Month: May 2023


There is something that happened with a colleague and, as always, I fear I am overreacting or imaging things (welcome to being a woman), but my gut tells me I’m not and that I should stick to my guns.

There is a colleague with whom I’ve collaborated on and off for years. He and another colleague are experimentalists and go after money together, but when they work together with me, they always seem to expect I will come with my own funds and do the work that’s beneficial to them. I brought this issue up a bunch of times, but this never changes. They basically want me to fund my own work, and since our interests are often aligned, that often works out, but still. Another colleague says he often collaborates with others without going for join money, and honestly that’s great, but I don’t have five grants on similar topics. Generally, the technical distance among my active projects can and usually is fairly large, and being a theorist I am usually less flush than experimentalists, so my people are already double booked for stuff I have funding for, without me siphoning their time from funded projects for something a colleague thinks would be unfunded fun to do.

Anyway, I’ve always considered this colleague to be among the nicer ones around, but I’m not so sure anymore, honestly.

This is what happened, and you can tell me, blogosphere, if I am overreacting.

There is a popular class of techniques, let’s call them Triangle , that have been utilized everywhere in the last few years, in particular to address the class of problems I will call Apple, among other applications. Apple are a class of problems of interest to many in my broad area of work, but I am not interested in them. In any case, applying Triangle to Apple is not particularly novel at this point. People interested in related problems, such as Orange or Peach, are also looking into applying Triangle to their problems, which is understandable and reasonable. To summarize, this is common now:

Red Triangle Pointed Up on Apple iOS 16.4Plus on Apple iOS 16.4Red Apple on Apple iOS 16.4Heavy Equals Sign on Apple iOS 16.4Slightly Smiling Face on Apple iOS 16.4

However, the problems I am interested in are fairly far removed from Apple. I will call the problem I am interested in Clover. Now, my group has applied Triangle to Clover and it’s fine, just doesn’t really do what I want to show on Clover.

Red Triangle Pointed Up on Apple iOS 16.4Plus on Apple iOS 16.4Four Leaf Clover on Apple iOS 16.4Heavy Equals Sign on Apple iOS 16.4Neutral Face on Apple iOS 16.4

So we dug and dug, and realized there’s a class of techniques from the same general (broad!) field as Triangle, but still quite different; let’s call it Kapow (for the explosion emoji). It turns out, using Kapow to address Clover is exactly what I wanted and it’s perfect.

Collision on Apple iOS 16.4Plus on Apple iOS 16.4Four Leaf Clover on Apple iOS 16.4Heavy Equals Sign on Apple iOS 16.4Smiling Face with Heart-Eyes on Apple iOS 16.4

My student dug up the fairly esoteric Kapow and applied it to Clover, and has fantastic preliminary data. The use of Kapow is really not widespread at all, and definitely not its use on Clover or anything Clover-adjacent.

Now, that student recently presented their dissertation prospectus. The collaborator from above was on the committee. The collaborator really really liked the use of Kapow, of which he’d never heard before.

He asked immediately after the prospectus defense that I send him the slides so he can go on and apply Kapow on his problem of Onion, which he’d unsuccessfully been trying to address using Triangle.

To summarize, colleague has done this

Red Triangle Pointed Up on Apple iOS 16.4Plus on Apple iOS 16.4Onion on Apple iOS 16.4Heavy Equals Sign on Apple iOS 16.4Slightly Frowning Face on Apple iOS 16.4

and now wants me to hand over my Kapow stuff so he can try this:

Collision on Apple iOS 16.4Plus on Apple iOS 16.4Onion on Apple iOS 16.4

There was no offer of collaboration or anything. He basically asked that I give him info on my unpublished, very preliminary work that can potentially be a medium-to-big deal, so he can use it on the problem of interest to him. Presumably, this will be done with none of our participation and with no attribution to us.

I was pretty shocked. This is not something he heard at a conference. This is extremely preliminary data that he only had access to through the educational mission of the department. I would never ever ask someone what he asked me.

So at first I ignored him, hoping he would take a hint. No such luck. He accosted me before a faculty meeting, and I had to say no, with other colleagues sitting around and presumably listening in. I said this was preliminary data and not suitable for sharing. He said he “just” wanted the slides because Kapow would work so great on his Onion problem, it would be sooo great, and don’t I think that, too? I said yes, sure, it would, but it’s not for sharing right now. I said I could send him some references or else we could collaborate, but I would not just hand over my stuff. To this he was shocked and dismayed, like incredulous at what I was even implying — that he would scoop us. The thing is he might, for all I know. Right now Kapow+Clover is something no one is expecting, especially because Kapow is pretty obscure. Once the first application papers of Kapow come out, the cat’s out of the bag. I want my group and not my colleague’s to be the ones to release the cat, since it’s our damn cat.

I’m still reeling. The colleague acts like I’m the crazy one for not wanting to share. I am not not sharing. We are not on the same grant. I don’t actually have an obligation to make his life that much easier at a detriment to myself. He does seem a bit desperate, but given that my group has applied Triangle to Clover and gotten fine even if not great results, I am pretty sure he can apply Triangle to Onion and get results that are more than fine, so the issue is likely with the student working on the problem (I know said student) rather than with the actual technique. The colleague and his student could totally get what they need from Triangle because his Onion problem is fairly close to Apple. Kapow might be overkill for what they need, anyway.

I feel so disappointed. The colleague is a collaborator, someone who I counted on being by my side. But I guess there are always limits to loyalty, and the limits appear to be very self-serving.

What say you, blogosphere? Am I imagining things? Or is this clear overreach? 

Semester Endarhhbleurgh

The spring semester is coming to an end, and it’s a cause for terror, not celebration, because I have to teach in the summer again. I didn’t want to, I said I wouldn’t, and then the person who was supposed to wasn’t able to, and now I’m on the hook again. I also have teaching overload in the fall. This calendar year, like last calendar year, I will end up teaching 2x more than a faculty member with my group size and amount of grant money is supposed to teach. I am getting seriously pissed. Granted, there will be some extra money in it for me because of summer teaching, but it’s not enough. I would really like it if I could get out of some damn service, too.

I $#^%@#$& hate service. Why is everyone constantly being evaluated? JFC, like we’re all some lowlifes in perpetual danger of getting in trouble. Leave people alone to do their job and don’t waste their time with frequent paperwork. It’s enough we’re all our own administrative assistants now and no help is coming (only oversight and restrictions and scolding) in regards to purchasing and travel.

I gave up some of my external service. The demands on my time and sanity could no longer be justified.

Is it me, or is there more bullshit and busy work that’s part of this job than even five years ago, let alone ten? Is it the ballooning administration, mowing down everything in its path? Just more more more more more of mindless work.

Teaching has been less rewarding of late. Since the pandemic, students have been expecting ever more permissible classrooms, boundless flexibility with no questions asked, and all the higher ups do is tell us we should accommodate. Nobody says how, or God forbid offers some resources to aid with all these accommodations, it’s just dumped on faculty. Versions upon versions of the same test for all the people who are supposedly last-minute (the morning of the midterm exam) sick. That was not much of an issue before the pandemic, but is now widespread because many students expect us to take everything at face value, and actually get peeved when an instructor calls them on it, for example, by requiring a doctor’s note for repeated last-minute illnesses in a semester.

Students are also performing notably worse, on average. When compared to even just 5-10 years ago, the averages have dropped significantly, and now there are long tails below 50% on exams, whereas similar-difficulty exams never showed such trends before. We are admitting more students, but most of them seem to be students who really shouldn’t be in this major, yet here they are and we’re all supposed to help them hobble to graduation.

There are persistent issues many students have with math, and this is a math-heavy major. I’m sorry, but a student cannot be successful if they can’t do high-school algebra. Pulling out a common factor from a polynomial. Manipulating fractions, such as figuring out a common denominator or canceling terms on different sides of the fraction line. In this major, students cannot just sort-of know simple stuff like that; they need to be completely fluent, because math of a much higher level underpins the courses in the major.

Many kids show up with gaps in knowledge in subjects other than math. I don’t know if this is also an effect of the pandemic, and  we now have cohort upon cohort whose preparation is deficient in this subject or that.

OK, writing this down is making me feel all murdery (oh, by the way, watch the show “Beef” on Netflix!). Maybe I should stop here and instead ask the academic blogosphere: What have you been up to, bloggy readers? Have you noticed a change in student preparation, and, if yes, what do you think the cause is?

As a treat, some Twitter levity.