Funks, slumps, and yawns: how undiagnosed anemia affected my productivity

My first year as an assistant professor was hard. This did not come as a surprise to me, because I did not fall off the proverbial turnip truck last week. I knew what I was getting into when I signed up for this job. During graduate school, I attained completely unsustainable-but-glorious levels of productivity, and by the end, I was exhausted. I submitted grant applications during my postdoc that had me burning the candle from both ends, and when I was finished, I knew what it was to feel tired in my very bones. Those feast-and-famine cycles of productivity can wreak havoc in the long-term. I had my 3rd-year PhD slump, and my post-PhD postdoc slump. I’ve recognized that slumps come, and they can be a natural part of the creative process, and I try not to be too hard on myself when I’m in one.

But last spring, I was tired all the time. Continue reading


A day in the life…

As a post-doc, I did three things: I did research, analyzed data, and I wrote. I ran behavioral experiments and western blots, I did a lot of data analysis.

There were other things – I worked with students in the lab, and I organized events with the Post-doc Association at the post-doc institution. Later I applied for jobs, a significant time commitment, especially in the second year. It isn’t that I had a lot of free time, but I did have a lot of flexibility. When a grant deadline was coming up, or a set of experiments to (hopefully) finish off a paper, I could clear blocks of time and focus on that one thing. This – and my friends in that town – are the only things that I’m nostalgic about from my postdoc.

That is not what my days look like anymore. Now I have a few other things on my plate. Now there is teaching, routine meetings, and the ongoing administrative work of running a lab, not to mention grant writing and trying to stay on top of the literature. Coming up is graduate admissions season, and a couple of deadlines for training grants for my lab peeps. This increase in the number-of-things wasn’t unexpected, I had watched and spoken with my grad school and post-doc mentors, not to mention other people both IRL and online, enough to know better. And the amount of work is a lot, but it’s not unbearable. What I am finding difficult is the fragmentation of my time.

Continue reading

Not as easy as apple pie: Running the research conveyor belt while publishing apace

red apples

Photo by Tom Gill on Flickr. Used under a CC license.

It’s apple season. I’ve got apple sauce, apple crisp, and a crust waiting for apple pie. I’ve also got apples in the fridge, apples on the counter, and apples on my desk at work. Unfortunately, there are also apples going bad, and apples in the compost bin. I don’t have enough time to turn all of the apples into their delicious conclusions.

I’ve also got a lot of professional projects going on. There are grants and papers to write, students to advise, data to analyze, and unfortunately, some of those projects aren’t moving as quickly as I would wish. In fact, there’s the real risk that some of them will “go bad” while waiting for attention from me.

So I’ve been thinking a lot…about apples…and about prioritizing my research efforts. It turns out that when peeling apples, you’ve got some time to think.

I’ve been envisioning research as a sort of conveyor belt. Continue reading

Doing a PhD in half the time

Today is the 255th day of the year and I have been sick for 110 of them. When I am well, I do work so cool, funding agencies throw money at me.* When I am sick, I am lucky if I am able to brush my teeth.** Being sick so often can be a wee bit depressing. Of course, Darwin was ill most of his life, but still managed to do some pretty important work. That’s inspiring – and comforting!

Less comforting is the overwhelming importance of “productivity” in academic science.

I love doing science and I’m good at it. But my illness takes away about 3 days every week, and I get less done than many of my peers because of it. I don’t know if my illness will improve, and I worry that  I won’t be able to compete for a job. Continue reading