Nervous Applicants

Each year, I get a flurry of requests to write recommendation letters for undergrads applying to grad school. Application deadlines are around the corner, with most being sometime in December.

Occasionally, there will be students who are really nervous about it. There is one kid who asked me to write a letter three months ago, to which I said sure. Then I got requests for letters a month or more ago (they must’ve been the first among the applicants at all their prospective schools). Since then, they have been sending me a reminder every week to submit letters. By the way, the earliest deadlines are not till very late November, which we all know is an eternity in faculty time. I think the kid is really worried that I will forget or won’t do it. I understand grad-school applications are their whole life right now, but they cannot be bugging people this much. I said I’d do it, now leave me alone. I’ve got other stuff going on.

Rummaging Through Archives

This was a busy weekend, with student paperwork emergencies, grading the midterm, helping out kids with some schoolwork, and also DH’s birthday, for which I did some extra special cooking (no guests, just us, but it’s nice to mark the occasion).

I’m feeling a bit 😩😩😩😩😩 and there’s still grading to do, so, without further ado…


I give you some of the most-read posts from 2019!

Sunday, Linky Sunday

Some good reads (two funny, two heartbreaking): (I recommend listening, it’s hilarious)

Post-midterm musings

Today, I gave a midterm to my undergraduate class; I proctored it via a videoconferencing tool. Near the end, a student was red in the face and looked visibly upset. He conveyed that he was frustrated because he’d studied so hard and this was even harder than the previous exams.

I’ve had this kid in office hours; he’s one of the most diligent attendees. His questions reflect some surprising and pretty serious gaps in preparation. I am not sure how to help him except plug a hole once it becomes visible. But his facility with algebra, trigonometry, and calculus is just not high enough for him to be able to do well in this course, plus I don’t think he’s getting the concepts that well either; my guess is that spending too much energy being bogged down in the weeds of highschool math that he doesn’t have enough CPU cycles left to process the higher-level stuff. In this major, and this course in particular, you cannot be getting tripped up on the cosine of an angle plus pi/2, or struggle with performing a vector product. These need to be done lightning fast, so you can actually get to the good stuff.

I do explain what I can. When I identify a bigger gap in understanding, I try to go back and do my best to plug it. But, with many students, it’s like trying to keep water inside a colander: the holes are too numerous and, try as a I may, I cannot close them all.

Mostly I’m sad for students who struggle so much. There have been bimodal distributions of grades in undergrad classes pretty much since I started working here. Older faculty say it wasn’t always like that, that distributions used to resemble the normal one much more. These days we do have two modes, on either side of the mean, and there’s nothing but tumbleweeds where the mean is.

Another issue I try to help with when I can, but often cannot, is “I worked so hard.” There are infinite ways of spending a lot of time on little learning gain. If a kid comes to office hours, and he or she is struggling, we talk about learning strategies and test-taking strategies. Maybe it helps. What doesn’t help is that the students in our major tend to be extremely busy, so I wonder if they have the time to really let the material sink in. Then again, I also felt that time moved very slowly when I was that young. Maybe times have changed, or I’m misremembering, or both.

How’s your weekend going, blogosphere? This weekend, I’m looking forward to catching some well-deserved zzzzz, and then I will grade.

This and That

Today was an insanely busy day. Lots of Zoom meetings, from 9 to 7:30 (yep, after hours because of a personnel issue emergency). My butt and my chair are more intimate than any two living things have every been.

I got three story rejections today (different stories), and one re-rejection of a story that had already been rejected two days ago. No need to rub it in, guys!

The semester is about 3/4 over. That is not a bad thing.

Fixed a major issue a student was having with a project. The result will be super cool, one of those results that seem obvious in hindsight but somehow hadn’t been done. I love love LOVE this type of work, both elegant and likely to be impactful.

Reviewed a paper for a highfalutin journal, written by a hotshot. I’m the tiebreaker referee. It’s funny how even when the work is really incremental, the referees are almost afraid to offend the hotshot by pointing out where the work has already appeared. The timidity and awe oozing out of the reports is something to behold. Us plebes never get that treatment, and generally get out a$$es handed to us even when the stuff is decidedly more novel. But then again we’re not hotshots.

The semester is about 3/4 over. That is not a bad thing. I am mostly looking forward to a pause in department service. The committees are just…ugh.

My fave comfort show, Hart of Dixie, is leaving Netlix. I am inconsolable. (No, not really. But it sucks that it will be temporarily unavailable to stream.)

I was taken aback the other day with how seamlessly videoconferencing has become part of our lives. Before, we would chat on the phone. Now it’s a quick Zoom call. This is probably here to stay.

I listened to a great talk today, by a “visitor” to the university who gave the presentation online. I do not mind not having to travel to most conferences. I do not miss traveling to panels or program reviews. I would be OK with only virtual panels at the NSF. I would be OK with only virtual grant program reviews. Except for a couple of conferences where I like the people, I would be OK with giving talks virtually. I wouldn’t mind far less travel for work and a bit more travel for fun in the future.

Finally, a thread of dogs on mushrooms.

Migraine Stinks, Have Some Links

(Same as above

Faculty Governance, My A$$

Those of you who’ve been following this blog awhile are familiar with the ups and downs of my attitude toward work, coupled with midlife-crisis musings.

The thing is, when I look at my posts from even two or three years ago, I can’t believe how invested I was in my work. And, on good days, I still think I have the best job in the world. I love teaching and research; the interactions with my students are the best part of the job. The institution shows me a lot of love, I get raises and accolades. I am well respected in my professional community, even if I am not a superstar.

But every so often I get reminded of what caused me to have to emotionally detach from my job. Being too invested in the institution and the colleagues and the work itself was too hurtful too often, and what’s worse is that I felt helpless to do anything about it. This need to drastically compartmentalize, turn off certain parts of myself in regards to work, is not something that came lightly to me. There was a lot of internal struggle, some still ongoing, some documented here on the blog. Three years ago, I started focusing my energy and aspirations and associated emotions elsewhere, on my writing, and while it can be frustrating (mostly because I am an overachieving pain in the ass), it has also been healing and nurturing and so, so good for me. An endeavor where I can start from nothing, and learn, and grow, and achieve, without having to wait for anyone to catch up, without needing anyone’s permission or agreement. I also met some nice people along the way, who are smart and kind and funny and open-minded. My world became kinder, bigger, brighter.

Last academic year, I was on sabbatical and came back, apparently, with rose-colored glasses (pandemic notwithstanding). I was glad to be back teaching and glad to see my colleagues again.

Then came the committees.

Initiatives that are completely unnecessary. Meetings that could have been emails or those that take an hour to hash out completely obvious stuff.

On the other hand, a complete lack of transparency or discussion regarding some important, very non-obvious stuff.

I ask for clarification about why certain decisions were made or which  specific actions were taken, and I am (as before) invariably stonewalled. Colleagues in admin roles cite HR rules, but, in reality, no one is asking for any HR-sensitive details. I am asking for some sliver of information so these decisions and actions look transparent and fair and equitable, as they should be at a public university, and do not smell of shady backroom dealings and secrecy. Instead, I am met with “We are not allowed to discuss this (and shame on you for asking).” I am not asking for anyone’s medical records or private information. But if things were supposed to happen but didn’t, or if certain concessions were made for certain people but aren’t usually made, we should be given some smidgen of information regarding what had transpired. We are not the CIA. This level of secrecy about the operations is not warranted. And asking questions should not be shameful.

The thing is, these people in the know could share more but choose not to, and it’s convenient to hide behind HR. The thing is, that there is an in-crowd, there has always been an in-crowd, they’ve always had all the information, and their mode of holding on to (a little bit of) power is knowing what they know and deciding if and when and with whom to share, and what/what to withhold. Getting tiny power-trip boners from morsels of administrative secrets.

God, I would gladly double my teaching load if it meant I didn’t have to participate in “faculty governance.” It’s faculty governance in name only.  Decisions are made without us anyway, attempts to find out what is actually decided behind closed doors are shut down, yet we are all supposed to keep pretending we’re one happy faculty-governed institution.

F*ck university politics. F*ck having to play these humiliating games where I need to act like I am an idiot buying the bullshit I’m being sold.

Gimme a roomful of (masked) freshmen any day.


Bleurgh, indeed.

I worked all weekend and am understandably exhausted now that the new week has started. This is the part of the semester when I get really angry over all the things I have to do, and I am doubly pissed because I swear there is more service now, in the middle of the pandemic, than what is normal. Admins collectively seem to be losing their damn minds, and being the types they are, they seem to try to regain some sense of control by starting more unnecessary, boneheaded initiatives. I will have to complain to the powers that be because it is insane to expect this much extra of people under these conditions, even though I know a vast majority of my colleagues either have grown kids, don’t have kids, or have someone else shouldering the burden at home, so might not be sympathetic to my pleas. But I cannot fucking supervise morning school for my kids, which means I am trying to work, while Smurf does his thing next to me, Middle Boy is in the next room, and I am responsible for food and help/clarifications. Me trying to work means I am getting constantly interrupted while attempting to handle endless emails and papers, grant proposals, editorial duties, reviews of papers and proposals, letters for everyone under the sun, Zoom meetings with students/whole group/collaborators, student defenses, and so, so many committee meetings. Then in the afternoon I go teach in person. By the time I come back home, I am completely fried. But wait! Maybe I still have to post class notes or homework solutions! Or finish up service paperwork! On the weekends, I grade exams, do more editorial work, try to catch up on reviews of stuff, try to get a couple of hours uninterrupted so I can revise and resubmit some papers, and everyone ^&$#E(%&$ wants everything done yesterday.

Are you feeling bleurgh, too, blogosphere?