Beyond the Hustle

Phew! “Academaze” is out, we’ve done a giveaway raffle, and I am ready to talk about something else. But perhaps not just yet.

Those of you who have read the book — thank you and I hope you enjoyed it! Whether you liked it or not, if you feel inclined to write an honest review (Amazon, Goodreads, your personal blog, etc.) or help us spread the word on social media, it will be greatly appreciated by both me and my publisher. Thank you!

I have to say, this promoting-a-book business is not for the faint of heart. While I understand it’s necessary, it is not a comfortable mode to be in for an introverted academic, pulling people by the sleeve with “Buy my book! Buy my book! Buy my book! Buy my boooooook!” I know how annoying it is to be on the receiving end of people’s attempts to extract money from you, yet here I am, doing just that. I am really sorry! And, yeah, buy my book.

Seriously now, I thought I would share my experiences about the process that led to the book being out in the world, in all its copyedited, cover-arted, ISBN-ed glory.

First, I have to thank Melanie of Annorlunda Books. She has been really wonderful throughout the whole process. Melanie has learned her publishing trade (she’s got several trades under her belt, such as being a PhD with considerable experience working in the biotech industry) by first self-publishing, as well as by having a couple of her own books published by others. There are many details regarding book formatting and distribution that would have required considerable time for me to learn, and I am glad I didn’t have to do it.

Overall, I am really happy I went with a small publisher and only had to ever work with Melanie, whom I trusted. I mostly knew Melanie from the blogosphere (although we met briefly in person a few years ago when I was traveling through her city), but I think that, when you interact with someone for years, even if it’s “just” online, you eventually do get a fairly good sense of who they are. I had gotten to know her as a kind and level-headed person, so I was comfortable trusting her with the book. She was great to work with; she was very accommodating of my preferences in terms of layout and put a lot of effort into making something we were both happy with.

Second, I now admire more than ever those writers who are able to churn out more than one book per year. It’s not just the writing; it’s the editing, going over the text again and again, revising, revising, revising, and then proofreading, proofreading, proofreading. Uuuuuuugh. Writers like Stephen King or Brandon Sanderson, who produce multiple books per year, are freakin’ superheroes. Somebody fetch each of them a cape! Even if their genres aren’t your cup of tea, you have to admire the work ethics, literary talent, and fecund imagination that together enable them to publish as prolifically as they do the kinds of books that many other people enjoy reading.

In my case, there was a lot of raw material to start from, and I might have underestimated just how much there was and just how raw much of it was. Paring down from about 400k to about 150k words was not too onerous; that’s the level at which whole essays were removed as too personal or too ranty. Getting down to what the book is now, about 83k (i.e., about 20% of the starting material), was considerably more laborious; it required going through the text with a fine tooth comb, along with trying to find a reasonably coherent thread. Several essays are actually amalgams of two or three blog posts. Many pieces that worked on the blog simply did not otherwise; often, a sentence or a paragraph is all that survived.

I have reread the book probably a dozen times now, and as much as I am in love with it, I am also a little (alright, a lot) sick of it. I think I need to leave it be for a little while.

But I am extremely pleased that several people said they found it easy to read. I highly value readability of anything I write; when referees say my paper is technically complicated but easy to follow and compelling to read anyway, it really warms my heart; it means I have achieved what I was supposed to — presented new science, new findings, in a way that other humans can appreciate. So when reviews speak of the book as an easy read, I think I did my job right.

There are spots in the book that I would have liked to polish some more, but between it being a sizable text, me having a demanding day job, this being my first book (i.e., me not really knowing what I was doing), and several of us involved working hard to make the deadline despite varied other obligations, I think the book turned out really, really, really well. I am very proud of it.

I thought you might like to know that, after many weeks of agonizing, I have decided to send a copy to my former postdoc, after I had sworn him to secrecy. When I offered him the book I immediately felt it was the right thing to do, as opposed to an awful mistake. He is a trustworthy guy with a great sense of humor, and he’s going through the growing pains with his own group, being midway through the tenure track, so I think he’ll enjoy the book and also keep my secret.



Raffle Winners

Here are the “Academaze” raffle winners (in alphabetical order by first name):

Ebook (8 copies):

Alienor C.
Anshul K.
Beth W.
Gautam M.
Irina D.
Lisa F.
Matthew Q.
Michelle N.

Paperback (7 copies):

Anna A.
Ivana B.
Lydia K.
Megan M.
Neil R.
Peter M.
Smita G.

Ebook winners will receive an email from me with instructions on how to claim their prize on Gumroad.

Paperback winners will receive an email soliciting a mailing address. Please send your mailing address promptly. Your books are ready to go, so if everyone sends their mailing address ASAP, the books will be shipped first thing Monday!

Thanks everyone for playing!

Academaze is Out! Enter Raffle to Get a Free Book


Academaze” is out, and it’s glorious!

Paperback: Amazon | | Createspace

Ebook: Amazon | | GumRoad | iBooks | Kobo


Thanks to all advance readers — I hope you guys are enjoying the book!

Several early and detailed reviews are already up (in chronological order by date of appearance):

Pawel Niewiadomski

Elizabeth Haswell

Alex Small (Physicist at Large)

Clarissa’s Blog

Natalienne (Fill Your Bookshelf Blog)

All Amazon Reviews


To celebrate the publication of “Academaze,” here are some exciting giveaway options!

Enter “Academaze Raffle” to win a free paperback or ebook! (Ebooks sent anywhere in the world, paperback mailed within the US only.)

There are 2 ways to enter the raffle, and you can participate in both! There are multiple prizes, which will be divided between the two groups of entries.

Option 1. Fill out a simple form.

I would like to help some broke grad students and postdocs, so there will be a slight preference in choosing winners among those who are grad students or postdocs. (Your entries will be seen by no one but me and Melanie of Annorlunda Books, so I promise no spam will result from entering.)

Option 2. Help us spread the word about “Academaze”!

Via Twitter: Tweet about the book and make sure you use the hashtag #Academaze or refer to @AnnorlundaInc


Via Facebook: Mention the book in a public post and make sure you tag @AnnorlundaBooks

Raffle entries close on Friday, June 24th, at noon EST! The winners will be announced shortly thereafter, and the books mailed by the end of June.

(Update June 24, 12:31 EST: Raffle entries are now closed. Thanks for playing! Winners to be announced soon!)


The book turned out great, thanks to Melanie Nelson of Annorlunda Books (publisher), as well as Susan Lavoie (cover design) and Dora Dalton (editing services).

To all my wonderful blog readers: Bear with me for another week or so, and then I promise to stop talking about the book.

In the meantime, pick up a copy and enjoy!


Takeoff Imminent

I am traveling for work again. I hope to have a number of “Notes from the Road” posts for you!

I have some paper resubmissions to work on while away, as well as my editorial and refereeing duties. But, I also have to carefully inspect a paperback proof of “Academaze” so we can finalize the text for the June 20 release! (Update: Turns out print edition is out early!)

The book is really gorgeous in print. I don’t think I fully grasped how beautiful the greens on the cover were until I was able to hold a physical copy.
Below, Middle Boy is posing with a paperback proof — he volunteered! He’s the most excited one among my brood about the whole book business.




Melanie did a fabulous job with formatting, so I am really happy with the layout. (Thanks, Melanie!)  The book is beautiful and hefty, at 339 pages (without back and front matter). You can see the side view, with a 5-ft kid for size. Yet, I ended up using roughly 20% of all the blog material from 2010-2015, so the collection is nice and tight!

Before I forget: Melanie sent out ARCs (advanced reader copies) yesterday. If you signed up to be an advance reader but for some reason didn’t receive an ARC email from Melanie Nelson of Annorlunda Books yet, please let me know. Kindle users: the mobi file is a bit large, and many email servers will cap your attachment size at 25 MB. You can transfer the file via USB onto your Kindle directly or you can do what I did (I don’t have a Kindle device, but use Kindle for PC or the phone app): the file zips nicely to below 25 MB, and you can email zip to your Kindle address (it will unpack automatically upon receipt). Any problems, let me know.

I will shut up now about the book, at least for a little while.

Two awesome links before we part ways:

From Pharyngula: Midwestern rivalries

The Prodigal Academic is back! The Prodigal Academic and I started blogging around the same time in 2010, but she stepped away for a little bit when things got crazy on the tenure track. She’s tenured now and back to writing great stuff! I highly recommend that you go say hi to The Prodigal Academic and browse through her archives — many good posts there! And a must-not-miss Non-academic Science Career Information Aggregator.


Academaze: Cover Reveal! Preorders Available!


It’s official! “Academaze” will be published on Monday, June 20th! Thanks to Susan Lavoie for the beautiful cover design and to Dora Dalton for editing services!

Preorders (for electronic version) are available through Amazon, GumRoad, iBooks, Kobo, and Smashwords!

The print book is not available for preorder, but you will definitely be able to order a copy on Monday, June 20th, likely through multiple channels. More info coming soon!

So, what’s the book about? From Annorlunda Books page:

Find Your Way through the Academic Maze

Academic life can be wonderful, but also daunting. This collection of essays and cartoons on life in academia provides an “insider’s guide” to the tenure track and beyond in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields at a major US research institution. Sydney Phlox, a pseudonymous tenured professor, takes the reader through the maze of academic life: from the job search, through the research, teaching, and service that form the core of academic work to the quest for work-life balance and the unique challenges faced by women in STEM. Along the way, Phlox shares the joys and tribulations of working with students and collaborators and navigating academic politics while trying to get papers published and grants funded.

And who’s this mysterious author with such an expertly crafted pen name, you ask?

Sydney Phlox is a professor at a large public research university in the US, working in one of the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. She loves quantum mechanics, science fiction, and bad puns. She and her husband raise a prime number of unruly children and drive in the snow like champs. Phlox blogs and doodles at Xykademiqz.

The book turned out lovely. The print version is 339 pages, full of serious academic goodness. Essays offering advice on getting a job at a research university and learning to do it with success and a bit of flair are sprinkled with some lighter fare (!) — comics and attempts at humor or poetry, like this:

The book turned out great and I am really excited that it will be unleashed upon the world. Bear with me until that happens! 🙂

Many thanks to those of you who have signed up to be advance readers; Melanie Nelson of Annorlunda Books will be contacting you soon!

This post also concludes May-o MOFO, the month of daily blogging in May. I hope everyone found something they enjoyed reading!

Musings on Procrastination

It’s Memorial-weekend Sunday, so I should be allowed to not think about work, right? Well, it sort of… worked. DH, Smurf, and I spent some time at a local attraction, slathered in SP-50 Coppertone and working on our vitamin D reserves.

But, I have been thinking about procrastination today.

Why do I procrastinate? I see Eldest, who is a really conscientious kid when in comes to doing his school work. He has good study habits, which will serve him well in college.

I remember being very focused and not procrastinating in high school, doing my work and getting good grades. I also had  several extracurriculars that took a lot of time, but I was able to get everything done and still reliably got 7 hours of sleep each night.

Fast forward a couple of decades, and I have to will myself to fill out forms for my kids’ summer camps (in my defense, these forms are inhumanely extensive). I won’t be late, but I will fill them out only a day or two before the deadline.

There is a response to the referees and the associated manuscript revisions that I should have worked on since early last week, but I keep avoiding it.

What has changed?

Part of it is that I am perpetually starved for both sleep and rejuvenating alone time.  When I was younger, I really had no obligations to anyone except myself; these days, I am expected to be things to people (parent, spouse, teacher, advisor, emergency contact, principal investigator). I am finally catching up at work in terms all the papers that have to go out or get revised and resubmitted; I cannot just drop work for weeks  because the summer is not endless and I don’t want to get into the proposal writings season with a backlog. As lyra211 says, “It’s terrifying how quickly it feels like academia can pass you by! Some of that pressure is self-imposed, but not all of it.”

Another part is that the work I do these days ranges from mind-numbingly boring to intellectually and possibly emotionally taxing. I didn’t feel work being taxing when I was younger possibly because I was my own sole focus. Now everything I do (or avoid doing) has repercussions on someone else.

Then there’s the clarity of goals. When I was younger, doing work was more like rock-climbing. You could see the pinnacle, you could see where you needed to put your foot next in order to get closer to the goal. (I originally misspelled “goal” as “goad”; what would Freud say about that?)

Working today is more like trying to not drown in a muddy swamp. You seem to recall that getting out of the swamp was the original idea, but you are not clear if that’s true any more and don’t remember which way the exit is supposed to be. Your limbs get tangled in vines, which pull you down and make it harder to move. So not sinking below the surface of the muddy water turns out to be the real goal on any given day.

Always Phlox Your Teeth Before Bed

Academaze will come out on June 20! Preorders will start on May 31st! Of course, I will share all the information here.

Today was a very busy day, plus a day of the monster headache… So nothing serious on the blog tonight.

The book will be under the pseudonym Sydney Phlox. (My publisher recommended I pick a pseudonym that sounds like a real name, so xykademiqz was out.)

I knew that I wanted a gender-neutral first name, so Riley and Sydney were at the top of my list. Why? I simply like them. Also, I am in a male-dominated field and I never write my first name on papers if I can help it, it’s always just first-name initial. If I can avoid being mentally downgraded before the referee gets to the abstract, I consider it a small victory. This is not me being paranoid. I know at least one female NAS member who swears by the same approach, which has served her well for decades. Besides, J.K. Rowling is J.K., and not Joanne for the same reason — people dismiss female writers as, you know, female. If you can get readers to give you a benefit of the doubt enough to read the book synopsis, that’s a small victory as well. (Not that I can write or sell books as well as J.K. Rowling.)

Besides, I really like my real first name, but I can’ use it. And if I can’t use it, why not be named like an awesome city?

[Edit: I can’t believe I forgot Sydney Bristow!]

The blog theme is black an purple, so for a  little while I thought it should be Lily Black or something similar. Then I decided to google possible names of different shades of the color purple.

Phlox jumped out as the best last-name contender of the bunch! [I didn’t want to be amethyst, fuchsia, or patriarch (!)] I urge you to look at the different names for greens, blues, blacks, etc. — it’s fascinating!

Anyway, this is my last name:


Phlox is also a common flower:


Aaaaaand, last but not least, Phlox is a character from Star Trek: Enterprise!

Purple perfection!