Month: January 2017

On Conflict

The past few weeks have been challenging; the difficulties have had to do with dealing with people. I haven’t wronged anyone, but I have been unable to keep quiet after someone has wronged me, my family, or a professional group I am affiliated with. Predictably, conflict ensued.

In this society, and especially if you are female, everyone expects you to just swallow whatever crap they dish out in the name of peace. If you don’t and confront them instead over their their stupid, insensitive, or downright manipulative behavior, people are generally shocked that there is a reaction in the first place; they are used to getting away with social transgressions big and small by relying on other people’s conflict aversion.

The thing is, when someone is an a$$ towards me, whether they meant it or not, whether they had a bad day/month/toothache or another legitimate reason, they make me do work that I don’t want to do. In order to keep the peace and avoid conflict, I have to find a way to absorb the $hit. It saps my energy; it detracts from my work; it requires me to do the emotional labor of processing their a$$holishness.

No. If you crap on me or upset me, I will make sure that you don’t have a great day either. Next time, hopefully you will tread lightly. Yes, I know you will think I am a crazy bitch/difficult/hormonal. But I actually think we will get along much better once I have shown you some teeth.

Why is keeping the peace so paramount? Because nothing good comes from conflict, or at least so say several of my (Midwestern-born, church-going) politically savvy colleagues. I beg to disagree. Me knowing that I am not a mute trash receptacle into which people get to dump their steaming piles of $hit is a good thing that comes from conflict. Why should I be concerned about the well-being and comfort of the people who so clearly hold my own well-being and comfort in very low regard?


I had a few interactions with a very intense (female) colleague. They did rub me the wrong way and I have tried to figure out why. I like the colleague socially, so these negative feelings in the professional context were something new.

The problem is the following. She and another colleague have been thinking and working on something for a while (years) and are well versed in and very passionate about the topic. They want a very specific thing implemented as part of university policy and have even drafted some verbiage to that effect. They discussed the procedure with the higher-ups, who referred them to my committee. The problem is that the colleague came to me with this essentially finished product, whose value and necessity she felt should be self-evident to me, and basically pushed that it be discussed and adopted. My reaction (without the expletives) was, “WTF is going on? Where is this coming from, what the hell is all this, why is any of this necessary or urgent, and why exactly do you expect me to push it through my committee so quickly?” She seemed to be taken aback that I didn’t immediately see the greatness of the proposal; she seemed almost offended. The moral of the story is that, just because something is near or dear to your heart, you cannot expect other people to understand or care about it, let alone drop everything to follow your agenda. And, to be honest, having done a bit too much of your homework (and waving it in the face of the uninitiated) makes you seem pushy.

The epilogue is that I slowed the ball a little and had us talk several times over several weeks, so I’d have the time to figure out for myself it this is something my committee should be dealing with and how much jurisdiction we had, looked into some precedents and past practices, and I was eventually confident to distribute needed information for consideration by my committee. This also prompted us on the committee to look into the bigger picture and we will be making certain other changes to the policy alongside the ones the colleague proposed. The vote will happen, but not until the end of the semester. At schools with faculty governance, things do move, but probably not as fast as some people would like.


Adventures in Leadership

I have newfound appreciation for anyone who has been in a leadership or administrative role for a significant amount of time.

They must have gonads made of steel… Because people are the freakin’ worst.


I hate people who want to meet in person without letting me know at least roughly what it is that they want to meet about. These people always want to manipulate me; they want to ask something of me that they know I would not normally want to give or do, which is why they don’t want to disclose the topic. They want to put me on the spot, catch me off guard, and force my hand into an action of their choosing, while making sure I don’t have the time to think it through and counting on my (and many other people’s) propensity to avoid direct confrontation.

I hate having my niceness, or the expectation of niceness on account of being female, exploited like this (by men and women). I am too busy to waste time on meetings that will result in me being someone’s pawn. Therefore, as of a few months ago, I have started refusing to meet. Very politely, I get back to the person, asking for clarification as to what the discussion is to be about and offering to talk on the phone or continue via email.

I recently made someone quite angry (actually, to quote, they were “disappointed”) by iterating over email that the in-person discussion they requested with only the vaguest and most opaque of hints as to the topic was  likely a discussion that would need to include some other people, too.  The person got more and more agitated and aggressive with each iteration, changing their hints as to what the topic of the conversation was supposed to be, and finally in a huff deciding that things were blown out of proportion and they did not want to meet with me any more. (I know this person fairly well, and I am willing to bet good money that what they wanted to discuss was to get me to do something they preferred even though I had said ‘no’ multiple times.)


Along the same lines, I hate it when people say, “I prefer to meet in person, as email can be misunderstood. It doesn’t convey the body language etc. ”

This is bullshit. It always seems to be used by the people who totally meant to convey whatever passive aggressive/angry/irritated/otherwise negative crap they did, but since the recipient called them on it or actually got offended, they are now backpedaling and attributing it to email. It’s not email’s fault.

I dislike meeting in person precisely because of the body language. I have a short fuse and conveying that my veins are about to pop is not helpful. This insistence on  in-person communication always seems to be by the people who are confident in their ability to keep their cool, because they rightly believe they have the upper hand as they actually have all the pertinent information while the other party (me) does not and is thus in an inferior and precarious position.

I love email as a mode of communication because it helps me craft exactly the message I want to convey. Especially if an issue is sensitive, I can edit until I have achieved what I feel to be the right pitch. I can be nice, helpful, and funny; I can be formal or casual; I can be passive-aggressive or plainly aggressive… I can be who I want or need to be. I can respond, rather than react.


Recently, I was put in a position of being yelled at by a higher admin; this was my first one-on-one conversation with this admin. Luckily, it was over the phone, and it solidified my conviction that sometimes not seeing the other person’s face is best. I was not told what the discussion was to be about, but I thought I knew based on some earlier information. It turned out the conversation was about something else, and I got yelled at for doing something I hadn’t done and for not having done what I had been supposed to in this person’s view, even though I had done precisely what I had been supposed to according to the job description. I pushed back fairly hard and the person backpedaled. Then another admin called me two weeks later to explain that the first one had been yelling not because of why he had been yelling (better not, because I hadn’t done anything wrong), but because of some other underlying stress and perceived grievance that dates years back and has nothing to do with me.


A third person got all huffy because I pointed out that they hadn’t done a good job on something important and they needed to redo it. The person was all upset and told on me to the admin above (which prompted the aforementioned yelling); they said I was wasting their time (trust me, I wasn’t). This person is now redoing what they were supposed to and is going to miss the first deadline to turn it in. They are now upset with me anew. Why? Because I am not flexible and permissive enough to allow them to miss the deadline  (which would put everyone who needs to do the follow-up work in a terrible time crunch), but rather I told them to shoot for the next deadline that is only weeks away.


Is it that people are a$$holes in general, or that interacting with a woman or me in particular makes them particularly a$$holish? If instead of me there were someone with more Y chromosomes in a position of some leadership, would people be less likely do double down and become aggressive when told that no, they cannot have what they think they are entitled to?


I work hard and I believe I have a good sense of what is fair and just. I really dislike it when reasonable rules are bent and when other hard-working people are taken advantage of by those who think they are owed special treatment on account of nothing at all.

Where does a request for reasonable accommodation end and a high-maintenance primadonna status begin? When what you want puts undue burden on those around you, when it creates unnecessary work for them, when it messes up their lives. When you require ridiculous scheduling gymnastics from many people in order to accommodate your very special circumstances that are not special at all, as everyone else has them, you are just being an a$$hole about them.


That colleague who said once that I didn’t have the right personality type for administration was correct. I don’t. I can’t deal with people. Many are self-serving and irrational, and it affects me profoundly. I lose work time; I vent to my husband (which is probably not helping his longevity); I clutter the blogosphere with screeds of fire and brimstone.

I also suffer from chronic self-doubt, probably inextricable from the impostor syndrome. Even when I rationally know that I did all that I could and that I am not wrong, somewhere deep inside there is this seed of doubt, making me wonder if I am at fault, if I am the reason that there is a conflict, that things are not smooth, that people around me seem unhappy. Unfortunately, insecure people are always vulnerable to manipulation. Luckily, my husband is my trusted voice or reason and reassurance.

It seems that the most effective admins are those who are somehow able to not take the $hit personally at all, while being able to be nice and smooth enough to make everyone feel like they are being heard and appreciated, and who then go do what they wanted to anyway. I don’t know if one can develop this tough hide or one is just naturally less emotional, with a  really cool temperament… But not getting ruffled by personal attacks in the context of the job seems to be critical for long-term leadership or admin success. My response to people giving me $hit is always, ” I soooo don’t need this. Why am I doing this? I have papers and grants to write.”

Emailer, PhD

Today, I received 156 non-junk, directed, relevant-to-me work emails. I composed and sent out 102 distinct emails. I booked three trips for myself (panel, invited talk, program review), made itineraries for two visitors coming in the next couple of weeks (which included herding faculty cats to meet, as well as booking restaurants for meals and rooms for talks/meetings with student groups). I rescheduled a meeting that was very complicated to move because it involved many very busy people. I assigned about two dozen tasks for the committees I am chairing, emailed regarding the interview postmortem for the faculty search I am involved in, and discussed the procedures for the disbursement of certain department funds.

My typing speed is becoming enviable while spiders are spinning webs between my idle neurons.


Annorlunda Books has a new release — the novella Caresaway! Go check it out!

From Rebecca Schuman, the contemporary American university in seven emails (here, also here).

I have been reading “The Professor Is In: The Essential Guide to Turning Your PhD Into a Job” by Karen Kelsky. It’s interesting and very engaging, and I believe it is an invaluable job-hunting resource for people in the humanities and social sciences. (Some of the wisdom translates well to the physical or biological sciences, but much does not, as the cultures do differ.) The book has been reviewed extensively on Amazon, so I won’t do it here. What I wanted to highlight is a rather personal essay by Kelsky from her website “The Professor Is In” on how her successful business as an academic coach and the accompanying book came to be (she also writes a column at Chronicle Vitae). She completely left academia after ~15 years; at the time she held the position of department head at a midwestern R1. She cites two key reasons for leaving, one of which was that she felt that her soul was dying because of the culture of the place. The essay describes elements of the culture that are common at research universities and that I recognize at my place of employment. The issues she discusses are exacerbated for expat academics away from metropolitan areas: the locals are indifferent to or even uncomfortable around foreigners (or perhaps certain kinds of foreigners), so that non-church and non-work friendships are exceedingly difficult to forge, yet work relationships are usually just “colleagueships,” i.e., situational friendships at best but usually just decades-long civil coexistence. If our family were to pack up and leave today, my kids’ friends might be sad, but not a soul would truly care about either DH or me leaving (beyond a few being irritated that my massive teaching and service now have to be covered by someone else). But, it is what it is, I suppose; it makes me cherish our little family and the connections I do make, IRL or online.

Speaking of connections, here’s an interesting story from Louie CK.


Happy New Year & Delurkpalooza

Welcome to 2017!

Sadly, this year WordPress won’t be producing the lovely annual report we have come to expect from them (see last year’s and the one before), as it is apparently too demanding of their resources. They promised to come back in 2017 with an equivalent that requires less manpower.

So I have assembled my own report, based on WordPress stats and a bit of data mining.

General: The blog had 194,296 views; 63,616 visitors; 140 published posts; and 989 comments. 


The most read posts: A Good Little Girl was viewed almost 24k times! It’s likely the most widely read piece of writing I have ever produced.)


Visitors came from all over the world!


Top referrers are:


Top 2016 commenters and the number of comments they posted in 2016 (this info was nontrivial to extract, and it may or may not be entirely accurate):

nicoleandmaggie 46

prodigal academic 36

alex 34

gasstationwithoutpumps 33

jojo 33

artnscience 31

lyra211 29

Nicoleangmaggie won for the 3rd year in a row — congrats, nicoleandmaggie! They will get to enjoy some free caffeinated beverages, as in the years past.
If you are among the above top commenters and would like a copy of Academaze, please let me know via email (xykademiqz at gmail). Even if not, thank you very much for commenting!

Further 2016 honorable mentions in the commenting category go to  Anon (fe******@gmail), gwinne, Cloud, pyrope, grumpy, Rheophile, qaz, and Cherish.

Additional prizes: 

Sadly, the Academaze game gained very little traction so I am assuming we won’t have any other takers. So far, the two people who played and who thus won are:

Alyssa G, with 4 points

Clarissa, with 2 points

They are both entitled to their prizes, as discussed here.

Aaaaaand, last but not least… The first week of January is the International Blog Delurking Week (Jan 1-7, 2017)!


Please say ‘hi’ in the comments, whether you have ever commented or not — don’t be shy! Tell us a few things about yourself, what you hope to achieve in 2017, and/or what you would like to read about at xykademiqz in the coming year.

Thanks to everyone who has read and commented in 2016! I know blogging is considered “sooooo 2010” and much of the action has moved to Facebook and Twitter, but I don’t think the blog, as a medium, is going anywhere. It remains a great outlet for the people who prefer to write and read longer pieces. So thank you all again for the support, and I am looking forward to another year of xykademiqz!