Monday, July 31
There's a good article in today on a law suit alleging that a university didn't comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act because a professor wouldn't provide accommodations for a student with a disability. I've been thinking of posting about my own situation for a while now; I would love to hear your reactions.
I've got serious problems with depression. I've been on medications and in treatment for it for 7 years now. Because of family history, and how depression progresses as a disease, it's very likely that I will have episodes of depression periodically for the rest of my life. This would be true whether or not I was in academia.
While I was still taking courses, I had an extremely hard time getting my big papers done by the deadlines at the end of each quarter. The quarter system is brutal to everyone, but I would get paralyzed by anxiety sometime around the 9th week, and not be able to make progress on the big papers. Small papers or short assignments, no problem. But research papers were problematic for me. I would do WAY too much reading of the relevant (and irrelevant literature), outline a paper that was 5 times too long, and then panic because there was no way that I could finish the project I had started. Classic perfectionist, overachiever problems. But because of the depression this became a life-threatening situation when anxiety and panic led to suicidal thoughts and withdrawal. Each quarter I would sink into despair, and become totally incapacitated. I would end up sending overly apologetic emails to professors saying that I couldn't complete their papers, and could I please have an extension or an incomplete. Eventually, I learned to email the professors at the beginning or middle of the quarter and give them a heads-up that this was likely to happen, and try to negotiate something in advance. I would tell them I'm registered with the Disability Center, and have documentation of my problems.
I've received a wide variety of responses from professors. A few have been supportive and nonjudgmental. Many say that they don't ever give extensions or incompletes, as a matter of fairness to other students. Others say they won't give it to me for my own good, because they've seen too many grad students' careers get sidetracked by an incomplete. I feel like shaking these professors and telling them the thoughts that go through my head every time I think about their paper: literally, whenever the thought of the class or paper would come into my head, I would think "I want to kill myself" or "I want to die". If they knew that, would they still act is if I was just lazy and unmotivated? Do they think that I'm not trying?
I sometimes think that I get weird reactions from professors because up until that point in the quarter I was usually a star student in the course, achieving well beyond expectations*. That's one of the reasons I stay in academia, even though I have mental health problems. I am actually very talented at what I do, when I'm able to get it done. It's just that I can't get it done on other peoples' schedules some of the time.
I know that academia is chock full of people with depression, especially during the phd years. So why aren't there better systems in place to deal with students like me? How come the professors are allowed to unilaterally decide that I don't need an accommodation? But also, should I really be trying to be an academic if I've got so much anxiety around deadlines? Furthermore, what does "fairness" mean when some of us are fighting mental and physical illnesses (or both at the same time) just to get to the starting line? If the battle is that steeply uphill, should we even be fighting it?

* I don't mean to be egotistical, but this is what they tell me.
This morning, the Boston Globe published an email exchange between a male neurobiologist and a young femaleneurobiologist to whom his department made a job offer. (Go read the Globe article! You can download the email exchange as a word document and then feel better about your own situation, whatever it may be.) His goal was to dissuade her from joining his department on the grounds that they would compete with each other. Pa ha ha ha ha! Let's enter him into Scarlet's televised competition, "So You Think You Can Get an Outside Offer!" (Boom ba-boom ba-boom boom!) Okay, he is (or, perhaps the appropriate word is was) a Nobelaureate, Susumu Tonegawa, but I think that verb tense is the point about gender and competition from senior faculty who, in a more-perfect world might serve as mentors. We ought to keep each other and our disciplines active, but it doesn't always work that way.

A couple years ago, I had the privilege of sharing a meal with a leading scholar in my field who heads a lousy department in a big powerful university (which shouldn't have a lousy department, but history does these things). This guy has a national reputation, not only for the (sometimes) stellar quality of his own work, but also for his exceptional mentorship of graduate student. But his department eats junior faculty for breakfast. One of my colleagues had the beautiful audacity to ask him about a recently failed tenure case over our third glass of wine, and he gave us all these reasons the candidate (who had doubled most research-one expectations) wasn't good enough. Yes, I told him about his mentorship imballance, but people with egos that big (and three glasses of wine) usually forget things like that. (I hope.)

Now back to gender. When I wrote about my strategically incompetent female colleague, Clear, whose profile says he's male, chimed in to say he probably does too much photocopying. But it didn't take long for the discussion to conclude that women are expected to do photocopying more often than men. I'm sure that's right, but I'm concerned about two things, especially given the somewhat frightening Picture Secret XV:
1. how we react (differently) to similar behaviours from men vs. women (e.g. Should we expect the women who fought their way into the academy to act less competitively than their male colleagues?), and

2. how we might be mistreating each other because we might not know our genders, among other things.
The Globe says the young biologist took a job at Virginia to avoid conflict at MIT. That's the South! I guess we'll find out later whether it's also the metaphorical frying pan for her. According to, at 11:30 am Eastern time, the temperature is Boston is 77 F and Charlottesville, VA is 89 F.

Here's to making everyone dance for the camera!
Kodachrome just posted two copies of a really interesting post. Being an administrator on the side of good, I deleted one. But then someone deleted the other. (Kodachrome? Plaid?) I hope it's not gone--I was trying to post a comment on it and then Blogger told me I couldn't because the post didn't exist.
I was procrastinating the other day reading a website for Procrastinators Anonymous, a group based on the assertion that chronic procrastination is a potentially life-spoiling problem for many people and should be approached the way one would approach familiar addictions. Their cheery slogan: "Procrastination is the grave in which opportunity is buried." Following the links led me to one list of the ten key traits of the pathological chronic procrastinators:
1. Disappointment is a way of life with us. We constantly disappoint other people and ourselves by not keeping promises that we make.
2. We constantly seek excitement and attention through the negative attention generated by passive aggressive behavior. The excitement comes from not knowing how the person we have "wronged" will react when we see him/her again.
3. We constantly place people in a position of power over us by default.
4. We have taken on the role of nice but ineffectual people.
5. We do not like to be depended upon.
6. We are regularly late for appointments.
7. We regularly procrastinate greatly over the things we have to do. In school this results in incomplete grades, at work in projects that get delayed or dropped, at home in a disheveled place that we are embarrassed to bring people to.
8. We tend to put off making decisions. Many of our decisions are made for us by the process of indecision, life's inevitable way of making the decisions for us whether we like it or not.
9. We tend to stay single to a late age or not to get married at all, tend to greatly delay breaking off inappropriate relationships, and/or tend to avoid committed relationships.
10. We tend to avoid concentrating on projects at hand, engaging in daydreaming or switching to other less important tasks.
Whew! I'm glad only like seven or eight of those apply directly, indeed almost unnervingly, to me. Otherwise, I might be concerned.
Sunday, July 30
Saturday, July 29
I've got this great idea for a new TV show. It would have the same basic premise as "So You Think You Can Dance." Only instead, it would be called "So You Think You Can Get An Outside Offer," and would feature earlyish-career professors at public universities who understand that there is a two-tiered salary system and don't want to spend their whole life on the junior varsity tier if they can avoid it. I know, no one would actually watch it, especially since so much of the 'action' would take place over e-mail.
Friday, July 28
Thursday, July 27
Wednesday, July 26
The New York Times Magazine had an article this weekend on the role of social contexts, especially financial well-being, on the intellectual development of very young children:
In “Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American Children,” the University of Kansas psychologists Betty Hart and Todd Risley find that by the time they are 4 years old, children growing up in poor families have typically heard a total of 32 million fewer spoken words than those whose parents are professionals. That language gap translates directly into stunted academic trajectories.

32 million words. How much pull on that mean do you suppose academic professionals are responsible for?
It's summer, and I used to think that summers would be a glorious time when the hallways would be empty of students and my office would become a useful place to work. Not so. What happens in the summer is that lonely colleagues wander the hall looking for someone to chat with. I work at home in the summer just like I do the rest of the year. That would be okay except that I have an insane neighbor who cuts public utility cables because he thinks they shouldn't run across his property. So I have been without an internet connection since Thursday. Did that send me running to the office? Heck No! I read a.secret and email on my cell phone, and I held on to the the following post about Scarlet's absence. In that time Scarlet re-appeared, and I'm glad, but I do think we should keep an eye on her. I don't know anybody who actually offed themselves because they had too many academic obligations, but we all know tons of people who quit grad school, and I can name two established scholars in my field who ditched academe for just the sort of reason Scarlet identifies (not for lack of tenure). So I'll include my belated post here and then point out that the advice, "Just say, No," doesn't do much to save people like Scarlet from themselves.

Belated Post: A Mystery Among Us

Hey! What happened to Scarlet? What kind of community are we if we would let one of our own announce her impending death and then just disappear, unnoticed. Did we miss the signs of suicide and then ALSO miss the fact that she went missing? I mean maybe she's still alive--livin' on a private island with Elvis and a Blackberry (or maybe not the Blackberry), but... well, I hate to think... Has anybody checked the library and the candlestick? I haven't a Clue what happened.

Did her ToDo list do her in? Did she have "fake my own death" on her ToDo list? Maybe is was "buy a length of rope." Or maybe some lusty demographer learned her true identity and exacted some speedy revenge. Are we as safe as we think we are here on a.secret?

-Professor Plum (channeled by Kodachrome)
As a graduate student without a trust fund or other outside income, I find myself having frequent money difficulties. I was telling my advisor about the latest troubles, and she said that when she was a grad student and broke, she used the pain to channel her energies into finishing her degree. The idea of finishing and not being broke anymore kept her motivated.
This is ironic, I think, because I could make more money doing almost any other kind of job that requires my current qualifications than I could make being an assistant professor. Just saying.
So, in my first post, I talked about how I was seriously contemplating faking my own death just to get away from this ridiculous mess of academic obligations I've gotten myself into. I know, you don't believe me. Wonderful! You are absolutely right! Keep on thinking that!

Meanwhile, I continue to lay the groundwork. After weighing various alternatives and re-watching Sleeping with the Enemy, I'm increasingly convinced that drowning is the way to go. So I've lately taken to inserting into conversations that I can't swim. I'm not a great swimmer, but I've confirmed that I can sign up for Adult Ed intermediate swim lessons pseudonymously so long as I pay cash. I haven't decided what would be the best conditions for turning up missing-at-sea, but I've been thinking a pellagic-bird-and-whale-watching-trip gone horribly wrong.

A different problem with faking your own death is what to do afterward. You can't just sit around being not-really-dead day after day; you have to do something with your new life. Here, academics face the special problem where credentials do not transfer from a deceased identity to a new one. Almost makes me wish I had spent all that time in schooling acquiring expertise that could be demonstrated without the aid of a diploma. Still, I have been stockpiling anecdotes about academia--let me know if you have any tales, especially of wild malfeasance or ineptitude--and I've wondered if I might be able to turn them into a good mystery novel.

Of course, I wouldn't have to fake my own death if I could just tell people I wasn't interested in this-or-that anymore and that, with profuse apologies, I wasn't ever going to get around to doing this-or-that. But why disappoint when you can disappear?
Tuesday, July 25
End of summer sees several big social science association meetings (e.g. management, political science, sociology) not to mention assorted other professional get-togethers so I can't possibly be the only one starting to get anxious about meeting deadlines. Of course, giving a presentation is one thing, writing a paper is another. Unfortunately, some of my upcoming obligations require both.

I'm looking for suggestions on how to best approach a quick and dirty paper draft. For some of the presentations I will be giving, I'm also required to disseminate a paper. And since there are discussants, it looks like someone may actually read said paper.

I do have an outline, sort of. In grad school I learned the value of outlines, wow, they can be really helpful. So that is more or less done, including the major questions of the paper (while that should be an obvious given, don't tell me you have not read papers that go on for 30 pages and never state a clear research question so I felt this point was worth noting explicitly). So anyway, I have an outline and I have a question. I am also familiar enough with related literature that that part should be okay. What I don't have is all of the analyses, which then also means that I don't have all (any?) of the findings ready either.

My current strategy is as follows. Start working on the presentation slides. That way I will get a better sense for which analyses are most important and need to be performed immediately. But I will still have to write something that's in paper form. (Note to people from various fields in the audience: social science papers are usually at least 20 pages if not 30 or more so we're not just talking a short piece here.) So how do I get the actual paper ready? Needless to say, I have just about no time to work on any of this due to too many other obligations that are, of course, just as pressing.

PS. No need to point out that instead of writing this post I could've probably made some advances in the paper. I know that. But that didn't stop me. And thus my need for advice.
I share a house with an academic. We share some publications, and a bed, and an office, and some other things, and that's tough enough. I think the hardest thing to share is the limelight, especially when I feel like I'm in the shadows. I've been sharing things with him for a while, though, so I've grown accustomed to how it feels and how to cope with it.

Now I might have to share again.

My department is hiring in specific areas for next year. One happens to be an area where an old friend from undergraduate school has excelled. She is my friend. I should be excited that she's a front-runner for the position. I should be thrilled that someone who knows me so well might move here, to the middle of nowhere. I should be excited for her, that she's got the potential for getting a great job. I should be thrilled we're hiring another woman. I should feel like sharing.

I don't. I feel like the kid who got a new bike for their birthday and who doesn't want to let anyone else ride it. I'm not ready to share what I have.

Am I insane, or just insecure? Is this how every assistant professor feels when they're no longer the newest assistant, or is this because of our friendship? Maybe I'm just more competitive than I'd like to admit.
Monday, July 24
Sunday, July 23
This post was sparked by thistle's comment on Transitions, although I want to make clear that I know this isn't what she was saying; it's just a hot button for me.

I hate it when people act like younger graduate students are just here because we couldn't think of anything else to do with ourselves. I've known that I wanted to go to graduate school since I was in junior high--I changed my mind about for what a few times, but the basic idea that I would pursue a PhD was pretty much a constant. I'm a smart person. I grew up among academics and it's a life with which I am comfortable; it's the kind of life I want to have. I certainly didn't want to take time off just for the sake of taking time off, especially when I was a little afraid of losing my academic rhythm. There was like one summer in my entire college career that I didn't take classes, and it left me feeling at loose ends.

But there are plenty of people who don't take me seriously because I'm younger. There are also people who actively resent me for it, and take varying degrees of pains to hide that. For some of them, that degree is none, like the woman who told me that younger graduate students never really know what they want to do with their lives and will just wander off into the sunset after squandering a few years of funding that should have gone to older, more mature and deserving graduate students.

The resentment seems to be expressed more freely by older female graduate students; I'm pretty sure that there is a component of general resentment of younger women included here. I think older male graduate students (and faculty) are more likely just to not take me seriously, and sometimes it's hard to tease out whether that's because I'm young or because I'm female. I have definitely had moments in professional seminars when an older, male person has restated something that I just said a minute ago and gotten a much more enthusiastic reception from the group at large.

At least when I finish my PhD people will be less likely to assume that I went to grad school to kill time. I hope.
Saturday, July 22
I remember learning years ago that there are two types of people - those who hate graduate school and can't wait to get out, and those who love graduate school and wish they never had to leave. It's only now, having moved 2000 miles for my first job, that I realize I might be one of the latter.

I feel like that curmudgeony old woman who tells those younger than her to appreciate their good looks and nice figures because one day they'll disappear (oh, wait... I am that woman). Seriously, though, for those of you out there, struggling with the gruel of grad school, stop and smell the roses. You could actually wake up one day and realize that these were some of the best years of your life.

I started grad school with 11 other souls who I thought were in the exact same position as me. I am starting my job with one other person, and I know enough to know that he's in a much better position than I am. My job during grad school was to learn as much as I could - to spend time reading, thinking, conversing. My job now is to produce as much as possible. I used to spend Friday nights at happy hour. Now I spend Friday nights working. I used to take leisurely lunches. Now I eat yesterday's leftovers, as fast as I can. In grad school I could walk into faculty members' offices and talk to them about ideas, ask them questions, and share good news with them. Now I only talk business.

Yeah, I know that parts of grad school suck too. I mean, I am pretty excited about seeing that first assistant professor paycheck and it's cool that all my printing and mailing is free and I finally get to send someone else to the library to photocopy.

I just wanted to offer a word of warning. Of course I'm aware that, like my warnings for the thin young women who complain that they're fat, this cautionary tale might fall on deaf ears. Just remember, though, when you're making your own difficult transition, that someone did tell you that you might actually miss graduate school.
Friday, July 21
A brief note regarding picture secrets. I post one per day. (Please visit on weekends as well, I try to post on weekends, too.) Thanks to your enthusiastic graphical production, I have a few awaiting publication now. I post them in order of arrival. The only exception is that if I get several from the same email account, I may mix in some others. This is all in the interest of full disclosure, not that that would be of particular concern around here.

When possible, please send pictures in jpg format. I've had to edit some of the others to make them work here. Of course, if that's the only way you can do it then send it in as such, I'll figure it out.

Important: don't let the above comment about the picture queue discourage you from sending in secrets. There is plenty of room for more!
"Have you tried on our jeans before?" says the nice man at the Gap. Is there anyone in the western world who hasn't tried on Gap jeans before?

The trouble we were having with communication was my fault, really. I refused to let go of my version of reality and adopt the Gap mindset. I'm average height 5'6" -- which is just a bit taller than the mean height of women in the US ('5", so I've heard) -- and so it confuses me that I'm to wear the "ankle" length pants, not the regular length. It's ankle now, not short, which it used to be. Ankle is the new short.

And I also can't understand why the "curvy" shape jeans, with bigger bums, are sized to fit tighter than the "long and lean" shape jeans, such that the same size jeans in the "long and lean" are too big when the curvies fit.

But what I really couldn't get my brain wrapped around was the fact that the different cuts of jeans were also different styles. I kept asking him, so, if my bum is big (which, I might proudly add, it is), I can't have the crisp, dark jeans? I can only have the washed-up looking ones?

"Have you tried on our jeans before?" he tried again.
I'm working on part of the lit review for my dissertation proposal, and I'm having problems bounding the universe of Things I Think I Should Have Read Before I Can Write My Proposal. When I do get my act together and read something on my list of things I absolutely have to read before I can talk sensibly about the field, I find at least 10 other things in the references list that I should also read before I can talk sensibly about the field, and so forth. Exponential growth.
You know those beer ads that said 'know when to say when'? They should have a class in grad school on this concept wrt lit reviews.
Week 1: Know when to say when
Week 2: Know when to hold, know when to fold 'em.
Week 3: Just Say No (to review articles)
Week 4: This is your brain on EndNote

Ok, that's all I can think of for now - the rest is going to have to be independent work and student presentations.

But seriously, all you people who already have PhDs, where do you draw the line? How do you keep yourself from printing out bajillions of articles you won't ever have time to read? There's so much out there, how do you decide that anything isn't relevant?
Thursday, July 20
Sometimes when I say, "What if I fuck this up?" it's not because I want people to tell me that I'm not going to fuck it up. I'd rather they just told me that they'll still like me anyway.

Also, my computer just ate an hour's worth of work and I had a little temper tantrum here in my office. Hitting my desk. Outraged squeaking. Moaning, "No! NO!" over and over again.

Now I am redoing it all. What can you do? You can only sit there squeaking and considering a crying jag for so long, that's for sure, and I personally do not want to have any crying jags on campus. There's one women's bathroom in this building in particular where I swear I hear someone having an emotional breakdown in the next stall, like, once a week. I don't want to be that person, although at this time of day it's mostly just a challenge to find a bathroom that the janitorial staff isn't working on.

I want ice cream.
I thought I'd do something really fitting for my debut post over here at a.secret -- what happened to my motivation?

I'm motivated to do all sorts of things (read blogs, post on blogs, sleep, read trashy novels, clean my closet), but not work. I don't know where my motivation went -- it was here a moment ago. Okay, that's probably not quite true, but it was here a few weeks ago. Now it's MIA. And it's not like this is just a phase -- it happens all the time.

I find that, an astounding amount of time, I'm not motivated to do much of anything work related. If I have a looming (firm) deadline, I get stuff done. Otherwise, not so much. So, either I'm unbelievably lazy or ... okay, I am unbelievably lazy, but I think motivation is part of it. If I'm not feeling motivated to work, well, you can figure out the rest.

So, here's my inaugural secret: I spend most of my office time doing nothing that
looks like work.
Some people have asked to see a list of colors that have already been "taken" so they can come up with their own names. This is a bit hard to tell. What I can do here is post a list of users who have contributed to the site under color names so far.

Clear & Plaid

Other Contributors:
Atomic Tangerine
Navy Blue Blob
Orange Ina
Salmon Ella
Turquoise Stuff

We've had other people leave comments as well (or the same people using other names, I don't know, it's all so secret!), but they have not used colors, these tend to be commenters only. I have not listed those here.

There are lots of colors in the rainbow (and in a Crayola set) so don't be shy, there must be a color combo out there to represent you.
Less than a month into the life of this blog (and we hadn't even gone public yet), the various posts have received over 150 comments. Go colorful team, go!

Clear and I are enjoying people's colorful contributions and look forward to the secret conversations ahead. Feel free to spread the word about a.secret. Thanks for joining us!
Click on the image to see the details

Yes! That way people could see which discussions were still raging away from past posts. Unfortunately, Blogger doesn't support a Recent Comments feature, and their purported "hack" for doing it doesn't really work either. Likewise, I would love it if we had categories/tags so that one could easily lookup all the posts from a particular one of our secret correspondents -- or view all of the Picture Secrets at once -- but Blogger doesn't support this either.

Blogger is owned by Google, and I'm used to Google producing great products, but apparently that memo didn't make it to the Blogger wing of the Googleplex. Neither Plaid nor I were great fans of Blogger when we decided it should be the home of a.secret, but we thought it would be easy for Correspondents to use and also allowed a relatively straightforward means of implementing our super-secret, patented protocol by which even we do not know who the different members of a.secret are.
Anyone else hate copy editors?

I mean, I don't hate all of them. Just the ones whose existence I notice.

By all means, ask me about missing or incomplete references. Please catch the one or two typos I haven't fixed. But don't make random-ass changes that are all about replacing my stylistic judgment with yours.

Don't take out half of my commas, only to replace them with an equal number placed slightly differently (sometimes so as to change the emphasis or even meaning of my sentences). Don't change my prepositions on a series of judgment calls. Definitely don't go out of your way to change one of my sentences into the passive voice in order to avoid use of the first person - especially since I'm in a discipline where judicious use of the first person is accepted in all of the top journals!

Oh, and one other thing? Don't take italics out of a sentence I was quoting from a published source.
Wednesday, July 19
A reader sends in a Calvin and Hobbes comic strip (well, just one rectangle) about pursuing an academic career. It was created as a T-shirt design by a computer scientist. I'm going to link to where this came from (or really big version here) so we don't get into trouble about reproducing copyrighted material. (Uhm, which is not to discourage you from reworking images into picture secrets, of course!)
Tuesday, July 18
In the short history of a.secret, the following has already emerged as a main theme, it seems. But I'm going to post about it anyway. After all, I personally haven't yet. And I don't see any solutions in the other related posts so additional discussion seems warranted. (In fact, the inspiration for this post - other than desperation - came from Salmon Ella and thistle starting a fight over who gets to claim the resident slacker name. I figured I had to jump in.)

I finally got myself to start writing a to-do list this morning. It's enormously long. The list contains some items that were due a long time ago and many items that would be great to get done in the next few weeks, a month or two tops. Obviously some items are much quicker than others (e.g. the difference between booking some hotel rooms vs writing an academic paper). Nonetheless, the mere length of the list is keeping me away from getting anything done. (Hmm.. maybe I should've put "post to a.secret" on the list so I could cross off something today.)

So what to do? How to attack the list? A few items are related to must-meet deadlines (after all, I don't want to embark on a trip somewhere without having made lodging arrangements), but others are fairly flexible (and have been delayed for longer than I care to admit).

I have heard the advice, and it seems reasonable, that any item on a to-do list should be bounded enough that you can do it in one sitting so it is reasonable to expect to make some progress on it. Okay, fine, so I'll go back and divide the items about writing papers into many subitems. But that's only going to make the list longer, which is only going to paralyze me even more.

So what to do? How do I get anything done when there is so much to choose from?! Seriously, this is a major concern, and I'm sure not just for me. C'mon gang, help me out. Please. Pretty or ugly please, your pick.
Monday, July 17
It's that time of year again, when large parts of the campus of the elite research university at which I am a grad student have been turned over to summer camps. This week, according to the signs posted here, there, and everywhere, our campus is host to lacrosse camps, soccer camps, science camps, and baseball camps.
Every time I leave my building I run into groups of very young people being led around by slightly-less-young people with clipboards and a whistle around their necks.
Normally the campers are fairly benign. Sometimes I even feel nostalgic when I see a group playing capture-the-flag.
But last week, I was almost killed by a Frisbee that the youngsters were throwing around. And then on Saturday I had to wait ten minutes in line to pee in the locker room at the campus pool because pre-teen campers were too embarrassed to change into their swimsuits in front of other girls, and were instead taking up the toilet stalls changing in private. This gave me ample time to ponder the possibility that they were probably peeing in the pool when not using the toilets as changing rooms.
Call me a curmudgeon. I know the university wouldn't turn itself into kindercentral without good reason, presumably monetary. But I'm soooo over the squealing and yelling and pushing in line at the cafeteria. It almost makes me miss the undergrads.
Sunday, July 16
Not that Plaid's stopgap idea for the links section to just have the Wikipedia entries for "Academic" and "Secret" wasn't smashing, but I decided a more enduring solution would be for us to devote the linkspace in the sidebar to celebrating academic pseudonymous (or pseudopseudonymous, in some cases) blogs. Let me know via the comments if you have any suggestions.
Saturday, July 15
Friday, July 14
Thanks for all the fan mail you've sent us! (Feel free to keep it up.:) We may not be able to respond to messages individually, but we do appreciate them. Of course, what we appreciate most is if you keep on coming back and contributing to academicsecret.

Colorful whisperers unite!
No, this is not a post about red, orange, yellow, etc, although it seems that would go along very appropriately with the color-scheme on academicsecret.

Instead, this is a post about graduate students going on the job market. Yes, it's that time of year when in at least some disciplines students have to start thinking about preparing their files, putting together their resumes, getting a job talk ready, etc.

As arbitrary as the actual outcomes may be, the system as a whole is pretty predictable. And that is why it is painful to listen to graduate students in their 6th or 7th year of study show no clue about the process. Students should know by that time when applications tend to be due, what is generally required to have at least a slight chance of landing an interview and when all this takes place.

While is it a noble idea that a graduate student has spent every waking hour of those 6-7 years working on publications and the dissertation, realistically speaking said graduate student should also have spent at least a tiny bit of time talking to upper level students and advisors in the program finding out about the specifics of going on the market.

The year of going on the market is simply too late. Students should start reading up on this (the Chronicle of Higher Education would be one place) and talking to people about it years before they plan to look for a job. Otherwise, they risk making a bad impression before they even start.
Thursday, July 13
I'm stuck. I have an undergraduate research assistant who seems like a very nice and conscientious person (that is, she seems to take the job seriously) working for me this summer, but she is unbelievably slow. I seriously cannot imagine how she can be as slow as she is with the work she is doing.

Sure, my expectations may be off. But I am comparing her productivity to that of RAs before her doing very similar work. And she is much much slower. So what to do? I don't want to go into attack mode. But this is not reasonable. I think she is interested in graduate school, and she won't cut it with this level of productivity. She's shy and reserved so I am additionally concerned that critical feedback will make her even more timid. I also don't want the quality of her work to go down just because I am asking her to be more efficient.

Do I just let it be and accept the fact that this was not a good investment? I think she will be able to finish what is absolutely crucial to get done by the end of the summer. But I had hoped for much more. It's just painful to watch how someone can be this slow.

Any suggestions on how to deal with a situation like this?

Click image for more legible version.
Tuesday, July 11
When I was a teenager, I made the mistake of serving delicious coffee to the occupants of my first home-away-from-home, and instantly I was stuck with the job of making coffee for the duration of my stay in that house. It's okay. Everyone else's coffee was nasty, and I learned one of the most important lessons of my life: Never make delicious coffee for someone who might ask you to repeat the task.

When I got my first tenure-track job, I met a woman, about 100 years my senior, who put me to shame in the that respect! If you told her that she was too late ordering copies of her exam, so she'd have to make them herself, the copier would be in flames within 20 minutes--guaranteed. "Whooopsy Daisy!" I have never met anyone who was so good at screwing up. My hero! (I think.)

And let me tell you. This woman does absolutely no service work in the department. All her efforts go toward her research. She does get teaching assignments, but similar embarrassments ensue to keep those in check. Lest you think she really is incompetent, however, let me just say it's not true. She can do anything she wants to do. She pulls down almost $200,000 in raw salary, not counting grant income, frequent flier miles, etc. We are not talking about a flake, or an absent minded professor, we are talking about a shark in sheep's clothing.

My friends and I call it strategic incomtetence and we've been trying to emulate it, but it surprisingly difficulty to screw up on purpose.
Sunday, July 9
Academia is small. We know this. But then on occasion we realize it's even smaller than we think. Smaller than we realize. Way smaller than we'd like.

It's inevitable that we won't like everyone in our field. Who likes everyone around them? Anyone who claims to like everyone around them is disingenuous. (Which, mind you, is a reason to dislike that person in case there weren't any other reasons already.)

Academic circles don't change that much. People don't switch careers that often. That grad school peer who annoyed you on the first day of class will be around to annoy you forty years after you defended your dissertation. That commenter on your paper at your first conference will be around to ask annoying and irrelevant questions at your 100th talk. That colleague who does work similar to yours and is annoyed that you are more productive than he is will always find reasons to trivialize your next accomplishment.

We have to put on a happy face. We have to meet and greet these folks. Okay, if they are really bad you can start ignoring them. But rarely are people that bad. So you continue to smile and pretend that you like them even though you know they dislike you as much as you dislike them. You go as far as to pretend that you are friends. Then in between sessions at the annual meetings, you run to the bathroom, because certain expressions just wouldn't be pleasant in the middle of a hotel lobby.

And in the meantime, all you can do is hope that these are not your real friends, because if this is all you've got then it really wasn't worth it.
Saturday, July 8
As per the note on the sidebar of this blog, in addition to having our members post elaborate (or not) secrets, we are also exploring graphical representations of academic secrets. So if you are not a member (or even if you are), we invite you to send in a secret in graphical representation. We got the idea from the site Post Secret.

Note that these short secrets have to be _graphical_ representations. We have now received a few submissions, but they are all just simple text. That won't do. Please resend them in graphical form for consideration. Also, we reserve the right not to post a graphical secret if we deem it inappropriate. We reserve the right to determine what we consider inappropriate.

As clarification I wanted to mention - in response to an email we received recently - that we were not striving to be an academic Post Secret site. That component is just something we added, because it has the potential to be interesting in addition to the core mission of the site: to allow academics (members and visitors alike) to discuss whatever is on their mind.
Thursday, July 6
I was watching a nature show on polar bears yesterday, and it got really intense*. Momma polar bear and her two cubs were being chased across an immense wasteland of ice by a menacing male polar bear. One of the cubs couldn't keep up anymore, and fell exhausted down on the snow. Momma polar bear - let's call her Sophie - had to decide whether to stop and protect the downed cub or keep trying to escape with the heartier cub who was still on its feet. Sophie ended up running away with the cub that could still keep up. I was crying freely when the male polar bear started ripping into the first cub, and the blood got all over the snow.

Deciding that this wasn't exactly the relaxing TV fix I was looking for, I flipped to a different channel. When I saw what was on, I thought to myself 'ah, thank goodness. Law and Order: Special Victims Unit,' and cheered up immediately. What kind of nutcase am I that the death of a polar bear cub totally undid me, but a show about the rape and murder of children seemed like a happy, lighthearted diversion?

*even more intense than the computer-generated polar bear tragedy in Inconvenient Truth.
I'm old fashioned. I use my land line for official business and only give my cell phone number to friends and family. But last week, a dean called my cell phone! (A mutual soon-to-be-departed friend divulged my cell number.) What's worse, the reason for the call was that she wanted me to do one of those crossfire-style radio shows. Her argument was that the other position should not go unchallenged, so I should get up there and defend... well, as it happens, it's the status quo that needed defending from a Right-wing whack job. Hmmmmm.

If I had half a brain I would have just done the deed and scored my points with the dean. But I think this is one of the stupidest moves in the book. (Thanks academicsecret!)

I'm quite happy to jump in and defend one position from another for political or empirical reasons. But pimping yourself out to the broadcast media to defend a whole discipline from some whack job who has "discovered" what the public wants to hear is not only dangerous. It's bad political strategy. So I... um... well I may have said something like that to my dean.

Imagine we're all sitting on an airplane. Airplanes can fly, and we all know that, but they just don't look like they can fly. Still, chances are everything will be fine. Everyone on the plane knows this fact, and everyone on the plane needs to know this fact or everything will not be fine. Now suppose that some nutcase stands up and starts shrieking about how one wing is lower than the other and we're all gonna die. If you were the flight attendant, what would be the best course of action? Would you, (a) treat the nutcase like a nutcase, sweetly trying to get him to sit down and shut up, or (b) ask passengers on the plane whether anyone might be expert enough to debate the nutcase. "Is there a professor on the plane?"

Why would I want to help publicize some nutcase's book?

Oh... Right... to make my dean think of me as someone she can depend on. Damn!
Wednesday, July 5
You don't have to be a sociobiological enthusiast to notice that women seem more likely to be romantically interested in a man a decade or more older than they are than for a man to be interested in a similarly older woman. The year Sean Connery was in his mid-60s and voted Sexiest Man Alive, you did not see Olympia Dukakis voted Sexiest Woman Alive. A separate hypothesis suggested by observing the experience of friends is that women in academia seem even more enthusiastic about relationships with older men (fellow academics or otherwise) than women in general. I do not have any explanation from why this might be the case, but it seems like it is.

I was thinking about all this recently when I was talking to a female academic who has been dating someone roughly a quarter century older than she is. We were talking about someone else we know in a similar March-December relationship who does research in demography. You would think, if any women in academia would be averse to embarking on a relationships with men old enough to be their fathers, it would be the demographers. It's like, if you do end up madly in love with one another and everything works out, you can plan on him starting to break down within a few years of your honeymoon, and, given current projects, you either have 3-4 decades of widowhood to look forward to or you can hope to beat the steep odds in the widow dating market.
Monday, July 3
Career considerations may not be the only ones for blogging under a pseudonym. One's private life may benefit from being discrete as well.

Consider the following. You are someone who blogs every little detail of your life publicly. These details include not only your favorite local ice cream hang-out spot and sushi bar, but also when your ex broke up with you, why, how it made you feel, what you think about the ex now, etc. Then one day you meet a romantic interest. Said romantic interest knows about your blog. Don't you think s/he may be just a little bit put off by the idea that as soon as s/he enters into a conversation with you (never mind whatever else may follow) her/his life will be subject to complete public scrutiny as well? Talk about a turn-off. Well, I guess that depends on your preferences. But I could see it as a big alarm flashing for plenty o' people.
In my first foray into finding and pasting JavaScript into an HTML document myself, we now have randomized slogans. Granted, they are not all exactly clever. They will elaborate and improve if this keeps going.

Afterward, I thought that instead of slogans, we might have used the space to post things that looked like juicy secrets that could come spilling forth on this blog at any moment. Things like, "Sometimes I 'lose' Republican students' assignments out of spite" or "I've shown 41 films already this semester" or "I'm this close to seducing my Dean" or "The middle half of my dissertation was plagiarized from Harlequin novels... and no one noticed!"

The more I think about the possibilities: should we have slogans in the sidebar, or fake secrets?

Let me know if you have any other comments on the template. I'm still not sure what I think of our main text font (Optima).
Sunday, July 2
As if grad school weren't stressful enough, I have to deal with expectations from certain significant others that I am going to nobly self-sacrifice for the benefit of people who should not be here in the first place--that I am going to build a travois of intellectual assistance and drag the dead weight of certain fellow students across the academic wilderness with me, sharing my pemmican and everything.

Aside from the fact that this seems patently ridiculous to ask of anyone, it seems particularly ridiculous to expect me to do it. I don't think I ever gave the impression of being nice, let alone some kind of academic martyr. I don't even have time to clean my own bathroom, and it's not like anyone would do anything for me if I took on this task.

This thankless task, I might add, because as far as I can tell this person cannot tell that I am exponentially smarter and more with-it than they will ever be, and is in fact more likely to stare at my chest than listen to me explain concepts.

And yet, I find myself tendering all kinds of explanations instead of more honestly saying, "It is not my responsibility to keep this person from flunking out of school." I kind of feel like I shouldn't have to; this should be obvious to everyone concerned. But apparently it isn't.

I realize graduate students think that life couldn’t be any more hectic than being in grad school, but grad school days are actually quite carefree compared to faculty life. Many more obligations and much stricter deadlines follow.

Given all this, I find it unfortunate when students send faculty queries they could get an answer to by consulting easily accessibly resources. They likely already spend plenty of time online so how about using that time to find that syllabus? Or how about asking the departmental assistant if human contact is of utmost importance? It would be great if students could refrain from emailing faculty members to ask about registration deadlines, to request a copy of a reading that is already posted on the Web or to find out when they have to arrive on campus to start a new program. Students should do at least a bit of research first. Not only is it annoying to get these queries, the student sends a really bad message about their research capabilities. Alternatively, they are suggesting that they have very little respect for the faculty member, not the best impression to make.

Saturday, July 1

I have plenty of pet peeves about academics, here is one. If you are going to send a response to a query on a mailing list, how about taking the trouble to make it helpful? People will send notes that resemble thinking out loud more than actual advice. “I think I saw something along those lines in Journal X in year Y, or maybe it was Journal Z in another year, you could try searching those.” How is that helpful? Or, “Try Web site (or maybe it was”. Before sending a note to hundreds (if not thousands) of people, why not actually go and check whether it was xyz or wxyz? I find such behavior obnoxious. Do these people actually think that they are being helpful or do they at least realize deep down that all they are doing is posing? Either put the two seconds of work into being actually helpful or spare the list from your laziness. It suggests one or more of the following: sloppy work, disrespect, ambivalence, naivete for thinking that sending that kind of a note is actually going to accrue you anything positive from other list members.

Given the number of pet peeves we likely all have, I recommend commenting on this post if you have a mailing-list related pet peeve. Others are likely worth a post onto themselves.
I've had three faculty advisors (so far) in my never-ending-journey towards a PhD, and I have developed romantic/obsessive/crushlike feelings toward each of them. I haven't acted on those feelings or anything, and in all cases I'm sure they were unrequited.
The weird thing is that only in the case of advisor #2 was the person what you would call "my type". But #2 was way too old for me, and married.
Advisor #1 was someone I would not be physically attracted to under normal circumstances, being at least 5 inches shorter than me and weighing at least 50 lbs less than me. Also married.
Advisor #3 - the current officeholder - is even shorter than #2, and the wrong gender and yet I've still developed crushy feelings and even some sexual attraction.

When the admiration and intellectual respect I have for my advisors is combined with the power and approval dynamics of advisor/advisee relationships, I get the same butterflies in the stomach, blushing, wanting-to-please and fixations that come with romantic crushes. It's like some wires get crossed in my brain, and little things like gender preferences and heterosexuality are no longer relevant in the face of intelligence, a long CV, and the powers to provide me with funding and approve my dissertation proposal.

I haven't told any of my friends about this because they know the advisors in question, and would still be laughing at me to this day.

Thank god for academicsecrets.
If we are going to do this up proper, don't you think? I tried to think of one, but the best I could do was "We could tell you, but then we'd have to flunk you."

We could probably also do better in the links than just the Wikipedia entry for Academic and Secrets. I don't remember whose idea that was anyway. (It was Plaid's!) In any case, I'm not sure what would be links suitable to our theme.

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