Ask the grumpies: long term thinking and a mushy brain

Mushy brain asks:

I am a social science PhD who has been out for 10 years now.  I was on the tenure track and am now off it and location-locked in a big city, and unlikely to go back on the tenure track.  I’m currently on the first year of a 3 year contract in a soft-money research-only position.  This job is a mix of research and administration, without a lot of room for publications for me on the current project for the next year as we’re in the start up phase.  I currently have no papers under review and nothing in my pipeline other than this project that has just begun, which is an unusual situation for me.

I’m trying to think about some slightly bigger thoughts than just my current job on the current project.  My boss is supportive of my thinking long-term and thinking about what will come next after this grant.  Also, in a few weeks there may start to be time to work on more variety of things while the data roll in (over 14 months).

But all the ideas I think of sound hard and, while some seem very cool and interesting, they mostly require other people’s help.  I don’t know if I should pursue them.  Also I have other ideas that seem more doable but less interesting.

I suspect I would be kind of a sucky co-author this year, and motivation is very hard.  I currently don’t have any co-authors on anything I’m working on.  The question is whether I should start something and if so, what.  I sort of want to, but I’m not sure I’m able to be a great co-author right now.

Am trying to overcome the thing where my brain feels super mushy all the time.  Mush mush mush.  I wonder if there is a medication for mushy brains.

I dunno.  Do you have wise thoughts?  I would like to keep publishing more papers, but I don’t know how long it’ll be until I feel more capable of focusing on things.

Dear Mushy,

Whether or not you should start new projects is a question only you can answer.  Logically it makes little sense for many academics to work as hard as we do.  Once tenure has been gotten or the tenure-track has been side-stepped, what are the rewards, other than fame, knowing the answers to interesting questions, and an internal sense of well-being?  These are things only you can decide whether or not to care about.

We would encourage you to think about what your end goals are.  Are there interesting questions that you want to know the answers to?  Will more publications help you get your next grant or your next job?  Are there specific people you miss working with?  Does your cv feel neglected?  What is it that is driving this sense of unease?  Once you figure that out you’ll be better able to do a cost-benefit analysis and maybe find some motivation.

As to mushy brain, one of us finds that vit D helps her (her husband needs B-complex).  A friend needs the appropriate levels of thyroid medication.  Sleep is also incredibly important.  Caffeine, chocolate, etc.  If this isn’t a new thing, then perhaps you could get screened for adult ADHD.  Outside of physiological reasons that a doctor can test with some bloodwork, questionnaires, or maybe a sleep study, we don’t really know.  I mean, some people use prescription drugs for conditions like ADHD off-label, but we can’t recommend that in good conscience unless and until those drugs are on-label or your doctor recommends them.

Perhaps our grumpy readership has better suggestions?  Help?

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Ask the readers: How do I get more patience (at work)?

#1 asks:

How do I become more patient?  I can think of good reasons to be more patient (e.g., “this is just their policy for their business, it’s not personal against you, you know.” and “this isn’t that big of a deal, you can let it go” and “fuming doesn’t help anything and being calm might get better results” and even “bless their hearts, they can’t help being stupid, poor things”) but NONE OF THEM WORK.

I am all out of patience for [BS] and I’d like to buy some more, please.  How?

#2:  I don’t think you should do illicit drugs.  And you’ve tried CBT, so probably not that.  And having kids is probably also a non-starter.  Have you considered distracting yourself with novels?

#1:  It’s kind of hard to do when my boss is in the same office with me

#2:  I guess you have to distract yourself with other work then.

 

On life and planners

Yesterday after work I went to Staples and got myself a small planner.  I’m gonna get my life together!  (Well, ok, *sort of* together.)

It has a pretty cover.

In my previous job, I had a google calendar on my work account that other people could see, and I could see theirs.  This made meeting planning more easy.  For personal life, I wrote things on scraps of paper.

In my academic job before that, I had a large paper planner with 1 page per day and I wrote EVERYTHING in there, which was the only way I stayed sane.  Haircuts, office hours, meetings, to-do lists, deadlines, birthdays, everything.

Now, I have too many scraps of paper and work calendars aren’t great.  I was hoping to share an electronic one with my boss, but she has an idiosyncratic system so that’s not gonna work.  So!  For the first time in like FOUR YEARS I am going back to an integrated calendar for work and life.  It’ll be on paper so I don’t have to log into anything to see it wherever I am.  And it’s pretty.  I discovered I needed it when I (finally!) made a haircut appointment and had no good place to write it down.

Isn’t it great how many varieties of little notebooky things there are these days???

It’s really hard to find perfection.  I spent a long time at Staples.  The good news is, they have many customizable and build-your-own options there, so you can put in the types of pages you want.  (task-planning?  to-do list?  month-per-page?  day-per-page?  etc.)

I think there’s some metaphors for life in the above.

#2 has a Moleskine notebook that isn’t perfect, but she’s satisficing.  (Perfect was the free calendars that various professional groups used to give away each year before everyone had online calendars on their phones instead.)  Her DH keeps all the family stuff on Google calendars, but #2 hasn’t switched over yet (plus her work is still on Outlook calendar(!)), though she does have google calendar on her computers and phone.  There’s still something nice about being able to flip through a paper book to see things and to be able to write things down with a pen instead of thumbs (plus I’m bad about keeping my phone on me– I often leave it attached to a charger, whereas my dayplanner generally stays in its dedicated spot in my Binh bag when not in use).

How do you plan your life, your work and everything?  Are you old school paper?  100% electronic?  100% memory?  100% personal assistant?  Do you integrate work and life or have separate systems for separate spheres?  How has your planning changed over the years? 

Ask the grumpies: How to covertly practice for a job interview as a tenured faculty member

Susan asks:

it looks like I may interview for [a new job] soon, so here’s a somewhat urgent question: do you have suggestions for how to sharpen up my interview skills (like the chalk talk) as an already-tenured faculty? The last time I interviewed was as a postdoc, so there were plenty of coaching opportunities, but now I need to be covert. I think I’ll be ok with the talk itself, but it’s all the other soft skills

Disclaimer:  neither of us has applied for a tenured job after being tenured.  #2 has applied for non-tenure-track jobs after, but #1 has really only done one year faculty development leave stints.  However, #1 has been through the hiring process for the other side about a bazillion times both for her department and for related interdisciplinary departments that sometimes need to call in more (female or maybe just well-behaved?) economists for their searches.

Really the job talk is probably the most important thing, so if you’re ok with that, you’re ok!  Depending where you are in your career and what they have asked you to do, you’ll either want to be presenting a new piece of research or giving them an overview of a big chunk of your research agenda (as well as how it fits into your teaching and service).  If they just want a piece of research, you should easily be able to get people to listen to your practice talk just by telling them you need to practice for your upcoming talk.  If you’re doing one that has an overview of your entire agenda, you may want to stick with folks outside your department and/or close friends if you’re keeping things on the down low.

In terms of other soft skills… honestly, I don’t think you will need to practice them.  You’re an already-tenured faculty.  You don’t *need* this other new job.  You’ve most likely been on the other side of interviews and know more about what matters and what doesn’t matter for applicants.  (I am embarrassed now by what I thought mattered but nobody actually cares about!)  Just be a polite slightly more extroverted version of yourself (if you’re an introvert) and you should be fine.  Talk about research and teaching and service.  If it’s for an administrator position, talk to people at the department in advance so you have ideas for what the issues and concerns for the unit are going forward.  It’s ok not to have ideas and to just talk about how you make decisions based on faculty input, but you should be aware of any landmines as well as being able to do some discussion of the pros and cons of major issues.  If it’s for a faculty position, just pretend you’re there to give a seminar but add some more questions about things that you care about, whatever they may be.  Senior hires give so much more power to the candidate and are so much more relaxed than junior hires.

But maybe you’re wondering what kinds of questions you should be asking?  I get a lot of questions about the public and private schools (and I volunteer that information for everyone even if they don’t ask), housing, food, restaurants, distance to the nearest city.  More senior candidates feel more comfortable asking about quality of life information than do junior candidates.  I don’t know if they realize it is important or if it actually is more important or if they feel more comfortable signaling personal information.  Additionally more senior candidates are more likely to have make-or-break things– if X isn’t met, then they don’t really want the offer, and they’re happy to let us know that.  I also get more questions about how people in the department get along and how everyone gets along with the chair and the dean and so on, though sometimes that signals that the person is coming from a more dysfunctional place which can be a bit of a red flag– it’s usually best to signal that you’re happy where you are but you’re excited about this new opportunity for some other reason (like less snow or family or it’s ranked higher or you have friends on the faculty etc.), but not always.  Other than that, talking about interesting research, yours, theirs, other people’s, is always good (unless, of course, it’s a department where nobody does research).  And it’s easier to do as a senior person when you realize you don’t have to know the minutia of every person you meet’s cv than it is when you’re junior and don’t realize it’s ok to ask about things you don’t know or understand (or maybe that was just me).

#2 notes that for the two jobs she’s gotten post-tenure, the interviews were more like conversations.  She wasn’t even really aware the one for the second job was an interview.

So, we don’t really know, but we’ll throw this up to grumpy nation, and maybe send a signal over to historiann to ask for a boost.

Grumpeteers, any advice for Susan?

observations from my new job

Whatever one may say about the red tape around here (and it is indeed very silly), this place is doing really well on the dry-erase markers. This is an honest delight. They are everywhere, in multiple colors, and they all work! Now I want a dry-erase board by my desk. Also I have a bunch of sharpies now, yay.

…Goodness! My boss said I could have some of her tea (and I brought some to share in return), but I had no idea all the stuff that was in that cabinet until just now. It’s in between our desks. In addition to lots of kinds of tea, mostly black but some green (both loose and bagged), there are also some weird old powdered drink mixes, crystal light, plastic cups, terrible plain popcorn, fiber supplements, antacids, gummy vitamins, and a lone can of beef noodle soup. I feel like my drawer is better: granola bars (somewhat crumbly), mints (from HR; a gift from our 401k company), and dark chocolate-covered espresso beans. And I keep string cheese in the office refrigerator.

This has been today’s edition of Afternoon Snax.

Networking FTW (part 2)!! Or how to get the job you really wanted in 10 short years

(See Part 1 here)

How to get the job you’ve wanted for 10 years:

Step 1:  Graduate from graduate school.  Be a lecturer for a year and some change because the job market sucks.

Step 2:  Get a faculty position.  Occasionally meet people who work for the place you will want to work because your research overlaps with theirs.  Apply to where they work a couple times when a job looks particularly interesting since your partner still lives in Paradise and you hate being without him.  Hear nothing.

Step 3:  Decide to quit your tenured faculty position.  Decide you really want to work for this other place, but it is several states away.   Apply along with a bunch of other places in Paradise.  Fail to hear back.

Step 4:  Move to Paradise, where the place you want to work is located.

Step 5:  Apply again and again as jobs come up and never hear back.

Step 6:  Get a different job where you regularly meet with people who work at the place you want to work because that is part of your job (one of the parts you like best, solidifying your desire to work there).

Step 7:  Find out that your applications for the other place never made it through the hiring screening system for reasons that nobody understands or can tell you, but the screening is automatic and very bureaucratic.

Step 8:  Do a great job at your current job, learn new skills and research areas (including writing under review papers!) that make you more attractive at the place you’ve wanted to work for several years, and as time passes, be more convincing that you’re ok with not being tenure track just by dint of not being tenure track.

Step 9:  Realize that while you value the flexibility and academic freedom aspects of your current job, you dislike the personal assistant parts of your job and you kind of wish you were still working more in your research area as part of the job that you get paid for.

Step 10:  Apply for jobs broadly.  Get a couple interviews for places that you would have enjoyed working at probably (or at least would have enjoyed the higher salaries at), but you weren’t a slam dunk fit for.  Fail to get those jobs.

Step 11:  Get an email from someone at the place you’ve wanted to work at for 10 years asking if you or your boss have any students who might be interested in a position that has opened up that looks like an even better match for you than the jobs you’ve applied for there previously.

Step 12:  Respond, “YES!  ME!!!!”  Have a conversation with the person.  Then apply, but this position also doesn’t require the full system for various bureaucratic reasons not detailed here.  Your application does not get lost.  Ace the interview which is more like a conversation because you’ve been working directly with this person off and on for the past few years and had met her even before that.   Hear from a friend that your references have been checked.  Have your boss tell you that he’s sad to lose you.  Hear the person you interviewed with tell your boss that she now owes him.  Get the job offer.  Note the salary and benefits are both better than what you have now.  Accept.  Get paperwork.  Get a start date.  Tell your boss your last day.

Step 13:  Get a terrible terrible cold because you always get sick after deciding to quit a job.  This time it better not turn into pneumonia.

Step 14:  Document and organize everything because you want to leave your previous position in a much better place than you found it!

Congratulate #1 in the comments below!

We finally got TSA-Pre

We’d been wanting TSA Pre for a while.  Where $85 once seemed like too much to pay for the privilege of keeping our shoes on and slightly shorter lines at security, with both of us traveling more and our incomes being higher, it now seems worth it.  What wasn’t worth it was trying to get an appointment.  When we were in paradise, there was an office close to us, but appointments were booked 3 months in advance, so we didn’t do it.  Where we live now, we’d have to drive into the city (1h 45 min) to get an appointment which seemed pretty ridiculous.

It turns out that most big airports have TSA-Pre walk-in sign-ups.  Last year we didn’t have our passports when we had some time to kill at a large midwestern airport.  This year, we brought our passports just in case.  As predicted, FIL got us to the airport a few hours early.  There was no line at the TSA-Pre sign-up place.  DH and I each signed up and got our fingerprints taken (now using scanning technology– no ink!).  It literally took 10 min each.  A week later we each got a letter telling us we’d been approved and giving us our confirmation numbers.  Now we just need to enter them into our existing travel plans and put them in for any new travel plans and we’re set for the next 5 years.

Children under 13 (maybe 12?) don’t need their own TSA-Pre because they’re included with the parents.  So we didn’t get them their own.  (We will probably get it for DC2 in a couple years.  Probably at the same airport.)

Do you have TSA-Pre?  Was it a hassle or super easy?