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Et tu Odysseyus?
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The Tea Party explained
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Planet of the Apes
Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Too many postdocs?
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Oh! Rats! [UPDATED]
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Rethinking Education
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Elephant man, rabies and leprosy
Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Over-priced mochas and syphilis
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DonorsChoose - give early and give often. [UPDATED]
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Time spent reviewing
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Dear PI's who wrote the NSF proposals I am now reviewing...
Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Funding Illusions
Tuesday, September 28, 2010

FIve years ago today
Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A (temporary) cure for vortices of suckitude
Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Things that make Odyssey grumpy
Tuesday, September 14, 2010

What I wish I knew before starting my faculty position
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Flying 101
Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Don't panic!
Monday, August 23, 2010

One to Rule Them All
Friday, August 20, 2010

The NSF review panel process
Thursday, August 19, 2010

Peer review, schmeer review
Friday, August 13, 2010

Hypotheses: The most disposable of lab supplies
Thursday, August 12, 2010

How much do you need to want it?
Monday, August 9, 2010

Sunday, August 8, 2010

REPOST: How Many Papers for Tenure?
Thursday, August 5, 2010

Checking it out
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I'm a molecular biophysicist in a biochemistry department. In a college of medicine. And I'm funded by the NSF. Not too sure my dean likes that... I'm here to blather on about things that interest me and to raise the average age of the bloggers here by at least 1.2567 years. And I'm Australian.

My posts are presented as opinion and commentary and do not represent the views of LabSpaces Productions, LLC, my employer, or my educational institution.

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Monday, August 23, 2010

So yesterday Gerty-Z had this little panic attack. She's concerned about making tenure. One could make fun of the fact that she's only two months into tenure-track (TT), but that wouldn't be fair. You see, she's not alone. I, and I suspect many others, have gone through the exact same thing.


Generally some time in the first year of TT. And again later in the process. Maybe more than once.

G-Z has a list of things she's anxious about in her post - "The Gerty-Z list of tenure clueless-ness-es.*"

I was going to write about some of these in a comment, but quickly realized this would make for a very, very long comment. So I wrote this post instead.

The Gerty-Z list of tenure clueless-ness-es.

1. I am sitting here, writing a grant and paper. It is not going well. If I can't even do this, how am I not screwed? I feel like I'm not a very good writer in the best of times. These are NOT the best of times.

Say what?!?!? You have stuff to write a grant AND a paper on? And you're only two months in? That puts you well, well ahead of the curve. Even if it's all based on work done as a postdoc. That's something to celebrate!

And writer's block happens. Everyone has their ways of tackling this. I set aside certain blocks of time to write. And that's all I do in that time. Just get something down - forget about silly things like correct grammar or complete sentences. Get your thoughts down. It'll all come together. Outside those blocks of writing time I do things that are unrelated to the writing. Putz in the lab. Terrorize my trainees. Play with my kids.**

2. In a desperate fit of procrastination, I have been reading drdrA's most excellent advice about the tenure track and Odyssey's repost about how many papers you need to get tenure. These seem like great nuggets of useful advice. But I just feel more like I have no idea what is going on. Why are tenure requirements so fucking vague????

Don't believe everything you read on the internet.***

Tenure requirements are deliberately vague in order to give promotion and tenure (P&T) committees flexibility. If you're unsure about the requirements, start asking. Ask your chair. As you get to know them, ask your senior colleagues. Do some research. Apparently your department hasn't tenured many people recently, so look up what people in related departments at your institution had when they went up.

Also pay attention to the feedback you get from annual reviews. If they say you're doing fine, great. Try to do better. If they say you need more of something, make sure you get it. Don't have annual reviews? Ask your chair if you can. You want as much feedback as you can reasonably get.

3. How do I know if I am talking to my Chair enough? or too much?

Does she look happy to see you? Or does she look like she's constipated when she catches sight of you?

Don't sweat it. Your chair will let you know if you've become a pain.

4. I'm still trying to figure out how you actually meet people in this place. How does a nOOb Asst. Prof get "advocates" that are senior faculty in other departments? Am I supposed to just start stopping by and sticking my head into people's offices? I assume that other people are busy, and I don't even know what I would say. I don't want to piss anyone off or make them think I am stupid! How do I meet other Jr. faculty? There are none in my dept. I assume there must be others in different departments, but how would I know?

Dr. Becca's comment on this one hit the nail on the head. Attend seminars. Volunteering to give lectures is also an option, but be careful - you don't want to end up with a whole bunch of teaching that won't count in your department. Volunteer to give a seminar in your department - you never know who'll attend.

And yes, cold-calling faculty in other departments is something you might want to do. Identify faculty who are working in the same general area as you and drop them an email saying "hi, I'm new on campus, do stuff related to what you do and would like to chat about your work sometime." Putting the emphasis on you being interested in what they do is never a bad approach. We all like having our egos stroked.

5. I have a rotation student starting in a month!?!?! What the fuck am I supposed to do about that? I barely remember my rotations. Postdoc PI had a way of just throwing people into the lab without a project or even pairing them up with anyone-this never seemed to work all that well. But I have no idea what students expect for a rotation. I really don't want to start off on a bad foot with the students.

Postdoc PI's approach SUCKS!

Think about what a rotation student needs to get out of the experience. They are trying out your lab for fit. They need to interact with you. Choosing the right dissertation mentor is potentially more important than the actual project they end up working on. They will also benefit from learning a new technique or two. And they need a well-defined project to work on. One where they can easily see how it fits within, and contributes to, your research program. Whether or not they actually get the project done is almost immaterial. But don't assign a dissertation's worth of work to a rotation student!

6. Am I spending my money too fast? or too slow??

Gotta spend money to bring in the money. You need to spend your money to get the work done. If you project that at your current rate of spending, plus what you hope to spend on new grad students, you'll have money left in five years, you're spending too little. If it's going to run out in less than two years, slow down.

7. Am I doing too little benchwork? or should I be doing MORE benchwork?

You have more time now to do benchwork than you will next year. The year after that you will have even less. And so on. If you can work at the bench yourself, do as much as you can. But, training the people in your lab to do the work takes precedence. Always. They are at the bench far more than you can be and have the potential to get far more done. Yes, the time needed to get them up to speed can be incredibly frustrating, but it is absolutely essential you get them up and running. You cannot make tenure without them.

8. How do I "pick mentors"? I think that I am supposed to have an official mentoring committee, but I have no idea how to get folks to be on it. This is more terrifying than picking a grad committee by like a million-fold. At least then I had someone (my PI) that helped me choose people who would be looking out for me. What if I step in a steaming pile of department politics inadvertently?

Talk to your chair. Be candid about it.

9. I don't know how to collaborate. I really like talking about science with people, and collaborating sounds like lots of fun. But I have never been involved in collaborations. Almost all of my pubs are 2-person affairs. Neither my grad school or postdoc PIs were very collaborative. Should I be collaborating with people? I assume so - but how does that work?

Collaborations will happen. As you get to know more people at your institution and in your field (you are attending meetings, aren't you?), collaborations will form. You'll have something someone else needs, or they'll have something you need. It'll happen. Don't try to force it.

As an example, I was recently at a meeting where another PI was presenting a poster. Turns out he's developing a technique that would be incredibly useful for probing the systems I'm studying. While chatting with him he made the off-hand comment that he needed more systems to show the usefulness of his methodology. Ding! Ding! Ding! Pick me!!!! And there you have it. New collaboration. And the data coming out of it IS. SO. COOL!

10. There are no other jr. faculty in my dept. The last person (and the ONLY person in the last 7 years) that went up for tenure was a fucking rock-star. There is no way in hell that I will not look shitty by comparison.

Forget the rock star. As I said in number 2 above, look up what people in related departments at your institution had when they went up. Ask your chair and senior colleagues. A single blip from seven years ago makes not the standard.

I am SO FUCKED. *sigh*

No. No, you're not.

Welcome to TT.

* This is a word 'cos G-Z says so.
** There's nothing like playing with kids to put the whole TT thing into perspective. Another option is drinking. Just don't combine the two. :-)
*** Unless DrDrA wrote it.

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THANK YOU! I know it is obvious, but still it makes me feel better. As for my writing, it is not so awesome. I'm finishing up stuff from my postdoc so I'm not the senior author. At this point, it almost doesn't even count. And the grant is one of those new investigator award thingies that everyone writes. I am not ahead of the game, just running to stay in place. You hit the emoticon right-on, btw!

Dr Becca, Ph.D.
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Great advice, Odyssey! I am going to bookmark this post for when I, too, am freaking out in my first TT job! Only complaint is that I now have Coldplay's "Don't Panic" in my head, and I really can't stand Coldplay.

Brian Krueger, PhD
Columbia University Medical Center
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Odyssey definitely wins the award for most original blog post images :)

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It's not obvious stuff. Can't be - I had the same issues. We can't both have missed the obvious. :-)

And even if the paper won't "count" and the proposal is a new investigator thing, you are ahead of the game. The writing practice is invaluable. And you'd be surprised how many idiots people don't apply for new investigator awards.

I'm going to show my age here. There used to be this BBC sitcom called "Dad's Army." It's old. Very, very old. One of the main characters had a habit of running around yelling "don't panic!" That's stuck in my head.

My artistic ability is limited. This may be my peak.

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Odyssey, you could have shown less of your age by referring o the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy... "... it has the words DON'T PANIC inscribed in large friendly letters on its cover".

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Well, yes, I could have, but I was just trying to be honest. Besides, there wasn't a tank (the military kind) made out of a bathtub in the Hitchhiker's Guide...

It's strange the things I remember.

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Excellent post as usual!

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Odyssey, it's not just the things you remember that are strange...

Dr. O
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There's nothing like playing with kids to put the whole TT thing into perspective. Another option is drinking. Just don't combine the two. :-)

I'm taping this to my desk at work.

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Nice response dude! GZ needs to chill.

On #7 though, I'd hit it a bit stronger. New Asst Profs need to figure out how to get away from the bench or they are screwed. Basic data pounding elements of the lab have to be in the hands of techs or trainees because this is no longer your job, n00bProf.

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My chair is a strong believer of sticking around the bench for a while. Not as a primary data producing maching, but as a problem solver, teacher, and obtainer of preliminary data. I tend to agree...I think time spent on that also helps clear the mind for the writing and paperwork.

Prodigal Academic
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Great post, Odyssey. It is awesome to be reminded that we are not alone, and that our reactions are human and normal!

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Fuck. I understood immediately what Odyssey was getting at.

Officially Old...


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Join the club.

Professor in Training
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Yeah, I know this post went up on Monday and it's now Friday. So shoot me. It's been one of those weeks.

Gerty: I'm in a similar position to you re being the only hire in living memory. And Odyssey is spot on about everything.

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Little busy PiT? Dealing with BS-ASS-RASH-PRAT probably doesn't help... :-)
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