Sunday, April 28, 2019

A Personal Note

I got behind in entries and ended up having nothing to publish today at noon, for which I apologize. I am of course still working on Dark Stone Ritual and Star Control II while investigating some interesting off-list options.

I thought I'd take today to let you know about an interesting change in my life. When I started this blog in 2010, I was employed full-time in a public sector position. I really enjoyed my work, and was good at it, and rose to a leadership position in some professional organizations that covered my area of expertise. I got lots of offers to consult and train in my field. My employer was very generous in giving me extra time off (without pay) so I could indulge in these opportunities, but eventually that got to be too much, and I ended up quitting my job so I could pursue consulting and training full-time.

Self-employment is an interesting lifestyle. It hasn't worked out great for me. First, what no one tells you is that you need to charge about three times your previous hourly rate to "break even" on your full-time salary. (This part only applies to the U.S., of course, although I'm sure every country has its self-employment pitfalls.) This is partly because you're now paying your own social security taxes and health insurance but mostly because there is no longer such a thing as an "off-day." You have to be able to justify hours spent with actual product. You can't have a bad day where you "phone it in" and get paid anyway. There are, needless to say, no sick days or vacation days. You're free to take them, of course, but at a quantifiable cost.

The worst part about self-employment is that every hour becomes a work hour, or at least a potential work hour. I don't think I've actually worked harder in the last 8 years than in the 17 years before that. But I have had more of a constant pressure of work. Days, nights, weekends, weekdays all blend into each other, and all could conceivably be spent on my computer doing what someone is willing to pay me to do. Only some inherent laziness and, of course, my CRPG addiction, has kept me from making triple what I actually did make during this time.

The biggest factor about my particular brand of self-employment has been travel. I talk about it occasionally on the blog, but not as much as I used to, because early on I got some criticism for revealing too much personal information. The hard facts are that between 2011 and 2018, the minimum number of nights per year I spent in hotel rooms was 204. In 2017, I was on the road for 257 nights out of 365. I'd like to say I got paid for all those days of travel, but unfortunately I chose to live in one of the worst possible areas of America for someone who travels a lot. You cannot leave Bangor, Maine (if you can even get a flight out of Bangor) early enough to get anywhere (except maybe New York) and still get work done that day. Nor can you get a return flight unless you leave in the morning. A 2.5-day workshop in California translates into an entire week on the road--longer if there are delays.

So what's the change? I just signed a contract for a full-time job. Starting in the fall of 2019, I will be a full-time university professor. This will require another move, but one that Irene and I are both happy with. 

I have no idea what to expect from my new circumstances in terms of free time. The university expects me to teach 4 classes a semester, which is not a lot. I've done adjunct teaching since 2001, and there were times I had 4 classes in addition to my other full-time work. But working full-time for a university comes with other duties that I've never had, and I have no idea how much time they take.

The university is off for 5 months a year, which sounds like I'll have a lot of free time during those months, but they expect me to finish my PhD within three years. Plus, to be able to afford to take the job, I've had to keep several of my existing contracts (mostly those that don't require a lot of travel). So it's a toss-up, and I have no idea of all the consequences for my life.

On the whole, I'm really looking forward to my new life. I like teaching, and the students and faculty at this university seem great. I'm not looking forward to the dissertation. I'll be glad to spend more time at home, but conversely I've really grown to prize my SkyMiles and Hilton Honors statuses, and giving those up is going to be painful. I don't mind the thought of a daily commute, not with all the great audio stuff to stream these days.

This blog will continue, of course. The new job isn't going to cure my CRPG addiction. And I have a feeling that a regular schedule will help me better structure both my playing and blogging and my work on the book I announced a few months ago.

Thanks for listening, and regular CRPG coverage will resume soon!


67 comments:

  1. Thanks for posting that - some interesting insights into what consulting is like. One thing you didn't mention (and perhaps doesn't apply as much to you) is the cost of finding business. When my father was a consultant, he said he worked about 2 hours marketing himself and finding contracts for every paid hour that he worked at them.

    I've never understood how the game industry works at all. I worked for a short time for 2K Sports where they prided themselves on creating games very efficiently with small teams. But the teams and salaries they had still seemed to me to be too large/expensive for them to actually sell games profitably. When I do the numbers for other game companies, they all seem to come out the same way.

    There are a few megahits such as Call of Duty and various Blizzard games that are licenses to print money. But very few games do that well.

    What does this have to do with your post? Just that larger companies (and government and Universities) somehow manage to pay decent salaries that seem to be larger than they should be able to afford. That's why "working for the man" pays better than doing it on your own.

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    1. Yeah, I've been fortunate in always having more work available than I could possibly take. If I'd had to hustle for work, I probably would have given it up a lot sooner, as I am horrible at "selling myself."

      I know what you mean about the math not working. My wife's last employer was like that. She would tell me how many clients they have and what they paid, and I didn't see how they coulcd possibly be making weekly payrolls--let alone all the other administrative stuff that comes with running a company--on that income. The owner eventually sold it to a big company, so perhaps they deliberately run in the red hoping for a big payday when a buyer comes along. Obviously doesn't apply to universities, though.

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  2. Congratulations, it sounds like a really good move that you will be happy with.

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  3. Hung a shingle myself a couple of years ago. Would do it again, but it's terrifying at times.

    You're an outstanding writer on a topic that interests me, so I hope you can continue this blog, but no reasonable person could fault you for putting your livelihood over your blog.

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  4. Congratulations on your new position! Sounds MUCH less stressful. Hopefully you can get on a tenure track, as I understand it that's pretty political (and can be stressful too).

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  5. Congratulations on the university job!

    As an academic support person whose sister is a university professor, I hate to break it to you that four classes a semester is quite a bit of work.

    If your uni uses Canvas and you have questions, shoot them my way! (It's my job.)

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    1. Yes, I maxed out at two plus seminar organization, and that was quite challenging. It does get better over time if you repeat the classes. I found it quite rewarding to continue teaching when I left to join a public sector position, and I’m sure you will too. I bet your students would appreciate your doing this blog if they found out. Good luck!

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  6. What will you do when one of your students figures out who you are? You are getting pretty big. I have seen Tarn Adams tweet about you.

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    1. I don't plan to reveal my "real identity" any time soon, but once I leave self-employment, it won't be as big a deal.

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    2. I doubt it will matter much, since in the end, all this blog is is some good writing and analysis of CRPGs, a harmless little hobby without any controversies.

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    3. This may seem like a non-sequiteur at first, but bear with me. A couple of weeks ago, I read a most fascinating book about literary fantasy and sci-fi as pre-cursors to virtual reality - "As If: Modern Enchantment and the Literary Prehistory of Virtual Reality" by Michael Saler. It's a great read, which may be recommended to anyone who has an interest in early 20th century fantasy & sci-fi and some of its less fantastic precursors (adventure novels, Sherlock Holmes, et cetera). But the reason I mention it is that one of the chapters describes extensively the Sherlock Holmes fandom. In the 1960s, the British branch of the Holmes fandom organised a group voyage to Switzerland, where they re-enacted Holmes' final fight with Professor Moriarty at its "historical" site. The whole trip was conducted in costume - there's a wonderful photo of the group in Victorian-era clothing posing in front of their jet airliner.

      But what's my point here? Well, the head of the Holmes fan organisation that arranged this trip, who quite naturally took the role of Sherlock Holmes during the re-enactment, was, in his full-time job, the permanent under-secretary of state in the British Foreign Office - this would make him the second-highest-ranking non-elected official in British foreign affairs. His fan involvement was not a secret at the time, nor since. Didn't seem to hurt his career prospects at all :).

      I don't write this to encourage Chet to reveal his identity. It's his choice, and certainly makes no difference when it comes to my enjoyment of this blog. In some ways, the separation of identity is welcome, as it ensures the conversation mostly concentrates on RPGs. All I am saying is that should the students figure it out - it's hardly going to be a big deal.

      (I do have one regret about you keeping your identity secret, mind you. In your academic position, regardless of your actual specialisation, you could find it enjoyable to occasionally write academic work on RPGs, but doing so while maintaining the real and blog personalities separate may be challenging. Still, I wouldn't even want to encourage you to do that, because for all I know, maybe the whole point of this is that you get to keep your hobby firmly as a hobby, and any sort of connection between work and hobby may be undesirable from your perspective)

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    4. I totally understand wanting privacy, but as someone who likes to track down forgotten devs, I'm sure you understand as well the historical value of one day revealing your identity. Only when you're ready, of course, but it does sadden me at times to imagine a future where people look back at an anonymous CRPG historian, his true identity lost to history.

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    5. Maybe THIS is his true identity and the other one is just for show... kinda like how Bruce Wayne is just a cover for Batman ;)

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    6. Comments on this very blog are one of few places I use my real name and not a handle.

      I'm of the opinion that having your real name attached to Internet projects of a certain size only invites drama for no real benefit.

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  7. Congratulations! As a software engineer I could go the consultant/contractor route but I prefer the stability of a regular job.

    I know you can't say where you're moving to, but I imagine you're staying in the NE area of the US? I remember you said you really liked the Pacific Northwest, hopefully you may be able to consider it a vacation spot!

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    1. There are four places in the U.S. that I love:

      1. Maine
      2. New Orleans
      3. San Diego
      4. Seattle

      You can safely assume that I will be ending up in one of those places.

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    2. The good thing about software engineering is that you can have a fixed employment but still get around a lot, working in different projects for different customers. Freelancers are common in the field, but I prefer having my company doing most of the accounting stuff for me.

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    3. I am a resident of your third city. Maybe I will buy you a gimlet some day when you are here! Anyway, congratulations!

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  8. Congratulations! I have to think that structure and the relationship you have with your students will do wonders to your sense of well-being. It sounds like you have been pursuing your passions and I wish you the best!

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    1. Hehe. Certainly, congratulations are in order, but on the issue of the relationship with students, I think you will find this contingent on the nature and character of the students in question :). Teaching is, simultaneously, the best and worst job in the world. It's marvelous when your students want to learn, and you get to see them grow. It's horribly depressing and debilitating when your students just want a grade, and don't care about knowledge. And these are not separate experiences, as most student groups will include people from both camps. Only the ratio varies, making some semesters more enjoyable, and others distinctly horrible.

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  9. People criticized you for revealing personal information on your blog? What do they think a blog is?

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    1. Well, to be fair, my blog is about computer role-playing games, not how much I like New Orleans. I can see why some people got sick of it.

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    2. Personally I love the little personal bits that make it in; gives the blog a lot more character.

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    3. I agree with Dan in this matter. These articles have always been very interesting to me and I was sad that they got less over time. Without you I would probably never have tried a gimlet and would not want to visit New Orleans at some point in the future...

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    4. Good luck with your new job and your PHD! I always liked the teaching at University, so I'd be glad to hear about how that works out for you.

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    5. Since I learned almost everything that I know about New Orleans from Chet's posts I keep getting that feeling that it is some RPG land and not a real place :)

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    6. Personally, I don't mind personal tidbits at all! Makes you seem human.

      And I hope the new job goes exceedingly well. I hope the blog continues along, but at this point I've derived so much joy from reading it, that I could only say thanks a zillion times if you rode off into the sunset!

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  10. I, for one, always liked your more personal posts about your travels. Since I live far away from the US and I won't have a lot of opportunities to visit it in the next few years, I found those insigts interesting, in a Taniguchi "Kodoku no Gourmet" style.

    Glad to know you are moving to an university position, with a PhD to write down. Working on my thesis will remain one of my favorite and most interesting jobs, even if I didn't manage to come even close from tenure.

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  11. Nice! Happy to hear the good news. Having worked freelance for a long time, it surprised me how extra "administrative" work you have to do.

    Good luck in your new endeavors!

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    1. Also I concur with the above posters, I really liked the little personal touches on the blog. Got me wanting to visit NOLA for sure.

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  12. Sounds exciting. Change, that is controlled, is usually a good thing. Good luck!

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  13. Hey Chet, good luck with professorship. I think you´ll find the management and politicking issues the hardest of all. You´ll be getting "off the record" work, ie unclocked hours, but well it happens in pretty much all jobs now.
    When you have time we look forward to all your future posts.

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  14. That sounds great! All the best for the new job. I had to turn down a university offer that was too far away for me to commute or move to, and I still wish I'd taken the job sometimes.

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  15. Congratulations ! I'm repeating what others said, but I hope it will be less stressful, and that it will be fulfilling !

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  16. Good luck with your new career.
    Just don't let them recruit you for their quidditch tournaments.

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  17. Congratulations on the new position! I, too, work in the public sector, but my long-term plan is to take early retirement and then teach (probably at the community College level). A colleague very recently made this transition, and she is very happy.

    Maine is an interesting state to visit, but I would not care to live there -- it is too small, and professional job opportunities are far too limited. Seattle is much nicer. I have never been to San Diego or New Orleans -- I like to stay closer to the Canadian border :-)

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  18. Congrats!

    I hope you'll enjoy your new position

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  19. Congratulations - my wife is a freelancer so I can totally relate. But no matter where you work at, you don´t have to apologize for missing posts - noone here has a right to demand a schedule!

    In any case, mandatory preparatory literature for your trip to Academia:

    http://phdcomics.com/

    Get the books, absolutely hillarious and too true from my own experience.

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  20. Sincerest congratulations on an amazing new opportunity!v

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  21. Congrats on the job, I'm a Mainer myself, and I've always wanted to semi-retire as a Music Professor at UMA.

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  22. Wow congratulations! I'm a full-time university professor myself, just finished my 9th year (the age of this blog!).

    I can confirm that everyone severely underestimates the administrative part of the job. But I can also confirm I never stopped playing CRPGs!

    Anyway, I think it's a great move, you've got stability, 4 months vacation (although you make up for it by working 1.5x your supposed "hours" the other 8 months), and most importantly, the ability to organize your schedule as you see fit around your class times. I've also frequently accepted external contracts for additional income or to cater to other interests beside my main field, without issues.

    All in all, I have faith this should work out well for you, congratulations and good luck!

    PS: About privacy, it all depends on your domain and university of course. But in my experience, any versatility is favorably seen in academia, especially with current trends being to inter/trans-disciplinarity, people with seemingly random combinations of interests, like arts and engineering, math and psychology, history and computer science, creative writing and biology, etc., being sought after and standing out of the crowd. Also, serious academic study of traditionally "non-serious" material, such as pop culture or, here, video games, is also a definitive trend in the last decade or two. Something like "Yeah, I'm working on the phenomenology of early computer role-playing games..." will get you a "wow, cool!" reaction today, while 20y ago you would have been told to pick a serious adult subject of study.

    And anyway, if you ever write a book about all this, maybe you'll sign it with your real name...

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    1. I'll buy the book! Just received my copy of "The CRPG Book" that was floated on the web. Very nice compilation.

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  23. Not being part of academia, I can still imagine that outside of class hours you have office hours, grading papers, and tons of prep work for lectures, tests, and additional reading materials depending on the level you're teaching. Not to mention staff meetings and other obligations that I probably haven't considered. With the dissertation on top of that I hope you find a good balance to accomplish it all. Best of luck, and I look forward to reading whatever you have time to write.

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  24. Long time reader, but first time commenting. I'm a university professor (in a social science field) who teaches four classes per semester. Once you get your course rotation down (i.e., you've developed all your classes), the teaching part of the job isn't too bad. It's all the campus service work that can be a time sink. Committees, ad-hoc committees, task forces, impromptu meetings, etc. can really add up. As long as you protect yourself from such crap, and you have a department chair willing to do the same on your behalf, you should be able to minimize this part of the job to the extent you want. Also, university administrators are the worst sorts of human beings around. Beware. Best of luck on the transition to academia!

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    1. Aw man, the Addict doesn't like it when you spoil the experience by posting cheats and walkthroughs.

      Oh, wait.

      Nevermind.

      Delete
    2. Yeah, you really need to buff your Prestige and Fame skills if you want to get the Tenure achievement. You can get as many quests as you need from the Dean, but only accept the ones that buff those skills, like Attend International Conference, Acquire Grant Money, and Give Uncontroversial But Popular TED Talk.

      You can pretty much ignore Service, Teaching, and Community -- those skills are irrelevant for getting any achievement in this game. And if NPCs in the game advise you otherwise, ignore them: they're left over from an earlier version which had different rules.

      Delete
  25. Congratulations on the new job, hope it works out for the best.

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  26. Glad to hear about your professorship, I wish you success! Looking forward to future game articles as you are best able to get to them.

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  27. Wow, a professor, congratulations!

    About personal details: Your blog is whatever you want it to be.

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  28. Hey, congratulations! And as many have said, just do as you find the best. This blog is dear to me and many others, but we understand if doesn't get prioritized.

    That said, been enjoying your Star Control 2 articles. Top notch writing and come to think of it your games have really been obscure (and for a good reason) lately so a good game to read about is nice too.

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  29. Congratulations, Chet-sensei!

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  30. Hey, I really think you owe nothing to your readers and everything to your life, happiness and well being. It is wonderful to read your analysis as they are consistent and clear (and if they are not consistent, you explain in depth why something works for you or don't) but please, from a random person in the Internet: don't follow up this blog for any kind of obligation.

    It's not only the fact that you play these games, but you manage to structure a lot of ideas and posts and write them, doing screenshots, taking continuous notes. That is a lot of work that I think is only temporarily gratifying. So if you find that teaching, commuting or any other occupation makes you happier, please go for that. I've seen too many people tied up by something that it was a hobby and turned to be an obligation and it burnt them out, so please you unknown beautiful person that knows how to write well, don't feel tied to this blog.

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  31. Congratulations! Good luck finishing up the PhD, too! I teach 2/1/1 on a quarter system and couldn't imagine teaching 4/4 but overall it's pretty rewarding work. (I've managed to keep the airline status reasonably high though, which is a nice perk.)

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  32. Hats off to you sir!
    Just stopped by to wish you all the best

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  33. Congratulations and best of luck!

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  34. Congratulations! I have been following you for years, off and on, under a couple of different aliases. I have always wondered about your real identity, but mostly just because I am a snoop.
    Good luck on new adventures!

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  35. University professor here as well - welcome to the club! I'm sure you'll thoroughly enjoy your new life

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  36. Now that you're in higher ed, the stakes are even higher. Social media and academia are a really dangerous combination, and educators are public in a way that few other occupations are. Some use social media effectively in tandem with their job, but most of those folks are tenured and therefore moderately safe. On the other hand, if you work with an enthusiastic and engaged community (like gamers) and say or do something to enrage them, things can get pretty ugly rather quickly. Expect people to contact your workplace, organize phone banks to call 24/7, write the administration posing as donors, your students, or their parents, and perhaps even show up for your office hours (which are usually posted on the department website along with your direct contact information).

    Non-tenured faculty members are basically "at will" employees, and the administration will almost certainly decide it's just not worth the trouble to renew your appointment, especially if your workplace is not organized and you don't have a collective bargaining agreement. My institution has a strong union, but even here several non-tenure track faculty members have been retrenched due to social media outrage. Last year, one tenured full Professor was suspended without pay for something he said on his personal Facebook profile, but for once the outcry from the university community was sufficient to make the university president overrule his own Employment Equity Office's decision. Absent that kind of reaction (which you cannot plan or predict), tenure is not an effective protection against a social media outrage campaign.

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    1. My university doesn't have a tenure system, but everything else you say rings true, and for such reasons I will likely continue to keep my blog life and real life separate.

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  37. In lieu of replying to everyone individually, I just want to thank you all for your positive responses and encouragement. I have a great community of readers.

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  38. Using this entry to post for the first time here and to thank you, Chet, for this fantastic blog!
    I have been "lurking" here for the past couple of years after reading about this blog in an article on the "Spiegel" website - this brings back some good memories and makes me anjoy older CRPGs even more :)
    Best wishes for your new job!

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  39. As a retired university professor, the advice that I'll give (that's different what other professors have already offered) is prepare yourself for a lot of bullshit in your first / early years.

    These days the "orientation" most institutions mandate is an annoying waste of time. A surprising number of people like messing with junior faculty (dangling tenure as a carrot), so hopefully that isn't something that gets under your skin.

    Good luck!

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  40. https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2014/04/09/research-shows-professors-work-long-hours-and-spend-much-day-meetings

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  41. Congratulations! Full-time teaching positions are few and far between. Coincidentally I'm going to be a full-time college professor starting in August as well. Over the summer I'll be winding down my current contract.

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  42. All the best! An update every once in a while won't be bad. At least it would be great reference for me, who is stuck in limbo now.

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  43. Congratulations! My kids' family tree is littered with academics on both sides, and I grew up in an academic family. It's a great place to be!

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