Exercising the Grey Matter: Spanish Class

Learning A New Language {New Faculty}


I challenged myself this fall to do something new. I enrolled in Spanish class. My university is gracious enough to offer free language courses to faculty one day per week in a variety of languages: Spanish, French, Chinese, German, etc… over lunch time. I wanted to beef up last year but missed the deadline so I was determined to make it work this year. I was lucky to enroll quickly, buy the book, and earn a spot.

These classes are surprisingly popular and filled very quickly. I have colleagues who were too late and will hopefully get in next year.

Why take a class when a schedule is already full? The grey matter between my ears matters! There are endless days of writing, grading, course prep, and service. But, there’s no time for “fun” stuff. My brain really hurts after 50 minutes of a foreign language and I love it. It’s pushing me to think differently, force my brain to process new verbs, words, and sentence structures. It turned itself into a headache after week one, but after week two I felt more confident, and week three was even better. I want to practice, I find myself opening up the book in between classes, and completing the assignments the instructor requests.

Learning a new language evens the playing field. The course has tenured faculty, administrators, and new faculty just like me who are all stumbling to learn. Admittedly, I know quite a few Spanish language phrases from my days working on the large dairy farms, but none of them are at all useful if I were to travel. I also took four years of French years ago and the two languages are similar. Since the nature of my work continues to globalize, I wanted to view this as a professional development opportunity and as one to keep myself fresh.

If you can and you have the time, space, and permission, I encourage you to seek whatever you can fit in. Free talks on campus, a pottery class at the local shop, good books that aren’t work related, or a splurge on that activity that you know you’ll love, find the way to fit it in. Diversifying my personal arsenal has kept me happy from the inside out. Living and working on a college campus affords us with a lot of great opportunities that are often to the public and free of charge. If you’re reading this and you don’t work for a university, get plugged in and on some email lists. You may find yourself questioning what you know and wanting to know more. I have been lucky to attend seminars on a variety of topics, free concerts and other arts related events, and a host of other free or affordable events.

They keep me thinking, they keep me on my toes, and they keep the “grey matter” growing (or staying grey at least). While we’re halfway through a semester and all feeling fatigued, why not take an hour and do something you want to do that interests your brain?

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An Hour a Day or Bust: Writing

Changing the Writing Game {New Faculty}


The semester is in full swing. I’m trapped. Mostly by grading, but I’ve become paralyzed by something else this fall: writing. My paralysis has been manageable thus far until I looked at my writing goals and realized: I’m three weeks behind. I know how this happened and I know how to fix it.

The semester has got me like **whoa** in a big way. Classes, students, new research projects, and new responsibilities have got me all over the place. In between packing in meetings, class time, prep time for class, and research, I have failed in a big way at WRITING. I have an R&R that needs to get RRRRrddd (revised) and another manuscript that’s been crying for some attention too. In my faculty life before, I could set aside large chunks of time to work on writing, but this semester has me rethinking my current strategy. Even if I have a block of time on my calendar, I can’t devote it to writing. There’s too many other things to do. Don’t get me in the busy contest, I know we’re all busy, but legit tasks to complete.

So, I started something new last week: 1 hour a day devoted to writing. Lo and behold: it worked! I could carve out 50-60 min. each day for some writing. I could allot that amount of time and it felt like it had a start and a finish. I beefed up the lit review on the R&R that has been sitting since August and then moved onto the feedback in the methods section.

I can do one hour a day.

Like exercise, cooking food at home, or any kind of practice, learning how to be a good and prolific writer is going to take some time. I had a lot of luxurious time over the summer but it quickly evaporated once August 24th hit. Since then, I’ve not gained anymore hours in the day either. I allowed myself proper time to wallow, panic, and then to figure out what my next move was.

I share this with you not to gloat, but to say: life is change. 

It can be changing up your writing strategy, switching up your schedule, or trying something new. Whatever it is, if you’re not changing, you’re standing still If I’ve learned nothing in this game it’s that you have to continually adapt. Call it problem solving theory (KAI anyone?), call it a simple life lesson but if you’re not changing, you’re not adapting, and you’re not moving forward. While I think “innovation” is an overused word, changing up my writing habit wasn’t innovative, I’m simply figuring out how to make this work for me. I may get to break and have to change it up again but we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.

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Letting Go of Perfection: Hitting Submit

Hitting Submit {New Faculty}


It’s taken me years now to start to erode away at the perfectionist, imposter, omigod feelings I have about hitting that “submit” button. Almost crippling to a point at some times in my short career.

Submitting a manuscript, a draft, or a conference proposal can be a fear filled, anxiety laden activity, but for some reason, I’ve let it go (cue FROZEN song).

I still read and edit carefully, I write like a good scholar should, but somewhere during my summer trips and my summer writing goals, the fear began to dissipate. I don’t know where it went. Maybe it’s confidence, maybe it’s in the form of “i don’t give a f*^&^” grumpy cat style meme, but somewhere my fear and trepidation began to be replaced by the attitude that I can’t get accepted, I can’t get feedback, and I can’t get published unless I begin by hitting submit. I think it also has to do with the fact that if I’m not pushing things in, I’m not gaining on my CV, my scholarship, or my life in general. Life isn’t measured by pubs, but it does matter in this game.

When I was in grad school, my stats study group and I would meet each week to complete our problem sets. Our university had a saying for football games that was, “push it in, push it in, push it in,” and while probably quite crass, I still say that phrase to myself when I get stuck.

Whatever the underlying reason, I have learned to let go of some of the fear this summer. Whether out of sheer desperation, necessity, or lack of sleep, documents have gone into the queue with less hesitation and less anxiety in general lately. I will say that the conference submission that was due last week also got written the day it was due, so I think it also has to do with the fact that I’m just swamped right now. No time to overthink, only time to work, swim, and sleep.


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Creating Teachable Moments

Teachable Moments {New Faculty}


Much like a lunar eclipse, teachable moments can feel like you’re searching for the needle in that haystack of undergrads. I have the pleasure of reporting on a teachable moment. Why take the time to say “woo-hoo!!!?” Because we need them to keep going. Article acceptances are great, grants are vital, but it truly does boil down to how we interact with our students sometimes. It’s not an every day occurrence for any of us who are scanning the classroom to see if anybody is truly “there” with us.

I have the good fortune of teaching a seminar course about my favorite thing: undergraduate research. So many of our students don’t understand how much research affects them and their every day lives. From the food choices they make, to the smart phones they snapchat on, research is driving their lives. They don’t know what it’s like to not sit in a car seat when they were young. And all of our lives are because of research.

I’m not blowing this out of proportion and the first few weeks of my research class, I encourage students to think about everything they do, the ways they function, and tie it back to research. There’s no better lesson for me than to have students try to come up with things that haven’t been touched by research.

We then move into misconceptions about research, which is where things get real for many of them.

As class was wrapping up, a student was packing their bag and said, “I was watching the news & bc of your class, I can’t watch it the same way anymore.” She picked up what I was putting down and applied it to her real, present life.


While some of you may go “ho-hum, whatever crazy lady,” it was a true win for me. I’m a reflective thinker so it did take me two full days to actually process that nugget and smile to myself (and share on FB), but I couldn’t help myself. I was so excited. My goal for this course is NOT to change their belief system, it’s to make them question it for themselves. It’s tough.

While discussing misconceptions we’ve unpacked the notion that “we aren’t here to change anyone’s mind, we’re here to first find out why they think the way they do.” From big topics like GMO’s and vaccines, to more individualized topics like morality, research has informed us for a long time. Teaching them to conduct ethical, moral, and transparent research is my game.

I may not create another impactful and reflective teachable moment for weeks. I hope I do, but I thought I’d take this Friday to celebrate a personal teaching win.

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Grad School is Your JOB

Grad School is Your Job {New Faculty}


New grad students were treated to a rare sighting last week: the real me. I tend to be work new faculty at work, but last week…oh last week got me good.

We had a half day orientation for our new students and I gave a talk about all of the amazing technology resources this gigantic university has for students. In the midst of my “brain dump,” I said the following:

“grad school isn’t just school. grad school is your job. it will lead you to your next job. if you treat grad school like a job instead of like a frat party or school, you will be more successful.”

Way to ease them in….nothing like a little velvet hammer to rain down on them at 9 .m.

Why did I take out the tough love card? I’ve seen it done both ways now. I’ve seen students who treat grad school like the job before their next job and you know what?

They finish on time.
They’re more focused.
They spend less time wasting time.
They keep their eyes on the prize.
They don’t get mired in everyone else’s bull%*^!!.
They leave their peers in the dust cognitively.

It sounds cruel and believe me, I don’t mean to be cruel (like being mean to a kitten kind of cruel), but I do believe in being honest. We have a few stragglers in our department right now and we had at least one attrition out for a job offer. They all had their reasons but the NUMBER ONE REASON they didn’t persist: they didn’t treat it like a job. They waffled, they lagged, THEY PRODUCED NOTHING for themselves or the department in terms of scholarship. They forgot that grad school was their JOB, not their giant social pool or dating pool.

We guarantee our students three years of funding for phd’s and we have one who lived out their three years, was not done, and was forced to find their own funding elsewhere for their fourth (and hopefully final) year. Instead of being an adult, (cough, cough, this person is in their mid-30’s), they have done nothing but continue to whittle that chip on their shoulder, attend department functions, and COMPLAIN non-stop. It was so bad at the welcome back cookout/picnic, that new grad students said to me, “this student complained about how awful the department was for 20 minutes, do they know how bad that makes them look?”

No. No they don’t. I’d encourage that student to brush their shoulder off to remove the chip, but I don’t think it will work. In their self-righteous arrogance, they forgot why they were here: to get their next job. I watched them get mired in drama, openly admit they’d done nothing on their dissertation, but then put their hand out expecting to be given cart blanche permission to take another year of funding away from a student who was working on the same timeline but on time.

As your new academic year begins and you’re on one side of the desk of the other, please remind your students that grad school is a marathon, that it’s the long race to their next job. If you’re the student know that we’re rooting for you, we want you to succeed. Leave the drama and hit the books. And when things don’t go your way, don’t complain (at least not in front of the people who will dictate your future), call your mom, call your dad, call your granny, call your friends, but stop complaining about us in front of us. There’s a reason you didn’t finish on time and the reason will look back at you in a mirror. (not always but a lot)

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Professional Development: It Works!

Professional Development: It Works! {New Faculty}


As I begin this post, I’m taking a break from a three day long professional development bootcamp that’s offered by my employer. It’s called “Course Design Institute” and is three solid days of nothing but working on your classes.

I’m big on three things:

  • time
  • space
  • permission

Why? This workshop gives me all of those things AND snacks! Professional development doesn’t have to be expensive or hard. Many young faculty think they don’t have time or it won’t be productive but take it from me: setting aside three days to work on my classes is a rare gift that I wouldn’t carve out for myself. I like being able to come to a location, listen to the facilitator, and then have blocks of time to do nothing but work. No one coming by my office. No interruptions of any kind, in fact, almost no one knows where I am. It’s such a great set up that coffee and snacks are provided and so is lunch each day if I want it. It has removed all distractions and given me every creature comfort I could possibly want so I can concentrate on my sole mission: SYLLABI

I planned ahead and even signed up for a Spanish course this fall. It’s once per week, over lunch, and is not going to be a time suck. My university and very generous employer offer this to the faculty on a first-come-first-serve basis and I was super excited to get into the class. It’s an hour I can spare. I’m investing in myself, it’s adding to my CV and it will be a beneficial skill to have.

As you begin a new academic year, take a few minutes and invest in yourself. Professionally speaking, some extra development can be useful to build your skill set, meet new colleagues, and doesn’t have to be expensive or painful.

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Reviewing & Reflecting on My Summer Writing Goals

Summer Writing Goals Revisited {New Faculty}

I set some lofty goals at the beginning of summer. I was diligent in my writing, but also managed to keep time set aside for some summer enjoyment: vacation, the great outdoors, and seeing friends near and far.

I joined a summer writing group in my department that another pre-tenure colleague graciously organized. This helped me get organized, put my thoughts and goals on paper, and then helped me stay accountable. I could reference my sheet anytime to refocus my attention. It was a worthy and successful endeavor.

How did my summer shape up? As I write this, one article has gone out and come back: rejected. Another out and come back: edit. The third: out for review. The fourth article: waiting to be sent due to some politics that were beyond my control (it’s finished, that’s what matters).

Not a bad summer and one I’m quite proud of. It would have been easy to falter, to take lazy afternoons, or to just ignore things altogether, but it really helped me to have it out on paper to see and to check in weekly with the writing group (whoever was available) to say “What did I do this week? What am I doing next week?” I didn’t realize how useful it would be to have to answer those two questions on a regular basis. I see how valuable they can be knowing that someone will be looking at you and asking those things.

The rejection was hard to swallow. It was my first since joining faculty in 2011. It had to happen sometime, but it’s always a bitter pill. I did a lot “right” on that paper but the data just wasn’t good enough. I’m ok with the outcome at this point and am working on the “positives” to keep working on the final manuscripts.

As I print out my syllabi and prepare for the upcoming semester that will bring back teaching, advising, meetings, and committees, I’m going to reign in my writing a bit. I won’t push for four manuscripts over the semester, that’s an unattainable goal at best. We collected some data at the end of July I’d like to get written up and sent out this fall. That seems much more manageable. I’ll also edit and resubmit the article that’s been accepted.

I hope to continue with a check-in group as well. It’s going to be a good challenge for me to see if I can continue with the good habit and see how I can grow it. I have colleagues and friends who are trying to set anywhere from 30 minutes to several hours aside each day for writing. I’d like to start that practice as well to see if it can become a habit. I’m worried that my time will get sucked in other places but will give it a good try. I may opt to stay home to try and write as well. While not as convenient, there’s no one here to bother me. I’ve been sprucing up my place as well, making it more attractive/livable/making use of the space I’m paying good money for. I don’t have an office because I refuse to buy anymore furniture, but I do have the luxury of a quiet space, plenty of coffee, and ambient noise.

Learning how to become a prolific writer is a process for any faculty member, young or old, fresh out of grad school or seasoned veteran. I’m proud for committing to it this summer, following my lofty goals through, and now am excited to make my calendar for fall to do it again.

Have a great first day of class!

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Vacation: A Hard Reboot

Vacation for This Academic {New Faculty}

I took (almost) two weeks for vacation this year. It was great. Seriously.

I went home for a full week. I even extended my stay after being bribed with a Friday night fish fry (duh, easy decision) and stayed another day. The pace of the farm is totally different than the pace of academia. The cows need to be fed, milked, and cared for. The garden needs to be picked, the corn needs to be checked. The hay needs to be mowed, tedded, and raked before being baled, and everything runs on the weather. If it’s going to rain, you work like hell. If it doesn’t rain, you still work like hell. If it’s actually raining, you work on other stuff like there’s no tomorrow. It’s all immediate during the summer. It’s never a waiting game (unless it’s raining).

The pace of the farm suits me. I like the immediate gratification, the constant pace, the feeling of happiness fed calves have, the quiet of the cows when they’re out to pasture and everyone is happy, healthy, and grazing.

I came back to my house and spent a solid day cleaning. Not just cleaning my house, but looking after tasks that have been neglected: cleaning out closets, sorting things, organizing things, and making runs to the local YMCA to rid myself of some of my physical clutter, which made my mental clutter also improve. I had things in piles, but the piles were becoming burdensome to look at. It forced me to look at “my stuff” for a few hours and realize: I have enough. More than enough. Like most Americans, I had more than I needed. I even spent a little time decorating my place. I’ve only lived here for four years and a friend gifted me some corner shelves when he moved. I had put nothing on them, I had not dusted them, they were simply sitting there. I puppysat my friend, Henry, and his puppy mom gave me some beautiful gifts as a “thank you” which went perfectly on them. It motivated me to pretend someone actually lives in this home for more than showers and TV time.

I have made a habit of having a “eat out of my cupboards” every few weeks. Instead of keeping an overstocked pantry of dry/canned goods, I would eat only out of them and not buy any other dry goods. I would allow myself to buy things like fresh eggs and milk because I do consume them every day and in larger quantities. I need to remind myself of the same for my “stuff” in life too: visiting what I do have. I purchased only one “thing” to decorate my shelves, a new flowerpot for some cuttings I brought back from NY, so it’s a useful purchase, not a frivolous one and the cuttings are in it on the shelf.

The same can be said for academia (getting to my long winded point now). I have a skill set. I have a really good one, but it’s often forgot because many of my colleagues share a similar skill set and some have had more years to work on it than I have. I like the gratification of helping, of serving, of observing good things happening. Sometimes, I get bogged down in the tedious waiting game of academia (I have NO patience people) but know it’s a necessary part of the game. The two weeks I spent on vacation satisfied so many levels of my psyche that I was actually sad to go back to work. I spent a whole day in my house not leaving for anything. I colored (you’ve got to get yourself a Johanna Basford coloring book stat), I watched endless things on my apple tv, I actually relaxed. It was a good counter day to the week of busy, the days of cleaning and organizing, and the lull was welcome because the next day, I was back at it. I left the house anyway :)

I could have gone with friends to their lake house during my second week of vacation, but it would not have been good for me. Great people, but 10 kids and six adults for a week would have over stimulated me into a frenzy. Not to mention the additional hours of driving (20+ over a week) were not what I was looking for. I “staycationed” like a boss. I needed the continual schedule disruption and it soothed my soul on many levels. I love the quiet but I covet some good social interactions. I needed a break, but I needed to clear my plate and my head.

I hope you took some time off this year too. I’ve printed my syllabi for fall to begin the process of updating them and grad students will be on campus beginning next week. Summer is OVER, time for the GRIND!

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REJECTED: Coping With a Manuscript Letdown

REJECTED: Manuscript Rejection


It happened. I got rejected. Flat out, on my ass rejected. From a journal. With a resounding “hell no” from all three reviewers.


How to handle? Ice cream. Wine.

How to respond? Get back in the saddle and get writing.

It just so happened that when I forwarded the reviewer comments to my co-authors, one replied with the word “ouch” as well. It always hurts. Whether you’re a new faculty like me or a seasoned veteran (like one of my c0-authors), getting flat-out rejected is kind of like getting kick in the shin by a small child when you weren’t expecting it.

However, here’s the big idea: rejection happens in academia.

I’d been very lucky. I’d gone four years without a single manuscript rejection so I knew I was running on borrowed time. If I get anymore this year, my tiny ego might actually need some melted cheese, but I can handle anything else, even if it’s rejected but make edits and we’ll accept it. I’m not a perfect researcher, it’s an impossible goal, but I know I can always get better. That’s the goal, to get better.

So, while I’d like to give you some resounding nugget of advice here, the best I can do is tell you to try not to get too sensitive about it, read the comments, find the good things, and move forward.

My positive comments were about my APA citations, something I had been working on, and the tightness of my writing. Both things that I work hard at. The things they didn’t like can be fixed for future submissions. Maybe the data wasn’t appropriate for their scope, maybe I did do it all wrong, but I can’t keep crying over that spilled milk, especially when there’s two more manuscripts on my desk that need to go out before classes begin.

Cheer up! The old saying may be “publish or perish” but I haven’t died yet, just put one manuscript to bed. FOREVER!!

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How I Did It: My Summer Writing Schedule

My Summer Writing Schedule {New Faculty}

Everyone works differently. Everyone plans differently. Everyone’s brain is wired a little differently.

That’s my disclaimer on this post. If you read it and decide it doesn’t work for you, that’s fine.

The handy, dandy picture is the actual word doc I made myself when summer writing group began. I edited it this week to reflect some new deadlines and may have blacked out people’s names or identifiers if working with minors. IRB baby. Gotta keep those nice folks at IRB happy.

You can click on the graphic to get a better idea of how I paced myself and how I managed my time. I’d like to take a TV TIME OUT to note a few things:

1. Prioritizing travel first. If you have conferences coming up or you know there will be a commitment, mark it down at the beginning.

2. Don’t fool yourself into thinking you’ll get “all this work done” while traveling. Seriously. Just tell yourself you’re going to enjoy yourself and anything you can get done is like earning bonus points on that game you love to play.

3. See that lovely word “vacation” in there? SEE IT NOW!!!!! I was very generous and gave myself TWO WHOLE WEEKS OFF this year. A landmark amount of vacation. I’ll be checking in on email but for the most part, I plan to do a whole lot of anything that’s “not work” for those two weeks. I plan to have two more manuscripts drafted and waiting for final edits/read throughs, and formatting for the journals they’ll be going to.

4. I had other things to do besides write. I wanted to streamline it for myself. If it gets too cluttered, it makes my eye twitch. So, I stuck with my writing goals on this document. Data analysis is also on there since it’s moving toward manuscript land.

5. Things to remember: I have not worked a weekend all summer. Let us all just say AMEN! I’ve worked to feel less guilty. It’s a slow process. S L O W……

6. Personal goals are always good reminders. I prioritize things like swimming and doing things I neglect. Seeing them every day is helpful.

7. I added the fourth manuscript only recently since I realized that I’ll have data to begin analyzing. The word “long” next to it means it’s a long term project and a manuscript will NOT be submitted by the time classes begin. That’s unrealistic and not happening, even in academic fantasy land.

Last, but not least, I hope that it can help you map out your own writing goals. The four of us who participated in writing group over the summer each plotted our course differently. Some used Excel, another used pen/paper, I used Word. There’s really no right or wrong way to do this, but holding yourself accountable is the most important thing. I color coded mine with highlighters, making each manuscript a different color to help organize myself. It helped me see which paper I was spending more or less time on.

This will begin to look very different when I work up something for the semester. It will not be this ambitious because I’m teaching two classes. That alone will handicap my writing in more ways than one. I will likely set a goal to finish data analysis and begin writing so I can finish and submit my next manuscript over the long break. It will also be submission season for conferences during fall, so that will consume my time as well.

May the odds be ever in your favor as you map  your goals. I know summer is winding down for us nerds but the new batch of freshman will be on campus before you know it!

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