Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Funding woes & grant reviews

I don't know yet how I'm funding my next field season(s). I've had some big writing priorities to tackle before figuring that out, but now that I've submitted a report, a permit renewal, and a publication I've got to think about funding. Gah.

What I really need to do it get a big grant. My first attempt at a big grant was unsuccessful (not surprisingly). I used the proposal I developed for my prelims, but the methods were untested and I had essentially no preliminary data. It was worth a shot, but I'm not surprised it wasn't funded. Also, once I actually went and tried the methods (just after submitting the grant), I realized there was no way it was going to work well enough to justify the cost. Even if I had gotten it, I'd have modified the methods & objectives considerably. I received the bad news shortly before I left for Ukenzagapia in February, and I couldn't bring myself to read the reviews just before going into the field. Then I kind of forgot about them. See, I know that if I submit again, it will have to be with a new proposal because this first one just isn't going to fly, so the specific criticisms on this proposal won't help me turn it around and resubmit. I'd nearly be starting from scratch again.

Today I finally opened up the reviews to read them. The ratings ranged from Fair to Very Good. Most of the reviewers were concerned about the feasibility of the proposed methods, in which they were 100% justified since I myself decided it wasn't feasible. Some of the comments made me laugh out loud, such as, "I got the sense that this proposal was written quickly and from the perspective of someone not familiar with critters or the study site." Quickly? I wish! At the point that I wrote it, I hadn't spent very much time at Nyota yet so that is fair I suppose but then again I had Sam's advice on it. This particular reviewer went into great depth with their concerns about the lack of excruciating detail in some areas, comments which would be extremely helpful if I were resubmitting this same proposal.

It is interesting to look at the perspectives of different reviewers about the broader impacts of the proposed research. One reviewer said the proposal didn't emphasize the impacts for the scientific community enough and only emphasized things like training students. Most of the reviewers thought the broader impacts were good and some of them think Herb is a real rockstar in that respect (they basically said so). Another said that one outreach project seemed like a weak add-on, in part because they "didn't the costs of a pamphlet included in the budget." A pamphlet. We're talking about the cost of printing a pamphlet. C'mon. Still... lesson learned. If you're going to mention it, put it in the budget, even if it's just to say you're going to seek other funds to cover it (I did that for several things, as the project cost exceeded the amount requested).

Even though some of the specific criticisms won't be applicable to the next proposal, reading the reviews helps me see what the reviewers generally liked and didn't like. It certainly wasn't a wasted effort. Now back to strategizing for the next trip...

Monday, June 28, 2010


I just submitted the short note for publication! I'm so happy to have cleared this hurdle. I wrote this in October, submitted it in January and got it right back without review, and have heavily revised it over the last 5 months and added more data. So, here it goes again!

This paper is nothing big, and it's going to a journal with an impact factor <1. Still, I've done the vast majority of this myself (with advice from the coauthors), so it's an accomplishment for me. I've been hearing that first papers take a long time, and this is certainly the case for me. Maybe my next one will go more quickly!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Clever, I hope

I've been having a problematic recurrence with the experiment I set up in Ukenzagapia. My field assistants and Sam think it has one source, and I think it has another. It's important to determine the source of the problem but I've been at a loss (especially since I'm not in Ukenzagapia right now). Finally, I came up with a solution that is pretty damn clever. I talked to my field assistants yesterday and they are putting it in action today. I hope this plan works!

In other news, I've finally gotten two of my three reimbursements for the thousands of dollars I spent. Thank you, bureaucracy.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

What more could he want?

I'm on version 18 or something of the short note. As I mentioned before, nearly every time I send Sam a new version, he writes back with things I should add. When I finished his last round of suggestions a few weeks ago, I really thought that was the end. What more could he possibly suggest that hasn't come up already?

Today he sent another suggestion for incorporating some data that would be useful if we had it for everything we're studying, but we don't, and I don't see a good way to incorporate it. I. just. want. to. be. finished. So I'm writing an email to explain why I don't think we should add those data (and suggest that if he does, that he add it himself since he's an author too). Gah.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Just a little more...

I think I might- for real- be able to [re]submit my short note this week. The one from January. Gah! Somehow this short thing has turned into a 26-page document double-spaced with references, tables, and a title page. Based on my records, I've spent more than 60 hours on this in 2010 alone, and the majority of those were after I submitted it the first time! But seriously, I think I might get it off of my plate (again) by the end of this week. I need a goal like this to keep me moving forward in this deadline-less summer.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Babies in academia

Discussions of work/life balance, timing your procreation, and parenthood are common and recurring themes in the science blogosphere. My advisor happens to be extremely supportive of his grad students (men and women alike) having kids during grad school. Herb would argue that best time is during grad school. He even went so far as to boast to the new cohort of grad students that he has the "most fertile lab in the department" since some abnormally high percentage of his previous and current students have had one or more babies during their grad student tenure. His general rule of thumb, having watched many of his grad students have kids, is that each baby adds about a year to your Ph.D. My office mate took about 7 or 8 years to finish but had two kids during that time so that puts her right on track in terms of her progress.

You might think that Herb had his child while in grad school. Quite the contrary. At the celebration dinner after my office mate's defense, Herb mentioned in conversation that he took his son to museums 4 days per week when he was a toddler/preschooler so that his wife could get her science done. Confused at how this was possible, I asked for clarification how he spent four weekdays at a museum all day entertaining his son. His response? He was already a full professor so he had the flexibility. He was a full professor when his son was born- he was no spring chicken. For those of you who are less familiar with the traditional ranks of academia, a person typically does not become a full professor until after they have completed their Ph.D., typically had a postdoc (~1-4 years), landed a tenue-track position as an Assistant Professor (5-6 years), gotten tenure and become an Associate Professor (probably at least 5 years), and then finally made the (typically) last leap in rank to become a Professor. That's minimally about 11 years after completing your Ph.D. Assuming one starts a Ph.D. at age 23 (young) and finishes at age 28 (fast), then you would be at least 39 before you become full professor. What this boils down to is that most women would be in less-than-ideal circumstances to start having kids when they are a full professor. My advisor had the flexibility in his schedule (and the reduction in pressure) that comes with the job/financial security of a full professorship. Interesting, no?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Teaching at a SLAC

I decided to go to grad school so that I could become a professor at a small liberal arts college (SLAC) like the place where I spent my formative years (affectionately known here as Small Friendly College). As I have progressed through grad school, I have become less sure that this is what I want to do. There are a handful of conversations I've had that stand out and that sway me one way or another.

While Jon and I were traveling in Remote Foreign Country in the year before I started grad school, we had the great fortune to cross paths with one of my favorite college professors, my mentor who wrote my letters of recommendation. He mentioned to me that he was retiring. I was saddened to hear this news, but in the conversation that followed I could see he was truly burnt out from decades of teaching at SFC with all of the mentoring responsibilities that don't cease even when students graduate. The fact that he was great at his job created greater demand for him as an advisor and professor. As a student, I didn't realize the extent of professors' responsibilities or recognize how the closeness of student/faculty interactions at a small college could be draining. Do I want a job with so many face-time demands?

Fast forward 2 years. Herb and I were discussing mentor's upcoming retirement. Herb, who was the college roommate and thus personally knows my SFC mentor (see explanation here), remarked that he has no interest in retiring anytime soon. He attributes mentor's desire to retire early to the different professorial lifestyle and expectations at SLACs. More food for thought. Is being a SLAC professor potentially more exhausting than a professor at a big research university?

Another year goes by. I returned to SFC and had a great conversation with a friend who is teaching there this year. I was explaining my concerns about teaching at a place like SFC because I don't want to get burnt out like my mentor was. She, as a visiting assistant professor, now has an insider's perspective on departmental expectations. SFC has a fantastic tenure-track assistant professor who is teaching great classes, mentoring students, and doing great research with undergrads. She is also working her butt off, staying late, and everyone can see that. What is the department's response? You're doing awesome work, but we're concerned that your pace is unsustainable. We recommend that you work less and make time for your family and yourself in order to prevent yourself from burning out. This was refreshing to hear, and it really makes a lot of sense for a department to send this message to someone who they would very much like to keep around but are concerned will work themselves to a point of departure. Might I be so fortunate as to end up in a place like SFC where the department's advice to a fantastic tenue candidate is work less?

I haven't ruled out jobs at SLACs, but I'm also interested in jobs with conservation NGOs or maybe a government position. Maybe I could even cut it at a mid-sized research university with some grad students. I still don't know. Thankfully, I don't have to yet, but I do keep mulling over it because I do want to make sure I have adequately prepared myself for the job I want.

**Note: I just polished a post I wrote last month, and it was posted under last month's date so I'm including a link here for those of you who would otherwise miss it.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Methods of data organization

This summer I've got a lot of data to analyze. Do any of my readers have suggestions for how to organize your files and analyses so that you can keep track of what has been done? It's far too easy to modify a bunch of data, do some analyses, then come back a week later and not remember what was done or why. How do you do it, o experienced readers?

When I took a GIS class, they taught us an organization system where you always always always make a folder for your original data within your project folder and then never touch it. Then you have another folder for the stuff you're modifying. Most importantly, you keep a text file where you explain step by step everything that you are doing. This system seems like a pretty good starting point, but I'm looking for other suggestions. Mostly I just don't want to end up with something like this:
Thank you, Ph.D. Comics, for being so topical.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

I had a hunch

One of my field assistants (T) is phenomenal in the field, but consistently shows up late, especially when he is coming back from "town." He has also been having money problems. I loaned him some money to buy a motorbike (as it is in my interest as well for him to have one), but I wasn't able to see the motorbike before I left Ukenzagapia.

Shortly after returning, I heard from Sam that my field assistant is being a real pain in the ass and demanding another loan from Dr. K. because I didn't loan him enough to buy the motorbike. My other field assistant has been giving reports to Sam and Dr. K about the situation, but I'm supposed to feign ignorance of all this drama when I talk to them on the phone. It's all terribly complicated and everything I hear is 3rd hand.

Anyways, I've been having a hunch since the last month or so at Nyota that T a second wife & kid(s) in "town," but it's not exactly the kind of thing I can confront him about. He already has a wife and 6 kids in Nyota, but has so much trouble getting back to Nyota on time that I just think something is up.

I mentioned my hunch to Sam the other day, and it turns out I was right. He does have another wife (I'm sure not legally- but she probably has a kid or two and so now it is his responsibility to support them as well, so she's basically his second wife). Of course Sam didn't want to tell me this, but he says he's impressed that I figured it out on my own because it shows that I am really beginning to understand the culture.

Unfortunately, T isn't showing up to work (at least that's what I'm hearing from Sam via Dr. K and my other assistant). He has to repay the loan by paycheck deduction, but that doesn't work if he's not getting paid because he's not working. What a mess. And apparently, he's blatantly lying to me about buying a motorbike. What in the world can I do from here?

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Not as bad as I thought

On Friday I sent off a new draft of the short note to the other authors with all of the changes Sam suggested. Recap: I wrote this in October, sat down and wrote more of it with Sam in December, submitted it in January, got it back right away, and have been revising it for resubmission to a different journal ever since. This isn't experimental at all- just a natural history note. It's not supposed to be big. Every time I send Sam a new version, he writes back with a bunch of suggestions of things I should add. I've been sitting on those last suggestions since April. This week I sat down to think about whether or not it's worth it to do them, I decided it really might not be very difficult (especially now that I'm back in the US).

On Thursday I made a list of all of the corrections and additions needed for the paper. On Friday I sat down and did them. Boy that felt good! I think it might be ready to submit next week if Sam and Dr. K are able to give me feedback in time. The timing is somewhat unfortunate as Sam is leaving for a week or two but we'll see what happens. At the very least, I made good progress and can now worry about other things for a while.

Today I've been chopping away at my list of things to do at home. I cleaned off my desk (for the first time in about 6 months), organized a closet and a bookcase, dusted, did laundry, repotted seedlings, and washed the weird dishes (Jon's responsible for the dishwasher stuff). I feel like there's such a backlog of things for me to do at home that I have a hard time leaving the apartment in the morning because I'm tempted to stay home and organize stuff instead. I'm so glad to be home.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

2011, not 2010!

A while ago I posted that I should submit an article for a special issue and the deadline was June 1. I lamented that the deadline was then because later I'll surely have even better stuff to submit. Now that it is June 2, I went to close that email (I have the obnoxious habit of leaving emails open in Mail until I deal with them- it drives Jon nuts) and just saw that the deadline is June 1, 2011. So, I guess I might be able to submit something after all :-)

In other news, I just emailed the forms for my permit renewal! Woo hoo! Another big thing off my plate. Now I just have to figure out how to pay them!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010


Here's a sign that my review paper has been waaaaaaaay on the back burner- a screen shot from the file info on my most recent version:

I haven't even opened the file in nearly nine months. Oh dear.