Friday, December 26, 2014

finding a sparring partner

These days everything is slow - at least that is how it feels. Days pass by and sometimes I wonder if something happened earlier today or already yesterday. It is somehow disturbing. From this blurriness a thought about work and how to improve my output came up. I've by far missed my goals for this year and I'm very disappointed of myself. Even though there are a lot of external factors involved in why I missed my goals. But it is not all external factors to blame. Often I just can't find this additional bit of motivation to do something right now. Especially with writing papers I seem to waste a lot of time on side tracks or it takes me a day to write five proper lines. 
When I was a teenager I could easily motivate myself for a lot of stuff. My schedule was full of sports and social events and I usually not only participated, but took over some organizational roles. I LOVED doing all that stuff and my parents sometimes had to stop me and keep my duties to a reasonable amount. While I think it is a teenager thing to be easily motivated (maybe not for school, but for a lot of other stuff) and to be emotionally involved in everything, I was wondering how I could get closer again to this base level of passion. 
The word that crossed my mind was: competition. Not super serious job competition, more like in a low level sports match. Or like the hidden competition when you try to match the speed of another runner in the park. I love playing sports, I love the temporal rivalry and I love to win. So maybe it would help if I'd have a secret sparring partner, an "enemy" team, someone on a similar level but with currently better performance to increase my day-to-day motivation. Trying to match his/her speed, then close the gap, then overtake.
But how to measure performance? H-factor is the first measure that comes to mind, but it depends on so much more than my own direct performance, like: are my collaborators productive and put me on their papers, are my collaborators people how are often cited,... . 
H-factor only of first-author publications might be an option, or - similar - how many first-author publications contribute to the overall h-factor. But then I'm already on a level where my students publish and I'm not first author anymore, but not necessarily last one as well. And the next level people are on the junior professor levels. So there the ratio first-author to non-first-author publications gets even "worse" and performance comparison with a sparring partner on that level would be even more difficult. And do I want to exclude all the other time consuming work I'm doing? Supervision? Teaching? It would get really messy if I'd want to include them.
Maybe I keep it very simple. The weak point in my CV is my low number of first author publications. This is what I want to increase. So I'll look for an "enemy" team (maybe even several people) on a similar level to mine and I'll try to match their number of first author publications. Time-frame depends on how many publications they are ahead of me. A long term goal will be to match their h-factor and the number of first-author publications contributing to it. 
Finding a proper sparring partner is a nice task for the last days of the year.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Dear fellow researchers... (this is a rant!)

... it is quite normal that after spending hours/days/months in the lab/in front of the computer/scribbling notes and equations on paper, we have the desire to show the world the results of all our hard work (and of course because the next funding agency we apply to needs to be impressed was well). And of course we are all busy and writing a publication can be a tedious task.
But if you think it is good style to toss all your data of all the 38 systems you've found in your drawer in one confusing graph, that it is enough to describe details of these graphs that can't actually be seen in the text and base your conclusions on them without providing proper evidence and that this huge mess will then be published, you just missed a very important point. You should not be writing to increase the length of your publication list! Surprised? You should be writing to make your research progress available to the public or at least to the science audience. You should write in a way that the story of your research is easy to grasp for the reader. He should not be forced to decipher from 20 different data sets presented as black lines, which one is the double dash dot one. Nor should it be necessary to read up 5 other publications to be able to follow your conclusions. Trying to wrap up your research in a concise and maybe even (gasp!) interesting way is certainly a skill that needs to be practiced, but it is as well a courtesy to your audience to at least try. And in general it is always a good idea to have a good think about the reviewer comments, before you reply something along the line that you don't give a shit. I dearly hope you will not be able to find reviewers who let you publish this mess!
Rant: stop!