Month: August 2018

Reader Question: Switching Departments Within an Institution

Reader PT (pre-tenure) has a question:

Has anyone switched departments within the same institution, say pre-tenure? I was hired as part of a multi-unit search, matched to two, and shunted to one for political reasons. Now the department has known issues, and my research interests better match the other unit, which is the background for my training. They are also much larger, have actual procedures and distributed responsibility.

Wise and worldly academic readers, what do you say?


*tap-tap* Is this thing on?

Hello academic blogosphere, I hoped you enjoyed your summer. I’ve been MIA for the most part and it’s been restful (again, for the most part; another week of house guest; DH jokes we might need a second vacation).

You thought I’d be back with some academic fare? PSYCH! as my kids would say. No such luck for you today, dear readers. Instead, put on your oxygen mask and goggles, we’re diving into my navel again.

So it turns out that Eldest doesn’t know me. Apparently, he, who’s known me all his life and with whom I have always had  great rapport, thinks I am some sort of a super tough lady. He has no idea, because as he rightly says he’s never seen any evidence to support the following assertion, that on the inside I am a giant hypersensitive sniveling wuss who feels and is bothered by everything, thinks everything is her fault, and that how I relate to the world is really through a twelve-inch-thick armor so as to protect said sniveling wuss from getting its feelings hurt (again!) and to prevent the world from exploiting the wuss’s myriad vulnerabilities.

I despise my vulnerabilities/wimpiness/mopiness. So much that I channel everything into rage. Yes, just like a dude. My transformation is complete.

For instance, DH’s brother is here and was playing some old-timey folk songs from Godforsakia. These are the songs often played at weddings in rural parts and it’s also the music to which people get piss-drunk after breakups.

That stuff is forbidden around me (not that anyone would play it; DH stopped craving it  long ago) because I get all nostalgic and mopey and I abhor it. Also, the pop culture stuff we listened to and watched in our youth is also forbidden, for the same reason — hatred of inescapable weepiness.

We are where we are. We live how we live. I understand being nostalgic fresh off the plane. Nostalgia after 20 years in a different country is useless, self-indulgent bullshit. A luxury. This is my credo. YMMV.

In interpersonal relationships, I always wait for the other shoe to drop. Other than my immediate family (that’s DH and the boys) I am always on the lookout to be disappointed. I don’t want to try to be friends with moms of my kids’ buddies because I don’t want to freak them out by being the needy mess that I am; they are also giving all they’ve got to not freak out over my accent; better to stay away. I think I terrify most of my colleagues. How people make friends in this country is still mysterious to me and will likely remain so forever. DH doesn’t need people at all; I kind of envy him for that. I do need people, but the interactions are always a disappointment — they are either pro forma or, if I let my guard down, I am too much. So, to be accurate, the interactions are a disappointment because I am.

Enough of the disgusting pity party. I have some writerly friends and am supposed to even go to a writing workshop (!). I expect the workshop to potentially be useful but for meeting writing friends to be a letdown, because I am far cooler on literary twitter and here than IRL. (Not hard; I am really lame IRL; not being humble, it’s true.) Actually, I might still just back out at the last minute from the workshop.

So my son thinks I am really tough, which I probably am, and it makes me sad because I thought my kids have been the only ones who’ve always loved me unconditionally, for whom I’ve always been enough. It turns out, that’s because they, too, don’t really know me. Do we ever really know each other? I suppose I don’t really know my parents; I kind of do know my mom now, but my dad I still don’t. Or perhaps I know them as much as you can know people who are family but not soulmates.

In other news, which on the surface aren’t related to the above but kind of are, I’ve written a lot of horror, dark fantasy, and dark sci-fi in recent weeks. Horror would not be a genre I’d peg myself to write when I started out, because I’m a scaredy cat. Seriously, I can’t watch horror movies because I can’t sleep, but I love reading creepy stuff, I really do, and it turns out I can write it. I guess one needs to be able get creeped out in order to creep others out. I’ve had a  really disturbing body horror short story accepted for publication and two more awaiting, alongside a fairy tale (!), a dark sci-fi story, and a whole bunch of shorter dark sci-fi stuff.

Writing speculative fiction is much more comfortable than writing creative nonfiction or even realistic fiction, because the latter two make me feel too exposed. Speculative fiction gives me just enough of a protective buffer, a cloak of sorts, that I am able to relax and delve into some real feelings and visceral stuff. Writing fiction is an amazing, half-otherworldly process. When you hit “the flow,” it’s you but not entirely you; it comes from a semi-conscious place. Writers tell you that the characters take on a life of their own, and they are not lying. It’s a little like giving birth vaginally without meds. When the time comes to push, you feel an overwhelming urge to do so; there is no stopping it or controlling it. (Yes, what you see on TV people yelling push is complete bullshit, unless you’re numb on pain meds and don’t feel contractions). Hehe — I told you I write gross stuff now.

Concluding this navel-dive drivel.


Do we really ever know other people?

Do our kids really know us as people? Should they? Can they, once they are adults?

How to cure/survive being a square peg surrounded by round holes?

Is human connection overrated? Is it OK if I spend the rest of my life having only small talk with everyone except my immediate family, writing body horror, and spilling my metaphorical guts to strangers on the blog?

How do I quench infinite impatience that is the main reason why my stories don’t go as high up the publication totem pole as they could (cause I cannot/will not wait 6 months for a form no from a magazine that doesn’t permit simultaneous submission)? 

Aaaaaargh! (okay, technically not a question)

How’s your summer going?

Update and reader question

Sorry I’ve been MIA. I’ve been busy, but not with work — with writing. I have cranked out quite a few stories over the past week or so and am nearing the end of my DIY writing workshop: basically, I’ve tried to sit and write without guilt all day every day if I feel like it, and I definitely feel like it. (All day = waking hours minus feeding everyone.) Feeling like writing is enhanced by the presence of the house guest. Ahem.

I started writing fiction a year ago and it’s amazing how much better I am today. And as the bandanna-wearing bad boy of literature said, writing is an art and the horizon is infinite, so you can always get better.

In other news, of the four single-PI grants I submitted last year, I received two, one was withdrawn, and one was declined. With the grants from last year, I’m set for a little while and can go on sabbatical in 2019-20. I need this fuckin’ sabbatical if I am to regain some semblance of passion for my job. Yay for new folks in the group, not yay for having to teach them everything from scratch yet again.

The declined grant was, of course, NSF. They really really don’t like me a single PI, no sirree. They will fund me as a collaborator, not as a solo PI. This year was the third time I submitted the grant, the third time it was recommended, and I got some nutty reviews (I had E/V and G/P; seriously, the same grant is both excellent and poor?). I love it how nobody can believe that  I can do the things I can, no matter how hard I show that we’ve thought about everything.

In semi-related news, there’s a magazine I adore, which really feels like it would gel with what I write. Yet… The first story I sent there was a close-but-no-cigar personalized rejection, encouraging me to send them more stuff. And I did feel encouraged. Three stories since have been a withdrawal (story got accepted elsewhere; many literary zines accept simultaneous submissions, just expect you to let them know if it’s no longer available) and then two form noes. I can feel the cold winds blowing. Someone tells you they like you, but then they change their mind and destroy all evidence of knowing you. This zine is my literary NSF — it looks like it should work, all the ingredients are there, but somehow it just doesn’t.

On the upside, I wrote another unicorn story — unicorn in that it’s rare and magical. It popped out nearly perfect in the first draft, title and all, it was ready to submit within a few hours, and it got accepted by the first zine I sent it to in less than a week from submission.

Anyhoo, I know you’re not here for my tales of literary riff-ruffdom. So, without further ado…


Question from a reader JZ:

JZ has a student (Stu) who’s been with JZ for a few years. Stu could graduate in a year or two. Talented and hard-working, but Stu likes to do what Stu likes to do, and what Stu likes to do isn’t too well aligned with what JZ has funds for. The spring of last year, Stu said they wanted to switch fields and go into a more basic science. JZ said OK, no problem, take the additional tests and apply; JZ supported Stu and wrote a very strong letter. Stu applied last fall and got into some good schools, but in the spring realized that there’s no red carpet for them; the best schools passed Stu up. (JZ guesses that on paper Stu looks like they might be more trouble than they’re worth, so people at top places who have plenty of great candidates don’t want to bother.)

Now the new fall is coming and Stu wants to apply again. JZ told Stu they’d already wasted quite a lot of time and should just focus on finishing in the current program.

JZ wants to be supportive but doesn’t want to encourage staying in limbo and honestly doesn’t think it’s a good idea for Stu to be in grad-school mode forever.

As Stu focused on their applications and not research last year, they’ve been TA-ing, so it’s not like JZ is wasting grant money, but still JZ don’t want to enable this indecisiveness without end and also JZ worries how Stu being neither here nor there is affecting other students.

Should JZ just let Stu completely loose, have them be a free agent as Stu obviously doesn’t want to finish the degree in the group? Or does Stu formally stay in the group and use the office resources? Should Stu even be made to come to group meetings? Is Stu a group member really? JZ would like to know when Stu will be out out one way or another and doesn’t want to be cruel. However, JZ’s patience is wearing thin.

Wise and worldly readers, do you have thoughts or suggestions for JZ?