Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Teaching assignments of new hires

  • How does your department handle teaching loads for the first semester of a new t-t hire's employment?
  • If they do teach something, how is the course assignment made? Does it matter whether the decision of who to hire is made before or after the main pulse of registration?
  • If the new hire's course didn't meet the minimum enrollment, what would happen?
  • How far in advance of the semester start date would that decision be made?

I'm trying to get a sense for the range of normal...any help would be appreciated!

Monday, June 25, 2007

Mommy monday: our sleep issues

I think I've mentioned our sleep issues before, but the amount of mental space they occupy is increasing as my return to full-time work approaches. I've spent hours up in the rocking chair coming up with this analysis. We have three problems.

1. Naps.
Minnow won't nap in her crib. She is such a light sleeper during naps that she wakes up every time I try to set her down. I've basically given up even trying and now she naps contentedly in my arms (or rarely in a front-pack). During her 1-2.5 hour naps, I read, do Sudokus, or browse the internet (but I hate 1-hand typing, so I don't blog or work). Fish can sometimes get her to nap in her swing, but we have to return the swing to its owner before we move. At daycare, she naps in a swing or a crib, but I'm pretty sure there is crying involved, something we simply won't allow at home (and would much prefer to avoid at the next daycare).

2. Evenings
We've had a bit more success getting Minnow to spend the early part of the night in her crib. I can usually get her to do a 30 minute stretch before she wakes up crying. Then I struggle to get her back down (often 30+ minutes of singing and rocking), where she will sleep for up to 1.5 hours (but sometimes only 15 minutes). At some point between 8:30 and 9:45, she will simply refuse to stay asleep if put in her crib. If I try to do so, she will resist falling asleep at all for up to an hour. Usually what happens at this point is that I give up and go to bed with her when I finally do get her back to sleep. In the end, I get maybe an hour of baby-free time before I go to bed.

3. The Early A.M. hours
Oh, goodness do we have GAS issues. I could give you the gory details about her erratic and humoungous poops, but suffice it to say that about 1 out of every 3 nights, I end up sitting up in the rocking chair for 1-3 hours (or worse, calming a crying baby for nearly that long), because there is no way she can sleep horizontally due to gas pain. It's not food related (I've been that route), it's just the quirkiness of her immature digestive system. Gas drops don't do a thing for us.

As I contemplate the workload I'll have starting in about a month, I know that something's gotta give. We absolutely won't cry-it-out, so don't even suggest it (and comments to that regard will be deleted). Naps are actually the least of my worries, since she'll be in full-time child-care and they'll be someone else's problem. The GAS issue I can't see resolving until her digestive system matures - maybe solids will help, but the common starter foods actually cause more constipation, so I'm not hopeful. Thus, we are pinning our hopes on freeing up some space in my evenings. We have started upon a No-Cry Sleep Solution plan as of last night, but with the chaos of the move, it may be some time before we see results.

Oops, time to go get Minnow from daycare.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Post-doc Carnival

The nominal theme of this carnival was "uniqueness," but even I had a hard time writing a post that fit the theme. But if you allow me to twist and mangle the theme a bit, I'll show you that being a post-doc-dom is a unique job. I mean where else do you get to do all of the following?

Spend your days searching for your next job...

at A scientist's life contemplates the future - maybe moving into a lab management position? Marianne at The Eternal Postdoc wishes that she could return home to Newfoundland. And, Dr. Shellie gives us tips for networking that serve as a useful refresher on how to become part of the club.

...while bemoaning the good old days of student life.
Adventures of a Post-doc misses the order that being a student gave life. Hypoglycemiagirl wonders whether she is inivisible to her Ph.D. uni.

Try to play nicely with others...
Pondering Fool at ...Ponderings of a Fool describes her lab's group meetings and wonders how other labs handle meetings. Meanwhile, TitleTroubles at The Trouble with Titles reflects on the difference one person can make in a lab's dynamics.

...or ponder whether you can make it on your own.
Chris at Highly Allochthonous talks about a crucial ingredient to running your own research program: inspiration, and how transplanting to South Africa is getting his creative juices flowing.

Try to fit in...
Daybyday is finally feeling connected to her lab after one year on the job. While, about 2 months into his post-doc, Ben at Status: +61 has lost the new guy immunity from his boss's wrath, making him regret his choice of the lab. Freely Jointed Chain is running some very slow simulations and wondering why everyone else looks so busy. Is she doing something wrong or is she just lucky?

...or just try to get in.
Alex Palazzo at The Daily Transcript relates some all-too-common visa horror stories affecting post-docs trying to work in the U.S.. Fortunately, he just got his green card.

Freak Out...
A Female Scientist
at A positive spin on life muses about how to survive her post-doc work crunch without getting too stressed out. Propter Doc at post doc ergo propter doc is searching for the metamorphical needle in the haystack in her work right now, but at least she's got a genuinely interested summer student working with her

....and Celebrate.
at Minor Revisions has a reason to celebrate. She's been invited to Italy to share her technical prowess. Speaking of minor revisions, Dr. Brazen Hussy at What the hell is wrong with you? just got back the mildest reviewer critiques ever. It must have been a great paper. I look back on my post-doc time and realize that the best part was getting to have a life outside of work.

Regain perspective...
Incoherent Ponderer
at Incoherently Scattered Ponderings reminds us that the glass is really quite full, even though most science/academic blogs focus on the negatives.

...on life as an ill-posed problem.*
at Adventures in Applied Math took on my "uniqueness" challenge and reflected on the random conversation that changed her life. (*Rebecca's got the definition for this phrase in her post. )

Thanks to everyone who contributed posts (knowingly or not!). Thanks to post-doc at Minor Revisions for compiling such a great carnival last time (links heavily visited for this one). Thanks to Propter Doc for organizing the whole thing.

The next carnival will be July 23rd at The Daily Transcript. Information on the carnival can be found at What's Up, Post-doc?. And, no, you are not too busy to post or host.

Friday, June 22, 2007

I feel like a childless grad-student again...

because I've spent much of the afternoon blog reading in preparation for tomorrow's carnival.

In my defense, I am also burning DVDs to archive all of my data files.

But I am also eating kettle corn.

The end of the post-doc

It's hard to believe that I am one week out from my last day as a post-doc. In a lot of ways, I feel like this time has just been a place-holder - something to keep my CV from having an employment gap. Sometimes I feel guilty - like I've wasted my advisor's money the past nine months, because I'm not sure we'll ever get a paper out of the assorted projects I've been working on. But then I remember that in addition to having a baby and all that jazz, I also saved my advisor's neck on two conference talks and finished tying up the loose ends on my thesis data, which wouldn't have happened otherwise. So maybe I shouldn't feel so bad.

Do I feel more qualified now to be a professor than the day I defended? Not really. Sure, I've gotten to dabble with a few new projects, but none of them has amounted to much in the end. The core research skills of idea generation, grant-writing, project execution, data analysis, and paper writing haven't suddenly matured. I have gotten more comfortable with arguing for my ideas (and against stupid ones), but that is probably just the result of having the "doctor" tag hung round my neck for a little while now.

So, if every post-doc experience is unique (as I get around to the theme for the soon-to-come carnival), what made mine special? I'd have to say that the work-life balance I've achieved over the last nine months has been unique in my scholastic career, and is probably (unfortunately) pretty darn rare in post-doc world. I've been able to work part-time and enjoy mornings at home with minnow; I've taken her to seminars, meetings, and the field, but still had time to focus on just being a mommy when circumstances demanded it. It isn't easy - more of a juggling act than a balancing one - but my supportive boss and colleagues have let me test out the good life, and I'd like to hang on to it. When I return to (more than) full-time work in a month or so, I'd like to try to remember that work isn't everything, and that even though progress may seem slow compared to the pre-baby breakneck-speed past, I'm a much happier person when I can relax and enjoy those baby hugs before getting back to abstract writing. If I'd gone straight to full-time professoring or really taken a sabbatical and fully stayed home since minnow was born, I don't think I would have learned that lesson.

Monday, June 18, 2007


I'm late to the party as usual, but in case you hadn't heard. There's another great edition of Scientiae up at FairerScience. The next edition will be July 1 at Amelie's Welt.

And another reminder that the next edition of the post-doc carnival will be here this Saturday (June 23rd). The nominal theme is uniqueness, but feel free to contribute anything relevant to post-doc-ism. Heck, you don't even need to be a post-doc. If you are a grad student thinking of becoming one, or if you've been a post-doc, send me your posts!

Mommy Monday: sick child :(

Now I know what the combination of a wicked cold, pinkeye, and an ear infection does to my normally happy go-lucky kid. Wish I didn't.

And the cold has taken away my voice, so I can't even sing to soothe her.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Student-Parent activism: better late than never?

My most recent email:

Dear Student Parent Advocate at the Student Union:

I am having an awful time trying to find a babysitter so that I can attend Commencement on Sunday. I have a 4 month old, and I am receiving my PhD. At the last minute my husband got scheduled to work, and can't change his shift. All of my normal babysitters are busy - many with commencement and/or father's day.

I've called the Registrar and they have no daycare option for Commencement, nor can they allow my daughter to stay with me during the ceremony. I know this situation can't be fixed by Sunday, but for future years, it would be great if someone could organize a daycare/babysitting service during Commencement. The lady I talked to at the registrar said that she'd gotten a similar phone call this morning from a mother of 5. So obviously there is a demand.

Anybody available to babysit?

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Metamorphosing from post-doc to professor

How to turn a post-doc into a professor: Apply heat and pressure. And hope for gneiss* results.

Research knows no sharp boundaries. Even when you think you are done with a particular project, it may still resurface years later. (I just submitted a review related to a paper published a while ago). Ideas take a while to gestate, move to the front burner, get proposed, get done, get written up, and published.

Teaching, on the other hand, seems to have all sorts of sharp boundaries. You either are teaching a class or you aren't. You are either done grading or you are in grading jail. Lectures aren't really done until their given, but then they are really done.

I haven't quite figured out whether the transition from post-doc professor has a sharp boundary or not.

Logistically, of course, it does. In just over two weeks, I am moving from Utopia to Mystery City with a stop in Midwest on the way. In just over two months, I will be teaching a class, residing in a new office, and advising a Ph.D. student. I will no longer be working for Dr. ABC, working part-time, or drawing a pittance of a salary.

Psychologically, though, I think the metamorphosis will be much more gradual. Projects that I am currently working on will continue to require my time, and I will still use Dr. ABC as an occasional sounding board. For a while at least, I will still think of my mother when somebody refers to me as Dr. Sciencewoman and I will continue to collaborate with my colleagues here in Utopia. I will feel like the new kid, trying to figure out the rules of the game in a new place. Eventually though, maybe after I've gotten a grant or two funded and recruited some students to work on my projects, once I've learned where the faculty park and where to make photocopies, maybe the second time I get to teach a particular class, I will realize that I am fully an assistant professor.

But, those who have gone before lead me to believe that the boundary will feel sharp. I remember Dr. Mom likening her first semester as faculty to being thrown up a cliff. A friend reported being overwhelmed by going from being a post-doc to having grad students, a lab tech, and his own post-doc within a few months. Many have told me that the first year as faculty is incredibly intense, as you have to ramp up your teaching, research, and service obligations all at once.

* The picture is of a gneiss (courtesy Georgia State U.), a metamorphic rock. Metamorphic rocks form from other rocks (igneous or sedimentary) that are subjected to heat and pressure. There are some definite characteristics used to identify metamorphic rocks, but there is not always a sharp boundary, as a google search of quasi-metamorphic rocks will reveal. Migmatite is one example.

Monday, June 11, 2007

More pressure than can be borne?

It is a sad day for the environmental science community. We have a lost a shining young scientist, Dr. Elizabeth Sulzman of Oregon State University. She was a dynamic individual, an award-winning teacher, and an exciting researcher. She died last night after ingesting a caustic substance, apparently committing suicide. She leaves behind an elementary-school aged daughter and a husband.

She participated in a panel a few years ago called "So you want to be a college professor?." The grad students in the audience asked the professors how it was possible to have a personal life on top of the demands of a research and teaching career. The professors stressed that the flexibility of the academic work day compensated in large part of the sheer volume of work. Dr. Sulzman said something to the effect of "where else would I get to do what I love and still be able to be home for my daughter after school."

I am left wondering what went wrong for Dr. Sulzman. Were the pressures to continually get funding and publishing results too much? What about the desire to produce outstanding classes on top of her other committments? Was there a problem in her relationship with her husband? Did she feel guilty about lack of time with her daughter? Did she miss having "free" time? Was it years of sleep deprivation, mother guilt, and impostor syndrome? I am left wondering what could drive a woman to despair so deep that she'd leave behind her daughter.

I am left wondering whether the life she led was "worth it" while it lasted. I am left wondering whether there is something wrong with "the system" that puts so much pressure on individuals to constantly perform. I am left wondering about the expectations that we have for our selves - to succeed at so many endeavors simultaneously. I am left wondering about the extra burden we carry as women - primary caregivers facing an unequal playing field at work - and the chronic pressure that adds to our loads.

Maybe none of these things had anything to do with Dr. Sulzman's death. That's the problem with suicide - it leaves questions forever unanswered and family and friends forever grieving. But if it causes some measure of critical examination of the forces at play in Dr. Sulzman's life - and the lives of other women scientists/academics - then maybe some good can come of this tragedy.

But tonight I hug my daughter close and tell her that I will never leave her. And tonight I pray for Elizabeth Sulzman's family - especially her daughter - may they find some peace.

Friday, June 08, 2007


  • I think I am too out-of-practice to provide more than a bulleted list at this point.
  • Our house is on the market. Anyone want to buy it?
  • We went to Mystery City and bought a house. Well, we close in a few weeks, but you know what I mean.
  • Minnow spontaneously decided that eating from a bottle isn't all that bad, relieving some of my guilt about having her at daycare.
  • Of course, now that's she's decided to eat, she's decided to eat way more than I am pumping, so our freezer supply is diminishing rapidly.
  • Basically I'm done with stuff for Dr. ABC's latest talk. But a late-in-the-game literature review suggests that what I've been slaving over is not original enough to publish. This is why you at least do a cursory literature review before you write the abstract!
  • That makes both major post-doc projects that have fizzled out. Oh well, it's been a pleasant nine months.
  • My remaining tasks before leaving this job:
    • complete my review
    • write a quick report of the latest project
    • write a quick report of the earlier project (including doing a few more analyses)
    • finishing handing-off my PhD field sites and archival materials
    • revise and resubmit a paper
  • I think I am going to take most of the month of July off. We'll move near the beginning of the month and then I am looking forward to just playing mommy, exploring Mystery City, and relaxing before the start of the term in mid-August. I haven't had time off in such a long time.

Friday, June 01, 2007


Wow. I've really been inactive for a while. Two fantastic carnivals have come and gone while I've been gone from this space.

There is a new edition of Scientiae up at FemaleCSGradStudent's place. Her theme was "how we are hungry" and I can't wait to read the yummy entries you all served up.

Also, another post-doc carnival has come and gone at Minor Revisions. Post-doc did an amazing job gathering together a huge number of posts from a diverse set of blogs. Thanks, post-doc.

I'll be hosting the next edition of the post-doc carnival "What's up postdoc?" here on June 23rd. If you are looking for a prompt to get those creative juices flowing, here's an idea: "uniqueness." Write on!

I'm off to Mystery City to house hunt for a few days, but after next week I hope to be back to more blog regularity for a while. I've got lots of post ideas just waiting for some time to come spilling out.