Holidays and grant deadlines: not a good combination

December. The end of the semester. The end of the year. A time for reflection on what I have accomplished and a time to plan for the next year. On a personal note, I get to take a break, travel to a fun place, catch up with friends and family, and generally decompress after the end of a long semester.
OK, who am I kidding? Given the confluence of multiple grant deadlines in January, end-of-semester madness, a January conference, and preparing for teaching next semester, I find myself frantically moving from grading final exams and papers, to preparing proposal #1 due in January, to proposal #2 also due in January, to working on my conference presentation, and then back again in one vicious cycle. To some extent, having a lot of work is normal and no big deal these days- I’ve adjusted to the multiple demands on my time. But for those submitting grants to funding agencies with preproposal deadlines in January (like me), December is now a time of added stress and work. And yes, I know that the deadlines are the same every year and I could have been working on the proposal through the fall semester. And I have been. But there are always things that come up along the way: collaborator constraints that change the schedule, new ideas that move the project in new directions, and always the last push to finalize everything, made more tricky with institutional office closures over the holidays.
I would really like to spend the holidays fully engaging with my family and not sneaking back to my room to check email, run analyses, or draft up a grant budget. Even as I dash off this blog post, part of my mind is calculating the tradeoff between spending time with friends tonight or pushing through with work so I can more fully take time off next week when I’m with my family. Do I prioritize going to see The Hobbit with friends today over a free day with my family next week, or is that a false tradeoff because work will always take whatever free time I give it? Rationally, I know that the latter is true, but it’s so hard to convince myself of that right now.
I know that many of you are stuck with a similar dilemma. So what tricks or tips do you have for me and other readers? How do you balance the added stress of the impending January deadlines with the holidays?

Guest post: Scientific Networks

Today’s guest post was contributed by B Kiddo, a full professor at an R1 university

In a post by Dr. Isis not long ago, she discussed social time with colleagues (typically male) and their wives, and how she often ended up spending time with the wives, generally a great group of women. While it wasn’t her main point, something that struck me is how hard this makes creating a good network of scientists.

I’ve encountered that same type of social situation over the years, too. I’m often the only female career scientist in a social setting that includes partners and families. For example, at a recent event, all the other women were scientists that had moved away from their careers to take care of kids, or were stay-at-home moms just moving into the workforce. All had spent significant amounts of time raising their growing kids, and following their male partners around the country and world. We had a really fun conversation that ranged all over the map.

I eventually moved to join the other scientists. My husband switched to playing with kids, and then followed me. He gets a bit fed up always hearing about academia, so I changed the subject when he arrived to better include him.

Limited ability to hang out with scientists and talk about work happens on a larger scale at professional meetings of all sizes. I often bring my family with me, but when I do, I don’t get the social time out on the town that others get – as soon as talks or other duties are over, I give my husband a break from the kids. In contrast, it seems many women expect that their scientist partners will be busy day and night at meetings, and expect that even in the evenings, they will hang out with the kids and other partners and guests. My husband, as wonderfully generous with time and help as he is, absolutely expects that I will be sharing duties fully, and I share his expectations.

One of the women present the other evening described how she deals with her husband being busy over the summer with fieldwork. Three-week long car-trip vacations without her husband are completely normal for her, and she’s been doing them since her first of 3 children was an infant. Another female friend of mine, also a faculty spouse, is not pleased with her husband’s many trips, and many working weekends, but feels unable to change the situation, and is also thus used to most activities including her and her child, without her husband.

I can’t imagine either my husband, or me, allowing me to do my work and travel when and where I’d like. We both impose a standard on me for what is acceptable time away from family that seems quite different from what most couples appear to impose on male scientists.

For example, I recently flew across the country leaving on a Monday at 4:00 AM and returning Wednesday late (well actually Thursday at 1:00 AM), simply to minimize time away. In an ideal world, I’d get to spend an extra day or two away, socializing with scientists in the area as well as simply enjoying myself. That ideal world shouldn’t seem so far away in this day and age, but I seem to have ingrained the idea that on some fundamental level, I shouldn’t be away, period. If it is unavoidable, the time away must be as brief as possible.

The problem is thus partly, if not largely, self-imposed, but I’m still not certain how to change it. My own guilt and the price I’d need to pay to make up for more time away are daunting. To the extent that my experiences are general, it’s no wonder that the social networks in which science takes place are smaller lonelier places for women than for men. I’ve recently become aware of multiple collaborations started both at my home institution, and across other institutions, and wondered if I would have been invited to be included had I had more social connections with the scientists involved, since the scientific connections were obvious, to me at least. (Of course, I also wondered if I simply didn’t make the grade to be involved – good ole impostor syndrome.)

My approach so far has been to try to connect more with other scientists through social media (e.g. twitter) and to try to improve interactions at my home institution, starting with monthly lunches with women faculty. Strengthening those connections, even if few of the other women are people I’d collaborate with given our different research areas, will at least expand the social network in which I do my science.

Guest Post: Hosting a CV review

Today’s post was contributed by tenured professor of pediatrics Pascale Lane, MD.

I remember when How To Host A Murder first hit the shelves in the 1970s. The concept was simple; each box contained the basic narrative for a murder. Characters, distributed randomly at the start of the evening, then acted out themselves at the party. Eventually, someone ends up as a corpse (not really, of course), and the characters continue to interact until the mystery gets solved. Wine is not required, but highly recommended.

In academia, hosting a CV review may be less entertaining but far more useful. The CV, or curriculum vitae, literally means the course of action of a life in Latin. This document provides a comprehensive summary of a career, and it should be up to date at all times. Institutions generally have a required format for CVs; failure to use this layout can be enough to shoot down a promotion application!

What Components are in a CV?
The order varies from place to place, but the information in most academic CVs remains the same:

  • Name, Degrees, and Contact Information
  • Education and Training
  • Professional Experience
  • Military Service
  • Professional Certification
  • Honors and Awards
  • Scholarship
  • Teaching
  • Professional Service
  • Professional Memberships
  • Community Service

Why Do CV reviews?
The CV is the most important part of the promotion and tenure package. It will be perused by external reviewers in the field as well as at several levels in the home institution. Other documents accompany the CV in the promotion and tenure (P&T) packet, but they merely illuminate and supplement the CV.
Most institutions have an annual review process during which professional performance, upcoming goals, and progress toward promotion are assessed. At many places, this process proceeds less vigorously than it should. Some supervisors fail to consider the entire CV, even though it usually has to be included in the evaluation packet! Getting others to review a CV may thus ward off career problems in the future.

How Do You Organize a Review?
Colleagues make or break a review. Some reviews may include participants within a field, such as one during a professional conference. Others can occur within an institution. The setting may differ, but ultimately the idea is to identify gaps in the CV that may block career progress. Having senior colleagues involved grants the activity more value. People at least one level above the participant on the P&T scale have the knowledge to better identify those pesky gaps that require more information or activity.

  • Within One Institution: Prior to reviewing CVs, everyone should have access to and familiarity with the university’s P&T guidelines, especially the required CV format. Copies can be provided with the calendar invitation, just to make sure all participants know the goals.
  • Within a Field: Participants coming from a number of universities will likely have different requirements, both in formatting of materials and in P&T specifications. These reviews will obviously not be able to address specifics, but can still be useful since the P&T process requires external review by a senior person in the field in question. Savvy junior faculty can provide their P&T guidelines to the colleagues with whom they meet.

The Review Process
Participants can be paired or in small groups. People exchange CVs and take time to read through them. They then discuss them together. Junior faculty can benefit from seeing a senior CV in many ways. Realizing all the stuff that successful senior faculty include can be intimidating, but it may also aid the junior participants to remember to include all of their relevant activities. The real heart of the review occurs when the senior participants identify CV gaps. The CV review rarely identifies publication or funding gaps; those are usually obvious to the faculty member. So what can this process point out?

  • Timeline gaps: If there is a gap of 3-6 months at any point in education or employment, it should be explained in the CV. Illnesses, maternity leave, or travel should be described at least briefly. Most instructions for CVs specify what sort of gap should be documented.
  • Documentation gaps: Lack of documentation can occur in the areas of teaching and service. All lectures should be listed, along with some indication of ratings or feedback received. Handouts for patients can also count as educational effort. Committee work can be overlooked; everyone in my section participates in
    the Dialysis and Transplantation Committee. For junior faculty, that may be the only committee they work on, and omitting it would be detrimental.
  • Level of reputation: Regional, national, and even international reputation often appears as a criterion for promotion. Rarely do those guides illuminate how this can be documented. Often the committee depends on the word of the external reviewer. The candidate should make it easier for them by pointing out speaking engagements, presentations, and committee work at each level. Involvement with professional organizations can really help with this area.
  • Relative value of service: Some types of service lend themselves to measurement. In medical schools, patient visits can be totaled and compared to national standards. Committee work can be trickier. It is not merely a numbers game; service on multiple departmental committees will not be equal to serving on campus or university-wide work groups. In academic medicine, two committees are mandated by federal law and universally recognized as a lot of work: the Internal Review Board for human subjects protection and the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee. Appointment to one of these groups will be recognized as a lot of service to the institution.

Create a Take-Home Message
Scribbled notes in the margins of the CV can work for this exercise. To help make the critique more complete, a worksheet can be provided for participants. Specific gaps can be outlined by reviewers. An additional column can be provided for the candidate’s action plan; if they do not take this advice to heart and use it, then hosting the review was a waste of time.

CVs provide the key component of the P&T packet. They deserve our frequent attention to make sure they stay complete and up to date. After all, no one cares more about this document than the person whose life it summarizes.

Baby on (Poster) Board? conferencing with a kid

This month I’ve presented at two conferences. This would not be noteworthy, were it not for the fact that I have a one month old. The first conference allowed me to participate remotely, and the second conference was within driving distance, so I attended in person (along with baby and husband). Insane? Possibly. Tiring? Definitely. So I’ve been reflecting on whether or not it was worth it, especially as a cash strapped graduate student, and the accommodations that made going possible. Continue reading

The strange duality of being a pregnant professor

Alternatively: The spirit is willing, but the body is busy making other plans

This semester, I’ve prepped a new class, advised students, written papers and proposals, attended two international conferences, and served on committees. In short, I’ve done all the things that an academic usually does. I’ve also put on twenty pounds, had heartburn so bad it made think I was going to throw up, lacked the lung capacity to get from my parking lot to my office, and had nights where I was so uncomfortable I got barely three hours of sleep. In short, I’ve done all the things that second & third trimester pregnant woman usually does. The tension between the daily work which engages my mind and the unmistakable physical changes which are taking place in my body have given this semester a strange duality – a sense of occupying two spaces at once, in a way that neither was meant to be occupied.

Continue reading

I’m not taking career advice from old white dudes anymore.

Recently, a senior emeritus professor called me out because he hadn’t seen me at a talk in a different department (let’s say it’s Astronomy). “I’ve never seen you at a single Astronomy talk,” he admonished. “You really need to go to those.” I patiently explained that I typically have a teaching conflict, which he brushed off, and repeated his imperative that I really needed “to go to those talks.” He was angry at my laziness in failing to attend these critical seminars in a tangentially related field, and didn’t respect my explanations that 1) I couldn’t, and 2) even if I could, I have to make hard choices and don’t always have the luxury of doing everything I’d like to.

Now, I’m an interdisciplinary scientist– in fact, my position is split between a departmental home and an interdisciplinary institute, which means I go to twice as many faculty meetings and probably four times as many seminars as most of my colleagues do. But the advice of this retiree was that I needed to add yet another seminar to the list, and he wasn’t afraid to scold me about this front of my colleagues. This particular professor is of the opinion that I need to be just like him — or, rather, like his retired incarnation, which has a lot of free time to leisurely enjoy talks — in order to succeed. It’s just a small example of a phenomenon I’m starting to grow tired of, which is this paternalistic attitude some of my senior colleagues — all older, white men — have. They give advice liberally, these silverbacks, from the comfortable position of retirement or full professorship.

And you know what? It’s really, really shitty advice. Continue reading