Leapdragon 2016 - Aron Hsiao Was Here

Thursdays, time management, life, and fish  §

It’s been a few days. It happens.

— § —

Mostly what’s been happening is life, in its messier and less appealing form. But things are straightening up; we’ve gone from horrific to okay to pretty good.

I’ll take it.

— § —

I’ll be back in the classroom in just over a week. The problem is, there’s just no time for it.

This will likely be the last class I teach for some time, perhaps until I get my Ph.D. and a TT gig at an R1 or a major private—if that ever happens. And right now, that’s a big question mark.

I’ve been a college instructor for nearly seven years, growing from just one course during my first semester as a lecturer to full-time teaching at some of the top New York schools for several semesters, then tapering off to one-per-semester again over the last couple of years.

I’ve met a great variety of fabulous, interesting students, and have fond memories of many particular names and faces. I’ll be sad to see it go, particularly since I don’t actually know if it will be the last time I ever grace the front of a classroom.

The sad fact, folks, is that it just doesn’t pay. I don’t mean that it doesn’t pay competitively, I mean that you have to do it as charity. If I were to teach a 4+4 at my current university appointment, which would be an absolutely full-time-plus job, I’d be earning $16,000 gross.

That’s McDonald’s wages, folks.

And the thing is, I can’t get a 4+4 because they don’t give those to adjuncts.

— § —

I recently made it to the “teaching demonstration and on-campus presentation” stage of the interview process for a TT position at one of the local community colleges.

I’m pretty sure I could have had it if I dug in and performed at level. But I bowed out.

It’s too bad.

Why did I bow out? Because even for full TT faculty, the salary range for a 5+5 paid less that what I am earning at one of several part-time, telecommuting consulting gigs right now.

My teaching scores and performance are, as the head of an NYU department once said, fabulous. Off the charts. I don’t say this to blow my own horn. Really.

I say it to mourn for what is being lost. There’s a generation of college-going kids at publics and communities who will sacrifice and scrimp and save and work hard to be taught by (and to get an education from) those who are only willing to take the pitiful money because they couldn’t find anything else to do—anything else that would let them, you know, buy groceries.

The higher education system is broken. It’s sweatshop labor now, like so many other things in this economy.

I’ve stuck it out for seven years purely on the strength and vapors of dedication to higher learning and free inquiry. But now I, as has been the case with so many others before me, am being tempted.

If I win the absolute lottery and get a TT job at an R1 or a major private and actually earn tenure, a decade after entry I’ll likely be earning a livable salary, but one that pales in comparison to what I easily could be making simply by abandoning academics and going to marketing meetings instead.

We’re talking differences that approach an order of magnitude by end of career.

My wife wants to kill me at times over this, and rightly so. We have kids and a retirement to think about, and the process of getting to the $100k-level TT salary is arduous, family killing, and all-consuming, even as it is fraught with risk, while the process of getting to the $500k-$1M level elsewhere is just about turning up for the meetings and being as smart and driven as you are.

She can’t help but wonder—constantly—where we’d been if I’d spent the last seven years doing something else instead.

Me, too. And for the first time in my life, I’m starting to waver in my commitment to academics in any form.

Turns out it’s nice to be able to pay the bills without martyrdom.

— § —

Meanwhile, I still have a Ph.D. that I want to finish.

If we count from my first entry into higher education, I’ve spent 22 years and counting and over a hundred thousand tuition dollars getting to this point. I’m 98 percent done. I’d hate to quit now.

Problem is that I simply don’t know where the hours are going to come from right now.

Priorities are:

1. Family
2. Bill-paying work
3. Academics

But by the time #1 and #2 are out of the way, there’s precious little time for anything else left over.

Yes, I do schedule what some would consider to be excessive family time. For example, I don’t work 40 hours at my “day jobs.” Put together, it works out to 25-35, tops.

I put in hours every week during the day with my family.

Some would say that I ought to cut puppet shows at the library, trips to the pool, music class, and other similar things out.

But in the interest of what? The 25-35 hours is paying the bills right now. I don’t need more. My kids are only young once.

Cutting out picnics at the park and story reading in the afternoon just to work on my dissertation?

Well, like I said—my kids are only young once, and my dissertation is never likely to earn me as much money as I can earn elsewhere in half the hours with half the stress.

This is becoming a motivation problem for me.

— § —

On a completely unrelated note, the goldfish are now nearly two years old. They were purchased as $0.28 feeder fish (five of them) under an inch long and about the size of a cough drop. They started life in a 5-gallon aquarium—all of them.

They’re now in a 55-gallon and the smallest of them is at least four inches long and about as big as my wallet. The largest is probably six or seven.

I know that a 55 isn’t enough for five common goldfish to live long, healthy lives. We’re planning to gradually adopt them out over time as they grow.

For the wary: the tank gets 35 percent water changes (they seem to tolearte it well) at least twice a week, and we have 265 gallons of multiple-format filtration capacity (two hanging, one submersible, one massive canister, all with a mix of Seachem Matrix and Seachem Purigen, plus tons and tons and tons of floss and charcoal) running on this 55 gallons.

But in time, they’ll outgrow.

I’ll be sorry to see them go, one by one, at some point in the future.

But they really probably do need a pond in the end.

— § —

Sad thing: I really love academics. Working on my dissertation for an hour and a half this morning, for the first time in well over a week, I felt that old excitement all over again.

I really do love the work.

Only now it’s tinged with sadness—that feeling that you get when you realize you may just sell the convertible and buy a minivan for the new wife and the kids you’re planning to have.

— § —

Football season: coming soon. I, frankly, can’t wait.

Hearth and home. Hearth and home.

Anyone that doesn’t see the link between football and hearth+home doesn’t understand either quantity.