Hi folks! I've got a post up at Tenure, She Wrote today, on the idea of a "publishing strategy" for pre-tenure faculty. Is this a thing? If you have one, what is it? Go read, and go comment! And while you're there, check out some of the other great posts from the lovely ladies of Tenure, She Wrote.
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About two-thirds of the way into our wedding celebration, J went to the bar to get me a Bijou. The Bijou is an exceptionally delicious cocktail made with gin, sweet vermouth, and green chartreuse that, when made properly, is a gorgeous medium amber in color. But when J returned, the drink he handed me was instead just clear, perhaps slightly yellow.
"This is not a Bijou," I said. "Did the bartender mishear you, maybe?" J went to investigate, and came back with the information that the bartender had run out of sweet vermouth, so he used dry instead, without mentioning this to J when he ordered. Now, as you and I both know, one cannot simply substitute dry vermouth for sweet--they're completely different things! But rather than originally tell J that he was sorry, but he wouldn't be able to have a Bijou at that moment, he tried to cover things up and pass off a sub-par (and quite different) product as the real deal.
This kind of thing was not super cool at our wedding (though see below for happy ending resolution), and it is DEFINITELY not cool in the lab. As several of us discussed on the twitters yesterday, you HAVE to tell someone when something goes wrong. Don't try to hide it, and for sure don't try to half-assedly patch things up. Trust me, your PI will be way less mad at you if you tell her right away than if she finds out later on due to wonky data or broken equipment. In fact, she probably won't be mad at you at all! We are scientists, and we are in the business of solving problems. If you encounter an unforeseen problem in the midst of working on your planned problem-solving, find someone to help you solve that problem-within-a-problem! You simply cannot let pride or fear of embarrassment/repercussions keep you from speaking up, especially when it comes to letting the PI know about things. Don't forget that she didn't get where she is today without fucking up many, many times. Many. Really, just a ton of times.
Whenever a new person joins the lab, I make it unequivocally clear that they MUST let someone know if they're unsure about what they're doing, if they're uncomfortable doing anything, or if something didn't go the way they think it should have. I'm not trying to quash anyone's independence here, but I think an environment in which people are comfortable asking for help is important.
So, how did we solve the Great Vermouth Crisis of 2012? We found the catering head, and let her know that they'd run out of sweet vermouth. She was surprised to hear that, and after talking more with the bartender, found out that a bottle had been dropped and broken, but no one had told her. And even though it was 10pm on a Sunday, she worked her rolodex until she found a nearby venue that would sell her a bottle. And rest assured, I got my Bijou! But see? If the person capable of solving the problem had been alerted to the problem when it happened, and not hours later, so many more Bijous could have been had!
Moral of the story: if you want your lab to have Bijous, tell your PI when you drop a bottle of vermouth!
As you may know, I am kind of a huge fan of DonorsChoose, the program that allows you, the donor, to choose a needy classroom project to help fund. The school year may be wrapping up, but there are still plenty of kids out there who would benefit hugely from your help. And now, your help will go twice as far, because DonorsChoose is running a fund-matching drive until June 7, for up to $25,000! Let's get it all the way to $25k, shall we? Please give what you can through the Scientopia Giving Page, and enter code SCIENTOPIA in the "match or gift code" field when you check out. I guarantee, if you haven't done anything this week to make you feel all warm and squishy inside, this will readily fill the gaping hole in your heart.
I'm fresh off the red eye and in far too much of a daze to get any work done, but suffice it to say that my trip to the Bay Area was everything I wanted and more. I made some great new professional connections at my meeting, got to visit with old friends, new friends, internet friends, and cousins, and ate and drank until I couldn't eat and drink anymore. There were multiple Portlandia moments. In case you've got a Bay Area trip coming up, here's the list - not a miss in the bunch. Stars for standouts. Unless otherwise noted, everywhere is in San Francisco.
Summer Kitchen & Bake Shop (Berkeley)
Dona Tomas (Oakland)
Two Sisters Bar & Books
State Bird Provisions***
Jasper's Corner Tap & Kitchen
Kusinia Ni Tess
Out the Door
King of Thai Noodle House
Cole Coffee (Oakland)***
The Graduate (Berkeley/Oakland border)
Wilson & Wilson
Bourbon & Branch
It's been a rough couple of weeks on a number of different levels for yours truly, but I didn't want to let too much time go by without weighing in. Being a new professor, I've found, is like being the parent of a newborn (so I hear): every month is noticeably different from the last. There are major milestones, and there are days when everything seems to regress. Most of the time, you look back and wonder how your child/lab ever used to take the form it did not even all that long ago. I've now officially survived two full academic years, and I have a few disjointed thoughts I thought I'd share before things morph so much I won't believe I was ever actually in this place, at this moment.
1. Holy shit, I'm going up for tenure in 3 years. I don't even know what to do with this information except to keep doing ALL THE THINGS. Like, every fucking thing I can. To date, I have applied for seven grants of varying denominations (awarded 1, denied 4, still waiting on 2), published one tiny little review with my technician, and created and taught two undergrad courses. I have a fully functioning lab, with a technician, a post-doc, and two grad students, who are all working hard and getting along well. I think this is pretty good, but I know my department would like to see me publish actual research this year. We have a couple of different data sets now that could probably be a couple of small papers, but I keep putting them off to write grants, which have deadlines. This summer, they simply have to get out.
2. I feel like most of my job right now is to be famous. Is that a weird thing to say? Maybe. I said this to my mom and she was like, "why do you want to be famous?" with this disappointment in her voice, like after all these years she was realizing that she had raised a shallow fame whore. But I said, "it's not that I WANT to be famous, it's that I think I kind of HAVE to be famous if I want any chance at having this be my career forever." What I mean by this is that I'm pretty sure a lot of my future success is going to depend on whether people remember my name when they review my grant applications and manuscripts and put together symposia panels. To this end, I am really kicking the networking up a notch. Being brave, talking to the fancy pants people at meetings if I have the opportunity; forging new collaborations, and following up on interactions. So far, I'd say this is going quite well, and for what it's worth, the feeling that I am actively remaining part of a larger scientific community is quite excellent. There's a lot of alone time when you're a new professor, especially in a department that's pretty different from those in which you trained--it's nice to be reminded that the world is not wholly going on without you.
3. The best people you can know are those just slightly ahead of you. I know I just said that thing about talking to fancy pants people, but the reality is that the most useful connections you can make are those with folks who are only moderately senior to you. They are perfect: they have their shit together, but also are not so far removed that they've forgotten what it's like to be in your shoes. They are a magical combination of sympathy and wisdom, and they are better connected than you are. Moreover, they are the ones planning symposia panels. Seek them out, and pay attention to everything they say, seriously.
4. The leaky pipeline (or something) for women is alive and well. I've realized that if I actually crunch the numbers, I can think of exactly three other women in my general field who competed for and accepted TT offers in the last few years, while the number of men is probably at least 3 times that. At the Very Exclusive Conference I attended last December I was happy to find that I knew kind of a lot of people, until I realized that almost all of them were men, and if I joined a group of dudes just standing around talking, there was this weird moment where everyone was like, "OK, I guess we should find something else to talk about besides how much we love our penises. Did you see the latest Deisseroth?"
5. Until you are 65 and donning nitrile gloves four times a day to empty and clean your spouse's nephrostomy bags, do not even begin to think you know the depths of true love.
Are you going to the Experimental Biology meeting in 2 weeks? Would you like to have a drink with me and some of your internet friends?
If you answered "yes" and "yes" to the previous questions, keep reading.
There's little that warms the cockles of my heart more than bringing together people who would like to meet each other, but lack the motivation and organizational skills required to make it happen. As you know, I've been organizing the BANTER parties at the Society for Neuroscience meetings for the last 3 years, and I thought it might be about time to branch out. To test the Experimental Biology waters, I thought I'd just tell you guys that I'm going to be at a bar at a certain time, and we'll see who shows up and work from there in the future.
Now, I grew up in the northeast, and Boston and I have a long and colorful history. I may talk a lot of trash, but there is one thing I'll give Boston, and that's that it's got a fair amount of really cool old stuff. One of the coolest really old things in Boston is the Liberty Hotel, which is an old prison that was converted into a swanky boutique hotel. The lobby is absolutely stunning, with what's got to be a 60-foot cathedral ceiling, enormous macabre iron chandeliers, and other preserved prison-y details. So let's go hang out there! It's right off the Charles/MGH stop on the Red line of the T (Boston's adorable excuse for a subway)--just 3 stops from South Station, which I believe is the closest one to the Convention Center.
Here are the details, in easy-to-digest form:
What: Drinks with me!
When: 6:30 pm, Monday, April 22
Where: Liberty Hotel, 215 Charles Street
Who: YOU AND ME, BABY!
One thing to note about the Liberty - I am not talking about Alibi, its lower-level bar/club thing, and I am not talking about Clink, its upper-level bistro thing. I am talking about hanging out in the actual lobby, which has its own bar and is up the escalator when you first walk in. OK? Try not to get lost!
Leave a quick note in the comments here or say something to me on twitter just so I can get a sense of how many people might show up. Obviously if you happen to live in the Boston area (I hear there are one or two research institutions there) but are not attending the meeting, you are of course welcome to join us.
I hope to see you there!
An interesting point brought up by the ever-insightful becca in one of Drugmonkey's recent posts made me think. Why do we write discussion sections for our papers? No--I mean, why do we really write them? I'd imagine that a good number of you agree with becca, that if we're prioritizing reading sections of a paper, the discussion is almost always last or never. Nobody cares what you have to say about your own stuff; let ME decide the significance of your work.
But when it comes to writing and reviewing manuscripts, I find that there's quite a bit of emphasis on the discussion. "The authors did not discuss the implications of their findings in light of the work of Fancypants et al 1997, 2000, and 2010a & b," "The authors overstate the clinical relevance of the results from Experiment 2," "The authors' explanation for their findings in experiment 3 are unfounded." I myself have been that reviewer--the one who demands that the authors dedicate at least 150 words to speculation (with citations, of course) on why they failed to replicate Generally Accepted Phenomenon. But what do I care? Am I on the authors' thesis committee or something? Do I reject the data if the authors can't come up with an acceptable reason for why things turned out the way they did?
It seems to me that in general, the discussion section IS like a thesis defense: are you enough of a scholar about your own work to warrant publication of the work itself? Do you know the literature, have you thought about alternate interpretations, can you see where your work is taking the field? If the answer is "no," then the paper must be revised and resubmitted until it's deemed suitably "discussed." But honestly, does anyone besides the people who review your manuscript give a shit about these things? In other words, if a poor interpretation of one's own work is made, but nobody reads it because it was made in the discussion, does it make a sound?
Once upon a time, there lived a brilliant young(ish) neuroscientist and former bartender named Dr. Becca. Dr Becca lived in a decrepit old building in a small, cold hamlet called NJC. There was a dumpster outside her living room window.
But despite her sub-par living conditions, Dr Becca was generally a happy person, because she loved being a neuroscientist. She loved designing experiments and training future neuroscientists, and even teaching undergrads a little bit. One of the most important parts of her job, however, was to convince some HIGHLY INTELLIGENT and EXTREMELY GOOD-LOOKING, NOT TO MENTION WORLD-RENOWNED scientists to tell the government to give her money so that she could continue to be a neuroscientist. So she thought and she thought and she leaned back in her purportedly ergonomic desk chair that still managed to give her a mild case of sciatica until she had an idea.
And this idea--well, it was a pretty great idea. The work that Dr Becca so eloquently proposed to do, and that she illustrated so well in clearly-labeled color figures, would open up a whole new line of research that could continue for decades. Moreover, it had clear clinical relevance, in that it could help treat an underserved population that increasingly suffers from an exceptionally topical illness. It was, you might say, a perfect proposal with respect to the goals set forth in the RFA.
Dr Becca sent her great idea through a series of tubes to the DC Metro area, where the idea sat for nearly five and a half months. In the interim, Dr Becca attended several scientific meetings, got married, hired a post-doctoral fellow, created a new course for the undergrads at her university, wrote a review article, went on a honeymoon to Europe, had said review article get accepted, and watched her first grad student kick ass presenting his Masters' thesis.
And then finally, just 4 days before Dr Becca's [redacted] birthday, the INDIMIDATINGLY BRILLIANT and SERIOUSLY ATTRACTIVE scientists met to talk about Dr Becca's idea, as well as a few others. And on that day, the EMINENT, WISE, and EFFORTLESSLY STYLISH scientists agreed that it was essentially an objective truth that Dr Becca's idea was the best in the group, and they gave her a priority score and corresponding percentile that was in no uncertain terms well below payline for her IC.
Several months later, Dr Becca's institution gladly accepted the award on her behalf, and Dr Becca went on to continue her career as a paradigm-shifting but remarkably modest neuroscientist until the world was rid of mental illness. And as for the NOBEL-DESERVING, DORIAN GRAY-YOUTHFULNESS LEVEL scientists that made it all happen? Well, they all lived long, luxurious lives, devoid of health problems until they died peacefully in their sleep with their loved ones by their side, and several buildings erected in their name at their respective alma maters.
Sweet dreams, you sexy beasts of study section. Please be kind tomorrow.
In 2009-10--effectively, the last year of my post-doc, I applied for some things. A K99/R00, a NARSAD fellowship, and a small foundation grant, not to mention a few travel awards. And I didn't get any of them. By the time the last rejection rolled in (not to mention all the job application no-thank-yous), I actively began to think that maybe I was just not very good at applying for things, which did not bode well for my future as a TT hopeful, since a giant proportion of our job is to successfully apply for things.
But I did somehow manage to land this gig, and when I started in my new position, I applied for an R21 right away, which was funded. And with that, I thought maybe I can do this after all! I have overcome my badness at applying for things. Since then, though, I've applied for 5 grants and two travel awards. Three grants are still out for review, but 2 grants and the 2 travel awards have come back negative, and I can feel myself starting to lose faith again in my ability to compete for things. I know that this is silly, and that there are certain general principles of probability at work here, but still.
The reality is that most of us get way more rejections than acceptances, but we can lose sight of how normal that is, and allow ourselves to spiral down into self-doubt, which is v bad! So please use the comments here as an open thread to lament about all your recent rejections, triages, non-invitations to submit full applications, etc. It will make you feel better, I promise!
And to make you feel further better (or at least hungry), here's a picture from my honeymoon. This is the view from our flat in Aix-en-Provence. We ate more cheese on that trip than I have probably eaten in the last 6 months combined.
In just under 48 hours, I'll be at JFK, dressed to the nines. J and I are at long last going on our honeymoon, but the fine folks at Orbitz decided not to seat two passengers whose tickets were purchased in a single order next to each other. It made perfect sense to some algorithm-writer somewhere, I'm sure. The fine folks who answer the phones for AirFrance/Delta can't seem to do anything to help us (and yes, we've tried internet channels as well), so our only chance at starting things off right seems to be to show up looking particularly classy, and beg the gate agent for an upgrade. I can probably cry if I have to, I'll just have to revisit the Friday Night Lights series finale in my head for a minute.
Travel circumstances aside, I am SO excited for this trip. The 12 days we're gone will be the longest stretch of vacation time I've taken since before starting grad school, and the longest stretch of time that J and I will have spent together since I moved to NJC in July 2011. It is, to put it mildly, long overdue.
In anticipation of the upcoming lune de miel, I have been working my butt off this semester. In the past 7-8 weeks, I wrote and submitted 3 grant proposals and a review article, started teaching a brand new class of my own creation (my 2nd!), and brought a post-doc on board. I am exhausted, but happy. It took a little while to ramp up, but the lab's moving along at a really nice clip now, we have some super cool data, and we are just about ready to start writing two bona fide research papers!
It's all very exciting, but let's not get ahead of ourselves, here; before all that, J and I are going to eat the shit out of France. We will eat without shame; we will eat without fear. We will eat like there's no tomorrow, like it's going out of style, and like our lives depend on it (they do). Brie. Bouillabaisse. Steak au poivre. Croissants. Macaroons. Escargots. Haricots verts. Moules. Frites. Royale w/ cheese (JK).
Au revoir, mes amis! And wish us bonne chance on the upgrade attempt.