Monday, April 7, 2014

My weaknesses as a scientist contribute to our two body problem.

I went to a talk today. I asked questions of the speaker that caused them to pause and consider alternative hypotheses, to relate their talk to broader issues, to question their interpretation of the literature. I often get compliments on the questions I ask during talks. This is my strength, a public one. I have the impression that many of the faculty at my sabbatical institution think I am really "on the ball". A post doc told me the other day that she thinks I'm brilliant. She just doesn't know the other side...

I have had major struggles in the lab for the sabbatical (see this previous post). I will have fewer data from this year as one would expect. While struggles are a part of lab work, my struggles are greater than average. In the past, I have had some denial allowing me to blame it on the situation.

The struggles from my sabbatical echo struggles I had during my post-doc and I have finally come to terms with my weaknesses as a scientist:

1. I take about 25-30% longer to learn many techniques than my peers do. While I survive despite this by working as hard as possible, when it comes to highly competitive environments or challenging techniques, I lag behind.
2. I have trouble troubleshooting. When something goes wrong, and the problem could be A, B, C, D, or E, I have a tendency to pick C, then D, when actually it is B.
3. I'm a very patient and tolerant scientist, and I mean this negatively. It's an issue with "Hmmm, this doesn't seem right. Well, golly, I'll just try it again." when it should be "What the hell is wrong?!?  I'm going to stop everything until I figure this out."

These issues are all interrelated, as you can imagine. They lead to fewer data and lower quality publications from me than others. This is why I have referred to myself as a "B+ scientist" in previous posts.

The major theme of this blog is that Hub and I are trying to find work in the same area, so we can avoid the commuter marriage we have now. I always imagined that I could go back to research full time in some sort of "research assistant professor" position if need be. I had even put that ahead of teaching at a community college as plan B or C.

I really love research. I love to work in the lab full-time. I like formulating hypotheses and testing them. I like working with my hands. I like learning new techniques. I like to build stuff. I had great training (for which I am deeply grateful).

Moreover, I have a growth mentality: I can and will improve on my weaknesses. I will try my hardest no matter what, BUT I should probably put the "perma-postdoc" option much lower in my alternative careers list than it was last year.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Rescinded Offer 2: And yet...

I continue to read about the "rescinded offer" from Nazareth to W as outlined in my last post. While it seems the furor has cooled a little on the internet, I appreciate being challenged by a reader (a full 1/3 of them) and continue to read about the issue a bit.

My last post summarized comments and sites I had read and resonated with, particularly those that pointed out her requests for a delayed start, no more than three new preps a year for three years, and a pre-tenure sabbatical as being pretty unreasonable. The other issues were not unreasonable in my mind, esp. maternity leave.

OTOH, I can also resonate with the need to negotiate firmly at the beginning. This has touched our family as I outlined in a previous post. 

A quote from David M Ball in IHE:

As for the argument that the successful candidate in this economic climate, regardless of gender, should shut her mouth: at no other likely juncture will a junior professor have a better opportunity to negotiate the terms of her employment than at the moment of her hiring. The conditions under which she is employed will dramatically shape her chances for promotion and tenure. Negotiated terms matter to future success. Indeed, the tenure track itself doesn’t accede to the logic of the market.

I continue to think about how I will negotiate if offered a position at Hub's institution. Will I be intimidated to Lean In? Will I overshoot? At least, AT LEAST I have a job (and tenure) so the worst case scenario is status quo, commuter marriage and semi-single motherhood. The tenure's nice, single motherhood not at all.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Rescinded offer.. links and my brief thoughts.

Perhaps you have already heard of the tenure-track faculty candidate whose negotiation efforts landed her not just with "no's" to her requests/ demands, but resulted in the college rescinding their offer to her.

There's some very good discussion in the comments section of this post

regarding negotiating a tenure-track position at a PUI. Read the comments and follow the links...

Here's more,

and the comments seem more oriented to SLACs. In this case, W, the applicant responds.

My thoughts are along these lines (from Philosophy Smoker), however more understanding and less harsh. I would probably not pull the offer. Do I think she is being punished for negotiating too aggressively? Yes, mostly. Do I think her counteroffer showed a lack of understanding about the institutional culture? Absolutely. Do I think it is gender related? Not enough information to make an informed opinion.  (Thanks nicoleandmaggie for pushing me to clarify)
Anonymous said...
I'm with the university on this one.

"1) An increase of my starting salary to $65,000, which is more in line with what assistant professors in philosophy have been getting in the last few years."

Is this what professors that *that institution* have been getting in the past few years? Because that's what matters most. If she wants to be paid more than everyone else getting hired there, she needs to demonstrate why she is that much more valuable than other new colleagues at that institution.

"2) An official semester of maternity leave."

This is reasonable, and may even be legally required. However, this gets buried in unreasonable demands.

"3) A pre-tenure sabbatical at some point during the bottom half of my tenure clock."

Again, do all new hires get this kind of leave? If not, see #1.

"4) No more than three new class preps per year for the first three years."

This is something that can be reasonable negotiated, but without knowing what she was hired to do, it's a tough call. If she was hired to explicitly teach in multiple areas, then it's an unreasonable request.

"5) A start date of academic year 2015 so I can complete my postdoc."

Nope. If you want to finish your post-doc, that's fine. But you don't get to hold up that university's need for a new faculty member so you can not teach (and presumably go back on the market again). They have a need for the following year; if you can't satisfy that need, then you shouldn't be hired for the job. That alone is reason enough to offer it to someone else.

She was offered the job, and told them: I need more money, a research leave (that, presumably, others won't be getting, else it would be part of her contract already), and a year off before I start. Nope. If I'm on that hiring committee, I pull the offer too.
March 11, 2014 at 11:50 AM

Friday, March 14, 2014

A Rep! A Rep!

A biomedical supplies sales rep came into the lab today. It's been at least 10 years since I've had a rep drop by my lab. They came by all the time when I was in grad school... they would pop their head in respectfully, and if we weren't obviously buried in some work, they would hand us brochures and sometimes freebies/ swag. Apparently they aren't allowed to (or weren't incentivized to)  drop-in in the foreign lab where I did my post-doc. I never saw them. I have dealt with reps in my own lab at the PUI, but I had to call them to come see me. But today, there was a drop-in from VWR in my sabbatical lab. Ironic, they used to be so annoying! Now they are such a novelty, it's worth writing in my blog about...

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Assigning loading aka playing tetris

Though next year's courses don't start until the Fall, planning for them has started in earnest. We are currently "loading" courses. The person in charge of "loading" or assigning our courses is the department chair. Here's a description of the process, not necessarily in order, which is much like playing "course tetris".

First they must determine how much each person wants to work. Many in our department work 3/4 time, the minimum required to keep our benefits. I have done this for several years. This year I asked for full time. For us, full time is 24 hours for the year (Many of you just drew in a sharp breath. Yeah, that many). For science profs that teach labs with their courses, that amounts to about 3 full courses per semester. For others, 4 courses.

Second they match who is qualified to teach which course. Some courses, like my specialty course, can only be taught by me. Gen. Ed. courses such as our Biol 101 equivalent can be taught by many of our faculty and are often team taught.

Third, the chair and the registrar work to keep a person's courses from conflicting with each other.

Fourth, team teaching assignments are figured out to avoid direct conflicts and overloading. For example, I am teaching a full course on my own and co-teaching two courses. I will need to coordinate which part of each course I teach during which part of the semester . Ideally, I'll have my portion of one course during the first half of the semester, and my portion of the other course in the last half.

But these assignments have to make sense. For example, my colleague's expertise is molecular. The molecular portion of nearly every general course is in the first half of the semester. Once a colleague and I rearranged the curriculum to match the our expertise according to our half of the course. It was a mess, because we took the text book out of order, AND it was a two semester course, so people transferring in and out from other colleges really missed some large sections.

Fifth, the registrar then arranges the courses to make sure that popular courses don't overlap. Our University is small enough that we don't offer multiple sections of many courses. So if the students who take Organic Chemistry are the same ones that take Physiology, then Organic and Phys can't be offered at the same time.

Sixth, the registrar also takes into account our desired work schedule. I love it when the registrar asks me when I want to work. And usually he can get pretty close. For example, I asked NOT to teach any courses before 9a, because I need to take Boy to kindergarten this year.
Seventh, the registrar schedules the courses in the physical space we have. Courses with 30 students need to go into appropriately sized rooms and classes with 60 students go into our lecture hall. Since there is only one classroom on campus that seats more than 60, none of the big classes can be scheduled simultaneously. If all the instructors that teach big classes insist on teaching them at 10am, then there's a problem. Luckily, our registrar is a deeply kind, sincere, and firm when necessary person, and these conflicts never arise to my knowledge.

This year, we have a special situation; we are having work done on the building. We are
down half of our lab spaces and out of our offices. Some courses that need labs will not have them this year, and we will revert to virtual labs for many things. But taking labs away from a course changes how much loading each course is worth. That puts us back to step 1 and step 2!

How is it done in your experience?

a previous post on loading


Thursday, February 27, 2014

Students like to see you have a family life.

Thanks to the magic of Facebook, I see that a friend of mine, a professor, took her 2 year old into her lecture. Apparently her students took pictures of her lecturing with him on her hip and doodling on the board below her notes. The images were tagged with "My prof rocks!" and "That's what I call a working Mom!"