Author: xykademiqz

Hagventures in Teaching

I’ve been having a few very disappointing days at work. Or was it weeks?

The most dispiriting aspect is that, regardless of how senior I am, there will always, always, be crap that I wouldn’t have to deal with if I were a dude. And it’s all young men dishing out the bullshit.

A former student being extremely disrespectful over one of the papers that were left unfinished when he graduated and left. All papers but one have been published in the interim; this is the last one left. Former student has issues with the speed of these papers getting out sans his involvement (god forbid I slow down for COVID or burnout or any normal human condition) and the involvement of the students who are still in the group. The email I received was beyond hurtful, especially because I know I have done my absolute best to champion and support this former student. I guess now I know how he really views me.

A kid who is taking a sophomore-level required class as a senior, needs to graduate this semester, but isn’t doing well in the class at all. Takes passive-aggressive jabs at me in class, which I have to ignore or laugh away because nothing good comes out of having a blow-up in a huge lecture hall. He is all aggrieved because he’s doing poorly, which stems from his shockingly bad preparion in both physics and math, but it’s apparently all my fault and I’m supposed to just absorb the nonsense.

A kid who demands more and more explanations in class of why this one quantity exists, because this quantity sure is pissing him off. After I’ve offered him half a dozen different explanations, including why this quantity is important and where it is found and what intuitive information it carries and how it connects to the rest of the course and to the material in other courses, he says, “That’s not what I want.” Like he’s a customer and I am an idiot customer service rep, and he wants his money back.

Hubs says it’s 100% because I’m a woman and that they would never act like this with a similarly aged dude.

I hoped I’d be done with this shit by now — the aggrieved entitlement, alongside a complete lack of self-reflection —  but no, it never ends. There are always new cocky boys ready to take on the uppity old hag.

Granted, not the whole class is like this. It’s just a few individuals with chips on their shoulders, while the rest are really nice.

But the few, oh those few.

And I am so, so tired of it.

When Life Stinks, Have Some Links

Extremely busy, so, for now, some links:

Random Bits of Thursday

Before the pandemic, hubs and I loved to go to a local comedy club. We’d usually catch the late Saturday show (there’s one in the early evening and another one late).

For the most part, research-active faculty in my department teach one course per semester (there is a formula involving amounts of grant money, number of advised research students, number of papers and proposals, etc., versus teaching expectations for a given year). However, due to booming enrollments, we sometimes have teaching overload. I happen to do well in the classroom with undergraduates, so I teach large-enrollment undergraduate courses more often than most (I actually like teaching undergrads, but it still doesn’t make it fair that people get to suck at teaching and get rewarded for it with small graduate classes and thus extra research time; however, this is a rant for another day). This semester, I have  teaching overload, in that I have a huge-enrollment undergraduate class with discussion, and a graduate class in my specialty. I teach them both on the same days.

I don’t know how it is for truly extroverted people, but I have to get into performance mode for teaching. I get pumped (loaded with adrenaline) before class in order to prance around, talk loudly, draw and do math on the board, and make nerdy dad jokes. And then a little while later I have to do it again. When I am done for the day after the undergraduate class, I feel completely drained. I sit in my office for close to an hour just trying to reset before I can go home.

This must be how those comedians feel after that second show on Saturday night.

***

This semester is kicking my butt. Three days are taken by teaching and meetings, one more day with non-stop meetings (literally nonstop, 9-6), and finally one day where I do get a chance to do something requiring some thought. Weeks really fly by, but it feels a bit like madness.

***

A writer friend of mine who had a successful law career has sold a couple of novels and now actually writes full time. I am in awe and very proud of them. When we last chatted, they said there was huge pressure to make subsequent books do well (they’re working on their third, and the second is about to come out). Not sure why it surprised me to hear about the pressure, it should be a no-brainer really, but it did. The friend is living the dream (they wanted to be a full-time writer and they are) but it might be an anxiety dream.

There is never no pressure.

***

I may or may not be writing a novel. I may or may not have already have a pretty detailed outline and I may or may not have already run it past two trusted writer friends / beta readers. There may or may not be pretty detailed character sheets in my mind at least. I may or may not be insane to take this on in addition to everything else.

***

I did just get some really nice accolade (with money) from my institution.

***

Even if I write the novel and I sell it and it does well, I don’t think I’ll ever be as brave as that writer friend of mine to go writing full time. Maybe after ten novels that sell well. Make that twenty. Make that becoming Stephen King.

***

If you’ve read this far, here’s a nice Easter egg for you: I will be putting out a new book based on the blog. I am planning it for early fall. I have awesome cover design commissioned already. It will be very different from Academaze in content (mostly the last five years), but also intent and tone. I’m really excited to work on it this summer.

***

I’ve always battled doing too much by taking on even more, with the extra being the stuff I actually want to do. Counterintuitive, but it helps. With lost of passion projects, I have plenty of exciting nuggets to intersperse among the less-enjoyable activities. Like tiny joy-filled cushions.

***

What have you been up to, blogosphere? How’s early 2022 treating you?

No Life When Junior, No Retirement When Senior

So I talked to a colleague who’s more-or-less my contemporary, and he said he didn’t know what he would do when he retired. (I didn’t say anything, because I sure as hell know what I will do, and am looking forward to it.) Anyway, I feel that this inability to imagine life beyond the job is the reason why so many faculty take a very long time to retire — they feel there is little for them on the other side. My former advisor retired at 80; I know for a fact that he didn’t want to retire because he did not know he would do with himself if he didn’t work. Had he retired at, say, 70, given his huge salary, two junior people could’ve worked in his stead for a decade for the same money; they would’ve been able to shoot their shot at an academic career, get tenure, maybe even get promoted to full prof. My colleague’s former advisor is in his mid-seventies and not thinking about retiring yet. Both former advisors are people who have families, so there are presumably some loved ones to spend time with. But I have a colleague from another department who has completely sacrificed his personal life for the career; who will he spend the retirement with?

In my department, we’ve been fortunate to hire a number of junior faculty over the past several years. I am blown away by how much they all work and how good they all are. I do feel we make them waste too much time on activities that don’t directly help their careers but consume both time and energy. The current department leadership has their heart in the right place (centered on good climate, good student experience, etc.), but is a little too procedure-, paperwork-, and service-happy. There are way more committees (by a factor of two or three) than when I first started out, yet the department somehow functioned back then, too. Junior folks are being pushed to put their boundless energy into initiatives that I personally think are a waste of time for all faculty, largely because the college already has many staff who are paid to do those jobs, and, judging by the deluge of vacuous emails we get spammed with, said staff are in desperate need of some actual work.

We drain junior people of their time and energy, like institutional vampires, without thinking twice if what  we require them to do is actually necessary, and without asking what they give up in order to fulfill these expectations. By making them overwork under the duress of seeking tenure, we stand in the way of them finding respite and fulfillment outside of their jobs. For example, we have a decent number of female faculty. Yet, here has not been a single one either before me or after me who’s had a child on the tenure track. I am still the only one who’s ever done it, and I did it with some confidence because I’d already had a kid in graduate school and knew what to expect. Young men faculty do have kids with their “civilian” wives and enjoy the tenure-clock extensions, while young women faculty simply do not dare even go there. This infuriates me. The parental accommodations ended up being yet another boon for the demographic that already has everything working for them, but it didn’t do much for the demographic that actually needs it. Yes, there are tenure-clock extensions, but we still don’t have actual leave for women faculty who give birth (post-tenure women often use their sabbaticals), and we all pretend like childbirth and early motherhood aren’t ridiculously more physically, mentally, and emotionally taxing on the mother than the father. This blatant inequality forced through artificial equality makes me so angry.

But I digress.

I am on the faculty mentoring committee for some junior folks, and I consider it my role to have their back: I am there to advise them, but also to throw my weight around on their behalf when they need something they are either too uncomfortable to ask for or they’re getting pushback on from the leadership.

Our fucking jobs should not be all-encompassing. And the service roles should be few and far between.  We should shield each other from bullshit, not help propagate it. And we should not be sticking junior faculty on the most-time-consuming service roles. I am grateful to then-chair who prevented me from hopping on the most time-consuming committee when I was a newbie. We now seem to populate that committee with junior faculty, and it makes me sad and furious.

Maybe if junior people had a chance to work on other facets of their lives when they are young, if we didn’t burden them with stupid crap when just getting funding in this insane climate is a real challenge,  they wouldn’t avoid retirement for literal decades for fear of having nothing to do with themselves once they’re old.

Or maybe I’m just crochety. But I, too, was once, not that long ago, very single-minded in the pursuit of my career; I wanted to work all the time. But sooner or later, we all seem to wonder what else is out there. We ask if what we envision will suffice once the job is no more. I wish the answer were ‘yes’ for more people.

Janus Links

I have some deadlines, so for now here are some links, but back soon with proper posts.

Delurkpalooza 2022

2022_Delurk

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

Whether you’re an old reader or new, whether you’ve commented in the past or not, please stop by and tell us a little about yourself. Are you a student, faculty, staff, or someone in a line of work outside academia? How did you find the blog? What do you most like to read about here on xykademiqz?

How have you been these past two pandemic years? What has lifted your spirits? What are some things or experiences that you have been looking forward to? Any plans for 2022?

Come say ‘hi’ — we’d love to hear from you!

Waking Up and Smelling the Roses

Happy holidays, everyone!

I have a little bit of time between turning in grades and starting work on the next flurry of proposals.

I just wanted to say that I feel like I’ve woken up from a long slumber. Maybe it’s the tail end of a midlife crisis, and would happen sooner or later no matter what because it happens to everyone around my age, but it doesn’t matter. I feel like I’d been sleeping for about 20 years and I’m finally waking up to the colors and the sounds and the smells and the joys of the world around me.

I suspect it might have been the dual chokehold of a young, demanding family and a job with the culture that requires absolute devotion.

I love my kids more than anything else in the world, but raising the littles is a lot of work, and it’s very easy for a parent to get pulverized by the daily grind. Now that one kid is an adult, another is in high school, and the youngest starts middle school next year, I feel like I can breathe again.  Actually, I’ve probably been able to breathe for a while now, just hadn’t noticed. It was only recently that I lifted my head, looked around, inhaled, and filled my chest to capacity.

As for the job, I don’t know if I would feel this way with any other profession (probably would), but I feel like I’ve had a really hard time, for a long while, allowing myself to have much of an inner life (intellectual or emotional) beyond my work. I felt like I was cheating on my job whenever I used my brain “nonproductively.” Even thinking about having a fulfilling hobby felt like the betrayal of a lifelong partner.

I know I’ve written a bunch of times about the need to not have your work be everything to you, but it’s  hard, so damn hard, to really internalize this message and give yourself a permission to do it. Intellectually, I am aware of a great many wisdoms that don’t have a prayer of ever penetrating the thick layers of emotional bullshit that I’ve accumulated over the years in order to fortify and protect my gooey center. I am lucky this particular insight somehow managed to go through and land where it was needed.

Maybe the trigger was the pandemic. Maybe it was me getting unceremoniously dropped from a program that had funded me for years. Maybe it was a bunch of faculty retirements and me witnessing how swiftly the retirees were forgotten, like they were never among us.

All I know is that, when I turn around and look at my job and my colleagues now, they all seem so much smaller and less important than they did even just a  couple of years ago.

Whatever the reason, whatever the trigger, I feel like I can see colors again. Like I can take big breaths again. And the air smells delicious.

Sunday Muddy Sunday

Hello, frozen academic blogosphere! How’s it shaking? It isn’t? You’re too frozen? That’s too bad. 

Over here, proposal-submission insanity meets end-of-semester insanity, so yours truly is valiantly battling against the desire to flip off the world and hide from everyone in order to binge-read fiction. Alas, there is no one else to wrap up the teaching, service, and submit all those %$^#%$# proposals, so I have to limit my fiction proclivities to stolen hours in the dead of night. *strikes dramatic pose, with back of hand pressed against forehead*

Tonight I finish grading homework, make the final exam for my class, and clear out the massive backlog in my editorial queue. Tomorrow I administer the final exam and work on a proposal the rest of the time.  On Tuesday, I hopefully submit said proposal (it’s close to done), then have a bunch of meetings, and maybe get a little break in the evening (yay reading!), then I’m back to grading and more proposal writing on Wednesday. 

It would be nice to have a real break over Christmas and New Year’s, but probably not. Too much to do. Always too much to do. *strikes dramatic pose again, now with exaggerated wailing sounds and added waterworks*

How’s it going with you, academic blogosphere readers? What have you been up to? 

Frosty December, Fiery Links

Hi folks, thanks for hanging out with me in November! It has been a busy month (aren’t they all?), so I had to resort to reposts and links more than I’d have liked; it is what it is, and I hope the occasional new meaty post was appreciated. It was fun to reconnect, and I hope not to be a delinquent blogger in the future. I’d like to make sure I have 2-3 new posts per week, which honestly should be doable… Let’s be optimistic!

For now, some bookmarked Twitter hilarity!

The Long Game

Just another professor asks, and is seconded by lyra211

JAP: What is the long game or, alternatively, the ultimate point, of an academic career? The opportunities to go upward or across are very few and far in between, you either succeed (and get bored), or you always struggle (not bored but not fun either). What would one do after becoming a full professor in a mid-rank R1? Thank you for openly sharing your thoughts on this topic.

lyra211: I’m going to second “Just Another Professor,” and expand to ask about thoughts for dealing with life after tenure — the “post-tenure slump,” the sudden crushing service load, but more positively, the opportunity to reinvent yourself career-wise once you’ve secured a long-term position. Have you ever thought about changing fields, moving into more administrative roles (I’d never want to be at the dean/provost level, but I’m kind of intrigued by running our pre-matriculation program for underrepresented STEM students…), starting a side gig within academia (mine would probably be science education research) or even outside of academia (like your writing)?

I think this is one of those questions that every individual has to answer for themselves, and answers differ widely; I can say what is crystalizing for me. Warning: Meandering, stream-of-consciousness post ahead.  

My personality is such that I like to dabble and try new things. I enjoy learning and gaining competence;  traveling the road from novice to expert feels exhilarating. In my work, this means I would, in an ideal world, change fields pretty dramatically every few years. This would presumably be much easier for me  than for people who are experimentalists, but I am in a discipline where I am expected to work with students and postdocs and raise grants to support them, and raising grants in a field with no track record is very hard. Yes, if you are flush and have an army of underlings and discretionary funds, you can do work first for a few years and publish some papers in a completely new field before you start applying for related grants.  But how many of us are that flush? Basically, to keep people funded, I have to make small plausible changes to my research focus, rather than the big exciting ones I would love to make. Why don’t I just do the work myself? I try, but there just isn’t time. I am only one person, teaching, doing a mountain of service, advising, writing papers and grants in a field I’m established in or adjacent fields. This is already a full-time job.

And, to be honest, sometimes you need a break from your full-time job. I don’t have the energy or motivation to take on a pet technical project that I would do all on my own on top of my actual job. A new technical project in a really remote area is simultaneously too much and not enough. I know how to do research, I know what the endgame would be — write papers, write grants, teach students. Even though the topics would be brand new and challenging, the endgame is something I am perhaps too familiar with. 

Instead, I write fiction. This is a path along which I don’t need to teach anyone anything except myself. I rise and fall on my own, and my own skill is the only one I need to worry about. I enjoy meeting writers; they are a different breed than my colleagues. My worlds has become kinder, more colorful, and more joyous after I’ve let more arts and artists into my life. 

But that’s me, and those who read this blog already know plenty about me. 

In midcareer, most people in academia face a reckoning. They ask, “What now?” They feel exhaustion and boredom with what they have been doing, yet see limited options to do something else. Even former superstars  with massive groups might find the funds have dried up, their groups have shrunk, and they’re scraping to get by. I know some people who’ve been well-funded for years only to start getting slapped around with declinations, facing a mixture of anger and bewilderment that the rules of the game seem to have changed (they haven’t; it’s just that their new-faculty sheen has worn off). I can totally understand the impetus to go to administration, especially for folks who have good people skills. You feel you’re doing something important and are doing it well. For certain individuals, feeling successful, competent, and externally validated is very important. A scientific career, sadly, offers very little of that. In the long run, most people feel overworked, overlooked, underappreciated, and often completely hopeless and helpless when it comes to the grant race. It can get really bleak out there. 

Some people need external recognition, and getting awards or fellowships in various societies is their imperative. I used to think that was important, but cannot really give a toss at this point. 

I really enjoy teaching. I also enjoy working with my graduate students, and I want to be able to do some exciting work with them, and write papers that I find interesting. Hopefully others find them interesting, too, but that’s ultimately not something you can control. You can only follow your own instincts, passions, and scientific taste. Follow the love, as they say. 

Opening my world to arts and artists also has the benefit of reminding me that an academic job is objectively a very good job. Much better than most other jobs. It has security, good pay and benefits, and the ability to work flexible hours with no direct oversight. I don’t really know if there are other jobs out there quite like it, but I can tell you that many would kill for a job like it. 

I think much of our midcareer academic angst comes from our belief that we need to be in love with the job to do it well — where well means well enough to be worthy of it. This issue may not plague just academia, but it gets amplified by the lifelong job commitment typical of academia . I am here to tell you that you don’t have to love your job. Your job is not your child nor spouse nor friend. If you like and enjoy your job for the most part, that is more than most people — not in academia, in the society at large — can say. That is enough and you are worthy. I objectively work just as hard right now, probably harder, than when I was junior. I am better at it, but there is also so much more work. I love it all less, in part because having been beaten down by grant rejections has taken its toll, in part because the job and I have been at it for almost two decades and some of the spark has gone out, but I do it well, and I do it hard, and I am worthy of it even when (or perhaps especially when) my heart isn’t in it. Because it is a job. It only loves you back to the extent to which the people who are in your life because of it love you back. 

If working with your students fills you with joy, if chatting with your colleagues makes you laugh, if brainstorming with your collaborators fires you up — that is it; that is the love your job gives to you, and you are worth it because you make those relationships thrive. So do not feel bad that you do not love your job because I guarantee you do love the parts (the people) who do love you back. The rest — the rejections, the grading, the unnecessary paperwork — of course you don’t love it, as well you shouldn’t. 

At the end of the day, it’s the stuff that nurtures our inner selves (our creativity and curiosity) and the relationships that we have built that make our time here worthwhile. 

So strike that new collaboration, give one talk and hear dozens at your favorite conference, have fun with undergrads in your classes, and proudly send a newly minted PhD into the world. The people who are better off for knowing you and working with you and learning from you are your real legacy. 

Academic blogosphere, what do you say? What is the long game/the point of an academic career?