What’s next?

Drowning. I feel like I’m drowning.

A decision has been made, and I’m headed for new territory next year.

Meanwhile, the work here and now stays piled up. I need to make forward progress.

If you had to move across the country, what would you keep? What would you get rid of? What would you want to do differently?

I do want to down-size. I do not want a complicated yard to take care of. I do want to be able to hire help for housekeeping. I want to simplify. But, of course, there are also many things I probably don’t want to give up. I have to, though, and I think the advice I got from a friend to leave as much of it behind as possible is good.

A new start. So start new. Start where you want to be, if you can figure out where that is. I’m not sure yet, and I know it is a long road and a lot of work in front of me to get there. Do one thing every day to make progress, and, in theory, I will get there.

First, though, I have to manage the end of the semester. I’m behind in my class, and it is time to triage what I am going to do and what I am not going to do. I just hope that whatever I do is good enough.

And second, I’ve been under an immense amount of stress for months. This might not end today. Or soon. But it would sure be nice if I could get it under some semblance of control so I was sleeping better. Better rest = better productivity, and I need it.

Third, I have gotten to doing some calisthenics: pushups, planks, crunches, arm exercises at home. In short bursts. It’s an epsilon, but an epsilon that I need to make myself stronger. I am grateful for the start.

Fourth, I weed-and-fed the lawn today. One more small chore accomplished. The stuff didn’t say it needed to be watered in, but if I’m right, we should have rain within 48 hours. Here’s to a nicer lawn while selling my house. I am grateful for another small chore accomplished.

I need sleep. Soon. Now. No better time than the present. Good night all.

Decision Made

It is done. A decision is made. Dr. Jinx is leaving the world of non-tenure track faculty, and entering the world of tenure-track faculty at a school that emphasizes and values teaching, but that still has a scholarship requirement and encourages scholarship. May I find my way to productivity in teaching and in scholarship while I am there.

I am happy to have this decision made; knowing an 11th hour offer from another school with some really good policies was coming maybe on time and maybe not wasn’t helping matters. Talk about being pulled in multiple directions, wondering what the right thing to do is. It was good that I’d made a rubric for evaluating schools earlier; when my mentor told me to go home and apply it, it became clear that the 11th hour offer was unlikely to be enough to overcome the other issues that school presented. And it didn’t — the salary was barely above my other offer for a city with cost of living that is about 1.5 times greater than where I am or would be moving too. Not a deal.

I am sad that they scrambled to put the offer together when I had to reject it, but I did tell them what my other offer was and that the cost of living was comparable to my current home town.

Now I just hope that I can get some sleep and get started on the next things that need to be accomplished. Hopefully my anxiety and stress will go down now that I know where I am headed. Now maybe I can do a better job of concentrating on my teaching and research and do a better job with both. Oh, and all those pesky service tasks I need to chase after (ugh).

I am happy. I am scared. I am happy. Concentrate on happy. One foot in front of the other, one day at a time.


More interviews. An offer that I successfully negotiated to a point where I am comfortable/happy about taking it. A major teaching award.

I should be over the moon happy, but reality is that mostly, I’ve just been queasy and anxious. That seems ungrateful, even to me, but there it is.

The teaching award really put me in a funk for about a week. I think it brought home the idea that you really can be doing outstanding work, and, if you are not a tenure-track or tenured person in our department, you are still not really valued by the department.

Looking at it from another perspective, and this is the one I would like to get fixed firmly in my head, this award represents how much I’ve meant to my students. One in particular. The students wrote letters for me. They are telling me that I made a difference, sometimes a big difference, in their lives. I am honored and grateful for the opportunity to teach them and for the trust that they put in me. I am honored and grateful to be able to make that difference. I hope they know that they, too, have made a difference in my life.

On the job offer, I negotiated the salary to the point where I thought it was advantageous enough to me financially. The department chair himself told me to negotiate as hard as I could, and I did. It appears I pushed them as hard on salary as I could, hopefully while being polite, supportive, feminine — all the things women are required to be. Shouldn’t I be proud of that? So why do I feel kind of squicky about it now? Is it just that negotiating and asking for what you want is acting out of character for women? Is it the chilling news about the negotiation at Nazareth College that resulted in a rescinded job offer? I’m certainly familiar with the literature on women and negotiating, and that literature certainly makes it clear that often you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

That little voice in my head asks me if I have damaged relationships with colleagues by taking the chair at his word and asking for more than was offered. That little voice in my head says I was just doing what I am supposed to do. And it also says that life is not fair. My challenge is to find some peace and some path through all the things the little voice says.

Last the interviews. It was pretty obvious that the first school I interviewed at recently wasn’t as interesting as my current offer. The other one I liked a lot, but there are both perks and red flags with the position. First, the teaching load is lower. Second, they have a nice system of course buy-outs for pre-tenure faculty, even though they are a teaching school. Third, they are a department of 5 faculty nearing retirement, all of whom are greatly motivated to mentor me towards success. On the down side: the school has had financial problems in recent years. No raises. At one point, no contributions to the retirement fund for either a semester or year. There are reasons to believe it is on a healthier track. Things to seem to be getting better. On the other hand, there are also reasons to worry.

In any case, I find it unlikely they can get an offer together before I have to respond to the one I have.

It looks like a big decision is coming on Friday or later today to move to a new school and start a new position as a tenure-track assistant professor. I wish I felt less scared about it all, but big changes, even good changes, bring up a lot of anxiety. I don’t want to leave. I don’t want to stay. The only way is forward. There will be many very difficult moments ahead, but that would be true no matter what. As Lois McMaster Bujold writes,

Tests are a gift. And great tests are a great gift. To fail the test is a misfortune. But to refuse the test is to refuse the gift, and something worse, more irrevocable, than misfortune.


Must be making progress

I must be making progress.

The job offer negotiation is on, and it started off from a reasonable position.

I feared getting a low offer for less money than I am making now. I know I would have dealt with that if it had come, but I also know that my spirits would have taken a hit if that had happened. Last year’s incident was more than enough of that for one life-time.

Good news. The offer is for more than I’m making now or would be next year, but not overly generous. I know where I want to be on this negotiation so I said, “I’d like to open at this higher amount.” I got some hemming and hawing and referred to talk to someone else, but it wasn’t a “no way,” and it was respectful. They have some reasons. I have some reasons. All I want to do is meet at a good spot in the middle. I think — I hope — we’ve got a good chance of making that happen.

Money can’t buy happiness, but it can make you awfully comfortable while you’re being miserable — Clare Boothe Luce

Meanwhile the sort-of-kind-of good cop/bad cop routine (in which both players at the school — dean and department chair — are playing both roles) amused me.

I have some more questions to ask about this whole deal. But that’s how this works. You ask questions, you get answers, you ask more. You negotiate. You revisit and refine for a little while.

And one more small victory.

I had a student come by today to do some linear algebra. Over spring break! This is one I sought to put the fear of god into last week on Thursday, and apparently I succeeded. A low score was obtained on an exam. A high score was obtained on a homework. Dr. Jinx wonders how this happened and called a bunch of students in to demonstrate that they do, in fact, know how to do a homework problem. Several succeeded. This one did not. Bad juju. I gave him a zero on the homework problem, and the lecture about how if you put the time into understanding the material, the exam scores would follow right along with it.

I don’t like being the bad cop, but I’m betting that at the end of the semester, having come to terms with this material, this young man is going to be happier with himself than if he scraped by or had to drop out. There is something immensely satisfying about conquering a demon that’s scaring you. I think he can do it. We worked on linear independence and linearly independent functions. He knew more when he left than when he arrived. Success.

I hope I can do what I need to do too. I can walk around the world one step at a time. Watch me.

Fear and Flashbacks and Moving Forward

Eleanor Roosevelt says that you should

Do one thing every day that scares you.

I don’t know how I’m doing on the one-a-day count, but I know that in this past academic year, I’ve addressed a lot of things that have terrified me.

  • Going on the job market.
  • Deciding to go after tenure-track positions, which required me to write a research statement. I didn’t think I could. I was afraid to try. But I did it.
  • The interviews themselves have scared me on and off. Sometimes more confident, sometimes more shaky.
  • Dealing with my home department and its problems. There are people in that department whose lack of anger management and general fairness creates a hostile and intimidating environment.
  • Having to raise issues outside the department and within, to face these problems.
  • Dealing with people who are acting in an obstructionist manner.
  • Needing to go back to authorities within the university about even more blatant diversity and climate issues.

And I have gotten through most of that, though some is still pending. With a ton of discouragement, and not a lot of confidence. I have kept moving forward, nevertheless.

But tomorrow … tomorrow we open a job negotiation. I remind myself that we should be on the same side. But last spring’s fiasco has left me with anything but confidence on that point.

I am dealing with things that I am not sure are major enough to be called flashbacks, but they are like flashbacks. I am suddenly back in that emotional space where nothing I can do or say will change anything, I am not being supported by the person closest to me, and I am scared and paralyzed. I feel the obligation to say the right thing to make things go right, but I know that you cannot make unreasonable people reasonable. That is beyond my super-powers.

What if this happens again? I don’t want to stay where I am. I will not go somewhere that isn’t treating me right. What if we end up in the grey zone of uncertainty? Then how do I deal? What if I say the wrong thing or don’t deal with things perfectly?

And that’s ridiculous. I don’t have to be perfect. Neither does that dean have to be perfect. We both just have to be good enough. We both just have to want to make a deal that is good for the school and good for me, then work on what exactly that is.

Well, at least this time, I cannot lose a significant other over what happens. Right?

A principles/ideas of the negotiation:

We all want me to accept this job offer, and bring what I have to the school. This negotiation is about making that happen.

Tools that can be used:

  1. Figure out our common goals and priorities.
  2. Ask why the other person has whatever stance they have.
  3. Generate alternative ideas that might help with the problem. This can involve hiring me with a different title, for example.
  4. How can funds get best used to further everyone’s goals?
  5. Find out from others some details on start-up packages.
  6. I don’t have to respond to anything immediately. “I need some time to think about that.”
  7. If offered a salary that is obviously too low, the pregnant pause and, “That was lower than I was expecting/Is less than I am making now.”
  8. Find somewhere that we can have success together.

That’s the basics of what I can do. On the rest I have to trust.

A friend reminded,

Fear is a sign of profound opportunity.

And that goes along with a corollary,

Make the most of the opportunity in front of you.


Even after being up in the middle of last night, today was better. I fell back asleep around 5:30 am, and I didn’t get up until well past 8.

I went in to campus late.

I got done with the minimum I needed to do.

I had a massage. Those really do help. Really do help.

I had a phone interview. I cut it short when they said a typical faculty member was expected to teach 4 courses, with three different preparations and produce 2 papers every 5 years in order to expect to get tenure. Seriously? No thanks. I’m not interested in the position.

I heard a hilarious story about more of our departmental mismanagement. I need to hear the rest of this story.

I mailed a letter to my Dad that I decorated and wrote while I was awake last night.

I told friends about the pending tenure track offer. I informed my department chair so that he would have ample time to consider what kind of a counter offer the department wants to make.

I talked to one of my mentors about negotiating the actual offer. This will probably happen on Monday.

And we’ll see what happens next.


It’s been a tumultuous week, not all of which I can even discuss yet.

Yesterday was perhaps the apex, with news that a job offer from my first choice school is pending. I wrote about my worries before the interview, but they knocked that out of the ballpark. I still had some concerns about the size of the community, but having seen a few more places and having more time to think about it leads me back to the thought that the signs and portents are good.

I’m still worried about negotiating out the financials. I want to take a step forward in my career, and that certainly includes a step forward in compensation. In moving from industry to academia, I took a big hit financially. I want to say that from here it is only fair to have forward momentum, but there is no fair in this world. But, fact, I want to have better compensation at my new job than at my old. That is part of what makes me want to move forward.

Of course, the whacked out, dysfunctional world of the old department makes staying there feel untenable or uncomfortable at best. I pressure myself, and a few others have also pressured me to find a way to make the current situation acceptable. This makes me want to scream and cry like a small child. Surely, surely, surely, I’ve tried. At an extreme cost to me in stress, distraction, and time. The response has been that I’m a special case. That we don’t want to address the situation head on, we want to see if it settles down. We don’t think my concerns represent a larger problem. And that is the larger problem. If every sign of a problem is just an individual little thing, then it is easy to dismiss each one. And that’s what I’ve been seeing again and again and again.

Sometimes the only thing you can do is to stop beating your head against the wall. My head hurts. I’m tired of beating my head against the wall. I will ask my department if they want to make a counter offer, but the rest is on them.

I know I should greet all of this with gladness, but tonight, I have just felt distraught and sad. I’m up in the middle of the night having trouble sleeping, and I know I need the rest. Too much stress, bad or good, can overwhelm a person, and that’s me right now. I want some safe place to be.

I’m trying to find words to comfort myself, but they just aren’t coming.

The closest I can come is to give it a few days. To get some good rest (which is laughable when I am up in the middle of the night). To trust the process, as I’ve said so many times. Good things are happening. I hope I can start to feel good about them.

Things you can fix, things you can’t

I was talking to a friend earlier today.

There are things you can fix. There are things you can’t.

You know how someone can have a problem with himself or herself, but blames you for it. That is not a problem that can be fixed. That is a problem that you have to run away from.

Lately my world seems full of problems. One question I am always asking myself: what did I do to cause this? And a lot of the time I just don’t know. Keeping silent doesn’t seem right. Speaking up seems to go nowhere. Should I say things differently? If so how?

I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know.

Lean in to the discomfort and learn from it. I am trying. I don’t know what the lesson is, but it seems to be that there are a lot of things I can’t fix. A lot of things no one can fix.

Life is a lot of suffering. The lesson seems to be that we have to make peace with the suffering. Somehow. It is so hard.

What comfort and happiness can I bring to others in all this? What thanks can I give, what help can I give, what kindness can be accomplished? I think the only route I have for accepting the pain is trying to find some way to make it better, even just a little, for the people in my life.

Be Your Own Hero

I returned exams on Tuesday. Wednesday brought a steady stream of discouraged visitors to discuss performance in the class and on the exam. “This class is abstract, and I’m not comfortable with abstraction.” “This class is difficult.” “I just can’t seem to get it, and I am working so hard.”

What do I say? Sometimes I want to ask, “Well, why haven’t I seen you in office hours before now? Now that you are here, how about you open your book and start working on some linear algebra?” In reality, I find myself saying, “Yes, the class is abstract, but one of the most powerful tools in the toolbox is the power of abstraction. You have to learn to think of matrices as mathematical objects, and vectors as mathematical objects that have rules for manipulation that we can follow, rather than visualizing a rectangle of numbers or a magnitude and direction in 3-space. If you aren’t getting this, something needs to change.” I can make a list for you (and sometimes I do), the top of it is put serious effort into doing and understanding the homework as it is assigned (which has been mentioned many times so far this semester), but you, Dear Student, have to be the one to carry out the actions and the plan.

I am both amazed and not amazed at how few have their books open before talking to me about their grade, and how many leave immediately after, never opening up that book to take advantage of the time and opportunity to work some of the linear algebra that is causing the difficulty.

Thursday I decided to bring the topic of discouragement up in class as an opening activity. What would you say to someone who is discouraged, specifically a classmate who feels that the material is abstract and hard and arbitrary and meaningless? Or someone who is just discouraged about something in general?

What did they come up with?

  1. Keep trying, don’t stop.
  2. Hope is needed for hard work.
  3. Forgive yourself and get to work.
  4. Pray.
  5. Take a step back. Take baby steps forward. Figure out what you know and go from there.
  6. There’s always a solution and always people willing to help you out.
  7. Spring break is coming!
  8. You are not alone, find support from others.

Two and three and five and six and eight, those are some good profound thoughts.

I admitted that this was on my mind for personal reasons as well. I am dealing with discouragement and frustration, though not with regards to our class or my teaching. I contributed some wisdom from what I’m currently reading, Pema Chödrön’s When Things Fall Apart. She advises us to

Lean in to your discomfort, and learn from it.

That is what I am trying to do with my situation. And it is hard. But with abstraction and confusion, that’s where you’ve got to go to make sense. Lean in to your discomfort.

What surprises me most about this discussion is the impact. I find it mentioned in notes written on the back of the quiz we took Thursday. In emails from students received over the weekend. One that included a link to this video, passed on to her by her father, full of wisdom and a change of perspective:


Does it make a difference to talk about it, to waste valuable class time on something other than math? I hope so. Especially since that quiz had some disappointing results, indicating we need to buckle down and figure this out. I know it’s tough to learn this stuff, to learn how to think differently. But that’s our job here, this semester.