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Productivity peaks

April 7, 2011, 9:12 am

The reviewers wanted to see a new analysis, so I ran it yesterday. To my surprise and glee, the results were significant and they strengthened my conclusion. Hooray! I plan to go ahead and resubmit tomorrow, once my co-authors look it over today. They’ve been surprisingly speedy lately, so I’m not worried. I also got comments back from co-authors on my newest manuscript, and I plan to submit that by the end of the month. Finally, I plan to revise the manuscript that won’t die and submit it to its fourth journal in May. This means that, for the first time in my life, I will have THREE manuscripts in review at once. [Possibly FOUR, if Ambitious Grad Student actually submits the 'omics paper, on which I'm second author, next month!]

What the hell is up with all this productivity? Why on earth couldn’t I do this while I was a postdoc? I’ve been giving this question some thought lately. One answer is that I was busy collecting all this data while I was a postdoc… but that doesn’t quite explain it. Data collection for the revise-and-resubmit was completed last August. The paper that won’t die has been going round and round for years.

It’s certainly not that I have more time to spend on research now. My job description includes 25% independent research, but that time is not evenly distributed across the week, month, or year. Right now things have been a little slow on the administrative side and I’ve probably spent closer to 50% of my time on research. Other times of the year it’s closer to 0-10%. Although my postdoc wasn’t 100% research – I was also lab manager – I had a much larger proportion of my time to spend on research, maybe 75%. Am I just working harder now?

I think this change has more to do with my perspective on things. I spent lots of time on these projects as a postdoc. I spent a lot of time running statistics and despairing when the results seemed uninterpretable. I spent even more time despairing about the job market and my good-but-not-stellar publication record. It all seemed so hopeless.

Now, I already have a job… so research and publication seems so much more fun and so much less like a duty. Having the security of a job I like removes some of the despair from the process. When I was analyzing data most recently for the newest paper, the results didn’t make any sense at first – but I didn’t freak out and give up like I used to. I didn’t know what it meant, but each day I went ahead and analyzed the data I had planned to work on that day, and I moved on. By the end, the data presented an intriguing picture, and I was led to a conclusion that was pretty unexpected. The same thing happened for the revise-and-resubmit. In both papers, my hypotheses were not supported – but the results were so much more interesting that I expected.

I really think that since I’m more relaxed about it, I’m able to carry out my research much more effectively. I wonder if others have this experience too? Some people say that they work better under pressure – and the stereotype is that assistant professors work their asses off to get tenure and then don’t work nearly as hard after achieving it. I know that’s not true, and I wonder if some post-tenure people are actually more productive because the pressure’s off.

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