Saturday, July 28, 2007


There were a couple comments about my hair color. At no time did I mean to deceive you and make you think I had lighter hair. But I always picture people online completely wrong. Anytime I happen to see a picture of someone, I'm shocked that my mental image was so inaccurate.

But, with hopes that it won't freak anyone out too badly, this is a photo of the side/back of my head. That's the camera
strap dangling in the lower right corner. I tried to crop it out (because I'm not so good at self-portraits apparently), but then you couldn't see the pretty curls at the ends. I can see gray in the photo. This does not please me. This is also washed/dried while I slept/unbrushed and unstyled hair. But it does show the color.

I answered Psychobunny's super power question, Veo asked about the book, JustMe was also curious about my hair, and ppb thinks Sprout is majestic. He completely agrees.

Psyc Girl asked about my future plans. While I have no desire to teach a course, I wouldn't mind having a lab. I like the research. I enjoy fixating on a question and looking at it in various ways and spending days getting charts of numbers to find that one trend in 20 is actually significant. I love that I have time and freedom to think and play in areas I find interesting and important. It's very cool.

I also like grad students. The problem is that I wouldn't get a lab because I'm a good mentor or I have interesting ideas or I'm a nifty person. If I end up with a lab, it will be because I somehow convinced someone to fund me. And I'm not bad at writing grants, and I'm in an area with relatively high funding rates (even in a hostile environment, healthcare does OK), so it's not impossible to think that it might someday happen.

Anyway, let's say that it does. I have my own office and some space for my students. I picture myself standing in said space, staring at said students, saying, "So..."

I think people work differently. Some - like me - vary from obsession to complete apathy. I either work all the time or struggle to even answer email. I also like to jump right in. If I can't see data, I struggle to formulate a good plan. What delights me about my current task is that I keep moving forward and learning more, then resting to think of a new hypothesis to check. It flows, but there's no real master plan. I also tend to test well, so exams don't tend to freak me out. I read when I'm writing and tend to fall behind in other times.

Now I've met very successful people who read texts rather than papers. Who like to have every step planned before beginning to acquire data. Who read a tremendous amount and can quote any numbers of studies when someone talks about nearly any topic. Which is great and I appreciate their talents and skills, but I don't really get it. It doesn't work for me so I view it with some confusion. I don't know how to build a friendly lab with a complete skill set.

I think freedom is important - one must discover how to work effectively. I also think guidelines are helpful. Finish courses by a certain point, plan prelim before a given date, try for first publication after 2 years, etc. I think finding the line between friendly encouragement and suffocating pressure is critical and I'm not sure how to do that. Especially since I can't really keep my own productivity constant.

"So," I remember asking Advisor as we sat watching the Chicago River, "did your student ever pass the qualifier? Last time I talked to her, she thought they'd just waive the requirement." I said so with a disdainful sniff, and he shook his head at me.

"She did pass it, but I don't view it as a necessary hurdle, actually."

"You don't?" I was confused and frowned at him. The qualifier was the hurdle for my class. We studied together and suffered. I broke down and sobbed for 2 nights straight as the written exam approached. I did fine - we all did in my year - and I thought that student's inability to do the same meant she should leave the program.

Advisor disagreed. "If you pass the classes," he noted, stealing a fry, "I think that should be good enough. If someone has severe test anxiety, then I don't see what good one exam you cram for then forget is going to do. What's it prove?"

I thought for a moment. I don't like the "if I did it, you should too" philosophy. If the exam isn't necessary, then people shouldn't suffer to take it. I'm just not sure.

Given a lab, I like to think I'd do regular group meetings. Be completely up front with my students about expectations. Back them up when problems occurred. But bad stuff happens sometimes - I'm not convinced all the pain is avoidable. And grad school can be a rough process.

So I guess I don't know. I'd rather spend the day making histograms with pretty error bars than teaching someone else how to do so. So I'm at a good place in my career in that I still have time to figure it out. Though if anyone has ideas on how to build a good research group from the ground up, I'd definitely love to hear them.


Propter Doc said...

Odd, I really always pictured you with lighter hair, perhaps strawberry blond or light caramel.

CJR said...

I also suffer from disturbing amounts of grey hair (although the actual amount seems to wax and wane), but at least I can comfort myself in the fact I don't have the receding hairline possessed by most of my brothers.

And I also struggle with the pinging between obsession and apathy. I've just had to accept that my bursts of productivity are book-ended by me sitting around doing very little - although my brain does seem to be doing something in these periods, because I'm usually snapped out of them with a new insight, or a solution to a problem I've been wrestling with.

Psycgirl said...

If it makes you feel better, I didn't notice any grey hairs in your self-portrait. Thanks for answering my question :) I love your answer because it makes me feel like I have time - something my department never does. Maybe I can relax a little!

Zelda said...

I didn't notice any grey hairs either! I think you have a beautiful hair colour, btw.

post-doc said...

You're one of many. I think it'd odd that I come across as someone with lighter hair. :)

My gray comes and goes too! And it's good to hear you're content with your hairline. :)

I love hearing people say they vary in levels of productivity. I also process problems during those down times - I've come to realize they're important and try not to feel badly in the middle of one.

I'm all about helping people relax a little. And I appreciated the question and opportunity to realize I don't really have a strong sense of what's important should I obtain a lab at some point.

You're very sweet - thanks.

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