Thursday, October 30, 2008

Second post of the day so I can catch up and blog about something current for once

I know, when it rains, it pours, and now I've given you two posts at once after a week and a half of nothing. At some point I'd like to return to blogging about current events. No time better than the present, right?

Recent events have caused me to disappear from my journal and blog. I hope to remedy that now that a couple of deadlines and other important dates have passed. What were these events, you may ask. Well, I'll tell you (and I'm not going to sing it)...

When I got back from the conference late on October 1st, I had to catch up on a week and a half or two weeks of class work that I'd ignored while working on my poster. It was worth ignoring classes to the extent I could because my first ever poster turned out quite nice. I was somewhat disappointed with the poster session, as I mentioned, but the poster itself looked good and had good information on it. I think the problem was more with the conference and lack of interest than the poster itself.

Back to the missed class work...I had a homework assignment due the second day back in town, which I finished on time, and loads of reading. Reading is easy to ignore.

I was also a bit burned out on research because of spending so much time working on my poster before the conference, so I needed a break. My first full week back, I did very little research and focused on classes and house stuff. Did I mention that housework was very low on my priority list? Frankly, the house was a mess. It hasn't really recovered yet and I don't expect it to recover until we have to pack everything up to move out. The boyfriend and I will be very busy next semester, wo I expect to be eating a lot out of boxes, bags, and cans.

My advisor was also very busy. He only had a week and a half before a two-week international trip to attend two conferences back-to-back. His wife had already been alone with their two small children through the other conference and single-handedly cared for them while he went to the international conferences. In the time between travel, he needed to give her a break to get some of her work done (she's finishing her dissertation). He also needed to work on a seminar, a talk or two, and a poster. I tried to bother him as little as possible.

Then the advisor was gone for two weeks in a foreign country with poor internet access. He was barely available via email. I spent the first week of that reading background papers for a fellowship proposal. The second week I worked on massive data transfer and processing. The computing cluster I was putting it on had a few issues with its setup, so those had to be worked out in the process, and I initially didn't have the permissions I needed to put the files in the correct directories. It took a large part of the week to get all that worked out. I also learned a bit more about shell and batch scripting, which I'm sure will be useful in the future.

Now that the advisor is back, things are getting a bit easier and moving more quickly. He's still busy this week because he's filling in for the person who subbed for him last week, but he'll be in town for the rest of the semester.

The long-promised post-poster post: not very exciting

Written in early October, shortly after the conference. I've been swamped with a variety of activities, which I will relate when I get a chance to write about them.

The poster presentation went well. I'm disappointed that I got so few new ideas from the poster session, but at least it gave me confidence that there is nothing terribly wrong with my research. No one asked very tough questions--many of them I had to answer with "that's part of my future work" because my current results are very preliminary. The meeting as a whole was underwhelming in quality and interest, and too long. I was ready to leave after I presented my poster.

Going back in time a bit, I think my time management worked as well as any could have. There was no way for me to know how much time my poster would require. I finished it the afternoon it was due, though I would have preferred to finish it a bit earlier in the day so I could have taken a nap. I see no reason to try to schedule my time further because I think it would only add stress to try to stick to a schedule.

As outlined in my recent post about the qual, my overall strategy will probably have to change again. I'll need to work hard and quick on research through January so I can submit the paper my advisor wants by the end of spring and have enough for a seminar in mid-late April. If those two work out, I will naturally have enough done to write my thesis over the summer (or nearly so).

I'm a bit irritated about the change in qual time, but part of that I'm sure is because I had everything planned out and had already accepted the good and bad of the situation. I'm also concerned about putting the final touches on a paper for publication while I'm preparing a seminar and studying for the qual. That is very similar to the situation my officemate would be in for the January qual. The advisor approves of either qual schedule, so at least I won't have to worry about that.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Analyzing scientists at a meeting: 5 of 5

Written 10/1/08, posted later
This is the fifth and final post from the grant agency meeting.

The organization of this meeting is okay. The schedule could have used some proof-reading. Today there were two talks scheduled for the same time. Yesterday there was a 15-minute void.

My poster was also listed wrong. The title was completely wrong and it was listed under my advisor's name on the printed list. At least they fixed it on the website.

There was half an hour at the end of each sessions for discussion, but each half hour was way over-scheduled. It was another case of scientists-have-no-sense-of-time. These discussions were also dominated by a few people each time. They were generally not terribly enlightening. They more served as a summary of the session, so if you were listening to the talks, the summary was useless.

My advisor seemed to know that this meeting would be dull and hinted that most academic meetings are like this. I suppose I'll have to suffer through them for quite a while. When I am my own PI, I'll be able to choose the meetings I attend and I'll choose ones that are more generally interesting to me. I hope to include some that emphasize education as well as science research.

Anyone want to ruin my rosy view of the future?

Up next: the post-poster post

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Analyzing scientists at a meeting: 4 of 5

Written 10/1/08, posted later
This is the fourth post from the grant agency meeting.

Why is something considered unprofessional in a young scientist seen as funny or charming in an older scientist?

Why is disrespectful behavior more tolerated at a meeting than in a classroom? I've heard conversation that makes it difficult to hear the speaker and cell phones ringing, sometimes quite loudly. Many people (like me) have been using laptops during talks, and I doubt they are all taking notes on the talks. It is regular practice for a scientist to finish a talk at a meeting during another scientist's talk.

I realize that there is some difference between professional meetings and classes, but why is there such a divergence in manners? A teacher would never tolerate a ten-minute quiet-down period at the beginning of a class.

Such conduct also makes me wonder if these scientist respect each other equally or if there is a hierarchy (either well-defined or varying by person).

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Analyzing scientists at a meeting: 3 of 5

Written 10/1/08, posted later
This is the third post from the grant agency meeting.

I do not like traveling alone. Granted, the advisor is at this meeting, too, but I do not want to follow him everywhere. That leaves me confined to my hotel after dark because it is not safe for me to walk around alone at night.

Last night I had to get my supper quickly because the sun was setting. I ended up settling for a meatball sub. I got no dessert because it would have cost at least $10 from a hotel restaurant.

I know of no remedy for this besides going places with random people from the meeting or traveling with more people. The former is difficult because I'd be tied to whoever I left with, whether or not I wanted to do everything they wanted to do. The latter is difficult because I don't have a choice when I travel for work. I did not even include my usual idea to carry a spiked bat because I think I'd be arrested and it'd be difficult to get through airport security.

At least this is not a big sight-seeing location or I'd be even more disappointed.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Analyzing scientists at a meeting: 2 of 5

Written 10/1/08, posted later
This is the second post from the grant agency meeting.

Many of the "questions" are comments that bring up something about the speaker's research that was left out of the presentation or relate the commentor's research to the talk. Such exchanges do not initiate very good discussion.

I'm trying to decide if this group is too heterogeneous or too homogeneous to generate really good discussions. I'm leaning towards both.

They are too heterogeneous in that there are a few distinct cliques in the group who work on a particular phenomenon or project together. These are the people that comment on talks rather than ask questions.

On the other hand, they are too homogeneous within these cliques. As a result, they have largely the same view on the overall results and only reinforce each other's views rather than critically questioning them.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Analyzing scientists at a meeting: 1 of 5

Written 10/1/08, posted later
I've been at a meeting related to my grant agency for the past three days. It has highlighted several oddities of science and scientists. This is the first of five posts from this meeting.

Have no fear--I will provide a post-poster analysis in a subsequent post. At the moment, however, I would like to talk about the meeting for which I made the poster

The most apparent thing was the lack of quality in presentations and sometimes posters in comparison to a national, large professional organization meeting. The talks here seem ill-rehearsed or not well thought through. Does it have something to do with the perceived importance of each meeting, the quality/experience of the scientists, or something else? In many cases, I think I could present my research better.

They also seem to have time management issues. Most talks go over time. Scientists should have a better sense of how many slides can fit in 15 minutes, or, failing that, one practice run should clue them in. This is not a difference from the large organization meetings--it seems to be a larger habit.