Giving Up On Academic Stardom

Originally posted on Conditionally Accepted:

Source: thebiosciences.com

I have bought into the ego-driven status game in academia. Hard. I find myself sometimes wondering more about opportunities to advance my reputation, status, name, and scholarship than about creating new knowledge and empowering disadvantaged communities. Decision-making in my research often entails asking what will yield the most publications, in the highest status journals with the quickest turnaround in peer-review. I often compare my CV to others’, wondering how to achieve what they have that I have not, and feeling smug about achieving things that haven’t. Rarely do I ask how to become a better researcher, but often ask how to become a more popular researcher.

I have drank the Kool-Aid, and it is making me sick. Literally. The obsession with becoming an academic rockstar fuels my anxiety. I fixate on what is next, ignore the present, and do a horrible job of celebrating past achievements and victories…

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Academic Self Care Isn’t Selfish

Self Care Isn't Selfish | New Faculty

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Summer slipped away in the blink of an eye and I’m currently battling the cognitive battle of “no, don’t you dare go into that office on sunday’s” and “but you have grading to do.”

As the academic year rears it’s glittery, sparkly, and slightly pretty head, all kinds of good and very bad things start to happen.

I begin to neglect. Everything. Including myself.

I stop cooking. Popcorn for dinner anyone?

I spend too much time at the desk.

I spend too little time doing all the things away from my desk that need to get done.

I know these things. I’m not proud. But, I started to employ a new system for myself that began in May. While we can’t go back in time, summer was a great transition time for me to get some things in life in order so when the academic year began, taking good care of myself would be easier, more normalized, and dare I say it, enjoyable?

1. I take care of a lot of appointments during August before classes begin. Dentist, annual physical, car inspection, etc….While it does take time, I still have some time in July/August. It was a few weeks of adult problems everywhere! It’s a rare gift to get your oil changed and have 30 minutes of unrequited time to read things online. I take care of these things so I don’t feel guilty for NOT doing them during the semester. I get any prescriptions filled and buy OTC things in bulk so I don’t run out in October and ask my doctor to do a 3-4 month prescription, if possible, so I don’t have to worry about the Target bot calling me 2048 times to let me know I’ve once again forgot to pick it up. I set up any auto pay accounts and revisit financial matters in the summer. The people usually have a little more time to talk to me and answer my questions. While it’s sometimes not the most optimal time to move my retirement accounts around, it’s necessary.

2. I make moving my body a priority. I stopped fooling myself a few years ago and embraced the fact that I have to move regularly. I have a standing desk, but there’s nothing like dropping 300 meters in the pool a few times a week. Going for a 2-3 mile walk or fitting in a good 75-90 min. yoga class are also excellent for me. Since I’m largely sedentary most of the day, I have to find a way. My old faculty appointment had me working very strange hours, but this new one is more normal and therefore, it’s been easier to get into a good routine. The pool is open for open swim from 5:30-7 p.m. each evening and I can often clear myself of responsibility easily for this, yoga, walks, or whatever else there is.

3. Working on the weekends. I’m on the struggle bus about this one. As deadlines loom for submissions and grad students send things at all hours of the day, I’ll keep plugging away. It’s a few weeks into the semester and I’m still happy to report I’ve not had to go in on the weekends. Home football games have also kept this “bad” habit at bay since the university sells every spot for tailgating and tows you away if you think you’re going to park your car anywhere near campus.

4. I prep food for the week on Sunday’s. Boiling eggs for quick breakfasts, making larger portions for leftovers, portioning out leftovers right away so I can grab one container and get out the door, and reviewing my calendar have all helped me eat better. I will usually spend 1-2 hours on the weekend prepping food. It’s not anything “extra” as I usually try to make a decent meal for myself on the weekends. Cutting up veggies so they’re ready to cook, boiling off a batch of rice and freezing it for quick meals, or defrosting meat to throw in the crock pot are all part of the routine for me now. During the days of weird faculty hours, food prep became essential when I was eating around 9 p.m. at night. The last thing I wanted to do was actually cook.

5. I continue to guard my time like a hawk. Writing group each week moves me off campus. Closing the door without fear leads to quiet time to work, and being strict with others and myself about when I can meet is key. I’ve set all my meetings with students this semester on Tuesday’s. If I have to go to one meeting, I might as well have three. I may not get a lot of work done on that day, but it’s not peppered throughout the week, losing an hour here or there. I schedule my weeks top heavy on M-W and have left Thursday’s open to get MY WORK done. I’ve also accepted that by Friday afternoon, I’m exhausted.

Self care isn’t selfish. There’s nothing wrong with voicing to yourself or those around you that you have to take a little time for yourself. There’s nothing wrong with making your calendar to be done by 5 p.m. so you can manage your personal life. There’s nothing to feel guilty about if you’re not a night owl or a morning person, as long as you get to work once you get to work. Academia is such a self-motivated industry, that you have to figure out what works for you. I have friends who work most of the night due to their own circadian clocks and the fact that that’s the time when the kids are asleep. I have friends who work regular days so they can spend time with their kids once they’re home and get them to school in the mornings. Optimizing what you’ve got to work with is key. Taking good care of yourself is not selfish and even if you want to hole up in a dark room with your apple tv, you shouldn’t feel guilty about doing so.

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should doctoral researchers blog?

Originally posted on patter:

I often get asked about the pros and cons of doctoral researchers blogging, and I know other colleagues do too. There isn’t a right or wrong answer to the question of course, it’s always an “It depends”. But here’s a few beginning thoughts.

For a start, whether to blog or not depends what you are hoping to achieve. Maybe you are thinking about an individual blog, something you create yourself on one of the standard platforms like blogger, wordpress or medium… and if you are, here’s some possible reasons and some things to consider….

(1) Your personal blog is a place to reflect and record what is happening in your research.
A blog can do this. It can be like a journal. You might blog about the things you are reading and thinking about. Formulating ideas into a thousand words or so and linking to relevant texts and other online…

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We Become Who We Surround Ourselves With

we become who we surround ourselves with | new faculty

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It’s strange and awesome all at the same time that our social and peer groups can contribute to what decisions you’ll make, how you’ll tackle each day, and what may or may not come out of your brain and mouth in actions.

I’m no stranger to the notion of who we surround ourselves with is who we become. I really struggled with this post grad school when I was still living with a grad student and trying to cross the bridge over to faculty mindset. It was a struggle. It’s still really fun to hang out with grad students, but man, those darn kids…. ;)

I ran across a quick article on HBR and it reminded me of myself and some of my ‘younger’ faculty type friends (I put myself into this category). My friend went to a baby shower (cue Seinfeld, ‘you gotta see the babbbyyyy!!!’) and noted that she met some really cool women who were all mostly faculty and how great it was. It reminded me once again that it can be unbelievably difficult to find a good core group of people. Bad decisions are sometimes a collective bargaining unit that starts as a fun night out but can quickly turn into a ‘what happened?’ moment for everyone. The same can be said for professional decisions. We can all think of someone (like ourselves) who made a poor decision on the job that was influenced negatively by our peer group. The voice in the back of our head is sometimes that of the people we perceive as our equals. Too many of these poorly based decisions begin to add up over time and nothing good comes of it.

I know we’re all marred away into the semester already and so the mere thought of leaving the house for a social activity can be daunting (pants made largely of elastic really ARE a gift) but I encourage you to take a moment to evaluate who you’ve surrounded yourself with. It can be extremely easy to cast those people off as “people i have to work with” and “i don’t really have much of a choice” but I’ll tell you that since switching faculty appointments, my life has gotten so much more pleasant. My hair (which falls out under major stress) has all grown back in (TMI? it’s true and it’s my truth. if you want to gauge my stress level, just look at my head). I didn’t realize how stressed out and cloaked in negative energy I was until some time in August. Seriously, my hair looks really full in front right now, my acne is just about gone, my blood pressure is NORMAL, and I find myself craving sugar and other crap much less.

To play my own devil’s advocate, I know I couldn’t have left my old post without a new one to go to. I understand that we have to ‘stick it out’ sometimes and that our circumstances are all different. I stayed in that job because I LOVED so many things about it. I didn’t realize how bad it was for me and my health until my health improved. I also didn’t realize how stressed out about the people in that old position I was until one of them began emailing me a few weeks ago DEMANDING I do work for him. Thankfully, my academic lady balls were in full force and I had no trouble shutting that down with my velvet hammer. It worked. I was relieved.

As academics, we get stuck. In grad school we get stuck in our research, in thinking out dissertation is going to be this ‘perfect’ thing, in labs and projects with weirdo’s who suck the life out of us. As faculty we often get stuck doing some service that we’re not thrilled with, working with some grad school weirdo’s that have no idea that coming to work is actually a mandatory thing, and so on. I encourage you: faculty and student alike, to evaluate who you’re surrounding yourself with and what you’re becoming as a result. It’s hard to see the forest for the sleaze sometimes. Sometimes we talk ourselves into the whole “it won’t last forever” bit (kind of like grad school) but what can we do in the interim to make it a more bearable experience? It might take detaching (with love of course) from negative forces to start that process and keep the majority of our hair in our heads and our acne at bay.

I’m ever so thankful to have a good group of peers right now. Ones who won’t be afraid to help me “check myself before I wreck myself” but also cheer me on to my own version of success. I hope you have that too.

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Don’t Think, Just Write

Don't Think, Just Write | New Faculty

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Academics are really good at being stuck in their heads. They’re really good at drilling sources for days on end, so much so that we get in our own way when it comes to productivity. Because writing is such a self-fulfilling prophecy, we often obsess, toil, and needle ourselves to death over words. On paper. Well, on fake paper in MS Word. So much so, that we just don’t keep at it. We quit writing. Grad students also do this–don’t get stuck in the trap!

I was discussing the ebb and flow of writing with one of my mentors and she said it loud and clear:

DON’T THINK, JUST WRITE

“Don’t edit while you write. Just write,” she said.

“Cite what you know, add in your own mark to remind you to go back and check,” she said.

“Stop worrying about using a word too much, you can go back and change it later,” she said.

“Seriously, just write.” Man she’s smart. I hate her/I love her.

I tried her technique this summer. I took about 10 days to pull articles, citations, and other background information I needed. I read/highlighted, and pulled citations into my EndNote. I outlined my article, knowing it would likely change based on the articles and data.

And then I wrote.

I gave myself permission to not nit pick myself to death for 5 days. I just wrote. I sat with articles in the morning, since that is my best ‘work time’ and began filling in my outline. I threw my own caution to the wind for 3 hours each day and wrote. I cited what I had, I made notes to myself for what I didn’t, and would put something obnoxious in for what I needed to fill in. They often looked like:

(smith, 2003 i think, check)

It took me six days to finally finish populating the document. I was happy with that. 20 pages.

And then I went on vacation. I know I won’t always have this luxury to put it down and walk away. But I was trying something new.

I came back from vacation, edited, cut, added, cited properly, and hit send. About six more hours of time.

How did it go? I felt good about the process.

How did I feel? I was pleased with the progress I made each day. Not each writing chunk was a total “winner.” Some were a bit slow. Other days the writing flowed like water.

Would I do it again? Absolutely! If given the time, space, and permission, this would be an awesome model to replicate.

My mentor’s words keep running through my head. As I **try** to get into a writing routine for the semester, I hope to channel her words through me each week, “don’t think, just write.”

 

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Looking Sharp: New(er) Faculty Dress Code

Dressing the Part | New Faculty

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Faculty life is great because there’s not really a dress code. You can be fancy free and be free to be you. It’s a blessing and a curse. I never met a pair of pants made of elastic I didn’t like but I always like looking sharp and getting my game face on too.

Some days are for grading. Which means they’re also for pants that are loose, comfortable, and will often be made of spandex and elastic. Other days are for meetings. Those days require pants that button, zip, the appropriate length, and perhaps even have a blazer that goes with them. What do you want to exude? As a lady faculty, who also happens to look young but is carrying some extra weight, I struggle. I know what people see when they look at me…I wasn’t born last night! (and yes, i’m working on it!).

I want to be taken seriously as an academic at the table and look as smart as the things that may or may not come out of my mouth. I know that I need to do a few things to achieve this. One is dressing the part. While I was home this summer, my dad and I went out to dinner. I put on some clothes (duh) and his comment, “you’re dressed too fancy for this part of the world.” While I appreciated his compliment (yes, I was overdressed), this is what my clothes look like now. I still have a pile of t-shirts and a few pairs of jeans I love, but when I get up and swim in the tub every morning, the t-shirts and jeans aren’t going on post shower.

This is a first world problem to the max. Yes, I joke about them all of the time in real life. But it is something I spend time and capitol thinking about. Subscribing to Stitch Fix helps. I ran across this post by tenure she wrote and it caused me to actually reflect on it. Then, I ran across this post by small pond science and I thought about it some more….dang you brain. I don’t look like a sage, older faculty yet. I can only count a few gray hairs, a few wrinkles, and that’s about it at last count. The fountain of youth has smiled on me, which is usually a good thing, unless you’re trying to work in academia. Since the stereotype isn’t changing anytime soon, and I’m not wishing for more gray hairs and wrinkles, I compensate by dressing well. I have taken the cues from my peers the first few years on faculty and worked to dress a bit more professionally. Only this year have I had any extra income to actually start investing in nicer pieces. I loved my last faculty appointment, but I’ll be real honest and say this, “it didn’t pay very well at all.” There wasn’t much left over for a structured blazer at the end of the month. No one’s fault, I loved the work.

My friend and I were discussing this and her comment was, “you always look really sharp” and I blurted out “it’s bc i have too! I know what I look like! I compensate in clothes!” and it’s true.

As a female in academia (ok, so as a female on planet earth), I do spend more time thinking about what I’m wearing, how it fits, are the fat bits poking out too far, etc… while I’d love to embrace the notion of “we’re all bodies & we’re all beautiful” academia is a place where that doesn’t register. You need to get some fresh pants on kids. Stat.

Another faculty complimented me b/c I put together good color combo’s and it was then I admitted “I google color schemes” and “I send a pic to my friend if I’m not sure.” I could have taken the credit for being well put together all on my own, but some days, I don’t know what looks good. And that’s the truth.

My favorite google search on clothes goes something like this:

“colors that compliment ________(insert color).”

Google is real nice. It always spits me out some images and a few sites that I always go too. It has yet to fail me, unlike the rest of the Internet.

As a younger and still relatively new faculty member, I have to work at getting dressed. The blessing of not having a dress code is that I can swing into campus in whatever I want, but that’s not the message I want to send to my colleagues. I went to grad school with a girl who wore yoga pants every day. Everyone stared at her butt when she left a room, but they rarely stared at her face when she spoke. Whether we like it or not, those stereotypes aren’t going away. Building a functional wardrobe has been key for me. At least I’ll look good when you read the grammar mistakes on my syllabus…….

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Dressing for Academia

Originally posted on Tenure, She Wrote:

One appealing aspect of academia for many of us is the lack of a dress code. As a graduate student and a postdoc both women and men gravitate towards casual clothes – it’s not uncommon to see hooded sweatshirts, printed tees, short skirts, and old ripped jeans on the average pre-faculty academic.

It would be nice to think that as teachers our appearances don’t matter, and that students are more concerned with our grasp of the material and ability to teach it to them. However I’ve heard stories that have given me second thoughts: the junior faculty member whose evaluations focused on her clothing instead of her teaching – “she looks like she cares too much about her clothes, she wore a different dress every day!” or the female graduate student who dressed for West Coast weather in East Coast winters – “all the male students really liked class!” These…

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