Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Are scientists and journalists an impossible match?

When ScienceWoman re-posted this yesterday I had flashbacks to countless conversations with bright and otherwise well-informed people misunderstanding the basics of what I do due to flawed presentation in the media. I don't think I am in the same field as ScienceWoman (if we are, we are definitely in different parts of the field), but I think it might be close. Let me just say that my field is related to envronmental issues that reaches the headlines on an almost daily basis.

While I realize that there are many excellent science jounalists, who do a great job in informing the general public about complex and often contradicting scientific results, there is also a LOT of poorly explained or downright wrong information out there. As is the case with the Coca Cola commercial and it's polar bears and penguins living together in harmony it is often the very basics that are mixed up. I tend to believe that no one is confusing anyone on purpose, but that journalists often just don't have the necessary understanding of the topics and that we as scientists are often not good enough at explaing what we are doing, what the conclusions are based on, why there are contradictory opinions out there and why it might take years and years to reach or concensus or advance our general knowledge. This is all old news and many good initiatives are arising to advance to public knowledge and understanding of science, but then it apparently stops.

Recently my research group got a big grant. The proposed project was ranked highly by the evaluation committe because we suggested to have a very close collaboration with information officers at science centres and to bring journalism students directly into the project. The idea was that journalism students should take part in the field work, the data analysis and generally follow the process in order to provide future science journalists with the necessary background about how research is done and what it is all about.

Today I went to the first meeting with the journalism college faculty to figure out how this could be done in reality. The enthusiasm was surprisingly low. They offer courses in science journalism, science writing and environmental fields, and one would think, it could be nice for students taking these classes to actually be put in contact with real life scientists. But rather than jumping at the opportunity (which is already funded) they seemed very reluctant. They worried how this would fit into the curriculum and general teaching plans, whether anybody would be interested at all and, perhaps most thought-provoking, whether we would try do steer the students in one particular (political) direction and away from critical journalism! This is where I realized that if anybody needed this program, it would be the faculty thinking that all scientists do is to make themselves look good.

I don't really know what to think about this. They are onboard and the program will happen, but I suddenly think we have come a much shorter way in bridging this gap between science and public knowledge than I used to think. The biggest impression this place left on me was that they felt so self-sufficient and seemed to think that they offered an excellent curriculum in science journalism (which they probably do), but that they didn't want us to come and interfere with that. As if meeting the scientists would be more of a problem than a benefit to the people who will be giving us tomorrow's news.


Next stop Norway

I got up at 3 AM this morning to catch the bus from German sea-side city to the regional airport in order to catch an early morning flight to Oslo, Norway. I am here for two days before leaving again for the next leg of this odyssey-like journey.

I was hoping I could sleep on the bus, but no such luck, as the driver thought that German folk/pop music was just what we all needed between 4.00 and 5.30 AM. A brief 30 minutes nap on the plane was all I managed before I arrived here and had to be serious and take care of stuff, talk to people, go to meetings and generally be awake. The day in itself was not too bad. It was fantastic to be in the city (compared to where I live now Oslo is a true metropolis..... though, it's really not), fantastic to walk around in the sun and i met with a colleague I didn't know very well, and he turned out to be fun and easy to talk to.

I spent three hours in the morning sorting out visa trouble at the Russian embassy, and managed (after a lot of anxiety, nailbiting, phonecalls to Russia and four incomplete faxes) to get the visa placed nicely in my passport five minutes before closing time. This afternoon I (and abovementioned colleague) had a meeting with the jounalism department at the local professional college, about a collaborative research - public outreach project we are starting up. The meeting left me with a feeling that we did not understand each other, and it gave me a lot to think about. Like how far we are from succeeding in creating a good connection between scientists and journalists. I am going to compose a separate post on this topic, but I am not sure I will get around to that today.

Because I am extremely tired now and the only thing I want to do is sleep. I also wanted to take a shower and use deliciously smelling new cocnut hair conditioner and curl up in white and crisp hotel bed linen with the laptop, but I have already done that for a couple of hours. I have not had any dinner, so I should probably go to sleep before I get too hungry. I couldn't muster up the energy to get dressed and go downstairs and buy some proper food, so I have been eating chocolate and peanuts out of the hotel minibar (something that will cost me at least the same as a decent meal in the hotel cafe due to the exorbitant minibar prices). Right now I am about to get up and get another soda in the fridge after eating a bag of very salty peanuts. Why on earth does a hotel of this standard not have room service. Very strange.

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Measuring the speed of a meme

Part of me thinks this is borderline spam, but since it is for a good cause I'll give the guy the benefit of the doubt. So here goes...

[Short Version: Link to this post in the name of science. Ask others to do the same. Results to be announced during the "Meet the Bloggers" panel at MLA 2006.]
What is the speed of meme? People write in general (typically truimphant) terms about how swiftly a single voice can travel from one side of the internet to the other and back again, but how often does that actually happen? Of those instances, how often is it organic?

so please.... do the following and help out a grad student investigating the world of bloggers

Here's what I need you to do:

  • Write a post linking to this one in which you explain the experiment. (All blogs count, be they TypePad, Blogger, MySpace, Facebook, &c.)
  • Ask your readers to do the same. Beg them. Relate sob stories about poor graduate students in desperate circumstances. Imply I'm one of them. (Do whatever you have to. If that fails, try whatever it takes.)
  • Ping Technorati.


Tuesday, November 28, 2006

One year since completing the PhD

A year ago today I was a nervous wreck, about to start my oral presentation for my PhD defense at exactly this time. I have probably never been so nervous in my professional life, although I knew the dissertation had been accepted by the committee and my advisor had expressed his faith in me. I was not only stressed out about the seriousness of the defense and the professional outcome, but at the same time I was organizing a post-defense reception for department, friends and family, preparing an international move only five days later and worried sick about my non-existing finances.

I felt like a fairly incomplete scholar. I knew I had come a long way, but did not feel I was nearly at the place I wanted to be. I felt very unsure about whether the postdoc position waiting for me was the right kind of move, and whether it would bring me where I wanted to be. Today I still don't think I am exactly where I want to be professionally and I might need to switch institutions at some point to get there, but I am in a much more satisfying and fulfilling place - in my professional as well as my personal life - than a year ago. I am also being much more vocal about my expectations and wishes for the future, and that alone has provided me with some opportunities I'd never thought I'd have. This morning Fiancé said that he perceived my professional persona as a "dragon". I am not sure I want to be a dragon, although he emphasised that it was meant positively as someone who is respected and get's what she wants. I don't want to step on or run over people, and I don't believe in getting what you want by keeping other people down, but I DO believe in expressing my wishes and my ambitions and I DO think my life is heading in the right direction.

I am also surprised to no end by how fast things have happened over the past year and how much more confident and safe I feel now compared to then. I still worry about publication rates, how to get grants, how to handle the leader role or how we will get the money to buy a house and how to keep in touch with friends and family while living abroad, but generally I feel I have a safe and solid base to work from now.

Professionally I am in a good position. I have three more years of garantied work and income and a good shot at the position being made permanent. I have been given co-PI responsibility in a large internationally recognized project. I have applied for my first independent grant. I have made plans for my first two-three graduate students. I have been given leader responsibilty, teaching experience and done research aimed at future publications. I don't wish for much more in this part of my life right now. My ambitions for the next year are rather to consolidate what I have and do well at the tasks I have been given than to aim for something different.

Personally I have gotten engaged and we have found an amazing home for rent with a view, a garden, a fireplace and enough room for a baby...We are talking seriously about baby plans and there will be a wedding at some point in the future. The financial problems sorted themselves out when I started getting a decent salary, and although Fiancé is still finishing up his PhD, we have everything we need. Now we just need to move in together and create the home base we are dreaming of. While the last year has been very much about moving up the ladder professionally, I feel that my personal goals of having a good life in general are coming much higher up on the list now and that is very satisfying and an immense change. I finally feel like I am all grown up now (a bit late as a 32 year old I know, but as with everything else in my life, better late than never).


Monday, November 27, 2006

Good bye to a part of my life

I was supposed to work at home today from Fiances place, but I have done nothing but going to the dentist and walk around in our soon-to-be former city to enjoy the sunshine, the familar streets and houses, the water and our neighborhood. I am excited about our future and our new life, but I am very happy that I got a chance to be here for a few days before we are leaving.

Yesterday we drove to our favorite beach and went for a walk. It is winter here but not too cold yet, and there were still people gathering in cafes and in front of food stalls. We walked along the water, watching the sunset, the sea gulls, sail boats, passenger ferries and large cargo vessels heading out from our port city through canals and straits to the open ocean. For years this has been our favorite getaway from the city when we needed an afternoon away. We used to go to a small tapas restaurant at the sea front in winter, or to the saltwater indoor swimmingpool with huge panoramic windows to the beach. Last time we were there was in the summer when we came for an after work picnic in the sand. This time we were walking into the small seaside touristy village, talking about how we might want to return to this area some time in the future.

In the evening we went out to dinner at our favorite Italian restaurant. We dressed up nicely, had fantastic food, talked about our life, our future and the time we have been apart, drank red wine and Italian grappa and I felt so happy and thankful for everything we have achieved and for being in such an amazing relationship.


Saturday, November 25, 2006

Mission accomplished

When I started my career as an university professor this summer I had very limited teaching experience. I always knew I liked teaching and thought I had a talent for it. I worked for one year as an elementary school teacher after finishing my Master's, I have given lots of public talks, worked as a guide and volunteered in outreach programmes. During my PhD I worked as a TA and had some responsibility for labs and field courses but was never given the chance to develop anything more independently. I had mentioned to several people that I was interested in teaching opportunities, but I am in a field where the typical freshman cohort consist of between ten and twenty students, a number approximately equalling the number of professors in an average department. In other words there is no need for people in my field. Particularly not for teaching staff. So I was thrilled in an open-the-champagne-and-go-crazy kind of way, when I was asked if I was interested in this position.

What I did not realize until I was in the middle of it, was how many new and frightening tasks this job required. Or how frightening many of the tasks seemed the the untrained eye. I was supposed to develop a brand new course from a one paragraph outline. I had to write a syllabus, invite some hotshots in the field as guest lecturers, put together a field excursion, plan lectures and exercises and initiate and supervise 14 individual research projects. The course is in my "secondary" subfield. I only read literature from the secondary subfield when it is relevant for my primary subfield, and I am by know means an expert in an general-overview way in this field. I felt like an idiot. I didn't know any hotshots and I was afraid of contacting the hotshots I thought would be most relevant, because I thought they would laugh at me and think my course was ridiculous. At the first lectures I was so worried that I literally felt sick because I felt like I knew nothing. When I held the first office hours and was meeting with students about their research projects my biggest worry was that they would find out that I didn't know much more than them. It felt like everything happened randomly at best and every week there was something new to fret about.

But every week I also learned something new. Every week the challenge from last week transformed itself to something I already knew how to do well and had succeded in, while my focus turned to the challenges ahead. When I had gotten everyone back from the first long field expedition - safe and alive and somewhat enlightened, it was time to deal with lectures. When I had read two undergraduate textbooks, the abstracts of a load of articles and compiled a decent set of lectures, it was time to deal with research projects. By the time I had miraculously invented fourteen different projects, which were neither too crazy nor too boring and on topics for which I could actually be of any help, the guest lecturers were beginning to arrive. Some of them were snotty and behaved in a way that made me feel like an idiot, but I didn't die, and most were genuinely nice and enthusistic people who thought it was interesting to meet me (huh, ME?). Noone seemed to think the syllabus was ridiculous, many told me the lectures were great, the students were eager to learn and seemed to be happy and satisfied with my way of dealing with them. When they handed in their research projects last week I was so impressed with what they are capable of now. Most of them had never or very rarely read a scientific article before, most had never done independent field work and most were not used to give talks. Yet, almost everybody planned and carried out excellent and interesting projects, read the literature, cited the articles more or less correctly and gave 15 minutes oral presentations in front of an audience and answered questions in a convincing and serious way.

The only thing left to do now is to write and grade the exam, and I do not worry about this. I am confident that I can write a reasonable exam covering the topics they should be familiar with and evaluate it fairly. I would have worried about this six months ago, when I worried about everything from how to write a good lecture to how to find an external examinor. Now it all seems so easy. I hope it is like riding a bicycle - if you can do it once you can always do it again. I might not get a chance to develop my own course again anytime soon, but when I do, I know what I am doing and why I am doing it. I even think I have a teaching philosophy now.

.....and I have gotten a card from the students saying I was their best teacher ever. (that one is going in the records, for sure).


Things I want to change in my life

With my time in the visiting position coming to an end, our recent engagement and Fiance's moving in I have been thinking a lot about how I want my life to be when I get back to my home and real job. The six months I have been away have almost entirely been about work and except for more parties than I normally attend and a few trips to the local swimming pool I haven't really had a life. I think I probably had time for a life, but when I am busy and tired it takes so much energy to decide to get out of the house and do something, that I just never got around to it. When I get back home I want this to change. I am sick of being the kind of person who never does anything real because I think I am too busy at work, and then end up staying longer at work at night because I don't know what I am going to do with all the empty time when I get home.

When I get back I want to:

  • Go to the gym again
  • Spend more time outside
  • Use the 15 minutes paid exercise break we have at work
  • Buy bath salts and use the bath tub
  • Go skiing in the weekends
  • Cook nutritious food and have leftovers for busy days
  • Bake again
  • Leave work at the end of the day
  • Work from home sometimes (this is more tricky as we have set times where we need to be in the office, but I love working from home and it is something I miss enormously from my grad school days, and since I am going to be the boss now maybe I can fix at least the occasional work from home day)
  • Read more non-work books (I am already doing this and I love it, I just don't want to fall back in the TV-only habit again when I get back)
  • Use the fire place
  • Learn something new (I am not sure what this is going to be. I would love to take some sort of course from the university in another field than my own, but I am not sure it is possible since I am travelling so much)
  • Get to know new parts of the town
  • Go kayaking
  • Get better at keeping in touch with my friends in home-country (I am afraid my only real friendships will slip away if I keep prioritising work over people)
  • Decorate our home so it feels like a home and not a temporary roof over our head
  • Buy flowers more often
  • Go hiking in the mountains
  • Get a newspaper subscription


Friday, November 24, 2006

Time to move on

I am going to visit Fiancé for a few days, leaving today. This will be the last weekend in our German home and the end of not-living-together. At the end of the week he will move to our first shared home. I am really looking forward to that, but somehow it is also a little sad to leave the old place and the city. I finished my dissertation in that apartment and I lived in the city for months at a time during the last three years of my PhD. Last year around this time I was moving out of my apartment in grad school city after a succesful defense, leaving all my friends and twelve years of my life behind. But for the past year I always had Fiancés place as sort of a link to our old life. Now we are really supposed to settle down for a while in new town. Although I have been there for a year now and have a good social network of people from work I still don't know anybody I would describe as real friends and I still don't feel a connection to the town. Fiancé is really excited about new town and I think it is about time I give it a real try too.

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Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Random bullets

  • Today it is one month since I got engaged. Yay! We are going to shop for rings when I visit Fiance next week.
  • The travel business is being sorted out. The tickets should arrive in my mail box tomorrow, but I might go to the travel agency on my way home today to pick them up. I have sent an email to responsible Russian conference organizor explaining the visa problems. Fingers crossed for an invitation document arriving soon.
  • I have so far graded 3 out of 14 student research reports - it is going to be a looooong night. I am always surprised to see how many shapes a good paper can come in. I am equally surprised to see how a totally average paper can masquerade as an excellent paper just from being perfect in style. I am doing my best to be fair, but good research does count for more than style in this case.
  • I want to go home and sleep and watch "Friends" on DVD and eat something yummy but I do not see that happen anytime today. Instead I am in my office with coffee, an apple, an (admittedly quite yummy) salad - but that was not what I was thinking about and a pile of reports. Back to work.


I might as well open my own travel agency

Considering the time I spend on making travel arrangements for meetings. Apparently research money is just as well spent working on visa applications or on the phone with travel agency employees. I am going to Russia for a meeting in less than two weeks and since it is business I have to wait for an invitation from the organization inviting me before I can apply for the visa. All information regarding the invitation was sent about a month ago (shortly after I knew I was going to this thing) and I still haven’t received the invitation. Today the first sign of hope appeared – a fax with something looking like a slightly altered copy of my passport if it got translated to Russian and written in Cyrillic letters. The document looks a bit odd, but it was sent from the right institution and it does contain my personal details in Russian, so I suppose it is the faxed version of the invitation I have been promised. I also got an email saying that the actual invitation, which must be brought to the embassy, is in the mail and on it’s way. That would all be very fine if I wasn’t leaving on Friday for another meeting. Since my location here in the Arctic is far away from pretty much everything, it is not possible for me to get back here between the two meetings. In other words – I need the invitation document by Thursday, latest.

So tomorrow, while busy with a grading marathon and preparing for student conference on Thursday, I have to figure out an emergency back up plan if this document does not arrive on time. I also have to check with “my best friend” the-travel-agency-lady-handling-my- bookings what happened to the flight ticket she promised to send me last week. I am travelling on no less than six tickets (not counting change of planes) on this upcoming trip and of course one of them has to be an old fashioned paper ticket.

If I do get all the documents together in time and do not die from stress before it’s time to leave, the itinerary for the odyssey looks something like this. First I am going to visit Fiancé for a few days at his place in central Europe before he moves up north to our first shared home. Directly from there I am off to a meeting in Scandinavian capital, where I will also visit the Russian embassy to get the visa. Then a quick visit to my actual home, when Fiancé is moving in, from there to Russia and finally up here again. The combination of a long distance relationship, international collaboration and living on the edge of the world does not allow for much continuity. There is a good chance that the hours I have spent travelling or travel planning over the past year outnumbers the hours I have spent doing research.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

More Arctic photos

since the old ones will disappear into the archives now.

We met this guy during the field excursion this summer

and these two cutie pies are from two years ago

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Teaching - DONE!

I have spent the entire day organizing the final details of my senior undergrad course. They are an amazing bunch of students and I am surprised and happy to see how far they have come, but I am equally happy to be done with it for a while. I had never imagined developing a new course could be that much work.

Last day of classes was last week and they have submitted their research projects. All there is left now is a long day of student conference presentations on Thursday and a written exam in December. Today I have set up a schedule for their conference presentations, created a grading "rubric" sort of thing for the research projects and updated the final version of a "behind the scenes" syllabus I am keeping in my own interest. For the entire semester I have been recording what I have lectured on, the topics covered in lectures given by guest lecturers, what we did during exercises, excursions etc. Depending on who the new hire will be I will share more or less of this document with him/her since the new hire is going to continue this class. Either way I will keep it as a source for good ideas for lectures/ exercises/ excursions next time I am going to teach something similar and as a written record of what I have done here to present to future hiring comittees. Looking back there are things I would have done differently, but overall I am pretty proud of the result. 15 pages of content for a fairly well-structured course. Not too bad for a beginner. Now I just wish I could show it to someone.


Monday, November 20, 2006

How to stand out in a crowd of job applicants

Today was the day of the campus visit for candidate #2 for the position I am currently holding.

The two finalists are remarkably similar types. Same gender, same age, similar physical appearance and similar personality types. On the scientific level they are also very similar: same specialty (not requirement for the position, just coincidence), same level of experience since PhD, both well-connected and both recognized as rising stars within their sub-field.

I happen to know both of them from before (from different settings, but nonetheless). I like both and have no preferences as to who should get the job. I am also not on the hiring committee so my opinion here has no real influence.

However, today while listening to the trial lecture given by candidate #2, it struck me that #2 gave a much better impression than #1. They have both been invited to give a 45 minute public lecture on their research and both of them had put together a nice and appealing presentation. They were also both visibly nervous, but got it together and left an overall professional impression.

Candidate #1 seemed like a really strong candidate but:

Admitted to be nervous

Asked the audience to speak up if we couldn’t hear what was being said

And told the hiring committee at lunch afterwards that the experience was anyway good practice for future job interviews

Candidate#2 seemed much more confident and left the impression of being a better candidate because:

(S)he had a couple of welcoming sentences in the beginning, making it clear the talk was well prepared and (s)he had spent time rehearsing it.

The talk focused a lot on the candidate’s plans for future research and how those tied in with this particular position (something #1 didn’t mention at all)

Mentioning institutions the candidate planned to collaborate with as well as realistic plans for graduate students

No mentioning of insecurities at all


Born under a lucky star or the importance of good mentors

I never thought I was going to be a scientist or a professor or travel the world on other people’s money. I never even dreamed about it, because I had never thought about as an option. My parents are well-educated and employed by the church and the national school system respectively and brought up my siblings and I in a good middle class home. They expected us to be bright and do well in school, preferably better than most kids in our generally-not-well-educated neighborhood, and go on and get an education and good jobs. I did well, according to the local standards, but nothing exceptional. I loved reading and dreaming about faraway destinations for future travels, thought I wanted to write a novel some day, was not into sports and lived in a self-made fantasy world with my best friend. Pretty much the average girl geek. In high school and early years at university I developed my social skills to the level where I did very little work and got average or below average grades as a result.

When I was working on the research for my Master's thesis I had an advisor who knew very well how to push me to do my best, but who also did not know when to stop. The part of my personality that had made me re-read every page in the textbook out loud until I did no mistakes in the second grade and spend hours a day on latin translations in the 9th grade, flourished. My perfectionism took my nights and days, ruined an anyway poorly functioning relationship to ex bf, changed my priorities completely but left me with no desire to do research ever again. But I did well - very well - and even though I started my carreer working as a teacher in elementary school - I had some vague idea of maybe being capable of something else.

Half a year into the teaching job I got a phone call from my PhD-advisor-to be, completely out of the blue, asking if I was interested in participating in the project, that would become my PhD project. On one side I had told everybody that I had it with academia, and to some extent it was true, on the other hand the nudge from someone thinking I could do it, was just what I needed to grab the chance. Long story short, I did embark on the PhD journey (slightly worried where it would lead me, but extremely proud and motivated by the fact that someone had encouraged me to do so). The first year I pretty much made a fool out of myself. I was switching subfields and was not very well prepared for the work I was going to do. My personal life was also messy and confusing at the time, and I can honestly say, I don't think I made an impressive figure in the beginning.

But things started to change. I got more comfortable and learned more about my new field. I got to know the collaborators in the research group better and I started to get new ideas. I also began to like the job very much. I got a better sense of the direction I wanted to work in and found my own place in the research group. At some point one of the collaborators asked me if I was interested in doing a post doc at his institution later. For the second time I thought I was extremely lucky that someone had picked me and saved me from the unemployment I believed I was facing without their rescue missions.

Though it seemed like it would never happen, grad school did come to an end, and I moved on to be a post doc with collaborator as a PI at his government research institute. Since then opportunities have been thrown at me at a pace I still have difficulties grasping. I had barely arrived when we started talking about putting the big research grant proposal together, that we just finished revising last week. From the moment I became a part of the group my ideas have been integrated into the research we are doing. To the point where I realised when we had a brain storming event last week that everything we intend to do over the next 4-5 years closely related to ideas I developed during my PhD. Around the same time I was contacted by someone else, whom I had once told over a cup of coffee that I would like to get more teaching experience. She wanted know if I'd be interested in this one-semester temporary faculty gig I have at the moment. Again I considered this pure luck and being at the right place at the right time.

Right before I left, it was decided from the higher-ups that all departments should have a new type of administrative position - an assistant department head. An average research position but with administrative responsibility when the department head is away or to help out when the work load is too much for one person to cover. The department head asked if I was interested in this position when I came back full-time in December and I decided to jump at it. No one else was particularly interested in taking on more work, and due to a policy of promoting women in science (I will talk about THAT another day) women were preferred. While I didn't like the reasoning behind it, I did like the opportunity (not to mention the salary increase) and said yes.

Now, as I posted a few days ago, the offer was changed to not only be the assistant department head, but to cover for the actual department head for one semester while he is on a sabbatical. I did say yes, because as always, I am too vain to say no when people trust me and think I am capable of something. But I also really think it is strange. I can probably learn the administration part, but being head of people twice my age, with an international research record and permanent positions somehow seems wrong. I mean, who lets a 32 year old with a one year track record run the business. I am seriously not sure what I think about this. I haven't told it to anyone but fiancé in my real life yet. I don't know why. It sounds weird just coming out of my mouth and I am afraid people will think I am bragging.

There is no doubt I could not have done this on my own. There is no way I alone could have created the network of people I have today, and my advisors over the years and my post doc PI have always treated me nicely and I believe they speak about me in way, so others would think I am a relatively smart and reliable person. But maybe I can finally allow myself to think, that it is not all pure chance and luck. Maybe some people actually like what I do, since they keep asking me to do more things. My mentors over the years all have one thing in common - they have pushed me forward and held high expectations, but at the same time they have shown clearly that they believed in me, not only by saying so, but by offering me opportunities to show I was worth it. That is maybe the biggest difference from when I was younger and didn't believe in my own abilities. They simply created an environment where I could achieve thing I had never believed in myself. That is really amazing, I think.

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Friday, November 17, 2006

Life is sweet

It has been a crazy week with many pleasant surprises

My collaborators left today after a productive and fun week with lots of work but also lots of eating out and lots of talking about work and life. Last night we went out to celebrate that we submitted the final, revised version of our research proposal. We had drinks and strange coffee and christmas-ey food and laughed a lot and I realised that I am lucky to work with such nice people.

My students handed in their research projects today and they look really good. I have yet to read them of course, but I know that most of them have done a lot of good work and put a lot of effort into this and I am actually looking forward to read the reports. When I think about how much they have "grown" and learned since I met them for the first time this summer and realize what they are capable of doing now, I am really proud of them.

I have accepted a temporary position as department head at my home institution starting from January 1st. It feels weird since I am very new and have only been there for a year in total, and to be honest it scares me quite a bit. But I am happy to be asked and I hope I can handle it. It will only be for half a year until the regular department head returns from sabattical, and then I will switch to the assistant department head position.

Today we had the first trial lecture for the open position here at the place where I am right now. It is for the position I am in temporarily at the moment, and the new hire will be responsible for the course I have been developing this semester. For a long time I was so jealous of the person who would get this job since I like it so much, and I didn't really want to go home to the research institute where I am working. But the candidate who was here today did so well, and I like her and think she will do an excellent job, and I can definitely see myself handing this to her without too much regret. A part of me still wish I had applied for the position, but I haven't and I am beginning to look forward to return home.

It looks like it is all coming together in a really good way.

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Wednesday, November 15, 2006

A lot to do right now

Several things have happened over the past couple of days:

Yesterday I was asked if I want to take on a quite demanding, but prestigious, administrative post in the department. I haven't decided on this one yet. It came out of the blue and I am as surprised as flattered. I am going to talk more about this in a separate post soon.

Today I have submitted the small research grant proposal for an independent project

This week I have a project meeting with my collaborators to revise an accepted-with-revisions major research proposal and after I responded quite harshly to an initial idea of cutting most of my interests out of the proposal, I have been bumped up to co-PI. It really does help to speak up. This also ties in with some professional experiences I have had lately which I want to talk more about in a separate post.

Today was the last day of class on the first course I have developed on my own, and I think it has gone really well. Another topic I have some thoughts on and want to write more about soon.

But right now I am busy with the project meeting and the revising and have to keep going


Monday, November 13, 2006

Small victories

I have been incredibly tired lately. To the extent where I almost started worrying if something was wrong. Friday I left early and went directly home and slept for most of the evening and all night. Saturday I only wanted to stay at home and sleep. I managed to drag myself out to a faculty party on Saturday night and seriously thought I was either going to fall asleep or leave right after dinner. I don’t know what happened. Maybe I just needed some time off, to spend time with people rather than books and to think less about work and more about me. Even if it was sort of a work party it was really nice and we talked about lots of things besides work. Yesterday I was still tired – but from going to bed too late, not from this cloud-hanging-over-my-head-if-I-stand-up that I’ve been having lately. After a full day of doing nothing but eat junk food and read books-for-fun yesterday I feel I am back to my old and relatively energetic self.

I have almost finished the small-research-grant proposal with deadline this coming Wednesday. Today I added the remaining comments from co-investigator and I have someone to read through it and check the language right now. Later I will have a meeting with current boss about the budget and potential co-sponsoring of the project. All there is left to do tomorrow is fill out the application form and submit. I tested the online application form today, and it seems simple. If we get this grant, it will be the first research project, which I am completely and thoroughly responsible for.

I have gotten the most fantastic responses from the students I am teaching here. On Saturday night one of my colleagues from another department said to me, that my students had told her, how they really like my course very much. That’s so nice. I know they also say it to me, but I am happy to hear that my colleagues also realize I have been doing a good job here.


Thursday, November 09, 2006

Life as a post doc: Is it really that bad?

As I said yesterday, I want to get back to this topic. Since then Propter Doc has written an excellent post about this article "climbing the UK academic ladder" from "Chemistry World" and called for opinions on the "perfect postdoc". It is clear that many post docs feels trapped in dead-end, low pay and insecure jobs, but is that really the truth for everyone, or do we only hear about the worst case scenario?

Maybe it is particularly bad for the lab post docs. It is not my impression that we have nearly this level of complaints in my own field. But what do I know, maybe I don't know the really miserable people. Academic positions in my field are scarce - to say the least. Some of us hope to land one some day, but it is not a given, and many have decided to take other routes long ago. Good for us, there is a healthy job market for my profession in the industry. Many PhDs in my field never planned to do anything else than get a good research position in the industry. Sometimes people take a semi-industrial post doc and heads into the same or a competing company afterwards. Others stays in academia for as long as possible hanging on to the hope of a future faculty position and many of us will be disappointed. However, my point is, that the number of PhDs and even post docs are not supposed to match the number of faculty positions. Anyone believing so are fooling themselves. There are other walks of life that value a PhD and research experience and a faculty position is not the holy grail for everyone.

That being said, I still think a post doc position should prepare one for academia as well as other professional settings. Different people have different opinions but as I said in a comment over at PropterDoc I think a post doc should be used to gain experience not only in ones particular research field but also with a range of soft skills, which will be useful in any job.

So where am I heading with all this? I think I have one of the better post docs available, and I think it is important sometimes to recognize and write about what is good and what is working for others to see what could be different.

I am hired to work on one particular research project with four years of funding. My contract runs for the duration of the project. It is a large collaborative research project with four PI's at four different institutions, each responsible for subsections of the final goal. Since I am not in a lab science we are not as strictly organized regarding members/employees as it often seems to be the case there. I belong in one department with a department head who is not the PI. Only three other people in the department are involved in the project at the moment (the PI, the department head - but for his scientific contribution and one more colleague in a permanent position). I am the only one of us who is so far only involved in one of the departments projects. Most people are involved in several projects - with a new combination of people in each project. Some are PI's in one project and participants in others; others are only participants in a number of projects, but might have been PI's on former projects or have proposals in now. My closest collaborators are the PI and colleague with a permanent position who is not the department head (we will call her CoolFemaleColleague from now on).

My specialty requires a lot of field work and often in remote regions in the far north. Our first field season in the new project was this summer when PI, CoolFemaleColleague, GeniousForeignCollaborator and I travelled to an undisclosed place in the woods in the northern hemisphere for five weeks. Before going away, we spent a lot of time planning the field season, sorting out the logistics, getting vaccinations, buying equipment, ordering visa's and tickets and of course discussing our scientific ideas. During this phase everybody involved did their fair share of things and nothing was particularly handed to me because I was the post doc.
We also spent time last winter/ spring on meetings with the big research group for the entire project and travelled to meet with people we want to establish contacts with for the purpose of the project. Again, everybody did their part of the work, and nobody gained more credit than the others.

During spring we also worked on a grant proposal. Again a collaborative effort with colleagues from other institutions heading subsections of the proposal. Five people from my department are involved in this (PI, who also happens to be PI for this one, CoolFemaleColleague, Me and two other people with permanent positions). Our part of the proposal relies heavily on an idea PI and I have been nurturing over some years (since before I became a post doc with him). I consider myself personally involved but also recognized in the proposal. The proposal has since then come through and the grant will start running from next year. I will work on this this project alongside with the one I was originally hired for.

Since we came back from the field I have been away for this temporary associate professor-gig and I haven't had much time to devote to research with all the course planning and teaching, so things have been a bit slow. We have had a couple of project meetings (PI, CoolFemaleColleague and I), been away for a conference and submitted a couple of abstracts with some of our results from this summer. I have been involved in setting up a database and finding a couple of promising Master's students to-be who can join us next year in the field.

I have only written one manuscript this year and it is based on some previous research. This is something that is not really related to what I do no or what my current research group is doing, but I see a link between the two sub fields and a way for me to grow in that direction. My colleagues seem to acknowledge that this might someday be useful for them too, and my ideas in the new grant are sort of a first step in that direction. I have more ideas for papers pointing in the same direction and PI is aware of that. Next year we will probably also start publishing something from the new project. I expect to have first authorship on the papers that are pointing most in my interdisciplinary direction and be co-author on papers taking the more traditional but equally useful angle of my collaborators.

I know, I am truly blessed with a good work environment. I am also in a country where the labour rights allow even post docs a decent salary. But many of the good sides to my work place doesn't cost much, if anything in money, only in attitude. What I do not understand is why it cannot be better in so many places.

What do you think? Are you exploited by a cruel PI or are you having the time of your life? Are you sick of temporary contracts and overseas moves or are you excited about new opportunities and new colleagues? Is it as bad as they say, or are you satisfied with your options?


Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Saxifraga's happy when she's been working

I was planning to return later today to write some more about my work and what I do with my days inspired by this post by Propter Doc and the "what does post docs do" discussion. When I wrote this post the other day I was so fed up with comments describing post docs as a sort of second class citizens, but I really want to compose a post that reflects a little better what my job as a scientist contains. Being in a non-lab natural science I often feel the the descriptions coming from the labrats does not reflect my work particularly well.

Anyway, that will have to wait until tomorrow, because it's already late and I want to go home and have dinner and curl up on the sofa and read something fun and eat something unhealthy.... (I have been super good for three weeks in a row and eaten only healthy foods, but time is up now - I'm craving an off day I think). I have been working away on the research proposal that is due on Wednesday and it is almost done! Well, maybe not completely, but I have sent a "semi-final" draft of both the actual proposal and the budget off to my collaborators for last minute comments. Tomorrow I need to polish my CV and check out how the online submit thingy works. Yay!

Today I really, really wish I had my laptop and could go home and watch a movie (or Season 2 of Gilmore Girls, which arrived in the mail today). Hopefully it will arrive on one of the next planes. I am getting too serious from all this reading at night.


No reason to be bored - ever again

There are obviously lots of things I haven't done yet

As seen at PaperChasers

01. Bought everyone in the bar a drink
02. Swam with wild dolphins
03. Climbed a mountain
04. Taken a Ferrari for a test drive
05. Been inside the Great Pyramid
06. Held a tarantula
07. Taken a candlelit bath with someone
08. Said "I love you" and meant it
09. Hugged a tree
10. Bungee jumped
11. Visited Paris
12. Watched a lightning storm at sea - from the shore
13. Stayed up all night long and saw the sun rise
14. Seen the Northern Lights
15. Gone to a huge sports game
16. Walked the stairs to the top of the leaning Tower of Pisa
17. Grown and eaten your own vegetables
18. Touched an iceberg
19. Slept under the stars
20. Changed a baby's diaper
21. Taken a trip in a hot air balloon
22. Watched a meteor shower
23. Gotten drunk on champagne
24. Given more than you can afford to charity
25. Looked up at the night sky through a telescope
26. Had an uncontrollable giggling fit at the worst possible moment
27. Had a food fight
28. Bet on a winning horse
29. Asked out a stranger
30. Had a snowball fight
31. Screamed as loudly as you possibly can
32. Held a lamb
33. Seen a total eclipse
34. Ridden a roller coaster
35. Hit a home run
36. Danced like a fool and not cared who was looking
37. Adopted an accent for an entire day (does for several years count?)
38. Actually felt happy about your life, even for just a moment
39. Had two hard drives for your computer
40. Visited all 50 states
41. Taken care of someone who was drunk
42. Had amazing friends
43. Danced with a stranger in a foreign country
44. Watched wild whales
45. Stolen a sign
46. Backpacked in Europe
47. Taken a road-trip
48. Gone rock climbing
49. Midnight walk on the beach
50. Gone sky diving
51. Visited Ireland
52. Been heartbroken longer than you were actually in love
53. In a restaurant, sat at a stranger's table and had a meal with them
54. Visited Japan
55. Milked a cow
56. Alphabetized your CDs (surprisingly not - it is the kind of thing I would do)
57. Pretended to be a superhero
58. Sung karaoke
59. Lounged around in bed all day
60. Played touch football
61. Gone scuba diving
62. Kissed in the rain
63. Played in the mud (that's pretty much what I do for a living)
64. Played in the rain
65. Gone to a drive-in theater
66. Visited the Great Wall of China
67. Started a business
68. Fallen in love and not had your heart broken
69. Toured ancient sites
70. Taken a martial arts class
71. Played D&D for more than 6 hours straight
72. Gotten married
73. Been in a movie
74. Crashed a party
75. Gotten divorced
76. Gone without food for 5 days (WHY would anyone do that)
77. Made cookies from scratch
78. Won first prize in a costume contest
79. Ridden a gondola in Venice
80. Gotten a tattoo
81. Rafted the Snake River
82. Been on television news programs as an "expert"
83. Got flowers for no reason
84. Performed on stage
85. Been to Las Vegas
86. Recorded music
87. Eaten shark
88. Kissed on the first date
89. Gone to Thailand
90. Bought a house
91. Been in a combat zone
92. Buried one/both of your parents
93. Been on a cruise ship
94. Spoken more than one language fluently well enough to have a decent conversation
95. Performed in Rocky Horror
96. Raised children
97. Followed your favorite band/singer on tour
99. Taken an exotic bicycle tour in a foreign country
100. Picked up and moved to another city to just start over
101. Walked the Golden Gate Bridge
102. Sang loudly in the car, and didn't stop when you knew someone was looking
103. Had plastic surgery
104. Survived an accident that you shouldn't have survived
105. Wrote articles for a large publication ( large does it have to be?)
106. Lost over 100 pounds (hell no, where would I be then)
107. Held someone while they were having a flashback
108. Piloted an airplane
109. Touched a stingray
110. Broken someone's heart
111. Helped an animal give birth
112. Won money on a T.V. game show
113. Broken a bone
114. Gone on an African photo safari
115. Had a facial part pierced other than your ears
116. Fired a rifle, shotgun, or pistol
117. Eaten mushrooms that were gathered in the wild
118. Ridden a horse (only for a very short time)
119. Had major surgery
120. Had a snake as a pet
121. Hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon
122. Slept for more than 30 hours over the course of 48 hours (sounds like something I could do)
123. Visited more foreign countries than U.S. states
124. Visited all 7 continents
125. Taken a canoe trip that lasted more than 2 days
126. Eaten kangaroo meat
127. Eaten sushi
128. Had your picture in the newspaper
129. Changed someone's mind about something you care deeply about
130. Gone back to school
131. Parasailed
132. Touched a cockroach
133. Eaten fried green tomatoes
134. Read The Iliad
135. Selected one "important" author who you missed in school, and read
136. Killed and prepared an animal for eating
137. Skipped all your school reunions
138. Communicated with someone without sharing a common spoken language
139. Been elected to public office
140. Written your own computer language
141. Thought to yourself that you're living your dream
142. Had to put someone you love into hospice care
143. Built your own PC from parts
144. Sold your own artwork to someone who didn't know you
145. Had a booth at a street fair
146. Dyed your hair
147. Been a DJ
148. Shaved your head
149. Caused a car accident (Gee, I hope not)
150. Saved someone's life


Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Dinner time

The plan was to have some sort nice, yummy, hot food including a lot of cabbage I have lying around in the fridge. But since I did not find any good yummy-looking, cabbage related recipes today and bought awesome ham, cheese and fresh vegetables yesterday. I guess I am going to have this instead:

and this

with this


so what DID I actually do today

Since I spent most of my day yesterday reading blogs and thinking about how to respond to the post-doc discussion without doing any serious post-doc' ing at all I thought I should get my act together today.

I do not teach this week and this fact alone should free up oodles of time for research and writing and serious scholarship. But the thing is that when one is not submerged in teaching, one is submerged in all the other things one doesn't have time for when teaching. Since cramming in a weeks lectures on a grad student course on top of my regular teaching a couple of weeks ago, the list of things undone has grown larger and larger by the hour. So what I do at the moment is - the art of catching up.

I am one of these hyper-organized people who can't commit to anything if it's not written down on a list. Today's list contains: ordering flight tickets for two upcoming meetings, feedback to students on their research projects, application for access to data, upcoming research proposal, budget for upcoming research proposal, reimbursement of travel expenses from meeting last month and private stuff such as book dentist appointment and buy xx for Fiance for Christmas. The list is longer than that, but this is approximately the amount of things I believe in the morning, that I can carry out within a typical day. This turns out not to be true - every single day.

So what did I do today:

Send emails to friends in home country as suggest I come for a visit, when going to see my family anyway.

Deal with annoying situation with department head

Help one student print out an odd-sized map

Coach one student who hasn't started the months-long research project, yet (it is due in two weeks - why do people do this to themselves)

Write a preliminary version of application for data access

Had a long chat with colleague over lunch about the difficulties of being a foreigner here

Figured out how to get rid of horrible website provider (involved finding a bunch of old emails from last year, when this company tricked me into paying for one more year despite not having a website anymore)

Write budget for research proposal

Check traffic on my blog MANY times (it is only one week old - I am still super curious to see who stops by)

Check track and trace number of package containing new laptop in the mail MANY times

Find recipe for dinner on internet

Write all this

And I wonder why I am not being more productive....


This is my life

at least for another few weeks.

I love the transition from sunlight to the dark time. It is not pitch dark 24/7 right from the beginning as one might think. The colours change gradually from pink to purple to blue and only finally into northern lights and twinkling stars when the polar night arrives. The past few weeks I have been hanging out of my office window with my camera around lunch time to catch the change.

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Monday, November 06, 2006

What does a post doc do?

The past few days a discussion has been going on over at Young Female Scientist and ScienceWoman about what post docs actually do and if we're supposed to do what we do.

When I am not professing in the Arctic I am a post doc too, but boy, I do not recognize myself in many of the commenter's descriptions.

As others have said post docs are people who already have a PhD. We are not in a training phase (at least not more than any academic should be). We are generally a young, enthusiastic, smart and productive bunch of people, and we wouldn't have made it where we are now, if we weren't all these things. Anyway the perception of the post doc - phase as some sort of prolonged graduate education seems to be firmly rooted. Ideas such as "post docs should have better mentors" or should be provided with more guiding or better structure" seems to be flourishing among those who wants to improve our conditions on all continents. Sorry to let you down, guys, but we do not need guiding or structures or mentors more than any young-ish person might need those things, and we do not need any particular help in finding these.

What we do need is for PI's to live up to their responsibilities and treat people on their pay roll with the respect and independence they deserve. Why is it, that anyone in their right mind would hire someone with 20+ years of education and even consider not using this capacity to the fullest? I do not believe in post doc years as a training phase where the person in question should be protected from all other aspects of academic work than writing articles. On the other hand it makes me furious when I hear about post docs (or grad students for that matter) publishing in their advisors name and fame with very little to show for themselves when they need to move on.

It can be done. My own post doc experience has so far been great. Yes, I want a permanent job at some point and yes, I might want to change from my current government research institute to the university environment at some point, but that is for other reasons. My current working environment is really good. In my opinion, post docs are fully educated scientists, perfectly capable of doing the same work as any PI, but who haven't had the luck to find a faculty position yet. In my field faculty positions are incredibly rare and people often work as "post docs" or whatever title is attached to what are essentially the same soft-money positions for years. This does not mean that we will never break into the system, but that we do not have a regular cycle of job openings.

For the past year i have:

revised manuscripts from the dissertation
written a new manuscript based on an old line of research
done the logistic and scientific planning for the field season (with PI and project collaborator)
done field work directly related to my postdoc-grant project
been co-author on a new grant proposal (which is now funded)
developed a side-project with colleagues (not related to postdoc-grant)
attended professional meetings, networked and taken part in developing the department.

Next year I expect to:

Follow up on four different projects (some of these very near and dear to my heart)
Take on my first graduate students
do more administrative work in the department

This is not too different from what I would have spent my research time on in a faculty position, I believe. Last year when defending the PhD I had been pursuing one line of research for a long time. Before that I have worked in another sub field for my Masters degree. Now I feel I am developing as a researcher into someone who works across sub fields and contribute to the department and the group in my own particular way. I could and would not have done this any differently as a faculty member.

*I have the privilege of a four year position with full funding and a realistic chance of landing a permanent position afterwards, and this might influence my views. But basically I think post docs should be treated similarly whether hired for one or several years.

I am off to write a small grant proposal - in my own name.


Dining with the locals - aka - the night I had a sheep's head for dinner

Yes, literally, a sheep's head!

So I did go to the student party on Saturday night, and I am happy I did. I went as saxifraga, the person, rather than Dr. saxifraga, the professor, and it worked. I had lots of fun. I talked to some of the students I rarely socialise with and they are pretty cool people too. I took part in an awesome jam session on imaginary instruments and practiced climbing and walking on a line (yes, this is a place like nowhere else). I did, surprisingly enough, not do anything stupid or anything I would be embarrassed about next time we have class and I did have a good time.

The real reason for the party was the sheep's heads being served for dinner. People in this part of the world tend to have some rather bizarre ideas about what is eatable and what's not. A major event during the fall season are these "eat a sheep's head" parties. I will spare you the details (anyone interested can look up "smalahove"). As the guy sitting next to me during dinner said "it somehow feels wrong to eat someone else's head". I agree. Anyway the heads are being served with major quantities of alcohol and in dim light (all good). I have never been to a dinner party where so many people were taking pictures of their own plates. Most of us had never tried this before, and there was a lot of shuffling food around the plate, pretending to eat, going on. Same here, but the meat was actually tastier than expected. I think I should have a special stamp in my passport, identifying me as an approved citizen of the country, after doing this.


Saturday, November 04, 2006

The cool professor - that's me

My all-time favorite students in my full-semester class have invited me to a party they are arranging tonight. They clearly want me to come and I definitely like to hang out with them. They are such a nice group of people and I like them as students but also as persons. They apparently love the way I teach and like that I interact and socialize with them outside class. We are living in this tiny society, so not socialising in one way or another is almost impossible. We do run into each other when buying groceries, going to the post office or looking at a new winter coat on a Saturday afternoon, as I did today. We also run into each other at the gym or in the swimming pool so there is really no way to be all distant and professor-y around here. BUT and here is the deal. While some of these people are only a few years younger than me, and could easily have become my personal friends if we had met in another setting, they are still my students. I will be grading their projects and their exams and I will pick whom I'd like to continue as my advisees for their Masters. I am absolutely flattered to hear that they think so highly of me and never miss a chance to tell me so. Today some of them were joking that they wanted to have people sign a petition to keep me in this job, when my temporary contract ends in December. Who would have thought so? I am taken aback by all this amazing support.

They say they like that I am open and honest about what it's like to be a professor and that I haven't forgotten what it's like to be a student. That all comes pretty naturally, since I really haven't forgotten. More surprisingly, maybe, they also say they like how the class is being structured and evaluated - despite a pretty high workload, and an individual research project that no other professors require for courses at this level. To sum up I think they genuinely like me and I can say the same about them, and apparently professors they genuinely like are being invited to their parties. This particular one is a quite special night with a special treat of a local delicacy and quite some anticipation surrounds the whole thing, and I am considering joining.

I have two hours to make up my mind. But since I have no other plans for my Saturday night, and my heater at home is making extremely annoying noices that drives me out of the building, I might end up going.


Boot heaven

seems to be right here in front of my nose. I am maybe not skinny, but definitely not big either, but nature and my mothers genes gave me super-functional, yet somewhat out of proportion, calves. Ever since I started thinking about clothes around the age of twelve this fact has had me try on endless amounts of knee-high boots every winter. Most of these boot-buying expeditions goes like this: saxifraga heads to the shop, finds gorgeous boots, try them on, foot fits, but the zipper won't go all the way up. While I do value my leg muscles for walking, hiking and the outdoorsy-type fieldwork I do, they do not fit my girlie taste in clothes and shoes quite so much. This idea of choose your calf size is completely new to me. Maybe we're just hopelessly behind here in my neck of the woods (NOT impossible at all), but yay, this link had me smiling from ear to ear (and dreaming of all the fancy dresses with knee-high boots I will be wearing soon.

I want these!


Friday, November 03, 2006

In the spotlight

On a less serious account...

I am hiding in my office because Fiance and I put our engagement announcement in the local tiny-town newspaper and it is coming out today, this very afternoon. I don't mind being put in the spotlight professionally, but personally is a completely different story. What if everybody thinks our photo is ugly, what if they think it is weird to announce the engagement in the paper. I know it is ridiculous to be afraid of some twenty students and a few faculty gathering for a Friday afternoon glass of wine, so I am heading out now to face my few seconds in the limelight. Wish me luck.


What makes a good academic position...and when?

I have been thinking about this issue a lot in recent months since I am currently on part-time leave from my actual position at governmental research institute in small city to teach at small, sub- field specific university in remote but amazing location. My actual position is in a great department. Lots of interesting people with varied backgrounds, some big grants available and no lack of funding for basic research, very nice colleagues and options for promotions, responsibility and so on. I haven't really settled into the town yet but have an amazing apartment in the best location I have ever lived in. The downside to the job is that there is no teaching, and not necessarily regular contact with students.

My temporary teaching position is in a place I love. I have been living here before and I have always thrived here. It breaks my heart that I have to leave these parts again at the end of the semester. The students are awesome. I really do love the teaching part and I get so much nice feedback. But I have never in my life been as busy as now. I practically work round the clock and am beginning to feel how draining that is in the long run. And my time for research is effectively zero. So far this fall I have attended one meeting and written two abstracts and that was all within the past three weeks.

I should be more productive. I should use these first few years after the PhD to publish, publish and publish and yet I haven't submitted one paper since I finished a year ago. The sensible way of dealing with this is obviously to forget about more teaching intensive jobs right now and use the next couple of years to settle into my new town and research institute. Get the new projects going, publish what is left from the dissertation, publish something new, get some graduate students, build a reputation and the leap to a university position when I actually have an independent research agenda and some experience .

But I am not a very patient person. If anything is just remotely within my reach I tend to want it right now, no matter if this is a stupid decision. I know a couple of university positions in my field are coming up over the next year. This does not happen often and it might be a long time till it happens again. My initial reaction is wanting to jump at them, but seriously I think I would do much better a few years down the line with some time to publish now. On a personal level I don't think another move is a good idea. Fiance and I are planning to stay in our new city for a little while and see how it works out and we are thinking about having a child. I am beginning to think that maybe I am in a pretty good place without teaching for a couple of years and can maybe afford to wait for something better to come up. Gee, I sometimes wish I had the ability to just wait and see what happens.

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One day at a time

Getting up in the morning is getting harder. It doesn't get light until around 10 AM and it is pitch dark again from around 2 PM. The sun has disappeared below the horizon a couple of weeks ago but we do still have a few hours of amazing blue light in the middle of the day. Last night i was still in my office at 11 PM. Not because I was doing anything productive but because I was playing around with my blog template and got totally obsessed and couldn't leave until I got it just right. There are still a few things I would like to change, but at some point I had to let it go and convince myself to go home and get some sleep. Good thing, since this morning I was dragging myself out of bed. I was almost late for the marathon three-hour lecture I had scheduled and told the invited guest lecturer I would attend. I am actually surprised that my students sit through these lectures one day after another. I had a hard time concentrating after the first 30 minutes and even a couple of coffee breaks didn't really help.


Thursday, November 02, 2006

12:00 noon - The dark time is approaching

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