Things to avoid if you want tenure

Here’s some suggestions that have been compiled from several cautionary tales.

1.  Don’t let students walk all over you.  One colleague was always available to students.  From 10am to 6pm there was a steady stream of students in her office.  And she still got terrible evaluations, including on “availability” because any time she wasn’t there, they’d be upset.  The year that I taught another section of the same class, I set boundaries on the first day of class and every day I met, and I’d answer “I have just one quick question” with “Did you ask it on blackboard?” and “You should ask in class!  You’re not the only one confused!” and “If it’s about the homework, my office hours are X– think about it some more (or:  that’s why you should start your homework earlier)”  I got the same marks on availability *or better*.  Her students praised me for my availability because I would answer their questions for her class during my office hours (on the rare occasions she wasn’t in), but never outside of them (when I would laugh and say no, are you kidding?).  If you give students complete availability and aren’t always there, they will complain more than if you give them strict times and keep to them.

2.  Don’t let service walk all over you.  Another colleague was always on every committee and would do the bulk of the work and complain about it.  She even got herself locked into additional service from another (interdisciplinary) department as the outside committee member.  Many of us do a little bit of service for this other department, but she was on multiple search committees in the same year on top of grad committee obligations, even when the search wasn’t for something related to her area of specialty.

3.  Don’t make extra work for people.  One irritating colleague spent one year organizing service that nobody wanted or appreciated.  For example, telling admissions that they needed to set up individual appointments with every single faculty member to obtain faculty input.  And so on.

3a. Don’t be interpersonally obtuse.  That’s the problem with item 3 above, and likely some other items too: tone-deafness to department culture.

4.  Don’t start the book route and then change your mind midstream to the article route with a different topic then change your area of study to yet a third topic the year before your tenure packet is due.  Become an expert in something so that people can write you good letters.

5.  Don’t get a reputation for blocking hires of people that you think are more research active than you are.  Hint, if you’re blocking a hire for “personality” or “arrogance” (especially of an accomplished woman or minority, especially without previous evidence of any problem)… the problem is probably you.

6.  Don’t ask for help on your research and then get angry at reasonable suggestions.  Especially don’t speak condescendingly to racial minorities and to women, explaining to them why their reasonable suggestion just won’t work for you.

7.  Don’t make arguments that all that matters is the students if you’re at an R1.  The students matter 33%, give or take (and if take, then take from service, not research).  If it’s really all about the students for you, you need to be at a community college or a teaching college with little or no research expectations or else just off the tenure-track in a teaching role.

8.  Don’t just give up on research.  You need to make time for it every week, preferably every day.  Even a little bit can keep you connected during the busy times.

Live and learn, grumpeteers.  Or don’t, it’s up to you.  What “don’t do this” advice would you have for someone who wants tenure?


  • EC update:  At almost 15 mo, if the potty is in visual distance, DC2 will take hirself to the potty, sit down (the sitting down is what took the most effort– but ze finally no longer gets hir leg stuck in the potty while trying to sit), and pee and/or poo.  If no potty is in sight, ze will just go wherever ze is.  If the diaper is still on, ze will use the diaper while sitting in the potty.
  • DC2’s diaper rash is SO BAD when hir diaper doesn’t get changed right away after a poo that ze got sent home on Friday because of it.  Poor darling.
  • When I mentioned to hir new daycare teacher that DC2 will go potty on the potty if they take hir, the teacher said very emphatically, “Not in THIS room.  We do NOT do pottying in THIS room.”
  • We’re counting the days until we can transfer DC2 to the Montessori that starts at 18 months.  Ze has a slot reserved and everything.
  • We miss the old daycare.
  • It’s unlikely at this point that we will get any money back from our 4.5K prepayment from the old daycare.
  • DC2 had been eating wheat and enjoying it, but we’ve stopped it again on the off chance that that is why ze is allergic to hir poo.
  • DC2 seeks and destroys pens and pencils, breaking them into their component parts.  Ze is very good at climbing and can get them wherever we hide them.
  • At a party the other day, DC2 picked up a nerf gun that had 2 cartridges loaded and another next to it.  Ze carefully removed the 2 cartridges, then loaded the gun with all 3.  Upon learning that we did not teach hir how to do that, an adult nearby said we’d have to watch out for hir.
  • One of my goals is to make sure that DC2 survives childhood.

Good jobs

Good jobs provide decent wages, decent working conditions, and good benefits.  Bad jobs don’t.  These things tend to be correlated– you don’t get a job that provides great benefits and terrible wages and terrible working conditions.  Minimum wage jobs are generally not great along any dimension.

There’s been a lot of talk lately about minimum wage jobs and income inequality.  What is our responsibility towards the poor?  What is McDonald’s responsibility?  Should taxpayers subsidize low wage jobs so people can live on what they’re making?  Why are people working at low wage jobs for decades and not being promoted to a living wage?  Why is the median age of a fast food worker in the late 20s, and for women in the early 30s?

Some of the problem is structural.  The United States is rapidly becoming polarized.  Income inequality is growing.  It really is true that the middle class is vanishing.  Instead of a good amount of medium-skill middle-income jobs, the country is being divided into low-wage low-skill jobs and high-wage high-skill jobs.

I present for you a fascinating and depressing article on the topic:

The Growth of Low-Skill Service Jobs and the Polarization of the US Labor Market
David H. Autor and David Dorn
We offer a unified analysis of the growth of low-skill service occupations between 1980 and 2005 and the concurrent polarization of US employment and wages. We hypothesize that polarization stems from the interaction between consumer preferences, which favor variety over specialization, and the falling cost of automating routine, codifiable job tasks. Applying a spatial equilibrium model, we corroborate four implications of this hypothesis. Local labor markets that specialized in routine tasks differentially adopted information technology, reallocated low-skill labor into service occupations (employment polarization), experienced earnings growth at the tails of the distribution (wage polarization), and received inflows of skilled labor.

We also hear a lot about job creation and how important it is to support small businesses and small entrepreneurs.  But what kinds of jobs are these small businesses creating?

Quality over Quantity: Reexamining the Link between Entrepreneurship and Job Creation

By Adam Seth Litwin and Phillip H. Phan

Although much has been written on the quantity of jobs created by entrepreneurs, scholars have yet to examine the quality of these jobs. In this article, the authors begin to address this important issue by examining nearly 5,000 businesses that began operations in 2004. They investigate the extent to which nascent employers provide what many think of as quality jobs—those offering health care coverage and a retirement plan. The authors find that because of small scale, constrained resources, and protection from institutional pressures, start-up companies do not provide their employees with either of these proxies for job quality, and their likelihood of offering health or retirement benefits increases only marginally over their first six years of operation. The finding that entrepreneurs’ impressive record of job creation is not matched by a similarly impressive outcome with respect to job quality challenges policymakers to ensure that entrepreneurs are encouraged to create quality employment opportunities in the course of creating new businesses.

On the whole, not very good ones.

But it isn’t the invisible hand that’s creating this income inequality all by itself.  The government can subsidize poor people directly, allowing companies to continue to exploit cheap labor (or it can let those people and their children starve, as Fox News seems to be encouraging–something that will eventually lead to riots in the short term and lower productivity in the long term).  Or the government can change its policies to stop promoting income inequality.  It can go back to many of the big Nixon- and Johnson- era policies that helped promote a growing middle-class.  So that people don’t work at McDonald’s at minimum wage for decades unless that is truly all that they’re capable of doing.

link love

Kinda random this week.

We should really have a journal of null results.

this video is cute, even the very last frame

Start this video at the 5:10 mark.

The ugly volvo with 10 quick and easy meals for moms.  Sort of.

So I was talking about getting a new teaball and #2 suggested this and this.  If you use the star trek tea and the star wars ball, do you end up with JJ Abrams?

Mothers in Medicine with a story of leaning out.

Four copy-editors killed in ongoing ap style chicago.

Eucalyptus trees eat gold.

Not of general interest:  on writing, just say it.

Academic cog notes that didn’t take long.

Dr David J Leonard presents scholars vs academics.

ha a ha hahahaha I love this from the little professor

I want to go to Iceland even though this describes me.

Femmefrugality discusses food stamps.

Time shows how the world feels about women via google search terms.

Ask the grumpies: Inheritance advice

Miser Mom asks:

How does a young (20-something) person invest a large, sudden inheritance? Let’s say she just got $300K in life insurance, and is expecting a similar amount in the form of the pension/retirement account that comes with the estate.

She is currently unemployed (or at least, employed only in cleaning out her dad’s home and getting it ready to be sold). She’s guessing she might want to semi-retire on this money.

Our condolences on your loss.

The advice that most planners give for people who have just received an inheritance through bereavement is to do nothing with it.  Wait.  Let it sit in a savings account (or put the bulk in a cd if she think she’ll be tempted by spending sprees) earning very little interest until after she’s done everything she needs to do with finishing up the estate and paperwork and funerals and has gone through a lot of the grieving process.

600K (I’m assuming this is after tax) is not enough for a 20-something to realistically retire on– there’s just too many years of life left, even for someone as frugal as miser-mom(‘s daughter). There’s too many years for (unexpected) negative shocks to happen.  Semi-retiring is a possibility if she’s frugal like miser-mom.  Of course, when one lives like miser-mom, part-time work probably works as enough of an income stream even without the 600K.

This money does buy the time for her to figure out what she wants to do, to take her time finding the right employment (or to try out different employment options), to explore her interests (even get a masters degree) or to wait for something to come along.  It allows freedom and should decrease the stress of unemployment.

Planners generally recommend setting aside a certain amount (anywhere from $500 to 5%) for fun.  For travel or charity or something nice.  She can certainly do that if she wishes.  But she should leave the bulk intact.

My recommendation for what to do with the money after… well, there are a lot of choices.

First, I would pay off all loans, if she has any.  Just because.  Student loans, car loans, housing loans, etc.  Just pay them off.

Second, if she’s planning on staying put, she may want to buy a house.  That may or may not be a good idea depending on what housing prices are like where she is, and if she’s planning on staying where she is or if she thinks she might move for other employment.  If houses are inexpensive and she’s planning on staying put, go for it.  If they’re expensive, or she’s thinking of moving or doing extended travel, then this is probably not something she wants to do.  I’m not a financial planner, so I can’t define “expensive”, but I’d worry about buying a house that cost more than 200K without additional employment income to rely on.

Third, set aside a healthy emergency fund (since she’s unemployed and single, 6 months to a year of spending) someplace she can easily access like savings or a CD ladder.

Fourth, I would want to convert the bulk of the remaining money into an income stream.  There are many ways of doing this.  1.  She can annuitize it, but that’s generally a bad idea for a 20-something since who knows if the company will be in business when she’s 80, so don’t do that.  (Annutities make more sense for older folks.)  2.  She can put 80-100% of it into the general stock market in a broad-based index from Vanguard.  These will spit off quarterly dividends which will be somewhat unpredictable but will have high return and lower risk over a long time horizon (there will be ups and downs).  The remainder would go someplace “safe” like bonds, savings, cd ladders, etc. just in case the economy takes another nose-dive.  3.  She can turn more of her money into income (but with less growth potential) by investing in dividend-heavy funds like utilities.  Vanguard has some dividend-heavy indexes.  4.  She can put it all in bonds (this will have a lower return but do a better job of holding the capital) 5.  She can put it all in TIPS, which is the most conservative thing she can do.  (There are also some riskier options I’m not covering, like lending tree or individual stock investing, but you can read about those on MMM or retireby40.  I don’t recommend those options except as “fun” play money.)

Of these options I would lean towards #2 or #3 depending on how much regular income she thinks she’ll need in addition to whatever she brings in once she finds employment.  If her employment prospects look good, I would go with #2, which will result in more money in the long run but may have some ups and downs.  If she’s less likely to have a steady work income, then #3 will result in less earnings overall, but a steadier stream of income.  She can also put up to 20% of what she has someplace save like TIPS or a CD ladder or even savings, just for that emergency buffer should the economy tank again (she could then draw on this fund while she waits for the economy to recover while dividends are down without having to sell stock in a down market).

Once she does find employment, this windfall is not large enough to obviate any need for saving for retirement.  She should try to hit 401(k) matches if that’s an option, then IRAs, then the rest of her 401(k).

If she finds she enjoys full-time employment and is getting enough money from her full-time employment to no longer need that income stream from stocks, I would recommend to her to move out of utilities (if she chose option 3) and into broader indexes and to set up DRIPs to increase her investments efficiently.  She should also be sure to max out her retirement accounts each year, even if it means converting some of this windfall into retirement savings, to make the most of the tax advantage.

Again, our condolences.  And wish her the best of luck with her future endeavors on our behalf.

Grumpeteers, what would you recommend an unemployed 20-something do with a 600K windfall?  What would you do with it?

What do you miss from high school?

We miss different things than CPP.

Holy shit, I miss almost nothing.  I miss some of the people, but I could always call them or something.  I miss NOT being the smartest person in the room — generally I miss hanging out exclusively with really smart people.  That’s about it.  There were more things I enjoyed, but sure as hell not enough to go back.

I don’t miss the angst, depression, terrible food, boyfriends dumping me, looking for a boyfriend, not getting enough sex, worrying about Cell Bio, math problem sets, restricted freedom, rules, communal living (we went to a boarding school), coming down with mono, my parents having power over me, not being able to live with a cat, lack of privacy, moving all my stuff twice a year, classes that started at 7:30AM, etc.  Criminy.

Lucky for me, high school was not the best time of my life.  It was certainly the best time of my life UP UNTIL THEN!  Particularly senior year, that was pretty sweet.  Except that my life kept on getting better after that, too!  I love getting older.  Joking aside, being a grownup pretty much rocks.

#2 totally agrees with all of the above, except she kind of liked the math problem sets, and sometimes has to make solution sets for them these days (and, for the most part, she still hangs out with super smart people).

How does your life compare to high school?  What’s better and what’s worse?

Sexual Harassment

There’s been a lot of talk lately about sexual harassment in male-dominated fields.  That’s because there’s a lot of it.

In this post, people share their experiences with harassment or the feelings that they have wondering why they haven’t been harassed.  All in tweet form.

I have to say, my first thought was also, “Why haven’t I been harassed?” And I’m going to attribute that mainly to two things (but I’m going to use more than two points).

1.  Luck

2.  Being warned off creepers and knowing not to take their classes or to have anything to do with them (also luck, also potentially hurting my career, though in my specific case, the creepers also tended to be not as good as the people who substituted for them, and that was lucky)

3. Having a big burly partner who looks like he could beat someone up (also luck)

4. Being on edge to be professional with male colleagues at all times in a way that men do not have to… this may be why I naturally gravitate towards female coauthors and mentors even though there are so few… I can talk normally around them (something men don’t have to do that could well be hurting my career)

So I thought about all of that, and then I remembered that before work, before graduate school, and before college, I actually was sexually harassed fairly frequently.  That’s probably part of the reason for #4.  The physics professor who couldn’t keep from putting his arm around girls and told us at the beginning of the first class he had been told not to frequently but he didn’t mean anything by it so he would continue to do it and we shouldn’t bother to complain because we were wrong to complain and we should just expect it.  He also copped a feel on my breast that one time.  The weird men at the grocery store who couldn’t stop leering at my 16 year old figure.  The girl who called me “queer” as an insult when I was so young and naive that I thought she meant I was weird and said I stuffed my bra before I even wore one.  The guy in middle school who I thought was jealous that I was doing better in geometry and then later realized must have had a crush on me but now I’m thinking that maybe that first belief was more right.  What an asshole.  Throughout the week more memories of incidents have been coming to my mind unbidden.

But I’ve been lucky.  What if I hadn’t had older women in my major telling me which male professors to stay away from?  Knowing what I know about them is a big reason I didn’t go back to teach at my undergrad, even though they were hiring in my field.  I didn’t even apply, even though I applied places much less fun to live and ended up at a place not as good for my partner as that city would have been.  What if I’d wanted to go in that field in graduate school with the guy who I’d been told had affairs, though I guess mostly with his students’ wives and junior professors?  I was able to avoid him entirely.

What if I didn’t have that big partner?  If I was on my own?  My single friends have to fend of creepers that see the guy standing next to me and decide to move on.

And what have I lost being unable to be “one of the guys”?  Would I have more coauthorships?  Would I have more conference invites?  Would it be easier to publish?  Of course.

I hope things get better as we get more women into my field.  Nobody should have to worry about sexual harassment.  Nobody should sexually harass people.  Work is work.  And it isn’t really about personal vs. professional anyway.  It’s about power.  And this is one way that asshats working for the patriarchy keep women down.  Absolutely we should name and shame, because if we don’t, nothing is going to change, and that’s not right.

Smoothing consumption

Evolving pf recently had a post on smoothing consumption over time, and how she thinks that advice from Chicago-school economists (not to mention Suze Orman) to take out loans to buy stuff when you’re young and poor because you’ll be making a ton of money later is silly advice.  This is pretty standard Econ 101 or 102 stuff– why suffer now when you can borrow against your future?

(Note, this argument is about CONSUMPTION, not about INVESTMENT.  It is still generally wise to take out loans for things that will pay off later, like schooling, or reasonable transportation etc.  When you invest, you’re spending money now to make the money pie bigger.)

In the comments she asks why economists would think such a silly thing to begin with.  If you’re happier with constant consumption, why not make the consumption constant at a low rate so you never go into debt?

Here’s my reply:

Because of diminishing marginal utility. (See graph: )

You don’t just want any constant/fixed consumption– you want a constant utility that is going to be as high as possible given your total lifetime earnings. That’s going to give you the biggest bang for your utility buck.

That’s because you’re happier with two years consuming say 30K, than you would be consuming 0K one year and 60K the next year. (You’d also be dead if you did that.) The amount that 60K makes you happier than 30K is smaller than the amount 0K makes you sadder than 30K. (You can see that on the diminishing marginal utility curve– going down is steeper than going up. Each additional dollar provides less additional happiness, each dollar lost provides more additional grief.) Depending on interest rates etc., there’s going to be some optimal consumption level given your permanent income and the rate of return of your savings/cost of debt. And that’s going to be flat. (You can use a 2 period-model with interest rates to model this stuff. If you allow bequests you end up with an OLG model!)

So that’s the standard reasoning behind why we want to smooth consumption over our lifetimes– why if we had perfect foresight about our earning power it might make sense to take the average (adjusting for interest rates etc.) over time.

However, I have always thought that the idea of consumption smoothing over time is silly. 1. We don’t have perfect information, and we don’t know what negative (or positive) shocks we’re going to get. We don’t have perfect insurance, so we have to self-insure to guard against negative shocks that could cause low consumption. 2. People like having increasing consumption over time, not flat consumption. It is much more fun to increase your quality of life as you get older rather than having to cut it back. (Some of this may be because of how we view time horizons. It’s neat how psychologists and behavioral economists are really getting into these black boxes.) We get used to higher levels of spending and they don’t make us as much happier, so it’s good to stay at lower levels while they’re still not so painful. Also, as she notes, having a big savings cushion provides freedom to make choices that might maximize happiness even if they don’t maximize income.

Additionally, there’s another set of theories dealing with the lifecycle hypothesis that suggests that people consume in a hump shape– ramping up through middle age and then down again once the kids are gone, and some beliefs that people prefer that.   And that’s not even getting into how bad many of us are at forecasting our future earnings– college students tend to overestimate by wide margins what their starting salaries are going to be.

How about you, what are your thoughts on smoothing your consumption over time?  Do you think it’s worth going into debt to buy luxuries when you’re young because you’re going to pay them off when you’re older?  Did you when you were young?

Gimme gimme link love

Another frantic week.  Post tenure is just more work than pre tenure.  *sigh*  (#2 doesn’t think so but has not been post-tenure as long as #1 has.)

This graphic from Rachel Maddow is just astonishing.  Even ignoring the political score-keeping, look at the demands they were asking for.  They must hate people!

Mother Jones with a list of 8 inventions that women made but are generally credited with men.  I remember when I read the Double Helix how, even from the unreliable narrator of Watson, I could tell that they had totally ripped Rosalind Franklin off, without shame, because they didn’t thinks she deserved credit, and not only that, they sexually harassed her at every turn.  It’s there in the pages that Watson wrote himself.  What assholes.

Ada Lovelace through the centuries.

Reassigned time explains why the government roll-out of the ACA is similar to university software roll-outs.

Fact checking Fox News on obamacare.

Niels Lohman explains why he and the USA are never, ever, ever getting back together.

Medium discusses the insidious power of harassment.

A summary of standing with DNLee.  Also this.  And this.

Let me fix that for you from the journal of are you f*ing kidding me.  And another.

Why home ec should be mandatory from mother jones.

All about work explains why it’s good to be bad at something.  Also I’m bummed because we can’t trust Malcolm Gladwell– that 10K hour thing is based on not much.  :(

Need a t-shirt?

If you think you don’t need to know about the Dunning-Kruger effect, then you’re exactly the kind of person who does.

Because you need more anxiety cat memes.

This is so interesting, because the author thinks it’s a failure, yet I think it’s so completely fascinating.  I want to read a book of this!

Soliciting more Ask the grumpies questions!

Yes folks, it’s that time again.  We even answered the hard economicsy ones and we’re out of Ask the Grumpies questions.

We do have a few that Debbie M. offered up the other week when she was feeling sorry for us for only having tough questions left, but we’re counting that as part of this round’s solicitation.

So, what questions do you have for us?  What can we bring clarity or further confusion to?  What can the grumpy nation ponder and discuss on your behalf?  Ask in the comments below or email us at grumpyrumblings at gmail dot com.