link love

NIH explains why they no longer provide even coffee at meetings.

Mineral phys with a guide for designing experiments.  [It is a comic!  Click it!]

Congrats to shedding khawatir for the new baby!

Congrats to academic cog for the new job!

The kids should see this.

This made us giggle:  Gold stars for all!

Huffington post does coverflips.

Could not stop laughing at this amazon review.

Linda discusses horsies some more.

confidential to What now:  Our comments seem to be going into your spam filter!  (Or else you’re deleting them as objectionable, we’re not sure which… if the latter, carry on.)

Ask the grumpies: New Faculty triage

Stacie asks:

I said something today in a faculty meeting and now (7 hours later) am starting to freak out about it. I was wondering if I could get some advice and/or comfort.

The rundown: My department does not have a workload document. Combine this with when I asked my Chair about my promotion requirements I was told “3, 4, 5, or 6 articles and being a good member of the community.” My Chair talks in riddles and is very evasive. It is very difficult to get hard numbers/fact out of zir and there is a tendency for zir to get upset if you go to the Dean to ask questions w/out ze’s permission.

When I talk to other faculty they seem to also be confused and irritated by the lack of a workload document or say they have never heard of such a thing, but think it would be useful – however, when I brought it up in faculty meeting today, I received ZERO support from them. I tried to give the example that this is something that helps prevent inequitable loads and is a good idea and NOBODY liked the use of the word inequitable and they started shaking their heads. The chair said “we, at this institution, would never let that happen.” This is complete and utter BS, but everyone just nodded and smiled along w/ the chair and I felt like I looked like a huge troublemaker. Yet, I’ve heard them ALL complain about unfair workloads. So now I’m worried that they think I (new faculty) think I am overloaded and they will think ill of me bringing this up.

Overall, I am feeling like I can’t win and am wondering what my strategy should be? I vacillate between “speak my truth” since I’ll be criticized no matter what I do or fall in line, don’t speak, and be miserable along with many of my other faculty members.

Do you have suggestions regarding feedback/composure/assessment of personal contributions related to faculty meeting participation?

I’m so confused!

There are a number of things going on here:  How much should new faculty talk at meetings?  How should faculty talk at meetings?   How do you figure out what expectations are for you without getting overloaded?  Should there be a written document of expectations?  Should there be a general idea of expectations?

We have to admit that one of us has also not heard of a workload document, which appears to be one of those documents that breaks apart expectations into Full Time Equivalents (FTE) and details how many FTE should be devoted to service, teaching, and research.  As Stacie notes, these are used to clarify the desired distribution of effort and to create consistency.  How well they work at either is unknown, but at least if you’ve been given an unfair load, you can use the document to point out the inequity (and that might give you further confidence to say no to things when you’re already overloaded).

The other of us has a workload document.  They seem to be popular with unionized faculty, which makes sense as they can demand them, and are more common with schools that are not top-10 research institutions.  At-will states and top research institutions want to keep that extra flexibility.  They want to be able to let go someone who hits all the boxes but doesn’t make a big enough “impact” or to keep someone that is on the margins, but everybody likes.  (And, recent research suggests this will have a positive impact on white guys, less so on everybody else.)  It’s much harder to do things that are unfair if you have documentation explaining what fair is, and places don’t like to give that up.  Additionally, fields move, things change, budget cuts create more service, research expectations creep up… some places don’t want to have to change this document every year to match the new reality.  (You may have noticed that meetings and getting people to agree are difficult.)  There are strong reasons that administration is resistant to creating such a written contract.

So, given that a written document is unlikely to happen, how can you figure out how much service you should be doing?  There are a couple of ways to go about this.  You can, as you’ve done, observe how much service everybody else is doing, keeping in mind that you should be doing less than what full and associate professors are doing.  Don’t take an average, but look at the lowest amount of service someone is doing, then the next lowest until you hit someone that nobody is complaining about as selfish.  You can also do the minimum until someone tells you that’s a problem, and then you can step up based on feedback.  Do you have annual reviews that discuss your progress on service, teaching, and research?  The standard recommendations for junior service apply– do something visible, important, that has a finite number of meetings and accomplishes something.  I like admissions, but there are other similar committees.  Volunteer for the good service so you can say you can’t to the bad service.

So what if they think you think you’re overloaded?  You probably are overloaded!  If they stop asking  you to do additional service, that’s a good thing!  Why do you think so many people complain about service loads to begin with?  If you don’t have enough service, you can always volunteer for something.

In terms of whether you should speak up at faculty meetings… The standard advice is to keep your head down for half a year to a year until you understand the lay of the land.  Some suggest keeping a low profile until tenure.  Our suggestion is to do a cost-benefit analysis.  #1 often spoke up at early faculty meetings, including one memorable time when we were going on and on and on complaining about another department and she flat out said that she didn’t want to be part of a faculty that always focused on the negative, and unless there was something we could do about these problems, that we should stop wasting time ranting.  Also that we should think of them as our allies rather than enemies as we’re all on the same side.  (She said it a little more politely, but not much more.)  #1 was able to do that because she really was willing, at that point, to seek new employment if she was going to have to listen to bitching for a minimum of two hours every month.  #2 spoke up frequently, but also accidentally offended some people pre-tenure because of it, even though I was being very polite and professional.  They’re just touchy.  But I apologized and it worked out.

If you’re going to speak up, you need to be willing to deal with the consequences.  What is your walk-away point?  And remember, the more you focus on those 4, 5, 6 articles, the more likely you’ll be able to walk-away to a better position.

In terms of how to communicate, a certain level of detachment helps.  Stay calm, rational, not frustrated.  #1 is reading an excellent book now called, Crucial Conversations— get yourself a copy!  At some point I will write a more detailed review on it.  The first step the book recommends is to think hard about what you are really trying to accomplish– in this case, the work document isn’t your main objective, it’s knowing what your expected service load is and to make sure you do not have an unfairly large load.  A work document would help that goal, and have positive spillovers for others, but there are ways to work within the current system that will help you achieve that goal as well.

Other general things to remember, use “I” statements instead of “You” statements, remember that you’re all on the same team, don’t just vent to vent, try to find solutions and create action items.  A good mantra is, “stay professional,” especially when those around you are not.  One sneaky thing I’ve been doing lately is mirroring language of the person I’m talking to– that’s supposed to promote buy-in.

#2 suggests reading a Ms. Mentor book that will tell you some advice about meetings and soothing ruffled senior feathers.  Not everyone agrees with her, but it’s a useful perspective.  Ms. Mentor might say that the problem was that you made the senior faculty take a stand in front of everyone without asking them first.  When you had conversations about “wouldn’t a workload policy be great”, you might have also asked, “Would you be willing to spearhead a committee to write one?”  Maybe they don’t care enough to put in the time and work, in which case, they’re not going to be much help in a meeting.  As a junior person, chairing such a committee yourself is asking for trouble and for people to get grudges against you, both faculty and administrators — don’t do it.  But maybe you can orchestrate for someone else to do it.  Otherwise, you’ll have to wait it out and publish, publish, publish.

Another tip:  senior faculty tend to like to be asked for advice.

All in all, don’t worry too much about this faculty meeting.  It will blow over.  We suggest stopping pushing on the work document, at least until they can’t fire you anymore.  You have better things to do than to sit on interminable meetings trying to figure out what such a document would look like anyway.  Focus on your research, getting the minimum teaching evals, and doing the minimum service.  If you can’t figure out what the minimum service is, wait until someone says you’re doing too little and then step up your game.

Good luck!

Grumpy Nation:  Are we totally off-base?  What advice would you give Stacie?

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?

My body defies science, or else everyone lies.

Ok what is it with this idea that you are getting enough sleep when you can wake up without an alarm?  Who does that?  Maybe if I set my alarm for 11am!  Even when I go to bed early, and set the alarm for 8 – 9 hours later, the alarm always wakes me up.  What is WITH you people and your freakish lack of need for alarm clocks?  That’s why they make alarm clocks!  Because we need them!  Perhaps if I never had a class or meeting before 2pm then I wouldn’t need an alarm clock.  But seriously!  Getting 8 – 9 hours of sleep is NO guarantee that I will then wake up at the right time.  Ha ha.  I laugh upon your alarm-clock-not-needing!  [#2 does not usually use alarm clocks, and even when she does use them, she usually wakes up before they go off.] [#1 sticks out her tongue at #2.]

I *always* feel groggy when I get up.  And there is nothing wrong with my thyroid [#2, using her armchair internet skillz, suspects it’s a difficult to diagnose thyroid problem], I get plenty of vitamin D, I exercise several times per week (which only makes me MORE exhausted, but that’s a separate post).  If I was pulled over on my way to work, I would fail a field sobriety test because I am uncoordinated and usually sleepy at that hour.  I can’t even reliably touch my finger to my nose when stone-cold sober, and I do drive sleepy.  I know I shouldn’t.  But there’s no other way to get to work!  Or, if I’m awake when going TO work, I’m very exhausted when coming home, which leaves the same problem.

Who’s with me?!?!?!?!?

What is the purpose of medical insurance?

Recently Oregon did a field experiment (the experiment part was initially unintentional, but intentional as soon as famous health economists Kate Baicker and Amy Finklestein heard about their plans) in which they expanded Medicaid to some people and not to others.

More and more of the results are coming out.  They’ve found that Medicaid stops catastrophic medical expenses.  They’ve found improvements in mental health just from having coverage.  At this point, they haven’t found improvements in health compared to the control group.  Some conservative groups are citing this last fact as evidence that health insurance is unnecessary for poor people.

Now, there’s several reasons they might not have found improvements in health compared to the control group.  Oregon might have a better social safety net than other places.  Or, Oregon may have a worse problem with the ability to find doctors who take Medicaid because it doesn’t reimburse enough, in which case both insured and uninsured people would be getting the same emergency room treatment.  Or, we may see health improvements down the road as we see the effects of people taking their diabetes and heart medications more regularly.

It is, in fact, a little odd to think that health would be improved with access to coverage– after all, didn’t Mitt Romney say that anybody can get health care because emergency rooms can’t turn people away?  Still, plenty of other evidence suggests that some baseline of insurance helps people to get preventative care, to stay away from emergency rooms for routine care, to take medications for chronic conditions, to see the doctor before problems become complicated, and so on.

But even if Medicaid expansions don’t improve health, that doesn’t mean they’re a failed policy (unless, of course, it is lack of access to doctors who will take Medicaid that is the problem, but the solution to that problem is to increase reimbursements).  The purpose of insurance isn’t to provide access to care, although it may have that effect.

The purpose of insurance is to smooth consumption over states of the world.  It is there to make sure that you don’t end up with a catastrophic loss when times are bad.  Car insurance doesn’t prevent you from getting into a car wreck, but it helps pay out when you get into an accident.  Life insurance doesn’t prevent you from dying, but it compensates your heirs when you lose your life.  Home insurance doesn’t prevent you from getting robbed or keep your house from burning down, but it pays you back when you suffer a loss.  Unemployment insurance pays out when you lose your job through no fault of your own but doesn’t do much to keep you from getting laid off.

Medical insurance is the same thing– it provides financial protection when you’re hit with large medical bills.  In the case of Medicaid, the government is picking up the premiums, but it is still health insurance.  Better health would be a great outcome, and it’s one we were expecting, but lack of better health doesn’t mean we should toss out Medicaid expansions.

What do you think the purpose of health insurance is?  Why (or why not) do you buy coverage?

link love

Radish reviews notes that how to suppress women’s writing hasn’t changed.

A CNN reporter walks the path of the OK tornado.

Patrick Rothfuss gives an in-depth book review on one of our favorite classics.

Student debt survivor with a cute story involving a mattress.

Evolving PF doesn’t want to retire early.

Anything goes, 1 hr long, abbreviated version available on hulu.  You can also watch the earlier version on youtube… Ethel Merman was so young!

Wonder if you’re banned from Mr. Money Moustache for even polite disagreement?  You probably are.  Here’s an example.

Doctor Sardonicus gives us ass clowns on parade, caution rape triggers.  Discusses recent events in sci fi and comedy and explains why they’re not cool and words can hurt.

Oops, we totally forgot to link to this excellent post from Rachel Swirsky on the SFWA thingy.  It will make you laugh and think.

An update from a previous ask the grumpies post… what did tenured rock star end up deciding to do?  Check out the comments!

We were an editor’s pick in this weeks carnival of personal finance!  Squee!

Ask the grumpies: econ book recommendations for a gifted 9 year old

Monica asks:

Can you recommend a good intro book? I’m thinking about The Cartoon Introduction to Economics; the kid in question has a high level of comprehension and adores the graphic novel format.

We meander into lots of random conversations that touch on economics–I’m not the one who starts them! I don’t have a solid handle on the subject myself, so would most likely read the book too.  So far we’ve discussed supply and demand, inflation, opportunity cost, auctions, externalities…

The kid is almost 9 but a bit of an outlier. Middle school reading level is probably the sweet spot, I’m guessing…ze reads Smithsonian but not the New Yorker? I’m not so great at describing the level. Not up to algebra yet but probably will be in another year.

I have to admit that this question stumped me, and also any of my colleagues whom I’ve asked since getting it.  We’ve never really thought about econ and kids.  That’s not to say that people don’t– I know children of famous economists whose parents liked to do “studies” and play “games”, setting up elaborate exchanges at Christmas time involving trading unwrapped presents from Santa, for example.  Oddly, those children all became physicists.

We usually think of introducing economics sometime after algebra.  For adults I generally recommend Bob Frank’s Microeconomics and Behavior and Jon Gruber’s Public Finance and Public Policy.  These are both “reality-based” texts– Frank focuses on the difference between how people *should* act given economic theory and how they actually *do* act.  I feel like Gruber’s should be required reading because it explains that yes, there is a (limited) role for government and when and why and how and what are the consequences.  They’re both pretty good reads, IMO.

Age here is important because a lot of light economics reading tends to talk about sex.  I don’t know if we’re an over-sexed profession or we’re just not used to kids or what.  So Freakanomics (which I don’t like anyway) is definitely out.  The Worldly Philosophers, another popular read, discusses economist infidelities, such as Marx impregnating his housekeeper when his wife was sick.

Now, if you were just interested in “popular” economics like the stock market or the affordable care act, there’s probably more out there on those topics that’s safe and doesn’t require higher-level math.  My father used to have us track Exxon and we learned about things like stock splits and so on.  Jon Gruber has a comic book on the ACA that’s a good read.  But you’re actually interested in hard-core economics, and kudos for that.

So basically, our answer:  We have no idea– but that Cartoon Introduction looks pretty awesome!  Let us know how it worked out.

Do you all have any better recommendations for Monica?

Is it better to have loved and lost or to have never loved at all?

Another installment in our ongoing series, deep thoughts from our chat logs.


#2:  that cartoon is kinda sad.

#1: how so?  I suppose it’s like saying tis better to have loved and lost than never have loved at all, which is debatable.

#2: it seems like it’s saying the man could have been more, could have been great, but instead he drinks beer and watches TV. I like to stay home.

#1: oh, I think they’re saying that man is a critic
not that there’s anything wrong with staying home and drinking beer and being an accountant
but that if you do that, you shouldn’t criticize people who do more stuffs.  Personally I am a big proponent of temperature control.  Climbing mountains seems dumb

#2: but being a critic is important too; otherwise how would we know which books are crap? I mean, I have some problems with professional critics, but sometimes somebody needs to say that the emperor has no clothes.

#1: point taken.  ok, you win.  The context I’d seen it offered in was “if you don’t get rejected from time to time you’re not aiming high enough” which is a totally valid suggestion, especially for women.  But you are right, it doesn’t fit that at all

#2: I agree that if you don’t get rejected you aren’t aiming high enough. That part is right. Making it sad to be an accountant is wrong.

#1: yes
though honestly
being an accountant is kind of sad
except for people who like that sort of thing

#2: maybe they like it though!
maybe it’s like solving a big puzzle for them

#1: but being a mountain climber is also pretty sad.  Except for people who like that sort of thing.  Like, what’s the point?

#2: mountain climbers are kinda dickwads, from the books I’ve read

#1: at least accountants provide value

#2: YES

#1: except the ones who work for arthur anderson or enron
those provided negative value<

#2: went over to the dark side

#1: yes

So… who do you agree with?  Are we misreading (or reading too much into) a cartoon?

So much to do! A busy summer ahead

OMG, I am so overextended this summer, but if I can pull it off, it will be AWESOME.

What happened, in case you’re wondering, is that I submitted a bunch of short-term grants and got three of them.  On top of that, there’s regular submitted papers coming back from journals and so on.

So I have 4 big projects that need major work for the summer.  Mentally I’m only capable of keeping track of two or three, so this is going to need extra organization.

I have:

1.  The R&R paper that is getting split into 2 papers (a small one for the journal I sent it to, and a regular-sized one for the journal I’m sending the main paper to).

2.  Restricted data project for which only I am allowed to touch the data.  I was supposed to have access to these data last summer but SNAFU FUBAR @##@.  But I have it now, and am going to need to get a no-cost extension to keep it.

3.  Pilot study needs to get done for grant proposal for big grant.  Coauthor moved slowly so we’re behind schedule.   Lab manager graduated.  New lab members.  Do not want to talk about the weeks of administrative SNAFUs.

4.  Stupid NSF thing I got added to for the $.

[update]:  #5.  Mildly crappy paper that I sent into a conference got accepted unexpectedly.  I guess I passed the threshold from being accepted too infrequently to being accepted too frequently, at least in some venues.  No more crappy submissions to this conference in the future!  It’s going to be hard getting an hour and 15 min talk out of the material.

I have a small army of RAs of varying quality to manage, including one guy who just got a low C on the final for his methods class.  Damn it.  He did well on the midterm, but ugh.  Fortunately he won’t be working the entire summer.

So, that’s my story.  I’m doing Dame Eleanor‘s thingy for #1, and I’ve got RAs to keep me going for 3 and 4 and a coauthor whose sabbatical is ending for #2.  Who needs sleep or weekends?

June Mortgage update and another wishy-washy post on our uncertain money plans

Last month (May):

Balance: $79,500.45
Years left: 6.333
P =$893.52, I = $320.89, Escrow = 613.58

This month (June):

Balance: $77,928.74
Years left: 6.25
P =$899.71, I = $314.69, Escrow = 613.58

One month’s prepayment savings:  $2.66

I’m getting summer money so we’re still pre-paying the mortgage at our regular rate.  That will probably stop in September or October.  We’ll see.

For the past year or two we’ve been trying to decide how to deal with a 40% drop in income when it comes [DH resigned his TT job], and what to do with any surplus before said drop came.  As of last month we still hadn’t decided.  We kept tantalizing readers with the idea we’d decided, but then I’d run the numbers again and we’d change our minds again.

We’re also not doing the best job of keeping our spending below my regular (sans summer money) income.  And that’s mainly because I’m not convinced that we’re really going to be in a situation in which we need to do that.  I keep wanting to smooth my consumption based on my expected lifetime income, probably because I took far too many macroeconomics classes in school.

These big expenditures are primarily things involving the children– I want them to have educational and cultural opportunities and I want us to have time to do work.  And that can be done on my income alone, but not without making other cuts that we could make, but those cuts tend to add stresses and decrease joy.  And we could make those cuts and we’d adjust and so on (we both certainly grew up with much less), but if we don’t need to, then it seems like a lot of unnecessary stress to no real end.

Before the recent stock market surge, we were doing just fine for retirement.  We now have enough money stocked away in our retirement accounts that any number of early retirement blogs would be demanding that DH quit his job (and me mine, though they might let me keep it for the little lady’s mental health and uh, her group health insurance) if he hadn’t already… although the majority of this wealth is locked away in retirement accounts and untouchable for a few decades.

The point being, if we spend more than we earn even a couple years in a row we’re still doing far better than the majority of the US population.  I should probably thank my ERE father for the training to create this bounty.

So, when I was trying to decide how much extra money we’d have at the end of the summer, and how much we’d have to save for next summer, I thought, well, why just put big lumps away?  Why not play it by ear each month and stop doing the extra saving once you run out of money?  If DH brings in extra income, or you finally get your spending down, then you won’t have to go through all the additional hassle of trying to figure out where to put the extra money each time you have it.

So… previously we said were going to stop prepaying the mortgage, stop contributing to DH’s work retirement funds, stop contributing to my extra 403(b), stop funding our Roths, stop contributing to the 529 plans and so on.

DH’s retirement funds are still going away with his job.  And we’re going to only prepay the mortgage enough to get the check up to 2000/month rather than 2500/month.

But I’m going to let the 529 and the 403(b) keep auto-deducting until we run out of extra money.  After taxes we will make a separate decision about the IRAs.  This new plan is essentially splitting our money across the 529 plans and extra retirement saving while leaving an additional cushion in case of emergencies or other opportunities.

So rather than putting away big lump sums, I’ll let our extra money just sort of dribble away into various tax-preferred savings vehicles. This has the advantage that if the bucket starts getting to empty I can shore up the leak.

If we weren’t doing so well with retirement savings, I’d prefer the lump sum approach because it would force us to cut our spending.  But since we’re doing just fine on that front, it seems silly to not enjoy food or to keep DC1 from going to the ballet with hir aunt etc. just to leave the kids an inheritance they (hopefully) won’t need later.

So… what do you think?  Are you disappointed that I’m not putting big lump sums into the mortgage or retirement?  Is the possibility of spending more than we earn a bad thing?