Sunday, December 31
Maybe it's the time of year that brought this analogy to my mind, but how might the Christmas story be different if Joseph had been a hot-shot academic? Would Jesus still have been born in a manger, or would Mary have somehow managed to land a spousal accommodation at the inn?

I hate that word - accommodation. More than that, I hate feeling like someone accommodated me (or my partner) so that I could have the job that I do. It's one of those things that you can't complain about, though, because there are people out there who would kill to be in my shoes, who would give anything to be "accommodated."

The hardest part about my own accommodation is that no one will call it that - the party line is that I was hired on merit, because I "deserved" my position. Maybe it's just the "fraud" in me that can't accept that, or maybe I'm more perceptive than people take me for.

What does it mean to be accommodated? Does it mean that I'm less important than my partner, or just less worthy? Should I be happy that I was accommodated? Would I feel better if people were just honest about it? Is it selfish of me to think that I'm worth every ounce of my position, or is it just delusional? Most importantly, will I ever be able to hear the word accommodation without feeling my spirit weaken?
Friday, December 29
We all know what CFP means: Call for Papers/Call for Proposals. Not here on a.secret though. Here it means: Call for Picture secrets! That's right, we're running low and awaiting your New Year's resolutions, whether high or low (get it?! oh, I'm such a geek to be making graphics puns).

Apologies to the person submitting the picture secret I just posted, it took me a while to get around to it. It's been patiently waiting in my mailbox for a while. I promise to be more prompt with these in the future.
Wednesday, December 27
Is everyone else feeling the pressure to work too? Even though it's break?

Are you all feeling as guilty as I am that I am not working as much as I should?

Maybe that is why no one has been posting in a bit. I mean sure, end of the term, grading, holidays -- it's a crazy time.

So I hope you are all enjoying your holidays, and not worrying about how you should be accomplishing more. Because I am, and it sucks. I do not recommend it.

Also, PSA, please send in more picture secrets, yah? They are fun!
Thursday, November 30
No, not some adorable guy at the campus coffee shop, but another professor in my own department! It's not the first time we've talked. His office is close to mine. He knows things about me, he just doesn't know my name. If you know about someone's personal life, I mean beyond what most know, shouldn't you take the time to learn her name? I saw him look at the nameplate beside my door as he opened his mouth to speak. Ugh.

Of course, another professor who's been around here as long as the first (and has the same tenured, full professor status), and whose office is equally close to mine, has never even spoken to me. This didn't stop him from sending a student my way to have me head a thesis committee because, and I quote, "She's a new assistant professor and will have more time for work like that than I do."

I guess it's just the end of the semester stress that has me venting. Unfortunately, unlike my students, these guys don't go home for winter vacation. I can't wait to move up in the ranks, or until colleagues like these move up in the ranks enough to retire.
Saturday, November 25
I am reviewing some submissions to a conference. These are supposed to be anonymous, but some people are not very good at anonymizing their manuscripts. I figure the goal of anonymity is that the reviewer not be biased by the identity of the author. So I then figured, once I have made a decision about a submission and the author was sloppy enough to leave their name in, it's not that big a deal to look them up. (Or is it?) To be honest, my main motivation came from intellectual curiosity. I had no idea what the proposal was talking about and was eager to see whether reading up on the person and their work would give me a better understanding. (And when I say I didn't understand the writing, I don't mean that it was too high level. It was simply incomprehensibly bad.)

So I looked up one such person the other day, a "Prof. Somebody" as noted by the author in the text itself. (First of all, who refers to either themselves or their advisor as "Prof. Anybody" in the middle of a paper?)

It turns out that this person is not a prof, but a student! So why refer to oneself as Prof X? I know, I know, to make the product seem more worthy. It was crap regardless so it doesn't matter. But what bs! I can't believe people pull this kind of crap. And of course, I can't say anything to anybody since it is an anonymous process. (Thanks to a.secret for providing an outlet though!)
Wednesday, November 22
I can't wait for it to be next semester.

Let me rephrase that, I couldn't wait. I couldn't wait to start new. I couldn't wait to get semester #1 of my first year as an assistant professor under my belt. I couldn't wait, that is ,until I logged onto my account just a few hours ago only to discover that my worst student from this semester decided to take another course from me.

He's not my worst student ever. I mean I've had some doozies. It's just that they never came back. Coming back for more, well that's like a zombie or something. Or like a cat. You know, "and the cat came back, the very next day..." I'm allergic to cats.

Maybe it will be like the one other time when I had a student (who I had failed for cheating) who took another class from me and ended up invaluable. Maybe, though, it will be like a bad zombie movie and either he, or the fear and dread I instill in myself just thinking about his presence, will make my skin crawl and the spring semester creep by just as slowly as it has this fall.
Tuesday, November 21

So I was wondering the other night when I couldn't sleep about what I could and couldn't blog about, for fear of anonymity purposes.

And I couldn't think of anything for here that I could share. Partly becasue I have been really wrapped up in this one project and my life has been lame as a result.

But anyway, the question that came to mind was this, why have people chosen the colors/names they have on this blog? Does it say something about you academically? non-academically? does it say something or nothing? basically, why did you pick your name?

I'll start and tell you why I picked strawberries, and why.

Strawberries are my FAVORITE fruit. and I love red, partly because it looks great on me with my hair color. But also, its my favorite person in the world's favorite color, and so I have always liked the color for because it reminds me of that person. But what does strawberries mean to me?

When I think of strawberries I think of babies with their rosy red cheeks, and I love babies, and they are so cute, and I want babies. But of course, in order to have babies, I would like to have a husband, and well, I'm lacking in that area. And also, though it is *way* to early to be worrying about this... I know that it will be super hard to have cute starberry cheeked babies as a professor, if I want to stay at home at all with hypothetical baby strawberry, and that brings up all those things that I worry about, the difficulty of getting my desired job in desired place as a woman, and how hard it will be to try and get tenure as a woman with a baby/child.

And what does being a strawberry say about me? Well, strawberries, while the best fruit ever, are also quite fragile. They must be packed specially, especially for transport. And I am also very fragile. In life outside the ivory tower, I am known to cry quite a bit at sad situations. But also when hurt by people. Inside the ivory tower, I lack confidence. Sometimes I have it, and sometimes, I don't. Usually when I need it, it's not there. Just like you can get a good strawberry that has made it though the transport process, sometimes I feel more like a slightly bruised strawberry who wants to be the best tasting one in the bunch.

But of course I didn't think about all this when I picked strawberries. That day, I looked at the other colors, read their names. Saw pumpkin, thought, mmm, I like pumpkins. I also really like strawberries and red cheeked babies. And red is nice. I'll be strawberries.

What about you?

Thursday, November 16
Is it just me, or are more and more of our colleagues turning to blogs?

In recent weeks there is increasing blog-buzz around my department. I don't know where it came from, but I am scared to death of being found out.

I ask myself if I post risky things here, or if I would be fine with my name being tied to my musings. Maybe it's time to read the archives...

...and to begin using more caution when deciding what to post, and where to post it.

Is anyone else feeling the pressure?
Tuesday, November 14
Here’s *my* job market secret: I don’t want to go on it.

Well, that’s not exactly true. As distasteful as the process sounds, I think I will be able to adapt to a lot of it. Even though I hate the idea of “selling” myself, I can live with doing it (or trying to do it). Of course I want a job, and this is how it’s done.

But I haven’t yet told my advisors that I’m not willing to “go anywhere” for a job, the way you’re supposed to. And I think I’ll continue to keep it to myself.

I feel like I’ve been fairly dutiful with most of the professional activities we’re supposed to take part in – going to conferences, publishing, serving on committees, etc—and I’ve even enjoyed those experiences. But this is one thing I don’t think I can be dutiful about. Not only do I feel there are certain parts of the country I truly wouldn’t be happy living in, but there’s this itsy-bitsy problem of having a life partner whose career is location-specific. (I can’t go into what the career is if I want to keep my anonymity, but let’s just say it’s not like being, say, a lawyer, where you might have to give up a great job in order to move but you could probably work almost anywhere. Let’s say, for the sake of (silly) argument, that his career is slaying vampires, which only live on the hellmouth. Or something.)

To be honest, I’d be almost as happy adjuncting forever as I would be in a tenured position. As long as I got to teach, I’d be ok. I know it’s about other things too, like retirement and health insurance; I know I’ve got to consider that. But I’m just not willing to give up living with my partner, and it makes me mad that I should have to consider it. And before anyone suggests that he should be willing to change his career for me, please note that he dreamt of having this career since he was a kid (whereas I was in the “finding myself” stage for years before grad school), not to mention that he has been helping support my little grad school habit, and now (after years of service) his job pays better than even a tenured position would. As a feminist, I’ve always made sure I was financially independent (believe me, it’s my name on the loans), but he has provided a lot of extras, such as vacations, I would otherwise do without. (Just fyi, we don’t have kids, and don’t plan to have them, but have been together for almost 10 years.)

Once, his mother tried comforting me by reminding me that neither of us is in the military, where couples have to live apart all of the time, but with the added burden of being, you know, in the military. So it’s all relative, I guess.
Wednesday, November 8
I'm not on the job market so I'm a bit late to this, but in case others haven't seen it, I thought you may find it of interest.

People in Astrophysics have been tracking the job market for years. However, recently social science disciplines have caught on as well. Sociology has a rumor mill as does the field of International Relations within political science. This article from the Chronicle has links to a few others.

It's interesting to compare Sociology to IR. The latter seems much more sophisticated. Then again, they've been around longer. Plus I'm not actually sure if it's "more sophisticated" to be listing the names of the candidates. What do people think? Is it a good idea to have this information out there this public? Why or why not? I can't decide.

I wondered about such possibilities when I was on the market.. but nothing happened that year. Maybe it's just as well. I think some such information exchange is definitely beneficial, but after a certain point it may not be so good for one's health. Then again, the academic job market process generally speaking is pretty unhealthy.
Friday, November 3

When I was first being introduced to my new colleagues here at SuckyU, one introduced me to her thesis student (undergrad).

He wanted to do his thesis on X in the region. Think, Oranges. No that might actually be interesting, cause you could always do an economic analysis and then talk to the people who are picking the oranges and their different experiences, and the growers of the oranges and the eaters. See, it could be interesting. Ok, X is kind of like, hmm, houses that are painted blue. So student was going to do his thesis on houses that are painted blue.

To show interest and because I am sort of a nice strawberry, the first thing out of my mouth was a supportive “wow, how interesting.”

Colleague says: “But he didn’t do that.”

Strawberries says, “oh why not?” I has just begun to warm up to the idea of blue houses. Maybe there was some significance or something. Plus, people may think my own research is like blue houses, so who am I to judge.

Colleague looks at me like I am a more than a bit weird. “Because he could never have finished the project, I mean that is like a doctoral dissertation.” Please shoot me if I ever advise anyone who wants to concentrate on Blue Houses for his/her PhD. Frankly, it seemed a bit easy to me. I mean count up all the blue houses in the region, which I am sure the data already exists, it's not like poor student has to actually travel to each blue house. And then write some sort of [boring] history on blue houses.

“So instead he did it on Blue Houses in the tri-city that were stolen.” (Now the stolen metaphor really doesn’t fit with Blue Houses, and goes better with say, Oranges, but remember, Oranges are more interesting than Blue houses. So just pretend that the CIA came with all their super-duper equipment and stole some blue houses). And this student is going to write about the ones that were stolen. However, since it was the CIA that stole them, and frankly, when are they going to ever let a student researcher into their archives, student can’t say much more than: There once was a blue house here. It was built in 1783 by Miss Peacock and then bought by Col. Mustard, until it was stolen in 1974 by the CIA. Oh, and look over there, there used to be another blue house that…

Sounds kind of boring to me. But anyway, that is not the point of this post.

What got me was the professor telling the student that he coudn't possibly do all blue houses in the region because it was impossible and that if he wanted, he could get his doctorate in Blue houses. Now, many times students are interested in something, say Gender, but they really can’t do a thesis on that. You have to focus it. But not just because of time restraints, but also because Gender is really broad. Blue Houses present in the region is not broad, just boring. So are stolen blue houses in the city if you’re keeping track. I was just surprised that this professor would say that this was not feasible when it seemed very feasible. I mean this kid had a year to do Blue Houses. Sure, stolen blue houses might be nominally more interesting than all blue houses, but couldn’t it have been a subsection of the thesis?

Which brings me to my final point/question. When do you tell a student that they will be unable to study X? Shouldn’t advisors rather explain that it might be a more in-depth project and it would be doable but hard rather than say outright, nope, you can't do it? There are times when advisors should discourage students from studying Y in favor of Ysub1 because it would be more feasible. Ok, if Y was lets say Education , and Ysub1 was Education of Women and how it has been defined by Z. But this was clearly not the case.

So now what? Student has produced one heck of a doorstop on stolen blue houses. Sure, even blue houses would have been a doorstop, but what is important here is the experience.

If someone told me I could not do it, I would not give up right away, and maybe ever. What sort of service are we doing to students who want to do something and are instead told they cannot?

Thursday, November 2
The other night I (doctoral student) was asked to go to a reception for prospective doctoral students in our program, to mingle and answer questions. Some faculty were also at the reception. A very professional-looking, together prospective student sought me out because she had questions about my advisor and the specific topic I study. We were in the middle of a pretty detailed conversation when a faculty member came over, introduced herself, and began trying to convince both of us to choose the program (that I'm currently in). The faculty-member didn't realize I was a current student, and kept contradicting things I was saying. I would say, "well, one challenge you'll face is that we don't offer coursework on xyz" and the faculty member would say, "oh no, we have some great offerings in xyz".

The faculty-member is from a completely different part of the field, knew nothing about the specifics of what the prospective and I were talking about, and was wrong, but seeing as she thought I was only a prospective student, there was no way she was going to let me knock the program. I kept trying to the let the faculty member know I was a current student, but she wasn't paying any attention, and didn't get it for like ten minutes. The prospective, meanwhile, kept raising her eyebrows at me as if to say, "WTF?" and "Why won't this weird lady in irrelevant-subfield leave us alone so we can get back to talking about the questions I have?".

The kicker is that the clueless faculty-member and I served on a committee together last year, but she didn't recognize me because she ditched all but one of the committee meetings.
Wednesday, November 1
This semester, I noticed a group of students who basically sit in the back and laugh the whole time. Turns out (perhaps sadly), this is nothing new. But for some reason, it's bothering me a lot. It feels like they're lauging at me.

As a result, I'm finding myself growing more and more self conscious, and I'm losing my lecturing mojo. I'm constantly checking my fly, touching my nose, the whole nine. It's stupid, but it's bothering me.

The thing that's so weird about it is the way they laugh. They look at me, but turn their heads, and put their hand up in front of their faces to whisper something to the others. Then they all giggle. While staring at me. With their hands over their mouths. Imagine a 7th grade lunchroom, and you've got the idea.

The thing is, they're not really disrupting the class, just themselves and me. I once made a joke directed toward the entire class to the effect that the lecturing stage was not, in fact, a television, and that I could actually see them chatting. The class laughed. For once, the little group did not.

But they also didn't stop. I'm not sure how to handle this - I don't want it to be obvious that I feel bad, because that's unprofessional. Or is it? Gah, what do you all think?
I almost got sucked into a really unnecessary online discussion about some topic that's close to my heart. Does everyone here know what trolls are? Trolls are people who seem to be engaged with you in a discussion seriously, but in reality are just trying to derail the conversation. They are to be avoided. The only outcome of engaging in a discussion with a troll is rising blood pressure and major frustration. Oh, plus lots of time lost. So stay away from them.

I am so proud of myself for having removed myself from that discussion just in time! I had to share this with my fellow a.secreteers.

And how is everyone? Are people walking away from a.secret? No secrets to speak of these days? Everything is going great for everyone?
Thursday, October 26
I normally frown on the use of multiple exclamation points, but I'm making an exception today in the title of this post because this open letter from the President of the American Statistical Association is very cool. It's cool because:

1. An academic discipline is reaching out trying to make the world a better place on an important issue with timely, practical, and reasonably cheap solutions.

2. Voting is a crucial right in a democracy, but a lot of us feel helpless about how to fix the problems with voting, especially now that there are stupid voting machines that can be hacked. The key breakthrough idea that the ASA is offering is that you can use random audits to provide data to estimate the size of the problem, instead of relying on anecdotal evidence or trying to find universal fixes. The idea of sampling is definitely under-used in public policy, which is almost always stuck in an entire-population-or-nothing mentality.*

3. The letter discusses the need to look at multiple sources of error at each step along the chain. The reality is that officials need to be focusing on minimizing error instead of devising systems that are completely error-proof, because it isn't possible to be error-proof. The point I'm inelegantly trying to make is like the debate about the census v. sampling for getting an accurate picture of the American population.

4. The president of the American Statistical Association is a woman. (I'm assuming that because the President is named Sallie).

* example = No Child Left Behind which mandates testing for every kid in the nation, when sampling approaches would allow testing with higher validity (like not multiple choice) and be a lot cheaper and not waste the time of millions of schoolkids.
Wednesday, October 25
Why don't students realize that "Hey" is not an appropriate way to address a professor? In fact, it's not really appropriate for communication with anyone when it is your first note to them. Does anyone point this out to students? If yes, how?
Monday, October 23
I went to class the other day a bit frustrated with the quality of my students' papers. One paper I'd just read had relatively good ideas, but the writing (cuz, lower case i, fragments, etc.) completely detracted from it. Unfortunately since I have them submit these assignments online, some people seem to think that they're IM-ing their friends. I don't teach English, but I expect students to write a quality essay. So I gave the students who had not yet submitted their papers a bit of advice - treat it like a real paper: with paragraphs, full sentences, and without the IM language.

Fast forward to today, when I'm sifting through all of them and grading those who heard my advice before writing. Almost all the papers (in an assignment, mind you, where the students are supposed to write about themselves) are in the third person, not the first ("I am").

This is what happens when you mix over-achieving freshman who actually know the difference between first and third person with a clueless professor who thinks students spend time on instant messenger.
Friday, October 20
Dear colors of this lovely secret society,

I am writing to ask for some procrastination material. I love reading this blog, and let me tell you I cannot go a week with no new posts! Of course dear colors, you are probably saying, why strawberries, why don't you post a secret!?

Here is my quandary. I had some lovely (read: annoying and frustrating) academic experiences this past week, that I would love to share with you all, but here is the problem. I already told my real-world friends. As this is a secret society, and well, I am always very careful not to post something that I have already told my friends about, in the off-chance that they come across this blog and figure me out, and well, that would not be pretty.

So this week, as my frustrations were exceptionally high, I spoke with many friends in other institutions/locations and revealed to them the sadness that is my current institution. And so, I cannot tell you.

So please, help a strawberry out. Tell me what's going on in your colorful worlds!

And since I cannot but leave you with a secret from right now, though it is not academic, here is something to keep you procrastinating by invoking laughter and thinking about how weird this member called strawberries really is:

I am currently wearing a flannel dress and a T-shirt over it. Yes, you read correctly, a flannel dress. My defense? It is oh so comfy and well, comfy clothes lead to productivity no? Or was that blog reading....? Anyways, I am wearing comfy clothes I cannot ever leave the house in, or ever be seen in, in the hopes of eventually accomplishing some work today.

Your secret correspondent anxiously awaiting your secrets so she can continue to put off work,
Friday, October 13
I've long recognized that one of the ways I am suited to academia is what a friend once called "high solitude needs." Given such solitude needs, spending days in relative quiet, reading and writing often suits me quite well.

At the same time, academia sometimes demands what is for me excess solitude. To be sure, the scope conditions of "excess" are shaped by life circumstances external to my work (e.g., I am, as of late, getting used to being single for the first time in a long while...). However, in general, it is not uncommon for me to check my email (too often!) or read the newspaper online when I'm supposed to be writing, in search of human contact (however virtual) and/or ideas other than my own.

When I began teaching, I thought that classroom time would probably so tap my extroversion quotient that excess solitude would no longer be a problem. As it turns out - and as I should've known! - facilitating seminars (even really interesting seminars! even seminars with smart graduate students!) is not the same as meaningful and intellectually stimulating social interaction with ones peers.

This is not to whine, however, as a really wonderful solution to this conundrum seems to be emerging. Specifically, a small group of the faculty in my department have begun experimenting with different modes of co-teaching. At an informal level, we are guest lecturing in each other's classes. We also are experimenting with occasionally combining our smaller classes and tag-team teaching them. At a formal level, we are setting up courses that we will co-teach over a year or more, with each of us counting the course towards our teaching load on a rotating basis.

I am really excited about this. Selfishly, it's both interpersonally and intellectually fantastic for me. I have great colleagues and now I both think with and teach with them far more than I would otherwise (prepping for class has never been so deeply interesting!)! Moreover, thus far, our students seem really excited about the more engaged, more interactive mode of learning that becomes possible when 2 or 3 faculty are co-leading classes. Even if they don't fully get the synergy that so excites me, I think they realize also that they are getting "2 (or more) for the price of 1" and are happy for more interaction with faculty. Also, we are having fun...and what's more contagious than fun?

So, I'd be really curious to hear of any ways y'all have experimented with co-teaching...successes, elations, frustrations, failures, ideas not yet implemented?

Thanks...and happy weekend!
Thursday, October 12
Bush opened a new front in his ongoing War on Science in a press conference Wednesday, when he claimed that a standard social science survey methodology has been "pretty well discredited".

Bush was responding to a question about a study appearing in Lancet estimating the number of Iraqis who have died as a result of the war. The study used cluster sampling, where survey respondents are chosen from specific communities rather than at random from the population as a whole.

Now, I'm no expert, but every book on sampling I've ever seen talks about cluster sampling as a valid approach to large-scale surveys. And it's my understanding that most national social science and education surveys right here in America use some form of cluster sampling. This is because the SRS (simple random sample) you learn about in Stats 101 isn't feasible to generate for a national population.

Bush went on to insult the scientists behind the Lancet study by saying of the number the study arrived at, "600,000, or whatever they guessed at, is just -- it's not credible." (emphasis added)

A considerable amount of work from a large team of professionals went into that "guess". I find that "guess" more credible, in fact, than the Bush administration's guesses about whether there were WMD in Iraq before the war, whether their diplomacy with North Korea has been effective, and whether the mission was really accomplished when Bush stood on the carrier in a flight suit.

But demographers and public health researchers be warned, you are now evidently part of the Axis of Academic Evil, along with global warming researchers and believers in evolution.
Wednesday, October 11
So, I happen to be a visiting scholar somewhere presently. At first, I told myself, okay, different system, must get used to it. No use comparing it to other university I was at...

Day 1: Printer is out of ink. Can't get ink, since it requires filling out so many forms, and then where will the money come from, etc etc. Ok, fine I think, I will use the other printer. Things are laid back here, I like laid back.

Week 3: Colleague, who treats me as less than colleague, suggested that I find other person in other department to talk to re: certain thing that is his specialty. Ok, will do. Each department has a secretary/gatekeeper here. I go and ask for him, when he receives appointments, etc, as you can't actually get to the offices unless you get past the gatekeeper. Gatekeeper says: He's not here, I don't know, try another day. Fastforward to today. I see colleague and she asks if I met with him yet. I explain the situation.

SnarkyColleague: So is this how you do research?
Me: (What did I just say wrong?) I'm sorry, what?
SC: You just give up? You should just tell the gatekeeper where you are going and ask the dept. secretary for office hours.
Me: Oh, well I don't really know the system here, I didn't realize there were two
gatekeeper/ secretaries... (Shocked that she thinks I am a poor researcher simply because I
believed the first gatekeeper that person was not in when he called his office)
SC: (Proceeds to explain in a very condescending way how exactly one gets to this place, finds this person, what one asks to obtain this person, etc.)

Week 3, Later that same day: Go downstairs to the secretary person for our dept. and explain that I need to get some books that they do not have in their library. How does one get them from the other libraries? Do I need a card? (I have yet to receive one and my dept's library books are signed out by hand). Is there some sort of ILL situation?
He looks at me, seems frustrated. Oh I see. He has to start his computer again to find out. It is 3 hours before he leaves but he turned it off because "its so loud and annoying, sometimes you just need some peace and quiet."

What did I get myself into? I thought this would be dream position....
Tuesday, October 10
My university IT people keep messing around with the email servers. Over the last couple of days it's been 50/50 whether my email was working. At one point, I didn't receive email for twelve hours. This interrupted a tense email exchange with my advisor.

I'm so codependent with my advisor that not knowing whether she had emailed me back and knowing that she was mad at me sent me into a panic attack. I almost called her to say that my email was down to prevent her from thinking I was ignoring her.

I want to drag the IT people into my therapy session this week, so they can see the devastation they hath wrought.

Update: 23 hours later
My advisor got over it, and we are now back to being the best of friends. We had a super productive substantive meeting yesterday. The kind where you realize your advisor is actually smarter than you, and knows amazing things.
Saturday, October 7
A week or two ago, I was going to post the secret that things are not as bad as I sometimes make them out to be. I complain a lot about not doing any work and letting my advisor down and so on. Lately, people have been responding to my complaints by encouraging me to think about what I would do if I dropped out of grad school (or got kicked out). At first, this took me aback. For all my whining, I hadn't seriously considered quitting, and my suprise and indignation that people actually believed that I might be at risk of being forced out suggested that I might have been exaggerating for effect. Or at least, I thought I was exaggerating. I always assumed that at some point I would stop being lazy and unmotivated and be the relatively productive student I like to think of my "real" self as (never mind the fact that that "real" me has never existed outside my head).

When I was thinking about writing that post, I was having a couple of productive days and it seemed like the problem was my representation of my situation. I decided I should stop misleading people about being on the edge of dropping out, since everything really was going to be all right in the end. Unfortunately, that confidence didn't last long and now I'm feeling worse than before, because I'm taking people's reactions to my complaints more seriously. If everyone I talk to gets the impression I should be looking for alternative careers, maybe there's some truth to that view.

I wish I had a better sense of perspective. It would be good if I knew whether to believe my own Chicken Little-esque views, or my more optimistic moments, the post-doc who claims I have good data, or the well-meaning people who assure me that there is life outside academia.
I hesitate to include this, because I don't want to be making excuses for my lack of productivity, but I wonder as well how much of my pessimism and apathy is due to depression. I'm nowhere near as depressed as I was a year or six months ago, but my motivation is still gone. Is it just laziness at this point, or genuine loss of interest, or will it come back?

I started writing this post as a comment to Orange Ina's post about students who constantly let their advisors down. The posts about writing recommendation letters for mediocre students made me feel similarly guilty. This is the downside to reading academic blogs. It's all too easy to imagine the snarky posts my advisor would write about me, if she had a blog, and weren't as loath to badmouth anyone as she is. Perhaps the disappointed and concerned posts I can imagine her writing would be worse.

Do the students their advisors complain about ever manage to become productive and get decent jobs? I'm starting to imagine the half-hearted recommendation letters I might get (if I even ever make it far enough to graduate) and wondering if I should just give up now.
The relationship between a faculty member and said faculty member's advisees at times is way too heavily based on codependency. And I am strictly talking about professional relationships here. Let's take a student who keeps disappointing. It's like a romantic relationship where the partner keeps cheating or lying or whatnot. Nonetheless, the codependent other half continues to go back to the partner. How many occurences of disappointment will lead to a permanent fracture in the relationship? Too many.

That's the somewhat abstract version of where I'm going here. Take a student who disappoints time and time again. The faculty member has a talk with said student directly addressing the concerns and offers suggestions for how said situations should be handled in the future. Student thanks faculty member for advice and all seems good. Until the next time. When said student disappoints again not even in a new realm, but repeating the same old mistakes.

And Salmon, before you freak out and suggest that this must be how your adviser sees you, etc, from everything you have told us I can confidently say this has nothing to do with your situation. I am talking about very simple things here, like returning emails in a timely fashion, keeping others abreast of goings on and everday little whatnots of that sort.
Friday, October 6
The blog's not showing up. This is an attempt to see if we can kick some life back into it.
Tuesday, October 3
I got a rejection letter today. It's not my first, and it won't be my last.

My main complaint about reviewers continues to be that there are so many who clearly don't read the paper. To make matters worse, I think that the people who are least likely to read the paper are often higher status individuals whose reviews editors weight more heavily (particularly if the editor, who has a lot on their plate, didn't read the paper carefully themselves).

That's not today's gripe, though. I'll save it for another day.

This wasn't my first rejection of this particular paper. In the previous round of reviews (from Journal A in the specialty area of Politics of Primates) I got, "This research is an example of a much larger and more interesting phenomenon, focus on that." So I did when I reframed the paper. This time I got (from Journal B in the same specialty area), "This research claims to be looking at this much larger phenomenon, but what's more interesting is the specific example that it highlights."

Argh. Why couldn't I have had those same reviewers that second time around? Or even better, that second set the first time around? How do you decide whether you cater to those reviewers before you send it out again, or if you just send the same thing out and hope that it doesn't go to the same person? This is a game I haven't learned to play yet.
Over at See Jane Compute, there is a discussion about how to tell rude students who are talking in your class to be quiet without losing your cool. There are some interesting ideas, I was especially intrigued by the suggestion to use humor.

But what if none of those approaches work? I have wondered in the past, is it okay to tell students to leave the class? After all, if they are paying for it, can you tell them to get out? What if it doesn't say explicitly in your syllabus that you expect people to be respectful and quiet unless they are contributing to class discussion? (And how often does one explicitly add that to a syllabus? Hmm.. I wonder if I should in the future.)

Is that something you would ever say to a student? Or do you think that may be problematic? If it's problematic and the other methods don't work, how do you get students to be quiet?
Monday, October 2
I'm a total NPR addict. It's one of the reasons I've become middle-aged before my time. NPR's normal target audience seems to be the older end of the boomer range. So imagine my shock when the 'local' sponsor of Morning Edition last week on my public radio station was 'And I Feel Fine: Best of the I.R.S. Years 1982-1987'.

While I love REM, and am happy that there is a newer (older) version of Eponymous, I'm a little weirded out that REM has anything to do with NPR, MarketPlace's bad-ass music selections notwithstanding. Even stranger, the way they said it, the album itself was the sponsor - not the band, not IRS records, but the album. I can't get my head around an album being the local sponsor of a radio station, especially since albums are now more conceptual than tangible in the age of IPOD. It's kind of like the War On Terra, except benign.
Saturday, September 30
Let me preface this with a reminder that I am a new assistant professor, a divorced mother of a school-age child who only sees his father a couple times a year, and live with an academic who never takes a day off.

Here's a conversation that I had with a neighbor the other day. He's up for tenure this year at the same institution, in a discipline much like my own.

Neighbor: "How are you? How's the term going?"
Me: "Eh... really, really busy and stressful. I guess it's just the life of a new assistant professor."
Neighbor: (skeptically) "Gee! That busy, already. The term just started."
Me: "Yeah."
Me: "Hey, what's it like having a pot-bellied pig? Do they take a lot of work?"
Neighbor: "I don't know. You'll have to ask Julia (his stay-at-home partner). She takes care of everything around here."
Friday, September 29
I do social-science-y type research, for which I need to file a human subjects protocol with my Institutional Review Board before I'm allowed to go ahead with my research. My project should be "exempt" from review given pertinent federal regulations, but at my institution you have to file an exempt protocol and let them review your application before they agree that you are, in fact exempt.*

Even though my research has nothing to do with health or experiments and mostly involves asking professional people questions about things that happen as a normal result of their work, I have to file a RIDICULOUSLY long and complicated protocol form. The protocol is submitted through a web application, which won't let you move forward or submit your protocol until you have answered every single question.

So, pretend my research was about interviewing members of congress about their past votes.** In filing my exempt protocol, I would have to answer questions about***:

-what I plan to do in case one of my research "subjects" needs medical, psychiatric, or other professional treatment as a result of the research

-whether there are other treatments that would be better for the "subject" than the one I am giving

-what I'm going to do with x-rays and lab specimens after I'm done with them

-why I'm excluding minors from my study

and, my favorite,
-whether my institution could make any money off a patent from this research.

The whole protocol form for "exempt" projects is over 10 pages in length of these irrelevant questions.

Now, don't get me wrong, I'm all for review boards in general and I think that protecting human subjects is a really important and vital thing in research communities. It's just that the actual risks to the "subjects" of my research are not addressed at all by these questions, and that the IRB makes people who do social science jump through all the same questions as the drug-testing people, and doesn't let us skip any questions. I would really like to see a protocol review that gets at more pertinent questions, like:

-Are there at least 3 other people, besides yourself, who are likely to care about the outcome of your research?

-How are you going to ensure that your research does not turn into a massive waste of government and/or funder money?

-Please explain what protections you have in place to prevent the oppression of graduate research assistants.

Oh wait. I would probably have to answer "no" to the first question, and except for the fact that the sums involved are miniscule, would have no answer for the second. So maybe I don't want those questions on there after all. Bring on the disposal of biohazard material questions instead!


* This leads to very silly who's-on-first conversations that go:
A: did you file your protocol with the IRB?
B: no, we're exempt
A: but you have to file an exempt protocol before you can be exempt and start your research
B: but if we're exempt, doesn't it mean we don't have to file a protocol?
A: no, you're exempt, so you file a protocol and wait until you get Exempt Approval
B: if they call it "approval", in what sense is it exempt from review?
A: Well, you're not exempt until they say you are exempt.

** All research fields and disciplines have been made up to protect the privacy of the a.secret society.

***The actual wording of these questions is hilarious, but unfortunately I don't want to reveal what institution I'm at, so I'm paraphrasing.
Tuesday, September 26
I tried to figure out how to make this a picture secret, but couldn't make it strong enough.

Here's a recommendation to all those "adminstrators" and other morons: if I have already identified myself as a member of the faculty, do not say loudly -- in front of the rest of the panel -- that it's nice to have young faculty on board, even if looking like a graduate student. It's nothing but insulting, and unless I'm wearing pasties or something my appearance has nothing to do with my position (for the record -- no pasties, just a nice, ironed button-down shirt, jeans, and dress shoes, and I was sitting down).

This plays into the larger climate issues at this institution, at which women are marginalized and minorities ignored (and sometimes attacked). It does nothing to encourage retention or the development of a first class research program. Nor, for the record, does giving a talk on conflict-of-interest issues wherein every example in some way involves the faculty member's wife*.

*Hint: not all of us are men, not all of us have partners who are female, not all of us are married.
Monday, September 25
I have long been a protestor of standardized tests -- even when I took my first PSAT when strawberries was a mere small red dot on the vine. Not because I have never been one of those "I never study and get a 1600" types, but because I do not think they actually measure ability to do well.

Take the GRE for grad school. Now, in my discipline, there are never multiple choice situations. And the quantitative aspects are statistics, complicated statistics that are handled by stat programs. Sure basic math skills are important, but when ever has an academic really figured out an important geometry problem, and then, without a calculator.

Ok, so the verbal section. All important, sure, in theory. But when one is entering a grad program, they should have a) done well in undergrad, b) have demonstrated a capacity to conduct effective research, and c) ability to write well.

The reading comprehension asks questions about what is the next logical paragraph, or title. Then in those lovely books prepared by ETS, they explain that only Y can come after X. I disagree. First of all, writing has a style. An argument can be explained effectively in more that one way. Perhaps Z after X goes better together, even though chronologically Y comes first. This is all a question of style, journal preferences, and topic. And don't get me started on the Writing Analysis section....

And then the ridiculous emphasis that NSF and other organizations place on these scores -- NSF Doctoral Grants /Research grants should not take into strong, if any, consideration standardized tests, but research capability, etc. Maybe the SAT is needed to generalize across different school systems and their grading, and since students still do not know what direction their studies/life will take, general capability is good. But in a specialized field?? I back the idea of subject tests, but carried out in a different manner.

With all the test prep books, the test prep classes, and the test prep costs, it seems to me that aside from being almost useless in determining success in graduate school, it is just one big money making scheme.
Junior professors care most about respect and the climate of departments

Holy Sh*t!

I want to add that departments with bad culture for junior faculty MIGHT also underpay junior faculty, so getting out doesn't necessarily mean a pay cut, even if reports of average wages by rank and discipline at the various universities would seem to indicate that would be the case. My experience is that departments with bad climate often have outliers in their salary distributions mucking-up the big picture. I would also think the argument should be extended to women, people of color, international scholars, and several other classes of minorities--both from the perspective of caring about climate and compensation and from the perspective of actually getting compensation from a department with bad climate.
Thursday, September 21
Where is the check box for Dr.?

Is this Murphy's Law? I spent my entire grad student teaching career correcting students when they called me Professor, or Dr. Fraud, and now, this week alone, I have heard Miss Fraud, Mrs. Fraud, and Ms. Fraud (interestingly, all from women).

I came up with a plan of action for when this occurs in a phone call. When the student says, "Is this Miss Fraud?" I'll reply, "Yes, this is Dr. Fraud." But how do I deal with the interactions in the classroom, hallway, or my office? Or what if they don't ask is it's me on the phone and just launch into "Mrs. Fraud..."

I'm convinced this is one of those annoying forms of unconscious gender bias. A male colleague, who intestingly isn't even a Dr. yet, said that he's never been called Mr. Know-It-All. Students always call him Professor or Dr. Know-It-All.
Sunday, September 17
Here's a post having nothing to do with academia. We've been told those are okay, right?

I'm trying out an online dating service and wondering: if you get an email from someone who doesn't sound like much of a match, is it better to simply ignore them or is it better to write a short little note thanking them for the contact, but saying that you're not interested?

At times like this, it can be helpful to think what you'd prefer. But I'm not sure. If I didn't hear back, I'd wonder. But if I did hear back only to read that the person's not interested, would that really help?

Would you rather be rejected in a cryptic manner (in which case you can always make up some other excuse) or would you rather be rejected outright?
Saturday, September 16
A happy hello from strawberry land!

I apologize for my absence and will inundate you with excuses, ahem, I mean reasons, right away. I can't have you thinking I spent all this time "finding myself"or some other such nonsense. I easily gave that up after two days of grading and realized, who cares. So, after some grading hell, some getting sick, I decided to take up my friend on a spontaneous vacation with those super cheap tickets. While much fun, I came back to too much work, behind-ness, and a conference to attend.

All's been said and done. Conference was attended. And here's my problem -- It was one of those lovely European conferences that are often hard to understand, but that's not it. It was the hierarchy. Now I know EU universities function differently, and that its not about tenure and starting as assistant, and then associate, etc etc. and that people actually collaborate with grad students here. Oh my.

The profs did not even speak to the grad students. Nor to the researchers. Who aren't simple research assistants, but actually teach classes. And when it was time for question asking, it turned into more of a here is what I think since I'm so egotistical, I mean intelligent. And only the profs would ask questions. And they would ask them all in a row. So the same 5 people would tell you what they thought consecutively, and then the presenter would get two minutes to "answer".

The hierarchy was disgusting and disheartening. And then in a field where you would hope axes of power would be examined, all of the profs who spoke were men, and only 10% of the presenters/speakers were women.

On the bright side, these EU conferences really do know how to organize field trips! And they're not the corny tourist tour through conference city, but EACH day a lovely field trip to place that had to do with application of discipline in that city. Oh, and did I mention the food? And each night, an organized entertainment for our benefit.

So, would I go again? Yes, but skip all the presentations and attend every field trip. Until that, down with the hierarchical man.
Friday, September 15
Some (many?) academics seriously lack social skills. Some really really lack them. Occasionally this translates into (or is the result of?) some type of egomania. The problem is, if said academics have advisees then their advisees may "grow up" to think that being so unbelievable egotistical is the norm in academia and not only is it okay, but it is desirable. While in some cases it may have positive outcomes, in most it does not. So what do you do to the young scholar being mentored by such a person? Do you pull him aside one day and say "Look, this is not okay, you really do NOT want to immitate your advisor. Seriously, for your own good, don't go there."

Said advisor's students don't necessarily get great jobs. But one of them a few years ago landed a very good job. It had nothing to do with the advisor, it turns out, but naturally, being the egomaniac that he is, he attributed it to nothing but himself. Unfortunately, it also probably leads his students to think that the advisor is helpful. His students since have only done okay, if ending up with a job at all. If only that would suffice as a hint to future generations.

PS. Don't tell me, "advisor" should've been "adviser" in this entire post? I never got that.
PPS. The "a" in the post's title does not refer to academic, rather, a certain cushy part of a person's bod. The "something" refers to something else.
Wednesday, September 13
Until today, I'd never had someone cry in my office. I guess, technically, I've cried in my office, but this post is about undergraduate students, not the torment of grad school or the stress of being an assistant professor.

Today, though, my kleenex box got a little lighter and my heart a little heavier.

What the hell am I doing to these students? Most of the people who came in to talk about their papers were upbeat. They came in confused, but with my guidance left realizing where they'd slipped up and, most importantly, with a better understanding of the concepts to carry with them from this day forward. One was a little angry, and left even angrier, but somehow I can deal with that psychologically. Maybe I'm used to that. The last student, disguised as a member of the upbeat club, soon showed her true colors. Her chin started to quiver and tears formed in her eyes. Despite all the jokes I made to my male counterparts in grad school about those crocodile tears just being a game girls played to toy with them, I wanted to cry too. Her emotion seemed so raw, and genuine, and I remembered moments in my own undergraduate career where I wanted to cry (I couldn't remember if I had or not).

Maybe it's a game. Maybe it's the stress of being at a competitive school. Maybe it's being a freshman. Maybe it wasn't about me, or the paper, maybe it was something else. But regardless of what it is, I'm going to have to work on my game face.
A graduate student reported to me that her advisor showed her a draft of the letter of recommendation he has written for her for the job market. He asked her to look it over and make whatever corrections seemed appropriate. Overall, the letter was very nice and complementary. But the version also had some corrections of his own. Namely, at the very end of the letter, he wrote, "In my view, this is a 'can't miss' prospect." He had crossed this out.
Monday, September 11
The semester has started, and the hallways are suddenly filled with imminent dangers: Advice-seeking students, administrators who want to dump committee work on me, lost people who want directions, more students, book buyers (who deserve a posting of their own). To make things worse, it's Monday, and you know how much I hate that day! First I was torn between marking my presence (see, unlike some of my senior colleagues, I actually make it to school when I don't teach!) and getting some work done. Now that I've given up on the presence thing (I need to get some work done!), I'm sitting behind my closed door, anxiously waiting for inspiration to kick in. I feel like I've set myself a trap...and I desperately need to pee. Help!
Measuring Up: The National Report Card on Higher Education has just come out for 2006.

Some highlights:
1) The Sky is Falling. Our nation is in dire trouble because we are falling behind and global competition is going to kick our behinds.

2) College costs too much. Only 1 state shows improvement on a majority of the indicators for affordability.

3) It's hard to measure college learning with standardized instruments. But 9 states are praised by NCPPHE (National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education) for trying anyway. Coming soon: the one standardized uniform national college exit exam.*

This year's NCPPHE report card is likely to be overshadowed by the release later this month of Secretary Spellings' Commission on Higher Education final report (happily, not in the form of a report card). has had great coverage of the work of the commission, including an excellent article on how the Dept. of Ed is trying to enact the report's recommendations even before the report is released. Without congress.

The scariest part of the nightmare that is higher ed policy in the US currently is Secretary Spellings' comments on the release of the report card. To the people at NCPPHE who put out the report card, she says “I’m glad to have you with me on the side of the angels,”. Evidently, the angels support standardized learning outcomes assessment, strict accountability and performance indicators, and decreased Pell grants. I personally don't remember the angels saying that in the Bible, but I could be wrong. Maybe it was Charlie's Angels. Whoever the angels are, they seem to have been involved in writing the Commission's draft report, given that the first sentence is about puritans and ministers. PURITANS.

To be fair, there are parts of the NCPPHE and the Commission's agenda that I agree with, like tracking the rates of participation in higher education of people from different ethnic and racial backgrounds. But the overall thrust of the report card and the Commission's report is that the liberal yahoos that have been running higher education into the ground need to get out of the way so that accountable, hard-headed, right-thinking people can get down to the business of assessing what students are (not) learning and laying the blame squarely on the shoulders of the latte-drinking liberal elite secular humanists** where it belongs.

* Ok, this is a bit of an exaggeration. Even the most assessment-happy folks think there should be at least 2 or 3 different tests.

** Not angels.
Friday, September 8
As classes are getting started for many of us, I was just wondering if anyone has had that dream where you're naked in front of class, and perhaps you also forgot your notes?

I haven't had it yet, but I know it's on the way. It happens every year.
I spent 5 hours straight tonight watching Law 'N Order reruns on TV. I think this definitely qualifies me as "resident slacker" of a.secret for the day- or at least for those 5 hours.
The truly sad thing is that it wasn't even my favorite Law and Order (Criminal Intent), but the stupid original. Oh - and the truly, truly saddest thing? I've seen a couple of tonight's episodes before.
A graduate student e-mailed me earlier to report the following interaction with an elderly faculty member. A few days earlier, the Professor had returned a copy of Student's vita and statements for the job market with suggestions for a revision. Then:

Professor: Can I have a copy of your vita and statements for the job market so
that I can use them to write my letter of recommendation?

Student: Sure. But I haven't made the changes you suggested yet. Would you like
me to make those revisions first or to give you another copy as is?

Professor: Just give it to me as is. I just need it for reference.

Student prints documents and gives them to Professor. Then, 30 minutes later, Professor returns and hands the documents to Student, having marked them up with virtually the same revisions and comments as the versions given and returned a few days earlier.

Professor: I have a few suggestions for you. I'll need another copy of these so that I can write my letter of recommendation.
Thursday, September 7
...but coming from a family of people with little to no college experience, I heartily relate to this article from today's Chronicle.

It's even got a little something about how much money we (as academics) make, which is clearly an issue close to our hearts.
Tuesday, September 5
Pa ha ha ha! I just got a Call For Papers in my mailbox, and I actually read it because I suddenly have twice as much travel money as I've ever had in my whole career. (Tragic stories omitted.) But these European CFPs crack me up. They are like: We're having a conference. There's no topic. Your fee covers sherry, tea and cookies. There will be a starlight cruise. Send your paper to Fred.

Don't get me wrong, I like the idea of a shipboard panel under the stars (though I may have overstated their plans) and I often find long meals and big breaks more rewarding than endless panels, but I don't understand how to interpret the CFP or how to compare one European conference to another. If I knew "Fred" or if I had the guest list, I might see this differently, but no. Instead, they read as though all I need to know is what kind of amenities will be provided. Is it possible that the amenities really do offer the necessary clues and I just don't have the secret decoder ring--like Hegelians drink port and real men don't eat cookies?
Monday, September 4
I knocked on Angel's door, but there was no answer. I knocked again. Nothing. But I just saw her walk in, and unless she escaped out the window-- I went to my office and rang her phone. Busy. Maybe that explains it. Thirty minutes later the phone was still busy, so I returned to the door and banged vigorously. "ANGEL open the door!" The door opened. "Oh, I didn't know it was you!"

The Angel puts her home phone number on her syllabus and gives her cell phone number to every member of the faculty and staff at the university. She is warm, friendly, open, and accessible. Everyone loves her, and everyone thinks she is their best friend. That's why right now she's hiding in the dark listening to the knocking and the ringing. She can't make it stop, and she can't possibly do all the things people want her to do. It's not humanly possible.

The Cowardly Angel is not a gendered identity, either (though the hiding-in-the-dark strategy might be). The first person I met like this was a powerful male figure in my discipline. College deans and university presidents are often like this, politicians, too. Still, I never really understood the phenomenon until the day I stood outside Angel's door and discovered that she had the ability to sit there in the dark and listen to the knocking.

Disclaimer: Although I do think that all those people have some breaking point or way of dealing with the bottom line, I think their strategies vary, and this hiding in the dark is not the strategy of a famous person. Those people are behind door #3.
My previous post can be read as suggesting that professors, in general, are overpaid. Let's forget that for the moment. Certainly, for those of you who are professors, I do not know how much you specifically are paid and do not want to appear to be passing judgment on whether it is more or less than what you deserve.

So, consistent of what I'm fond of doing anyway, let's just talk about me. Let me amend my statement to say just that I'm overpaid.

More precisely, I'm in a strange position. On the one hand, I would argue--passionately, if I've had a few drinks--that I am presently underpaid relative to certain specific others in my academic proximity. On the other hand, I would argue that I'm already overpaid in abstract moral-justice terms. Why? Because I've found myself at various times being willing to stand at cocktail parties and hold forth on each of the following six propositions:

1. Income inequality in the United States is too high
2. Income inequality worldwide is (way, way) too high
3. Student tuition is too unaffordable for working-class families
4. Graduate students who are teaching assistants or lecturers are paid too little and commonly (depending on institution) deserve better in terms of health care and tuition benefits
5. Academic staff (e.g., secretaries) generally are underpaid for what they do
6. Government spending on people both needier and more deserving than myself is too low

And, thus, even though Scarlet is the official color of passion, icy-blue logic makes it hard for me to be comfortable following these assertions by then joining other professors in complaining about my salary by endorsing that:

7. Your Secret Correspondent Scarlet is underpaid

Because, I ask myself, where do I think the extra money to augment my standard of living should come from? Once I get past the intraprofessoriate comparisons--if their paying him $x, they should be paying me $x--it's hard for me to see how I justify deserving a bigger feeding from the Great Economic Trough.

Oh, and: Happy Labor Day!
Friday, September 1
Clear noted that there are a lot of complaints as secrets, so I thought I'd share a happier one: I love my advisor! She's always so enthusiastic and interesting and supportive. It's a secret because all the other grad students I spend time with constantly seem annoyed or frustrated with their advisors. Sometimes I feel like I have to find something to complain about, so as to not be left out of the conversation, or inspire jealousy. Luckily, there are some things my advisor does, like turn every 5 minute meeting into an hour-plus discussion about the state of our field, that I actually enjoy, but other people conveniently interpret as a bad thing.

It's unfortunate that it seems much more socially acceptable to kvetch about excessive demands and lack of guidance, than to say anything complimentary. My advisor is generally known as one of the nicest people in the department, but surely the other professors can't all be that bad.

Of course, her being so nice makes me feel even worse about my lack of productivity, but this is supposed to be a happy secret, so I'll ignore that for now. I did just write 750 words today! I was tempted to put it off again, but I wanted to be able to show my advisor something for a change. Maybe I should try to focus on making her happy as a motivational tool.

This is what kills me about my particular work environment. I'm in a part of the building where in the abstract six other nicely-paid professors have their offices, and on the typical day I see maybe one or two of them. More commonly than I ever would have imagined when I took this job, none. They come in to dispatch their obligations and then go home, because they "work at home." My guess is that 20% or so of professors actually are more productive working at home, and they provide the rationalization for the astonishing ability of the rest of us to collect salaries far, far above the median for a full-time worker in the United States and yet get to stand in the hallways and complain like a war crime has been perpetrated upon us if schedules require us to come into our workplace more than three days a week.

Yes, I know, the best thing about this job is the autonomy. I agree. I know that academia favors those who are keep-to-themselves-types (even as it simultaneously favors those who are build-large-social-network-alliance-types). But, still.

I am sure it would bother me less if I wasn't single. If I had a family, I would love that I could come into the office and have Total Solitude Time. (And, yet also, I'm sure I'd have less of an opportunity to come into the office and have Total Solitude Time.) Not to sound pathetic, but it's just not much fun to come into work and see no one and then go home and be by yourself as well.

A weird thing about this is that my institution gets very concerned about space and the balance between the principles that office space should be given based on (1) seniority vs (2) specialty area. The argument for the latter is that you put people with similar interests next to each other and soon you'll need to wear sunglasses to work for all the blinding intellectual synergies that ensue. To which I have to physically take hold of my tongue to keep from screaming, "What the hell does it matter? No one is ever here!"
Hair boy is a junior faculty member of our department who uses ken-doll good looks and blow-dried hair to charm his way out of teaching service courses. Hair boy is a shameless self-promoter who will do anything to add a line to his CV, including stealing ideas from his masters-student advisees. I think hair boy's charisma will get him tenure, even though his scholarship is mediocre.
Thursday, August 31
I have a colleague who loves to apologize for his misogynistic comments. To begin, he'll say something completely moronic, or something completely understandable--doesn't matter. What matters is that his incredibly astute and sophisticated understanding of feminist linguistic politics sends up a flag for him (go ahead and read something into that, if you can manage not to lose your lunch over the idea). The opportunity to bask in the glory of his brilliant realization overcomes him and he stops, always mid-sentence. "I'm sorry. That was sooo mis-aaaah-gynistic." The ensuing conversation always involves at least three more opportunities for him to say misogynistic and at least one, but probably two opportunities to say some form of the word patriarchy. For a kicker, he always concludes that his original stupid-ass point must stand and that he has a bona fide need for the allegedly misogynistic term or concept. (This is just what the world needs, linguistic BFQs.) Listening to his self-congratulatory musings on the oppression of women is one of my favorite ways to spend an afternoon. (Can you see me batting my long luxurious Sienna eyelashes?)

I've been lurking around here for a long time but haven't managed to put up a real entry yet. Does this make me a slacker? That would be interesting since just being here seems to make everyone else a slacker. Nevertheless, I feel like a slacker for failing to post. So I thought I'd debut with a theme that might provide me with more ideas for secrets to reveal later. If you're brave enough to join me in this game, just jump right in with "behind door". My plan to help muddy the identity waters is to draw from lots of places and previous experiences, with just a dash of a pure fiction. That way the personalities won't add up to anything identifiable, or if they do add up to something-- You know the standard disclaimer.
Wednesday, August 30
Tuesday, August 29
[I was almost done writing this post when my computer rebooted for no reason and so I lost it. This may make for a shorter post than the original, possibly missing some points.]

It's that time of year when students start requesting letters of recommendation. I have a few coming up for graduate students. Some are not a problem at all, but one has caused some concern for me lately.

I am on this student's committee, but other than his participation in one of my classes (which, to be fair, was very good), I have had little exposure to him. He hasn't responded to any of my comments about his dissertation. (Granted, his main advisor said that my requests weren't that important so the student has backing in not following my requests. We'll leave for another time this issue of committee members disagreeing.) The student had expressed interest in working with me (three times over the years), but never actually came through with any work when it came down to giving me something concrete.

So overall, I don't have a lot of great things to say. After all, I think the main project is definitely lacking and I haven't been super impressed by the student's motivations either.

So what to do? It's not really an option for me to say I won't write the letter. But then what do I say? Obviously I don't want to say anything bad, but how much good can you say given the above?
Monday, August 28
That's the question Jon Stewart posted Friday night (I think it was Friday night) and it was one of those jokes that he delivered just unable to contain himself. He was so proud! Of course it's not true that social criticism doesn't happen other places, but that's where the audience goes. I'll be the first to say that if it weren't for Jon Stewart (and Oprah Winfrey), the American public would be duped more completely than they are today. These entertainers did something important, but they also changed our jobs, to some extent. So today, I'm looking at a.secret and thinking, "Quick! Say something funny that does something important!" But I think I'll save my energy because I have to teach today and there, the expectations are the same: Be funny and be entertaining, otherwise, my students won't be so receptive when I disassemble their worlds.
Friday, August 25
I read this article today and wondered where something like this leaves us?

Is sharing our secrets here good or bad? Are they part of our identities or can we keep them stored away safely? Do we engage in conversations here only to preserve our tenure chances, academic safety, and reputability, or to preserve our selves too?

Is sharing your secret with a stranger - or as a stranger - different than sharing it with someone you know intimately?
Thursday, August 24

I was very excited to get an invitation to join academic secret, but I've been feeling twinges of impostor syndrome when trying to think about what to post. I'm not a real academic (any moment now someone will realize they made a mistake letting me into grad school) and I'm certainly not cool enough to be part of a secret cabal. After rereading the archives, however, I'm feeling more confident because I'm pretty sure that I can beat all y'all at something, even if I have to bring up an old argument to do it.

Salmon Ella first claimed to be the “resident slacker of academicsecret” back in July, but didn't seem eager to fight for the title when thistle challenged her*. I'm ready to take you on, though, thistle! Thistle's pretense to the title: “There are many weeks when I only manage to work 20-30 hours at being a graduate student, and I don't even have a baby.”

Ha! I laugh at your “20-30 hours”! A day when I do 2 hours of vaguely work-related activities is a day of astounding productivity for me. Usually, it takes all my motivation to do the bare minimum required to keep my model organisms alive.

Let me share a typical day with you:

8-9am – alarm goes off, hit snooze (repeat)

9am - read email/blogs
10.30am - realize my dreams of one day getting to work before 11am are about to be shattered, yet again
11.30am – start getting ready to leave
12pm - arrive at work, read more blogs (or at least hit refresh until something new shows up in my feed reader) until everyone else leaves the lab
6pm - realize that my organisms are going to die if I don't feed them
7pm – finally drag myself away from the computer to feed my organisms
7.15pm – go home

Anyone think they can top that for slackerness? Bring it on!

Pre-post update: Sadly, since I wrote the first part of my post, my advisor managed to kill my sense of achievement. She came by to ask for an update on my progress and after I mumbled my excuses about shipping delays (read: forgetting to place the order) and lack of facility access (read: not getting around to returning the signed forms), she started talking about all the exciting new ideas she has for my project. She seems to be feeling bad that my project is having problems (it does have some that aren't entirely self-induced) and is sure that once I get some results I'll be moving ahead much faster! I couldn't bring myself to confess the real reason for my lack of progress. She'll just have to learn the slow way that I can bring errors and delays to the best of projects...

Why does she have to be so nice and supportive and make me feel guilty? And why can I not just do some work??

*Turquoise Stuff also mentioned the title fight, but I'm not sure he(?) is a serious contender. I mean, he has a list!
After years of trying to help my students learn how to decipher the way other people evaluate them (just one of the many life-lessons folded into my courses), I think it's time I took the plunge and developed a grading rubric for my written assignments. I don't want to for several reasons, failing to teach them how to read their environment is one, flexibility is another. But on the flexibility front, I'm especially worried that I'll forget to include something on my rubric, like, "Oh! You can't use the religious text you've been studying since you were three years old as the only source for this paper." Now, I'm trying to brainstorm about those invisible spaces. But the thing I'm most anxious to include and be explicit about is a set discount factors. At the top of my list will be a thing I learned from a colleague I never met who ran a writing boot camp for some of the greatest 20-year-old political minds in the [name a region] US. I taught a class that attracted many of his students and they would come in groups of three or four to tell their tales of woe from those seminars. And this is where I found out that you can actually cure a student of his-or-her-but-usualy-his sophomoric writing style. My colleague who ran the political honors group didn't use a grading rubric, of course, but he excelled in teaching humility to gifted youth who had yet to learn exactly how big the world really is, and he would not hesitate to just write it across the top of their papers, "Your pompocity score is off the charts." Oooooh! That makes me happy!!!
Wednesday, August 23
A friend of mine was recently at a major conference for his discipline, which included a number of one-on-one conversations with people that stretched well beyond his genuine-interest attention span. He's been worried that in such conversations he loses focus and his uninterest becomes more obvious than he would like. So he came up with a strategy for it this year that he's been going on about ever since.

What he does first is to imagine some ludicrously hideous thing he could say to the other person. The point is not that it's anything he wants to say or thinks is true; indeed, he claims it's better if it's not. The key thing is that it has to be something that, were he to say it out loud, would certainly ruin his relationship with the other person, and very possibly his career. Knowing him, my guess is that it's usually something over-the-top sexual, perhaps involving livestock.

Then, as the other person is talking, not only does he think this thought over and over again, but he imagines trying to project the thought into the other person's mind using some hitherto undiscovered telepathic power. All that while, he maintains the appearance to the other person like they are having a normal, friendly conversation and gives no indication that he is really devoting all of his mental energy to trying to communicate some sick message to them by extrasensory means. Even though this ultimately means he's listening to the person even less than when he was merely bored, he's convinced he now does a better job of looking like he's paying attention, because this makes appearing to be an attentive listener an active challenge.

His other goal, of course, is to have some moment in which the other person gets a puzzled, disturbed, and confused look on her/his face that would indicate that he had succeeded in breaching the brainwave communication barrier for a brief moment, but so far he reports no success in that regard. Then again, he has a few decades of meetings ahead of him during which he can hone his technique.

I'm thinking about trying it, but I'm worried I'll have trouble not laughing. Or looking deranged. Or, worst of all: deranged laughter.
Tuesday, August 22
I want to take a moment to clarify my Fraud identity. I might feel like I'm undeserving of my current position, or that people think that I'm more capable than I am, but I believe whole-heartedly that I am bright and capable. These past couple weeks I've also learned that I am great at getting things done.

My partner, adept in all the ways I feel inept, is brilliant. His vita looks like a full professor's (and he doesn't even have his PhD yet). He reads incessantly, and now writes as much, and has the broadest understanding of anyone I know in his field. He does have one kryptonetic weakness; he is really bad at getting things done.

We're both new faculty at our institution and both of us had more orientations than any human should endure and more luncheons, retreats, and gatherings than I think is necessary (despite the usually excellent food, and sometimes booze, served there). I RSVP'd to each of them, and gave my menu choices. I balanced my time and wrote them in my calendar. I arrived at each and every one on time and prepared. I got things done. My partner, on the other hand...

It won't get me tenure, but I derive some sick sense of pleasure that I was able to juggle it all (plus kid, who's mine) and not skip a beat, whereas Mr. Brilliant couldn't.

Maybe it was trading in my denim for some dress pants for the first day of teaching, but I'm feeling a little less fraud-like today.
I just can't do it. There has to be secret force in the universe that prevents the word NO from exiting my mouth. I bow down to those of you have mastered this force and ask for guidance as to how to vanquish this horrible foe. I feel the assault on my spinal column with every request. I do not wish to fall victim to academyosteoporotic syndrome. I mean a forced spinectomy is one thing but this is self-inflicted! Oh wise colleagues, please share your secrets!!
We will be sending out a funky-fresh new round of a.secret invitations in the next few days. If correspondents have ideas for others who, to their knowledge, are not part of the cabal but would be good to have, let Plaid or me know via e-mail.
Every year I make a sort of sacriligious pilgrimage to a super-secret location for an unspectacular event that has nothing to do with my academic life.

The reason I (along with 20 of my closest non-academic friends and a couple hundred other fun people) enjoy this place so much is that, although the goal of our adventure is the same as many of our other summer weekends, this place is goverened by a different set of assumptions than the world we normally live in, and you wouldn't think it, but many of them are better than ours.

It strikes me as a place with very few barriers, where the beer flows freely and all kinds of things normally restricted or prohibited in the outside world are open and allowed. I am more comfortable there than other places, despite the fact that there is no cellular service (gulp), and certainly no data or computers.

I know you think I'm headed off to the mountains for some sort of hippie retreat on a commune, but that wouldn't constitute a decent academic secret. And this one is a serious flaw in the otherwise smooth fabric of my real life identity, so PLEASE don't tell anyone that my glorious annual retreat is... Okay, wait... Before I tell you, you have to understand that we've been doing this for 15 years or more now, and we're genuinely surprised that we're still allowed, but we are, so we do. Can you tell I'm nervous? It's a horrible secret!

Okay, (deep breath... exhale) the reason there's no cell service is not merely that it's a little bit removed from urban life. The real reason is that the signals are scrambled because...

...It's a Naval Base!

Monday, August 21
In recent whispers about which of us might embark on a passionate affair for the readerly edification of all, Kodachrome suggested that I might " release "Wild Blue" to seek her own passions." The relevant background here, dear readers, is that while my nom-de-keyboard is "Twilight Blue," the Crayola color to which this hue corresponds is "Wild Blue Yonder." Thus, simply by virtue of not first looking at the Crayola Crayons colors, I seem to have established a bit of a spilt personality for myself here on Academic Secret.

What intrigues me about this (even beyond the delightful myriad of words that describe shades of blue) is my choice of Academic Secret identities, I'd already begun to unfurl the fingers of the hand in which I hold one of my academic secrets. This is, of course, that I do have a bit of a split personality. By "split personality" I refer to nothing clinically significant, nothing remotely worthy of an afterschool special, horror film, or psychotropic medication. Rather, I'm thinking of all of the aspects of oneself that are never expressed or acknowledged in the academy, included in a NIH biosketch, or announced in a departmental newsletter.

To be sure, these "other selves" need not be Wild. For example, recent posts about all the unacknowledged-in-academia work we do as partners, parents, washers of dishes, doers of laundry, mowers of lawns, payers of bills, buyers of groceries, etc. also allude to these other, often invisible selves. Moreover, many folks who come to academia from backgrounds which are different than many of our peers feel "split," say, when we go home to visit our parents in places that seem worlds away from the locations we now inhabit (one imagines the voice over, "sorry son, your cultural capital is no good here").

However, I think that the other selves that are wild may pose particular challenges. I recall a Monday morning walk to campus, when I was in graduate school, after a weekend that had been filled with dancing 'til dawn, sleeping outside, and having an amazing time just being a human being, alive, in this world, in this body. I was so sad, then, as I walked towards a place where the body is seen mostly as transport system for the brain, a place where I would do well to put that other self away for the week. I have also had moments of intense dissonance when the memory of some embodied experience or another (lack of specificity deliberate - use your imaginations, it's fun!) flits across my consciousness even as I am being my most serious and scholarly self.

I do seek out and enjoy small acts of Wild Blue expression. Whenever I have to wear a suit (and especially whenever I will be giving a talk about which I am nervous while wearing that suit), I wear also the slinkiest lingerie I own. In my very respectable office are beautiful photographs of places I've gone backpacking (and skinny dipping).
I could go on... in the coming months, I probably will.

However, more interesting would be to hear from you all, my colorful friends -
Who are your other selves?
And how do they get expressed while you walk the halls of the ivory tower?
Sunday, August 20
Friday, August 18
I've been drinking too much lately. In fact, I'm drinking now, otherwise I probably wouldn't even be writing this.

It's always in the evening; it's always just a few glasses of wine; I never get sloppy. But it's "too much" because I've realized that, in just a few short weeks of this routine, I have really come to depend on it. To do what, you ask? Herein lies the real problem: to dull the monotony of my existence. I'm really dissatisfied with how I spend my days. (Which, for the record, consist almost entirely of anxiety, procrastination and, not unrelatedly, isolation.) Yes, I have a partner (who shall remain genderless), but I've also been feeling dissatisfied with Partner in the past few weeks/months. I feel like I want some excitement, and I'm a little worried that in my (dare I hope fleeting?) quest for excitement I'm going to screw up the relationship that I have built with Partner. Especially because I have been really, really, REALLY thinking lately about how much I want to have an affair with someone (specific). Someone who I used to know, in another life. I don't think I'm going to do it, mostly because I am just too chicken-- I don't want to hurt Partner, who is a truly good person, and I don't want my world to implode, and I'm not sure how Someone Specific would respond (though I think I could convince him/her). Not to mention that SS lives far away from me, so it's probably completely improbable. But I really want something exciting to happen in my life. Apparently trying to build a career isn't really doing it for me-- too slow and steady, you know. On the other hand, perhaps my restlessness is all just a subconscious procrastination ploy.

If so, it's working.
Thursday, August 17
I was reminded today of something my sister said to me last year, when I was having trouble getting my work done and suffering humiliations galore from my professors.
I was telling my sister about how one professor was mad at me for doing a crappy job on a paper, and how the professor had told me she thought I wasn't taking her class seriously enough and was insulted. I was worried I had permanently damaged my relationship with this professor. I was also worried that this seemed to keep happening a lot with professors, and I was alienating all of the potential committee members in the department. I told my sister that I thought I was running out of social capital because of my flakyness.
My genious sister said, "But you don't need social have a fortune in intellectual capital." My sister reminded me that because I have strong quantitative research skills in a subfield that is short on people with solid training of that variety, people were going to need me, even if they thought I was annoying or flaky or whatever.
I thought of that today when I was in a meeting with the supervisor of a project that is a year overdue (it was last summer's "summer" project). My supervisor listened to my short lack-of-progress report, and then changed topics entirely saying, "I'm really glad we had a meeting today...I wanted to pick your brain on something..." that was totally unrelated to our project. Awesome! The supervisor barely noticed that my project moves slower than a glacier, and all I had to do was just sit there and expound on a topic I am very familiar with.

By writing this post, I'm hoping to remind myself not to worry so much about what people think of me as a social person - whether they think I am arrogant, a slob, flaky, whatever. Those things matter, but they matter a whole lot less than the mental space I give them. Because if people think you're smart, and that you're uniquely capable, it doesn't matter so much if you have B.O.

I hope.
I accomplished something good, something that so many people tell us to do: get grants. I got a nice grant. You would think that something of the sort would have positive implications. But no, the situation has me learning about the level of incompetence surrounding me. Of course, it's not always incompetence, sometimes it's just irresponsibility. The result: the situation is a complete downer. It practically makes me wish I had never gotten the grant in the first place. Then I could just go about my business as I had before, which wasn't all that bad at all. The whole thing has me completely astonished. It's depressing, demoralizing, and it's also wasting my time to no end. So my advice: before you go after that grant, make very sure that the support structure is there to back you up AFTER you get all that money to your institution.

Basically, I want out. It's just not clear out of what, and it is certainly not clear whether it's an option. The whole faking your own death thing never did sound realistic to me, no offense to Scarlet. So I'll continue to stay in. But what would be coping strategies? I realize I'd have to give you many more details about the situation for you to be able to offer concrete advice, but it's hard to stay pseudonymous if you get into details.

I want to be excited about my grant, and by extension, about my work. But once a grant of this magnitude is involved, the various steps are no longer just up to you. And that has major hindering effects. If only I hadn't been so ambitious about my work I could actually do my work. How ironic.

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