Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Snippets: Chicago, day 3

The Ribbon
“I need to register for my travel award.” I noted to Steve at the opening talks on Sunday.

“Yes,” he affirmed, “you need your ribbon.”

“Indeed.” I replied.

“Want to know something funny?” I asked Carrie when we returned from a poster session yesterday afternoon.

“Of course.” She replied quickly and I grinned at how much fun it is to converse with her.

“No less than 10 people looked at me when I was walking around, didn’t do much of anything to acknowledge my presence, glanced down at the ribbon affixed to my nametag that indicates I won a coveted travel award, then made eye contact and smiled. It’s like the ribbon validates my presence here!”

“Nice.” She smiled and nodded.

“I think I need a ribbon all the time.” I mused.

In a meeting that – to me – seems undeniably social, it does tend to emphasize the fact that – in some circles – it matters very much as to who you know. I know Carrie, which is turning out to be a powerful contact into the social world that exists in this particular field. But as I wander around, proudly displaying the ribbon I didn’t really earn, I see people, realize they’re probably quite renowned and important, and acknowledge that I have no idea who they are. Even upon seeing names, I sometimes squint and try to recall if I read any of their papers when I was exploring many areas early in my graduate career. I simply haven’t kept up with the literature in this area, and I note that I’m very ignorant of the sometimes fascinating research that goes on.

The ribbon, therefore, is my in. Strange how something so small can be indicative of a person’s intellectual worth though. And while I like that I know someone who makes me semi-important and worthy of smiles once people behold my ribbon, I’m a bit bothered that connections are so very vital in this world.

The Chapter
My time spent in the lobby waiting for files to transfer themselves to the publisher was apparently well spent. I received an email this morning.

Dear Katie,

Good day. Thank you for your email message. This is to acknowledge receipt of and thank you for the full version of your chapter for publication. This paper is confirmed as accepted for publication.

We will be sending electronic page proofs as the chapter works its way through the production system. Tracking information concerning the editor, ISBN, page proof status and other production stages including shipping will be available at [publisher’s website] within approximately 10 weeks after the volume closes and updated regularly. The website has a field called status which contains the production status. As soon as a book is listed, the codes in the status field are changed to show the flow right through to publication

Please send us the name and address of your library so we can be sure to bring this book to their attention.

“Wow.” I said as I read the email early this morning, dragging myself out of bed and into a pretty skirt and top to attend the morning sessions. “They’re not going to review and revise it? At all? That makes me nervous.”

“It’s so well done that they don’t need to.” Carrie offered, still snuggled in bed waiting for me to leave so she could have the room to herself.

I turned to frown at her and shook my head. Then reconsidered. “It is useful.” I decided, thinking as I spoke. “But there are several areas where I thought, ‘Reviewers will note there are problems and hopefully will suggest ways to improve that particular section.’ I was counting on peer review to make it better! No peer review for my chapter? Just print it as is? Wow.”

I’ll freely admit my fear of peer review. Having received many rejections of decent manuscripts, my stomach clenches before sending anything out. But I also have no choice but to acknowledge it is a vital part of publishing any work. Outsiders can sometimes see flaws and note important findings more clearly. It makes for better papers – this paragraph doesn’t make sense, this sentence needs to be placed at the beginning, this work is confounded and needs further attention. It’s good stuff.

So while I’m thrilled that they received the text and many figures I made, I wish there were people reviewing it. I hope that readers find it helpful and I’m glad I did the analysis and wrote it all out. I’ll certainly use it as a reference and I explored literature and software to a depth I otherwise would have avoided. So it’s a Yay! for being done and having it accepted so easily and a Huh. for not having it picked apart by someone to make sure it’s saying what should be said.

Faculty, Conversation 1
I made reservations at the restaurant that sits on the corner of St. Claire and Grand last night. Carrie and I sat and had fabulous food (I admit I did scrape the whole anchovy off my Caesar salad and covered it with a big parmesan cheese shaving before eating the creation made of crunchy romaine hearts. No floppy leaves in that salad! Not so cultured, I know.) and interesting conversation.

“It’s only recently that I started identifying more with post-docs than grad students.” I offered. “I finally feel like I’ve moved out of the student phase and am somewhere between independence and being mentored. But I still,” and I paused to look at her sheepishly, “don’t trust young professors.”

“No, no!” she scolded. “Assistant professors are to be pitied! Our jobs are hard!”

“I know,” I replied seriously, and I do. "I read blogs and know people – you included – who are in that group. You’re smart and lovely and dedicated, which is great. But my defense experience indicates I view all of you with an element of distrust. Not that it’s deserved or appropriate, but I do.”

“That’s not right.” She said, settling into a mild glare.

“OK, but look.” I started to defend myself. “If I work for an older, more established faculty member, he or she isn’t writing their own papers anymore. I don’t have to worry that the work I’ve done is going to get sucked into one of their major projects and I’ll end up 3rd or 4th author on a paper I otherwise could have written myself. I think in terms of taking advantage of students or post-docs, it’s more likely to happen with younger professors who are working to make a name in the field and get those initial grants.”

She continued to frown at me so I kept talking. “It’s not that I blame you. It must be hard to be in that position and I certainly advocate looking out for yourself and doing what’s best for your career. But from a trainee standpoint, it seems dangerous.”

“I do write a lot of my own papers.” She mused.

“And I want someone content to be last author.” I noted. “I need the first author papers, as do grad students. So it sucks for us when you’re still trying to publish stuff as a first author – too many people want the same thing and when you’re the boss, we’re screwed.”

“I don’t know when it’s time to transition though. When I stop putting my boss last and start being last myself.”

“I don’t know the rules. And I’m not criticizing your choices either, though I’m sure it sounds that way. I don’t know exactly what life is like for you people and I do respect what you’re trying to do. I’m just telling you how it seems from my perspective.”

“No, I know.” She said and peered around the noisy dining room as I tucked into the most delightful risotto. “I am stepping on the backs of my grad students. They do the work, I write the paper. And take first author. Yep, stepping on their backs.”

“And telling them to hold still while you’re doing it.” I noted, again marveling over the quality of my food.

I might have left that conversation off the blog for fear of offending junior faculty members who might read. But then…

Faculty, Conversation 2
We ran into two members of my graduate research group after I hung my poster this morning. They – both junior faculty now – were going in to hang their own work for sessions later today.

“Are you physically presenting a poster?” I asked the elder of the two. “Not your students?”

“Yes.” He answered and I frowned.

“But why aren’t your students doing it? Didn’t they do the work? Where are they?”

“They’re not here.” He said and I blinked in continued surprise.

“Why not?” I asked when he didn’t elaborate.

“They wouldn’t be interested.” He said, then paused. “Well, maybe they would. Some of them.”

“So why aren’t they here?” I pressed. “Where are they?”

“Working, I hope.” He replied, then dug in his bag. “In fact, I should call and make sure they’re all in and getting things done.”

I huffed to Carrie as we headed upstairs again. “I wouldn’t work for him.” I offered. And while I’m pleased everyone is doing so well for themselves, I can’t help but think members of my cohort are becoming people I wouldn’t trust all that much when collaborating. Which seems wildly hypocritical when Carrie has helped me so much, but the idea that everyone is out for number one makes me nervous.

I want to be selfish and work for a mentor who very much wants me to succeed, even when that takes me in a different direction than he/she hoped. And, to be fair, I sure as hell wouldn’t work for myself if I were a grad student.

Summing Up
Going to sessions that are even slightly relevant does spark ideas for me. I sat through morning talks and had a couple of ideas for what to try next. So I should do that instead of writing on my blog, I suppose.


Anonymous said...

chicago is so lovely, thanks for the picture reminder! if you like mexican, there are great places too!

i agree with you about hearing related sessions sparking your own work, i love that.

and i can't believe that prof guy. i wouldn't want to work with him either.

sheepish said...

It costs upwards of a few grand to send students to a conference. A lot of PIs just can't afford that, at least not at the level of sending a lot of students to a lot of conferences. And since nobody likes to admit they can't get enough grant money, maybe he said the first thing that came to mind.

post-doc said...

I do love Chicago and I wouldn't work for him either. :)

It's a good point and deserves some thought. For another professor. This particular instance involves students working a 15 minute walk away and a registration fee under $100 for a lab that has 3 different grants right now. So it's not a financial thing for him, but there could be a more charitable explanation than I'm offering.

STM said...

Catching up on the blog...
Seeing the photos reminds me of home (suburbs) and trips into Chicago. Thanks for posting!

Also, the stories about the advisor remind me how lucky I was to have my first advisor. Though the program didn't work, he sent me overseas and into DC to work at a conference...published papers he wrote with a little bit of research from me and put me as an author (one of which was high profile - to the Department of State)

My current advisor does not believe or does not have the time to develop his students. I should say the department as a whole stinks in this respect...but it is a better fit academically.

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