Monday, March 15, 2010

Spring puddles

In the blink of an eye, winter melted away. We had a glorious week of sun and birdsong, and then the March rains came, leaving puddles in their wake. Although only a few last sad mounds of dirty snow remain, I’ve been sending the girls to school with their snow boots and snow pants every day. The schools are adamant on this point.

“Do you still really have to wear snow pants and boots at recess?” I asked Bean-girl every day last week.

She nodded.

“Even though there’s hardly any snow?”

“It’s because of the puddles,” Bean-girl informed me. Then she went on to tell me about the perilous water in the schoolyard. “There’s one puddle,” she told me, “that is sooo deep!” And she raised her hand to a level just below her chin.

“Wow,” I said, impressed. “How do you know it’s that deep?”

“Because my friend, Hadley, said so.”

“Hmmm,” I said. “And how did she know that it’s that deep? Did she measure it?”

“No. But she saw a boy stick his shoe partway in it. And he said, ‘I can’t feel the bottom!’ And he ran away.”

“Oh. You know, you could measure it with a stick.”

“We don’t play around puddles. I think you might get a white slip for doing that. And you could drown.”

“Okay.”

It does make sense not to play around dirty water. But I smile to think of Bean-girl and her friends playing in this schoolyard of mystery and danger. Where fathomless pools of water lurk, immeasurable to any.

Monday, March 1, 2010

"Research Scientist" postions; waiting

I feel unsettled these days, restless. Did I once say that I was enjoying my time off from work? Well, I was, but I think I’m at my limit now.

I’d dreamed of having time and space to write creatively. But I think my dream of being a writer is just that—a dream. I don’t have the guts for it. I don’t have the discipline, and I can’t take the silence. I don’t know how real writers and aspiring writers—those who have pinned their true career hopes on this, who truly pour their souls and self-esteem into this work—can possibly do it.

I finished a short story and showed it to an acquaintance of mine—a published novelist and the editor who handled my first published piece. She kindly pointed out that it needed work. I showed it someone else, who gently agreed. I can’t bear to look at the thing again. My critics are correct, but I’ve fallen in love with certain passages and turns of phrase, and I can’t bear to rip them out. And I can’t bear the rejection forms of journals. I had beginner’s luck last year, and I suppose it went to my head. But faced with the reality of time to write? I can’t do it. I surf the net and fritter time away. I think I wrote more effectively when I had an outside job and external structure to my days; I was more efficient when writing time was squeezed into an hour here or there at night. Left to my own devices a few days a week, my discipline relaxes like wet spaghetti.

Anyway. Perhaps this is all just prologue to say: I am really really looking forward to heading back to the lab.

My potential PI e-mailed me out of the blue last week to ask me: Have you heard anything about the grant? I had to laugh when I mentioned it to my husband. Um, it’s the PI who is the PI of the grant, and whose name and contact information is listed. Not the lowly trainee applicant (me), who currently even isn’t affiliated with an institution. Nice to know that my potential PI still remembers me and our application, though.

I’ve been advising someone who is applying (and has just gotten an interview!) for teaching positions at undergraduate-based institutions. And I’m hearing rumors through the grapevine of big changes at my former institution. Not all good changes, either, in my opinion. One rumor is that the Research Scientist position will be eliminated, meaning that postdocs can no longer be promoted to non-PI staff positions. If the institute’s current 5-year limit on postdoc positions holds, this means that all postdocs at the institute will automatically be kicked out at the end of five years. This really makes no sense to me, because our institute has great difficulty in recruiting postdocs as is. This difficulty means that PIs have generally sought to retain senior postdocs if funding permits, meaning that a great number of our postdocs were promoted to Research Scientist. I am assuming that this perhaps became too expensive for the institute to handle? (I’ve no clue as to how financing of these positions is handled) And yet our PIs will be in trouble if they cannot retain their skilled talent; it’s very difficult to recruit people to this little-known corner of the Midwest, and I know of PIs who have been searching for postdoc candidates for over a year. It seems that forced turnover of senior postdocs/scientists would only increase these gaps in staffing coverage.

Of course, I have concern for more than PIs at heart. I myself was hoping to eventually land on the Research Scientist track.

It all seems to be going backwards to me, although of course I don’t have the full story. These are rumors, after all, relayed to me second-hand by people who rank fairly low on the research hierarchy. Pity if it should come to pass as described, however. As described in this post, I think the creation (or increase) of the number of professional, permanent Ph.D-credentialed but non-lab-head research staff in the world would go a long way to both increasing research efficiency and absorbing the postdoc glut.

But of course, given my own unstable position, I’m kinda biased.