Pre-tenure book route contemplation

Now that I’m an old tenured woman…

My department is the kind where you can either write a book and a few articles before tenure or you can write a bunch of high quality articles.  I chose the article route.  I never really considered the book route because my sub-field’s conversations mainly occur in journals.  (It is true that my dissertation director does have a book, but only one!  My senior book route colleagues here all have multiple books.)

So far during my time here, all of my colleagues doing the article route have made tenure.  Only one choosing the book route has made tenure, and he had two books, went up early, and eventually got hired away at triple my salary.

This whole process was mysterious to me until I got tenure and got to sit in on my first 40 minutes of a committee meeting about when a book should count, and how my senior colleagues are worried about our assistant professors choosing the book route given their current progress.

I recently overheard one of our first years talking about how ze hadn’t gotten much research done, and one of our second years said, yeah, ze thinks that’s normal.  But at the committee meeting, they were worried about the second year’s lack of productivity.

Anyway, the next time I saw the first year, I did that horrible thing and asked hir how the book was coming.  Ze said ze’d taken the semester off from it.  There was so much other research that ze wants to work on besides the dissertation and the book.  Ze was thoroughly sick of the book.  And I can totally relate to that.  I wrote two articles that were completely different from my job market paper when I got out.  Nothing at all to do with my dissertation.  But… I also got my dissertation articles out to journals, as much as I hated them.  I wanted them done and gone more than I wanted to not work on them.  Since then, I’ve rediscovered what made me like my dissertation topic in the first place.

My senior colleagues tell me that leaving the book alone is dangerous.  That dissertation must be turned around quickly.  The book makes a scholar’s name in the field just as articles do for those of us who do the article route.

So I told my junior colleague, I think they expect you to have a book draft by the end of your second year.  You need to work on that.

I felt bad for being so out like that, when my colleague had stopped by to discuss baked goods. Ze had kind of settled into my office before I asked about the book, and left a bit abruptly.  I hope because ze felt like ze had work to do and not because I’m a buzz-kill.

I wanted to lend hir my copy of Boice, but I loaned that to my junior colleague in my own sub-field (another article route person) who I’ve felt more competent to mentor, and ze still has it.

So, lots of questions for academics.

Do you think it’s a good idea to take a break from the dissertation topic before you’ve gotten your main publications from it (the thought being you attack it with renewed interest when you return)?  Do you think you can get research done your first year on the job?  When does a book “count” (contract?  proofs?  reviews?)?  When should a book be done by in order for it to count for tenure?  What advice do you have for junior faculty expected to write a book?

The negativity jar

The Imposter Syndrome and other forms of negativity can keep people, especially women, from achieving as much as they should.  If you say enough negative things about yourself, eventually other people start to believe them too.

One of the things that we did back in graduate school (during the job market) was have a big jar named the “Negativity Jar.” Anytime we said something negative about ourselves, we would have to put a quarter in the jar (we were poor graduate students– you might want to up that to $1 or $5). That forced us to restructure to say things that were actually true– to get at what was actually bothering us, and not to reinforce the negative lies. It forced what Cognitive Behavioral Therapists call “Cognitive restructuring.”

After about 2 weeks there was no more money put in the jar. At the end of the year we were able to buy a little bit of chocolate, not the hard liquor we’d been planning on.

Have you ever had a problem with negative self-talk?  What have you done to address it?  Did it work?

Why academics don’t have Lazear contracts

There have been a lot of posts over the past few weeks about work-life balance and specifically the idea of face-time at the office.  Does face time equal productivity?  Should people in different life-stages and demographic groups be penalized for not putting in the same face-time times as people in other stages and groups?

In economics, this question is a large subset of the area of study called “Contract Theory.”  How do we enforce contracts to make sure that workers are productive?

One such method of reducing shirking is something called a Lazear contract.  In a Lazear contract, we assume that workers prefer leisure over labor if given their druthers, but they like being paid.  We also assume that employees cannot be perfectly monitored– that it isn’t 100% clear to the employer when a worker is being productive and when a worker isn’t contributing– perhaps they’re free-riding.

In this scenario, one thing that an employer can do is offer a lower salary early on when the person is just getting started and give raises until eventually the worker is making more than the worker’s marginal productivity.  At which point the retirement incentives (traditionally mandatory retirement, but these days more fancy benefits tricks) kick in.  The worker doesn’t want to get fired, so even though there’s only a low probability of getting fired at any point in which the worker is shirking, the penalty for shirking is so high that the worker doesn’t want to risk it.  Hence:  productivity.

You may have noticed that academia doesn’t seem to work like that.  Many of us are suffering under the heavy weight of wage compression.  Heck, my MOM is suffering from wage compression, and has been most of her life.  New hires get paid more than full professors some places.  That’s not a Lazear contract, even if you work at the same school your entire career.  *Especially* if you work at the same school your entire career.

How does academia differ from this standard model?  Well, pretty much on every assumption.  Many of us seem to prefer labor over leisure, so long as labor doesn’t include extra unpaid teaching or service.  It’s also difficult to fire us after a certain point, but tenure is actually somewhat endogenous (that is, tenure is something that we wouldn’t have if the assumptions of a Lazear contract held), so one can say we only have tenure because these assumptions don’t hold.

The biggest thing about why we don’t have Lazear contracts is that we *have* measures of productivity.  People who do piecemeal work at factories don’t need Lazear contracts because it’s obvious how many widgits they produce per hour.  In academia, it’s obvious who is getting publications, citations, etc.  Sure, those aren’t perfect measures of quality because of things like luck and discrimination, but they’re pretty clear measures, even if imperfect.  For the most part, face time is unnecessary.

You can also see how people who are most productive post-tenure are the ones to command higher wages because they’re more mobile– they move around and universities know how much they’re “worth” because all of that information is available on the cv.  That’s assuming that universities mainly care about research, which is a reasonable assumption for these high-flyers.

In terms of our other responsibilities, we just have to show up for class and the occasional faculty meeting.  Teaching it’s less easy to shirk because at the very least you have to show up, and students and administrators have ways of punishing people who do a cruddy job and aren’t good enough at other things to get a bye from teaching 101.  Service is really where the majority of shirking goes on, and it just isn’t valued by the academy for the most part.  (And where it is valued, it’s paid for– you should see how much my chair makes.)

That’s why these recent posts, many of them linked to in this post by the tightrope, arguing about how important face time is and how it is or isn’t fair that parents do or don’t get treated differently in academic settings are so befuddling.  It may be a bit different in the sciences because there’s more team effort, so it’s easier to free-ride… but my understanding is if you free-ride too much people don’t coauthor with you anymore, and if you’re the head of a lab it’s kind of hard to get by with free-riding for any length of time.  Monitoring is just not difficult for the research part.  And it doesn’t matter if you’re productive because you’re an efficient genius who is good at delegating to research assistants or you put in a ton of time (or your family situation is different), so long as you get the grants and the papers and the cites.

Oddly, it’s wandering scientist, who, to my understanding, is in a situation in which people are more likely to be able to shirk than in academia because there’s so much more group work in industry and so much less measurable outputs, who has been arguing most vociferously that facetime is not equivalent to productivity.  If the outputs are less easy to measure, then facetime is more important than if their are, precisely because of the monitoring problem.  How can we be sure people are working?  Well, they might not be working if they’re there, but facetime can be a proxy if there’s no better way of measuring output.  Not a great proxy, but at least time spent on the job is something we can measure, and we can occasionally walk by to see if people are at least looking like they might be productive.

So, other than service and teaching, which are often not valued much in research institutions, academics don’t need external monitoring.  Their productivity can be and is measured.  We might want to be having these work-life-balance-facetime arguments about who gets to shirk academic service, but at least in my experience, it hasn’t been the young moms who are doing the shirking.

If you’re in academia, do you consider facetime at the office to be important for productivity?

There are a lot of other ways besides Lazear contracts that businesses and economists try to deal with the monitoring issue– if you don’t work in academia, you’ve probably come across many ways.  What does your company do [to deal with  monitoring productivity]?

When you whine about your lack of current productivity…

Are you doing it because you subconsciously want a kick in the pants?

or

Are you doing it because you want permission to be a slacker?

or is there some third option we’re missing?  (Maybe whining for the sake of whining?  I dunno…)

#1 generally wants a kick in the pants, but sometimes #2 is an enabler, which forces #1 to stop being a slacker even though she’s got permission, which is probably better for her anyway…  #1, otoh, wants everybody to be miserably productive because misery loves company.  (When she says it’s ok to take a break because you need it… it means you really do need it.)

#2 Sometimes all three, but usually mainly the first.
(van down by the river!)

#1 tries to be more productive Day One: Internet Addiction

I was crazy productive the year after I had a baby.  I think part of the reason for that productivity was that I had enforced break-times  for pumping that were probably about ideal for optimal research productivity (~20 min every 3 hours).  When I wasn’t taking a break, I was super focused because time was precious, and I knew I’d be able to take a break for whatever I felt like doing.  This past year, DC long-since weaned, I’ve gotten pretty bad at separating my work time from my internet play time.  So I decided to reboot.  For the sake of productivity!  Viva la productivity!

Day 1 was a bit shaky.  Here’s my frantically written notes from that day.

I am mostly successful at keeping my internet time to while I’m eating my cereal.  We’ll see how long that lasts.  Bonus:  I make DC’s lunch instead of DH.  When K starts we will start making it the night before, but for today, I feel like a good and virtuous partner.

I get to work early enough to beat the traffic around the high school.

I installed leech block and blocked this blog and cnn, hours from 9-12, 1-3, and 3:15-4:40.

This leads to increased clicking on Not of General Interest and Bardiac and other sites with awesome blogrolls.  I tell firefox to forget these pages so they are harder to automatically click on.

I notice myself checking my bank account.  Hey, a reimbursement, that’s cool.  Of course, I can’t enter it into the checkbook register from work, so there wasn’t much point in that.

Argh, I want to write a blog post.  Instead I will jot down my thoughts on paper.

I muse on how when I’m doing mechanical tasks that don’t take any thought I need to have some kind of entertainment in the background or I stop doing the tasks.  For tasks that require thinking though, I prefer silence or familiar music.  I listen to Morning Edition online and Performance Today.

Hm, 3 hours without the blog and nobody has commented.  Also nobody has written anything interesting.  Why does nothing interesting ever happen on the internet when I’m away from it?  You’d think I’d have figured this out by now.

So the above is what I typed in during my lunch break.  The following are my scattered notes, sans context, from the remainder of the afternoon:

“Reclaim 2 hours on weekend. ”  What did this mean?  I don’t know!  Maybe it’s about me trying to start working on research on weekends again, which I have.  Except it’s more like 3-4 hours.  (Sometimes more when there’s a deadline!  I hate working on deadlines though.  :( )

“goofing off and getting distracted”  Probably a note about what I was doing.

“problem– work isn’t unpleasant, just not as pleasant as short-term alternatives”  Man, that sure is true.  It’s not that I don’t like work… I’d just rather you know, be watching cat videos on youtube or something.

“I want to make excuses for myself”  It’s true… I keep wanting to come up with valid reasons for me to waste time online.  But the truth is there’s always *something* I could be working on, even if what I planned to work on can’t be worked on for whatever reason.  There’s always a referee report or reading or writing or *something*.

“Lit review nice or mean?”  I have NO idea what this note was.  Following it is something that suggests it might have been a research note to myself.  Oh, I remember what this thought was.  A really good paper I was reading didn’t place as highly as it ought to have, and I thought perhaps it was because the author slammed all the previous literature in kind of a nasty way.  Not something to do to potential reviewers!  One can be polite and professional and build on previous (imperfect) research without being a jerk about it.  Previous research is what makes a field exist!

How do you keep yourself on task at work?  Do you have planned and enforced break-times?

Time = Money: A product plug

We got nuthin’ for today’s money post.  We have a lot of half-finished posts but no energy.  Work and family life are getting in the way for both of us this semester.  This post is about a product to help you put work and family life first, if those are your priorities.

Anyhow, one side of the “spend less than you earn” equation is earning more.  In our field keeping your job depends on productivity, and in these lean times, getting a raise is often tied to how attractive you are to outside organizations.  If I want a raise, I need an outside offer (presumably one I’d be willing to take).  (#2 has no hope of a raise, outside offer or no: my school won’t match, and there hasn’t been money for merit raises in over a decade.  It’s a good thing I’m filling all my time with my partner, instead.  And, you know, getting tenure.)

Regularly updating a blog when one is supposed to be doing research/class prepping/writing etc. is not conducive to staying productive.  Maybe small amounts of internet surfing can increase productivity, especially in regular break-times, but in general, feeding a blog keeps work from getting done.  So does reading CNN or whatever your internet habit of choice is.

If you have an addictive personality, these habits can be hard to break.  You need a commitment device.

Enter:  Leechblock.  This is a Mozilla add-in.  I wanted something that would allow me to set the times for working and the times for playing.  I wanted to be able to say:  No spending 3 hours on the internet in the morning– I don’t *want* to get up at 5am, I want to not be allowed to play on the blog at that time.  I want to work between 9-12, play from 12-1, and work again except for a 15 minute break the rest of the afternoon.  Then free-time after work.

Leechblock allows that.  It also allows you to be cut off from a site after a set amount of time… no more than 15 min or 30 min etc.

I spent a lot of time the first few days getting the same blocked screen.  Then instead of spending 15 min to an hour pleasantly diverted from the task I was avoiding, I would spend about a minute and then I’d go back to doing something productive, maybe not the same thing, but something off my to-do list.  That makes me happier about my work-life, but also leads to a much shorter queue in the blog.  (We may have to stop daily updates one of these days, which I understand is part of the amateur blog cycle.)

Of course, nothing interesting ever happens on the internet when I’m not there (obviously the only interesting stuff is reactions to things I’ve said(!)), or other people have made the points I was going to make so there’s no point in repeating.  So my evenings have been less full of internet and more full of family as well (filling them with work, so far not happening).  And we’ve been going to bed earlier (though a lot of that is having to get up for classes earlier than in previous semesters).

Do you have problems wasting time when you’re supposed to be working or enjoying life?  What kinds of things do you do to keep on track?

[Disclaimer:  leechblock is a free program and they don't know we exist.  We don't do paid product placement.]

Monthly challenge update: old and new

So the monthly challenge for May was to clean and organize my house FOR REAL. I’ve been posting updates along the way, and it’s been going pretty well.  It helped that the semester was winding down; so, though there was some craziness, there was also some time.

Originally this challenge had been scheduled later in the summer, but things got moved around for an exciting reason: my longtime partner is moving to Blighted Town!  Hooray, we will be together again!  I can’t even TELL you how happy we are.  He’s going to work remotely at his current job while living with me.  It only took a few years to make this work out, augh.

What this means, though, is that I have to move to a bigger place in Blighted Town, as he won’t fit in my current place, especially with two home offices to account for.  We’ve already found a big place to rent, but you know how moving is: craziness.  That’s why I’ve spent May trying to organize, clean, and cull stuff, so there is less to pack in the next 6 weeks.

Next up is June, CSA month!  Deliveries actually started in late May but since I’m on a half-share, I will get them every other week throughout the summer and early fall, not every week.  The first delivery I had, I managed to use it all (largely by cooking it down and freezing it in lunch-portions for later).  This is good, as it gives me more time to complete the goals!

#2:  Still drowning in tenure-related activities.  And there’s a small conference I’m going to in my specific field subset after my tenure-packet is due.  I sent in a partly-done paper figuring it wouldn’t get accepted (because my much more polished work that has placed well never got accepted) but I’d still get an invite… and uh, it got accepted.  If I can pull off not looking like an idiot this will be great for my career, but if I can’t it could be deadly.  But I’m totally looking forward to joining #1 for the money challenge later this summer.  I have a ton of odds and ends I’ve been putting off!

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