My Zero Semester and its Ramifications

i-9dc84d4d9156dccb30d5f62466b4219a-swblocks.jpgThis being the last week of class, it seems appropriate to reflect a bit more on the semester just finishing. Bluntly, this has been an awful semester for me in terms of things that count toward reappointment, tenure, and (nonexistent) merit raises. If you don't want to hear me whine a little about the suckitude and where that puts me going into the summer, then don't click through.

  • After two rounds of painful reviews, I had a paper rejected. I'll resubmit it to a lower tier journal, but not without another round of revisions. I have never liked this project.
  • I missed the deadline for a special issue of a high impact factor journal, and I still don't have the paper done.
  • Even though I had no new preps, I still felt like classes took in an inordinate amount of my time.
  • I got one grant rejection, one funded (yay!), and none submitted.
  • I had a PhD student start and a few weeks later, quit, after telling me that she wasn't interested in my -ology specialty after all.
  • An untenured colleague and I shouldered all of the work for a (successful!) search with very, very little guidance from senior faculty. And we all know that service counts for very little in the tenure game.
  • I poured heart and soul into a project that was important to me personally and professionally and which sapped all of my available research time for about a month. That project went absolutely nowhere with no hope of revival or redeeming spin-offs.

In the fall, I have to submit a reappointment packet to Mystery University, and right now I am not a shoe-in for reappointment. Principally my weakness is publishing since arriving at MU. In fact, its looking very likely that I won't have any pubs in 2009. This is not a good thing in a place that highly values bean-counting publications.

So over the summer I've got to get my act together on the research front. I have a new M.S. student starting field work on a new project, so that will take a lot of time, but also be my first serious on-the-ground data collection effort in Mystery State. But I've also got to get 3 papers into the review mill: (1) rejected paper revised and resubmitted; (2) lingering post-doc project that needs to be finished and written; and (3) project presented at AGU needs to be finished and written. I'd like to get 1-2 collaborative grant proposals submitted, and I've also got a bit of travel on the calendar. Plus, for reasons that I can't get into on-blog, I need to spend fewer hours at work.

Thus, I need to step up the research while tamping down the work hours. That means only one thing: no more Mrs. Nice ScienceWoman. For a while I've got to set aside my 2009 theme of sustainability and invoke a new one: "ruthless." There's no point in sustainability in this job if I don't get reappointment, so I must be ruthless in prioritizing and completing my work in the time available and neglecting the time-sucks and distractions.

I've recently realized that in both my personal and professional life, I tend to avoid the hard things and that this tendency contributes to filling my days with busyness rather than productivity. So I am confronting the hard things this summer - getting publications into and through review. Hopefully I can emerge from the summer feeling much better about my reappointment (and tenure prospects) and with new productive work habits, and I can return to seeking sustainability in balancing research, teaching, service, family, and self. For now, though, its time to be ruthless. So a-paper-revising I will go...

This post is in response to Katherine Haxton's CFP for the May Scientiae. She asked us for a snapshot of spring 2009 in our lives. There's still time to get posts in. The deadline is April 30th at midnight (time zone unspecified). Directions for submission here.

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Sometimes ruthless is the way to go. Perhaps a summer of extreme ruthlessness and its resulting rewards will help you pick up the sustainability and balance theme for the rest of the year. Good luck.

Wow. Your semester sounds brutal. I hope your summer goes better than you could plan. I hope also that you have some time planned for a break before the fall semester starts. Being ruthless doesn't mean burning out by Christmas.

Been reading for a while but haven't posted until now. I don't think your sustainability and ruthless resolutions are very far apart. Re-read your post on sustainability- it's all about choosing wisely and not procrastinating. Just a reminder that you already KNOW what you need to do. Good luck with all the papers!

Thanks for sharing. Sometimes it's near to hear that not everyone is on track with the publications game. I'm pretty much in the same shoes as you with publications being my main weakness. I'm struggling with getting a couple of longterm-lingering writing projects through review right now, and still have one manuscript from my dissertation I just haven't had the time to revise for submission. For me the the summer is fieldwork time and field course teaching time, so at the end of May it's bye bye publications until fall. I wish you lots of luck with your productivity this summer and I have lots of empathy with the publication struggle. I think you're right that ruthless is the way to go.

I struggle a lot with being busy but not really getting the real work done. I know when I'm doing it, too, but somehow that doesn't stop me. The best way I've found to push through those log jams is to promise a certain amount of work to someone (usually the technician co-worker) by a certain time, i.e. I will have x done by 3:00. It also sometimes works to set a timer and not let myself to anything but the real work for 30 min or an hour.

Ruthless mode is probably required at this point... at least for a little while. I'm working into that mode myself for the next 2 months, in part because I had the "lost" winter quarter from hell.

If you feel comfortable, I'd like to hear about your resubmit ending in a rejection a bit more. Part of the winter from hell has to do with DH turning around a R&R FOUR(!!!) times. Journal still hasn't made a decision... but now there is the sunk cost factor. What makes people decide a 2nd R&R is worth it? When do people pull out?

Hang in there; this could all turn around very quickly.

I'm sorry it's been such a hard semester. I really wish you still lived closer so I could give you a hug and we could let the girls play.

as for the PhD student that left after a few weeks... that sucks, but it's WAY better than her leaving after a year or two with nothing to show for all the time, energy and $ you put into her (we've had several students like this come trhough my lab in the time I've been here and it sucks all around).

many hugs

Yes, lots of resonance in your post with me. I had no inclination to come to work at all this morning, as the work just seems to mount up . . .and then the 'busyness' frame of mind kicks in because the 'productivity' just seems impossible. Getting papers published seems to be a long hard road in my field too (ecology), especially while we are not yet experienced in the most efficient ways to design, analyse and write up, and and sometimes it is really hard to keep going. I had no pubs in 2008 which feels like a disaster, but bizarrely this year has been a good one, so I have to keep telling myself that as long as I can keep producing good quality work over a period of time hopefully that will count for something. I also find that when I compare myself to others, and think about the 'competition', all that happens is that I freak myself out, stop appreciating the things that I can do, and end up a basket case. Make sure you take the time to appreciate the things that you do well.

(((science woman)))

I can really, really relate to this. I hope you manage to ruthlessly dig yourself out and to get a positive resolution to the unbloggable as well...

I've recently realized that in both my personal and professional life, I tend to avoid the hard things and that this tendency contributes to filling my days with busyness rather than productivity. <\i>

I feel this way more and more these days, so I really relate. Perhaps it's time to be more ruthless myself. I hope you find the solution and kick those pubs in the butt.

I'm at a similar point in my career, and in the last year have had _18_ paper rejections, my course evaluations are going down each year, and the 1 grant application I submitted triaged. Maybe it just sucks all the way around.

Focus and drive gets you where you want to go.

By Jim Thomerson (not verified) on 02 May 2009 #permalink

Your chair put you and another untenured colleague in charge of a search? That's not right. I'm sure you did a great job, but you don't have time for that (as you know). That's where a real mentor would intervene on your behalf so that you aren't put in the difficult situation of saying no. I hope your department takes into account the time you spent on this and does give you credit for it in your next review.