Month: June 2016

Beyond the Hustle

Phew! “Academaze” is out, we’ve done a giveaway raffle, and I am ready to talk about something else. But perhaps not just yet.

Those of you who have read the book — thank you and I hope you enjoyed it! Whether you liked it or not, if you feel inclined to write an honest review (Amazon, Goodreads, your personal blog, etc.) or help us spread the word on social media, it will be greatly appreciated by both me and my publisher. Thank you!

I have to say, this promoting-a-book business is not for the faint of heart. While I understand it’s necessary, it is not a comfortable mode to be in for an introverted academic, pulling people by the sleeve with “Buy my book! Buy my book! Buy my book! Buy my boooooook!” I know how annoying it is to be on the receiving end of people’s attempts to extract money from you, yet here I am, doing just that. I am really sorry! And, yeah, buy my book.

Seriously now, I thought I would share my experiences about the process that led to the book being out in the world, in all its copyedited, cover-arted, ISBN-ed glory.

First, I have to thank Melanie of Annorlunda Books. She has been really wonderful throughout the whole process. Melanie has learned her publishing trade (she’s got several trades under her belt, such as being a PhD with considerable experience working in the biotech industry) by first self-publishing, as well as by having a couple of her own books published by others. There are many details regarding book formatting and distribution that would have required considerable time for me to learn, and I am glad I didn’t have to do it.

Overall, I am really happy I went with a small publisher and only had to ever work with Melanie, whom I trusted. I mostly knew Melanie from the blogosphere (although we met briefly in person a few years ago when I was traveling through her city), but I think that, when you interact with someone for years, even if it’s “just” online, you eventually do get a fairly good sense of who they are. I had gotten to know her as a kind and level-headed person, so I was comfortable trusting her with the book. She was great to work with; she was very accommodating of my preferences in terms of layout and put a lot of effort into making something we were both happy with.

Second, I now admire more than ever those writers who are able to churn out more than one book per year. It’s not just the writing; it’s the editing, going over the text again and again, revising, revising, revising, and then proofreading, proofreading, proofreading. Uuuuuuugh. Writers like Stephen King or Brandon Sanderson, who produce multiple books per year, are freakin’ superheroes. Somebody fetch each of them a cape! Even if their genres aren’t your cup of tea, you have to admire the work ethics, literary talent, and fecund imagination that together enable them to publish as prolifically as they do the kinds of books that many other people enjoy reading.

In my case, there was a lot of raw material to start from, and I might have underestimated just how much there was and just how raw much of it was. Paring down from about 400k to about 150k words was not too onerous; that’s the level at which whole essays were removed as too personal or too ranty. Getting down to what the book is now, about 83k (i.e., about 20% of the starting material), was considerably more laborious; it required going through the text with a fine tooth comb, along with trying to find a reasonably coherent thread. Several essays are actually amalgams of two or three blog posts. Many pieces that worked on the blog simply did not otherwise; often, a sentence or a paragraph is all that survived.

I have reread the book probably a dozen times now, and as much as I am in love with it, I am also a little (alright, a lot) sick of it. I think I need to leave it be for a little while.

But I am extremely pleased that several people said they found it easy to read. I highly value readability of anything I write; when referees say my paper is technically complicated but easy to follow and compelling to read anyway, it really warms my heart; it means I have achieved what I was supposed to — presented new science, new findings, in a way that other humans can appreciate. So when reviews speak of the book as an easy read, I think I did my job right.

There are spots in the book that I would have liked to polish some more, but between it being a sizable text, me having a demanding day job, this being my first book (i.e., me not really knowing what I was doing), and several of us involved working hard to make the deadline despite varied other obligations, I think the book turned out really, really, really well. I am very proud of it.

I thought you might like to know that, after many weeks of agonizing, I have decided to send a copy to my former postdoc, after I had sworn him to secrecy. When I offered him the book I immediately felt it was the right thing to do, as opposed to an awful mistake. He is a trustworthy guy with a great sense of humor, and he’s going through the growing pains with his own group, being midway through the tenure track, so I think he’ll enjoy the book and also keep my secret.



Raffle Winners

Here are the “Academaze” raffle winners (in alphabetical order by first name):

Ebook (8 copies):

Alienor C.
Anshul K.
Beth W.
Gautam M.
Irina D.
Lisa F.
Matthew Q.
Michelle N.

Paperback (7 copies):

Anna A.
Ivana B.
Lydia K.
Megan M.
Neil R.
Peter M.
Smita G.

Ebook winners will receive an email from me with instructions on how to claim their prize on Gumroad.

Paperback winners will receive an email soliciting a mailing address. Please send your mailing address promptly. Your books are ready to go, so if everyone sends their mailing address ASAP, the books will be shipped first thing Monday!

Thanks everyone for playing!

Academaze is Out! Enter Raffle to Get a Free Book


Academaze” is out, and it’s glorious!

Paperback: Amazon | | Createspace

Ebook: Amazon | | GumRoad | iBooks | Kobo


Thanks to all advance readers — I hope you guys are enjoying the book!

Several early and detailed reviews are already up (in chronological order by date of appearance):

Pawel Niewiadomski

Elizabeth Haswell

Alex Small (Physicist at Large)

Clarissa’s Blog

Natalienne (Fill Your Bookshelf Blog)

All Amazon Reviews


To celebrate the publication of “Academaze,” here are some exciting giveaway options!

Enter “Academaze Raffle” to win a free paperback or ebook! (Ebooks sent anywhere in the world, paperback mailed within the US only.)

There are 2 ways to enter the raffle, and you can participate in both! There are multiple prizes, which will be divided between the two groups of entries.

Option 1. Fill out a simple form.

I would like to help some broke grad students and postdocs, so there will be a slight preference in choosing winners among those who are grad students or postdocs. (Your entries will be seen by no one but me and Melanie of Annorlunda Books, so I promise no spam will result from entering.)

Option 2. Help us spread the word about “Academaze”!

Via Twitter: Tweet about the book and make sure you use the hashtag #Academaze or refer to @AnnorlundaInc


Via Facebook: Mention the book in a public post and make sure you tag @AnnorlundaBooks

Raffle entries close on Friday, June 24th, at noon EST! The winners will be announced shortly thereafter, and the books mailed by the end of June.

(Update June 24, 12:31 EST: Raffle entries are now closed. Thanks for playing! Winners to be announced soon!)


The book turned out great, thanks to Melanie Nelson of Annorlunda Books (publisher), as well as Susan Lavoie (cover design) and Dora Dalton (editing services).

To all my wonderful blog readers: Bear with me for another week or so, and then I promise to stop talking about the book.

In the meantime, pick up a copy and enjoy!


A Day in June

The reward for doing work is more work.

Turned in 3 reviews yesterday (1 for an initial submission, 2 for revised manuscripts, the latter two from two journals published by the same professional society). Gloated for several nanoseconds that the only thing left to review was a proposal for a federal agency.

Later that same day, I received:

A request to review a new submission from Prestigious Society Letters (the same society as the one that published the journals for which I literally just submitted two reports)

A request to write a letter of recommendation for a midcareer colleague who is seeking to switch institutions; it’s great I didn’t know he even listed me as a reference or that he was looking to switch until an international institution that is considering interviewing him solicited a letter; this is going to be a lot of work…

A request to review a proposal from an international agency (it’s really in my field)

WTF? Were they all crouching in the shadows, waiting for me to breathe a sigh of relief before pouncing?

I think I need to re-read my own post from a few months ago in which I pledge to shun service. Ugh.


By the way, in case you didn’t notice, I bit the bullet and purchased the domain name and hosting from WordPress. I am now a serious blogger, or something.  (,, and all direct here.)

A Good Little Girl” had several thousand shares via Facebook in its heyday, but after the merge of with the others above, the shares have been lost, which in an inexplicable and stupid way makes me sad. That’s the most widely read piece, technical or otherwise, that I have ever written.



The other day, I mentioned to my students the concept of a feel-good folder in the group meeting. Several cracked up, but then we discussed why it’s not a silly idea at all for those who envision their life in research (or life in general). I suppose when you have published just a few papers and maybe had the good fortune to not have received a nasty review for any of them, which holds  for most of my students, then your confidence may be nice and high. But when you get to my age and are approaching a three-digit number of publications, have written dozens of grants and taught dozens of classes with what’s probably over a thousand students total, that means you have been smacked around quite a bit by people having strong negative opinions of your ideas, your work, and even of how much you gesticulate in class. Suddenly, it’s not longer a stupid idea to have a folder with tangible reminders that you do not in fact suck as a member of the scientific community, a teacher, or a person.


Come on, Xykademiqz, finish that response to referees and get the paper resubmitted.

Come on, come on. Stop procrastinating.

If you finish by 5, you get to read “Lagoon” this evening instead of working. (Nnedi Okorafor is brilliant. I love a novelist who wastes no time farting around, but pulls you into the story forcefully and immediately.)

Summer Defenses

It’s summer, and work focus has shifted from teaching to close interactions with graduate students, writing and editing of papers, and early proposal drafts.

Also, this summer I have made a solemn vow that I will in fact have a couple of weeks of no work whatsoever, when I just veg out and watch movies and read and walk and maybe kick and punch a heavy bag a little bit. There will be some short trips on account of a member of extended family visiting, but other than that it will be mostly work.

Summer is also a time when some students wrap up their studies, defend dissertations, and go on to the next stage of their lives. Usually, they have a job lined up and a start date that should be met.

I understand that students need to defend and move on, so if I am in town and available, I really try to make the time and be on the PhD defense committee when asked.

But it seems some people overestimate the willingness of professors to do service in the summer (we don’t have summer salaries from the university, all summer time should be research time). This time around, I have been getting irritated with one student who’s been trying to schedule a defense of a thesis prospectus (thus not something that has to happen in the summer) for months now. It finally got settled several weeks ago, but now the student’s at it again because of some glitch or someone bailing.

Can there please be a limit on the number of emails that a student is allowed to send in regards to a single meeting? And the number of times an event can get rescheduled? I feel for the student, I know scheduling anything in the summer is hard with everyone traveling, but the kid is really bothering me with the barrage of emails (alas, there is a good reason for which I cannot just remove myself from the committee).

Students and advisors, please don’t schedule anything that is not time-sensitive in the summer. And please try to limit the number of emails. Students, if I send you my availability in a broad range, work with it and with the information from others — quickly and quietly! — until you find a time that works, and then send confirmation. I don’t need multiple weekly emails, for months on end, detailing the fascinating process.




As far as I can tell, no one around me “in real life” (except DH and approximately 66.7% of my kids) knows about my blogging and related adventures (such as the book). The people who know who I am in meatspace were first bloggy friends or acquaintances, but it never happened the other way around; I have never revealed the blog to anyone who’s an IRL friend, student, or colleague. I am usually very careful to not discuss with people IRL the things I post here; then again, science blogs never come up in conversations with my colleagues, so it’s quite possible that few dwell in the same corners of the Internet as I do.

And this has been great! Pseudonymity enables me to write honestly in a way that writing under a real name never would (even if it weren’t completely terrifying to be female with an opinion on the web).

But, on occasion, pseudonymous blogging takes on a surreal hue.

Recently, I almost told my former postdoc (FP) about the book. Almost. But I didn’t. The thing is, I think he could actually benefit from it. DH says I should just send FP a copy anyway, not as something I wrote, but just as a gift. I’d love to do that, but it’s risky: FP worked with me for several years, I can’t believe he wouldn’t figure out who the writer was.

When I review student manuscripts, I sometimes come across issues that are common in student writing. When that happens, I fire off an email to the whole group, discussing the issue (in general terms, not revealing whose paper inspired it). A couple of weeks ago, one student said that I should start a blog (!) with writing tips for students. Another said maybe he’d collect “emails from advisor” and create a compilation himself if I won’t. I just smiled and said there’s plenty of writing advice on the web already, which is true.  What’s surreal is me acting like their ideas are amusing, but not something that I’d seriously entertain, whereas, of course, I’ve been doing what they are suggesting I do for years. It’s surreal that any professor who likes what I have to say and wants to share it with their students can refer the students to the blog or get a book for their lab, but I obviously can’t.

I’m not doubting the value of pseudonymity or regretting it at all. But it’s got some weird side effects.

Notes from the Road 06-08-16

— The conference food is awesome, but the coffee is just plain disgusting. I found a nice coffee house today and finally had a decent cup of joe, so my outlook has significantly improved.

— The conference is technically excellent and I have a whole bunch of exciting new ideas to pursue.

— While the late-career speakers are mostly white, the early and midcareer speakers are mostly Asian; this is in keeping with the composition of the modern graduate student body.

— The speakers are virtually all male (one woman out of two dozen speakers).

We had an election for future conference leadership. There was a sizable roster of nominees; not a single one was female. Shocking. Except that it’s not.

It seems that most male colleagues just don’t care. Many think this whole women in science  business is somebody else’s problem, not theirs, if the issue ever crosses their mind at all. Alternatively, they think they only see merit; if the women were any good, they’d be well known.

On the upside, Former Postdoc (male) noted the ridiculous absence of women and went WTF? (This was without any prompting whatsoever from me.) It really seems that men who work closely with women can become sensitized to the fact that women are nowhere to be found in the professional sphere and can become genuinely bothered by this fact. I suppose that’s how allies are made. Men who work with female advisors or have close female collaborators or advise excellent female graduate students: Guys, please help us out! Don’t you think it’s unfair that the contributions made by your advisors, colleagues, and trainees seem to be invisible to most people? We really need you to speak up and speak out on our behalf!

— I have some work on a paper to do tonight, so I find myself listening to the The White Stripes.

Here are some great older ones:

Notes from the Road 06-07-16

— Man, I love driving. I think I should increase the distance which I decide to drive (as opposed to fly) when going to a conference. How’s 1000 miles?

— Pro-tip: When driving in the middle of the night, find a truck and just stay behind it. It shields you from the wind and rain and helps with poor visibility, let alone with the creepiness factor when you are the only car on a poorly lit road.

— The conference has been all that I want in a conference thus far. Great talks, plenty of room for discussion, conference venue close to lodging and food, good food (included in the registration), a somewhat secluded location that further facilitates interactions among attendees.

— This particular conference places extraordinary weight on the free exchange of ideas. There is a lot of interaction among attendees in the morning and evening sessions and the afternoon poster session. All the face time is leaving me completely exhausted, so the free time in the early afternoon (where we are supposed to mingle further) I spend — napping. I am a total baby. Or an introvert, expending a lot of energy to simulate being more extroverted than I am.

— I got to see my former postdoc (FP) who is midway through the tenure track and doing great. We had a nice evening yesterday catching up with some local beer and peanuts. I am so happy to see he is well supported by his department and generally quite content, both professionally and personally.

— Which got me thinking… How proud do I get to be of FP as my intellectual offspring? I know that FP’s PhD advisor gets to claim that his PhD graduate is now a prof. But in reality, FP would not have been competitive for faculty positions at all without the 4-year, very productive postdoc he had with me. I have one former PhD student who’s doing a postdoc elswehere and who I think will eventually be faculty; do I get to be proud of him? Or does his postdoc advisor get most of the credit for the success? Or do we all (PhD advisors and postdoc advisors) all get to be proud and brag about our intellectual offspring doing well?  But even in the eyes of the NSF, FP was “just” my postdoc; NSF considers a PhD advisor-advisee relationship to be a lifetime conflict of interest, while the postdoctoral equivalent only for  5 years. So PhD advisors are forever, postdoc advisors are chopped liver?

— There’s this upper echelon of scientists who don’t seem to operate like the rest of us plebs do. When I look at the literature, I read and cite broadly, regardless of who the authors are. These creme de la creme folks seem to only look at what their equally stationed buddies do (they know everyone worth knowing, amirite?), so the work outside of this network is completely invisible to them. Even if you do good work, careful and thorough, you cannot get them to notice you because you are inherently not noteworthy (if you were noteworthy, they would already know you; the fact that they don’t means you are not worth knowing).

— Maybe you don’t penetrate the in-crowd, but there are plenty of other smart and hard-working people who do good work, who do look at the literature, and who will find your results, appreciate them, and build upon them. So put your head down and just do good work. And keep reminding yourself that we should really all be in this for the science, and that science does eventually self-correct.

— Some people give their talks titles that are a complete snoozefest. I almost missed a couple of presentations because I thought they’d be totally irrelevant to what I do (no abstracts). It turns out, they were both great and relevant, but poorly named.

— It’s “how something looks” or “what something looks like”; it’s NOT “how something looks like.” Ugh. This is one of my pet peeves; I heard one speaker use “how something looks like” 5+ times in a talk today. Ugh ugh ugh.

— Note to self: Never again go to a conference where you are not genuinely interested in a topic. It’s a waste of time and money. In contrast, a conference like this one, where I really am passionate about the topic, is a fountain of excitement and inspiration. Even if I have to nap midday, like a toddler, in order to process everything.