An open letter

(by Professor in Training) Feb 16 2011

Dear federal government peeps,

I’ve had 12 years of schooling, 13 years of university education, 4 years of postdoctoral training and have been busting my metaphorical balls during the first few years of my faculty position to be a kickass basic scientist. My research is supercool and will revolutionize the way physiologists think about stuff. In several years time, the results of my research will have a dramatic impact on our ability to prevent and treat some of the common diseases and disorders that are crippling our health care system.

But here’s the thing ... the research I do is expensive. Every time we walk into the lab, it costs money. The peeps who work in my lab need to get paid the pittance I give them so that they can eat. The animals we use don’t appear out of thin air and the little suckers need to eat, too (although I don’t have to pay them, thankfully). Kickass, supercool basic science research isn’t cheap.

So you think it’s ok to slash funding to federal agencies such as the National Institutes of Health? Do you understand the impact the NIH has had on today’s health care? And the impact that cutting today’s budget will have in 10 years time? How about 20 years? Basic science research that is going on today will likely not make it to new preventative and/or treatment therapies for at least a decade or two, but some of them will. Every time you or a member of your family see your doctor, visit the hospital or go to the pharmacy, you’re reaping the benefits of basic science that happened in the past. You probably won’t be around long enough to be affected by your plan to cut NIH funding today. But your kids will. And your grandkids.

As for myself, as someone who FINALLY got a fundable score on an NIH grant, if you cut this year’s budget, I will not receive the money I need to keep my research going and you will smash my career into tiny little pieces. That will mean that 29 years of education will be wasted. And you will never get to see the results of my kickass research. Ever. It will be worth the investment. I am worth the investment. Believe me. Your kids and grandkids will benefit from it.

Thank you for your consideration.

That is all.


22 responses so far

Tales from the other side of the fence

(by Professor in Training) Feb 11 2011

It’s been a real learning experience being an associate editor for Middling Journal. I’ve learned to really rely on reviewers actually doing reviews that say something rather than just making banal and meaningless comments. If they do this, it also makes my life much easier because I just don’t have time to read all of the manuscripts from end to end. More to the point, I don’t understand any some of them.

But I’ve also discovered how difficult it can be to find people who will agree to review the manuscripts. And then getting them to actually submit a review can be even harder. Apparently I’m not allowed to threaten them with physical violence. Who knew?

And this experience has taught me a lot about being an author and about trying to publish my stuff. Like submitting a list of potential reviewers who aren’t my current collaborators, aren’t all from my current or former institutions and who actually have a clue about the topic covered in the manuscript. Oh, and about how to respond to reviews and/or rejections.

So, a couple of tips for dealing with journals and stuff ...

1. Don’t argue with the umpire
Editors and associate editors don’t like being told that they got it wrong when they rejected your manuscript. And if they are a good umpire, they won't change their mind. I certainly won't, regardless of how much you complain. Suck it up, revise the sucker and find another journal.

2. Don’t throw a tantrum
Sure, you can write to the editorial team complaining about the reviewers and blaming their ineptitude for your manuscript rejection. Just remember that the identities of the reviewers of your manuscripts are unknown to you. Don't use words like imbecile and ignorant. You may have suggested the reviewer(s). They may actually be a BigWig in the area. And they might know far, far more about your corner of science than you think you do.

3. Copy and paste
You know how to do that, right? Remember to copy the reviewers' comments verbatim when doing your revise and resubmit (assuming you were invited to do so). You want them and the editor to remember what the issues were with the original submission. Having to flick back and forth between screens and matching criticisms to rebuttals is only going to make everyone angry. And there's nothing worse than an angry editor and/or reviewer. Well, except for a crazy assistant professor who is ill but still frantically searching for her next bag of Doritos. But that's a whole other story.

4. Play by the rules
Come on. You’ve been at this game long enough to know that submitting the following response to the previous reviewers’ comments really isn’t a good idea: “(1) No. (2) We strongly disagree. (3) There is nothing wrong with the figure.” Reviewers like to have their egos stroked. Tell them how wise they are. Even if the next sentence is to show them how totally wrong they are. Do it nicely and back it up with evidence.

5. Tell your story and tell it well
Insisting that the reviewers completely misunderstood the main crux of your paper means that you didn’t write it very well in the first place. Did you understand that? Do I need to say it again in a different way? Your. Writing. Sucks.

Sigh. This part of the game really isn’t rocket science. I’m sure that several editors shook their fists at their computer screens when reading some of my stuff in the past. And probably continue to do it. I just don’t bother anymore. It’s much quicker and much more energy efficient to just hit the REJECT button. I have Teh Power.

14 responses so far

Things I learned this week

(by Professor in Training) Feb 04 2011

1. You can cram two weeks worth of dirty clothes in the washing machine if you really want to. My motto is “if it gets wet, it’s clean."

2. You can lead Professor Greybeard to water but you can’t make him drink. No matter how hard you push his head under the water and regardless of how long you hold it there, it won’t make any difference if you’re a newbie prof.

3. Drinking your body weight in cough syrup isn’t as beneficial for your recovery as visiting a friend who is actually dealing with a life and death kind of illness.

4. Sometimes a grant rejection isn’t what it appears to be. It’s still a rejection, you’re still not getting the cash and it still sucks ... that ain’t gonna change ... but there may be some good stuff hidden in there if you know who to ask.

5. Eating chocolate for breakfast won’t kill you. Not in the short term, anyway.

13 responses so far

What’s making me laugh

(by Professor in Training) Jan 25 2011

It’s been a shitty day. One of those days where you just want to kill everyone around you. But then I lay down on the couch, ate all of the chocolate I could find and watched this:


Sigh. If only I didn’t have to go back to work and do it all over again tomorrow.

10 responses so far

Selfishness in academia

(by Professor in Training) Jan 20 2011

As a TT assistant professor, the pressure is on to establish myself as an independent investigator, to get extramural grant support and to publish papers as senior author. Oh, and there’s also the teaching stuff as well as the service stuff. Plus the advising stuff. Plus the miscellaneous bullshit stuff. Sigh. The list goes on.

But what I’m struggling to reconcile right now is my urgent need for my trainees to generate data and write papers because that’s what I have to do in order to advance my own career versus my responsibility to ensure that the trainees get a first class education and training experience. I’m becoming more and more convinced that this is just not possible in the current system. That the students’ education is not being put first.

And then there’s my own internal reaction when discussing career stuff with trainees. Instead of being happy for the decisions they are making, my first thoughts are increasingly about how their decisions will affect me and my progress. Me and my career. The time and effort I’ve invested in them. I’ve had to stop and remind myself that they aren’t indentured apprentices. That they are free to leave whenever they choose. That I’m here to help guide them to where they want to be. And that I have the privilege of sharing their accomplishments.

I’m at the point where I’m jumping up and down in frustration because I can’t get what I want when I want it (which is always yesterday or last week or last year). My resources are limited and dwindling at an alarming rate. My students are swamped with classes and assistantship responsibilities. And yet I’m expected to push out papers. I’m expecting them to push out the papers. And data. Let’s not forget the new data. Grant reviewers always want to see the experiments done before they’ll give you the money you’re requesting. Experiments that take time and money. Experiments that the trainees are troubleshooting in between teaching labs, in between seminars, in between classes and in between that annoying life stuff that always seems to creep up on you when you can least afford the time.

I’m preparing my pre-tenure review and it’s lacking in publications and funding. I know I’ll get dinged for it. But I’m doing as much as I possibly can given the resources I have available to me. I’m being as selfish as I can.

Sigh. Methinks it’s chocolate time.

23 responses so far

A note to Santa ...

(by Professor in Training) Dec 21 2010

Dear Santa,

I think I've been almost mostly good this year and I've left you some tasty chocolates and a family sized bag of Doritos. Please bring me some grant funding success in the New Year.

Safe travels across the roof tops, dude.


10 responses so far

Response to Wimminz in Academia questions

(by Professor in Training) Dec 15 2010

The nefarious Hermitage apparently coerced me into being on her Wimminz in Academia panel with the promise of Doritos. I must have been asleep when that happened and all I have seen so far is day-glo orange dust that may or may not contain acrylamide. Sigh.

What the hell was this post going to be about?

Oh, the Wimminz in Academia thingy.

So, I’ve been asked to give my answers, thoughts, comments, rants, etc, about four questions that were compiled by H from the masses of questions submitted by various commenters. Keep in mind that the responses given below are solely my own opinion and are not meant to be representative of any/all female junior TT peeps. Thus, without further ado ...

1. How do you command the attention, and respect, of men in academic settings (e.g. classroom, conferences, faculty meetings)?

Interesting question and one that has been asked by some of my students. Personally, I don’t feel as though I’ve ever actually made a concerted effort to “command” attention and/or respect from male colleagues, bosses, students, etc, and, if anything, being pathologically introverted has made it even more challenging (ie impossible) to try to attempt to do this.

So assuming that I have the respect of males in academia, how did/do I manage to achieve this? Honestly, I think my work ethic has a lot to do with it. I am productive, get shit done on time, do it well and am open to constructive criticism, advice and suggestions. That being said, though, I’m no pushover and will stand up and defend my work if I believe the criticisms are unfounded.

I’ve also had two amazing mentors that are both guys and they have been instrumental in helping me negotiate this business. They never treated me any different from my male peers/colleagues just because I have ovaries and I never asked for, nor expected, any special treatment.

In terms of advice for female newbies, I have a couple of simple suggestions: (1) always be professional both in demeanor and dress, (2) be good at what you do, (3) don’t ask for special treatment just coz you’re female*, and (4) don’t try batting your eyelids to impress someone.

2. How should women dealing with a two-body problem handle assumptions that their career is secondary to their partner's?

I’m not sure I’m qualified to answer this question as I’m unattached and only ever have to look out for myself when making career decisions. However, being unqualified never prevented me from voicing an opinion on this or any other topic.

Having not been in this situation, my first reaction would be to ask if it really matters what people assume. But I know that is a naive and clueless response as this can have a material impact on one’s career.

Hmmm. I guess I don’t really think I have any advice other than to be totally fucking amazing at the work you do. Let’s face it, as women, we often have to be better than our male peers in order to achieve the same thing so this probably goes double for those with an academic for a partner. And are you advertising yourself as being part of a two-body package? If so, is it crystal clear as to how awesome your achievements are?

Told you I really didn’t have anything to contribute to this one.

3. What would you like to see from tenure-track and not-yet-tenure-track menfolk? How can they pitch in?

What I really want is for male colleagues to treat me as a peer, not as a female peer per se. When I’m at work, I want them to see an accomplished, hardworking, super-smart, kickass professional. Don’t make comments about the lack of a wedding ring on my hand or ask when I’m going to settle down and start a family. If I'm getting annoyed at a meeting, you really don't want to ask if "it's that time of the month". Believe me when I say that the last thing you want to do is piss me off.

I also get cranky when I get comments from reviewers suggesting that I get more senior colleagues to help me with my work. It’s clear from my IRL name that I am female and I’m 99% certain that those comments would not be there if my name was Billy Bob. Don’t assume that I am not competent to carry out the work simply because I have ovaries. Look at my biosketch and judge from that, not the gender associated with the name listed at the top of the page.

Sigh. That’s three from three questions for which I have nothing interesting or constructive to offer.

4. How do you deal with insinuations that you were only chosen for a position/award/etc because of affirmative action?

Haha - I don’t think anyone familiar with my background and/or current position would dare to insinuate that I received accolades or jobs simply because I was a woman. For example: in grad school, I was the only female in my lab and graduated with the most number of publications as first author, published in more respected journals than my peers and won the most number of awards. I am 100% confident that none of the guys in that cohort would ever suggest that I got any of those things because of affirmative action as they all saw the amount of blood, sweat and tears that went into my work.

I have also never actively sought awards or opportunities that were restricted to women, mostly because I wanted to avoid the You Only Got This Far Coz You Have Ovaries type of thing. But that’s just me. I don't have a problem with women that do.

Ok, so I think it’s fair to say that I don’t really have anything of any value to say on any of these topics. As other bloggers have opined in far more elegant terms than I ever could, being in academia doesn’t mean you have to lose your femininity or your right to have functioning ovaries. That’s not something you should ever have to sacrifice. Evah. Academia is a career, just like any other. Only it’s gutwrenchingly difficult and incredibly frustrating. Nevertheless, it’s what pays the bills. I love what I do but I don’t live to work. And I just don’t see that my gender has anything to do with my work. I do what I do, I do it well and I don’t need to be identified or classified as a female academic.

Hell, now I’m ranting and completely off-topic. But at least I managed to make sure that this rant contained 100% fewer babies as instructed. Take from it what you will. Or just move on to the next post in your Reader queue as it’s probably of more use than this one.

Damn, I’m tired. Is the end of the semester here yet? Can’t wait for this year to be over.

Now where are those fucking Doritos, Hermitage?

* This post is supposed to be 100% baby-free so I’m not even going near the whole pregnancy, maternity leave, breast feeding, etc, issues. As far as I’m concerned, they are a fundamental right that need to be built into academia. And every other career sector.
/public service announcement

9 responses so far

Triaged ... again

(by Professor in Training) Nov 27 2010

Ok, I can handle receiving a bad score and not being funded if reviewers saw a major flaw or six in the research design. Or if I had no experience in the area in which I proposed to study. But to be triaged when the reviewers’ comments look like the following really piss me the fuck off.

Investigator: Magnificent! Uber productive, fantastic training, very promising talent.

Environment: Solid.

Significance: Totally fucking awesome.

Innovation: Again, totally fucking awesome. Totally!

Approach: Innovative. Well thought out. Aims supported by very convincing preliminary data. However, a little on the exploratory side.

What the fucking fuck do I have to do to get a fucking grant? The reviewers seriously expect me to be totally fucking innovative without being a tad exploratory? How can I provide conclusive proof that my hypothesis will be proven unless they give me the money to do it?

Such bullshit. I can already feel the positive effects of my vacation slipping away.

21 responses so far

Funding paylines - beating the odds?

(by Professor in Training) Nov 19 2010

I’ve been having an argument with a colleague recently over funding rates and how to improve my chances of getting a slice of the pie. In an era of tight paylines, she is adamant that submitting more grants automatically increases your chance of success; however, I think I will have to respectfully disagree due to a question of simple mathematics ...

1. Theoretically at least, submitting grants isn’t like a lottery. Yes, the laws of probability would support the argument that the more grants you submit, the greater your chances of success, but this is dependent on the assumption that everyone else submits a “normal” number of grants. If everyone increases their number of grant submissions to the same degree that you do, the chances of you getting funded remains the same.

2. But #1 then assumes that the pot of available money increases proportionally to the number of grants submitted. Which doesn’t happen. So if you look at the reality of the situation and assume that everyone has increased the number of grants they are submitting but the absolute amount of money available stays the same, the percentage of grants that get funded will plummet (ala NIH in recent years).

3. You can submit a metric fuckton of grants per year, but if they all suck, your chance of getting funded is still close to zero. This isn't a raffle, peeps.

So what does this mean? Should you submit only the barest minimum number of grants?

Well, you could but I think you would be shooting yourself in the foot. However, I haven’t been funded so you could very easily say that I don’t know my ass from my elbow.

While I’ve been sacrificing a lot of chickens to the funding gods lately, my strategy has been more than just submitting a metric fuckton of grants and keeping my fingers crossed (although this does happen to a certain degree). My grant writing has improved exponentially since starting this job so I think my chance of funding success has also improved. So I think the critical factors include:

1. Identify more sources of funding than just NIH/NSF. While I would give both of my little toes for a piece of the NIH pie right now, even a small $X0,000 grant would get my lab out of a financial hole.

2. The non-NIH/NSF sources of funding need to be appropriate to the work you’re doing and your career stage. There’s no point applying for an endowed professorship in quantum physics if you’re a junior faculty physiologist.

3. Get critical feedback on your grants before they are submitted. The feedback should come from people who have had recent funding success, not some old hack who hasn’t been funded since the 1960s.

4. Use grant reviewers’ comments as critical feedback, even if they are a bunch of useless fucks who wouldn’t know good science if it jumped up and bit them on the nose. Chances are that these fuckers are reviewing your grants at other places, too, so you’ll have to convince some of them to fund you.

5. Consider sacrificing more than one species of animal to the funding gods. Thus far, I’ve only been sacrificing chickens but I think I’ll have to extend this to include another tasty species. A couple of people have suggested goats but I’m thinking more of pigs as I have a penchant for pork. Or, given the season, perhaps a turkey would be more appropriate.

Sigh. Am hoping that the mass of turkey sacrifices in the coming week will bode well for the bazillion grant decisions that I’m waiting to hear about. Think happy thoughts on my behalf, people.

13 responses so far

Teh Wimminz in Academia thingy

(by Professor in Training) Nov 18 2010

I seem to have volunteered to field questions about being a wimminz in academia over at Hermitage's den of iniquity. Apparently there were Doritos being offered as an incentive. Sigh. Damn you, Hermitage.

So if you have any questions that you absolutely need answers to, don't bother to leave them here - go over and annoy H instead as this is her party and she is going to collect and condense the questions. Just remember that the forum will be strictly 100% baby-free so send your baby-related questions to someone else.

One response so far

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