Ask the grumpies: Writing an external tenure letter

Tenured economist asks:

I was asked to write an external letter for a tenure case. Do you have any advice to share? We don’t use these in our tenure cases so I have never even seen an example! How long/detailed are they usually?

The following is based on external letters we’ve gotten in the tenure cases I’ve sat on so far.  We’d love to hear from the Grumpy Nation for people with more extensive experience and with experience in different fields.

There’s a lot of variation in these letters even from economists.

Usually they’re 1-3 pages long (single spaced with extra spaces between paragraphs, 12 point font, TNR, etc. give or take). Here’s what I’ve seen generally:

You don’t have to give a recommendation yes/no if you don’t want to. If you do, it can either be based on, “They would get tenure at [my university]” or “They should get tenure at their university”

You start by saying if you’re aware of the person’s work if you are aware of it, and if so whether or not you know the person personally and in what context. If you’re not aware of the person’s work you can choose to say that or to not say that.

Then you talk about the different strands of literature and put them in context for the committee. Talk about their quality and how they fit into the broader literature.

If there’s other items they ask you to address like teaching or service, then address those as well. We specifically ask for it to be focused on research and fit within the broader community (so potentially service to the profession if they have any) because we’re an R1.  SLACs, policy schools, and business schools might have different things they care about so if there’s something that the specific type of institution cares about you might address that.  Ex. teaching, media visibility, etc.  If there are potential things you might think would be concerning, like lack of single authored papers, you can talk about that as well and why that may or may not be a concern in this specific case.

That’s really about all there is to it.  The hard part is reading through the articles and figuring out their worthiness, especially you don’t have a helpful overview letter written by the applicant that puts it into perspective for you.

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Growing up (a money post)

So here’s another post started in 2011.

I was struck by a comment by “brokeprofessionals” (they used to have a blog, but sold it many years back!) on an old get rich slowly post (remember when that blog was worth reading?  Man, we need to clear out our drafts from 2011.).  The commenter said, and I quote, “for most of us, growing up we never saw our parents or our parents [sic] friends struggling.”

He makes the argument that in general we were born after our parents were settled financially and we didn’t see them just starting out.

That, of course, does not mesh with my personal experience, nor probably with the experiences of the bulk of Americans.  My parents struggled financially when we were growing up.  That’s part of why my sister and I chose jobs that pay well and have saved a ton.  We don’t *want* to have to worry about the rent or be insanely frugal or have to worry about small over-charges or larger emergencies.  So much of our childhood was spent worrying about money.  That tends to leave a mark.

And actually, our parents were doing better before I was born and were doing much better before my sister was born.  For a while they got to live in the same city and were both employed.  After my sister was born things were less stable because of jobs in separate parts of the country, spells of unemployment, etc., etc., etc.  But hey, at least we still had the nice couches and the stereo system and the VW bug (man I loved that car) from before I was born.  Those lasted through high school.  My parents still have the couches.

My DH lived in a trailer in the woods when he was a little kid and his dad broke his back and had to retrain from being a carpenter to being an accountant while his mom was getting her RN.

Children are expensive.  Starting jobs don’t always lead to stable careers.  Families can interfere with flexibility.

And, of course, much of America is struggling and has been.  Inequality has been widening since Reagan, and was wider before Johnson.  Families struggle, especially those with children.  Not everybody has the blessing of being upper-middle class.  Most people don’t.

How about you?  Did your parents struggle financially when you were growing up?

Link Love

What you can do right now about police brutality

Salute to Dallas mayor.  I don’t know why, but after this horrific week, this is the one that caused the tears to start falling.

We can fix the 70% if we get rid of the bottom 15%.

There is no law and order.

More patriarchy

Strict TX anti-abortion laws lead to more second-trimester abortions.  Duh.

Gun control ads from the 1960s.

In case you missed it, Trump is also anti-Semitic.

Irony

This is nifty.

New evidence on Hillary Clinton scandal

Part of why Samantha Bee is awesome.

Awwww

More Patreon! Elizabeth Bear: https://www.patreon.com/matociquala The hilarious Ursula Vernon: https://www.patreon.com/ursulavoooh, you can support Gunnerkrigg Court and a possible side project of extended scenes, side stories, etc.: https://www.patreon.com/gunnerkrigg

How to use a paper towel

How God created specific animals

Update on browser the cat

Pup picked a friend at the shelter

Some weeks you just need to look at hot dudes with kittens

Fake animal facts

Ask the grumpies: Important questions about ice cream preferences

Leah asks:

Ice cream: vanilla or chocolate base? Lots of stuff added or little? Any additions you hate?

#1:  There’s this ice cream place in Houston near Rice University that I think is my favorite ice cream place in the entire country and I kind of wish I could go back to Houston just to visit it.   (There’s gelato places that I like more, but not ice cream.  And my favorite hot chocolate place is in Boston in Harvard Square.  And my favorite coffee place is in Los Angeles, in or near Santa Monica.  One benefit of lots of travel for work…)   Basically all they sell is different kinds of chocolate ice cream with different chunky things in them, lots and lots of chunky things added.  OMG, so wonderful.  They have this one with nuts that is out of this world, but they give you two little scoops with a small so you can get that on bottom and like chocolate orange or the girl scout cookie one (which I don’t see as one of their regular choices– I must have just gotten lucky) on top.  SO GOOD.  One addition I dislike is a weird one– I love maraschino cherries and I love fresh/frozen real cherries, but sometimes you order a cherry ice cream and you end up with like the cherries that they use in fruit-cake and it’s just so wrong.

#2:  chocolate with things added

Welcome to our semi-break

We’ll be posting less in July.  We both have multiple papers to finish in the next 6 weeks and we both have family travel planned.  Plus, it’s summer.

Tune in on Mondays and Fridays throughout July for new stuff, and feel free to read our archives on other days  :-)

And who knows, there might be a surprise post      here or there in the middle of the week.  We also haven’t decided about link love.  But definitely not a full slate of posts this month.

Cheers, mates!

 

July Mortgage Payment and what to do with ~40K, give or take

Last month (June):
Balance:$9,837.36
Years left: 0.75
P =$1,170.83, I =$43.57, Escrow =$812.79

This month (July):
Balance:$8,661.89
Years left: 0.666666666667
P =$1,175.46, I =$38.94, Escrow =$812.79

Amount saved from prepayment:  $0

Before going on leave we saved up $84K in the slush fund so that we could live in Paradise (where everything is at least 2x as expensive as where we normally live) on a lower income without worrying about money.  It looks like we will have about 40K leftover (give or take) after subtracting out our summer emergency fund and moving back expenses.

We have been doing quite nicely since DH quit academia and got an industry job.  I still can’t believe our good fortune.  (Though I am not sure how long it will last!)  Definitely a different world than the one we were inhabiting even 3 years ago.  For the first time in a long time there aren’t obvious places to stash more money.

Last time we had ~25K extra, we threw it into the mortgage.  Before that when we had large chunks of extra untargeted money, we saved them in retirement vehicles.

So, for people who aren’t long-term readers, here’s where our monthly nut after bills has been going since DH got his industry job:

  1. We max out all of my retirement options
  2. We pay up to the match with DH’s retirement (it has bad fees)
  3. We are no longer eligible for tax advantaged IRAs unless we do a backdoor conversion.  So we don’t do IRAs anymore.  If we were eligible we’d totally to this.
  4. $500/mo in each child’s 529 (This is not enough for 4 year private schools without financial aid, but DC1’s is getting too big for 4 year public or even a 4 year private should our income fall and we become eligible for financial aid.  I debate on whether or not to stop contributing, but figure we can stop DC2’s contributions later if DC1 has too much.)
  5. Previously we had been saving for a year in paradise with me at half salary, but we won’t be doing that anymore.
  6. Mortgage.  You will note that the mortgage runs out in 8 months and there’s not much point to prepaying at this juncture.

We have a LOT of money put away for retirement and for college.  Most of our money is in retirement savings, and most of that money is in the most difficult to tap form of retirement saving (the 403b).  That makes maxing out DH’s retirement account with the high fees potentially less attractive than saving the money outside of retirement accounts (in case we move to Paradise someday and want to buy a house), or you know, just spending it.

In terms of taxable stocks, we have around 125K in an account we could just tap.  We have about $300K in home equity.  Sadly, this is not enough money to buy a house in paradise with 20% down in a good school district, and it would be pretty risky to try.  We do, however, think this makes a pretty reasonable secondary emergency fund.  Combined with our primary emergency fund in savings, we figure that if DH loses his job we’ll be ok just living on my salary where we normally live until we figure what else to do.

So that leads us to this money we saved for Paradise but didn’t spend.  Here are our options (in no particular order):

  1. Start maxing out DH’s retirement even though it has crappy fees (~15K/year over what he’s already contributing).  We may do this anyway as we’ll probably be generating a surplus with both our salaries next year.  [update:  I miscalculated, it’s actually only 5K more than what he’s currently contributing– we put in the request to max out today.]
  2. Figure out how to do a backdoor IRA ~11K
  3. New car (if my 2005 Hyundai Accent that I love continues to have check engine problems once we get back) ~$30K
  4. Kitchen Renovation ~$30K.  The triangle just isn’t quite right and our countertops suck and the sink is chipped.  The problem with this is that it will take our time which will be in short supply when we get back and there’s been a small construction boom in our town meaning that construction costs are higher and take longer than usual.  We don’t know how long the boom is going to last.
  5. Bathroom renovation ~$10K.  We don’t really need this, but we’d kind of like to replace the plastic shower with a tile one and maybe get rid of the gold accents in the bathroom.  Totally cosmetic and unnecessary.  This would be unlike us since we don’t normally replace things until they need to be replaced.
  6. Xeriscape the lawn ~$?? We have no idea.  Problem:  Bermuda grass may make Xeriscaping an expensive failed dream unless we can get more trees to stay alive (an endeavor we’ve already lost quite a bit of money on).
  7. Solar panels ~$20K.  There’s basically nobody in our town with solar and we’re wondering if there’s a reason for that.  Lots of people do, however, have the black shades over the outside of their windows.
  8. Charity– I don’t think we’re going to direct this money to that.  We usually do charitable giving in December.
  9. Looking through old “things we wish we had money to do” posts, I notice that we wanted to replace carpet with hardwood in our dining room.  We probably still want to do that, though it’s not a high priority.  I think that would cost under $5K, though I’m not sure how much under.

Also… since we’re not saving for Paradise and we’re not putting extra to the mortgage and DC1 is trying out public school… we’re probably going to have extra untargeted money once school starts and I start getting paid again.  I don’t yet know how much that is going to be.  Or what to do with it.  I’m thinking DH’s retirement (even though it has ridiculous fees) or backdoor IRA Roths (the lower fees may make the hassle factor worthwhile) and then more taxable stocks. But I dunno.  It’s like, we would need so much more saved to be able to buy a house in Paradise, but we don’t need that much to live in our small town.  But might as well save until there’s a good reason to spend, you know?

What would you do with a 40K windfall (of money you’d saved but didn’t need in the end)?  If you’d save it, how would you save it?  If you’d spend it, what would you spend it on?

Link love: July already?!?

We’re not ignoring you, Grumpeteers.  We’re just kind of ignoring the rest of the internet, so it’ll be a light post this week.  See our upcoming post on Tuesday for an explanation about July.

Two spaces after a period 4-evah!

Register to vote, y’all!

Race relations  :-(

Texas must stop being jerks about abortion.

lb1p1cyubn4hoz85onkl

#2 sends more depressing links about politics.

Speaking of animals, I love how the internet names animals.

Fish have longer memories than politicians, and other myths debunked.  (Good news for those of you who swallowed chewing gum in 7th grade.)

Please send cute animal pics in the comments!