Sunday, November 30, 2008

Not December Scientiae

I had fully intended to write a post for the December Scientiae, especially since I love reading Isis the Goddess' shoe science blog. This month's topic was "My Science is Way Hotter Than Dr. Isis' Naughty Monkeys Because..." This was a difficult topic for me for two reasons:
(1) I'm not really into fancy shoes. My idea of a nice pair of shoes are sensible, comfortable, and boring.  

Figure 1. Lands' End All-Weather Mocs, available in wide widths, even.

And (2) I'm having difficulty summoning any enthusiasm at all for my research these days, despite the fact that I'm preparing a press release in a few months time.
Figure 2.  Stars.  Thousands of degrees hotter than Dr. Isis' shoes.

I would have like to written a post channeling my inner Goddess, full of self-confidence in my science, in my fashion choices, and in my life choices in general, but it just wasn't working for me.  So instead, I wrote this post:

I've spent a lot of time these days doing some major soul searching.  I've been thinking about alternative career paths. I've mulled over the idea of doing some adjunct teaching for a while. I've spaced out during group meeting pondering leaving astronomy altogether.

I've also done some calculating: I'm the kind of person who functions best on 9-10 hours of sleep each night. I make do on 8 generally. It takes me about an hour to get myself and the kids ready in the morning. Let's say I spend 10 hours a day at work, including the commute each way. That leaves me 5 hours every evening to cook dinner, eat with my family, mother my kids, wife my husband, and do whatever else assorted activities I need to do to get ready for the next day.  Whatever extracurricular activites I do in order to maintain my sanity, whether it be singing in a chorus or reading a book or playing stupid video games, eats into this time. And, of course, there are the evenings spent shuttling kids around to various activities of their own. I also prefer not to work on weekends if I can avoid it at all, because weekends involve still more mothering and wifing and shuttling kids to activities and running errands and etc etc.

Unfortunately, a 40 hour work week is really only part-time for an academic scientist. So does that that mean I don't really have the dedication it takes to be an academic scientist?  And that's why I've been spending so much time in existential angst.

Quite honestly, I do enjoy my day-to-day work. I been getting some pretty spiffy results lately, which I go to show to my advisor/mentor looking for a pat on the head, and he says, "ooh, go do these five other things with it" which is his way of giving you a pat on the head, even if it feels more like he's assigning you another week of work instead.  But the shadow that's looming over everything is the fact that my postdoc has a fixed end date, and I'm not sure if I'll be able to land another position after this one, especially in these uncertain economic times. 

It would probably make me happier to focus more on my short term goals rather than the long term ones, except that I am sending out a few job applications right now, which is forcing me to think about the long term, and it's making me depressed, especially since it seems that I'm already out of the running for at least one of the positions I applied for.  And another two of the searches have already been cancelled.  The astrophysics jobs rumo(u)r mill is both a blessing and a curse.

Friday, November 14, 2008

InaDWriMo: in my dreams

I am woefully behind on my InaDWriMo goal. To be fair, I've been working hard at this paper. 3298 words of IDL scripts, and a whole pile of pretty pictures. And picture is worth 1K words, right? I've got 8 awesome figures for this paper already, so if I count those, I'm already done!


Okay, maybe not.

So let's check on my goals now that November is nearly half done. My goal had been to write 6K each toward a couple of papers in my backlog. I've gotten just over 2K toward one, half of which had already been there. Nothing toward the other one yet, not even spiffy IDL scripts. (Well, there are spiffy IDL scripts, just nothing new since Nov 1.)

What else have I been doing this month?
  • Job applications. This has been my main distraction from writing.
  • Paper on object A.
  • Paper on object B.
  • Poster to present at conference in early December.
  • Abstracts to submit to other conferences.
  • Musical theater. Fun, but doesn't help my CV or publications list.

That leaves out all the other day-to-day activities that are not any less important for being part of my normal routine. Things like taking care of the kids and getting sleep at night.

I'm not on target to meet my stated goal of 12K words of paper writing, but I have managed to get my rear in gear and doing the writing-up that needs to happen on various projects I'm working on. So in that respect, I think InaDWriMo is going along just fine.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

California, here I come!

I'm going to California three times in the next three months.  In fact, if it's between the 4th through 7th of December, January or February, it's a good bet I'll be on the West Coast.  

I thought I had a point to make beyond the numerological one, but I've forgotten now.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Summers not over yet

President-elect Obama's team of financial advisors includes one Lawrence Summers, who is also a leading contender to be Treasury Secretary.  His resumé includes a previous stint as Treasure Secretary, and President of Harvard University.  You might recall that as President of Harvard, he made some ill-chosen remarks about the science aptitude of girls and women and was eventually forced to resign that position.  

So here's my question: if one were to protest against Summers for Treasury Secretary, would that be considered a political statement?  It's not quite the same as campaigning for or against someone running for election.  On the other hand, what does Summers' prejudices against women in science have to do with being Treasury Secretary, anyway?

I have to say, I would be a bit disappointed in Obama if he does end up choosing Summers.  It would be like a slap in the face.  If Summers feels that way about women in science, how does he feel about women in finance, which I doubt is any more female-friendly a field than science?  For that matter, why isn't Obama considering more women and minorities for the cabinet?  I really hope that he isn't selling out now that he's made it to the White House.

Sunday, November 9, 2008


It's getting harder and harder for me to maintain the façade that everything is just fine with me, that my research is merrily chugging along and that I'm totally happy in my choice of careers.

In the various Women in Science meetings I've been to over the last few months, the common theme expressed by successful women scientists is that they were always buoyed by their passion for their work.

I'm just not feeling the love right now.

What I'm feeling is a whole lot of fear. Fear that my subject matter is irrelevant. Fear that I'm just not good enough. Fear that I lack the requisite networking skills. Fear that I won't get another job after my postdoc is up. Fear of leaving astronomy, because it's all I know how to do right now. Fear of the overwhelming uncertainty of it all.

There are a few bright spots. I get really excited about the some of the results I get. But then the fear sets in again. What if no one cares? What if it's all wrong?

I hate this time of year: everything is bleak and dark, and it's not just that the trees are losing their foliage and the sun is disappearing, it's also the time that job applications are due. I feel like I'm forcing myself to act excited about my research at the same time I'm putting it out there for everyone to judge, and I'm afraid that everyone will see me as the imposter that I am.

I'm afraid of turning out to be another leak in the pipeline. And the worst part is that I'll never be sure if I've left because I was forced to, or if I just didn't try hard enough. After all, if only I'd tried harder, surely I would have found a way to stay.

In the mean time, I keep going through the motions and working away at writing papers. I am feeling more and more like I am simply tying up loose ends in order to close up shop when I finish out this postdoc. Then, finally, I'll disappear into the unknown...

Friday, November 7, 2008

InaDWriMo: week 1 results

I'm writing generating some really cool looking-figures, thanks to my l33t IDL skillz. Up to 1784 words of scripts. But it doesn't count toward InaDWriMo. Which means I'm sadly behind on making my target of 12K words.

Making figures is very distracting: you can play around forever with changing the font or getting just the the right scale or placing the labels just so or getting that exact shade of blue. I need to get back to dumping words on the page.

Have I mentioned that I really hate writing papers?

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Ups and Downs

+I continue to write Awesome scripts.  Up to 1339 words of IDL.

-It doesn't count toward InaDWriMo.

-And I haven't written any further text yet.

+I feel pretty good about the job applications I turned in last week.

-I think my various advisors and mentors are subtly suggesting that I'm not cut out for research.  But maybe I'm just projecting.

And because I want to end on positive note:
+Peach-blueberry cobbler is yummy.

Can We Fix It?*


I can't remember being this excited about a Presidential election before. Even the kids caught the enthusiasm and were all excited last night about Barack Obama's victory. Okay, so actually, we sent them to bed before the election was called, but even by then in was a forgone conclusion.

The commentator on ABC noted how sober Obama was last night. But really, could you blame him? I remember getting my first positive pregnancy test. Even though it was totally planned and it was the result we were hoping for, my first reaction was "oh sh*t, what have I gotten myself into?!?" Reality has sunk in and the enormity of the responsibilities and challenges that lie ahead is staring you in the face.

Still, I think if anyone is up to the job, Obama is. Here's to the next four years.

*Yes We Can! (Um, yeah, I think so.)  --Bob the Builder

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Election day

I voted today! Did you? I got to the polls about half an hour after they opened, and waited in line about 30-40 minutes. I've never seen lines that long for an election there before. Hopefully the PTA bake sale will make a killing, I have a vested interest in it. :)

On the InaDaWriMo front, I haven't done any more writing since yesterday, unless the 574 words in my IDL script counts. Ah well, I won't count it, even though my script is Awesome and is very necessary for the analysis I'm doing.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Ready, set, write!

So, my goal for InaDWriMo is 12K words. Basically, I have these two papers for which I've basically done all the work, they just need to be written up. And, inevitably, writing papers means double checking my data and the reduction and all that, so I need to remember what the heck and I did and basically do it all over again just to be sure I'm writing it up correctly. Anyway, my goal is not necessarily to have something submitable by the end of the month, just enough forward momentum that I'll actually be able to publish them in the next calendar year.

All this while finishing up a couple other papers. (I say this to reassure John that I'm still working on our project.) Oh, and job applications. And travelling for Thanksgiving. Okay, I guess my writing goal is a bit ambitious.

So is it cheating that I went to start writing, and discovered that I already had 1619 words of a paper written already, and I'm going to go ahead and count that toward my goal? Because, it turns out that I'm going to have to do quite a bit of revising on that bit of text already.