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.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

I hate (writing) NSF Career Proposals

I am working on my NSF Career proposal right now (due mid-July) so you may not hear much from me in the coming weeks. I hate this proposal. The problem is that I really want to win, rather than the we'll see attitude I've had for all the others. What's worse is it is supposed to be a career plan including research, teaching, and outreach goals, but the page limit is the same as a regular unsolicited proposal. So, I am supposed to cram all my career plans for the next 5-10 years in the same 15 pages that I normally have to lovingly describe a single research idea. AND this is all for a pittance of money: less than $100k/yr which amounts to about 1 student and supplies after overhead. Well, I am plugging away. I have spoken with several colleagues about my idea. It has been significantly altered twice, and I now think I might be on the right track. Now let's hope that I can get this fleshed out before my upcoming 4th of July family reunion (talk about timing) and the release of the new Harry Potter Movie (July 11, in Imax 3-D no less). The only thing keeping me sane are these new clips from the movie: Harry Potter clips.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Research and Resouces

Recently the research of several young professors that I considered postdocing with has been highlighted in trade journals. This has really spawned a lot of thought on my part. I want my research to be featured in trade journals too. Of course these faculty all have several years up on me (about 5) and are at very prestigious universities. And I have to ask my self if it is likely that I could achieve a similar goal in the same time frame.

Based on the feedback that I received in the last year, I would have to say that signs are good, but there are several differences between myself and them. The most obvious is that my university, while an R1U, is not as prestigious as theirs. This means that I don't have access to the resources that they have, particularly students. Even if I am technically and intellectually as skilled as these individuals, will I have the people and tools necessary to achieve that kind of success? This is a more difficult question that can't really be answered yet.

On the other hand, if I tried to do well so that I could move to a very prestigious university, I don't think that I would be happy. I finally pinned down a couple people on expectations for me at full throttle. The basic plan at R1U (for research anyway) is a couple of papers a year, support two grad students, and generate a couple months of release time (bringing in summer support for 3 months + 2 more months of salary). These are pretty achievable goals that I can accomplish without driving myself crazy.

Now if I were at very prestigious university, I believe that this would be much less likely. There I would be expected to support a much larger group meaning I would need to bring in substantially more money. More publications would be expected from me and just more in general. So while I would have increased resources, they come at a substantial cost, especially in terms of my work like balance (and sanity).

So I have to ask myself is it possible to have research success on limited resources without driving yourself crazy? And the answer is I don't know, but I'll tell you in a few years.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Yearly Reviews

I just had annual reviews and everything went really well. My chairs said that I was doing everything that can be expected from a 1st year faculty and to keep up the good work. So right now I am riding a wave of high enthusiasm. My reception at the conference last week was excellent and I am getting good reviews so everything is great.

I am so excited about where my lab is. We have so much potential. The key for us over the next year will be to focus, see some successful projects through and get some publications. It is so hard with a new lab. My postdocs are great, but the students spend so much time in class. Honestly sometimes my undergrads get more done than the grad students just do to courseloads. Well heres hoping for a very productive summer.

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