I bought a standing desk

I outsourced the figuring out what to get to DH.  He likes shopping waaaay more than I do (exceptions:  food and books).

He ended up picking out an Updesk Uplift v2 in black, 60*30.  That’s the biggest size that will fit into the space my old desk occupied after cannibalizing all of the space around the old desk (the computer has to go under the desk now instead of next to it and DH and I will have touching desks).  We also got a thingy with monitor arms (Fully Pole-Mounted Monitor Arm) so the monitors can be adjusted more easily and they take up less space (no more sitting on DH’s old college biology textbooks).

The desk came with a bunch of random free stuff.  The mat for under the keyboard is great.  I’ve been enjoying playing with the balance board during faculty meetings– it really does seem to help.  I do not like the desk set and will probably give it away.  I have put a more complicated desk set on my amazon wishlist for Christmas, but I’m open to suggestions if there’s something you love.  Currently I’m using an old coffee mug that DH was gifted but never used to hold my pens (it says “Engineer”).  We also got a filing cabinet.

I also temporarily moved my desk set-up to the guest bedroom, to the delight of Nice Kitty whose room it belongs to.  The carpet is the BEST– I can stand for long periods of time when the balance board starts hurting my feet without my feet hurting.  Sadly, the internet wireless doesn’t work as well in the guest bedroom and I can’t directly hardwire myself to the internet through the wall like I can in the office.  That’s fine for faculty meetings, but not so great for conferences or meetings that I’m running.  (My meetings are short!  New record:  5 min.)  So we’ll be moving back to the office with the hardwood floors.  I wanted to get a colorful rug from overstock, but DH bought a mat instead.  He says we can still get the colorful rug, but he wants to have an anti-fatigue mat for his own use.  We’ll try this out.

I’m using the footrest that I never used while nursing that was supposed to go with the glider that I never used while nursing (the mothers helpers loved it for rocking to sleep, but I guess I never rocked– just used magical mommy milk to induce naps) with the two position chair I got in graduate school (long story:  they only sell them in bulk) since I traded DC1 for my Aeron.  As noted before, I’ve swapped the purple pillow with an everlasting comfort pillow.

I have three of the four settings programmed:  Sitting, standing without the board, and standing with the board.  I really like it so far!  I also like that it has a lot more desktop space than my old home office setup which never really quite fit my big Moleskine.

Desk: $720

Monitor arms:  $85

Filing Cabinet:  $100

Anti-fatigue mat:  $40

That is a lot of money!  But if it lets me work without agony, it is worth it.  (Just last week I was able to go back to touching my toes… hopefully that keeps up.)  I have a LOT of work to do this summer.

Amazon links are sponsored, other links aren’t.

How is your home office set up?  Oh wait, I just asked you that.  Um… what kind of rugs do you like?  How do you keep your pens and pencils and post-it notes and other sundries on hand?  Also:  is it weird to lust over cat-shaped paperclips?

On back pillows and back pain

I do not recommend the purple back cushion.  It is $39 and only has one strap and is impossible to keep in place.

The purple seat cushion is better for what it does (though I also had a lot of trouble keeping it on my chair and it’s also expensive), but I wonder if some of the back pain I’ve been having this past week is attributable to it.

For lumbar support, I instead recommend this Everlasting comfort lumbar support pillow.  It is bigger and has TWO straps, and is $30.

I have just purchased a standing desk and an adjustable dual monitor holder.  After I’ve moved over and used them for a while, I will let you know how they’re doing!

I would like to get a new desk chair also (I have a middle sized aeron, bought second-hand five years ago in paradise, but just traded chairs with DC2 and am using an old two position chair that DH reupholstered 15 years ago), but I don’t feel like I can do that without actually sitting on them.

What do you do to prevent back pain?  Do you have a favorite home desk setup?

Ask the grumpies: How are you dealing with returning to post-vaccination life?

Jessica asks:

I would be interested in a post on more of your thoughts about transitioning out of covid life as you get vaccinated. I realize it might be a bit different for you since kids aren’t vaccinated yet. I am more than 2 weeks past my first dose and so is my boyfriend (the only person I live with), so I’m starting to think more about what I will do once I’m fully vaccinated… It will definitely be a slow transition as case loads hopefully go down. It’s hard to know what will be appropriate.

Also, I am usually very extroverted and adventurous, and I am excited to see more people again but also feel like the pandemic has kind of changed my personality, or at least temporarily changed my level of comfort with high amounts of activity. I still miss doing things, but doing things is more draining now. So that’s also going to be weird to figure out.

This is going to vary a lot for people all over the country based on their own cost-benefit calculations.  Right now even if we didn’t have kids I wouldn’t be going out at all (except my in-person classes) because I get filled with such RAGE seeing all the anti-maskers about being awful.  I’m still so angry about my last dentist visit I can’t even imagine trying to get my hair cut or to pick up groceries.  We’re also still well into the purple zone (4x the cutoff of new cases per day of the orange zone line).

I’m not even sure that I will be going fully back to the work office in the fall– it has been really nice not being constantly interrupted by students or given a bazillion small service assignments just because I’m there.  Also I seem to be the only person that junior faculty ask for advice which… I’m fine with when it’s junior faculty in my field and I’m the right person for it, but less fine with when there’s a better person to ask (I’ve been doing a lot more, “Go ask X”).  Though I guess I’m still getting those emails.  One of my friends asked me to restart our daily walks two weeks after our second vaccine.  But I just don’t want to go into work, so I said no.  (I have to rush home after class for another zoom meeting, or I would do it after class on the days I go in, I guess.)

Regardless of the vaccine situation DC2 (age 9 next fall) will be going back to school.  I can’t see middle school working out from home (unlike this year where elementary school has been fantastic).  This particular middle school has had pretty low case loads, and most of the elementary schools that feed into it are similarly low caseloads.  I’m strongly hoping that DC1 will be able to get vaccinated this summer– but first Pfizer has to approve and then we have to find a place that gives out Pfizer.  But we’re willing to drive to find a place.  (Our little part of the state has leaned heavily into Moderna.)

I’m hoping to be able to convince my sister to drive down from the city to see us once she’s fully vaccinated, but I suspect she’s going to hold out for us going into the city which is less safe.  DH will probably not be convincable about that until the kids have been vaccinated.  My in-laws are still making noise about visiting us in the Fall– they’re both fully vaccinated but summer in the South is awful (even ignoring high prevalence rates and evil anti-vaxxers) so their visit would be pretty much just stuck inside our house which is pretty boring as delightful as my children are.  We thought briefly of going up to the midwest to visit ourselves, but there’s still the problem of getting there.

So yeah, I don’t know.  I’ve been leaning heavily into not putting on pants, not making small-talk, etc.  It will be hard to go back.  This time last year I really wanted to get away to like a cabin someplace beautiful and cool with water, but somehow I’ve lost my yearning to actually be in nature.  Maybe it’s all the beautiful pictures that Microsoft shows on start-up screens — anyplace we could get to without a plane trip just isn’t going to measure up.

At some point after classes end, I have a plan to take all our plastic grocery bags from curbside to the grocery store recycling place.  But that’s the only major thing we’ve got.  Basically I plan to cling to my house and zoom as best I can.

What have you all been doing since getting fully vaccinated?  What do you plan to do?

Wanna see my planner layout?

No, I’m not trying to horn in on the shu box.  As you can see, there is nothing neat, beautiful, or inspirational about my planner layouts!  (Except my beautiful pens, of course.)

But I’ve been trying some new things with planning this year because I’m just too scattered with too many things going on.  And yet, I have the luxury of having just one work-space rather than having to transport things back and forth.

To start with, I have my Moleskine calendar which I have had every year since my professional organization stopped providing them free.  I use this just for due dates and actual appointments.  I picked a somewhat light week appointment-wise because I was able to strategically place my beautiful EnerGel Clenas over potentially identifying names, which I cannot do every week.

Weekly calendar

I actually ran out of ink in my main Clena and had to refill it because I love this pen so much. It’s .4 blue/black. The brown is also .4 and has brown ink. It’s even prettier with the sticker removed, which I did eventually.

The new thing is that instead of having sheets of half paper scattered all over my office with to-do lists and daily schedules and full sheets and notepads with project info… I’ve moved most of my projects to Trello or Github (which both have benefits and drawbacks), and I’ve taken over one of DH’s unused Moleskine lab notebooks (he prefers lined or dot grid– I had been trying to buy a blank black hardback one for ages but they’d been sold out and finally he remembered he had one he wasn’t using) to replace the scattered paper.

DH's Hobby/Bucket List

The one page that DH used in this book before he decided he prefers Leuchtturm1917 with lines or dot grids over unlined Moleskine. He has since completed the coffee roaster (it has been years since he last used it) and has made 3 Moccasins (not 3 pairs, 3 individual slippers). He also has started occasionally taking B-complex for the memory and it seems to help? I guess DC2 has kind of been teaching him Spanish? He has definitely not worked on singing.

So basically here’s what I have been doing with the Moleskine.  I keep the left side, which you can’t see, blank and use it for notes from meetings.  (I would have to redact the heck out of them, so I just didn’t take a picture.)  On the right hand side, I plot out the week on an hourly basis.  The one thing I wish I didn’t have to do is write out the times.  Writing them out I am able to take up less space than I would if I could find a washi tape I liked or bought a pre-made planner, but I think I will make that trade-off now that I know more about what I like in planners.  Then I fill in items from my weekly calendar like class-times and meetings.  I put little brown stars next to them to indicate they are things where I have to either be somewhere or I have to get on some kind of call– basically I have to actually do those things at that time.  The rest of the hours I fill out with what I hope to be doing with the rest of the time.  Usually I’m pretty good about sticking to the schedule in the morning, but in the afternoons I kind of lose steam and get better at convincing myself to do something else.  I try to build in a little slack if I can.

Heavily redacted planner page

In all its glory. (Post-it notes removed.)

A new thing for me is listing my main goals for the week.  What are the two research projects I hope to make the most progress on?  What are the stupid little service or teaching assignments that have to get done?  Weekend usually gets written on Thursday or Friday when I realize that I didn’t get as much done as I needed to and I’d rather be super lazy near the end of the week than I would not work at all on the weekend.  Though… to be honest the weekend stuff is generally aspirational too unless there’s a real deadline and often gets pushed off to the next Monday or Tuesday (*guilt*).  But I never seem to get done what I need to get done if I just write down what needs to get done– I have to write down more than I need to do to trick myself to do what I actually have to do, if that makes sense.  I blame my Catholic upbringing.  #raisedCatholic #guilt  I could actually do everything I put in my list, so it’s not actually unrealistic.  I just … don’t.  And this is one reason why I’m not at a better school, but I do ok still.  (It doesn’t help that there are more people in my life encouraging me to work less “take a break” “can’t work all the time” etc. than there are encouraging me to get stuff done because they have an inflated idea of my actual productivity, not realizing how much of my time on the computer is actually surfing the internet.)  (That was a digression.  But no, spending less time at the computer does not actually make me more productive in the hours I spend at it.  Been there, done that.  I hedonically adapt pretty rapidly and end up maaaybe doing an hour of work and then get hit with deadlines and regret.)

That Friday was a great day because a coauthor who had been not doing much (she’d been meaning to, but life would happen) and I threw the paper back and forth at each other every hour and we made a huge amount of progress on it.  So it looks blank, but was actually me doing straight up writing every other hour and either dealing with email or checking on citations/figures/etc. on my off hours.  Flow is the best.

That little line of stars and dashes used to be next to a post-it note listing all of my current projects on it.  The stars mean “work on this project this week”.  The dashes mean “you could work on this project this week if for some reason you couldn’t work on another one”.  The x means that there’s nothing I can currently do on this project (in this case, it’s in a student’s hands right now and I’m like 4th author and it’s about machine learning so…).  The checkmarks mean that I submitted that project or passed it off to a coauthor and don’t need to do anything with it until it comes back.  Usually I only have 2 projects I’m actively working on, 1 under review, and 1 in the data collection/lit review/RA doing stuff stage, possibly also one at the grant proposal stage.  But right now is messed up because I’m doing a ton of little papers with students because of that NSF item you see listed and some other grants from other agencies that want things, plus they help students get things on their cvs which is nice.

Another new thing I have that you can’t see is a growing to-do list post-it that is currently residing on the left side of the paper.  It has a list of all my upcoming deadlines which appear to be mostly referee reports and editing, though there’s currently also some end of the semester teaching stuff.  I like the post-it notes because you don’t have to rewrite them and you can move them week to week.  I am on my second “projects” post-it though because some stuff is off my plate for now and I have a couple of new things on it.

Sometime this summer when they come out, I have decided that I want to get an Academic Year Passion Planner to replace both Moleskines.  It combines an hourly layout with a weekly spread with lots of additional *space* for all these other extras.  I’m hoping that up at the top I’ll be able to put deadlines for each day like with my small weekly calendar.  The spaces at the sides and bottom will fit my post-it note to-do lists, goals, and weekend hopes.  The blank pages can be used for notes from meetings.  I will likely ignore every single passion aspect.  If it doesn’t work out, then I will go back to this method in time for me to get the 2022 Moleskine calendar for Christmas or maybe I’ll know more about my likes and dislikes to try a different planner layout.

How do you deal with planning?  Do you have a planner or calendar system?  What do you use?  What works or doesn’t work for you?

Ask the grumpies: When do I tell my department I’m taking unpaid leave as a NTT prof?

Liz asks:

I am in a NTT full time faculty position and finding it is not for me. I am going to take the 2021-22 school year to see if there are any changes that will make me happier in my position (and look at non-academic careers that I may go into), but if after that I choose to leave, when should I let my department know?

I am contracted through May 2022 and am going through the renewal process for the 2022-2023 school year right now.

This is a really hard question to answer because so much of it is, “it depends.”  Like if your department has been evil to you and you have zero intention of going back and you don’t think you will ever need recommendations from them, and they would definitely treat you even worse if they knew you were on the way out, then you definitely would put off telling them until the last possible minute.  If, on the other hand, your department was extremely supportive and just wanted what was best for you and was desperate to keep you and you’re hard to replace, and you had an idea for a one year replacement as a visiting position, then you’d want to let them know as soon as possible so you could help them plan and set all that up.

You’re probably somewhere between those two end-points.  It sounds like from your email that you’re not actually taking next year off, is that correct?


I haven’t talked to my chair about any issues I am having with this job and plan on talking to [hir] at the end of the semester. Some of the issues I am having would have to be changed at the college level, so I am not optimistic about changes my chair can implement to make this job something I want to do long term. At this point, I would want to walk away sometime in summer 2022.

Thinking of the leave of absence, I would need to justify that this would be beneficial to the university. If I left academia, I would probably not do something related to my field and a leave would probably not be approved.

Ok, so it sounds like you’re thinking of taking a year leave of absence and you’re not sure if you would then return after that.  So you want to leave your options open so that you can return.

Well, first off, there’s no reason to say anything to anyone until you know what you’re doing the year after next.  (Unless there’s some standard procedure for applying for sabbaticals for non-tenure-track faculty?  If there’s a timeline on that leave of absence approval, then you may want to follow that even without something lined up.)

How much time should you give before the end of the 21-22 school year?  That one is harder.  If you knew you weren’t coming back ever for sure (and you didn’t want to burn any bridges), you’d want to give them as much time as possible to find a full-time replacement.  It would also be nice to let them know before classes are scheduled for Fall 2022-23, though of course you don’t have to.   Other than that, there’s not much advice to give.  They would prefer you tell them as soon as you know for sure what is going to happen.  You might want to hold off because it can be weird when it is known someone will be leaving.  If you give them more time, they might be able to replace you fully and you’d be less likely to come back after, but also if you give them less time they might not *want* you back after a year.  If your chair wants to keep you, more time might make keeping you easier.  If you’re not planning on coming back and aren’t going to need rec letters, none of this matters, so you might as well be kind.

Grumpy Nation, what advice do you have for Liz?

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?

Update on DH’s job hunt

So… about two weeks ago, DH had finished a Coursera and done some exploration of using newer technologies on actual data and decided it was time to actually start applying to companies.  He applied to three (one through a head-hunter that contacted him) and immediately got three interviews.  Then one of his former colleagues who left the company (something about living in Europe) asked him to apply for their company (which just bought a company in the US) asked him to apply to their company sort of out of the blue and that resulted in a fourth interview.  He’s also been talking with friends and colleagues and alumni from earlier times in his life and getting advice and requests for his resume and stuff.  (One guy was like, you must apply for our company, but then DH looked at their job openings and didn’t know what a lot of the words meant, so, he was like, I didn’t see anything that fit but here’s my resume.)

The head-hunter job moved the quickest and did a programming interview last week after the first screen.  And DH was like, I am not going to be able to optimize a sort– I just have not done that kind of thing in at least 10 years.  And the screening programming interview turned out to be asking him to manipulate strings in C++ which… he uses macros for because he’s not just out of college and he hardly ever has to do, and never has to do for work and would never have to do on the job he applied for.  So it’s a very easy task, but he wasn’t able to remember all of the commands he needed in the time allotted.  There was also a sort-optimization problem.  So he was basically like– if they care about this then I don’t want to work at the company because their hiring process is stupid and geared only towards recent grads even for these upper-level positions.  If they don’t care about this, then we will see.  (DH did write me a very nice string manipulation program in C++ back in grad school to help me with my dissertation.  But now he does things like that in Python because apparently it is easier.)  The head hunter wants to have a call with him on Monday (today) to talk about it.  DH is not enthusiastic about this call.

A place one of his former colleagues is working that he’s worked with before was excited about him until they found he lived in a state where they don’t have any current employees.  They said their policy was to only hire people from states where they had at least 5 employees because they didn’t want to deal with the tax hassle unless it was worth it.  They’d thought he lived in the same state as his former coworker.  But look them up again if we move to this list of like 7 states (including MA and DC).  So that was kind of a bummer.

The third place said they weren’t interested in a remote worker for their specific group, but would shop his resume around to other groups.  (And if we ever move to Boston…)

The company his former colleague is at seems like a great fit in terms of the company is basically doing what he did in his last job, but has actual products, which makes DH happy.  He has a technical screen today, and it’s supposed to be on [words related to programming DH actually does as a grown-up], so hopefully that would go well.  He’s a bit bummed out about the previous “coding challenge” where he didn’t finish all of the strings manipulation tasks and not remembering how he did amazingly on the coding challenge for his last job.

So that’s where we are now.  I don’t know what next steps will be.  I hope today’s programming interview goes well because DH seems excited about this particular job and he knows he likes working with at least one of their current employees!


Yes, Asian Americans also face discrimination in the US

Hate crimes against Asians and Asian Americans have been getting some news lately.  Not as much news as they ought to be, especially if you don’t follow any Asian American people on social media.

Our university, like many in the country right now, is only hiring for positions that increase the diversity of the faculty.  Unlike many universities that are only responding superficially to the Black Lives Matter movement, ours is taking a broader view and not just hiring people who do various versions of “African American Studies” or whatever else I’ve been seeing on job ads.  (Research suggests that doing a big cluster hire AND taking into account diversity as a structural whole will likely be more successful in retention and improved climate than the places that hire one black person to teach all diversity studies classes and then forget about diversity as soon as BLM is out of the news cycle.)

Our percent of Asian American graduate students and of Asian American faculty are much smaller than the percent of the population (at the undergraduate level we’re closer to matching).  As a large R1 public state school, we are supposed to look like our constituents and we don’t.

When we get “diversity points”* for students and faculty, in general, international students count as “international” regardless of their race or ethnicity and only domestic students (citizens, permanent residents, and those who could be included in DACA) count as diverse, meaning they qualify for university-level scholarships only available to increase diversity in our graduate student body.  Because our numbers are low for Asian Americans, our university gives us “diversity points” for recruiting and enrolling Asian Americans, but we are supposed to try to keep international within a certain percent so that we have international exposure but aren’t entirely international.  For this hire focused on increasing diversity, those guidelines have been relaxed (I assume because immigrant faculty are assumed to become US Citizens) and Black and Hispanic international faculty are considered to be increasing diversity for this targeted hire.

So we had two international candidates and the third candidate was Asian American.

The worst thing about discrimination against Asian Americans is that so many people believe that it doesn’t exist.  They look at numbers of Asian Americans at Berkeley or Harvard and argue that quotas should go in the opposite direction– that Asian Americans should be limited rather than encouraged.  That we should discriminate against them rather have affirmative actions for them.  They are expected to be “higher quality” if a place hires them over a White applicant– if equal, people believe the White person should be hired.  This is a kind of discrimination that plenty of people who believe they are Woke have– they deny that Asian Americans face discrimination and they put them in the “model minority” box.  One of my grad school professors told me that the hardest candidate for him to place (because of discrimination) was any Asian American male.  And indeed, it’s a bit jarring realizing how few Asian Americans we have in graduate school in my field outside of California.

Worse, not only do they treat all Asian Americans as the same (ignoring that Asia is an entire continent and that Asian Americans have widely varied histories depending on when, where, and why their families settled here and what their families experienced once here).  But they treat all Asians IN America as the same.

So when I noted that we only get maybe one Asian American graduate student every couple of years and that’s a known problem and we’re actually doing better with Hispanic and Black students since our last major intervention… several of my colleagues shook their heads.  We get TONS of Asian students from South Korea and China(!)  (!!!!!) they argued.  And I couldn’t even.  But instead I gently argued that no, Asians from Asia and Asian Americans have not had the same life experiences and are treated differently by admissions.  I did not mention that before that last admissions intervention, our graduate admissions officer referred to Asian Americans as “Oriental” (which is not a slur when referring to carpets but most definitely is when referring to PEOPLE) and worse, color coded them yellow (zie also coded Native Americans as red– I am not making this up).  I mean, is there any question about why we have so few Asian Americans in our graduate programs?

This is not to say that international faculty aren’t discriminated against or that Black and Hispanic faculty aren’t discriminated against.  They obviously are.  But the most insidious thing about discrimination against Asian Americans is the general belief that it doesn’t exist or that if it does exist it’s ok because: “model minority.”

In any case, we decided all three candidates were acceptable.  We’re making offers in order of the quality of their work and how well they fit gaps in our curriculum.  But that was after a lot of discussion about the intention of the cluster hire (the university had provided guidance that they found all three candidates equally acceptable in terms of increasing diversity, but some of my colleagues wanted to argue about that even though we currently have no Asian Americans in our department**).

*diversity points is an amorphous concept– basically we get audited every few years and if we are too white/non-Hispanic, we get dinged, and we get dinged the more off from the state averages we are for each major group.  Being dinged generally means having to write up a plan to fix the problem; I was in charge of one of the committees when we were doing really badly almost a decade ago as a newly minted associate professor.  Also there are scholarships from the university that only underrepresented minorities are eligible for.  At our uni, Asian-Americans are underrepresented at the graduate level.

**the department that shares a building with us has an Asian American professor of Japanese descent and an international professor from China.  A couple of my colleagues regularly mix them up with each other even though they are *nothing* alike in any way other than both having black hair.  They don’t even dress similarly (one is more business and the other business casual).

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?