Advanced faculty wrangling techniques

Getting a group of faculty members together to accomplish something has often been compared to herding cats. I disagree. When I want to get my cats all into one room to do something at the same time, all I have to do is stand in my kitchen, open a can of Friskies, and yell “Num nums!”

Three cats in a neat row.

Cats, neatly lined up. Completely unlike faculty.

Not so with faculty. If you have, say, 20 professor cats, and you would like them all to arrive in the same place at the same time, you can’t just send out a general email to all 20 of them that says “Num nums will be served in the kitchen at 6 pm.” Most professor cats will just delete that email, if they see it at all. Only 2 or 3 professor cats will show up – the ones with the most interest in num nums and the most criticisms to offer. They will spend the whole time coming up with ways to improve the num num experience, and at the end of dinner time they will have come to an agreement that next time, instead of opening a can of shredded salmon flavored cat food, you go out, catch a fresh salmon, clean it and gut it, and serve the fresh raw filets on ice. And at least three of the no-shows will complain that num nums were served without them, why didn’t anyone tell them there would be num nums.

The lack of response is especially confusing because the professor cats are the ones that suggested the num nums in the first place. They like num nums. They wrote the grants that got the funding for the num nums. And you already polled them and picked a num num eating time that worked for everyone.

So next, time, you decide to make it more personal. Instead of a mass email, you send individual handwritten invitations to each professor cat, that read something like this: “Dear Dr. Kitty: As per the schedule that is clearly posted on the kitchen website, num nums will be served tomorrow in the kitchen at 6 pm. I have made sure that both tuna and chicken flavors will be present, as you suggested last time. I hope to see you there.”

This time the results will be a little better. Maybe half of the professor cats will show up in the kitchen within 30 minutes of the announced time. But others will delegate the num nums, and you will receive several emails from grad student and postdoc cats asking questions about the purpose of the num nums and whether there will be turkey flavor. A couple of other professor cats will call your office phone at 6:05 pm – despite the fact that you have made it known that you will be in the kitchen, not your office, at 6:00 pm – asking where the kitchen is and how to get there.

Afterwards, you will have some leftover num nums that absolutely must be fed to all of the professor cats who were not in attendance, even if you have to feed them a couple of days after the deadline. So you individually email each of the professor cats who didn’t show up: “Dear Dr. Kitty, We served num nums yesterday at 6 pm, and you were not present to eat your num nums. Please come to my office by 5 pm today in order to eat your num nums.”

At least two will respond with, “Sorry, I didn’t realize the num nums were for me.”

Four cats eating their num nums in an orderly fashion.

It's easy to herd cats.

Now you start getting smarter. You realize that the only way to get all the professor cats to eat all their num nums is to make it a requirement in order to receive funding for future num nums. You develop a complicated – but user friendly – online tracking system so that you will have data on which professor cats ate their num nums and which did not. Now you will have to send even more emails and meetings with instructions on: when and where num nums are served (even though it is in the same place every day and has been in the same place every day for the last 5 years), how to report one’s consumption of the num nums, the requirements for eating num nums, and the consequences of not cleaning your plate.

Some professor cats will complain that you send too many emails. Other professor cats will complain that you don’t send enough emails.

You will still never get more than 75% of the professor cats in the kitchen at the appointed time, and you will spend a large chunk of your day fielding complaints about the online tracking system and answering questions that never would be asked if the professor cats had simply read the 6 emails carefully explaining the process, or went to the kitchen website and clicked the tab marked “Daily Num Num Schedule.”

No matter what you do, you will still have to run down the street after wayward fluffy tails, waving a can of num nums and feeling like an idiot.


39 Comments on “Advanced faculty wrangling techniques”

  1. arbitrista says:

    This is totally hilarious.

  2. Katie says:

    I am delighted by this post and smiled the whole time I was reading it. Very well done.

  3. Leslie M-B says:

    Thank you so much for the hearty laugh. I’m now tempted, before the next faculty meeting, to stand in the department hallway and shout sweetly, “Num nums!”

  4. Anthea says:

    Hilarious!! Love it. Your post reminds me of a clip that I posted in a blog post a while ago called “cat herding”

  5. Tamsin Harriman says:

    That is frickin fantastic! Put a big smile on my face. And Anthea, that Herding Cats video made me laugh out loud…. I think I’m going to start using “num nums” as a metaphor for all sorts of things and chuckling quietly to myself.

  6. Absolutely adored this post – many thanks!

  7. This was a hilarious summation of academia. Every academic thinks they’re so smart. If they just show up whenever they want there will always be someone there to give them num nums.

  8. Loz says:

    πŸ˜€ Excellent!

  9. Jonathan O'Donnell says:

    First thing I read this morning – will keep me smiling all day.

    Thank you.


  10. I forwarded this link to our Exec. Officer, who promptly started giggling into his coffee.

  11. Kylie Budge says:

    Hilarious and sadly, oh so true!

  12. Heath Graham says:

    Sadly, this is not funny at all… πŸ™‚

  13. Catherine says:

    This is hilarious! I herd Professors (and other assorted scientists) for a living, and also have cats, and find your analysis very accurate.

    However, I would note that Professors actually respond quite well to use of num-nums as a motivational tool. I find that offering chocolate or cookies to those who actually hand in their reports on time, or hiding offers of goodies halfway through boring admin emails, significantly increases the response rate to said emails (also, I then know who is reading them and who requires in-person nagging…).


  14. Startlingly accurate account of the way things are!

    Thank you, oh wise one.

  15. Sarah R-H says:

    When it happens in real life I find myself connecting my forehead with the office wall repeatedly…yet this made me smile and nod the whole way through… Wonderful!

  16. […] This post was Twitted by EngByChance […]

  17. There are never num nums. They just want to lock me inside while they go off to do fun stuff. Or they have a flea collar. Or wormers. I did not become a faculty cat for this. I want to prowl the neighbourhood eating little birdies.

  18. Peyton says:

    In my experience the most effective way to get professor cats to arrive at a designated area at a designated time is to email their assistant mice and make sure it gets onto their calendar. Num nums help, Especially if you make sure to let the assistant mice know that leftover num nums will be available in the kitchenette after the meeting.


    a Senior Assistant Mouse at an Ivy League Litter Box

  19. […] Wrangling university faculty is harder than herding cats, even with num nums. Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. […]

  20. As a faculty assistant in charge of herding our Profs., I shall send this link to my fellow FAs. We shall put an agenda item on our next FA meeting to see if we can use any of the techniques described above. But our meeting will end up devolving into us laughing untill we pee our pants because one of us will say the phrase “here Prof. kitty (insert hated prof name), here kitty kitty.

    one note – when the assisants are in charge of the num nums, we make sure the leftover num nums are up for grabs to other assistants and staff. Possibly the grad assistants if they haven’t made us too stabby that week.

  21. As an occasional wrangler of professors, I have to say, this is spot-fucking-on. Absolute genius.

  22. Sara says:

    Easily the best thing I have read all month. Now – – off to schedule a faculty meeting.

  23. Alan says:

    The best thing I have read for ages. Now – – off to a meeting about how to use a photocopier and to stop the inside bits falling off in people’s hands!

  24. I love that the department chair just shared this with the department…

  25. Paula says:

    This is one of the funniest things I have read in a long time. Kudos.

  26. SarahW says:

    Actually, just announce that all University administrators and staff will be getting free num-nums at 6pm every Wednesday (e.g.). Casually leave faculty out. They’ll soon be clamoring for their 6pm-every-Wed-num-nums.

  27. Janine says:

    I actually had such a bad day that I Googled cat herding researchers and this post came up. I want a poster of profs in lab coats being wrangled by cats: that would be so fitting. I work in research communications which will explain my bad day to those familiar.

  28. Someone just sent me this to make me feel better about my job. I herd law professor cats (and am a lawyer myself). They are even worse, because they like to hold forth at length about the various policy implications of and alternatives to num nums. And a day isn’t complete that one of them doesn’t poop or hork up a hairball on the kitchen floor. Thanks for this!

  29. Reba says:

    This is absolutely and utterly true. I say this as a primary num num wrangler for my university. The worker cats get their num nums – even though some of them are num num averse. The admin cats get their num nums and commiserate with me over the complex num num process. The graduate cats lose 4 out of 5 emails, then huffily tell me that they never received any emails at all, ever, but magically do seem to get the one sent on the next to last day of the num num schedule. The professor cats, however, lecture me on why it’s ridiculous that anyone has to spend time on num nums, what the insidious purpose is of giving everyone num nums at the same time, how no one who insisted on num nums is actually consuming their own, and why the system of access to num nums – despite clear directions in multiple formats – is too difficult. They spend more time griping about the num nums than it would have taken them to travel to the kitchen, select their own special num nums (gluten-free and no GMOs, at the least), and slurp them down. Inevitably, they make up the bulk of those who fail to retrieve their num nums and must be reported to num num authorities. That, too, is my fault.

  30. CrankyOldPerson says:

    I was going to write a paper about this for my next conference. Now I’ll have to change the title. I’ve forwarded this round the world. Hilarious! Chapeau.

  31. Julius Ingweye says:

    Any day I wish to laugh, I will read this story again

  32. I had no skill with num nums, and it led to my taking an early retirement,

  33. I agree with everyone. This blog and video made my day and will make my day in upcoming weeks! I book marked it.

  34. Jane says:

    Forget the num mums….serve lobster! They will all show up with their bibs on!

  35. busy cat says:

    Funny! I wonder about the context though: other than your num nums event, is there anything else that the faculty cats were doing on that day? You seem to think they are just lying in the sun until you get around to serving num nums. Perhaps they’d already been to 10 other num nums servings that day and had their fill?

  36. Catherine says:

    I come back and read this every year during grant-writing season. It’s rather perfect…

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