Ask the grumpies: Have you ever had a conversation that permanently changed your life?

CG asks:

Have you ever had a conversation that changed your life permanently? How?

I’m sure that I have, and probably lots of them, but I’ve been coming up blank which is why this question has been put off so long.  I mean, I had a conversation once that made me realize that mortgage interest wasn’t the same as credit card interest which changed things… but did it really change things that much?  I feel really bad because this is such an interesting question and I am dying to read everyone else’s answer, but I’ve just been coming up blank.  I’ve had a couple of conversations with people that lead to quick publications, which is always nice, but I’m not sure how life-changing that is, just you know, marginally.

We’ve read books that have changed our lives.  But that’s not a conversation.  I’ve had conversations with people that they claim caused them to permanently change their lives.  Apparently an off-hand comment I made to a friend about how dating without the internet was just as risky as dating using an internet service led her to meet her future husband through a dating app.  Another friend credits my saying that she didn’t need to go into the family business if she didn’t want to and she should think about what she’s interested in as jump-starting her career, but I think she would have gotten there on her own anyway.  I’ve saved a few of my colleagues hundreds of thousands of retirement dollars by explaining that they need to use TIAA-Cref or Fidelity rather than the super expensive retirement place that sends people around to get them to sign up with their program.  They don’t realize that I’ve changed their lives permanently and probably won’t ever know or remember, but I did.  A colleague credits me for introducing her to early potty training which she says was life-changing (I don’t even remember doing this!  But there was a time when I was super into explaining it.)

What does it say about my massive ego that I remember when people tell me I’ve changed their lives with random conversations but I don’t remember other people changing mine?  Nothing good!  Also it’s weird that it’s always the off-handed comments that I barely remember that seem to spark people.  Life is so random!

Grumpy Nation, please answer CG’s question!  It’s so fascinating!

Ask the grumpies: gender and power

Rose asks:

What are the current trends with gender and race on corporate boards and what is having impact? What are current  trends of who is attending and graduating from college and salaries by gender and race? What about graduate school. Please include % of foreign students involved. Same question about med schools today versus 25 and 50 years ago. Are more/any med schools opening today? Same about Vet Schools.

Diversity improves board performance.  Here’s Catalyst with information on gender trends. Here’s the washington post.  They’re doing less well with minority groups.

Here are college enrollment rates by race and gender.  Here are college graduation rates from the same site, though they’re from 2017 which seems a bit outdated.

Here is information on graduate school enrollment.  It also includes information on international students.

This is the breakdown for medical schools graduates for 2019, and here is enrollment for 2018.  Here’s a report on gender.  Here’s an article that compares 1980 to 2016.

Yes, there have been new medical schools in the US.  There are fewer new veterinary schools, but there have been some.


Ask the grumpies: Advice for trailing spouses?

Jess asks:

Advice for trailing spouses? I am not an academic, but my boyfriend is about to start a PhD program. Assuming we stay together, which I would like to, reading your blog makes feel like I’m signing up for a lifetime of moving to wherever there is a job for him (in potentially not great places). He promises that he will not take a job in a place I’m not happy with, but it’s still easy to get stressed about my lack of control and options. I am confident that I can get a job in most places, but I am pretty career-focused and it is weird to think that each job I’m in has an externally defined end date for the foreseeable future (current job prior to PhD program, 5-6 years for PhD, then a few years for post-doc before hopefully getting a professor position). Would love any advice from Grumpy Nation :)

So first off, don’t let your career become completely secondary.  A lot can happen in 5-6 years.  Don’t lean back.  Just because someone starts a PhD program doesn’t mean they’ll finish.  Just because someone gets a PhD doesn’t mean they’ll go into academia.  Just because someone starts an academic position doesn’t mean they will stay in academia!  (See:  #2, #1’s DH, lots of people, particularly in fields where post-docs are common.)  You may end up being the leading spouse and he may end up being the trailing spouse!  In either case, having savings and being very good at your job will give you more flexibility in finding new jobs or being able to keep your job as a telecommuter.

While it seems like it for people on the academic track while they’re in graduate school or reaching for tenure, there is more to life than just getting tenure at an academic institution.  Academia is just a job.  It can be a very nice job, but it is still a job.  There will be trade-offs (unless he gets a tenured offer at Stanford or Columbia, depending on your joint geographical preferences).  Working for low pay and a high teaching load in a tiny town at a university without a lot of resources may not be worth it, especially if there aren’t good job options for you.  In places that are better, there are more likely to be options for you because they are more likely to be in cities or more likely to have industry surrounding the university.  (Not entirely– my DH currently doesn’t have options locally unless he wants to change careers or work as an adjunct/research assistant, but he’s also telecommuted since leaving his university position because he is very good at what he does.  Though he is currently unemployed, so we will see what happens.) As one gets older one starts to value quality of life options more.  Industry salaries tend to be higher too.

You will have to make decisions about whether you are willing to live apart from each other for short periods of time.  If he has a one-year position, will you move for that or stay where you are and rack up a lot of frequent-flyer miles?  Sometimes time apart allows couples to focus on work and end up being so good that they can more easily find a place together.

And remember that people outside of academia don’t stay at the same job forever.  Follow your career aspirations and look at potential forced job changes as opportunities.

Basically:  My best advice is that you cannot predict the future.  Take these changes as they come and figure out your choice sets at the time.  Then decide on the trade-offs for those choice sets, remembering that nothing needs to be a permanent decision. You don’t need to make decisions years before you know what your options are going to be.  Academia can create a lot of unnecessary anxiety because it seems so clear what the “right” choices are, but that’s really an illusion that seems ridiculous to people outside of the ivory tower.  Also, the more money you save up, the more options you will have at these choice points and the less stressful some of those choices will be.

Grumpy Nation, what advice do you have for trailing spouses?

Ask the grumpies: How do you manage your email?

CG asks:

How do you manage your email? Mine is out of control.

We don’t.  :(

Ours is also out of control.

#2 once tried inbox zero and it worked for like 6 hours, maybe.

#1 has emails from 2016 still in the bottom of her inbox.  Don’t be like #1.

When times are good, #1 attends to her inbox but leaves stuff in there as sort of a to-do list.   When times are bad, everything gets converted to Last In First Out and things get buried for years.  This is no good.  Usually at some point #1 has to start scheduling an hour of going through email each day until she has scooped herself out to some reasonable point in time.  But it’s like shoveling during a snow-storm.  Ugh.

#1 has also given up on reading weekly newsletters of any sort– there’s a folder that says, “Research to read” that every week she puts all the journal and working papers emails in to read.  She used to read those every week, but now they just go in the bucket.  She feels bad about this and behind on what is going on in the field.  But… sometimes you have to triage.

Grumpy Nation:  How do you manage your email?

Ask the grumpies: How do you make your beds?

Bethh asks:

How do you do your sheets when you make your bed? My mom makes beds with the patterned side of the top sheet pointing in, and leaves a very long tail at the top of the sheet so she can fold it back/over the blanket. I prefer to put the top sheet with the pattern facing out, and I tuck in more of the tail so when I pull the top sheet straight, it comes up to exactly where I like it to end.

We don’t really make beds ever.  Unless we’re visiting someone– we will make beds for company.  #2 doesn’t even make beds when people are over.  #1 will sometimes hide the bed with a comforter, but usually just keeps the door to the bedroom closed and hopes that more than two people don’t need to use a bathroom at the same time.  I guess technically we keep the guest bed made so guests can use the guest bathroom without thinking we didn’t clean for company.

TBH, when it’s not the pandemic (when we’re visiting nobody), really the only people we visit these days are relatives.  DH takes care of bed-making in that scenario because his mom is a nurse and taught him how to make beds like nurses do and that seems complicated to me, though quite fancy, especially at the bottoms.

I mean, I guess I just tuck the top sheet at the bottom and on the sides and if there are blankets I do the same thing and then if there’s a comforter or bedspread that goes on top.  I try to make it look like what it looked like before I made the bed– to match with whatever the person who owns the bed usually does.  (Which I cannot do when it’s DH’s mom’s place, see: above re: nurses.)

Grumpy Nation, do you make beds?  What is your preferred procedure?

Ask the grumpies: Tips and tricks for everyday situations/tasks?

Katherine asks:

Does your family have any quirky tips & tricks for everyday situations/tasks? are they effective?

e.g. my MIL has the best hiccup cure I’ve ever tried: take a spoonful of sugar and pour some red wine vinegar in it, then swallow the sugar-vinegar mix in one gulp. I get hiccups a lot, and on the (very few!) occasions this has failed me, a second dose has done the trick. Family opinions vary as to why/how this works, but everyone agrees that it does.

I would love to learn some tricks for getting rid of an earworm, or other annoying but minor everyday problems.

The only way I know to get rid of an earworm is to replace it with another earworm…

You’re welcome.

Grumpy Nation, what tricks and tips do you have?

p.s.  We love this question!  And really want to read what Grumpy Nation has to suggest!

Ask the Grumpies: What do you think about the Netflix series Bridgerton

Lady E asks:

I would love to read your review of Bridgerton on Netflix! I would be here for a full breakdown of your thoughts. I just binged the whole season, and am wondering how the show compares to the books (if you’ve read them)? Are the books worth my time if I need my next Bridgerton fix?

We were not aware of the series, so we can’t give any reviews.  #1 is still several seasons behind on Psych (which ended in 2014!) and has difficulty watching anything longer than 20 minutes, so you would probably have to wait until her kids are both in college to get a review of the series.  #2 generally prefers books to video adaptations.

In terms of the books… Some Julia Quinn books are decent, but overall she tends to have this problem where she has a strong start and then it just kind of peters out near the end.  She does not stick endings.  I think she writes under time pressure and doesn’t take the time to think or smooth out the endings and she doesn’t have an editor willing/able to fix them.  She also has a lot of problematic “attempted rape as a plot device” tropes which are meh.  She’s not one of my “must buy” or even “must check the library for” authors.  I think I last read one of her books ~5 years ago and just kind of gave up on her after several duds in a row from the library.  According to romancelandia, she’s one of the writers that (IMO better) writers grew up loving.

I asked a friend who has more time.  She said they have a lot of on-screen sex… talking about sex is the reason DH and I are so behind on Big Bang Theory because it has been a few years since the in-laws took our kids for a week while we were at home.  DC1 is old enough for BBT now, but not for watching on-screen intercourse with hir parents in the room.  DC2 is not old enough for either.  Bridgerton and this question will likely be long-forgotten by the time the youngest is out of the house.

Anyhow, here is her review, via text:

It was meh.  No rape.  Plenty of sex but not so much that I stopped watching.  Lots of dancing and courting– a little boring.  Like, my main complaint is that not enough happens.  IMO there is nothing deep there to comment on.  I like hearing Julie Andrews’ voice.  I guessed correctly who the gossip writer is.  The male lead is supposed to be damaged and complicated but he makes me roll my eyes.  The female lead is sweet and pretty uncomplicated.  There were no characters with enough depth for me to really fall in love with or feel any affinity for anyone.  That’s all I’ve got.

I know romance twitter was pretty excited when Bridgerton was announced, especially with Shonda Rhimes involved (and lots of articles about how regency romances are not real in any sense of the word and yes there were plenty of not-white people in regency England so don’t be a racist bigot).  They think the Duke is hawt.  But since the series has come out I haven’t seen any commentary other than a cut of the Duke being hot set to Cardi B’s WAP.  Oh, and apparently episode 6 is really questionable about consent, though my friend didn’t find it problematic.  It could be that they’re underwhelmed but don’t feel like saying anything since they love Julia Quinn and Shonda Rhimes, or, more likely, they’re busy with their own deadlines after saving the future of US by helping to fund Stacy Abrams.

Here’s a commentary on the costumes … and a lot of other stuff too (spoilers!):

Grumpy Nation, what do you all think about the Bridgerton series?  Which Julia Quinn books do you recommend, or what would you recommend for fans of the series?

Ask the grumpies: How much workbooking should your child do each day?

Katie asks:

When you say your kid does a page of Singapore math each day, would that be the Primary Math textbook and/or workbook? Is that generally math they understand already, are they figuring it out themselves based on the textbook, or are you teaching it? If you teach it, how long do you usually spend on it each day.

I also have a kindergartner at home. She’s enrolled in virtual public school, but I’ve also been doing a homeschool kindergarten math curriculum with her since she aged out of preschool in mid-August, just because we both like math and we needed something to do. I’m starting her on Singapore 1A soon (probably Dimensions, maybe Primary Math though). I’m wondering whether we’d be able to transition that to an after-school enrichment activity once she’s back at in-person school, dependent on her interest level and my time. (Though I’d be surprised if her district goes in-person before spring, if at all…)

That depends on the kid and what else is going on. DC1 usually did an “exercise” a day in the workbook. DC2 usually does just a single page (DC2 is a bit more rebellious). BUT when DC2 isn’t getting enough mental activity or when DC1 was overwhelmed with other stuff, we’d do the opposite (or if really overwhelmed, Singapore math would switch to just weekends during the school year).

Early on, we would go through the textbook each day they had a new exercise. Right now with DC2 we only do that when it’s something that DC2 doesn’t already know (this is because DC2 is a bit rebellious and doesn’t want to spend time on the textbook if the workbook is clear enough). But in the early years there is quite a bit of difference in how Singapore math approaches things and how school approached things so we did do the textbook every day. Now (4b/5a) that’s less of an issue with a few exceptions.

Similarly, the number of homework books and which ones depend on the kids’ individual needs at the time.  With virtual schooling, DC2 is doing a page of Singapore math and 15 min of DuoLinguo on school days, and two pages of Brainquest (reading + math), one page of spelling, Singapore math, and DuoLinguo on weekend days and holidays.  In the summer we’re probably going to add a science workbook in Spanish unless zie has daycamp.  Zie also has 15 min of piano practicing each day and has been agitating for violin, but that’s not going to happen until it is safe to get fitted for a violin.

So… we’ve played it by ear with both kids. It depends on where they are, what else is going on in their lives, and how tractable they’re being. Early on, there was a lot more new stuff in new ways that we taught with the textbook, as it got later, they would be able to figure things out just from the workbook or from reading the text themselves, though we would sometimes still need to explain things.


Ask the grumpies: Should I report a racist comment?

K asks:

My job is full of awful people but today I very clearly heard my director making a racist comment about one of his employees. I still cannot believe it was said and it clearly is an inside joke with the two managers he was on a zoom meeting with(he was virtual, they were in an office a couple doors down from me). And they clearly did not know I was in the office based on their attitudes when later on they encountered me.

I have always had a target on my back in this office for being smart and asking good questions.

If I complain they will know who reported. I cannot live with myself if I don’t do something about what I heard.

What was “weird “ too was this same “joke” was made years ago by someone in the small town I grew up in, I was out with my daughter one night who was maybe 4 at the time and a dude thought it was funny or some shit to say this same thing about another black child in the area, who was also out that night.
F*cking sucks.

Racists suck.

I appreciate the conversations here. Not because I am looking for people who necessarily think exactly like me but because the community is intelligent, thoughtful and REAL things are talked about…..all sorts of things.

That sounds terrible and it’s a terrible position to be in.

You will have to decide whether to report or not.  The trade-offs are probably pretty clear to you– they’ll potentially make your work-life worse if you report, but morally you feel that you need to report it.  You know your calculus about how much you need this job and what your options are if you need to walk away because you can’t take it anymore.  You’re not in an at-will state and you’re likely high skill, so it may be difficult for them to just fire you, but there may be a non-zero probability.  We can’t give advice about whether to report, only you can decide.

In either case, you should be looking for work at a different company if you can’t trust upper management to take care of racist managers if brought to their attention. Similarly for being punished for being smart and asking good questions.

Racist managers make employees less productive.  Hopefully you will find a place that doesn’t have a culture of racism.

Good luck!

Grumpy Nation, what thoughts and advice do you have for K?

Ask the grumpies: What above-range microwave/hood should we get?

Ewan asks:

Your dishwasher-slash-grossness post prompted me to ask you to ask your (apparently well-informed on appliances!) readership: recommendations for an above-range microwave/hood? Our Kitchenaid just hit the ‘too old and expensive to be worth fixing’ point after 12 years; the kitchen really needs the microwave there even though we probably wouldn’t do it if starting over. External venting. Thanks!

Oooh, I hate the above range microwave.  We had one on our last sabbatical (that was also a convection oven) and it was so annoying.  I would pay a lot of money to just get a normal hood and then put a regular microwave on the counter.  But you may not have counter space, and it may not be worth the money to counteract those crazies who thinks countertop microwaves must be hidden from view.  (You may also be tall.)

Consumer reports talks about their choices here.

Good housekeeping favors the samsung (though tbh, good housekeeping doesn’t generally agree with other rating sites).  Bob Vila also plugs a Samsung.

The Spruce likes the GE.  The Chicago Tribune agrees.  So does the NYTimes.

So… it looks like most places think you should get a GE or a Samsung.  Probably the GE.  (Disclaimer:  We are not experts!  Do your own research or consult experts before making important life-changing decisions.)

If you want to get fancy, you can get one that doubles as a convection oven, but we never did use ours more than once or twice even though we cook a lot.  Maybe if you were more into convection baking?  But it’s still such a pain to have hot stuff so far up there.  I think we’d probably use a convection oven more if it were closer to the ground.

Grumpy Nation, what advice do you have for Ewan?