Friday, November 7, 2014

A student who stinks

I have a graduate student. Unfortunately I have to report here that the student stinks. No, not in research or teaching or anything. He literally stinks.

Yes, I have a student who comes to my office and can be there for some time to discuss research, teaching, courses etc. However, the student smells bad. Not that I poked my nose in him or something. One can breathe the foul smell meters away from the student and the whole room smells. Once the student leaves, my office smells and I have to sprinkle some air freshner to be able to breathe again.

I don't know what to do. Do I tell the student? Do I make someone else to tell the student? Or should I just remain quite and suffer for the next 5 years? Have you encountered such a situation before and what did you do?

p.s. I am laughing right now writing this but believe me I don't laugh when he is in my office

Thursday, October 30, 2014

How to design your academic job talk

These are the days when most of the faculty candidates who are fortunate to get invited are designing, and giving talks. I thought it might be a good idea to offer advice to those candidates since I am not sitting on the other side of the aisle. Mind that I used the same techniques to give talks.

1) Designing a talk for a broad audience is different from giving a talk in your department. The department that you are giving your talk in probably does not have any one who works in your sub-field (hence they are looking for a  candidate who could do what you are doing). Therefore, you must assume that the audience knows very little about your sub field, the jargon that you use, and how good you are in your sub field. Therefore assume that the audience knows nothing !

2) Following from argument 1; You do not, and should not cover everything that you have done till now. If you are invited for a faculty interview there are at least couple of large projects that you have worked on. Pick the one that is most awesome (in terms of results) and is most likely to be fundable in the future as well.

3) Following from argument 2; After picking up the awesome-st project give a high-level outline of the research. That means a lot of cartoons and diagrams. Yes, people are sleeping and they are lazy. It is your job to make them understand what you have done. The best way to make them understand is using diagrams (fancy diagrams) and animations !. The audience will keep engaged and will likely to understand something from your talk. They will feel smart and hence will like you.

4) Show them some results. Then tell them what the results mean in the larger context. Telling me that you imroved the time of the algorithm or the purity of your sample does not means anything to me. Tell me that your improvement of time results in blah blah blah. Otherwise the results are meaningless.

5) You have published your papers; that means that you have proposed and did something useful that other people have not. Tell me by comparing your results with that of the competitors and show why yours are better.

6) Have multiple slides on your future work. I want to know that you have a solid plan to take your research ahead and that you know where to target for your funding.

7) Do not have text after text in your slides and then to explain to me what is written. The audience can read the text; they are here to listen to you.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Inviting a guest speaker

I have invited a guest speaker for a seminar in the department. This is my first independent invitation to a guest researcher at our institute ( actually this is my first ever independent invitation at any institute). Anyway the speaker has to drive 2 hours and I have been thinking about all the ways the visit can go.

For instance, I can have the seminar in the morning (10ish) and then make him meet my group, meet me, meet other faculty members and then take him to lunch and let him go.


I could make him meet my group, meet other faculty members, then let him give the seminar and then take him to lunch and let him go.

Scenario 1 allow me to take a closer look at his work; will have a lot to talk about after the seminar (we have an overlap). But in this case I have a feeling that the speaker might want to just leave (he wont coz of the visit schedule).

In scenario 2, I wont know his work deeper but he would want to stay till noon-ish to give his talk and then lunch.

Which strategy do you use? and why?

Thursday, October 9, 2014

My students

I want my students to be: 
  1. I want my students to be restless.
  2. I want them to not be content on what they have.
  3. I want them to have a desire to achieve more/bigger/better/sooner/now/grand/
  4. I want them to bug me for more time, for more resources, for more (research) problems
  5. I want them to email me or call me at odd hours when they get to a solution and have a Eureka! moment. 
  6. I want them to be self-driven and motivated so that they can come up with their own (research)problems to solve and solutions to those problems that no one has ever thought about.
  7. I want them to write more papers, give more presentations, give more talks, go to more conferences, write and distribute more code, be better, hungrier, faster, stronger than any one else
  8.  I want them to be organized and neurotic with scheduling their work in most optimized form possible with their circumstances
  9. I want them to dream big and I want them to pursue that dream despite all odds. (It is no fun to pursue a dream if the odds are not against you)
  10. I just want the list to have ten elements so that I can say that these are the ten commandments that I want in my students.
Yes, I want them to be like me and I want them to work all the time (at least in their head), be restless all the time, be hungrier all the time, dreaming all the time.

I know I am not realistic.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

vibrating office

I have a nice office. Atleast I think it is nice because it is big and has good light. However, it vibrates !. Yes, you have heard it vibrates from the HVAC that is installed on the top of the room.

I have requested to change my office but that might take time. The room that they showed me is much smaller than my current room. So I have a tradeoff between big room that vibrates and a small room that is quite. I will opt for the latter since a vibrating room is too annoying.

In other news I am working on a grant, a paper, home works for my undergrad class and of course lectures. I like it when I am busy.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Am I suppose to please?

I am fairly collaborative and in general am in the favor of collaboration when it is in mutual interest of both parties.

I had a grant submission that was based on my previous work of 4 years. I wanted to submit a grant based on the preliminary results that I had. Note that the sub-field is different from my graduate adviser and also from my post-doctoral adviser.

Therefore, I gathered all the energy and spent 3 to 4 months of polishing my grant (which was not funded by the way because of one bad review).

Before the submission, I had a senior colleague pointed to me that if I want to submit she is willing to collaborate.  I didn't see a point in collaboration since I had all the expertise and results that were needed. Therefore I went alone.

Ah, just to point out this is the same person who stole one of my idea (that was all mine; was not a result of a discussion) and made a PhD student started working on it (with another collaborator). She is very senior and well funded and has a lot of political power in the department. This is at least what I think.

Now I am getting a cold shoulder on various aspects from her. What I am suppose to do. Do I need to please my senior colleagues so that they don't vote against me in my tenure case? or am I suppose to do what I think is good for me and keep on doing what I do best.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Are academics isolated and alone?

It has been more than 6 months since I started my TT position. For sometime I have been thinking if academics are generally isolated and/or feel alone?

For me I have been feeling this way. For one, I am much younger than other faculty members in the department and there isn't much time (or energy) that I have after my daily grind.

In general I am good with social situations and have very close friends, but none of them are in vicinity and I take a lot of time to make friends. But with the kind of work TT has loaded on my head it seems that I might not have a friend outside ( or inside) work.

It would be interesting to see what other TT people have to say about this.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Students meeting irregularity

I have a PhD student who I meet after every other week. I send him an email that we can meet on this day and time. Then the student will reply and say that we will meet and I set aside a time to meet this student.

This is the second time the student has cancelled the meeting at the last minutes citing different reasons. I am not sure how to deal with this but this does not seem acceptable.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Taking the summer off?

I had to go through a surgery last week. It all went well, the support staff and the surgeon did an excellent job and we all came home the same day. But this post is not about the awesome work that these health professionals do.

This post is about the public perception of an academic.

During the course of the day I was asked several time what I did for a living. I said that I was a professor at University xx.

"Oh that really great, you must be very smart; so you have a summer off? "

"No ! I have a very active research program and I am writing grants, papers and supervising student in the summers; Oh and I am also establishing a new lab which is a real pain the butt"

"Also I am not paid by the department to do all this stuff in the summers"

I didn't say this last line as every one was polite and I wanted to be as well. But all these questions made me think that the pretext of these questions was "Oh you are a professor and you are taking a summer off and still getting paid: how wonderful"

I know that FSP and other have touched on this subject multiple times. I am beginning to see what they were saying.

All in all I am very happy that I got my surgery done; am alive and well and recovering fine. Spending time with my wonderful wife and kid has been awesome in this previous week.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Science outreach Blog

I am thinking about building my outreach activities as the lab grows. One thing that I can do right now is to start a blog about the science we do in the lab. I am thinking about putting a blog entry for each paper that is published from our lab. The blog entry will try to explain in laymen terms the science in the paper, what impacts it has on the society and how cool it is to do STEM research.

The blog will serve as a portal for non-scientists to learn science that is otherwise out of their grasp due to grouchy scientists (like me) writing research papers that no one want to read (or a non-scientist reader may not understand). Apart from adult-learning it will also serve as a way to engage students (undergrad, high school) in STEM research activites and the blog may become an effective tool to recruit high school and undergraduate students.

Ofcourse the blog will be associated with my lab and hence will not be anonymous. Needless to say it will not be posted here.

I am wondering what might be the best place the start the blog of this kind: wordpress? blogspot or some kind of wiki pages or should I just create a html page on my lab webpage and start filling it ( I am not sure if this is a good idea)? Any advice?

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Submitting a grant is like lottery ticket?

I had a senior collegue chat with me the other day. He asked me how was I doing and if I had submitted a grant. I said yes I have, and will see what will happen. What I meant was that we will see how good or bad reviews we get and if we will get the award or not depends on that.

He replied...good, but you know submitting a grant is like a lottery ticket. You may win and get the money..or you can just buy another one.

This got me thinking. Is submitting and getting a grant really like a lottery? No matter how much sweat and blood I put in the ideas, the writeup, and awesome preliminary results?

For me I don't want to think that this is true (may be it is you tell me). I want to think that the ideas that I put on the paper are worth something. I do acknowledge that there is an element of luck on which reviewer gets your grant proposal and how much money does the PO has etc. But it certainly does not mean that it is like lottery where a random chance would determine your fund-ability. Does it?

Monday, June 9, 2014

Respect my time

Dear Student,

I am busy. I am busy all the time. That is why, you the student who is not my PhD/MS student and has not been admitted to the program, has to take an appointment to meet me.

If you do not have an appointment (and I have a grant submission deadline) you will have to go back and get an appointment with me and then meet me. Otherwise I will turn you away (even if you traveled for 2 hours).

I am sorry. But my time is more important than your time and if you do not respect my time, I cannot respect yours.

your professor

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Busy Busy Busy

Yes I am more busy in the summers than in my spring (first) semester ;)

Anyway, I am working on two related grants for two different federal agencies. One of the grant is a colloboration between two different insitutes so weekly meeting and drafts are flying to-and-fro.

I am working on getting my lab set up and going. This requires a lot of furniture (it is a big ass space) and netwoking and wiring and everything in between. This takes a lot time. Good thing is I have help of two other senior faculty who are very supportive.

I am also working on getting students admitted, funded and advised. So far I am able to get one student admitted into our PhD program (and hopefully will find funding for him), another student who wants to work with me (and is already admitted and funded) but has not done anything. There are two other students who have shown interest in working with me. We will see how that goes but it takes a lot of effort to recruit students.

On the personal front I had to fight with my landlord (and threatened to sue her) to get my deposit money back. She caved and will be receiving the sweet check soon. It was nerve wrecking and I had to supply additional duty cycles of my brain to think about this shit.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Plagiarizing student

I had a (potential) student who contacted me for a funded-PhD position in my new lab. He contacted me and sent me his CV.

On paper the student seemed to be a good student. He had published several papers, is a MS student in a university and is a lecturer in a university. Also the student is from a third-world country.

Looking at the CV I was impressed to see his publication record and associated activities. Note that I am originally from a third-world country so I know how challenging it is to conduct research in countries who lack expertise, resources etc for doing research.

I interviewed the student online, asked him questions about research, teaching and other activities. I was about to recommend him for the admission and give him funding in my group.

I had read his papers with one paper as a first author and some as middle authors. Before I recommend him for admission, I asked him for his MS thesis so that I can read what he has done on his thesis and have a better idea about what he has really done.

All of the chapter (5 out of 6) chapters of his MS thesis were plagiarized copied verbatim from various sources.

I confronted him about the plagrized content but he was adamant that he has never done it. Although the evidance suggests otherwise. I wanted to give this guy benefit of the doubt (you know like he was not informed/trained properly etc.) but I came from a similar third-world country; had a paper published in a small online community journal and knew about plagiarism. I was only an undergrad.

I do not want to give this guy a position in my group since I do not want to create problems for me or the group/department. I want to go further and block this guy from getting admitted in the department altogether. I am not sure if the second step would be harsh.

How would you deal with the situation?

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Starting my teaching career (for undergrad classes)

I have to teach an undergraduate class in the Fall. The number of students are going to be around 30. The subject that I will teach is something that I havent looked at for a couple of years. So I will have to do some revamp of my knowledge.

I have taken the preemptive strike strategy i.e. I will try to complete and prepare all of my lectures in the summers; before the actual Fall semester starts.

I like to teach using slides (at least that is what I think I like) so I have started preparing my slides by keeping the slides that come with the book for the instructor. However the slides are aweful and I have to fill them up with information and other cartoons that will help me explain the material to the class.

Lets see how it goes. I am hoping that if I have completed all my lectures before the semester, I will have enough time to submit my grants at the same pace as now and be able to teach by spending less time on lecture preparation. I hope the strategy works well or this will be a waste of time.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Shared Lab space with new faculty member

Our department is trying to allocate me lab space ( yes I know it is verry late !) but they have been struggling due to pressure on the lab space. Note that the faculty member who started with me (lets call hir prof. L) as assistant professor has hir own lab space.

Today people from the administration came and showed me and prof. L, a huggeee lab space. They want me and prof L to share this space for our equipment and students.

First this seems unfair to prof. L who already has a lab space and are kicking hir out.

It is unfair to me since I wont be getting a lab space that is ALL mine. It will be shared even though it is huge.

But I am still keeping an open mind. I have worked in shared space between members but it has been a shared space between members of one lab, not two as is now being suggested. So I do not know how it will work out and I do not know how to feel about it.

So the question that I have to all of you guys:

1) Do you have experience in shared space between two or more labs/faculty members?
2) If yes, how did it work out. Are their conflict between students, faculty etc.?
3) How was setup done for the lab space? cubicle, open space with desks? or what do you think is optimal setup and/or works?

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Board dimensions for office

I am looking for white boards that I can put in my office so that students can come and scribble on it. I like to scribble on the board as well. I do not have any space in my office to put it on the wall. So I am left with two options:

1) Make a call and bring in the maintainece guys to lift one of the gigacntic book shelf ( I have two). However, I am not sure what my future needs are going to be so I am kind of reluctant to do that.

2) Get a decent size white board which has a stand with it. But I am not sure what dimensions to pick. Too small and it is useless ( I have a collegue who made this mistake recently). Too big and it is going to be a burden on my office space (that I have worked so hard to get..haha)

I am inclined towards the second option. So any advice on the dimensions of the white board with a stand ?

Friday, March 28, 2014

Tell me who, when, where and how.

I do not like when people tell me we are going to meet X.

and then skip all the info about
and the amount of time we are suppose to meet so that I can put it in my calendar.

I do not know why people do that. I guess they are not as organized in their thoughts and patterns as I am? I do not expect this from the faculty.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Assistant to a Professor

I was doing a science-high-school-outreach activitiy last week. I was wearing a badge that said "assistant professor" blah blah. On a number of occasions I had students talk to me and refer to me as: "so you are an assistant to a professor, what do you do or how does it work?"

I did not know if I should be offended or educate. I opted for the latter each time but I am still perplexed. Does this happen or happened to people often? How come ?

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Deciding on a student

I have started getting emails from prospective PhD students. The emails are getting from places that I do know about and from places that I have no idea about. For example I am getting a lot of email from Country A.

I do not know anything about this country A's education system and their grading techniques/processes. So I am unable to judge these students that may come from different institutes in country A from their GPA's. This is with the assumption that grading policies in different institutes will be different.

These are primarily undergraduate students but some of them have been exposed to research questions. This is evident from their CV's  that they have published some papers. However, the papers are mostly in regional journals and conferences. Also it is difficult to assess how much they might have contributed.

Many of these students need a RA or a TA and I have limited spots. So how do I decide?

One way to decide is to engage a faculty from that country and forward the students info to them to see what they think of them.

Any tips?

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

My first Grant..yayyy

Email: Congrats, you have won our grant and we are glad to support  your research !

Oh yes, my first grant as a PI. This is a teeny-tinnny grant but still I am the PI on this grant. No co-PI's no nothing. All me ! yayyyyyyy

M happy and singing and dancing. I like the small victories in life.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Forced Service ?

I got an email message from a senior administration person that he will like to recommend me for a certain service. Then he went on to ask if I will like to do so.

I did not respond to him for some time since I wanted to know what the service is about and how much time will it take.

Today I got an email that I have been assigned the service, which I did not agreed to till now. Needless to say I am pissed.

Is this normal?

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Are you part of the Lab/Group or is it the other way around?

I have been thinking about putting up my web-presence about the awesome (in the future) lab/group that I am trying to establish. All the web surfing that I have been doing it seems that PI's/directors/group-leaders (whatever you choose to call your self) seems to be operating on one of the two scenairo's:

1) they have their personal profiles as the main page and a group/lab seems to be part of their profile e.g. they will have tab on their page such as "people" which will have the students/postdoc's listed and the PI may or may not choose to list them selves as "people"
2) they have a lab page as the main go-to page and choose to list them selves on the "people's" tab.

The first option seems to be that the "lab/group" is part of the PI and the second option seems to be that the PI is part of the lab/group.

For me the first option is more convenient since I already have a personal webpage and the only addition to it would be my affiliation and a "peoples" tab. On the other had I am not entirely comfortable with it. For the second option I will have to revamp my whole web presence which will need time and effort.

Which kind of style did you choose for your lab/group page and why?

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Learn to say NO

Yes, today I dropped the first "NO" on a senior faculty member. Since the time I have started working as a TT faculty I have been pulled at various directions by various faculty members. Some of these directions I want to be pulled at because it is essential for me to set up here and get the ground going. But other kinds of requests or possible collaborations are just too much stress on my time.

I just politely told said a No to a possible collaboration. Although it would have been a fun thing to do it was mostly teaching related and I do not see it enhancing my career forward as of now.

Now I see what all other new TT's have been complaining about and advising how to say No's to multiple people. This advice is right on the money. Otherwise you might get pulled in too many directions to handle.

So my first advice as a new TT faculty: Learn to say NO (but in a nice way so that you don't offend people who are ultimately going to determine your tenure :D)

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Need for speed

With all the proposal deadlines I have been wondering how fast can be write up a successful grant proposal from scratch provided that one has the idea and the required preliminary data to write such a grant.

So the blogosphere: What is your minimum number of days needed to write up a successful grant proposal?

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Let the politics begin !

Today a colleague (lets call hir YY) of mine came to my office. This person is very senior and has had many successful grants and students.

I told hir that I have discussed some of my idea with another colleague (lets call hir XX). This is what YY said to me:

"you do not want to discuss your ideas. If you have some one senior come to you, just tell them that you are if they have an idea you will be happy to work with them. You will get your ideas and money stolen especially with XX".

There are few senairos that arose in my mind:

1) YY wants to work with me (this was mentioned in our conversation) and wants to keep me for hirself.
2) XX is as is described. There is some evidance to it since XX has not worked with any one in a substantial way
3) I cant think of the third. May you can :P

 So I have these questions from the blogosphere:

1) How often does your ideas get stolen in academia? Not scooped as in when you are in competition and want to out do each other. But stolen !
2) How often you had problems with a senior collegue for using funds i.e. you were junior but a PI and the senior was a co-PI. Do you happen to have problems such as the senior trying to use your money etc.
3) How do you know who to trust. There can be a lot of overlap between expertise but you do want some on who you could trust right. How do you decide who to discuss your ideas with?

I often heard in my pre-academia-existance that academia is very political. I am coming to taste it now. Hopefully it will be fun.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Too many things

Here are the random thoughts in my mind.

Recently I visited the country where I grew up. It was a rather long trip of 5 weeks and I got to spend a significant time with family and friends. Everything was nice and pleasurable; except for it didn't look real. It didn't felt like home. It was nostalgic sure but it wasn't home. I came back to the US and it felt nicer, familiar, home...

I don't know how to comprehend it because it felt nicer, familiar when I went back to the place I grew up in. It has been a decade since I left that place and things have changed. People have changed. Their thinking and living styles have changed. It reminds me of my childhood but it does not constitute a home any more.

On another front I am in the middle of a large move for me and my family. It is a cross country move and the first major move since our child. It is rather sooner than I had expected and wanted but I do not see any other choice. Things have to be packed, things have to be moved, apartments have to be cleaned and handed over, apartments have to be looked and decided up on in the new place, I have to make a short visit to the department, move has to be arranged for my car and the family. All of this has to be done within two weeks. Wife is a big help since she is taking care of all the scheduling along with a sick child.

I am taking up a position that I have dreamed about since the day I started doing science. It is a tenure track position with startup funds and my own lab-setup. I will have my own PhD students and my own equipment. I will be the director of my own lab and will be responsible for every one working in it. I will have to bring in money and teach as well. I will have to do service and learn the new ropes of tenure track position. I don't know if I am excited or scared.