Asked for a teaching reduction so I could handle everything next year

My colleague and I are the respective heads of the two main tracks in our program.  Since we were appointed heads, the workload for this job has grown enormously, and it will be growing more next year because of additional restructuring and growth at the university level.  Last year was awful and I was so burned out.  This year was awful (though I was on leave so missed much of it) and my colleague, who is not on leave, also burned out.  (He’s going on leave next year.)

So we met together with the department head about long-term planning.  We talked about the increased load and what we’re already doing and the things that we do that can’t be measured or are difficult to measure.  We talked about how our research has suffered and we’re worried about the future.  We talked about how we could take leadership positions in the uncertain future– there will be ad-hoc committees and either we can lead them because we have the time to do so or we could try our best to avoid them because we need breathing room because we were over-burdened.

So my colleague who is already doing an additional job is losing his summer salary for that job but gaining a teaching reduction (which is now worth more to him), and I am taking on a new additional job (one that incorporates some of the junior faculty mentoring that I’m doing anyway).  In a couple of years we will also be getting an associate department head to take on some of the current responsibilities that are being shared by the department head and the faculty in addition to new responsibilities.

I don’t know if this will be a one-off or if it will be for as long as we take these responsibilities, but I can definitely use the time and I’m no longer dreading going back to the grind as much as I had been.

Still, a reminder that my leave is more than half over now and I really need to get a lot more done, even if papers keep getting rejected.  And if I ever want to leave, I need to get some grant money!

I feel like the word for this academic year has been rejection

I’ve gotten so much rejection this year.  Two papers have been rejected about once every month or two for a lot of months.

Flown out for a pre-job interview and rejected by the dean during my last meeting.

Not even conference interviews for the other places I applied– as if I hadn’t sent anything.  Is that better than thank you for applying but we’re not interested?  Maybe?

A grant proposal made it to the second stage and was then rejected.

DC1’s rejections aren’t mine, but there have been two three of those too.  (Update: ED2 rejection from Pomona.)

Heck, even my request to be reimbursed for my own copy of Stata was rejected.

It’s hard to have so much rejection without a single acceptance in between.  Not even a revise and resubmit, other than that grant that eventually got rejected.

Meanwhile my colleague who does no service but got all the internal money has gotten publications and grants.  We were pretty close research-wise when the money was initially assigned and now she’s doing much better while I’m just getting rejected at lower tier journals.

I’m burned out.  I don’t have any ideas.  I’m not excited about my current work.  I’m worried if I write it up and send it out I will have nothing left in the pipeline.  So I’m not writing it up, which is also no good.  I’m on leave and I’m dreading going back to work next year– we’re starting a new program and hiring 6 people and I can’t see me having time to do anything.  Which makes it even harder to get excited about new potential projects, even if I had any in mind.

I would quit except I’m afraid if I quit without having anything to go to that I will get severely depressed.  I worry that if I don’t keep busy I will have to contend with my thoughts and I don’t think this is something therapy would help me with.  I know me pretty well.

I feel like I should end this with an optimistic note, because I am generally an optimistic person.  Lives are long.  Work doesn’t have to define me.  We have enough saved that we could just move and I could quit without a job.  And maybe we should, I don’t know.

Update:  After getting this off my chest I actually got a paper out and restarted the next almost done project that needs to be completed.  So I’m a bit less down on myself and will be less down until the next rejection.  I still have some leave left and time to do more.  I can keep going forward!  I also met with one of my overworked colleagues and we strategized about what we need to keep from burnout and we’re going to meet with the chair next week.  I’ll let you know if that also results in rejection.

DC1 is taking Calc 3… and I just realized we can probably use the 529 to pay it

After a huge amount of fighting with the admissions office and us getting a meningitis vaccine waiver even though DC1 got the vaccine more than 2 weeks before the semester started (long story that increases my blood pressure– but the vaccine waiver turned out to be way easier than getting admissions to accept the doctor’s note), DC1 finally got admitted to take Calc 3 at my uni.  Fortunately there’s an 8am class that fits with hir schedule, although I’m the one who is going to have to do the chauffeuring most days.  It took a lot of back and forth with scheduling to get all the various holds removed (most not applicable because DC1 is a high school student, not an enrolled student), but fortunately they had held the last available spot for hir (8am was also the last section to close).

The day classes started, we got a bill for tuition which is about 2K.  I had completely forgotten about it!   (I knew we were going to have to pay, but it had just slipped my mind, and really shouldn’t they have sent the bill earlier?)

Anyhow, I realized that we can probably use DC1’s 529 to pay for this.  Stock markets are down, so it’s tempting to wait them out… and we also don’t know if DC1 is going to use up hir 529 funds, but it seems pretty likely given that zie doesn’t want to be an economics major at the state flagship and all the other options are private schools.  And we can always move the beneficiary around to DC2 or go through a more complicated path for a nibling.

There’s also the new 529 conversion to Roth IRA that makes having a 529 plan more valuable.

I didn’t even think to use the 529 when DC1 took C++ over the summer online during the pandemic.  It probably would have made sense to take money out and put new money in to replace it.

In ~two months we will know where DC1 will be going along with how much we should expect to pay for the 4 years.  If I am reading correctly, we have until the end of December 2023 to decide whether or not we want to take money out of the 529 to play for DC1’s Calc 3 class.

My friend whose son is going to Brown is cashflowing this semester (out of income and cash savings) because she’s hoping the stock market rebounds before they take money from their 529.  They don’t have as much in their 529 and they have a younger child as well, so this makes some sense.  I think we’ll probably just take money out for college until it’s gone for next year no matter what the stock market is doing, but that logic suggests we should take money out now to reimburse for the class as well.  But also $2K seems like drops in the bucket compared to what we’ll be paying for a private school next year, assuming DC1 gets at least one acceptance.  It’s so easy to be lazy.

Have you taken money out of a 529 to pay for tuition?  How easy was it?  Any regrets?

Ask the grumpies: Do sabbaticals work?

First Gen American asks:

Do sabbaticals work? If someone is burnt out, does it really help light the fire back under your butt by getting a break?

In my experience, yes!

Though coming back after is always difficult.  I tend to be more relaxed and get less done until I get overloaded and burned out again.  And thus the cycle continues.

But the best thing about sabbaticals is breaking all the service ties and usually it takes a little bit for those to get rebuilt.  (Envisioning Gulliver in Lilliput right now as a metaphor.)

I don’t have any experience with non-academic sabbaticals.  I don’t think unemployment spells are really the same thing at all.

Grumpy Nation– Do Sabbaticals Work?

Ask the grumpies: Postpone sabbatical to try for funding or not?

Lisa asks:

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 [in my department] 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”.

I would definitely see what the rules are on postponing— Ours are competitive and we’re not allowed to postpone.  Also if you get a sabbatical after X years, does that mean your next sabbatical won’t be until X+1 years?

I knew the department head in another related department and just asked if I could have a desk over there.  It’s in another building.  He said yes and wrote me a letter of support.  They had space to give me a desk in an office with a window, which I wasn’t expecting.  There’s even a couch although it’s a bit musty.  (Everyone remarks on how cool the couch is but nobody actually sits on it.)  I changed my parking permit over and informed my current head that those were the dates I was no longer doing service (though I actually did process a bunch of course waivers after that date, and of course I also did the promotion and tenure stuff I wasn’t allowed to not do).

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.

For academic readers– saving up for a half-paid full year leave is wonderful if you can do it. The first time we were able to do it, DH really got why savings might be useful.  Before then I think it was just something he did because it made me freak out less.

I’ve definitely felt more “away” when I’ve actually been in another state and my time away has been more respected in those instances.  But also we haven’t had to deal with finding housing or renting out our house, so that’s something.  Currently our furnishings are probably too worn to rent to people and there’s that awful Trump flag across the street.

Grumpy academics:  What are your thoughts on local vs. away sabbaticals and on postponing a year?

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.

Ask the grumpies: Will your kids be paying a portion of their college costs?

bogart asks:

[Are] people are planning to have their kids pay a portion of college costs and if so, how much.

Background: I have 1 kid and expect to be able to afford to send him anywhere (this is more a function of an employer’s tuition benefit than household wealth, though we are not comfortably off). Both I and my stepkids (whose college I also helped pay for) graduated college with some debt, not an obscene amount (let’s say 1/3 of our first year’s anticipated salary had we gotten an entry-level college-graduate job). I’m inclined to expect roughly the same for my DC, with him either working summers (or whatever) and/or taking on (sensibly financed) student loans. But at this point that’s just a vague notion, not an actual plan. I’m interested to learn what others’ thoughts are on the pros/cons of college kids investing some of their own current/future $$$ on their education, with a note that I definitely know that needing to work lots while in college creates lots of problems for lots of people and don’t want that for DC. And also whether DC does or doesn’t cover what I’m (vaguely) thinking of as a reasonable amount isn’t going to have a big impact on our household’s financial well-being one way or the other. And that I realize I’m lucky and frighteningly privileged to be able to say that.

Related posts: Should parents pay for their childrens’ college?  You can read this deliberately controversial post for why we think the argument that people won’t care about their own education unless they’re paying for it themselves is not a great one.

We are planning on paying full tuition, basic living expenses, and textbooks/etc. expenses for our kids in college.  Probably we’ll also pitch in for one of those overpriced refrigerator/microwave units for the dorm room.  If there are any loans, we will take them on.

I figure they can pay for any extras (meals at restaurants… not sure what else… concert tickets?  plane tickets to visit significant others?  stuffed animals?) out of their earnings, either summer earnings or work during the school year.  My friend whose kid is at Brown is paying for full dining hall PLUS multiple restaurant nights a week, though she just had a conversation with him about that.  (But Mommmmm, the restaurants are so good here!)

Not sure about masters degrees– we will cross that bridge if we come to it.

I graduated with my parents paying the 0% interest subsidized loans they’d taken out on my behalf (we were very low income).  DH graduated with 10K of unsubisidized debt at ~8% interest that we scrimped like crazy to pay off ASAP.  I worked for spending money for extras during the school year and DH worked over the summers.

Paying college tuition is a great way to transfer money to the next generation while avoiding gift/inheritance taxes.  It also doesn’t have the problem of creating more expenses like giving someone a house downpayment would nor does it teach people to live large when they can’t really afford to like giving them cash or a fancy car would.  So if you can afford it, why not?

Leah adds:

I was super grateful that my mom helped me graduate debt free by picking up extra shifts nursing. I think the path to take depends on your family. I totally understood the value of what my mom did for me. I worked hard in college. I had a work study job, got extra scholarships each year, and worked for the school newspaper. There’s more than one way to teach being fiscally prudent. Do what works for your family.

Grumpy Nation:  Those of you who partook of higher education, who paid for it?  If applicable, what do you plan to do/did you do for your kids?

Dream job not happening

Everything went great until my last meeting. The dean was late as is his usual, apparently.

Then he made a small amount of small talk about his son going to the school. Then he asked me if I wanted to work there and why. Then he was basically like, you do not currently have an R01, therefore I will veto anybody that wants to hire you.

And I’m like, NIH doesn’t fund the work I do. Does it have to be NIH? I’m between grants right now, but I’ve been getting NSF funding more recently. And he said NSF was fine, but it had to be government funding, foundation funding doesn’t count. But the next two grants I’m scheduled to submit are both foundation (and he’d never HEARD of one of them, which, dear readers, many of you have likely heard of because there are celebrities involved with the larger organization). But he said, no, overhead is important and he wants 67% overhead, not 15%. (My colleague who works there says the majority of her funding comes from this specific foundation so the dean has definitely heard of it.)

Then he said that he’d decided not to do a targeted hire and there would be a job posted with a search committee and I was welcome to apply and the search committee was welcome to do what they wanted, but he was going to veto anybody who was not bringing in government funding with the appropriate overhead rate. It’s an equity issue, he said.

NSF deadline is in January, they say what is being funded sometime in the summer. It usually takes two tries. This is not going to happen.

Also he said, this is probably illegal for me to ask, but what does your husband do? When I was on the job market the first time I told off two guys at Berkeley (for a post-doc that I did not get) who asked me that. He’s not a coal miner, there are jobs for anybody in Silicon Valley.  (And yes, they only asked women with rings that, and they did stop the next year.) This time I answered, but I HATE it when people do that. It’s not a state school, where doing that actually would be illegal in this state, but I’m willing to bet they have guidance that they’re not supposed to ask.

Unless I move over into health, it would be very difficult for me to keep up a steady stream of government funding and also get publications out. My work is of strong interest to foundations right now and they are much faster to fund. But they don’t allow more than 10-15% overhead. Even though this job is hard money, I just don’t think it is a good fit for me. I can think of a couple of people it would be a good fit for, but they’ve recently just moved to other jobs that are hard money without the additional funding expectations.

So, a nice visit, but I shouldn’t have spent so much time looking at housing and schooling in the area. It’s not going to happen.

Ask the grumpies: Academic jobs tricks

CG asks:

Jedi mind tricks for academic jobs in general.

I like the, “Yes, but…” when it comes to service.  Yes, I will do this service thing, but I have to stop doing this other thing.

Staying out of fights about molehills is another one.

If you want to get something done at a faculty meeting, talking to people one-on-one before the faculty meeting to get them on board.

If you’re running a meeting, make sure you have an agenda.  Also start the meeting on time even if only one other person is there.  Once you have a reputation for this, people stop wandering in late as much.

Grumpy Academics, what are your jedi mind tricks for academic jobs in general? 

Ask the grumpies: FL fascism in higher ed

Rose asks:

Anyone wanting to comment on FL and declaring political affiliations of professors/teachers and students? Any one believe there will be no retaliation? Will proof be required? How can proof be given if a private ballot is involved? How does tenure get impacted?

Apparently this was an urban legend started by a Salon headline.  University of Florida professors/teachers are not required to declare their political affiliations.


Florida House Bill 233 requires an assessment of the “intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity” at state colleges and universities.

So professors were asked about their political affiliation in an anonymous survey.  This will no doubt be used for evil political purposes to cut funding to universities and to keep students from going to college (“too liberal”) and maybe to funnel public money into evil private institutions like Liberty University.  Who knows.

So… it’s bad.  But also it’s not attaching a person’s political affiliation to their name anywhere.  Other, than, you know, where it’s already attached if you vote in primaries or donate to political candidates.