Month: May 2021

Sunday, Linky Sunday

Comic: Fat Mermaid: Wardrobe Malfunction

Stuff That’s Been on My Mind of Late

  • Man, I hate the new editing environment in WordPress. But, we must adapt.
  • There are a bunch of topics I’ve wanted to blog about, but the time hasn’t been there. For now, some nuggets:

I’ve been writing fiction since 2017, which kind of blows my mind. Since I started, a lot has happened in my relationship to fiction, writing, and everything else (talk about a nondestructive outlet for midlife ennui!). One thing I’ve been mulling recently is the importance of having a trusted critique partner (or a few). You don’t send out anything for publication before it’s been vetted by another pair (or pairs) of eyeballs. This is quite important, because you, as the original author, become blind to some relatively obvious slips in wording, punctuation, but also more damning ones, in the story structure, pacing, characterization, etc. You need someone who gets your writing to figure out what you were after and tell you when/where/how you failed to achieve the goal. It doesn’t matter how accomplished you are, you need critique partners.

Then I look at my technical work and this type of peer feedback is completely absent. Sure, if you write a collaborative paper there’s built-in feedback, but what if you’re writing a solo proposal? Or even smaller nuggets of text, like biosketches for this and that? I often wish there were someone who would do a once-over on some of the stuff I write by myself, but as senior academics we are not supposed to ask for help or feedback, even though my guess is that more people would benefit from it than are willing to admit.

Someone somewhere said something mildly negative/disparaging (implying cowardice) toward tenured academics writing under pseudonyms. People are free to think what they want, obviously; below is my take. By the way, I also write fiction under yet another pseudonym (pen name). I try hard to keep both activities decoupled from my job. Why? 

My job is my family’s livelihood. I have a right to keep working and providing for my family. This right trumps pretty much any other obligation anyone might think I have.

Tenure is a protection against being fired at will, but if a department/college/institution wants to get rid of you, they will get rid of you. I have seen numerous cases (not necessarily at my institution) where a faculty member’s life was made very unpleasant on purpose. They weren’t fired, but they were very effectively pushed out. My college leadership is such that I have no doubt they would work hard to make my life difficult if I gave them enough reason to want to get rid of me. I do not doubt for a second that most institutions are the same.

Even if we put job security aside, I don’t want my blogging or my fiction writing to interfere with my work duties. I need to be able to apply for grants and write papers without everything nontechnical that I have ever published (some widely read blog posts; some widely read  stories) coming up when I am googled. I am a woman in a field that remains stubbornly male-dominated and pretty “square” in many ways, and I don’t need colleagues/competitors to be given any more ammunition for not considering me seriously or passing me up for funding or high-profile publications.

Similar holds for students and student parents. Let’s say some very uptight parent or some very conservative student finds some of my fiction writing (I am a member of the Horror Writers Association, FFS); who’s to say they wouldn’t go to my department chair or dean and demand that I be reprimanded or fired? It is a sad fact that a shocking number of people are unable to decouple fictional characters and their actions from those of the writer. I personally know writers who are also teachers and who have had these exact grievances filed against them by concerned parents (i.e., supposedly someone who writes “that” must be a violent miscreant and should not be teaching college students).

Pen names have been used for centuries, and I don’t think that using one (or a few) as a person employed in academia is disingenuous. If I worked in industry, people would presumably understand that I couldn’t write or say things that would be at odds with the company’s mission or brand. Academia is a bit different because of the protection of tenure, but not that different (especially the modern, highly corporatized flavor of the research university), and tenure is not an indestructible armor. Even without losing one’s job, one can easily lose the ability to perform multiple aspects of said job. Working in a (conservative, male-dominated) STEM field, yet publishing nontechnical stuff under the real name as a woman in the day and age of easy googlability and lightning-fast cancellations/firings over social-media activities  would be dangerously naïve.

What’s been on your mind of late, blogosphere? 

Reader Question: Apply to Grad School Again?

A reader who applied to grad school this round without much luck asks:

Last time around I wrote to you looking for advice on how to apply for graduate school. It was really helpful, but as it turned I didn’t get any offers this year. But, at 25 and after 3 academic degrees, I am not sure what to do in my life at this point. Beginning from my college days, all my academic life, I have been working hard to make a career in academic research. So far, I didn’t have to twitch an eye lid on deciding whether I should continue in academia, because I was among the best of my peer group and enjoyed doing science. So, I would like to hear from you and long time readers of the blog if I should persist for another attempt to apply to graduate school? Or what are the other alternatives available to miserable souls like mine?

What say you, blogosphere?

My response, without any additional details that might have affected this particular case, is that this PhD admissions year (in the US) has been highly aberrant, not only because of the pandemic, but because of the election that affected funding agencies (their budgets and timelines). The best undergrad I have ever had (he had papers, talks, everything), who really should have gotten into the very top PhD programs, didn’t. I personally took no new grad students, and I know my department, in all, accepted fewer students than usual, too.

So, from that standpoint alone, I would say go for it again. However, before doing so it would be useful to go through the particulars of an unsuccessful application and inspect how it looks from the standpoint of someone who is deciding whether or not to accept the applicant into their research group (i.e., whether or not to invest time and resources in them).

Good luck!

Blink, Miss a Link