Current-Events Hilarity

Nope, No Election Is Happening, ‘Tis Just a Mundane Academic Rant

— Look, I know everyone is freaking out about the election. I have no words of wisdom, so I will:

a) Give you this handy link on what to do instead of screaming into the Void (McSweeney’s on point, as usual)

b) Rant/whine/moan/scream (but not into the Void; into the rest of the post) on academic issues, acute and chronic

— The semester is more than half over and we’re finalizing teaching schedules for the spring. I will be teaching in person, which will come with mandatory twice-weekly testing — an additional pain in the neck, even though there has been no in-class transmission among students or between students and faculty. It’s as if all the masking and sanitizing and social distancing works!

— The college powers that be cannot stop talking about revenue. Lost revenue, the need to generate more revenue. I hate this corporatization so much! I know it’s well underway, I know I can’t stop it, but why? Why? Why do we have to worry about revenue, other than bringing in research grants and making sure we deliver quality education? Why do faculty have to act as used-car salesmen? Most faculty in STEM are temperamentally unsuited for sales. And what are we selling, and who are we selling to? Bringing on more paying eyeballs (qualified or not) to our online classes, rather than properly teaching fewer but qualified students? Are we selling instructional videos and materials? None of these are to be sold lightly if a university wants to maintain prestige. Are we selling something to our alumni? Public at large? Seriously, does anyone know what we are to be selling to and to whom? Does the target demographic want our stuff? Can it afford it?

— I turned in my sabbatical report. You’d think they’d lay off of those us who’d clearly had our sabbaticals shat on by the COVID elephant with digestive problems. Accommodation for everyone, but not faculty. We need to be tightly reined in at all times.

— Some weeks ago, I videochatted with a male colleague. He said how some people’s productivity dropped during COVID, but other people’s didn’t at all. He not-so-subtly implied that his didn’t. This was one of the several instances where it was clear we are in the same storm, but are not in the same boat (related, but not faculty-specific, here). If you are a faculty member with significant caregiving obligations (let’s not pretend this doesn’t mean mostly women mostly taking care of children), and even if no one has fallen ill or died, your world has been drastically affected by COVID because you have to keep working and taking care of your children and their schooling full time.

You know all those studies that show that family leave is used by men to write more papers in peace, and used by women to actually recover from the toll of childbirth and to care for their newborns? With COVID-related tenure-clock extensions and similar, I think we will have yet another well-meant but in practice again fucking-over-women-because-equity-and-equality-aren’t-the-same initiative.

Every time I think of the worlds my similarly-aged male colleagues with a similar number of kids to mine and I live in, I realize and am somehow shocked anew that they are very, very different worlds. A vast majority of these male colleagues (even though they are not dinosaurs) have nonworking or part-time-working wives who tend to the house and the kids so the husband can become meritorious. Female faculty’s households tend to have, at best, an equitable division of labor between two spouses with careers; stay-at-home and part-timer husbands exist, but they are a tiny minority. Even if the female partner’s career is primary, in most households she still puts in a lion’s share of work into the children and the household. Nobody but her is bending over backwards to ensure she becomes  meritorious. 

— Then the topic of student mental health came up in the conversation between me and that male colleague. Since March, when the lockdown started, I’ve spent a lot of time and energy on making sure my group members are doing OK and coping well mentally. When they sound exhausted or otherwise unusually down, I urge them to take time off, and within a week or two they are back to their old selves. On average, the group has been OK for the most part, without anyone having major setbacks, either health-wise or in terms of research progress. When I mentioned how much effort I expend on making sure everyone is doing well mentally, the colleague just off-handedly remarked something like, “Oh, yeah, I probably should’ve, but didn’t really.”

This shit doesn’t even register for him. Can you imagine how much lighter a woman’s workload would be if she didn’t constantly have to gauge and manage everyone’s emotional states? These calls for accommodating students? Women tend to take that as a call to be even more attuned to what those around them need. Men, as usual, walk around blissfully oblivious to everyone’s needs but their own, and wait to be asked point blank for some specific accommodations. If no request is made, no crisis gets noticed, and the male PI (maybe not you, reader, but I assure you, this holds for most) remains light as a feather, unencumbered by the quiet despair emanating from those around him.

No wonder my fiction is full of unbridled rage. 

How are you holding up, blogosphere? 

Omens

Yesterday, I sold a story at a pro rate to a very selective magazine. I’d been sending pieces to it since I started in 2017, 21 stories in total. One shortlist, otherwise form declines. I was about to stop sending them work, convinced they’d never take anything of mine, and then they did. I am ecstatic, but mostly don’t feel like it’s real yet.

A writer friend told me that this great, highly coveted story sale on the day before the election was a good omen. I didn’t want to disappoint him by sharing that I had been raised in a culture where there are only bad omens and worse omens, that every instance of joy or victory is to be feared, for typhoons of shit are about to descend to balance out the little sliver of light, because shit is all there is.

So, yeah.

I’m distracting myself by watching Step Dave on Amazon Prime. It’s my rebound show while I’m getting over finishing Republic of Doyle, which I was using to get over finishing Psych, which I was using to get over finishing Chuck, which I was using…

How are you doing on this weird Tuesday, blogosphere?

Droppings in Other People’s Comment Sections

A surefire way to tell I need to blog is that I start leaving increasingly verbose comments on other people’s posts. Here are a few recent gems turds examples.


[Seasons] I love fall; it’s my favorite season. I love rain and gloomy skies and wind and leaves changing colors. Nothing makes me feel like I am young again and the world is my oyster like the smells and sounds of a rainy October afternoon as I walk through puddles. When I was a kid, I always loved the start of the school year, with new classes, new material to learn and keep my brain engaged. (I don’t like winter here in Midwest; we get too much snow for my liking, and it is too cold to go outside. Although I really need to continue my murder-prevention walks through this winter in order to, well, prevent murder, so maybe some targeted purchases of fleece-lined pants and such are in order.)

I was born in the summer but hate summer as a season. It’s too hot, and it’s such an annoyingly pushy and extroverted season. I always feel like I have to go outside and do stuff, because it’s so nice out, like I must not miss out, but in reality it’s humid and hot and buggy and there are far too many damn people everywhere (pandemic or not), and I generally hate doing stuff everyone says I must do (this, much more so now than I did as a kid; middle age does make one more ornery!). Moreover, when I was a kid, summers were endless stretches of boredom after being dumped on my grandparents in their ancestral country house with no phone, TV, or running water. While I enjoyed those times on some level, we weren’t allowed full freedom of movement because grandparents were worried we (sister, cousin, and I, all city kids) would get bitten by snakes or get lost in the woods, and the local kids had chores so couldn’t play most of the day, so it was a struggle to fill my days after I’d invariably quickly run out of reading material. God, I read and reread everything (lots of very inappropriate stuff) so many times, I did math and physics from books of problems, but there was only so much material I could physically bring with me. My brain was always so hungry.


[Editorial duties] I am an associate editor for a disciplinary journal and sometimes have to send 8-10 requests to get 2 reports back. Everyone on the editorial team says the same. People are swamped.

The way I use comments to the editor when I am a reviewer is to convey something that can’t really be seen by the authors. For example, in recent months I have submitted several non-review reviews in which I read the paper and have thought about it, often deciding it should be rejected for lack of novelty or a complete ignorance of the state of the art (so, so many people don’t read enough!), but didn’t have the time to go digging for all the pertinent references for a full review. I basically conveyed what I thought, recommended the editor send to an additional reviewer who might have more time or provide a more charitable read, that at that point I didn’t have the time to write an ironclad review with all the references where I’d be ready to battle a rebuttal from authors, but that FWIW my opinion was what it was and I was sending it in for them to use as they saw fit.

I also use comments to the editor in conjunction with a review to convey, for example, if I think the paper is boring, derivative, etc., all words that are useful to the editor but must be couched for the author. On the plus side, I did send comments to the editor a few times to highly recommend the paper for excellence, novelty and/or elegance, and at least once the paper ended up getting featured as Editors’ Choice, which I thought was really cool.

One of my proudest reviewing moments: A really cool paper suffered from some suboptimal structuring that obscured its coolness. I suggested rewording a number of places, and asked them to restructure the paper according to my specs, all so as to better showcase the paper’s coolness. Upon re-review, I saw that the other referee had outright dismissed the initial version, but upon seeing the revision (the authors did follow my instructions) changed his mind and supported its publication. (It was for a pretty highfalutin journal, too, so I bet the authors were happy!)


[Attention issues] I might have mild attention-deficit issues (or, you know, just being a tightly wound pain in the ass) which I handle with stimulants like coffee and working with music on.

[Headaches and general midlife health issues] I have given up pretty much all alcohol. Red wine gives me headaches, and both beer and wine make me feel weird and bloated. (I also avoid pasta for similar reasons; I feel comatose-sick after a plateful of it.) I can still drink hard liquor; Malibu rum neat is my drink of choice, but I also do well with many cocktails.

[Handling the pandemic, written on a particularly grumpy day] The pandemic has been OK, I guess. Going outside every day helps immensely, and I am in notably worse spirits when I skip. I am amused and amazed but mostly aggrieved by how everyone expects me to never skip a beat, while they require and receive all sorts of help and accommodation, yet most don’t have even a fraction of daily obligations that I have.

I wish someone would be my mother for a change.

Mostly, I’m trying to take one day at a time. It helps.


How’s everyone doing, blogosphere? 

Slinky Linky

Welcome to November! Here is some Twitter goodness to start off the month.

Updates and NaBloPoMo

Anyone still around and reading? Pandemic plus a general dissolution of the once vibrant academic blogosphere (and its move to platforms like Twitter) equals fewer people reading and commenting, and consequently less of an impetus for me to keep blogging, especially since life stuff and fiction writing already vie for my time.

Anyway, as in (most? many? some?) years past, there will be daily blogging in November (NaBloPoMo — the blogging equivalent of NaNoWriMo). I think it’s good for me to have these intense blogging periods as a way to reconnect with this space, and hopefully good for you, dear reader, as there will more content. I can’t promise 100% highbrow fare, but something will be up every day in November.

***

I’m knee-deep in grading a midterm. I have a proposal due next week. Four papers need to be revised and resubmitted (after the proposal is in, duh).

This coming summer, I am looking forward to graduating probably the weakest student I’ve ever had. This students shouldn’t have gotten a PhD to begin with, but they managed to somehow pass one procedural hurdle, then another, and with a lot of help from others, and some strategically applied (and possibly not entirely conscious) manipulation and guilt-tripping of advisor , which I really shouldn’t have succumbed to but did, I continued to work with them even though several colleagues told me to cut the student loose. I tried all the tricks, changed their topic, then changed it back, tried being super hands off, then super hands on, but at the end of the day they were upbeat and enthusiastic but nothing was sticking, and they kept not being able to grapple with technical problems or do anything without a lot (A LOT) of help from me and others. All in all, we are now at a point where I can get them out with a minimal PhD that is well below the standard for my group, but passes the department, college, and university sufficiency tests. I suppose sooner or later we all (as advisors) have such a student.

My terrible professional mood these past couple of years has likely been linked to several bad hires I had made once three grants were funded in short succession. These new people were in stark contrast to the absolutely stellar crop I had graduated just before. For months, going into years, nothing was getting done. I started feeling hopeless, surrounded by all these nice and social but completely unproductive people spending all my money for naught, and panicking that this would be the end of my grants as we would not be able to renew. One way or another, those people are mostly no longer with the group. One has found their groove, and then some, and is being quite productive. I’ve since lucked out with a stellar student who transferred from another group, an absolutely fantastic undergrad, and another great new international student. The group is finally back to its usual output, and not a moment too soon, as two grants are up for renewal in the spring.

***

I have a bunch of stories coming out in late October and early November, and some exciting holds at prestigious markets. Fingers crossed!

It no longer feels impossible to write a novel. I (jokingly) promised my husband I’d write a bestseller, so we could retire early to someplace warm. No pressure! 🙂

***

What have you been up to, blogosphere?

Random Bits of Quarankademiqz

I am an associate editor with a disciplinary journal. Another associate editor incessantly sends me manuscripts to review (as a reviewer) and I turn it down. I specifically avoid sending stuff to my fellow associate editors to review because I know they already read plenty for the journal. I wish this associate editor would take a hint and stop sending me stuff. (No, I am not the only or the best person for any of the work he sends me. I bet I’m just the first sort-of in-area person that comes to his mind.)

I had a “battle” with university-level sponsored research office at award closeout. I love how these always start with them being condescending and commandeering toward the PI, as in “Lowly PI, thou have transgressed. Thou must obey!” I pushed back hard, because I know my program managers would approve these expenses and the expenses have already been scrutinized heavily (heavily=taking way too much of my time) by department and college. Doing computational work, I dared buy computers for my students and I guess those are considered office supplies; no, for us they are not, they have custom configurations and are essential equipment). Eventually, the admin folded, but all this red tape irritates me to no end and is such a waste of time and energy.

I am teaching in person and it’s going OK. What I don’t understand are the students who have never showed up for class. Not once! Why sign up for an in-person section if you’re never going to show up and there’s another section that is completely online?

I have done a ton of writing for service since the semester started. All the blogging and fiction writing made this probably far easier for me than it is for most; I have almost no barrier (other than sheer laziness) when it comes to writing technical or admin materials. I wish we conveyed to prospective faculty members everywhere just how much of a faculty member’s job is writing. IT IS ALL OF THE JOB. Seriously. It feels like all I do is write or edit someone else’s writing.

During the pandemic, I have been doing OK. Some cabin fever, but not too bad, as I’ve managed to take my hourlong “murder-prevention walk” most days. But, in more frequent (online) interactions with colleagues these days, it is clear, yet again, what a wide chasm exists between those of us who have to take care of others and those who don’t. The thing is, overall I actually enjoy having all this extra time with my kids. During the day, Smurf sits at a desk next to me, while Middle Boy is just outside, in the next room. And no, I don’t kick anyone out when I have calls, because they have the right to go to their Zoom school. But I see some impatience and irritation from people on the other side whose kids are either nonexistent or safely tucked away. I heard from one kidless partnered colleague how some people have been just fine, working like nothing has changed. Yeah, I bet he’s been fine. All his comment did was made me want to cut him. (Look, I know all people have problems. But I am just not in a very charitable mood toward those who cannot see past their own nose and imagine how the pandemic affects those with significant caregiving obligations. And before anyone thinks to say “Well, you chose to have kids,” don’t. Just fucking don’t.)

Men v women. In my class, I polled the students about some class logistics and offered, as response options, strong preference for one or the other, some preference for one or the other, and neutral. All the boys expressed a strong preference, and all the girls expressed mild preference. That made me furious, because I guarantee that girls have preferences just as strong as anyone else’s, they’re just trained not to be too loud, not to demand too much. In contrast, the boys think that, of course, their wish should be everyone’s command. I remember this from my own relationships, where the man says we should do as he wishes because I don’t seem to feel very strongly about something (or anything), whereas the whole time I’m contorting myself not to be too demanding, too intrusive, or too much.

We have been instructed to strictly hold exams within our class periods, to minimize student clustering in the hallways and whatnot. Yet there’s of course an instructor (wanna guess their gender?) who insist on extending the exam 15 min into my class time. I am all for breaking stupid rules, but some rules are reasonable and necessary. Why are some people so fucking selfish to think these don’t apply to them? Just stay within your own goddamn exam period. It’s not that hard.

I’m so fucking tired of having to tone myself down, shut myself up, make myself small in order to palatable to people. It’s amazing how I didn’t see or rather didn’t mind it when I was young, all the mansplaining/condescension, and how much I do mind it now, and even mind it retroactively, fuming over the injustices done toward my younger self.

Yeah, I fume a lot.

In other news, writing is going well and I have had some contest placements and even have a request to revise and resubmit from a pro-paying market I’ve been trying to crack since I’ve started writing! Thanks to biweekly writing challenges, I have a ton of new flash to shop around, and the benefit is that I am less precious about any one story than when I write one every few months. The abundance (as opposed to scarcity) mentality is really something. And, as a result of constant practice, my writing leveled up—not only has the volume of my output increased, but so has its quality.

What’s going on with you, wise and worldly readers?

Comment Compilation

Sometimes I catch myself writing ever more varied and elaborate comments on other people’s blogs and realize it’s probably time for a post of my own. Here are some bits of wisdom stupidity chunky chowder opinion I’ve recently spilled hither and yon over the blogosphere.

—————–

Gel pens are a great disappointment of my stationery world. I love them dearly, and in theory they should be all I ever wanted in a pen, but ultimately I find them all (tried so, so many brands) short-lived and unreliable for the type of writing/drawing I do. I think it’s my fault (hard grip and lots of pressure when I write), so I am left with unattractive but sturdy writing implements. Incidentally, unattractive but sturdy would also be how I would describe myself lolsob.

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My uni has temporarily gone online (after a spike in cases). It is going well for me as I do everything on the board, so I just do it on my iPad over the videoconferencing platform (shared whiteboard) which is integrated with our online learning system, as opposed to in person. And, with online teaching, I don’t have to worry about makeup and hair! But I think the students get really stressed over being yanked between person and online with minimal notice.

I do record my lectures (it’s voice and shared white board). On the upside, I sound pretty kickass, way more kickass than I feel when I lecture, and I emphasize things well and explain concepts clearly. The downside is that I have more accent than I think I do, especially at the beginning of the class; it kind of fades as I relax into it, but it really bums me out. I hate that I don’t hear it otherwise. It’s not thick or anything, and no student has ever complained about it in my 16 years of teaching, but still.

***

I started teaching in person, then went online (required by the administration) as the number of cases spiked, and will be going back in person next week. While we were online, I basically taught live using an iPad + stylus and sharing my electronic white board with the students. I talked and drew and wrote (it was easy to quickly change colors for emphasis) and the students would ask questions via messaging or would (rarely) turn on their microphones and ask verbally. I feel the online version went well (live lectures, more color than I have markers for in f2f teaching, plus I could record lectures as I went — no plans on posting them anywhere, just for current students if they miss a class); however, now that the cases are dropping and we’ve been cleared for f2f, everyone wants to go back to the classroom. Students are much more engaged when we’re in person, more likely to ask questions, and actually thinking on the spot.

—————–

I’m in a similar boat. I absolutely refuse to use the spyware on my students. Instead, I will try to recreate to the extent I can the experience of proctoring in class. I will have them join me on a conference call with video and I will be there to answer questions. That’s enough. It’s different when I am looking at them with my eyeballs versus their multiple devices being overtaken by third-party software. I assume most students don’t want to cheat. Heck, my 4th grader already knows what cheating is (deliberately going against the rules of the class) and that it is not something to be done.

As for memorization, I don’t require it, but I emphasize that they need to practice, and through practice they will remember key formulas. To that end, I assign a ton of mandatory homework. Also, things are faster and easier if they do remember some things. For example, everyone [edit: everyone in my STEM classes, not everyone in every walk of life] knows cos 0 or sin(pi/2), right? You shouldn’t have to look up every single detail; that would be like having to look up the spelling of common words like apple or pants. So I emphasize that, while they can have open book and notes, that doesn’t mean that the first time they turn on their brain regarding the material is on the test (“studying during the test”) because there is definitely not enough time for that.

Most kids aren’t there to cheat. Those who are have bigger problems than passing my class.

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I have long ago stopped initiating these little interludes [impromptu chats with colleagues or going to coffee/lunch] because everyone is always so busy, I feel like I’m the only one with the time/will to gossip in the hallway or wanting to go grab lunch/coffee. Sure, everybody is friendly, but I always feel like I’m imposing with my chatter and the other party can’t wait to get away from me and get on the next thing they’ve got planned. When we do get together for lunch (scheduled weeks in advance), the time is highly constrained (obligations before and after), so it doesn’t feel like a respite but rather like yet another thing everyone checks off their to-do list.

Btw, you mention a huge box of candy. None of my colleagues are interested in candy, it’s really disheartening. Everyone is watching their figure/health, and these days I feel ashamed to even have candy on hand, let alone be seen enjoying it.

Honestly, interacting with writers on Twitter since I started writing fiction has been a godsend for my mental health. My friendly health-conscious vice-free unreachable colleagues have made my soul shrivel a little. Kind of like here. Not as dramatic, but in a similar vein: http://theprofessorisin.com/2012/07/03/death-of-a-soul-on-campus/
In any case, having emotionally divested from the people at work brought me peace. No expectations, no disappointment.

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I used to think I’d never retire. Now, not so much. I enjoy teaching and working with graduate students, but after 100+ papers, all the battles with referees are just a drag and don’t seem worth it, and don’t even get me started on getting grants. I plan to retire as soon as I can. I am serious about writing fiction, have written and published plenty of short works and poetry since I started in 2017, and plan on tackling novels and screenplays. And it would be nice to finally have the time to learn another language, maybe an instrument or two, and really master a digital-art platform. But I still have 20 years till retirement, so who knows? By then, I might be sick of my current hobbies, and on to something else.

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