Monday, January 29, 2007

It's only Monday and I'm already overwhelmed

Maybe "freaking out" is a better term than "overwhelmed".

I'm traveling later this week, work-related. I actually enjoy traveling in general, even for work purposes, but this enjoyment only happens once I am on my way to my destination. Before that, I'm a panicky, stressed-out mess.

Part of it is that I get all freaked out by all the additions to the to-do list that happen around traveling. Making sure all the important stuff is printed out. Double-checking flight times and hotel reservations. Running errands. Laundry. And packing. That's the biggest source of my stress. I hate, hate, hate packing, for reasons I've never fully understood.

It doesn't help that I have an absolutely full schedule tomorrow, which is the day before I leave. So I'm trying to get as much done today as I can, which means I'm doing my major stressing out today (hopefully) rather than tomorrow. Not helping things is that there's a bunch of work stuff I wanted to finish before I left, but there's this one thing that is of course taking about 10 times longer than I anticipated, so the rest of the stuff is not going to be done before I leave.

(Actually, to be fair, I'm not as stressed out about the work not getting done, because it should be relatively easy to do in transit or during down time.)

The dumb thing is that, except for the packing part (which always takes me much longer than it should), I know that the stuff I need to do really doesn't take up that much time. But I still stress about it anyway.

Wednesday can't come soon enough.....

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Things that make you go hmmm...

Should I be flattered or insulted that someone found my blog by Googling the phrase "what does dork mean"?

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Short unrelated thoughts

I have three short posts rattling around in my mind, so I've decided to combine them into one, out of sheer laziness.

* * *
ScienceWoman suggested an experiment of sorts in her comments to my whining post. Mini, her little one, responds enthusiastically to chocolate, and she wanted to know if Baby Jane responds similarly. Well, I finally got the chance to test this out (we have chocolate again!), and Baby Jane is not (yet) a chocoholic, apparently. But, here are some of the things that s/he has responded to with enthusiasm (signalling this by vigorous kicking):

1. Ethiopian food
2. Being read to
3. Whenever the cat sits on my lap (s/he apparently does not like to share!)
4. Whenever I'm really concentrating on something work-related, especially in the afternoon
5. Me waking up in the middle of the night

I'll be interested to see if/how this changes over time.

* * *

Also in that same post, I complained about having to work with data (and programs) written by one of my former research students. Well, yesterday while slogging through the code (and cursing repeatedly under my breath), I discovered that the student had come up with a really simple and clever way to do something that I thought would be rather difficult. Which will save me lots of time and effort, particularly since I didn't think the student had finished that particular task. So that was a nice and unexpected treat. Mea culpa.

* * *

And finally, related to The Little Paper That Could: John Dupuis over at Confessions of a Science Librarian has a great post linking to two articles about writing scientific papers (and some more serious thoughts on what this means about open publishing, etc.) One describes a post-doc's experience in getting a paper out to a journal, while the other is a funny look at writing the perfect scientific paper. (Funny, but like most humor it rings a bit too close to home.)

Sunday, January 21, 2007

I am so excited

Yesterday my copy of She's Such a Geek arrived. I haven't had a chance to start reading it yet, but I've skimmed through it and I am really excited to start reading.

I'm already thinking this might be a good gift to give the undergrads who went with me to Grace Hopper this year....or to our graduating women majors....or both....

(oh, and in case you're interested, they have a blog, too, which I've really enjoyed reading.)

Friday, January 19, 2007

In the coffee shop

I think I just found my new favorite "working" coffee shop.

I normally go to the coffee shop within walking distance of my house. I really like it, but there are a few drawbacks, such as no wireless (although I think that's about to change), few outlets, and the fact that after about 3 in the afternoon it gets really crowded and noisy with the high school crowd. (I actually don't mind the high school crowd---they're remarkably unobnoxious---but it is harder to get work done with the noise level, and I get distracted with all the people-watching.) So the other day I tried out a new coffee shop, one further from my house---I had to run some errands over in that area anyway, so I figured what the heck.

I think I'm in love.

First, free wireless. I actually try not to go online when working in a coffee shop (minimizing distractions and all that), but it's nice to have it there to do a quick web search or email break. Second, the shop is long and narrow, with the counter in the middle, so that there is a natural split between a "quiet" area and a "social" area---and both are equally inviting. The only distraction I faced while there was that there was a Sniffler sitting a few tables over. Every 30 seconds, a sniffle. No, I'm not exaggerating. Third, and this may be my favorite feature of all, outlets at all of the tables along the wall! And even the smaller tables had enough room for me to spread out my laptop and research notebook.

Basically, the place gave off a very work-friendly vibe, and there were quite a few people in there with their laptops and papers, obviously working. And it must have worked, because I worked for 3 solid hours with only a single 10-minute email/web break, and got a ton of stuff done.

I will definitely be going back.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Whine, whine, whine

Top 10 reasons I'm super-cranky today:

10. My back hurts.
9. I tripped going up the stairs---twice.
8. I have to wake up every time I want to switch sleeping positions.
7. I burned myself---twice.
6. Hormones.
5. Did I mention the back pain?
4. I had to work with the Messy Data From Hell from the Careless Former Research Student. All day long. (and all week long, too. The fun never ends.)
3. Because of #4, research progress was veeeery slooooow today.
2. Mr. Jane's phone alarm went off at an ungodly hour this morning (on the other side of the house, but I *still* heard it), and woke me up for good.
1. There is no more chocolate in the house.

Jeez, now I feel obligated to end this on a positive note, so here are 3 things that made my day more bearable:

3. I thought of another new angle for my research---one that will involve some fun playing around with stuff. Yay!
2. Bananas and nutella.
1. Feeling Baby Jane kick and move at various points throughout the day (and night). Especially when s/he responds (or seems to respond) to my voice.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Random thoughts, sabbatical and productivity

* I am a bit behind on some of my goals/tasks that I set out for myself at the start of the month. But, I'm actually not at all concerned, because I'm making good, steady progress on everything, and I'm working consistently every day. So far, so good there.

* Sharing the home office is going remarkably well, although we did have to have a talk today about interruptible vs. uninterruptible time. (I'll leave it as an exercise to the reader to determine who was the boundary-invading culprit here.)

* I'm really liking the schedule---I've fallen into it very easily. There seems to be one day a week where the schedule does not work, but that's fine, because work gets done at some point on those days too.

* Mornings are definitely my most productive time. I can work for longer stretches of time without a break, and I get into the "flow" much more easily. I find it much easier to get distracted after lunch, my periods of productivity are shorter, and I have a harder time getting into the flow.

* One idea I've toyed with is taking afternoons off and working for 2-3 hours in the evening instead, since I'm more productive in the evenings than in the afternoons. I may try this out next month and see how it goes.

* I went to campus for the first time since the start of sabbatical yesterday. Campus days, I'm guessing, will be less productive---like BrightStar, I spent most of yesterday chatting with various colleagues, and maybe an hour on Real Actual Research. I'm sure that won't happen every day, but I do think the chats/lunches/coffees are important, too.

Work is getting done. Projects that haven't seen the light of day for a while are getting attention again. Writing is happening. And I'm more relaxed than I've been in a while. Life on sabbatical is good!

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The little paper that could

Once upon a time, over a year ago, a little paper was born. It was lovingly constructed out of the hard work of several collaborators, including a couple of undergrads. The little paper was sent off with high hopes and fanfare to a conference.

The poor little paper was rejected.

Sadness and despair ensued among the collaborators, but the PI saw that there was a lot of good in the little paper. So the PI went back to the drawing board, revisited and revised some of the experiments that the undergrads did, and carefully addressed the reviewers' comments and concerns. Once again, the little paper was sent off, with high hopes and fanfare, to a conference.

The poor little paper was rejected again.

There was much weeping and gnashing of teeth. The collaborators wondered if the little paper should just be left to die in dignity. But the PI saw the promise of the little paper. She knew that there were some new results that would make the little paper a stronger little paper. She saw that the reviewers had very positive things to say about the potential impact of the little paper on the larger field. She saw that even the worst reviews acknowledged that the little paper had a lot of strengths.

So the PI went back and tried again, and was rejected a couple more times. But each time it was rejected, she found a new venue, addressed the latest round of reviewer comments, and promptly sent the little paper out. And each time, the reviews came back a little more positive.

One day, the PI went to send the paper to the next appropriate conference. She gasped when she saw that it was one of the bigger, tougher conferences in her field. The little paper would be going up against the Big Bad Strong Papers! She was a bit apprehensive, but shrugged and sent it off anyway.

This time, the little paper was accepted. And there was much rejoicing in Little Paper Land.

Sometimes, perserverence and a strong belief in the value of your work really do pay off.

Random acts of kindness

Recently, a senior woman colleague of mine, someone who I know but don't know well, stepped up and went out of her way to protect my time by getting me out of a time-consuming service task. Even though it put her in somewhat of a bind and left her scrambling somewhat.

I am so very grateful to this colleague. For protecting the time of a junior faculty person. For helping out someone who's not even in her department. For seeing potentially problematic things in this situation that I was not able to see. And for just doing something really, really nice.

Thank you, Senior Colleague.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Random Tuesday musings

* I thought this sabbatical thing would mean that I would have more time and energy to post. But I'm finding myself knee-deep in work right now, in a good way: I'm getting things done, I'm engaged in my work, and I'm making progress! And I'm trying to make a conscious effort to get away from the computer more often, especially nights and weekends. That whole balance thing.

* Of course the productivity is not without its glitches. Worst use of my time in the past week: spending 2+ hours commenting and fixing the code one of my research students wrote last year. It was an unholy mess. Unfortunately, I need to use this code for my next round of experiments, and so understanding what's there (and what's not there) is kind of important. But what a colossal waste of my time.

* One weird and unexpected thing about sabbatical is that it is so easy to lose track of days and dates. It's kind of disorienting.

* I did not turn on my computer once this past weekend. I spent about 90% of the weekend on the couch watching football and reading. It felt decadent.

* Speaking of football, I should not quit my day job to become a football prognosticator. My predictions are always, always wrong. Luckily, I'm not a betting woman, so no harm done.

* Confession time: I am also doing Project 365, as so many of you are. But, I've decided not to blog it. I think it would be cool to blog it, on one level, but most of the stuff I want to document this year is personal and identifying. So, for now these pictures will just be living on my hard drive.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

An interesting problem

Rather than making new year's resolutions this year, I've decided to set monthly goals for myself, both personally and professionally. Yesterday afternoon was Goal-Setting Day. It was actually kind of fun: going back through my old notes and my sabbatical plan, figuring out how to prioritize my different projects, etc. But I did run into a very interesting sort of roadblock:

It has been so long since I've had the luxury of "just" concentrating on my research that I have no clue how much work I am capable of finishing in a month. Which makes setting goals (and more specifically, tasks related to reaching those goals) sort of tricky.

I know how many productive hours of work I have in me per day, and based on that I have a very rough idea of how much I can get done in a week. But extending beyond that is pretty much just guesswork for me right now. I could just set weekly goals, but I sense that to keep myself on track, the monthly timeframe will work best for me.

So I'll just chalk this one up to "one of the many things I will learn about myself as part of my sabbatical." If any of you have any tricks or tips that work for you in terms of setting achievable long-term goals, I'd be very interested in hearing about them in the comments.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Day One

The confusing thing about sabbatical is that I'm not sure exactly when it does (or did) "officially" start. Did it start at the end of the previous semester/term? When I handed in my grades? Or does it start at the start of the new semester/term? So I arbitrarily decided that my sabbatical "officially" starts today.

I think this is going to be a recurring theme throughout the sabbatical---the uncertain markers of time, that is. I won't be following the flows of the semester/term anymore. I get to set my own rhythms. This is both tremendously freeing and tremendously terrifying.

The last time I had this much freedom was when I was finishing up my dissertation. Back then, I developed a schedule that worked well for me, and largely stuck to it. (Tight deadlines can be a great motivational force.) But this arose somewhat organically---I don't remember sitting down and saying "this will be my schedule". It just sort of happened on its own.

I've decided to try out a schedule of sorts, at least at first, to keep myself in the habit of working every (week) day and keep myself on track and productive. I've structured it according to my "natural rhythms": I'm most productive in the morning, least right after lunch, etc. I'll try it for a few weeks and see how well it works. Roughly, it looks like:
* AM: work on the really tricky research stuff, the stuff that requires the most thought and concentration, between breakfast and lunch.
* Lunch break
* PM: work for an hour or two after lunch on less taxing things: email, networking, maybe some teaching-related stuff (I'm thinking of revamping one of my electives during my sabbatical), finding ways to spend my research money. :) Maybe catch up on professional reading here, too.
* Workout
* PM, part 2: work on research again for a couple of hours before dinner. Define tasks/goals for the next day. This might be extended or pushed back into the evening, too, depending on what else I have going on that day.

This should give me somewhere between 6 and a half and 8 hours of work-time per day, if all goes well.

I'm interested in your experiences: do you consciously schedule your days? How well does it work for you? What pitfalls and successes have you found?

Monday, January 01, 2007

New Year's meme

I don't remember where I first saw this, but I last saw it at Dr. Crazy's.

1. What did you do in 2006 that you’d never done before?
Skiied part of a black diamond run. Became pregnant. Finally committed to vegetarianism (I'd been "trying it out" for a while). Taught a freshman seminar (and can't wait to do it again!).

2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
I hit 2 out of 4, although I'm really close on the 2 I've missed and should hit those this month. I've decided to do monthly goals as opposed to resolutions, although I do have a theme for the year (courtesy of trillwig, found via Dr. Shellie), which is Take Back Control of My Life.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
Yes, a good friend of mine.

4. Did anyone close to you die?

5. What countries did you visit?
None! What a bummer. 2005 was much better for international travel.

6. What would you like to have in 2007 that you lacked in 2006?
Peace of mind and perspective about my career.

7. What dates from 2006 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
For various reasons, I had an ultrasound very early in my pregnancy. Seeing that tiny little image was the most amazing thing ever, and without question the most emotionally moving experience of my life.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Keeping my job.

9. What was your biggest failure?
Chickening out of going on the market this year. I think that warrants a post of its own.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
Nothing major.

11. What was the best thing you bought?
A good pair of running shoes. They really do make a huge difference.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
The women undergrad CS majors I work with. For excelling in spite of the crap and obstacles they face, and for being incredible role models and mentors to the women coming up behind them. They inspire me every single day.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
My colleagues, for continually "not getting it".

14. Where did most of your money go?
Medical expenses.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
My sabbatical! And, in fits and starts, my research.

16. What song will always remind you of 2006?
"Let Go", by Frou Frou. I played this song so much during the turbulent months during the spring, and it always made me feel better and more hopeful about things.

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:a) happier or sadder? b) thinner or fatter? c) richer or poorer?
(a) happier; (b) fatter (but for a good reason!); (c) richer

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?
Took the initiative on getting together with friends. I'm really lazy when it comes to this.

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?

20. How will you be spending Christmas?
We spent it with Mr. Jane's family. It was nice and low-key.

21. Did you fall in love in 2006?
All over again, yes.

22. How many one-night stands?

23. What was your favorite TV program?
It's a tie between "What Not to Wear" and "Mythbusters".

24. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?
No, I pretty much hate the same people. :)

25. What was the best book you read?
Geez, I can barely remember what I read this year. I'd have to say the 4th Harry Potter book (was that the Goblet of Fire?). Yes, I am behind the rest of the world on the whole Harry Potter thing. I did finally start #5, though---it took me a while to get over #4, to be honest.

26. What was your greatest musical discovery?
I'd have to say Pandora. Highly addictive.

27. What did you want and get?
Pregnant. That, and a sweet professional opportunity in 2007.

28. What did you want and not get?
Job security, in the sense of feeling good about getting tenure here.

29. What was your favorite film of this year?
Once again, I'm having a hard time remembering what movies I've seen this year. I should start keeping lists of these things. I really liked "Thank You For Smoking" and "Little Miss Sunshine".

30. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
I had a kick-ass birthday----Mr. Jane took me out to dinner, and surprised me by inviting my closest and dearest (local) friends. I was so touched (and completely surprised). It was a wonderful night. I turned.....30-something.

31. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
Owning a clue stick and being able to use it freely on my colleagues when they say and do bone-headed things.

32. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2006?
"Look good to feel good". I only wear things that make me feel and look fabulous. Life's too short to be frumpy!

33. What kept you sane?
Mr. Jane, yoga/exercise, and close girlfriends.

34. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
I'm not sure "fancy" is the right word here, but I am always impressed by athletes who give back in big and substantial ways to their communities, to charity, etc. The one that comes to mind from this year is Joey Cheek.

35. What political issue stirred you the most?
Global warming/environmental issues.

36. Who did you miss?
This year, a number of my good friends/colleagues went on to other positions at other, faraway places (mainly for 2-body reasons). One in particular has been a big loss. She is a fellow scientist, was one of the first people I met here, and an incredibly great friend. I miss her terribly (but will be seeing her sometime in the next month or 2---yay!).

37. Who was the best new person you met?
I had a student in my freshman seminar who has really had an impact on me. She is incredibly smart, talented, funny, and driven. She wants to be a scientist of some kind or another. She's also been through an amazing amount of crap in her life so far. She is inspiring, and I believe (and fervently hope) she will go far. She's one of those students I will remember forever.

38. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2006.
Never assume anyone else has your best interests in mind. You are your own best advocate, and you are responsible for your own success (or failure).

39. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.
it gains the more it gives
and then it rises with the fall
so hand me that remote
can't you see that all that stuff's a sideshow

such boundless pleasure
we've no time for later now
you can't await your own arrival
you've 20 seconds to comply

so let go, jump in
oh well, whatcha waiting for
it's alright
'cause there's beauty in the breakdown

-- "Let Go", by Frou Frou