2015 Year Look Back and Forward

This is the last post of 2015, the next one will be in January. At the end of each year, I try and think about what happened this year and then plan for what should be done next year, at least professionally. So my job consists of three parts: teaching, research, and service.

Teaching is pretty simple. I get assigned classes, I teach those classes. As long as I don’t fail more than 50% of the class, then I’m doing fine. I have a bit of a perfectionist streak, a desire to fix problems where I see them, and a drive to always do better. So this last year, I may have spent too much time and effort to improve my teaching and courses. Part of me believes there’s no such things as too much time to improve yourself and what you do, but as a tenure-track faculty, teaching is only part of my job, and often the smallest part as seen by my colleagues and supervisors. So in 2016 I will strive to hold the same standards I’ve developed to date, but hold off on putting in extra effort to develop new projects, lessons, or other activities for my classes.

Research is arguably the biggest part of my job, though it’s the one students rarely see. Our research is what brings fame and funding to the university. Unfortunately, research is also not a one man undertaking. While I can teach my courses without assistance from anyone else, I can’t do research at any reasonable rate just by myself. Thus comes in graduate students. As an experimentalist, I am heavily dependent on my graduate students to do the bulk of the research and data collection. My time during the week is often taken up by classes, meetings, and office hours, with very little left for me to personally go into the lab to set up the experiment and get data. This dependence on students means their successes and failures are your successes and failures. unfortunately I’ve had some recent troubles with graduate students and limited successes. This year we have not published a single paper, which is not a good sign. It indicates an unproductive year. In hindsight, it was a bit unproductive. Things got done, but not enough to get publications. I did pick up two new students and lose one student mid degree, so there was quite a bit of change. New students take time to get up to the speed and become productive. We usually say a Masters student can do enough work to write one publication by the end of their two years, at which point they graduate. That’s quite a long build up time, especially on a 5-7 year tenure clock. Ph.D. students have the same build up, but they can keep doing work and writing papers after the first 2 years. So after 6 years, a Ph.D. student can write 4-5 papers, where as a series of 3 Masters students can write 3.

For 2016, my plan is to take that time from teaching and put it into research. I will be at the lab more regularly and even try to do some of my own data collection. I will also push my students harder. There are 4 potential papers that can be written or are being written. On the funding side, there are 4 potential NSF opportunities and 1 NASA in 2016 that I know of. There may be more NASA ones over the year as they are released. DoD funding is harder to get as the funding is generally decided by the program manager instead of a panel. So your research has to align very closely with what the program manager is looking for, and some times it’s hard to get them to tell you what exactly they want. But all you can do is try, and in the mean time continue to do research, get data, and make the next proposal better.

On the service side, I thing I also over committed this year. I am in charge of the college of engineering’s undergraduate research program, editor for the local AIAA section newsletter, member of two AIAA technical committees, and trying to organize short courses for the technical committees. While each of these in of themselves don’t take a lot of time and are sporadic, together they seem to be taking up a significant number of hours each month. While I enjoy doing these activities, they are taking time away from, what else, research. So in 2016, I plan to reduce my service activities and possible drop one or more. Teaching, research, and service is a tough balancing act, and this last year I think I went off the track. So next year I strive to bring everything more in balance to be successful, which typically means more research, always more research.

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