Thursday, October 29, 2009

Finding the writing groove

I'm in the midst of an R01, or rather hopefully nearing the end and I'm finally hitting my writing groove.  In graduate school I hated writing.  I almost lost my mind while writing my thesis and had to workout every day to break the monotony of being at a computer everyday for hours on end.  Now, it is my life largely.  Writing grants, papers, etc. But, I've gotten used to it.  Still the hardest part is getting started.  I often procrastinate until under pressure of a deadline.  But, if I can find a few hours of peace to think of the big picture and frame the work, then it all starts to flow.  This grant has been better than most because I'm writing it with a collaborator, Dr. X (a well know clinician) and Dr. X's research coordinator (research prof - RPY).  Dr. X is awesome at framing the need for our research and selling the big picture, as well as telling us what we are missing  or need to change in the grant.  RPY is awesome for making those edits and helping me write in general, especially when it comes to the items that are more Dr. X's area of expertise rather than mine.  We've been emailing drafts back and forth like maniacs these days. We might even break the intertubes. My point being, having a writing partner is so helpful ,someone to read and point out what is missing with each round of new drafts.  I'm also grateful to a lab member who generously proofread the whole stinking 27 pages for us.  We are nearing the final draft, and it's a whole week before the deadline!  Sometimes you can get there, although I did freak out two weeks ago when we still had much work left to do.

Now for my dream, to have my own RPY to write my grants for me.... Maybe some day when I'm chair. (Not sure I really want to be chair...)

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The best laid plans...

In the summer when you are planning course that you have taught before, it sound so great to add a new lecture here or there.  Freshen things up or add something that the students really should know.....  It's all good until I get to the week of the lecture and then I realize that my prep for that lecture is going to require more than just pulling out my notes from last time and refreshing my memory on what I want to say.  I have to read new material, prepare new slides or board notes and it's going to take way more time than I normally budget for prep on this course I teach each year.  Oops.  These new lectures always sneak up on me too and I forget about them.

So this week I had one of those new lectures and it was painful to prepare.  I remembered why I had stopped teaching this lecture even though the students really should see the material.  I struggled to pack the obscure information into my brain in a hurry and seem like I know something about what I was saying.  It was not joyful, but it did get finished before class.  It wasn't my most brilliant lecture ever, but we made it through.  I did contemplate a quick topic change this morning, but vetoed that idea.  Since the new topic, while more interesting to me and taught every year was full of details as well that would have to be refreshed.

In hindsight I should have move this lecture to the week when I wasn't frantically trying to finish my R01 resubmission with a collaborator.  I was coasting along fine until I suddenly realized last week that it was mid-October and there was significant work remaining.  I'm feeling much better this week after major writing last week, but I still have many smaller details to work on and I like to have a little time to reflect on the whole draft and make sure it all fits together (and within the page limit).  Our research office has gotten stricter about deadlines with the whole online submission thing.  I think it will all come together and I'm desperately trying to finish before Halloween since we have a busy weekend with school parades and neighborhood parties....  I really don't want the darn thing hanging over my head.

Oh and just to add to the mix I just found out that the in-laws are coming to visit this weekend from out of town, as in tomorrow night!   OK sorry for the rant here but it was a really crazy day.  And as I always say (often in delusion) next week will be less crazy right?

PS Has anyone read the new Shriver report "A Woman's Nation".
It looks really interesting - addressing the growing number of women in the workforce, as breadwinners and dual career families.  I'm interested in hearing about the new balance of domestic duties when women are co-breadwinners.  Not focused on academia or engineering, but I think many of these issues are common among professional women.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Inclusive leadership

It seems that many conversations I have had recently are converging on a topic.  How can we be inclusive and open in developing talent for the future?  When you want to get involved in planning and service how do you do it?  Here are some thoughts and discussions...
In some professional societies there are open mechanisms for participating in conference planning and sub-groups within the discipline.  In others, I have no idea how it happens, except that someone on high makes a choice.  How do you get to be on the list they are choosing from?  Some of those career building experiences can be much harder to come by in some groups compared to others.  Are there open calls for a special symposium?
Likewise, at your university how do you get to be selected for positions of leadership or groomed for them?  Or does "the man" select the next chair of X?
I've realized that while this can be an issue for women and under-represented minorities, it's really an issue for anyone who isn't in the "old boy's network" .  If there isn't some important senior (read famous) person looking out for you, how do you break into the system?
So really transparent organizations make it easier for everyone to stand on a level playing field and participate when they wish.  This might hurt the future star hand picked by the old boys, but for everyone else it's a good thing.  So how can we strive for uniform and transparent organizations at both our universities and our societies?  Thoughts?

Sunday, October 11, 2009


I recently saw an interesting talk at a conference about diversity.  It was by a white man who has fearlessly fought for women and under-represented minorities (URM).   His department has >50% women or URM faculty (in a STEM field).  It's a relatively new department, but there was still clearly a major effort to recruit women and URM.  The amazing thing is that their publications/faculty, annual research $/faculty, and annual citations/faculty member are outstanding and would be respected for any department in the field, so they are clearly not sacrificing quality to hire these diverse faculty.  While I don't envision my department ever approaching this, it make me think that I need to be a conscious advocate for other women/URM.  When I think back to faculty searches where we passed on women/URM who went on to be successful faculty at other schools it makes me sad that they could have added to the numbers in our department.  It also makes me remember that I should make a conscious effort to always look for a qualified woman or URM for opportunities (awards, session chairs at meetings, etc.).  I know that I've been the beneficiary of many little (and not so little) boosts of this type and I need to pay it forward.  It also reminds me that although life isn't perfect as a woman in academia, things have sure come a long way in 50 years.  Heck even in 10 years, the number of women in my fields has increased and the percentage of women faculty having kids before tenure is much higher than it used to be.  So, while I long for the day when F equals greater than or equal to two in my department, I'm feeling inspired to try to affect change through big and little ways.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Why did I go into academia?

I'm going to leave out some details here, but I'll give you some my reasons for why I went into academia.

1. I like to be more or less my own boss.  Sure I have a department chair to answer to and the university in general, but I'm largely my own boss.  I get to decide what science/engineering topics are cool and what research questions to explore.  As long as I find funding for them, I can study what I want. 

2. I get to choose what service activities to be involved with and I try to pick things I feel are important to my research, quality of life, or my community.  I've joined committies because I feel the cause is really important and I feel like I have made a difference (particulary for women), and well I like to have a say.

3. I have a pretty flexible schedule.  There is a lot of work to be done and with daycare hours I'm more limited to time the kids are in daycare or asleep.  But, I can with the except of classtime move things around on my whim, as long as I keep up with the never ending list of things to do.

4. I can think about research problems that can improve the lives of people.  I can stop to think about why and what the mechanism is.  I don't alway have to be thinking about a product that needs to role out or the bottom line. 

5. I get to hang out with really smart people (even if they are somewhat socially inept) and it's expected that I will always be learning something new.  More over the sharing of knowledge openly is encouraged. 

6.  I get to mentor/teach students and watch them mature into engineers/scientists.  I love hearing about where my former advisees and lab assistants have ended up.  What they learned that is helping them now and what they wish they had known.  This part of my job gives me great joy.  I love giving advice about where to go for graduate school. 

7. I also enjoy interacting with people from other schools/fields.  It's interesting to learn how different things can be in the humanities.  I love learning about new points of view (as I did when I lived abroad) and it makes me see my own field in a new light.  (e.g. the humanistis jaws drop when I tell them our normal teaching load is 1/1.)

There are many frustrating days and I sometimes lose sight of these things, so I am trying to remember the good parts of my job.  I also don't mean to imply that academia is the only place to find these things, although I think the student aspects are somewhat unique.