Thursday, January 31, 2013

Missing out

Right now there's a buzz about the twittersphere if you follow science-writer types because Science Online 2013 is happening. I tried to register, but alas, I didn't get a spot. It's probably just as well, considering that I have so much left to do on my dissertation, but it sure would have been fun!

But what I'm really bummed about is that there are at least three amazing workshops that I'd love to attend this summer that would be very helpful for my career. This summer. When I'll be breastfeeding a tiny infant. I'm pretty sure I'd try to go if I wasn't the food.

Oh well. Maybe another year.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Flash of insight

To put you in my frame of mind, I have three months until my defense and three chapters to analyze data for and write about.

All week I've been working on chapter 5, which is about the database. At my committee meeting in December I presented some very rough data explorations along with the general idea for what the chapter would be about. I did emphasize, however, that the database is a virtual gold mine of projects so the most important thing for me to do is pick one doable piece for my dissertation that will mark my interest in the field, then continue with this line of research post-PhD. I pointed out that there was a fairly major complication with my chapter idea and I wasn't sure how to adjust for it. No one had any suggestions. Chip didn't really like the idea I presented, and pointed out some holes in the theory it was based on. He suggested something else instead.

Unsure how to implement Chip's idea, I spent this week forging ahead with mine. I spent hours in R paring down the data. As the dataset shrunk and the complications became even more obvious, it became clear that my idea won't work. We don't have the data for it yet.

On Thursday night Jon and I talked about the dismal situation: I had no idea what to do with these data, but I had to figure something out quickly. He suggested a variation on Chip's idea that tackles the complication head-on. I didn't know what to do that wasn't completely descriptive.

On Friday I had a meeting with the database team and Sam. I told Sam that I didn't think my original idea was going to work, and I had no clue what I was going to do instead. Sam said that a strong conceptual hypothesis-testing paper would be great, but he said he doesn't care if I do something descriptive and Herb doesn't care either. I just need to do something with the database. It was liberating news.

So I mentioned some kind of lame ideas and we contemplated those. Meh. Sam asked about an approach used with this kind of data sometimes. I said that I'd thought about it, but I just didn't see how we could possibly do that with our data without some crazy, totally unrealistic assumptions...


...we did it at a totally different scale... And if we did it at that scale, then we could include far more of our data... It could work!

And so an idea was born while I was explaining why it wouldn't work.

I spent my Friday night finding the appropriate R packages and getting the data in the right format for a test run. I think I'm on to something big.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

More on jobs

Today I had an unexpected meeting with Sam and two fabulous things came out of it.

1) Sam asked if I'd be interested in a postdoc overseas. I said yes, so he's going to contact a collaborator of ours who he knows is writing a big grant and suggest he consider putting in a postdoc for me. I'm excited about this because I hear it's what advisors are supposed to do-- use their network to try and find positions for their students!

2) Sam also asked if I'd be interested in starting & running my own NGO. He had one for a while some years back when he thought he was going to have to make his own job and the need may be there again, but he really has no interest in running an NGO. He's interested in how it could support the work we (and especially he) do in Ukenzagapia. He thought I might be good at it. I think I could be.

Neither of these is a tangible job prospect, but they are opportunities I hadn't previously considered. Both of them would take substantial visioning and planning. I think at this point in my life I would still prefer the simplicity of landing in a well-defined postdoc, but these ideas are worth kicking around.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Done and undone

After more than a year in review and revision at the same journal, my first chapter, this damn manuscript, is undergoing yet another round of changes. It was reviewed, revised, reviewed again, revised again, then finally accepted with the instructions to "shorten it somewhat." So we shortened. Another committee member read it. We resubmitted the "final" version. I considered it in press.

Then we got an email saying that the editor made some changes that we need to approve. Well, the editor cut several hundred more words, including one entire component of the manuscript. The piece that got the axe was, we thought, the reason it ever got reviewed (let alone accepted) by this journal in the first place. It gave it context. I spent what feels like ages on that part. I meticulously detailed the methods in the supplemental materials. And poof! It's gone like a line-item veto.

Sam is appalled. He said he's never seen an editor make so many changes after a paper is accepted. Has anything like this happened to anyone else?

I don't think we can fight this-- I don't think it's worth it. I need this chapter truly done and published more than I need that section in the manuscript. We're going to make the changes and resubmit asap. But my dissertation will have the penultimate version that Sam and I both prefer.

Friday, January 4, 2013

How many job applications?

One of my economist friends who finished his PhD about 2 years ago said that he applied to 260 jobs or postdocs. So far, I've applied to 3. Surely I'm under and he's over, but what's a reasonable number? How many applications did you submit? I'd especially love to hear from newly minted PhDs.

This friend's advisor told him he should only be spending about 15 minutes per application customizing the cover letter. I just can't believe that's enough time. I suppose once you've applied to about 20 different jobs then you've got a cv/resume and research statement for almost anything, but still.

I don't want to spend a lot of time on an application for a job I would never take or one that I don't think I'm qualified for, but I feel like submitting a hasty application isn't worthwhile at all. What do you think?

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Shut up, Impostor Syndrome!

I'm working on a postdoc application and getting terribly hung up on my research interests and cover letter. This is my first real postdoc application, so it's my first crack at a statement of research interests and an academic cover letter.

This job sounds great. It's a natural extension of my dissertation research, doesn't require traveling, is near some friends, and happens to be at the same institution as my sister-in-law and her family. Not only that, I just found out that she knows the person.

Recipe for awesome, right? But I'm worried that I am not qualified enough and so I'm having a hard time writing about my relevant experiences. I feel totally overwhelmed when I try to write about it, and wanting this application to be great is just making the writer's block worse.*

A few years ago I went to a talk where they used an analogy of passengers on the bus to talk about finishing your dissertation. It's kind of cheesy (and the link gets way more into it), but basically I'm the bus driver trying to drive to a postdoc, and I have to figure out how to deal with some obnoxious passengers like Impostor Syndrome who get on my bus. I could ignore them, or if they're really dangerous or disruptive, I can confront them.

So I'm driving along listening to Impostor Syndrome, who is saying things like:
What if you aren't good enough at math?
What if you aren't good enough at programming?
What if you don't publish anything?
What if you let them down and they regret hiring you?

Now that I've actually written these down, one thing becomes strikingly apparent. These are all fears about the job itself, not the application. I might be more afraid of being hired and doing a bad job than not being hired at all. I'm having trouble writing a convincing application because I am actually afraid I might not be good enough, in spite of many strengths I know I have. I need to refocus on the short-term and not get ahead of myself. I need to explain my qualifications and interests without succumbing to the nagging voices. Let's try this again.

Impostor Syndrome, you can shut up or get off the bus. You can't tell me how to get to this job.

*That and pregnancy. Oh my gosh, I am so emotional. This makes me feel like crying but I can't even explain why!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Looking forward to 2013

2013 is going to be a year to remember*.  I'm going to finish my dissertation, have a baby, find a job, and move. That sounds like quite enough! But, only one of those things is going to happen whether I plan it or not, and unfortunately it's not my dissertation. I've got some goal-setting to do.

Finish my dissertation. My defense is scheduled. My committee thinks I can do this. I have one chapter done. Now I just need to finish the other four... in the next four months.

Submit two chapters for publication. I'm trying to be realistic here. Ideally this would happen before I defend, but I'm not sure that's possible now. We'll see.

Get a job. I have lots of work to do on this front, too. I've applied to only 2 jobs so far. My backup plan to stay in Big City has some holes. I need to find a job.

Present at a conference. I really want to go to ESA with 2-month old baby and Jon, but he thinks I'm crazy. I'm planning to go ahead and submit an abstract so I have the option but we'll see what happens. If we can't go (and August is probably when we'll be moving, too), then I'd like to attend a different conference in the fall.

Update my webpage bi-monthly. I'm "on the market" so I should have a nice and up-to-date website. I should also transition to my own domain name at some point this year.

Exercise 4x per week. I know that there will be many weeks when this won't be possible, but it's important for me to keep going to the gym, even (especially?) when I'm stressed and pregnant. Prenatal yoga videos count, even short ones.

Do a race. Could be a short triathlon or even just a 5k. Something. Sometime in 2013. Probably after the baby is born.

Go dancing at least 4 times. This might be difficult. I think I might be able to go this month, but then I'll be too big and that will be awkward for dance partners. This might give me a good excuse to get out and do something after the baby is born, but then if we move somewhere with no dance scene this will be nearly impossible.

Improve dog's socialization and walking. She needs to be better about meeting new dogs, and we still need to work more on not pulling. These are both important and should happen before the baby is born.

Do 5 more things on our Big City bucket list before we move. We're not going to get to all of them.

Schedule time for blogging. I can use it as a reward for getting dissertation work done and it will hopefully result in more posts than the previous two years.

Refer to this list when I set my weekly goals. My weekly goal setting and daily task breakdown is going to be very important to finishing my dissertation and applying for jobs.

Add goals to this list as necessary-- in case I think of something else important.

I have no idea where we'll be at the end of this year. Maybe we'll be in Jon's hometown. Maybe we'll be in some small university town. Maybe we'll still be in Big City but getting ready to move. We haven't been in this position since 2007 when I was still waiting to hear from grad schools. It's exciting and daunting at the same time, since so many decisions remain up in the air until we have a destination. What kind of work will Jon be doing? What will our childcare arrangements be? Time will tell!

Happy New Year to all of my readers!

*The last really eventful year we had was 2009, but I hope that 2013 has less tragedy.