Dr. Mom, My Adventures as a Mommy-Scientist

Discussion of my journey from grad school to postdoc to tenure with two kids, a husband, (and a bit of breast cancer) in tow.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

I'm still crazy busy.

Last post I equated being a faculty member to getting kicked in the pants up a steep cliff. Still feeling that way. I have made significant progress to digging myself out of my teaching hole, and that's good, because it's just about time to start writing proposals again. There are just so many things to think about at once (student research, grant writing, forming new research partnerships, service and committees, teaching, teaching and more teaching) you have to have an amazingly short attention span and the ability to multitask supremely to survive.

And even though I have managed to find my way out of my teaching abyss, a new question has been raised for me. I normally work very limited hours ~ 8-5, no weekends, no evenings. In grad school and in my postdoc, I would only work more than that on very limited occasions. However, to get back on top of my teaching I have been putting a lot of time "off hours." In grad school, I would have resented this and bitterly complained. However, I haven't even batted an eye. I really *love* teaching, and it was a pleasure to put in the extra time. The problem is that if I spend all my time at my job even though I love it what kind of a person am I?

I went shopping with my husband last weekend, and we went to a mall about 20 minutes from out house. I realized that I had not been 5 miles outside of campus (we live close) for the last month. I almost forgot about the outside world. I hate to think about being englufed by the ivory tower, but I can see how easy it is. So my question is should I slow down so I have more time for other activities? or should I keep going full steam since I do enjoy it?

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Teaching: "The Giant Sucking Sound"

A few of you older readers might recall Ross Perot's failed presidental campaign in 1993. When referring to his opponents' support of NAFTA, he indicated that this country would hear a giant sucking sound as low wage jobs were shifted to foreign venues. An interesting and colorful analogy, I think I can hear that giant sucking sound coming from my time management (or lack thereof).

I love teaching. I love it, I love it, I love it.

And I hate it. It is taking up ALL of my time. I am trying to get a handle on it, trying to do less, but how can you give students any less than 110%. Meanwhile, my focus has got to shift. I cannot be the only one of you out there who got a lovely form letter from NSF informing us that they will have little to virtually no money available for new grants because of the federal government's inability to pass a 2007 budget. This means that I will have to beat the bushes harder than ever to fund my lab. AND I am still sitting on one paper from my postdoc that really, really needs to get out. [On the positive side I pushed out two papers in Nov-Dec, so I am feeling good about that.]

One of my friends who is a year ahead of me on the tenure track said that she thought being a faculty member would be like a gentle assent up a hill and found that it was more like being kicked in the pants up a sheer cliff. I think that I affirm her analogy. BUT I still love it. I can't believe they pay me to do this.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Thoughts on teaching, starting a lab

Thanks for all your comments on my last post. I was a little depressed coming back from vacation. Things are much better now, probably because I have been enveloped by the vast abyss of teaching.

This is my first semester teaching. In many ways the standard philosophy on teaching is similar to classes in graduate school. You don't need to be the best teacher out there, you only need to be okay, just as it doesn't matter if you get A's in grad school as long as you pass because research is so much more important. However, I could never buy into that theory. It may not have mattered to my advisors, but it mattered to me. Similarly, my teaching skill may not make a big difference in my tenure case, but if all I wanted to do was research, then why am I here in the first place? I cannot give anything less than 100% to my students, even if it means spending less time on my research.

So at least for the short term, I am cutting back on writing proposals. I am focusing on teaching my class, and I am focusing on teaching my grad students how to execute experiments. This has been especially fruitful. As soon as I got back into the lab, I immediately felt better. I know what I am doing. I can teach these skills to others. Even if I have to start at the beginning it is not so bad. Similarly, teaching undergraduates is a pleasure. I really enjoy trying to explain. I always felt like everything was so complicated. I am trying to cut through the obfuscation and get to the heart of the material. And the students really seem to get it!

My advice to all the starting faculty out there is to take the 1st semester off from teaching to focus on setting up your lab and writing proposals. Teaching is a crushing time commitment. Like children is very rewarding, but a lot of work. And also like having children, you can never understand how much of a commitment it is until you are actually in the middle of it.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

A loss of confidence

When my postdoc left I really lost a lot of confidence in my ability. Although not directly connected, I saw having a postdoc as a ticket to publishing quickly. In addition, the postdoc was serving as a lab organizer and mentor for the younger students, freeing up my time for grant writing, writing papers from my postdoc and generating research ideas.

I spent much of the end of December on vacation with my family moping about the "tragic loss" of the postdoc from my lab. My husband was annoyed by my melodramatic turn, and kept pointing out that tons of new faculty don't even have postdocs, which was helpful, but I still came back feeling a little down. And, for the first time since I started my job, I wasn't excited about going to work the next day. Most of this is fear of the unknown. I am not sure how good my new grad students will be. I am not sure if I will be a good teacher. [My first lecture is tomorrow.] I am not sure if my lab will be successful. I am not sure if I will have time to write grants, giving my new mentoring and management responsibilities. I am just not sure.

Sometimes I feel like a child playing dress-up, and it doesn't help that many people mistake me for an undergrad. But despite all this doubt, I am confident that I know my stuff. I am sure that with enough work and effort we will get this lab of the ground, and gosh darn it...we will publish something.

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