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, April 23, 2008

Who are you?

I have always had trouble with this question in reference to my lab. I guess my lab is a little divided. We have two kind of different research projects, which make it difficult for me to describe our lab in 3 minutes. This has led to deeper problems as well. It is so important to have an identity. It is how others will perceive you. It defines who your peers (and tenure letter writers)are. When applying for "young investigator" awards, it is helpful to concisely describe your focus. And who you are sets the direction for the lab. This helps to attract collaborators, students, and funding.

The last week or so, as I prepare for another CAREER submission, I have been trying to gather my thoughts together to answer this question. It is more difficult in my second year than my first because we have more of everything, successful and unsuccessful projects. Should I talk about the successful high impact project that I also proposed last year, or the cool new project with less data? Or, should I strike out in a new direction?

Understanding who you are helps to answer all of these questions, and it lays the groundwork for future plans. This is the major thing that we have been missing over the last year. The funny thing is, I used to know. I remember talking to a friend who is a little behind me and was applying to faculty positions while I was finishing my postdoc and getting ready to start mine. We had an entire phone conversation where I discussed how passionate I was about X.

And then, I got to campus and X kind of slipped away. I had a lot of good project ideas and individually I think the things we are working on are great, but what do they represent as a sum? I was preparing for the Class in Subject Area that I am teaching and I came across a paper about X. Suddenly, everything came crashing together and I realized that X is what we do, X is what I love, and X is what we should be exploring.

I guess I never really thought much about it before now. I'm hoping this new direction somehow translates into funding success.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Are sure its not Monday?

Well, things lately have been fairly repetitive and kind of boring/depressing. All my grants from summer and fall were rejected. I need to write more, but I am hard pressed for time because I am teaching and also have a ton of things leftover from last qtr that didn't get done because I was teaching Class That Sucks The Life Out of Me. I've finally destressed, gotten most of those things done and am starting to think about grants. I am a little depressed. Am I going to work so hard to get this idea out only to have it trashed again, but I also know the best way to deal with stuff is to get back on the horse. So I guess I am off to write some grants (after I have office hours, meet with the seminar speaker, and teach my class)

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Postdoc to Academic Transition Awards

I'd like to address a couple comments swirling around one of my last posts.

First Alexis posted:
In 2004, the company also established a US national fellowship program which each year awards five post-doctoral female researchers with fellowship grants of $40,000. To date, this program has awarded research grants of $500,000.

Learn more about the international or national fellowships or laureate awards.

Then Janus Prof Answered:
I was interested in doing the LOreal fellowhsip and was very angry that I did not qualify. For starters, you had to already be in your post-doc to qualify! Faculty often won't accept you as a post-doc unless you already come pre-funded, which starts a chicken and egg problem for the LOreal fellowship. Dear anonymous, please change these guidelines so that real women can actually apply!!

This actually brings up a deeper questions about these awards. Some of them are so restrictive in who can apply, I wonder if they really help.

For example:

L'oreal Award- Have to already be a postdoc. Many students in engineering majors only postdoc for 1-2 years making it difficult to apply. Also, some majors (EE, BME) tend not to postdoc at all (and EE could sorely use some awards to encourage diversity).

Burroughs Wellcome Fund- This award provides two years of funding for a postdoc and three years of funding for a faculty grant. To apply you must be a postdoc for at least 12 months, and you cannot already have a faculty position. Again this prohibits a lot of people from applying for this award. In my field, it is not uncommon to get a faculty position before starting a postdoc and therefore not qualify for this award. Also, a 1-2 year postdoc person would have difficulty applying for this award.

NIH Pathways to Independence Award- This award is almost identical to the Burroughs Wellcome. Same problems.

So do these awards really help? I think they may in natural sciences where longer postdocs are much more traditional, but I don't think they are doing much at all for engineering, which arguably has fewer women than most natural science majors. Maybe we need some engineering specific awards to address these issues.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

6 word Meme

I was tagged by Janus Professor

1. Write your own six word memoir
2. Post it on your blog and include a visual illustration if you’d like
3. Link to the person that tagged you in your post and to this original post if possible so we can track it as it travels across the blogosphere
4. Tag five more blogs with links
5. And don’t forget to leave a comment on the tagged blogs with an invitation to play

I guess mine would be:
How did I get so lucky?

And I think I'll tag:
Science Woman
Female Science Professor
See Jane Compute

(Not 5 but a good start).

Science is not an entitlement

"Science, quite frankly, is not an entitlement program. It really is the basis of our prosperity, of who we are today, and what we will be in the future, what our kids will be doing, what our grandkids will be doing, the kind of life that they will have, the kind of standard of living that they will have. It's not a luxury."

-Robert Rosner, Director Argonne National Laboratory, Science Talk, Scientific American Podcast, 03/12/08

So as you can tell by my posts that are getting fewer and farther between, I am really, really busy. And all these wonderful things to blog about are piling up on my desk. Things like:

- An article in my local newspaper that says that STEM fields will become the foundation of our economy (especially as unskilled, commodity associated jobs move overseas)

-An article from March IEEE Spectrum, pg 19, about "US Engineers and the Flat Earth" that talks about the US National Academies report and our abysmal education system that does not encourage science and engineering or even lay the foundation for future success. [Case in point, engineering is not studied in the typical elementary to HS curriculum at all, or if included is lumped in with "technology")

- An article in Science July 6 2007, "Straight talk about STEM Education" about how more hands on education is needed to excite and retain STEM majors and to provide more real world experience for students.

I'm going to be honest here. We are almost definitely in a recession and it is possible that we stand on the brink of depression. A costly war, coupled with increasing oil prices, and poor investment oversight especially in the mortgage market leave us on the brink, but not quite, of collapse.

The prosperity of our past economy has been based on industry and technology that we have produced. But we are quickly losing our edge. Nearly 75% of the students enrolled in Midwest R1U's PhD program are international and this is not abnormal. US students are increasingly less likely to pursue STEM professions from the BS up to the PhD. We are as a society resting on our laurels so to speak. But be assured that China and India will not and are not. If we continue abysmal funding increases that do not even meet cost of living, and even cuts in some places (high energy physics), while our competitors are pouring money into infrastructure and training, we will be left behind.

The worst part is that the people, like me, who are in the position to educate the politicians and the public are so busy writing grants trying to save our professions and careers, and those of all the students and technicians who depend on us, that we don't have the time to organize and fight.

All of this makes me incredibly sad. The first time I visited Rome, I marveled at how a society capable of making such fantastic things, artistically and scientifically, could crumble. Now, I feel as if it is happening in front of my very eyes.

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