Monday, January 26, 2015

The Acute Dynamic Range of Professorial Moods

This job has acute peaks and valleys, sometimes over very short time scales. Let's consider the past 24 hours:

1. Read paper from a Nature X journal. Loved the concept and the work that was done but was seething mad that what was reported to be 8 years of data were crammed into 3 figures with 85 panels each. After getting out the magnifying glass and scouring the supplementary information, I could not figure out several critical aspects of the study. The information wasn't there/didn't fit/was overlooked. All this work, crammed into a Letter. This is the onus to publish Letters in Nature subjournals?!? An excellent study served up with injustice via space limitations and undoubtedly extra needless experiments that the discerning reviewers just couldn't live without. This stuff makes me mad as hell because it shortchanges everyone - except, possibly, the journal.

2. Shortly thereafter, I received a surprise email inviting me to dinner with a famous scientist. I was delighted, and temporarily forgot my anger over the Nature X paper.

3. I went to the office to review grant proposals. They were bad. This was expected, since I preliminarily organized the proposals based on the quality of their abstracts and then review them from "worst" to "best". It is amazing how cranky you can get after reading someone else's crappy grant proposal. PLEASE, PROPOSAL WRITERS EVERYWHERE: Use verbs, use punctuation, and for the love of God, if there is not a single paragraph break or figure or anything other than block text with maxed out margins on an entire page, expect your reviewer(s) to be exceedingly irritated. Wow, I was not a pleasant dinner companion after all of that.

4. This morning, one of my favorite things ever, and it happens every so often: one of my students told me that I had a good idea. I love it and find it amusing in so many different ways. But after all of the other highs and lows, it helps to validate that a) I do indeed belong in my job and b) I am occasionally useful to my smarty pant students.

                                                   Figure 1. What it feels like to be me.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Dewar's and Water with a Twist

With the new year, I began my preparations for the semester.

But last week, my grandmother died. Death and academic BS don't mix very well.

My Nan-Nan was absolutely the best. She was always proud of me, no matter what I did. She thought it was wonderful that I was smart and that I could do many things. But ultimately, she would have loved me even if I couldn't find my way out of a paper bag. She would have seen the value in me even if I didn't go to grad school, even if I wasn't an engineer, even if I hadn't become a professor, one of the alleged pinnacles of my profession. She saw value in many things that others didn't.

She wouldn't be bothered by all of my grant rejections. She wouldn't care at all as to what the NSF reviewers thought of my preliminary data. I'm sure she wouldn't like peer review.

If she was here, she would offer me a scotch and a back scratch.

                                             Fig. 1. Nan-Nan reacts to peer review.