Friday, September 30, 2005

Dean Aftermath

We had a very good lunch with the new Dean. I got about 10 women to show up (many had conflicts but wanted to come). The Dean spent about an hour with us. I had planned to have a low-key, get-to-know-you kind of session, but a few attendees decided to jump right in and start voicing concerns about the tenure clock and tenure expectations. At our university, anyone (male or female) who has a baby while on the tenure track and extend the clock by one year. Whether they choose to do that depends very much on how they think that decision will be percieved by the tenure committee. Donna has chosen to take her year (and so will her husband, who is also a professor here), but she recieved a lot of conflicting advice on the subject. I don't face that choice since I was not on the tenure track when I had my two boys. Donna and I discussed it and we agree that it's not the maternity leave that gets you. It's that 6-month period that every baby goes through when s/he is sick all the time. Every day you show up to work wondering whether you're going to get the dreaded call from your daycare center and have to rush off to pick up the baby. Extending the tenure clock for one year helps, but my fear is that the Dean and many other well-meaning people will reduce all of our discussions of the barriers we face to this one issue.

We also discussed the difficulties associated with child care. The Dean set up a task force on the subject (I got myself volunteered for that one which met that very morning before the Dean lunch). I had to laugh when, at lunch, he said something like, "I'm gathering this is an important issue." Like, duh!

After the Dean rushed off to his next appointment, many of us stuck around to talk more. Mostly to just vent, but some constructive things were said. One of the women at lunch was Dana, who has a big two-body problem. Her husband is a professor at another university and they live halfway between the two schools, giving each of them a 90-minute commute. They have a 19-month old daughter. I had heard that Dana was leaving her job here, and she confirmed that at the meeting. She said she wants to have another child and just can't handle the commute any more. She is hoping to get a job at her husband's school and to work part time in a 20% hard money position. They are moving so that they will both have only a 5-minute commute. Privately she told us that one of the senior faculty in our dept told her not to have any more children. I can guess who it was, and I have to say he is kind of a nut job anyway, and I wouldn't pay too much attention to anything he says, but it's still very discouraging to be told that by anyone. We talked about the idea of having a fast tenure track and a slow tenure track. I like that idea.

On a personal note, during our conversation after the Dean left, I talked about my frustration with the fact that my husband feels that I don't spend enough time with my family when I only work 9-4:30 most days and I never take work home with me or work on weekends. Everyone at the table was shocked that I could survive working such few hours. So on the one hand I feel proud of myself that I can manage on less than 40 hrs a week. But on the other hand I feel somehow guilty that I don't work harder. Am I a great role model who is successfully balancing work and family? Or am I a traitor who gives all female profs a bad name for not working hard enough? I'm damned if I do and damned if I don't. No matter how hard we try, no matter what we do, it is never right, never good enough. So I always choose to just completely ignore what everybody says and follow my gut. My gut says 40 hrs a week is enough. I haven't worked more than that since I came to this school as a post-doc 7 years ago, and I'm not going to start now. In the immortal words of Sid Vicious, "all you cowboys can kiss my a$$".

Here's what I think we need to do: blow it up. I don't think we should try to tweek the current tenure system, we need to blow it up and start over. Why? 1. Tweeking says the current system is basically okay. It's not. 2. Tweeking will never be enough. Bigger changes are needed. 3. People need to know that major changes are coming. Tweeking allows them to be complacent and not really face the issues. 4. The current system doesn't work very well for men either. They just don't know it. It sucks and it is unfair to everyone, not just women.

Blow it up. Here's what I'd like to see. A variable tenure clock for everyone of 5 to 9 years. You choose when to go up for tenure, and you don't need an excuse to take a little longer. Some people are just late bloomers. Plus, we need more hard money non-tenure track positions. In exchange for the hard money, these non-tenure track people would teach more. Plus there should be a process by which people can jump back and forth from tenure to non-tenure track positions by petitioning the university. Again, you shouldn't need an excuse (like birth of a child) to do this. All kinds of stuff happens in life that might make a person want to puts things on hold, or speed things up. Universities ought to be flexible in these days when the job market as a whole has become much more flexible.

Do I have time to agitate for these changes? Nope. Maybe after I have tenure...

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Back to normal?

Well, I'm back from Boston and survived my trip to NYC yesterday. Note to self: don't forget to put that down as an "invited seminar" on your CV. Today is a typical up and down day:

My student, SD, has excellent research results to show me!

Have to take car to body shop to fix major dent resulting from Boston trip.

Ion Chromatograph (this week's lab for my lab class) is acting up. Spent two hours on it and now it seems to be fixed.

Computer on one of my instruments died. Two weeks to fix. (Remember "The Money Pit"? everything takes "two weeks". )

The meeting I arranged between our new Dean and the untenured female faculty is tomorrow at noon. I thought we were going to the Faculty Club so there was no need to arrange food, but while I was in Boston I got an email informing me that we were NOT going to the Faculty Club, and since I was in NYC yesterday, today was the first chance I had to arrange catering. Luckily I found a place that can do it at the last minute. I printed out the tally I did of the female faculty ratios on our campus (Campus wide: 20%. My dept: 35%), so I think I am ready for the meeting.

Due to my interaction with the Dean, he volunteered me to serve on some panel addressing childcare issues on campus. So that meets for the first time tomorrow at 9:30. Then at 2 I agreed to do an interview with someone who is doing a dissertation on mentoring issues in academia. So it is a busy day tomorrow.

What about Thursday? See allergist in the morning (pick up referral before I go over there), take care to body shop, then meet with marriage counselor at 4. I may not come in to work at all. And Friday of course is my lab class. If the IC works today, I am ready for class. If not, I fall back on the last refuge of the incompetent: using last year's data.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Stormy weather

Well, I'm in Boston getting trained to use my new instrument. I haven't posted in a while because I've been in the middle of a difficult time in my personal life. Maybe it was because of the tension caused by my upcoming trip, but for whatever reason my husband and I had a huge fight last week that left me barely functional (emotionally speaking) for several days. And now I'm in Boston. this morning he called me to ask where younger son's shoes were. How am I supposed to know, I'm in Boston for god's sake! Before I left I laid out outfits for both boys for every day I'll be away, and we made out menus for lunch and dinner for everyone. Since we had just made up from a big fight I was careful not to sound totally exhasperated (sp?) with his "feigned incompetence." I love my husband, but he is, by his own admission, very high maintenance.

I am staying with his cousin and her family in the Boston area. She is a stay at home mom with one daughter (5) and they just moved into a huge McMansion, where she is remodeling everything using mostly the Restoration Hardware and Pottery Barn catalogues. Everything is so tasteful. It really does feel like a 5-star hotel to me. They drive twin Lexus RS330's. But her husband works in Boston proper and never gets home before 8 pm. So all in all, I prefer my 3-bedroom ranch and getting my whole family together for dinner at least three nights a week.

The October cruise has been postponed due to the Hurricane Katrina cleanup, so I can stop worrying about that and find something else to fret about. Thursday night we are supposed to finish training at 5, so I will drive straight home, getting in around 10, then Friday I teach lab class starting at 9:15, then take myself and both boys to the dentist in the afternoon (missing the faculty meeting). Monday I get to go into NYC for the day (lovely 2-hour commute each way). After that, my life can get back to "normal". Whatever that is.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Training on new instrument

Spent all day training on new instrument. Brain fried. Going to Boston for even more training all next week. Husband is not happy. Worked out emergency child care for Monday night when I am gone and hubby is playing golf "for work". Much marital strife. Do not have heart to tell him that boat is scheduled to leave Oct 8 for 8-9 days at sea.

Have to get instruments working for my lab class before I leave. Will work on that tomorrow.

Brain fried.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Another one rides the bus

Today I put my older son on the bus for his first day of public school. They have only a half day today, so I am leaving soon to pick him up. I blubbered like a baby this morning as I watched him drive away. How did he get so big? How did I get so old? I was pregnant with him when I defended my PhD. He is the reason we bought our house and got serious about our careers and got a maid service and a lawn service and a marriage counselor. Kids have no idea how much they rock their worlds. Which is another way of saying what I have known since I became a mother:

Most of the justice in this world is meted out unknowingly by children.

God bless 'em. Good thing they are so cute.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Back from vacation

Well I'm back. I had a nice vacation and managed not to let my in-laws bother me too much. We got back Thursday night because I had to teach Friday morning. Friday was older son's last day of daycare, so as we were pulling in to the driveway Thursday night he asked if he could take cookies to school to celebrate. By chance I had a package of chocolate chips in the cupboard, so I said I would make cookies. Why don't men bake cookies? I don't know if it was the flour or the butter or what, but the cookies went flat. So I had to rush out at 6:30 Friday morning and buy cookies to take to school.

I was totally unprepared for class on Friday, but that is nothing to be ashamed of. I know, as do we all, that I won't get tenure for being a good teacher, and that time spent preparing for lessons is largely wasted. So I bluffed my way through yet another class, and it was good enough.

Next week I am going for training on my new instrument, so my husband will have to fend for himself. He has a golf tournament thingy on Monday while I'm away so he will have to either skip it or find someone to pick up the kids for him. I have offered to help him arrange something, but so far he hasn't done anything. I wash my hands of it. He's a big boy, he can arrange his own childcare.

The cruise in October is probably not going to happen because the boat is down in the Gulf helping out with the hurricane recovery. My student seems to be handling everything okay. They found her uncle alive, although he had not eaten in six days. Thank god he is well. I am sorely tempted to start talking politics here, but I will bite my tongue.

This coming Friday the head of one of my granting agencies is coming to give a seminar, so that we can stroke his ego and impress him with our abilities. I have class, so I will meet with him afterward. I am the only one of the research team on this project who has meaningful data to show him. So I have to spend some time practicing what I will say to him. And I will have to dress nicely for once. Two things I normally DON'T do to prepare for class.

Friday, September 02, 2005


Well, I'm off on vacation for a week. Today was the first day of class and I think it went well, although I'm guessing the students didn't like it much. I tried to practice a little "student centered learning" today by having the students in my lab class come up with their own list of criteria for how their lab reports will be graded. The result was a very broad list of criteria with little or no detail. I'm going to have them grade each other's lab reports using their list of criteria, and then after the first lab report, I'm going to give them a chance to change their criteria. I think it will be a big eye-opener for them to see how bad some of these initial lab reports are. They will get a chance to re-write the first lab report and have it re-graded under the new criteria, so their grade won't be affected much by what they did today. But the idea is that I made them think about what is important in a lab report. I also set up a blog for the class, and I asked them to post on it and give me feedback about the first day of class. We'll see what they have to say.

I got my older son into the after care program at his school (turns out my registration got lost in the mail but they have unlimited spots in the program). So that crisis is averted. It is looking more and more like I won't be able to go on the sampling cruise in October--it is just too difficult to work out the childcare, etc. And I arranged to spend Thanksgiving here instead of driving a full day out to see my parents, which will make going to the convention the week before Thanksgiving less burdensome. I'm keeping my head above water for now.

thinking very much of the people in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. My new undergrad intern is from New Orleans and has at least one death and one missing person in her family. I'm praying for all of the victims and have sent donations into the Red Cross. God help us all.