Monday, October 26, 2015

Student writing woes

A student of mine is technically good i.e. he has reasonable results that are publishable.

But man do he suck at writing !

I dont mean the usual grad_student_just_starting_to_write_technical_papers suck. I mean gosh_what_in_the_name_of_fuck_are_you_trying_to_say suck.

I have multiple rounds of revision with him and the colloborator but he doesn't seem to get it. Atleast he acknoweldges that he knows that he write terrible english and paper.

I am not sure what more can I do to improve his writing skills. After 3 rounds of back and forth I have taken over the writing part now and am going to do a overhaul of the paper.

I dont know if this is good or bad but deadline needs to be met and I need to get this done.

Atleast he is producing results; I am not sure how he is going to write his dissertation though.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Funds and Book keeping

The higher echelons of my university has decided that the person who use to keep our accounting books (for grants) is no longer needed. This means that the faculty has to keep all the book keeping which include how much money is there to spend and what is already spent, where it is spent and who spent it. It also includes keeping track of all the reciepts and other documentation.

This sounds very weird to me that we as faculty have to do this kind of book keeping. But I am a newbie and I might be wrong.

Do you have a person who does this kind of book keeping for you and makes sure that all the expenses incurred are backed by documentation? If not, what is your strategy for keeping records and number straight?

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

I am officially a Tweep :D

I have decided to join twitter verse to have yet another distraction and waste more of my time. But a lot of academics seem to be on the twitter verse so it might be worthwhile. We will see.
You can follow me at

Monday, August 31, 2015

Request for assistance or pretext for applying

I recently got an email from a colleague (who is the head of the search committee) from my previous institute. The email is as follows:

The awesome_institute has created a new position viz. Director of XYZ.  I am attaching the advertisement.  We will start reviewing the applications by xx 20xx, and hope to fill the position by xx, 20xx.   Could you forward this to anyone in your institutes who might be interested in applying?

I know that in academia if some one (read: search committee member) asks you 

"Are you happy in your institute/department etc." 
 that is a pretext for 
"If you apply we will consider you and hopefully hire you" 

Do you think the above email has such a pretext? I am just curious because I don't think I would like to go in that institute back. Not that there is something wrong with the science and the people there ( both are awesome) but because I feel that I have more freedom in my research endeavors in my current position.

But I am curious; I used to be after this director position before I got my tenure-track :D

Monday, July 27, 2015

2-year TT review

I am up for 2-year TT review in the coming weeks. Technically I have been on this job for only 1 year and 6 months. This is my first such review.

I am not sure what the committee looks for, but I am going to try to show the following:

1) Established an active research program; got a larger space from the department and established a college wide center

2) Am supervising PhD, MS, undergrad and high-school students. Of course none of them have graduated till now. PhD people cant since it has been only 1.5 years for me to be here. MS will hopefully show more progress in this coming semester

3) Wrote a ton of grants. And by ton I mean 19 !

Now that I am writing it this seems to be a larger number. In my defense not all of them were complete grants (Like NSF 15 pages and NIH 12 pages). Some were smaller ( 1 or 2 pages) and some were collaborative (where again I wrote 1 or 2 pages).

Out of these I was successful in 5. This looks like a small number. In my defense 2 of the successful ones were NSF grants.

4) I was able to make my last year paper productive by finishing up the papers from my postdoc ( and since I didn't had a lab and/or students there was nothing much I could do). This makes up 4 papers.

This year my lab (with me being a senior author) have been able to produce papers. This number is 3 but 3 more papers are ready to be submitted (in 4 weeks hopefully).

1) I think I did good in teaching. Got decent reviews from my undergrad class. Taught 2 grad classes and the reviews were mostly positive. I am not sure what else to add here.

A collegue of mine adds up the stats from his reviews. Another adds up comments as well. May be I will do a combination of these two.

1) Did a ton of service for conferences, journals. Was an editor for 2 special issues and 1 in progress. Also chairing 2 conference workshops.
2) did service for the department as well as the college.

What else would they look for? Am I missing something?

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Students insulting professors

The title is not misleading.

A student comes to my office and is visibly upset since hir paper has been rejected. I take the following steps:

1) Offer my insight on why the paper was rejected.
2) Pointed out that one of the reviewers had a valid point
3) we should look at the valid point and try to revise the paper accordingly
4) we should do more experiments ( that I have advised you to do in the previous hundred meetings)

The students looks at me for sometimes and then offers hir insights.

a) The paper is fine but I am going to revise the grammar n stuff
b) the experiments that you are talking cannot be done (I know for sure that they can be)
c) the reviewers did not understand the paper and one of the reviewers was discriminatory towards me ( though the reviews were mixed and there was no indication atleast on paper that this has happened; plus the reviewer had a valid point)
d) I think that we should involve other researcher/professor who knows about research and can get me to write the paper that can be published (because of course you are no at par to this task).

I have heard points a,b,c before but the last point stuck to me. I have a PhD from a large R1 university, years of postdoc at a national lab and papers that are close to 30 in number in well-respected journals and conference proceedings.

I am sure that I know how to write up a paper that can get published. But you the student sure do not know how to even write a paragraph without making 10 grammar mistakes. Ofcourse is hir sight it is all my fault that I have not been able to make hir write a paper that is worth publishing despite spending enormous amount of time editing his papers to make it readable.

I am just wondering though is it only me or does this happen to everyone (atleast the junior faculty?) I have another colleague (female tenure track) who has experienced this sort of thing. So may be it is a junior faculty thing or this 40 something student is that naive (btw I am in my very early 30's)? but this has been weighing on me since yesterday. I know it shouldn't but I cant believe what I am hearing.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015


I am writing my NSF CAREER proposal and hope to submit in this cycle. This is my first attempt at CAREER so I am new at few things.

One of the things that I have been thinking is how much budget I should request. The latest solicitation says: "Many programs and Directorates prefer to make more awards by funding CAREER proposals closer to the minimum award size"

This got me thinking if this is true in general or if this is true just for proposals that are on the edge for funding. A quick graph from the nsf webpage for the current active CAREER grants is shown below.

The first level is between 400k to 450k and so on. From what I can see it seems that some directorates do not care what you are requesting (such as IIS and ACI) and others (like CCF) really care about the amount being asked. The smaller the amount the better for these programs.

Large and smaller budgets have the following arguments for and against them.

1) If you request a larger budget and they like your proposal (but do not  have money) they will ask you to cut down your numbers and then give you the grant. This arguments clearly represents requesting larger budgets

2) If you request a budget that is close to minimum there is greater chance of getting funded that you will get into the PO graces if you are on the edge (and the PO likes your proposal). However, in this case you cannot increase the dollar amount that you can request.

I am torn between my desire to get the CAREER grant (and minimize the dollar amount) and my desire to get more monies for my lab.

Which strategy has worked for you?

Monday, April 27, 2015

The case of stubborn advisee

I am sure, seasoned advisers must have dealt with this situation before; hence the question:

How do you deal with stubborn advisee's who do not take any of your advice regarding courses, research, experiments, way to do experiments, writing etc.

1) Do you push for sometime, give them sound advice and let them do whatever they want?


2) Do you give them advice and then push them to follow what you are suggesting (because you know better)?

Style 1 is not that hard; I give advice; student wont listen and I will let them be. The chips may fall where they may. This is easy in practice but there are funds being given to the student and time being wasted (on his stupid ideas)

Style 2 a lot harder to practice and implementation. Not to mention a drain on my limited energy resource.

So blogosphere what has worked for you? and what hasn't?

Friday, April 3, 2015

How to distribute funds to students?

Since I am new at this, I have been thinking a lot about this: how do I make decisions to distribute funds to students?

My sociopaths brain says that I should just look at  their progress: more number of papers, more successful projects, more funds from my side.

My compassionate brain says: I have to look for other factors as well; for example if some one has 4 kids to support and they are lagging a bit I should still support them with whatever funds I have. I don't want their kids to suffer.

I am sure there are other factors that people take into account when making funding decisions for students. Since I am new at this it took me more than 2 weeks of thinking before I could make summer appointments for my students.

How do you make your funding decisions? and what are the factors that you take into account. Do you listen to your sociopath brain only? compassionate brain only? both?

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Why this long?

Student: I have send you the paper to edit it.

Me: Yes, I got it; thanks

Student: When can I see that you have read the paper and edited it

Me: It will take me some time. I have a lot on my plate but hopefully by next week

Student: umm...but in the group you only have one paper that needs to be edited (which is mine). Why would it take this long?

Me: You don't know what I do all the time, do you?

I am not sure I was that oblivious when I was a grad student. If I was, time to give my grad adviser a call to apologize

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Emergency class preperation

Dear Student,

This is a graduate level class. If I have posted a schedule 1.5 month ago and the schedule says that you have to give a presentation in the class about the papers that you have read (and got approved by me). Then you better fucking come and give the fucking presentation.

If you think that you can email me at 8 pm telling me that you are not prepared to give a presentation in the morning (and you haven't come to me a single time in the office hours to let me know that you are working and are having trouble), which is the only thing that I have planned for the class; I will track you down and kill your grade.

Best Regards,
Your newly appointed professor

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Academics Anonymous (AA)

Yes, I admit it I have a problem (and I love it). I want to be high all the time.

No, not that kind of high.

Every time my paper gets accepted, I get an award, I get a grant, I solve a problem, I submit a paper; I get a high. It is awesome and I love it. But the high doesn't stay longer.

I get searching for my next fix. I need it bad and need it now. I get restless.

Admittedly, it is one of those weeks where I am in withdrawal. Although I got a high from a recent federal (big ass) grant; I am looking for my next fix. I dont know if I will get it soon. Students are still in the training mode and only one paper is submitted for now. There are other things going on but they are slow.

May be there is a place called Academics Anonymous (AA). If you happen to know such a facility do let me know. I think I need help !

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Lab and College Culture

We recently got our lab space fubrished with equipment, furniture and almost all other things that are required by research students to flouish. We have a very large space, places for students to sit and work, large white board that can used by the students, couches (multiple), microwave oven and perhaps in the future a fridge.

But there is a problem. The students do not like to sit in the lab space. This is partly because of the culture of the college (most of the labs that I see do not have a lot of students working on their stuff), and partly because these graduate students have access to other places to sit. However, I want them to use this space because I worked very hard to get this from the college admins. Also most of the science is collaborative i.e. most of the ideas that one gets is coming from some other idea in someone else problem.

I want to change the culture. I cannot do it for the whole college but I can certainly do it for my lab. I have a group of positive research students but I don't know how to make them come together in a physical lab space and work.  Or may be I don't know how to do this effectively. What am I suppose to do? Be fun, make the science fun, do X, Y Z.

Any ideas would be welcome.

p.s. I got a major grant from a major federal agency very recently. I am happy.