Sunday, February 27, 2011

Is a visiting professor job a bad career move?

We are at the time in the academic job market cycle when some ABDs and new PhDs will begin considering visiting professor positions. 

I have heard some of my colleagues discourage students from applying.  But I think that is the wrong advice for most new PhDs (and ABDs that are truly going to defend prior to fall 2011).

My first academic job was as a visiting professor.  I was on the market but still ABD and hadn't gotten any interviews.  None.  But then I saw a flier at a regional conference in spring about a visiting position.  I interviewed for it at the conference and got the job.

This job was awesome.  It was in a smallish dept at a small liberal arts college.  My colleagues were great.  We had a lot of fun together.  And they were supportive of my research and ongoing job search.  Plus, when a new professor line opened up a year later, guess who they immediately contacted? Me! I was about to accept a great TT job elsewhere, so I didn't apply.  But I think I would have had a definite advantage in that job search.

To be clear, I think job searches should be truly competitive.  But when a popular visiting professor is competing for a tenure-track job, in my experience the search is NOT as competitive as it should be.  On the hiring end, it has been pretty clear.  I have been on search committees and heard colleagues argue that we "should" give visiting professor "Bob" an interview for the tenure-track position.  This even though we just hired "Bob" at the last minute as a visiting professor in a very uncompetitive process when some money came available and he was in the right place at the right time.  And even though his CV was in not competitive with the other top CVs we were considering.  And even though he hadn't been all that great in the classroom! (We didn't interview "Bob," but I had to be the big meanie arguing the case against him.)

Right or wrong, faculty often feel obligated to a visiting professor.  Or they become friends.  This can be a definite advantage in moving from visiting to tenure track at that institution.

I've lost several jobs to the inside candidate.  It looks like one of my grad students just lost a job to the inside candidate.  This isn't to say that the jobs would have been ours but for the visiting professor.  But it is to say that it was the visiting professor who was hired.

Visiting professor positions also help us widen our career networks.  I've gotten a few opportunities thrown my way from my old colleagues, plus some lasting friendships.  Plus, it doesn't look bad on the CV--at least I've never heard a negative comment on it.

Surely there are down-sides to the visiting professor job.  I can see how a visiting professor might feel ignored, underpaid, disrespected. But you won't know if it is THAT kind of situation until you're there. 

And hey, it is a job!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

ABD waitress--and how is it different from a PhD waitress?

Eating lunch with the kids at P.F. Chang's the other day, I was reminded of the time I saw a grad student (ABD) there from my previous institution/dept.  She was working there.  As a waitress. 

Is this a tragedy? An ABD working as a waitress?

Many faculty that I have known would think so.  I think not.

For I, too, was an ABD waitress. 

I made more money per year as a waitress than I did my first year as an asst. professor.  And I only had to work 25 hrs/wk as a waitress!  Doesn't that put things in an interesting light?  And yes, that was a tenure-track professor job.

I learned a lot working as a waitress.  I like to think it made me more worldly and even more mature.  Several professor colleagues of mine would have been better off spending a few years in the "real world."  Pure academia provides such a narrow set of experiences, really.  One of my colleagues did a lot of different odd jobs before going to grad school, and he's a more interesting, multifaceted person for it, me thinks.  I mean, he can fix his own porch and fund-raise for the orchestra!

I write best if it isn't my full-time job.  Who can write a dissertation 8-hours a day?  Very few of us.  What were my other ABD friends doing when they were done writing for the day?  I'm not sure.  Good question, now that I think about it.  But I was working.  And otherwise having a good time.  My dissertation took a couple years longer than my adviser thought it would.  But it won a national dissertation award and was a book a few years later.  I really, really believe that it was a much better dissertation because I worked and lived and had a few mini-adventures while writing it. 

Being an ABD waitress wasn't bad, but I was scared sh*tless of being a Ph.D. waitress.  It is important to say that.  I felt that my status as grad student provided some legitimacy to my waitressing, made it OK if someone I knew from high school, say, saw me waiting tables.  "Grad student" was a status title that counter-acted the lower status of "waitress."  But interestingly, "Ph.D." would do the opposite--make working as a waitress seem evidence of failure. 

Around this time, I went to a comedy show.  It was a one-woman show, and for reasons I can't recall, she had us all write on an index card (anonymously, but blue for men and pink for women) our biggest fear.  I wrote "failure."  Going through the cards, she told the crowd that this was the first time EVER that she had a woman write "failure."  Men wrote "failure," not women.  Perhaps that was the downside of being an ABD waitress: "ABD" would only protect me for just so long.  "Ph.D. waitress" is really just "waitress." 

And I could have been a waitress with just a bachelor's degree ;)

Friday, February 25, 2011

Pet digestion and hotness (or lack thereof)

The dog ate a sock yesterday.  Bright pink little girl sock.  I told her to drop it, and usually she does.  But she saw me coming and just swallowed it whole.  So now my son's job is to look for a pink sock when she poops.  At least it wasn't a black or brown sock--that would have been made his job harder.

The cat hacked up a huge hairball on my son's homework binder (binder was open, too).  We haven't cleaned it up yet.  Kinda gross, but kinda funny.  That's how we are.

I Googled my name.  I was looking for something else, but accidentally saw that on "Rate my professor" I had a low score for "hotness."  I'm not stupid enough to open that link and investigate.  This info was just on the brief description that pops up on the Google list.  Up to now, I've been able to protect myself. I'm at that age at which I am thinking more and more about forms of plastic surgery and other interventions (botox, for example).  But I'm also opposed to it on gender principles.

It isn't going to be very good weather this weekend.  But I think we better go skiing nonetheless. My mood depends upon it.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Pondering the source of a sour mood

I'm in a sour mood and don't want to do any research/writing today.  Possible reasons:

1. It is a great ski day.  But I've skied several times this week--Wed, Fri, Sat, Mon.  I don't think I'd have a good day skiing, but still I'm sour because I'm not skiing.

2. After two days of working till almost midnight and getting up at 5:30am, I am tired of working--even though that was teaching work, not writing work.  Yesterday was an intense 11-hour day--really nonstop work. I'm over it.

3. I know that since I'm not skiing, I really should go clean up my office.  I've only been doing the essentials in my office--prepping for class, grading, and meeting with students.  I wonder if I've put anything at all away this semester (I do throw away my trash--I'm in a messy stage, but not a gross one).

4.  In addition to office cleaning, I have to grade 5 papers.  Plus I have to read some work that colleagues/grad students have sent me--not drudgery, but a step below my own writing on my personal preference scale.

5. The writing I have to do involves turning a 10,200-word paper into a 9,000-word paper.  Not the most interesting task.  But my co-author/student doesn't seem to know how to do that at all (though she's great in other aspects, thank goodness).

6.  My daughter lost her jean jacket after wearing it one time. 

7. My daughter's little friend was a major mess-maker last week.  The major messes/disasters have always been committed by my kids' friends, not my kids.  Examples?  Neighbor boy spilled water on my laptop (yes, it was ruined).  Daughter's friend wrote her name in marker on the carpet--and she wrote it BIG.  Same friend, same day, put real lipstick on (apparently all over her face) and then used a bathroom towel to wipe it off (how can I get so much lipstick off a towel?--there is a square foot of bright red lipstick seemingly caked on).  My friend's daughter used up all my food coloring and several spices making "soup" with my son--that was an expensive soup! My son (5 at the time, 2 yrs younger than the girl) regularly played with food coloring and spices to make concoctions. He was always careful and only used a bit of each.  The girl went crazy!  And then her mom, my "friend," said, "Well, what did you expect?"

8.  My son found gray hair roots on my head and freaked out: Oh my god, do you have gray hair? Do you dye your hair? My mom is old!!  Duh.

I should have just gone skiing.  But hopefully I'll finally kick my cold by just hanging around all day.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Random thoughts, words of encouragement, and a confession

1. Stay strong Wisconsin!

2. I confess two guilty pleasures:
The Nanny  (as in, the Nanny named Fran)
Jackass: The Movie

Weird combination, I know.  But they're guilty pleasures--not meant to make sense!

3.  Yesterday skiing I took my son down a double black diamond run. It has all these warnings at the top, plus a big skull and cross bones.  You can't ski this run alone, so I had never been down it since I only ski alone or with son.  But I figured he was ready.  He did fine.  Only one little spill.  But when we got almost all the way down, and a guy with his little girl skied past us.  She was a little kid, maybe 2nd or 3rd grade.  This was a bit humbling for my son.  As he pointed out, she was going faster than he was!  Then again, on little skis you can just snow-plow between the moguls (which she was).  We emerged proud of ourselves, nonetheless. 

4. On the lift yesterday, I pointed out one guy to my son who was really, really good.  Just, wow, amazingly impressive.  And my son said, "Is he as good as you, Mom?"  So sweet! 

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Disappearances at the Mall--or, I thought the recession ended in summer 2009

I went to the mall today for the first time since Xmas and found out that the following stores and restaurants have disappeared, poof! 
  • Abercrombie and Fitch (and Abercrombie)
  • Guess
  • Restoration Hardware
  • Godiva chocolates
  • Ultimate Electronics
  • Cinnabon
  • Wetzel's Pretzels
  • Panda Express
  • McDonalds (yes, McDs!)
  • the pet store (aka the puppy mill shop; good riddance)
There were others gone too, but I can't remember what was there before.

Depressing.  I was expecting this in 2009.  Not 2011.  Note that the stores are among the most expensive stores in the mall.  I guess the wealthier among us are cutting back. 

In the meantime, the Apple store was absolutely packed--really, really packed.  

Friday, February 11, 2011

Manuscript reviews--sometimes worth ignoring

The recent acceptance of my article has been a nice and needed boost.  With my new confidence, I finally went back to a paper that had been rejected at a big-name journal.  Rejected 5 years ago!  The reviewers were not at all encouraging; one was dismissive.   Since the journal accepts less than 10% of submitted papers, I wasn't surprised by the rejection.  But the tone of the rejection was discouraging.

In the meantime, I had a baby.  Opening up this document after so long, I had forgotten the specific time-line:
July 5, 2005, 9:49PM:  send final draft of paper to big name journal and close document.
July 6, 2005, 4:00AM:  water breaks, go into labor, have a baby.

Yup, I got that paper out in the nick of time.  And the journal took 5 months to get back to me with a decision.  I wasn't in a big hurry at that point.  But still, I could have really used reviewer comments that were a bit more constructive criticism and less destructive criticism. 

So I just tucked it away and never got back to it.  A month or so after receiving the reviews, I got a job offer for the job I have now.  And with the whirlwind that followed, I never really brought myself to read the paper again. 

I should have just sent the same paper out to another journal.  That is what an ex-colleague (who published tons) used to do.  He'd print out, say, 3 copies of the paper, along with 3 cover letters addressed to different journals.  Then he'd address 3 envelopes.  He'd send the first one out.  If it was rejected, he'd just reach over to the pile, grab the next envelope and pop it into the mail.  He wouldn't make any revisions based upon the reviewer comments.  (I don't even know if he read the reviewer comments!)  He told me that the next journal would just want different revisions anyway, so he didn't waste his time.  Hardcore.  Thick-skin.  But apparently it works.  He published his way to early tenure and then a new and better job.

Anyway, now I finally did read through that paper, and it isn't bad!  I'm NOT going to read through the reviewer comments.  Why bother.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

From cool R&R to forthcoming!

Back in mid-December, I wrote about being in "revising jail" and finally submitting a revise and resubmit to the top journal in my field.  My manuscript had been branded a "cool R&R," as opposed to a warm and inviting R&R..

So I wasn't hopeful today when I saw the journal's email sitting in my inbox.  I braced myself and opened it quickly to not prolong the pain (like pulling off a band-aid quickly). 

My eyes scanned for relevant words and settled on "congratulations"!  So it is accepted! It seems like there won't even but much final revision required on my part.

It has been a while since I have had a major acceptance like this.  I was on a great roll in the early-to-mid 2000s.  Then I got two big grants, which entailed very time-consuming fieldwork plus other gathering and analyzing and supervising of grad students (that's the good thing and the bad thing about grants).  Then I had a 2nd child and got tenure.  Then I went on the job market.  Then I got a new job and we moved.  Then I helped repopulate an extremely dysfunctional department (very stable and healthy now). 

And in that time of major transitions, my publications have been slim.  I have had a few--three.  But not big ones.  And I have two book manuscripts slowly coming along--very slowly.

This paper acceptance makes me feel back on track.  I can do this!  Even with two kids!  Even with a ski-day or two a week!  That is, even with a life outside of work!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Tenure decisions and department rewards

I am on the faculty committee of a very large interdisciplinary major.  At last week's meeting we discussed hiring plans to replace someone whom we voted down in pre-tenure 3rd year review last year.  S/he had a joint appointment and the other department voted to renew hir contract. Since we voted against renewal and the other department voted in favor, guess who gets to control the new hire?

We do--we are rewarded for being mean ("making the tough decisions").  Unlike when a faculty leaves or retires, if a department rejects someone at 3rd yr review or for tenure, that department retains that line and can fill it again the next year. At least that's how it works here.

So in essence, it is a way that the deans have of reassuring those departments that deny tenure that they won't be penalized.  If a department votes in favor of tenure for someone, and then the college-wide committee votes to deny tenure, that department is not guaranteed that they will get to refill that soon-to-be-open position. 

I hate this side of the tenure process.  I hate the idea of being rewarded for firing someone.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Podcasts for academic-types

Podcasts--what would I do without them?  I just found out that I can download audio of the latest The Economist (you need a subscription to the magazine).  Apparently I picked a bad time to download.  But as I wait for it to finish, I thought I'd write a post on podcast.

My podcast favorites:
NPR: Most Emailed Stories:  Good to fall asleep to.  I fastforward through interviews with musicians; I like music, but my tastes are too specific and few of them have lives I care to learn about.  Otherwise, the podcast listening public has pretty good taste in what they choose to email to their friends and colleagues, so this is typically a pretty good selection of the day's NPR stories.

Marketplace (by American Public Media): Great if you like an economic focus.  Not so great if you are trying to relax--not with this economy, anyway.

NPR: Planet Money:  Newish web-based show with an economic focus--economics for the (well-informed) layperson.  Some excellent stories; the one about solving Brazil's inflation was fascinating (and was told so well that my 10yr old was captivated).  Some of these stories make it onto regular NPR radio also, others only show up on Planet Money podcasts.

This American Life: Awesome, but of course you knew that.  Got to keep up on the downloads--only free if you download a show in the first week it is available.

The Moth: Oh my goodness, this is some good story-telling. Stories told without notes in front of a live audience.  All are about 15 minutes.  Sometimes famous people tell a story; Al Sharpeton had doozy recently.  I can't listen to The Moth when I'm trying to go to sleep--they keep me up, riveted.

Slate Magazine Daily Podcasts: The Political Gabfest, The Culture Gabfest, and Double-X--all are terrific.  Each involves 3-4 highly intelligent, well-informed, and thoughtful journalists (drawing from a Slate cast of usual suspects).  The conversations are so engaging.  And these colleagues all seem to get along really, really well.  How do they do that?

What am I missing?