Ephemeral 15-Min Improv Post

This post will go *poof!* on Friday. 

— There are many things to love about being a scientist, and about as many to hate about being a woman scientist. One such hate-worthy aspect of trying to do my job while female is that getting recognition does not, in fact, become easier with age. I always thought that, as I got older and more established, I would no longer have to constantly prove my competence wherever I show up. That the people around whom I have been for years, working and publishing and presenting in the same venues, will recognize me as a peer turned out to be true, sort of. What I never thought of is that all the younger people, men and women alike, will also need to be convinced that I am competent, because getting old and wrinkly is not a proxy for technical competence in women, just in men. This insistence by the young folks that middle-aged women presumably do not belong in science and need to be cross-examined about their credentials on the spot to verify that they are indeed qualified is not something I expected.

— A related issue. I might need to get off the mentoring committee of a junior colleague. He’s getting on my nerves too much, and I think it’s best for his own sake that I not be in charge of mentoring him any more. What’s the problem? He already knows everything (no, not really). He comes to ask me for some advice, I tell him what I would do and why, then he argues with me about why he should do the thing he wants to do anyway (which is often unnecessary, imprudent, and more often than not antagonizes people, some of whom are very good people, without a good reason). Take my advice, or not, but don’t waste my time arguing with me. $hit ensues that didn’t necessarily have to happen because he jumped the gun; I advise about the mitigating course of action; he is again more “principled”/knows better, so more $hit and soured relationships ensue. You can lead an assistant professor towards tenure, but you can’t make him not make stupid political choices.

I am amazed at some of these young guns (we have several). The size of the egos on those people. And at least a couple of them think us senior folks, as a whole, as useless lazy hicks. Well, at least they are not overtly sexist or racist in their ageism.

— I have been reviewing annual reports for the department. I am amazed at how shamelessly some people self-promote. I have never listed that I had received an offer or expression of interest from elsewhere, unless I had something in writing. Instead, I see people liberally listing basically every time they had an informal feeler from another place as a legitimate offer, signaling the need for retention. I bet their stock goes up this way.

— I have a confession to make: I have a minor superpower. I write kick-ass nominations for awards. From undergrad fellowships to lifetime achievement professional society awards, I have so far had a ridiculously high hit rate (i.e., how often my nominees get the prize). Hopefully I don’t jinx it! Of course, it is key that the applicants are highly qualified, exceptional people; that makes my job considerably easier. But, I think my penchant for adjective abuse certainly helps.

However, I don’t put my work on the nominations for other people (or their successes) on my annual report. I just list the relevant committee and that’s that. Imagine my surprise today when I saw, in the annual report of the main department administrator, listed as one of his annual accomplishments is that the department faculty have received all these awards, each listed by award name. I did the leg work for those nominations and wrote all the nomination letters, which he then signed. And yet he gets to claim this work as evidence of leadership excellence… And probably doesn’t think anything’s wrong with that. Well, fuck.


Fun Webcomics

Apropos nothing, here are some webcomics I enjoy.  These are all humorous, but I am also a sucker for beautiful art, so some of the selection reveals that. (I have also contributed to a couple of Kickstarter campaigns and artists’ Patreons. )


Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal





PhD Comics (obviously)

PhD Comics


Cyanide and Happiness (not for the easily offended; DO NOT look at the comments, or you’ll lose all faith in humanity)

Cyanide and Happiness


Loonarbaboon (wonderful insights from life with kids)



Sheldon Comics



Wilde Life (gorgeous art; the comment section is full of nice folks who enjoy puns and rhyming)

Wilde Life


Zombie Roomie (I want to draw like this when I grow up)

Zombie Roomie


The next few are smutty, but pretty tame (but here are some smelling salts, just in case) and feature beautiful art.



Menage a 3

Menage a 3

Sticky Dilly Buns

Sticky Dilly Buns

Go Get a Roomie

Go Get a Roomie

Waiting for the Other Shoe to Drop

This past fall I submitted two NSF proposals within a few days of one another, to two different directorates. One proposal is better than the other.

So, today I log into Fastlane, and both proposals are still pending, but the worse one shows to have a status update, dated today.

I know this only means bad news. It most likely (well, I am going to say certainly) means that the proposal didn’t review well, and the program manager just got around to uploading all the reviews and possibly the panel summary, clicked on some button, and my proposal is now propagating through the NSF administration to whoever is in charge of issuing the notice of declination.

Why do I think the proposal will be rejected? Because I have never received an NSF grant where they didn’t first ask me to cut the budget. So, no budget-cutting phone call/email, no money. Also, funding rates are ridiculously low, so chances are high that anything will get rejected. And, as I said, this is not my best proposal ever.

I hate the two things that I simultaneously feel about the whole ordeal:

1. The unfounded hope. Objectively, everything points to rejection, yet my pathetic little self still holds a sliver of hope of funding. I hate how the granting game turns me (perhaps others, too) into this sad, slimy ball of neediness, who will imagine ridiculous scenarios of funding despite staggering evidence to the contrary. I feel uncomfortable seeing this about myself, looking worse than a lovestruck teenage girl whose object of affection doesn’t give half a $hit; you just want to grab her by the shoulders and shake some sense into her. “Tiffany, he doesn’t care about you, stop thinking about him and move on already.”

2. The shame. Objectively, I know that the funding rates are low and that many good projects don’t get funded. But some do. Very few, but some still do. So I am ashamed every time I get a rejection, because it means I was not good enough. And telling myself objectively that it happens to the best of us (literally) feels like I am just deluding myself, telling myself wild stories, when the true reason is that I just was not good enough and there is no escaping it. I am ashamed in front of my students, who I feel are disappointed in me, their supposedly fearless leader, for sucking as a grant writer.

Namnezia likens the soul-crushing nature of the grant-writing game to constantly putting your hand in hot oil. You throw proposals at the funding agency/agencies, in the hope that something will stick; but whom does it help? It doesn’t advance science. It just kills my will to do it because there is only so much feeling like $hit that one can take before not wanting to do it any more. The stuff I am most passionate about I end up doing anyway by creatively combining funds from different sources and  teaching assistantships for students. But there is a lot of other great stuff that just doesn’t get done.

Maybe  I am spoiled, but to be creative you have to have some bandwidth to think deeply about the problems at hand, as opposed to constantly fretting about what you will do when the money for the problem at hand runs out… And something is always running out.

I can’t wallow forever, so I will dust myself off soon enough. But the grant game just plain sucks.




I usually get a few hundred views per day, and I am happy with that.
But it seems that “A Good Little Girl” really hit a nerve, and has been shared like crazy via Facebook (over 3k shares) and on  Twitter. So I have had several days with thousands of views and it’s been quite exciting watching my WordPress stats page. (Although, to be completely honest, I really enjoy my stats page even on slow days. Not sure that’s entirely healthy.)

I am really glad the post brought many new people to the blog.  Hi there! And welcome!



Guest Post: Saying Yes

By Psykadamnit

Xykademiqz wrote a very important post on how vital it is to learn to say “no” to service requests.  I want to temper that with some notes on when you really ought to say “yes”.

You should say “yes” if you’re the person who stood up in department meeting and said “The department really ought to…”  If you follow that with “…but not me, obviously this should be done by [committee that you aren’t on]” then you are part of the problem.  So say “yes” to your own proposals.  And not just the fun part, where you come up with the reading list for the new class or the design for the cool new experiment.  Say “yes” to the administrivia, the part where you write long reports explaining (in proper Eduspeak) that requiring a course on statistical analysis of experimental data will help promote “Programmatic Outcome 2b: Quantitative Reasoning Skills””, and the part where you explain that you will assess these reasoning skills using gobbledygook that sounds an awful lot like grading assignments but is totally different from grading because it’s being done in Educrat Newspeak.  Or the part where you sit down with the department technical staff and figure out how to demonstrate to the campus safety officials that the Automatic Safety Shutdown on that shiny new piece of lab equipment will turn the device off when needed, and you do so without turning on the device so that the Automatic Safety Shutdown can turn it off (because turning it on before you’ve demonstrated that you can turn it off would run afoul of safety regulations).  If you refuse to do that, after being the one who spoke up in department meeting and said “We should buy this new equipment and use it in our lab class!” then you are part of the problem.

Oh, and if somebody who volunteered for a bunch of university service finds a way to deliver 95% of what the department wanted, including 95% of what YOU said you wanted during a department meeting, don’t gripe about the remaining 5%.  Unless you’re willing to join those university-level committees and spend a year fighting for it.