Unofficial mentorship

This post has been rattling around in my head for months now. The seed of it started a year ago, with this post. Then, it sprouted with the first visit from a grad student to my door this past semester, asking for advice. And then there was a meeting request from a second student and a chance encounter with a third student, both ending in tears.  Finally, it fully flowered after I met individually with two other grad students, all seeking a similar set of advice, with more tears (on both their part and mine). Some of these meetings fell under the guise of official mentorship (e.g, I’m involved in the students professional lives in some official way, as their mentor or committee member), whereas others were requests for informal mentorship. But in all cases, I realized that the students were able to be much more honest and open about their issues with me than they felt they could be with other faculty.

The common themes?  All were female students in labs with male PIs (though I have also served as an unofficial mentor to a male grad student in the past). Second, these grad students all wanted advice on how to deal with their difficult advisors*.  But the most devastating theme to me?  All of these women are spectacularly intelligent individuals, and none of them believed they were smart enough for grad school.

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Evaluating my semester

This semester I’ve had a teaching leave. Fifteen weeks to focus on research and getting papers out and research done. I had lofty ambitions for this semester, and slightly unrealistic expectations for how much I could do.

The plan
The cut down version of my plan (after planning my semester with far more, realizing that was not going to happen and re-planning with less) was to get 2 papers written and submitted, with one of those resubmitted. Another paper drafted, and one major grant submitted.
My softer goals were to spend more time in the lab at the bench, attend 3 conferences and speaking at two of them (lined up well before the semester), and increase the time I spent reading broadly and thinking about the future of projects happening in the lab.

So how did I do?

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Guest Post: Teaching while dissertating

Today’s guest post is by NeuroPostDoc, a recent Ph.D. moving cross-country to continue her research on human cognition using neuroimaging. 


When the email went out with TA assignments for Spring 2015, my first response was “uh-oh.” I had been assigned to research methods, a writing intensive course known to have the highest workload of all TA assignments in my department. This was a problem because I was already in the midst of my own “writing intensive” – writing my dissertation, with my defense scheduled for finals week. I had the same feeling reading that email as I imagined the captain of the Titanic had when he first saw the iceberg (dissertating also made me a tad dramatic).

I was only TAing during my last year because I needed the health insurance coverage for my husband. I had sworn up and down to my chair and graduate director that I could balance the workload (normally 5th years in my department are supported by a research-only fellowship, which comes with lesser health insurance). So, I wanted to make a good faith effort to work with my assignment before requesting a new one or trying to trade with another grad student. Here are the steps I took that made the situation workable, which I hope will be helpful to anyone struggling with teaching load, whether it’s teaching while dissertating like me, managing teaching while under grant deadlines, or adding an extra class as an adjunct when you know it will be a stretch.

DISCLAIMER: I was only able to pull all this off for a few reasons: I have a good amount of experience teaching this particular course, and I’m also really good at improvising lectures (thanks in part to my theater geekery in high school). I can also do a sort of party trick where I am able to skim text at a pace beyond speed reading with about 80% comprehension (relevant to how I graded assignments). Your mileage may vary. Continue reading

Overcoming My Impostor Syndrome

For most of the time since I started on my academic career path, I’ve been dealing with the feeling that no matter what I was doing, it was somehow never going to be either “good enough” or “real enough” to the point where I would one day be a Real Scientist. I’ve had impostor syndrome for quite a long time, although I’ve recently been discovering that it’s been deeply lessened within just the past couple of years somewhat by accident. Continue reading

Summer Plans

It’s summer.

Well actually it’s that odd time – between the end of the semester and the start of summer proper, when we still have a few administrative tasks, time set aside for graduate student committee meetings and qualifying exams, and the other things pushed until after exams are done. The weather is also in between – or rather up and down (though that’s also climate change). Either way I am trying to plan out my summer – my personal plans, travel, and writing goals, determine my really specific (and manageable) goals, and sketch out a (reasonable) schedule to make them all happen.

There have been a few posts around – by @duffy_ma at @DynamicEcology and by @ProflikeSubstance – on planning a sabbatical (I am sure I’ve missed posts on this – please add links in the comments!). Planning summer feels similar – but without the external pressures of still being asked to do service. The common theme is: How do I make the best use of this time when this CHUNK of un-scheduled time stretches out in front of me? There are some good comment threads to those posts too and I’d love to hear what your summer plans are, and what works (or doesn’t work) for you. Continue reading

Grit is Good. (right?)

As a mother of a three year old, I catch myself reading every article about childrearing that comes across my Facebook timeline. Lately, there has been an increasing focus on what it takes to raise resilient and thus successful children. Research from the Duckworth Lab at the University of Pennsylvania explores the idea that grit and self-control are predictors of lifelong personal achievement.

As I read these articles, I start to consider if these same traits predict success in academe, or rather I realized that I had been taught that these qualities would ensure job security and some modicum of fame in our little corners of the academic world. (Though this narrative of hard work and success has certainly shifted along with declines in funding for institutions of higher education, and the tightening of the job market. See recent news out of the University of North Carolina, LSU, and Iowa for the latest horrors.)

According to the Duckworth Lab, grit is the tendency to “sustain interest in and effort towards long term goals” and self-control is the ability to control impulses. Continue reading

Third Year is Kicking My Butt

In which @Scitrigrrl realizes that time is not stretchy and cannot be extended simply by adding hours at the beginning and end of each day.

I’m a little over halfway through my second semester of my third year, I am totally overwhelmed, and really feeling the pressure to do everything: Get funding! Publish papers! Teach with excellence! Be a good department/institutional citizen! I feel torn with the constant demands on my attention and time. I am tired, but I also still love my job, I finally feel settled in the job and in the town, and overall, I am happy. But between third year review (!), a dramatic increase in demands on my time compared with the first two years, and increased anxiousness about money, I am feeling overwhelmed. I know, in theory, what I need to do to get to where I need to be, I’m just not always convinced that I will get there.

There has been a running joke this year among some of my peers that now they have forgotten how long I’ve been here, I can no longer claim to be new. Continue reading