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…..

Who Can You Depend on? Being Self-Reliant

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Something happened a few years ago. Ok, about 25 give or take a decade, but the thing was that my mom raised us to be independent. Cue Destiny’s Child here….

After 30+ years on the planet, I wake up and know less than I did the day before and I have even more questions that I could spend the rest of my life working on. But of all the life I have lived, I know a few things and this is one: I’m pretty self-reliant. Independent. Don’t “need” a man to take out my garbage. I’m not talking about the arrogant “I got this far all by myself” talk because that is NOT the case at all, but the case that I do what I want, I have figured out how to function as an individual, independent unit. In the best way possible.

Every once in a while I am reminded that while I don’t have a person, it is nice to have folks in my life I can count on. A friend in real life moved to my town recently to start grad school (I recruited him) and he really is a “real life friend,” and not merely a “person I know” in the ether. I’m fortunate to have good people in my life and eternally grateful for them, but not everyone can be counted on for all things. Some of the people on my squad are for professional purposes, others personal, many are multi-purpose. This friend is multi-purpose and very reliable.

I sent myself home from campus last week after getting sick twice in my office. I had excused myself from the department meeting after feeling nauseous, dizzy, and then realized I was going to be sick. After laying on the couch and moving to my bedroom, and getting sick several more times I realized I was not going back to work. And I needed ginger ale. I texted my friend for some back-up and requested some of the good stuff. While he was in class until early evening, it was ok with me because I was still getting sick and couldn’t keep anything down anyway.

Like the moon rising, he showed up about 30 minutes after class with two giant bottles of ginger ale, checked to see if I needed anything else, and went about his evening. I appreciated him on so many levels that day. Not only for caring, but for acknowledging that while he was busy, he could certainly make time to swing through the grocery store for some ginger ale and bring it by my house. While I was in no shape to verbalize it that evening, we got together later in the week when I was feeling better and I shared my gratitude with him.

It forced me to reflect on why I had become and how I had become so self-reliant in the first place. A long time ago, someone who was in my life used to throw me “under the bus” every chance he got and I didn’t realize it for a long time. I know it strained my relationship with others because they had false information and a poor opinion of me without my knowledge and I learned the hard way that I needed to represent myself. Fast forward to today and while I still consider myself independent and self-reliant, I make sure I’m aware when someone does give me a little boost.

How does this translate to the academy? In many ways both obvious and subtle. Self-preservation is important to me and letting my guard down doesn’t come easy. Being vulnerable, sick, and asking for mercy and ginger ale was a good reminder that I need to do the same at work. Sometimes I feel like a research robot, going through the motions to push out the work and I need to remind myself that I’m not doing it just to get it over with, but there’s always vulnerability involved. I work on this with my undergraduate researchers in particular to not only teach the methods but instill the qualities of being vulnerable to ask questions but independent enough to think critically. I need to remember that I can and should ask for help. My students ask me for help all of the time, but I rarely ask others in return. I burden myself with extra work in the name of perfection instead of delegating and being happy with what comes in.

Being self-reliant is not a bad trait to posess by any stretch of the word, in fact it’s usually something I’m quite proud of, but the stomach bug reminded me that no matter how bad ass I think I am, a virus can bring me to my knees and force me to ask for help and I shouldn’t be afraid to do the same at work either.

 

 

Snow Storm? Snow-Problem

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If you’re like me, you’ve finally dug out from the storm on the east coast. It was a big one for our area–over a foot fell by the time it was done and that’s a lot for the south! My attitude on snow is one of “meh” due to the fact that I grew up standing in a snow bank in upstate New York. A foot of snow is more like an inconvenience to me, but I do understand how it can shut a town down. This town is great, but lacks the infrastructure, equipment, and man power to take care of this kind of precipitation. I get it. Trust me. The grocery store was bare two days before and my hat goes off to the hard working employees there, in public works, and folks like farmers who still had to work no matter the outside conditions.

Having plenty of warning and time to prepare, the university shut down on Friday, the public transit shut down for two days, announcing it 24 hours in advance, and most local schools, businesses, and organizations also announced their closure. It was the perfect opportunity to also do the same. Shut down, reboot, and enjoy the solitude.

The power stayed on so all first world conveniences were at hand: a warm house, plenty to eat, a steady stream of internet and netflix, and time to not even feel obligated to leave the house. The solitude was almost deafening. Not a single person outside, not a single vehicle moving by, no noise. Only white noise from the snow.

The weather offered great pause for everyone I know to laze about without consequence or any feelings of guilt. Many of my friends and colleagues took work home but there’s something about that psychological freedom, that pure joy of having no where to be, no where to go, and knowing you can stand (or sit) still for a while. The greatest luxury of our pack of academics is to unplug and reboot. With the attachment we have to devices, work, and the lack of any kind of balance, a two day sno-cation was just what we all needed.

I baked, I cooked, I bought fancy charcuterie (also known as amazing salami) and ate it with some amazing NY cheddar I brought back with me, and didn’t shower for several days. Guilt free. I love snow so when it began to come down, I took the opportunity to trudge and shuffle up empty streets for about three miles each day and check out the world around me. It was wonderfully silent and still.

As I draft this, I’m back at my favorite coffee shop getting ready for another week but the two day break was delightful. Instead of worrying about what I had no control over, I took full advantage of the break. Town is back to the bustling place I know, more folks have dug themselves out and are pouring into the building, and I hope each of you were able to enjoy the snow as much as I did. It will be gone in a week, the weather forecast is very mild. Cheers to the next snow storm!

 

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The Difficulty of Dissertating (or working) From Home

Great post about how to dissertate from home!

Projects half Done

ProjectsHalfDone | Dissertating from home

It’s over.

Finally.

Dissertation defended. Edits done. ETD submitted. Done. (Oh, and I passed, by the way)

For the last 6 months or so, I’ve been working and dissertating from home. My assistantship with my department ended, and although I did secure some part-time employment, it was all computer based so I worked from home. Every day I had to find the motivation to get up and do some actual work, whether that was writing my dissertation or doing work-related items, I had to force myself to get into that mindset.

Working from home…and being motivated every day was hard.

So.

Very.

Hard.

There were days when I wanted to lay in bed all day. There were days when I wanted to binge watch all of Netflix. There were days when I didn’t want to shower or put on real pants. There were days that those things happened. But how does…

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Goals 2016

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Goals 2016 {New Faculty}

Happy New Year!

I like ending a year and starting a year doing one thing: reflecting.

I think karma has intervened and as I draft this post, I’m sitting at home, under a blanket, on the couch with a box of tissues next to me with a head cold. I think it’s a gentle reminder to start my goals very simply and very deliberately this year.

  1. Remind myself that self care isn’t selfish. Whether it’s continuing to make time to swim or remind myself that I can take a time out, I need to remind myself that I am lucky enough to have a job where I can stay home and rest and not infect my colleagues with whatever germs I have picked up. Designing my own schedule is a form of psychological freedom that I relish in and I’m willing to make less money in order to be able to design my schedule. Taking good care of myself may mean coming home and being still or making sure I head out and see my friends, but it’s all self care and it’s all equally important.
  2. Better quality first drafts. I sent out manuscripts this year and had accepts/edits/R&R’s/rejects. On my final acceptance of the year (12/21/15), the reviewers came back with very complimentary feedback. It was an R&R at first and I worked hard on it with one other author. The compliments were delightful, “much improved from draft one,” “authors reorganized and draft should be accepted,” and “no need for reviewers to see again, accept with minor edits.” The minor edits were FOUR grammatical type things “add an ‘s,'” “should be ‘with’ instead of ‘of,'” and things of the like. I get impatient with manuscripts or I drag them out for so long that I forget them. I need to do a better job this year of putting out better quality first drafts. I’m not sure if the rejections I got this year would have been accepted because of it (one said, ‘this does not fit with the direction our journal wants to go in’) but it did give me pause to consider it.
  3. Say “yes” to things that will help my trajectory and continue to be better about saying “no” to things that won’t. It’s not as easy as it sounds. I have a hard time saying no, I think most people do, but I have gotten a lot better about thinking “how will this help me?” before saying yes this year. Some things are easy to say no to and others are easy to say yes to, but knowing where something will benefit me is something I need to work on. I have assumed more responsibility this year in advising, committees for graduate students, teaching more classes, and assuming more undergraduate researchers. All of those were easy “yes'” for me to make. I also said yes to a few big grant proposals and traveled to a few conferences. Where I found myself thinking before saying yes was when there would be ‘open calls’ for things. Whether in the department or out in the broader community of the university, I would sit, listen, and not respond right away. I would often wait, think about it, and then send a note to the organizer. It sounds very selfish but as a young faculty member, my time isn’t growing and the pulls on it continue to pull. A friend and colleague of mine always says, “if it’s not helping my T&P packet, I’m not doing it.” Some people would be critical of their stance, but I get it. Watching them draw a very firm line in the sand and then stick to it is the discipline I need to work on.

There you have it. Happy 2016!

Peace Out Fall 2015

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The holidays are upon us. No matter your religion, preference, or views, this time of year brings many things besides grading. After two lattes, I cut myself off and realized I needed to slow my grading roll for a few hours and do something else.

At the end of each semester, I like to try and stand back and observe my prior 15 weeks from the outside. This helps me plan, plan, plan for the weeks before the new term comes back around. While I’d like to drop the mic and all of my responsibilities, I cannot and neither can you. Planning is key for me to get set-up for the return of myself and my brain to work right after the New Year.

Before my car drives away to home and family, I outline what I want to get done and what I need to get done before classes begin again.

  • What did I forget or put on the back burner before I left? (hopefully nothing, but probably not)
  • How did classes go?
  • What changes do I need to note in syllabi for the next time I teach it while they’re still ‘fresh’ thoughts?
  • What outstanding things will come up over the holiday break that I might not be in town for? Did I take care of them before I left?
  • What do I need to come back and get to work on? (yes, a submission deadline is waiting)
  • What went well this semester that I should remember to acknowledge?

Some of this list involves me taking my mac home with me and I will likely do a little work during my break home, but it won’t be substantial, mostly managing any email. I also have a grant proposal that’s due right after the New Year that will need to be finished with my collaborators. Can’t do much about that unfortunately.

A lot of things went well this semester and this past calendar year. I met many submission deadlines, contributed to several grant projects, had several articles published, have grown the undergrad research team, sitting on graduate student committees, taught three classes this fall, and have what I hope will be a good piece of research to roll out in the spring based on the work the undergraduate research students I advise have worked on all fall. There’s a lot to be proud of and always more work to do. Before I leave, I’m going to take a pregnant pause and be proud of my accomplishments before I beat myself up over what I didn’t do this fall.

I hope you’ll take a moment to stand back and assess as well. It can be a great way to reflect while the information is still fresh in your mind and something as simple as jotting notes down can be helpful later on.

Enjoy your holiday season and I wish you some peace in your brain and in your email inbox.

 

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Grading…in Meme’s

I began this post by googling “grading meme’s” and was not prepared (at all) for the plethora of other folks who are much wittier than I who were populating the interwebs with countless meme’s that made me giggle.

It’s finals season and while the sarcastic jerk in me really wants to sing, “it’s the most wonderful time of the year,” the faculty in me who will be grading really wants to crawl in a hole and die. I have to admit, I like grading less than I like almost any other responsibility that I have related to my job. I hate grading more than I hate paying my “adult” bills in real life. I loathe grading more than the sight of the toilet paper roll going in what I deem the “wrong” way. Grading is the bane of my existence but giving feedback is one of the most important aspects of my job as a teacher. See? The struggle is real.

I don’t see multiple choice tests as a good form of assessment in general for the course I’m thinking of, particularly on a final that is cumulative and the masochist in me could NOT give a multiple choice final so it chose essay’s for the final. Four of them from each student. I will be the biggest offender to my own undoing at the end of next week, but as I contemplated how I wanted to assess my students, I could not deliver a multiple choice test. Multiple choice is great for quick assessments, weekly check in’s and other things, but sometimes reading how a student weaves all of the content together is the best form of learning. With 60 students in one of my classes, I have given myself an assignment of epic proportions and I’m aware of this.

My graduate students have literature reviews due about their potential research for their thesis and the undergrad researchers have had several incremental deliverables due over the course of the semester that have included: extensive literature review, survey that is currently being piloted, draft of academic poster, press release for the public on the same topic, and a ‘zine for a middle school audience. I’ve really been pounding hard on the “know your audience” aspect the last few weeks to wrap this up.

Grading and assessing student learning can be both formative and summative for me as a teacher. While I can joke about my disdain for grading, I do understand that it is 100% necessary for me to do in order to help my students foster their own learning and move forward. If you need me over the next two weeks, please bring wine. Or melted cheese. Happy grading folks!

 

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No “Guilt Machine,” No Work

No "Guilt Machine," No Work {New Faculty}

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The American holiday of Thanksgiving was last week. I took the whole week off. It was luxurious. I had made a giant list before I left town and then forgave myself in advance for not working. I also didn’t bring any laptop home, just my iPad and external keyboard. I like the set up, but it’s not quite as slick on some things and I was sure I wouldn’t have any huge emergencies come up.

In not working all week, I observed several things: I went hiking with the dogs every day. I went to the barn and helped my mom feed calves several times, I made breakfast for everyone each morning, and whatever else we were eating, I made Thanksgiving dinner, and I had very little worry about it. Maybe taking my laptop is my silent trigger. When it goes in the bag, it’s more than a computer, it’s a “guilt machine.”

My sister came home Wednesday night and she was working on the holiday and again on Friday. I didn’t envy her one bit. I know she had a lot of stuff to get done and the nature of her work is much different than mine. I can empathize with her but it made me very glad I was not in that boat. The situation could have been reversed if I’d had a grant due or some looming deadline, but thankfully I didn’t. I sent out an article the day before our break began and had my classes ready to roll for post-break. I’m sitting at a local coffee shop chugging (sipping daintily) a mocha, chowing down on a piece of something strudel-rific and have a few more grants to review for another project this afternoon. Leisurely time for once. When the students come back to begin tomorrow, I’ll be ready.

By not engaging with my Mac (AKA: the guilt machine), it allowed me to engage in other things that are much more important. Don’t get me wrong, I can play some games on my iPad and stalk social media with the best of them, but it was a purely psychological undoing. I’m going to keep trying to not bring my guilt machine with me when I know my odds at getting work done are slim but also understand I’ll need to tow it around sometimes too. It’s taken me four years to get some clarity and this was one week. I’ll consider this a “W” and keep moving forward to the end of the semester.

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The Writing is Never Done

A Lull in Writing? {New Faculty}

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I’ve had a lull in manuscripts lately. There’s a few reasons for that. Some are out to co-authors to write/edit/revise. I’m waiting for grad students to light fires under their keyboards and I’m also in the middle of reporting season for a few projects.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s writing happening  every day, but it’s not necessarily the manuscript type. Reporting on grants annually is equally important, getting my undergraduate researchers headed in the “right” direction has been important, but I noticed I went almost two weeks without a manuscript sitting in my files or inbox needing work. Two came in last week and I’ve already put a dent back in one, but the luxury of time gave me the opportunity to do other things:

  • catch up on grading
  • contribute to a new NSF proposal
  • read new articles and new books I’d purchased this fall that had been sitting in my pile
  • time to reflect on work, the direction I wanted to head
  • pick up new grant work

The time is not time wasted. Even though I wasn’t actively banging on the keyboard every day, it was nice to reflect, it was nice to read chunks of a book uninterrupted, and it was nice to have a smidge of time to contribute to new work that I want to do, but had not had time to previously look at.

The writing has trickled back in and will trickle back out. I’m mindful of several things:

  • writing for publication is important but so is writing for reporting in order to keep grants and/or get more.
  • writing for a grant proposal is very academic in nature, but the nice part about the collaborative nature of my last proposal was that I wasn’t tasked with all 15 pages, but about 5-7 per say.
  • not banging on a manuscript helped refresh my brain. When I picked one back up that had come back in, I was much more efficient and got through it. The  writing was distant enough where it was a little “foreign” in a sense, I had forgot about it some.

As we race toward the bottom of the semester and a break is near, it’s important for me to set myself up well for that break. I will take some time off from work in general but I want to be set up to return to work and get my boots back on the ground starting with day one. A conference proposal is due right away and I will make an effort to start that before I leave for the holiday.

Planing ahead, using a writing calendar, and making sure I’ve got the pre-work done will be key to hit the ground running post-holiday. The writing will never be done, but it’s nice to try and keep up with it.

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