Tag Archives: Postdoctoral research

Nerding Out

It’s 11:30 and I just got home from a gathering with colleagues – a weekly meeting that we have at the Woolwich Arrow. For those not in the know, the Woolwich Arrow (or the Wooly) is one of a group of most excellent pubs located in downtown Guelph.

Of course, our meeting can’t be considered a true meeting since we never gather for the purpose of discussing work or research1. We gather because we want to spend time with each other outside of the work environment in a place where we can stop being academics for a while. And if that place just so happens to include beer and good food – well, then we’d be insane not to meet.

Truly, it’s a most excellent way to spend a Thursday eve.

But that is not the purpose of my post.

I’m writing mainly to say that I’ve been geeking out all dayand I’m stoked because of it. There are two reasons for this:

  1. I had a meeting today with my colleague Dr. Andrew Binns. He’s an engineering Post Doctoral fellow, and the two of us are about to start some pretty cool research together.
  2. I spent the better part of my eve learning how to make R3 communicate with The Twitter.

Reason number 1 is awesome because I’ve spent the better part of a year and a half working with biologists who are slightly math-phobic. That isn’t a problem per se, but it’s nice to know that Andy isn’t. We can talk math together and that is freaking awesome.

Reason number 2 is particularly exciting to me because I should be able to use this feature of R to do a bunch of really cool analyses of real life, real-time data. I won’t get into what those analyses are right now because I don’t want to give away everything, but trust me when I say I have a million things running through my mind right. The next challenge is to figure out which of these things I should tackle first.

I won’t lie. The nerd inside of me is squee’ing out loud.


1 Okay, okay, from time to time we might slip in a little bit of shop-talk.

2 Where all day means any of the time that I wasn’t in meetings.

3 R is a stats programming language that I use almost every day in my research and teaching.


Just Keep Swimming

Wishing I were more like the Brain, but feeling very much like Pinky. NARF!

For the past several days – weeks maybe - perhaps months – I don’t remember really – point is, for a while I’ve been working on grant applications. It’s sadly a necessary evil for my job.

It’s also a large slice of catch-22. You see, one needs funding to pay for graduate students to help produce publications related to one’s research program (as publication quantity is the current currency of good research). But one can’t get funding unless they have publications. So if one doesn’t have students, one can’t produce as many publications, and the money can’t be garnered from said granting agency.

Awesome system, no?

Anyway, as I mentioned, I’m in the process of writing up several grant applications to get my research program off the ground. Several things about this bother me.

  • First and foremost, I don’t like the idea of just hammering out useless publications. I’m more about quality than quantity any day. I mean, as much as I love chocolate, I’d rather have a small square of fine dark chocolate over the waxed version that one can pick up at the Kwik-E-Mart in bulk. Mmm, chocolate.
  • Second, I’m not sure that the amount of effort that goes into writing a grant is worth it. The probability of being funded is rather low. I mean, with the amount of time I’ve put into writing the grants, I probably could have been producing several quality papers.
  • Third, if I am funded, the amount of money that I might be awarded is tiny (in relative terms). For example, if I believe that my research program requires 1 Post Doctoral Fellowship (approx. $45000 per year, for 2 years), 2 PhDs (approx. $20000 per year, for 3 years each), and 10 Masters students (approx. $17000 per year, for 1 year each), I’d have to ask for $380000, or approximately $76000 per year given a 5 year program duration. These numbers aren’t unusual for a research program (in terms of people), and it doesn’t include equipment, travel, conferences, etc. Sadly, since I’m a Statistician, the granting agency typically only funds about $15000 per year. While $15000 per year is nothing to laugh at (considering I made about that much per year during the end of my PhD), it still leaves a shortfall of $61000. Awesome!

As I said though, it’s a necessary evil. And so I sit and try to write an application that contains a vision of my research program which the reviewers will feel is worthy of funding.

Let me restate that. I try to write.

Can we say easily distracted? I mean, everything seems immensely more entertaining than this grant application. YouTube? Sure thing. Facebook? You know it. Twitter? I’m all over that shit. Yoga? Don’t mind if I do. Take photos of Elliot when I’ve already got about a zillion photos? Damn skippy. Write a blog entry? Clearly. It’s the thing to do.

Truly, what is abundantly clear is that this grant won’t write itself. I need to stop with the distractions and buckle down. So with that dear readers, I shall leave you with these very wise words from Dory of Finding Nemo fame.

I’ve got some swimming to do.