I have been involved in active research projects since I was a freshman in college which amounts to stints in approximately ten different labs–as a rotating honors undergraduate, lab rotations in graduate school, or more long-term lab stints such as as the dissertation and post-doc years. During this time I have been exposed to a range of PI personalities and mentoring capabilities: such experiences ranged the gamut from being given solid, positive guidance, to emotional bullying and physical harassment. I wish I was exaggerating, but I’ve been on the receiving end of some shit, and unfortunately, the shit stands out more than the pearls of wisdom. It is terrifying to have to worry about letters from a bad person.
From these experiences and exposures I take away two feelings about my time as a researcher: I have often felt like I’m doing this alone without much cheerleading or oversight (there is truth in this), and, I am fiercely protective of my own (and really any) younger trainees. In response to the first I have been seeking out mentoring and advice wherever I could find it–surprisingly or not the vast majority of people that have been the most willing to both promote me (invites for talks, review grants, etc) and provide guidance are female.
To me, the way forward, is not to bury feeling alone, but to expose the thoughts, think through them, and realize feelings don’t necessarily reflect the whole reality. While I cannot control not having a built-in promotional support structure or hearing RA RA GO TEAM RAD! from previous PIs, I can promote my work myself–it may just take a little scrappiness to do so. Connecting to researchers through the interwebz has been incredibly helpful–I have found myself amongst a group of people that are amazingly supportive and have provided feedback on random situations and some have even read over grants. It has helped tremendously to know that there are supportive people out there–maybe not in my exact field–but there.
I think I may have been wiser and possibly more scrappy in my youth. A very senior person in my field, after hearing a verified account of some of my experiences, looked at me and said ‘Why are you willing to do this, to be a researcher, given what you’ve been exposed to??’ I kind of shrugged and said, ‘You know, this experience doesn’t define who I am.’ Yup, only I do that, thankyouverymuch.
I seem to have two personalities when it comes to speaking/teaching: incredibly nervous, or, laid back and confident. I was a shy kid; then we moved around quite a bit and I realized I had to get more talky to make friends. I am now most typically a bold person, but sometimes the ‘Eek!’ creeps back in — most often when I give talks to large audiences. I am working to get over this, since it is not conducive to teaching. In the least. The students seem to want personality superstars and omfg this shite is amazing! to help them stay focused and awake. Bah.
I gave a talk to a colleague’s class the other day about being a researcher, and I smashed it to bits — in a good way — my colleague said the students had not been so interactive all semester. I could tell they thought my research projects were teh coolest and they asked some seriously critical questions. One that has given me pause was ‘What happens to the other projects when you only get one funded?’
My answer? ‘Unfunded projects are sad little dead puppies. You have to bury them and move on.’
We all know that this is only a half-truth. But you cannot fund four major projects in a lab with one active grant. And so my other answer was that we write many grants per year, you keep submitting, submitting submitting to push your multiple lines of research. You can’t grow your lab, and keep growing, with a single project, or, perhaps I should say that continued growth is less likely with a single line of research. The winds of favor shift and you need to be the person that comes to mind at the first whiff of a new flavor. Or something like that.
That said, I think I am shit out of luck for the next NSF round, i.e., fairly certain my pre-proposal tanked. It could be worse–now I will focus on getting the first papers out of my lab. It likely means however that I will need to winnow the research projects that are active down a bit. And focus. And thus start making some choices. Do I put down the lab project that has been my mainstay for many years but remains unfunded? It’s like taking that aging but not ailing dog to the vet and saying, ‘Well, she’s going to die soon, might as well get it over with now.’
And these lovely plants are……?
I haven’t been blogging much lately, or reading blogs, or even playing about on the twitterz. I have been busy^10 doing work-related stuff of the not-so-fun variety: I served on a hiring committee for 2 TT job positions, and, I’ve been dealing with a massive pile of shit related to a staff member who was making my lab’s work incredibly difficult. I’ve also been doing the fun stuff–walking some totally cute undergrads through lab work, analyzing a metric eff-ton of data for a collaborative project, and trying to plan getting work for another collaboration off the ground. I’ve also been in the process of hiring.
The shit is a-flying in Dr. Rad’s work life.
One of the undergrads I’m working with is on a project that is seriously a side-project to the lab’s main goals. I picked up a technique from my post-doc days and applied it to a system of critter which we collected around my new place of residence. I have not yet published on this particular technique, nor do I work on anything even closely related to this particular critter. In other words–the system is still firmly grounded in an -ology, but vastly different than anything that I have published on previously. It is a highly relevant system with the potential for a huge splash (as long as we get it out quickly), and may eventually serve as some tight preliminary data.
Beyond the cool factor of this system, I’m a leetle nervous about it. I’ve found it much easier to publish on the system I’m known for — trying to publish using a technique/system that is totally new might prove an uphill battle. Or maybe not. What say you? Waste of start-up, or potentially awesome outcomes? If I do have issues publishing it because my reviewers have a severe case of crotchety name-association neediness, I was considering blogging it instead. Bad idea?
This weekend, I did very little laundry, hung out at the park and a museum with the kids, and made a pot of spicy chili while listening to my newest Gossip album. I am absolutely content.