Sunday, September 29, 2013

the "doomed" project

Beginning of this month I wrote about my currently "doomed" project, which is a review paper, that I had to finish this month. For a while it looked like it might actually be possible to send the manuscript off before October. Even at the beginning of last week it still seemed to work out just fine, but today on the last day of September I must admit: "nope, not possible". And it's not because of my terrible time management, but mostly because since the beginning of last week I'm waiting for my co-authors final remarks. Which I need before I can start the lengthy submission processes including cleaning up all the ~150 references. This is a bit disappointing, as I did most of the work on this manuscript, I was well (or at least ok) on schedule and I'd have loved to hand it in on time. And now I'm sitting here waiting: 

Friday, September 27, 2013

exciting times...

So far my pregnancy has been a really pleasant one. I had pretty much no morning sickness, I wasn't much more tired than usual (and the more in tiredness was mostly due to the reduced coffee consumption, I guess), the tugging and twinging and itching in various parts of my body was bearable most of the time and until a couple of weeks ago I could still wear my usual stuff. Now I'm about half way through the 9 month prep time and some things start to become tricky:
1) I sorted through my clothes today to see what still fits - and now I have a pretty much empty wardrobe. I already bought some nicer maternity things, because I have a conference and a promotion interview lined up, but the number of wearable every-day clothes just went down dramatically. And as the warmer season is just about to get started but is not really there yet it is hard to decide in which type of clothes to invest.
2) The little Wallaby has grown enough so I can feel its movements. Which is mostly funny, but sometimes Wallaby is kicking me in uncomfortable places - like my bladder - which makes it impossible for me to sit or even stand. The only thing that helps is walking around for a while. This is no problem as long as I'm not in my office working at the computer. however, this is where I usually am, because the plan is to write a big fellowship application until the end of the year, which will determine where the family will settle down next. So far I thought that I have plenty of time to do so, but with this new kind of interruptions I get a bit worried. And I'm sure there are some more unexpected hick-ups lined up already, which will break up my established working routine. I was really hoping that I could continue working in my own pace for a few more months, but maybe that was a bit naive.
Exciting times...

Saturday, September 21, 2013

paper reviewing

I always wonder: how long does it take for the average university scientist to review an average paper. Not a paper that can be published without comments, but a paper somewhere between minor and mayor revisions. A paper where one has to check a few of the citations, because they seem to be out of place or you are not sure what exactly their statement is. A paper that is not so well and fluently written, so that one sometimes stumbles over a sentence and has to re-read a paragraph to grasp the meaning. How long does that take?

I talked to a colleague about it and he at first said: one hour! Then he corrected himself and mentioned that it might take a bit longer than that.

For me it takes about 5-6 hours stretched over several days. From reading the manuscript for the first time to get a general impression, then re-reading it to make comments, mark paragraphs and download citations I'd like to check, to finally writing the review. Some journals allow you to see the comments of the other reviewers (which I think is very useful and I learn a lot from that) and usually my comment list is 2-3 times as long as theirs. Does that mean that I am too picky? Or still too enthusiastic about the peer-review system? Do I invest too much time in the paper review?

I'd love to know how long people in the blogosphere take to review an average paper, which is somewhere between minor and major revisions. How long do you need for that?

Australian peculiarities II: Australians and their cars

Australians love their cars. Preferably big cars with a huge thirst. Cars that look like they are meant to be for the wilderness, but mostly they are used to drive here to drive the kids around and to conveniently get the groceries from A to B. The average car here is at least twice as heavy as the average car where I come from and as people here on average are shorter as well there must be some who need a ladder to get into these cars.
But the existence of these cars is not the peculiar thing, it's more how they are used. Or how they are used while they are actually not used. Because for some reason people hate to switch off their cars. On my way between home and office which is about 15min by foot I usually see at least 3 cars parked at the side of the street with their motors running. If it is a very hot or cold day I'd guess people sit inside a running car because of the AC. But on most of the days that can't be the reason.
It's interesting to see what people do in these cars: having lunch, refreshing their make-up, checking something on their laptop, chatting with a friend,... . Nothing what you would need a running motor for. And it's not that they just take a 2-min break and then they are on the road again. The "chatting with a friend" incident took over half an hour and occurred late in the evening under our bedroom window. Another example is the one with the dad and his two sons waiting outside the hospital for the mom plus child number 3. They were not even inside the car but were sitting outside enjoying the nice weather with the doors of the car wide open - and the motor running.
I once asked a lady why she does not stop the motor of her car. We met in the middle of nowhere, where we both took photos of koalas sleeping in the trees. I found it inappropriate that she pestered the habitat of the koalas with exhaust fumes while taking photos of them. She answered, that her car is a Diesel and it is supposed to cool down before you stop the motor. I really wonder, who told her that: maybe the guy from the petrol station.
Keeping motors running is actually not only restricted to cars: maintenance guys having lunch while the chain saw or the leaf blower or the lawn mower is chugging along is a very common sight as well.
Maybe petrol is just still too cheap down here to get people thinking about environmental stuff and with the new government, which will sack the carbon tax and a bunch of climate institutions right with it, one can't expect a positive impulse from that side - at least not in the near future.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

being proud vs being annoyed

Sometimes the impression I have of my students can change from one day to the other.
A few days ago I was quite proud (and relieved) because one of my students finally seemed to have grasped the concept that setting up your experiments properly right away might cost you more time before you can start your experiment. But having thought of all the tiny things that can influence your measurements and maybe having fixed a few issues might save you a lot of time in the long run. He learned that the hard way by being forced to re-do a bunch of his measurements because the original experimental procedure was too sloppy. Finally it seemed that he understood the concept and he even started searching for answers for some of the peculiarities in his data without being pushed by anyone.
Then he stumbled over a new issue just recently, which is based on sloppy sample preparation. I had told him already a year ago that he has to implement a special sample prep step to avoid this problem, but he did not believe me at that time and prepared the samples the way he thought was sufficient. So, now the bad sample prepping finally shows its full impact. And he says: "You certainly never told me about this!", AAARRGGSSSZZZLLLL... even if for some reason I would have kept this information from him, he should have been able to filter it out of the literature (that I guess he must have read by now) or even figure it out by just sitting down and switching on his science/engineering brain, because it is a very obvious an reasonable step that needs to be added. But just saying it's my fault? Will I get the PhD title for his work or will he?
So the "being proud" is gone on holidays and the "being annoyed" took its place!

Saturday, September 7, 2013

election - done!

The election is over, the coalition won very clearly! Hopefully the politician bashing is done now for a while and this energy is more used to do the actual job of a politician!

Monday, September 2, 2013

the deadlines haunt me

aaahhh, why does everything, really everything take so much longer than I expected? Even if I give myself what seems to be very generous time frames? Even if I start early on a certain topic and work continuously on it?
My actual "doomed" topic is a review paper that I plan to finish ... well planned to finish this week. This will certainly not happen. I have totally miscalculated how long it takes to find all the relevant literature, load it in my data base and have meaningful bullet point descriptions of the content somewhere in a nicely structured file. I spend days already just going through citations of papers that I've already implemented in my text to find another 10 papers each day that need to be included. It's just a nightmare at the moment, even though the core part of the review is already written and I "just" need to put the framework around it and give some tables with material parameters and include some graphs and write a summary section. But even this will include something like 30 additional citations, which have to be extracted from the vast amount of material that is out there.
After all my experience with deadlines, time-management is still a meaningless phrase to me!