Tuesday, December 31, 2013

New Year status

2013 has been flying by like nothing. It totally does not feel like New Year again, I'm mentally still stuck somewhere between June and September. If I think about all that has happened this year, it seems to be enough to fill 12 months, but still my soul did not quite follow the fast pace of the passing days.
And even though it is just one day following another the turn of the year is always a good milestone to check the current situation and clarify the boundary conditions to make proper plans for the following months.
This where I'm at:
  • The most important point on this list is of course my pregnancy, which will last another month or so. My private life has been very settled with quite a bit of nice routines and there was not much to worry about - which I totally didn't mind. This will certainly change when the LittleOne takes his first glimpse of Australian summer and a slight nervousness about his arrival has already set in. He will certainly not only turn our private life up side down but my professional life as well and then we'll see if all my preparations were enough to keep my science on a good track - between nappy changes and sleep deprivation.
  • The second most important point is that I have used last year to work on my future career. I've started in Feb already to talk to people about different options post-Australia, about different fellowships or general employment and until August or so I was very confident that I'll have this sorted out until..... welll.... now! Which did not happen. I'm writing on a big fellowship application but at the moment I can't progress because I don't have enough technical information from my host institution. And as I predicted: if I don't get this information before Christmas, I won't get it until the New Year. So I am stuck and I'm really worried, if I messed up the communication with my hosts so badly at some point, that they are not willing to support me at the moment. At the same time I'm hoping that this whole mess-up has nothing to do with me but is just a bad coincidence of a lot of work and unis closing over Christmas. I'm starting to think about other options, even though I really want this project proposal to be handed in, because it is a great topic and it would be an even greater opportunity for me if it would get funded. But for my sanity I had to sign up on every academic job portal I could find.
  • In the meantime while my project proposal is on hold, I am writing on another big paper. It's a summary paper of the huge project my PhD project was connected to and as my PhD advisor is too occupied to write it himself, he offered me to take over his part. This is a great opportunity for me and it prevents me from pondering too much about the messed up communication situation.
  • Publication-wise I had the plan to publish at least 3 first author papers this year and in June this aim was still in reach. Finally, I only managed to publish one paper this year. But I finalized the "doomed project" and we might even get a cover page out of it. Even though it was not published with a 2013 stamp on it, this was a lot of work and a big achievement - and I will certainly not write such a big piece again any time soon!
  • My PhD students start in their final years and while I am quite confident about the progress of one of them I am a bit worried that the other got lost on too many tangents that can't be properly tied together in a good thesis. I've learned a lot about how much guidance, how much pressure, how much freedom they need to progress well and now I have to use this knowledge to get them on the writing track and to get the focused on the gaps that need to be filled before they can finish. All while being on maternity leave...
  • Mentally I am in a state that I really would like to move back home. Even though I know that coming to Australia has been the best choice for my personal and professional development and I used every opportunity my university offered me during this time. But here is not home and it is not even close to it. We came here with the plan to stay for a few years and even though everybody here told us that we most likely don't want to leave anymore after a few years, this has not become true for us. The time we had set for us to be here is over and now the longing for going back home becomes stronger every day. This is the main aim for 2014: to find a possibility to go back to our home country and if that is not possible then to reduce the traveling time at least significantly.
The New Year starts with a lo of open questions and besides the plan to move back I don't have any other specific plans yet. Too much depends on how easy-going the LittleOne will be and how long it will take to find our family rhythm. I'm very curious and a bit scared about all the things that will change this year. How we survive as a family, if I will be perceived differently in my professional context with a child, if we will find a new place to live and work that we both like, ...
Have a Happy New Year all you readers and bloggers out there, an exciting and fulfilling one, whatever that means for each single one of you!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

my favourite writing spot

During the last few months I have not been much in the lab - to my own very disappointment. I only made it there if some of the equipment did funny things and the students couldn't figure out what's wrong by themselves. All my other time was occupied by writing tasks. First, the doomed project, then the project proposal with my slow-responding-colleagues, parallel to that I tried to push another 2-3 papers forward, mostly with just medium success. Up until the Christmas break I did most of the writing in my office - which most of the time is a very good spot for writing: I have a big computer screen and quite an ergonomic chair-desk situation, which helps to not get an aching back even after hours of sitting and with a constantly growing belly. My colleague who holds a lot of discussions with his students in the office was not in for a few weeks and my other colleagues are in general pretty quiet. And if I needed a break there was always a colleague who needed a coffee or a lunch break as well.
Now the university is closed over the festive days and for me this time off will directly lead over into maternity leave. So I have to replace my office writing spot with something equally good. Writing at home at my desk is not as perfect as writing in the office: no large screen and not such ergonomic sitting as I just have a laptop. Working on the couch can be good but usually my bum gets tired after a while and the couch does not allow me to constantly change the position. So at the moment my favorite writing spot is my bed: I can easily adjust my position as soon any part of my body gets tired, if my whole body and my brain get tired I can just turn around and take a nap, it is very comfy (sometimes too comfy which leads to too many naps) and having the laptop on my lap is much better for my posture than if I had it on my desk. The downside is that in principle I don't get out of my pyjamas the whole day and sometimes the whole day passes by and I still feel like just after breakfast. But getting dressed to then work in bed is not an option either. But I (hopefully) still have a few weeks to get a bit of structure in my new writing routine - before the little one arrives and puts his own structure into power. Until then I will spend a lot of hours in bed, typing, reading, thinking, typing,.....

Sunday, December 22, 2013

email conversations - argggss!

Writing emails often makes me anxious. Especially, if it's about important stuff or emails to people I don't know in person, so I have no clue how they interpret writing styles. If I write in my mother tongue I have my emails checked by my partner by now - because  the recipients sometimes thought they were not appropriately phrased even though I thought they were polite. He is the master of being polite and additionally the master of punctuation. My emails have improved a lot since then. Emails in English I have to master on my own. I found that especially Australians are quite forgiving if  I miss the right tone, but it's nevertheless an art I want to master.
Now the tricky situation is, if I am very polite and everything in an email about an urgent matter, but I don't get any replies. The matter is urgent to me and not necessarily to the emails addressee, even though it is about a project proposal we both agreed to get started. So after my first email I might wait 2-3 weeks until I write a polite follow-up email. I know that everybody is busy and I don't want to step on anybody's toes. After my follow-up I get a short reply that does not answer even half of my questions. My deadline on this urgent matter moves closer and I start to get nervous. I write another email a bit later, more detailed, collecting everything I want to discuss in one email, so I don't have to bother my colleagues more often than necessary. I'm still very polite, but I point out my deadline - knowing that it is my deadline not theirs. After about a week of waiting with no reply I write another follow up. I get a reply the next day saying that I'll get the answers to my questions in the next few days. After "the next few days" I get an email saying that it'll take a bit longer, at least until after next weekend.
After next weekend there is Christmas, my colleagues won't be at uni and maybe they are on holiday until January - which would be very nice for them and an understandable reason why they don't reply on emails. But as I urgently need their detailed replies and maybe even a bit of discussion about one or two things, it might as well mean that I miss my deadline - which is of course mine and not theirs.
These are the moments when I find it very hard to keep my writing polite without having the sarcasm dripping out of it. It's very hard to convince people to reply with decent answers if you are not high up on their priority list and I'm certainly lacking the mind-reading abilities to find each persons individual trigger to move me up this list. However, so far I thought that at least replying about when the decent reply will come (and then sticking to it)  without the need for frequent follow-up emails was a generally accepted etiquette. As I'm not in the position to test my skills in writing increasingly angry emails, I'll have to stick to the polite ones - and it's good that my partner can prevent me from sliding into the angry-category. Maybe I should attend an email writing seminar, maybe I should just collaborate with people I have at least the Skype contacts off. I really can't deal with being so dependent when all I can do is sit, wait and write polite follow-up emails - this is SO FRUSTRATING!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

work-related Christmas wishes

The last weeks before Christmas are always a bit strange at uni. While the campus is getting more and more quiet since early December because all the undergrads have left already, the labs and offices usually stay busy until the last day. It is hard to get some measurement time on shared equipment, because everybody wants to finalize something before they leave on their holidays. A lot of our international graduate students will be gone for about a month to visit their families overseas. My last student has left today, my supervisor will leave this weekend as well. 
For me this hopefully means less distraction. I'm still writing on my huge project proposal and have now additionally accepted the offer to contribute to a larger paper with deadline on my due date. Why did I do that, when writing the proposal is already a lot of work for the next 1.5 months at least? Because it sounded like a low investment high return project. It is on a similar topic as my "doomed" project, so all the tedious literature collection is already done and I "just" have to write the piece. Sometime in between my project proposal writing. Not quite sure when this will be.
The proposal is actually developing quite well, but the progress will certainly slow down over Christmas. Not necessarily because of me taking a long break from it, but because I need quite a bit of information from my host institute to continue - and they will be on a long break. 
So right now I hope everything will just fall into place somehow: I'll get the information I need in time, I'll get some feedback from colleagues on my writing in time, I stay physically and mentally fit enough to continue writing, the little one does not arrive earlier as expected (we have a made a deal about that!) and I can hand in my proposal and my paper draft before the family business starts - and I stay relaxed through this whole process. These are my work related Christmas wishes!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

pre-Christmas treats

The "doomed" project, which had cost me over three months to finalize just came back from review and it got really nice, helpful and easy to fix comments! Fantastic, fantastic, fantastic! It was a massive amount of work and I'm very relieved that I don't have to do much more to get it out to the world.
Additionally, my promotion application was granted, so I will jump to the next academic and salary level at the beginning of next year!
I'd say, the December has started well so far!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

the four horsemen of writers block

I read this post when I was caught in the claws of horseman No 4 - it put everything back into perspective.

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