One foot in front of the other

Some days you feel stronger.

And some days you end discouraged. I know bureaucracies protect their own and are extremely resistant to change. I know that speaking up is not likely to result in much change. But seeing it in action just takes the wind out of my sails. I wonder if I should bother with the other next steps I can see before me. Or just shut up, as the universe seems to be telling me. Shut up and take it. Or shut up and leave. Don’t care. Don’t bother.

Hard for me to not care and not bother. But even I get discouraged sometimes.

So it’s the second option for me today.


Clouds in the distance.

I saw two students I much care for this evening. One at the seminar. And one that I taught several years ago. I didn’t even recognize her, although as soon as she said her major, I knew her name. I wrote her a letter of recommendation. She just happened to be in a room where we interrupted to see if anyone wanted any of our leftover pizza.

One thing that was definitely good about today and brought smiles was making students happy with the leftover pizza.

One thing that was good about today was lunch with my friend. And the tale of mayhem, that I know was excruciatingly stressful at the time, but Oh My Gosh, Can You Believe that Really Happened? I hope he is finding it funnier as the days go by. And I hope that the authorities involved are taking steps to make sure this does not happen again.

One thing that was good about today is that I took the car, and I didn’t have to bike home at 9:30 pm.

One thing that was good about today was that another instructor used one of my ideas to encourage her students and cheer herself up.

One thing that was good about today is that judges in both Texas and Arizona said no to laws that discriminate against gay people. Texas! And Arizona! Imagine that.

One thing that is good about today … is that I’m about to head to bed.

Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is a very small voice at the end of the day that says, “I will try again tomorrow.” — Mary Ann Radmacher


I’m feeling better after Sunday’s post. Stronger. Less like a crime victim. More powerful. More capable. Less like I had the crap kicked out of me. And that’s a good thing.

We had an REU meeting on Monday. I walked in, looked them in the eye and said “Good afternoon.” Including to you-know-who. You can be an asshole, and you can hurt me, but you cannot keep me down. It may have started as the PIs meeting, but by the end it was clear that it was my meeting. I’m the one who knows what’s going on and what needs to be done. I’m grateful for that ass-kicking attitude when it shows up at just the right time.

Fractal Tree

An amazing fractal tree.

I am grateful for a friend who suggested I could get a copy of our REU grant proposal from the office of research services. I did. Now I just have to read the 67 page beast and see what it says about the role of the co-principal investigator.

I’m grateful for plans for lunch tomorrow with a former student who has become a friend.

I am grateful to everyone who came to check on me last Wednesday, successful or not. One downside to shutting your door because you are feeling crappy is that you miss the people who come by to comfort you. Thank you all.

I am grateful that I could comfort a student last Wednesday after another instructor (in another department) said some cruel and hurtful things. I’m not grateful for the cruel and hurtful things. I’m not grateful for his pain. But I am grateful that I could be present for those few moments, to sit next to him on the floor in Blocker, to hold his hand, and remind him of what I saw of him in my class. Those small moments of grace where comforting another reminds you of who you are, no matter how hard someone else knocked you down earlier in the day.

I’m grateful to have exams graded and handed back.

I’m grateful for finding music I like on Spotify to add to my playlists. I’m trying to join the modern world of music appreciation!

I am grateful for student reflections on their exams. I am looking forward to reading those. How many points should I give them?

I’m grateful for sunny days and bicycle rides. Trees that turn into these amazing complicated fractals in the wintertime. And clouds. There’s always a new cloud.

I’m grateful to know how to sew on buttons. Especially since several have come off recently.

One step at a time, one day at a time. Things move forward. Things come together. And things fall apart. My job is to keep my spirits up. To love the people in front of me, as best I can. To promote a more human environment for my students, for my colleagues, for myself. To look at and speak up about the elephants in the room. To hold myself with grace, speak with grace, act with grace, and to be grateful when grace appears for me, unbidden and unexpected.

Bruised all over

I think the title says it all about how I feel about last week and its meetings. I feel like I was mugged and beaten, and the signs should show all over my body. In reality, all the damage is to the soul, all invisible, except for those who look closely.

I know I’ll heal. I knew this might hurt. I knew I might get nowhere. This feels like nowhere. Or marginal progress towards anywhere.

So what happened? First, I hope I don’t have to justify to anyone here why I involved the faculty ombudsperson. After all the misunderstandings I’ve had with the department over my job duties, when it appears that now we have a new one, I went to her and asked her to attend the meetings with me. This was, I think, a good thing overall. Documentation!

One conversation I needed to have was with the Principal Investigator (PI) of the Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) grant. I am the co-Principal Investigator. I always thought that made me co-responsible for the program. I’ve got a lot of good qualifications and successes with undergraduates and research, and it was logical that’s why I was asked to be involved with the program.

I’ve heard third hand reports of a meeting the PI had with the department chair discussing my position with the REU and credit I should get for the position. Some of what I heard did not match with my understanding. It’s not fair to just get angry. You have to ask the other person their side.

Perhaps he was offended that the ombudsperson was there. Perhaps I offended him. I don’t know. But when I told him I was hearing stories about this conversation and wanted to know what was going on directly from him, he replied with a hostile, “That was a private conversation and I will not discuss it.” Private my ass when I’ve heard about it third hand. But that was certainly a conversation stopper, or hook, and I was hooked and off balance from it.

Things didn’t improve from there. The conversation felt hostile to me. The ombudsperson felt that the PI was apathetic and ambivalent about the REU, rather than hostile. In the course of the conversation, I discovered my duties during the year consisted of nothing more than

  1. Assembling the applications from students.
  2. Sending out acceptance and rejection letters.
  3. Arranging dormitory accommodations for the students.
  4. Sending them an informational email about College Station and TAMU.
  5. Arranging a get-together every other week in the program with lunch.
  6. Arranging for them to give their final presentations.

I was flabbergasted. I confirmed that list more than once to make sure I got that down correctly.

I’ve been doing a hell of a lot more than that. No wonder we want to devalue my contribution if this is all the contribution that is expected. I made sure to clarify that in his mind my performance would be considered excellent — by him — if I did nothing more than that. Yes.

I asked about all of the other expectations that have been placed on me, usually in the form of statements of what my predecessor in the position did. I got dressed down for not, until now, formally requesting a list of expected duties. No, instead I asked, “What needs to be done?” I asked, “How can I help?” I asked, “What is expected here?”

Let’s notice something else about this list. This list is entirely secretarial. And presented to a woman Ph.D. — the only such involved with the program — who has a solid track record in mentoring undergraduate students in research. How insulting can you get?

The last issue I will discuss is whether I was asked to bring a research project into the program last summer. I recall that I asked what needs to be done to find research problems for our group. I was told some came from the PI and his collaborators, but that my predecessor usually brought statistics related projects in and mentored those. This set me up for the expectation that I should do this too, and I busted my ass to make it happen. I mentored two students solo. I was informed by the PI that I had done this voluntarily, for my own professional development. I am sure I commented that I thought it would be good for my professional development to try to do this, but that’s not where I recall us starting from.

The fact is, that I felt obligated to figure out how to get this done, and at a fairly high cost to myself, I did.

It has done me good in the long run, but ouch. Ouch. Ouch.

I walked out of that meeting, back to my office, asked the ombudsperson to please shut the door. I buried my head in my hands, and I started sobbing.

I had less than 20 minutes to pull myself together and get to my next meeting, with the department chair, who seemed rather unconcerned about my report of this previous meeting.

This is still bothering me. Greatly. I have a meeting with all the REU mentors on Monday and I am trying to figure out how to handle it.

With my head held high, and with professionalism. Obviously. But I’d rather hide in my closet.

It was hard to sit there and listen to someone devalue me professionally like that. Especially after the incident this past spring. When I know I’ve been trying my guts out to help, to do what’s right, to do it well. And when I realize I’ve not been given resources my predecessor had to get the job done. I did do it well. I did a fantastic job. Then to find out the job requirements are so minimal and different from what I thought I was supposed to do, and all that other stuff is considered “volunteer work”. I know I was asking good questions. I know I didn’t go into this with a cautious, document everything, legal mindset. I trusted that we all had a common goal we were working for.

Common goals aside, apparently it is more important to put a lecturer in her place than to make sure this program runs well. I’m disappointed in the PI. Disappointed in the department. And disappointed that my internal radar didn’t give me warning that I was dealing with people who are untrustworthy.

This is yet another reason why I don’t want to stay at Texas A&M. Dammit, you idiots. I have done so much for you. Is it too much to ask that you value me accordingly? Good luck finding my replacement.

Tears for Texas A&M

Dear Texas A&M,

I found myself crying on my bicycle ride home late tonight. I realized I was mourning the loss of our relationship, though it isn’t quite over yet. I can’t see a way forward. I haven’t been able to see a way forward for a while. You may have better days ahead of you, but I think they are going to be without me.

Since we are at the end, there are a few things I want to thank you for.

First, thank you for giving me care of your students. Every day, I have been honored to be in classrooms with them. Every semester, I have gotten to watch them grow in intellect, but more important, in spirit. I have watched these young people learn that they have the power to effect change in their lives.

Second, I want to thank you for what you’ve taught me about myself.

I wanted to teach, but I didn’t know how good I would be at it. I still don’t live up to my own standard most of the time, but I keep growing and getting better. I’ve been grateful for the Center for Teaching Effectiveness. For Wakonse South. For my superb Academic Professional Track Colleagues in Math. They embraced me when I was a visiting assistant professor. They welcomed me into their ranks three years later as a lecturer. They supported me when I went up for promotion. They helped me figure out how to write a syllabus, how to write exams, how to work the classroom computers. They’ve been generous with their notes, week-in-reviews and course materials. They’ve accepted and helped me lead when I’ve been asked to do that. They’ve given me many insights into better teaching.

I came to you thinking I didn’t really ever want to do math or programming again, but slowly, day by day, class by class, you’ve brought me back around to seeing my love for both. I find myself talking over and over again in class about the wonder of the material I teach. And I’ve found myself programming Project Euler problems in my spare time.

You helped me find mentors that have helped me to be able to pull my professional academic credentials together and see that they are worth something on the tenure-track market. If I hadn’t had these people to believe in me first, I would have had a hard time believing in myself. And they’ve been right. I am getting interviews. I may not be right for every school, but I have skills that are extremely valuable in the job market.

Last, you’ve taught me that I am not a doormat; I will stand up for what is right. This past year has been so so hard for me, as I’ve watched things happen that I could not, with integrity, remain silent about. It has been terrifying to speak up. To continue to speak up. And to realize that speaking up required me to start looking elsewhere for employment. I am sad that a better conclusion wasn’t in the cards for us. And I’m angry with you for not having better to offer after all I’ve given to you. But the bottom line is that I am stronger for having lived through this. As angry as I am about what’s gone wrong, I cannot help but be grateful for the growth.

One concept that’s always been dear to my heart is the idea of Aggie Honor. As often as we have students violate our honor code, when you sit them down to talk about it, you can tell that being Aggies and embodying that honor means something to them. Honor means something profound to me too. Integrity. Willingness to do what is right even at a great personal cost. Willingness to speak up when I would prefer to remain silent. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen much honor in you lately, and that makes me sad. I believe you can do better, Texas A&M.

We are going to have some difficult discussions tomorrow. I don’t expect change to happen for me with you, though I hope it happens eventually. I hope, more than anything else, that you can find your way back to honor. To see yourself as I see you. To bring to our students our very best.

I hope you are up for it. I’m not sure I can keep believing in you for now, and that’s part of why I have to go. I know that it is through our darkest moments that we have the most profound break-throughs. I hope for one for me. I also hope for one for you.

With love, and profound sadness,

Dr. Jinx.

The March Forward

Wednesday I have two meetings. One with my REU PI and one with my department chair, both addressing problems I’ve been having with regards to my job responsibilities. I seem to not understand what they are? If someone as conscientious and as careful as I am is this confused, that is a sign of severe departmental mismanagement.

The path is integrity. Face problems head on. Listen. Listen. Listen. Listen to what others say. But brook no nonsense. There are things that are not okay. Know my boundaries and limits, and know what I hope to achieve.

I am going to plan for a high anxiety morning. I will have my medication on hand. I will take it the night before to get to sleep if I need it. I will meditate. I will breathe in and out, pausing slightly between exhale and inhale to feel the moment of nothingness.

What is it I tell my students? Believe in yourself. Bring integrity to your work. Have honor. That’s all I need to do here. Believe. Have integrity. Have honor.

I know that no matter what I do, it may not (probably will not) fix anything. But at least by following this path, I will have done what I could.

A friend posted this to Facebook this morning:

“Civil disobedience is not our problem. Our problem is civil obedience. Our problem is that people all over the world have obeyed the dictates of leaders…and millions have been killed because of this obedience…Our problem is that people are obedient allover the world in the face of poverty and starvation and stupidity, and war, and cruelty. Our problem is that people are obedient while the jails are full of petty thieves… (and) the grand thieves are running the country. That’s our problem.” — Howard Zinn

I hope that by bringing this problem to the attention of those with oversight responsibilities at the university, if change will not happen from within the department, it will be encouraged from without. There are good people who care about doing things right. Maybe not enough of them. But they are there, and some of them are in the positions of authority that they should be in.

I will not be a good, obedient girl. I will question authority. I will do so politely, professionally, respectfully, and forcefully. Fearfully too, but hopefully the only people who will know that are the ones who would offer me support, strength and love.

Assume nothing and open your heart to embrace the good

Dear Student 1,

We took you to brunch today, wanting to give you, if nothing else, another experience of two functional adults in your life who care about you and who are checking in with you to make sure everything is okay. Curious about your life and wishing you the best.

No, you aren’t going to pay for the meal when you are out with us. Pay it forward, to your kids if you have them. To some other struggling young person you encounter later in life. We can’t fix our pasts. We can’t fix your present. We can only try to give to you some of those things we wish we’d had back then, most especially some older adults who just like you and who are willing to go to bat for you.

We talked for a while about the future. My friend talked about finding a place to settle down; that was important to him. And me, what would I advise? I would advise you to expect nothing. It is nice to have a place where you are settled down, but you may not get that. Just when I’ve thought I’ve settled into a place, there has been a reason for me to leave it.

The biggest disappointments I have had are the things I always assumed I get, and didn’t. Assume nothing, except that life is going to be difficult. You will struggle, but you will find your path. It will be hard. That you can assume. Plan for adversity in the future so you can take care of yourself if the worst case happens. But don’t plan out the rest too much; allow yourself to walk through with open eyes and open arms for opportunities and people you will want to embrace.

And if you ever feel stuck and discouraged, try not to be afraid to change. Your worst moments will make your best stories — trust me on this — once they stop hurting you so much. You just have to get through them.

You can have a run of bad luck that goes on for months or years, but if you can just hang on, you can come out the other side.

And in the meantime, no matter what you do, no matter where you are, no matter where I am, if you need someone, please call. If you want to share some success, please call. Just keep my number handy for those moments, and know every time I will be glad to hear from you. I know I’m not your Mom. I’m not anyone’s Mom (that was one thing I wished for my future that I didn’t get). But if I can be your next best thing, I hope you know I’ll try my guts out for you.

With love,

Dr. Jinx (who hopes that word won’t freak you out)

(And, yes, I’m going to ask you and my male friend/partner in crime to lunch or something again in a few weeks and keep doing this until you are convinced that here we are and we mean it and we aren’t going anywhere.)


From Student 2:

Dr. Jinx,

I just wanted to take a moment to thank you for the amount of work you put into teaching us Linear Algebra.

Let me first say, this is in no way an attempt to “suck-up” or any such effort. My grade will be earned fairly regardless of any fallacious tactics to woo over a professor. 🙂

I just know how important it is to let those you contribute so much to your education know they are doing an excellent job. I feel I begin the homework and other assigned work with much more confidence and understanding of the material. This is highly due to the material you have provided (i.e. reading guided note taking, online notes from class for reference, posted solutions, and availability outside of class.) Take my absence from your office hours as a sign that you have taught well enough that there is no need for outside assistance.

Expect to see a high score earned on my first Exam!

Thank you!

Dear Student 2,

You had no way of knowing what I’d be doing today. I was out on my bike and started to have an anxiety attack. I cut the ride somewhat short to get back home for some medication, and along with the medication I found your note.

Thank you for helping to lift me out of that funk of self-doubt, where I am afraid that everything in the world is wrong and me along with it. I wonder sometimes how many of you are hating me for teaching a hard class, even though I know an easy one won’t serve you well in the future. I feel guilty for all the times I’ve had to be gone this semester. For struggling to find time to give you. For not working further ahead, taking each day as it comes, doing what I can, and hoping it is enough. For not being able to give you a better big picture of this wondrous subject we are learning. For not having time enough to explain all the examples, and resorting to the advice that you read them in the book.

Because there it is, at the end of the day, if you are enjoying learning, I know what I’ve done has mattered. I can’t make math into a video game (at least, I haven’t figured out how yet), but at the same time, it shouldn’t be torture. Little puzzles to figure out, one after another.

Thank you for your thanks. Today it meant the world to me. And I did print out what you said, cut it out, and tack it onto the bulletin board by my desk.

And, for darn sure, you better ace that exam.


Dr. Jinx

On Being Angry

For the past few days, I have been angry. I have been wronged. I have been afraid. I have been treated unjustly. And so, I have been angry.

Here’s the thing. I don’t like being angry. I don’t like myself when I am angry. I don’t want to continue to be angry. At the same time, that I am angry means there are problems to be solved, and things to be fixed. My anger helps me to do that.

Can I find a better way?

What would a better way be?

Is there a path to peace with those who wrong you? With those who do wrong knowingly?

What if I was the teacher, and these were my students doing wrong? How would that change things?

I get angry with students, frustrated, tired. But one thing that’s different when I am dealing with students: in these young people, almost without exception, no matter how bad the behavior may be, I am always trying to see through to the possibility that they can do right and grow into honorable, kind, productive human beings. In my interactions with them, I want them to see themselves as those honorable, kind, productive human beings. Or, with the possibility of becoming those honorable, kind, productive human beings. Whatever bad behavior I am called upon to address: it is their behavior; it is not their identity. I want to leave them with that image of themselves as greater, rather than lesser. I open up my heart as wide as I can so that they can see themselves as I can see them, full of promise, hope, possibility, honor.

You may have made a mess. But you are not a mess. You have all the potential that you need to be someone worthy and worthwhile. You get to decide what you do next and how you handle this. Choose well.

Can I do this with a 60 year old department chair too? Can I even try to see this from where he’s at? There is the world he knows well, the world he’s lived in, and the things he’s been taught because of his position. There is a major assumption of privilege. An ignorance of the day-to-day lives of those who report to him. Ignorance of the careers of those who require his good judgment and wisdom in handling our concerns. Perhaps he knows nothing of this. Never considered it to be important. Never saw the people in front of him as human beings, with ambitions and motivation just like him.

Is there the possibility of growth, honor, better in the future?

Of course there is a possibility for growth, honor, and better in the future. There may have been too much bad for me to want to remain for the long term. But can I uphold honor while advocating for fairness, can I be peaceful when addressing wrongs? Can I be courageous in facing those with more power than I have and, armed with little besides my integrity, be a force for good?

That is the standard I set for myself. To let go of the anger. To arm myself with integrity. To see the good and to help others see it. To allow myself to walk away where there is nothing to be gained or when too much has been lost, but to open the doors wide to change for the better where change is possible.


I’m following up to Wins and Losses.

Here’s the letter I sent declining the interview.

Hi 4— and 3–,

The conversation with 3– yesterday and 4—‘s follow-up about what {your university} is looking for have raised a few issues that make me doubt that the strengths I would bring to {your university} are what {your university} will value in the tenure and promotion process. Consequently, I think it is best that I decline the invitation for a campus interview at this time.

A longer explanation:

I think 3– knows that I think one of the leading strengths of my application is my ability to work with undergraduates on projects and, in particular, mentor undergraduate research, but this doesn’t seem to be well-placed in the tenure and promotion process at {your university}.

With 4—‘s letter: my current plan of research is interdisciplinary. We would expect publications in good journals, but not necessarily math journals. This, coupled with my conversation with 3–, leaves me wondering how I fit with what {your university} is really looking for.

I would welcome having the invitation revisited later if you feel that I am a better fit for your department than what I am currently seeing.

I also wish you best of luck in your search. Definitely keep doing the phone interviews; it is better for everyone if you interview and hire candidates that can give you what you want.

Best regards,

Dr. Jinx

You want to see flummoxed, the department chair (3–) and search committee chair
(4—) clearly weren’t expecting that. I got a 3 page email reply from the chair, and both urged me to reconsider.

Unfortunately, there was no more clarity in the 3 page email reply from the chair than there was in the initial phone conversation. This department wants undergraduate research and wants to raise its profile. They have no idea how it fits into their department. If it doesn’t produce peer-reviewed research papers in good journals, it really doesn’t matter for much of anything. Notice, we are discussing undergraduate research. If a publication in a good journal is 1/3 of the requirement for me for tenure, this is a fantastic accomplishment for an undergraduate and that undergraduate’s mentor.

And, as valued toward teaching if it doesn’t result in a peer-reviewed publication in a good journal, this is an uncompensated overload.

Not. Impressed.

I think I’ll send them a follow-up on Monday reiterating the problem and stating that this is the sort of mess I am good at cleaning up. I’ll followup that my hourly consulting rate is $250, and I would be happy to help them figure out how undergraduate research should be handled in their department and the tenure and promotion process. If they would prefer not to hire me given my relationship to their search, I would be happy to recommend a colleague.

Or maybe not. We’ll see how much energy I have over the weekend.

In any case, in reply to the previous blog post and follow up, a friend wrote:

I’ve got to tell you, I have been delighted by the thought of you turning down that interview. You are an academic badass Jinx! I hope I can be as good at listening to my intuition and going for what I want instead of whatever is offered to me when I return to the workforce.

You are a hero to me right now!

That made me feel good. I replied, “I think I’m going to have a hard time wiping that cocky smile off my face today.”

I needed it. Some controversy with the department came around to roost again. It appears once again, within my department, that I am mistaken and confused as to what my job duties are. Now, I am a careful and conscientious person. I think that repeated, documentable, problems with this, especially when I have produced evidence in writing about what I’ve been told are my duties that are in conflict with what others are telling the chair, should cause the department chair to stop, look, listen and, for goodness sake, think when given information that once again indicates that I don’t get what I’m supposed to do. Jehosophat.

And could we please take a moment and consider all the things I have done, the level of competence with which they have been done, and the once again, the documented lack of resources that I was given to get them done.

I should have some credit built up by now.

But I’m not tenure-track faculty. I don’t even get the courtesy extended to make me part of the conversation about my duties.

The department chair walked in when I was discussing these issues with my immediate supervisor. He tried to duck out quickly after asking his question. I didn’t let him. I let him know that

  1. That I, up until this year, did not want to leave Texas A&M, but I am now on the job market.
  2. The lack of clarity with regards to my duties is one of several reasons why I am on the job market. I can no longer see staying at Texas A&M.
  3. That lack of clarity, especially this repeated extenuating lack of clarity, in someone’s job duties is unacceptable to me and should be unacceptable to him as department chair.
  4. That while I liked him and was glad when he was first appointed chair, this is, in fact, an embarrassment to our department and calls into serious question the professionalism of our administration.
  5. The REU principal investigator threw me under the bus. And I am angry about this.
  6. I should be included in these discussions about what I am doing and what I am supposed to do.

I was polite, professional, and not about to brook any nonsense. He said I need to hear his side of it. In a meeting. Later. And ducked out of there.

I contacted the dean of faculties to inform them of the situation and request mediation at this meeting. Which is not yet scheduled. I wonder how many weeks this will take.

Academic badass. It was one hell of a stressful day. But bring it on. If we are going to fight this battle, we are going to fight this battle. I am going to do my best to get this crap straightened out for my colleagues’ sakes. Me, however, I think if I get any kind of an acceptable offer I am out of here in the fall. Maybe at the end of the spring.

Wins and Losses

Tonight I am home from interview #3. The best part of interview 3 was a brief visit with some faculty from another school in the area that are interested in me. I liked them; they were kind and helpful and welcoming.

The school I interviewed at had a number of people talk to me about collegiality. Yet they didn’t join me for breakfast or for dinner. Yet they didn’t have me sit with any faculty one-on-one to discuss life in the department or the possibility of collaborating on projects. I don’t think I talked to any other regular faculty without an administrator present. That didn’t sit right with me.

They also have a big emphasis on going to a project-based educational model. In baby steps. Baby steps are right for an emphasis like that. I’ve taught projects and mentored projects and developed projects. They take a ton of time. Developing a campus-wide initiative to incorporate projects in every course across the curriculum is going to take some serious faculty time. They have a high teaching load, and “for reasons of fairness”, they do not give course releases except for faculty with grants. I agree that course releases can be distributed unfairly, but developing projects can be a serious drain on faculty time and energy. Some will put a lot of energy and time into developing materials, and they should be rewarded for this. It shouldn’t be an unfunded mandate for the faculty to somehow provide.


Not impressed (photo)

Color me unimpressed.

Then, late today, I had a phone interview with yet another school. One aspect of the conversation is the tenure and promotion criteria, and how does what I do fit in with what they want? They are interested in my application for the work I do with undergraduates, they want to promote this, yet it is not really part of what they consider for tenure and promotion! (Yes, you read that right.) Work with undergraduates seems to be counted as a part of teaching or service (where I already excel) rather than as a part of scholarship or research, which is where I want to make sure I have enough points. In fact, what they want for scholarship and research is, specifically, math publications in quality math journals. Nothing wrong with that, but that’s not my main direction. I’d grab it if it came my way, but that’s not what I have planned out for myself.

I tried in every way to make it clear in my research statement that my research focus is on interdisciplinary projects that I can do with undergraduates. They specifically state that they want math publications. Since mine are interdisciplinary, this means they are likely not published in math journals, though mathematical in nature. Second, my real strength is in working with undergraduates and promoting undergraduate research, but they recommend I not do this for the first 2 or 3 years I am there to focus on my research publications (really?). Third, I write on on best practices in education, which is okay, in their book, but not the main thing they want to see.

I’m pretty sure my writing was easy to understand, and it is not clear to me what went wrong here. I spelled out what I am all about. Why did you pick my application out of the pile?

You win some and you lose some. My feeling is this school is also not for me. Tomorrow, or very soon, I will have to reply to their invitation to a campus interview. I am thinking not. I will leave the door open for them to come back and have a dialogue with me, but I don’t think I want to waste anyone’s money and time flying up for an interview with a department where I have serious questions about whether I’d get tenure.

Friends and changes

Today I am flying off for yet another interview. This one seems best approached by low expectations. I’m used to some enthusiasm on the part of hiring institutions to see me. So if I’m there for dinner Sunday evening (I should be), someone (or several someones) take me to dinner. Likewise breakfast Monday morning and dinner Monday night. This group doesn’t want to see me unless I’m on campus. We’ll have lunch on Monday. Low expectations. Low, low, low expectations. Especially after that last school was so warm, welcoming, and downright funny.

I had a friend reunion scheduled yesterday, and despite the intensity of my recent schedule, I got in the car, drove the 2 hours out (and 2 back) and went. There’s something comforting about being around people who just plain like you.

I think I told the story of that last, awesome, interview 6 times. I can complain that the town is small, but the friend vote is that these sound like awesome people and an awesome environment for you, Dr. Jinx. We don’t want you to move away from us, but this sounds like a place. I was already thinking along those lines. We shall see. I am excited, eager … and scared and intimidated. I think that’s the way it always is.

Change is hard. Even when you can see clearly that it is time to make it.

There is always grief for what was, and what you hoped for.

There is always excitement when there is new opportunity.

There is always some internal resistance, because we are comfortable where we are.

But we, my friends and I, we are strong people. We have faced hard things in the past. We know we will probably have to face hard things in the future. We move forward, one step at a time, trying choose as wisely as we can. We try to leave the world just a little better than we found it. We have each other, maybe not every moment of every day, but we can get back together for dinner and the conversation starts up right where it left off the last time. At least, that’s what it feels like.

I’m grateful for all of that. Not always grateful for the pain the change brings, not always grateful to be far from people who love me, but grateful for the good that is always there if I take the time to look for it.