Month: November 2016

Frivolous Friday

My anger has temporarily abated. Also, I haven’t been able to do much work over the past couple of days, and that has to stop.

I am not inspired to write, as I am all written out, having commented elsewhere and I feel generally empty.

Hence, food. Specifically, pics of two random meals I cooked earlier this week.


Fig. 1: Beef stir fry with broccoli, carrots, and butternut squash, over Israeli couscous. I bought the latter on a whim, as I had never seen it before at my grocery store,  and it was a big hit — sticky and delicious.


Fig. 2: Baked potato, loaded with sour cream and bacon bits. Baked potatoes are a perfect dish for afterschool activities: come from work 15 min early, prep and put them in oven (individually wrapped in Al foil); when back ~1.5-2 hrs later, they are hot and ready to eat.

Well, That Happened

Not sure what else there is to say.  Michael Moore called it in July.

I am not sad, just low-grade angry and mostly numb. We are in for a lot of $hit.

But I am not entirely surprised. I have been telling myself that people couldn’t be so hateful to elect Trump, that reason would prevail and we’d elect Hillary.
It turns out, people are exactly that hateful. People are bigoted assholes who want the world to burn. People will vote for a man, literally any man, no matter how despicable, instead of a woman. The US is way more sexist than racist, and it is pretty fuckin’ racist.

There was nothing wrong with Hillary. She’s a smart and accomplished woman and would’ve made a great president. The campaign was run well. To whoever feels they can say “But people just don’t like her, I don’t know why,” the reason is sexism, the reason is misogyny. “But-but-but emails! Benghazi! Neo-con! Hawkish! Untrustworthy! Corrupt!” No. That is bullshit. The real reason is misogyny. The wish to punish uppity women. A candidate can do or say the most vile things imaginable about women, and he gets elected not despite of them, but precisely because of them, because enough male voters like what he’s saying and wish they could be saying and doing the exact same themselves. The parents of many of my students and perhaps the students themselves likely voted for Trump; these students will sit in my class and think that middle-aged women like me are pieces of meat past its consumption date and thus worth nothing, or even less than nothing because of my accent.

This is about returning the country to rich white men, as executed for the most part by the not-exactly-rich white men who think they are entitled to the same, and are sure they would totally be getting all they are entitled to if it weren’t for women, blacks, Latinos, gays, foreigners, and don’t forget the godless — none of them knowing their proper place! But Trump will show them all!

Fuck the bridge-the-divide bull$hit. You voted for Trump, you voted for the divide. You are hateful and I want nothing to do with  you.

I will probably be scared soon, as we are in for a world of $hit. We elected a misogynist, racist, and xenophobe. The Republicans now have the legislative and executive branches of the government under their control.

Right now I am angry, disappointed, and bugging my husband to move to Australia.


Many academics have a primary affiliation (“tenure home”) and courtesy (“zero time”) appointments in other departments or interdisciplinary centers. For instance, I have a  primary and two courtesy appointments. There are also academics with split appointments, where two or more departments pay parts of the salary and require teaching and service from the faculty member.

If you have appointments with multiple departments  what do you list as your affiliation on papers?



Book Review: Tenure Hacks

I bought “Tenure Hacks: The 12 Secrets to Making Tenure” by Russell James a few months ago. Amazon kept listing it as one the books that people view or buy together with mine, and it looked interesting.  (“A brutally Machiavellian guidebook for the current or aspiring assistant professor,” says the subtitle.)

The book was published through Amazon’s self-publishing arm, Creative Space. He did a good job with the layout and editing, probably far better than I would have done if I had gone the self-publishing route. The book is available in paperback only. I think it is too expensive ($28.00 for a 144-page paperback), yet, I did pay, so who’s the sucker here?

James promises a no-nonsense, in-your-face, slightly or not-so-slightly uncomfortable account of what one must do to earn tenure at a research school, and that’s exactly what he delivers. Much of his advice is quite accurate. He makes a clear case that your main value to the university is the ability to bring in grant money, and that in order to be truly competitive for these funds you have to become *the* expert in a niche area, rather than just one of the people who are active in a broad field. As the go-to person in the niche, you will be the obvious choice as the recipient of precious funding. He drives this message home quite relentlessly, which is a good thing. It is important to understand and accept that dabbling is not a winning strategy for the untenured.

He also discusses, in an interesting way, why your colleagues are not really invested in your future, that they (including the chair) may pull you in all directions with the work that you feel you might have to do but that doesn’t ultimately benefit you, and that — and this is very important — it’s really no skin off their back if you don’t get tenure. Becoming a superstar in an emerging fundable area is how you inoculate yourself against getting fired, and everything else is just a distraction.

In the same vein, James advises not to waste time and energy on politics (because it’s not your job to right the wrongs in a department of which you are still not a full citizen), to do minimal service (he advises how to graciously get out of unwanted tasks and to diligently document everything that you do do), and to also minimize the time spent on teaching (e.g., by using other people’s materials rather than developing everything from scratch) as it won’t really help your tenure case at a research school. You will be able to do all the teaching improvement you want later, post tenure.

There is one bit that I just couldn’t stomach, no matter how hard I tried to view it through the lens of in-your-face uncomfortable honesty — he advocates doctoring your (RMP) page by posting fake reviews yourself from different IP addresses over an extended period! (Actually, he advocates posting the reviews you actually received from students in official evaluations.) Reading this recommendation just made me queasy. Even if you think RMP is an abomination, I cannot imagine stooping so low as to manipulate it.

Overall, “Tenure Hacks” is engaging, somewhat rage inducing, and sobering. It is well written, but is also (by design) a somewhat uncomfortable read. If you are interested in getting tenure at a research school, and especially if you are on the tenure track right now and fear that you are not doing well but unsure what to fix, then this book is definitely worth your time. It is also definitely overpriced.

Is It Bad to Be a Small-Town Grocer?

Professors in the sciences have research groups. The groups range from small (the professor and just one or two additional people), to sizable operations (a dozen or two) and sometimes mega groups (even I have heard of Langer’s mega group at MIT, even though I have nothing to do with that field).

Today someone said that being small and having impact are mutually exclusive. The exact words were that it’s unrealistic or even impossible to achieve certain lofty research goals with a small group, and that if you were ambitious you would obviously want a larger operation.

I both agree and disagree.

We recently hired some excellent junior faculty. They are doing really great but their groups are not giant, at least not yet. They are working well with their students, building up expertise in the lab, and ramping up to publishing their first independent papers. They are NOT lacking in ambition.

My group is sizable for a theorist in my field (usually 6-8 graduate students, 1-2 undergrads, maybe a postdoc), and is midsize for my department. There are people with bigger groups, but those those with groups significantly larger than mine are not numerous. I run a lean operation, but we do good work and we publish at a good rate. I think we are making an impact. I don’t know how much of an impact I would be having with a larger group. I know I would not have as much time with individual students or the ability to work on papers as much as I do now.

However, if you want to make a splash or pursue hot, fast-moving trends, you need a large group, with many highly qualified people. This modus operandi requires serious grant-writing abilities, and, depending on the agency, usually serious schmoozing abilities, as well. If you are like me and have a smaller group with mostly students, that means you cannot pursue fast-moving trends, but you can make an impact if you are thoughtful about the work you pursue, create a niche, and play to your strengths.

There is also variability across fields. One of my friends in applied math scoffs at the paper-production rate in another field as too high, with consecutive papers insufficiently different from one another or not having intellectual heft. It cuts the other way, too, when there are university-level awards, and being in a field where it is common to produce a lot and get large grants definitely looks much more dazzling than a thinner CV, populated by fewer (even if much longer and more “meaty”) papers and little grant money.

I feel that science could and should accommodate for different group styles. But it seems we have adopted enough quantitative metrics that are a proxy to impact but are really highly correlated with topical hotness and group productivity (counting grant dollars, citation numbers, h-index) that it is hard to see how it all doesn’t indicate that larger is better, as more smart people produce more per unit time than fewer. In many fields, especially lab-based ones, I feel it is becoming increasingly difficult to get a faculty job and keep the group going as a small-town grocer.

What say  you, blogosphere? Are grocers out? Will they all be replaced by mega food chains? What are the strengths and weaknesses of the two modes of operation? Is one clearly better and not just what the funding agencies and citation metrics seem to lean toward?