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Author Topic: SLAC research taken seriously, or just taken?  (Read 4259 times)
slac_science
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« on: May 04, 2012, 8:47:04 AM »

I'm an associate prof at a SLAC and consider myself very fortunate - I'm exhuasted but this is the career I'd always hoped for. 

One of my goals has been to conduct high quality research, of course at a much slower pace.  Through hard, hard work and the usual personal sacrifices I've managed this and get out a paper a year, or there about.  And I've been fortunate enough to land a few modest grants. 

However, I've found that I can't work in one area for long because competitors or even my close friends and colleagues move in and make off with the research ideas or new methods I manage to come up with.  You know how it goes, after some discussion no one can remember whose idea it was and my R1 collaborators end up presenting the ideas at conferences, or planting them as seed in the minds of their graduate students.....soon I'm asked to train them, or co-advise, or run their samples.  They are often asked to present keynote addresses on work I developed, at meetings I wasn't even invited to attend.  A few years ago I was teaching from a new textbook and their was a section about work I had designed and lead - a student pointed it out; I had no idea my close friend had been interviewed about work I was the lead author on.  They move too fast or maybe they are just more aggressive.  In any case, every time I build a collaborative group I'm soon left behind.  I survive professionally by being creative enough to find another niche.  It's not that I want the credit.  But I've lost friends and good collaborators this way and, frankly, it's a lonely way to do science.

Can SLAC researchers work with those at larger research universities without losing out in the end?  If this is the price of working at a SLAC I can live with it.  But I feel isolated.....


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totoro
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« Reply #1 on: May 05, 2012, 2:47:09 AM »

I'm an associate prof at a SLAC and consider myself very fortunate - I'm exhuasted but this is the career I'd always hoped for. 

One of my goals has been to conduct high quality research, of course at a much slower pace.  Through hard, hard work and the usual personal sacrifices I've managed this and get out a paper a year, or there about.  And I've been fortunate enough to land a few modest grants. 

However, I've found that I can't work in one area for long because competitors or even my close friends and colleagues move in and make off with the research ideas or new methods I manage to come up with.  You know how it goes, after some discussion no one can remember whose idea it was and my R1 collaborators end up presenting the ideas at conferences, or planting them as seed in the minds of their graduate students.....soon I'm asked to train them, or co-advise, or run their samples.  They are often asked to present keynote addresses on work I developed, at meetings I wasn't even invited to attend.  A few years ago I was teaching from a new textbook and their was a section about work I had designed and lead - a student pointed it out; I had no idea my close friend had been interviewed about work I was the lead author on.  They move too fast or maybe they are just more aggressive.  In any case, every time I build a collaborative group I'm soon left behind.  I survive professionally by being creative enough to find another niche.  It's not that I want the credit.  But I've lost friends and good collaborators this way and, frankly, it's a lonely way to do science.

Can SLAC researchers work with those at larger research universities without losing out in the end?  If this is the price of working at a SLAC I can live with it.  But I feel isolated.....

This really doesn't sound very fair and sounds close to plagiarism.
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cyano
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« Reply #2 on: May 06, 2012, 12:06:55 AM »

I'm at a PUI, not a SLAC, but I collaborate with R1 colleagues. I'm not able to keep up with their pace of research and I do lose out on being invited to conferences and receiving the prestige that comes with high level research. In trade, though, I find a great deal of satisfaction in seeing my students go on to do great things at grad school or in industry.

I have been able to maintain relationships by clearly defining our differing roles and convincing collaborators that I have something unique to add which isn't in competition with them. I can do riskier research because failure won't impact me as much. I can also do large volumes of routine analysis for low cost with my undergrads. Many of my collaborations are with those in a completely different field where those I work with are very dependent on my contributions and so they keep me involved in the projects.
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polly_mer
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« Reply #3 on: May 06, 2012, 7:20:40 AM »

I have been able to maintain relationships by clearly defining our differing roles and convincing collaborators that I have something unique to add which isn't in competition with them. I can do riskier research because failure won't impact me as much. I can also do large volumes of routine analysis for low cost with my undergrads. Many of my collaborations are with those in a completely different field where those I work with are very dependent on my contributions and so they keep me involved in the projects.

This is what my advisor did to keep his career going and it seemed to work well.
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oldfullprof
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« Reply #4 on: May 06, 2012, 1:03:29 PM »

I'd have loved to be at a SLAC in the humanities or social sciences (well, history or theory in the SS's.)  They're natural places for books, if your field is a book one.  Not so much because the students pester too much (which I hear they do,) but because you may get a year pre-tenure sabbatical, and, of course, a regular sabbatical.  The course loads can be very low.b  But I tend not to do collaborative research.
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Taste o' the Sixties
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« Reply #5 on: May 06, 2012, 3:50:48 PM »

I think this is to be expected.

Ideas aren't something that are owned.  They are something out there to be used.

As I understand it, you are not being left out on the original publications which first put the idea out and explain it.  Presumably, these original publications are being cited.  It just happens that, in the community, the ideas end up being attached in reputation to your collaborators and not to you.

This is as it should be, because your collaborators, and not you, are the principal experts on the idea.  You might have come up with the idea, but you haven't had the time to develop it and really understand all its implications.  Your collaborators have.  Even though it was your idea to begin with, your collaborators and not you have become the real experts on the idea.  If a conference wants someone who understands the idea inside and out so that they can explain it to someone who needs to know about it, that person is not you but your collaborator.  Besides, if the conference is in the middle of the semester as it most likely is, you can't go anyway, while your R1 collaborator can just skip classes for a week.

Even in pure mathematics, which doesn't need any expensive lab equipment or lots of labor running experiments, the top researchers at SLACs never become more than solid important contributors in their fields.  If they regularly collaborate with people at R1s, it is with them spending all their research time on the project while the R1 collaborator thinks of it as their side project (or one project among many).  Alternatively, they find a niche that they are expert at that no one really wants to take the time to learn because, while it is important and eventually adds to knowledge, it never seems to be the most important area to work on at the moment.  (Then again, pretty much the same could be said for most people even at R1s outside the top 50.)
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polly_mer
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Have you worked on that project today?


« Reply #6 on: May 06, 2012, 4:14:36 PM »

Alternatively, they find a niche that they are expert at that no one really wants to take the time to learn because, while it is important and eventually adds to knowledge, it never seems to be the most important area to work on at the moment.  (Then again, pretty much the same could be said for most people even at R1s outside the top 50.)

I think this isn't said often enough.  Almost no one will become an international superstar.  However, many people can become solid contributors to the field if they find problems that can be tackled with the resources at hand that aren't areas that are already in the race-to-the-top hot.

Another thing to keep in mind is how many scientists are appreciated at their end of their careers or after they are dead instead of being feted while under 40; reading biographies helps a lot with that perspective.  In addition, I've been going to conferences just long enough to have seen a changeover from people who were acclaimed as rising stars to fizzle out while solid contributors really hit their stride ten or fifteen years after that last postdoc position.
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I've joined a bizarre cult called JordanCanonicalForm's Witnesses.  I have to go from door to door asking people things like, "Good evening, sir!  Do you have a moment to chat about Linear Transformations?"
slac_science
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« Reply #7 on: May 07, 2012, 5:56:27 AM »

Thanks for the comments.  I really appreciate them.

Just to clarify: I'm not concerned with being a superstar or competing with those at R1s. 

And I started to write".....but I would like to be a part of the scientific community.  It's disheartening to work on a new idea for years, to do virtually all of the work, be the lead author of a paper - to not even be able to participate in a conference or working group dedicated to the new idea." blah blah blah

But in writing it I sensed that I'd found my answer. 

The world of conference key notes, panel discussions, and news interviews just isn't part of the SLAC/PUI game.  At least in my field.  I need to focus on the rewards of teaching and mentoring....and find a role to play in other communties.  I knew this....but got a bit wrapped up in an exciting new discovery.

thanks again.



   
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