I need a sabbatical

I was supposed to get one this year.  We only get one per division and our two departments are supposed to split them evenly and this year it was my department’s turn.  Only one person from each department applied.  But they gave it to the other person who applied from the other department.  Then he got a job at another university and quit so nobody gets a sabbatical this year.  I am free to apply for next year.  But I have competition.

So much is happening right now.  I have so much work to do.  So many ideas, so many projects, so many revise and resubmits (!), so many conferences, so many referee reports, so many opportunities that I keep saying yes to.  I’m going to be traveling constantly this year and on top of that I have to apply for things… like sabbatical.

And I’m teaching a full load and I’m doing a ton of service.  And my classes have to be updated, except the new course which has to be created.

I think this year I will have to go back to working 6 days a week and sometimes after 5pm.  (I get to work before 8am.)

I hope I don’t pass out from nervous exhaustion!  And I really hope my RAs are good this year, because I need great RAs this year.  Luckily I have enough money to pay for RAs this year.  Unfortunately I didn’t get that grant in on time to get a chance of being able to pay for RAs next year!

Do you need a sabbatical?  What would you do with a sabbatical?

What motivates me after tenure

I was just at a conference where I get to hang out with lots of my friends.  Some of us got to talking.  They’re generally at better schools than I am and have longer and better CVs than I do.  But I’ve got tenure and they don’t have it yet.  And we were talking about trying to get stuff published and trying to find time for work… and they asked me why I care where I publish or about how much work I do because I’ve got tenure.  My school doesn’t expect as much as theirs does.  (And I have a higher teaching load and more service and a smaller salary…)

But I was never really motivated by the tenure expectations in my department.  I placed lower on the job market than most folks in my cohort, and I’ve always thought that if I did what I want and then didn’t get tenure then I’d finally be able to move to Northern California and at least live someplace nice.  I’ve always figured that if I stopped liking it, I could just leave.  If I’d gotten an offer at one of these better schools maybe I would have been more nervous, I don’t know.  (And, since getting here, the school has made a lot of really good hires, including mid-level hires with amazing CVs, and I am no longer under-placed.  I’m placed!)

What motivates me:

1.  I want to do good work.  I answer interesting (to me) questions.  I tell good (theoretical) stories with (empirical) evidence.  My work is important and it’s fascinating.

2.  People are doing things wrong and I want the profession to do things right!  Efficiently!

3.  It is a crime that nobody is answering these important questions.

4.  I kinda do like the fame and fortune aspect.  Gotta admit it.  And they give me just enough of a taste of it to make me crave more.  More.

5.  I like to watch things grow.  I want my department to do well, my school to do well, my little corner of academic research to do well.

6.  Ambition.

7.  And maybe just a bit the fact that I may need to be mobile some day, for example, if DH’s job situation changes.  And I kind of like being able to occasionally get grants to pay for RA work and summer salary.  And if they ever cross a line, I can walk and I’ll be in demand somewhere.

I used to be more motivated by being under-placed.  Sort of an, “I’ll show them!”  But I’ve kind of shown them, and, like I said, I’m no longer underplaced.  So #4 has replaced that entirely.  I probably worked a little harder when I was rage-researching, but it’s much more fulfilling to be love-researching instead.

#2 and #3 above bring me more self-confidence.  They help me talk up my work in ways that #1 doesn’t.  More of that contrarian aspect to my personality showing through.  #4 and #6 sometimes give me less self-confidence.


The answers of #2 revolve around research.  And then quitting.

What motivates you to work hard?

Should you submit to the top journals?

Let’s assume you have a paper that you think is eventually going to land at a top field journal.  Should you aim higher (a general journal) first and then let it filter down the impact ladder, or should you just submit places you think it’s going to end up?  Should you start with a submission to a GLAM journal?


1.  No.  Only submit your best stuff that you think belongs there.  You only have a few shots at getting into a GLAM journal and you don’t want to use them up with crap.

2.  Yes.  Have you read the GLAM journals?  Yes, there’s super amazing wonderful stuff in there.  But there’s also a lot of crap that isn’t as good as your field journal stuff.  It’s a random numbers game with each of your papers having some underlying probability of acceptance.  If you never play, then you’re never going to win.

3.  Yes.  Submitting to top journals is a learning process.  You get feedback from the editor and/or reviewers on how to improve your paper so it will actually be able to land where it belongs.  This is especially important if you don’t have a lot of local people to give you feedback.

4.  No.  You may end up getting the same reviewer who already rejected you for a lower tier journal and they’ll be biased from having rejected you before.  Or they’ll just submit the same rejection as before even if you’ve changed the paper.  (On the other hand, if they do reread the paper, psychology suggests they’ll like it better the second time.)

5.  Yes.  The answer is always yes.

6.  No.  Why do you care?  You have tenure.  Just submit it the place where it’s going to get in right away and get it published so you can move on to the next thing.

7.  Yes.  You have tenure.  That means you can afford to follow long shots.

8.  No.  The patriarchy and the unfairness of it all means that your paper needs to be much better than the connected white guys’ papers are before it gets published in a glam journal.  Don’t waste your time.

9.  Yes.  If you never submit, you will never get published there.

10.  Yes.  If you submit good stuff, then the editor and referees may remember that you’re working on good stuff, even if it’s not of general interest and they will be more likely to remember to send opportunities your way and to cite your work in their own work.

Academic readers:  What do you do?  Do you submit one tier up from where you think you’ll place or do you start right at that tier?  What *should* you do?  Do you follow the same advice you give others?  Non-academic readers:  Should you generally aim high or go with the safer choice?


You'd BETTER be pleased to inform me

Resources for PhDs seeking jobs outside of academia

In between bouts of sorting, de-cluttering, and apartment hunting, I’ve also been working on my job search. Here’s some helpful links I’ve found during my search.

How to avoid hassle during an out-of-state job search.

I might sign up for freelance editing work on  things like oDesk or eLance (any tips, readers?).  I don’t want to freelance forever, probably, but a little cash here and there might help.  Mostly I’m looking for an office job.

PhDs at Work looks interesting, but I haven’t spent a lot of time on there.  Does anyone want to investigate and report back in the comments?

Miriam Posner discusses what alt-ac (alternative-academic) jobs can and can’t provide.

There is a LinkedIn group called PhD Careers Outside of Academia, which is where I found this huge collection of links and articles for scientists transitioning to industry.  (I’ve also been checking out Ask A Manager but mostly for giggles.)


Do you have any recommendations for resources for PhDs seeking jobs outside of academia?  Specifically for social scientists or scientists who have some data skills and good writing skills, but only tiny amounts of programming skills, and nothing in biotech/pharma?  Thanks!

Taming the Work Week: A review

Taming the Work Week is a short e-book by M. R. Nelson, aka Wandering Scientist aka Cloud.  In it, she makes the argument that everyone has a work limit, and that working beyond that work limit not only leads to diminishing marginal return (she doesn’t use that language), it can also lead to costly mistakes that actually create more work.

She notes that although research is clear that for early 20th century factory workers, 40 hours/week is the limit, we have no idea what the work limit is for knowledge workers.  And we really don’t.  It probably depends on a lot of factors (task mix, personal ability, etc.).  However, she provides steps for individuals to figure out whether they are working efficiently, and if not, how to work more efficiently.

It’s a short book with a lot of good tips.

Some may work better for some people than for others. For example, if you get more of your socialization at work than at home or after work, you may need that daily down-time with your colleagues interspersed with work, rather than waiting until you get home.  You won’t be as efficient or productive per-hour at work, but you’re also filling that socialization need on a regular basis.  On the other hand, if your home and social life provide a lot of social interaction already, cutting down on interruptions could greatly increase your productivity, allowing you to get out of work earlier without guilt.

Similarly, just going home when you’re not being productive doesn’t work for me because suddenly I become less productive earlier and earlier in the day as the days go on because I’m rewarding bad behavior and I have no self-control.  Instead, I need to task-switch from doing thinky research work to doing unrelated scut work like teaching prep or service.  That way I’m still being productive on stuff that has to get done eventually and I’m not training myself to leave before it’s time to pick up the kids (which is my hard deadline at the end of the day).

Nelson acknowledges these different kinds of different work styles.  Probably my favorite part of the book is where she provides some of the standard “how to be efficient” advice and points out when it doesn’t work for her and why. (Just going home doesn’t work for her either, but for different reasons.)  This added discussion of “why” really illustrates how you can think critically about the advice that’s out there to craft your own methods to improve your efficiency.

The biggest downside to this e-book is that the writing is uneven– it starts out stilted (carefully avoiding using contractions, for example), then shifts to a more conversational tone that is much easier to read.  Keep reading past the opening section or two– it’s worth it.

Is who we are what we do?: A deliberately controversial post.

Usually these posts start out with someone complaining about being at a cocktail party and being asked what they do.  The person complaining generally does not have a job.  Ze is financially independent or a SAHP or HouseSpouse or unemployed etc.  Depending on who is writing, the post becomes an ode to not working for The Man (and how you can only discover who you really are through Early Retirement and going to exploitative conferences in Portland, OR), a discussion about how taking care of hearth and family is the Most Important Job, or how to turn awkward and unfair conversations into networking opportunities instead of reasons to feel bad about ourselves.  And they all talk about how we’re so much more than our jobs and we shouldn’t be defined by our jobs.

This post is going to go a slightly different route.  I don’t know about #2, but I haven’t been at a cocktail party that wasn’t attached to a conference for *ages* (me either!) and when you’re at conference, you’ve got those helpful name-tags plus everyone knows that more likely than not you have a discipline-specific PhD.  Especially once you no longer look like a graduate student.

So this post is specifically going to focus on the question– is who you are what you do?

We say, Yes and  No.

We were both raised Catholic.  (We are recovering.)  And if you’re Catholic or Episcopalian, then belief is not as important as Good Works.  You’re not a nice person if you torture puppies even if you feel sad when you torture them.  If you ignore the impulse to torture puppies even though you desperately want to, you have as much of a shot at salvation as someone identical who would never dream of torturing puppies, maybe more, because you resisted a temptation that most people don’t have.

In economics terms, we tend to only believe preferences when they’re “realized,” which is just a fancy way of saying, “what you did”.  You’re showing what you preferred through your actions and your choices (very behaviorist!).  In that scenario, desire to torture or not torture puppies is meaningless– the lack of torture means that you preferred not to torture given the circumstances.  You are not a puppy-torturer unless you actually torture puppies (given your budget constraint).  We don’t know what’s in the black box or what the shape of your utility function is, but we can see exactly where your utility function hits your budget constraint.

In some sense, what we do defines us.  There may be some inner person trying to get out, but we can’t measure it unless it comes out.  We are what we do.

But also, no… Who are we if we’re not what what we do?   We are what we like and don’t like.  We are how we organize information. We’re a bundle of preferences and actions– we are what the outside world sees of us, though usually we are not how the world perceives us.  The patriarchy tends to twist our actions and our very existence to fit its own warped narrative.  We are bundles of energy and stardust masquerading as humans for now.

We are social scientists, through years of training.  Our disciplines shape how we see the world: how we make sense of the external world and our internal thoughts.  The narratives we tell ourselves, how we make decisions.  One of us used to be a mathematician, but that aspect has been dulled and replaced over time with graduate training and day-to-day work.  We are feminists of various flavors, and that shapes how we interact with people and information.  What we are directly affects what we do, and what we do shows who we are.

However, we are not our jobs.  They’re what we get money for, and they’re not all that we do.  We will still be social scientists without our current jobs.  We will still be teachers without our jobs, even if we never give another formal lecture.  We’ll still be cat-lovers and feminists and book-lovers and partners and friends and almost everything else that labels who we are.  We may no longer be “professor” without our jobs, but very little will change in terms of personal essence in the instant a job is left and a new job taken (or not taken).  Personal growth and change can (and will) come before a job change and after, but we don’t suddenly lose who we are or become a new person with a change in employment.  Maybe a happier (or temporarily sadder) person, but that kind of happiness seems to be more of an “estar” (in the moment temporary kind of being) thing than a “ser” (permanent kind of being) thing.

Who are you?  And how do you even define that?

The Shoe Drop’t

I quit my job.

(Wild applause, cheering)

This means I’m getting off the tenure track by default, because I don’t have another t-t job, and I’m not willing to live in terrible places (like this one) and teach high loads anymore.  I would consider maybe coming back to the t-t for the right position, but that’s not how the market works.  If my dream job appears I might apply, but the probability is low.  The dream job involves no teaching but not being on soft money.  Uh… and a pony?  I tried to bloom where I was planted, but it turns out you can’t bloom in poisoned soil.

Quitting my job is absolutely the right move.  There has been a lot of unbloggable toxicity that’s been damaging my sanity and health.  I very nearly quit in week 2 of the semester, and all the tenured colleagues I talked to said that I probably should, based on what had happened.  My partner said he would support me if I did.  Senior colleagues at other universities have told me, privately, to run-not-walk on outta here.

However, for a long time I was ambivalent about the end of my tenure-track career.  SO AMBIVALENT!  Because now I have tenure, and I’ve been working towards that since I was in high school.  I love so many aspects of academia (intellectual freedom, flexible hours, my own office, a variety of tasks, getting paid to do research, library access…) and I will really miss the job security.  The security of tenure let me sleep at night.  I have applied for numerous other t-t jobs while I’ve been here and gotten no hits, and finally had to jump.  I don’t know what I’m going to do without tenure.  I’ll figure something out.

But I will NOT miss teaching.  The more I thought about it, the less I even *want* another t-t job, because I am soooo burned out on teaching.  I just can’t, with the teaching, anymore.  Not even a leave of absence or sabbatical would fix it, because I would still have the residue of this university on me like slime that won’t wash off.  No more.  Not even grad students, not even small classes, not even my favorite topics.  Not online, not in a seminar.  I can’t handle students sucking my life force anymore.  Every semester for years on end: too many students, too little money, and twice a year two hundred 19-year-olds get to write inappropriate comments about my personal appearance on course evals, and then my boss reads them.  Who needs it?

I don’t know what I’m going to do about my next job and/or career.  Something research-based, perhaps.  You may see some self-absorbed bloggy rambling (e.g., my ideal work day).  We are very lucky that my partner makes fat bank and is willing to support me while I figure things out.  First-world problems.

Let’s tally the blog peeps right now: I technically have tenure this summer but after that I will be formerly tenured and (temporarily?) out of academia entirely… and unemployed for a while.  My partner has never been an academic, thank FSM.  #2 is currently tenured.  Her husband is a former academic who is much happier in industry.  (#2 is also much happier with her DH’s non-academic salary!)

I guess it’s true that people who have just quit their jobs are the happiest people in the world.

We are moving out of state and back to civilization as soon as we can (Current plan is end of August).  It was going to be sooner but this state is trying to kill us, and we haven’t been physically able to plan and implement those plans.  First my partner got the flu real bad for 2 weeks (which never happens), then we had 1 week of being ok, then I got pneumonia, which I’ve had for 3 and a half weeks(!) now and am still not well.  Also my partner needs frequent physical therapy for his genetically-misaligned knee and might need knee surgery.  The cat is not well and is now on a specialized diet which may or may not be working; I’ve been too sick to get back with the vet and I had to cancel my massage and dentist appointments due to pneumonia.  HALP.

I will miss the horse I ride, and a few of the people here, but that’s not enough to make me stay in such a toxic place.  (#2 notes: she also got paid next to nothing, even with the tenure bump.)  We are working on downsizing from our ridiculous-large house out here in the boonies to an amount of stuff we can maybe afford the housing for in a city.  We have plans about when and where we’re going apartment-hunting, when we’re moving, summer travel plans that were previously in place, work, insurance, legal stuff, we have a plan.

Wish us luck.


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