The Anointed

Monopolies are a feature of capitalism, but I (naively) never used to think they could be a feature of academia.

I am active in several subfields, and in each there is a small number of large, successful, well-funded groups that seem to pollinate the entire national academic ecosystem and largely the international one, too. People from these few groups take up positions everywhere, from primarily undergraduate institutions to research schools, then rise through the ranks and create  impenetrable in-groups that block others from access to jobs, grants, and high-impact publications.

A deeply worrying aspect of this uniformity of pedigree is groupthink. The situation in which  everyone who works in a certain subarea comes from a small number of nexuses and has the same type of training, while no one else is awarded opportunities, cannot be beneficial for the vitality of science.

This post has been brought to you by the annual job cycle, specifically by the flurry of on-site interviews in which I’ve had to partake.

There is no such thing as The One Best Candidate for the Job. There are usually 20+ excellent applicants, of whom some number both look good on paper and interview well; any of them would make a great addition to the department. When a department thinks about whom to hire, should members of the faculty worry that one or more sprouts of an applicant’s academic progenitor are already among their ranks? I think this is a legitimate concern, as it speaks to an important aspect of diversity — a diversity of thought.

I seem to be a minority in this line of thinking. I have heard people who came from famous academic lineage say that they see no problem with big groups having their offspring everywhere. They attribute a junior scientist’s high count of high-impact paper solely to the junior scientist’s individual awesomeness  (and somehow never to advisor fame/success, school prestige, etc.), likely because they recognize (or strive to recognize) their younger selves in the candidate. These folks actively push to bring in more faculty with a background identical to their own and generally respond to my concerns by being upset, because to them I am implying that the best, brightest, and most worthy (read: those like them) — the anointed, if you will — aren’t entitled to absolutely everything.

There is a strong and unhealthy careerism aspect to academic science that creates research-group behemoths and dynasties. Sure, there are variations among fields and in some disciplines larger groups are more common than in others, but, as a whole, what is clearly no longer a trend but a mainstay of academic-science operations is not healthy for the science itself, which — as much as any endeavor and probably more than most — needs many smart but differently trained people to pursue many interesting threads in many different ways in order for truly new insights to emerge.

Academic blogosphere, what are your thoughts on hiring multiple people with the same educational background? On the fact that dozens of people with the same training are on faculty in your field, especially if you are not among the in-crowd? If you are? 

Groundhog Hey

*tap-tap*

Is this thing still on?

Hi everyone, it is your friendly neighborhood blogger. Delinquent friendly neighborhood blogger. Very ashamed delinquent friendly neighborhood blogger.

I’ve been MIA for several reasons. One is that fiction has taken up much of my creative bandwidth, but there has to be a way to accommodate both blogging and other writing, so I will try (and likely fail, repeatedly and spectacularly) to be better at pursuing the two concurrently.

Another is Middle Boy, aged not yet 12 but wearing a size-11 shoe and being over 5′ 9″ tall. Every day I have to hunt and roast a buffalo in order to feed him. His basketball and general hormone-fueled middle-school shenanigans take up a fair number of my mental cycles.

I have had a lot of labor-intensive service. Rewarding, but labor-intensive. As I must’ve said a number to times already, I CANNOT WAIT FOR SABBATICAL NEXT ACADEMIC YEAR. I CANNOT FUCKIN’ WAIT. The first one I took a year late and I spent it writing grants, caring for a newborn (gotta love it when a request for a full proposal comes in when you have a week-old baby and they want the submission in two fuckin’ weeks), and organizing a sizable conference. I am taking this sabbatical again a year late, and while there is thankfully no newborn, there was almost a conference again. I won’t go anywhere for long because Middle Boy is a handful. I’m dreading the few years ahead, to be honest.

My research group is at its max size, computers and chairs are being purchased, and while it’s always tricky to start working with a brand new crop of people, it’s nice to have fresh not-yet-jaded folks around.  I am teaching extra this semester because I will be on sabbatical but have all the new group members who need the course, and all the extra teaching is not helping.

So the lack of actual time and head space is the reason for the lack of posts, but I am not going anywhere, I promise.

I do miss blogging, the stream-of-consciousness, personal-narrative nature of it, so hopefully more from me again soon, in this space.

2019 Blog Delurking Week (January 6-13)

Happy Festivus! I hope everyone has recovered from the relatives and/or overeating and is back to a more-or-less regular schedule.

Traditionally, the first week of January is the blog delurking week… So, without further ado, I give you…

The Belated 2019 Blog Delurking Week (Jan 6-13, 2019)!

 

Please stop by to say ‘hi’ in the comments, whether or not you’ve ever commented before. Don’t be shy! Tell us a few things about yourself, what you hope to achieve in 2019, and/or what you would like to read about at xykademiqz in the coming year.

Thanks to everyone who has read and commented in 2018! Blogs remain a great outlet for the people who like to write and read longer pieces. Thank you all again for the support, and I am looking forward to another year of xykademiqz!

Update: This week — on January 10 — xykademiqz blog will be 5 years old! May will mark 9 years of my blogging altogether. Time flies!

 

2018 Firsts and Notables

For me, 2018 was the year of:

— Great success in raising grants. Hired my first research scientist, on top of two postdocs and a small army of grad students.

— Eldest starting college! I’m so proud of him! He’s so independent and doing so well! He is double-majoring plus working a few hours a week so he’s very busy but kicking butt!

— Eldest starting college. It messed me up more than I thought it would, especially considering that I still have two kids at home and am thus far from an empty-nester. Eldest leaving for college precipitated some serious internal struggles for me.

— Middle Boy entering middle school. Also, puberty. He already has the largest foot in the family. His appetite and the family’s monthly food budget went way up. MB is doing great in middle school, but unfortunately not breaking a sweat. He has a strong personality and is the most social one among my three generally quite social kids. He has a large, tight-knit, and very diverse group of friends. I go to a lot of basketball and flag-football games and I’ve met a number of nice parents though his social network.

— MB and me attending our first pro basketball game! We enjoyed it. It was very expensive, though.

— MB and me (plus MB’s two pals and mom) attending everyone’s first monster truck rally! Great fun, great people watching, and not too expensive.

— Reconnecting with my sister after a very long time. It was great to talk with her.

— Reconnecting with a grad school friend after a very long time. Saw her twice since November.

— Meeting some really cool people on literary Twitter. Some of them restored my faith in humanity. There are many kind, funny, smart people out there.

— Joining a local science-fiction discussion group. Met some really cool people there. Got reminded that fascinating people come in all ages, genders, shapes,  and sizes.

— Fiction writing. Published 19 short stories or long flashes, 9 drabbles, and 1 creative nonfiction essay. I was also long- or shortlisted listed in several competitions.

— Realizing I naturally lean toward genre fiction, especially science fiction, horror, and surrealism. I am actually decent at writing genre — who knew? I even sold (for actual money) some stories to semipro or token-paying markets; my name has on occasion appeared alongside household-name authors. Cracking pro-paying markets is hard, but I’m getting closer (some recent shortlists and high-tier rejections from highly selective pro markets).

— Getting nominated for the Pushcart Prize. The surrealist dystopian tale simmered inside my mind for weeks. I wrote and edited it, start to finish, within about 8 hours of the anthology deadline; it ended up being the headliner, has a blurb on the cover, and got a Pushcart nod.

— Walking 5 km outside as often as I can, which is nearly every day. Fresh air is amazing, plus it’s an hour just to myself. Highly recommended.

How was your 2018? What were your firsts or your notables this year? 

Not Dead Yet (at Least Not on the Outside)

Callie has rightfully called me out on my lack of posts. For what it’s worth, I’m not ghosting y’all, at least not on purpose. I have no intention of giving up the blog; it’s just that other things vie for my attention.

Part is that I am just really, really exhausted. I know the following is whiny hyperbole (arguably the most annoying kind of hyperbole), but it feels like no one has ever needed a sabbatical more than I need a sabbatical right now. The last one I had, I spent caring for a newborn, writing proposals, and organizing a conference. I will have one next year, a year later than I could’ve, because Middle Boy started middle school this year and I had a lot of turnover in the group (people graduating, new people starting out), and I didn’t want to travel too much. But I am just completely exhausted, and it feels like massive, cumulative, possibly mutant-alien exhaustion.

A committee I was on last year that was extremely labor-intensive left me completely disillusioned and burned out. I wrote grants like crazy the past few years so I am set now for a while. I have a number of new people in the group and the transition is always somewhat challenging. Service remains unrelenting. I am now “a senior woman,” which I know refers to my career stage, but it mostly feels like it refers to the size of my ass and the depth of the grooves in my forehead… Yet is somehow still doesn’t stop certain people from staring at my boobs. Seriously, there was one kid in my classes the past two semesters who could not sustain eye contact in office hours, because he kept staring at my goddamn boobs. (I dress really boringly, jeans and black long-sleeved tunics; I am not flaunting anything, in case someone is ready to jump in and unhelpfully suggest that I bring this shit upon myself.)

All this has made me really, really tired. So tired that I just want to do what I absolutely have to do, but I don’t want to spend any more time thinking about the job than I must, and that includes, I suppose, blogging about the job.

Moreover, fiction and literary Twitter commandeer much of my limited free time, but even fiction writing has been on the back burner during the semester. I wrote a lot in August and 1-2 stories per month thereafter. As a whole, 2018 was quite fruitful (28 published pieces in total, of which 9 drabbles (ultrashort flashes) and 19 long flashes or short stories; some of my first horror and science fiction are among them and they’re not too shabby; 1 Pushcart Prize nomination, which makes me happy). However, I don’t have much in the pipeline right now (1 horror piece in January, four more genre pieces in review). I was hoping to have a few days of no work over the break to just write, but work keeps creeping in and makes me upset. I just received an email from a colleague who wants to meet next week over a new hiring initiative, when I planned to take a three-day trip with family; I could feel my heart race as soon as I started reading his email! Honestly, email is the worst invention ever. It completely removed all barriers to bothering people. It used to be that you had to call, or walk up the stairs, or get an envelope and a stamp. Now, imposition on anyone is a mere few clicks away.

So there you have it, academic blogosphere. I am around, you can prod me it I’ve been silent for too long. If there’s something specific you want an answer to, please leave a comment or send an email and I’ll try to get to it. Otherwise, I will try to write more, ideally 2x per week but maybe 1x for now. Ultimately, I have the time that I have and the headspace that I have, and sometimes work takes so much of everything that I have to protect my creative side from it.

Everyone, happy holidays/happy winter break and I hope you have some rest and relaxation!

In parting, here are some recently shazammed songs. (For the record, the second one drives me absolutely nuts with its botching of the conditional perfect clause — he says “would’ve gave you everything” instead of “would’ve given you everything.”)

Limbo

lyra211 asks:

OK, here’s the subject I’ve been googling obsessively and haven’t found much fodder about — would love to hear your thoughts: The year you are up for tenure. Awkwardness of interactions with colleagues, dealing with inappropriate communication from senior department members, the senior faculty perspective on what is happening behind the scenes, and in my case, going on parental leave while your tenure case is under consideration. Obviously I’ve got some angst about this right now, but since it seems that I have basically zero control over anything at this stage, I’m hoping I can just disappear on leave and let the process move forward without me and try not to dwell on it too much.

My former postdoc is in this pre-tenure limbo right now, and I really feel for him! I dispense periodic texts of encouragement and support, because he’s done great work and his institution would be crazy not to tenure him, but I understand it ain’t over till it’s over and no one can actually guarantee that it will all go smoothly.

In fact, if I had to pick the most anticlimactic event of my life, it would definitely be receiving that official letter that I was granted tenure. It was preceded by nearly a year of (in hindsight completely misplaced) anxiety; the news was overwhelmingly positive along the way, but none of it was 100% conclusive because it couldn’t be. In hindsight, the case was a slam dunk and went without a hitch, but it was nerve-wrecking anyway.

The pre-tenure year is a tough year. People will tell you not to worry, which is useless advice. I’d say try (but you’ll likely fail) not to worry too much, because a) you likely have no reason to, or if you had a serious reason to worry, it would have come up already or the department wouldn’t have put you up for tenure and b) once you’ve done your job on the package (how much varies greatly among departments, schools, disciplines) there’s really nothing you can do.

Now to the real question: how to interact with colleagues. Presumably the department voted in favor of promotion, so they are probably all or nearly all your supporters. At this point they are as helpless as you are. If they try to cheer you up, accept the act of good will. If they try to share what happens behind the scenes, listen, they might not be that far off, especially if they’ve been involved in the later steps of the tenure process at your institution or elsewhere. It’s info, it’s anecdata, and if it temporarily quells your anxiety, good. But if it only adds to your anxiety, avoid it.

It’s limbo and limbo is always difficult. I was really short with some of my colleagues in that period, more than ever before or since. I didn’t realized at the time how the pre-tenure anxiety affected me, but it did.

If you can disengage and focus on something else (like a new baby! :-), just let the process unfold, that would be ideal. I can never fully get out of my head, so this wouldn’t have been an option for me, at least not in full, but consciously pushing for disengagement when feasible is definitely what I would recommend. I generally don’t lose sleep over things I cannot influence, and the tenure decision is one such thing, even though it feels like it’s not. Remind yourself that, once the packet is out, your job is done. I mean, don’t run off with the Dean’s spouse or kill the Provost’s dog, but aside from that, there’s very little you can do to your institutional image one way or another once the case has been turned in.

Good luck to lyra211 and to everyone else who’s in pre-tenure limbo!