Archive for: November, 2010

Last Ditch Effort

Nov 30 2010 Published by under publishing, tenure

This week, I present a question that some colleagues and I were discussing recently, based on a semi-hypothetical situation involving tenure-track faculty.

Imagine that you are in or near the final year of your probationary period; i.e., you are very close to being evaluated for tenure (or promotion in general, I suppose). You have reason to believe that you may not have enough publications, but you do have some unpublished results that you could write into a manuscript or refereed submission to a conference (depending on what is valued in your field).

[Or, if you are a senior faculty member advising a colleague who is in the situation described above, consider what you would recommend.]

Is it better to:

(a) submit to a non-selective publication venue or venues, gambling that the very existence of an additional publication or two is what matters most, no matter where they are published; or

(b) submit to a highly selective publication venue, gambling that the publication(s) will be accepted and that it's the prestige of the journal/conference that matters, not the number of publications; or

(c) do nothing, hoping that your colleagues, promotion & tenure committees, Deans etc. will be impressed with the quality of the existing work, even if the quantity is below the norms of your field.

Probably the best strategy would be a two-pronged attack of (a) + (b), as long as you aren't shingling and submitting the same paper to more than one place but really do have sufficient results/ideas to put into separate submissions of various types. The manuscripts do need to be (theoretically) publishable, substantive, and well-written (if possible) -- not just something tossed into the publishing maw in the hopes that someone will let it through and give you a least-publishable unit in time for your tenure review, so this discussion is based on the assumption that there is publishable material that can reasonable be put in the form of a manuscript or conference paper.

For either (a) or (b), you also have to give yourself enough time for the manuscripts to work their way through the review process: no one is going to be impressed with a manuscript listed as "in preparation" or "to be submitted to Journal on DATE" (my department/university ignores these completely), so you really do have to submit the thing(s). And even if you do submit before your tenure file is reviewed, that's of course not as good as having something accepted, or at least returned for revision (at the very least). Listing a manuscript as "Submitted to Nature, YESTERDAY'S DATE" might not impress others as much as you hope it will.

If your last-ditch strategy involves getting one or more peer-reviewed manuscripts through the review process on time and posted online so that it/they can officially be considered as "published", be sure to check on what the likely time-to-publication is. A colleague and I recently examined time-from-submission to time-to-publication (online) for various journals in our field, and the results varied a lot. I know that in some fields this is not so much of an issue, but in some corners of the physical sciences, the time-to-publication from first submission can vary from weeks to many (many) months.

I don't mean to completely ignore option (c). Perhaps your record really is good enough and you don't need to agonize between (a) and (b). In some cases, a few very high-quality papers are better than a pile of good but perhaps not-as-substantive papers. This is where a good mentor can provide guidance that is relevant to your institution and field.

And this might also be where commenters can provide some advice, especially if the academic field is mentioned in the comment.

21 responses so far

Emeritus Issues

Nov 23 2010 Published by under colleagues

A reader who is a department chair at a small liberal arts college (SLAC) wonders what to do with professors emeriti who are well-meaning but who have not found productive ways to spend their days without distracting the more-busy and without wreaking minor havoc on various parts of the department infrastructure. This reader's specific questions are:

...would you (and how would you) involve emeriti faculty in hiring interviews?
...would you invite them to faculty-student events?
...would you give them specific roles in the dept so they'd have something productive to do instead of distracting those of us with actual work to do?

Escaping meandering conversations from emeriti requires some skill. My husband has such skills; I do not. When faced with this situation, my husband will say "I don't have time to talk to you" and either walk away or turn back to what he is doing, and his visiting emeritus will leave. In the same situation, I will say, gently "Actually, I really need to get back to doing X now", but somehow a new topic of conversation will be found. So I am not a good person to be giving advice about this.

Advice from other department chairs and/or SLAC faculty would probably be more useful than anything I can suggest, but I can describe some of my experiences and opinions, just to get things started.

My experiences have included the entire range from being fortunate to interact as an undergraduate student with an extraordinarily kind and helpful emeritus to having being abused as a graduate student by an insane and bitter emeritus who used his retirement years to seek revenge on those he hated, molest a few more women while he could, and try to ensure that his famous name would forever be slapped on publications, even after his death. In between have been some emeriti of the mostly benign sort, except for a tendency to start seemingly endless conversations at inopportune times. There was also an emeritus professor who would go into my lab without asking and use/trash stuff, and I did not like that.

In terms of the questions posed, I think that the answers are going to vary widely depending on the specific cases involved. There are certainly situations in which the involvement of emeriti in many aspects of a department is beneficial for all concerned. In terms of interviews, emeriti have no decision-making role, but I can recall various circumstances (as an interviewee and interviewer) when it was very helpful to have emeriti-interviewee meetings. Some departments go into deep mourning when their Nobel laureate(s) or their National Academy members retire, and continue to put these illustrious people on display for visitors. And when the inevitable happens, some have probably considered taxidermy, or wax statues, for their famous deceased faculty.

I digress. The above assumes an emeritus professor is sane, interesting, has a useful perspective on something, or is, at the very least, famous. If none of those are the case and if an interviewee-emeritus interaction is likely to be strange or boring for the interviewee, then by all means avoid arranging such an appointment. Even when I am just a visiting speaker at a university and I find myself sitting in some remote office-closet spending a half hour talking to an isolated emeritus who sighs and mutters amidst the towering stacks of reprints he can't bear to throw out, I wonder whether my hosts were really so desperate to fill every slot on my schedule that they think this would be better than just letting me walk around or sit in a corner with my laptop for a while.

So, I think whether/how to involve emeriti in the academic life of a department must be considered on a case-by-case basis. Emeritus professors are a varied group, just as they were before retirement.

But what about the specific case of a loquacious emeritus who putters around a department being something of a nuisance? Without being patronizing about it, maybe there is some constructive way to engage the emeritus in an academic activity, such as helping students or helping write a newsletter. Maybe the busy, active faculty can be blunt-but-polite about not having time for long conversations and then suggesting something that would be a big help to do (somewhere else). Maybe, but I know that it's not so easy for some of us to do this effectively.

Do others have any useful advice?

12 responses so far

Dressing the Part

Nov 16 2010 Published by under interviewing

A frequent question from readers is:

What should I wear to my interview for a faculty position?

I touched on this topic earlier this year at FSP as part of a series on Interviewing, and I advised interviewees to:

  • dress according to the norms of your field (ideally, if there have been any interviews of faculty candidates in your grad school department while you have been a student, you have been alert to such issues);
  • do not wear shoes that maim you;
  • wear something comfortable and don't worry about it too much; other aspects of the interview are much more important.

Given that this sage advice has done nothing to stem the flow of e-mails asking me for fashion advice, a situation that is quite bizarre to those who know me in real life, I thought it would be useful if my readers could help provide research specialty-specific advice about typical interview attire and, if possible, what the range of acceptable professional dress is in each field.

For example, in your field (please specify field), is it common for an interviewee to wear a suit or its equivalent for women, or would that be considered unusual? If an interviewee wore jeans (albeit nice ones) and a shirt (but not a T-shirt), would that be within the realm of reasonable, or would it be considered unprofessional? Are the norms different for men and women? That is, can men dress more casually than women, or vice versa?

In addition to specifying field, it would might be be useful to specify country/region, but this is optional unless you think it is relevant to your field.

Readers should keep in mind that sartorial advice can be useful, especially if systematic trends emerge from multiple advice-givers, but it can also be flawed.


1. When I was a graduate student, a visiting female professor told me that I was never going to get anywhere with my career, no matter how good I was at Science and no matter how much I published, if I didn't wear make-up and do something a bit more stylish with my hair. I ignored her advice and, as far as I can tell, my career has not suffered. I am content with how I look and dress, and am glad I did not change because someone (who turned out to be a very unhappy person) gave me random advice, however well meaning.

2. A few years ago, I wrote about how I once asked a male colleague for advice about what to wear to a professional/social event associated with the European university where I was spending my sabbatical. He told me to wear what I typically wear to the office; that is what he was going to do. So I did, and so did he, and he fit right in with all the other men, and I was the only woman not wearing elegant evening attire. That was actually OK with me, as I was comfortable in my black jeans and black top, but it also felt strange. I was the only female professor in the group, so was the "norm" for attire in that setting related to profession (in which case I was dressed appropriately as a professor) or was it related to gender (in which case I was much more causally dressed compared to all the other women)? I don't know, but I decided that being a professor was the relevant variable.

With those cautions in mind, I hope that we can nevertheless collectively come up with some information that will at least soothe the anxieties of some interviewees.

What are the interviewees wearing in your department this Interview Season?

52 responses so far

Parent Trap

Nov 09 2010 Published by under advising, teaching

A reader wonders:

Did I make a mistake in agreeing to advise a graduate student who has a parent in our same field of research? (but not at my department or university). I didn't really think about it in the beginning. The student was promising and I didn't think of the student in any different way from any other student, but later I started to get paranoid for reasons I am too paranoid even to describe. Also, the parent comes to my talks at conferences and sits in the front. I try to be a good advisor, but sometimes situations arise that cause stress between advisor and student. Do I have to worry that these situations will affect my standing in my field if my student tells the parent that I am an evil advisor and the parent (a senior professor) somehow seeks revenge in the many and varied secret but effective ways that academics have of doing this to each other? Should tenure-track faculty in particular avoid advising the offspring of people in their same field?

Actually, I would rather avoid this issue, for reasons I am too paranoid to describe even in an anonymous blog, but I feel your pain. Mostly I will open this up for comments from readers to give advice about being the advisor in this situation, but I can also think of several other scenarios that might also be interesting to discuss:


- an undergraduate in your class is the offspring of a professor at your university;

- an undergraduate in your class is the offspring of a colleague or other known person in your field at another university;


- one of your faculty colleagues is the offspring of someone in your field;

- one of the (unsuccessful) candidates for a faculty position is the offspring of someone in your field;


- one of your students or colleagues is the offspring of a highly placed administrator at your or another institution of higher education.

These situations differ from those in which one of your students is the son or daughter of a famous person who is not an academic. We are discussing here the specific case in which your job as a teacher, adviser, or member of a committee brings you into contact with the offspring of someone else in your field.

If you have been in this situation, did you worry that news of all your flaws as a teacher, advisor, and human being would be spread far and wide? Did you worry that your interactions with the offspring would affect your standing in your field, and not necessarily in a good way? Or did you have an excellent experience advising such a student or working with such a colleague?

33 responses so far


Nov 03 2010 Published by under sexism

A reader writes:

Dear FSP,

I was wondering what you think is the best way to handle/ confront "passive sexism" from an adviser or peer? In the past I have had the "opportunity" to work for an openly sexist adviser and dealing with that was of course a struggle but at least it was straight forward..."he didn't think women had a place in the lab". However, my current male adviser and all-male group are much less open with their sexism. It is just a sum of "little" things: Pay inequality, work inequality, varying expectations, favoring male students with worse records, etc ...and of course my all time favorite is secretary duty: copying, note taking, scheduling, and ordering.  Despite all of that, in 2 years I have out produced/ published most (if not all) students in our group, but it doesn't seem to matter. I have tried bringing these inequalities (especially pay) to my adviser's attention directly and indirectly, but he is always prepared to jump to the defensive.

How do you handle/fight being overlooked when work alone isn't enough? Can it be done without coming off as cold or earning a more offensive title?

First of all, I would not call that passive sexism, and I don't think some of those examples of inequality are so little, considering that some can have a major negative effect on your career. Just because an adviser doesn't say to you "You are less qualified because you are a woman" doesn't make it OK for him to pay you less, favor less qualified male students, and single you out for clerical tasks. That is quite active sexism.

On the bright side, your productivity could be valued more than you think, although it might be hard for you to tell from your adviser's behavior.

Over at the FSP blog, I wrote at some point about how my grad adviser never supported me with a grant (I was a TA the entire time) and in every way favored his male graduate students. In my last year, he told me that he was giving an RA to Unproductive Guy instead of to me because he knew that I could teach and be productive with my research, but Unproductive Guy wasn't able to do that. As a student, I felt hostile about that. As an adviser.. I can understand it better, although I'm not sure I would make the same decision.

Although it is little comfort, your adviser may give you clerical tasks because he knows they will get done and get done well. Even now, as a fairly senior professor, I get assigned to do things like this and my male colleague seldom do. Is it sexism to single me out for these tasks or is the chair just trying to get things done by giving tasks like this to someone who will get them done efficiently?

A few weeks ago, I got asked to clean out a teaching lab. The task was deemed too complex for a student because decisions would have to be made about what antiquated devices and materials to throw out and what to keep. I discovered that most of the clutter in the lab belonged to courses I have never taught, but when I brought this to the attention of the relevant faculty (all men), they refused to do anything to help clean up their mess. I am guessing they don't do much housework at their homes, but I could be wrong.

As a professor, it is of course much easier for me to say no to my department chair's requests than it is for a graduate student to refuse a task from an adviser. It might, however, be worth saying something like "Since I did that last time, perhaps one of the others could do it this time?" or "I've been doing all the ordering this term; could someone else do it next term?". Maybe you've done that already, as you say you've tried to bring these issues to your adviser's attention in various ways. If your adviser refuses reasonable requests like that, he definitely has a problem, but to be a bit optimistic, perhaps his first reaction is defensive, but maybe he will make some changes.

Are your fellow grad students aware of the situation and, if so, are they at all supportive or are they just glad that they don't get asked to do the ordering and copying.

When I was in a similar situation as a graduate student, I just did my work as best I could. I was productive, wrote papers, and my adviser respected that and wrote positive letters of recommendation for me.

So things turned out fine for me in the end, but an important question is whether there is any way to change the behavior of advisers like this so that these issues don't arise for the female students they will advise in the future. For those advisers who are apprised of their unfair advising practices and who nevertheless refuse to change, I don't think that students can do much to improve the situation; at least not without possibly harming their career prospects. These changes have to come from above, if there is any will to do so, or an adviser has to otherwise experience negative consequences of unfair advising practices (e.g., difficulty recruiting new students) and voluntarily change out of self-interest.

28 responses so far