I am SO glad I love math

What follows is an unstructured rant.  I’m new at reading these professor blogs and am reacting strangely.  (Btw, that sexademic blog at the right… some of the instruction manuals are really NSFW.  Don’t be fooled when she posts innocently about peahen plumage.  Check it on your laptop in the privacy of your bedroom ;). )  Note:  tomorrow’s post is a joy post entitled “Things that are Cool.”

Reading blogs of humanities professors (or rather, the comments from adjuncts) is SO DEPRESSING.

The comment from Campbell in this post by Historiann.  About being mid-30s and making 15k/year and older profs need to retire and we couldn’t possibly understand with our 401(k)s and much larger salaries.

First off, I hope this doesn’t stir up a hornets nest (or maybe I do…), but Campbell’s comment is really reminiscent of the complaints I used to see on the CHE forum about how people lost out jobs because a woman or black person got hired instead.  If that woman or black person was not hired or that old person retired, that in no way guarantees that any specific adjunct will be hired for that position, or, as argued above, that that position will be replaced at all.  That’s not necessarily Campbell’s position but the framing is so similar I can’t help but be reminded of it.  (Oh lord, am I really channeling Glenn Beck… “isn’t it interesting…”?)

And yes, I am speaking from a position of privilege, it is true.  But a lot of choices I made were to keep myself from ever feeling trapped.  Being a history professor would have been a lot of fun, but when I made the decision to go into my field, I looked at job market outcomes and average length of programs and decided not history, not math.   Social science, so I can do what I love and get a job and a salary and if academia doesn’t work out I can make even more money in the private sector.  (Sidenote:  Actually the not history was maybe a wee bit more, Good lord some of these historians are CRAZY.  But if they weren’t, then the financial/employment considerations would have been next.)

I have a 401(k) and make money because I got a PhD in a field where demand is large and supply is moderate.  Possibly because my field requires math and data crunching and other things that often aren’t taught well in K-12, and the things I do have uses outside of academia.

If I were in my mid-30s making 15K/year and being miserable… well, I’d find me something else to do.  Heck, office work pays better than that and is probably equally miserable.  And I wouldn’t blame folks who aren’t retiring at age 65.  (Incidentally, that idea that there’s a fixed number of jobs and we need old folks to retire to make way for new folks is very European… even in university settings t-t jobs aren’t replaced one-for-one.)  We need those folks to work longer so that they maintain their quality of life (including the mental, emotional, and physical benefits to working) and keep providing for the economy as they age.  (Not to say early retirement is a bad thing if you can afford it, or isn’t necessary for people with poor health or physical jobs.  Just on average.)

(Don’t even get me started ranting on Krugman’s horrible simplistic Social Security piece in the NYTimes.  He’s good on what he does but is completely ignoring the well-researched, well-thought-out general consensus on SS.)

Anyway, even though IBTP for many things, I don’t let it keep me down if I can help it.  If you’re not in a position of privilege then you have to work harder.  Then make changes so that society improves.  But don’t attack other people, either individually or as a class.  The man may be keeping you down, or that may just be your imagination, but nothing is going to happen if you don’t try to find your own happiness.  Victim-mentality and whining does not constitute action.  Infighting does not improve the greater good.

Gah… why do I even bother writing these posts?  I try to say something and then someone else says it so much better.  Maybe if I had a humanities degree I’d be better at vocalizing my thoughts.  Though I do agree with Dr. Crazy more in her comments and not on all points of her thesis.  I still see the adjunct thing as a problem of supply and demand, I guess in that way I have sympathies for Dean Dad.  Employers wouldn’t be able to do it if there weren’t employees willing to take it.  There are other job opportunities available for someone dedicated and intelligent, even if they don’t use the PhD.  (Maybe not so much these days…)  There should still be minimum wage floors and standards etc. but limiting adjuncts is not necessarily the way to go (especially if it means higher teaching loads for the rest of us, including graduate students, double especially if it means more graduate students).

BUT.  There’s no point in me arguing anything about adjuncts or the number of PhDs produced or paying English professors more/less or any of the other structural facts of academia that I, as an untenured professor, have zero control over.  I cannot let myself get caught up in these debates… otherwise I would join the darned Women’s Faculty Network and be done with it.  No.

Ok, so unless #2 wants to rant on this, I think I’m going to let more tenured heads carry the torch, NYTimes articles and humming blogospheres notwithstanding.  It’s too easy to get up in these wars that ultimately change nothing.  I’ve got tenure to procure and a mortgage to pay.

*end .streamofconsciousness

#2 says: I read your rant and had to stop myself from ranting right along with you, otherwise I would be typing for the next hour and I have things to do.  I have so much ranty on this subject that I’m not going to put it here until I can be more coherent.  I make less than #1 and I am fortunate to have a T-T job.  Unlike #1, the job market has not allowed me to live with my partner of over a decade, and I periodically get very annoyed at this situation.  Oh dear, rant beginning– get out while you still can!!

Posted in Uncategorized. Tags: . 28 Comments »

28 Responses to “I am SO glad I love math”

  1. Everyday Tips Says:

    Sounds like Mr. 15,000 a year is an excuse maker. First, who in their mid 30s can live off such a paltry amount and would accept it? Second, if you don’t make enough, get a resume together and find another job, or a second job.

    I have known so many blamers in my life that I can’t even listen to it anymore. I put myself through college and earned everything I have. If I can do it, anyone can do it. People need to look at themselves instead of everyone else and just take action.

  2. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    ETips–I think that’s a difference between academic blogs and personal finance blogs. I think academia is a bit cult-like. They indoctrinate you during several years of graduate school, after getting you to join by flattering you. They don’t tell you the job prospects afterward and many 22 year olds don’t think to look themselves. Then they make you feel like a failure if you don’t get that elusive TT job. A lot of people still seem to be in that mindset. They keep adjuncting just in case they get that carrot of a TT job they’ve been dreaming of. And some people do hit and are happy. It’s a risk and a sacrifice if you’re not yet financially independent. Some people realize that risk and the sacrifices they’re making (like #2), but some I think are still caught not realizing that there is life outside of academia.

    Until they get rid of that mindset, are they any different than migrant workers making less than minimum wage lured with false promises whose children are taken hostage to force labor? (My gut still says yes.)

    This halo around academia is there at the highest levels too. I’ve got friends making well over 6 figures at the Fed doing incredibly important policy work in a city they love with their employed spouses doing what they love (and still publishing in top journals), but whose advisers were upset that they didn’t take TT job offers in cold isolated places with stellar departments. “What a waste.” But several years later it isn’t a waste, and I’m happy for our country that these best and brightest have chosen government service over academia.

    I am one of the privileged, but I would NEVER chase a tt job at the expense of today (graduate school excepted– and even then I was making more than 15k/yr). Maybe it’s because I grew up in an academic household that I realize there’s more to life; I saw acadmia’s pros and cons and my mother’s own process of realization as a small child. Or maybe it’s my discipline– we’re trained to think about things in ways that are less compatible with being trapped, and there are plenty of outside opportunities (grad advisers excluded). Or maybe it’s that I still keep in touch with a few people who never did bother to go to graduate school and are happy just the same.

    Or perhaps I’m just not quite as invested in my subject area that I would still do it if I weren’t being paid. But I don’t think that makes me any less of an academic. Being a professor is just a job. The PhD is just a job credential, same as an LPN or RN. A job is what you exchange time and effort for in order to get money. I do a good job.

    Wow… that’s another long rant.

  3. undine Says:

    “There’s no point in me arguing anything about adjuncts or the number of PhDs produced or paying English professors more/less or any of the other structural facts of academia that I, as an untenured professor, have zero control over.” Exactly, and even tenured professors don’t have any control over this, although my department does try to be equitable in prioritizing teaching for contingent faculty. The problem is economic and structural.

  4. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    I wonder if I should be as amused as I am at the sudden spike in hits for the sexademic blog from our page. She’s almost overtaken the sexy library guy video as most popular link in only one day. Apparently many of you are in your bedroom on your laptops… or perhaps just exercising your tenured academic freedom. Or maybe there are just a lot of peahen fans.

  5. frugalscholar Says:

    It’s good that you acknowledge writing and ranting from a position of privilege. It’s easy –and perhaps natural–for those in privileged positions to see academia as rational and fair and all that. My brother-in-law is a biochemist. When I asked him why there were so few women running labs, he said that it was because they didn’t want to. He said it was a matter of “good science” also and didn’t see any kind of bias in grants and so on.

    Most with good positions do “deserve” what they have; but many, many others deserve it too. When I have been on hiring committees, I see that one wrong choice, one piece of bad luck, and so on, can completely undo a career.

  6. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    I don’t see academia as rational and fair– I just don’t see it as any worse than any other labor market, except in ways that are predictable going into it for someone who does some research (which too few do, it seems) and in many cases are compensated for by other perks, like flexibility or the possibility of tenure. And if a person doesn’t like it, they’re not trapped, there really is a whole world outside the ivory tower.

    Wrong choices and bad luck affect people outside of academia too. When that happens, they have to find other jobs. And there are other jobs outside of academia. Though not as many right now… I do have a lot of relatives in the auto industry.

    In my field one wrong choice or one piece of bad luck won’t derail a career. That’s because demand is high and supply is moderate so there are many second chances. Nobody has to die to open up a slot. But people (at least from the US) don’t flock to PhD programs in my field, and there’s got to be some reason for that. I suspect it might be the math not being as fun, hence the title of the post. Like I’m always telling #2, it’s harder to get a job in her field but she gets to do her field and doesn’t have to do mine (and she agrees). And both of us are in a much better position than your average linguist. But we could have chosen different fields that we find enjoyable… #2 would be brilliant at English (especially comp) and I have a thing for history… but we took safer paths. So we’re in better shape and part of that is luck, a lot of that is hard work (#2 hates math but she does it anyway), and a lot of that is trade-offs we made so that we wouldn’t be in our 30s making 15K/year. (One of us even took a real-world job instead of doing a crazy adjunct schedule for a little while.)

    And yes, there are a lot of institutional barriers in the pipelines, but that doesn’t mean that we should focus on removing classes of workers or individual people, but that we should focus on changing and removing the institutional barriers. Or perhaps changing culture by adding new lines in problem areas… but not complaining that someone needs to retire.

  7. Funny about Money Says:

    LOL! Some of us can’t do math. I have a Ph.D. in English because I’m innumerate. If it weren’t for Quicken, I couldn’t balance my checkbook. :-D

    On a more serious note, the truth is when I was a young thing in college I wanted a degree in the sciences. Specifically, I adored astrophysics. However, girls were not welcome in those precincts. That’s how I ended up majoring in French: the chair of the department, who happened to be my adviser, said he would waive the requirement for two years of lower-division French classes if I would declare myself a French major. Being fluent in French and way beyond the 200 level, I thought…why not? There’s no future in science for me.

    This fact was driven home in my junior year in high school, when the trigonometry teacher decided to assign seats. He put me and the only other girl in the class together in the back row, where we couldn’t bother him, and then he never called on us or spoke to us once for the rest of the semester. In his mind, we weren’t supposed to be there, and as far as he was concerned, we weren’t there.

    At the Great Desert University, my infamous last employer, I copyedited (among other things) an arcane journal of mathematics. The faculty editor, an eminent Chinese mathematician, once remarked to me over lunch that it really was not appropriate for women to major in mathematics, and he did not encourage it.

    This, my dear, was not in the dark ages. This happened within the past four years.

    You can’t make a wrong choice if you’re not allowed to make a right choice.

    I have made a decent living with my advanced degrees in the humanities. The elegant education made me a trophy wife, and so I was married to a very wealthy man. Say what you will, it is a living. During that marriage, I published a two books and more articles than I can count; I became an editor of the most prominent regional magazines in the country; at one point I walked into a chain bookstore and realized over half-a-dozen publications bearing my byline were for sale on its shelves.

    After I left the lawyer, I immediately got a book contract that paid for my house.

    And after that gig was over, I landed a full-time academic position that paid decently and kept me entertained for quite some time. As things went south there, it was not because the job itself wasn’t OK, but because the university’s administration was on a misguided path, politics soured, and morale plummeted to the sub-basement.

    Academic jobs, whether they’re in the underpaid humanities or the well paid business and sciences departments, are miserable not so much because of low pay and overwork but because academia itself is a miserable place to be.

    As far as I can tell, the same can be said of jobs in the business world.

  8. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    I definitely agree that there’s institutional barriers, and especially were institutional barriers back in the day. The reason my mom is a humanities professor and not an economist is precisely because an undergraduate adviser told her that she would not be able to get a job as a woman after graduate school. (That’s not actually true– but it would have been a high powered government position, probably not an academic position. But she didn’t know that and maybe the adviser didn’t either.)

    I am in a male-dominated field (that also partly accounts for the higher salary and better job market… or maybe is accounted by– we still haven’t figured out causation, and that doesn’t explain the crappy market for theoretical physicists), and have been asked the wedding ring question and child bearing question in inappropriate situations more often than I can count. (One reason I didn’t get a post-doc at Berkeley was because I told a couple of elderly gentlemen they weren’t allowed to ask that question in the interview– at that point I was pretty fed-up with the whole department. California state law for anybody keeping track.) #2 loves one of our physics teachers, but she didn’t take mechanics from him and doesn’t know what a sexist bastard he really was, especially with that article he had posted on his door about how reverse sexism is keeping the man down. I still hope he gets hit by a bus, and I wish I had complained formally about all the inappropriate touching he did. But it’s just as well I didn’t go into physics– most of the physics phds I know are unemployed or doing finance instead.

    It can get me riled up just thinking about how unfair my field is when it comes to gender. Life is a lot easier for arrogant 6-foot tall guys, especially if they’re attractive. Even with their less impressive cvs and long vacations etc. they somehow manage to get bigger salaries and more high-powered jobs. But I can’t let myself wallow in self-pity or I will just be constantly miserable. If it gets too bad, I can leave academia and get a 6-figure job with a less flexible schedule in industry like some of my classmates have done (or 7-figure if I want to sell my soul like one of my classmates did…). Right now I have to work within the institutional structure or leave it behind and find something better. Currently I’m deciding to appreciate what I have and to bloom where I’m planted while saving up a lot so I can be free to do what I want. Not to say I don’t voice my opinion or take everything that comes at me– if things get rough I can just leave, and knowing that guides a lot of my actions and keeps my job from being too miserable. I have the power to say no and to ask for things to be fixed at my job if they’re unpleasant, and doing so increases my quality of life at work, even if the man is keeping me down on some larger level.

  9. Z Says:

    Isn’t that Campbell guy (on Historiann) awful? And I got on an argument on Facebook, with a friend, on Dr. Crazy’s related post. Said friend is convinced that tenured faculty like Crazy and me have no right to say some job candidates are better than others, because we need to learn that academia is not a meritocracy (as they apparently imagine we do not know).

  10. Z Says:

    “Employers wouldn’t be able to do it if there weren’t employees willing to take it.”

    But as mentioned above, the reason employees are willing to take it is the cultish aspect of academia: one is taught that not to be willing to martyr oneself is not to be serious, and so on.

    I think one problem is that people expect academia to be rational and fair — purer somehow than other industrial complexes. One is also taught that it is (i.e. that one has done something to DESERVE irrational and unfair treatment) so that one will not do things like call people on violations of the law, the faculty handbook, and so on.

    In my experience one error or piece of bad luck doesn’t derail a career. I’ve made more than one error and had more than one piece of bad luck, and I just have PTSD from it … I still have an academic career though, although not as good a career as I’d have liked in academia. However: an error or piece of back can significantly change your career, it is true.

  11. Z Says:

    P.S. “Campbell’s comment is really reminiscent of the complaints I used to see on the CHE forum about how people lost out jobs because a woman or black person got hired instead.”

    YES, good point, I hadn’t seen the analogy but it is so true.

  12. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    From my observation, not being willing to martyr oneself actually ends up in more respect for the academic. People think your research must be *really* important or something if you refuse to put up with crap. There’s a future unfinished post on the importance of moxy somewhere in our queue.

    I think it’s really similar to the experiences of (the personal finance community) people with Financial Independence who end up doing much better at their jobs and enjoying them more after they no longer need to work anymore. Part of the reason my experience in academia hasn’t been too bad is that I know I could walk away and get, if not a better job, then a higher paying job or a job in a city or a job that is better in some aspect, even if outside of academia. That part of me back in my mind saying I could live in the bay area and DH could get a great job if I just stopped being a professor. So if the assistant dean suggests increasing course loads, I can tell him that he’ll lose much of his faculty (including me).

  13. Z Says:

    Not being willing to martyr oneself does, normally speaking, end up in more respect for the academic. Although I include in martyring oneself (a) living in places you’d never choose otherwise and that may be antithetical to your being; (b) taking academic jobs that do not have enough of the positive features of academic jobs, just because they are academic jobs; (c) trying to acquire the middle class aspirations the majority seem to have, and which keep them content — and which much advice on career management assumes one also shares; (d) in general, compromising too much — and I was taught you had to mega-compromise. As one friend said: “You have paid a high price for obedience.”

    Also, it seems you have to do some martyrdom for tenure at least. My problem was not doing enough of it before tenure, and I paid for this — but graduate school was long and I may have toed the line too much then. Once I figured out some martyrdom was required of assistant professors, I went overboard, I think. I think you really only have to fake martyrdom. And I think THAT is the reason so many academics complain for complaining’s sake.

    I also think I have a weird perspective on all of this because I grew up with my father’s academic traumas and the family was really conflicted about my having intellectual interests, so I have huge problems about emotional abuse both from the family about academia and then in my tenure track jobs.

    (So that’s why I have the blog, essentially — to unlearn martyrdom, as you can see in the post you so flatteringly linked to! :-) )

  14. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    I grew up seeing my mom being a doormat in a dysfunctional department. She put off breast cancer treatment because the department “needed” her to teach and do service etc. It metastasized, they didn’t give her a raise that she would have gotten if she hadn’t gotten those low evals that semester. Something snapped. She decided not to be a doormat to the department anymore. Now her research is taking off again and people in her field think she’s a bright promising young scholar, despite being a grandma in real life. She should have done that years ago.

    But it was definitely good for me for her to realize that the department could function without her and she didn’t need to kill herself with administrative duties and service etc. If she says no, things still get on.

    I’m actually reading a mystery novel right now about a menopausal community college instructor (the “Bel Barrett series”) who is reminding me a ton of the “before” who does everything for everybody except for herself. Makes me want to smack her, but I think it is typical of many folks.

    In my field, “You paid too high a price” would never fly. Our freshman know that’s the sunk cost fallacy. Sure there’s loss aversion, but that’s irrational. All that matters is the cost moving forward, not what you paid in the past. Throwing good after bad is not generally a great idea.

    So yes, unlearn martyrdom! Take charge of your own life. Align what you do with your time with your core beliefs and values. Get out of debt, save money, make money, figure out enough, find happiness. Detox and deprogram. :)

  15. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    on a completely unrelated note
    sexademic is still racking up the hits
    you all must really be enjoying the weekend

    or else just be fascinated with the family structure of the blue tit (the bird)

  16. Z Says:

    Good advice. The problem I note, though, is not that one thinks the department cannot function without one but that women are expected to look submissive. I did not learn that in graduate school and I was not prepared for it.

    I am quite sure “You paid too high a price” meant what it said, not that one should keep paying. It is true though that loss aversion is a common problem among humanities types. I’ve sort of learned never to tell a humanities person if I’m going to do something to cut losses, because they expect so much emotional investment in the past. In saying this I am probably overgeneralizing.

    Sexademic, I linked to it although my current policy is not to link to too many blogs (otherwise I’d link to you, too). It just seemed, here in the land of abstinence and kink (people waver between these poles or participate in both simultaneously) that some more rational point of view would be useful.

  17. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    It just amuses me that we’ve had it in our blogroll for a while and nobody clicked on it until I mentioned it had some instructional manuals. Then it becomes the most popular link in the blog. Or maybe it was the bit about peahens. Everybody wants to know about peahens.

  18. Evan Says:

    OBVIOUSLY not a teacher, nor anywhere near the academia so a lot of the stuff went over my head (as do some of the acronyms within the comments). But it seems like you are upset that people are complaining about stuff that was within their control. AND I LIKE IT!

    If you are unhappy making $15K/yr (which is ridiculous) go work at home depot or starbucks, you’ll make more! and get some kick ass benefits.

  19. Z Says:

    @Evan — what they’re complaining about is that they’ve drunk the kool-aid and they’re not entirely wrong to complain about this. The kool-aid really is pushed on people before they’re well enough informed to realize what it is. They’re told the “investment” in working for $15K now will pay off in the form of a good job later — a job in field, the job they’ve studied for, etc. It’s hard to shake that when you’ve shaped yourself to it over a period of years.

    I have never adjuncted, but I’ve had a lot of kool-aid pushed. For instance, I was told by a department chair that I should go into debt to finance my research because it would pay off in the form of tenure. Haha! More interestingly, the time I applied to law schools seriously (I still want to go, but I’ve got LSAT and PF/FA issues that make the decision less than easy), I got phone calls from AROUND THE COUNTRY from people who had Heard, saying please don’t abandon us! The amount of pressure was huge and it really did make me so nostalgic for the days before I became disillusioned that I did indeed come to doubt.

    Ergo, I see how these adjuncts might feel … people REALLY guilt trip you for daring to think of doing something different.


    On service and martyrdom — I think my issue is really teaching, not service. There’s a certain kind of girl college teacher that has been the ideal in most of the places I’ve worked, and that girl is not me. Yet one must feign some of her characteristics to survive, at least in my experience; the wages of not doing it are somewhat violent, but doing it feels like self injury, so I’ve often felt as though I were on the rack or something over this. Strange though it seems.

  20. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    Z- It is funny to me to discover you are a girl, because you remind me tremendously of a gentleman in my department. But perhaps that is only because he studies similar issues to some you touch on despite being in a completely different field.

    I am fortunate that my field has different stereotypes re: teaching so they counteract the girl professor stereotypes somewhat. I’m still expected to be nurturing, but not AS nurturing as someone in a different field would be. I have chosen my teaching persona to be Catholic school Nun-like. It may hurt them but it’s for their own good. I also get disappointed when they don’t do the work.

  21. Z Says:

    Haha! Everyone says the blog sounds like a man and everything else I write, too. And say. I look like a girl, though, and don’t realize my speech and writing transgress gender roles somehow, and maybe it’s this combination that’s so disconcerting.

  22. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    I took a linguistics class in college and purposefully adopted some of the female things I’m supposed to be doing and wasn’t, though I often forget. The big one being not trying to solve problems and just listening first. I’ve also added the conditional part of speech in more often (I got in major trouble for that one summer in Spain, but it works well in English too). For the rest I’m allowed certain rough edges since I’m in a male-dominated field full of social misfits. Back when I was on the CHE everybody thought I was a guy, and I think they respected me a bit less once my secret was out.

    I wonder how difficult it would be for you to change to something like Public Administration. There’s more demand than supply for those positions and the pay is probably higher.

  23. Z Says:

    Public Administration? I’d be good at it but don’t you need a degree in in it? My dream has always been law school, law/ latin american studies, get on policy teams in think tanks that do things like renegotiate NAFTA, challenge the prison industrial complex, things like that … but I can’t figure out how to finance any degree at this point. ?

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      You don’t need a law degree to work for a think tank on policy issues. You could make that career change right away just by leaving academia. Have you thought about applying or doing informational interviews with think tanks that you’re interested in?

      Re: public administration or other interdisciplinary academic career– those will sometimes draw phds from different disciplinary fields… that’s something to talk to professors in those fields about. If you start publishing your work in those journals it might be more feasible to make a switch. I’m not entirely sure if that would work because that’s not my area.

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