Reader Question: Retention Etiquette

Reader G is an associate professor at a research school highly ranked in G’s discipline. G recently received an offer from a lower-ranked place at a more desirable location (for personal and spousal-placement reasons). G consulted with department and college elders, and a retention offer is currently in the works.

However, negotiations with the other place fell through and they withdrew the offer, because they were ultimately not able to offer G what G needed (lack of resources, etc) and they needed to fill the post. While offer withdrawal is rare and considered poor form, at least in my academic corner, it is understandable they wanted to move on quickly, to a candidate they were more likely to attract.

Now that the outside offer has been withdrawn, how does G proceed? G could use the goodies promised in the retention package and would like to get them, if possible. Is it ethical to wait for the retention package to go through at this point, or to inquire about its progress? Or should G immediately report that the competing offer is no longer in the picture? What if G’s institution learns the offer is no longer there from someone else, before the retention is finalized?

What say you, academic blogosphere? How does G proceed? My guess is G wants to maintain good relationships with home institution, and, ideally, get the stuff promised for retention.

Lazy Report

Breaking news: It is, in fact, possible to feel rested. I was thinking that I would never feel relaxed and rested again in my life, and thus never again feel anything but overwhelming dread at the thought of cooking, washing dishes, cleaning clutter, any chore really… I decided it’s because I was old, fat, and lazy, but it turned out it’s indeed possible, even for my old, fat, lazy a$$.

This summer, owing to a combination of a very successful grant-writing year and boundless exhaustion, all topped off with a dollop of general boredom with my field of research, I have decided to try what everyone outside of academia thinks I do anyway: take time off during summer.

I am pleased to report that staying at home and chilling is, in fact, glorious. The kids have a smorgasbord of camp activities (the effort and time required to organize the summer for multiple kids are superhuman, as aptly described here) but are also often home. I have been taking it easy for a few weeks, wasting time online, binge-watching Netflix shows, reading, writing… I have been keeping tabs on my group, of course, as well as writing A LOT of letters for other people’s promotions (yep, I am that ancient now), but other than that — taking a break. To be honest, it sounds wrong and shameful to admit it.

The job is quite mentally and emotionally exhausting. I noticed that when I first got the job, how stressed I felt all the time, but I figured I’d just get better at it. Years went by, but the pressure hasn’t let up; in fact, it has increased: keeping up with the fields that move at a dizzying speed, remaining competitive for funds, constantly writing grants and papers and then getting slapped around by referees. Maybe I am a wuss, but it does take a toll. It’s a cumulative effect. The longer I do it, the harder it gets to make myself do it because so little of the job has to do with the exciting, brain-teasing parts of science, and so much has to do with putting yourself out there only to be bloodied and beaten up. Those of us trying to do science at the cutting edge know that the papers submitted to top journals aren’t generally wrong or uninteresting; they get desk-rejected not because there is anything wrong with them, but because they are deemed not hot enough. The same thing with funding — it’s not enough to do good work that you find exciting and that can take you in new directions; it has to be the hottest of the hot among a pretty large collection of hot topics. The gate-keeping nature of science rears its ugly head, in which you see a few big groups and their progeny effectively block outsiders from access to funding; it breaks my heart to see this play out at the detriment of some junior faculty who are supremely capable, yet pedigree-challenged for a variety of reasons.

I spend most of my workdays dealing with the politics and money in science, and too little with the students and the nourishing, exciting part of pure research.

Anyway, I am taking this summer off (well, some of it, anyway) in order to get into next year strong and ready to advise a new crop of group members (new grants, remember?). The year after next, I hope for a sabbatical and some overseas travel. I’d never had a proper sabbatical (had a baby during my so far one and only years ago); maybe working elsewhere for a while is what I need to recharge.

How is your summer going?