31 March 2007

Leaders and followers

At this university, I see stuff posted up about "leadership" all the time. Student leadership conferences, that sort of thing. It kind of bugs me, because when I see such things, I think of an old (and hence not very culturally sensitive) saying, "Too many chiefs, not enough Indians." Leadership opportunities are limited, kind of by definition. Almost all organizations have a pyramid structure, and not everyone can fit at the top of that pyramid.

I would argue that the skills needed to be a great follower are just as important. Good underlings are just as important as the masterminds. Oddjob and Auric Goldfinger in Goldfinger. Darth Maul and the Emperor in Star Wars.

But people rarely talk about what skills make you an exceptional follower. Anticipating needs. Working within limitations. Balancing contradictory directives. Knowing when to take initiative. Meeting deadlines. Giving useful feedback. Not as sexy as a leadership skills, but so valuable.

This post over at Seth Godin's blog echoes this point in some ways.

I've certainly noticed that only takes a couple of students to set the tone in classes I teach. If there are a couple of students who are good listeners, they sort of become your "batteries," and you can play to them and get a little bit of a boost from them when you can see they're engaged and paying attention. Students with the heads on the desk in the back? I'd rather they just didn't come at all. It drags everything down.

30 March 2007

Bad start

...For my Dees. A thumping at the hands of the Saints! Blast!

On a related note, I loved this article that catches a little bit of the passion that got me actually interested in Aussie Rules when I lived in Melbourne. Remember it the next time you're looking for a pub in southern Australia.

28 March 2007

Other people’s impressions

I've observed an interesting phenomenon this last week and a half. Several times, people have stuck their heads into my office and said something like, “I know you're really busy with the grant...”

What the heck did people think I was doing before I got the grant? That I was just hanging out in my office, reading the latest copy of FHM? Counting the number of little perforations in the ceiling tiles? Arranging the magnetic poetry tiles above my computer?

You get money, you’re assumed to be busy. Interesting.

23 March 2007

Coming up for air for a few seconds

It was not surprising that week kicked my butt. But even when you're expecting it, the soreness is never diminished much.

The week bit at me for three reasons. First, last week was the break, and suddenly there's all the catch-up that has to happen on things I couldn't do because... nobody was around.

Second, I'm spending a lot of time trying to get the new undergrad research program up and running. Meetings, recruiting, talking to interested students, updating the webpage, and just trying to think about all the things that still have to happen for everything to start on cue.

Third, and arguably the biggest, was that I had a writing deadline to meet yesterday. I was co-authoring a book review with my colleague Anita Davelos Baines for Behavioral and Brain Sciences (which was where I'd published one of my first articles as a grad student). Due to the combination of finally receiving word on the grant plus my general lack of willpower and concentration, the review was not as far along in the writing as I was hoping for on Thursday morning. I was going a little nuts inside my office on Thursday, trying to finish this short article -- and people kept knocking on my door! Gah!

It is said that no work of art is ever finished; merely abandoned. While I don't pretend the review was a work of art, I definitely felt it was abandoned rather than finished. I am satisfied with it, although I really wish that I had more time to think about some issues, discuss them with my colleagues, and polish the writing a bit.

It was pushing close to midnight when I emailed the final review. I felt like the stereotypical student, sliding the term paper under the professor's door before midnight. Some habits die hard. Others never die at all.

10 March 2007

Back from NSF

Unexpected fact: The outside main floor of the National Science Foundation building has a Quiznos and a bagel shop.

Despite the ugly early start for my flight to the NSF, everything went about as smoothly as could be hoped for. I got there about on time. I got to have lunch at Ruby Tuesday (which we don't have locally, but see ads for all the time).

I got my PocketPC successfully set up for NSF wireless internet access – in fact, the staffer who help me told me she had fun doing it, because she'd never tried to set up their wireless system on a Pocket PC before. I got a tiny bit lost, because the initial poster session was not on the room written on my badge, but again, found the starting poster session in time.

The featured speaker at dinner, Elaine Seymour, was very good, very thought provoking. And just to prove that the scientific community is way too small, met someone at dinner and found we had one degree of separation between us: he knew someone in our department, my buddy Fred.

I never sleep well in hotels, particularly the first night, so I wasn't real pleased that the next day started early and went long. But heard quite a few important things, and had no shortage of things to think about. Another keynote speaker, Tyrone Hayes, was awesome. Although he said to me later he is normally a "PowerPoint maniac," he made absolutely the right choice in ditching all that and delivering a fairly personal talk about his experience being a minority in research, and some of his success in mentoring minorities in research.

After the afternoon sessions finished, I just walked around some of the stores in a nearby mall, and ran into a few workshop participants for dinner at the Rock Bottom Brewery. (They'd been told there was a Macaroni Grill in the mall, but it had shut down!), and ended up talking with several of them in the hotel bar for even longer after getting back to the hotel.

It was really a stupidly long day. But in the morning, I was able to find a place with good croissants for breakfast, which I appreciated. It's so hard to find good croissants in southern Texas...

And since getting back, I've been trying to get this undergrad research program up and ready to run. Many meetings, many emails, many things to plan. I'm quickly finding that I have to be thinking about things that are years away, which is not easy for me. So I look forward to receiving the massive wall calendar / planner I asked for.

07 March 2007


Way back in December, I wrote about a project that I couldn't talk about and some of the excitement I felt about it.

Now I can finally talk about what all that was about.

The National Science Foundation gave us a Research Experiences for Undergraduate grant. This is getting funded in portions, but over $156,000 is set and ready. If the funding to the NSF doesn't collapse, we'll get another year and a bit and the total will be over $284,000.


I've been sitting on that since December. Waiting and watching, hoping that the U.S. Congress will pass a good budget for the NSF. Congress was supposed to pass the NSF budget before Christmas, but didn't. They waited until the last possible second, which was the last day the continuing resolution ran out on 15 February. Much was written about this wait in the pages of Science and elsewhere. The delay was so bad that many funding agencies had to scale back planned projects. Reading those articles was highly nerve-wracking.

But in the end, NSF got a bit of a budget increase, fortunately, when many other federal research agencies got no increase. Whew.

And another thing I mentioned cryptically: an upcoming conference? It's actually a workshop for people running NSF sponsored undergraduate research programs. My flight leaves verrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrry early tomorrow morning.

It's just a relief to go to a conference knowing that I actually have the award. I would have sucked to go to this workshop not knowing if we were getting it or not.

Playlist for the day: Finally by CeCe Peniston, New Man by Sonic Hub, Food For Songs by Del Amitri, and especially Won More Time by God Made Me Funky.

02 March 2007


What do I have to say about this?

I did not nominate myself.

And sometimes, there's just nothing else to say...