Wednesday, June 3, 2009

First year in review (a little late)

So I missed the blogular deadline for discussing my first year of professorhood by a few weeks compared to my cohort. My excuse is that I have been very bogged down in all the things that have piled up from the completion of this year. I won't do a bullet list this time, but instead be more philosophical about where I am at (and where my lab is getting to).

On the upside, I got a very positive review from my chair, who said the primary committee doesn't have any major concerns about me so far and encourage me to go for "the big money" since it looks like my research has been fundable on a national level so far. On the downside, I am getting anxious about our pace: with the amount of money and people we have, we should be producing publishable data a lot faster than we are.

The main thing I feel now is that the log phase of growth is over. We had a banging start, flying out of the gates and getting set up, staffed and producing data within about 2.5-3 months of my start date. We quickly whirlwinded our way to functional and by the end of the first semester things were looking very optimistic. We started writing our first manuscript in about January, and supposedly only had to complete "a few more experiments" to have it submission-ready.

That's when the plateau kicked in. Plagues of variability, experimental snags, reagents that suddenly didn't work anymore (one after another after another), instrument issues, thing after thing. After all that progress, we started spinning our wheels in the dirt churning through repeated experiments that each had some little different problem, never completed all the way through, rarely with all the right controls until finally in the last month and a half. By then, it was time for my first postdoc to move on to her new lab (she was only temporary here while waiting for her future start date) and now the data-generating torch on that project needs to be passed. I'm holding it right now, and it looks like I will be wrapping this up because everyone else has their own project/trajectory/focus and the re-training time would just not be worth it.

Progress on our other projects has been medium/slow. One of them moved quickly at first, but now is suffering from the travails of interdisciplinary collaboration, where rarely is everyone on the same page and a lot of going around in circles usually needs to happen before everybody "gets" it.

So, this semester, which was supposed to be so productive since I was not teaching, has turned out to feel like treading water. Or like being stuck in one of those bad dreams where you need to run but your legs just won't work. The pressure of getting a paper submitted in 2009 and to get our novel idea out there with our name on it is really weighing on me, and we're in the phase of this process where you just have to keep pushing through the crap and struggle to wrangle it into something worthwhile.

I hope our summer is more promising.

8 comments:

ScientistMother said...

sounds like you've hit a valley in the ups and downs of science. Hopefully it doesn't last too long. Congrats on what seems like a good year (to an outsider)

DamnGoodTechnician said...

Kudos for pushing/continuing to push through. I don't believe there's a way around sluggish bits in data collection (at least not that I know of) - you've got to run square at it and hit it hard.

Fingers crossed for year 2!

Comrade PhysioProf said...

You need to relax. You are doing fine, and everything you describe is exactly as expected for a first-year investigator. The "problems" you describe are the good kind that occur when a lab is making good progress. There are all kinds of bad problems that you could be having that you aren't.

So have a motherfucking Jameson tonight!! w00t!

Professor in Training said...

Holy cow! If I'd accomplished even half of what you have, I'd be happy. Kick back, take a deep breath and realize you are doing amazingly well :)

Arlenna said...

But I am a pathological overachiever who lives in mortal fear of not rampantly exceeding expectations!!!!

Well, only kind of, some days. Other days I am super, super lazy and would rather just play video games.

Odyssey said...

What CPP and PiT said. Relax for a little while (but not too long!)- you're doing very, very well.

Arlenna said...

Thanks for the reassurances--I really do appreciate them. I am sure I will feel more secure once this paper is submitted.

Candid Engineer said...

You know, your progress in the first year doesn't sound so bad to me- in fact, I don't think it'd be normal if you didn't hit a few snags! Keep up the good work. :)