Advice given to jr. faculty….

As told to me in various settings… and in no particular order…

1. Hire one solid postdoc or tech, that person will get you tenure.

2. Limit your committee service to the only two important committees: 1.  The space committee, 2.  The promotion and tenure committee. (the giver of this advice particularly disliked curriculum, and curriculum design committees)

3.  With regard to publications… N+1 is better than N.

4.  Don’t win any teaching awards.

5.  Figure out which battles are really important, fight those- and hang back on the rest.

6.  As far as NIH/NSF/your favorite federal agency is concerned, data that ONLY exists in your notebook… doesn’t count.

7.  Don’t monitor people’s hours, monitor their data.

8. Treat people that work with you as you want to be treated.

9. In hiring people to work for you, remember that people don’t come on a 1-10 scale- some can reach negative numbers (actually reduce lab productivity).

Comment, add your own. …


Bullshit paperwork, … or is it?

It wasn’t really a secret anyway, so I’m just going to come right out and admit it. I’ve got a problem with authority. I dislike feeling like I have a boss, and that is probably partly why I like having an academic position. I am fortunate to have a direct superior that does not act like ‘the boss’ in any way that is bothersome, however- there are parts of my job that sometimes feel like I have to report to the authorities, and that includes paperwork that sometimes feels like bullshit paperwork. Or is it?

You know what I’m talking about- it is those Annual Faculty Activity Reports. I suppose we all have to do them. For those of you not in the know- these are those pesky and lengthy reports that we faculty fill out every year and hand over to the authorities (chairpeople… I adore you).  These documents are a long reporting of everything we have done, accomplished, and taken part in during the previous year. This report typically includes some standard categories:

1.  Research/Scholarly activity:

  • Grants current, pending and planned.
  • Papers in prep, submitted, and published, collaborations etc., Book chapters, and sometimes
  • Meeting and poster abstracts.
  • Active Collaborations
  • (SADLY, there is no category for blogging YET!)

2.  Teaching-

  • Graduate students trained,
  • Undergraduates mentored,
  • Graduate/undergraduate/medical school courses taught (of course this varies with dept.)
  • Thesis committees that you are serving on.

3.  Service-

  • Committee service- departmental, college, and in my case university and system, as well as state, national etc.
  • Editorial Boards, Advisory Committees, Ad hoc reviewer
  • Programs and Symposia organized

4.  Professional Development

  • Meetings, Workshops attended
  • CE done/attended

5.  Major Accomplishments

6. Explanation of problems or circumstances that prevented you from reaching your stated goals for that year.

7. Goals and Objectives for the next academic year.

Now, I hate bullshit paperwork as much as the next person, in fact when I started I really disliked doing these reports, and I did a crappy job on them. I felt, you know, as though I was being micromanaged by the authorities. But I’m going to suggest that these annual reports do not fall into the category of BS paperwork. In fact, it is very, very important to make this document as complete, detailed, and correct as possible.

Why,… I hear you cry! Because next year- or more importantly in 7 years, no one- including your chairperson.. or anyone on the promotion and tenure committee will remember what you did UNLESS YOU WRITE IT ALL DOWN. Writing it all down in what will feel like nauseating, tooting-your-own-horn detail-, (and perhaps a little like  bitching and complaining around the edges in a nice way – see category 6.)  is the only thing that will protect you, and the only way you can advocate for yourself when you are not in the room and those people making decisions about you are otherwise left to go on their memories alone. Help them to have an accurate memory of what all you did in each year. And make sure you fill out those last three sections- esp. #6!

I’ve done a few of these now, and I learned very quickly to make them as detailed as possible. In fact, I’m thinking of some more creative ways to fit things in that I do, that I have to do if I want things to proceed in a timely way- but that aren’t really my job. Let’s take the X zillion hours I have spent dealing with facilities issues that should be totally and completely under my radar, just for starters. Dealing with these issues takes quite a bit of my time, but I don’t get credit for them anywhere unless I make a place. Let’s say under SERVICE. and let’s say under ‘explanation of problems/circumstances that prevented you from reaching your stated goals’.

Another reason why it is important to pay close attention to what you write in these reports- is that you will probably have a sit-down annual meeting with your chairperson, to discuss your performance, … based largely… you guessed it… on WHAT IS IN YOUR ANNUAL REPORT. I’ve seen this go awry- when junior faculty don’t carefully elaborate exactly what they have done in these reports- then the little report that the chairperson writes back in response to your report/meeting… called an annual evaluation- can be off, way off. And you do not want this to happen to you because it becomes a permanent part of your record! Fortunately, in many places you get to see that annual evaluation, and you may get to comment on it, point out any inaccuracies,… before you sign it to acknowledge that you have seen it and that what is in it is correct.

These reports are not bullshit paperwork, and it is so, SO important to get them right… can anyone say PROMOTION AND TENURE?!

Grant-writing mania

‘member that back at the beginning of the year I wrote that I was planning to submit 6 grants by June 5?  There was some discussion that this was a CRAZY plan (whimple).  Well, I’m happy to report that there will only be 5 after all, and the very last of these will leave my hot little hands this week. I am the PI on 3 of them that were due in rapid succession – one in March, one in April and one this coming week…. and Co-PI on two others. Oh- I forgot to mention that ARRA stimulus grant for equipment that I was a last minute addition to- but that was really only a commitment of a couple of pages of my time- so I’m not counting that as #6. This last grant can’t be done a minute too soon, I am TIRED of grant writing – and want to move on to the gratification of paper writing, building the lab, training people, and looking at data hot off the presses with my full attention.

A recent post over at FSP that she wrote about an article in Slate about the grant-writing mania for stimulus dollars made me laugh (or cry!).  FSP quotes this particular passage from slate:

The grant-writing mania is palpable across academic and medical institutions. At the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, for instance, faculty members normally spend about 50 percent of their time working on grants, according to Glen Gaulton, the school’s Chief Scientific Officer. (This number rose substantially during the Bush years, he said, as NIH funding flattened out.) He estimates that in March and April, however, faculty members have spent more like 75 percent to 90 percent of their time going after stimulus dollars. (bold is mine)

FSP seems surprised that faculty in the biological sciences spend even 50% time these days writing grants:

The amount of time I spend working on proposals varies a lot from month to month, and in some cases from year to year, but it is definitely not 50%. If I spent 50% of my time writing proposals, I wouldn’t have time to do the research that was funded by the grant. Yes, much of the research is done by graduate students and postdocs, but not all of it.

I like writing proposals, but I would not want to spend so much time attempting to acquire grants, leaving little or no time for doing science. For me, a reasonable % proposal planning and writing time that can potentially provide me with enough funding for research, not take over my life, and still let me enjoy both proposal-writing and science-doing is probably somewhere around 25% (±5).

I guess I’d say that for the last 5 months- I’ve spent more than 75% of my time grant writing- but this wasn’t stimulus $ related. My own grant mania has been about being junior faculty in the biological sciences in a time of flat NIH budgets and 10th percentile funding. And this is a huge problem- I don’t have enough hours to do the research, to teach people as thoroughly as I would like, to do the science- and in many cases even to think fully and clearly (and read), and have those conversations about data that are so valuable. This is very frustrating- and I am ready for a change of focus and pace.

Realism vs. Negativity

There were some interesting comments on my last post- which detailed some of the crazy scheduling that goes on in our household of two kids, two academic careers. Some of these comments surprised me and kind of tied in to a couple of comments rattling around in my head from a faculty friend.

I attend a small regular gathering of faculty- a mixture of junior faculty and more senior and tenured faculty. Some of the members of this group are of the opinion that more senior people shouldn’t be negative in front of more junior people. While I agree that negativity for the sake of negativity is a bad idea- I disagree that those more senior should leave out what are >1/2 of the important details of their careers- so as only to present positive images. In fact, I STRENUOUSLY disagree.

Why? Because usually when people at these gatherings are negative about something (complaining, frustrated etc)- it’s usually because they are encountering some professional, administrative etc. or personal difficulty.  When that frustrated person details their issue for the group- it means we all can offer solutions, maybe one of us that is better with ‘the system’ already has experience with a particular issue (how to do compliance paperwork, or get compliance folks to respond to requests etc- just for example) , and for those of us who don’t- well, we can learn from those in the group that do. What I’m tryin’ to say here is that rosy faculty lunches, while fun academic faculty bonding experiences, lose a lot of their usefulness if you censor people to the positive.

Now- I know you all are saying to yourselves- how the heck did we get there- from the comments on the last post??? Well, I didn’t want to leave you with the impression from my last post that this double-academic-career-schtick is all bad. Maybe I unintentionally gave that impression to Bikemonkey….who said…

As a counterpoint, it IS possible to choose variations on a theme. In fact this ability to choose is a big plus in the crazy dual science career thing. It is possible to intentionally do less than the max- just so long as you are prepared for the potential consequences.

Just sayin’, for the dismayed readers..

Quite right Bikemonkey- I didn’t want to give the impression from my last post that my life is hell. It is not. Far from it. The scheduling task is immense. But no more immense than any other couple with two kids and two demanding careers (quite right, Mad Hatter)- let’s say physicians or attorneys. But the flexibility to come and go as I please most of the time is a bonus of this career that is rare in other, more traditional demanding careers. If I want to take time off in the middle of the day to go have lunch with my girls at their schools, I do it. I have never missed an event at their schools (well, that’s a lie- I missed K graduation for my older daughter… but I was out of town, and that’s the ONLY school event I have missed in 5 years and I still feel so freaking guilty about it that I had to bring it up here).  In fact, I once missed faculty meeting (GASP!) because I was at an event at my kid’s school.

or Whimple (whom I love to hate, hate to love, whatever)… who said…

Not that you asked or anything, but I don’t think it’s fantastic. By my family’s standards your schedule is dysfunctional. We couldn’t / wouldn’t live taking turns alternating between who “gets to” work from 8:30 am until late in the evening, arriving home after the kids are already asleep for the night.

Whimple- dude, see previous paragraph. In fact looking around at my faculty friends, esp. those in other places with 45 minute + commutes-  we have one of the more ‘functional’ existences going. More functional in fact than some of my stay-at-home mom parents who feed their kids meals in the car on the way to soccer practice, 3 sets of music lessons, and dance class 5 nights a week. We actually sit down at the table for dinner (the three of us that are present), or (gasp again) play with neighborhood kids in the evenings after the homework is done.

But- I digress. I wrote the last post to give you a shot of realism about what this two TT academic career, two kids thing REALLY entails, because I believe that any of you choosing to go this route might want to do so with your eyes open (this one is for you neurolover). You might want to know that there are other people who do it and who survive and thrive doing it. You might want to know when someone else fails at it and what the frustrations are. You might want to know that there is a lot of stuff you could sweat- but not very much of it is worth sweating (like leaving faculty meeting or seminar early for your kids school). You might want to know real details … like how we schedule out our grant deadlines so they don’t overlap. You might want to know you are not the only one handling this …

I know I wanted to know- but no one that I knew when I was in school had two kids and two tenure track careers … in fact I know very few people in my current position that do. N=1.

Job Search Question(s)…(UPDATED)

I’ve had a couple of questions about the academic job search in the last couple of days. You all know that demistifying this process is one of my favorite things to do….. and since I’m re-submission writing with renewed energy- y’all get to help me answer this one for DSKS:

Job application question.

If you are a Newbie and, although not in the fundable zone, you reckon you got an okay score and addressable criticisms for your first shot at an R01, can you (should you?) express this in an initial job application? (in this instance, the R01 goals are very much an integral part of the research statement?)

If so, in the cover letter or in the CV or both?

Or is this of absolutely no value whatsoever to a search committee, or even straightforwardly deleterious because it’s tantamount to drawing attention to failure?

It’s not for me. It’s for an, erm, acquaintance of mine… Bob Bobson’s his name. Haw haw. Silly bugger’s trying to get a job in 2009, and he’s to old to join the Navy.

I say ol’ Bob should definitely include the fact that he got a scored R01 application- and on the first submission – on his CV (Should appear under pending grant applications- or some such).  Search committees definitely, definitely care about that kind of stuff, and they know how freaking difficult it is out there right now. If this were me, I’d probably include the score itself and the percentile ranking, and my plan for resubmission dates -on the CV as well. I’m not sure I would write a bunch of bla bla bla about what appeared in the summary statement either in the letter or on the CV- because it would seem obvious to me as a search committee member that if a candidate had a scored R01 they would be pretty foolish NOT to try to resubmit it. As a search committee member if I saw the scored R01 bit on a candidate’s CV- and we chose to interview that candidate- I would likely have a conversation with the candidate about what was in the summary statement- and how they think the criticisms could/should be answered. I imagine that this kind of conversation might come up in a chalk-talk as well.

As for whether or not this information should appear in the cover letter- I’m still undecided on that one.  If I mentioned this in the cover letter my gut feeling would be to say – I submitted an R01 and it got scored on it’s A0 submission…. we think the criticisms are easily addressable and will do this and resubmit on XYZ date. I just don’t think the cover letter is the place to do a lot of explaining about how the reviewer’s issues could be rectified- and so bringing up a score here might lead the applicant into feeling like they must to explain. I could EASILY be wrong about this though.

What say you, readers of teh blog… to Q #1?

On to Q#2…from Enrique:

is it a no-no for a postdoc looking for a TT position to include significant contributions towards said postdoc advisor’s grants on a CV?

Never having encountered this situation myself, I’m not sure what advice to give on this one. My sense is that it would be difficult to fit this in on a CV… but I really need your combined opinions!

Dear DrDrA… (Postdoc vs. Technician?) (UPDATED)

I received the following letter:

Dear DrDrA-

I was going through your blog yesterday trying to find any advice about whom to hire as a first lab personnel when you start a new lab. Is it ideally a technician, experienced, or fresh? Or a postdoc? I have interviewed a postdoc candidate who is eager to join and a too experienced lab assistant whose boss has lost all the grants.  Somebody advised me never to hire a postdoc until I get somehow established, because he/she will just grab my projects and be gone with them. If you could give me suggestions, I would appreciate it very much.

Sincerely, Fresh Jr. Faculty Member (!)

I wrote a little reply, and here’s what I said.  I’m blogging it though, so y’all can add your 2 cents worth- and remind we where we have had this discussion before.. Continue reading

Steal my thoughts…

On one of my previous posts about whether junior faculty should be seen and not heard- commenter Bahrad left the following comment:

The absolute worst advice is the absolute “seen and not heard” one… If you *never* voice an opinion, then that will definitely be damaging when it comes to tenure. The key is to find a battle & make sure that your comments are as well-considered and informed as possible.

Also, and this is a particular challenge for female junior faculty – you have to formulate your comments in such a way that your ideas are clearly acknowledged as being from you, so that goodwill is reflected on you and not transferred to some other faculty member who jumps on your background. (Without seeming like an egomaniac, obviously, but the balance between arrogance and confidence is tougher for women in the still male-dominated social norms of faculty meetings.)

I agree with that first paragraph, and that pretty much sums up my approach in real life, for better or worse.  BUT, I’m paying special attention to the bold text, and I know oh so well how that feels. Continue reading