The Idea Book

23 02 2012

During my last year in graduate school, I started noticing that my boss was carrying a notebook with him whenever he went to meetings, talks, poster sessions, journal clubs, etc..  I walked into his office one day and he was browsing an article and writing stuff in his notebook.  I asked him about it and he told me it was his “idea notebook.”  I always (ok not always, but sometimes) take notes during talks, and if I like a poster I’ll get them to e-mail me a PDF or take a hard copy.  In my mind, I was doing the same thing as my boss.  However, I can’t tell you where all of those scraps of notebook paper are or where the hard copies from those posters went.

Now, I am beginning to see my boss’ wisdom.

Since he wrote all of this notes (even transcribing things from hard-copies) in one single notebook, he can easily keep track of all of his thoughts and ideas.  Now that I am all grown up and coming up with ideas of my own, I have started keeping my own idea book.  As I read articles, I write down interesting reactions or molecules (always writing down the reference so that I can find the hard copy when I need it) and any thoughts I have about the paper and any big ideas I walk away with from their paper.  I’m going to my first big meeting as an assistant professor next month, so I will get to test my notebook out during talks and poster sessions.

I am really excited about doing this.  I think it has gotten me back in the mindset of research and has gotten my wheels turning for coming up with my own ideas.

So, do any of you keep and idea book? If not, how do you keep track of all of your ideas (my mind is too cluttered to keep them all up there!)? I’m always looking for ways to keep my thoughts organized.


Original Ideas

7 02 2012

For those of you who have read my blog since the beginning, you know my academic history.  For those of you who are newer readers, let me fill you in on some details that are relevant for this post.  I graduated with my Ph.D. in a subfield of chemistry in May of 2010.  I’ve known that I wanted to teach since early on in graduate school.  I decided (with my bosses approval) to start applying for teaching positions in the Fall of 2009.

I know that many of you are probably thinking, “What! No postdoc?”

My boss and I agreed that since I had no desire to be a big-time PI at an RO1 institution that doing a postdoc wasn’t necessary for me.  He also agreed that if I didn’t find a job during this cycle that he would keep me on a a postdoc until I was able to move on to something else.  This sounded like a great plan to me!  I went ahead and sent out close to 30 applications during that cycle; including applications for a couple of teaching postdocs (which apparently are very very rare in the field of chemistry).  To make a long story short, and to get to the heart of this post, I ended up getting a couple of call backs and ultimately landing my dream job.

The crux of this post is whether or not is was a good idea on my part to forgo a postdoc.  I don’t feel as though doing a postdoc would have helped me any with my teaching ability; I feel that I received plenty of teaching experience during my days in graduate school.  Most chemistry postdocs I know just spend their days slaving away in the lab.  They learn to become more independent researchers and formulate their own research ideas.  This is where I start questioning myself.  In graduate school, I was not responsible for coming up with my own big ideas.  My boss gave me an idea and told me to make some compounds, and I took it from there.  I made different derivatives of my own thinking, but the idea as a whole was his.

Now, as I sit in my nice office typing this post, I wonder, did I do myself a disservice by not going the postdoc route? I am by no means in a high-pressure situation where it is publish or perish, but I was hired under the notion that I could eventually start a small research project much like at a PUI, but this is for a professional program.  Some of our students (primarily those who obtained a B.S. in chemistry as an undergraduate) have already approached me because they know what type of work I want to do, but I have to turn them away because I don’t have a project for them.

I am trying my best to come up with some idea that I can get rolling into a nice little project, but I am not having any luck.  I have some internal collaboration going on right now, but it is in the very early stages that doesn’t require any lab work from me at this time.  I am scouring the literature right now (I really have to make myself read the literature…I hate it!), but anytime I see something that interests me I don’t know how to translate that into an actual project that has legs.

Do any of you have suggestions on how to get the ball rolling on discovering your next research project? How did you discover your first real idea?


1 01 2012

The new year is upon us, and I have decided that I should get back to blogging (thanks to some recent posts by Dr. 27). I really liked her post about her scientific/career resolutions for the year. I tend to be a person who sets goals, but somewhere along the way I lose track of them and they just get buried in the massive pile of stuff that becomes my life.  Hopefully, by posting them here on the blog, coupled with blogging more frequently, I will be more likely to accomplish all of my resolutions.

So here they are (in no particular order):

  • Stay ahead of my lectures.  It always seems as though I start off with the best intentions of getting ahead of in preparing my lectures.  However, it always ends up after a month or so that I am struggling just to stay caught up with them.  I would like to have my lectures done in advance, but I can’t seem to find the motivation.  Hopefully becoming more seasoned (i.e. going around the block a time or two) will help!
  • Get my research lab up and running.  I am fortunate  to have a job where research is required, but not pressured.  When I started working at my current job (1 1/2 years ago!), I was the first bench chemist that they hired.  So there was nothing in place as far as a lab was concerned.  I didn’t technically have a start-up budget.  They just asked what things I needed (within reason) and they bought them.  Now the time has come that everything is pretty much in place and it is time to start doing some actual chemistry.  The only problem is…I don’t know what I want to do!  I think this is one of the downfalls of not doing a postdoc.  Don’t get me wrong, I was very happy to be offered this job straight out of grad school, but I think I could have used a little more work being independent (or as independent as a postdoc can be) in research before I began.  I am trying to make myself stay busy scouring the journals for some kind of clue as to what interests me the most.
  • Build my network.  As a new faculty member (and a very introverted one at that), I find it very difficult to mingle and make connections with new people outside of my university.  I will be attending the Spring National American Chemical Society meeting in March (Thanks departmental travel budget!) and I hope to really start building my external network along with some collaborative research ideas (which could help me with my previous resolution).
  • Publish.  I would really like to submit an article at some point in time this year.  I am currently working on a small side project (that probably won’t result in any real chemistry being performed) that could result in a small publication.  Once my research really gets started, I would ideally like to publish at least 2 papers per year.
  • Grants.  I know that grants are extremely difficult to come by these days, but I would at least like to submit for one grant this year.
  • Contract. As of right now, I am on a 1-year contract.  When I go up for renewal this summer, I would really like to be offered a two-year contract, but I would be happy with another one-year contract.  I need to find out if I need to do something extra in order to merit a two-year contract or if they just haven’t been awarding those due to accreditation issues (not bad, it’s just that we are a new program).  After I have worked here for 7 years, I then become eligible for what they call a “permanent contract.”  A permanent contract is essentially this university’s version of tenure where your contract automatically renews without a yearly review, but it provides them a little more flexibility to fire you if you cross the line.
  • Be a good educator. The past 3-semesters I have taught classes and I have gotten good student evaluations, but I will admit that I have been “the easy teacher.”  I am going to strive to find ways to make my material useful for the students and present it in a way that is informative and keeps them awake.  I also need to learn to right better test questions because I have a tendency to be very straightforward with my test question.  I need to find a way to present my material in class so that it lends itself to more thought provoking exam questions.

I think that should just about do it for this year’s resolutions.  I will hopefully remember to update you all as the year progresses on the status of these resolutions.  Now to get started!