Update: First-Year Professor Craziness

February 4th, 2014

ChemBark Moving to St. LouisHello, friends.

Apologies for the continued radio silence, especially in light of the fact that several instances of data manipulation have recently been exposed through “corrections” published in a variety of journals. The beautiful thing about having a blog is that you can update it whenever you want. Sometimes, life happens and blogging takes a back seat…

I continue to fly by the seat of my pants as a first-year assistant professor. One of the main differences about moving on from life as a grad student and postdoc to life as a professor is the tremendous weight of responsibility involved. If you put something off as a grad student or postdoc, you are usually just inconveniencing yourself. But when you fall short in your duties as a professor, the problem is compounded by the multitude of students who are affected. While a variety of to-dos may arise, it is simply untenable to show up to lecture unprepared, because you’re not just wasting your time, you’re wasting the time of 30+ students. And when you delay getting something set up in the lab, you are letting your group down. I imagine the feeling of being a new professor is similar in many respects to being a new parent—there is so much to do and so little time, but if you don’t get all of your work done, bad things will happen (not to you, but to innocent young’uns for whom you care deeply).

I’m teaching Organic Chemistry II this semester, which is proving to be enjoyable. Once again, it is somewhat stressful to have to create a brand new lecture every 48 hours, but I’ve got a great group of students to keep me going. In lab, my research group is growing and things are continuing to take flight. Outside of lab, I got married a month ago and that was splendid. As luck would have it, a few days after we returned to St. Louis, our high-rise apartment building experienced a massive flood because some genius left his window open over the winter break and the sprinkler lines in his room froze. The water damaged seven floors and knocked out all of the elevators in the building. Unfortunately, my wife and I live on the 11th floor. It is also unfortunate that I have a spinal cord injury that makes it difficult for me to climb stairs. So, since January 7th, I’ve been practically homeless. Some nights I sleep in my office, some nights I sleep in a hotel, some nights I invest the 90 minutes it takes for me to crawl up the 10 flights of stairs. My wife and our dog have been real troopers in this ordeal, and it sounds like one elevator might be working by the end of the week—though after four weeks of this crap, I am not holding my breath.

I hope to return to blogging more regularly soon. In parting, please enjoy a scan of a letter from my property management company to the tenants of our building. I want to vomit every time I read it.



32 Responses to “Update: First-Year Professor Craziness”

  1. eugene Says:

    In Soviet Russia, the building management company screws over You! Heh heh heh….

    oh, wait.

  2. OrganicExtract Says:

    This is my 2nd year teaching as an assistant professor and my first year as a parent. I can relate entirely to your comments about the pressure associated with needing to accomplish tasks that cannot be put off for another day (or hour…. or 5 minutes). Sometimes it is enough to make me *miss* the laid-back life of graduate school. (Did I actually write that?!?) But the issues with your apartment? Wow. That’s horrible. Hope that they get it fixed really soon!

  3. Dr. K. Says:

    Hi Paul,

    I am also a first-year faculty member in a new job at a new city, and I completely relate to your feelings about the first year (and second OrganicExtract’s comments about grad school!)

    Also, that’s completely terrible that your apartment hasn’t fixed that yet! I hope it gets back to normal ASAP.

    Dr. K.

  4. Toad Says:

    Your renter’s insurance policy should cover loss of use so that you can pay for other living arrangements. A terrible inconvenience, but you should not be homeless in any sense of the word. Best of luck.

  5. Curious Wavefunction Says:

    That’s brutal. Given the challenges I think you are doing just fine. Good luck to you both.

  6. Paul Bracher Says:

    @Toad: Ideally, yes. We’ve had a back-and-forth with our insurance company, who claim our policy does not cover this situation because our unit did not sustain flood damage and is still usable. They said we should pursue a claim against the insurance policy of the negligent resident, but it appears he did not have renter’s insurance.

    The total damage is probably somewhere around $1.5M, if I had to guess. The elevators alone will be >$150k. The property group is being predictably obstructionist in terms of financial details of what they will and will not cover. For the moment, we are stuck at the intersection of a multitude of nightmares.

  7. tenured parent Says:

    Paul, you might not be thinking of this (though you might since you seem pretty circumspect), but you may–if you choose at some point–be able to get a tenure clock extension due to the difficulties you have suffered.

  8. Paul Bracher Says:

    @tenured parent: I plan to petition God for a 26-hour day.

  9. AmbulanceChaser Says:

    No access for people who cannot climb stairs? Sounds like an ADA lawsuit to me!

  10. Son O' Gashira Says:

    What the heck is ‘inclimate’ weather? That does not inspire confidence…

  11. Paul Bracher Says:

    @Son O’Gashira: Exactly! My favorite quote from the letter:

    It is with regret that we inform you…the elevator repairs are our first priority.

  12. Org Lett Reader Says:

    I live in a townhome community, and every written communication we receive from the homeowner association is similarly vomit-inducing.

  13. Untenured Prof Says:

    As a third year faculty member I can tell you it gets a lot easier as the group starts to get going and be a little more self-sufficient and you have a couple of class preps under your belt.

    I’m also concerned about their assertion that they will be “brining the elevators” – surely this will only make the situation worse?

  14. Azzurra Says:

    I’m a newly independent researcher in Asia (Singapore). I have to say dealing with the administrative details in a US university is like having a picnic on green grass under clear blue skies as compared to the inefficiencies here. Congratulations to tying the knot and take care for what happened with your apartment. That was unfortunate.

  15. TMS Says:

    Well, I had to Google Map to find out where this high rise tower was, since I had wrongly assumed that it was one of the ones just South of Monsanto Hall. Then I realized how vastly the geography of SLU has changed in the 39 years since I matriculated there. Guess I will have to visit my old haunts sometime to see it in person. It is such a different place than during my time there. It was a totally urban enclave with a trip more than 4 blocks away from campus being an uncertain venture, but this did not stop us from walking back from Busch Stadium when an extra-inning Cardinals game outlasted bus service.

    My Organic professor for Organic II had an enormous effect on me and a concerted effort by the then Chemistry department head at SLU (Peter Forsberg) to obtain undergraduate research funding for 12 students the following summer solidified my path towards choosing Organic Chemistry as a career. And it was my performance in that class that got me the summer fellowship to work for my Organic II prof. So I appreciate your dedication to the 30+ students in your class, it may have more influence than you think.

  16. Paul Bracher Says:

    @TMS: John Forsberg or this guy? :)

  17. TMS Says:

    Oops. John is correct, but in my defense, the Billikens had a top notch hockey team in those days.

  18. Grad student Says:

    So sorry to hear about your troubles! If I lived near you, I would offer to let you stay at my place while the elevator repairs were underway. I understand how rough it is not to have a place to sleep, although in my case it was because floormates were loud and negotiations for quiet hours were futile. I did a lot of sleeping away from my own room and started moving things like my hot water pot, extra jackets, slippers and food to my desk. Do you have a camping-type setup in your office for the nights you sleep there? A little cushioning goes a long way in my experience. I wish I could help directly.

    I also echo everyone else’s sentiments about teaching duties; professors at your level make a huge difference in their students’ academic careers. If you are making the time to keep up, no matter what personal setbacks you experience, I applaud you.

    You know what else is ironic? I looked up the apartment company and got this:
    “We are conducting scheduled maintenance on our system.
    The system will be unavailable during this period. We apologize for any inconvenience.”

  19. Hap Says:

    I am sorry for your apartment woes. One of the people in my church had the same thing happen – upstairs person (evicted) left windows open, pipes froze, flooded out downstairs person. They couldn’t actually find the owner (apparently, if you run it through a company, no one ever has to know who actually owns and is responsible for the building); when they did, they had already deciided to nuke the building anyway, so the lots of damage done didn’t matter much, except to the person with no home.

    Isn’t the apartment complex ultimately responsible? If they couldn’t maintain or fix their facilities, though their tenants are paying for them, then why are they not responsible? The idiot who left his window open can then be held responsible by the building, but he had no responsibilities to the other tenants – the management did.

  20. mevans Says:

    Congrats on getting married—I too became a husband recently, and you’re not the only one who has let his blogging habit go by the wayside… :-) Hang in there!

    Yours in first-year-faculty fun,

  21. luysii Says:

    Data manipulation is small potatoes compared to what has just been exposed in Autism Spectrum Disorder research (if you can call it that). For the gory details see https://luysii.wordpress.com/2014/02/10/heres-just-how-poor-the-research-on-autism-spectrum-disorder-has-been/. Data crapulation is a better word for it.

  22. luysii Says:

    Mazel Tov on your marriage — rude of me not to mention it yesterday.

    Now start reproducing — the dumdums are breeding like flies, and both of you are nearing the top of the optimal time.

    That’s probably even ruder, but very good advice having seen how tough an infant is on a 46 year old son and his 39 year old partner recently. Also we now know just how fast your biologic clock is ticking

    This link is on nearly 2 year old data — we probably know much more now, but it hasn’t been written up as far as I know

  23. bad wolf Says:

    Luysii–when you say “dumdums”, did you have a particular race or group in mind, or just the Great Unwashed that didn’t attend Harvard? Just curious.

  24. luysii Says:

    Bad Wolf: Harvard has nothing to do with it. Like it or not, there is a hereditary component to intelligence (there is great argument about just how large this is, but almost no one says there is none). Paul is clearly smart, and more likely to have intelligent children than most people. This is said without knowing his wife, but it is well known that people of comparable intelligence tend to marry each other. Certainly, this is my experience having seen some 30,000 patients over the years.

    13,000 or so them were in Montana, where I can count on both hands those attending Harvard. Montana is ethnically undiverse, pretty much all Caucasians and Indians (what they called themselves in the 70s and 80s when I was there). The above holds true for both groups.

  25. Grad student Says:

    Lyusii, for your perusing pleasure: disabledfeminists.com/2009/10/23/ableist-word-profile-intelligence You may not agree with everything it says but I hope you will reconsider your opinion (I infer) that people less intelligent than you are less valuable than you.

  26. luysii Says:

    As if to prove the point that you don’t have to be near or at Harvard to be intelligent, and that intelligence is randomly distributed geographically, view a few articles in Thursday and Friday’s Nature and Science. One author is one Sarah Anzick who sequenced the genome of a skull fragment of a 13,000 Indian boy found on her family’s ranch and an extremely rural part of Montana (Wilsall Montana). Trust me, I used to fish around there.

    Grad Student: I never said that. You’re projecting.

  27. Synthetic Dave Says:

    “Isn’t the apartment complex ultimately responsible? If they couldn’t maintain or fix their facilities, though their tenants are paying for them, then why are they not responsible? The idiot who left his window open can then be held responsible by the building, but he had no responsibilities to the other tenants – the management did.”

    The complex is responsible, and most states’ landlord-tenant codes clearly state it. In most states, you can send a notice to a landlord via notarized letter sent by certified mail officially (in the eyes of the law) making the landlord aware of the problem. If the landlord does not even attempt remedy the problem within 15 days (varies state to state – if it’s a threat to your health and safety, like the building collapsing, no water, infestation, etc… you may be able to leave immediately, but be prepared to have the landlord take you to court over it because 9 times out of ten they do in retaliation), you have the right to take the landlord to court (usually a Justice of the Peace court; make sure you have a mountain of proof to show the landlord did nothing) to gain summary possession of the apartment, or in other words have the lease dissolved.

    Having gone through all of that with a previous scumbag of a landlord, I’d say just reporting them to BBB, state attorney general’s consumer protection unit, and public health gets better results and costs less money

  28. wolfie Says:


    looks better than you yourself, you have to admit…

  29. Random Reader Says:

    Luysii, there’s little chance that you’ll see this now, but Grad Student’s point was that you were using ableistic language, not whether or not you were making value judgements about intelligence. Except it seems to me that you were, as well. As a close family member of a person with developmental delay, I hope you one day find it in yourself to be more tolerant and less dreadful.

    And leave off the dime-store psychoanalysis the next time someone rightfully challenges you for using ableistic and hateful language. Think about it instead.

  30. M Toothpaste Says:

    I wonder when the adjuncts will strike?

    “University of California graduate students explain why they’re striking.”


  31. Lemon Says:

    Are you going to make an updated Academic Movement and Hires post? I look forward to those posts every year.

  32. bad wolf Says:

    Yeah, since you’re busy you can do a spring “Academic Hires” post and a fall “Nobel odds” post and call it a year.

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