Category Archives: Uncategorized

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!

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Tenuremoon

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?

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.

3. I.FINALLY.GOT.THAT.DAMNED.ASSAY.TO.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?

More like every 3 weeks

I had another goal for myself to write 8 blog posts this summer.  That may be a little ambitious given my current going rate.  Alas, I am here.  As promised, updates:

1) my research student’s results?  sad to say I still don’t really know yet, there is a glimmer of hope that our experimental group might be different than our controls (by eye), but the quantification isn’t done yet and we don’t have as many n processed as I would’ve liked by this time, so it’s still a work in progress.  Add the fact that a new research student just joined our lab for the next couple of weeks and my research student hasn’t done anything on his project because he’s been busy teaching the new research student the ropes (this is a catch 22 for me, part of the point is that my senior research student is supposed to be serving as a mentor so it is better for me to let him teach stuff than me–or so I keep telling myself–but if that research student had been a little more attentive when I was teaching him how to do stuff it wouldn’t have taken him 3 tries to get one of our bread and butter techniques working and he would have more data analyzed by now).

2) my summer research project results? I should know by next week.  I got a little derailed working on prep for Fall (see 3 below) and getting stuff ready for the new research student.  I plan to get back on track tomorrow!

3) fall research prep?  A major portion has been completed successfully, yay!  I decided I should do a trial run of the procedure before the summer ends to increase my confidence, but not exactly sure when I will have time to make that happen…  Then again, maybe troubleshooting this procedure is part of the fall research project–I’ve made the tool I need, I will work with it in the fall as intended.  That’s my story and I’m sticking to it if July blows by as quickly as I think it’s gonna.

So where am I on my research roller coaster ride?  A little low today.  I tried yet another kit for this assay that I’ve been banging my head against the wall with.  I’m also starting to take it personally because this is something many labs  in the literature seem to do with ease.  The kit is simple enough, but we couldn’t get good readings even with the standards today.  One major difference is the volume used in the new kit.  Our old kit used 3ml, but this one uses 1ml.  I will try again with another spec (one I know that can do 1ml because I am not sure the one I’ve been using does).  I’m not going to call this a complete fail until I at least try that.  Trying not to prep in my head what I will do if it doesn’t work (like it hasn’t the past 100 times we’ve tried).

I think that’s all I’ve got for now.  Feeling a wee bit ominous at the thought of July approaching since we lose a dayish with the holiday. Come Tuesday, I only have 30 days to make it work (i.e. check off all the boxes on my summer goals list).  There’s some serious teaching prep I’ve been ignoring, but I also want to end this summer with some serious research progress which I see in the realm of possibility.  When I get in this place, I tend to make a new (with attempts at being more realistic/detailed) to do list.  I want to try out this app now until the end of the summer http://www.nowdothis.com/

How about you, are you feeling half full or half empty when you look at your glass of “summer”?

Scholarship Accountability Update–Everything is going my way

Can I just say that time flies?!  I am happy to report I’ve been a busy little bee and all things seem to be on the upswing for the moment.  I  worked through as much tissue as I could before my research student arrived (on Monday!) which actually wasn’t much because I was focused on completing the draft of my first scholarly publication as an independent investigator (it only took 4 years).  I finished the draft by my self imposed deadline of May 30 so I consider that triumph #1.  My student and I have been working through the low hanging fruit this week (tissue that was already sectioned) and will be taking pictures of stained tissue tomorrow.  Fingers crossed there is some obvious phenomenon waiting for us.  

Recently I reread an email from one of my mentors containing advice about managing a lab with undergraduate researchers.  One of the things he said was that he always has a project in the lab that he does by himself so that he can ensure that at least one thing will work/be publishable.  For whatever reason that spoke clearly to me this time (obviously it didn’t 2 years ago when he wrote the email to me) so I decided I would start this summer with my own research project.  Just like for my student, I mapped out what I needed to accomplish and broke it down into smaller tasks.  I am happy to report that I have figuratively cast a net for findings on my summer research project and now I wait (the procedure I am doing for my research project requires 2 weeks of incubation time before you see results).  I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly I got the ball rolling on that one.  Triumph #2.  While I was on a roll I also planned out my research project for the fall, so my next task is to make a plan for that one and break it down into smaller tasks.  There are a few things I need to do for that one this summer to be primed for fall, that is the plan for next week.

We’re at the end of 4 weeks of self-imposed productivity and I have to wonder what took me so long.  This has been a great experience so far and I can’t wait to see what all I will have to show for it at the end of the summer.  This is the first summer where I don’t feel the ominous clock ticking while the days of summer slip through my fingers.  

Stay tuned next accountability post for updates on 

  • my research student’s summer project findings 
  • my summer research project findings
  • completion of prep for my fall research project