I’ve been a university professor for quite a while, doing all the stuff professors do: teaching students at all levels, supervising graduate students, asking novel questions and trying to answer them (an activity usually referred to as research), serving on sundry committees, refereeing scientific papers, and, last but not least — begging for money (aka grant writing).
Over the years it’s occurred to me that some movie lines perfectly describe facets of my vocation, possibly with minor changes—which I’ve effected.
So here goes…
You spend months writing a grant, then you submit it, wait anxiously, count the days, and, finally, bam! The results are in. Sometimes the news is good, sometimes… not so much — or, as I like to think of it:
Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a dime.
Asking those fundamental questions nobody has yet asked — and trying to find good answers. Plodding unrelentingly, day and night, working tirelessly to advance the cause of science.
To infinity and beyond!
Alas, sometimes your grant or paper is rejected. But, hey, that’s the game, you just get up the next day and continue plodding along because:
After all, tomorrow is another rejection!
One of my main jobs as a scientist is to review papers submitted to journals and conferences, so-called peer review — a staple of the scientific endeavor. Sometimes you get really great papers to referee, other times — not so great. When I get one of those latter I think:
Of all the journals in all the publishers in all the world, she submits to mine.
Part and parcel of being a professor is serving on all kinds of committees: tenure, promotion, curriculum, graduate studies, and whatnot.
A bit like the Jedi Council?
When reviewing for a conference, you usually get a bunch of papers at once. Can be fun and interesting, can be yawn, yawn, yawn. Well,
Mama always said “reviewing a bunch of papers was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get”.
When attending a conference I can’t help but think of Tyrion Lannister’s famous quip:
I drink and I know things.
Sounds to me like a good summation of academic gatherings. Oh, and don’t forget to pay the registration fee! After all, A Lannister always pays his debts.
You wait, and wait, and wait, then — finally! — the reviews of your paper plop into your inbox. Would it not be more poignant to hand down these editorial decisions Terminator-style?
- Accept: You must live.
- Accept, open access: I need your clothes, your boots, and your motorcycle.
- Accept with minor changes: Come with me if you want to live.
- Revise and resubmit: I’ll be back.
- Reject: Hasta la vista, baby.
I mean, let’s face it, every time I’ve submitted a paper for review —
I have always depended on the kindness of referees.
The Nature of the game
Finally, the day has arrived. You’ve written your magnum opus. The best paper in your career! Now you’re considering submitting it to the journal Nature, or maybe Science. Top of the line.
You’ve got to ask yourself one question: “Do I feel lucky?” Well, do ya, punk?
Frankly, when I pen that awesome paper, it will be:
Some take it well and move on. Some — less well.
A reviewer once tried to reject me. I ate his review with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.
Who gets to be a coauthor on your paper can sometimes be a tricky, even thorny issue. Is that colleague’s contribution really worth coauthorship? Does her offhand comment merit the appearance of her name below the title?
Mrs. Robinson, you’re trying to get coauthorship… aren’t you?
Teaching can be fun and rewarding. You want to impart experience and wisdom, get the students to —
Do or do not. There is no try.
Alas, sometimes, a student doesn’t cut it and you’re forced to pull a Gandalf.
You shall not pass!
Advising a graduate student…
… is a bit like having a Padawan, no?
Ah, that exalted status — you’re a member of the club now. Like making partner at a law firm. Or, like… getting an offer you can’t refuse?
The years fly by, you’ve published, won grants, taught students, advised grads, sought the lost ark, been through the Temple of Doom (aka Tenure Committee), and found the Holy Grail: Full Professor.
Your old flame will then say:
You’re not the assistant professor I knew ten years ago.
To which you’ll reply:
It’s not the years, honey, it’s the citations.