Ad-meh-nistrators

What I was (less of) a corporate stooge I ran the lab.  I was in a leadership position, and damn good at getting things done.  I was rarely the bottleneck.  Now, I’m sure there are plenty of things for administrators to do, but signing anything I need signed from them is not one of those things apparently.  Now, I’m sure there’s plenty going on in the background, but what the fuck do they actually do?  I need to know, because I’ve been waiting for this form to get signed for two weeks.

This got me thinking about administrators: when I was interviewing at schools, my current one is the only head that I didn’t really like.  But the university itself, the collaborators, and the city made it easy to not think about the admins.  Especially since they don’t stick around forever.  The other ones served as kind-of mentors, willing collaborators, and generally nice people that want you to succeed.  My current one just tries to give me tons of tasks (which he knows I can’t as easily turn down, given my lack of tenure), without doing anything easy for me in return.  Is his job just to give people busy-work and hope the department gets good enough so he can move up the academic chain?  I know he’s not really doing research anymore, which should mean that his admin duties are so involved he can’t dedicate himself to his research?  But I really don’t know.

Talking to other profs here they all seem to think similarly, and that we only need him for his signatures, but I like to think that he does more.  That being said, maybe he could be replaced by one of those signing robots…

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Teaching isn’t so bad

When I was a graduate student, one thing I heard a lot of was how much the professors didn’t want to teach; preferring to spend their time on research. And that they would do whatever it took (buying out, complaining a whole lot, etc) to ensure most of their effort was spent on research. So I naturally assumed that teaching was the worst and that I should avoid it at all costs. My first year here I negotiating a zero teaching load for, with only one class/semester until after tenure review. But I came to realize that not only am I great at teaching, but I do enjoy it. I wrote into my grants a buy out, but I think I’ll miss teaching if I exercise this option. I like grading papers, I love the feeling I get when a student grasps a topic they didn’t before, and I love re-learning some of the basics I sometimes forget. It’s all great! Now, it is a time-sink, but I think some people aren’t as busy as they say if I can fit this in with minimal complaining.

What is weird about my past profs complaining is that they were all different ages. It’s not like just the new ones or just the old ones were complaining about teaching; they all were! Except for the occasional older professor who’s research program has widdled down a bunch and teaching is the majority of their work. They love teaching. So why is it so bad? I understand if you have a heavy load and you have research obligations, but most of the complainers only have one class/semester… Am I too stupid to realize that teaching sucks?!

You should…

I don’t do well when I get told what to do.  There’s this statement ‘you should…’ that gets under my skin for some reason.  If I had a rough moment and someone says, “you should take the afternoon off.”, or “you should come get drinks with me.”  Or even if the person says, “you should look at teaching less”, or “you should tell that collaborator to fuck off” it just sits the wrong way.  Like I feel like they’re telling me they know what’s best for me.  I don’t know why I hate it so much.  Honestly, people are probably just giving me unsolicited advice, and I should be grateful they care enough to give me the advice, but I don’t feel grateful.  I really fucking hate it.  This probably has this deep-seeded psychological basis in the fact that there was a lot of pressure on me as a youth from my parents, but honestly, I don’t care.

When I was in industry I had a reputation for selectively following orders and being difficult to wrangle, which definitely hurt me professionally.  And I definitely ended more than one relationship when mansplaining goes on.  Often if someone tells me I should do something, I don’t do it just because I’ve been told I should do it.  I wish I could just follow along and when someone says I should do it, I just do it, but it’s ingrained in my DNA to despise being told what to do.  I think I associate the word ‘should’ with them telling me that they know me better than I know me.  If I really should do something then shouldn’t I know already?  I kind of associate it with nagging, which I’ve never been good at being on the receiving end of.

There have been times I’m okay with it, when the person has really valid points: like my former adviser when talking grants, or an old boss when balancing budgets, but I really can’t stand it.  Maybe I’m just really hard-headed.  The hermit-life is looking more and more appealing every day.

Litterbugs

Or should I say, litterassholes.

I love nature.  And I live in a usually clean city, but today I’m driving behind someone and I see them make a turn then throw a fucking fast food trash bag out the window.  Now, maybe someone put a grenade or mean rabies-infected animal in it, and that would maybe warrant throwing it out of the window for your dear life, but even then I’m on the fence.  So, being the passive aggressive person I am, I drive up to see what kind of asshole would do that.  A student-that’s who.  Not mine, per se, but definitely a student at my school.  Now, maybe I’m crotchety older person, but I can’t imagine that even young me would be okay with this.  I missed out on my calling of being a Planeteer.

This got me thinking about kids on campus, in general.  They are a little stuck-up.  And they definitely think the world revolves around them and they don’t have to be considerate (like not littering).  I wonder if there’s something I can do.  Ultimately, they are the customer so I can’t (shouldn’t) berate them, and I’m not the most physically imposing person, though I do have a mean bark.  Have students always been like this, and I was just oblivious because I was one of them, or have they become bigger assholes?  Are all campuses like this?  I guess I’ll never know, and I don’t think there’s much I will be able to.  Bark.

Riting Erors

My first language wasn’t English, but I learned it very early on and most people can’t tell that it wasn’t my first language since I have a flawless and wonderful American accent.  But writing on the other hand…it’s a bitch.  I am great at getting my thoughts to paper/NAND, but not so great at missing typos and grammatical issues.  It take many many reads for me to find nearly everything.  And by nearly, I mean nearly.  I still miss a bunch.  For instance, I’ll post something here thinking I did a good job editing then I’ll notice a typo in the very first sentence of the published post.  This happens all the time: emails, grants, reports, publications, text messages, etc. and I don’t know how to get better.  Practicing helps, but not as much as I thought it would.

This is where editors come in.  I have a few trusted people that I have read important things so they pick up typos really easily, but I wish there was a way for me to get better at this stuff.  I aced college English classes, but honestly they were so easy they were jokes, so clearly that wasn’t the way to learn.  I am getting better at grant apps and manuscripts because I have lots of editors, but for this blog and my emails there’s no white light.  Just lost of topys.

Boredom Business

I’m teaching a really cool graduate level course.  I get to use a lot of my background and teach students things they definitely wouldn’t have learned in school otherwise.  It’s ‘applied’, as they say.  This post isn’t about that though.  It’s a difficult course, which means students are coming to my office more frequently, which means I end up doing small talk because that’s the person I am.  Four of the 12 students are from the same lab.  So they end up working together and correspondingly, coming to my office together.  This is where things get weird: they complain about their adviser.  A lot.  This is an older full professor with multiple big grants under his belt and kind of a dickhead attitude, so I’m not surprised there’s complaining.  And he seems to be able to recruit really good students even though word is out on how bad he is.  Now they have a few of the typical complaints: cheapness, work hours, output demands, demeaning attitude, selfishness, lack of direction, etc.  But the one interesting one I heard was his boredom business.

Apparently, when he gets bored he comes down to the lab and grad students offices and starts micromanaging them.  When it’s heavy grant season or he has something person taking up his time he is only seen periodically.  And when he’s micromanaging he gets them all turned around on their projects; wanting to try random things for no reason.  This is what I told them:

In my first ‘real’ job I had a manager like this.  Everyone could tell when he had less to do because he would ‘invent’ problems that needed to be solved.  We would all be doing our thing and he would come out and mess everything up.  So we all got really good at arguing against the bad ideas and managing our manager.  This is a great opportunity to learn how to set up boundaries without fear of being fired.  I mentioned that he ultimately gets the final say, but there are ways to argue into getting your way if your way is actually the correct way.  I mentioned to not take in all the orders and information, but treat these impromptu boredom visits into conversations starters.

It’s easy to complain and begrudgingly move in whatever direction leadership wants, but they’re not always right, and this is a great opportunity to learn how to handle the inevitably difficult people everyone has in their professional lives.  That being said, to bored people in leadership/advising/whatever: get a hobby.

The itch

Whenever I hear a story about someone staying at a job for 20 years I have mixed feelings.  On one side, that takes a decent amount of discipline.  On the other side, I can’t imagine working in the same job that long.  Even if the work gets mixed up, just being in the same place would be really weird for me.  Also, I either think the person has been treated very well by their company, or the cynic in me thinks they just didn’t try to move up and on; getting pay boosts and promotions along the way.  Let’s be honest, (most) companies don’t care about their people.  Everyone is replaceable and by staying in a company and not forcing their hand in compensation and job duties means you’re doing someone(thing) that doesn’t care about you a favor.  What’s best is to take care of oneself and oneself’s family and friends.  There are obvious charity cases I believe in, but giving a company the benefit of the doubt and loyalty when, for the most part, everyone is a cog regardless of what they say is not a good thing in my opinion.  They will always do what is best for their bottom-line, regardless.  Now, I’m certain I have these thoughts because I’ve seen the brutality that companies have from the inside, but in general I’m a cynical person.  The fastest way to climb the corporate ladder and get the largest paycheck the soonest is by job-hopping.  Not every year, but every few years.  There are people that climbed the ladder in a given organization without leaving, but that is definitely not as common.  Talk to most higher-ups at companies and they’ll give you a diverse background story at many different companies in different roles.

So this leads me to the itch. After a certain amount of time I don’t want to be in the same career spot any more.  Switching roles/groups/companies is a great way to get a raise, new responsibilities, and a fresh start.  A little variety is good for the brain.  I have never stayed in a role more than five years.  My average is ~3.5 years.  I stayed at my last company longer than five years, but not by much, and I moved internally between groups.  Now, in the academic setting as an untenured, but on the track, professor I’m probably going to be sticking around past five years.  This feels weird because I don’t really have the itch to leave yet.  So I did some self-reflection on why I’m not feeling the way I normally do after a few years and I think it’s come to this (ranked by significance):

 

  1. No direct boss.  I kind of have a boss in that there’s a department head, but for the most part I really only answer to myself.  I obviously take criticism, and work in groups, but there isn’t really a person in which I have to ask for permission to do something from.  I show up and leave when I want, and if I want to change the direction of my lab I can do so without issue.  I don’t have to worry about ‘making the boss look good’, which is ultimately what most peoples’ jobs are, and if I want to fuck around no one is telling me not to.  My decisions aren’t always the best, but I’m willing to accept my failures rather than have someone else judge whether a risk is worth taking.  I have never done well with micromanaging, and not having someone to answer to is pretty nice.  This fucking freedom makes me feel great.
  2. Being around students.  Being around younger people makes you feel young.  Also, having the constant change of students seems like the work environment is a little more mixed up.
  3. Vacations.  I’ve never taken so much time off in my life.  I’ve been taking three day weekends, the occasional week off if classes permit, and having the summers off from teaching is great.  I get so much more done because I’m so refreshed from having a good work-life balance.
  4. Scientific diversity and learning.  Being on a campus is great.  Seminars all over the place, experts in their fields, and great collaborators.  If I want to speak to an expert in a field I just call them, and they’re usually happy to get a collaborator.  I’ve learned so much since coming here.
  5. Scale.  In the medical science and devices field in industry you have to think about how to scale to volume.  Now, I had the privilege where I didn’t have to work as much on manufacturing or NPD (pre-manufacturing, in essence), but I still had to think about whether a new design could eventually make the company money.  And higher-ups decided whether pursuits were worth pursuing.  This hasn’t come up once other than when I have to teach it to students.  It’s great to just do the science I’m interested in and that’s it.
  6. Campus.  To be honest, I don’t like a lot of the culture on college campus like when a bunch of students are together and acting obnoxious (fine, I’m old…I don’t like loud noises), but seeing people sitting in the grass, enjoying the air and background noise of students working or playing frisbee is a pretty nice environment.  I’ll come down from my office and just take a break with a cup of tea and just disconnect and come back recharged.  It’s great.

 

I don’t know if these are the reasons I don’t have the itch, but these are my suspicions.  That being said, I feel like I could enjoy these at most similar universities out there…just have to wait until after tenure.