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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The rest of the world can continue to treat summer like it's on its last leg, but I'm going to enjoy this break for the half-full martini or margarita or mocha latte that it is. I hope you will too!
Tuesday, May 15
It's not really a secret at all, I assume, that most instructors hate grading. For me, it's not the commenting on papers that bothers me, because I actually very much enjoy doing that, and my students appreciate it. It's the deciding, especially at the end of the semester, what letter grade a student has earned, as if the whole 14 or so weeks -- all our conversations, their progress, their pitfalls, etc -- just boils down to this one thing. I always wonder what the student will think when s/he gets the grade, and whether or not that will affect how s/he feels about the class and the way it ended. Some people improve but still don't get the grade they probably hope for, especially in this age of grade inflation. I feel very strongly that I'm a fair-to-easy grader, and yet I still get occasional complaints that I'm a "hard" grader, even though it's extremely rare to get a "C" from me, and almost impossible to get below that.

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

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

That was then, and this is now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next Spring Break, regardless of how much or how little I accomplish, I'm taking a day off, so that I know that Spring Break really happened. Or I could just not bother writing it on my calendar and getting my hopes up.
Thursday, March 8
Some recent a.secret posts (the thankless student, the angry student, not-helpful-my-ass) seem to reflect the findings of a recent study reported in the LA Times and the Christian Science Monitor about the narcissism of the current generation of college students.

I wonder whether they really are more self-centered than they used to be...
Friday, March 2
I teach a very small (10 students) composition class once a week. I have a student who has, from the beginning, been very argumentative, mostly trying to bait me into debates but also debating the other students. In the beginning of the semester, he completely dominated class discussion to the point that hardly anyone else had the space to speak (to their credit, several students did bother to disagree with him on a number of points, though they often had to back down). This has all been frustrating, but bearable. I gently mentioned to him that I wanted everyone to feel comfortable speaking in class, and he seemed to acknowledge that he tended to dominate and would try to let others speak more, and for a week or two this seemed to be working to some extent (though he had a condescending attitude about holding back his opinion, and would say things to me when arguing like, “I’m not trying to make you mad,” even though I wasn’t getting mad, in order to make it seem like I was overreacting or like because I’m a woman I couldn’t handle arguments without getting "emotional").

Last week, though, apparently out of the blue, he decided not to speak in class at all. Not a word. Which might have been okay, but I could feel the energy from him. It was like he was seething. It was freaking me out enough that I considered jokingly telling him that he could speak sometimes without dominating, that such a thing is possible.

Then, this past week, things came to a head. We were attempting to discuss a text which I discovered only two students (one of them being the one in question) had read (which is another problem altogether, but I can deal with that one). Early on he said, “Frankly, I’m tired of only talking about the obvious things in the text,” one of the most insulting things a student has ever said to me in class. Then later, I was giving an overview of various critical readings of the text, and after one of them he snorted, saying “that’s so typical of academics, always over-analyzing things.” (He’s made a comment like this before, but not as direct.) I told him I thought that saying something like that was simply dismissive, a comment people make when they don’t want to talk about or acknowledge something in the text. He snorted and flailed about this, we went back and forth on it a bit, then I tried to move the discussion on. He called me on doing this, so I said, “Well, it’s just that we’re probably not going to come to an agreement on this and I don’t want to make everyone sit here and listen to us go back and forth.” He said, in such a sarcastic, hateful tone, “Well, it’s clear you don’t want to talk about this; you have an agenda, so tell us what we need to know.”

I have been angry with students before, I have had disdainful, rude, and sarcastic students before, but I can’t remember having a student who was so openly rude in class and so disruptive to the atmosphere. If I’m reading the feelings of the other students correctly, they seem to find him disruptive as well. I feel like I need to talk with this student outside of class and tell him directly how disruptive he is. But I really don’t know if this is the best way of going about it. Clearly he’s bored by the class; I don’t know there’s much I can do about that. And I don’t really have a strategy for suggesting ways to make him happier. I feel like I should address his anger and frustration, but right now I just feel anger and frustration toward him. I feel like he’s just a slightly unstable asshole and frankly, I don’t care that much about reaching him. However, we have two more months of class, and I don’t know that I can just ignore his behavior. I felt traumatized by this week’s class and really don’t want to go back. And even though I really do think he’s only bored because he sees things one way and doesn’t want to talk about anyone else’s reading of the text, my worst fear of course is that my class really is boring, and that it’s my fault.

Do you think I should talk with him outside of class? And what should I say?
Thursday, March 1
I am about to absolutely blow my top.

My teaching assistant, one of the "perks" of the job here, somehow has managed to make my job MORE DIFFICULT than it would be if I was doing it alone.

You know, he wasn't great last semester. I remember handing back the first assignment and realizing that they were all graded wrong. Clearly the assistant hadn't read the reading and only graded things correct as what I said verbatim in class after the students had turned them in.

As the semester went on, though, it seemed like things were getting better, and I was certain that this semester, since it's the same class, it would be smooth-sailing. I was wrong. The first test I thought that he was WAY too easy on the students, but didn't say anything. I strongly believe that you don't contradict what your TA says on an exam or the students will lose respect for them. But this most recent test, it's the opposite. He clearly didn't read, or read his notes, and doesn't seem to possess the knowledge on his own, and so he marked one essay question wrong over and over and over again, diligently writing the "right" (read: wrong!) answer above the students' answers. Then, he miscalculated the scores, giving everyone much lower than they should have earned. I am so flipping frustrated.

My partner told me to call him in and have a meeting and tell him that his work is unacceptable. I was going to go the other approach, avoid him, and try to keep myself from killing him before May, when he's out of here. Maybe it's because he's leaving and he's not invested in the department, but he's just getting worse every day. I'm scared to see how bad it can get before it's over.
Wednesday, February 28
Serious question here. Generally speaking some students are not very good with the words "thank you". Leaving that aside, I have one student in particular who practically _never_ says thank you. In addition to my own ego, I'm partly concerned about this trait, because I think professionally it is not going to serve him well. I have heard him in conversations with others (people who far outrank me) and he engages in the same behavior with them. I have come to think that perhaps "Okay" is his "thank you", but I think I'm being too generous and giving him the benefit of the doubt on this one too easily.

I am not exaggerating. I have gone so far as to do a search on our email exchanges. Out of hundreds of messages, not a handful come up with the words thank you or thanks. I kid you not. And believe me, given the amount of time and energy I put into our email exchanges and collaboration in general, there have been plenty of occasions when a simple thank you would have been more than appropriate.

Is this something we can address in any reasonable manner? It drives me nuts and, again, beyond it being a personal issue, I really don't think professionally this is going to be in his best interest.
Saturday, February 24
At a recent reception for a visiting scholar, I witnessed this conversation between a grad student in my doctoral cohort and a recently-retired senior faculty member from our department.

grad student: Oh, Dr. _______, I just found out the other day that you had a blog! I've been reading it. It's...uh...interesting!

retired faculty member: Oh, that, ha ha. It's nothing. I put it up because the consultant I hired to improve my web presence told me the thing I needed was a blog.

grad student: The consultant you hired for...uh...what?

retired faculty member: Well, basically I hired her to make my name come up higher on the list of google results when you search for things related to [academic specialty]. She said to start a blog, and use the same key phrases over and over and over, and then whenever anyone searched on those phrases, my name would come up in the google list.

grad student:

retired faculty member: Yeah. And she told me which other blogs to link to that would most increase my traffic. And she told me that there's this other blog, that's the highest rated in [specialty], that will link to your blog on their blogroll for a fee.

grad student: [stunned silence]'re really making the most


Here's the worst part. The professor only recently started to get interested in the subfields he was talking about, and there are loads of other more knowledgeable researchers out there who have been working in the field for much, much longer. I went home and googled one of the phrases Dr.______ mentioned, and his name came as the 8th google hit. So his schemes have worked, and have boomeranged him and his ideas to the front of the virtual line.
Monday, February 19
Just a quick note that we realize the new Blogger is causing all sorts of headaches. We will be updating the system to the new one soon. In the meantime, if you are told that you cannot post a new entry, try logging out and then logging in again a bit later, that seems to work (on occasion).
I very much wanted to title this post "Well, fuck you, too, you little, whining brat!" but I wasn't sure how that would go over. I also wasn't sure about that last sentence, but if it needs censoring, I'm sure that one of our guardian angels will deal with it.

I also thought about calling it "Not helpful my ASS," which is more apropos to the rant that's about to happen. But I'm upset enough that it needed to be stronger. So, here's the deal. I've been at my current institution for a few years now, but teaching only senior level or graduate classes, which means that my student demographic has not been the sort that uses RMP. I've been regretting this, looking forward to finally getting a rating, because my current course has a huge fraction of non-majors, just the sort to use RMP, and I'm damn good at my job -- all parts of it, even the teaching; sometimes especially the teaching -- and I had hopes of a chile pepper (I'm a geek, what can I say?).

But less than 1/3 (4 fucking weeks, before the first exam, even) into the semester, one of these new little cherubs (read "rat bastards") felt it appropriate to go and give me my first rating on the infamous site. And I got ones. Fucking ones. Even under "helpfulness" -- and I've had a total of 6 people in four weeks of office hours, so they have no way of knowing if I'm helpful or not because they won't use the supplied resources. I've arranged special tutoring assistance (free to the students) for this course which traditionally has no such thing, an evening study session out of my own time, and double the number of office hours everyone else gives. And I'm not fucking helpful? The level of pissed off I am is pretty much indescribable. I've managed not to take it out on the rest of the class, but it's hard. And if I weren't a damn good professor, I probably would.

That's the crux of the problem. I know I'm good. I know that I establish a rapport with my students -- even lecturing on extremely difficult material, I get rapid responses (often accurate ones), engaged questions, the whole deal -- I know I'm doing an amazing job with very advanced material. But these students are so spoiled and pampered (and spoon-fed, thank you very much to all the "professors" that had them before me) that they do not believe that they need to take an active role in their own education. My peer reviews are excellent; my student reviews are good; my past students come back and tell me that, even though it was appallingly hard (the nature of the material, not just me) at the time, I've made them stronger and other, later courses easier. These students come back to me for outside help, for advising, and, in some cases, to tell me that their graduate instructors (at top schools in the country) are extremely impressed with their preparation. And one lousy rating, from one under-informed, astoundingly lazy, worthless little drive-through consumer, and I feel like the floor's been cut from under me.

As academics, we're largely geeks. Performing in front of an audience is hard, and looking out at them, wondering (although I think I know) who did such a thing, who places responsibility for their education on somebody other than themselves, makes it so much worse. And damn, I want to know --- so that I can be vindictive to the right student, not to all of them. They think this is hard? Just wait -- I can make it so much worse: that the material seems at all easy is a testament to my not-inconsiderable skill. Of course, I am good, so it's only a fantasy, but its a wonderful one.
Thursday, February 15
Life is like a box of chocolates. So are students. Some of them are heavenly bliss, and others are total disappointing duds.

I find that with the undergrads in my classes I don't care one way or the other. Some stink, some soar, and it doesn't really affect my day-to-day life. But when you're working with a student one-on-one, or you're on one of their committees, or you have them in a grad seminar, and their work is like a chocolate truffle coated in stale coconut that scratches your throat on the way down and leaves a nasty taste in your mouth, that can really ruin your day.

Although I had issues this past week with one of my graduate students, I sorted that out by sucking it up and being more confrontational that I might normally be.

I think I basked in the glow of that accomplishment a little too long, because just when I was sure I had eaten the last nasty chocolate in my student box I got an updated draft of another student's thesis. First, the title is incomprehensible. Second, the thesis is only ten pages long. It was twenty pages when I first read it, before I started helping him, way back in October. It's due in April and is supposed to be 50 pages long by then. Third, the writing sucks. Sucks, sucks, sucks. Fourth, he still isn't citing the right way. In fact, his cites have not changed at all after extensive feedback from me on citing. Fifth, speaking of cites, the majority of his come from pages 1-6 in a number of books. Do you think that he reads past the introduction? Sixth... you know what? I just can't go on.

Why am I roped into reading this draft, commenting on it, and meeting with him to discuss my comments when I have other things to do, especially when he so clearly doesn't take a lick of my advice? It's exhausting. I would much rather be making myself sick on some real clearance-priced chocolate than shoddy work.
Wednesday, February 14
Come on, folks.

It's been so long since someone's posted (and that would be me), that a gerbil came out of the woodwork and might actually be my knight in shining armor.

There's got to be some secret that someone has to get off their chest.


Updated: Apparently thistle read my mind.
I received this in my inbox today:

Tens of thousands of academic couples are searching for jobs in the same city. Now Inside Higher Ed ( introduces Dual Career Search -- a way for couples to conduct joint job searches. Give it a try, at

To celebrate the launch of Dual Career Search, Inside Higher Ed is sponsoring the Commuting for Love contest. Readers are invited to submit stories of their challenging academic commutes -- 1,000 words or less. We'll post the best stories on Inside Higher Ed, and pick one couple to win one round-trip airfare between any two U.S. cities (up to $500).

To show a little more love, Inside Higher Ed will send a box of chocolates to the first five academic couples who report that they found jobs in the same city using the Dual Career Search.


Wow! A whole box of chocolates! That's the incentive we've all been waiting for to launch a dual career search.
Monday, January 29
I recently got an internal grant to start a research project that could be the beginning of so many things. It's fabulous, fabulous news, but there's one small (yet significant) part of preparation for that research that I am unable to do myself.

Of course, knowing that I'm clueless about such things, I budgeted money to hire an expert (or at least someone with working knowledge) in that area, so I've got money to spend. But now I'm feeling a little like Julia Roberts on Rodeo Drive - I can't find anyone willing to work on the project.

I come from a place where people jump at the chance to make some extra cash. Here, it seems, no one needs it. So now I'm stuck, with money to spend and tenure to lose.

Where's Richard Gere, or at least a talented gerbil, when you need him?
Thursday, January 25
I wish I could say, like Fraud, that I like my job, but my dirty little secret is that, at the moment, I don't!

My god, the whining, the never-ending whining. Most of it is from students that either can't or won't read simple instructions (much less the reading assigned for class!), and were apparently never taught the rudiments of polite behavior (hint, when calling a professor to ask a question, it is generally a good idea to preface the question in some way, perhaps by using the word "Hello"). These are upper level students, and I have to wonder how they made it this far. And that query is, at root, why I hate my job currently. Is that the ideal we are espousing? Because it's not what I signed up for -- I signed up to be a professor, not a teacher, to lead students to knowledge and make the introductions, not consummate the relationship for them.

I love the research part of my job right now, and, gee, it would be nice if I could do some of it instead of pandering to lazy little brats, covering for lazy old faculty, and teaching too many courses.

Someday soon, I hope that I can again say that I love my job, but right now the joy isn't here, just the overwhelmingness and overwork. I'm not bitter though, not at all. Because I'm sure that teaching is important for tenure!
Sunday, January 21
I think that I have a great job.

I was walking across campus today, coffee in hand, getting ready to return to a "bang-your-head-against-the-wall" task (I'm writing a grant proposal, and feeling so frustrated lately) and I was genuinely content. For a brief moment I thought to myself, "This isn't so bad." The thing is, I think that a lot.

A part of me thinks that as an academic I'm supposed to be stressed out, frazzled, miserable, over-worked, under-paid, and generally unhappy. Don't get me wrong, I perpetually feel 27 steps behind (although this doesn't seem to inpsire me to do much about it), but I also feel really lucky to do what I do.

I think it's the autonomy - the amount of control I have over what I do, when I do it, how I do it, and so forth - that's the opiate of academics, at least for me.

What makes you love or hate your own position?

(Maybe I should check back in tomorrow. This optimism might be fleeting. Maybe there's more of that unhappy academic in me than this post suggests, or it's just waiting to rear its ugly head).
Tuesday, January 16
I'm pretty sure I've complained before about the thesis committee meeting I should have scheduled about six months ago. I gave up on it at some point last year because I was sick of repeatedly being ignored by one committee member (the chair, in fact). I recently started trying to organize it again, after being threatened with not being able to register, but I feel like giving up again.
First, I sent out a list of 15 possible times and one committee member's assistant vetoed every one of them. Then, I emailed that assistant twice, asking for some guidance on what would be a better month before I spammed the whole committee with another long list of dates that wouldn't work. No reply. Today, I gave up on that idea and just sent a list of 30 possible times. Immediately I get a reply from the assistant who ignored me, saying only two of those might work (and pointing out that one of the dates I suggested was a holiday). I've still heard nothing from the chair, who I'm beginning to suspect doesn't use email at all. The phone number I have just rang and rang without even going to voicemail, too.
Any hints on getting three professors in a room together sometime before I get kicked out for failing to have this meeting?

Update: It's a miracle! I just got an email from the previously email-less chair! Maybe I should post here every time I have a seemingly insoluble problem. :)
Sunday, January 14
I am overwhelmed with everything going on so I was just thinking: I need to take a mental health day today. Even though I have a bunch of things on my work to-do list, I may just skip work today. But I started feeling very weird and guilty about this idea. Is it okay to take a mental health day? The idea has never occured to me before and it's certainly not something I've ever done, not consciously anyway. I pondered this for a few minutes.

Then suddenly I realized that this whole line of questioning was insane. Why? Because it is Sunday AND I'm actually sick, as in physical ache and pain in my body due to some stupid bug. And despite all that, the only "excuse" I could come up with for not working was a "mental health day"!

I think this just answered my question: I am definitely due for a mental health day.
Thursday, January 4
One of the best things about winter vacation is the time for reading and reflection. I started by actually reading the book for my reading group (which means that I am allowed to speak - a written rule, one must read to speak - at the upcoming meeting, unlike the last one), and then read a few books tangentially related to my research and teaching that I've been putting off, and today I revisited an old self-help favorite, Loving What Is.

The Work is a process where you analyze a stressful belief by reflecting on four questions. A belief like, "I'm a failure" (hey, some fleeting beliefs we have are this outlandish). You ask yourself:

1. Is it true? (Uh, this paper got rejected for the third time. That sucks, but does it mean I'm a failure? Nah.)
2. Can you absolutely know it's true? (How does one measure "failureness"? If that can't be done, then I can't absolutely know I'm a failure.)
3. How do you react when you think that thought? (Well, it makes me want to go home, or close my work window and open Napster, or, most importantly, gives me an excuse not to send out this other paper I've been working on.)
4. Who would you be without this thought? (If I didn't have this nagging, negative self-belief I would be a confident academic, who could focus on their work and not on their faults).

My favorite part of the process is actually a fifth step (although it's not called a step), the turnaround. In the turnaround you do something to turn your thought around. You turn the thought around to yourself or another or to the opposite or to realizing it's a simple thought. So, if you choose the opposite option, "I'm a failure" becomes "I'm a success" (you could also turn it into "The paper is a failure" or "I only think I'm a failure" or something else). Then, as the second part of the turnaround, you ask yourself. Is that statement true, or truer? Using my own fleeting thought, and my own personal experiences, I have many important successes that trump my failures, and the turnaround is actually the truest of the two.

Sometimes we're so good at beating ourselves up that the more "comfortable" thought is the immediate one and the turnaround it a tough pill to swallow. It's worth it, though. When you're thinking to yourself, "I can't finish this paper," and it's actually that you know that you can finish the paper, it's both liberating and scary at the same time because you have to do it, and you know you can.

I went back and forth about writing this post, but I think that academics spend a lot of time in their own worlds, and that those worlds can sometimes get depressing and self-defeating, and for me The Work works to get me through some of those times (ice cream sometimes works too).