Work when you want

Here’s a shocker for some: people are different.  Some people need 40 hours to get work done, some only need 30 hours, some like to work as much as possible to maximize output, and some like to get the bare minimum done.  Some can only get the bare minimum done.  I appreciate a job where I can work 80 hours a week whenever I want.  Realistically, (ignoring the time to answer a text, call, or quick email) I put in about 50-60 hours a week while classes are in session.  Occasionally more, but rarely fewer than 50.  I have always thought that a job shouldn’t be about the hours, but about the productivity.  When I was in industry, I almost always did the 50+ hours because I like doing a thorough job, but there were the times when I just didn’t want to be there.  I had to put in time, get it approved, etc.  I fucking hated that.  I like taking off in the middle of the day for a long lunch if I want, or leaving early, or showing up late without having to tell anyone.

When I became a group leader, and now in running my academic lab, I fostered a ‘work as much as you want, but also reap what you sow.’  I despise that the culture is, at minimum, work 40 hours, and at maximum, work until you can’t anymore in most areas.  I do get annoyed when I don’t see students around, but ever since the recent bad student I had, I do have contracts where, barring any crazy circumstances, I will not fund students past 5.5 years.  So they know they need to work or they’ll be out of the job.  I only demand that they’re around during set times for meetings, and so I can drop in (1000-1130 and/or 1400-1530).  Other than that, they can work early mornings or late nights if I’m not around.  I do demand to see progress, since that’s the only thing I care about, and I’ve been pretty blatant when I haven’t been happy with progress.  I feel this gives the students the freedom to work the way they wish while keeping them all on track.

I got to thinking about this because I have a new student that always tells me when they’re taking off like they’re asking for permission.  I always tell them to make sure they’re around when they’re supposed to be, and that’s it.  They can take off all they want and don’t need my permission unless they’re taking off for large swaths of time.  I know that I would’ve appreciated that, and I definitely appreciate that now.  Just a bit of gratefulness to write about….

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Dear admins,

Leave me alone.  I appreciate you have had a part in my relative success here at the University.  But I hate being paraded around as your little showdog.  At first, I have to admit, I was honored that some guest was coming in town to give a commencement speech or that wants to buy some wing and you want to show new research.  But I just don’t have time to be going across campus for a couple hours to help you win over some dickhead that can cut a big check so long as we look diverse and appear to be solving some kind of problem.  A big check that most likely won’t even be seen by students in the form of better instruction or facilities.  Now, if they want to cut a check that gets my department some new fume hoods or some more TAs then sign me up.  But, why the fuck you brought me in on a meeting with someone that wanted to expand the practice field for the football team I won’t understand.  I get it, you want to show diversity, and one breed of person isn’t enough, but I don’t want to be a showdog.  I want to be a dog that works for a living.  There are a lot of annoying things you do, but this is near the top.

Regards,

Phindustry

Summer break baby!

Not that kind of baby. Though lately I have been feeling good. Before, I had a ‘fuck everything’ kind of attitude. Now I have a ‘fuck most stuff attitude.

I’m referring to the excitement that comes with summer break. My students don’t have classes, SO and I have some free moments, and the weather could not be more beautiful. Stepping outside and sneezing, I mean, breathing with all the flowers in bloom and everyone getting over the constant overcast and gloom of winter is great. Spring arrived so late this year, but I really prefer it this way. Putting on some shorts and sunscreen is upon us, and it’s wonderful. No partying for me, but enjoying a book (I mean writing a grant and reading manuscripts) on the grass while listening to the birds is amazing. I love that I can get so much done without anyone on campus. Also, I don’t feel as bad about leaving early or showing up late and doing work outside or at home. At the start of the semester, I love the sound of the students and the liveliness, but eventually, I get tired of it and just want my peace and quiet again. I’m grateful that I have students around to keep me young, but they don’t overstay their welcome. The larger thing is I have all these grand plans of what needs to happen during the summer from a personal and lab standpoint. Summer rocks.

Retention risk

In industry, we had a term called “Retention risk”.  I know there are other terms to describe this, but basically it’s the concept of some employees are more mobile than others.  One can always get a big raise or promotion if they’re willing to switch between companies.  I knew many people that did this and in industry it’s the norm.  People need to do what’s best for themselves as the company would drop you at the slightest hint of needing to provide a boost to the shareholders.  So when we, as management, see that an employee is behaving differently we have to think about how critical the person is to the business and if we should go extra lengths to preemptively stop them from performing a job search.  Once the call was made that someone was critical to the business then a promotion would be set up, or at least a large raise.  I had to do this at times, and I notice this happened with other departments pretty frequently.  And if the manager was too slow to act, the person would frequently be gone.  Side note: women employees were less mobile, in general, but also managers just wouldn’t think they’re as critical.  Ladies, be mobile, remember that the company owes you nothing, and let your managers know when you’re not happy.  The people that were rooted were usually less likely to be rewarded with promotions because managers knew their efforts were better spent on keeping the retention risks.

When I was an undergrad it seemed that all my professors were very well-established and were going to be staying their whole careers at my school.  In graduate school, I realized that some profs see an opportunity elsewhere and jump on it.  Especially if they’re not getting the support from their current school.  This went very counter to how I saw academia: stable.  I don’t know if this is a recent trend, or if I’m just noticing it right now, but I see a lot of professors switching between schools.  I mentioned in a recent post that this is happening with a mentor of mine, my PI recently did it, and a handful of friends, as well.

So this brings me to last week where the department head was asking me if I wanted to expand my lab space and asked which class I want to teach next semester.  I brought this up to my old PI and he said that there’s word on the (nerdy) street that I’m interested in this one particular school that hasn’t even contacted me.  I’m always open to new opportunities, but only if it’s actually an opportunity.   This is clearly just some shitty rumor maybe to get me to leave?  I have no idea how it could have started.  I have no intention whatsoever to leave in the near-future.  I always had the mentality that a company would drop me at the smallest sign of a market swing, so I had as much loyalty as they had to me (very little).  I don’t feel like that here, but I’ll take what I can get, I guess.

The application hole

So we had hundreds of applications for our recent faculty opening and it was split up into three stacks and each pair of committee members had to nominate their best ten then we shared the top 30 with each other then started to argue things down until ten for phone interview and then ranked and brought the top five candidates in. It was/is a long process, but I read every single application that was placed in from of me. Every word of the max-3 pages research statement, max-2 pages teaching statement, max-2 pages diversity statement, and their cover letter. I peruse the CV (those are way too long). For the CV, I look for background, experience, publications, and past research focus. Mainly just counting the things and scanning for words. For the statements, I read every last word. I have this mentality that if someone writes something and it’s my job or I’m interested in the topic, then I must read all of it. Everyone gets a fair shake. Unless they’re a bad writer….

In a faculty meeting, someone mentioned that they only look at the CV, and one person said they only read the first paragraph of the research statement. What the fuck? I know we’re all busy, but you agreed to be on the committee! How would they feel if that’s all people looked at for their grants (oh wait, I guess that does happen). Is the golden rule not a thing anymore? Each application is about 15 minutes if you’re fast, and 30 minutes if you’re slow. I timed myself. Now, I could have spent more time, but at least everyone got a fair shake. I did these at home, which sucked, but I think I did a good job. I remember when I was interviewing that one committee member was basically perusing my info on the spot in the interview and that he clearly had no idea what my background was. I thought it was because he forgot, but now that I see this from the inside I realize that he was just lazy or wildly overworked! I listened to all this talk, but because I’m scared of all these experienced and connected ‘colleagues’ I’m scared to say anything. Our department head just sat there, too.

So if your application didn’t get any pull, it could be that you weren’t qualified or connected, or just that reviewers don’t care. Try not to get discouraged.

Losing the hiring battle

As I’ve written about, we’re in the midst of a hiring swing which has created a divide between faculty members that are arguing between two candidates: the good pedigree with a good post-doc but very generic research (and no intention to change it), and the okay pedigree with industry experience with definitely unique ideas.  Half of us love the unique ideas and half of us like the pedigree.  The typical candidate also has a very common academic lineage, which is helping their chances.

I was backing the unique ideas (and industry connections), but my side lost in all of this, as the other candidate won out.  So the department will just be a lot more of the same.  Yawn.  Super yawn.  Because we are hiring a little later in the cycle it turns out that The Candidate has other offers.  Now we’re having to bend over backward to basically get someone for which we already have a few of their type.  And the other profs here that work in the same field want to give The Candidate everything they want so they can all share the equipment and create a ‘super-group’ so to speak.  This is all so fucked up.

This is also really eating me up because most of the students I talked to also prefer the other candidate.  So we have more cronies buddying up, and the system becomes more generic.  My department is heavily biologists and engineers and my background is physics.  For this reason (along with other more outwardly observant reasons) I really didn’t want another person who’s part of the club, doing the same shit, and breeding more of the same.  For selfish reasons, I feel like I’ll be even more isolated, from a research and personal perspective, if The Candidate joins on.

So here’s where we’re at now: we’re waiting.  They have multiple offers, and we’re being pitted against the other schools.  The Candidate doesn’t seem like they want to be here, to collaborate with us, and contribute to the university so much as they just want the most money and equipment.  I want someone that really wants to be here.  Part of me hopes that The Candidate doesn’t pick us and the other one accepts another offer out of spite. I’d really like to break this cycle though.

I have nothing against career academics.  My favorite collaborators and mentors are career academics and the best scientists I’ve ever met, but right now for this position in my applied department, I have this attraction to nontraditional candidates (e.g., have spent time outside of academia).  If we were too applied, I would be swinging the other way and begging to get The Candidate on board.  I want more diversity of thought, and The Candidate is as generic as they come considering the current makeup of my department.

Been getting dumber

In industry, the more ‘top level’ thinking I got asked to do, as I started to do more leadership, the more I felt like I was getting dumber.  When I picked up here I started to feel smarter again as I was engaging with other researchers, reading more publications, interacting with students, and teaching.  Lately though, as I’ve been heavy on grant-writing and less-so on manuscript drafting/editing, I feel like I have been getting dumber.  I’ll try to solve a problem or direct a student’s research and I feel I’m missing the ball sometimes.  This might also be just a motivation thing.  I am feeling more tired and moody (the moods swing both ways lately).  I’m considering supplements for the first time in my life, which myself and SO are reading up on like crazy.

Now that the big NIH deadlines recently passed I can get back to just pure science so I’m hoping my brain perks up.  Grant writing is nice because it allows me to focus my thoughts into a cohesive research directive that will inevitably change, but it’s not as problem-solve-ey as I prefer.  This ‘getting dumber’ feeling is translating into my personal life where I’m lacking motivation and missing things that I feel my smarter brain would have picked up.  I wonder if this is also because I have too many balls in the air right now, and neurons are being pre-allocated?