Tuesday, July 26, 2011

It's all hanging over my head

I have too many things on my plate! Part of the huge pileup I owe to internet difficulties I had when visiting the east coast in mid July. Given all that needs to get done at the start of the semester, I regret that we agreed to a two-day vacation on Lake Chelan, which in reality will chew up 4 days when adding the overhead for driving. In short, I find vacations stressful.

Though I may be accused of whining, my intent is to describe the daunting tasks that are keeping me me busy since we got back from Philly. This post may make me appear illiterate, but please excuse all the typos. Don't have time to edit.

First, there is a backlog of papers that I am writing and editing.

1. My collaborator and I completed a piece of work almost a year ago on the gamma landscape that I still need to write up. This work shows that the problem of gamma is much richer than beta, and that the universal properties of potentials that are near a local maximum separate into several distinct classes. I have been working on this paper on an off for a while and plan to finish it soon. Working on it.

2. Xavi sent me his SPIE paper where he did some sum-rule gymnastics to show that a two-level model is unphysical. I checked the paper, so now it is out of my hair. Done!

3. and 4. Shoresh is giving a talk at SPIE on quantum graphs and a talk on how the energy spectrum affects the nonlinear optical response. I finished editing these two papers today and Shoresh has submitted them. Because I have a type A personality and hate even the smallest imperfection, I spend lots of time even on conference proceedings. Done!

5. and 6. Nathan has been patiently waiting for me to edit two huge papers on cascading - a process by which lower-order nonlinearities work together to attain an enhanced higher-order one, where we show that nature does not provide any loopholes for getting a bigger nonlinear response than calculated using the limits. That is my next priority. Given the complexity of this work, it will take some effort to plow through all the details.

7. I have been invited to write special review article for JOSA B with George Stegeman. Bob Boyd is also a potentially a coauthor. This paper has an upcoming deadline of a few months because the special issue is to coincide with one of the Optical Society's important anniversaries (I don't recall which one). Haven't started yet and am stressed out over the amount of work this will involve.

8. I have been invited to write a massive review article on sum rules and scaling for the high impact journal called Physics Reports. These are huge amounts of work, but I will have some help from my two coauthors. Need to start working on it soon.

9. Ironically, I was part of another group to write a Physics Reports review on organic nonlinear optical materials. This paper has been delayed by my coauthors, but if I need to write it parallel with the other one, I will have no time to sleep.

10. I am working on a paper with a collaborator on the nonlinear properties of air. This paper will be written in the near future since most of the data is in place. Will be working on this soon.

11. Shoresh is waiting for me to read his paper on Monte Carlo calculations on quantum loops. I know we will need to generalize the paper to include the band structure of the quantum wire. Lots more work!

12. An undergraduate REU student sent me his results on bent quantum wires. I eventually need to turn this into a paper. Luckily, he is traveling overseas for a year with minimal email contact, so this gives me an excuse to procrastinate. Back burner...

13, 14 and 15. Three papers are out for review: one on the diffusion mechanism in polymers, one one on transverse sum rules, and one a critique of a paper on nonlinear Miller's delta. Once these papers are reviewed, there will undoubtedly be revisions. Soon, another deadline!

16 and 17. Two papers have been accepted: one on the theoretical models of the heating mechanism of the photochemical effect and one on the... damn, I just forgot what is was while writing. Anyway, there will be page proofs to correct.

18. As I reported a while back, we finally finished the huge paper on AF455. The reviewer wanted to revisions. Xavi made the first set of revisions and I just finished making my changes. Took most of the day. I even managed to add another little piece of analysis that makes the results even stronger. I sent it all back to Xavi and he will make a couple of minor changes before submitting it. Hopefully in the next couple of days. (He too is busy.)

19. 20... I am sure I have missed something.

Now that I see this list, I am already getting more stressed out. There is more work than I thought.

I had good news that my NSF proposal would probably be funded, provided that I answer some questions about the project. That brings me to proposals. I have actually been writing fewer proposals than usual because I am finding that I cannot keep up with everything as it is. If I get more funding, I will need to do more stuff. Here is what I am up to.

1. I responded to NSF about my proposal. It actually took me a couple of days to do so because I need to be careful not to say something stupid. I submitted my answers and a day later was notified that I forgot to explain my educational plan. I rewrite the damn abstract to stay within the work limit and resubmit it. They tell me it's all in order, so I cross my fingers and wait for the final decision.

2. I need to write a report to NSF for my present funding. It takes forever filling out the forms. My program manager likes to see lots of technical details so I try to upload a huge pdf file. The system balks and I have to contact technical support. I am procrastinating.

3. The Air Force needs a report for our grant. Ben writes a first draft, then I spend a day rewriting it. We go back and forth a few times to iron out problems. The report is done over the weekend - just in time.

4. Luckily, my AFOSR report was due before the trip to Philly. Already done!

5. I need to court the Air Force to renew my funding. Because of the problems with the federal budget, a grant that should have been of 5 year duration is cut after one year. I need to generate creative ideas that will convince the air force people that our work is critical to them.

6. Our lasers are getting old. Need to write an equipment proposal that is due in September. Need to start work on that soon. There are lots of complex forms that need to be filled out. Luckily, office staff can help.

7. We are doing exploratory work on a secret project. I'll divulge details later after we write a proposal on the topic.

As a faculty member, and unfortunately associate chair, I have all sorts of other work.

1. I am on a search committee to hire a new office staff person. Emails go back and forth constantly as we go over folders and determine who to interview. Then there are interviews and eventually an offer and negotiation for salary, etc.

2. A recent announcement informs us that the college of sciences may be merging with liberal arts. Everyone thinks its a bad idea except for the administration. Looks like they want to do it. I need to go to meetings.

3. Since the chair is away, lots of things to sign. travel vouchers, etc.

Not enough time, so I am going into stream of conciseness mode to finish this post. Don't know why I am wasting the time...

Am working on a couple of promotions of our faculty. Will be getting a bunch of reports from external reviewers. Will need to go over everything, call a faculty meeting to decide on each case, and then represent each case at the COS T&P committee meeting.

Having been a professor for over 2 decades, I get solicited to write letters of recommendation form students who have graduated as long as 20 years ago. This includes my graduate students, grad students on whose committees I have served, undergrads, as well as students who have taken my classes.

There are always professional service activities. I always get lots of requests to review papers. Since I publish a fair amount, I should be reviewing 2 to 3 times as many papers as I submit. I am on the reviewing list of a few dozen journals. A week does not go by without being asked to review, and many weeks I get several "invitations." Just to decide which ones I will review, which ones I will pass along to others, or which I will just decline takes some time (I need to look over the manuscript to decide). At the moment, I have a couple of reviews hanging over my head. Sure, I can sometimes pass along reviews to my grad students, which I do to teach them about the process, but it take me longer to show them how its done or to edit their reviews than it takes for me to do myself.

And then there are tenure and promotion letters that I need to write for faculty at other universities. I need to carefully read the thick packages for each case to do a competent job. These days one can get sued if the individual does not like the result. Sitting on such a review now.

Then there are conferences to organize as a member of the organizing committee or program committee, which decides which papers to select and who to invite to give a talk. Luckily, only on a couple low-key committees now.

Then there is teaching. Need to prepare my syllabus for my class this fall. Also, in the week before classes start, I am running a discussion group on a common reading book at the honors college and am involved in orientation for the newgraduate students.

In grant administration, there are always budgets to manage, who gets appointed on an RA, how do we spend money on time, how we re-budget colors of money to buy what we need. Just yesterday, we exchanged an item leading to a credit on the equipment part of a grant. Have to figure out a way to spend it before the grant runs out in a few weeks. Don't want to waste precious funds. Also, get budget statements every month. Need to make sure we are not overspending or underspending.

Then there are emails with collaborators that seem to come at me form all directions. We are starting a new collaboration with Nathan's new group. Communicated with the PI yesterday with a couple of back and forth emails. Then there are colleagues who are giving talks who need slides or colleagues writing proposals who need support letters. These trickle in all the time.

A big pain is updating my CV. Seems to take as much time to document what I do as doing what I do. Not really, but seems that way.

And then, of course, there is managing my research group. I need to meet with each student typically every day or at least every other day. There are always puzzling data, equipment that is breaking down, or new experiments that need to be designed and built. Everyone's problem weighs on me like it's my own. Well, it really is my own. We work together to get ideas and troubleshoot. Takes at least a couple hours a day and often most of the day.

Then there are thesis committees, both my own and other students in the department. To edit a student's dissertation takes me about a month of full time effort. Reading and understanding a dissertation from another group can take a day to a few days. In addition, during the writing process, there are many scientific problems that usually get ironed out. Will have at least a few of these during this academic year.

When the semester starts, I will need to prepare for each lecture, which takes me one to two hours per lecture hour if I already have prepared notes. When preparing a new course, it takes almost all my time. Last academic year I had a new grad class each semester. Then there is one full day a week grading, usually Saturday, and some time to prepare each exam. And there are office hours to answer student's questions. Teaching (aside from grading) is one of the more fun parts of the job.

Then there is all the paperwork. Need to sign off when students change their program of study (i.e. which courses will count toward the degree), figuring out how to juggle courses to make sure the students meet requirements in years where a required course is not offered. The office staff is great at figuring these things out. To many little things to list hear.

When there are budget cuts, we need to make painful decisions on how to make cuts without impacting our mission. Last academic year, we spent quite a bit of time determining which things could be cut and by how much. Some of these cuts are being implemented this semester. More cuts are in store for the next academic year. Thus, more work and more meetings.

What little time is left I devote to thinking about physics and doing some work with pencil and paper. I need to be generating new ideas that will become the focus for future research. I find thinking to be a pleasurable activity. Luckily, I generate more ideas than I could possibly pursue.

In the midst of all of this work, I get annoyed with the clumsy system used by our university to enter out activities for the year. My main complaint is that it was designed with the mediocre individual in mind, and therefore takes much longer to complete if you are really doing lots of things. It takes me almost 2 days each year to fill out the damn template.

In the spring, I will be doing annual reviews of the faculty once again - a two-week full-time process. Since the chair will be away most of the time, I will undoubtedly be going to many more meetings.

Then there is the stress of travel. First, preparing a talk and then making all of the travel plans, then when returning, putting together all the receipts for reimbursement. In addition to the time away, it probably takes a few days to prepare. Typically, I travel a few weeks each year (maybe an overseas trip this September - I hate traveling during classes). Many of my colleagues are on the road much more. Don't know how they do it.

I am editor of two journals, which requires assigning editors and making decisions on manuscripts. The work comes in spurts, like dealing with a plagiarism case last academic year. Luckily, not to much activity this month asside from needing to bug authors to submit their manuscripts. You know who you are!

To fight the stress, I try to play hockey twice a week. For these few hours, I forget about all of the work that is piling up. Also, at about 10:00pm each night, I spend 30 to 45 minutes studying Italian. Turns out I end up only having time for this 3 nights a week. But, I am compulsive and continue to work on it to meet my goal of someday being fluent. Doesn't feel like it will ever happen, but I continue to try.

Other than these breaks, I am usually working 7 days a week. True, I need to take a break (usually on Sundays) to pay the bills; and of course, there are the occasional social outings. But, that is why entropy seems to continually take control of our home.

...ping... Just got an email to review another paper and a request to write a letter on behalf of a colleague for a sabbatical. ...ping.. problem with a grant budget ...ping... an email about the merger of COS and CLA. ... Gotta run to get some real work done. (Glad I have two big screens with about 20 windows open at all times so that I can multitask.)


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