Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The art of life off line

When I left for the holidays I expected to have regular internet access and to update the blog a few times from the road. I DO have regular internet access, but wireless in a crowded livingroom filled with talkative relatives does not go well with blogging. At best I have managed to check my email and the news. I have lots to say about being back in home country, meetings with my former advisors and about the new challenges ahead after the break, but it will all have to wait a bit.

I will be back online in a couple of days, see you soon.


Sunday, December 17, 2006

Nice things from today

Aroma bath supposedly smelling seaweeds

Lazy breakfast with lots of coffee

Snow falling outside my window in a slow and heavy christmas-card-like fashion

Candle lights when it is cold and dark outside

Reading magazines all morning

Getting ready for the holidays

Wrapping gifts

Picking nice clothes for the holidays and for going out with friends

Piling up work-related stuff I will NOT bring on my trip


Holiday mood

I am off work for two weeks!

I do still have some grading to do and will make a trip to my alma mater next week, which is kind of semi work related, but generally I am free as a bird. I am leaving today for a few days visit to grad school city, where I am going to see my friends for the first time in a year and visit favorite cafes, favorite shops, favorite parks. I have also arranged to meet with my former advisors, but this time I do not have to worry about what they might think of my work or my abilities as a scientist.
After a few days of city life I am going to visit my family for the holidays and i will probably not be doing much besides eating, sleeping and hanging out. In a way I feel really guilty for not bringing any work, on the other hand I feel like I am behind anyway, and it won't make much of a difference. I DO feel like I need the break and I think it will be worth it, I just have to run out of the house, before I grab some half-phinished manuscript or seventy-something unread papers by accident.


Friday, December 15, 2006

Endings and new beginnings

I haven't posted anything in days. I have been busy and caught up in life. I have given the final exam for my students, been through the evaluations, packed my belongings, cleaned the apartment for the next tenant and shipped around 160 kg's of books, notes, clothes and field equipment home to my permanent adress. My adventures in the Arctic is over for this time.

It has been an amazing term and I am grateful I have been given this opportunity. I have learned a lot about teaching, and my field and about the institution from a faculty perspective. I have gotten some nice feedback from the students and faculty and feel convinced that I have left a positive impression. I also got some surprising, but actually useful, comments on the student evaluations, but I will talk about those in a separate post later. I will continue to work with some of the students as they will be doing their Master's theses with me and I have plans to go back for field work and will collaborate with the new hire who is filling my position. I know I will come back and I think I will have some kind of role at this institution in the future.

The first time I visited this institution I also stayed for one term and I was heartbroken when I had to leave. I did not know how and when or if I would manage to come back for any significant period of time. I was following the last glimpses of light from the town during take off thinking about the once in a lifetime experience I had just had, and when we landed I was surprised to see the trees and the daylight and the civilisation in general. This time was different. On the way across the ocean we had the most spectacular northern lights surrounding the plane with a thin streak of daylight looming on the horizon. It was such a beautiful way to say goodbye for this time, but it didn't make me sad. I will see the northern lights again and the darkness and the snow and the arctic summer when that time comes. I will miss it, especially with all the rain we have here where I am now, but I have never felt so relaxed about leaving.

I am looking forward to not living in boxes and bags anymore, to not be traveling back and forth every few weeks and to have one adress, one phone number and one affiliation. I am looking forward to have a life in one place and be able to participate in activities running over several weeks. I am also looking forward to be back in my own department where I cannot distance myself from things I don't care about and where people will expect things from me - also in the long run. And afterall I DO like trees and daylight and sunshine and city life, and it does make me kind of happy to think about going back to work in my old* job tomorrow. I think that this time it was not so much about leaving, but about coming home.

*This is not completely true since I am now supposed to be the assistant head of department, which I have never been before and don't really know how to be either. Good thing I will only have one working day this month before I leave for holidays.

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Sunday, December 10, 2006

Winter in the Arctic

Sign on the main entrance to my university

The bicycle parking area. The snow scooter is the vehicle of choice these days.

A thousand kilometers north of the treeline and we still get a real
christmas tree in the town square

My apologies for poor photo quality, but the dark time is not good for documenting ones surroundings

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Friday, December 08, 2006

Catching up

As a first attempt to make up for my missed comments I want to thank

Dr. Lisa and Sleek Otter who wished me safe travels and good luck when I was going to see Fiancé in Germany before we moved in together

Breena Ronan who said something nice about my teaching

ScienceWoman who commented on my workspace and my lack of accomplishment on to-do lists

PropterDoc and anonymous who chimed in on the discussion about Life as a Postdoc

Dr. Brazen Hussy who also commented on the to-do list

Anonymous who said some nice words about my photos of the Arctic winter

ScienceWoman, Ms.PhD, Zuska and anonymous who commented on "What does a postdoc do?" Zuska also has a comment and link to this post on her own blog.

and Ms.PhD who was my first commenter on sheeps and boots and everything.

Hope you come back!


Beginners mistake - so sorry for not replying to your comments

So here I have been thinking what I should do to get anybody to comment on my blog. Today I switched to beta and on the first page when I signed in I got a list of comments to moderate. I feel more than a wee bit stupid right now. Thank you all for your kind and thoughtful comments. I will get back to you.

I can't believe I never even checked what the "moderate comments" tab was for. I have disabled it now, and hope your comments will show up when you post.

I well get better. Promise.


From Russia with love

I am back from one of my favorite countries and from what must be one of the most beautiful cities in the world. As I write about here the meeting was strange and boring in many ways and we had practically no time to spend outside the lecture hall. It was not until this morning during the one hour trip through the city centre to the airport I really got the feeling of being there again - the music, the light, the landmarks, the people, the familiarity of everything, but then I was already on my way home.

In other ways it was actually a very succesful meeting. I did meet some people who might turn out to be important connections for our future work and I did meet old friends. We did also have a very nice dinner last night with appropriate amounts of vodka and wine, caviar, meat, fish and russian salads and long speaches to the old, to the women and to friendship. I have pages of notes, business cards and adresses and I had more requests for reprints than ever before.

Tonight I am in another hotel room before the last leg of my journey tomorrow. I have been reading blogs and lots of things are happening in want to comment on. Postbloggery is writing about "How to do postdocs", Flavia over at Ferule and Fescue talks about maintaing anonymity as a pseudonymous blogger and Ianqui continued a discussion on alter ego's and blogging voice. I also have some other things on my mind I want to write about - like the academic nomadic life, my students evaluations and the upcoming finals and hopefully some more about Russia if I can get my head around to it, but it won't be today. It is in the middle of the night and I am getting up in five hours to catch another series of planes. I should go to sleep.

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Lost in translation

Numbers of presentations each day: 12

Planned length of presentations: 40 minutes

Average delay of presentations due to verbal fights between speaker and interpreter: 20 minutes

Average actual length of presentations - fights included: 1 hour

Number of talks in a row before coffee breaks: 3

Approximate temperature in lecture hall: 27 degrees celcius

Approximate level of oxygen in lecture hall: insignificant

Percentage of talks presumably given in clear and well-articulated Russian, but translated into incomprehensible English by interpreter without the faintest idea of terminology in our field: 50

Percentage of talks given in clear and well-articulated English, but presumably translated into incomprehensible Russian by interpreter without the faintest idea of terminology in our field: 50

Percentage of talks interupted every one or two minutes with discussion about the quality of the translation: 100

Number of talks based on decade-old overheads with kyrillic hand writing: 2

Number of near-heart attack incidents during the final discussion: at least one

Number of lectures skipped due to pressing need for air, sleep and harmony: 3

Number of times saxifraga wished for vodka to be served sooner rather than later: many

Number of times saxifraga wished to escape from the building: beyond counting

Approximate number of times saxifraga thought "I am going to die if I have to sit through one more of these talks": 10 per day

Number of times saxifraga was approached by participants who thought she had something to contribute with: many

Percentage of actual scientific thoughts in saxifraga's head: 10

Percentage of thoughts dedicated to "when will this end", "when can I go to my room", "will there be a break - ever again" and "can I maybe sneak out and take a quick walk around the block": 90

Number of times Saxifraga regretted never keeping up with the Russian for long enough to learn more than random words and expressions: 1 per minute


Saturday, December 02, 2006

"Do Svidania"

I am going to a meeting in this city for a few days. I don't expect to have access to internet, so I will have to keep any good stories to myself until I return on Thursday. Chances are pretty good that something weird will happen. I expect there will be grumpy old men, excellent science, vodka, the longest speaches, hopeless attempts at practicing the local language, laughing, good friends, old enemies and some sadness since GeniousForeignColleague who is the personification of this country and this group of people to me will be missing due to chemotherapy treatment.

See you soon.


Home sweet home

I am home! For 36 hours. Not in my temporary home in the arctic, not in Germany, not in a hotel room, not visiting anybody, but home where I live according to the social security system and where I keep most of my stuff. I realize most people wouldn't find this extraordinary, but I am so fed up with this nomadic life style right now and waking up in my own bed for the first time in months was heavenly to say the least. I can't wait to get back in two weeks. To top it off Fiancé moved in today. He was here for even less time than I, since he is driving the rented moving van back to the continent and finish off a few things at work before he moves in to stay. But we have unpacked some of the boxes and placed most of the furniture, so it feels like a home for both of us now. It looks so much better now than it did before and I never had enough furniture to fill the house anyway.

In an ideal world my entire focus today should obviously have been on Fiance and his moving in, but I just didn't have enough time for that. I came here last night after another long conference day and a super exhausting flight thanks to airport security and end of week travelling, and just wanted to sleep, read Cosmopolitan, eat chocolate and sleep some more. (One might wonder why he is willing to move in with this hibernating person in the first place since all I want when I am not at work is SLEEP). Alas, I couldn't hibernate all day as I am leaving for another meeting in Russia at 5 AM tomorrow morning and had a lot of things I needed to finish before leaving.

My students are waiting for the evaluations of their research projects (I promised they would have these a week ago), the study administration is waiting for the official version of the finals exam (I wrote the questions yesterday during an extraordinarily boring presentation at yesterday's conference) and I must prepare the presentation for the next meeting (to be given on Monday). It is 9 PM now and I haven't finished any of these tasks yet. So far I have done laundry, carried boxes, rearranged furniture, put up chistmas decorations (very pretty), booked a hotel room for a stop-over on the return trip, booked a ticket for visiting my parents for christmas, eaten take-away chop suey and watched a lot of TV.

I don't want to do things sloppily or at the last minute and I feel kind of guilty for not really working effectively today. But I have practically no time for breaks right now. All my free time is spent in airports or on planes or in random hotel rooms and I just can't relax when it goes on and on like that. I wish I was going to stay here and could allow myself to chill out just for tonight. Instead I am maximising my chill-out at home time by watching a very girly TV program where couples talk about love and what they value in their relationships (practically Cosmo on screen) while I write evaluations of research projects for the students and eat mint chocolates.

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Friday, December 01, 2006

Does being a young woman matter in science?

I am at a "promotion" conference for a big international research initiative. It is interdisciplinary and has attracted researchers from the natural sciences, social sciences and humanities. Everyone here are involved in projects which are part of this particular international research initiative and the participant list includes most of the people worth knowing from my field in my geographical area. So why am I here? The answer is weirder than one might think - because I am young! See, all projects were asked to bring a young scientist to this conference. So I have been picked as the young person from our project. Most of the other "young scientists" here are also women. For the humanities this might not be so strange, as they often have a high percentage of women in general. For my field it is rather peculiar as we are next to no women in general.

It is fine and interesting to be here and it is obviously an opportunity to promote one self among the important guys on hiring committees, evaluation committees, promotion committees, review panels etc. I hope I am also here because of my skills and talent for science, and not only because of my age/gender, but with this sort of setup it is hard to tell. The organizor came to me tonight and said that I should remember that young women like me in my field are not only scientists but also role models for a new generation. This is probably true, but I am not sure I want to be invited to a scientific conference as a role model.

The Scandinavian countries have put significant emphasis on gender equality and in general I am all for these initiatives, but sometimes this policy just feels odd. I don't know what the solution is. I am happy to get chances, but I wish I didn't have to fight the feeling that maybe I didn't fully deserve it.

When that is said. I think I have done pretty well today and convinced some people that what I am doing is good and important. I think I have a talent for mingling and letting people see the best side of the story. What they don't know is that I never have time to do any serious research and haven't submitted a single paper this year. That makes me feel like a fraud.