I wrote a while back about a Problem Called Maria, who is a difficult junior faculty person. While R01 funded, she had not published (I had said 6 papers, it was only 4, but with two more since she turned her tenure documents in). She was, in fact, turned down for tenure. She was very upset and spent a lot of time raging (to others, and eventually me) on how unfair this was, how hard her snowflake discipline is, that she was working as hard as she could. Actually, I don’t doubt that she was working hard, just not productively, as far as I could tell (see her story about throwing out 1.5 years of data because the postdoc was a disaster).
Anyway, she came to me. She wanted to talk to me about what do. I was only a little tempted to say why weren’t you here earlier, but realized that would be neither helpful nor politic at this point in time. I listened for about 10 minutes to how horrible the world is. Then she interrupted herself and said: what do you think I should do now?
What do you say to someone in this position? In my view, she didn’t deserve tenure. I don’t give a damn about your snowflake discipline. I really don’t. But, I thought she deserved some support. I am not sure why. While writing this I tried to come up with some rules (for myself) on when to help and not help people. It’s easy to identify the ends of the spectrum. I wouldn’t help someone who cheated, who lied, or who insulted others. I know that there are lots of others who would say that I should protect my time, and not waste it on people who can’t make the cut. Maria is/was her own worst enemy. She owns her failures. She was not treated unfairly. Showing her kindness and help now may make a difference how she treats people in the future, whether she stays in academics or not. We are not only what we do in our careers.
So we discussed an appeal. I did try and indicate what I thought would make a strong appeal, and what would irritate the readers. I did not say that she either deserved or didn’t deserve tenure. She wrote an appeal and I edited it. I told her to take out the snowflake stuff, and she listened. This represented less than an hour of my life and, in the end, it was A Good Thing To Do.
But if her appeal is successful (and I have absolutely no idea about the probability distribution on the outcome), I do not believe it will be good for the department.