Monday, June 30, 2014

Please write me,

I'm not sure why, and it does not matter (do I have a wrong setting?), but I get few if any real comments. But if you have comments or thoughts, you can write me directly:

Martin Krieger

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Academic Novels and Reality

Academic novels have a married man or woman, who is a dean or a provost or a president, sleeping with someone who is under their charge. In one case, the president (now divorced?) moves the paramour into the president's house. In another, the dean is involved with one of the professors in the department, having appointed their paramour to a position. In another a graduate student is after the thesis advisor. In all cases, what makes them work is the supposedly forbidden "fraternizing" and the infidelity, although in the latter case, perhaps the spouse is up to their own shenanigans.

Nowadays, the liaison may be hetero- or homo-sexual, although perhaps in the past that was also the case.

I know nothing nonpublic of actual fraternizing and infidelity. (I am out of the gossip loop, so if I know it is well known to everyone already.)

After you have done the first and second 90% of the work of writing an article or book

I am now finishing my work on a second edition of my 2003 book. I still have to be concerned with diagrams, page references, and lots of little things. But in editing a chapter just now, I discovered that I had not italicized m or n, referring to numbers, and other such minor features, and other getting other symbols just right. 

I believe there must be some people in the first 90% of the work, actually have only 10% more work to do, but I am not one of them. I discover new things I am not sure I really understand, various points I need to check, and I am still unsure if chapter 4 should stay as it is, or be split into two chapters.

These are of course nice problems to have. You have an earlier book already, someone wants to put out a second edition, and you have a sense that you can take care of most of the issues one-by-one. But, I keep thinking of those 90%/10% folks--although I do not know anyone who claims to work this way. In fact, I have little idea of how any of my scholarly friends write and edit and rework stuff. It's the big secret of the academic life, since we write in private for the most part. People are more likely to hint of their intimate escapades than how they actually work, although in fact you hear very little of either since people are more likely to go on about what's wrong with the institutions, its administration, and their colleagues. It's almost impossible to get them to tell you the argument of what they are writing or even its theme, unless you use instruments employed by oral surgeons to remove wisdom teeth with problematic roots.

When it's all done, I'm not sure what to do. It's out of my hands. I've done what I could. Time to move on.

Thursday, June 26, 2014


If you want to do work, and you have work to do, you cannot allow yourself the luxury or curse of putting energy into energy-sinks. These may involve committees, campaigns, cabals, conspiracies, or just plain acting out and going ballistic, or being obsessed about something wrong in the world. At least I cannot. Moreover, my ability to focus deeply is limited: after an hour or an hour and a half, I need to nap a bit, and then I can continue. By "focus deeply," I mean the ability to be hypervigilant in your writing or editing, not let things slide by, and figure out what you meant when you wrote something a while ago.

You may be very different than I am, and can work in a more chaotic environment, and switch to something else and back again. Wonderful!

But I observe that too many scholars get diverted. I am not talking about being a good family member and friend, and attending to others you care about. Some of the time, illness or crisis will take over--maybe for longer than you would like. But eventually, it would seem, things settle down, and you can carve out a few hours each day to do your work. If so, you are OK--as long as everything else does not make you so tired that you cannot focus on your work.

There are lots of things that do not need to be done or attended to. There are times when you will become stupid or silent, so you are not drawn into shenanigans. There are demands you may have to decline or defer. But if your role in a university is to do your scholarly work, you must do your scholarly work. If you have become a chair of a department, then you will have to take care of that, and you may be delayed or blindsided for 2-3 years. But then you must go back to your work, allowing yourself time to slip back in.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014


At most institutions, where the faculty does not have extraordinary reputational strength, the deans or the provosts do what they will within a wide range, as long as they follow procedures. For a reasonable fraction of cases, any dean or provost can arrange procedures to get what they want. I don't know why faculty think they will prevail. I'm not saying this is good, but until the faculty are strong enough, they have no real power. I assume that the Nobel Prize winners and some others will be effective advocates to the provost, but they tend to be careful not to use their power unless they believe it is really needed.

A colleague wrote back to me: FACULTY WITH REAL POWER CAN BE SCARY. My only response is that there are usually countervailing powerful faculty.

I am not much impressed by faculty committees and protest groups. It's not that they are in the wrong, for often they have identified real problems. But they do not have the requisite bureaucratic and political savvy, and they tend to go ballistic and offer manifestos. Again if the committees and groups are populated and led by the faculty with the strongest reputational assets that may be different.

What's the dean or the provost doing?

I have never trafficked much in speculations about my chair, my dean, my provost--let us call them  "the administration." I like gossip, my colleagues in the university believe their gossip is well grounded in actual facts and policies. I have no idea. If someone does not get tenure, either the administration is arbitrary or changing the standards; if someone leaves, the administration did not try to retain them; if someone retires, the administration has forced them out. If a dean does not continue beyond their current term, the provost is out of control,...  And so forth.

I am sure there is some truth to some of what I hear. But of course I never hear the other side: X was not strong enough as a scholar; the attractions of a new position could not be matched by the administration; the retiree has perhaps become less effective; and the dean is not delivering to the provost's expectations.

I do know that it is the provost's job to decide on tenure (the university committee is advisory, not at all determinative), people are let go to other places as a nice way of reinvigorating a faculty, the retiree is actually getting a nice deal for retiring now; and the provost chooses deans and is responsible for who they choose and retain.

If a university is trying to become stronger, there is likely to be disruption, and the situation will get even more tricky. I doubt there is much of a conspiracy, although I am also sure that some moves are meant to help a spouse or friend and they are fishy.

I have found that the best advice I give on promotion and tenure is objective judgments about the quality of the case, and by implication the quality of the candidate. My main concern is improving the quality of the university and making sure processes are fair. I leave to the provost matters of sympathy or special consideration. If I would not trust a dossier, for whatever reason, the provost needs to know. If someone is ok, but not likely to continue to be strong enough, the provost needs to know. And so forth.

The buck stops with the dean or the provost--not with me.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

When departments fall apart

Many years ago I asked one of my esteemed colleagues why he left his A+ university for my university, at that time not an A university. He mentioned that the department had fallen apart, the chair drowned and various people had peeled off. He probably liked coming to LA from someplace less attractive, as well. Maybe it was a chair or money, I do not know.

It's very difficult for a department to stay strong unless it has good people, it supports them well, it makes those people feel wanted, and it brings in more good people. You, as a dean or provost, cannot afford to delude yourself about quality, because your faculty surely knows what's up. Not everyone is drinking the Kool-Aid.

You live in a competitive university environment, the people likely to be bid away are very strong or very promising or both. They are not inexpensive, yet they respond well to having a cohort of colleagues who are very strong. It's more likely you will be able to grow or at least remain stable if you realize that mistaken appointments are corrosive, even one will be noticed. When you hire junior faculty, they need to be people who are ambitious and hard working, and who want to be like their most esteemed colleagues. And they need to be supported, not used up with stuff that prevents them from growing. If your teaching loads are larger and support is weaker than those you'd like to compete with, you will lose people you want to keep.

Now you might want to move from C to B or B+. You still have the same issues, although most B or B+ people are not likely to be bid away. On the other hand, can you make them more productive, more effective? If you do not have the resources, and you expect to squeeze them out of your faculty, you will again have people leaving, and not be able to make the best out of your faculty.

There's no simple answer if you are resource poor. But it helps to have an realistic estimate of your quality and attractiveness, to be in the game rather than on the side. And to have a strategy where you can occupy niches that are important and otherwise ignored.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

What we owe to our full professors.

Some fraction of the full professors seem to lose momentum, often it turns out because they never had much to start with. But they are tenured, and we need to give them a chance to deliver on their promise, whether they wish to or not. They cannot be channeled into administration or extra teaching, until they have proven unable to maintain a research career. It is up to their colleagues to figure out ways to give them a chance--incorporate them into your research projects, mentor them, face them down with the facts of their current performance and with the possibility of getting what they need to do their work. It's best they not reach the Alcoholics Anonymous "rock bottom", but if that is necessary so be it. It's dreadful to be a full professor in a research university and not be research productive. Better to move to another institution, to take up an administrative position, to find another path, than to be perceived as "dead wood." By the way, that perception is not just a matter of not publishing or getting grants, it may be about the work you do that is not seen as deep and challenging. 

Fashions in research change, so perhaps the work you do is not what others consider important. But there is a community out there that does appreciate your work, and it is crucial that your colleagues know that. I've seen too many senior faculty pooh-poohed, and then a few years later their work is back in fashion--for less senior faculty tend to be arrogant about what is the most important research--but they never see how their own work is being superseded by more junior faculty and those at other institutions.

What we owe to new assistant professors and our associate professors.

We as a faculty are responsible for the success of our colleagues. If we hire a new PhD, we need to guide them effectively to be ready for tenure review. And when a colleague is tenured we need to guide them effectively so that they are ready for promotion to full professor in a reasonable amount of time. Of course, they need not take our guidance, but they ought to know what is expected, and if they don't deliver ...  At the same time, if our colleagues do not deliver, we cannot then promote them--even if they are wonderful and have become part of our community.

When we hire someone, presumably we have done enough due diligence to be quite sure they can deliver. If we are not quite sure, we cannot hire them. We have to have a sense, at that hiring time, that there is a sensible path in the next 2-3 years, at least.

Moreover, our expectations of performance must be in accord with what is possible. Some institutions provide much greater support and less demanding teaching loads than do others--and usually they are the strongest institutions. If if we want to be the peers of the strongest, we need to provide the same conditions. If we cannot afford that, then we need to have a good sense of what we might expect in terms of contribution. 

And we have to have a review process, for promotion and tenure, that is demonstrably fair. If committee reports are unbalanced--too positive or too negative, given the evidence, we fail. If we keep being unable to tenure the junior faculty we hire, or promote to full our associate professors, what are we doing that makes that possible? If our candidates keep leaving for jobs at other institutions, are we doing what we need to do to retain them. That they leave after being denied a promotion, and end up in superior positions, is indicative.

The burden is surely on the candidate. But if we do not do our job, we ought be ashamed of ourselves.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Bureaucratic Life in the University--No Need to Drink the Kool-Aid

More than once, my friends and colleagues, staff and faculty, bemoan how they are treated. They are right,  but it is hard to imagine turning around an organization without leadership from the top and all the way down. So what are you to do?

1. You might be able to change things locally. Perhaps you can set up a cocoon of decency, not so much to insulate yourself from those above you, but as a way of creating a local environment that is supportive and comfortable. A small group of colleagues or students, maybe just your office where people are offered chocolates and a soft drink, maybe a monthly lunch or seminar, all under the radar but known to those in what might be called a circle of care. "Care" here is not necessarily about emotions, it may be about intellectual matters, or about a sense of proper behavior.

2. Most of the time, the institution does not really want to tell you what to do. So you need to have a sense of what you want to do, do it, and keep doing it well. See my earlier post on Doing Your Passion. What you want to do is to make sure that what matters most to you is in effect insulated from the nonsense. If necessary become one of the Stupids so that you are better insulated, and let the world go crazy. (See the post on The Stupids) Find a reference group that supports what you do. In many cases it will be outside the institution, just as most professors in research universities see themselves as part of an international research establishment in their fields. 

3. You cannot avoid the nonsense. Some of it may be managed, some avoided. You may not receive the rewards and promotions you deserve. Perhaps a new manager will come along and recognize you, but that may or may not happen. You could find another position, and surely you should keep your eyes open. Or, as I have described, "somebody up there may like you." That won't solve your problem, except for your morale. You might be able to fight it, but my experience suggests that for folks like me, that won't work.

4. In the end, what counts is what you do. And your sense of what is right and good, and what is nonsense. After 30 years at an institution, you may have gone native, and forgotten what is crucial, and why this place is under some absurd illusions. There is no need to drink the Kool-Aid. If you can recover your naive and initial sense, you need not be trapped.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Uncertainty and Risk in the Context of Environmental Policy and National Defense

I have been thinking of a course on environmental policy. Given that I had been teaching a new course on defense policy, perhaps it was not too surprising that I realized that lots of what we know relevant to the environment comes from defense analysis. Defense analysis needs some other ways of thinking to free it from its usual polarities. As I reread this draft, I realize I need to make clear how the defense examples apply to environmental policy.

The basic idea is to consider matters of uncertainty and risk, in the contexts of national defense and environmental policy. 

Risk and Uncertainty in Environment and National Defense

0.       Background
1.       The Unbounded Challenge.
2.       Bounding Uncertainty
3.       Risk and Probability
4.       Decisions
5.       Insurance
6.       Firefighting
7.       A Standing Army
8.       An Urbanized Bureaucratic World
9.       History and Intra-generational Transformations
10.    Values and Goods

0.Background: There will always be surprises, and risks you choose not to defend yourself against (cost, likelihood is low). Your security umbrella, even if an empire or an imperium, will allow you to get wet, and sometimes even drenched. So you will choose. Although you may present yourself as total, you are in fact selective.

                Perhaps the most crucial factor, rarely addressed, is the hope and spirit of the people and institutions. During WWII, Japan believed they were superior in these, sacrifice being the norm.

1.The Unbounded Challenge. I had been teaching defense policy and proposed a course in environmental policy, and realized that there was lots I wanted to teach to each group, and that each field could learn from the other field. In each case, the other/opponent gets a vote, where that other may be an enemy, Nature, or other people. And others are sufficiently inventive in what they do, that it is best to have a Red Team that spends its time on figuring out your vulnerabilities. You can gather data and intelligence, but the uncertainties and the vagaries of bureaucracies, yours and others’, that you have to make judgments and suppositions.  And you are living in societies where legitimacy of actions and governments are subject to question.  Sustainability never addresses this.

2.Bounding Uncertainty: Your opponents are adaptive and they will alter their actions to suit yours. They are likely to shave the rules and game the system, finding loopholes you had not imagined—for they can then get rich or accumulate power.  You are not in the realm of problem-solving, but of strategy and tactics. To improve your insight, you have Red Teams devoted to anticipating what you’ve not thought, and your assessment of your strengths and vulnerabilities is in terms of your opponents’ capacities and what they understand about you. The theme here is Constant Vigilance Without Paranoia. CVWP could lead to infinite regress—what would they do if we do…, but action is crucial.

                Also, you want to manage your risks, purchase insurance, but uncertainty may be more significant than risks you can assess. I suspect that what you want to do here is to improve your awareness, especially of the limits of your imaginations.

                Example: Global warming: The wide range of estimates does not mean that global warming is uncertain. It does mean that you need to vet the reliability of estimates, be able to have a sense of what is at risk, which risks you might well sacrifice, the costs of avoidance including societal reorganization. There are surprises we might imagine, and those beyond our ken (or imagined by someone but not someone taken as reliable). Constant vigilance involves developing bureaucratic means of filtering, highlighting, and comparing accounts.

                Intelligence sets the context, and is perhaps most unreliable about particular contingencies. Noise is prevalent, and in retrospect looks more informative than it was in actuality. Ideally, you have an uncertainty bearing organization, one that sends risky prospects to the risk-analysts. And that uncertainty is hierarchized, and given background.

3. Probability and Risk: You have information, you have predilections, and you estimate probabilities. Those are always accompanied by ranges or errors. Very small probabilities are unlikely to be reliable since external effects will overwhelm their causes. You can delineate a tree of decisions or events, assign probabilities, and likely you will miss some steps—ok. Again, you try to keep track of costs of avoidance and consequence. You might look at events that are several sigma away from the estimated probability, and if you don’t have an estimate of the error in your probability, you won’t know how reliable your claims are.  You might estimate Value at Risk, but beyond that you are beyond probabilities of the costs/consequences. Also, many probability distributions have heavy tails, so the reserves you need may be much larger than you first estimated.

                It may be rational to go for broke, if what you need is X and anything less is useless to you. Lots of small bets will get you sure defeat by the law of large numbers. One possibility is to find a more realistic path to low probability or go for broke situations, but this may not be possible. Still, maybe you can get reinsurance or joint bettors in a market with speculators.

4.Decisions: You often make decisions by inadvertence, by unintended consequences, by others’ moves and your response or not, etc. You only sometimes make a decision.

Estimates of expectation value, range, etc, have problems if discount rates have a big effect. Moreover, there are distortions of conventional decision-making theory, ala Kahneman-Tversky.

                Doom scenarios are apocalyptic and religious, and they divert attention from useful action, and encourage extreme responses. In general, the survivors do not envy the dead, so horrible events are horrible not apocalyptic. Moreover, doom does not encourage coping, nor thinking about surviving to fight another day—the latter being what’s crucial. Losses can be awful, but what’s crucial is whether you can go on and do better. Fear and scare are paralyzing.

                Infinite sequences of anticipated moves—if I do, what would they do, and then what would I do,… are too smart by a half. You may want to act given a finite or even short horizon, perhaps you opponent will still be thinking through that infinite game. (Of course, the infinite game may have a convergent answer, but not likely.) Your goal should be to degrade the opponent, deter their action, find out more of real consequence (by acting and finding out the answer to your if question). Hence you may not want to pay too much attention to the longer term, because a short-range action may change future contingencies.

What’s crucial is hope, to have a society that is not demoralized. Resilience is surely material and organizational, but it is as well ideational or moral. Recovery is often remarkable, although sometimes it takes too long and suffering becomes unbearable.

5. Insurance: Insurance allows you to prevent bad consequences (risk management), ameliorate their consequences, and compensate for losses. The problem is to find someone who will sell you insurance, or if you self-insure, where will you get reinsurance. Is pooling possible? Or perhaps you can find a Lloyds of London. Insurance cuts current spending for future security, and that may not be popular.

                Ideally, you could modularize your risks, erect fire breaks, and find smaller modules that would allow for more conventional insurance. You might be able to purchase a real option, allowing you to make decisions in the future, so you are not irreversibly committed and may respond to new information and contingencies. Scandalously, you might define acceptable losses and deductibles; the problem of explicitly acknowledging such is enormous. Likely you have such losses implicitly defined, in any case.


6. Firefighting: You might respond to risks and the uncertain by having a fire department, first responders who are sent out when called. Mobility and backup—N-alarm fires—and ways of dealing with coincidences that may demand weakening defenses in some places. What’s crucial here is to understand precursors so you are more aware of risk and can cut that risk, in effect fire-insurance maps (See above on Insurance, and here the problem become reserves and reinsurance, and an insurer of last resort—in effect the society.) You also want to have after-action reports, or lessons-learned, or “post-cursors.” But you might imagine how such a system would fail if fires were set all over, by conspiracy, by chance, or by a massive external source (fire-bombing).

7. A Standing Army: A standing army is a massive resource, located at all sites of potential conflict, with a high level of readiness. This is the complement of the fire department (real armies are a balance of fire department and a ready standing army).  This puts your resources in harm’s way, and your opponents can in effect determine your actions by choosing to attack you at a particular place and time. There is much to be said for selective engagement (vs. domino effect or an imperial force), choosing your battles. Do you then have to allow for sacrifice of some of your deployed troops, having decided not to go to war. The problem is how to diplomatically “choose your battles.” You might have “special forces,” forces that are not salient but go out and do the work in an impromptu way.

                Forward presence is expensive, may be a deterrent (or a temptation), but it does express intent and power and resources.

The World:

8. An Urbanized Bureaucratic World: If you are in an urbanized bureaucratic world, interconnection, density, concentration, and bureaucratic autonomy are the facts. Collateral damage is likely, and it may be hard to have what people would call a surgical strike (although surgery itself is not so “surgical.”) Moreover, it may be difficult to identify non-combatants and civilians, for they are too intertwined with the fabric and the problems.  There is much to be said for standard operating procedures in government and firms, for they provide for responsiveness in crisis and systematic organization. The instruments for dealing with problems—police, tax, regulation, law, markets, informal sectors—provides for many modes of intervention.

9. History and Intra-generational Transformations: If we examine US, European, and East Asian history, post WWII, we have a sense of intractable problems that sometimes went away, were altered, or persisted. Social conventions actually may change dramatically even if folk beliefs remain. What seemed to be settled, can then return anew with greater perversity (Russia, 2014?). Moreover, what we call ideologies—capitalism, communism—would seem to have national variations that turn out to make those ideologies rather constumed traditional modes (Russian vs. Chinese communism). Resources respond to technologies, and vice versa, and so technologies can alter politics. In any case, resources are denominated by price and quantity, and by alternative technologies—and one should note that invention may not come on when needed so that resource conflicts and economic disruption may be serious. For most societies, stability and legitimacy are crucial, and policies that uproot stability or legitimacy, under rubrics of such as efficiency or fairness, are likely to meet resistance. Put differently, rent-seeking is everyone’s game.

10.Values and Goods: Survival is rarely if ever the problem. Rather, what kind of society do we wish to have, what is earned and deserved, what is hereditary, what is schemed and gamed and legitimate, and what is not? We are not likely to defeat many enemies, since new ones would seem to arise. (Why?)  But we can prevail, keep things from getting too much out of control, and provide for stability and change. Institutions alter and transform, wither away, die and are born.

In all these observations, what is needed are examples and models. For to think about the environment or defense, one has to avoid abstractions that trap one in crises or dilemmas, and to have at hand enough examples where movement would appear to be possible. (Ideologies may encourage and empower people, especially if we do not let them get in the way of practical action.)

I am an interactive performer THINKING in the classroom.

In discussions about distance learning and technology, I realize that little of what I hear mirrors what I do in my classes.

1. I am the center of my classroom. I give a lecture with lots of room for questions and discussions. But in fact just discussion has little place in that room. (I know this is outrageous--as is much that is below.)
2. I lecture to think through a problem, to present an account of a field. I can usually discern one or two main points. I love questions and dissents. In general, I have not found interesting student comments on other students' questions.
3. In just about all my classes students write papers about something related to the class that interests them. I work with them through several drafts, and we discuss issues in class, including the formulation of their problems. If I think they are going in an unfruitful direction, I almost never allow them to go in that direction.
4. There is very little "material" in my lectures. There are issues and conflicts and arguments, but little in the way of stuff on which you might test someone, even those issues/conflicts/arguments. I almost never give examinations.
5. It all depends on me, on my thinking things through, on being prepared, on having interesting stuff to present.

I presume that the reason the students are in the room is to hear me discuss the issues, interact with them about their work, and exemplify how to think.  This is not Harvard Business School discussion teaching, this is not collaborative learning, this is not student-centered as that term is used nowadays. It is subject-centered and professor-centered.


Teaching and Clinical Professorships--Having a PROJECT

Some appointments are clinical or teaching professorships. In medical schools, clinical professors devote their time to patient care and teaching, with reduced or no demands for scientific research. In many fields there has been the rise of teaching professors, who teach a larger load of classes (6 vs. 4 semester courses/year, say), and again with little expectation of research production.

Neither of these appointments carry tenure, but they usually imply a long term commitment by the professor and the university, with term contracts that are renewable.

You want to teach well, attend to students, perhaps supervise dissertations if that is permitted, be a good departmental citizen, participate in seminars and meetings. You want to remain up to date re advances in your field. And you want to revise your courses or your practices as time goes on.

But, you also need a project. Namely, you need a professional focus that is likely to produce publications, salience among those in your field, and a respect by your research oriented colleagues. It may involve survey or review articles, perhaps a textbook, research that produces publications but not so many as your research colleagues...  You might get involved with others' research projects and become a co-author.

I realize that in medicine research support has become more limited, and in most fields it is not so easy to get such support. But there may be useful and even important work overlooked by others who are more lavishly funded. And you might be able to get external research support or fellowships. But even if there is no such support available, you want to have a project that focuses your energies and you ambitions.

I am not suggesting you work 150%. Rather, with some focus and direction, you do have time to pursue your project, at a less demanding pace than otherwise, but it will get done. And it provides you with a defense against others assuming you are available for scut work--you are finishing a chapter of your book, or ...

If you have no desire for such a project, it is best you seek another position. This is also true for tenured professors. You need something deeply engaging, intellectually demanding, and fun. If not, do something else.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Doing Your Passion

It's easy to get diverted. David Brooks recently had an Op-Ed in the NY Times about how to be focused, following on from some studies of children:

You have to have the capacity to be alone. You have to say Yes to what really matters to you. Your appetites are frightening, and so you might suppress them. You need to be free to follow those appetites, not letting anxiety edit them so they are no longer satisfying.

[You see this editing in personal ads, where people have lots of specs, but what really matters to them is almost never given. Similarly, in academic job announcements, it is rarely if ever said, we want people who are passionate about their research or teaching,... It's always about qualifications and fields ...]

If you are focused, all the distractions and diversions are rather less powerful.

The World is Divided Into Two Types of People--the Smarts and the Stupids

I have a friend who has made his way in a bureaucratic organization, where it really matters to be competent, but allegiances and "enemies" play a big role as well. He tells me: I believe it's the way it is. And I've use this method to be promoted.. Sometimes I have to act stupid when stupid people are around me. Although I know I'm smarter than they are.

He suggests that the world is divided into the stupid and the smart, and at times it's best to be among the stupid, since if you say something smart you'll be penalized or ostracized or seen as a bad member.

The smart and the stupid need each other to survive.

He worries not at all about the medals or the awards or whatever used to build morale and loyalty. He likes his work and his doing.  His main concern is his annual performance review. If someone wants to deny him something, he says little. He just keeps performing at top level, and that speaks in the end it would seem. (Not always, and surely some people move ahead on allegiances and brown-nosing. But only so far.) He has lots of bosses, many of whom seem not to have much experience in the actual doing, more in the managing that is quite distant from the doing. Those bosses make pronouncements likely to be nonstarters in the doing. to a few of them he might say something, but in general he is stupid here. It's MBA's vs. supervisors and foreman.

I wish I had him telling me this stuff years ago. Actually, I did. Gian-Carlo Rota would often say to me:  Martin, Martin.... before admonishing me, asking me, Does it help you?  [If not, why are you doing this.]  My friend and Rota are smart in ways that I am too smart.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Jobs, The Work, Prestige

The most important thing is that you be able to do your  work. If the place allows you to do that, you are blessed. Rankings and prestige are important, but you need to be able to do your work--that is, have a job. Your problem is to find  such a place, do your work, and teachi and be an accepted colleague. So, if your job is very different than you once imagined, ask--Can I do my work?

Say, you can only find a day-job. But it allows you time to do your work, on the side, evenings, weekends, vacations. And the day-job does not destroy you. Go for it! I  am not saying that you should be satisfied. I am saying that if you can find a job that allows you to do your work, somehow, don't brood or complain. Do the work.

Of course you may need infrastructure and support, but if they are not available, can you find work that you respect that does not demand what is not available.

My point is not about fairness or justification. It's about getting away with murder. It's about having the chance to do what matters to you.

Of course, some people do not need a salary or support. Professors of old sometimes were in this situation. But in the end, do you what you believe matters.

And if you cannot do your work--the jobs available are a poor match. See if you can do something satisfying within those constraints. If not, think about what else you might do.

What you want to avoid is being consumed by resentment, anger, etc.

"Outstanding" Wortk

In my earlier post on John Clauser, my point was not about him, but about how the academic system did not incorporate a fine scholar/scientist.  Usually, the problem is how the system chooses a weaker scholar over a  stronger one, where the difference is quite clear but not enormous. J would not fit in here, and K is almost as good as a scholar and perhaps will be a better teacher. The Rota post indicates how he distinguished important from outstanding, and in editing his journal he aimed for outstanding contributions if they showed up. If the work is outstanding you want it in your orbit.

Now it does not mean you will find it easy to do so, since some scholars are hard to live with, or may be very poor teachers. But when such an outstanding case comes along, you need to think differently, unbalancedly. There is not likely to be many such cases, so you can use your usual criteria most of the time. And surely some outstanding cases will turn out to be mistaken.

Still, it's worth having that category, outstanding, in your range.

Your department may not be so strong, but if you have a chance, go for the brass ring. You will create problems for yourself, but it's the kind of problems you would do well to have more of.