Thursday, November 30, 2006

If Only I Had Facial Hair (other than eyebrows)

If I had real facial hair, I could have participated more in a departmental meeting today. Once the conversation turned to beards, I tuned out and started reading/editing a friend's proposal. I did have a momentary fantasy of what it would be like if one of these old bearded guys found himself vastly outnumbered by faculty women colleagues having a conversation about their personal (feminine) grooming philosophy and practices. I don't think they would be very interested (or comfortable), but I could be very wrong. It is unlikely that I will be able to run this fantasy experiment any time soon.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

More Musings on Reviewing

If I do all the reviews I've promised to do in the next month, I will have reviewed 21 manuscripts this year for 9 different journals, not counting manuscripts I've handled as an editor of one journal and associate editor of another; an addition that would easily double the total and more. Add in proposal reviews, tenure/promotion reviews, and such, and the number gets a bit alarming.

A number I don't keep track of but am now curious about is how many reviews I decline to do. I can think of at least 5-6 I've declined in recent months. Reasons I decline to review, in order of most common to least common reasons:

- I have 5-6 reviews I'm already working on and just can't commit to another one (unless it is an absolutely fascinating sounding paper or one I feel I should do for various reasons)

- I've already reviewed the manuscript for another journal, it was rejected, and I can't bear to read it again in its resubmitted form to another journal even if I feel that humanity will suffer if this paper is ever inflicted on the world.

- The manuscript isn't something I have any expertise in and can't imagine why I was asked to review it.

My husband reviews a similar number of manuscripts each year, but we both think we do a lot of reviews compared to many of our colleagues. This opinion is not based on any data though.

Since writing a few days ago that I wasn't going to agree to do any more reviews this year, I have agreed to two more.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Graduate Student Reviewers

Is it OK for a grad student to do a review that their advisor was asked to do?

Pros: By doing a review, grad students are exposed to the process of reviewing (not just being reviewed).

Cons: Even if a particular student has the necessary expertise and judgment to do a review, grad students have enough to do without the extra time involved in doing a thorough review.

** I would never ask one of my students to do a review for me -- that is, instead of my doing the review. **

A few years ago, I was talking to someone at a conference who had reviewed one of my papers not long before the conference, and was horrified to find out that although he had signed the review, one of his postdocs had done the review. The review-signer hadn't even looked at the paper. I would have been fine with his postdoc doing the review and either signing or not as he wished, but I thought it was disgusting that someone had signed another person's review.

I recently involved one of my graduate students in a review, with permission from the editor, because the topic was directly related to the student's thesis topic. My student is about to graduate (Ph.D.) and had published on this topic, so I felt he was senior enough and in the right stage of his career to see what was involved in a review. In the end, 99.9% of the review comments were my own, but it was an interesting exercise for us both to read a manuscript and compare our opinions with respect to what should go in the review and how the comments should be worded to be clear and constructive. I have involved students a few other times in the past, but not often.

As an editor, I often ask postdocs for reviews. Postdocs, assistant professors, and other early-career scientists tend to do thorough and prompt reviews, though I also try not to overload any particular person with reviews just because they're a good reviewer. In general, I will ask someone for a review once/year.

Monday, November 27, 2006

To Review or Not to Review

Yesterday I wrote that I wasn't going to do any manuscript or proposal reviews other than the ones I had already promised to do. I have too many other things to do -- proposal, conference, teaching, editorial work, a major committee assignment that involves my reading hundreds of pages of text (including nearly 100 letters of reference), and I've already reviewed probably 20 papers this year (I am going to calculate this later -- maybe it just feels like 20?).


Today I was asked to review a manuscript for a journal for which I currently have 2 of my own manuscripts in review. I SHOULD do this review. As a general policy/philosophy, I say yes to journals if I have a paper submitted there myself. It just seems fair. So, I will do this review, but it might take a few weeks.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Blog 101

The title of this post refers to the fact that this is my 101st post, so I couldn't resist, even if the title is misleading. So many of us have fond memories of teaching and/or taking courses with 101 in the course name, and that makes the number extra special for academics.

What I am actually thinking about today is how to handle my annual end-of-term spectacular head-on collision of teaching activities with a research proposal deadline, a major research conference, and the other usual advising-committee-research-life time commitments. Somehow, what needs to get done, gets done, and other things have to wait.

It's a rather delicate balance that can be thrown off by unexpected events (e.g., a sick child, pet, or vehicle), but I can deal with those if I have to. I can even deal with the time needed to give extra help to students who have complicated lives involving athletic events, physical and learning disabilities, job/family commitments, emergencies, and such. That's all routine.

Also routine, unfortunately, are those who make appointments with me and don't show up (with no notice beforehand). Try doing that to a 'real' doctor.

Other things that have now been hurled onto back burners until 2007..

- reviews other than what I already agreed to do;
- acquiring new data myself (hooray for grad students and postdocs though);
- any committee meeting that isn't absolutely essential (unfortunately, that still leaves several meetings/week, since the definition of 'essential' is somewhat nebulous);
- cleaning my office except what is necessary to keep heavy things from falling off piles and injuring me or my office mice;
- finishing a couple of papers (alas)

.. but not blogging (obviously).

How Many Hours Do Professors Work?

"How many hours do professors work" keeps showing up in the list of keywords used by people who find this blog, and it has come up in some comments before, but I don't think I have ever really addressed it directly. There is of course no single answer.

Even if I attempt to answer it for how many hours I work, the number varies a lot from day to day and week to week. In general, though, it's somewhere between 50-70 hours/week.

Here's how it adds up:

In a typical week, I work the usual hours during the work day. The working day starts for my husband and me after we take our daughter to school in the morning.

My daughter's school gets out at 4 pm, then she goes to an afterschool play program until 5:45 (except for the day she has piano lessons, when we retrieve her early -- if there's a faculty meeting, we flip a coin to see who stays at the meeting and who goes to piano lesson -- the loser stays at the meeting). She loves the afterschool play time. She used to only do it a few days a week and my husband and I would take turns leaving the office early, but this year she requested to go to it all 5 days. Apparently, attending part time was disruptive to her intricate and exciting social life.

So, I typically stay at the office until 5:30. Three nights/week, I work after dinner and after some family/evening time, and I typically work until midnight-1 a.m. That 'extra' 12-15 hours each week is when I get my writing/thinking done, as the days are typically consumed by meetings, advising, teaching, and so on.

If I need to, I also work a bit on weekends. This is a good time to get some work done in the lab, get ready for the week's teaching, do some grading, and so on. I work while my husband takes our daughter to swimming lessons etc.

Therefore, in a week in which neither my husband or I are traveling, I work somewhere between 50-70 hours. For most of that time, my daughter is either at school or asleep, so I don't feel like I'm sacrificing anything but my own sleep (and housework.. we have a house-cleaner who comes every few weeks). This schedule works well for my husband and me because we see each other at work every day and we have lunch together every day. Also, he has the same kind of schedule/life so we're both in it together.

Friday, November 24, 2006

What To Wear (Again)

The issue of how our appearance affects people's perceptions of our abilities and authority has once again been raised (NY Times essay 11/21) and once again the focus is mostly on women (young doctors in this case). There are 6 photos accompanying the essay, each showing an attractive young woman showing 'too much' skin.

Studies show that people prefer doctors who look like stereotypical doctors. I am sure this is also true of people's preference for airline pilots, professors, and President of the United States, but isn't it obvious that we need to change the perception, not the preference?

I can't comment on many of the points in the article. Maybe women doctors shouldn't have long hair -- the article says this is not hygienic (are beards hygienic, by the way?) -- and maybe there are some ways of dressing that are unprofessional (for both men and women). Nevertheless, I think that such issues should be discussed more thoughtfully, rather than just as emphatic statements about how women should and should not dress. For example: women professionals shouldn't wear short skirts because it is too distracting to others. It may well be, but how do we decide when the doctor (or professor or politician) is dressing inappropriately and when the patient (or student or citizen) needs to change their perceptions?

There are probably obvious end members where most people would agree about what is professional vs. unprofessional appearance/attire. I have a feeling, though, that there is a rather large gray area, and that a lot of women are in this gray area, not because they don't dress appropriately, but because people's perceptions of what is appropriate for women is more variable than it is for men.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Professorial Thankfulness

Ignoring for the moment the rumor that most of us professors are real people with families and lives outside the Academy, let's imagine a Thanksgiving dinner in which we give thanks for things that are relevant only to our professional existence. Let's also dispense with the boring thanks to our graduate advisors, our students, NSF program directors, the guys who deliver the liquid nitrogen to the lab, and so on. What does this leave? A lot:

I am thankful for the night custodian who leaves the lights on in my corridor so that I don't have to walk through a dark building when I work late at night in my office.

I am thankful for the baristas at my four favorite cafes near campus, especially when they already start preparing my favorite caffeinated beverages as soon as they see me.

I am thankful in a personal, selfish, self-hating way for global warming. As a scientist and citizen who cares about the environment, I am aghast at global warming and our government's criminal rejection of even modest attempts to curb CO2-emissions, not to mention the attempt to silence climate scientists, distort climate data, and confuse non-scientists. But at this time of year, I find I am not a good enough person to strongly disapprove of the mild weather. I am struggling with this issue on a personal level, but may defer direct confrontation with my hypocrisy until my New Years resolutions.

I am thankful for my new Macintosh computer, which is fast and aesthetically pleasing.

I am thankful that no mice have died in my office recently.

I am thankful that I still have more than a week to write my NSF proposal.

I am thankful for the second law of thermodynamics.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Here or There?

Is it better for there to be senior women science professors in as many universities as possible, or is it better for there to be at least some universities that have a relatively high concentration of senior women scientists? [assume that it is not possible for there to be sufficient representation of women science professors at all universities on a time scale that is relevant to the reasons why I am pondering this question]

In other words: Should a senior woman scientist leave a university that does pretty good job at hiring and retaining women faculty for a university that does a dismal job of both? In real life, there are many other considerations about family and life and research facilities and so on, but let's ignore those for the moment.

I don't know the answer, but I have been thinking about it a lot recently.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Role Modeling

Today I talked informally with some women grad students (not my own), most from other universities. Some were considering not seeking academic jobs because they wanted to have 'a life'. I asked them why they didn't think they could have a life and an academic career as well, and the answer was that they didn't know anyone who did both. Some of these schools have no women faculty or, at most, one (unmarried/childless) in our general field. So I kicked into Role Model mode, telling them about my family and demonstrating that it is entirely possible to have a family and be a science professor and to enjoy both.

I am happy to do the Role Model thing, but I'm always amazed that it is as important as it is.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

I Volunteered For This

Our department has a boring, dry, ugly newsletter that appears every few years. One of the administrative assistants has always been in charge of it, and she has other priorities, and years go by without a newsletter. So.. I volunteered to organize, write, construct, create a new newsletter. In a way, it's yet another little task that I do while the important guys in the department make the big decisions, but only in a way. I actually like doing this kind of thing -- writing, putting together words and images to communicate with people. And I did volunteer. And now I have to create something.

I have been poring over a lot of departmental newsletters this past week, looking for inspiration. My first conclusion is that there are a lot of boring, dry, ugly newsletters out there. Newsletters filled with lists of names, epic poems written for men getting awards, and photos of diverse groups of young students Doing Science.

It's quite possible that my enthusiasm for doing something new and different will get stomped on by the reality of creating this thing whilst also writing a proposal, giving an invited talk a couple thousand miles from here, teaching, attending a conference a couple thousand miles from here, and finishing up some papers by the end of the semester. And studying for my own final exam in my intro language course!

But I would like to do something fun and aesthetically pleasing with this newsletter. I am getting sort of fond of the idea of 'interviewing' some of our new faculty members rather than just writing a few paragraphs about each of them, with questions like "Why do you do what you do?" and "How did you get here?", not just "What do you do and how do you do it?".

The Chair's view of this newsletter is that it is a vehicle for attracting donations. I will try not to let that harsh economic reality intrude too much on my enjoyment of the project, which I mostly see as a way to communicate with friends and alums of the department. I find myself imagining that I am writing it for some of my former students, and thinking about what they might want to know about the department now.

Any suggestions of what you like to read or see in an academic newsletter?

Monday, November 13, 2006


A few weeks ago, I wrote about how I am taking an undergraduate language class this semester. So far, it's been great, though it's always strange for me when we do conversation drills about what jobs we want to have when we graduate, what classes we are taking, and what our parents' hobbies are.

By far the strangest experience was when we had to show and talk about photographs of our family and friends. Many of the other students got out their laptops and opened their Facebook pages. It was just like what I've read about -- endless flash photos of drunken parties with people hanging off each other whilst holding alcoholic beverages. This might have presented opportunities for learning some words and phrases that are not in our textbook, but the instructor didn't seem to want to linger much on these photos.

I have a webpage with photos of my family (husband, daughter, cats), but these photos must seem boring to my fellow students, who are all at least half my age. What would a Facebook for science professors look like? Perhaps I should start bringing a camera to conferences so I can take crazy photos of people clustered around a poster display. Or, if I wanted to get really wild, I could take pictures at faculty meetings. Now that would be scary.

Saturday, November 11, 2006


When I got married, I didn't change my last name. I guess we both could have hyphenated our names, but that wasn't very appealing to either of us, and I certainly wasn't going to hyphenate if my husband wasn't going to. Instead, we did that to our daughter. It just seemed too strange to me to contemplate being in a family in which my daughter had my husband's last name and not mine (too), even stranger than our all having different last names.

Then we had to decide which name would go first. We decided to decide based on what sounded best, and we agreed that the order that sounded best was my name first.

Our first plan was that she would have two last names without a hyphen, but we were told at the hospital when her birth certificate was being filled out that it was illegal to have a 'space' in a last name. I said "What if our name were van Gogh or da Vinci?". They said no go(gh). Perhaps we got an uninformed person doing the birth certificate, but I was desperate to go home and they told us we couldn't leave the hospital until we gave our daughter a last name with no spaces. Bizarre.

So she has a hyphen, and a long last name that doesn't quite make it intact onto some forms.

At her preschool, which was associated with the university, she was not unusual for having a hyphenated last name. At her elementary school, there are a few others, but not many.

The only one who has ever been upset about our daughter's last name is my mother-in-law. She didn't like the hyphenation and she particularly didn't like the fact that my name was first. She told us that she hoped people would think that that name was a middle name and that the real last name was her son's (no matter that my mother-in-law has kept the name of a man she divorced and loathed for the rest of his life).

If at some point our daughter decides she'd rather just have one last name and lops off one (or both), or changes her name when she gets married -- that's up to her and I won't mind whatever she chooses. For now, though, her having a part of my name and a part of her dad's works really well for our family, and we're happy with the decision we made nearly 10 years ago.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Equal Rights for Girls and Boys

That was the title of an essay my elementary-school aged daughter wrote this week. She and her classmates each had to choose a topic related to a "right" that was important to them. I was impressed by her essay because (1) I'm her mother, and (2) The essay was written from her heart, using her own examples, which were:

- Politics. Even young children couldn't escape the onslaught of campaigning in the recent elections. We passed dozens of lawn signs on the walk to school, we had constant phone calls and knocks on the door by campaign workers, her school let the kids vote in their own voting booths set aside for kids, and the mother of one of her school friends was running for office. This led to conversations about whether there had ever been a woman President, Vice-President, how many women Senators there are, and so on.

- Her grandmother/my mother. The combination of the elections and my mother's recent visit reminded my daughter that her grandmother was the first woman mayor of the small city where I grew up. She was fascinated by the story of how people doubted her grandmother, but grandma was a great mayor and won over some of her critics. So she wrote about that. Role models work!

- Sexist chants on the playground. These have existed for eons. My daughter says she wasn't really bothered by them because they are so stupid, but she thought they were an example of how some attitudes might start really early and then never entirely go away.

I'm glad she chose this topic. It was interesting to see her pull together in writing various things she's been thinking about lately (maybe she should start a blog?).

I told her that I thought she was going to write about how kids should have the right to choose their own name -- she has a long, hyphenated last name, and I wouldn't be surprised if some day one name gets lopped (that would be fine with me; eventually it will be her choice). She said she likes her complicated last name because it's something unique and special about her and it makes her feel connected to both of her parents.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Too Many Women

Each fall, our department has a career forum for students (undergraduate, graduate) and anyone else who wants to come. There is typically a panel with representatives from various types of academic institutions (small colleges, research universities, medium-sized universities), from industry, and from government agencies. The panel members speak briefly about their jobs and then there is a lot of interactive question-answer time with the audience. After,there is informal social time for additional interaction between students and the panel members. It's a great thing, and it's organized by a female assistant professor in my department. What's not to like?

One of my senior male colleagues approached me to discuss his concerns about this forum. I don't know why he came to talk to me. I have nothing to do with the organization of the forum. All the credit for it goes to my junior colleague, who initiated it and organizes it.

He was concerned because the forum is "female-dominated". Most of the speakers are women, and of course the organizer is a woman.

I asked him: "Why is this a problem?" Apparently it is obvious, but he spelled it out for me, since I was having trouble understanding: Male students might feel "excluded" from the forum because there are more women than men involved.

This is the point at which I stared at him, stunned. And then I laughed. There were so many possible responses, and not all of them nice.

Opting for nice (as usual), I said: "If I refused to attend departmental events because they were dominated by the opposite gender, I would never leave my office."

He said: "But that's different." End of conversation.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

There They Go Again

I may be completely delusional (as opposed to partially delusional, which I freely admit to being), but I really don't recognize the academic universe described in a recent article in the Sunday New York Times (Education supplement). The article discusses which statistics reported by a college or university might not give a true picture of the institution.

I liked the start of the article: an example of a University of Michigan student who has taken small classes with a cohort of fellow students for much of her undergraduate career. The point is that these environments and programs exist at big universities, not just at small colleges.

But then there's a section titled: "Prizes and Ph.D's: They Don't Teach". I do not recognize the academic environment described. Not even close. Is there really any U.S. university, no matter how highly ranked and festooned with Nobel Prize laureates, at which teaching is not important? The scary thing is that the following quotation comes from a 'career and college counselor' and author of a guide to colleges:

"People who self-select into Ph.D. programs are academic research types, not teachers," he says. "Their knowledge is so deep and so profound they often don't have the ability to communicate well with undergraduates who need the basics." And this: "A person with a Nobel Prize-winner mind is in the loftiest stratospheres of their arcane pursuit and, in general, is not that gifted a teacher."

Where to start, where to start..

It's true that I often don't have the ability to communicate well with people, particularly when I'm asleep or alone. Otherwise, I typically do just fine.

Re. arcane pursuits: since I have no perspective, despite my deep and profound knowledge of some things, I Googled the term "arcane pursuits" to see if things like inventing magnetic resonance imaging and semiconductors or understanding the causes of diseases really are "arcane". Nope. It turns out that the following are arcane, though: Latin grammar, programming multicast applications, archiving television audio, fly fishing.

Anyway, I am really tired of reading this professors-can't-teach (or the variant: professors-don't-teach) myth in the mainstream press. Of course there are research professors and there are some not-so-great teachers at universities (and colleges), but I don't have any colleagues here or elsewhere who don't devote a lot of time and energy to teaching, to being very good teachers, and to integrating teaching and research. We are better teachers for our intensive involvement in research.

Another myth that is repeated in the article: that full-time faculty are better than adjuncts or part-time faculty: ".. being around (full-time) tends to increase their participation in the life of the campus and their students' development." Without getting into the issue of universities exploiting their adjuncts and not giving them sufficient respect or salary, it is clearly not the case that part-time faculty aren't as committed as full-time faculty.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Get A Job

Today I was perusing the recent issue of Physics Today, and read with interest a feature article on "Hunting for jobs at liberals arts colleges", by Suzanne Amador Kane and Kenneth Laws. There is much in this article that is applicable to any academic job search, including jobs at big research-focused universities.

First, a few things I disagreed with, as these come early in the article:

1."However good your PhD or postdoctoral mentor may be at research, the odds are that he or she knows relatively little about the small-college environment." In the first paragraph, the authors make the case that of 764 college physics departments in the U.S., 513 of them are at colleges or universities whose highest degree offered is the bachelor's. So.. doesn't it follow that quite a few graduate advisors and postdoc supervisors will have come from undergraduate-focused institutions? I realize that there are smaller numbers of physicists graduating from the undergraduate institutions, but even so, my impression is that graduates of small liberal arts colleges and other undergraduate institutions are legion in academia. I am one such SLAC graduate, and I am by no means rare or even in the minority.

2."Faculty positions at liberal arts institutions include a much more significant component of teaching and working with students than do similar jobs in research universities." OK, I know this is not a controversial statement, but it would be a mistake to assume that jobs at research universities do not involve substantial involvement in teaching and other educational activities (e.g., advising undergraduate students in research projects). In fact, I spend all of my weekday time on teaching or teaching-related activities (including graduate advising), and it is primarily at night and on weekends that I have time to do research (+ teaching preparation, grading, and such).

But let's focus on the excellent advice in this article for job applicants:

- In written statements and interview talks/discussions, show that you can articulate your research to a general audience. There will be opportunities to show how technically excellent and focused you are, but don't do this at the expense of showing breadth and awareness of the context of your research.

- Keep track of the materials/formats requested as part of the application, be concise in your cover letter and statements, and don't send a form letter. I have seen a surprising number of applications in which the applicant forgot to change University X to University Y. It's a detail (sort of) and everyone expects applicants to apply to multiple places, but it definitely undermines your message if you write a passionate paragraph about why you want to be at a different university than the one to which you are applying.

- A related point: tailor your cover letter to the specific place to which you are applying, and, if you interview, show that you spent some time learning about the place. This sounds straightforward, but there are some possible pitfalls:

- Don't dig too deep to learn about faculty and others. I have encountered a few interviewees who somehow learned my child's name and age, as well as other details of my career and life, and I just think that's weird. Another interviewee, who had no interest in sports, memorized the starting players and their statistics for the university basketball team. Don't be so insecure to think that there won't be anything of mutual interest that you can discuss with faculty and others.

- Don't treat the senior faculty with more respect than the junior faculty. This used to drive me crazy when I was an Assistant Professor. On more than one occasion, an interviewee would be obsequious to the senior faculty and administrators and patronizing to the junior faculty. Mistake. We all get a vote.

- Also: If you do a bit of research on a department, you won't make the semi-fatal error of assuming that a young-looking woman is a student (or secretary).

- And: I was going to write "Don't be a jerk at conferences if you are on the job market", but in fact, if you are a jerk, that's important information for prospective interviewers. Example: One year at a conference, I was at a social-professional event, and asked the organizer if there was anything to drink besides beer. He smirked and said to me "If you don't like beer, you should get out of here", then turned his back. When he arrived in my office a few weeks later as a candidate for a faculty position (I was on the search committee), he was very uncomfortable talking to me. I tried to put him at his ease, but the interview wasn't going well in general, so the whole thing was kind of unpleasant.

- And finally: It's fine to look into cost-of-living and other lifestyle issues, but I always think it's bizarre when interviewees have already contacted a realtor and selected neighborhoods and schools and such. There's plenty of time for that later, if you get an offer.

- Make sure your letter writers send their letters on time. Some of us write lots of letters of recommendation for lots of students, and it can be hard keeping track of deadlines and the nuances of different positions/schools. I don't mind if someone checks to see if I sent a letter or letters, and I don't mind polite reminders before a deadline. I like it best when I get an organized list of what letters have to be where when. If someone asks me "Can you send a letter to College X by December 1?", that's not enough. I need a copy of the job description and I need the address/email. If I'm writing 20+ letters for different students and different jobs, I am not going to go digging for the information myself.

- A related issue: I was recently concerned when a graduating Ph.D. student asked a research associate for a letter of recommendation instead of asking another faculty member. Junior scientists tend to take letter-writing very seriously, but, depending on the job/institution, the search committee might wonder why all the letters weren't from faculty. Maybe in some cases it's better to have a substantial positive letter from a postdoc, as opposed to a one-line letter from a Nobel laureate (<-- this really happened), but in general, get letters from faculty if at all possible. I have read about 150 letters of reference just this week, so I have more opinions on this issue for a later post.

- The CV: Don't list manuscripts that are "in preparation" -- no one will be impressed. Don't mix citations of abstracts/conference presentations with those for peer-reviewed articles. Put the peer-reviewed articles first. My personal preferences is for the most recent at the top, and then reverse chronological order.

- Whether you're interviewing at a small college or big university, ask to meet with students. You learn a lot about a place from talking to students, and having lunch or an informal discussion with students might well be the most fun part of your interview.

It is too bad that the article doesn't deal more with dual-career couple issues. Instead, the authors refer readers to a 1999 article in Physics Today. There is a website associated with this article, but some of the links are dead and/or useless, with some exceptions.

And finally: After an interview, send a brief follow-up letter to the relevant people (search committee chair and/or dept chair and/or search committee and/or others) to emphasize your interest, and to note any updates in your files (new publications, thoughts based on your interview and interactions with students and others). Don't be too schmoozy and uber-grateful - be succinct and sincere and professional.

That's a lot of information, but most of it is common sense stuff.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Sibling Promotion Rivalry

My mother, who lives about 1500 miles away, just visited for a few days. It was a nice visit, and of course thrilling for my daughter to have her grandmother visit. For me, spending time with my mother always highlights how odd my life is compared to the rest of my family. All of the adult males in my family have been or are involved in The Military and/or Religion as a profession. The adult women of my mother's generation never had careers.

I can accept and understand that they don't understand what I do and why I do it, especially since my research has few obvious relevant applications. What I find a bit annoying, though, is that my family celebrates every promotion step my brother achieves in the Navy, but my promotions to different professorial ranks are of no interest and even seem kind of pathetic to them. They are not sure whether they should be proud of me. After all, it's not as if I'm teaching at Harvard. I think they are also puzzled by my career because:

- Academic promotions are few and far between. My brother gets promoted every few years in the Navy, but my family wonders why my promotions have been so slow to occur. Why did it take 6 years for me to no longer be an "Assistant" professor? (which leads me to my next point):

- The names of professorial ranks are not very impressive. I am sure that this has been written about by many people in the past, but clearly being an "Assistant Professor" doesn't sound very impressive compared to being a Lieutenant or a Colonel. And then, after a few more years and a long involved process, one becomes only an "Associate Professor". My family wondered when, if ever, I would be a real professor.

My promotion to full professor a few years ago coincided with my older brother's promotion to Captain. His being promoted to Captain was a BIG DEAL in my family. There was a big ceremony and a party. My mother was very anxious that I give my brother a present that was suitable for the special occasion. My brother and I have a tendency to give each other joke presents that we think are hilarious but our mother doesn't. I gave him a large chain-saw wood carving of a bear; my promotion went un-acknowledged. I am very proud of my brother and his success, but I told my family that being a full professor was like being an admiral, and maybe one day my brother would get to this level. No one thought that was funny except me.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Conference Junkie

I really like going to conferences. I like giant ones with thousands of scientists, and I like small specialized conferences on a focused topic. To be systematic about it, my conference likes and dislikes include:

LIKES (in no particular order)

1 - Watching my current and former students and postdocs give presentations. At the most recent conference I attended, 2 of my students gave truly outstanding talks. There are few academic experiences more exciting than this.
2 - Seeing lots of friends from the various stages of my academic career.
3 - Talking in person to colleagues I don't see very often.
4 - Giving talks about my research. I am particularly excited about one of my current research projects, and it was very fun to give a talk on this recently.
5 - Meeting new people and learning new things.
6 - Exploring other cities/regions.

DISLIKES (in no particular order)

1 - Having people assume that I am a student or that my research is someone else's project or idea. Now that I've been around and semi-visible for a while, the former seldom happens, but the latter still does. Example: At the most recent meeting, I had a conversation with 2 colleagues about the research project that was the subject of my talk. One of these men, whom I will call Y, has a tendency to work on the same thing I do, after I have already started a project [I have written about this before]. Today I got an email from the other man, saying he would like to learn more about the research that "you and Y" are doing. Correction: This is my research idea and my initial results. Y will no doubt work on this soon, if he isn't already working on it, but the chances of my working with him are less than zero.

2 - Going to professional/social functions dominated by senior men who only talk to each other.

3 - Encountering people who are unhappy because I rejected their paper(s) (in my role as an Editor of a journal).

At a recent conferece, I cashed in on a bet that a colleague and I made in 1996. We agreed that in 2006 at a major annual meeting, whoever lost the bet would take the other out for a very nice dinner. I totally won this bet, and I had a very fun evening collecting on it recently. The bet was that I would regret leaving University 1 for University 2. I do not regret this move. In fact, this colleague, who has himself left University 1 now, conceded defeat long ago, maybe even in 1998, but we agreed to keep to the original agreement about the collection date.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

On the Lack of Women

Two of the letters to Science this week on the topic of "On the Lack of Women in Academic Science" demonstrate the main issues very well.

First is an inspiring letter by Professor Emeritus Eugenie Vorburger Mielczarek, a pioneering woman physicist whose actions as a department head and mentor fostered the academic careers of women and men in her department.

At the other end of the evolutionary spectrum, Dr. George Gordon Roberts joins the ranks of those who are 'troubled' by the underrepresentation of men on the National Academy of Sciences panel that produced the On Bias and Barriers report. I sort of know how he feels, though in my case the committees I encounter are typically all-male instead of mostly-female. I am constantly having to deal with decisions and reports issued by all-male committees, including some that have a direct impact on my career and life. It is indeed very troubling.

Even more fascinating is Dr. Roberts' idea that "we" should be telling women to marry men who make less money than they do, so that it is more likely that their husbands will be the stay-at-home spouse when it comes time to raise some kids. I have a higher salary than my husband, but alas, he rather likes his career, so we share childcare activities. Roberts' idea sounds like something an all-male committee would come up with.