Home with Kids Craziness, Too Much Service, and Generally Get Off My Lawn

This holiday, like most holidays, was not relaxing at all.

I spent it trying to balance tending to the kids, doing chores, cooking, and doing some work. The work load was “light”: reviewing papers and proposals (did some, declined some after having initially accepted, still not done); creating and posting a final project assignment for my graduate class (done, days after I was supposed to); screening faculty applications for an interdisciplinary cluster search (I didn’t finish that). I spent the whole day on Friday correcting a student’s dissertation draft (thankfully that’s done, as he’s defending soon).

I haven’t finished all I was supposed to, my home office and whole house are a mess, and I most certainly didn’t relax. I was supposed to cook a belated favorite dish for DH’s birthday, didn’t get to.

It’s hard to describe to the people who don’t have multiple kids (or whose kids are well behaved or not particularly energetic) just how completely crazy my days at home really are. I do not get 5 min of uninterrupted time until they are asleep. Somebody constantly needs to eat or drink or eat again or is being badgered by his brother or is crying or wants to play a video game at the exact same time as his brother even though he could have done it for hours before said brother got up or someone has lost a toy/shoe/chapstick(?) or has peed on self and needs to be changed or has spilled food/drink on self for no reason or doesn’t want these socks but wants those other socks that happen to be dirty/have holes/are too small… And don’t get me started on having to think of what to feed them all, multiple times a day, and they all eat a lot and often and are picky and just drive me nuts.

We went to see Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Since having our own 3 boys is apparently not enough trouble, DH and I brought along two more (MB’s friend and Eldest’s friend), so for those of you keeping count that’s a total of 5 boys that we took to the movies. Smurf got bored within 3 minutes but was amused for another 27 by sharing popcorn with MB’s friend, after which he spent the whole movie complaining of thirst and generally being a pest… a super cute one, but still a pest. The movie is okay, probably would’ve been even more okay if I hadn’t been constantly watching a small fidgety human. We had two cars, of which Eldest drove one home, I took the other and wanted to go grocery shopping, while DH took the younger two and MB’s friend for a walk and some Pokemon Go… Until about 20 min later, when they were all cold and it had started raining, so I had to go get them.

Phew. I got that out, so I feel better.


I have also been thinking a lot about professional service. My salary comes from the department budget during the 9 months of the academic year. That salary is for teaching, for supervising graduate students, and for institutional service. One can say that, in return for bringing in research dollars to the university, the university assumes that I will do research and is happy to pay part of my salary to cover my academic-year research time.

But there are professional-service aspects on which it’s really hard to justify spending my academically funded time. For instance, peer review, especially for for-profit publishers. Why does any of my university-paid time go to providing reviews (free of charge) to for-profit publishers (Springer, Elsevier, etc)? Or acting as an editor for a for-profit publisher? People say, “Well, peer review is important, if you don’t do it, who will?” Well, then pay me for my time if it’s so valuable. Offer to give universities significant discounts based on how much their faculty review.


I feel like I am getting worse at fending off service requests. I have to be like an addict in recovery and completely reject all requests (no such thing as moderation), because otherwise I will accept one or two (and I am particularly vulnerable when I’ve cleared my load) and, before you know it, I have completely fallen off the wagon and I have my “Pending” folder full of papers whose review does nothing for me and takes a ton of my already heavily obligated time.


I generally wish it weren’t so goddamn easy to ask people for stuff. It  puts the onus on the one asked to have to refuse, and just the act of evaluating, however briefly, a request before refusing or, due to fatigue or guilt, accepting even though you shouldn’t, depletes your daily quota for making good decisions. And I need the energy to actually keep my brain running, and to work with students, and to take care of my kids.

Since we switched to Office 356 at work, spam has become relentless. I am blocking it every way imaginable and still get way too much. In unrelated news, I will have to get a new cell phone, a new phone number, and a new provider, because I get way too many spam calls, so many that I have to keep my phone on “do not disturb” which defeats the purpose of having a cell phone.

Honestly, I think that the older I am, the worse I am at managing my work and my life.  And that sucks.


A final bit of wisdom. When an administrator calls you on the phone or emails to ask if they can call you on the phone, be very afraid. They want to talk in order to butter you up using their admin wiles and then lure you into accepting “… just do this small service task that you’d be perfect for and it won’t be too much work at all…” DO. NOT. ACCEPT! Run like hell. Trust me on this. They are lying, it will be a ton — A TON! — of thankless work and will use up way too much of your time. Let them dupe another sucker.


  1. That is such a great point about professional service.

    Ours is ‘paid’ to the extent that it gets a line item on a CV which is evaluated for university sponsored raises. Yet arguably that could go to any number of things…

  2. You are so absolutely right about service (and about how easy it is to sucker academics into doing service – I swear if I hear “You’re the only one who can do this right” one more time… The worst is when they’re correct and you are the best person for the job (or you are foolishly arrogant enough to believe them), and if it’s something you care about….)

    On the other hand, I really wouldn’t want to try to monetize our service into microcareers. I have a lot of friends who are trying to make a living off of that and it’s a disaster. No one will ever pay you what the service really costs. Would you do a review for $100? For $50? How long does a review actually take you to do? Ask an adjunct professor what teaching a class is worth to the university. (Plus, I think you’ll find that companies are notorious for not paying what they promised. How much effort have you had to spend getting reimbursed for travel from visiting conferences or other universities? More than once, I’ve decided to f*** it because fighting the reimbursement isn’t worth my time and I don’t still have the records to prove that they haven’t paid me back yet. Ask your friends doing freelance writing about how publishers undercount books or just forget to send the check.) If you think managing a lab is a mess, now imagine that you have to track down every $100 promise.

    I much prefer the old-school system – the university pays you a decent salary in large part for your reputation. Your reputation is built on doing “free” service for the community. Maybe a review gets you a line on a CV or an editorship. (Yes, this has lots of problems, particularly in how certain people get more recognized than others for doing the same thing, and how reputation is not necessarily an accurate quantitative assessment of your contributions, but when it works, I think it works well.)

    But yeah, I feel your pain and I’m glad that the travel holidays are over (at least for me). I find that the older I get, the less “slack” I have. Which means that when even a small thing goes wrong, I don’t have the energy or time or whatever unit of effort we’re budgeting in to deal with it.

  3. I really wouldn’t want to try to monetize our service into microcareers.

    qaz, oh, definitely. I really would like publishers for whom we provide this service to pay back by providing drastically reduced or free subscription to our institutions, for instance, because it sure as hell seems like my salary pays for peer review on which a third party makes profit.

    Another thing is that, when someone offers to pay, I think it’s actually easier to say no than based on altruistic reasons. People did a study with how late people were to pick up kids from daycare vs disincentives. Once they introduced a monetary penalty for picking up kids late, the problem actually got worse, because people could get rid of guilt/shame/whatever for inconveniencing teachers by simply paying a few bucks. I will see if I can find that study somewhere. So when someone offers to pay for the review, I can say I don’t care, I don’t need the money, rather than hand-wringe on nebulous issues such as whether I owe it to the greater scientific good.

    I find that the older I get, the less “slack” I have. Which means that when even a small thing goes wrong, I don’t have the energy or time or whatever unit of effort we’re budgeting in to deal with it.

    Ditto. I think it’s the overall volume of work (it does increase with seniority) plus I think the cumulative effects of exhaustion (getting older, plus some sort of mental fatigue).

  4. When female colleagues with children tell me how they get work done over breaks, I always wonder how. (I know how the childless folks and the men with wives who do the dirty parenting work do it!) I literally can’t get 10 uninterrupted minutes at home most of the time, and if I DO get 10 uninterrupted minutes, I have to spend that time on things like laundry/shopping/dishes/cleaning/scheduling/insurance negotiations/etc or my entire family logistical situation will collapse. Who are these people with quiet easy children?

  5. I’m so, so glad my 2 kids are teenagers now! They actually go out with friends and can otherwise amuse themselves when I need to hole up in my home office and grind out a grant. I still have to materialize lots of food once a day for them, but at least they love going out with me to the local grill for a burger instead of having a home cooked meal and we do so a couple times a week at least. I’m careful to over tip and my son sometimes orders 2 burgers to increase the bill even more for them. It’s slightly embarrassing to be such a regular at a bar, but the other kids’ moms are not there so who cares? Also my kids actually seem to like the relaxed environment and they will sit and talk to me about their lives during dinner while we listen to the loud 80’s rock music played in the bar, so it actually counts as quality parenting time in my opinion. Plus now they are fans of CCR and Queen, so there’s that.

    In terms of service etc, about 5 years ago I got smart and stopped doing anything that didn’t “pay well” in one way or another (I’m tenured equivalent – I wouldn’t try this before that). By which I mean either % FTE or it will beef up my cv in some way that I really want. For example, I do federal grant review because it’s prestigious on a CV, I get to hobnobb with famous people in my field, and if you do enough your grant deadlines are made more flexible which is a huge help to me. But I never review papers for journals anymore unless it’s the top 3 journals in my field because why give it away for free? I also only teach and do other types of teaching service if I’m made one of the program directors and they give me %FTE or otherwise secretarial FTE or something I can use.

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