Some pessimism

I really do love what I do.  It’s better than any alternative I can think of other than one where I would never have to vie for funding and would just get handed great students and unlimited funds to play around.  And I’ve had posts about how I love working on my own research, staying young because I’m around young people, having my own hours, and being responsible for my own success.  But there have been a few things that have been bugging me lately, presumably because the honeymoon phase is over.

Lazy or Unproductive PIs: I had to work my ass off to get a position here, and I’ve been working my ass off to further my research.  I do this for a lot of reasons, but one is to ensure the university is getting their money’s worth.  It’s a way I show gratitude.  I know lots of other people that worked their asses off to try and fail getting into the tower, and who would definitely be hard workers and good contributors, but instead they’re floundering from one adjunct or research prof position to the next.  Then I see the occasional PI here that doesn’t apply to more than maybe a grant every other year, teaches 1-2 classes a semester, publish from their lab maybe every other year, have no students, and gets to keep their cushy tenure jobs.  I’m not saying everyone has to work their ass off all the time, but not giving the university their money’s worth when someone else could come in and do it is kind of infuriating to me.  I guess this is part of the problem with the tenure system, in general.  But it just bugs me that qualified, hardworking people I would love to collaborate with are turned away, yet lazy ones get to stick around.  Something similar to this happened in industry, and I also hated it, but at least the occasional stockholder-driven purge would occur and those highly paid unproductive people would be out.

Recruiting:  This is referring to both student and faculty recruitment.  I’ve already beat the topic of faculty recruitment down to a pulp.  TLDR; I’m tired of faculty focusing on which school and lab they come from and not looking for the rare candidate that didn’t go to a top-tier program but has proven they are a great researcher by actually producing after they left grad school.  I’m also tired of some of the way students are recruited into the program.  Like a lot of programs, we have a scoring/ranking system, we have a set number of openings and then we draw a cutoff line and admit the students above the cutoff line.  We shift the rankings for three reason: race, gender, and favoritism.  I’m okay with the first two sometimes, but the third one gets me the most.  Because one of the letter writers for a student happens to know someone on the admissions committee they should get bumped a rank or two?  Don’t get me wrong, there have been some times where we’ll have 300 candidates, 15 openings, and someone will bump an underrepresented student 50 slots to get them admitted.  I kid you not.  Fifty fucking slots.  That’s wrong.  But the favoritism primarily rubs me the wrong way.

Admins:  I naively thought I wouldn’t have a boss when coming here.  While my current bosses aren’t as shitty as those I had in industry, they still get on my nerves.  If I get told to try a reverse classroom or move more stuff to an online platform I’m going to go crazy.  I fucking hate Blackboard and all programs like it.  I would rather spend my own time grading than put students through the cheat-fest that are the online platforms we’re using.  I don’t like that I spend 20% of my time in useless meetings about nothing.  And I don’t like the fake smiles and promises they give to students and faculty every day.  These are the folks in industry that would have left their science degrees behind in favor of a cushy marketing gig because they’d be the smartest in the room and can lie pretty well for living.

Students not paying attention:  This is sometimes a problem and sometimes not.  I hate looking out and seeing a student clearly playing a game or watching a show with headphones in.  Why even show up to class?  It doesn’t really affect me, but it sure as shit is affecting the students behind you.  I don’t take attendance, and you clearly either know the material or don’t care if you fail, so why even show up?  It doesn’t really offend me as an educator, but why pay the large sums of money required to take classes here and piss it away.  I was always (and still am) starving for knowledge.  Kids…….

2 thoughts on “Some pessimism

  1. I agree with most of this. The one I don’t agree with any more (would’ve when I was younger):
    “…but one is to ensure the university is getting their money’s worth. It’s a way I show gratitude.”

    The university is a soulless and increasingly corporate institution. It doesn’t love you, and will bleed you dry if given the chance. I used to think like you, but not any more. Now I side with my colleagues, some of whom appear like they’re lazy and unproductive, but in reality they’ve worked hard all their lives but the winds of change have made their field no longer fundable and while they are still active and engaged in teaching and research, they can no longer get money and therefore cannot get students.

    This is one reason why I am terrified of making the big changes in my research that I crave to do — I would run out of money because no one would fund me in the new field for a decade while I am ramping up. As I result I stay close to my fields of expertise even though I would rather be done with them all. Yes, on paper I am productive and useful, but I am burned out and bored.

    Ultimately, I stand with my colleagues, yes, even the seemingly lazy and unproductive ones. None of them started like that. It’s just that after 30 years and due to perhaps personality inflexibilities they are not able to run with the fast young bucks.

    The university cares for no one. Your colleagues, however, are people who might care about you.

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    • I hadn’t thought that those researchers could be researchers that took a chance and now they’re stuck, or they just can’t keep with the pace of an ever more-competitive and fast-paced research corporation. I just assumed they got tenure and started relaxing. That’s where the naiveite of semi-youth comes in. I don’t really have a loyalty other than with collaborators or my students because I just learned that the working world is too cut-throat to be stepping out on a ledge for people. This was engrained hard into me while in industry and I think it will be a while before it relaxes. Maybe this is time to reach out and get a collaborator on my side that has some extra free time. Being in the tower I’ve found to be even more cut-throat at times than industry, and it’s easy to just keep chugging forward when you have the momentum to do so.

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