Tuesday, December 9, 2014

On Faculty Hiring

Can selecting the wrong thesis topic be the difference between getting a faculty job and not? I am working on an area which I find very interesting, but that doesn't really fit the buzzword categories necessary to get published in glamor mags. Yet, it seems like everyone I talk to mentions the importance of impact factor in publications when you're looking to apply for jobs. It feels very much like picking a hot topic when you first enter grad school, and may therefore have no idea what the hot topics in your field actually are, is critical to succeeding in this crazy game. 

Of course, there are always compounding circumstances, but it isn't very reassuring to hear the head of your departments current search committee say that they're only considering applicants with at least one Nature or Science paper. Then again, my particular MRU is well known for having a major prestige boner. 

Last week's conference left me feeling very mixed about where I stand right now, and where I want to go next. I love my field, but after spending two years in the DoD, my publication record isn't going to be spectacular (for very obvious reasons), and I worry. Of course, that could just be the cold-induced insomnia talking. 

Colds, my favorite conference souvenir...

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Progress: Day 3

So I've learned some things about how Microsoft Word's word count tool works, and may wind up re-adjusting my goals. For example, it counts every entry in a table of numbers. It also deals very oddly with symbols and equations.

November 3rd:

Starting Metrics:
Ch. 1 -820
Ch. 2 - 1,943
Ch. 3 - 1,480
Ch. 4 - 873
Ch. 5 - 41
Ch. 6 - 7
---------------
           5,165

Paper 1 (Ch. 1) - 5,504
Paper 2 (Ch. 3) - 1,102
Paper 3 (Ch. 3) - 1,635
Paper 4 (Ch. 4) - 2,906 {currently in advisor limbo}
Paper 5 (Ch. 4) - 1,222
Paper 6 (Ch. 5) - 155
Paper 7 (not even slightly related to my thesis) - 1,811
-------------------------------
                            14,376


The papers relevant to Chapter 2 are already written, and hence are not included in the totals (but total 7,764 words, which may help Ch. 2 expand a bit more quickly)

Thesis Meter:

1685 / 10000


Paper Meter:


143 / 5000


Thursday, October 30, 2014

NaThesisWriMo?

So if you have friends who write fiction, you've probably heard of National Novel Writing Month, NaNoWriMo, where they all try to write 50,000 words during the month of November. Why November? Because the people who started it wanted to take advantage of the more miserable weather. Fair enough.

To help motivate myself, I've decided to adapt the concept for thesis/paper writing. 50,000 words is probably longer than my entire thesis should be (50,000 words ~ 200 double spaced pages without figures). Instead, I'm setting my goals as adding 10,000 words to my thesis, and an additional 5,000 words in papers. I'm also going to *gasp* update the blog with progress reports. (References are not included in the word counts). Unlike the actual NaNoWriMo, there's no prizes, other than things being done. Which is a pretty awesome prize.

Starting Metrics:
Ch. 1 - 561
Ch. 2 - 1,650
Ch. 3 - 1,185
Ch. 4 - 36
Ch. 5 - 41
Ch. 6 - 7
---------------
           3,480

Paper 1 (Ch. 1) - 5,504
Paper 2 (Ch. 3) - 1,102
Paper 3 (Ch. 3) - 1,635
Paper 4 (Ch. 4) - 2,906 {currently in advisor limbo}
Paper 5 (Ch. 4) - 1,222
Paper 6 (Ch. 5) - 155
Paper 7 (not even slightly related to my thesis) - 1,811
-------------------------------
                            14,335


The papers relevant to Chapter 2 are already written, and hence are not included in the totals (but total 7,764 words, which may help Ch. 2 expand a bit more quickly)

Thesis Meter:

0 / 10000 (0.00%)

Paper Meter:
0 / 5000 (0.00%)


Friday, January 24, 2014

Downsides of Fellowships

So it's been nearly a year since I wrote anything. Not much has really changed, and I just didn't feel like repeating myself. I did get a SMART fellowship in the end, but it's a mixed blessing.

You see, this week, one of the students who started in my group at the same time as I did defended. Mostly because our advisor ran out of funding for him, and he had enough to constitute a thesis. I'm really happy to see someone graduate, but it's been frustrating as well. In the rush to get this student out the door, they've worked on three papers, while one of mine continues to languish in my advisor's inbox. I'm hoping this is not another 2 year wait... I've got proof that he can be functional, when forced to be, just no force.

Because I'm funded, I'm no longer a priority. There are no external forces to make my advisor read my papers right now. So instead of defending soon, the scope of my projects just got a little bigger, so he can justify keeping me until the funding runs out. In the meantime, I stay firmly at the bottom of his reading list. Motivating yourself to write papers under these conditions is damn hard, but I'm trying. Me working harder/faster won't change my graduation date. Writing more papers won't even get me papers any faster.

I just want feedback. But apparently that's too much to ask.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

I'm Not Dead Yet!

Just not in position to vent to the internet and too busy to put together good science posts.

I *finally* heard back from the SMART program, and interviewed with two groups at my top choice DoD facility. Now I get to wait for the budget fairies to tell them whether or not they actually have the money to take on a student. This may create some drama, since I'd already been offered an university internal fellowship for next year, but I suppose it's a good problem to have. I'm keeping my fingers crossed hard: the SMART program would give me a fixed end date I *must* graduate by, from someone who can actually force my advisor to meet the deadline (i.e., the people who fund over half of my research group).

In other news, one of the groups I'm in is working on a proposal for how to change the evaluation of PhD students at my institution, such that there is actually an annual evaluation and goal setting process for all students. I'm pretty optimistic. We've got a new dean who is willing to take this on as one of his pet issues and push the faculty.

The oldest student in my group looks like he will finally defend in August or September, bringing the number of students I've seen graduate up to the number of students I've seen leave.

All in all, I'm feeling more hopeful that I will manage to graduate someday.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Sequesters and Other Forms of Stress

Life in my research group is grumpy at the best of times, but recently, it feels like someone turned the stress knob to 11. My advisor has been struggling to write successful proposals for a couple cycles in a row now (for many, many reasons I'm not going into here), and consequently, money is running out fast. There's one student he's basically trying to shove out the door by September, but at least three of us are completely up in the air come September.

I applied for external funding in the form of the SMART scholarship, but 9% cuts to the Department of Defense are probably going to lead to drastically reduced funding rates this cycle. Given that the majority of the group's research funding is also DoD based, this do not look good.

I also really have no idea what my advisor expects to consider me "done". I'm working on so many unrelated projects, it's hard to see a coherent thesis direction. Every time I ask if I can focus on one project, the response is "Let me think about it, but in the mean time keep up with all of them" or if he says I can set aside one project, one month later he'll have forgotten and be demanding new data.

Add to that his general communication problems, and everyone is worried. It feels like the research group is about to collapse at any moment, and we're going to be the casualties. And there's nothing we can really do until we know what's actually happening.


Edit:because I can't spell when stressed, apparently

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Learning From Negative Example IV:

See previous installments: I, II and III

Sometimes, you just have to let one thing go in the name of getting three more things done
When a student has graduated and is completely noncommunicative about a manuscript, and you have another student who is still here *begging* you to read their papers, maybe spend some time on the project more likely to bear immediate fruit?

Tell students about deadlines
Yes, we should all be working hard all of the time. But there is a research equivalent of a sprint, which cannot be maintained for the length of a marathon. If you tell me about deadlines more than a day in advance, I can ramp up effort on the related project accordingly. I can't read your mind.

Don't get so caught up in details you miss the big picture
When you read a paper, read for content first, and then read for style and grammar. If it's not truly awful, give feedback on the science first (since that's what takes the most time for us). Don't be afraid to hand it back and say "Get someone else to read this" or "Reread this and try again" instead of nitpicking every sentence. When you ask for ideas for projects, don't get obsessed on one detail to the point of refusing to listen to further ideas (especially when we're telling you that what you want to do is impossible).

There's overselling, and then there's promising them a flying pink pony 
I get that grants need to be impressive, but when you promise to send someone to the moon with pocket change, the reviewers are going to reject you because you clearly don't know what you're doing.