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, September 26, 2007

A Look Back at My First Year

It is the beginning of a new year here at R1U and I thought it might be a good time to reflect on how far we've come.

First off, general thoughts:
Last year I observed that being a faculty member was like getting kicked in the pants up the side of a steep cliff. I still agree. In many ways, it reminds me of having a baby. The naive blissful pregnancy period followed by the harsh reality of poopy diapers and 3 AM feedings, but combined with awe and amazement at having produced something so beautiful. I love my job. It is the best job in the world. I get to study what I want, when I want, the way that I want. I work on problems that have the possibility of changing the world as we know it.

On the other hand, I feel constant pressure. It is difficult to secure grant money and even after I get one award, I am looking to the next. I am responsible for a growing number of people and I have difficulty committing to support students when my funding situation is only known for 2-3 years and they will be here for 5. But, that is the nature of the job. I have to take it on faith that I will get a grant between now and 2 years from now. And I know I will, I just don't know when or for how much.

We had an amazing year. We went from this:
Lab Week 1 Lab Week 1

To this:
1 Year Later 1 Year Later
1 Year Later 1 Year Later

Since we started up we have put out 2 papers and a review article (all from my postdoc). We also have two promising lines of research that I hope to produce publications soon. We have established three new collaborations.

I wrote 6 grants last year and 1 got funded, 1 I still haven't heard on one(expected Oct).

I lost one postdoc, but gained two in replacement.
I have one Ph.D. student, 1 M.S. student, and 1 BS-MS student
I have 6 UGs and 3 HS students.

On the negative side, I think maybe we have too many people. It is difficult to manage everyone. Although I think I am doing an okay job right now, I am worried about what happens when I teach in the Spring.

My first teaching assignment was okay. I loved it, but my reviews were really mixed. A lot of students slammed me for mistakes on lecture and handout materials. Of course I was writing everything for the first time so it was kind of expected, but students are demanding. Also, I foolishly did not believe that I was much faster than my students at solving problems and made tests that took me the amount of time allotted. Students mutinied. In my second teaching assignment, I slowly adjusted the test length (at least my length when I took it) until I found the right multiplier, which in my case turned out to be 5. So I take tests 5 times faster than my students, which I still find hard to believe. I think things will be better this year.

This is perhaps my favorite part of the job. This year I had a chance to serve as a consultant to our local science museum, to teach HS teachers how to use -ology in their curriculum, to design experiments for middle school students in -ology, and to demonstrate -ology to my daughter's pre-K class. It was awesome. I love the chance to bring science to the local community and especially to bust stereotypes about the kinds of people who do science. I try especially hard to be stylish when serving in these outreach roles.

In summary, as Frank Sinatra would say, "It was a very good year..."


At 2:08 PM , Blogger ScienceWoman said...

that's an amazing transformation to your lab. I don't think that a year from now my lab will look anywhere near as different. And that's also an amazing number of UG and HS students to be supervising. maybe it's just me but I feel like I have to put in almost as many hour managing UG students as I get out of them. Hopefully you've got a better effort/productivity ratio than I do. Your post is quite inspiring actually.

At 12:50 AM , Anonymous Flicka Mawa said...

Wow, that really looks like a lot of progress, especially for a first year professor! I mean I know it's only first years profs that start at nothing, but still if you were at my RU1 (where I'm a grad student), I'd say you were off to a decent start!

At 8:34 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Congratulations on an amazingly productive first year. I am just starting my first year as a PI in the sciences, and I would be delighted to make as much progress as you have.


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