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.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Situation for Women Faculty

Before I launch into today's topic, I wanted to wrap up my discussion from last time. I didn't get to many comments from people who actually *know* what happens when you run out of money, although it seems like lots of you are interested. I can tell you what happened in my conversations with my colleagues and chair though.

Many of my colleagues believed that it wouldn't happen. I'm glad they have so much confidence in me, but given an ~8% rate at NIH/NSF (at least in my programs) I'm not so sure. I pushed a little harder and was told that when the money dries up labs contract and scale back. That's pretty obvious, but what happens when you haven't even ramped up yet? Here the conversation with my chair was more helpful. As a new faculty, it seems that most universities want you to be successful and will support you as best they can to make sure that happens. I was encouraged to make use of all the internal and external funding that I could (i.e., university NIH training grants, NSF IGERT programs, NSF graduate research fellowships, NSDEG fellowships), but most of these only apply to domestic students, and right now all my grad students are international. I was also told to apply for small pots of specific money (i.e., targeted to a small area). For example, many NSF programs have seed grants SGERs that I could go for that are small, but might support a student for a year. Alternatively, I could seek out TAs to pay for my students for the short run.

As an aside, I know that many faculty simply move universities to address this problem (hey new start-up package new 3 years of funding!). I think that if you really are doing a good job and the university you are at doesn't want to lose that investment they can be prevailed upon to help you out for the short term, but that does seem a bit like dirty politics.

At any rate, I have about a year and a half before this becomes a real problem for us, so I think I will just chill for now.

On another note, I wanted to talk about a new study put out by MIT on women faculty hiring. This is really disturbing. Basically the study says that shortly following the last report there was an increase in the hiring of women, but that after interest waned, the numbers of women either remained flat or declined (with the noticeable exception of chemistry). This is just sad. It implies that if permanent measures to encourage the hiring of women (and other minorities) are not taken, we will never see the increases that we need to. I just don't know. Our department is aggressively pursuing women so I feel that there is little more that I personally can do here, but it is really depressing.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

What happens if you run out of money?

So I just received yet another grant rejection (5 in a row!) and am feeling just a little depressed about the whole operation. This brings me to a question for my senior readers:

What happens if you really, truly run completely out of cash?

We are not yet close to this situation, but given the current funding climate, I cannot say that I am optimistic for the future. And this left me to wondering, what happens if I don't raise any extra money between now and about 1.5 years from now when the cash dries up?

Our department is pretty strapped so they could probably only help a little. I figure this has to have happened to some people before. What is the protocol?

Also, how do you get started again from nothing? You may have difficulty getting preliminary data for a project if you don't have money to support those data collection efforts. Even if you can get free labor (i.e., undergrads) you would still need supplies. This brings up a tangential question, how do you get money to fund projects that are different from your currently funded work? Most people want preliminary data and you can't get that without seed money. (Oh the chicken and the egg).
Any thoughts?

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Knowing when it is too much

Gotta love the titles of my last few posts.

Continuing in that vein, though, I clearly remember the first time that I realized I just physically could not do everything that I wanted to. It was in high school, summer before my senior year. At the time I was involved with yearbook, French, and track. I wanted to take both AP Chemistry and Physics and the hours that they were offered conflicted with most of these activities. I actually ended up having to drop all of them to take both courses, but it was the right decision. At the time it was a difficult decision. I really, really wanted to keep up with French and yearbook (track I could take or leave), but they didn't fit in my schedule. I knew I wanted to be an engineer, so I saw the other activities as hobbies, whereas the classes were critical to my future.

Through most of my undergraduate career I didn't really have problems balancing activities. School wasn't particularly difficult for me, although there was a horrible quarter with biology, organic chemistry, thermo, and fluid dynamics starting at 8 AM and all in a row MWF. The next time that I found myself in the situation of too much was in graduate school. I was taking grad transport and two other easier classes, plus trying to hammer out data before the big national conference deadline. As the conference deadline approached, my PIs told me to forget about class and crank on the data we needed. It was really hard to let go of the class though. I did it, reluctantly, and it became the only B I got in graduate school. On a positive note, we got the data we needed just in time for the conference and it became my first, and most cited publication.

Now I think I am finding myself in a similar situation. This job will take all the time that you are willing to give it. And I love doing outreach and teaching, but clearly research is the bread and butter of my sustenance. I need to spend more time doing research. It is hard, but I am finding myself limiting the time I spend on teaching and on outreach to make time for research. Hopefully, I will pull it all together.

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