Month: January 2021

Random Bits of Starting a New Semester

♦ Teaching in person this coming semester. Looking forward to interacting with students, feeling bad for them, and let’s face it, myself, too, in the light of incessant saliva-based testing that is now required in order to access any building. In the fall we didn’t have anyone get sick in class, all positive cases were traced back to dorms and frat houses, so while I support free and widely available testing, this seems like overkill and has been causing a lot of stress among students, faculty, and staff because many samples get rejected as discolored, containing bits of food or mucus, people not being able to provide enough saliva, etc. It’s a mess.

♦ There is a special kind of loneliness that comes from widespread long-term stress. Everyone’s reserves of good will, patience, hell, fucks to give, get depleted. People can barely hold themselves together and have nothing to spare for anyone else. If one ever needed an explanation for why so many people in the US were lonely even before the pandemic, this heightened stress should make it clear. You can’t connect when no one around you has anything left to give.

♦ I am facing a busy grant-writing period (well, busier than usual). Oof. But, I suppose this is a good, normal kind of oof.

♦ The university is vaccinating people on campus who are over 65. When you think of it, this is a somewhat nonsensical statement. Students are obviously not in this category, and 65 is retirement age; most staff will have retired by that point. There should be very few people in the over-65 bracket on campus. But  plenty of professors teach well into their 70s and 80s. I thought I’d be one of those people, that I would never retire. I don’t think that anymore.

♦ This is something I noticed even before the pandemic: Very few of my colleagues have anything to say about new books, or movies, or shows. Nobody reads or watches anything. There aren’t talks of museum exhibits or concerts, either. I would even welcome chatter on sports! The young ‘uns work nonstop; I do remember the insanity of tenure, so that’s warranted. But all midcareer colleagues work nonstops, too; it’s unclear why.  Maybe they’re still enjoying it more than anything else in the world? Maybe they’re still chasing something? What is this strange place where everyone (but me) seems compelled to work all the time? How did I get here, and why? Should I flee, and, if yes, where to?

♦ There is a special kind of loneliness that comes from being surrounded by people, some of whom are not supposed to know you, the rest of whom don’t give a shit to know you. At least, with the first kind, you can pretend that, given the chance, they wouldn’t be the second kind.


Elementary, My Dear Xykademiqz

I chatted with DH today about our childhoods. Mine often feels like another life, or like it happened to someone else. Perhaps that’s how everyone feels.

As I wrote here and there on the blog, I had primary school (equivalent of elementary plus middle, 8 years total), the placement into which was solely based on geography. Then high school (4 years), which, during my time, involved light specialization (for example, mine was natural sciences, but there was also a parallel social sciences and humanities track in the same school that my BFF attended; my husband went to another school where his specialization was math and programming). Then, in college, one enrolled in a major right away and was pretty much railroaded to graduation. There were several tracks to choose from as upperclassmen, but, again, no course cherry-picking; you pick a track and the course sequence is fixed.

Because of this specialization, since high school I was surrounded, more or less, with people who were similarly academically minded. Today I thought of some of the people I went to elementary school with.

There were two siblings born under a year apart in my class in elementary and high school. I look them up sometimes, and they have done well, have BS degrees in math and mechanical engineering and work in their fields.

I also remember the kids who used to sit with me in the back row in physics lab (yes, we started having physics in 6th grade; twice a week; chemistry in 7th grade, twice a week; not too much math initially, but I asked Dad to teach me some trigonometry in 6th or 7th grade so I could do physics problems with inclined planes).  Anyway, each row in the lab had two long lab desks that sat three each. I was tall and was always relegated to sit in the back, usually with boys.

In physics, I sat with these two who were supposedly “bad” kids, but I never had issues with them. They were always nice to me and respectful of my intense nerdiness. (The “nice” girls were always way nastier than any “bad” boy.)

Years later, I heard one of the boys had spent time in prison for a robbery, and was at that point out, taking care of his kid, while his wife was still locked up. It seemed surreal. The other boy I always thought was very sweet, but he was a hell raiser who, in hindsight, might have simply had ADHD. I wonder what happened with him. Unfortunately, I only remember his nickname.

And that’s the thing, I don’t really remember most of the kids I went to elementary school with. I might remember the first or the last name, but not both. You might think it’s not a big deal, but we were together, in the same class, for eight years. I feel like I should remember them better.

I was a middle-middle-class kid. A lot of my classmates were from blue-collar families. A few were what even then I’d recognized as somewhat classy, coming from old money, having had highly educated parents and grandparents and probably great-grandparents, too. In contrast, my maternal grandma had four years of schooling; my dad had a BS and got a MS when I was older; my mom had an associate’s degree.

I’m easily googlable, so, on occasion, a very rare occasion, I get a “Hey, what’s up?” A few years ago, one girl from elementary school contacted me and we shared how many kids we each had and who we were in contact with from school (me: no one; her: about half a dozen people via Facebook), and then it fizzled. It always does. I know there have been reunions, from which I’m separated by one ocean and several decades. We’re mostly curiosities to each other now. Still, I hope the kids are all right.

Hobbling, If Not Running

The week started off well, with two papers coming back with minor revisions. Not a moment too soon, as I’ve got major grants expiring and needing to be renewed later this year. My group does theory and simulation, and we’ve done better than experimental groups amid the pandemic, but it hasn’t been completely without a hitch. Over the first several months, students were bewildered and deeply stressed. The political turmoil hasn’t helped, as my students follow current events quite closely and have seemed really worried.

While their access to work hasn’t really been restricted in the same way that experimentalists’ work temporarily has (though people are back in most labs according to socially distanced measures), the fact that many of my students live alone and have not seen anyone familiar in person in months, and that the dark  pandemic clouds overhead have repeatedly clashed with the even darker clouds of political unrest, I would say that it’s no surprise that our output last year has not been what it would normally be.

I’ve focused heavily on everyone’s mental well-being, encouraging students to take breaks, making sure not to push if they seemed overwhelmed.

We’ve managed to get four papers submitted in the last few months, two more are about to go in, and at least two more by end of spring.

What’s most important is that we’ve done some great work despite the pandemic, resolved some head-scratchers, and had some long-standing projects come together quite beautifully. I hope this level of productivity will be enough and the new data exciting enough to propel us into the new funding cycle.

How’s your 2021 been so far, academic blogosphere? 

2021 Delurkpalooza

The first full week of January is traditionally International Blog Delurking Week.

Readers old and new, please delurk (even if you’re not actually lurking) and say hi, tell us something about yourself, how you found the blog, and/or how you’re doing in these strange times.

Don’t be shy!

2020: A Year in Review

Happy 2021, everyone! 2020 has been something, hasn’t it?

On xykademiqz, I’ve had periods of intense blogging and periods of, ahem, no blogging at all. But I’m not going anywhere and plan to blog, as I have in the past, when I have something to say. December has been a bit dry, but I hope to be back with 1-2 posts per week in the new year.

Here’s 2020 in a nutshell, based on WordPress stats.

Total views: 100,987

Visitors: 23,044

Comments: 608

Below is a list of the most read posts (screen shot). The ones with a vertical blue bar on the left were written in 2020.


Here are the links to those best beloved born-and-read-in-2020 posts: