Some mornings you need little things to make you happy. Post-it flags to match new haircolor.
As part of the series of posts, here and elsewhere, on work/life balance, I've stopped to think about the tenure clock. I don't have answers. But the more I talk to people and think about it, the more convinced I become that (1) I'm not seeing all of it and (2) there are not simple, easy answers.
I have been part of discussions at my current and my past universities about stopping the tenure clock. What seemed like a simple thing, a thing that would permit women to return without losing ground, a thing that would not cost anyone anything, is not. Note: stopping the clock is not the same thing as maternity/parental leave, family leave, which is FLMA and an HR legal thing. In this context "stopping the clock" meant delaying tenure decision for a year. Because tenure is an annual consideration, clock stops need to come in units of years, whether or not that is realistic, in anyone's best interest, or functionally feasible.
Wise, caring, right-thinking people brought up issues in these discussions. First, in today's climate, if you stop the clocks for mothers, you must stop the clock for fathers. For my gay friends, that is right. The rationale is that a first year of a child's life is very difficult, even with no attendant issues (and as someone who teaches and has taught embryology, at least the basis of those issues are very clear to me).
But what about the father with the stay-at-home wife/mother? We all may "know" that fathers do not do what mothers do, but not necessarily. Next, what about the person who decides to have 4 or 5 or 6 children? Do they get to stop the clock that many times? Do they get 12 years till a tenure decision (aside from the madness of waiting that long...)? For how many children is the clock stopped is a real question. Please don't say stuff about how many children someone should have, and population explosion, and how many can be supported on an academic salary. If this is going to be in the rules, it needs to be a rule, and it needs to be complete.
What does stopping mean? Does it mean that achievements for that year are not included in the package (because the clock was stopped because the person was not working as hard)? Does it mean that they just have an extra year? If tenure decision is made at the end of 7 years, is the denominator (years) is kept at 7, while the numerator (number of pubs or whatever) permitted to be 8? Does one get to count the work one does in that stopped year? And of course, that's just the numerical assessments. And, of course, there are lots of non-quantifiable things that go on to produce the quantifiable ones: the thinking, that maturation of ideas, the looking at data that make a difference for what science finally gets published.
I agree the first step is making something possible, but the implementation is going to be harder, as so many tenure decisions that are on the margin. Someone who has published a lot (20 pubs?) but not been successful in funding? Someone with funding but who has published nothing? Someone who has totally blown off their teaching (multiple complaints to the chair and dean), but is successful in research? The unpleasant person who is just this side of ethical violations, but otherwise doing ok? Will the tenure committee, the letter writers be able to honestly give that extra year, assessing the accomplishments as if they occurred within the 7 year window and not in an 8 year one?
One of my assoc prof, tenured colleagues, an involved parent, whose partner is not stay-at-home, and quite honestly overwhelmed with child care at this career point said, bluntly: everyone would like another year. Why don't we just do that? Or at least stop the up and out 7 year madness.
The only reason a great many American families don’t own an elephant is that they have never been offered an elephant for a dollar down and easy weekly payments. --Mad Magazine
I know, I know, its about Star Wars and the Force and all that. But for some of us, of a certain age, it is something else:
It's worth looking at the faces of these people. They would be parents or grandparents now. Scientists or social workers or doctors or doing something.
I got faux heckled last night talking about DNA and it was the greatest thing ever
— Maryam Zaringhalam (@thisisartlab) May 3, 2016
scientist: "does everyone here know what Watson and Crick discovered?"
me from back of room: "Rosalind Franklin's notes"
— Robby Kraft (@RobbyKraft) May 3, 2016
Let mystery have its place in you; do not be always turning up your whole soil with the plowshare of self-examination, but leave a little fallow corner in your heart ready for any seed the winds may bring, and reserve a nook of shadow for the passing bird; keep a place in your heart for the unexpected guests, an altar for the unknown God. Then if a bird sing among your branches, do not be too eager to tame it. If you are conscious of something new - thought or feeling, wakening in the depths of your being - do not be in a hurry to let in light upon it, to look at it; let the springing germ have the protection of being forgotten, hedge it round with quiet, and do not break in upon its darkness. ― Henri-Frédéric Amiel
I think of this in terms of the unexpected in my lab. The unexpected in data (too much of that lately). The chance encounter. You never know.
There was a special section, many pages, many words, on a woman who has Alzheimer's disease in the Sunday NYTimes this weekend. I saw it and my heart sank. It fell into the basket of "things I should read but I really don't want to". My sister called and left me a message that was simply "do I have to read this? did you?".
I did read most of the article. But it was pure self-discipline. I did at any point think: wow, that's a good insight. Nor at any point did I feel like I was going to cry for the sadness of it all. The article was well written. If you have never interacted beyond greeting a person with AD, you would learn something.
The woman was professional, former nurse, in the health care biz management. She had just retired, and clearly had health care insurance and enough money to keep living in New York City. She had a loving child and a supportive spouse. She found lots of resources in Manhattan. When one counselor suggested something she thought was absurd (fake it and don't tell anyone), she immediately stopped seeing her and found someone else.
There was some insight into how AD impacted her. What she could and could not do, how it progressed from early stages to mid-stages. Some of the stories were ones I had lived. Others she seemed to be doing far better than my mother ever did. And there were none of the really horrible stories, like when my mother was wandering around in the middle of dangerous parts of the city with everyone frantic and the police looking for her. Or when my mother went through angry phase and bit a nurse and hurled the most vile and hurtful insults at me and my sister: "I can't believe I carried something as horrible as you in my womb for even a month, let alone nine". In retrospect, my mother was angry and mean, but very creative at this time. The NYT story recommend a good book: The 36-Hour Day by Mace & Rabins. If you are taking care of, or even just interacting with someone who takes care of an AD patient, this is an excellent book.
I just had no emotional resonance with this piece. It's not that I don't enjoy other people's stories about surviving academia, science, toxic labs, evil department chairs, etc etc. But this did not move me. I read the book Still Alice by Lisa Genova and cried through large swaths of it. I felt the book had captured the voice of someone losing their cognition, their mind, their self. In part, I know its because my Mom is far beyond this stage. And I see women, every week, in my mother's unit, who are at all the stages described in this story. And every week, or 2 or 3 times a week, I cry when I leave my mother. I cry for the waste of life, for the mental debilitation, for the loneliness of these women. Whether or not they have family and people visiting, and holding their hands and them, this disease makes these people cruelly alone.
So I told my sister, no she didn't have to read it, that it would not be a good use of her time. My sister was relieved, and that was that.
Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.