Isolation in the Academy

Isolation in Academia | New Faculty

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As my colleagues and I surge to the end of another semester, the only thing I’ve been really good at lately is falling asleep on the couch. The days are full, the data is never ending (in a good way), but at several points over the last few weeks, I felt isolated in my own little corner of the campus. While there’s 20,000+ students milling around me, I consider academia to be an isolating and solitary job. While I usually don’t mind it, the introvert in me and all, every once in a while, I find myself a bit lonely. Eager for some conversation that swells beyond work and deadlines, I’ve made a point over the last few years to cultivate my network and cast a wide net to help my social life and my professional life.

My “friends” are both personal and professional, some are both, some are one or the other. I was having breakfast with a friend who falls into the “both” category and she was lamenting that she’d fallen off the face of the earth while writing her dissertation. She was starting as I was finishing and we got along very well. I respect the fact that she got busy with her own ‘life’ and we’d still see each other every couple months, write together, or have a meal. No big deal, no hard feelings. She has defended and resurfaced for air (as I like to put it) to rejoin society and sought out a breakfast date a few weeks ago.

It was really nice to see her again. Smiling, relaxed, a little less crazed looking. I’d been to her dissertation defense and was happy to support her through the process the best I could. She reminded me of how isolating academia can be. She even mentioned that she had disappeared without a trace for the last year and finally felt like she could do some things–reading books, back to working out, etc…and finding time to reconnect with friends who had gone to the wayside while she wrote.

As a young faculty and a reformed grad student, it can be very isolating. You sit with your research and your work day after day and while you’re often surrounded by colleagues, fellow grad students, or other researchers doing similar work, sometimes you need to head out of your usual peer group to find some interaction that DOESN’T relate to your work day. I’m proud to say I know very little of what my friend researches. I’m familiar with it in broad strokes, but it’s not anything I have interest in. I like my friend because she’s a cool lady, she’s intelligent, and very easy to chat with. While we share some similarities, we’re vastly different and that’s perfect for us.

It does take time and effort to have friends in academia because it is so isolating. Conferences are usually a few days long and cultivating professional relationships take a lot of time and usually a lot of technologically enhanced devices to foster the communication. I urge you as young faculty or grad students to:

go out and have some real interactions

Put the phone down. Turn off the device and leave the house or office for a few hours. I’ve found great people through my yoga studio, through face-to-face interactions with colleagues that have become friends, and through friends of friends who have all gotten together to form a super awesome ‘ladies group’ that gets together about once per month. We use GroupMe as our communication medium and coordinate real time, face to face, usually fun meet ups filled with good eats, good drinks, and lots of laughter. Rarely do we discuss work, research, or anything related as not all of us are on faculty, have phd’s, or work for the university.

Of course, on the flip side of the coin, it’s ok to let go of those people who just don’t jive with you. I have a colleague who was a good friend to me when I needed it but each time I’d suggest some ‘face time,’ there was always an excuse. I gave up. I wasn’t going to keep offering to foster a real friendship if nothing was being reciprocated. We cannot function on texting friendships all of the time.

Start small and within your means. Do it once a week. Even if it’s with people you work around, set the context by leaving work. Throw a potluck, hit a restaurant, open the invite at a coffee shop. By changing the environment, we often change our attitude and our mood, and it can lead to other conversations that don’t start and end with work.

Understand that this is not selfish. If you’re happy and fulfilled in one part of your life, you’re likely to feel the same with others. Practicing self-care isn’t selfish, it’s necessary. Being miserable is not the way your early faculty years have to be. Yes, it’s hard. I know, I’m in the middle of it, but it’s become more enjoyable by building a network and releasing myself from my own isolation.

 

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Just Beeeee Yourself

Beeee Yourself | New Faculty

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Some days I think I have this faculty thing down–work like a dog, survive on little sleep, slug coffee like a champ. Other days, I go…..derrrrrr……

My job is currently going great. It’s going so great that it’s ending–you know how it goes. Funding is finishing up and there’s going to be some major personnel changes in the near future, me being one of the personnel changes. While I cannot share much yet about my next steps, I have one learned one valuable lesson this spring on the job market:

Just be yourself.

Everyone is already taken. Being someone or something else to fit a standard or ideal is physically and mentally exhausting. Not to mention that in the world of getting hired, saying what you think people want to hear vs. what you actually believe is pretty transparent to most people.

I struggled with this out of grad school. I was full of theory and wisdom and methods and….crap! I had no clue what I wanted to research, where I wanted to go, or what I thought about ________. A recent slew of interviews taught me a few things though.

I can verbalize what I know vs. what I don’t know now.

I have some clear thoughts on research, evaluation, program management, and other fun things.

I know a whole lot more now that I did when I was bright eyed and bushy tailed grad student. Is there always  more to learn–of course, but it’s taken me a couple years to wrap my head around it.

I’m not afraid. I don’t fear these interactions. I don’t get the nerves. I approach them differently than I did a few years ago.

I’m also finding myself more confident about negotiating what I would want in a position vs. what I actually need. Sure, I’d love 100 billion dollars for research, but how would I even manage that? What’s more realistic? What are my professional goals and how do they align with the positions that I’m interviewing for?

As a grad student or a young faculty who might not be in the exact place they want, it can be difficult to navigate  the job market. Higher education isn’t going to stop changing and as long as you’ve got a horse in the race, the smartest thing you can do is just be yourself.

 

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Spring Break?

I took a day off over break. I needed to take care of some life tasks. I worked the remainder of the break. But, I didn’t write anything–it felt luxurious!

In honor of my faux spring break, I googled “spring break” and found the following helpful from wikipedia:

Spring Break | New Faculty

 

I then made the mistake of clicking on images:

Spring Break | New Faculty

My spring break didn’t look quite that magical, but it made me quite aware of the culture of objectifying women, bikini’s and that neon colors are truly back in style.

I hope your spring break is awesome!

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Be the CEO of Your Calendar

Managing Your Calendar | New Faculty

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On no particular Friday, I had run out of mental gas. However, I had set up myself with several meetings, had edits to do on an article that had been accepted, had a laundry list of recommendations to write for students, and above all: I really wanted to crawl back in bed or just relax for a few hours.

As I tried to pysche myself up for the meetings, I opened up my calendar, only to close it almost immediately. It was far too scary. I noticed several things though:

  • my afternoons are largely blocked off already
  • i work best in the mornings
  • i have done a GOOD job of blocking off time for ‘life stuff’ like working out and social activities (which generally happen ‘after hours’)
  • there are some things in my calendar that are ‘non-negotiable’ and i have been diligent about keeping them as ‘sacred time’ because of the value they have in my life: personally and professionally
  • i will often work until about 8 p.m. most work days and have worked hard to modify my schedule to fit my needs and try to find some balance. i may be up at 7 a.m. working on those days but i try to take a break in the middle of the day to get re-energized.

Thinking reflectively about it, I should not have scheduled meetings for a Friday. Thankfully, there were in the morning, my “prime time” for my brain, my attention, and my time. By Friday afternoon, you’re better off going shoe shopping with me because that’s all the mental capacity I can handle after 3 p.m.

I covet Friday’s in academia because it’s my ‘catch up’ day. It’s the day I do this neat thing called “administrivia” and move a lot of paper, virtual or real, answer emails I’ve put off all week, and even schedule appts. off campus (life tasks) because I know it won’t be my most productive day.

I saw this post way back in the spring, saved it, and here we are….late fall…. Elmore discusses what he recommends as ways to be the BOSS of your calendar and I would agree and argue several of his points.

1. Identify one objective that energizes you each day and do it.

  • what’s the ‘big task’ of the day you need to tackle?
  • if there’s more than one, can you chunk it out?
  • respect your circadian clock. do you handle tasks better in the morning? are you a night owl?

2. Place similar activities in time blocks.

  • i put all of my ‘school site’ work in one chunk, sometimes that’s the whole afternoon since i’m often out at schools until 6 p.m. and then come back to do several more hours of work. i build my schedule so working until 8 p.m. is the norm for me on those days.

3. Schedule in advance your biggest “rocks.”

  • i would easily say that ‘writing’ is my biggest rock personally. i really need to go to my happy place to get the writing done. even after several years, i still have not found the perfect place to find my happy place. sometimes, i don’t have the luxury of finding my super happy place and i just need to get it done.

4. Invite a colleague to help you say no and stay on track.

  • we’ve talked about having friends in and outside of your faculty work. this is a perfect time to connect. whether it’s a mentor or some other type of colleague, it’s ok to find an accountability buddy.

5. Create systems to help you accomplish ongoing tasks.

  • need a reward, a motivator, or find satisfaction in crossing things off of your ‘to do’ list? whatever works, employ it!

6. Plan for margins in the calendar for priorities you must pursue.

  • forgive yourself. there might be days when you just sink more than swim. go home, lick your wounds, recover, and get back on that horse the next day. odds are you’re already doing great, we just need to reflect and revisit our calendar from time-to-time in order to breathe and reboot.

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Who’s On Your CORE Team?

Who's on YOUR Core Team? | new faculty

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Not too long ago, I fell asleep on the couch around 9 p.m. The next night, around 9:30, the following night….well  you get where this is going. Binge watching on Netflix has been replaced by binge sleeping. I apparently couldn’t even muster the energy to put my own dishes in the dishwasher, empty said dishes into garbage, and get the coffee maker ready for the next day.

Houston, I think we’re tired.

It has been a stressful few weeks for reasons related to my professional life and reasons I’m not really interested in discussing on here just yet as they would require actual time to sit/stand and type them out.

Maybe over spring “break.” I use the term loosely as I will likely work most of it but at least I’ll get better parking on campus. Silver linings people.

Anywho….I digress.

As I’ve drifted off to sleep night after night, I would wake the next morning to texts and notifications that people (who are capable of staying awake later) had wanted my attention. Most of these people are what I’d like to call:

Team New Faculty

  • These are my people. They check in (even when I’m asleep (Santa??)).
  • They don’t care that I’m laying in a heap on my couch. They are either jealous of my 40 extra winks or likely doing something similar.
  • They fundamentally understand me. It’s an equal understanding.
  • They know what I need: some face time. I need an hour and then I’m good.
  • They don’t judge. I NEEDED those two cupcakes while we gossiped instead of eating a real lunch. (sugar isn’t lunch?) They will often indulge with me, whether it be cupcakes or wine.
  • They check in on the reg. E’rry day? Nah. Some do and that’s cool. But, they REPLY. No dead air up in here.

They’re available. No point in being on team New Faculty if you’re never going to be available. I don’t need your face in my face, but because I moved 600 miles from my main group of people, the ones that are still on my team still make the time for a regular phone call, group me, sarcastic jokes, or otherwise appropriate communication. The ones that I have now make time and likewise, I make time for them. It’s really hard to have a full blown friendship over text. I just don’t do well.

Play to my strengths. My strengths are as follows:

  • caffeine
  • sugar
  • carbs
  • just kidding…….

I need time–face time, phone time, time. I appreciate and value that in my life. People who are on my team give me time when they can.

It’s a two way street. I give the time, I do the check in’s, I am available too.

Team New Faculty has undergone some radical changes the past year. Good changes. In fact, EFFING AWESOME changes. In my core (much like the new Ben & Jerry’s Core–amazing looking) group, many have cycled out. I’ve learned to accept that some will cycle out. The folks that I appreciated and was so grateful for a year ago today may not be the same ones I’m grateful for now. I will always be grateful for the folks who’ve been on my team all these years. They were there exactly when I didn’t know I needed them. I accept their passing in my life (no one died in that sense) and I hope most of them come back around again. I also hope a few don’t and I can finally admit that.

As you figure out if the academy is or isn’t for you, I implore you to consider the question:

who’s on your CORE team?

You’re going to need a bang up team of real friends in your real life to help you trudge through this mess. Some might be academics as well. Some might not be. What do you require and need from them? How will you know when it’s time to thin the herd and take on some new team members?

As I slog to spring break and continually pass out on my couch from exhaustion with all the lights on and wake to the tv screen saying “are you still watching?” (hell no, i fell asleep during the opening creds) I’m grateful for the people who are Team New Faculty.

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Is There Such a Thing as Work Life Balance Anymore?

Call it quits, go home! | new faculty

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It’s tough going home. There’s the never ending ‘to-do’ list, the bings and beeps of whatever phone you have attached to you, and the continual demands we place on ourselves. The technology we love, we also loathe because it makes us always aware that there’s someone or something that is pulling our attention.

How do you compartmentalize when you come home?

For me (and likely many of you), easier said than done. I’ve talked to a lot of faculty and people in the human race, and I think it’s something we struggle with, no matter our profession. With or without kids, with or without a partner, with or without pets, and other responsibilities pull our time (in both negative and positive ways) when we walk out of the door in the evening (or whatever wonky work schedule you keep).

Turn off the sounds. Turn off ALL THE NOISES!!!! No more bings and beeps after a certain hour or altogether. I turn off my email notification and have it “push manually” because I know I can’t handle the noise.

No answering. Email, texts, whatever. If it’s not urgent and it’s work related–it can wait until morning. There’s also a growing body of research on not doing email related tasks constantly because it causes burn out. I’d get on board with that research. I quit answering email after about 7 p.m. and NEVER ON THE WEEKENDS….EVER!!!!!! Unless I need to do so for Monday morning, I quit answering email. It was difficult, but I made myself not answer. Sometimes, I fall off my own wagon, but generally, I keep a pretty busy life on the weekends. I read the emails, assess, and usually close them for Monday morning.

Set clear boundaries. With yourself. With your students. With your people. It’s ok to tell your people/students that you don’t answer anything after 9 p.m. It’s ok to tell students it will take you a full 24-36 hours to return emails. It’s ok to tell everyone you ignore them on the weekends.

IT’S OK NOT TO FEEL GUILTY. say it again….breathe….repeat it again….

If you need help, get an accountability buddy. I know it sounds totally ridiculous, but it might help. Someone to celebrate. Someone to remind you of your purpose, someone to take the challenge with you. We all know misery loves company :)

Do something in the evenings that is more interesting than your work. Seriously. Many with kids will say that until bedtime, the most interesting thing is the kids (as it should be), while others join clubs, workout, have hobbies, etc… for a few hours a few nights a week. Giving the other half of your brain is also a nice reward for a hard days work.

I told myself that when I finished grad school, I was going to stop working on the weekends. I always felt as though work was looming in grad school and while it’s still there now, I don’t feel like I have to hunker down at ‘ye old mac’ every weekend. In fact, it’s one thing I have done successfully. I fall off the email wagon occasionally, particularly before an event or a deadline shows up but usually have no trouble getting back on. In my own experience, the less work I do on the weekends or evenings, the more productive and refreshed I feel come Monday or the next morning.

The decision to change and acknowledging that you’re in too deep is the first step. In grad school, I took one day per week and didn’t work. I called it “life stuff Sunday.” The day was reserved for life tasks: laundry, yoga (yes it’s a life task in my life), groceries, errands, etc… It didn’t always happen on Sunday’s but for the most part, one day a week was set aside to accomplish things that needed attention. After all, the Target call bot can only call 29847 times before the pharmacist actually calls and asks if you’re ever going to come and get that prescription.

Finally, there’s no change that happens over night (except the weather, those people are wrong 98% of the time). Start small. Say to yourself, I’m not going to answer emails for 24 hours and work up from there. Turn off the noises. You’ll find yourself so much happier. I turn off my ringer for better parts of a day, especially when I’m trying to write. You’ll be surprised by how easy it is to begin to ignore things (and people).

Making yourself too available might make you miserable but it doesn’t have too.

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Reality Check: Spring Social Media Clean Up

Spring Social Media Cleaning | New Faculty

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‘Tis the season! The hiring season is upon us! I see finely dressed students on campus for greek life events, but more importantly:

  • career fairs
  • internships
  • interview season!!!!!

I was eating cupcakes with a faculty friend and we were joking about how ridiculous we probably looked shoving cupcake into our piehole at lightening speed. We decided that perhaps not really a social media moment–a ‘real life’ moment for sure, but nothing that was really worthy of an instagram. We started swapping stories of some of our students (former & current) and their desire to ‘connect’ with us over social media. It turned into a “who’s worse” kind of conversation and we both had some dousy’s to share. I don’t know if a winner was ever declared–(is there ever really a winner in these?)–but we did determine a few things:

  • there really should be an app that screens your pics before posting.
  • most apps should automatically be shut down after 11 p.m. to help this.
  • there should be some sort of ‘screen’ prompt – “are you SURE you want to post this?”
  • when in doubt, just don’t….

As we sprint towards Spring and you may be on the job market, consider your social media presence. Clean it up, take it down, deactivate it. Job prep doesn’t just involve making sure your business suit is clean and your job talk is prepped, it now means making sure our online presence is also tight. If you keep a website, blog, twitter, instagram, facebook, vine, snapchat, linkedin, etc… update them, clean them up, change your preferences for privacy if you’re concerned, make sure that profile picture fairly represents the “you” that you want out there for the public to see.

As a former web designer and IT person, I can tell you this:

  • everything can be hacked
  • no one is 100% “private” anymore

So, do yourself a favor and spend some time cleaning it up this Spring. Like Spring cleaning, it can be fun to go through memories, therapeutic to purge some of the ones we’d like to forget, and can help us get our online presence in check with the presence we want to sell to potential employers. I find myself deactivating a few times a year, making sure my own search engine optimization is in check (what you see when you google yourself) and use services such as brandyourself.com to help me make sure people see what I want them, not the other way around.

You know people don’t usually go beyond page 2 or 3 in a google search, so spend a little time now and clean up your searches.  I know I’ve not always been studious about this and I do let it slip because I get busy with my real life presence and forget about my virtual presence. It’s one of the times I do appreciate an email from whatever service it is to say, “we haven’t seen you in a while, want to update us?” I usually do or at least click on my profile to make sure it still conveys the message I’m trying to send (awesome, hello???) ;) I know the email reminders can be a bit tedious, but it does remind me to check myself on social media.

We’re not going back to web 1.0 anytime soon, so we might as well participate in our online presence. Take the time now that you’ve invested a few moments in reading this post and tidy up your online feeds. I have never heard anyone say, “i’m so bummed i lost 30 min cleaning up my social media.”

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