Ka-Ching

My department and college have rules as to how much certain people can be paid. There are set salaries (with a very narrow window around each) for the different seniority levels of research scientists.There is a set salary for a full-time postdoc; you can’t pay them more and if you must pay them less, then it’s not a full-time appointment, and you have to justify why it’s less and you cannot ask them to work over the corresponding number of hours per week.

As of a few years ago and in order to become more competitive for grad students, the college and department have adopted a tiered system for grad-student compensation: there are now several different levels of graduate-student research assistantships (based on seniority and merit) and two levels of teaching assistantships. with $2-3k per annum between successive levels.

I’ve always paid all my graduate students the same, but I am now considering, for the first time, bumping two people up in pay based on merit. They are significantly better than others; one is senior, so no one would object to this student being bumped up, but the other one is junior, and some students more senior than this one wouldn’t be getting the bump.

However, I worry what this might do to morale, if there would be issues with favoritism and whatnot.

What do you say, blogosphere? Principal investigators, do you pay all your graduate students the same or are there seniority and/or merit-based differences? Do these inequities ever come up and, if they do, how do you deal with them? Graduate students and postdocs, are there differences in pay among your cohort and, if yes, how does everyone involved deal with it? 

 

2020 Blog Delurking Week!

Happy 2020, everyone!

Following an ancient blogosphere tradition, the first(ish) week of January is the Blog Delurking Week!

Stop by to say ‘hi’ in the comments. Tell us a bit about who you are, what brings you to the blog, what grates your cheese, what you’d like to read about on xykademiqz, and what you expect/hope for in 2020!

Whether you’ve never commented before or you’re a seasoned blog-commenting pro, I’d love to hear from you!

Delurk! Rejoice!

2019 in Review: ‘Tis the Season to Be Jolly, Kinda

Happy holidays to everyone and may all your New Year’s resolutions come true!

2019 has been an anemic year here on the blog mostly because it’s been a somewhat anemic year in real life.

In the fall 2018, the departure of Eldest to college hit me hard. Even though husband and I aren’t empty nesters yet and won’t be awhile, Eldest leaving really triggered what I presume is a severe bout of acute midlife crisis. This general mood has persisted throughout 2019 and caused plenty of internal turmoil.

Middle Boy started middle school in the fall 2018 and, while he’s doing fine, he’s lukewarm about academics. He is focused on his friends and, to a lesser extent, sports, and generally does what he has to, but absolutely not more than that. He’s simply not (and never has been) someone who’s motivated by pleasing parents or teachers; he doesn’t get in trouble, but otherwise has a mind of his own and does what he wants. I feel a lot of anxiety about his future; on the one hand, it’s his life, and he should feel relaxed and supported at home and not dreading it as a place where he’s misunderstood or forced to do things he hates; on the other hand, I don’t want him to underachieve so badly that he can’t get into college, because even lower-tier public schools require pretty high GPAs these days. Job prospects seem bleak even with college degrees and young people everywhere face long-term uncertainty in all facets of life. I also don’t understand the lack of passion for academics because I was a super nerd and still am. I enjoyed all subjects in school, even the ones I didn’t love, and I still get such a thrill from learning new things, so I don’t relate to being blasé about school. Anyway, Middle Boy and his antics have consistently been among the top three causes of my tension headaches this year.

The last of an unusually productive group of graduate students finished in early 2019, and I remain with a new crop that turned out not to be anywhere nearly as motivated or talented as what’s needed to do the work. I also made some suboptimal more senior hires. Overall, these unfortunate hiring choices have caused me a lot of headache in 2019. I think I have managed to dig the group out from underneath the clout of expensive underperformance with minimal scathing to everyone involved, but it has left me beyond exhausted and disillusioned. Next year’s annual report will show fewer papers by my group than any year before, even years when I had babies, but it is what it is. At least now I am confident that the team I do have is able to do the work that will result in some nice publications and we will remain competitive for future funding. Removing the big personnel and financial worries has also enabled me to extend my commitment to the best people and we now have new opportunities for collaboration and papers; 2020 might end up being a great publication year.

I recently received news that I’d won a major university-level teaching award that requires strong support from students and colleagues. This recognition means a great deal to me because I put a lot of effort and care into my teaching. Moreover, the award comes with a nice chunk of money, which might help fund taking Middle Boy (if his grades are good) with me to a conference held in a desirable location.

On the creative front, I wrote plenty of new fiction — not as much as in my first year, when the floodgates opened and pieces just flowed out of me — and I received some nice acceptances and publications, even made some money. I placed in some contests and a few print anthologies. I have yet to crack a pro-paying speculative market for flash or short stories, but I’ve sold some drabbles (100 words) at pro rates and made several great semipro sales, including one to my favorite semipro zine. Once this piece is published, I will be eligible to join Horror Writers Association. I’ve had pieces shortlisted (held past the slush-reading round and into higher rounds of elimination) at several pro markets and a few competitive contests, which probably means that I can, in fact, write at or near the level needed for pro publications. I also had my first poem published (!) and wrote a short screenplay. I received a lot of compliments on several of my short stories, and a creative nonfiction piece I wrote resonated with a lot of people.

I also volunteered as a slush reader (i.e., first reader) at a pro-paying speculative fiction venue this summer. It was a great learning experience (I wrote an analysis of it on my fiction blog).

Overall, most of my fiction comes out dark or weird, occasionally funny and often disturbing. I am very comfortable among the horror community, which is wonderfully welcoming and full of people passionate about the genre. The vibe is much different from that of the literary fiction community and even science fiction and fantasy.

The teaching award and me apparently writing horror more often than not are two manifestations of the same overarching insight (excuse the cheese, please):

You have no idea where a path leads, even a path you’re sure you understand well. You have no idea what you will need in order to navigate it even though you are certain that you do. You might not even be aware that your success will stem not from the traits you think are your strengths, but from those you dismiss, neglect, or ignore. You might be better matched with the people and actions on that path than you realize because of the traits you never even knew you possessed. You need to be your whole self, always, because there are no throwaway parts of you. 

I started out my career as a professor at an R1 focused on research, hearing loudly and clearly from all sides that teaching should be good, but must not detract from research. Now, fifteen years in, I carry many battle scars from countless rejected grants, scathing panel comments, dismissive referee reports on manuscripts, doors being shut in my face because I am always, and will always be, suspected of incompetence and encroachment. In contrast, teaching is often the most rewarding part of the job, a part where what I put in pays great dividends through my students’ learning and success, a part where I can be my whole self. I can be goofy, make stupid ‘dad jokes’, draw for my students, and generally convey the fun of science and learning. Fifteen years ago I wouldn’t have guessed this would be true.

Along the similar lines, when I started writing fiction in 2017, I would not have guessed that so much of what naturally comes to me falls under dark speculative fiction or outright horror, and that the community would be welcoming, full of nice people, and that I would be so comfortable in it.

Overall, 2019 was a year of of challenges, professional and personal, none of which were grand or insurmountable, but all of which contributed to the exhaustion I am currently feeling.

As for the state of the blog, I am not going anywhere. I am here and will post, as before, when I have something to say, and the time and energy to say it. There will be another delurkpalooza the first week of January, as we’ve done in the past. You are always welcome to leave a comment, email me, or say ‘hi’ on Twitter @xykademiqz (although I am not too active under that pseud). If you want more of xykademiqz, the archives are here and always free to read, or you could go for “The Best of” collection and treat yourself to a copy of Academaze.

Finally, without further ado, here are the most read posts of 2019, based on WordPress stats. See you all in 2020!

 

 

 

A Lifelong $hit-Eater Develops Intolerance to $hit

An interesting thing about middle age, or at least my middle age, is that, after a lifetime of holding my tongue and playing nice and putting up with $hit for the sake of peace and doing (or at least trying to do) what’s societally expected of women, some thresholds have been crossed and now my body reacts quite violently to additional incidents. A lifetime of swallowing small amounts of $hit is not unlike swallowing lead or absorbing radiation in that the effect is cumulative: I now have $hit poisoning and am entirely unable to tolerate added exposure to $hit. So when you fling what may be a really small amount of $hit at me (or another middle-aged woman), and I turn into a $hit dragon and bite your head off (and then all the $hit comes flying out of your neck because you’re in fact full of it) you have all the $hit-flingers who came before you to thank for that.

Seriously, so many men. (Not all men, sure, and yes some women, too, but very, very, very few women.) Mostly men. Listen, FFS. You do not know everything. People around you are not morons. They know things and want to be heard and respected for their expertise. You know, just like you. Listen, and do it respectfully and attentively, like others listen to you, and not how you do it, which is a) by talking all over them until they stop even though it’s their turn and you had yours but voila now and forever it’s your turn again or b) by jumping in at the first opportunity a speaker has to take a breath and taking over again or c) either a or b but with the added “No. This instead” regardless of the actual value or veracity of what was previously said.  Listen the way everyone listens to you even when you’re talking out of your ass.

Several unrelated incidents all speak of the same fuckin’ annoying mansplainy bullshit, of people’s pigheadedness and unwillingness to be corrected or adapt even in the face of overwhelming evidence that they are wrong, speak of some people’s rejection that they could ever be wrong.

First of all, I am about to leave a potential collaboration because I will not work with a certain colleague. He is fine, even amusing, in small doses, but I’ve always suspected we shouldn’t work together if we are to remain friendly. Talking all over me in a brainstorming session yesterday re-confirmed it. The fact I’ve got over 15 years on him doesn’t mean that I could possibly know anything he doesn’t. So I am pulling out of that. And no, I will not be discussing why, because all that does is labels me as difficult one. It’s so easy to be labeled difficult when you’re a woman; that’s like the original fuckin’ sin.

Second, let me start with an example. I read and write a lot and I like to know precisely what words and phrases mean, and if I’m pronouncing them correctly, so I look things up all the time. Even so, some errors sneak through. For example, a few days ago I realized that a word I’d been sure was detrius was actually detritus — for some reason, I’d never noted the second t. I’d also never heard it pronounced because it’s not exactly a colloquial word, so I made sure to look up the correct pronunciation. Overall, a face-palm moment, but hardly an ego-shattering one: I identified a misconception and then corrected it.

In contrast, I recently had a whole ordeal with a student (a native speaker of English) about the word homogeneous. That’s a word we often use in technical communication to characterize samples, applied fields, etc. Anyway, he said it probably three times in rapid succession during a single meeting and he kept mispronouncing it — it’s a common mispronunciation of this word, making it sound as if were spelled homogenous. I stopped him and told him about it and he just wouldn’t believe me. We went to the online dictionary and heard the pronunciation (I was right). He then asked how you pronounce inhomogeneous and homogeneity and I told him. We looked those up too, and I was right again. To which he asked who says the online dictionary was to be trusted; I said we did, because we all agreed to make it the go-to resource. I then went to Merriam-Webster online and obviously the information was the same. Finally, he said he didn’t care and that he would continue to pronounce it like homogenous because that’s what he’s used to.

This level of obstinacy is baffling. Instead of saying “Oh, I’ve been saying it wrong,” making a mental note to correct himself and moving on, he will go on being wrong just to prove that he’s…not wrong? That he’s infallible? I’m sorry, but I don’t think I’ve ever met a girl or a woman behaving this way (although considering the anti-vaxxers exist, there are probably many).

Third, on another blog I said something, let’s call it “this,” to which a commenter jumped in to say “It’s not this; it’s that.” I read that comment and immediately felt pressure rising in my neck. “This” was my opinion. “That” is the other commenter’s opinion. I don’t even think he’s wrong, but a) the two opinions are not mutually exclusive and b) it’s annoying as all hell to have one’s opinion dismissed as wrong (“It’s not this”) with another opinion delivered as fact (“…it’s that”). Framing one’s opinion as though it’s a fact that anyone with brain function would accept as true is an excellent way for people to think you’re an asshole and to stop talking to you.

If you want to converse as a human being, you could do worse than follow the guidelines on how to give constructive criticism, which were nicely articulated by the critiquing group Critters.

https://www.critique.org/c/diplomacy.ht

https://www.critique.org/c/whathow.ht

I share the above links often because they emphasize that, if you want to be heard, delivery is very important because no one likes being talked down to, even if they are wrong. (People who say they’re brutally honest usually enjoy leaning into the brutal part a little too much. Fuck those people.)

The problem is that I can’t really pretend all is peachy anymore. I get a tightness of chest, racing heart, and a pressure in my head and neck when people piss me off. I bet my blood pressure goes through the roof. The body is telling me to avoid certain people and situations and I have to listen because fuck people’s callousness and egomania. I have to do my work, but I can’t and won’t eat any more $hit if I can avoid it.

Grant Gnash

I often write here about burnout and, whether that comes across or not, I admit that I usually feel it’s my own fault the fires of technical creation do not perennially warm my heart.

But this week I realized — belatedly, surprisingly — that it’s probably not all my fault. There are serious structural obstacles to faculty work at research institutions.

Over the years, the way the university handles research funding has been getting more and more unpleasant. We have a designated department-level person, then a hub of college-level admins with one specific liaison per department, and then there’s a sponsored programs office that works with the whole campus. I love most of our department staff; however, following the addition of a new department-level grants person, now every single grants person I interact with is an unremitting bureaucrat. The number of rules we need to follow (most of them internal, mind you) is proliferating, the paperwork mounting, the internal deadlines unneeded and ridiculous, and we as PIs now have all the responsibility for all levels of operation (all purchasing, every single penny, approval of everyone’s travel) without any of the help from the admins, only more rules, oversight, constraints tightening from all sides, and all pleas for flexibility are met with formal emails forwarding even more formal memos in which yet another instance of procedural ossification has been approved by some official body, somewhere.

I feel that the admins whose role is to help us get grants not only don’t care, but actively hate us faculty and do not in the least mind doing things that make our jobs harder. There is no interest in helping or supporting us. There is only the bureaucracy’s interest in easing its own life and dumping as much work and as much responsibility as possible elsewhere.

Things have slowly been getting worse over my time as faculty, but I’ve always thought it was just me getting worn down by age, face time, and other forces unknown. Now that I am on sabbatical and the stress associated with teaching large classes is lifted, I clearly see that my mood and motivation are generally fine, but that all interactions with the grants-processing staff send me into job-related despair. I feel like I work among people whom I cannot circumvent, but who obstruct my work to the point of near sabotage.

It’s not all me. A lot of it is the fuckin’ system.

Sabbathing

I am on sabbatical this year and it is glorious. I have time to exercise every day, so I’m walking, running, and back to my biggest love — kickboxing! I’m feeling human again, and not just human, but like a grounded, rarely salty, and — dare I say? — moderately energetic human.

I’m not teaching or doing university service, but all the research is still here, as is all the other professional service, being that I’m now apparently a scientific elder states(wo)man (associate editorship of journals; reviews of papers — how am I the tie-breaker referee all the time these days?; reviews of so, soooo many proposals; membership on boards overseeing all sorts of scientific activities).

I was really busy last year, with teaching overload and really labor-intensive department service, but I think I’d gotten reasonably well rested by the end of the summer, and I am really, really grateful that I don’t have to jump back into teaching again.  Instead, this year will (at least in theory) be the year of getting the backlog of publications out to journals and bringing my largely newbie grad students up to speed. Also submitting more grant applications.

This doesn’t sound particularly restful or rejuvenating, does it?

I should be using the sabbatical to do even more science, newer and more exciting science, but it’s hard to be all gung-ho about it when a lot of energy keeps being spent on maintaining continuous funding and getting papers out while training students, all of which are in line with incremental work and orthogonal to making big, rejuvenating leaps.

Anyway, I do have some trips planned in the spring, and some talks scheduled with new communities, where I will hopefully hear some interesting talks and get some cool ideas. Other than that, I think I want to simply spend more time on my creative writing, which has been going well, thanks for asking. 🙂 I am contemplating between, on the one hand, writing a novel — which everyone says I should do, and this free time is a unique opportunity I will not have again for the next 7 years, but I’m feeling meh about it, and even though there are 3-4 stories I wrote that were really well received and could kick off a novel, I don’t crave to spend 80-100k words with any of those characters — and, on the other hand, simply writing more short fiction, poetry (yes, there’s poetry now, too, and not all of it is garbage, at least I don’t think it is), and — newsflash! — screenplays. The latter is what I’ve been gravitating toward, even though, as an endeavor with any kind of payoff, it’s probably far more futile than writing a novel.

How’s your September, academic blogosphere?