Thursday, February 12, 2009

Paranoia in"Collaboration": assertiveness lesson #598

I am joining a collaboration between my advisor and a group at another university about 1-2 hour flight from here. This is a collaboration where my advisor's lab is providing to the project something not available anywhere else. The rest of the project is not so innovative --- there are several dozen similar things.

The PI described the project and another two to me, and basically wants to meet me before we start collaborating, so they will fly down there for a few days. And soon. On phone call 2, he says that I should have as much done as possible in advance and that I should have one of those 4 am to 10 pm days, and it will be just one day.

In order to have work done in advance, I need information. He refers me to his peons (well, actually junior faculty), and they send me some information that is not adequate for planning. Two weeks of email exchange and finally they agree to send me "everything."

Some time passes in between all this --- some legitimate, some procrastination because my mind got off the project --- so my memory of the conversation is fuzzy enough that I don't catch on right away that I was only sent "everything", not actually everything: it's less than 1/3 of the project and my advisor's contribution isn't there. But I spend another week or two thinking I must have misremembered.

Finally I schedule a phone call with a junior faculty member who reveals that the PI is not actually comfortable sharing, or "collaborating", until he's published a certain amount on the project. As if he is afraid that his collaborator's postdoc is going to steal his entire project away.

The junior faculty member promises to send my advisor's contribution, but says I need to speak with the PI if I want the other 2/3 that is necessary to have "as much as possible done" in advance as he said.

I am used to standing in my own way by procrastinating --- I could have twice as many publications if I didn't check email or distract myself --- but it is weird realizing that there are actual other people that are real barriers and how important it is to be on my toes so that I can call b.s. when necessary. Because I wasn't on my toes and assertive, a month passed which was almost completely unproductive for this project.

In fact, I almost feel like I have to budget in this wasted time: how many hours and weeks to convince collaborators to actually collaborate.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Another funny/disastrous date

Last night I went out with this guy from a few blocks away whom I met on facebook.

When he picked me up I had to go back and turn off the radio and I made the mistake of mentioning it was Obama's press conference. He was ranting about socialism in the stimulus bill within 1 minute, but also about the lack of sufficient infrastructure funding (isn't that contradictory?), and continued for the next few minutes even as I tried to at least ground the subject in facts ("Which economists back that up? Did you see the Congressional Budget Office report on stimulus multipliers?", His reply: "I don't need economists. I'm a capitalist. Obama has all these socialist economists who want the government to take over the economy."), so I knew before even getting into his car that it was pretty much a write-off date.

He thought similarly because he changed our plans, and instead of going to the nice area to walk around and have coffee at a Barnes and Noble, he decided we should go to a B&N in a strip mall. He didn't order anything. I paid for my own tea.

When I mentioned that I go to a hip neighborhood sometimes, he said something about how he hopes a homophobe would have a fit there. He had been raised pretty conservative, so I was curious whether he was anti-homophobia (= possibly gay) or just neutral about it, but when I asked him to elaborate he would only say, "There are gay people there, but they don't hurt anyone. They're totally harmless. You can walk around there and it's not like they do anything to you. It's not like they attack you like in boys' dormitories at single-sex schools. You didn't know that they attack each other in boys' dormitories?"

Shortly after, I told him that the guy I dated this summer had recently come out to me. He stopped the car (we were in a parking lot) and said, "There is no way THIS (gesturing at the length of my seated body still wrapped in my coat I'd been wearing the entire time) turned someone gay. You could turn Elton John straight!" somehow managing to make me feel simultaneously objectified and flattered. And I definitely did not want to take off my coat.

On the way home, I told him the story of the religious adulterer (posted about earlier) and he got so angry ranting about pretend religious people that I thought he was going to crash us into the median. I thought about which skeletons he might have in his closet, and I did get him to reveal a past engagement he'd gotten into after a month of dating and she broke off after 2 weeks.

I have to admit it: I kind-of like disasterous dates as long as they are not the only dates in my life.

Published! Officially finished with dissertation

My final dissertation paper got accepted for publication. All the papers are well-placed, and this one is in a journal with highest impact factor of all. The average impact factor of the journals where my dissertation papers published is. . . well, extremely high. I mean, not Science/Nature high, not even close (though arguably one should be looking at the log of impact factors rather than impact factors themselves because the high ones are so high), but probably higher than many of the dissertations to come out of my program. And they are all single-authored papers, and all in journals where that's very unusual.

So I am really happy about this. Especially since this last paper actually has the chance of making a difference in the field, though also of pissing people off. And that is actually why I delayed submitting it. That and the fact that my committee never seemed to like that paper very much, and it didn't come off super well as a job talk during my first year on the job market.

But the journal took it, and that's all that matters!

Success is scary. It raises the bar of what I feel like I need to accomplish now. Rationally, that thought doesn't make any sense. An accomplishment can never be a bad thing. Not every piece of work is fantastic, and you certainly can't start any project expecting it to be fantastic.

Nonetheless, every project I'm working on so far is at the very beginning stages, and I am not yet feeling absorbed in anything which I find scary and distracting.

And it's hard to feel absorbed because as I am starting projects I wonder if the ideas I'm having are as fresh and original as my dissertation papers. But that's not productive. It's not like I set off on my dissertation looking for something creative. I was just trying stuff, almost on a whim, and things came together. Some projects will come together to be fresh and get well-published. Others are like book-keeping, and they add to what we have but in the same way as others' work does.

All the work habit books talk about turning off your inner editor in order to get started. These books are talking about writing, but the same idea applies to research. Try a little idea, and then see where it goes. As the title of one of my favorite writing books says, "No plot, no problem!" That's for writing novels, but the same idea applies. And it's fun to read about recklessly writing a high volume crap in order to be able to pull a novel out of the mess. Maybe I should get it from the library again and reread.

And the height of non-rational thoughts: I see all the bad economic news and I imagine not doing any work and not getting renewed and continuing on my lack of work streak in any job that I take and . . . well, that's already ridiculous.

If I have a solid hour of work on one project, that's a start, and a solid day, that's great, and a solid week, I will really feel absorbed. Attainable goals; one foot in front of the other until I get to other side. That's how you cross a wire across the Twin Towers (as I heard the guy talking on NPR on Friday), and it's how you do anything.

So much easier said than done. It's totally self-aggrandizing to say that my pretty high impact factors put me anywhere like crossing the Twin Towers on a wire, but even if they do: walking doesn't change, no matter where you are. Attainable goals. Attainable goals. Attainable goals.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Just as I was feeling irresponsible. . .

I am submitting an abstract to a conference at more or less the last minute and so emailed the section head to ask whether one idea would fit, having absolutely no idea what else I would do if he said no. Several email forwards ensue, and now I'm being asked to be the "[Field] expert" discussant on an impossibly-broad interdisciplinary panel.

It's so startling to be feeling irresponsible --- in this case because I am running late, as I frequently do --- and then to have such a thing land in my lap.

If I worked more consistently and wasn't running late for submissions and everything else, I might not feel like such an impostor, but on the other hand it's feeling like an impostor that lets me feel particularly grateful when good things happen.


In other news of unprofessionalism: the administrator for the job that just rejected me sent me an email about scheduling the rooms for the job candidates that they are inviting. Apparently the room scheduling administrator has the same first name. I googled the one name listed in the accidental email and he already has a faculty job at a very good state school. I'm flattered to have been competitive enough with already professors to make it to the top 10 of that group.

Once I start new projects post-dissertation, and feel solidly integrated in that, hopefully then I will actually get invited for the job talks.

But it is really hard to start new post-dissertation projects!

Friday, February 6, 2009

Strange rejection note

I got an email from my contact at a job saying that they had 127 applicants and I was one of their top 10 choices, but not on their short list. At the time they got to the last 10 choices, "we were comparing among the very best folk and it proved to be very difficult to pick one and leave one out, and it really wasn't an issue of expertise at that point -- I hope we have made the right decision!"

What a weird statement. "I hope we made the right decision by rejecting you."

Um, I hope you did too?

This is the second such rejection I've gotten. One last year where I was one of five to interview remarked that they chose the "best fit". It's frustrating to think that there is some ineffable personal quality that I should develop to get thought of as a good fit.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Boice lesson of the day: Stop!

We all have the days when you go to the office and don't do anything at all. Facebook. Clean out inbox. Obsess over details like travel plans. Maybe some meta-work such as looking up deadline for conference submissions, renewing library books, volunteering to chair a conference section, speaking to lay people.

And then it gets to be 5 or 6 pm, and I just want to stay until I've done something. But that just punishes myself and it makes me feel anxious and it puts me in a bad position for the next day, and I end up too tired to go to the gym, and it's all downhill from there.

So even though I haven't done anything today, I am going to leave. Tomorrow is another day.

I also write down what I did all day hour by hour, even to fill it in with "facebook", "catch up on dating site email", "catch up on professional email", "answer professional-related email from high school student", "attend lecture". My theory is that it's like the cure for obsessive thoughts. (You don't judge yourself for having them, and you don't try to stop them. You just count them. And before you know it you aren't thinking about that guy who dumped you after a 2 month relationship by losing his phone.)

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Beggars try to be choosers

I know this PhD who is the kind of socially awkward that attempts to be suave and comes out unctuous. The kind of guy who makes remarks early and awkwardly about how much they like sex, always in the most awkward way possible.

He is well-intentioned, though, and in spite of his unattractive aspects, I suspect that once someone gets to know him they'll like him.

I mentioned two women to him, and his reply was the worst of pickiness: "I think I met Alice and we don't click... do you have a picture of Barbara? I trust you on the other stuff and guess if you like her I might - but everyone has there own ideas of cute! If she fits with my concept of cute, we could work out something perhaps... "

The right woman who gets to know him will find that he's a great guy in spite of his unctuous manner. Apparently he is not willing to extend the same favor to women.