RBOC

NOVEMBER 2022: If you have a question you’d like me to answer during Nov 2022 daily blogging, please leave a comment to this post. 

I have a new pen name/email/web domain for the new (to me) genre in which I am writing a novel. This brings the number of different email accounts to seventeen gajillion. I know this sounds silly, but this all makes the endeavor more real, like I’m truly committed to it (which I am). I am feeling energized to get back to the novel (I have about 50k as of July, but haven’t been able to work on it very much since, on account of, you know, day job and stuff). However, I am hoping to put down some more words during the rest of this month and especially in November.

Speaking of November, I usually blog every day, following the old-timey NaBloPoMo tradition, and will try to do it again. It will likely be a mixture of reposts, new posts maybe 2-3x a week, and the rest  links/Twitter silliness posts. Which, to be honest, is how previous Novembers mostly went, too.

If you have a question that you would like me to answer, please submit either via email (xykademiqz at gmail), or leave a comment to this post. There will be a new post like the one on the RHS for the upcoming November. I will try to answer as many as I can, and if I don’t get to yours, it usually means I planned to, but it slipped my mind. Just ping me again sometime in the future.


The following is definitely a feature of the job, but it still sometimes strikes me how constantly critiquing people’s work erodes my joie de vivre. Even if my opinion is 100% correct, it still takes something from me to have to submit even the most tactfully crafted negative opinion, to recommend declination of a proposal or paper, or to decide to reject a paper as editor. These are all actions that, even if justifiably, hurt other people, colleagues who usually put a lot of time into the work, and I have to the person who tells them ‘no.’ Saying ‘no’ is always fraught, and so many people take it way more personally than they should — the judgement is on a particular piece of work and its suitability for a journal or a funding agency, not on the authors’ ability to do science — but I have also been on the receiving end of such bad news, and it’s often hard to decouple the two (the rejection and the sense of self-worth). It’s easy to read too much into a rejection, and it’s perhaps not always misguided to do so, because people also hold grudges and gatekeep, so the noes aren’t always as impersonal as they ideally should be. For me, having to dispense negative opinions and decisions always takes a little something away from me, makes me a little colder, as little more closed off.

Which is also why it’s so nice to do stuff on my own, without anyone to teach. I don’t have to witness other people’s hardship and failure. My own is fine; usually I take it as a sign that the reward is worth the sweat, and I always love a good challenge! Not that I never get demoralized, but when it’s just me, I am usually OK. In contrast, seeing my students (or my kids, for that matter) have setbacks can be really hard.


An undergrad came to talk to me about grad school, and we chatted about where he would want to go. I suggested a bunch of places and people, but the field he wants to go into isn’t really mine, so my information is limited. Then he said he’d asked a person it the field, but couldn’t get an appointment with them, after which I contacted the same person on behalf of the student, and the person got back to me quickly, with off-the-top-of-their-head information that probably took them no time at all to type up, so now the student had all the info he could need. This little (barely) anecdote got me thinking how we who are specialists in our fields are really such vast repositories of knowledge, knowledge that is very hard to get in other ways but that we possess and can effortlessly dispense, but only to those who have the ability to get a hold of us. This can be a metaphor for a whole bunch of stuff, but one thing is certainly true: like with so much of everything in life, access is everything, yet it is also the thing that most will never have.

16 comments

  1. Okay, I’ll start with some suggestions!

    What is the best advice for more senior folk to support the junior faculty as they start?

    Navel-gazing subject: what amount of yearly money could your research survive on? I.e. what annual budget would allow you to stop writing grants and just do science?

    What not obvious thing do you wish the old fully promoted men in your department knew?

  2. How about your what-to-do/what-not-to-do for new chairs? (I am becoming chair next summer and therefore it’s on my mind a lot.)

    Also seconding profdirector’s “best advice for more senior folk to support the junior faculty as they start”

  3. English/WGS prof here and I regularly work with STEM and Healthcare colleagues on transdisciplinary projects like medical humanities. What do you think humanities and STEM people need to know about each other to work better together?

  4. I’ve been wondering for ages, what does RBOC stand for? I see it on the blogs, and I’ve been reading the blogs for ages, but haven’t figured it out yet

  5. Long-time lurker here!

    Question: How do you pace yourself after tenure?

    I just tenure (yay) in an engineering field at a R1 university. I entered my first post-tenure year at what seems like breakneck speed (a big new project, new students, writing lots of proposals, lots of exciting teaching, lots of service I didn’t ask for, etc.), which frankly does not seem sustainable over a long time. Now that tenure’s over, sure, there’s full prof promotion, but I’m thinking of how to pace myself over the next 20-30 years of my career.

    It’s especially tricky since I have a good amount of new research ideas with hot-off-the-press preliminary data, so I feel like I need to write proposals on them, but I also have way too much already going on! Waiting to write those proposals doesn’t seem right, but I know I can’t handle that many more projects effectively… Plus, I want to make sure I have plenty of time to spend with my spouse and kid without worrying over work!

    So, any advice on post-tenure attitudes would be great! I remember your 2014 post on post-tenure years, so building on that would be wonderful. Tenure was such a hazy sprint (especially over COVID years) and it’s disorienting to try to figure out the remaining decades of my career…

  6. I’d love to hear more about US letters of recommendation: how to write them and how to read them. I think I may have disserved my best PhD student by giving an honest assessment of his work. Which was outstanding, don’t get me wrong, but somehow I wasn’t able to get my meaning across very effectively.

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