Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Finally some progress

As I said in the previous post - one of my greatest work related fears at the moment is my lack of research productivity. I do put in the hours available but the lack of measurable progress makes me afraid that this is not enough (which it probably isn't). Inspired by many wise people out there in the blogosphere and the general online world I am constantly trying out new every-step-counts approaches of xx words a day, half an hour a day, having a list ready of easy things to do when tired, parking on the downhill slope etc in order to squeeze research time into the small holes in my schedule. Most of the time it feels like these approaches are getting me nowhere, or at least that I am moving ahead at a pace so slow that it doesn't count. But two nice surprises today made me realize that maybe it really does work - even for me. (apparently I consider myself so special that methods that have proven useful to dozens of other people are totally useless for me).

After months and months of little tiny steps I finally finished typing up my field notes from last summer today. It might not sound like a big deal, but for me it's actual measurable progress and in a natural science field without lab work much of the thinking is actually done during the process of getting reacquainted with ones field notes. I still need to scan the illustrations made in the field and fill in some logistic details, but I am actually very close to having a finished product and a pretty good overview of my data from last year. With some still-to-be-done mapping work and the remaining planning and logistics for the upcoming field season I suddenly see the potential for a reasonable outcome for Year One of this project.

The second "success" is related to the much dreaded manuscripts I have hanging over my head. Actually it has more to do with me misjudging how far I had come than the actual small-steps-each-day approach, but anyway, it made me feel that I am suddenly moving forward despite limited time. I am doing one paper with my former advisor as a coauthor and she has been sitting on it for a year without any comments at all. During all that time I guess I had just told myself that she would hate it, which would not be unlike her, and that it would take ages to get in shape for submission. But when I finally worked up the courage to read her comments today they were not bad at all. Mainly linguistic comments and some suggestions for changes to illustrations - in other words something, which can be done in a few days. This is such a relief. Not only because it now seems realistic to finish keep my plan of finishing both this paper and the field report as well as making some progress on another manuscript before I leave for a three weeks trip in ten days, but more because I have some sort of complex on the whole publishing issue and this was kind of a breakthrough. I guess, I am scared that no one will want my papers (and it may very well be the case), and this only gets worse because I am in an interdisciplinary field trying to publish in my main area of the field A, while everyone I work with and most of my professional network is publishing in their main area of the field B. I am in a place now where this jump to independence is essential to finding my own place within the scientific community (and frankly, a permanent job) but where sending off manuscripts without approval from a senior colleague is still new and unknown territory. I know I need to get it out there and try, but time is limited as it is and it sometimes feels like submission day is just not coming any closer. This push from former advisor to go ahead and send this baby in soon might be just what I needed to convince myself that it can and will be done.


Monday, February 19, 2007

So how is it going?

No, I was not abducted by aliens and I did not stop blogging, but it has been a while and longer than I intended. Life has been busy in these parts. First a week of very intensive work and some evening meet-ups with friends visiting from out of town and second, my mom and sister were visiting for ten days. In other words time for free time activities on the Internet has been scarce and time for blogging non-existent. So to catch up:


is good. A while ago I posted a list of things I wanted to change in my life and I am doing better at this than I dared hope. I do lead a more active life than I did last semester (even if going to the gym has not become quite a regular habit yet) and I do cook good food with lots of vegetables most days. This weekend I even went skiing, twice, and it was exactly as amazing as I remembered it. We did redecorate the house to some extent and I do feel very much at home here now. Now one year into proper grown-up working life I've had a promotion and a pay rise and for the first time in my life, I believe, been able to open a savings account.


is falling scarily behind on my day to day schedule. Or this is not entirely true as I do spend time on research related work but not nearly enough on publications and I'm afraid the time I do spend on publications is not spent right. I am juggling two big active research projects with all the associated planning, logistics and networking, one small start up project and a backlog of four manuscripts which should really just be finished, polished and submitted asap. In reality I am obviously not very good at juggling and I end up spending a lot of time on the planning, logistics and networking and not enough on slogging through old manuscripts. I do make writing a priority and for short bursts this also translates into productivity (exactly the reason for the first week of my blogging absence), but then again something happens that I need to take care of and I'm back to square one. The lack of papers-ready-for submission is beginning to haunt me now. For the first year of my postdoc I tended to think that this will come with time and the number of papers submitted during the first year need not be a problem four years down the line, but now that time is approaching faster and I know it cannot wait forever.

department heading

is going surprisingly well. Who would have known? I have never held any paid administrative position before and did not know whether I'd like it or hate it or whether I'd be horrible at it. I'm sure it can be a very difficult job, but so far it hasn't, really. I have learned that I like this "being behind the scenes" kind of work. I like the responsibility that comes with it, the possibility of influencing decisions, the daily contact with everybody in the department and the role of being someone who encourages others and can make things happen. I have gotten nothing but positive response and feel much more at ease with the position than a month ago. Some days, however, I do feel my administration is happening a bit haphazardly like the other day when someone gave me some information and for the rest of the day I couldn't for the life of me remember what she had told me. I have developed a very extensive post-it note system because everybody gives me so much information, much of which I have no immediate use for (and maybe never will) and somehow I feel it just seems more serious if I write it down (like I will at least try to remember what I've been told).

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Saturday, February 03, 2007

Walking down memory lane

While working today I thought I would listen to a CD with Russian music I bought during field work last summer. So far the music has derailed all attempts of serious work and transported me mentally back to the big country to the east where I do the hands-on part of my research. I am in a field where field work is part of the game and often in long stretches of time, far away from home and under fairly primitive conditions. Last summer was one of the more luxurious trips in the sense that we travelled by car in an inhabited area and only camped for about half of the time. Our driver was a local guy from the nearest major city. He was a horrible* driver, but a very nice person and never once complained about the standard of accommodation we provided. Actually I think he enjoyed the camping and helped making fires and brought us freshly caught fish. He was also a big fan of Russian pop music and no trip was complete without his favorites on full volume. After thousands of km on bumpy dirt roads and narrow highways through the endless forests in the Russian interior with this music as continuous background noise we almost began to enjoy it (for the recognition and sense of shared agony if not for anything else). Playing this music now back home reminds me of endless days on endless roads, the Russian countryside, another pace of life, faraway friends, hot summer days, Baltica beer, cucumber and tomato salads, bathing in chilly rivers, beautiful sunsets and the sound of a language, which to me is intimately connected to all of the above.

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Things that make me wonder

  • Why the spell-checker in blogger can't spell "bloggers"!
  • Why when I look in the mirror after being to the gym and eating healthily all day I think that I look thin and well-proportioned and like my clothes fit, while when I look in the mirror after a long day at the office and a junk food dinner I think my clothes are tight and I look fat and should shape up and loose a few pounds - all within the same week!
  • Why I feel like I can't keep my eyes open for one more second if I try to read a quality novel (not to speak of anything work related) at night, while I am perfectly capable to stay up way past my bedtime to read blogs.


Just science

Next week will be blog for science week. Science bloggers are being urged to write about science and only science for a week. The details and rules are posted on the Just Science blog where there is also a sign up page for participants. The list so far can be seen here.

The challenge is:

Bloggers who self-identify as scientists and science writers should post on:

Published, peer-reviewed research and their own research.
Their expert opinion on actual scientific debates - think review articles.
Descriptions of natural phenomena (e.g., why slugs dissolve when you put salt on them, or what causes sun flares; scientific knowledge
that has reached the level of fact)

Bloggers who claim to be philosophers of science (or have been accused of so much) should post on issues, ideas, and debates in philosophy of science that are not frequently used or dictated by anti-scientific groups. The demarcation problem, for example, should be avoided unless it\n can be discussed without reference to anti-science movements.

And bloggers who are not scientists – focusing mainly on public and policy debates on scientific issues – should post on issues that are legitimately controversial for scientific reasons. Topics that are controversial simply because of anti-science movements should be avoided.

I am thinking about whether I want to participate. Although I am a scientist, this blog is not primarily a science blog. Maybe I am not enthusiastic enough, but in a way I get enough of science writing from working on articles and whatever popular science writing I might be involved in under my real name. In a way it could be fun to write something about my own research for a week, but that would involve revealing my field, but maybe that wouldn't be so bad either. I haven't made up my mind yet.

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Something that pisses me off right now

I have gotten a small research grant. It is not a lot of money, but it is a "real" grownup research grant rather than student support, and it's the first time I have gotten a grant as an independent researcher. Two other people are involved in this project and since letting them know on Thursday that we got the money I haven't heard a peep. I have a strong feeling that the sudden silence is intimately related to the fact, that both are in the middle op writing up dissertations and at least one of the involved advisers is opposed to the person taking on more projects. I can see the point, but still, they are grown ups and my friends, and you just don't commit to something first and make other people spend their precious time and energy getting funding, only to wiggle your way out later. I have four weeks to accept or decline the grant, and I don't know what I'll do if these guys back out now.