Wendy Belcher for scientists

I submitted a manuscript for publication today (#feelingood).  I realize that submission is not the same thing as acceptance, but I am going to take a moment to rest and rejuvenate from my “giving 210%” and bask in the glory of one hunk off my plate (2 more to go!)

In preparing for this submission, I’ve been all about Wendy Belcher.  First a colleague turned me on to her book, How to Write Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks, because she is going through the workbook in her writing group.  I’ve been thinking about starting a scholarship support group at my institution this spring and this book might be the perfect way to kick it off.  I also stumbled upon this post by Dr. Belcher which I thought was pretty spot on.

So back to my thoughts for this post.  I was looking at Wendy’s website where she has PDFs of some of the worksheets from the book.  In thinking about the support group, I thought it would be beneficial to have everyone go through this book for real during the summer.  As I am about to come off academic leave (where did 8 months go?!), it seems incredibly ambitious to complete an article start to finish in 12 weeks (i.e. do all the experiments, analysis, and writing).  Then I realized that Belcher seems to be talking about taking an existent piece of writing and revising it for publication.  Oh okay.  But how could this work in the sciences?  In my own process it has taken YEARS to get to the point of publication, but I find it hard to believe that is how it has to be.  Can “1 paper a year” become my new mantra?  If so it would require serious discipline and organization so that for the 12 weeks of the summer I am moving towards publication.

What about you?  How do you organize yourself and your lab for maximum productivity?  What is your rate of publication and/or what do you think is reasonable to expect at a primarily undergraduate institution where teaching and service can gobble a research program alive?  Let us know in the comments!



I recently identified with this post at Tenure She Wrote on many levels.  At the time I saw the post, I was literally elbow deep in a tedious research technique and seeing no end in sight.  I’m in a better place now, and my thoughts these days turn to how this will all play out*.  I’ve been giving 210% since January 8 and definitely am aware that this level of energy is not sustainable.  I am on the tail end of bench experiments for my tenure projects (2 papers and a grant).  When those are over I will move in to all writing all the time: the projects themselves as well as my tenure documents.  The first batch is my external reviewer materials (major task: cover letter about the scholarly accomplishments included and how I’ve transformed my research field in the past 5 years) and the second batch is for P&T (major task: narrative about how I’ve transformed my institution and my research field in the past 5 years).  I’ve read a little about how getting tenure is essentially this big let down, so I have been toying with the idea of a tenuremoon.  As far as I can tell from google, this is a novel concept.  Following with the birthing analogy, a tenuremoon would be a vacation away to reflect on the work life you’ve had prior to becoming tenured and rest/rejuvenate for the work life you will have after being tenured.  I’ve been wondering when the best time for said tenuremoon would be.  I imagine teaching will be a bit of a bear this semester because a) I am teaching two new preps, b) I’m serving as a mentor for our new teaching postdoc, and c) I’ve been selfish/research-driven and out of practice of teaching/advising for almost 30 weeks.  If I was going to do such a thing, I would want to do it before the semester starts, but that is not going to be possible (I’ll be working up to the deadline for external review materials to be submitted and then classes start).  The other option would be one of the natural breaks of the fall semester (Fall Break or Thanksgiving).  I’d feel bad about Thanksgiving since that is usually dedicated family time, so that leaves Fall break.  Usually I am frantically trying to catch up from the “hit the ground running” start of the semester during Fall Break, so if I was going to have a true break, I’d have to be pretty organized or be completely okay with not having my junk together this semester (she says not even having a concept of what that would mean or look like).

*Not so much whether or not I will get tenure–I am feeling more confident about that these days, mainly because areas of my scholarship are now finally working–but more the emotional/psychological aftermath.

What about you?  How did you/would you celebrate a sustained time of hard work progressing toward tenure? Also, if you had a pre-tenure leave, how did you cope with getting back in the swing of things?  Let us know in the comments!

Science Lab websites

I just finished “reading” At the Helm by Kathy Barker.  Because I am a faculty member at an exclusively undergraduate institution, many aspects of the text do not apply to me so it was a quick read.  I definitely want to set up a lab manual as she instructs.  We have the beginnings of one with often used protocols, antibody spec sheets, and common recipes, but I think her ideas to add contact info for current members and lab alumni is good as well as lab policies.  I email a syllabus each semester to my students, but I feel having a hard copy in a known location would be a great idea.  Reading the book got me thinking about making a lab website again.  I’ve wanted to do this for some time, but always hesitate because I don’t feel the lab will have “news” or “publications” often enough.  I started wondering if this is true for many faculty at institutions like mine.  Anytime I’ve seen a lab website for someone at an exclusively undergraduate institution it usually looks like they set it up their first month on the job never to be touched again.  Part of this I am sure has to do with the busyness of the faculty member.  At an exclusively undergraduate institution it would be harder to delegate this task because students are so transient–they might only be in the lab for one semester or at absolute most three years.  Also I am notoriously bad at taking pictures/documenting memories, but I would like to have a website with many shots of lab members having fun in or out of the lab in addition to doing their science thing.  Making the lab website might be (one of) my post-sabbatical resolution…

What about you?  Do you have a lab website?  How do you keep it updated?  Have contacts or collaborations formed as a result?  Let us know in the comments!

On publishing in undergraduate journals

Today I received a document in my inbox that I have practically begged for and I am afraid to open it.  It’s a paper revision from students for an undergraduate journal.  This paper started out as a lab paper and I gave students the opportunity to work with me to publish it in an undergrad journal if they so desired.  This is the second time I’ve attempted this.  The first time I had an extremely organized student take the bait so I knew my job would be fairly easy.  What made the process difficult on that go round was the fact that the undergraduate editor changed about 3 times during the time we were working with the journal.  It took over a year (from Dec 18, 2012 until Feb 18, 2014) to complete the process.  The only reason I was able to stick it out for so long was because the student was a gem, even beyond graduation, keeping in touch and meeting deadlines I created.  Fast forward to our current situation.  This time I decided to go with an undergraduate journal with a more established history in hopes that the process would go faster.  For some technical reason that I still don’t understand, our submission wasn’t even in existence, according to the journal, for 3 months.  Once we got over that hurdle it only took them 5 weeks to get back to us with a decision (accepted with revisions) so I thought we were on our way.  In this case, the stall (it’s been 2 months since we heard the decision) is the students.  I am working with 2 students, one who graduated shortly after we received the decision and the other will be starting senior year in the fall.  Both are local/live in the state and the one that has graduated will be going to graduate school in the area so I wasn’t too stressed about the change in status.  I’ve given several deadlines and none have been followed.  What usually happens is that I give the deadline, ask if the timing works for them (and if not to suggest an alternative), they say “sure no problem”, and then the date we agree upon shows up and I get an email without an attachment and an excuse in its place.  This started when the recent graduate was still on campus and assured me that the revisions were no problem and surely they could complete them before graduation.  The students weren’t this shoddy in class, but obviously without a grade hanging over them there is no motivation (apparently an “accepted with revisions” publication isn’t a tasty enough angling morsel).  The last time I received a document from them they had focused only on the minor revisions requested–put a period after the 3rd sentence on page 5, etc.–and had done essentially none of the work for the major revisions (despite the fact that the undergraduate editor’s cover letter stated to focus on major revisions because it was likely most of the minor revisions would drop out if they made the requested changes).  I sent my feedback on their “revised” document with a firm statement that they should not waste my time again and actually do the revisions before they send me a document (in nicer words of course).  I also spent about an hour and a half with one of the authors going through my comments.  I am afraid to open my email because already a crucial item is missing–the cover letter back to the editor explaining the revisions that were made.  I hope that when I do open the email I’m either pleasantly surprised or at least I can remain calm as I explain the changes they have still failed to make. I recently read Terry McGlynn’s post on class projects as publishable research and it got me thinking… What about you?  Have you published in undergraduate journals with students?  What were the circumstances of the publication (e.g. it started as a class project, it was a side project of your lab, etc.)?  What are your feelings on publishing in undergraduate journals in general–more work than it’s worth or valuable work with students?

In a rut

First let me start by apologizing.  I had a demoralizing day so that will likely be the undercurrent of this post.  I hope to report something very positive in the near future and that hope is what gets me out of bed each morning.  Today is the 104th day of my “sabbatical”.  I decided soon after the sabbatical started that it wasn’t a sabbatical at all and understood crystally clear why the administrative documentation on the matter states that it is a “leave”.  Sabbaticals are filled with sleep in days and spending time catching up with the family you’ve ignored for the 7 years prior and doing those projects you would never even dream (or have time) to pursue during the school year.  What I am doing is NOT that.  I am working harder than I did in graduate school or my postdoc.  I am at work every.day.  Yes, even weekends with kids in tow.  You might think that this level of mojo has something really great to show for it, but alas it does not.  I just read through my blog entries and it’s been 352 days since last summer with my fresh inspiration of accountability and research plans and I am in the same damn place.  I am sad. I am tired.  I know no more than I did a year ago, literally, and I feel like a fool.  I also keep thinking how can I keep the “sabbatical” spirit going when I return to school as usual?  If I was giving advice to me starting out, what would I say to do differently so that I was productive and organized in my lab life?  I feel like I got nothing.  I am sure I am working harder not smarter.  I make stupid mistakes and feel lost.  I’ve wasted much time and money and poor animals.  There are days I just stare at my calendar and wonder how it’s all going to go down.  September 1 is D-Day–I turn in all my materials to my tenure external reviewers.  Among other things, these materials include 1 accepted publication, 1 submitted publication, and a grant.  The 2 publications and grant don’t exist right now, May 20 2015.  What’s the status?

Publication #1

  • I mentioned this one last summer; it was the one I was so proud to have finished the draft by my self-imposed deadline.  Well whooptee do, it was rejected 4 times.  The last rejection included a statement after the reviewers comments that the journal hoped I would “accept the challenge of resubmission”.  I decided I would since it was as close as I was getting and basically set out to redo all the experiments in that paper (looong story, not going to talk about it).  As of now, I am at that point where I will have tissue from the animals for those experiments at the end of this week.  Then the race begins to process that tissue and do analysis and update the manuscript so that it is accepted by Sept 1.  I have fears that the data is going to be a completely different story and then I’ll have some ‘splaining to do…

Publication #2

  • I thought up this idea one night when I was tossing and turning trying to figure out a small publishable unit I could manage this summer.  So far it seems like a great idea.  There is data, there are significant differences, yay!  I need to write the thing, but I feel that since Pub #1 and the grant are absolutely priority (P&T knows nothing of Pub #2, that’s just my safety net) I need to table it until those are done.  The only thing standing in my way is that damned assay (yes the one I said I got to work a year ago, and I thought I got it to work again in March, but alas that was lies all lies, unbeknownst to me).  I actually had an appointment with a Chemist today to figure it out, but then I couldn’t get a chemical to go into solution so I had to postpone.  Yes, seriously!  The chemical comes in premade solution, which I ordered today, so here’s hoping next week is rainbows.


  • I posted about that last time.  Trying all new things.  Bad idea jeans.  The reason my day was so bad today is because I was supposed to get slides to stain.  Doing something old that I know how to do and might actually get some data that will override the need to do all these new things AND get some closure on what the heck is going on between my controls and experimentals (so I could finally sleep at night knowing my hypotheses have merits and aren’t just pie in the sky ideas), but the place I sent them to be processed destroyed the tissue. Oh yes, I couldn’t make this stuff up (did I mention they took longer than usual getting it back to me and I still had to pay half price for it?).  So tomorrow I will be redoing that.  The sooner I can get tissue stained and see the reality, the better.  I’ve got the spec aims of the grant all written up as if what I think will be true is.  I don’t have a backup plan if it isn’t.  But I have to submit the grant anyway because I promised P&T I would before I went up for tenure and my colleague that was denied tenure didn’t so something he promised and that was why. (Just in case you’re wondering, that is all good now, the appeal process worked in his favor)

I’ve written a lot (I guess to make up for lost time), probably too much so I will end it there.

What about you?  Ever had a “Groundhog Day movie” experience in your research?  How did you snap out of it?  Let us know in the comments.

my $0.02

You probably already know this, but in case you’re a boob like me, don’t ever try anything new for a grant.  That’s what I’ve been trying to do since September 1 to no avail.  I’m now trying to find easier ways to accomplish what I want, but I am not sure there is an easier way.  What I need is a collaborator to teach me how to do this technique.  I was confident that I could do it because I had dabbled in something similar during my postdoc, but what I am trying to do is more technically challenging than that.  I am sure if I apprenticed with a pro, I’d pick it up like that.  Alas, sorry not to have a more upbeat post after my 4 month hiatus, but it is what it is.

What about you?  How long has it taken you to be successful at a new technique in the lab?  Have you ever given up or turned it over to someone more knowledgeable?  Let us know about your experiences in the comments.

I’m back? Update!

I am so sorry to have gone radio silent on you for the last 6 months.  Let me start by saying on July 1 we got rid of the internet at our house so needless to say I wasn’t spending my work days blogging or going in on the weekends to do so.  I am also about to embark on my first sabbatical and trying to limit my internet distraction so I can’t promise I’ll be a regular writer, but I will try!!!

So what’s been going on for the last 6 months?

1. Summer research ended alright.  My research students did find a difference between our control and experimental groups (yay!) but they only had n of 2 and the one student who continued the project during the fall didn’t do jack diddly squat more with it (boo hiss).  Fortunately, I incorporated this project into my upper level lab course in the fall and one student became enamored with it and is hopefully crunching numbers right now (fingers crossed!)

2. I’ve been a busy bee in the lab this fall.  I didn’t exactly stay on track with the plan I had over the summer because I received the reviews from my grant and have been busily attempting to garner the preliminary data they asked for so I can resubmit sooner rather than later (my hopeful submission date is Feb 2015).  One of the reasons I was able to do any consistent lab work is that I was granted a course release for a mentoring project I am engaged in so that was a very welcome surprise gift.  After my sabbatical I am hoping I can keep up the good work.


4. And the final update is that one of my colleagues in my department just found out that s/he is not being granted tenure.  Needless to say this has me a little razzled so I am reevaluating my sabbatical plans to ensure that I am safe when I come up next year.  Basically I need to revise the paper I submitted this summer and ensure that it doesn’t get rejected again and need to revise/resubmit the grant I submitted last year (the one planned for Feb) and ensure that it doesn’t get rejected again.  Doable right?  If there was a way that I could get a second manuscript submitted that would be golden (I’ve got experiments in the works…)  This experience is definitely showing me the myth that when people don’t get tenure they always know it is FALSE!

How about you?  Have you ever been under the gun to make the impossible possible?  What’s your best advice for getting stuff done in a hurry?