Month: October 2017

Dear NSF Applicant

Dear NSF applicant,

You have not realized your true potential to be a ruthless, blood-thirsty editor until you’ve faced the need to still cut 1/2 a page from your NSF proposals after:  

  • You’d already reworded the holy hell out of every sentence, in order to avoid dangling segments that leave a precious half a line empty
  • Your technical prose had already been purged of excess and is now as dry as a last year’s prune that’s currently on vacation in Sahara
  • All the images had been shrunk beyond the point at which a panelist will start swearing at you loudly, if you are so unfortunate to get one who still prints out assigned proposals
  • Line spacing had been reduced to boldly challenge the NSF requirement for no more than six lines of text per inch, by denouncing typographical stereotypes and seeking to re-examine long-accepted answers to deep, important questions, such as  “How many is six?” and “How long is an inch?”

This, dear applicant, is when you realize that something’s got to give… And that something is never NSF.

You reach into yourself and find the ability to cut more and deeper than you’d ever dreamt possible… Only to realize that you still have 1/3 of a page to go.

Saturday Slump: Smorgasbord

If you want to truly care about anything, you can’t care about everything.

The capacity for giving a f*ck is finite; dispense available f*cks wisely.

I miss Hermitage‘s F*ck You Friday. Anyone knows what’ up with Hermitage? Last I heard, she’s been leading a productive, respectable life of a brainy academic we’ve always known her to be under the facade of a hard-core gamer with a potty mouth. If anyone’s in touch with Hermitage, please say ‘hi’ for me!


I have taken the position of a volunteer editor at a microfiction magazine. I know, I know, it’s not like I need more things to do… But let me tell you, this is exactly what I’ve always needed for my perpetually hungry brain! New stories are continuously coming in, so each time I pick one up, I get a little hit of dopamine. The zine is devoted to providing personalized feedback, so I really have to think about what worked in a story  and what didn’t, which really, really helps with my own writing. I think I’ve learned more in a week of editing than over a few months of writing.


I have a proposal due early next week and writing it has been a slog. The last thing I want to do is work on it, as this is a second resubmission (recommended twice, but no cigar). If I don’t get it this time, I am done submitting it, at least to NSF; I have other things that I want to pursue with the same directorate.

Considering that I don’t really want to work on it, it’s actually helpful to have multiple ‘distractions’ that give me tiny bursts of will to live, so I can go back and write another paragraph or so. Therefore, I fight procrastination by self-indulgence in small amounts. Here are all the tabs I have open in my browser right now:

  • Three tabs related to my fiction-editing duties (posting; communication with authors; communication with other editors)
  • A Duotrope tab, where I refresh to see which among the markets where I have stories pending has been sending in decisions recently
  • A Submittable tab; Submittable is the electronic submission manager through which many markets handle stories
  • Google Doc where I am tweaking a story with a Halloween theme for the Oct 31 deadline (for someone who nominally doesn’t like fantasy, I sure seem to write a lot of it)
  • Twitter (yes, my fiction persona has a Twitter account, but I use it conservatively, mostly for liking and lurking)
  • Two blog stats pages open (this one and the fiction one) because stats make me happy
  • Logged into three Gmail accounts, each with a tab open (various online pursuits)
  • Three manuscript status pages for the three technical manuscripts I currently have in review
  • Editorial dashboard page for the technical journal where I am an associate editor
  • Fastlane (NSF submission portal)
  • Internal routing service for proposals
  • An Amazon tab and a Wrangler tab (I just bought Eldest two pairs of jeans)
  • Obviously WordPress dashboard for this post

Other tools open:

  • Outlook for work email, as I am waiting for letters of support from my experimental collaborators and have just answered some homework questions for my undergraduate class
  • Excel, where I tweaked the budget
  • Word, with several documents that I am currently working on (cleaning up Current and Pending Support, Budget Justification, Biosketch, along with the Project Description and Project Summary documents)

Busy brain = happy brain.

Ponderable: People are Different

Apropos nothing, I remembered a post by a frugality/early-retirement blogger who is of some note in the early-retirement blogging community. She and her husband have achieved financial independence and are now homesteading somewhere in the Northeast.

What matters here is her post on when she knew she’d marry her husband. The pair dated in college. In their senior year, she was taking a women’s studies/feminism course that she really enjoyed, so she kept talking about it to her boyfriend with great excitement. Lo and behold, one day she showed up to class, only to find her boyfriend sitting in the audience, grinning. He had rearranged his senior-year schedule (he was majoring in a technical field, very different from her humanities major) in order to enroll in that class with his girlfriend; he did not talk with her about it, he just did it.

She thought that was super romantic and showed her that he really listened to her when she effused about the course. They seem happy, so good for them!

In contrast, when I read her post, I thought her then boyfriend was being creepy and boundary-violating as all f*ck. When I was young, if my boyfriend had done that, I might not have broken up with him, because at the time I didn’t believe I had the right to many of the things I wanted or needed, including my own boundaries, but I know for a fact that I would’ve freaked out and felt very, very uncomfortable. Today’s me, if I were that girl in college, would likely break up with the guy and drop the class.

It’s nice that the blogger’s boyfriend was interested in what the girlfriend had to say. But don’t freakin’ hijack her experience! Maybe that’s just me. Apparently, my creepy and boundary-violating is someone else’s romantic, committed, and paying attention. But I generally need a lot of space, seemingly more than many people. DH gives me space, and I am really grateful for it.

Dear reader, what are some ways in which you feel that you are—at your core—different from many people around you? 

Typo-Induced Fury

I was this close (imagine me holding thumb and forefinger at 1 mm distance from each other) to yelling at my graduate student. What he gave me with the words, “I am really proud of this manuscript,” was a completely unedited pile of $hit. He’s a fourth-year student, not a newbie. There were so, sooooo many typos (and an astonishing number of different misspellings of a crucial term), so many instances of subject-verb disagreement, so many missing commas… (I already complained about the nonexisting definite articles.)

His explanation? It’s the software’s fault. He was using some software (?!) that supposedly tracked and corrected all typos, and now it’s the software’s fault.

Bull$hit. It’s your fault.

Public service announcement:

There is no substitute for printing out your manuscript in a single-column, double-spaced format, sitting down without distractions, and carefully proofreading it, line by line — like I do ad nauseam, even though it shortens my lifespan (silver lining: it produces blog fodder). Then enter the corrections, print the corrected manuscript out, and f*ckin’ do it again. Repeat until you cannot find any more typos yourself. Only then should you consider wasting your advisor’s time with it.

(We have a deadline, which is why I have to finish this and can’t do additional back-and-forths with the student. But I am furious.)

Repost: F*cktober

Alas, I speak not of the fun kind, the province of randy college youth

Nay… My tale goes far back, all the way to the last millenium… And it is a dark one.

Every year, come October, the pearly gates windows for NSF unsolicited proposals swing open. As if in a trance, thousands of pilgrim scientists gather to worship at the feet of the unfeeling behemoth. In a month of pure agony, their bodies and souls are possessed by the tyrant, yet they remember little. Their consciousness barely punctuates the thick caffeine haze, wherein hearts race and thoughts scatter… Come November, the pilgrims wake up with a vague feeling of shame and regret, chafed, hopelessly trying to remember what it was that left that foul taste in their mouths.

In the spring, some of them bear the fruit of the unholy alliance. They care for it lovingly during its three-year-long life… And what a precious gift it is. So small, so feeble, so rare… But what an honor to be bestowed such a gift, and to be free, if but for a little while, of the unquenchable thirst that overtakes every fall…

For when you see a disheveled scientist carrying a cup of coffee, know that F*cktober is upon us. No one is safe. Best to procure some lubricant.

Originally appeared here

“The” Shaker

It’s Friday evening and it’s raining. I’m sitting in my car, waiting for my middle son to finish his outdoor flag-football practice. My phone is low on battery, so useless for killing time. I have with me a student’s manuscript draft, which I have been carrying around for a couple of weeks; I have done some work on it, picked it up and dropped it many times, and now seems like as good a time as any (save for having a three-hour flight with no WiFi) to devote myself to it. The near-captivity of limited duration somehow makes reading the manuscript almost bearable. Almost.

As a non-native speaker of English, I know it makes me a total douche to begrudge the student’s writing (this is a 4th-year student, whose spoken English is quite good). Yet, I wish I had a “the” shaker, so I could liberally sprinkle the definite article on the manuscript, because right now it looks as if the student were allergic to it.  If the paper were a frozen tundra and your life depended on finding a “the” to ingest, you’d be dead by page two.

People say that we should focus on the structure of the paper and not worry about the language. But I can’t; to me, if the language is really bad, it’s as if someone were poking me in the eye with every word. I have to clean up the language to the point of reasonable readability and grammar at the local level (sentence, paragraph), then read without constant irritation to see if the paper as a whole makes sense scientifically… Then rewrite again.

I don’t know why this issue annoys me so; again, I should be understanding of the struggle of foreign-born students with the English language. I do send them to ESL courses, recommend watching sitcoms, reading anything they can get their hands on (including trashy magazines), writing a blog, arguing on the web in written form, hanging out with native speakers… I try to help as much as I can, but it’s usually not enough.

I wonder how native English speakers who advise foreign students and postdocs view this task. What say you, dear native-speaking readers? Are you perpetually livid that your students butcher your language? Are you completely unfazed? Or, likely, something in between?

This and That

♦ Obvious, yet somehow always surprising: Grading a midterm for a class of twenty leaves one with significantly more will to live than grading a midterm for a class of a hundred.

It’s not that your story isn’t good, it’s that others are better. – A posh literary journal I can’t locate right now.

Also, in not so many words, Science/Nature/every prestigious (or wannabe prestigious) scholarly journal ever.

♦ Just because you can’t/won’t do something, doesn’t mean it’s impossible. The other day, a colleague was wondering how I find the time for one of my daily extracurricular activities. Well, I just do. I hate that type of comment because, more often than not, it is a thinly veiled way of saying, “You don’t work enough.” I have heard it more than once, and it’s always from young men on the tenure track, who either have no family or have a wife holding the fort at home. (Senior male colleagues generally say I ought to travel more.)

My daily kickboxing makes it possible for me to kick people who make stupid remarks in the head, should I want to; in particular, comments about not working like a man with no fuckin’  obligations fall under stupid comments; thus, I find the time, and will continue to find the time for kickboxing.

♦ It’s no secret that middle age is the age when, among other things, one makes peace with oneself. I spent all of my youth wishing I were different in many ways; this makes me far from unique. These days, I find I am okay — or at least approaching okay — with many of my flaws.

For instance, I am extremely impatient; yet, everyone will tell you that patience is a virtue. These days, I say, “Whatever.” I am very efficient (freakishly efficient, so I’m told) at doing things I care about; when I care, I want things done ASAP, and do my best to make it so. And you know what? I am correct in that I am not going to live a million years, so there is such a thing as things moving too slowly. I will wait, a little. But not too long, and certainly not forever. Waiting makes me stop caring, and when I stop caring, there’s no going back. (Regarding the stoppage of caring: I am a notorious abandoner of boring books and TV shows.)

♦ As part of the whole “know yourself and love yourself just as you are” midlife mantra, I have realized/made peace with the fact that I crave (need!) constant intellectual stimulation, otherwise I am a pain in the butt. Why is this news? If you are female, there is the unspoken requirement that you get to do what you need or want to do only after you have fulfilled the needs, wants, and whims of those you care for. The two pulls are in opposition, as little children require so much time and energy but domestic life is, let’s be honest, often mundane. I think I am okay with the fact that I find boring things boring, that caregiving is often boring, and that sometimes being bored and wishing I were doing something else instead doesn’t necessarily make me a monster — just human.

♦ I can be quite obsessive about papers, proposals, projects. The only cure is to have so much going on that I cannot afford to obsess. When you have a number of research papers, proposals, and now stories, all being in review at the same time, along with a full pipeline of projects, it’s hard to obsess about any one of them (although not for lack of trying).

♦ Parenting breakthrough:  The best vacations with our kids have to be scheduled to the brim. The kids actually don’t need to chill (even though Mom and Dad might), as they do it plenty at home. DH joked that we’d get to chill when the kids are out of the house or never, whichever comes first.

♦ I am feeling so much better this semester than the last (knock on wood). The soul-crushing service workload of the last academic year is gone, and things feel manageable again (knock on wood, again). I feel like I will jinx it all simply by admitting that things feel manageable.

How’s everyone’s semester going?