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In other news, of the four single-PI grants I submitted last year, I received two, one was withdrawn, and one was declined.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?


  1. JZ needs to stop wondering and have a hard conversation with Stu. They need to explicitly talk about Stu’s plans, JV’s expectations and maybe come up with a timeline.

  2. Anon, from what I understood they’ve talked plenty of times and there was a timeline–Stu was supposed to be gone by this fall but is still there since the applications didn’t go as planned. I think JZ is asking: “What now?”

  3. JZ has already been extremely patient–much more patient than many advisors I know. At this point, JZ should kindly but firmly tell Stu that s/he will be cutting him loose at a certain date, and that he needs to figure out his plans based on that. Stu clearly doesn’t want to stay in the group, and is not even doing any research in the group–why should JZ continue to have to carry his weight? Stu is also being extremely (and I’d argue unreasonably) picky about other schools even though he had the option to leave during the past cycle. JZ has already been beyond nice in supporting him through one cycle of applications. Expecting JZ to support him through TWO cycles is just unreasonable.

  4. It depends on JZ’s situation. If JZ is an assistant professor and needs students to graduate for tenure, then JZ can be a bit accomodating, especially if not much resources are used. If JZ is not much worried, then JZ can have a serious discussion and the student will then apply elsewhere. I predict this in this situation, STU will still not make anywhere next year and will just start working with another professor if the department is of a good size.

  5. I too think Stu is more trouble than he or she is worth. JZ should just tell him that look, I know you applied and things did not work out; however, since you’re not working on my group’s agenda, this is a poor fit for everyone. I have a high opinion of your abilities and am happy to support you in any future applications etc, but your staying in the group is not a good use of anyone’s time. So if you stay in the program, please find another advisor.

  6. I don’t think I have anything besides what is written above. JZ needs to ask themselves how desperately they need this student to complete and graduate in the small chance that the student decides to stay on after dilly-dallying for long.

    Will you be posting a link to your accepted story in the e-zine?

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