then racking up miles that I could use in personal travel was a huge benefit.  I hardly travel now for work other than a few times a year for conferences or to visit a collaborator.  Not traveling as much is nice since I really like my bed, however, I do sometimes miss the jet-setting life and seeing amazing things throughout the world.  This might just be my industry/academia experience, but if you want to travel more then maybe industry is your thing.

In industry I never once wrote a grant.  I would just show off a prototype or idea in a meeting and we’d get some cash in the budget.  There was a ridiculous amount of money to go around.  And it was kind of cool to just have perceivably unlimited money to do all kinds of cool stuff from unlimited animal work, 3D printers, cameras, spectrographs, etc.  I could do anything, but again didn’t always want to since they weren’t my projects, per se.  Right now, the vast majority of my time is working on grants.  I’ve been reasonably successful in getting money from the government and industry, but this has come at an obscene time-cost.  And even with the onslaught of grants, I’m still nowhere near my industry budget.  If you don’t want to fight constantly for budget then industry is for you!

My personal income was the only thing I dreaded in the transition.  This was massive.  The majority of ex-pats I know cut their salaries in HALF when coming to academia.  If you’re curious about numbers, most public universities have professors’ salaries online.  Double that.  I felt this pretty hard, but I’ve slowly settled into my current lifestyle and suddenly I don’t notice it as much.  Having a second income is nice, but not necessary and my quality of life being so great definitely makes up for the salary hit.  If money matters most, then stick to industry!

Mentorship was the one area I didn’t really think much about before.  I did think about it a little, but the mentorship right now is incredibly rewarding compared to before.  I mentored/managed engineers and scientists before, and when they grew I felt nice, but I knew they were all just vying for my job; trying to climb the corporate ladder and step on people if needed.  Right now, I see mentorship from a few different areas.  Seeing them learn and grow as scientists is incredibly fulfilling, and then helping place them in jobs (usually through my industry contacts) makes me feel almost the reward of being a parent (given recent developments I hope this is a feeling I will feel).  If you want to make a real difference in younger people that aren’t just out to get you: stick to academics.

Two lines

Two lines orthogonal to each other makes a plus sign. I don’t have to tell you all that. And when you see that on a stick that you pee on you realize it can change your life. I’m terrified though. Will I not be able to travel anymore, have spontaneous trips, stay late at the lab, get sleep? My parent couldn’t be less excited, but my friends are stoked.  How will this affect my career with all the parenting duties coming up?  Will I have to take calls from home or will I have to bring the little one into my office?

I’m freaking scared and excited. So freaking scared and excited. I’m not sleeping at all.  Oh God….

Meetings

Meetings are one thing I hate more than almost anything.  In graduate school, we would have our weekly meetings as a group then weekly individual meetings.  The group one was just stupid.  I understand the point, but weekly progress on everyone else was not something I cared about then.  The individual ones were quite helpful for focusing the research and overcoming any hurdles.  These were pretty much the only meetings other than faculty committee meetings for which I was frequently the student representative on.  Industry has a whole other level of meetings.  I kid you not-meetings to schedule other meetings.  Some people just wouldn’t have much to do so they’d want to have meetings to try to solve nonexistent problems.  And then ‘Town hall’ type meetings, and planning meetings.  And no one knew how to arrange for a meeting that gets to the point where afterward I can look back and say that was time well spent.  I would arrange a group meeting then the occasional brainstorming meeting and these often had useful outcomes, but the number of useless meetings were boggling.  I learned at this point how much corporate waste there was, and it always left me wondering how some people were employed.

This brings me to the meetings I have now.  I have my typical students meetings.  These are beneficial to my research, though they could be smoother.  The faculty meetings are my problem.  I’d say 20% of what is said is useful, and there are a lot of people that just like the sound of their voice.  In faculty planning meetings we discuss changes in policies, lab space, etc for the first 15 minutes then the last 45 minutes is information we already know or complaints that we can’t do anything about.  In faculty recruitment meetings, it’s me trying to get the other members on board with recruiting a little outside of the box, and then no one listening to me.  In staff meetings….don’t get me started.  Now, these meetings are far better than the average meeting I had in industry, but they could be way more efficient.  And what I’ve realized is this: In general, the more someone hates meetings, the better run the meetings are and the better the meeting is.  It’s weird to think about it this way, but I’m 100% sure I’m correct.

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 (https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/college/2013/05/07/ncaa-finances-subsidies/2142443/) (http://sports.usatoday.com/ncaa/finances); 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.