Friday, September 21
Adviser: Hey, I had a great idea! You could use Fancy New Method to address your thesis topic!
Dandelion: That would be fantastic if it worked, but given that it's New, it'll probably take months to set up and optimise. Can't I just try to get some results now that Slightly Older Also Cool Method is finally working after months of optimisation?
Adviser: Don't worry about SOACM, it would be so much cooler with FNM! And it'll hardly take any time to set up, I'm sure. Your results will be so much more exciting than the boring ones you're going to get this way.
Dandelion: It would be much more interesting. If you really think it'll work, it would be worth it. I'll try it.
Dandelion goes off to figure out how to use FNM and plan experiments.
Adviser: So, what's your plan for finishing up this project with SOACM? Can we publish this soon?
Dandelion: Um, what happened to FNM? I've been working on that.
Adviser: Oh, that's not going to work. It's too new and will take too long to optimise. You should try to get something published soon. Besides, you don't want to waste all the effort you've put into SOACM.
Dandelion: Argh!
A couple months pass. Repeat from the beginning.


If only her enthusiasm weren't so infectious and convincing... At least I've learned not to stop working on SOACM, while investigating the FNM of the day.
Tuesday, September 18
What do you do when you "catch" (like it's difficult to spot) students sleeping during your classes?
Thursday, September 13
Guys, where is everybody? Do you remember the fun we had back in the old days (I believe it was just a tiny year ago)?

Whatever happened to Clear and Plaid? Did they switch over to the dark side and said good-bye to their practice of posting witty graphic secrets?

And where is my friend Kodachrome? Have you been sucked into the tenure-track vortex?

Maybe we could expand the scope of this blog to make it about more than secrets and troubles in academia. After all, there are some things in this life that actually make it worth living, or am I just speaking for myself?

Well, I hope to see many of you back on a.secret...long live the lovely species of the blogging academic!
Tuesday, September 4
Oh... to teaching, that's where.

I can't believe that just a few short summer months was long enough to wipe from my brain the time, energy, and commitment that the "teaching" part of my job takes. I don't even teach at a teaching school - this is an R1 school that values teaching. Uh huh. We'll see how that value gets translated at tenure time.

Granted there are always the semester start-up costs (adding and dropping students, dealing with the bookstore, teaching how to use the course management site, plus most of my students are freshman who don't even know where to get coffee on campus), but I haven't gotten anything substantial accomplished since classes began not-too-long ago.

Is anyone else having a hard time switching gears from research to teaching? Has anyone found a way to balance the two? I feel a little like I'm sixteen years old and learning how to drive a clutch. How can I balance the brake and the clutch without stalling?
Sunday, July 22
I'm a seven days a week academic (well, really six because of childcare issues - but given the option, I'd be in the office seven days a week). This was typical at my graduate program, at least for a handful or professors and students. It's not typical here, at my first job. Don't get me wrong - I waste time like the best of them - but I'm here and ostensibly working.

I hear all the time, though, about these academics that are pulling 80 hour work weeks. Where the hell are they? I realize that one doesn't have to work at work, but I doubt that many of the people who I don't see here are working on anything "work" related. My co-workers are reading fiction, playing softball, remodeling their houses, mowing their lawns, creating scrapbooks, taking day trips to the big city or the beach. And this isn't just because it's summer! This is typical year-round - for people with and without tenure, with and without children, and with and without graduate school training like my own. It's not that I don't blow off work to go to the movies, read a good book, or watch some TV. It's just that I work a lot too.

Maybe it's healthier. Maybe they're happier. But I sure miss coming in on a Saturday and seeing others trudging along with me.

I guess they're all at the top ten schools... one more reason I should keep working through my weekends and holidays - then maybe I can get a job at a place where people work those 80 hour weeks.
Tuesday, June 19
What is it with academics and summer?

While school's been out for a while, for reasons I can't blog about, my summer's just begun. Everyone else seems to think that summer's almost over.

As I see it, I still have more than two full months of summer left, minus a couple conferences or commitments here and there. Yet, inevitably, any chat with a fellow academic (fellow faculty, grad students, or friends) is about how summer is "slipping away" or is "almost over" or "has just gone by too fast."

Trust me, I'm not an optimist. Why do I feel like there's still so much more time left, that so much more that can be accomplished?

Summer, my friends, is definitely half-full. Every day I get to come into my office and work without students to cater to, lectures to write, papers to grade. There's no line at the campus coffee shop and faculty meetings are a thing of the past.

The rest of the world can continue to treat summer like it's on its last leg, but I'm going to enjoy this break for the half-full martini or margarita or mocha latte that it is. I hope you will too!
Sunday, May 20
Here is my secret: I am a hypocrite.

Things have been bad in Academic Ella land, to the extent that I almost dropped out this semester. And I mean seriously. But I didn't, and the end result is that the stress of my particular situation caused me to lose 15 pounds in a month (and I'm not a large person to begin with, by any standard), stop menstruating, and develop an ovarian cyst that may require surgical removal of my ovary in my reproductive prime.

That's just great.

But yet, here I am, still.

So whilst suffering through the turmoil of this semester, I had to seek counsel from another faculty member. I really didn't want to, because I hate to come across as gossipy, but things were Bad, with a capital B. (I saw aforementioned faculty member a few weeks after our initial meeting and he asked me if things were going better. I replied, 'Do I look like things are going better?!' He said, 'Well, you don't look like you're packing, so that's better.' The scary thing is that he was only half kidding, I think.)

Packing aside, obviously one of his major suggestions to me was to find a new advisor. Which isn't as easy as it sounds, for reasons that I'm sure I don't have to explain to people here, but that other people outside of Academic Ella land (including my husband, to a certain extent) just don't seem to understand.

The obvious choice for a new advisor is a new faculty member with whom I've been working this past year and who I absolutely adore. And while working with her is a fully pleasant experience (she seems to approach life in a different manner than my advisor), I just don't think she would cut it for me as an advisor. I mean, like me, she has a young daughter, which means she isn't around very much, or at least not as much as some. Which means that when I'm in the middle of doing something and realize I don't know what I'm doing (which is always), she isn't there to help. Which means my experiments are often screwed and I end up wasting the afternoon away. The plus side is that she's always nice about it in the end, and she never goes off on tirades about how lazy and undisciplined I am. But the bottom line is that she doesn't work 24/7 and she's not a psychotic workaholic like my current advisor, which in this sick sort of way is what I seem to need.

Add to this the fact that there's this new graduate student wanting to start in my advisor's lab. All I can figure is that she wants to be with me, because her undergraduate degree is in a completely different subfield than my advisor's, and I really can't imagine that she was so charmed by my advisor that she just had to work with him. My advisor suggested that new student and I figure out a day when we can be in the lab at the same time this summer, which I would love, because aforementioned student seems very cool, much cooler than my advisor. At the same time, trying to work out a schedule with this new student has been ridiculously frustrating, because she has an infant son and she just isn't ready to leave him yet and blah blah blah.

Don't get me wrong, I understand, but I am also... annoyed. I understand that I am viewed as one of the Star Graduate Students, and therefore the poster child for 'You CAN have it all!' Thus my advisor's lab is view as The Kid Friendly Lab, which makes it a magnet for new graduate students with young children, or just children, or with just any semblance of a life whatsoever. And while I do want to be a mentor to anyone that I can be a mentor to (because mentors in our field are pathetically lacking), I don't have time to be a mentor because, hello, I'm also a mom. I don't really have the time to work around your pathetically limited schedule. And also, if you aren't ready to leave your kid yet, why in the F are you thinking about starting grad school?!

I guess life is all about balance. Maybe as a struggling graduate student with a young child, I need the rigor of a hellish advisor to keep me on track. I hate it, but I also realize that if I had a nicer advisor, it's quite possible that I would never finish, which I would also hate.

I've had the same sort of dilemma when it comes to religion. I am personally not religious, and neither is my spouse. Yet, we sort of want to rear our daughter religiously. We were both reared with religion--not really strict religion, but religion nonetheless. And while neither one of us has ever really believed in God, we do think that the fear of God has some redeeming qualities in a young child's mind.

To this day, I still fear the wrath of a God I don't believe in. And I fear that I'm going to burn in Hell for my hypocrisy. I don't want to teach my child about a God I don't belive in, but I want her to fear going to Hell to keep her from being bad. I don't want school to be my life and yet I want an advisor who is at school whenever I am, who answers my e-mails within five minutes, and who obsesses about my data as much as I do. I don't want an advisor who takes the afternoon off to be with her daughter, or a fellow graduate student who is never in the lab because her kid won't take a bottle and she can't leave him for more than a few hours at a time.

I understand these things more than anyone, and yet I can't tolerate them.

My only solace is that if I burn in Hell for all eternity for being a hypocrite, at least I have experience. Because my academic life right now is Hell, and there is absolutely no end in sight.
Tuesday, May 15
It's not really a secret at all, I assume, that most instructors hate grading. For me, it's not the commenting on papers that bothers me, because I actually very much enjoy doing that, and my students appreciate it. It's the deciding, especially at the end of the semester, what letter grade a student has earned, as if the whole 14 or so weeks -- all our conversations, their progress, their pitfalls, etc -- just boils down to this one thing. I always wonder what the student will think when s/he gets the grade, and whether or not that will affect how s/he feels about the class and the way it ended. Some people improve but still don't get the grade they probably hope for, especially in this age of grade inflation. I feel very strongly that I'm a fair-to-easy grader, and yet I still get occasional complaints that I'm a "hard" grader, even though it's extremely rare to get a "C" from me, and almost impossible to get below that.

Sigh. I just wanted to share. This time of year always makes me sad. I get so excited when I get a batch of new papers, so intrigued by what I'm about to read, but then at the end when I have to put a letter grade to it, I just feel a bit defeated. And no, I don't particularly think that doing away with grades altogether will help at the moment, since most students are motivated by their grades to do things like attend class and do at least some of the reading.

For the record, I also think grading grad students is a joke. Is there really a need to assign a letter grade to some of the most feedback-obsessed, masochistic people in the world? I've never heard a grad student say anything like, "I just want my A in this class, and then I'm outta here."
Wednesday, May 2
It seems like my school is teeming with student-athletes and just about anything is considered a sport in this joint. I've become accustomed to notification from the athletics department about who's going to be absent and requests to be as accomodating as I can, and I've heard from students that I'm more sympathetic to the plights of student athletes than most.

That was then, and this is now.

A couple weeks back that all went to crap when one of my student-athletes lied to me about missing class for a badminton tournament. He asked to make up the in-class assignment, and I told him I'd check with the athletics office because I hadn't heard about the badminton tournament. Well, when I checked, the coordinator told me that there weren't any excused absences for the badminton team that day. I emailed the student her reply, and suggested he have his coach talk to me if there was some sort of error. I heard nothing, until today.

Today, when he emailed me about his grade that's stuck somewhere between a B+ and an A-. Today, when he who lied to me and I probably could have pursued it as academic dihonesty, told me that it wasn't fair because I hadn't offered enough opportunities for him to make up the work he missed (I dropped the three scores, but he wanted more). Today, when he played the poor-pitiful-student-athlete card. Today, when the semester is already over and all that remains is his final exam.

I am afraid that my view of student athletes is eternally tarnished - all because of the one bad-minton player.
Saturday, April 28
...one that was formatted much more like the NFL draft.

Imagine the world watching as schools deliberate over who to hire this year. Will they fill the position that's weakest in their department, or go for the top pick remaining, or will they throw a curveball (I realize that's a baseball term) by choosing someone who is completely unexpected?

Imagine the candidates, dressed in their Sunday best, surrounded by family and friends (who just want them to go somewhere, and soon, and would never suggest that they try for a job at the community college close to home). It's okay to look nervous, to be apprehensive, and there are agents, there to walk you through the process and assure you that today is YOUR day.

Imagine the coverage, with people in the top of your field (or has-beens, or pretty faces), sitting around a table talking about every detail of your performance - the weaknesses in your vita, your stamina, and how you work under pressure - and offering agreement or criticism of every choice that schools made.

The worst, though, would be that 15 minutes that the schools have to choose, with the world waiting with bated breath, until they have to walk across the stage to a podium and "select" their choice to a round of applause or jeers.

I have no opinion one way or the other, but I wonder what it would have been like folding laundry in front of a bunch of fellow academics, exposing just how awful (and absurd) the selection process can be, regardless of your chosen profession.
Friday, April 27
Today is the last day of classes here at Mid-Tier-University, and I am indescribably happy! I am, in fact, probably even happier than my students, who are ecstatic about escaping the rigorous horror that they just realized was the difference between lower and upper division courses. Every time I think about not hearing "But why can't we just use numbers? there's an equation right there!" for the whole summer, I want to break into song. Better even than that, though, is the realization that, after grades are submitted, I have a summer -- an entire, complete, glorious summer -- to do research!

This has been an excruciating term, because for the first time I had students who resented having to think, to work, to meet expectations, who seemed to really believe that showing up was all it took (and who then seemed to think that it was appropriate to complain to my chair when it turned out that they were wrong). And then there's the gender thing -- "but you're supposed to be nice! and nurturing! Why can't I turn in late work? You're mean!" -- where they express levels of entitlement that they'd never show to a male colleague.

The term has also been excruciating because, as hard as I've tried, I haven't been able to salvage any time for my own research, so I feel as though -- in addition to wasting my efforts and care and concern on students who wouldn't even grasp that I was doing them some favors (yes, I'll teach extra evening sessions to help you understand the material that was a prequisite for the course, but, um, yes, you need to do the reading) -- I made absolutely no progress toward tenure. I expect my evaluations will be bimodal (about half strong, and half awful, really), but the time I spent focusing on the course will be directly counted against progress securing additional external funding.

I don't think I have ever been more thrilled about a term ending. Usually I'm pleased in a nebulous sense, because hey, a week of fluff reading and then more term! And I have all these great ideas for that term, and research too! (That last sentence isn't sarcasm -- it's a pretty accurate read on how I've felt in the past.) This term has taken too much out of me, and right now, the thought of teaching again -- ever -- makes me want to sob. So here's my secret: I don't want to go back. I never want to see these people again -- colleagues or students -- and I think I made a terrible mistake.

But the term's over. Small mercies, but mercy all the same.
Tuesday, April 17
This post on Adam Kotsko's blog is absolutely hilarious. Highlights:

"For years now, in a blog tradition that is rivaled in its longevity and its enduring human relevance only by Friday Cat Blogging, I have been offering absolution to the tortured souls of the blogosphere. Offering permission seems like a natural compliment, and as I will argue in this post, it is grounded in an authority that I have already tacitly claimed as the sole authorized voice of the symbolic order -- that is, as the big Other's representative."...

"It is my belief that, in principle, any human being who is recognized by the symbolic order may function as a stand-in for the big Other. But in point of fact, it is precisely I, Adam Kotsko, who so function. On one level, that is simply a matter of "dibs," itself one of the originary functions of the symbolic order. But even though the final argument in favor of my office is simply my own claim to hold it, there are nevertheless good reasons why it should be me in particular, which I will gladly outline for you now."...
This morning, as I tried to summon the will to get out of bed, this happy thought crossed my mind, "Oh, thank god, I get to do my taxes first thing this morning, instead of working on the research project that is ruining my life and potentially driving me out of graduate school."

When filing federal taxes* seems like a blessed respite from the emotional drama of my research project, there might be room for improvements in my work-life.

And speaking of that cursed project, I've reached the point where opening the laptop and trying to work on the project feels like sitting down to coffee with someone who has just dumped you but still want to be 'friends'. To paraphrase Dorotha Harried, why do i let 80's movies happen in my research projects? haven't i learned by now?


*which I know will result in me owing a lot of money because you can't have automatic withholding of fellowship money (?!?)
Wednesday, April 4
I am pissed.

I was just blatantly disregarded in a decision that affects me directly because, I assume, of my status as a junior faculty member (and possibly as a woman). And, while I can't get into specifics for fear that it would threaten my anonymity, this is not a case where juniors shouldn't expect to have a say. This is where each person should be afforded the same respect and consideration as any other, regardless of rank.

To add insult to injury, it involves a student. What message does this send about who can be pushed around, who should be considered and who shouldn't, who can be challenged, and so forth?
Wednesday, March 28
Does anyone know where Spring Break went? I know I had it on my calendar. I dreamt about it and all that I would accomplish during five glorious, student-free days. Yet here it is, almost Easter, an indication that Spring Break is behind me, and I have no recollection of those glorious days and nothing more to show for it. In other words, I didn't get nearly as much accomplished during that time off as I hoped for. And now, like sands through the hourglass, Spring Break has slipped through my fingers. I'm destined to keep plugging, a little at a time, until summer, when I once again can work with the fervor that the tenure-track requires around here.

Next Spring Break, regardless of how much or how little I accomplish, I'm taking a day off, so that I know that Spring Break really happened. Or I could just not bother writing it on my calendar and getting my hopes up.