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, December 18, 2008

Dr. Mom's Super Grammatically Picky Paperwriting Tips

Given my lack of funding success, I have decided to dedicate myself to things that I can control, the most important of which is paper writing. As I am slowly making progress through the paper backlog in my inbox, I keep running across the same grammatical problems (in native speakers too!) so I thought I would share some tips for those who didn't get great GRE verbal scores:

1. Due to- Don't use this phrase. Rigorously it means that you are owed something, as in "because my daughter is selling girl scout cookies money from the neighbors and relatives will be due to her." If you mean that something is caused by something say... as a result of...or because of...

2. While- While means that two events happen simultaneously as in "while I was sleeping, my son was spilling a five pound bag of flour on the kitchen floor." If you mean to contrast two situations, then use whereas. "Obama is a democrat, whereas Bush is a republican."

3. The- This is mainly a problem for foreign students. Use "the" to refer to a specific thing as in "the lemon over there on the table." If you just many any example of the class then you would simply say "lemon." i.e., "I made enchiladas yesterday using red chile sauce. I made it using the red chile powder that my Mom bought me in Texas." Note there is no "the" before red chile sauce because I am not referring to a specific one.

4. Such as- This term is not wrong, just a little too informal. Instead say including...or as examples...for example...

Any others you guys can think of....?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Not Funded....Again

I got word recently that my CAREER proposal was rejected again (2nd time, only 1 more try allowed). It was disappointing because last year I had made the recommended category, but was not funded (need to be highly recommended), but this year, despite 3 very good ratings (only thing higher is excellent), I did not even make the recommended category. (Huh?)

The way I see it, the only way to get funded is to have all excellents, and in fact, the other grant that I did get funded had just that. My concern, apart from the fact that I will have difficulty funding my lab, is that if colleges don't adjust their tenure expectations given the current funding situation a whole generation (~ 5 years worth) of assistant professors may be lost.

Even the senior scientists are suffering, so one would hope that leniency is out there, but many times tenure decisions get rejected by administration (i.e., Deans) which may be slow to respond or slow to recognize changes (speaking generally, not sure about the situation here). I certainly hope that there is a level of understanding or I will probably be in trouble.

So right now, I am taking control of what I can, which is papers, and I am trying to publish as much as I can to show that I am at least productive, even if funding isn't forthcoming. Any other advice?

Monday, December 01, 2008

Funding and Self Confidence

So as I sit here waiting to find out if any of my 6 currently outstanding grants will be funded and facing the possibility of running out of funds in 10 short months (prayers accepted), I have been wondering what all this means. If I am unable to fund my lab effectively (say more than 1 student at a time) does this mean that I am an ineffective professor? or is it simply a sign of the times and the incredibly poor funding situation (near 8% success rate in the divisions I apply to)?

In the past funding rates were near 20-25% (or so I've been told by senior faculty). Given my scores and ratings, its likely many of my proposals would have been funded in those times, so by that mark I'm doing okay. But the point is that right now, which is what matters, I have had one grant funded, which has already expired, and will have difficulty running my lab if another does not materialize soon. Yet, I know of people, junior people in my field, who *are* able to fund their labs effectively (i.e., more than 1 student) even in these times. Does this mean that they are simply better scientists (or at least grant writers) than me? If so what does this imply?

If I am able to perform research, not at the scale that I wish, but still achieving a low level of funding, is that okay? My goal has never been to be a research superstar that sacrifices every waking moment to achieve NAS/NAE success, but I guess somehow I always hoped it would just sort of happen anyway. Am I okay with being an okay or good scientist, but not the best?

My institution is very supportive of me and seems to think that I am doing a great job, so I am not worried about tenure. My goals have always been more advanced than what would be required for tenure. The real question I guess is, if I cannot achieve my goals, can I settle for only some of what I want?

Now, for perspective, I am in my third year as a faculty member, and have been told by everyone that that is when grants start to hit, so maybe tomorrow I will be blogging about all my funding success and none of this will matter, but right now, in this moment, I have to ask if it is okay to be less than great.

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