Category Archives: Work and Life


The Risk of Revealing the Secret of My Mental State

America doesn’t really take mental disorders seriously. Look at the case of Creigh Deeds and his son. In November, the Virginia state senator’s son stabbed him multiple times before shooting himself to death. This came one day after the son, Gus, was mentally evaluated at a hospital, but wasn’t held overnight because, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, “no psychiatric bed could be located across a wide area of western Virginia.” So they sent him home.

This is an extreme case, and it has …


No Thanks.

Maternity leave—or the lack thereof—wasn’t the only reason GracieABD, a Midwestern doctoral student in a STEM field, said no to a tenure-track job offer at a small university, but it was “the straw that broke the camel’s back,” she admits on Tenure, She Wrote:

“Academia is shockingly backwards when it comes to maternity leave for instructional staff. It seems like you either teach your full load, or maybe a reduced load without actually taking any leave, or you take the semester off with no pay,…


Is Love in the Stars?

In an academic world where jobs are fleeting and few and far between, the ideal job candidate is footloose and “family-free,” writes Katie Mack, an astrophysics postdoc at the University of Melbourne, who says she once overheard a couple of senior professors say as much while discussing a candidate for a senior lectureship. While no hiring-committee member would ever admit to such thinking, there’s little doubt that the “academic career structure is built around an assumption of mobility” that’s…


‘First World’ Academic Problems

Perhaps you have seen some of the Web sites dedicated to highlighting the whining that is common to those of us who live in the so-called first world. I saw one the other day that cracked me up: Someone was complaining that there was so much leg room in business class that she was having trouble reaching the touch screen on the video display in front of her.

Some time ago I had the opportunity to participate in some faculty-development sessions overseas. My hosts were gracious at every turn. I h…


My Other Jobs

As a junior faculty member, I make a modest salary. With all the adjuncts out there, I know I don’t have much room to complain, but my salary isn’t really enough to make ends meet every month. So I do some other things.

I write for this blog, for one. I’m also an editor for hire; the most successful thing I’ve edited has been Kristian Alva’s Dragon Stone Saga. Recently, I’ve taken a cue from my own class, where I make students blog, and I started my own blog about life as a dad in Mechanicsville…


Are You Disappointing the Right People?

Managing an academic career often feels like an endless set of hard choices. Do I meet with the student who is struggling, or the one who shows great promise? Should I make an appearance at the often-pointless department meeting, or could I use the time to finish my manuscript? Will anyone notice if I skip the ribbon-cutting ceremony to meet with a high-potential donor instead? With more demands than time available to meet them, we must constantly evaluate where to invest our time and energy.



The Big ‘R’

Academe was headed for a huge wave of retirements before the economic downturn of a few years ago. As retirement accounts nose-dived, long-planned transitions were deferred, but now many people are considering making the coming year the end of their full-time service.

For faculty members who are contemplating retirement in another year, now is the time to start asking questions and having informal conversations about a possible transition. Such conversations can be held in confidence, if that is…


A Father’s Sad Truth

On June 24, Nora Lynn Sweeney was born. She is my second child; I also have a 4-year-old son, Gavin. As with most parents, I have changed my perspective of the world since having children. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about money (probably because I have an expensive infant in the house), and, as I get older, I realize more and more just how important and necessary money is.

I remember that, when I was a kid, my family, friends, teachers, and other role models told me countless times that mon…


Multicampus Moonlighting

Some years ago, I went to see the dean about my financial situation. “It has recently come to my attention,” I told her, “that I cannot afford all four of my children.”

I was serving as a department chair at the time, with a salary that was good but not great—basically a 10-month faculty salary pro-rated for 12 months. My wife had made it clear when we got married that, once kids came along, she intended to quit her job as a middle-school teacher to stay home and raise them, even if it meant a…


Family Friendly Comes at a Price

From The Atlantic comes word of a recent study, published in the Industrial and Labor Relations Review, that suggests that some university policies designed to be family friendly may have a detrimental effect on the paychecks of professors who use them.

Researchers at the Universities of Minnesota-Twin Cities and Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found that faculty members who stopped the tenure clock for family reasons paid a price: Their pay was 3 to 4 percent lower the next year, even when there w…