Wednesday, October 31, 2007


I was thinking about the responses to the Dallas Cowboys series of posts, and it really does just come down to whether you believe anyone has the right or the tools to accurately guess what a stranger is capable of.

We can't all be professional profilers, after all.

Personally, I never believed in grades. I frequently got A's without trying, saw people cheat to get A's, and saw people freak out from insecurity like that described in this beautifully written post. It was clear to me from an early age that grades didn't mean much.

So if I have this fundamental belief that the way we assess students is wildly inaccurate except at the extremes of the curve, why the hell would I want to be a professor?

Maybe it's a religious discussion at the base of it, but to me it seems that teaching and learning need to be fluid things, tailored to different learning styles. This also means that assessment by just one method- a test, an essay, a presentation, a CV (!!!)- no one thing is ever enough by itself.

And yet, cuts are made based on one or two criteria. To get into college, you have to have a minimum SAT score... but there are exceptions. If you are an athlete, or a legacy.

You have to have a certain grade point average... but this varies among school districts.

It always drove me nuts that there isn't a better way to standardize grading, so that you don't get large intro courses evaluated based on who is the 'easy' prof and who is the 'hard' prof.

Even for courses where the criteria are ostensibly objective, e.g. anything involved calculations where the final answer is either the right number or it isn't, the questions on the exams can vary in difficulty depending on who is teaching the course.

The same thing drives me nuts in science, but it's even worse, because the perception of science is that it's totally objective, totally fair, all for the greater good, blah blah bullshit blah.

And it's even less true in science than it is in education. And the more cross-disciplinary departments become, the less they seem to grasp that some things are harder than others.

In my field, we almost never publish a result that was only arrived at by one method, and never by only one attempt. Everything is repeated, usually at least 3 independent times, 3 independent ways.

That means for every panel of every multipanel figure I've ever published, I had to do at least 9 experiments.

At least, that's how I do research. It means I don't have as many publications as some people, but it also means I'm pretty damn sure everything I've published is a real, reproducible result.

I know a lot of fields are not like this, for various reasons. Some experiments can only be done once, because of cost and/or time to do a single experiment. Some experiments can only be done one way, because the technology just isn't there (yet).

In some fields the standards are lower and nobody expects error bars at all, much less asks for a paper to be revised to include them.

So to me, to work so hard to get to the truth, and then be judged based on only a tiny sliver of what I really know and can do, is just plain insulting.

Worse than that, though, are the people who seem to think it's not even worth discussing whether the way we choose faculty right now could use some improvements.

There are tons of articles and forums devoted to the ongoing debate about grades, and everyone seems to agree that there are myriad ways of assessing and evaluating student progress. That it's a work in progress.

So why is it verboten to even try to start a discussion of new ways to assess and evaluate faculty candidates?

Amazing to learn what will trigger a knee-jerk, defensive reaction.

I must have found a button.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Response to comment on Dallas Cowboys post.

Anonymous said...

first time caller, not all that long time reader

"And the great irony is that, when it comes right down to it, even science judges (at least the first cut) on appearances alone, too."

Your publication record isn't your appearance. The record is an important description of your scientific contributions.


Are you a scientist? What stage are you in the hierarchy?

This is actually a great question for scientists and non-scientists alike. I think most scientists fail to think critically about this issue, so I'm going to critique it here.

Your publication record is influenced by many factors. As a junior person (by that I mean, student or postdoc), you are not the person who chooses what gets written up, which figures are included, what journal it is submitted to. Even if you write the entire paper yourself, usually someone else has to weigh in before it goes out.

So I would argue that, while yes, it is correct to say that a list of publications is a description of your contributions, it is not an accurate or complete picture of a person's skills, accomplishments, or aptitude. It definitely does not describe whether you will be a good professor.

You could get a lot of information from a list of publications, but it would still be incomplete without further confirmation. It might describe whether you are a good collaborator if you have a bunch of authors from other labs, but more often than not your PI is the source of your collaborations. It might describe whether you are a good mentor if your students are co-authors, but again, the credit usually goes to the PI and nobody bothers to check the status of all the authors on a paper whose names are unfamiliar. It might describe if you are a sexist prick if you have never published with a female co-author once in your whole career, but again, usually names are listed as initials and nobody bothers to check.

aside: (I'm not making this up, I've seen papers with 30 authors where not a single one was female, and you have to wonder what's going on there. I've also seen a lot of papers- mostly older ones- where the authors are all male, and women are thanked in the acknowledgments for 'technical help' like doing all the experiments.)

I know plenty of people with high impact papers who contributed only a fraction of the data to their own papers, AND cannot accurately describe, much less teach, the methods their labmates and collaborators used for the figures they contributed.

(I know plenty of senior authors who fall in this category too, but we'll leave that for another post.)

I also know plenty of people whose work is top-notch, but it's not in high impact journals because their senior, tenured PI doesn't believe it matters where you publish, or more accurately, they know it doesn't matter where they publish and they don't care where you publish.

Or they just have no clue, or worse, no interest, in how to get a paper into a high impact journal. It's quite a bit different than getting a paper into a 'specialist' journal.

So a list of publications is subjective criteria because no one (by that I mean, almost no one) actually looks at a CV, then goes out of their way to download them all from Pubmed, read the papers and determine whether they have substance or quiz the first author on how much of the work they actually did.

While there is often a lot of attention paid to whether a middle author actually contributed anything significant, little attention is paid to whether a first author deserved that slot.

There's an assumption that goes along with first authorship that often is not deserved.

But nobody thinks about that, unless a second person's name receives a *contributed equally to this work.

And how the location of the publication influences different people is also subjective. For example, some people see a paper on a CV in an open-access journal and think nothing of it; others think "Hey, good for them!"; still others think, "Oh, it couldn't get in anywhere better so it ended up in one of these."

Within a field, a specialist journal may be well-respected; outside of that field, it's just another low-impact paper.

I'm a relativist. While data are objects, interpretation is subjective.

When you use something superficial, like a list of publications, to evaluate something bigger, like a faculty candidate, you're bound to miss good candidates and you risk getting nothing but attractive-looking mediocrity.

Admitting it is the first step.

I saw this over at ianqui's page, where she cited this article in the Chronicle by a particularly disgruntled professor who writes under the pseudonym Lagretta Gradgrind.

This essay is basically a rant about the worst kinds of grad students and how these bad experiences have made her not want to advise them anymore.

Ianqui says she had no idea how much work it was to advise grad students, but she still thinks it's important (I'm paraphrasing based on her blog).

I guess for me Lagretta's disgruntlement rings true, in the sense that I know the worst kinds of grad students and how disappointing it can be when someone chooses to do something else with their life despite all your encouragement and hopes for them.

More importantly, Lagretta acknowledges that the problems may actually be in grad school admissions as much as anything. I've said this before and I still think it's true, so I was pleased to see she called attention to that as a potential source of the problem.

But I also think she understands that many would-be professors go the 'alternative' routes because the system is so broken right now.

In a way, I was really relieved to see that somebody seems to actually get it.

On the other hand, I have to wonder if part of the problem is that Lagretta isn't very good at reading people. She complains that she feels used because it seems like some of these students were just putting on an act to get her to help them. It's hard to know if the students were deliberately manipulating her, because she's gullible, or if they just genuinely realized, late in the game, that this game was not for them.

Most of us struggle with the choice. It's a choice you have to make over and over again, every day. Just yesterday I was talking to someone who is on the verge of turning down an offer for a faculty position, because the reality of the commitment forced a really harsh assessment that was, until now, easy to deny. This is a story I've heard a few times recently, and I'm wondering if it's a new trend.

The story goes like this:

Young, idealistic person applies for jobs, gets interviews, goes on interviews.

Meets faculty, young and old.

Is put off by the reality of complaints, which go like this: "Funding is crap. Tenure is hard to get even when it's done fairly, which in many places it still isn't. Real estate is expensive. We're all getting divorced."

Young, idealistic person gets job offers, and turns them down.

Meanwhile, rapidly-becoming-less-young people like me are at home, not idealistic at all, not getting interviews.


Anyway I guess I think it's unfortunate that someone like Lagretta is so bitter that she doesn't want to mentor graduate students anymore, but in a way I can't blame her. I think I feel much the same as Lagretta in that I feel my calling is as much in mentoring as it is in research. But sometimes it's hard to buy into being part of a system I have so little respect for.

I guess you have to wonder if academia is, as I heard Chris Dodd say this morning, "a country of laws, not a country of men." And which one is better. Chris Dodd was saying that laws are good, because people will come and go with varying levels of integrity (I'm paraphrasing again).

I would like to think that if academia is nothing more than the sum of the people who make it work, then it has the potential to change.

But if academia is just a collection of rules, too heavy and collapsing under its own weight, instead of trying to put your finger in the dike, maybe it makes more sense to just get out of the way.

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Monday, October 29, 2007

More useless PI advice.

Okay, let's recap how this year has gone so far.

Had paper draft since year before. Was already sick of looking at paper.

Was more than sick of being asked what was going on with paper.

Submitted paper with overly grandiose claims to a journal where it wouldn't get in, based on overly optimistic advice of well-meaning PI.

Predictably, paper did not get in.

Had plenty of stamina to revise and plenty of time to send it elsewhere at that point, but no. PI wanted to try an even more ambitious plan, including augmenting paper with numerous uninformative and risky experiments.

Had a bad feeling about this, but wanted so dearly to believe that PI, with much more experience and wisdom, knows more than little MsPhD.

Experiments were done. Not much new could be concluded from them.

Paper is now much longer, arguably not much better, time has run out, and PI is now talking about sending it 'elsewhere' (meaning, the same level of 'elsewhere' where it could have been published in its original form many months ago).

PI won't even take a strong stand on which elsewhere, although some possibilities suggested a month or two ago were shot down.

The same possibilities so recently shot down are now regarded as perfectly reasonable.

When you can't even agree to continue to disagree, and the random changes of opinion occur too late to be useful, one has to wonder why anyone ever thought the apprenticeship model had anything to offer.

I gave up on it long ago.

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Woke up early.

Had a song stuck in my head, and problems regulating body temperature.

So I got up. And then I read blogs for, dear god, like 2 hours. Since when do I have such an attention span???

But hey, compliments to the blogs I was reading.

Anyway, I am not a morning person, so it must be pms. Grrr.

Have a long day ahead, with timepoints in the evening that I can't put off doing any longer.

But now it's too late to go back to bed, or rather, I could try but then I suspect I won't be able to get up when the alarm rings. But I might try anyway, because I'm still not awake enough to actually do any work that requires analytical thinking.

Ugh. Not good for a Monday. Not good at all.

Here's hoping the new coffee we bought will make this all go away when I try to actually wake up in an hour.


Friday, October 26, 2007

How often are fortune cookies right?

Here's what I got today:

You will always be successful in your business or professional career.

When they say "always", they mean starting now, don't they?

I would definitely not say that I have always been successful so far, but I'll take whatever positive thinking I can get!

Thank you, fortune cookie makers, for correctly predicting a major source of anxiety for most of us.

And, not to mince words, but does being a postdoc count as part of a professional career? Aren't we still in training???

Maybe I don't have a career yet, by that definition.

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Fantastic example of academia at its nastiest.

There was a mention of this over at FSP, so I looked up a link.

I did not know the text of the emails from Susumu Tonegawa to Alla Karpova was available on the web.

These are a great example of how, to an outsider, it might not be obvious just what is going on in academia on a regular basis.

Anyone who thinks women are on an equal playing field, I'm sorry but you need to think again.

It's important to keep in mind that, like cockroaches, by the time you see one, there are hundreds or thousands more where that came from.

I guess I think it's kind of funny that this Nobel Laureate was so threatened by a junior female potential hire as to tell her not to join MIT. What a spineless loser.

And oh, the emails I would post online if I could do it anonymously.

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Sunday, October 21, 2007

Noisy neighbors and lack of sunlight.

So much for working outside. In theory we should have enough wireless signal to work in the yard and enjoy a little sunlight on the weekends that way. In practice, sometimes it just won't fly.

We have one of those neighbors. She doesn't throw parties or generally make much noise, but she likes to talk on her cell phone in the yard. Correction: when she speaks on her cell phone in the yard, IT'S REALLY LOUD.

She's usually not working on her garden while she does this.

There are nice areas nearby where she could walk and talk on her phone where everyone else is doing this, too, but she doesn't.

No, she has to talk, really loudly, right outside our house.

I realize that it's a free country and she should be allowed to do whatever she wants, so it's ridiculous for me to complain. But it's still driving me crazy.

In general I love where we live. But there are some things that make me fantasize about moving away. In theory we'll move when (if) I get a faculty position, since I'm assuming I won't be getting one near where we live now.

Even if I don't get a job this year, I think I'm reaching my limit on the current situation. I'm one of those people, I like to move every five years. Maybe that's weird, or just a leftover from moving so much when I was actually in school, but much as I like stability, I also get restless.

Someday I want to live in a house that is not a cave. Where we could just pull back the shades and get actual daylight and some idea what temperature it is outside. Our current house is perpetually cold and dark, which is nice when it's hot out and gloomy the rest of the time.

It's especially bad when I feel like I'm spending most of my life indoors with no windows. Sometimes I feel like a houseplant in the shade, on its way to wither and die.

A friend of ours has been on and off the wagon with blue light therapy for his sleep disorder and SAD. He says it works and that I should try it, but for some reason I'm always too lazy. Maybe it's because I'm always tired.

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Saturday, October 20, 2007

Things I learned watching The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders Tryouts

Yes, CMT has this reality show where they follow the auditions.

Yes, I'm watching it.

Yes, I'm working with the tv on in the background.

It inspires me to do science, unlike the Renuzit commercial they keep running where one woman posits a scientific hypothesis for how the Renuzit pearls work, and her friend says "I think they're pretty."

Score one for reverse psychology, and one for Renuzit for having a woman with a scientific hypothesis, but minus one for the dippy friend.

It's fascinating because out of 1000 girls in the first audition group, they've narrowed it down to about 40 on the episode I'm watching now.

While I'm watching this, much as I'm disgusted by them telling girls with 16% body fat that they need to lose weight (!!!), in some ways it seems a lot more sane than the way we currently choose faculty in the academic sciences.

Yes, I am making an analogy here, however far-fetched it may sound to compare these two, bear with me for a moment.

Imagine, if you will, what auditions for faculty positions would look like.

Candidates would give talks, serve on fake committees, edit manuscripts, advise fake students, draft aims for grants under time limitations, etc.

Instead of making decisions based on a resume and a 1-2 day interview, or two, imagine if there were a month or two of tryouts. A kind of faculty position bootcamp, if you will.

Imagine if there were no tenure, and existing faculty had to try out again every few years to show they can still compete with the younger candidates.

Imagine if search committees put as much time into choosing new faculty as these people put into choosing new cheerleaders.

Imagine if they actually gave feedback along the way and then gave candidates time to try to address any deficiencies!

Admittedly there's probably more money in football than there is in healthcare research in this country.

Just think about that for a minute. I could be wrong, of course, and if you have numbers feel free to write in with them. But when you think about it, some of the schools in the US have more money in football than most third world countries have for their entire healthcare budget.

Maybe that's why these cheerleaders seem to put such an emphasis on high standards, while academic science pretends like it's not all that important who gets hired.

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Friday, October 19, 2007

I love being right.

Lately the best part of my job is troubleshooting.

It's ridiculous to enjoy it as much as I do, but I just love it when I correctly identify the problem.

I love that I can look at something I know nothing about, and break it down into pieces and ask systematically what could go wrong with each piece.

Thank you, grad school. If you taught me nothing else, you taught me how to do that.

Of course it's only fun if testing each possibility is, you know, possible. If you can't rule anything out, that's no fun at all.

And nevermind whether it can actually be fixed, or if it will be insanely expensive or take a long time. That's a different issue altogether.

Of course it's more fun for big problems than little ones, but as my cup of tea says today, my intuition is my best friend, and it's usually right.

I love that.

Monday, October 15, 2007

You're never too old to be greedy for credit.

Email on Mondays always sucks.

People who said they'd do certain things didn't do them, or in some cases completely canceled their plans to do them at all, ever.

Other people are emailing to ask why certain things haven't gotten done yet, but you know damn well it's because of the other people who just emailed to say they can't/won't follow through on what they promised.

Meanwhile I'm getting emails asking for volunteers to do things I've already done, so I have to re-send old emails reminding everyone that I've done them and that we need to move on and do all the other things on our lists.

You know, the usual.

But the crowning moment of the day was this:

In editing a very rough draft of a manuscript, my advisor noted where I had put "Schmo, J. 200x" as the reference instead of "Schmo, J and Advisor, Greedy 200x".

Joe Schmo had not published any other manuscripts that year, so I thought this was kind of a moot point, and instead a rather hilarious show of what sorts of things Advisor actually notices.

Nevermind that Advisor is incredibly accomplished, tenured, very well respected and not hurting for funding or papers.

I found this especially funny since the correct citation is actually "Schmo, J. et al. 200x" and Advisor's name would not appear at all when it is listed as such.

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Friday, October 12, 2007

Big News.

Hey! Look at this!

A Bill to eliminate gender bias in science, technology, engineering and math has been introduced in the House!

Will wonders never cease!

Write to your representatives and tell them to vote for it!

That's all for now!

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Thursday, October 11, 2007


My experiment didn't work today.

And I'm feeling kind of pathetic about it. Which is stupid, I know, but I guess I was looking forward to getting data, and instead I got to go back to the drawing board.

Hello, drawing board. We know each other well. We spend quality time together a lot.

I know I should go and set things up to try it again, but I just don't feel like it right now.

I'm thinking I'll do it tomorrow, even though it means working on the weekend more than I would like.

I'm thinking I'll go home and try to get psyched up to try this again, and just chalk it up to that's why it's called research.

The worst part is, I think I know why it didn't work, and if I had been super anal about checking my notes from previous experiments, I might have known to tweak this one variable ahead of time, instead of having to re-learn that I kind of already knew that I probably needed to do that.


I mean, it's fine, it's not that big of a deal. Nobody died, and that is why I went for the PhD instead of the MD.

I just wish I were more gung-ho, like I used to be when I was a grad student. When it was all about conquests and getting the answer.

Too bad there's no easy way to get that Yee ha cowabunga! spirit back. Once it's gone, you're officially getting old. I am so ready not to be the person actually doing the pipetting anymore.

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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Aptitude vs. Accomplishment

I've been having a strange experience lately. It involves getting a lot of weird looks.

What else is new, right? But this one has nothing to do with being female, I don't think.

So I'm working on a few different things right now, but most of them involve writing. I've been soliciting feedback on my writing from a variety of people, for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it's useful, sometimes it's not, but I'm figuring out who to ask, which advice to take, and which to ignore.

But lately I'm doing revisions, lots of revisions, and I keep getting this weird look. I think it's a look of, "Wow, you actually took my advice and ran with it!"

I think the problem is that people don't see me as a diamond in the rough, someone who might not know but who is ultimately teachable. Maybe they're just complacent, they're used to having someone come in with a draft and then the next draft isn't much better no matter how carefully they give their suggestions?

Maybe it's just a case of low expectations.

I'd like to think that one of my better qualities is my ability to learn new things. I'm not a genius by a long shot. I'm pretty good at figuring out what's interesting to work on, but I'm not a natural at the professional stuff.

But if I can get some idea about what I need to improve, I usually do.

So I'm amused by these looks. I like surprising people in good ways. I just wish we could figure out how to get the search committees to look for aptitude instead of accomplishment.

You can argue until doomsday that whatever you did in your thesis lab was mostly because of your advisor, and that even a lot of postdocs aren't nearly independent enough (for a variety of reasons). But that all has to do with accomplishments.

It just reminds me of this phrase I ran across in a book about women and negotiating, where they said that men are judged on their potential, while women are judged on their accomplishments. I'm not sure how true this is, because I think most everyone would agree that you have to have a helluva lot of accomplishments to get a faculty position nowadays, male or female. But it was such an interesting idea to me, because it's really hard to judge potential. Isn't it?

I mean, they've revamped the SAT a lot lately, but I still know plenty of people, old and young, whose scores don't remotely represent their abilities or aptitude. And for the older folks, it's very clear that their SAT scores didn't remotely predict their future accomplishments.

Let's try not to be prisoners of our past accomplishments, or lack thereof.

Bad mood.

The weather is beautiful and I'm resenting having to be inside worrying about experiments that may or may not work. And for this particular batch of experiments, I only care about them if they work.

I'm having one of those days, everything is annoying me more than usual.

I'm trying to grab onto what's left of my patience to get my experiments done so I can avoid being around people after that. I hope.

This is one of those days, if somebody confronts me about anything, but particularly anything stupid, it will be hard not to tell them exactly where I think they should shove it.

Deep breaths, calm thoughts...

Tomorrow won't be better, I already know that, but it will be a different kind of annoying.

Unfortunately I don't really have any relaxing activities coming up, I'm looking at my calendar and it's pretty bleak. I can't seem to find that one hour a day that they say you should spend on rejuvenation (mental and physical).

Maybe the television ate it. And my little dog, too.


Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Off to see the wizard

Translation: off the nag the advisor.

Since grad school I've felt that my need for positive feedback and the advisor's stamp of approval is much like Dorothy's need for help getting home:

Dorothy had the power with her all along, all she needed was someone to tell her the magic words.

The good news is, sometimes you can find a Glinda the Good Witch, who appears only briefly and then gives you, in a nutshell, everything you needed to know.

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Friday, October 05, 2007

Work to do vs. beer to drink

Gaah. It's Friday night, but I'm stressed because I have a deadline and I want to work to remove that stress.

But my brain is fried.

And people with beer are waiting for me. Well, not waiting. I'm sure they will start drinking whether I'm there or not. Eventually they will call and nag me if I don't go.

But I know as soon as I'm sitting there with a beer in my hand, inane beer-induced conversation around me, I will be wishing I were working instead.

I'm stuck between a hard and a drunk place. #$%&. Where is that hand-held computer when I need to have a beer in one hand and productivity in the other???

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Because I can?

I'm going to be working with someone I've known as an acquaintance for a few years. We're approximately the same age and level of scientific experience. I'm generally pleased about this, but I've noticed something subtle and strange.

He has a wife who takes care of everything at home, from laundry to food to everything in between, not to mention their young child. He works hard and is always enthusiastic. He's very good at what he does, but what he does is very focused on one system, one set of techniques.

I'm the opposite in almost every way. I have no wife and my partner and I try to split all the responsibilities at home, which means that on balance I'm still doing a lot more housework than my married colleague. I'm not as enthusiastic as I used to be, and while I'm good at what I do, I'm a Jill of Many Techniques.

So here's my question of the day:

How come, when he says "That won't work" or "I can't do that" everyone seems to accept those as valid answers, but when I say those same phrases, which isn't very often, I'm regarded as negative and lazy?

It's not that we discuss science in a wildly different way. He's not more forceful or authoritative in his manner of speaking, nor more knowledgeable.

So does this have to do with him being generally more likable and respected, or is it something about expectations being placed on me?

I guess what I'm trying to figure out whether there is something, in addition to science, that I can learn from his example, or if this is something perhaps requiring a gender lens?

Or am I just being punished for not specializing myself into a safe little corner?

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Response to Comments on Cover Letters


Thanks, that helps a lot! I guess when I applied for jobs before (after my first postdoc publication, as suggested by Anonymous #1), I did write kind of a mini-scientific biography of where I came from, why I got into science and why I'm currently in my particular field, what got me interested in that, etc.

I think I will have work on how to making it sound short and sweet, even though it's a little more complicated than that.

Someone said to me the other day that I'm "too honest." So there you go: I suck at lying. That must be why I find this part difficult. But see the comment from Anonymous #1, who thinks I should quit academia just because I find this part difficult. Challenging. Let's say it's challenging.

Anonymous #1,

You come off sounding pretty negative but I don't think you mean to be. Yes, this part is painful to me. That's partly because I'm doing it with very little mentoring/support.

No, I don't like the attitude that just because one part of your job is hard you should run away from it. Most things that have been hard for me, I've gotten better at them through practice.

Actually you might have seen, there was a little blurb in Science recently about how chess masters are good because they PRACTICE. Past a certain point, everyone is talented. The ones who win are the ones who practice the most. This is my general approach to life.

Yes, I have long suspected that some people don't read cover letters at all. But I know some people do. However, you make a very good point to try to include any pertinent information in the research proposal even if it's in the cover letter, since they are more like to read the research proposal than the cover letter.

Anonymous #2,

I didn't think it was limited to females, but it is always comforting to hear that other people have had this problem. I find it interesting that your committee helped you with this, though. Maybe I wasn't like this in grad school, but my committee, while generally helpful scientifically, was no help whatsoever on career advising. The main thing I got from your comment is to discuss "motivations" and "help from other people."

One of the things I've been struggling with is who would actually be willing and able to help me with my application package. The first time I applied for jobs I had at least two new Asst. Profs look at my research proposal, and I took all their advice but didn't get any interviews. Needless to say I won't ask them again, but seeing how they just went through the application process, I guess I thought they would know, and they were very willing to (try to) help.

This time, I was thinking I would try to get people who have done the hiring rather than the applying. But I don't know too many people who have sat on hiring committees, at least not in my field, and the ones I do know are not good mentor types. At all. Either they're not available, or they're incapable of giving advice.

You know, the kind who think that good professors are just born knowing how to do everything, not that any of this can or should be taught. What are people like that doing in academia, one might ask? But they are pretty good at research, and they were hired in an era when mentoring wasn't even a vocabulary word yet. They certainly were never trained in teaching or mentoring!

Phd Mom,

That's awesome, I will definitely try that. I do think the righteous indignation concept works. I fall into this trap a lot, that I've done a lot more than I have effectively broadcasted, because formal communication in science is pretty limiting, in my opinion.

So unless someone asks, I might not have a way to tell them and they would definitely not have a way to know.

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Monday, October 01, 2007


A while back, LOGO hosted an interview/debate thing with some of the presidential candidates. I didn't see the original, but the Daily Show made fun of Melissa Etheridge for talking about herself too much. The supporting clips really did make it seem like she started every sentence with "I."

This topic is relevant to my current suffering: self-promotion. I hate the whole "mememememe I, I, I, I" business. I don't know how to do it gracefully so it always feels ham-handed to me. And I probably come off sounding arrogant to anyone who reads my attempts without ever having actually met me.

Supposedly this is a problem that most women have- we've been taught since a young age to always be self-effacing, which is terrible for your career, especially in science.

Today I am hammering away at updating my cover letters. The research proposal part is better in the sense that it's more about science, and less about me, me, me.

The cover letter, I don't know how much to say about what I've been doing, who I've been working with, and what I want to do next. A lot of this is in my research proposal, too, and making it all fit into 1 page is tough.

Anybody have any suggestions for

a) How to get revved up to self-promote? Do you listen to the theme from Rocky? What works for you?

b) What's the most important thing to get across in a cover letter?

I've always gotten the impression that what they're trying to get is some inkling of "fit", which to me is a totally ambiguous, touchy-feely concept that includes both what you work on and your perceived personality.

But right now- ugh. I just want to go back to bed.

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