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!

Blinky Blinks

Well, this daily blogging business in November hasn’t worked out so well, has it? I’m sorry, dear readers, but what can I do? There’s stuff that’s on my mind that isn’t really blog fodder and I already force myself to do plenty that I don’t want to do in real life; I refuse to do that when it comes to my hobbies.

Instead, here is some interesting reading. If you read just one, I recommend the fourth one (the one in The Cut).

Publishing with literary agents



Happy Turkeycide!

Thursday was Thanksgiving, also DH’s birthday, so I cooked all day. Below: Thanksgiving spread plus the stuffed cabbage dish I always make for DH’s birthday, which will be consumed later.

On Friday, roadtrip with the younger kids to an amusement park four hours away.  Saturday: roadtrip to spend the afternoon with a friend from grad school, two hours away. Sunday: hopefully zzzzzzzz.

Evil Collaborator

Wally asks:

I’m curious if you have any advice on how to have a decent working relationship AND a collaborator/co-author relationship with someone you just can’t stand. One of my colleagues is duplicitous, a horrible gossip, trashes people (incl me) behind their backs, and tries to–and has successfully, edge people out of projects that they want to take over (they are trying to do this to me now). This person is exalted by leadership – but I just can’t stand them. However, we do research in the same topic area, and working as co-authors and having a decent collegial relationship is important. Any advice?

This sounds pretty awful.

What I don’t understand is why you would have to collaborate with this person. Collaboration is a pretty close professional interaction, a kind of professional intimacy, if you will. I couldn’t collaborate (or at least not long term) with someone who I thought was a terrible person. I have to trust the collaborators to be honest, to pull their weight, to respect me and my group’s contribution, to be someone who’s safe to brainstorm ideas with without judgment or ridicule. Our professional values have to be pretty closely aligned in order for the collaboration to work. I don’t see how a backstabbing, opportunistic, duplicitous individual would be a good collaborator to anyone.

Wally, do you absolutely have to interact with this person? Like, is there shared equipment involved? You can’t just get around them? Why do you feel you have to be co-authors?

This person sounds like someone I would avoid in a wide berth and, in case I couldn’t just get out of the interaction, I would be civil but aloof, and make myself scarce as soon as possible.

There is a colleague I used to be friends and collaborators with years ago (at least I thought we were friends, but it was likely never true). However, he offended me badly: he badmouthed one of my grad students in front of the whole faculty, via email, because my student got an award that the colleague thought his students should have received. This colleague generally thinks he’s better than everyone else and is quite unpopular (brings in money, but doesn’t pull his weight in teaching or service). I avoid interactions with him as much as I can. I do not sabotage him or his students, but I don’t do him any favors or share any information, good or bad, with him either. I consider him an arrogant, selfish, untrustworthy snake (the arrogance will be his downfall, because he genuinely thinks everyone else in the department is stupid and unaware that of how he is and how he operates).

Wally’s colleague seems to be the same. Part of political savvy is knowing who the good guys are and whom to absolutely avoid and try to protect self from. If most of the rest of the colleagues are OK, then you can all help each other and basically shut the bad guy out.

A friend of mine said about collaborations: “Collaborations are like kissing. You wouldn’t do it with someone just because they’re next door.” I have always found that I do my best work with a few really good collaborators and the rest on my own; it’s much better for productivity and sanity than nominally numerous but mostly stressful, dysfunctional collaborations.

Blogosphere, what say you? How should Wally proceed? 



I am sorry that I’ve been a delinquent November blogger. *hangs head in shame*

I went out a lot this weekend (comedy with DH on Friday; dinner with a mom friend on Saturday; show with Eldest on Sunday) and between that, home chores/stresses, and trying to walk 1-1.5 hrs every day, the time just wasn’t there. But the fresh (if freezing) air did wonders.

Here’s some lovely music. I should be back tomorrow, time permitting.

Objects of Beauty

(Remember this movie? No? No surprise; I’m ancient.)

I walked by my “first love house” today. We had given an offer on it in the first year here, but it had been declined. It is for the best. The house isn’t all that pretty and it’s on a busy-ish street, but it was the first house I’d fallen in love with. Its layout (two-story/tri-level) had been what I’d always wanted but never knew that I had.

The following year, we had been able to put a larger downpayment, get a better interest rate, and I’d found a house with the same layout and all the other stuff that I’d loved in the first one but none of the downsides (e.g., shaggy dark green carpet). The offer had been accepted and the rest is history. We’ve been in this house for 12 years (almost 13) and I love it. We use all of the space (3,400 sqft).  I often dream how we’ve sold this house and bought a new one and I spend the whole dream lamenting that decision, trying to make it work with the new house, not understanding why we’d have ever given the house up.

But my love for our house wouldn’t have been possible without the one that got away, so today I took a few seconds to appreciate it. It’s in the same general neighborhood and has changed owners at least twice in the years we’ve lived in ours. I hope whoever is in it now loves it. Houses need to be loved.


People say that, if you really want to do something, you can’t wait for accumulate the perfect gear in order to get going. I used to believe that, too, but now I beg to differ. After years of very mixed success with bringing lunch to work, I bought a lunch box and it changed everything. I love it; I never forget it, and its very existence is a gentle and welcome reminder that I need to pack lunch. Honestly, since I bought it, and it’s been months now, I’ve become so much better about taking care of myself at work, about bringing good food and good beverages along. The lunch box made everything better. Btw, it’s this one. You will recognize the black and purple color palette, the same as on the blog. Because nothing — nothing — is cooler than black and purple (said every sci-fi movie set designer).


Dear readers, are there any inanimate objects you love?