The state of the WaDiA – 2014

Well, actually the state of the person behind WaDiA.  Now that the academic year is finished, I guess maybe it’s time to assess where I am at the moment.  I’m getting over a cold, so please excuse me if I start coughing up something while writing this.

I haven’t even looked at my evals yet.  I had the largest number of students that I’ve ever had here, but I think the classes went reasonably well.  This was the last semester for quite a while where I won’t either have a totally new course or at least a significantly changed course.  That’s going to occupy much of the next two summers.  (Because teaching excellence is supposed to be accomplished on one’s own time.)

I managed to actually publish a paper this academic year (barely).  Other than negatively on my wallet, I don’t expect it to have much impact.  With that out of the way, I’m not really sure what’s next.  Even on the occasions when I have external funding, research is mostly something that I have to do in my “free” time.  Other than having to work for free all summer, not having funding is probably better than having funding.  It certainly doesn’t play into promotion decisions.  You can do as much research as you want as long as it doesn’t affect the quality and quantity of your teaching and service as compared to those who do zero research.  Tenure and promotion is a three-legged stool with one leg up the institution’s ass.  Of course, there is the small issue that this also screws the undergraduate students in our department, but, hey, if they really wanted to become scientists they wouldn’t have came here, amirite?

It turns out that one can not only win a research award here with no tangible evidence of research productivity, but also one can be asked by the person who nominated you to provide tangible evidence of research productivity to upper administration after the award has already been decided.  On the other hand, one can also ignore the latter request because it turns out that information wasn’t needed.  Still, there’s nothing quite like eating shit in front of half the campus.  At least the awards weren’t mentioned anywhere else except in the auditorium (i.e., email, website, etc.).

I may have an interesting senior project for a student this fall if all of the pieces come together, so I have to
remember to look forward to that.  This could actually lead to a paper if we find something, so I’m actually hoping this one comes through.  (It’s not all up to me, I don’t have the resources to do things like that.)

I’m working towards the possibility of finding a job elsewhere, although initial forays have been grim and it’s probably a futile exercise.

Unfortunately, my personal excellence in teaching is in things like knowing a lot of background on a lot of real-life subjects that I can relate to what we’re covering in class, explaining and demonstrating complicated concepts in intelligible ways, keeping my ego out of the way when teaching “basic” material, and giving a shit about the students.

It’s not in the important new-fangled things like being able to teach an on-line hands-on physics lab with one hand tied behind one’s back with a Cat 5 cable, “flipping off” the classroom, discussing class material on Twitter, and whatever new thing came down the pike in the last 5 minutes.

I really haven’t a fucking clue how to convince another school that I’m a good instructor in my application materials.  That was a lot easier to do when I was young and inexperienced.  Of course, maybe I’ve been working here too long such that I’m really not much of a teacher.

Since the substantive research I do mostly has to come during my own time and without much institutional support, I’ll never have a sustained research program of any consequence and that hurts when applying for any science position where there’s a degree program involved.  As far as senior research projects and other paid and unpaid research students, I’ve supervised a majority of female students at all stages of my career: grad student, postdoc, VAP, and tenure-stream.  This is roughly twice the average for the relevant field(s).  Suffice it to say that it’s a good thing that I haven’t done this as a cynical way of helping my career; it’s probably had the opposite effect.  I still find a way to carefully sneak this into my application materials, but I doubt it helps, and it feels sort of icky.  (I have a publicly verifiable $$$ tickmark in the “helping underrepresented students” category, too, but hasn’t seemed to have helped, either.)

I don’t live in a racially diverse, highly educated metropolitan area like most of the people with whom I’m competing for jobs (i.e., postdocs; non-elite primarily undergraduate institutions generally don’t advertise specifically for someone at the Associate level).  Thus, the public outreach stuff that I can do in fits and starts with little institutional support tends to reach economically and geographically disadvantaged people more than it does underrepresented minorities.  But, it’s more a problem that I would have to create a public-outreach program from scratch on my own to do it regularly as opposed to working at a McUniversity with those sorts of things in place.

The reality is that I’ve been at this too long and probably seem pretty stale to other institutions, and they rightfully assume that I won’t come as cheap as a fresh-faced postdoc.  So, I’ll probably keep dry-heaving here until I’m dead.  I continue to struggle mightily trying to find a way to make the job reasonable and manageable, but I can’t do it alone.

Speaking of alone, I’m thinking that this summer is going to revert back to the usual situtation where I don’t do a single social event of any sort the entire time.  In the past, I’ve gone more than a year without social events, so we’ll see if I make another run at that.  My attempt at making my personal life more palatable over the last two years has worked out as well as it always does.  My mental health is better at the moment, but I don’t think long-term one can last without the other.  This concerns me, but I’m not sure what to do about it.

But, hey, at least it’s (academic) summer!  I probably do take a little more time off than most people during summer because of a leisure activity that requires blocks of travel time.  Plus, I usually don’t have the opportunity to celebrate holidays with people, so I often work then, banking time.  Although it’s probably bad for my career, I can actually sometimes forgot about my job for a few days at a time during summer, and even if not, I come up with most of my best ideas when I’m not crushed by the academic year routine. If nothing else, I was sick all weekend and didn’t do any work, and I can’t complain too hard about having the opportunity for the latter!


2 thoughts on “The state of the WaDiA – 2014

  1. Re: Tenure and promotion is a three-legged stool with one leg up the institution’s ass.
    This totally made my day today.
    Hang in there, and I think in the long run taking legitimate vacations is really positive for your career – even if it doesn’t feel that way at the time.

    • Note to self: continue going for the sophisticated humor. 🙂
      I’ve always had a bit of an issue with keeping things in balance, a pretty common thing, I guess.

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