We Don’t Want to be Your Token

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On a lovely summer night not too long ago, in a land called ‘where I live,’ I attended a soiree with friends that turned into at best one of the more uncomfortable social situations I’ve been in with people I actually know in real life.

It started out bad for me and went to worse in less than thirty minutes, leaving me watching my phone for the most socially acceptable way to leave as soon as possible. We had gathered to celebrate a friend and one of the guests began going on about how they had that “token one black friend so when someone asked about them, the person knew immediately bc they had no other friends of any different ethnicity in their life.”

Ex-squeeze me?

Through her jaded laughter, I know I began to make ‘the face.’ You know, the one of disbelief, of trying to cover it up because you’re in public, and the one that says “holy hell, can i leave now?”

As she droned on about her immediate knowledge of her ‘token black friend’ laughing, I mostly became mortified.

Do I say something?

I opted not to, I was there to celebrate a friend, not make a huge scene, but I also reminded myself why I stopped investing in this racist individual over a year ago. I think what made it so uncomfortable for me was that I know all of these people in real life, they’re not random, ignorant strangers. They’re people who actually exist. This person has some clear issues about diversity and inclusion that were made clear to me some time ago. I had avoided everything about this person for a long time until this. In a small town, it’s hard not to run into people from time to time.

Issues like this end up being something we can easily become desensitized to because we don’t really know these people in the media. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of racist bigots in the world, several that I know, and more that I hope I never meet, but what makes this hard is that I can put a name with a face with a life that some of these people have. When we say and do racist things, we often don’t know anyone or dehumanize them, much like my acquaintance bragging on their ONE minoritized friend. We have lives. We are productive members of society.

WE DON’T WANT TO BE YOUR TOKEN!

You want a token, I’ll get you a subway card in NYC or DC or some from Chuck-E-Cheese. I’m not to be collected to clear your hateful conscience or so you can make some largely inappropriate jokes. As I’ve delved into a new body of literature for my own work on diversity and inclusion it’s becoming easier and more clear to spot these aggressions and micro-aggressions in people. Their defensiveness and white fragility is hard to ignore, and my fight or flight response kicks in much quicker. We’ve created a society where everything is sensationalized and if I do respond I get called “crazy,” “rude,” or a slew of other things, giving the person who is the racist the agency to become the “victim” because some Asian got ‘crazy’ on them. Yes, I did speak up because you and your ignorant behavior are intolerable.

I have learned that sometimes it’ best to walk away. Changing people is worse than herding a bunch of cats but it doesn’t teach anyone anything. It reinforces their negative behavior. While I can say “I hope their karma catches up with them” it often does not. I do hope it does. What I can do is continue doing work, being a productive member of society, and working hard. Like T. Swift says, “the haters gonna hate, hate, hate” and in my world, the racists are gonna keep on being racist so I’m gonna drop the mic, walk away, and appreciate the folks I have in my life who would pissed at me for being late, not for being Asian.

Cause nobody got time for that.

 

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Saying No to Sunday

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Summer isn’t that long for us nerds. Once you get through with conference travel (yes, fun but also work), service for on-campus events, and the sheer amount of administrivia that comes with the end of the FY, summer is boiled down pretty quickly. Summer is a great time for us to read, write, think, and have the time to actuall do both things without constant interruption. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve also been taking full advantage of the time to take care of several life tasks to keep my adulting game going strong, but I keep pretty regular hours during the summer too.

One habit I try hard to NOT engage with is working on the weekends in the summer. We had a large grant due recently and my writing team wasn’t planning ahead, leaving much of it until the last minute. The Friday before it was due, the PI said to me, “want to work on this on Sunday?”

“No. I don’t work on Sunday’s in the summer.”

I caught the guy off guard. He replied, “Oh!” pretty surprised and his face widened out at my response.

“It’s the one rule I try and give myself in the summer. I’ll be on the grid first thing Monday morning to finish this up.”

“Well, alright, good for you,” he rebounded.

Why bother telling you about this? Because BOUNDARIES. It’s the only thing I try to NOT do during the summer and here I stood, being asked to do it. Dang it! New faculty me three years ago would have been all, “ok, but just for a couple hours” but New faculty me in the present gave it a “hell no, I won’t go” as quickly as I could. Yes, I considered it, but then realized we had several days to get this together, not mere hours.

I enjoyed my Sunday-went paddle boarding and enjoyed my day in general.I was pretty proud of myself and quite content with what I did instead of running to campus. My friends/family were also properly happy for me-saying no is hard for me. Whether it’s because I’m a female, a minority, a young faculty member, or I just have a hard time saying no, follow my example, follow Nancy Reagan, and “just say no.”

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Steamrolling Into Summer

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source: I took this, that’s Henry!

I feel like I’ve barrel rolled right into summer. In case you’re wondering, it was a very clean barrel roll with no big rocks on the path. I don’t know how it happened but I thought I just got back from overseas…. A quick trip home helped my mental state but it added up and the driving alone was a pain in my ass (really, my lower back was screaming). A quick trip to the chiropractor straightened me right out (pun totally intended)!

Alas, graduation and the pomp and circumstance (pun intended again) that goes with it is in full force. Taking advantage of the time to not be on campus, I started to pretend an adult lives at my house who cleans things. The the ritualistic nature of stripping the covers off of the couch cushions, the shame and pride of vacuuming a semesters worth of crumbs out of the couch, and the nice smell that the febreze has when I deodorize the couch and love seat is my internal trigger that the seasons have changed and so has the semester.

There’s other things that trigger the changing of my academic seasons. Move out will and has taken full force, summer happy hour emails have been sent for standing invites with friends, and conference season kicks off in just over 48 hours. Why enjoy that first week of summer when you can get on a plane and hit up your first conference? Relaxing is for quitters…..

We don’t realize what a frenetic rush we put on ourselves as young faculty members. I had not been sleeping well since coming back from overseas and while I could only use the excuse of jet lag for so long, there were so many things to take care of. This coupled with taking a month off to go abroad, on top of whatever else I’ve been up to made sound sleep this elusive thing I chased. I even hung some Tibetan prayer flags over the bed hoping it would catch some good prayers and they’d turn into good dreams or good sleep. It took the internal ‘click’ of the semester for me to sleep like a log for the first time in weeks for a solid 8.5 hours before I stirred and heard Henry moving in his crate to let me know it was time to get up and play.

USDA grant season has slowed, I’ve got a NSF due next week, a NIH in June, and another one (can’t remember the acronym) in early August. I feel like I have one more but honestly, I can’t remember…My pubs for the calendar year are published-looking shiny and real and I am already scheming of what to push out for 2017. I have plans to push out two more this summer for hopeful publication next year. Gotta keep the wheels turning right?

I have blocked out my summer calendar now that summer projects have been decided on and blocked out travel. Two conferences, a week in CO, and then home to the farm. In between, I have plans to read, write, evaluate, work on grants that are currently funded, work with undergrad and grad students that have been hired, and heck-NOT work weekends, evenings, or before a normal time of day (normal is defined as “when the sun gets out of bed”).

All the pre-planning is letting me do one very important thing: it’s giving me permission to slow down. Blocking out the time gives me space to think, write, and read. I ordered 14 books the other day so I better have some time to read (and yes, they’re all for work). Slowing down in summer doesn’t mean productivity lags, it means I actually have time and give myself permission to do the things I can’t afford to do when there’s a room full of students, a pile of things to read, and researchers all staring at me for answers. The grant work alone I’ve neglected is enough to fill several weeks.

August will be here soon enough, but today, May whatever it is, I’m going to slow down. Downshift my internal engine, sleep through the night without interruption, and work through the massive pile of books that will be delivered when I get back from my conference. Now that the couch is clean and my house looks like a living, breathing human who doesn’t hoard a pile of shoes somewhere near the door lives here, I can steam roll right into summer.

 

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I’d Like to Give You Feedback Too

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It’s been a good semester. Now that it’s almost in the rear view mirror, I can spend a little time reflecting on the wins, the challenges, and map out the summer.

I love teaching and taught a one credit seminar this spring. I agreed to teach it approximately 48 hours before the semester began, so it wasn’t something I had a lot of time to plan out beforehand. Never one to back down from a challenge, I said yes and was honest with the students of the short time line. It’s the way the world works sometimes and a good lesson for them.

The seminar went fine and as a one credit seminar, the stakes were pretty low for everyone. Some good things to make note of if I want to turn it into a three credit course, some things to make note of to do again, some to not do again, but the biggest feedback for myself is to prepare the readings more thoughtfully throughout. Seminars are a great way to share ideas, have some great exchanges in a friendly environment, and produce a practical deliverable. I asked the students to take an existing program, critique it, infuse theory, and give policy recommendations for it. As the professor leading, it’s a great time to see if a “proof of concept” will work.

 

During the final presentations, one student grew very defensive when a colleague and I disagreed with their work, throwing their hands in the air and then saying they felt “attacked bc there were two faculty” in the room. That’s what grad school is. Exchanging ideas that aren’t always agreeing with you. This same student struggled with me all semester, being disrespectful and then noting that there is no faculty survey for the seminar (it’s one credit folks) and that they “had feedback i wanted to give” which reads to me like “i want to be a real jerk in a passive aggressive fashion in an anonymous environment so you won’t know it’s me.”

Here’s where my inner critique came in. I know it wasn’t perfect. Far from it. I do know that I presented good material and that my disagreement with students isn’t to pester them, but to have them “consider the other.” I said that phrase multiple times over the semester, sometimes multiple times during one class and instead of listening, this student would wave their hand in the air and stammer. Having not been disagreed with is perhaps something new or a coping mechanism. Part of graduate school is learning about how a wider gamut of people think, their experiences, and it’s a lot of hard work. If a student wants to come get that easy phd, our program is not the place for it. Like the military, students need to be broken down a bit in order to cognitively process all of the information, their experiences, and where it all goes next.

I’d like to give that student some anonymous, passive aggressive feedback too: to quit being such a condescending, rude, disrespectful human. But I can’t because there is no survey for how a student behaved, their classroom civility, or anything else. The system is designed to put the instructor completely at fault and never put any responsibility on the student for their actions, just the work they produce. I surmise the student wanted to tell me how little they thought I knew instead of answering the questions that are addressed on evaluations, which is often times what a faculty evaluation really is. We know content but does our personality jive with our students? Does our teaching style fit their style? Does our organization fit their preferred mode? With so many students, it’s impossible, thus making faculty evaluations a flawed instrument at best.

Yes, I made mistakes. I’m human. It’s my job to mess it up here and there. I’m in the business of teaching, researching, and doing scholarly things for a living while remaining respectful of my colleagues, mentoring our students, and forcing them cognitively to grow the gray matter in between their ears. I expect my students to be respectful in return but you get one every now and again who will force a new gray hair out of your head.

 

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How I Know it’s the End of the Semester…

I put face moisturizer in my hair one day and the hair product on my face and then walked around thinking, “why is my hair so damn greasy? why is the smell so strong near my nose?”

It’s the end of another semester folks…and I for one could not be more pleased. Or tired. Or burned out. I get this way every semester and everyone I know starts walking around like zombie’s with glazed eyes, stress eating their feeling to fill the void, and barely functioning.

A friend on fb posted:

“I just put deodorant on over my shirt.”

Hence, the replies followed….

“I once spit a mouthful of water into a towel rather than the sink.”

“I notice that my breath is minty, my teeth feel clean, and say to myself–aloud–“Oh. I must have brushed my teeth” without irony and with enormous satisfaction.”

“Stood in front of my office door for much, much longer than warranted while trying to unlock it with my truck key… the electronic, “press button to unlock” part.”

Cheers to the last push to the imaginary finish line or very obvious one: commencement.

May your grades be easy, your students follow directions, and you reclaim your inbox, your life, and your laundry pile!

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Delegating for the Win

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I’ve been gone for about two weeks now and I have to say, life has been good work-wise. Not because I’m not there, but because before I left, I worked like a dog and delegated.

It wasn’t easy letting go of all that perceived control. I like knowing what’s going on w my project work, grant work, and students, but I had no choice. With less than great Internet (ok, less than great electricity in general) for the majority of the trip, I knew I would have no choice but to adapt quickly and delegate everything I could. So I did.

I have to admit, it was pretty nice not having to worry about as many things. I would see emails when the electricity was on, but for the most part, my part was done or the people knew I was gone and they didn’t necessarily expect me to respond right away.

I have a great team behind me and I know how lucky I am to have them in my life. They’re all capable, bright, and more than intelligent enough to live for three weeks without me. There’s a few days left of this trip before I begin the journey home and while I’m glad to have come and done this work, I’m also very excited to go home. I cannot stress how important delegating was to the success of this trip in order for it to go smoothly. The list for what to do when I get home is getting longer every day, but I have taken a great deal of comfort knowing things were done while I was gone and it allowed me to enjoy this stretch of travel a little bit more. I worried less when there was no electricity and it enabled me to engage more with the world sitting right in front of me instead of what was happening some 7800 miles away.

It Takes a Village, Spring Break Edition

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Greetings from Spring Break!

I’d like to say I was posting this from a beach, a couch, or an otherwise sunny location but here I am, in my favorite coffee shop where I got a big table since the students are all gone. Winning!

I’m grinding on my to-do list hard this week-why? Leaving for three weeks in a few days for work. This plan has not come together with a wave of a magic wand, nor was it an easy process. Traveling internationally to an under-developed country has been a process. Relying on others with more experience than I have and relinquishing control over the details was annoying at first, but is kind of nice now. A magic folder was FedEx’ed to me last week that contained everything I would need and more.

The logistics on a trip of this size and scope have been a team effort. From my department head, my colleagues, grad students on assistantship, to my current grant projects, to the students I’m teaching, to the ten undergrad researchers who look to me each week for guidance, to my friends taking care of my house and life, it’s not been an easy trip to put together. With so many moving parts, I have been forced to ask for lots of help from various people, groups, and the trickle down effect of my absence will affect more than I think.

Am I that important? NO. (check myself before i wreck myself moment)

It’s also USDA grant season and all of the due dates fall while I’m gone. Oops. Getting asked to collaborate on several grants has forced me to get organized and turn all of my materials in early.

There’s also the long list of supplies I was tasked with obtaining before I leave. Enough toiletries for three weeks,  surge protectors/converters, and one magical Amazon list after another have kept me in line. Borrowing a large suitcase and larger backpack for a 24 hour layover in Asia have had me on my toes.

I have to say: I’m lucky that I have a village willing to support me. From my mom sending me links, to my friends coming to water my plants, to my departments support, I would not have been able to do this without my team, my squad, my village. People forget what a gigantic effort this is and the 22 year olds I teach think it’s this glamorous thing we get to do. I have to remind them that it’s anything but glamorous at points and the work pace I’ve been keeping the last month has run me ragged. It’s one consequence I accepted when I said “yes” to the trip and I knew it would be hard to get it all together but I’m glad I’m doing it. I was so over tired the other night I put myself to bed early, turned down dinner plans most of the weekend, and kept myself in hiding knowing I would be terrible company. I couldn’t even muster the energy to hike a few miles, feeling sloppy due to lack of sleep, poor diet, and just general “blah” lately. I know, I know, “woe is me” but you have to know: getting on that plane to Hong Kong will be a sigh of relief because I’ll know that everything is done and if it’s not, it’s too late.

We cannot drop it all and get on the plane. As a young faculty member, we’ve got too many balls in the air to do that. I need to make sure my pubs are getting published while I’m gone, my grants are getting turned in, and my students and researchers are all on point. This takes a crap load of pre-planning, communicating, and a boat load of work on my end.  Yes, international travel is pretty awesome and I’m pretty fortunate for this opportunity, but this has not been one of those easy, breezy things to pull off. Hell, there’s still a few days until I leave and it could all come crashing down. I hope it won’t and it shouldn’t, but shit happens folks.

The number one thing I’ve had going for me: I’ve known about this for a few months and I’ve done nothing but COMMUNICATE that I was leaving. I’ve made no bones about it to anyone I’ve worked with. From our grant officer in the college to the students to the faculty I’m writing grants with, everyone knows I’m leaving and I won’t be available often while I’m gone. Not going to a first world country means I’m not going to have first world Internet access.

The sky will not fall chicken little, not at all. But my bat brain will be so much happier once I get the last few items checked off my list, shove a bunch of crap and three weeks of shampoo into a bag and settle in for the long leg of my flights: 16 hours…yeah, 16 hours. I’m pumped for that too!

 

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Revisiting Plan B

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It’s been a while since I thought about plan b at all. Quite frankly, I haven’t had the time.

A conversation with a graduate student last week caused me to hit my own pause button.

The student had come in to see me about working up a manuscript. We chatted about the work and then I asked him how his job search was going. He had been very transparent with everyone about his job hunt; seeking advice, getting feedback, and asking good questions.

Upon asking, he slumped down a bit and said, “it’s not going so well.”

Like any good advisor(y) type person, I said, “what’s your plan b?”

“There is no plan b.”

Uhhh…..

The student had assumed too much because we had given him too much hope. I hate to say it, but it’s true. We assume that our students will all finish and there will be mountains of opportunity for them. While there should be, there’s not. At all. The numbers on tenure track positions decline and continue to do so and the number of other types of positions rise to save universities money. It’s happening where I work too. I’m not in a TT line either so I’m having the same struggle.

I have thought about all of my options though. Many, many times….and I’ve tested the waters too. Applying, interviewing, etc…

But this student had not done anything outside of academic job applications.

And I hope he does now.

As many of you get to take a pause for a deserved break, I hope that if you’re thinking about finishing anytime in the next six months, you’ve got your “unicorn” but you’ve also thought a little bit about plan b. I don’t want to rain on your parade, but someone has to let you know or remind you that there has to be a backup. There would be nothing worse than wrapping up and not having anything to move toward. Sometimes plan b pops up when we lease expect it, so don’t be afraid to go towards opportunities that you may not have considered.

Plan b’s often turn into plan a’s and that’s how the job market works at times. Don’t count out your plan b. Keep working toward plan a, but in the meantime, don’t forget there’s other letters in the alphabet too.

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Things I’m Working On: Long Meetings

 

'Almost finished.'

‘Almost finished.’

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My love/hate relationship with meetings persists, but I started doing something in the new semester that’s really helping me feel better. I stop at the time the meeting was SUPPOSED to last for and exit. I say I have to go and I do. Whether it’s physically leaving the room or hanging up the conference call, I have to go. Even if I didn’t necessarily have something else after, I still leave.

Why?

My time is valuable too and your inability to manage your time is not my problem.

Sound harsh?

Yes. It is. It’s honest. If a monthly check in meeting is scheduled for one hour, then I give it one hour. If I say class starts at 1 and ends at 3:50, we’re done at 3:50. I don’t expect people to stay late for me, so why would others expect me to stay late for them?

Meetings have always stirred an emotional response for me. I know we need them, but they get so long, drawn out, and are often useless after the first 30 minutes. People are verbose in academia and a meeting is a great way to highlight that. Unless someone schedules extra time, there’s a crisis, or it’s a topic that is deemed as “incredibly important,” I’ve started seeing myself to the door and leaving. My time is equally valuable as yours, so don’t get upset when you try to run your meeting late and I have to leave. Just like I wouldn’t be upset if you left my meeting if it was running late.

I know we all have big decisions and important things we’re doing. I know we all get excited and passionate about our work, but there’s a limit on how much time we can give to everything and take time for ourselves. I’m learning that lesson over again this semester. Planning for work, a big trip, and scheduling swim times has proven to be a pain this semester. I’m getting them in, but I’m learning to keep the swim and move the rest because if I’m not moving, then I’m not interested in sitting through anything else.

I don’t view this as selfish and I’m sure you might disagree. I view this as necessary to survival. If I’m not writing, I’m not publishing. If I’m not reading, I’m not writing. If I’m in your meeting that’s running late, I’m not getting to my data analysis for writing. As an untenured faculty member, I have no choice but to continue to be selfish with my time. If that means stealing away from your long meeting on time so I have time to do my work, then I’ll keep doing it. I’m working on stopping the guilty feelings I harbor myself with in the name of keeping everyone else happy because then I end up unhappy as a result.

See how this works?

Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself: Thinking Before Speaking

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Facilitating a class this semester has been really fun for me. Yes, FUN. It’s a seminar style class with a lot of interaction, discussion, and boiler plate type idea exchange going on each week. I have really enjoyed it thus far and would hope to offer a full three credit class off of it someday. It was an idea I’d been kicking around for a while so this was prime pickings for me to try it out with a group of students.

Overall, the students are outstanding. They have great thoughts, they are able to think critically and reflect, synthesize readings and pair them with other content. Really a stand up group. I could not be more pleased. Grad school is also a place to grow, to expand, and to broaden our horizons. Making sweeping comments, being judgmental, intolerant, and downright racist are not things I’m a big fan of. In class or in life. Some of my students forget where they sit at the table with me and a few have needed a gentle reminder (ok, so not so gentle).

After making some vast generalizations that were largely false, making a racist comment that I squashed, and continuing to be inappropriate, I told the student to ‘stop talking, you’re making it worse’ and kept class moving. The student thought I was joking. After calling all farmers “hipsters” and then making several statements that really, REALLY highlighted their privilege, I couldn’t take it anymore. The student then had the audacity to say “good morning sunshine” to me in the hallway one morning. WHAT? A few days later this same student sent me an email with a smiley face emoji in it. What’s going on? I’m not your pet, don’t call me a pet name. I’m not your BFF, don’t send me an emoji. I’m your professor, treat me with the same kernel of respect you want to be treated with.

Anyone who says that everyone is equal or there’s no issues with women in the academy has never been called ‘sunshine’ instead of “my name,” “dr.” or any other salutation or had an email with an emoji sent to them. Would this student have called my male colleagues “sunshine?” Me thinks not. EVER.

I’d like to conclude this post with a gentle, “check yourself before you wreck yourself” to all the grad students out there. My undergrads behave more respectfully than this person has been and I’m pretty tired of it. Making it known helped but not enough apparently. Here’s to a new week and if I have to glare, sneer, or put my foot down–you’d better get out of the way…..

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