Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Science vs. engineering: job app advice?

I'm in one of those fields where I could have gotten a graduate degree in either science or engineering and I opted for science for various reasons. But that doesn't mean that I haven't had a few engineering courses along the way, and some engineering departments will hire people in my field with science PhDs. That's what I am hoping as I get ready to submit the job application du jour. And that's why I am looking for advice on:
  1. How are engineering faculty job apps different than science faculty ones?
  2. How do I sell myself as someone who can "talk" engineering as well as science?
  3. My teaching philosophy statement is very science oriented - what sort of things are key to an engineering teaching philosophy?
Any advice would be appreciated!

Monday, November 27, 2006

Polar Bears and Penguins

It's that time of year again...when the coca-cola company comes out with another round of dizzingly cute but factually incorrect holiday advertising. I posted this last year and I'm still getting comments and google hits out of it, and I saw an offending billboard a few days ago, so I thought I'd repost it:

Dear Coca-Cola Company,

While I have been known to enjoy your products, and never those of your competitor, I am saddened by the misinformation you are spreading in your current advertising campaign. I am referring to the television spot in which you show a family of polar bears who espy a partying penguins and slide down the hill to join the merriment. It's a very cute advert, but is totally factually wrong. And it contributes to the misconceptions I see my students exhibit. For this reason, I am asking you to correct your advertisement and make amends by providing some educational material about polar bears.

First off, what's wrong? It's very simple really. Polar bears only live in the Arctic (the northern Hemisphere), while penguins live in the Southern Hemisphere, principally the Antarctic. Thus, the chances of a wild polar bear happening on a penguin are zero. Maybe you are saying that everyone already knows that, why does it matter if we take a little creative license with our art? Because, sadly, not everyone knows this. I had a student who suggested in a paper that the native peoples of Antarctica would do well to make clothing out of polar bear skins.

If you don't believe me, ask others. Here's a quote from Polar Bears International:
One final misconception is that polar bears live at both poles. The belief is common among school children, who grow up seeing illustrations of penguins and polar bears together. Polar bears, of course, live only in the circumpolar North. They never encounter penguins, which do not live in the same regions as polar bears.
Polar bears are a potentially endangered species, with an estimated population of 22,000 to 25,000 worldwide, about 60% of which live in Canada. Most sport hunting is now banned by international treaty, but polar bears face increasing threat from shrinking Arctic sea ice as a result of anthropogenic climate change. Polar bears also have high levels of PCBs and other pollutants in their bodies as a result of the distillation of atmospheric pollutants from all over the world. These pollutants may be the cause of higher juvenile mortality rates and suppressed immune system functions.

One of my earliest memories is of a trip to Churchill, Manitoba when I was four. We saw polar bears along the shore of Hudson Bay, and I slid down a slide shaped like a polar bear. I especially remember a post card of a polar bear looking in the window of our hotel. The next time I saw a polar bear in the wild was at age 23 from a plane window on the ice south of Ellesmere Island. These are memories I will always cherish. But most people will never see a polar bear in the wild, which is why they need the images that they see on TV to be truthful. And that's where Coca Cola Company has a responsibility to their customers.

By choosing to use the polar bear as your corporate mascot, you also chose to tie your company's fortunes to that species. Endangerment or extinction of your mascot would be bad PR. Instead, create some good public relations and media for your company. Start with the simple: Polar bears live at the North Pole, while penguins live in the south. Then tackle the more complex: Educate the public about the threats facing polar bears. Adjust your corporate operations (manufacturing, marketing, etc.) to reduce Coca Cola's impact on the Arctic and on polar bears. Lead by example, and future generations of children will know the magic of the bears.

Adventures

I'm back in Utopia today after a week of family, friends, and other adventures. I have one helluva story to tell about my return trip yesterday, but I've got to figure out a way to do it in a way that does not reveal my identity.

And I've also got a backlog of work to get done. The laptop I took with me was never fully functional which is my excuse for being late on my first ever review. Triptophan induced sleepiness has nothing to do with it!

So while I ponder a way to share my adventure story and the lessons learned (so far), I'll just post a lame list of my work projects this week:
  1. deal with adventure fallout
  2. submit review (due 11/25)
  3. return proofs of article
  4. give malfunctioning laptop to computer gurus
  5. apply for a job in a mountain state
  6. reapply for federal job
  7. get next paper ready for submission

Thursday, November 23, 2006

thankful

  • I am thankful for a wonderful supportive husband who is looking forward to being a wonderful supportive father.
  • I am thankful for a family that, despite its quirks, gets along and enjoys spending time together.
  • I am thankful for a set of in-laws and extended family that is welcoming and enthusiastic.
  • I am thankful for having abundant food, adequate warmth, and a soft bed in which to sleep.
  • I am thankful for generous and loving friends.
  • I am thankful for a baby that continues to grow and amaze me, while only causing me the usual discomforts.
  • I am thankful that my husband finds my pregnant body even more attractive than usual.
  • I am thankful for a boss and colleagues that are accommodating and supportive of my choices.
  • I am thankful to live in an era where little girls can grow up to be scientists and stay-at-home moms.
  • I am thankful for my mom who encouraged my curiousity, yet kept me grounded.
  • I am thankful for my brother who is full of talent and energy.
  • I am thankful for my life.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

stopping time

Early early tomorrow morning, fish and I are getting on a plane and heading for the Midwest to spend a week with all the parents and siblings. It'll be a fun trip because fish's family and my brother haven't seen me since I got pregnant, so I am looking forward to getting a bit spoiled. Hopefully, I'll also eat some good food, and get to see a friend or two.

Unfortunately, I have to bring a fair bit of work with me (a review, some data, be available on email, etc.), so it won't be all fun and games. But the tradeoff is that I've decided not to officially take any vacation days from work. So there.

I'll have high speed internet access in both homes, so there may be blogging (or not). I may even make the switch to the beta (I like the label feature and the interfaces better), although I really don't expect it to be more reliable than the old blogger.

But one thing I won't be doing this week is getting anything ready for Mini's arrival. Which is not so good, given that every time I see that ticker on my blog I have a momentary panic attack. I'm now 3/4 the way through my pregnancy. It's unbelievable.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Cover up that clean baby with a dirty blanket! Or else.

As a pregnant woman about to get on an airplane, this story at Adventures in Ethics and Science pricked a nerve today.

As reported by the Burlington Free Press:

Emily Gillette of Santa Fe, N.M., was asked to leave a flight departing from Burlington after she declined to cover her baby as she breast-fed.

Gillette said she began to nurse her 22-month-old daughter as the plane prepared for takeoff after a three-hour delay. Gillette said a Freedom Airlines flight attendant approached her, directing her to cover up with a blanket. When Gillette refused, the attendant allegedly told her that she was offended, and Gillette and her husband say they were asked to leave the plane.

Gillette said she has filed a charge against two airlines -- Delta Air Lines and Freedom Airlines, which was operating the commuter flight for Delta -- with the Vermont Human Rights Commission because breast-feeding is protected under Vermont's Public Accommodations Law.

Neither Delta nor Freedom officials returned calls Wednesday seeking comment. Freedom Airlines spokesman Paul Skellon said Monday that he was aware of the incident.

"A breast-feeding mother is perfectly acceptable on an aircraft, providing she is feeding the child in a discreet way" that doesn't bother others, Skellon said. "She was asked to use a blanket just to provide a little more discretion, she was given a blanket, and she refused to use it, and that's all I know."

Gillette was put off the plane for refusing to breastfeed "discreetly", but it should be noted that she was seated in a window seat -- with her husband seated next to her -- in the next to last row of the plane when the breastfeeding occurred and, as far as I can tell from the news coverage, only the flight attendant was offended by the display of boobie. To the extent that flight attendants are supposed to be focused on passenger safety, Delta might want to consider hiring flight attendants who are not so easily distracted by the sight of a young human taking in nourishment.

If you'd like to sign a petition to let Delta know that this is a stupid way to treat its passengers, there's one here.

Why in the world would any mom want to cover her clean breast and her baby's head with an airplane blanket that had been used by who-kn0ws-how-many germy other passengers?

Makes me glad I'm not flying Delta.

sometimes it's a very very small town

I want to have a doula to assist in having a natural child-birth, and I finally fish on board with the idea. I mentioned this to MicrobeGirl (who is due on Tuesday) and she mentioned that she had a friend who knew someone who was a doula-in-training. (Doulas in training are free, trained doulas are ~$500).

So it turns out that:
  1. MicrobeGirl's friend (MGF) is the other pregnant lady I talk to in the breakroom at work.
  2. The doula in training is a PhD student who works in the next building.
  3. The doula in training is the woman who I contacted on Craigslist about a stroller a few weeks back. We checked out the stroller but decided not to buy it.
  4. So, MicrobeGirl's friend's friend (who I've met) may help with my childbirth. Weird.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

aspirations tinged with realism

As I go through another job search I am being more selective in my applications, feeling more confident about my prospects, and simultaneously feeling more desperate. There are many things I would like to have in my next job - but the only real requirement is that I make enough money to take the financial stress off of fish.

I'm blogging this only because I just articulated it for the first time.

the latest meme

I first saw this at Dr. Crazy's, but it's all over the 'sphere.

1. Yourself: expectant
2. Your boyfriend/girlfriend: my husband
3. Your hair: distinctive
4. Your mother: high-maintenance
5. Your father: distant
6. Your favorite item: my blog
7. Your dream last night: puppies
8. Your favorite drink: cocoa
9. Your dream car: environmentally friendly
10. The room you are in: fluorescently lit
11. Your ex: a long time ago
12. Your fear: expectations
13. What you want to be in 10 years: happy
14. Who you hung out with last night: my husband
15. What you're not: ABD
16. Muffins: blueberries
17: One of your wish list items: Zooper Boogie stroller
18: Time: fast
19. The last thing you did: lunch
20. What you are wearing: fleece
21. Your favorite weather: crisp
22. Your favorite book: Calvin and Hobbes
23. The last thing you ate: panini
24. Your life: full
25. Your mood: worn down
26. Your best friend (s): perfect
27. What are you thinking about right now: sleep
28. Your car: reliable
29. What are you doing at the moment: blogging
30. Your summer: busy
31. Your relationship status: comfortable
32. What is on your tv: dust
33. What is the weather like: rainy
34. When is the last time you laughed: yesterday

Back to the data grindstone. I have a deadline to meet.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The ideal post-doc?

There's been a lot of discussion recently about what an ideal post-doc should look like (summarized by propter doc here) . And I promised to take a swing at it myself. Yesterday I was too busy actually being a productive post-doc, but today I've decided to prioritize some reflection.

What does an ideal post-doc look like? The view from a beginner, environmental science post-doc.
  • An ideal post-doc should never ever be called a student. I absolutely hate the phrase "post-doctoral student." We have terminal degrees, dammit! And we don't get the perks that students get (discounted theatre tickets, free entrance to the gym, etc.)
  • An ideal post-doc should receive mentoring in the areas where they need it. Maybe you are completely technically competent in your field of research, but maybe you don't have much experience writing grants, reviewing papers, or hiring people. Those are the places that a post-doc PI should help you out, so that when you get your own research group, you aren't completely clueless.
  • An ideal post-doc should be involved in all stages of the research cycle. From proposal writing, data collection, analysis, paper and report writing. To participate in all the stages of the research cycle within a limited time duration may require involvement in more than one project. As a PI, you'll be involved in more than one project, so why not get the experience now.
  • An ideal post-doc should be encouraged to develop and pursue their own research ideas. Most post-docs probably come into a group where there is an already funded project, but developing (and getting funding for) your own ideas as a side project or as an extension of your post-doc time is really valuable experience for being a PI. In fact, if you can be a PI (or at least co-PI) on a grant as a post-doc, that will help you get an academic job. It's a shame that the US federal granting agencies won't allow post-docs as PIs, because a lot of us are doing a substantial amount of the proposal generation (not to mention the actual work).
  • An ideal post-doc should pay closer to the beginning assistant professor level than the graduate student level. We've had enough years of being under severe financial stress as graduate students, let it end with the completion of the PhD.
  • An ideal post-doc position should be funded for more than 1 year and less than 4. Let me explain my rationale. If you (like me) have funding for 1 year, then immediately upon starting the post-doc you have to begin looking for and applying for your next job. This not only distracts from your work but adds to your stress level. On the other hand, 4 years is as much time as it took to get the PhD and the post-doc is generally conceived of as a liminal stage between PhD and academia, so the post-doc should be shorter in duration than the Ph.D. If after four years at a post-doc, you don't have a permanent job lined up and you still want to go after a professorial position, then it seems to me that your interests are best served by widening your experiences and moving to another research group. If you are still in the same post-doc for 5+ years, then you need to face it, you are no longer in the academic job hunt game, instead you are a "research scientist" or "research associate" at your current university, in a more permanent soft-money position. At least that's the way it works in my field.
  • An ideal post-doc should be at a different institution, or at least a different research group than the one in which you did your PhD. I haven't done this one, which is part of why you will never hear me profess to have the perfect post-doc. My thoughts here stem from the idea that a post-doc should be about diversifying and refining your research expertise and experience. Part of your research experience is learning how to work within different administrative systems and with different groups of people. On a more pragmatic level, moving to a different place shows academic search committees that you aren't stuck in a rut research-wise or (god-forbid) have personal reasons for staying in one place.
  • An ideal post-doc would provide access to career resources, including those for jobs outside academia. In a lot of fields there are more PhDs granted and even post-docs post-docing than there are available tenure-track faculty jobs. There should be recognition of career opportunities outside of academia, and a career center or other resources available to help PhDs find work outside the ivory tower.
  • An ideal post-doc should be allowed to have a life outside research. Something like a third of post-docs have kids, wouldn't it be nice to be able to watch them grow up? And even for those without families, all work and no play makes Jane a dull girl.
I'm sure there's more, but that's all I can think of right now, and I've got some data that are calling my name.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Group Work: It's not any better in the real world

NewGirl, my advisor's, not-so-new grad student, has been fighting this group assignment all week. Apparently they have assigned groups and have to produce some sort of 5000-word analysis by tonight at midnight. One group member has been ineffective and another (or the same?) decided to study for a midterm rather than contributing and attending a group meeting last night. Needless to say, NewGirl is stressed. I think we've all been there.

A couple of people have recently written about group work (profgrrrl?, dr. crazy?) and how the students hate it, but that it has some real utility. The only justifiable reason I can come up with for group assignments is that "how things work in the real world."

Assuming (for the moment) that academic research is "the real world," I'm here to report that group work doesn't usually get any more fun once you've graduated. Well, actually, group brainstorming sessions can be quite fun and productive, but group writing...still...sucks. For the last week I've been mainly working on two group writing assignments.

Assignment 1: A small (~$10K) grant proposal.
I was brought in as the field work specialist on a project that will be largely modeling. The field work will help calibrate the modeling efforts. The proposal is due Tuesday, and we had our first group meeting last Monday. At the first meeting, we had to figure out what they needed from the field data and to identify field sites. Based on that meeting, I wrote a paragraph on field methods, and wrote a section on historical datasets in the study region. Then partway through the week, I got a request from the PI to do some reconaissance of the field sites (data examination, not field work). So I did. But at our meeting late Thursday afternoon, we added two more field sites. So I had to do the reconaissance work on those, and I had to amend both sections that I had already written. But the upside (and it's a big one), is that I am going to be a co-PI on the grant and we wrote in a month of salary for me. So in the end, even though it was inefficient and involved a lot of me doubling back on my efforts, the payoff should be worth it. Even if we don't get the grant, the proposal will be "pending" on my CV until at least March.

Assignment 2: Report to a funding agency
NewGirl has an awesome project that involved a tremendous amount of field work all summer long and she's just starting to look at her reams of data. Her funders want a preliminary report by next week, so I was asked to help out with some "back-of-the-envelope" modeling and a short write-up. The only problem was that I didn't know anything about her field area or her datasets, and everytime I decided to try a different approach to the in-the-end not-so-simple modeling, I had to bug NewGirl to get a different dataset. Plus, I wanted to make sure that my modeling approaches were reasonable based on her on-the-ground knowledge and her reading of the literature. So we had several conversations where I ran her through what I was doing, and asked her for a critique. In the end, I probably spent about 10-15 hours working on the project, and I probably took 8-10 hours of NewGirl's time. Maybe it would have just been easier to have her do it, especially since I am still not pleased with the results, but I don't care enough to do a better job.

I'm not sure group writing results in a better nor more seamless product in all cases. Nor am I sure that is an efficient way to get things done. But it is the way science is, by and large, accomplished, so I better stop my grumbling and just go with the flow. Fortunately, this week my attention turns to a big data processing task that is by and large individual work and very different from the things I've been doing this past week. I like people, just not all the time.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Pregnancy update

(I'm going to respond to propter doc's question about what an ideal post-doc looks like, but right now my brain is in a different dimension).


Here's my belly this week, the first week of my third trimester. I feel pretty big except when I am around women closer to their due dates. Then I just feel small.

I am really enjoying being pregnant. Sure, there are uncomfortable (even painful) parts, but feeling Mini kicking inside me is the most miraculous thing I have experienced. It's amazing to think that 7 months ago there was nothing, and now there is another life inside me, just growing and getting ready to come out and join the world. I noticed the other day that the Advent season is less than a month away. I feel like I am already experiencing Advent - the season of anticipation of something wonderful. The season of getting ready for a birth that's going to change everything.

We are in our second week of childbirth classes (6 weeks total), and the class is huge (20 couples). I feel like the instructor is really rushing through things, but that I am not learning much that I hadn't already read about. However, I think there are a bunch of new things for fish, which I guess is most of the point of these classes anyway. Plus, it's actually good to practice the breathing patterns , not just read about them. I'm really leaning towards a natural (non-medicated) child-birth, and I'd actually like to have a doula (a trained labor support person). Well, I'd love for Writer Chica to be there as my second support person, but that's a bit impractical.

We also picked out a pediatrician this week, and he seems like a really nice guy. Easy going, almost Midwestern, but informed and competent. We are also now able to bring Mini home from the hospital - because my dad got us an infant carseat. It's kind of funny because carseat technology has changed a lot since they had babies and they weren't sure what the detachable base was all about, but I promised them a demo when they come out to visit next spring. Invitations went out for my baby shower (the first weekend in December) and as I got a guest list ready I thought about all my wonderful blog-friends who I'd really love to be there. But most of you live too far away, and I think it'd be a little weird to invite the 2 that I know live in the same state because I've never met either of you in person. But I am hoping you will all be with me in spirit.

I'm also ready to begin working on Mini's quilt. Because I've finally finished the quilt for gen(i)e's little one (below). It's the first quilt I've made without any help at all, and I've been intermittently working on it the whole time I've been pregnant. I finished it Tuesday night, but I am actually finding it hard to part with, so it won't go into the mail until tomorrow. I know I'll feel better as soon as Mini's quilt gets started. Plus, I've decided to make blackout curtains for the nursery, so I've got to get sewing.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Good morning, America.

Despite getting little sleep last night (between the belly and the dog, fun times), today is a good day. And this morning's announcement just made last night's victories all the sweeter. And that's all I am going to say.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Tooting my own horn...sort of

Amelie just tipped me off that Nature Structural and Molecular Biology had an editorial in their September issue called "All aboard for graduate school." The editorial provided a wealth of tips and resources for new graduate students - including encouraging them to check out blogs by other graduate students. They provided a link to a directory of science-related blogs, and they also specifically mentioned this blog. The only blog they specifically mentioned.
"If you want a different take on things, there is that virtual planet, the blogosphere. You can find out about the day-to-day life of graduate students (though crystal cultivators and the bench-bound be warned, some of your fellow biology graduate students spend their days in more tropical climes). Or you can read about anything from the graduate school experience from a female perspective (http://sciencewoman.blogspot.com/) to papers or seminars that inspired a peer. A list of interesting science-related blogs can be found at http://www.phds.org/graduate-school-success/blogs."
I have to conclude that either the editorial writer (1) had no idea of the depth of the academic blogosphere, (2) saw my blog when when Blogger featured it, or (3) is a reader. Whatever the reason, I hope that some poor beginning graduate students aren't led too far astray by the contents of these pages. :)

Monday, November 06, 2006

More on the weather

I'm kind of a weather nerd and one of the disappointing things about living in the PNW is how static the weather is compared to where I lived in the Midwest (where you'd need the AC one day and it'd snow the next, with a tornado in between). Around here, the local TV weather forecasters will sometimes tell us what it's like in other parts of the country, simply because there isn't enough local weather to fill up their segment.

So when we occasionally actually get something dynamic going on, everybody goes a little nuts. Including the National Weather Service forecasters. Below I've copied yesterday's forecast for the next couple of days. The caps lock is permanently stuck on at NWS, so I apologize for that. But I've bolded some of the "juiciest parts."

WEST OF THE CASCADES...

SYNOPSIS...

A WARM FRONT IS ALREADY SPREADING RAIN BACK NORTHWARD ACROSS THE
LOWER COLUMBIA AND INTO SW WASHINGTON. THE LEADING EDGE OF
A VERY JUICY TROPICAL AIRMASS IS APPROACHING THE WA/OR COAST...WITH
COOLER...LOWER THETA-E AIR OVER THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST. THIS COMBINED
WITH A LOW LEVEL SOUTHWESTERLY JET INCREASING TO UPWARDS OF 60-70 KT
WILL SET UP A NEAR-PERFECT RAINFALL PRODUCTION SITUATION...WITH
EXCELLENT ISENTROPIC LIFT COMBINING WITH EXCELLENT OROGRAPHIC LIFT
TO PRODUCE INTENSE RAINFALL RATES ACROSS WESTERN WASHINGTON AND NW
OREGON TONIGHT THROUGH MONDAY NIGHT. THE HEAVIEST RAIN WILL SLOWLY
SAG SOUTHWARD ACROSS WESTERN OREGON TUESDAY AS A COLD FRONT
GRADUALLY PUSHES THE BEST DYNAMICS TO THE SOUTH AND EAST. BY
WEDNESDAY AND THURSDAY...IT APPEARS THE REGION WILL BE IN A COOL
SHOWERY REGIME...WITH FREEZING LEVELS FALLING TO AROUND 4000 FT IN
MOST AREAS

DETAILS...

12Z SUN - 12Z MON:
THIS MORNING`S MUCH-NEEDED BREATHER FROM THE HEAVIEST RAIN ACROSS
WESTERN WASHINGTON IS QUICKLY COMING TO AN END. BY MID AFTERNOON RAIN
SHOULD BE FALLING ACROSS ALL OF WESTERN WASHINGTON AS THE VERY MOIST
TROPICAL AIRMASS BEGINS TO GLIDE OVER THE SLIGHTLY COOLER AIR ACROSS
THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST. THIS IS A CLASSIC SETUP FOR GOOD ISENTROPIC
LIFT...ESPECIALLY AS 850 MB SW WINDS ENERGIZE TO 50-60 KT+...SO EVEN
IF THE REGION WAS FLAT...MODERATE TO LOCALLY HEAVY RAIN WOULD
DEVELOP. AS WE ALL KNOW...WESTERN WASHINGTON IS CERTAINLY NOT
FLAT...AND OROGRAPHICS WILL BE IN PLAY. HEAVY RAIN WILL BE STEADY BY
MONDAY MORNING ACROSS THE OLYMPICS AND WASHINGTON CASCADES...WITH
MODERATE RAINS WIDESPREAD ACROSS THE LOWLANDS OF WESTERN WASHINGTON
AND NW OREGON. CURRENTLY EXPECTING THE FOLLOWING 24 HR PCPN
ACCUMULATIONS FROM 12Z SUN - 12Z MON.

Fine, maybe it's not that funny, but I thought it was. And here is something that is definitely funny (from the Onion re: the Mars rovers' lack of Spirit). Thanks to inkycircus for showing me this one.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

What does a post-doc do?

I think a lot of people (including graduate students) have a very poor idea of what a post-doc actually does with their days. And opinions seem to differ, as evidenced by the discussion over at youngfemalescientist as of late. So in my vast experience in a month and a half as a post-doc, I thought I'd try to discuss what I do with my post-doc days.

As a post-doc I don't have the one focused project that I had as a graduate student. Sure, there's one project that providing most of my funding, but that doesn't occupy a proportional part of my time now - nor will it over the long-run. Instead, I have something like 4 projects, all with competing timetables. Not all of these projects are particularly related to each other - they are at different scales, use different methodologies, and are at different stages (from design to publication).

As a post-doc, I don't just do my own research. I am trying to get my undergrad to finish his thesis, which is taking more and more of my time as he gets down to his final weeks, and produces frequent draft fragments. I am also helping a MS student in our group with some modeling in order to reduce her workload as she tries to meet a grant deadline. After this immediate deadline, I imagine I'll stay somewhat involved with her research as it has significant topical overlap (though not methodological overlap) with my funded project. I also contribute ideas, critiques, and/or labor to projects that S and Boss are working on, usually with short time-frames.

As a post-doc, I am expected to develop new project ideas and contribute to grant proposals. Unlike the biomedical fields, it is rare in -ology to have six digit multiple year grants which can fund an entire post-doc or PhD, so the process of grant-writing is much more ubiquitous. Especially if I want to keep my job past this year. To wit, Successful Woman called me up on Friday and asked me to contribute to a small grant proposal due in mid-month. So I spent a couple of hours learning some background information this afternoon.

As a post-doc, I am going to spend a fairly significant chunk of time looking for a permanent job or my next post-doc. It may not be part of my job description, but it is indelibly tied to the transitory nature of post-docs. I have funding for one year. That means that if I want to be using my PhD this time next year, I need to find a job. Maybe I shouldn't be doing this "on the clock," but the "clock" is just as elusive as a post-doc as it is during graduate school.

As a post-doc, I am going to devote some time to getting my dissertation chapters publishable/published. Fortunately in my case this is one of my "assigned" projects, because my advisor/boss as co-author has something at stake too. This one also goes with the previous one, as pubs become even more crucial to getting jobs, even at SLACs.

Other things I do as a post-doc: review papers for journals (and not just under my advisor's name), attend relevant seminars and meetings, stay marginally current in my field(s) by skimming table of contents and abstracts of journals, and deal with the hassles of university administration in order to get paid and get benefits.

Yep, that's what I do. No wonder I am having trouble summarizing it in one to two sentences for my CV. And I don't think my in-laws will understand it any better than they did when I was a graduate student.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Fall Forecast


This is a fairly typical fall forecast in Utopia. Click to embiggen. I particularly like the distinguishing between heavy rain and lots of rain. They say that the Inuit have 20+ words for snow. I think Northwesterners have at least that many ways of talking about liquid precipitation. Mist, drizzle, sprinkles, showers, rain, downpour, etc. All of which can be modified with adjectives like light, moderate, scattered, heavy, "lots of", and torrential. Fish and I have actually heard TV weather forecasters call for "heavy mist."

Thursday, November 02, 2006

The Letter Writers

I had a really interesting afternoon - material enough for several posts. But one thing that came up as an aside was the difficulty of finding appropriate people to write letters of recommendation for various jobs. Typically I am asked to provide contact info for 3-5 references. Occasionally (annoyingly) I am asked up front to provide three letters of recc. with my application. I thought I'd lay out my cast of characters because I wonder if they don't form some sort of typology that more people will identify with.

The Boss/Advisor - Gotta include him. Fortunately he likes me. Wants to see me at a high-level place, whether I want that or not, but can see the value and appeal of a liberals arts college (LAC) job. On every job app.

The Nice Guy - Committee member, professor, and one person who's seen me teach. On every app last year, but this year he's out of the country. Damn. But at least I can include the teaching evaluation he wrote for me in my LAC apps.

The Big Name - Took a class from him and had him as a committee member. Said complimentary things about me at my defense. Used him as a letter writer last year and he counseled me to focus on the 1-2 jobs I really wanted rather than a broader scattershot. This year: including him only on research-intensive or high prestige job apps.

The Successful Woman - Collaborator. Bluntly told me that I'd be wasting my potential at a LAC, really wants me at a research intensive place. Thinks that because she has kids and a big career that its what every woman should want. Using her only for letters at places with graduate programs.

The MS Advisor - Nice guy but a different field (but related) than that in which I now work. We never really clicked personality-wise but he's always been encouraging. Using him for apps in Midwest and when I can't figure out who else to use.

The Young Gun - Committee member, collaborator, presitigious degrees from prestigious universities, wicked smart. Never quite feel like I live up to his expectations, but he knows me well. Using him for ???

The Lab Rat - Collaborator. Always praises me but has seen only one side of my research. Works in a non-university setting so has no way of appraising my teaching. Has offered multiple times to write letters for me. Using him for nothing.

The Outsider - Not in my field at all, but has supervised my teaching and likes to talk big picture, interdisciplinary stuff with me. Not sure what sort of letter she'll write. Using her for those LAC apps where they want an interdisciplinarian.

Even though I've got a bunch of names up there, when it comes time to list contact info or ask for letters, I struggle with who to choose. I could analyze this further and try to dig into each of their motivations towards me but I think I'll leave it for another time, and simply ask: Do any of these people look familiar to you? How do you choose your recommenders?

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Goals and summaries

It's time to reinstitute my old monthly progress of looking back on the previous month's accomplishments and laying out goals for the new month. I'd fallen out of the habit because for the last few months my goals were simple:

August goal: finish the dissertation
September goal: defend the dissertation
October goal: turn in the dissertation, start the post-doc

But now my work is less one-track, and I feel like I'll need some goals to keep me on my task.

So here are November's goals (work only, personal may be a different post):
  1. Submit next paper to journal
  2. Review paper for a different journal (my first review!)
  3. Contribute to 11/15 funding report by doing some basic modeling and writing it up
  4. Get the pre-postdoc data and take a look at it
  5. Continue development of "unfunded mandate" work
  6. Start thinking about how to turn chapter 4 into a journal article
And October's accomplishments:
  1. turned in dissertation to graduate school
  2. applied for 4 jobs
  3. worked on “unfunded mandate” research in preparation for Boss's talk
  4. attended conference
  5. worked on revising Ch3 paper for submission
We'll see how I do.

It's all a matter of perspective

What a great way to start the day. A colleague just sent me this bit of scientific fun.

Go click the link first, and then read below.

The first part of this reminds me of being a kid and lying on the deck with my mom and Brother and looking at the stars. We'd start to calculate how fast we were moving even though we were lying still. Yes, I came from a very nerdy family.

Note that the part about the universe expanding at the speed of light is not right according to current models, but we don't understand everything yet.