Reader Question: Retention Etiquette

Reader G is an associate professor at a research school highly ranked in G’s discipline. G recently received an offer from a lower-ranked place at a more desirable location (for personal and spousal-placement reasons). G consulted with department and college elders, and a retention offer is currently in the works.

However, negotiations with the other place fell through and they withdrew the offer, because they were ultimately not able to offer G what G needed (lack of resources, etc) and they needed to fill the post. While offer withdrawal is rare and considered poor form, at least in my academic corner, it is understandable they wanted to move on quickly, to a candidate they were more likely to attract.

Now that the outside offer has been withdrawn, how does G proceed? G could use the goodies promised in the retention package and would like to get them, if possible. Is it ethical to wait for the retention package to go through at this point, or to inquire about its progress? Or should G immediately report that the competing offer is no longer in the picture? What if G’s institution learns the offer is no longer there from someone else, before the retention is finalized?

What say you, academic blogosphere? How does G proceed? My guess is G wants to maintain good relationships with home institution, and, ideally, get the stuff promised for retention.

Lazy Report

Breaking news: It is, in fact, possible to feel rested. I was thinking that I would never feel relaxed and rested again in my life, and thus never again feel anything but overwhelming dread at the thought of cooking, washing dishes, cleaning clutter, any chore really… I decided it’s because I was old, fat, and lazy, but it turned out it’s indeed possible, even for my old, fat, lazy a$$.

This summer, owing to a combination of a very successful grant-writing year and boundless exhaustion, all topped off with a dollop of general boredom with my field of research, I have decided to try what everyone outside of academia thinks I do anyway: take time off during summer.

I am pleased to report that staying at home and chilling is, in fact, glorious. The kids have a smorgasbord of camp activities (the effort and time required to organize the summer for multiple kids are superhuman, as aptly described here) but are also often home. I have been taking it easy for a few weeks, wasting time online, binge-watching Netflix shows, reading, writing… I have been keeping tabs on my group, of course, as well as writing A LOT of letters for other people’s promotions (yep, I am that ancient now), but other than that — taking a break. To be honest, it sounds wrong and shameful to admit it.

The job is quite mentally and emotionally exhausting. I noticed that when I first got the job, how stressed I felt all the time, but I figured I’d just get better at it. Years went by, but the pressure hasn’t let up; in fact, it has increased: keeping up with the fields that move at a dizzying speed, remaining competitive for funds, constantly writing grants and papers and then getting slapped around by referees. Maybe I am a wuss, but it does take a toll. It’s a cumulative effect. The longer I do it, the harder it gets to make myself do it because so little of the job has to do with the exciting, brain-teasing parts of science, and so much has to do with putting yourself out there only to be bloodied and beaten up. Those of us trying to do science at the cutting edge know that the papers submitted to top journals aren’t generally wrong or uninteresting; they get desk-rejected not because there is anything wrong with them, but because they are deemed not hot enough. The same thing with funding — it’s not enough to do good work that you find exciting and that can take you in new directions; it has to be the hottest of the hot among a pretty large collection of hot topics. The gate-keeping nature of science rears its ugly head, in which you see a few big groups and their progeny effectively block outsiders from access to funding; it breaks my heart to see this play out at the detriment of some junior faculty who are supremely capable, yet pedigree-challenged for a variety of reasons.

I spend most of my workdays dealing with the politics and money in science, and too little with the students and the nourishing, exciting part of pure research.

Anyway, I am taking this summer off (well, some of it, anyway) in order to get into next year strong and ready to advise a new crop of group members (new grants, remember?). The year after next, I hope for a sabbatical and some overseas travel. I’d never had a proper sabbatical (had a baby during my so far one and only years ago); maybe working elsewhere for a while is what I need to recharge.

How is your summer going?  


Book Recommendations

philipa asked for some book recommendations, so here are a few!

Science fiction magazines: I love Interzone and have received sample packs of Analog and Asimov’s. In case it’s not obvious, I am partial to science fiction over (many, perhaps most subgenres of) fantasy.


Short story collections: Other Household Toxins (literary flash fiction by one of the masters of the form, Chris Allen) and Tales from the Realm (a dark fiction “Best of” collection from Aphotic Realm):


Nonfiction (on Clarissa‘s recommendation):


And, finally, plenty of sci-fi and dark/weird fiction that I have yet to read, but am optimistic. I hadn’t read Octavia Butler’s classic Kindred before, which is a shame, but there you have it. Claire North is one of my favorite writers (her book The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August is among my all-time faves) and I’m looking forward to what she’s got in store this time with 84K. Passing for Human is hilarious as cutting satire. Stay Crazy won a top British award. All Systems Red is part 1 of a series. The Unyielding is a body horror novella that drew me in based on its premise.


Finally, I am forbidden (by me) from buying new books until I’ve read the books above. The exceptions are the new books by Becky Chambers and John Scalzi, both of whom I love. So these have been preordered:


Happy reading! And please leave us your own recommendations in the comments.

An Incomplete List of Recent Grumpiness Triggers

  1. I have to write an evaluation letter for someone’s promotion. The person’s record is incomplete and also just not that great. This makes me very grumpy, because I don’t want to write a bad letter, yet it’s not at all easy to write a good one in this case.
  2. The student on the project I received funds for last year really wants to move to a project I received funds for this year. So I have a year of money spent with very little to show for it. That, too, makes me grumpy. I will have to bring in a postdoc.
  3. I have to submit an annual project report on the project where we have little to show for. (See 2).
  4. So far two new grants in, and maybe a third this year. It will be a good time to go on sabbatical in academic 2019-20. I have been doing and redoing calculations for covering self and students and postdocs and travel and summers and also 35% of academic-year salary that I won’t get during the sabbatical year and also external funds to possibly travel to the UK for a few months in Spring 2020.
  5. I spend far too much time on literary Twitter. Far too much. Even after reducing it significantly, it’s still too much.
  6. I feel I should be a good literary citizen, so I committed to reviewing several short-story collections, and now it just adds to my stress. How stupid am I? Very stupid.
  7. In related news, I read far too much short fiction. Seriously. Short fiction is like a double espresso shot to a novel’s or novella’s 20 oz (Stabucks’ venti) filter coffee. Too much short fiction per day (and yes, I read several stories every day, and that’s not even counting the days when I read microficton for my editorial gig) makes me jittery. I literally go to a novel for a gentler, longer-term fix that I can metabolize before my mind blows up.
  8. I think I need to buy a heavy bag. Or a rowing machine. Or both.
  9. There is a book chapter, a review paper, a complete paper remaining after a student left, and a paper that I have to write from scratch but all the data is here, all of which should be done by the end of the summer. And I am bored out of my wits with all of them. I honestly don’t want to work on any of them.
  10. Science, where is the science in all this? BWAHAHAHAHAHA!
  11. There are no fewer than four short fiction pieces and two nonfiction pieces that I want to write and would write if only the rest of the world would go away for maybe two weeks and I could somehow purge my mind of all the things I need to do ASAP (see 1 and 3). I think this would be one of the so-called writers’ retreats. I could probably afford one, but they sound so…never mind. I’m never gonna do one.
  12. I have always been introverted, in that I need time to myself and being alone makes me happy. But with my family as large as it is, and it being summer, it’s extremely hard to have any alone time at home. At work, there’s noise all fuckin’ summer in the classroom right next to me even though I’ve asked several times that they please not put the noisy summer-program people there as plenty of similar classrooms are empty all summer long. Anyone else having dreams of being on a deserted island for just a little bit with no one wanting story comments/paper drafts/juice and chips/cooked meals? No? Just me?
  13. Writing all this down makes it sound nutty. And mostly self-inflicted.
  14. Which reminds me of  “Brain on Fire,” a new Netflix movie I just saw, even though the movie isn’t about overwork or stress. It’s not a great movie, but it’s based on a compelling true story and is done decently enough.