Pre-tenure book route contemplation

Now that I’m an old tenured woman…

My department is the kind where you can either write a book and a few articles before tenure or you can write a bunch of high quality articles.  I chose the article route.  I never really considered the book route because my sub-field’s conversations mainly occur in journals.  (It is true that my dissertation director does have a book, but only one!  My senior book route colleagues here all have multiple books.)

So far during my time here, all of my colleagues doing the article route have made tenure.  Only one choosing the book route has made tenure, and he had two books, went up early, and eventually got hired away at triple my salary.

This whole process was mysterious to me until I got tenure and got to sit in on my first 40 minutes of a committee meeting about when a book should count, and how my senior colleagues are worried about our assistant professors choosing the book route given their current progress.

I recently overheard one of our first years talking about how ze hadn’t gotten much research done, and one of our second years said, yeah, ze thinks that’s normal.  But at the committee meeting, they were worried about the second year’s lack of productivity.

Anyway, the next time I saw the first year, I did that horrible thing and asked hir how the book was coming.  Ze said ze’d taken the semester off from it.  There was so much other research that ze wants to work on besides the dissertation and the book.  Ze was thoroughly sick of the book.  And I can totally relate to that.  I wrote two articles that were completely different from my job market paper when I got out.  Nothing at all to do with my dissertation.  But… I also got my dissertation articles out to journals, as much as I hated them.  I wanted them done and gone more than I wanted to not work on them.  Since then, I’ve rediscovered what made me like my dissertation topic in the first place.

My senior colleagues tell me that leaving the book alone is dangerous.  That dissertation must be turned around quickly.  The book makes a scholar’s name in the field just as articles do for those of us who do the article route.

So I told my junior colleague, I think they expect you to have a book draft by the end of your second year.  You need to work on that.

I felt bad for being so out like that, when my colleague had stopped by to discuss baked goods. Ze had kind of settled into my office before I asked about the book, and left a bit abruptly.  I hope because ze felt like ze had work to do and not because I’m a buzz-kill.

I wanted to lend hir my copy of Boice, but I loaned that to my junior colleague in my own sub-field (another article route person) who I’ve felt more competent to mentor, and ze still has it.

So, lots of questions for academics.

Do you think it’s a good idea to take a break from the dissertation topic before you’ve gotten your main publications from it (the thought being you attack it with renewed interest when you return)?  Do you think you can get research done your first year on the job?  When does a book “count” (contract?  proofs?  reviews?)?  When should a book be done by in order for it to count for tenure?  What advice do you have for junior faculty expected to write a book?


things I’m letting go (with the newest addition)

  • My ability to remember words.
  • Regularly commenting on posts … comments happen in bunches when nursing.
  • Having a big blog backlog
  • Getting dressed unless I’m going into work.
  • Did I mention sleep?
  • Because I can’t remember.  My short-term memory doesn’t encode so well.
  • Faculty meetings, at least until I am out of sick leave.
  • Long, deep and thoughtful blog posts.  (Thankfully there’s still #2!)
  • The ability to think about anything other than work, kids, and dairy products.
  • Socializing.  Which is probably just as well, given the above.

What do/have you let go when something new takes a lot of your time?

September Mortgage Update: Changing Plans (Help?)

Last month (August):

Balance: $100,747.56
Years left: 8.5
P = $803.97, I =$410.44, Escrow = 621.66

This month (September):

Balance: $99,268.01
Years left: 8.25
P = $809.78, I =$404.63, Escrow = 621.66

One month’s savings from prepayment:  $2.62

This month I was going to talk about being under 100K and playing with the amortization spreadsheet, explaining exactly how mortgage loans are different than student loans or credit card loans, and go into the details of how student loans and CC loans basically recast automatically, but you have to pay money to recast a mortgage loan.  Instead a modified version of that post will be next month.

The tenure committee voted 7-1 against tenure for DH.  He’s teaching 4 days a week, with a 3/3 load not counting the capstones he is advising, no graders or TAs, and they just switched out his elective with the second introductory course.  (He’s already teaching the 101.  Now he has 101 and a new prep for 102.)  The department is dysfunctional, the students are terrible (though the worst ones flunk out by the time they get to the 300-level courses!).  As a spousal hire, he makes about 20K less than the other folks hired the same year.  And quite a bit less than someone with his degrees and experience and productivity should be making.  I do *like* having his salary, but today we decided we needed his time and happiness more than we needed two years of salary.

So he’s going to withdraw his tenure packet on Monday and leave the university in August 2013.  We don’t know what he’s going to do next.

I still don’t want to go on the market this year– I’d still like to stick around another 2 years.  I have an interdisciplinary project that I would really like to finish and it is a 2 year project.   Though going on the market would be worth a raise of at least one month’s worth of summer salary equivalent, so maybe that’s not reason enough.

So this weekend we sat down with our credit card statements and bank accounts and calculated how much we actually spend each year.  It’s a lot.  (Where does our money go?  Childcare, mortgage, private school, insurance, food, limited but overpriced travel to such exotic places as the rural midwest, medical, auto upkeep.)  Then I added projected childcare expenses for DC2.  Then I calculated my projected take-home pay with projected additional benefits with DH on my plan.

If, once DH leaves his job, we stop prepaying the mortgage and stop putting extra away for retirement, and stop the 529 payments, then our spending is about equal to my take-home pay.  There’s not a lot of wiggle room.  We can recast the mortgage (from 8.25 years back to ~18 years) and that will bring our required monthly expenses down about $530/month (0r ~$6300/year) given our current pre-payment so far.  We also already have a nice emergency fund saved, so it might not be horrible if we didn’t have extra to add to that immediately.

I did a few thought exercises… if we spend $200/week at the grocery store, we would have to stop shopping for almost an entire year to save $10K.  If we assume $100 of eating out per week (I don’t think we actually spend that much), not eating at all would take 33 weeks to save $10K.  We already went through and negotiated on things like insurance and cell phone bills and so on.  It makes more sense to try to make additional money.

My interdisciplinary project has been funded for one year with promise of a second should this year work out.  One of my colleagues who wants me to stay has also added me to a two year grant to replace a colleague who just left for greener pastures.  If these work out then I’ll have two months of summer money for two summers.  I have an additional two grants awaiting word from the government, one of which may actually get funded, though only for a year.  Pubs are light this year, but grant applications were heavy!

DH is also worth a lot more than what he’s been paid.  But I want him to be happy more than I want him to be a wage slave.  He’s a scanner (in Barbara Sher’s terminology) and contract work may be a better fit for him than working locally (unless locally means moving to Northern California), but contract work takes some time to build up into real income.  So I don’t think we can count on him bringing in regular income, at least not right away.

So that leaves us with the question of what to do with DH’s salary this year.

With the two-year plan, we were going to put his additional salary towards the mortgage rather than towards the 457 plan he’d been funding this year.  Then in the second year we were going to put the extra money towards cash in case we have to move.

Now we’re on a one-year plan.  I’m not sure what to do.

(Note:  We’re required to put 12% of our income into a 403(b), the retirement savings I talk about below is on top of that saving.)

DH is going to stop contributing to his 457 plan.  That frees up ~15K.  Some of that money is going to be going to mother’s helpers who are more expensive than daycare will be the following year.

Maybe we should cut off my extra 403b payment as well and/or DH’s, for an additional 16.5K in cash (each), though we’d have to pay some of the retirement money in taxes come tax time.  And what would we do with that cash?  Another year and a half from the mortgage is still more than 5 years remaining (and still only cuts another $50 off a recast monthly payment).  If DH starts making income sooner rather than later, or if I get nice grants, we might regret the decision not to put money away while DH still has access to these tax advantaged funds (though presumably we could figure out a SEP if he did contract work).

The mortgage may not be the best place to put the money.  15K would cut 1.5 years off the mortgage as it currently stands, and after a recast an additional 15K would only cut $50 off each mortgage payment, or $600/year.  Since we have 8.25 years remaining and are going to have to stop any pre-payment to keep up with expenses in August, we can’t pay the mortgage down enough to make a real difference in our monthly payments.

We could even stop the pre-payment on the mortgage we’re already doing.  That’s about $650/month or $7800 for the year.  But where would that go?  Cash?

Cash is still paying nothing, and we’re not sure when we’re going to need to tap into that money, or if we’ll need to tap into it.  I can’t get fired, so our first tier emergency fund generally sits at 2 months of regular expenses (plus whatever we’re saving for the unpaid summer).

I’ve already funded our 2012 IRAs (had to sell some taxable stock because a company was getting acquired), but we could put 10K towards the 2013 IRAs in 2013.  Roth IRAs can be used as emergency funds if you’re willing to take out principal.

We could buy taxable stocks with that money.  We could even undrip dividends in the future.  The risks would be that the stocks could lose rather than gain value before we have to sell in the near future rather than the far future.

Another thing we could do would be to convert taxable stocks we already own into tax-deferred savings.  But then we no longer have that secondary emergency fund.

We don’t know what we’re going to be doing in two years.  On top of that, the uni has messed with sabbaticals so in two years when I’m eligible again I may have to be able to commit to not getting paid even half a salary if I want to take time off.  The timing between applying for a sabbatical at the university (October) and applying for and getting an external fellowship or external teaching assignment (generally March) doesn’t mesh with the new competitive sabbatical process at the uni, so having money I can access would really help with planning, even if I don’t end up needing it in the end.  I suppose I could try to sabbatical at Berkeley or Stanford assuming that DH would get a real job to pay our bills.  Not so easy to get a real job if I sabbatical at say, Michigan.  (#2 is insanely jealous that #1 has already had a sabbatical, and has even the chance of going such awesome places as Stanford or even Michigan.  Sigh.  I am in the wrong field.  Whine over.)

So I don’t know what to do.  Keep money in tax-deferred savings we can’t access, move it to cash where it won’t be making any interest, buy taxable stocks, pre-pay the mortgage?  What we can’t do is get used to having it around and spending it.  I’m really going to miss having that income cushion– the knowledge that if I screw up with money one month I can untap DH’s hidden salary in the future to make up for it.  When your income and your outgo are really close, you don’t have that luxury anymore.  I really liked not having to worry about money and it is difficult to have one’s income cut rather than having it grow each year.  But more difficult having an unhappy DH who has no time to do anything other than teach and do service.

(#2 thinks DH needs to quit sooner rather than later.  Otherwise, I got nuthin’.  Help out, homies! #1 notes that DH is contracted through the year and wants to quit responsibly and we can use the transition time money-wise, so quitting any sooner isn’t really an option.  We did talk about quitting at the semester but he doesn’t want to.)

Any thoughts?


is currently the bane of my existence.

I threw up a lot first trimester.  After all sorts of stuff.  Coming into second trimester (and weaning off metformin), one thing still makes me throw up.


I’ll eat something with wheat in it, purposefully or not.  (Oh, Tempura… Oh, Worcestershire sauce…How you wound me.)  Then an hour or two later, I will empty the contents of my stomach.  I will repeat the process after the next meal no matter what I ate for that second meal.  I will spend the next day or two feeling queasy depending on how much wheat I ingested.

I hate this.

The internet tells me it could be two things.  I could have a wheat allergy or I could have celiac (wheat intolerance is less likely).  Both can be triggered by pregnancy.  If it is an allergy, it might go away.  If it is celiac, I am stuck with it for life.  If it is an allergy, according to the ‘net, it could become life-threatening by suddenly causing me to be unable to breathe (so I should carry around allergy meds just in case).  If celiac, it could hurt the baby’s growth if I’m not careful.

I brought my inability to eat wheat up at the doctor’s appointment and she was all, “Just don’t eat wheat”… and I’m like, Lady, it could be an allergy and could go away or it could be celiac, and celiac is pretty serious.  So basically she was no help.  (This was one of many reasons I switched back to my original doctor the next day, despite doctor #1’s overbooked schedule.)

The internet suggested a test to me to see if it is more likely to be celiac or an allergy (since throwing up is a symptom of either, and it doesn’t stay down long enough to present other symptoms).  Apparently rye has gluten in it, so you can’t eat it if you’re celiac but you can eat it if you’re allergic.  So I ate some rye wasa wafers and was fine, so hopefully the internet is right and it’s an allergy that will go away in a few months (because insulin resistance + celiac = misery).  Of course, I’m a bit sick of rye wasa wafers from overdoing it on them even before the anti-wheat stuff popped up.

I LOVE Indian food.  I love lentil flour.  I love papadam and pakora and methu vada and some of the dosa.  One of our admin assistants told me there’s an Indian place in the city that does gluten-free lentil noodles– man I wish I could try those.  I was loving sushi (cooked or veggie only) until the tempura mistake.  Also sweet potato is on my “ugh” list because a lot of things just don’t taste good anymore once you’ve tried them the other direction.  I’m getting a bit tired of brown rice cakes and a bit tired of oatmeal (recall, I can’t eat refined grains because of glycemic load… so there are a lot of corn, rice, and potato options that are closed to me).  We keep a pot of cooked quinoa or brown rice in the fridge at all times.  Sometimes I’ll use beans in place of noodles.  While the family enjoys spaghetti… I pretend I’m in a different part of Italy.

Last time around I was unable to eat wheat for a while, but it was combined with my inability to keep *anything* except fruit down.  So it wasn’t just the wheat.  And it went away by now, I think.  (My memory is kind of fuzzy at this point, but I think it stopped shortly after 2nd trimester started.  Definitely after I’d gotten off Metformin.)

So… not much point to this post, but that I’m feeling sorry for myself!  I could do wheat-free OR insulin resistant, but doing both SUCKS exponentially.  And I am so glad a good Indian place came to town last year so I can eat there at least once a week.

Mental soundtracks to grade by

I have Joan Baez:  How much grading can one person do, before she goes insaaaaaane?

One of my colleagues favors Tom Petty:  The grading is the hardest part.

What do you sing to yourself while grading?

Are professors off during the summer?

Everyday Tips asks:  “Aren’t you off during the summer? I would think you could have a ton of fun!”

Off the payroll– YES.  Not working?  HAHAHAAHAHA

We actually get this question a lot from non-academics.  One of us is often asked why she puts her child in preschool over the summer since neither parent is working.

Contrary to common misconception, the primary part of a university professor’s job is not teaching or doing administration (though many of us do a bang-up job of both)… it’s producing research.  (N.B.:  This is different at some small liberal arts colleges, and at community colleges.  But both of us are at universities.)  Here’s a great explanation of what one professor did all week.

Summer is the time when we can do real work because there aren’t students stopping by every 15 minutes, and there aren’t many committee meetings about service.   We get a little work done during the school year and a lot done during summer.  In the summer we can generally put a full 8 hours in and our brains are full for the day.  During the school year we probably do work more hours, but that’s because we work a lot more than full-time to keep up with classes and service and our professional obligations.  True, we get more choice about when and where to work, but we have to pay for that by working more hours for crappy money.

Being able to do research work in the summer also means that we can do fulfilling work with uninterrupted time for thinking.  During the school year it is hard to not have one’s thoughts scattered.  Neither one of us gets that much fulfillment from teaching, though #1 does more so than #2.*  We got PhDs so that we could research the things that interest us, not so that we could answer a million whiny emails from students who want exceptions to the rules.  Having a break from that is essential to our mental health.  It’s worth pointing out that this “real work” of research and writing is what gets us tenure.  Teaching does not get us tenure.  We are expected to be adequate in teaching and outstanding in research, which is why we have to guard against the time-suck of teaching.

Summer is also for conferences.  One reason one of us is not so big on travel is because there is SO MUCH travel for work.  She even has favorite places she visits in Boston and DC because she goes those places 1-3 times a year, usually in July and August.  Conferences are fun, but they’re definitely not vacation.  (Note:  times vary by discipline and even sub-discipline.  Most of #2’s conferences are in November or April.)

This educational post has been sent to you by Grumpy Rumblings, who remind you that they are still untenured and therefore work all the time.

Do you get your summers off?

*One of #1’s back up careers is to teach either 4th grade or high school math.  She is AWESOME at teaching math

Not so Random Bullets of RANT: the feminization of suckitude

  • I love advil, and I have to get name-brand.  I am convinced it is the candy coating that actually makes the pain go away.  I’m fine with generic tylenol and aspirin… but advil has to be the named stuff.
  • I have decided I hate “women’s events”.  Especially when they interrupt the lovely discussion you were having with a colleague you haven’t seen for a while on professional accomplishments to go around the group to talk about a “defining moment” you had in your life.  I don’t WANT to share any of my defining moments with people I work with and what’s more I don’t want to hear YOURS.  Not if I’m going to be sharing a hallway with you for the next 20-50 years.  Especially if you cry while you’re telling them.  Double especially if it takes 20 min for you to get to the damn point and it’s past my bedtime.  I am going to be unable to go to anymore women’s faculty dinners.  EVER.  Sisterhood be damned.  And flashbacks to swearwording summer camp.
  • On a related note.  I am very proud of myself.  I thought many impolite things but did not say them.  A lot of the women in the group apparently still think it’s showing woman-power to say what you think even when doing so isn’t going to help your main objectives.  But those women also don’t think these stupid exercises are stupid.
  • In case you haven’t noticed, I HATE touchy-feely stuff and I hate having it sprung on me.  Exception: sappy bad poetry from my partner.  Small children are also exempt for the most part.
  • Why is it that women and girls always have to do these stupid touchy-feely getting to know each other’s innermost souls crap and boys don’t?  IBTP.
  • Also:  Long emails sharing even more the next day.  Not cool.  Especially since there’s no unsubscribe button.
  • My mommy’s advice, “Try to see the humor in it.”  Now that she mentions it, the entire experience was a lot like something out of one of those mystery novels she reads.  You know, the ones about the middle aged toughened professional woman who inadvertently ends up solving a series of murders in her suddenly dangerous small town.

This public service message brought to you by Grumpy Rumblings of the Untenured, who remind you that forcing untenured people to bare their souls with their colleagues unexpectedly at what is supposed to be a casual social dinner or somesuch is a form of ENTRAPMENT.