Author: xykademiqz

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

 

Adminimax

Recently, I received news of a senior female colleague moving to a high administrative post. This same colleague told me years ago that I was not cut out for administration. I don’t think she was wrong, but it still stung, and I still begrudge her for it—who the hell is she to tell me what I can and cannot do? In hindsight, the above comment of hers, which she made when I was an assistant professor, did erode my confidence in my administrative abilities, and consequently the opportunities I sought or didn’t; we should all be careful when we wield discouraging words, even if—or perhaps especially if—we think we know better. 

It is, however, true that I have no intention of going into administration. I might do it if I absolutely have to, but not for any longer than necessary. (Maybe I wouldn’t feel this way if the colleague hadn’t made that remark, but I guess we will never know.) The thing is, I find working with people to be emotionally taxing, seemingly much more so on me than on many others, including those who successfully hold administrative posts for long periods. I don’t know if these individuals are naturally even keeled, or they are just good at disengaging their emotions from the job at hand. I can  compartmentalize, but only for a limited time, and couldn’t do it for days on end. 

I prefer to be boots on the ground, working with students through teaching and research. It is also probably good for everyone involved that I keep doing the things that both utilize my strengths and benefit the core mission of the university. 

What say you, blogosphere? Do you covet or avoid administrative posts?

 

Mid-semester This and That

Work has been crazy and I am definitely old. What I mean is that I feel the fatigue of increased workload the way I never used to when I was young.  A week of 12-14-hour days for a proposal crunch? These days it takes me a week, if not more, just to physically recover. (Incidentally, S5E10 of Scrubs hilariously shows how binge-drinking affects people of different ages.) I feel groggy and slow and the body just craves pampering and soup and Bollywood movies. (Bollywood comedies are among my go-to recovery binges. Young and pretty actors, vibrant colors, hilarious and  wholesome storylines — what’s not to like?) 

Anyway, this semester has been busy and productive, a bunch of papers out, several more in the pipeline to be out later this year, some exciting proposals in and some new leads for collaborative work, all in all, I am cautiously optimistic about the next couple of years, at least.

Fiction writing has been on the back burner, which is fine. I wrote like crazy in 2020 and it paid off. I’ve been a member of HWA  for a little while, and am now qualified for a SFWA membership. The goals from a couple of years ago, fulfilled; it feels really good. The next steps include some sales of longer stories, perhaps a flash-fiction collection and, if the proposals are funded this summer, I will be able to devote some time to a novel (or novels). There are a few options I would like to explore, which were received really well in short-story form and might work well if expanded.

A month of teaching left, and then into another pandemic summer. I’ve been fully vaccinated, and we’re hoping hubs will soon be, too. I think the kids are counting on us traveling somewhere, but it’s really hard to project anything. We definitely need to get away, but it doesn’t mean that we can. (Pandemic aside, I kinda hate summer; it’s too hot, and it’s such an extroverted season, the season for people who want to be outside, doing things, with others. I’d thrive in a temperate climate with gray overcast skies and plenty of rain. Alas, hubs doesn’t like rain.)

Anyway, the semester is in full swing. Teaching masked students in person hasn’t been too bad, especially with mandatory saliva testing. It has felt  almost normal, with the added benefit of me not having gotten a cold or the flu all winter (likely because of masks, too_.

I’ve had a bunch of interesting ideas for posts in this space, but there’s never time to write when the spark emerges, and then  it’s gone.

So, for now, this.

How’re you holding up, blogosphere? 

Happy Pi Day!

Long time, no see, blogosphere! I am insanely busy, with no bandwidth for much other than SYENZ. So, for now, please take assorted nuggets of levity as a token of my appreciation.

Naughty

Intermezzo

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?