Things I haven’t told you about work this year

  • I’m actually on leave this year.  I can’t go anywhere because DC1 is a high school senior, so I’m hanging out in another department.  This is very nice.
  • They screwed up my salary by giving me a full paycheck the first paycheck in October.  Then no paycheck the second paycheck (I still owe them $44).  This has screwed up my retirement because I have a set amount extra taken off and because there was no paycheck last month, I didn’t get it.  I don’t think with my half salary (plus extra fees) that there’s enough money to fill up my accounts even if I try to max them out if I only get the November paycheck.  I’m not sure if the December paycheck counts for 2022 or 2023 (it’s supposed to be disbursed Jan 1, but is always disbursed the last business day before that).  If it counts for 2022 I think I can max out both, but if it doesn’t, I can’t.
  • Despite being on leave, my department head put me on the promotion and tenure committee for the guy who is currently suing the department because he wasn’t promoted the last time he went up, despite not having any new publications since tenure except in teaching journals (the kind where you say here’s a classroom exercise you can use in your classes), and not a whole lot of them earlier.
  • I said no, I will not do this, but I can be on the committee for the junior faculty member I’ve been mentoring (she does work that has a lot of intersections with my areas of expertise) and have read all the papers for.  The chair ignored that email and I got one from the head of the suing guy’s committee trying to set up a meeting.  I replied all and refused because I am fricking on leave.
  • It turns out that the suing guy refuses to work with any department member who denied him full in the past, so he refused to be on the committee of the person I mentored so I ended up being on her committee anyway.  The department head wrote me a kind of jerky email saying that zie had discussed with the dean and provost about whether I was still obligated to do service while on leave and they had said yes, the department head could force me to do service.  But because I had more knowledge of the junior member’s cv, zie was graciously allowing me to be on that committee instead of the suing guy’s (they didn’t replace me).  No mention of the other guy taking himself off the committee (and why was he allowed to do that but I was not?) and needing that slot to be filled.  But the other committee members informed me and were grateful that I was there, especially since I was able to write up the research statement for the committee (everyone gushed about what a great job I did after… which is both nice and makes me cringe because doing a good job is rewarded with more service but not more time or money).
  • I was supposed to get a $2000 additional payment (along with a plaque– currently have a printed paper award that’s supposed to be a place holder) for a small awards thing I was awarded in September and I thought that might fix up the retirement problem, but it has not yet come.  I should probably check on that.
  • Did I mention that I am the only full professor without a fellowship, professorship, or chair?  This includes the woman who is similar to me but does zero service, doesn’t answer student emails, has been here less time than I have, and has a slightly higher google scholar count than I do (she has also been out 3 more years than I have and has gotten a number of sweet deals to not teach).  But she does research in the same area as the chair who likes her more than me even though zie can’t “trust” her on committees or to teach classes.
  • Brainstream:  I think the chair might have a fixed mindset.  It’s weird though because the professor in question used to teach just fine.  It’s just that after starting a field experiment she stopped being able to do anything other than research.  And yet, I did a field experiment before she did (my NSF grant ended just as hers started) and was able to still meet my other commitments.  Still, it seems to me the solution is not to protect her research time at my expense but to get her to go back to doing the minimum for teaching and to start actually doing service.
  • Brainstream:  The department head has trouble about thinking about gestalt fairness.  Zie tends to think in terms of “we have to have everyone teach an undergraduate course and core course” rather than thinking about the entire teaching/service package.  So some people get really lucky in some areas or really unlucky but then get the average load in other areas, which as a whole ends up being extremely unfair.
  • Brainstream:  Zie also takes the wrong message from things.  I got angry about being told to do an additional small service (straw/camel — this was reading over a master’s thesis for an award committee) after dying of service that year and being promised that I would be done for the year after the last thing zie begged me to do (I had said, yes, I will do this but it has to be the LAST thing you ask me to do this year), so instead of taking the lesson not to renege on promises, zie took the lesson that I never wanted to read over masters theses for the award and this master’s thesis committee is so terrible that it should be equivalent to half of the two course reduction that people get for paternity leave (they are supposed to get additional service to make up for the class reduction since we don’t have real parental leave).
  • The other professor does some service external to our university (again, as do I and earlier) so she can’t actually be incompetent.  She just doesn’t care.  And why should she?  She’s getting rewarded for selfishness.  The department head is worried she will leave, but she has been on the market every year since she got here and nobody has hired her yet.
  • I had a fellowship very briefly but I lost it upon becoming a full professor.  This information was not in the letter when I got my fellowship.  Also nobody in admin noticed.  So for a month I was trying to figure out why they couldn’t reimburse a $50 journal submission fee.  I think I may have already complained about this.
  • The one competent person in admin services recently moved to a different state, so she’s not there anymore.
  • I’m very worried that I will never be able to leave because I don’t have a top 5 journal publication.
  • Being on leave is such a contrast to being in the department.  I have a high teaching load compared to other economists (average or low compared to humanities profs– I don’t know how you guys get any work done!)  I have an insane service load compared to even people in my department, including a lot of things that I get zero credit for (I have complained about this in the past).  I was worried that I was becoming stupid and would never have any good ideas or time to get things out again.  But I am thinking deep thoughts!  I am being productive!  I am happy and meeting people and giving keynote talks that go over really well and I’m getting grant proposals out and papers under review.  I’m excited about research and both new and current projects. It’s like I’m back to being me.  My department overload and feeling unappreciated and not being given time or money was seriously hurting me.
  • I went back over to the department yesterday and the people who are competent at service are dying.  They haven’t washed their hair.  They’re frazzled.  They told me about all these stupid directives coming from on high admin that the head isn’t slowing down or pushing back on.  (Hardcore!)  And that’s going to continue into next year except other competent people are going on leave.  I don’t know how I am going to be able to honor the research commitments I’ve made this year in that situation, especially since I’m also supposed to be teaching a new prep.
  • I think I need to have a discussion with the department head before I go back about how this is untenable.  My counterpart in another field who also does outsized service is feeling the same way (but will be on leave next year), so maybe we can approach hir as a united front.  We’re both program coordinators, and the only program coordinators with the full teaching load, even though we’re coordinating the two biggest programs (the other coordinator has a center and does no research anymore, just public outreach).
  • There are a couple of professorships and one chair available, but the dean has decided to take them from our department to distribute across all of the departments in our school (we recently had a re-org).  So I will continue not having a fellowship, professorship, or chair.  These have been open for some time and we were told to apply for them this summer (previously they were just appointed by the department chair) and there would be a committee that would make the decision.  But a couple months after that, we were told in a lengthy email that they would be open to being reassigned to another department, and there would be another committee (headed by someone from the other department), oh, and btw, I no longer have a fellowship and it was going back in the pool too (this was in the email sent to everyone, thanks).  That was almost 2 months ago and still no decisions.  But at least I have a bursary now.
  • IT says that we can’t work from home unless we use a department laptop because we are not allowed to do university business on our own devices.  Except dropbox is still broken on my computer in my home office because when they update it it often (but not always) defaults back to a drive that has no space in it.  I wouldn’t have to download so much stuff, except that the computer in my office is too slow to download on the fly and use stata.  What’s really weird is that the computer in the office I’m using now in the other department has no problem– it’s fast and logging on is fast and dropbox works and is fast.  It just works.  Also we’re not allowed to get reimbursed for software using grant funding.
  • Another irritating thing is that the dean just assumed I had a professorship, which I never did.  We got into an argument about the IT bullet above (which probably wasn’t a great idea on my part since having a dean disliking you isn’t great) and he made a comment about using my professorship funds.  Which I have never had.  Another full professor also thought I had a professorship because she assumed I got one when my colleague who is a substitute for me but does no service got one.  It’s like not getting maternity leave all over again!  Everyone assumes you got the benefit you didn’t get, which is worse than just not getting the benefit.
  • Was this cathartic or did it make things worse?  I don’t know.  I just know I’m dreading going back to work next year and it’s only November.  And if I hadn’t gone in yesterday I could have ignored it.
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22 Responses to “Things I haven’t told you about work this year”

  1. First Gen American Says:

    I feel this so deeply even though I’m not in academia. (Just replace service with special projects). It’s one of the many reasons I left where I was.

    I used to journal a lot when my path forward was unclear. It helped me organize my jumble of thoughts. I also found it helpful to have an opposite person’s perspective…someone not like minded at all who could ask me questions that I didn’t even think to ask myself.

    Like…could you picture yourself being in private sector as a next step? I know many big companies have research or training arms. The irony is one of my phd manager friends once told me that some of his staff felt like failures because they didn’t land a job in academia. I had no clue there was such a perceived prestige difference between the two roles. But the funny thing is, corp research jobs don’t have service or teaching requirements and most of all the things professors claim take away from their research efforts. The main thing though, is usually you don’t get to choose what problems you are solving.

    Saying no to stuff was the first step I took that changed everything for my career, so it’s good that you are doing more of it. Sometimes I needed to say yes to big stuff because I was the only one who could do it but I wanted assurances that the next big time suck activity would get assigned to someone else. A great boss once told me to never give something in a negotiation without getting something in return. The “we know you can do it all” reputation is definitely a double edged sword. You have to push back because they see you with limitless capacity. My personality is that when I’m on, I can outwork just about anyone. The downside is I burn myself out and crash afterwards. People just see that ability to go into overdrive and assume you can be like that 24/7 forever …without a recovery period. That’s just not how it works for some of us.

    I am sending good vibes your way that the more you noodle around these ideas in your brain, the clearer the path forward becomes. It’s not that the current path is bad, but we should always be striving to figure out how to make it better.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      The negotiation thing only works when they don’t renege! I did end up not doing the tiny thing but zie has never understood that it wasn’t the thing itself but the reneging that was the problem.

      I don’t do the kind of Econ that is rewarded in the private sector. Government would have me working in DC (at a somewhat lower salary but surprisingly not as low as you would think), which isn’t my goal and I would lose my professional affiliation which I have found emotionally I do not want to do. Also I would lose said affiliation if I went to a think tank, although Mathematica lets you live anywhere. Rand has lost most of their people and many of the people who still work there want to leave. There are a couple places in Boston if DH’s company goes under and we really need to move but I would still lose my affiliation.

      One of my colleagues in another department just told me he’d be happy to be an internal reference so I’m slowly building up my portfolio. I just hope I have time next year to do anything other than service.

  2. Alice Says:

    This is probably not a useful question, but– which are the situations in which you have the power to say no and have it stick? And what are the most likely consequences of saying “no” to more than a reasonable amount of service? Are they consequences you’re willing to put up with, given that it would give you time and mental space to do the things you need to do for your career?

    I’m not an academic, but I used to struggle with says no to things because I didn’t give a lot of thought to if a no was actually within my power. I also didn’t think a lot about whether or not I was okay with the likely outcomes if a no was within my power but came with potential consequences. These days, I say no. Not every time that I could, and I try to be nice in how I communicate… but it’s useful to me to think it through first. (And–in my particular environment– a lot of the time, it turns out that there are no consequences or the consequences aren’t as big as they could be.)

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I say no a lot. If I said yes to everything my chair asked me to do I wouldn’t have time for teaching. I have also been trying to not be the person who notices when say, there are dead people teaching on the next semester class schedule, but I’m still incapable of not. It would also be nice not to be the only person in the department who appears to have any institutional memory despite there being people here longer than I have been. I have also started sending that other prof’s students to the chair whenever they want me to do her job for her, and I explain why. Which is not collegial, but after years of it being a problem and me not being rewarded I don’t know what else I can do.

      My other colleague who is overburdened and I also both talked to the dean during our chair’s review about how we would recommend that other professors be given not just more service, but more responsibility. There are full professors who have never led a job search or headed a tenure mini-committee, things both of us have been doing since the second we got tenure. (And he’s still an associate prof!) Because it’s not just the service that’s the problem, it’s the being in charge of it and having to keep everything in mind. And fricking faculty not answering doodle polls.

      You would think that I should be able to say no when I’m not being paid for service (leave means I’m at half pay and supposed to be doing only research), but apparently not. I didn’t get a nice, “I would really appreciate it/We need you” I got a “I asked my boss and his boss and they are now both aware you’re not a team player.” If I can’t say no in that situation…

      The really big problem is that I’m resentful. Unless they give me a professorship/chair, which looks unlikely because they’ve all been transferred to another department, that is going to continue.

  3. Michael Nitabach Says:

    This all sounds mega annoying!

  4. xykademiqz Says:

    Man, this sounds really bleak. I’m so sorry. Could you switch tenure home to a different department?

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      It would be hard because under the current management going across colleges is not really doable. If it were within colleges and I was a rockstar it could happen, but this direction it’s like applying for an outside job plus the negative of scalping that the uni doesn’t want to encourage.

  5. SP Says:

    Are you on leave spring semester too. I’m glad you are getting a break from some of this nonsense, but sorry to hear there is SO MUCH NONSENSE. I’m not in academia, but some of the things my spouse tells me are similar, in that people who are selfish can often get away with it. The person responsible for assigning teaching classes, for example, just asks, and if someone says “no” they really have no power. (My spouse is generous in teaching, having taught several new prep for him big undergrad classes, and new prep grad classes, etc, while he has a college hired after him who has never taught the bigger undergrad service classes, and there is definitely many others in that boat.) His service load doesn’t seem as insane as yours. I also find the things that faculty are responsible for in service in committees to sometimes be… a bit crazy. On the other hand, who else can really truly do those things? I don’t know, but in companies, the process for promotions and such just seems to work better, similar for hiring. But you can’t really delegate most of that out in a university.

    There are also a lot of things that overhead seemingly should pay for, but doesn’t, probably because each department implements its own version then charges for it. For example, telephones, computer services like data storage and IT help are charged to grants and contracts.

    Your department chair does not seem to be a great leader. :/

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      YES! Though somewhere lines got crossed and I had to write a memo to tell them full year half pay last year.

      I’m also very generous with teaching times (basically any time except during a specific seminar series) whereas the prof who does no service only will teach the 3pm slot and none other.

  6. Jessica Says:

    If looks like you’re using zie for the department head — heads up that I think you missed one right after ” The department head wrote me a kind of jerky email”.
    This situation sounds terrible, sorry you dealing with it.

  7. CG Says:

    Gah–so frustrating. I hope you are able to use this year of leave to do the things you need to do to make the leap to another, better, job. It sounds like you are on your way to doing that.

  8. Lisa Says:

    What a mess, I’m sorry! Things are a mess in my department, too, but I have decided to stick it out one more year to see how things turn out (I think there are changes afoot, just depends on whether they are changes for the better..) before I try in earnest to leave.

    I’m curious about your experiences being on leave. I am supposed to be on sabbatical in the spring, but the sabbatical funding I applied for did not pan out, and I have been so preoccupied with the mess that I have been unable to make an alternate plan. I’m trying to decide whether to cancel/postpone my sabbatical or go ahead with it and hang out elsewhere as much as possible. I won’t be able to offload everything, but could offload some of it. But I hate to “waste” a sabbatical and don’t think postponing would be a problem (the Dean is well aware of the mess and the amount of involvement I have with it). It sounds like the leave has been good for you even if you’re not really “gone”.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I would definitely see what the rules are on postponing— I can’t!

      You should be able to offload everything. The best part of sabbatical is breaking service ties and starting fresh when you get back. (I won’t be able to this time— the chair has kept my spot for me as program coordinator and we’re now hiring for 6 new positions instead of just the 5. And adding I don’t know how many new programs without any thought put into them because the new college president values speed over anything else.). If you can’t do that it might make sense to wait until you can.

      I can throw this as an ask the grumpies on Friday if you’d like.

  9. Jenny F. Scientist Says:

    Your department is the WORST! Academia: don’t miss it. (Industry can also be terrible but my boss is very protective of my team.)

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      To be completely fair, I don’t know that it’s the worst… it’s more passive aggressively bad rather than actively evil. To my knowledge, no sexual harassers, for example.

      But I accept the sympathy!

  10. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    After a set of escalated emails, I finally got an answer on the $2K award– it should be in the 12/1 paycheck so I will hopefully be able to almost fill up my retirement accounts (I don’t know if they fund the 403b or the 457 first, but the 403b is two paychecks from completion and the 457 is only half a month from completion… I don’t know why since I didn’t get any summer salary this year and I thought they were on the same schedule, but I’m not complaining).

    Another zero paycheck month for me though.

    Granted, zero paycheck is not the same as zero income– that retirement savings is important! As is the health insurance that I’m paying extra for as a part-timer.

    Going forward maybe I should start front-loading the retirement in January instead of dollar-cost averaging. Not sure how that will work with Christmas spending and our property taxes ($10K) due in January… we would probably want to delay the IRA backdoor Roths. Things to ponder and eventually blog about I guess.

  11. Cloud Says:

    I am so sorry things are so bad in your department. I have no useful ideas on how to improve things but I hope you come up with something that will help. Being in a job you feel resentful towards sucks.


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