One more week!

In 7 days I’ll become “Mrs. Woodpecker”.

Kind of a crazy thought. There has been so  much going on here that really it is impossible to list it all but here are a few highlights:

1. We’re going on a cruise for our honeymoon. Turns out that last minute cruise deals are pretty dang inexpensive. Flights? Not so much, but it wasn’t too bad. All in all we are getting a 4-day cruise with an oceanview room (non-obstructive) plus airfare for two for about $2,000. Add in a little bit for airport to cruise port transfers and 3 days of excursions and we’ll probably add to that a little.

2. We’re going on a roadtrip. My cousin is graduating from high school in Salt Lake City on June 6th. Her brother is getting married in Salt Lake City on June 15th. So we’re flying out there, renting a car, and in between the two events taking a camping road trip through Utah. We’re visiting Zion National Park, Grand Canyon National Park, Arches National Park, Bryce National Park, and Capitol Reef National Park. Very excited about this, should be a ton of fun.

3. I had to buy a new laptop. My home computer had been a brick for about a year. And my work computer was out of commission for a week. I still had to…yanno… work. So I ended up buying a new computer. It cost me around $550 for the thing, as I got an older Windows 7 model (all of my work stuff requires Windows 7 and I’m loathe to make the switch to Windows 8 until I absolutely have to). I’ve also decided that “the cloud” is the most amazing thing ever if you have to switch computers. It used to be when you got a new computer it felt like you were starting your life over. This time I just downloaded Dropbox and Chrome and my files were all in place and so were my browser bookmarks. I was up and working within 30 minutes of pulling the computer out of the box. Wam bam, thank you, ma’am!

4. I got a new job. Don’t get me wrong, I loved my old job. Except… I hated that I wasn’t getting paid nearly enough, and I haven’t had retirement benefits in the past 2 years. Oh yeah, and I have to do things that we really should have a lab tech to do (order chemicals, prep labs, maintain MSDS sheets, etc). So another college just 3 miles away (and much larger) had a position opened and I applied. I had a phone interview, was called back for an on-campus interview, and voila! they offered me the position. My 9 month contract with the new school is the same pay as my 11 month contract with the old school. Which means my per-month salary will be higher. In addition new school has lab assistants that prep the labs and take care of all of that so I don’t have to. In addition they give me a 7% retirement (I’m required a match, of course). The school is larger, so I’ll have more colleagues which I’m really looking forward to. Having only 1 other chemist it has been difficult to “talk shop”. I like bouncing ideas off of a variety of people so I think it will work well. Oh yes, all of this and my teaching load will be LESS per semester. There will be some drawbacks, like I’ll miss the small community of the old school, I’ll miss the relationships I’ve build with students and colleagues there, and I’ll miss having a lot of autonomy in how my classes are run since I’m the only one teaching them. Overall though I think this transition will be better for me in the long run. While I’m certain I will make this transition, I have not signed a contract yet at the new school (they don’t issue until May), so I won’t be alerting my current school to my plans until our renewal contracts come in or I sign at the new school, which ever happens first.

Long and Short Term Goals

The past few days I’ve been struggling with the boundaries between work goals and personal goals.

See, I taught adjunct at a local community college this past summer and was asked to do it again this summer. And naively I agreed.

The more I’ve been thinking about this decision, the more I believe it was the wrong one for my professional goals. However, teaching is absolutely the best thing for my personal finance goals.

Here’s the scoop: Teaching at the community college nets me a very sexy $5,000. I work 2.5 hours a day for 8 weeks. Not a bad deal. However, the class is right in the middle of the day (noon to 2:30pm). So because of its timing it is difficult to do anything before and I’m always so exhausted it is hard to do anything after either. With the rate I’m paying debt down and the addition of another $5,000 in the summer – I could be credit card debt free by August (not a promise, though, just an “if everything goes as planned”).

However, what I think I should do professionally is do research in someone’s lab over the summer. It advances the goals of my department (that I set), it keeps my research skills fresh, and will help make me money in the future as I’ll be publishing, be able to write grants, and there is a POSSIBILITY that whoever I work with will be able to pay me a small stipend. But if I’m teaching this class, I won’t be able to do this.

So I’m stuck between two things I want: Debt Free vs. Thriving Department

Both have negative consequences if I wait. The longer I’m out of research the harder it is for me to get back in. The longer I’m in debt the harder for me to get to my big long term financial goals.

The only half way in between I can figure out is switching to teaching a night class or finding someone who doesn’t mind me coming in just 2-3 hours a day during the week. Neither are ideal situations, but neither are perfect.

Since I’m the one who wants both of these things to happen I’m having a hard time deciding which is the MOST important at this point in time. And if I don’t get my debt paid down, I’ll be wondering the same thing next year and the year after.

So maybe I just answered my own question there…

Looking Forward

This morning was my first department meeting as departmental chair. I was so nervous. I wanted to set the tone off correctly and give the department the impression that I was competent and capable in my new role.

I started by talking about change. Our University is/has been undergoing a lot of change. Our department has more new faculty members than old, the department has lost a major in the last year, and the University itself is looking for a new president and we’re in the process of creating a new core.

I then talked about how changes and challenges are not times to be afraid of, but times to embrace what we can do as a department. Our focus shouldn’t be on the problems of things we can’t change, but on the hope and effort towards things we can make an impact on: Our majors, our department, our building, our students.

I then encouraged the department to spend some time in the next two weeks brainstorming what small or large thing they can do to get towards their ideal department. Whether it be spending a few hours painting a wall or a few days redesigning a course or perhaps even trying to optimize an entire major’s curriculum or spending a day a week in outreach to local high schools.

The general idea is that the past should be lessons to us, but shouldn’t be anchors that hold us down. We can learn from, respect and acknowledge the past, but it is the future that we can change and the future that we can build.

My first department meeting was two hours long. I think I succeeded. Only time will tell.

Applications and Interviews

I’ve had the “honor” to serve on two different search committees this summer, one as the chair of the committee, one as a member. Let me tell you I’ve learned more in the past two months of reviewing applications and CVs and resumes to feel like I am an expert at this. Okay, maybe not an expert, but let me tell you some things that I’ve learned so far in the process:

1. Check you spelling and grammar. Then double check it.

Nothing says to me “this person has no attention to detail” like the misuse of the English language. Especially on such an important document as your resume.

2. Make your application material specific to the position you’re applying.

I received one cover letter where the individual had forgotten to replace [Name of University Here] with the name of our University. Even though he had some good qualifications it was hard to take his application seriously after that. Follow that up with his errors in spelling and grammar and he got moved to the bottom of the list.

3. Make sure you show you understand the position.

It was very obvious when reading cover letters and application material who had taken the time to learn something about our institution and the position. I got applications listing graduate level classes the individual would like to teach (we don’t have a grad program), I got applications from people who didn’t have ANY of the required degrees, I got applications from people in completely different fields, I got applications from individuals who obviously hadn’t even taken the time to look at the website and see what our school and department is like. Those who had were obvious and stood out from the pack.

4. Send in ALL the requested materials.

The number one weeding factor we used when narrowing our list of candidates was whether they sent in all of the requested applications material. If an applicant didn’t send all the information they didn’t make the short list. Simple as that. It was taken as a sign of either forgetfulness or that the applicant was hiding information, both things not something we would want in a colleague.

5. Be friendly, upbeat, and earnest.

Between two equal candidates on phone interviews the person with obvious enthusiasm for the position and interest in the school got the leg-up. We could see them as potential friends and easy to work with, two things of great value in a potential colleague.

6. Have good questions to ask.

One thing I have come, already, to respect on interviews are individuals with thoughtful questions. I know that it is difficult to sometimes know the right questions to ask a search committee, but those individuals who have enough experience or have paid close enough attention in their previous positions or have done enough research on the position to ask thought provoking questions of the search committee are definitely given a high degree of preference to candidates who simply ask about the next stage of the process or generic questions that show know depth of knowledge of the position or the institution.

Can You Afford Not To?

One thing that I’ve failed to mention about Mr. Hive (intentionally, maybe?) is that he doesn’t have a college education. Nothing. He dropped out after one semester because at the time he wasn’t ready for college. He isn’t dumb, he just wasn’t ready to go straight out of high school. There isn’t anything wrong with this (in my opinion) and for some career paths having a college education isn’t necessary – and many of these are high paying.

However, on the whole, you have to be pretty ambitious or pretty intelligent or pretty gifted in a particular field to make a decent salary without a college education.

Mr Hive doesn’t fall in to any of those categories above. He’s bounced around from job to job and currently at 31 has found himself in his highest paying job yet. Making $14/hour. A job has no upward mobility. Or very little. He makes around $28,000/yr before taxes. And really, he isn’t skilled enough in any particular field to do better without pursuing some education.

He has aspirations for some day working in the IT field. Which many people can do without a degree if they are self motivated to learn the material on their own – which he has not done. Or have gone through formal education to learn the material – which he has not done either.

I told him when we first started dating that it didn’t bother me that he was uneducated, however, I did know that if nothing was done career-wise or aspiration-wise that eventually it would start to bother me. Our first date he mentioned how he wanted to go back to school and get a degree in IT. The start of 3 semesters later and it finally has eaten away at me. If someone was truly motivated to pursue this career path as he claimed he was when we first started dating, wouldn’t they be saving up money to pay for the tuition? Pursuing the certification exams that are widely accessible online? Consulting with his two good friends who are in the field on the path that they both recommend? Wouldn’t a person who was truly motivated to make a career path change to better their life being doing something more than complaining about where they were at?

The community college near us even offers an A.A. degree in exactly the field he wants to be in which INCLUDES an internship component. The job that he’s at can be done at less than full time if he wanted to pursue school full time and work part time. Also, all the classes are available in the evenings if he wasn’t to continue working full time and do school part time.

I essentially told him a few weeks ago that I had reached my limit. He needed to do something. Maybe it is arrogance, but while I understand that people are not always ready for college at 18, if someone says they’re ready for it now and they don’t do it I start to believe after a certain period of time that I’ve been had and they’re really just full of crap.

(Also, it is very embarrassing for me, the Ph.D. to confess to people who don’t know him that I am dating a guy who dropped out of college in the first semester. Seriously. I’d at least like a college graduate, but maybe that’s my own hang up?)

Last night he then asked me if I would “help him with the application”.

Me: “Have you gone online and looked at it?”

Him: “No.”

Me: *FLIP A LID* Seriously? You are asking for help but you haven’t even gone online to look at it? Why don’t you go look at it, start it, and see if there is actually anything you need help with.

You have to understand. I’m an educator. I HATE HATE HATE when students come in to my office asking for “help” but they’ve never even ATTEMPTED to try the problem on their own. Try it on your own and THEN come back with your specific issues. You may find that it is much easier than you thought it was, once you start.

He says okay and gets online and within 5 minutes he’s finished with the application – without my help.

Later we’re talking and he says “I’m just not sure if I can afford to go to school right now.”

I respond: “Well, you’re in a job where you have absolutely no hope of ever earning more money. Or you have the option of being SUPER poor for a 1.5-2 years while you earn your degree and then have an earning potential of twice what you make now (or more). I don’t think the question is whether you can afford to go to school right now or whether you can afford to NOT go to school right now?

I’m starting to feel like I’m pushing him too much, but I think he needs to be pushed. If he doesn’t want to be pushed, fine, but then I need to not be dating him. He seems to want someone to magically come along and pave the way and hand him his class schedule and a pile of cash and say “Here, have fun.” But that isn’t life. Sorry. You have to seek out what you want, opportunities are earned – not given.

I’ve given him (in my mind) an arbitrary date of Fall semester. He needs to have figured out what he wants and how he’s going to pursue it by then, or we will need to figure out something different in our relationship.

Harsh? Probably. But the reality is that when we first got together the impression from our very first conversation was that he was motivated to pursue this, and that was a condition I was okay with in terms of dating him. And to find out 10 months later that it was a complete farce is more than I can handle for a long term relationship.

One Faculty Member Down

A few weeks ago the other Chemist in the department, the same guy who was stepping down from the Chair’s role but supposed to be my Chair mentor next year, announced that he was leaving the school to go to a sister school  in another city.

When I read the email my mind went in to panic mode. There were a few nights of sleeplessness as I tried to figure out what to do.

See, at large Universities, when a faculty member leaves there are enough other faculty members around to carry the burden of their absence. Being at 7 instead of 8 Chemistry faculty isn’t so bad of a deal or even 20 out of 21 at a very large research school. But going from 2 to 1 is a huge, huge, deal.

So most schools will go a year without someone and advertise and interview for their replacement in that year.

Well, we don’t really have that luxury here. Within a week of getting the email that the other Chemist wasn’t renewing their contract I had the ad written for their position. I had it submitted to my Dean, who sent it to the Vice President, who approved it and forwarded it to Human Resources. I also had included a list of places that it should be advertised at for maximum exposure to qualified applicants.

A WEEK LATER the ad gets posted – INCORRECTLY to the website. I promptly sent an email to the HR woman, my Dean and the Vice President noting that they were advertising for MY position, not for the position that needed to be filled. (There was some copy and paste done into the advertisement that went out when I applied for the job).

A WEEK LATER the ad finally gets fixed on the website, but it STILL hasn’t been posted to any of the sites that I recommended to find another Chemist.

At this point it looks like it will be June when it gets posted, which means July for interviews – and a start date of August 15th? Who in the world would be both qualified and competent enough to move that quickly?

So I’ve been working hard on my “Plan B” scenario. Which is me being the sole chemist for a year with resubmission of our faculty ad in October and interview in December/January like a normal school.

I was able to make a plan for the Fall that involves switch Physical Chemistry over to our physicist, moving around the lectures for Nursing Chem, General Chem and Organic Chem so that I can teach them all, and getting an adjunct to cover the Physical Science class (that the physicist was going to teach) and an adjunct for the nursing and general chemistry labs. All in all, the Fall plan is doable, though inconvenient. I will have to cancel my research class, which is lame, but manageable. My contacts hours will be 11 with the plan I’ve drawn up which is above my load (9 contact hours), but not an impossible load.

Spring is where it gets tricky. I’ll need to adjunct out the Nutrition class and again the General Chemistry labs. That leaves me with Organic Chem, Analytical Chem, Biochemistry and General Chem. Which even with the General Chem lab adjuncted out will put me at 17 contact hours. Which is ridiculous. I obviously can’t do that. So my hope is that we might be able to find someone to start in January. Or even if I could get one of the biologists to teach the biochemistry class and then adjunct out one of their non-major classes like Anatomy or Biology for non-majors. Even then I’d still be looking at 14 contact hours with 3 days a week of labs. It will drive me insane I’m sure.

The moral of the story is that my first role as Chair is already a tough one: Find a person to come in with essentially not enough time for a move and ease the burden for me or run the department and teach two loads in the spring. Either way it seems ridiculously crazy. I’m not sure what the heck I’ll do. Maybe cocaine? 😉


Over a year ago I applied for my dream job. Dream. Job. The exact type school I wanted to be in, the city I wanted to be in.

I was exceptionally (if not overqualified) for the position and since I’d taught adjunct at the same school after finishing my Ph.D. I had a high level of confidence that my application would be well received.

Three months after submitting my application I called the Dean and he told me that they weren’t going to review applications until the following year. I couldn’t resubmit an application because I already had one in the books. And in the mean time I interviewed and got my current job. Which I enjoy, but I know the other job was far more suited for me.

I would have a higher likelihood of success in research at the other school. I would be back in the same town as my best friends. I would have a higher caliber of students.

A few months ago I helped a friend of mine from graduate school apply for the job at my dream school. I sent him my application material as a guide for what they wanted. I found out today that he got the position. And I’m frustrated. That was the job that I’d been dreaming of for years.

There is another position open at the school. I’m tempted beyond all belief to apply for it. I’m on contract here for another year and I’ll stay here another year. But with everything that is happening here I think it would be in my best interest to at least try applying for it one more time.

That school is doing well. I am a far improved candidate than I was when I originally applied for that position. I think I have a greater chance of success this time around. And if I don’t get it, I don’t get it.

The Business Trip

Currently I’m sitting in a hotel room in a small, college town in Ohio. I’m here for a week with the purpose of working with a collaborator for a week doing some research and planning and starting to write a research grant. I’m pretty excited about this trip as it will be my first visit to another University since becoming a professor. I’m really looking forward to spending some time in the lab with one of my favorite collaborators.

The problem? I have to put all of my expenses on to a credit card. So that’s about $200 worth of gas and about $800 worth of hotel costs. I don’t exactly have $1,000 just hanging around to pay for things like travel expenses, which was always a big problem when I was in graduate school as well.

The typical story goes something like this: Have to go to a conference or meeting. Have to pay for everything up front and then get reimbursed. Pull out the credit card because I don’t have $800-$2,000 in cash on hand to pay for these things. Use the credit card. Get used to the credit card. Keep spending on the credit card even after the conference is finished. Walk away with about $3,000 worth of debt and only around $2,000 is reimbursable.

An added problem is that my work has a spending freeze until July 1st. So even though I will get reimbursed for up to $800 of it (that is all the money we have in the budget for travel, everything over that will come from my personal income, which I knew ahead of time and was fine with) – I won’t get reimbursed for at least 2 months. Which is… all the more frustrating since I’ll be earning interest on my credit card.

All of this comes down to one conclusion: I need a larger emergency fund so that I can handle a $1,000 trip without issue. Unfortunately, I’ll have to wait until I’m not receiving furlough pay (again, July 1st), to start increasing my savings contributions. However, I’ll likely just use my extra money from my community college teaching gig to bulk up my savings (I’ll get ~$900 per paycheck for 4 paychecks over my normal salary starting June 15th).

Operation Negotiation: Success

After getting my contract for the next year I decided (prompted by motivation from you all) to go back and negotiate.

I went armed with me the list of initiatives that I was in process of doing that gave me a month to my contract this year with specifics on what I have accomplished so far and what I plan on doing in the coming year.

His assumption was that I would be dropping all of those initiatives when I became chair, to which I told him frankly that I would rather not be chair than to drop these things.

Starting up research, starting an outreach to youth, starting an ACS chapter on campus, these things were important for the viability of the department than me being chair. Making schedules, going to planning meetings, and dealing with irate students, well, anyone can do those things – not everyone has the drive and initiative to start the other projects that have to happen to make sure that our department survives and thrives.

He listened to my points, agreed with my assessment, and he changed my contract to an 11-month contract with a 5% raise.

I was cordial, polite, but firm. Honestly, I was proud of how downright diplomatic I was. I wasn’t accusatory nor say things like “I deserve this” or “give this to me” but instead listed exactly the reasons why I was asking for what I was asking and then provided the evidence to support my claims.

After we had come to the resolution I was looking for I thanked him for his time and his trust in me to be the Chair of the department.

To which he replied: “I have absolutely no doubts that you’ll be a great Chair. You know how to get things done.”

Yup, I suppose I do. Thanks to the encouragement of my dear readers for going in and making a stand and making my case.

My new salary? $59,056 on an 11- month contract. I couldn’t be happier. That is an $8,056 raise between my 2010/11 salary and my 2011/2012 salary. And I know EXACTLY where that money will be going (car repairs and take-out… I kid…I kid…)


Last Friday I received my contract for the 2011/2012 school year.

I was disappointed (to say the least) when I opened it. It was a 10-month contract for $53,800. The amount was up $2,800 (only a 5.5% increase when I was told 10%).  I was expecting at least a $5,000 increase based on the conversation that I’d have with the dean of our college.

Also, it was still a 10-month contract, which I was sort of expecting – but when I found out that the other new professor in the department ALSO got a 10-month contract for no extra work, well, I got a little angry.

I took the weekend and a day or two to think about it and resolved that I’m going to attempt to negotiate my contract.

I feel a little greedy doing it, but I also am putting in a lot more work above and beyond what most people in my similar position are doing.

What I plan on doing is returning my contract unsigned, with the changes that I want, and a letter of explanation.

So what am I going to ask for?

I think I’m going to ask for either my base salary (no raise) on an 11-month contract (+1 month for being chair, +1 month for my extra iniatives in the department – which is the reason the other faculty member got an extra month). This would bring me to $56,100. I don’t think this is unreasonable.

Actually, let me rephrase, I’ll settle for that number above.

I’ll ASK for an 11-month contract with the raise amount. This would be $59,180. I don’t actually expect to get this much. While I would LOVE to have that much I don’t see it happening.

I plan to make clear in my letter to the Vice President that the first month is for chair duties and the second month is for the projects that I want to see happen in the department including (but not limited to):

  • Starting an American Chemical Society student chapter here on campus. I’ve already made steps towards making this happen and have even devised a plan to integrate students from the local community college to increase transfers from that school.
  • Starting an Honor’s section of General Chemistry in tandem to the “regular” General Chemistry to attract more honor’s students. This year 3 of my 25 General Chem students are Honor’s students. Next year that number will be up to around 10. When 1/2-1/3 of your class is an Honor’s student it helps to provide them a little more bang in the class. I am planning on offering them a 30 minute weekly seminar where we go more in depth to the topics we cover in class and really start to show them the connections. This would take the form of an Honor’s Contract that they’d make with me. I’m VERY excited about doing this, but also I recognize that it will take time from my class prep and chair duties.
  • A complete revamping of the Chemistry curriculum for upper division students. Right now our class offerings are inefficient to the upper division students. I want to revamp the upper division classes to they get a breadth of chemistry knowledge rather than in depth study of just 4 topics. Both myself and the other Chemistry professor see this as a great option, it will just take planning and initiative to make it happen. Both of which are expected to come from me.
  • Starting a monthly “Science Saturday” for local 4th – 6th graders on campus to expose them to our program at a younger age. I see this as a way to get our undergrads connected to the science in a fun way AND to bring future students to campus. We’ll offer this as a free program that we’ll fund through soap sales in December from the Chemistry department and plant sales in the spring from the Biology department. As well, we have a grant to start the initial program.
  • Starting a summer research program on campus including:
    • Grant writing to fund summer research (including faculty summer salary compensation)
    • Time investment in finding research collaborators (will spend two weeks this summer with a collaborator brainstorming grant ideas on my own dime)
    • Time investment in getting preliminary results of said research during the summer

I personally want all of these things to become sustaining entities or well on their way to being sustaining by the end of the next academic school year. All of these are things that will better our department and increase student enrollment over time, but without the monetary compensation for my efforts it will be difficult to motivate myself to do these things in addition to teaching and chair duties – especially since most of these activities would take place during my weekend and summer time.

I also want to make it clear that the additional 11th month in the contract would only be expected as long as I am continuing to make progress on these goals with the end point expectation being that eventually I would procure summer research funding that would pay for my own summer salary and stipends for students.

So – I have to ask. Do you guys think I’m being unreasonable? Should I just take what is being offered or try to fight  for what I think is fair? Keeping in mind of course the fact that our school is in a huge financial hole right now.

(P.S. – It should be noted that I know for a fact that another school in the same family of school’s is DESPERATELY trying to fill a Chemistry position for the Fall. It is in Nashville, which would not be a bad location, and could be  a huge bargaining chip in my favor. I don’t want to leave, but just saying the pieces are out there for an exceptionally successful negotiation.)