Thursday, February 21, 2008

(Im)personal Question

Recently someone in my general field of the physical sciences called me and asked if I would be willing to share information about my funding history with him. He is trying to make a case to his department that they hire someone in my sub-field, and he wanted to have some data to show what the possibilities were in terms of amounts and types of funding. He spent a while working gently up to his request for my funding data, as if he were asking me an intensely personal question. And then he was very apologetic about asking, and told me he would understand if I didn't want to share this information with him.

I don't know this person well, so I can understand that he might have been unsure about my response, but I thought his apologetic and hesitant request was strange because, as is typical for my field, all of my grants are from funding agencies that post grant information on the internet. Anyone can search these databases for my name and find out the amounts, durations, and subjects of my research grants, past and present.

I don't know why he didn't just look up my funding history, but for whatever reason, he decided to ask me in person. Even though funding information is publicly available, this colleague's apparent belief in the intimacy of the Grants Question is not unusual. Asking someone employed at a research university how many grants they have (or whether they have any grants) is not an impersonal request for information. It's the same as asking someone whether they are successful or whether they are desperate and anxiety-ridden (or deadwood).

In any case, I was happy to share the information with him because at the moment my funding situation is quite good. If it weren't, I probably wouldn't have been quite as happy to discuss this topic with him. Maybe I would have snarled "Go look it up!" and offered to tell him my salary, age, and weight instead.


Anonymous said...

I have been trying to figure out why I dislike you, instead of identifying with your role as a female science professor (I am one too). I believe it is because nearly everything you post is self-aggradizing. Here, you ostensibly complain about the foolishness of a colleague who could have looked up some info but asked you instead (a courtesy) while your real goal appears to be to brag about all your funding. Well, congrats on all that funding, but if you are wonderful, why are you so insecure in your accomplishments? Aren't there real issues to blog about, external to your own accomplishments?

Southern Grad Girl said...

I asked a funding question of my boss during my rotation with the same trepidation as this guy, and with the lead in of "Can I ask you a personal question?"

He stressed to me the difference between personal and professional questions. And while he was probably willing to answer personal questions, he said he was certainly willing to discuss the professional ones.

Anonymous said...

Gee, Anonymous #1, it must really suck to be strapped to your computer and forced to read blogs you dislike. Especially when there's such a dearth of information out there about any "real issues". I feel for you.

Female Science Professor said...

Yes, indeed, an anonymous blog is a really effective means of self-aggrandizing. It also cranks up my citation index.

I don't think my colleague is foolish, and did not mean to give that impression. Note also that I used a "musing" font rather than a "complaining" font.

southern grad girl has a good point -- there is a difference between a personal and a professional question, though in the case of grants (and related issues), it might not seem so at times.

Anonymous said...

I like it when FSP brags, if that means detailing her accomplishments. I hope she does it in real life, too, so that people don't underestimate the "short blonde woman"

Ms.PhD said...

anon 1,

what would you consider a real issue?


I for one enjoy the musing posts about the odd culture of science.

I suspect this guy was hoping you'd have ideas to help him make his case, rather than just looking up the numbers of what you currently have funded.

That wouldn't tell him, for example, about how hard it was to get that funding (easy? not so easy?). Maybe you've applied for thousands and only got 5. Maybe this is the only time in your career that you've finally felt stable in your funding situation (internet data only goes back so far).

He probably wanted to get your opinion on the funding situation in your field, and your perception of it for a new person coming in, as much as the numbers.

But that's just a guess. I saw a great quote the other day about how making any good plans requires not just knowing the present, but also the past and most importantly, guessing about the future. You're probably more qualified to guess about the future of funding in your field as someone outside your field, right?

Anonymous said...

not everyone that holds research funding actually knows about public availability of certain information about their grants. More than one NIH PI is shocked to learn their (gasp) Abstract, is published on CRISP. I don't have the heart to tell these types about CRISP-ER, usually.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 1

I wonder what pulls you toward the writing of a blogger you so obviously dislike, presumably in search of the personality trait that will allow you to trash her? Could it have something to do with your own insecurities? Worth analyzing..

In any case, you read a lot more into this story than I did. As you continue your weird negative reading of this blog, why don't you attempt to paint the evil portrait of FSP's psychology and share it with us for a laugh?

smellyrunningshoes said...

You know, reading through the little bit of bicker-fest on these comments brings up the point that studies (argh, can't find a citation, but I know I saw it somewhere, and I'm sure someone on here knows where it is--thought it was in "Beyond Bias and Barriers" but not finding it readily) have shown that women are typically more sexist towards other women than men are towards women, at least with regard to engineering job searches. So let's play nice.

Cloud said...

I liked this post FSP. I work in industry, so I'm not sure what the equivalent "personal question" would be. But it reminds me of the way people tap dance around asking how much we paid for our house. This is also a matter of public record, but people get pretty coy about asking. I think we're all just uncomfortable talking about money because it is so linked to status in our culture.

Anonymous said...

Today's post was about a real issue (Friday). There are not that many blogs about academic issues, that aren't written by whiny people without jobs. That's why it has puzzled me to have such a consistently negative reaction to posts here. But you are right, if I don't like the dynamic and everyone wants to have a lovefest here, I will go.

Jonathan Thornburg said...

Dear FSP,
I for one find your blog fascinating,
inspiring, and a lot of fun to read.
I've linked to it from my home page,
and sometimes mail links to particular
items to friends & colleagues. Please
keep up the good work, and don't let
the occasional negative comments discourage you.
p.s. Demographics: I'm male, in my mid-40s, and in my first faculty position (which is very temporary).