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Any university researchers/academics around? Some advice pls

(17 Posts)
madmarriedNika Mon 01-Sep-08 15:53:41

I am starting work in a week as a research associate, doing similar work to what I used to do 18 months ago, but fortunately for me in a part-time setting. As I don't want to be an RA forever (was one for 5 yrs til Jan '07) and wish to progress up the academic ladder I've been doing a part-time PhD for nearly 6 yrs, and hope to submit next yr. I already have a masters degree.

My problem is with publications- I have a few as a co-author but not as lead author. The two I submitted this past 9 months as lead author have just this week been rejected, one of them after a second rewrite I am concerned that as I'm not able to work full-time and there is no "free" time to focus on publications that I am missing the boat, and I am worried that unless I can get going on publishing I'll never get a look in for an academic career. Also I am worried my brain just isn't up to it anymore- seriously- I struggle to concentrate (v tired, but what's new for a Mum of under 5s) and find writing my thesis or papers very hard (used to find it a breeze..). After this weeks disappointment I am wondering whether I should review my ambitions as am doubting my abilities...

How have you managed juggling a family and a university career?
All experience v welcome. Thanks.

WilfSell Mon 01-Sep-08 16:02:00

Tis very hard, especially as an RA. I would have a chat early on in your new job with your line manager to discuss the possibility of time to write. Even if not every week, you might be able to negotiate something, say 2 days a month. It is in the university's interests to let you do this as the publications add to their research profile also. Especially if you offer to lead author things on the research project that your busy PI won't be able to start up all the time.

But to be honest, for most full-time academics there is little 'free' time to write either, at least in the less wealthy universities, and for those with families, finding and making time can be very hard.

I'd suggest you send your rejected publications to a different journal immediately (get back on that horse) and then start something new that will become a chapter of your PhD (VERY important to hit your target of finishing next year).

Doubt is part of the game I'm afraid, since it is such a solitary pursuit. You have to manage that first. Do you have a good mentor, supervisor or colleague who can give you seom constructive feedback on your work?

Good luck by the way.

Fennel Mon 01-Sep-08 16:12:56

I'm watching this thread with interest. It does vary a lot in different disciplines. I am a researcher, and my solution has been to stick with research fellow jobs rather than lectureships, so that there is at least time to do decent research and a fair number of publications - I've had time in or between research grants for this. But very little teaching or admin.

It means I get to do a job I love and also see a lot of my children (3, still young) but it does have implications for long term career progression. Also for salary and job security. So it's not an ideal solution.

MamaChris Mon 01-Sep-08 16:22:44

It's horrible every time a paper comes back. Try not to take the criticisms to heart, but take them line by line and see what you can do to improve the papers before sending them out again. But do send them back out!

As an RA, you might be able to negotiate a couple of hours writing time/week (what field are you in?). RAs in our university tend to work set hours, but post docs and above pretty much write in their "spare" time. I'm going back from maternity leave shortly, and really have no idea how I'll manage to fit in the 50 hour week I used to work as standard, plus reading/writing/reviewing in evenings/weekends with a baby, so I do sympathise!

Again, I suspect it varies between fields, but in science, one or possibly two good first author publications during a PhD is expected to get a post doc position, so make sure you know what the goalposts really are in your field, and aim to make your thesis "good enough". I've seen too many students waste a few extra months making theirs "perfect" (in their eyes). It seems like such a big thing at the time, but only a very few people will ever read it.

Good luck!

madmarriedNika Mon 01-Sep-08 16:28:32

Thanks for the messages- WilfSelf I think part of my problem has been that my two PhD supervisors actually work for a government agency and are honorary lecturers (bit of a strange situation) and haven't supervised many PhDs or authored that many papers themselves, so I find their academic editing is lenient!! In fact I had serious doubts about publishing both papers that have been rejected as didn't feel they were quite up to scratch, at least for the journals where we submitted them- and now I wish I'd trusted my instincts. My one hope is a retired univeristy lecturer who has been a good friend since early on in my RA days and saw some potential in me - but as he has been poorly this year I didn't want to bother him with my latest papers, though now I wish I had. I think I will email him for some advice and attach the papers too...

I am very much wanting to stay in research, I love it in spite of the fact it's so isolating at times- however I am not too bothered about teaching or earning much money- just want to do what I love if possible.

madmarriedNika Mon 01-Sep-08 16:30:25

I am in science BTW, so like you said MamaChris I would very much be aiming for at least 2 first author papers before I consider applying for a post-doc. But I am going to keep trying...and a lot of my PhD chapters should lend themselves to publishing fairly easily I hope.

Anna8888 Mon 01-Sep-08 16:31:36

I used to do research in an academic setting - it all led to publications, though, so may have been a bit different to what you are doing.

It sounds from your last post as if you lack mentors in the right places. If you want to progress/do interesting work, the "easiest" way IMO is to latch on to someone visible.

madmarriedNika Mon 01-Sep-08 16:34:45

Indeed Anna- fortunately the new post is based completely at a university and my line managed is a senior lecturer who is very well respected in his field, so I hopeful he'll be keen for me to publish (have co-authored 2 papers with him before too). Feeling a little more positive now- have never had 2 papers rejected in one week and it's hit a bit hard.

madmarriedNika Mon 01-Sep-08 16:34:46

Indeed Anna- fortunately the new post is based completely at a university and my line managed is a senior lecturer who is very well respected in his field, so I hopeful he'll be keen for me to publish (have co-authored 2 papers with him before too). Feeling a little more positive now- have never had 2 papers rejected in one week and it's hit a bit hard.

Anna8888 Mon 01-Sep-08 16:38:16

Ah - sounds better. Fingers crossed you get on brilliantly with your line manager smile

eandz Mon 01-Sep-08 16:44:17

whats your research in? i might be able to find someone for you to get your paper edited by...but the people i know are absolutely evil. wonderful, but evil and harsh when it comes to editing.

i can only help in the field of molec genetics i'm afraid.

MamaChris Mon 01-Sep-08 16:48:44

Nika, in my area of science, one great paper would be enough - something in a journal with impact factor of 20+. Or two papers, both in respected journals. I got 3 first author papers out of my PhD, but one wasn't published until after I started my first postdoc. Good applicants for postdoc positions are hard to find, so don't get too hung up on number of publications.

One thing to help yourself stand out from the crowd is to send abstracts to every conference you can afford to go to (if they're local, you won't even need to stay away from home overnight). A lot offer subsidy/free places to students presenting, and doing that will get your face known by future potential employers. You also get a chance to find people in your area to "latch on to", as Anna says.

I think having two supervisors, neither of whom is a full time academic, must be tough. Do you know other students at your institution? I remember my PhD time involved a lot of reading other students' chapters/papers and getting them to read mine.

MamaChris Mon 01-Sep-08 16:50:59

Isn't evil and harsh part of the job spec for a molecular geneticist, eandz?

madmarriedNika Mon 01-Sep-08 16:51:23

I am fortunate in that quite a few of my friends are currently post-docs and have agreed to read through my thesis...so will lean on them!
I'm in marine biology- the opp. end of molec. genetics I look at ecosystem level processes!

Good tip re. abstracts
Will persevere

WilfSell Mon 01-Sep-08 16:52:12

rofl. there are no journals in my field with an impact factor of 20+... grin

eandz Mon 01-Sep-08 16:55:34

mamachris
i suppose, but they could be a teeensy bit nicer. at least some candy for the harsh thrashing.

MamaChris Mon 01-Sep-08 16:55:49

yes - scientists do tend to inflate their impact factors WilfSell

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