Month: February 2021


I am just going to give myself 10 min to write this post, so whatever comes out, comes out.

I am in a time crunch over a proposal, which also means that every other facet of my life must demand much more from me than usual.

Over the last several days I spent 1-2 hours every day on a video call with a grad student in a progressively worsening mental-health situation. It ended with me calling (over the phone) the crisis line on the student’s behalf during one video call, only to realize that the crisis line is bullshit if a person feels absolutely terrible but aren’t actually in imminent danger of suicide. Basically, “Go to emergency room or make an appointment, otherwise have a good night.” Such unspeakable bullshit. Although it shouldn’t have been a surprise; in this country, anything that you don’t pay though the nose for is a joke.

Since the pandemic started, graduate students in my group have needed much more accommodation, understanding, flexibility.

Since the pandemic started, many more students in classes have needed much more accommodation, understanding, flexibility.

I am supposed to accommodate and understand everyone, be all to everyone. I am tired and angry, and it doesn’t seem fair. Do male faculty have to put up with all these incessant nontechnical demands on time and energy? I bet they don’t.

No one is going to renew my grant because they feel sorry for me. I can’t say, “Sorry our papers are slow to come out. Students have been depressed, and I also have kids at home who constantly interrupt, and I have no peace and quiet to work, and god forbid I have my own dips in motivation or energy or health, ’cause I am a mom and a PI and everyone around me requires endless support which I am supposed to provide out of my apparently bottomless reserves, but of course I would never need or want a break, so I understand that you can’t give me one because you need to teach me a lesson on how real scientists work.”

I’m so angry.

On Worthiness and Lack Thereof

Coming down from the adrenaline high of an in-person lecture, combined with finally having had something to eat, I am now semi-comatose and thus the evening work shift cannot yet begin. Hence, a blog post!


Regarding the fine art of not giving a f*ck and all that.

I wonder how life is for my very confident colleagues. It must be awesome to never second-guess whether or not they were supposed to speak, whether they were annoying, whether people looked at them askance, whether they looked/sounded stupid, whether people wanted them to leave or shut up.

Some days are better than others, but I usually have to work hard to detach the part of me that is constantly scanning facial expressions and small changes in tone, constantly taking in the feedback from all around, the feedback always being that I am at best boring and at worst a menace, stupid and unworthy and just taking up space that should go to someone better, someone less irritating and more worthy of just about everything.

Why are so many professional interactions so uncomfortable? So much hostility, so much grandstanding. Most of them I can only endure if I completely cut off a part of myself, the part that screams, “Run! Hide! Nobody wants you here!”

I know that the part of me isn’t always correct, that usually people don’t give enough of a shit about me one way or another to plot my demise.

That’s because the world, for the likes of me, is populated by people who don’t give a shit, which is a depressing option but actually a more relaxing one, because to know me is to be irritated by me. The few who do give a shit in a positive way are needles in a haystack.

How does it feel to be someone who thinks the world is their oyster, that everyone is out there to welcome and appreciate them?

I see my kids are like that, and I am both relieved that I haven’t ruined them and secretly terrified that they are deluded for thinking anyone (other than family) will give a shit about them. I know enough not to remove their rose-colored glasses (and keeping my doom and gloom away from them is sometimes really, really hard) but damn, wouldn’t it be nice to feel so positive toward the world and one’s place in it?

There has to be a level of obliviousness to one’s confidence, this ability to just have other people’s moods and vibes slide off you like water off a duck’s back, and not have each glance pierce your chest.

Today I participated in some online meetings, but didn’t have it in me to turn on my camera or say much. I felt particularly stupid, irritating, and just overall unwanted and irrelevant. Yet, if anything, I probably came across as disinterested and unprofessional.

It would be nice not to have days when I can’t help but speak my mind, only to always, ALWAYS, regret having talked. It would be nice not to always feel like too much, like such an imposition on everyone.


A few years ago, I wrote a post about travel in academia: why we do so much, if it’s necessary, how much I’ve grown to hate it, etc. Someone came to the comments to say that those who travel all the time and generally give their all to the job are the ones who deserve all the money and accolades and that, basically, you are either doing it 100% and it’s your life, or get out.

I think about that comment often. It’s such an American sentiment. You can only be one thing, and that thing must consume and define you, or else you are unworthy of even partaking, let alone winning.

On the one hand, that’s the prevailing narrative. On the other hand, it may be a steaming pile of garbage and simply a way to exhaust and thin out the competition.

Based on what I see it in fiction writing (now, 3.5 years in, having published both literary and speculative short fiction, and having sold enough of it at high-enough pay rates to qualify for membership in both HWA and SFWA), statements such as “success flows to the most devoted” and “only the most devoted deserve success” are simply untrue. I have seen newbies knock it out of the park with their first or second publication, and I’ve seen devoted veterans whose work never has and probably never will reach that level of quality. It sucks, but it’s true. There are people for whom writing is their entire life: they got their English degrees and/or their MFAs, they might work as English profs or editors, this is their calling, yet they may not be the best or the most prolific or the most original or the most anything; they struggle with writing and publishing like everyone else, and they keep going. Then you have the people who presumably shouldn’t even bother writing because it’s not their calling, but these people write and publish, are read and appreciated, and put out quality work into the community. Sometimes this work is of higher quality and gets into better markets than the work of those completely devoted. Is this fair? It doesn’t seem like it. Yet, that’s how it is.

It’s true that some literary magazines won’t really consider a writer seriously without an MFA or an English lit degree. But most aren’t like that. Most will read the work and judge it on its merit.

Should people like me, who have day jobs, not write at all? That means a priori removing potentially worthy, publishable work from the literary world just because the author is not devoted enough? And what’s devoted anyway? Even serious writers often don’t write full time; even serious writers have “day jobs.”

Not sure where I am going with this, other than screw anyone who measures someone’s worthiness by the amount of sweat and student debt, or the complete absence of interests and hobbies outside work. As Stephen King says, in On Writing: “Life is not a support system for art [or science]. It’s exactly the other way around.”

Valentine’s Links, You Saucy Minx


Reader Question: Disillusioned by Lack of Diversity

Dear xykademiqz,
I’m reaching out as I’m not sure where to turn and the anonymity of the blogosphere may be helpful here.
I’m an assistant professor who was trained in a field with pretty equal gender representation up until the postdoctoral level and studied in a pretty racially diverse city. I’ve moved to a field where diversity is dismal and the city is extremely segregated. My department has minimal gender and near non-existent racial diversity; further, age- and tenure-wise we lean extremely senior.
As a junior, non-homogenous hire, I’ve been thrown on the new diversity committee that was formed after the obligatory formation of said-committees throughout the US after the events of his past summer (on top of ~4 other committees). Since the formation, we haven’t done too much action, as there’s been ridiculous number of fires to put out. One event had to deal with comments of someone with tangential relation to the department sharing that not everyone is equally capable of performing STEM… and no action has been taken by the department for a while to address this. Students know about this. Staff. Faculty. And the response is crickets. People continue to collaborate with said someone. It might be “too political” to make a statement otherwise.
My question is two-fold: first, long-term, these are the people who will be voting on my tenure. How can I trust a fair judgement? Second, every time this committee meets I feel worse about the world and my colleagues. Should I quit the committee?
Yet, my friends say I should be “proud I’m changing the face of my field.” Students tell me that I’m the first professor that is like them. But really I’m tired. The face should already be changed. Academia feels so far behind and moves so slow. But is my department moving slower than others? Or is it this bad everywhere?
(Also, I should be writing a paper, grant, etc. instead I’m dealing with this. *sigh* The joys of my white, straight, male colleagues. Must be nice.)
TLDR – How do I just not throw in the towel in with all the sexism, racism, homophobia, etc. in STEM. I’m sick of being the token committee member and dealing with the BS.
– AsstProfLyfe
Academic blogosphere, what say you?

Scary Collabs

Seems like there’s never any time for a full post, but such is pandemic/academic (pandcademic? with a silent d?) life.

This year started well with respect to research papers; one out, one accepted, two likely to be accepted by the end of the month. This after a slow 2020 where my grad students (and, let’s face it, me, too) moved through molasses.

I am feeling really irritable. I wonder if it’s because I discontinued my murder-prevention walks a month or so ago when it became too cold outside (the treadmill aggravates my joints; you hit the floor the exact same way over and over, so the same muscles and tendons get used, in contrast to walking outside, where the slight imperfections in the terrain force the foot and leg to adjust). All I know is that I am even more irritated than before by people talking sloooooowly, or generally taking forever to utter perfectly predictable, boring opinions.

I have to admit, I love, love, LOVE not having to attend meetings in person. In-person meetings bring me a lot of stress. It goes something like this: Something is being discussed (usually slooooowly and boringly) and I either manage to prevent myself from speaking, which is optimal for everyone involved, or I fail to prevent myself from talking and end up feeling like an impatient, blathering fool and deeply regret having spoken. I always regret having spoken, even when — especially when! — someone comes to tell me they’re happy I spoke. So, these Zoom meetings are great because I can turn off my camera and just do my own thing while others talk, or even when I can’t, I can still check email and otherwise divert my attention so I don’t get in trouble.

It’s amazing how stressful speaking up is in academia. Not just among colleagues in the department, but in the professional community. I find all academic communities to be pretty unnerving and, after nearly two decades of getting stressed out, just plain exhausting. I manage to dissociate before I need to go give a talk, shove my feelings deep down, and put on my dog-and-pony show, but the whole being out in the world with other scientists is really much more unpleasant than it would have to be. And I’m what you’d generally call a socially well-adjusted individual with decent communication skills.

There’s a cool piece of work my group did in loose collaboration (more like consultancy) with an experimentalist. This collaborator is a pretty intimidating individual, so I don’t really like to interact with him more than necessary. He liked the paper and asked if I’d sent it to a third person, whom I find an order of magnitude more scary than the collaborator and thus actively avoid. (I don’t think the scary men miss having me around, as I am pretty sure they think I am stupid.) However, I have had collaborations in the past, with some great people, where I’ve actually felt comfortable and appreciated. A close collaborative relationship (this holds for advising, too) has to be such that the parties are comfortable brainstorming and saying stupid things and being wrong and playing off each other. I can’t work with people who are too invested in projecting the persona of a scary know-it-all, always the smartest person in any room. Maybe that’s why I will always be a Smalltown Grocer and never a Big Dog PI or whatever, but there’s something to be said for thinking in peace and being comfortable and sharing ideas without trepidation, because I am pretty sure I am not actually stupid.

Wow, I guess I did have things to say!

How’s it going, blogosphere? How are your relationships within collaborative endeavors?