Mentoring Junior Faculty

(by gerty-z) Apr 29 2016

I'm nearing the end of my run as a assistant prof - which means that I am on the brink of either getting tenure or getting fired.* When I started my faculty appointment, there was a lot of discussion about how to mentor the jr faculty (me). Now I'm looking back on how things unfolded, and I have to say ... I'm not really convinced that the mentoring attempts helped me all that much. Which has started me thinking about how (if) the process could be changed so it was more effective.

First, how it went for me: in my department, each new faculty member puts together a "mentoring committee" of senior faculty that they choose. I picked several folks that I really respected (though I didn't really know them that well). We met once a year to discuss my progress, and then a letter was written (by them) and forwarded to the Chair for my file. The folks on my mentoring committee are awesome, and I know that they genuinely wanted to help me. But, TBH, most every one of our meetings could be boiled down to "Get grants and publish papers, and you will be fine". This is not exactly breaking news. I also had "unofficial" mentors - people who I got to know and who I would visit when I needed advice/sounding board for dealing with the everyday trials of running a research group (this group included many of my formal mentors but also other jr faculty and colleagues from other departments). These conversations were hugely helpful, as they helped me deal with situations in real time.

When I started, I thought that a formal mentoring committee would be super helpful. Now I'm not so sure. I'm wondering if there is a better way to mentor junior faculty. We don't need to hear (again) about how we just need to get papers and grants. We know that. There has to be a better way - but what is it?

Seriously. Is there something you do that is awesome for mentoring junior faculty? Does it ever work, or is this just a useless exercise to make the administrators feel like they are doing something?


*Knocks on wood, crosses fingers, makes sacrifice to gods of academia

16 responses so far

If it doesn't kill you...

(by gerty-z) Apr 18 2016

Lab safety is important. Really fucking important. We sometimes use some pretty crazy compounds in our work, and I expect the folks that work for me are trained and astutely follow the rules so that they (and their lab mates) are safe.

But labeling is out of fucking control and does more harm than good. Every fucking thing in our chemical room has some sort of "hazard" label - but it is not all hazardous. I get the "err on the side of caution" argument. But if every-fucking-thing is dangerous it is not always clear what you should actually be careful with.

And then there is the companies that try to profit off of a false sense of security. For example, ethidium bromide, a DNA stain commonly used to see your bands on a gel. Everyone is always told how horrible and terrible EtBr is. Turns out that is a load of horse pucky. The ridiculous hoops you jump through to "detox" EtBr are more dangerous than the actual chemical! But those "safe" alternatives to EtBr?? The ones that cost about 10x more and don't work quite as well?? Actually not safer (based on mutagenicity/toxicology).

Lab safety should be a real, thoughtful discussion. Not a knee-jerk-cover-the-university's-ass stupid exercise in pointlessness.

2 responses so far


(by gerty-z) Apr 13 2016

Subtweets are real. Sometime, I tweet about people and don't identify them. It amuses me. But here's the thing. I'm prolly not talking at you. Or about you. So I made a new hashtag to remind folks of this - #DINETAY (Dude, I'm not even talking at you). I get snarky about all sorts of things. Most of them are not you. Get over yourself.

You know who you are.

2 responses so far


(by gerty-z) Mar 15 2016

It's that time again. Lucky for me, a blog patron (I assume? I got an email) has picked up the mantle and totally organized a brackets-for-a-good-cause event (Yes, I'm totally cheating here...*).

Here are the deets (that's short for details):

We are trying to fund a student-lead engineering STEM program in a high poverty neighborhood, so invite your buddies to play as well! Players who are PIs are asked to donate $10 per bracket and students players are asked to donate $5 per bracket by Thursday, March 17th at 10 am EST. Pool manager bethann the great welcomes you back and is looking forward to another great tournament filled with epic upsets and buzzer beaters. This is an honor system, so be honorable 🙂 The winner of this year's bracket gets....BOOKS! You'll get three amazing and inspiring books on time and management that were featured on Good luck and tweet at us via @edgeforscholars or @mclneuro !

You can also find a bracket here



*The edge for scholars looks AWESOME - you should absolutely check it out!!

*OMG A REAL PRIZE!!! So Fucking Amazing

UPDATE: The project is FUNDED!! Here are some new projects that could also use some help:

Frog Pond FUNDED!
Metamorphosis FUNDED!
Microscopes! FUNDED!
Science kits for special needs classroom
Owl pellets

9 responses so far

My rescuers

(by gerty-z) Mar 10 2016

So, DrugMonkey has tagged me a blog meme. And I've been meaning to come back over here more now that things are settling down* So, here goes. Who are the five characters from movies/TV that i want to come in and rescue me from a "bad situation"

hmmm. i don't watch that much tv, but ...

  2. Rachel Maddow
  3. Michonne
  4. Arya Stark
  5. BanditoKat

I'm not sure any of my picks are "stable" ...


*hahahahaahhhaaa No they aren't, but whatev

One response so far

What the hell? some #sobtember motivation

(by gerty-z) Sep 03 2015

So this happened to me today via text message:

from unknown #: hey, this is [name of someone I don't know]

u#: [not my name] call me back. or [other person] or [another name]. another name said to

u#: call me back. or [other person] or [another name]. another name said to (yep, that one got sent twice)

me: you seem to have the wrong number. this is not [not my name]

u#: is this [also not my name]

me: Nope

u# and I'll text you my number
[not my name]

me: Pls don't. You have the wrong number.

u#: who is this then

me: Go away

u#: sorry I got the wrong number

u#: [not my name]

-End scene

What the hell is wrong with this idiot?

In happier news, today is the second day of #sobtember (not #sobtober - that wouldn't be until next month. also, it sounds a lot like "sober"). In case you need a little motivation, here is an excellent video that the magical @scitrigrrl has found for us:

One response so far

#Sobtober (edit - I mean #Sobtember) - let's do this!

(by gerty-z) Sep 01 2015

While I was prepping for teaching today (*barf*), a couple of the twitts came up with the fantastic idea of an September workout challenge. It's been named #Sobtember. Here are all the details, from the most-awesome @SciTriGrrl:

#SOBTEMBER  - A new workout challenge.

We haven’t done this for a while, and with a new semester starting, we figured it was time to set up a workout challenge as threat of public shaming and punishment inspiration, motivation, to work out stress at the beginning of the semester.

The goal is 30 workouts in 30 days. Or 7 workouts per week throughout September.

30 concurrent days is really incredibly hard because life happens, so this doesn’t need to do one workout per day. You can double up on some days and take a rest day others (see FAQ #8).

CARDIO workouts are at least 30 minutes of getting your heart rate up.

STRENGTH workouts are at least 10 minutes of strength work. Doesn’t have to be weights - it can be planks or pushups or yoga or pilates. Or the NYTimes 7minute workout. Physical Therapy. Whatever you need to work on / want to do.

Let me (@scitrigrrl) know if you’re in, then tweet your workouts with the hashtag #Sobtember, subscribe to the #Sobtember twitter list.

For those up for a challenge, do at least three (3) cardio and two (2) strength training sessions per week*.

*For those of us (like me and @TheSpenceLab) who get confused with counting and days-in-the-month, 3+2 does not add up to 7 workouts per week, so you’re gonna need to add 2 more workouts per week.

If you can’t do that, do whatever you can/ whatever you need to work on. All workouts are good.


Question 1: Can I have rest/sick/lazy/binge-TV-watching days
Answer: Yes. Catch up by doing 2 workouts on the same day to catch up.

Question 2: What if I lie?
Answer: Cheating is bad. It’s a woodchipperable offense. But I’m FAR too lazy to check up on you, so you’re only lying to yourself. Also see the answer to #3.

Question 3: What happens if I DON’T do the workouts?
Answer: @namaste_ish is in charge of all punishments for workout failure. Twitter shaming is the least of your worries. Be very, very afraid.

Previous punishments have included… photos. [shudder -gz]

Question 4: What do I get if I DO the workouts?
Answer: Twitter-love. motivation for the next workout, and the satisfaction of working out.

What? you wanted cookies too?

Question 5: How do I know who else is doing it?

Answer: subscribe to #Sobtember twitter list, and watch your twitter stream. We already have a star-filled lineup including @GertyZ, @Namaste_ish and @CackleofRad.

Question 6: I did a 60minute spin class. Does that count as 2 workouts?
Answer: No.
Question: But…?
Answer: No.
Question: b…?
Answer: STILL NO. But if you do a 30minute cardio and 30 mins strength, that is 2. Or Spin class followed by a 30minute run = 2. Or 30min run in the morning and 30min walk in the evening = 2.

Question 7: Does eating icecream count as a workout.
Answer: not unless you’re actually working out WHILE eating icecream. [...and you don't throw up. -gz]

Question 8 : Who do I contact for questions?
Answer: Just tweet with the #Sobtember hashtag. [Or, you know, leave a comment -gz].

Question 9:
Answer: Nope! But please post pics of leg warmers. [PLEASE! -gz]


* High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) workouts with weights can count as either strength OR cardio, but do not double count one HIIT workout as both. That’s cheating. And cheating is a woodchipperable offense.

Now if you do two in one day, you can do whatever you like, eat whatever you like, and basically own the world.


Links for HIIT workout

Also: inspiration, motivation, to work out stress at the beginning of the semester.


#Sobtember starts TOMORROW!!

6 responses so far

Asking for a friend...

(by gerty-z) Aug 21 2015

What is your favorite way to get out of meetings? I had some ideas on twitter, but some folks thought that the blogosphere might be better for this query.

Screen Shot 2015-08-20 at 5.06.32 PM

Any ideas?


15 responses so far

It's time for #DarwinsBalls - Brackets for a good reason

(by gerty-z) Mar 16 2015

UPDATE #2: YOU GUYS ARE AWESOME!!! All but one of the original projects I put up have been completed!!! I'm adding a couple more projects, just in case there are any late-comers. Scoring is progressive (you get more points for later rounds) so there is still a chance!!


UPDATE: Three of the projects on the original list have been completed!! YOU GUYS ROCK. As of now, there are 49 folks signed up. But there is still time! I know the games to figure out the last 4 games have already started, but those barely count. The For Realz games don't start until Thursday (I think). There is still time to get in on the fun!! OH - and use this link to sign up (thanks @namaste_ish): If that doesn't work, send me a gmail @ primaryinvestigator or else DM me on twitter @gertyz

Hey all! It's March, and that means College Basketball! Around here, there is a tradition of hosting a bracket competition -- for a good cause, of course. This year, there was an idea to have folks contribute to Smart Girls at the Party - Amy Poehler's community to encourage girls and women to be themselves and change the world. It is pretty awesome, IMO. Sadly, I can't find a link that we could use for donations. It is very confusing. So instead I went over to Donor's Choose and picked some great projects that we could support. If you aren't familiar with Donor's Choose, then I just can't even. JOKING! It is an exceptionally good charity where teachers can ask for money to get stuff they need for teaching.

So here's the deal. If you wanna play, you gotta pay. Go to Donor's Choose and put down your entry fee ($10, students and postdocs can enter for $5). Then go to and fill out a bracket. The group name is Darwin's Balls, the password is MarieCurie. Then let the trash-talking begin!! Also, @Namaste_Ish has arranged for some excellent prizes for the winners. Fun trash talking AND prizes!!

You can donate to any project at Donor's Choose that you want. Or pick one from the list that I put together trying to find "less urban", high poverty projects:

Centered in Learning ~ Mrs. Cabrera's class at Bell Elementary School in Deming, NM. "My students need language arts and mathematics center activities to focus on practicing and strengthening their skills." This is basic stuff: Math flash cards, reading folders, white board markers. Let's get these kids going!!!

NEW! 2nd Annual Science Fair ~ Mrs. Sutton's class at Shady Spring Elementary School in Shady Spring, WV is looking for supplies so they can have a science fair.

NEW! Dissecting for Degrees! ~ Ms. Dugger's class at Woodward Elementary School in Atlanta, GA. Help a class of 5th graders get the opportunity to do frog dissections!

COMPLETED!! Send the FeMale Robotics team to space! ~ Ms. Madanski's class at Robinson Elementary School in Toledo, OH. "We are a group of ten 4th-8th grade inner-city girls who work hard, have fun, and are learning to build and program a robot. You can help us prepare for our first LEGO League competition next year by obtaining a Space Challenge Set to practice in the off season!"

COMPLETED!! Make Math Come Alive ~ Mrs. Mastin's class at Tilles Elementary School in Fort Smith, AR. "This project will provide my students with the opportunity to have a hands on experience with math concepts across the curriculum and make it more applicable to my students. They will be able to visualize and understand the concepts behind math strategies and think critically about those strategies. By using these materials, I will be able to provide instruction to my students that they will never forget."

COMPLETED!! Helping All Students Succeed Mathematically ~ Ms. McClelland's class at Oakland Heights Elementary School in Meridian, MS. "By funding our project, you will make it possible for my female students to improve their attitudes about mathematics by getting some much needed practice. I feel that the girls will build their confidence and esteem as they learning to enjoy math. Please help us succeed at learning."

COMPLETED!! Supplies are Running Out...Help ~ Ms. P.'s supplies project  at Longfellow Elementary School in Pasco,  WA. "This project will make a huge difference in our classroom by providing my students with essential items that they need every day. Without basic items like paper, and dry-erase markers my students will not be able to accomplish their learning targets." Holy crap, this is heartbreaking. They are running out of paper, ffs -gz

COMPLETED!! Multiplying the Love for Math and Science ~ Ms. Thompson's class at McClure Elementary School in Tulsa, OK. "With these materials, my students will conduct experiments, engage in hands-on learning activities, and take part in a more meaningful learning experience. I believe that this will allow them to retain information they learn, long-term and apply the skills they are learning to everyday life."

SPORTSBALL! Do something good, maybe win a prize based on randomly choosing your bracket! It is All. The. Awesome.

Now get on it, folks.

50 responses so far

AMAZING on-the-ground reporting from Alabama

(by gerty-z) Feb 11 2015

Ran across the BEST ever reporting piece about how Alabama is dealing with newly-legalized "gay" marriage. This dude is Da Bom.

Sadly, I can't figure out how to embed the video. So click here. I promise it is totally worth clicking!

One response so far

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