Sunday, July 30, 2006

An abundance of research riches

UPDATE: Thanks to all of you for your suggestions! I've decided, as many of you pointed out, that writing is the best use of my time right now, so that's what I'll be concentrating on for the rest of the summer. First, because if I do decide to leave then more pubs will make me more marketable (and if I stay, it will help my tenure case). Second, I realized yesterday that it's much easier for me to get the tasks that the side project requires---writing scripts, analyzing data---done while teaching, so I'm more likely to make better progress on that during the term than I am on writing during the term. So the plan is to get one conference paper done and ready to submit, along with at least a very rough draft of the journal paper (which will mainly entail cutting and pasting pieces of conference papers together), by the end of the month. We'll see how it goes!

Original post
On Sunday nights, Mr. Jane and I have this ritual where we ask each other what our plans are, work-wise, for the week. Usually, I have a ready answer for the question, because usually I'm in the middle of something. But this time, I didn't have an answer. I've just finished writing up something I've been working on for a while, and the "problem" (it's a good problem to have!) is that now I have three or four different directions in which I can go. All of the options are equally promising/intriguing, and I don't have a clear vision as to which one I should tackle first. I'm hoping that blogging about it will bring some clarity.

One possibility is writing up another conference paper, or two, on results that at most will require 1-2 additional short experiments or analyses. The ideas for the papers came up as I was writing up the last conference paper. There are things that were left out of the paper for space reasons and for topical reasons that I think can be turned into 1 or 2 additional conference papers rather easily (and I think I've found appropriate venues for both). Pros: More publications, more lines on the CV, potentially. Cons: the summer's ending quickly; should I instead be spending my time doing experiments and collecting data? (i.e., is writing the best use of my limited time?)

Another possibility also involves writing: I definitely have enough material and results for a journal paper, so I could spend some time getting a draft done and possibly submitted by the end of the summer. Pros: Big publication points for journal articles--I'm doing well in that category but could always use more. Plus there is an increasing amount of interest in my work, so strike while the iron is hot, as they say. Cons: see above.

The third possibility is to spend more time on this little side project I started earlier this summer, which at some point will play a much bigger role in my work but for now is more exploratory in nature. It might lead to a paper, but it's not guaranteed. But it definitely needs to be done at some point. Pros: Finishing this will clarify where I go next with a crucial part of my research. Plus, it's been on my mind for a while, so finishing it will be psychologically freeing. Cons: The payoff is not immediate; this is definitely longer-term work.

So that's my current dilemma. I realize that I can work on a subset of these simultaneously, but for my own sanity I need to feel like one of these is *the* number one priority. Otherwise, I'll just flit from task to task and not accomplish anything. What to do??

Thanks, everyone!

I just wanted to say a big huge THANK YOU to everyone who left comments to my last post. I cannot completely or convincingly convey just how much it means to have so many caring people out in the blogosphere. One of the reasons I started this blog was to find a way out of the isolation I was increasingly feeling at my job and to find an outlet for those little frustrations that come along with being a woman in a STEM field (and in an environment with sometimes well-meaning but generally clueless people). Time and time again, I am overwhelmed by the support that you readers have leant me. Thank you, thank you, thank you from the bottom of my heart.

We now return to our regularly-scheduled blogging. :)

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Fed up

Yesterday was a baaaad day. I may have reached my last straw. It's over 24 hours later, and I'm still thinking about it, obsessing over it, and judging by the amount of time and energy I've thrown into around-the-house projects rather than actual real work, still very upset over it.

The actual incident is not worth describing. Really, it's one of those small-stakes things that, taken out of context, doesn't seem like a big deal at all. The point is not the action itself, but the spirit in which the action was carried out. Because it is abundantly clear that the action was not only done deliberately and with forethought, but was done deliberately to hurt me.

Hostile work environment, anyone?

I'm trying not to do anything rash right now, like contact all of my outside mentors and say "help me get the hell out of here", or place something rotten and stinky in the perpetrator's mailbox, or throw things. Although all of those sound like great ideas right now. I'm trying to put the incident out of my mind as much as possible. (I had almost succeeded, until the perpetrator send me an email this morning with an "apology" that was more insult than apology.) I'm really trying to fight the despair that I've felt in varying degrees for most of the past year and that is at an all-time high right now.

I'm really hoping it all subsides soon. In the meantime, maybe I'll just add a quick synopsis of this little incident to that super-secret tenure folder I've been keeping.....

Monday, July 24, 2006

Taking back my summer

I have a confession to make:

I have been intentionally and willfully ignoring school-related emails and phone calls lately.

The past few weeks have been busy: students finishing up, deadlines to meet, other various things going on. So at first, the ignoring of emails was more along the lines of "I'm too busy right now, I'll respond in a day or so when I have time." Then day turned into days turned into a know how it goes.

This is totally unlike me. But as the emails piled up, I realized a few things:
* There are too many people that want to have too many meetings this week.

* I want and need to take a break from work this week, now that things have calmed down. I need and want to do a bit of work, but I don't need or want to work full-time this week.

* If I don't attend these meetings, it really doesn't matter. I have yet to get an email saying "has anyone heard from Jane?" So I take that to mean that, while I'm interested and involved in the greater initiatives, the world won't end if I play hooky.

* It's very freeing to not respond, and I don't feel the least bit guilty.

So I'll be spending this week doing some work in the mornings, but mainly catching up on my fun reading and my nap-taking and on a few household projects. Mainly, though, I'll be hiding from my school responsibilities (except for one, which really is necessary) and continuing to ignore the demands in my Inbox. That, after all, should be what summer is all about.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Intentions and realities

My to-do list for this morning:
* Go for a run.
* Finish edits on conference paper sections added/revised on Friday (they're done on paper, they just need to be added to the electronic version).
* Finish intro, conclusion, and abstract for conference paper.
* Respond to the backlog of emails piling up in my inbox (what is it about next week that *everyone* wants to have a meeting??).

What I've actually done this morning:
* Went for a run.
* Responded to a couple of emails (but not the most urgent ones, of course).
* Read blogs.
* Chatted on the phone with a friend.
* Registered and made hotel reservations for this conference. Spent (no lie) 20 minutes debating between the various room choices.
* Complained about the heat.

Oh well. Hopefully this afternoon will be slightly more productive.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

A day filled with data

Have you ever stared at data so long that it gave you a headache?

Yeah, it was one of those days. Finishing up the data analysis so that we can meet a fast-approaching deadline, we were derailed a bit when we discovered a small error in our analysis. Luckily, it was very minor, and we were able to rerun the necessary experiments quickly. Unfortunately, the new analysis shows that our results are not as good as they were before. They're still good, but it's not a slam-dunk. But there are definitely some new and interesting trends in the corrected data. The problem is that there's something there, some worthwhile insight, in the data that I can intuitively sense but that is not 100% clear to me. Hence, spending most of the day staring at data, replotting it different ways, calculating different errors, printing out graphs and tables, hoping to grasp that crucial insight that I know is there but is so far eluding me. I was hoping to finish this section of the paper today, but I reached a point where I just couldn't think straight anymore, so I went home. Ah, summer.

I'm not too worried at this point--the insight will either come to me, or else I'll come up with some other "good enough" explanation to meet the deadline. Sometimes patience is your best friend when dealing with tricky data. My undergrads, though, are completely mortified. I think I spent as much time today giving them pep talks: no, this is not entirely your fault; no, this does not mean that everything you did this summer is worthless; no, having your hypothesis partially disproved is not the end of the world, and in fact most of the time this leads to the most interesting results. I suspect that I'll have cheerleader duty again tomorrow.

What this experience made me realize is how much of a teacher experience is. I can remember as an undergrad being *terrified* of messing up--that if I made a mistake, I'd be fired from the lab. Even as a grad student, early on, I was afraid of the wrong turn, the dead end, the experiment that didn't work out as planned. Time and experience taught me to value these experiences, to look for the dead ends, to pull something out of even the most badly botched experiments. This is not something any one person taught me, and I know that nothing I say will help my students learn this lesson either. As with my data, the only thing I can do to help my students is to patiently repeat the message that everything will turn out fine in the end, in the hopes that someday much later, they'll understand what I meant.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Constructing my dream department

Sometimes, when I've had a particularly rough or trying day (like today), I fantasize about my ideal, dream department. Here's a snapshot of what that department would look like:

* More than one woman on the faculty (duh).

* Statements that imply that opening up the major/our classes is equivalent to "dumbing down the major" would be completely banned. Offenders would be drop-kicked out the nearest window.

* Disagreement would not be feared and avoided, but rather seen as an opportunity for discussion and growth.

* Creative, "big picture" thinking would be embraced, not ridiculed.

* Colleagues would not make themselves feel better by repeatedly putting down others.

* Gratuitous one-upmanship (uppersonship?) would be banned. (Hmm, this seems somewhat related to the point above.)

* Senior faculty would be good models for junior faculty, or at least provide explicit guidelines for junior faculty, in terms of balance, service, research, and/or teaching.

* Good, effective mentoring of junior faculty, and more frank discussions between junior and senior faculty about our concerns, our struggles, and our workloads.

* And last but not least, I would possess a big clue stick and have free reign to use it as necessary on my colleagues. :)

What's on your "dream department" wish list?

Thursday, July 06, 2006

The summer from hell

This is turning out to be one heck of a busy summer. I knew going into the summer that the first half was going to be a bit full, but I had no idea that it would be *this* full. Luckily, the end is in sight (just another week and a half to go!), but getting there has been and will continue to be quite the struggle. Deadlines, students requiring attention, tons of technical problems (why is it that computers only break when you're under deadline??)--you name it, it's happening to me. The holiday break was nice, but still doesn't make up for the uber-stressful week last week and the even-more-stressful week I'm having now.

One thing I have been (mostly) good about is not bringing work home with me every single night. That's probably the only thing keeping me from going stark raving mad right now--the down time. And this weekend I'll have a nice much-needed break (a computer-free weekend! I so need that right now), which will make up for the fact that I'll be working all next weekend. Yeesh.

In a sense, I feel like I'm being cheated out of my summer. Where's the relaxation? The time for reflection? The time to recharge? I know I'll have the opportunity to do all of this very soon, but part of me can't help feeling frustrated at all of this work and stress in my life right now.

In the meantime, here are a few things that are on my mind that I'll try to blog about in the next week or so:

* The elimination of computer science programs at Tulane and Loyola (that one's a subscription link; here's a free link) Universities, and what I think this says about the state of the field.

* Iris, in the comments on my post on working with undergraduate researchers, asked for insight on my hiring process. I also have a few other observations about working with undergrads that I want to blog about--in particular, how to handle criticizing their work.

* Tech problems that make me want to throw all of my computers out the window.

* More fun facts! I haven't done this in a while, so I think it's time for another week of Jane Fun Facts!

Any other topic suggestions?

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Physical challenges, small victories

If you've been reading this blog for any length of time, you know that I enjoy being physically active. I enjoy exercising, being outdoors, playing sports--there's just something so freeing and relaxing about being active, moving my body, pushing and challenging myself. This week was a banner week for me on that front, for several reasons:

* I finally mastered this one particular technique in a sport I regularly play that I've never been able to do before. And as I was doing it, correctly and perfectly, it was like I saw the whole thing unfolding in slow motion. (Maybe those of you who play sports know what I'm talking about--those rare moments when you get the timing perfectly correct, and you can just *see* everything clearly unfolding in front of you? It was exactly like that.)

* Several years ago, I injured myself pretty badly while running. For a long time, I thought I would never be able to run regularly again as a result of the injury. This week, I ran over 3 miles on 2 separate occasions--totally pain free. It has been a long and slow process to get to this point, so to say I'm ecstatic about this is putting it mildly.

* This weekend, I went cycling with Mr. Jane, and pushed myself to a level that I thought I was incapable of reaching. (I wonder if the running is helping my cycling?)

I feel like I spend so much of my time in my head; spending time focusing on the physical, and being able to celebrate those accomplishments, is a welcome change.