Monthly Archives: April 2012

Guarding my time

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As the spring semester winds to a close, I’m a bit ashamed, sad, and excited to admit: I’ve become one of “THOSE” faculty members.  I close the door, I ignore emails and phone calls, I hide out at home when I need unsolicited quiet time.  I’m guarding my time the way the royal guard looks after Buckingham Palace.  As I polish this post, I’ve closed myself in my office and at home now for the last two days, only going to campus for meetings and obligations.  My email is backlogged (just like everyone else’s) and I sort of feel like I’m merely putting out fires.  I may need a vacation. Correction: I need a vacation. I saw a few articles this week about overworked America and working 40 hours a week and wondered what would happen if I stopped working for a few days–NOTHING?  I can’t seem to get any work done.  The old “do you have a minute?” or “I just have a quick question” have taken over my life, my soul, and are inhibiting me from getting what I need to get done: WORK!!! Quite frankly, it’s making me a little nuts.

To compound my sad sally state: my wrist and eyes are killing me–two sure signs that I’ve been spending way too much time in front of the screens that are ruining my eyesight and hands.  SERENITY NOW!!!

In the end, it’s me and my attitude, but I am looking forward to the semester ending.  As I wrap up my first full semester as a new faculty, it’s time to take stock in what I’ve been doing well and what could use some work.  Here we go!

What’s gone well:

  • amazing opportunities that have come along for the ride such as other grant proposals, teaching, advising, networking, and travel
  • working with some of my favorite groups of people: teachers and students
  • publications
  • an offer to write some chapters in a book for a major publishing company
  • creating a great network of professionals for guidance and working to maintain positive relationships with others

What needs work:

  • stepping away, turning it off, unplugging from work for longer periods of time
  • taking a real vacation (a half day on Friday does not count)
  • writing- it will always need work
  • graduate student interactions-those started off rocky but improved over the semester
  • saying NO and not feeling guilty to the point where i’m hiding out in my office 🙂
  • ending immediate response. people can wait, i wait for them all of the time
  • send less email….

As a new faculty, how do you reflect on what’s going well and what needs work?  What benchmarks do you set for yourself?  How do you carve out your time for putting work aside and enjoying life?

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Faculty just don’t understand

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“Dr. Drape, you just don’t understand what it’s like to be 22 and having to decide between happiness and money.” Ha! What a week–And may I add: what a difference a decade makes.  Weekly meetings went well this week and I suspect to be getting some great final projects from students. As we wrapped up a meeting this past week, I engaged the student on his job search and how it was going.  He has two great offers from two very different areas of his interest and degree area.  One is with a big software development company on the west coast, the other is funded through a government grant program that would work on making cars safer in crashes.  As he verbalized the thoughts going through his head, he kept having the same argument that many of us have: for love or money? This student was consumed by the almighty dollar sign and in his millennial upbringing I was not surprised.  What I was surprised by was the fact that he knew he should pick the job with lower pay but with more challenge.  He had ZERO excitement in his voice when he talked about the position out west with the big company.  No excitement, no smile, in fact he sighed when he talked about it.  His shoulders dropped, and he returned to the fact that he needed a new car and wanted to buy a house.  I countered and asked him, “will you be happy with a car and a house if you’re stuck in a cube writing code all day?”

There were several things about this conversation that stuck out in my mind.

  1.  Does this student think that I was never his age, graduating from my undergrad, and having to find a job?
  2.  How much money does this kid think I make?  Let me share with you: it’s not much!
  3. What is driving decisions?  Just money?  Clearly this young man wanted to follow his heart, but the number on the piece of paper that was being dangled in front of him like a carrot to the horse was so alluring and intoxicating.  I fear for this guy.  He will either sink or swim.
  4. Who is guiding these young graduates?  I know I’ve mentioned this troubling thought I keep having, but on the flip side of the coin, you can’t reason with a 22 year old very often if I remember correctly.

In the end, I tried not to ‘mom’ him to death and shared that I had once done all of those things and that in the end, I wound up choosing happiness and taking a cut in pay. I hope that he finds happiness in whatever job or career he ends up in.

As a new faculty, how do you advise students?  Which part of your brain do you think with when working with them?  Do you keep it all business and not get to know them?

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One hour, one task

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This blog from the Harvard Business Review caught my eye as I siphoned through my backlog of emails, google reader feeds, and other assorted outlets where I receive information.  I had been in a bit of a slump lately, unable to focus, going haywire on different things, sitting/standing in front of my computer for several hours with little to show for it.  It was frustrating because there were days when I could (and can) get ‘in the zone’ for hours and other days where anything shiny catches my eye and leads me towards it.  I had done well focusing my time since January, but this slump seems to have hit pretty hard.  It might also be due to the fact that now that data collection is done and students will  soon leave for summer, the writing begins.  Writing is my least favorite part….I do it begrudgingly and like how it turns out in the end, it’s just getting there that’s tough for me!

As a new faculty, we sometimes chalk it up to writers block or just an ‘off’ day, but some of the trouble may come because we’re trying to do too much at once.  Trying to answer everyone’s emails between student meetings mixed with article searching and perusing the latest RFP’s from different funding agencies has got me all tied up. Mashable has a nice infographic on what we waste our time on. Is this the nature of work now? Multi-tasking even though sound research says our brains really aren’t equipped to be able to do it for long periods of time? The three points below were taken from the blog post to serve as a gentle reminder of how we can make our work fit into the biology of how we work.

1. Do the most important thing first in the morning, preferably without interruption, for 60 to 90 minutes, with a clear start and stop time. I have started the day with email replies and then whatever task I dread the most.  I work best in the mornings and find it prudent to do the thing I dread the most first so when my attention wains later in the day, I can work on other less time sensitive or heavy thought activities.

2. Stop demanding or expecting instant responsiveness at every moment of the day. I have cut way back on email at night. For good reason and for selfish reasons. Unless it truly is urgent or an emergency, it can wait. I have shut off email on weekends and separated what email account gets business vs. research vs. pleasure/life messages.

3. Encourage renewal. Having the gym at my disposal, along with miles of great trails, and other activities that are super affordable or free is a real plus to working on a college campus.

4. Take real and regular vacations. Real means that when you’re off, you’re truly disconnecting from work. Regular means several times a year if possible, even if some are only two or three days added to a weekend. The research strongly suggests that you’ll be far healthier if you take all of your vacation time, and more productive overall.

While I don’t agree  with everything in the blog from HBR, it did make one thing crystal clear: the pace was catching up with me.  I changed up my routine a bit for a change of scenery and have split my time between my work office and home office so I can get things done in uninterrupted amounts of time.  One of the luxuries of my job is that no one cares where I get the work done, as long as it gets done.

I also gave myself time limits and chunked off one hour to look for articles, then another for skimming articles, and so on.  Obviously some things require more than one hour at a time, but the brain dictated the schedule. Of the list presented, the only one I haven’t gotten to yet is the vacation…hopefully soon!

How do you parse out your time as a new faculty?  What do you wish you could be doing to be more efficient with your time?  What advice would you share with someone about to begin their first job?

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Keeping your CV ‘so fresh, so clean’


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Outkast came to mind when I ran across an article regarding the dreaded CV and keeping it updated. I’ve been in a bit of a funk about mine lately, it was clunky, ugly, too much about my GRA, and I (like all other new faculty) had failed to update it since assuming my post in this new job.

Needless to say, it was time to get my CV looking a bit fresher, cleaner, and more streamlined. I had been fortunate to get an article accepted, another successfully submitted, and added some other sweet things to my professional experience–a good problem to have.

I’ve read 100 blog posts, articles online, asked colleagues, friends, and the guy at the grocery store but everyone’s got a different recommendation on formatting, layout, look, font size, the lines, footers, headers, etc…. basically, it’s a free for all.

I emailed some trusted colleagues and requested theirs. Why? Because I know they do good work. I also shared my updated version with them once it was done. The collegiality of these folks amazes me and while it shouldn’t, we did survive  go through grad school together, I consider these folks my colleagues and friends.  They were very obliging and I took what they sent, what I had on file from being on faculty searches, and some other tidbits and re-worked mine.

As a new faculty, it’s hard to go through a CV because in all honesty, there’s not much there. It’s hard to ‘start over’ academically speaking when you’ve had some really great and relevant experience in your previous life.

What advice would you give a new faculty in order to keep their CV in order?  How do you keep your CV so fresh, so clean?

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A 40 hour week-does it exist?

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I had a good chat with my mom the other day on the phone.  She asked how I was doing and I commented that now that data collection was over for the last few weeks of the semester, there were some loose ends to tie up, but I was lucky to be able to head home around 3-4 p.m. for a change of scenery.  Her reply: “you should get a second job.” ****sigh*****

I think in the communication I failed to mention that while I don’t work near as hard as my parents do, my dad is up around 4 a.m. to head to the barn to get the cows milked, my work doesn’t end just because I leave the office. I also failed to say that this ‘honeymoon’ was temporary, that I was just relishing in the fact that I wasn’t on the road until evening news time. This will last about one more day and then I’ll be back at it. It got me thinking though…..What if we only worked 40 hours a week in academia?  What if we could take vacation when we wanted/needed too? (outside of the teaching semesters) Wouldn’t that be GREAT?????  The article from Fast Company states that employees can be more productive when there’s not all that counting and allocating going on and the ones who take advantage of the system don’t stay with the company long.  Hmmmm, are they on to something here?

I saw read a blog post about something similar and it got me thinking. Back in the day when I was teaching, it was easy to leave work there, I left the school building.  While I was guilty of entering grades and searching for new content from home, the nature of my former job in 6-12 education required me to leave work at work.  Bringing a welder, rabbit, or a flat of greenhouse plants home really wasn’t a feasible option at the time.  I’ve become very guarded with my time since and have learned to work for more work-life integration and balance. I don’t think a perfect, harmonious balance exists, but I’ve made strides to it.  My professional identity and my personal identity do get muddled up and intertwined, but I think that’s the nature of being human.  We identify with our work and our home life because those are the two things that make us feel valued.

I’m very guilty of reading and answering email at night–it pops up, I get too compulsive and open it.  On weekends: I turn it off–I ask my iPhone to simply NOT download it.  It’s really delightful. I’m guilty of spending time on the computer in the evenings–for a while, it was every night until 9 p.m. or so–reminded me of being a grad student.  Only after some looks and comments from PIC did that behavior cease. As a new faculty–or an old faculty–the idea of working only 40 hours a week is a myth.  I don’t care what anyone says about having a ‘cushy office job’ (a term my dad used once as my sister was complaining about getting her first wrinkles–she bartends at an outside bar on the beach and is exposed to lots of sunshine) it’s still a job.  It’s a damn hard one.  While I may not sprout any sun wrinkles this year (I have sprouted my first laugh line-better than a frown line), I know I’ve worked hard when my eyes are hazy and my brain is numb and I’ll do almost anything to get out of the haze.  After a few hours of ‘doing something else’ I’m refreshed and ready to get back to work, perhaps that’s why I’m ready to read/answer emails again after supper time.  I’ve worked out, eaten, talked to PIC, perhaps taken in the news or some DVR, and my brain is ready to jump start again.

As a new faculty, the notion of a 40 hour work week is a distant memory.  Far be it for me to tell you how much to work, when to work, or how to do it, but as you begin your new venture, be wise and learn from this post–guard your time closely (if you’re not already doing it), keep those most important people around you close and seek their feedback.  A glance is just a glance, but it can say so much. How do you allocate your time?  What cues do you take from yourself or others to know it’s time to step back and stop working? What advice would you have for other young/new faculty?

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Like a screen door on a submarine

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I took my first ‘official’ day off from work. It would have felt great.  But I was sick. Legit sick.  It was gross.  I was supposed to be having a delightful weekend at the lake w/ my family–my parents had flown in from the north, my sister had driven in from the east, and I had wandered south.

Instead: I got sick. Who doesn’t hate getting sick?  I’ve never met anyone who started coming down with a cold and went “YEESSSS, I CANNOT WAIT TO FEEL EVEN WORSE!!!” I knew it when I woke up that day. My throat was burning, I was running a slight fever, and my face was filling up. Fast. My first day off and I was a hot mess.

So, you’re thinking: “duh–that’s what sick days are for, being sick dummy.”  You’re oh-so-correct.  But I have to say, one of the things I had looked forward to for WEEKS was knowing that I was going to take a long weekend and spend it doing fun things like kayaking with my sister.  Perhaps my excitement was pre-mature since I haven’t actually had any ‘sick’ days in a bank in four years.  I was like a child the night before Christmas.  I was REAL excited.

Instead, my excitement turned into a glazed over look.  The next morning, my mom announced that she wanted to go hike some mountain to stare at some waterfall and I looked at her and told her there was no way I was in any kind of shape for hiking–literally or figuratively.  My head felt large and in charge, my throat was still burning, and I had slept terribly from my head cold’s ability to move all the junk from side to site but never being able to breathe.

I won: there was no hiking.  My dad chimed in after my first ‘call to surrender’ that he didn’t really want to hike either, he didn’t feel like it.  I told him, “you’re welcome” and he laughed at me.

Now, I wasn’t all gloom and doom and yes, I handle colds with the best of them, but hiking a mountain in search of a waterfall seemed like more effort than I wanted to exert.  Instead, we kayaked, canoed, fished, and I dumped my mom out of the canoe. I have no balance and think I’d fail a roadside sobriety test after a cup of coffee.  It was a delightful weekend overall.  The cold just made it impossible to breathe.

The moral of the story: take a sick day.  Take two if you can spare them. As a new faculty–you’re going to 1. earn them and 2. need them. Like oxygen. Know when to throw in the towel for some R&R. I have no plans for the upcoming weekends.  My weekend at the lake, along with spring travel, and other commitments had me gone and on the road for almost three weeks straight with small 3-4 day stop overs at home to do laundry, re-pack, and hit the trail again. While these experiences were all valuable and I really loved seeing my family–I am exhausted.  The cold has only compounded this issue.

Last week, I had said something to PIC about going to the small city nearby to eat some food, go play guitars at the local guitar shop, and perhaps spend a nice day out.  This week: I no longer want to get in the car and travel. Anywhere. I can play the guitars at our house.  We are both good enough cooks that we can manage a ‘restaurant like meal’ from our own kitchen.  I’d rather put roots down on my couch.

I’m thankful that my department and my supervisor value me enough to look at me and say, “go home, you sound like Snuffleupagus and look like death.”  Those were the kindest words I’d heard all day. I’m also thankful that no one is breathing down my neck and making me punch a time card.  My circadian clock has me up and working around 7 a.m.–answering emails, taking care of business, making early calls but around 3 p.m. I’m as useless as a screen door on a submarine.  My mind wanders, I cannot focus, and truth be told, I’m not maximizing anyone’s research or institutional dollars. It’s probably good that I’ve been heading out to sites to collect data around this time–something different for my brain to focus on.

I negotiated this term though.  Reflecting on my own job search, I do remember asking if I would be required to punch a clock, be micromanaged, or anything of the like.  The answer I received was comforting.  With technology, family, and integrating work/life balance, working from home is a viable option for me and I’m left to design my own schedule.  I appreciate that about this position and my employer. Perhaps this is another resounding request to negotiate your way to a position. I have friends who have to go in at 8 a.m. and sit there until 5 p.m.–yuck.

I am eternally grateful for my position, my understanding and flexible employer, and the opportunities it comes with. As a new faculty, it’s easy to get buried in details, get bogged down my deadlines, and feel as though you’re drowning in a sea of problems you created for yourself. Burn out is high and the rewards feel small more times than they feel large.  Before you get to the ‘useless as a screen door on a submarine’ stage–take a sick day. Take some time for you. Everyone around you will appreciate it, especially if you don’t sound like a snuffleupagus anymore. 😀

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GRA hiring–like the NBA draft (NOT!)

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As a new faculty, you may or may not get afforded with the ability to choose your own graduate students.  This can be a blessing and a curse.  If you’re reading this and you were a new faculty once upon a time–you know what I’m about to say.

I started my position mid-year and was gifted some graduate students.  And gifts they have been!

Ranging from the super awesome to the super stressful, it’s been a real learning curve this spring.  As the semester wraps up here at “fill in the blank university” I’m going to be taking some time to reflect on what I did and didn’t do, and work on more of a plan to make things smoother for fall.  I certainly was not error free in my dealings with graduate students this spring, but I was also in for some surprises, particularly when one informed me that he refused to work for me/respect me because I was a female. That one threw me off a bit.

On the other side of the coin, I had some of the hardest working, diligent, and respectful graduate students one could ask for as well.  Always happy to give me a hand, never complaining, but always seeking constructive feedback. I am grateful for these students.

In the process, we decided to turn over at least one position (as of post date) and after announcing that we had a position, applications, emails, and requests started coming ‘out of the woodwork.’ (sort of like a county fair but for grad students).  I’ve been the proud recipient of emails and questions ranging from “how much more will I make than my current GRA” to “will I actually have to work in this assistantship or will it just be work when I feel like it?” PIC and I have had some laughs at these unknowing students’ expense. On the flip side, I’ve also received extremely professional packets and informative packets that will rise to the top.

As a new faculty, it’s been a hard lesson to learn.  I knew of this message, but had ignored it.  No one else will work like I do. No one else will keep the hours I do.  No one else has the same set of personal/professional circumstances that I do.  While I’ve tried to be sympathetic, empathetic, and professional with students, there comes a point when everyone sits down and says, “this isn’t working and here’s why.” There’s also a point where you stop communicating with the person who doesn’t see doing work as part of their job and you cease funding them and only tell them via email because they have failed to show up for any kind of “work” in over a month.  The graduate student brain is a complex one and while Jorge Chan makes light of it, some of the communications I’ve received have been nothing less than ‘cringe worthy.’  Get over yourself young scholars, you’re in grad school, not a Rhodes Scholar (some of you may actually BE Rhodes Scholars–to you I say ‘congrats!’).  A healthy amount of ego is just that, healthy.  Too much ego makes you come across as a pig.  There’s also the point when you sit down and say, “we love you, please stay with us forever….” and those are always the better conversations to be having.

Who do I want to hire?  I’ve got my short list based on some paper applications, but in all honesty, I want to hire someone who will work hard, learn the content and the knowledge necessary, and be open to the process of learning and working hard.  I’ve said learning and working hard twice in one sentence.  See where I’m headed?  Some basic pre-requisite skills will be needed, but I’ll take a really hard worker any day over some over-blown, know-it-all. No matter how the hiring process rolls out, here’s my short list of things I need to start doing.

  • be more like I was when I was teaching middle/high school–aim high with professionalism to start, then begin to warm up later
  • stop being nice and accommodating all of the damn time.  yes, if you can believe it, i was much more lenient than i wanted to be this spring b/c i was the ‘new girl’ in town
  • set high expectations so if they are not totally reached, the GRA’s will still come within range
  • be realistic-everyone has a life outside of work and so do i
  • meet once per week with these students. coffee, tea, no drinks, whatever–the regular check-in must commence once again.
  • stop being so hard on myself–seriously–i’m my worst enemy and i project that on others

As a new faculty, how have you handled your paid students?  What suggestions do you have in handling difficult GRA’s and how do you continue to reward GRA’s who are awesome?

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The whimsy of an undergrad

I meet with students each week.  Some undergrad, some graduate, all checking in on projects, coursework, sometimes life in general.  I really enjoy my weekly meetings with students.  It might be one of my favorite parts of the week.  I enjoy hearing about what they think about life things, politics, and whatever else comes out of their mouth.  I also like to try and steer them to think bigger about issues, challenge them to think critically about the economy and state of work they’re trying to enter, and think realistically instead of being whimsical about things.

This week was not short of whimsy.  I have several undergrads who are working on a project for me.  They are super students and I am confident, each will do very well upon graduating.  I met one-on-one with one of them and after we finished discussing the project, I asked, “how’s your other stuff going?  Classes?  Job searching?” (student is graduating in May).  This student is a typical 22 year old–talented, smart, intelligent, with just enough common sense to help him out.  But as I was talking to him, one sentence stuck out: “after graduation, i think i’ll just travel for a while and tell whoever i get a job with that i’ll start later on in the fall.” Huh?

While I usually entertain all of my students thoughts and ideas, this one was too good to pass up.  On one hand I thought, “hey, i’m jealous, i’d love to just travel for a few months without a care and ‘check out new places’ (as he put it) for a while” while the other half of my brain screamed, “WHAT? you’d sacrifice a job just to travel with no income and no possibility of securing another position?”  Oh, the joys of being 22…..These are millennials.  I can’t forget this.  They think big, see the world as a big space, and have been raised to think that the world is their oyster.  I have to wonder: do they ever watch the news, look online, or wake up in the real world?   This student had forgotten that the economy still wasn’t strong, that unemployment was still rather high, and that his demographic was moving home without a job at a higher and higher rate.

Yes, you know which half of my brain won–the side screaming.  I pointed out that in this economy, waiting that long, if an offer was in hand, might not be the best course of action.  He asked me why–I told him that there were 100 others out there who could start tomorrow, that if he worked hard for a while, he could go on his trip using paid vacation days, that having a lapse in employment might not work in his favor, and about five other reasons.  He listened, which I appreciated, and then said, “you know, no one has ever talked to me about this stuff, you’ve got a point.”  I didn’t pat myself on the back, but instead thought: why isn’t anyone else coaching these seniors?  Where are their parents?  Their academic advisors? Their peers? Their senior seminar?

As a new faculty, I had to be mindful of my comments, but bold with them at the same time.  Since this student could not identify anyone else in his life that was helping him (I believe he has good people who are helping him though), I felt as though it was appropriate to shed some light for him.  The hour ended up being productive from a work standpoint and it helped me solidify my relationship with him.  I may have scared him to death, but I hope that I was able to give him some insight on what the real world is like and how to start in it upon graduation.

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Being more formal in an informal world

I’ve never been much for title’s.  Dr., Mrs., Ms., Mr., Ph.D., M.D., M.B.A., O.M.G. But titles are often viewed as a sign of respect and the fact that you’ve earned.  When I was teaching, my students called me Ms…..and now that I’m on faculty again, I’m not sure of what to have the students (or anyone) address me as.  It’s an odd paradigm.  I’m surrounded by other folks who’ve earned the same degree and the custom varies.

With age, many of my colleagues look more like doctors.  What does a doctor look like?  I honestly have no idea.  But I know that I don’t fit the physical mold.  Why?

  • I look too young.  I will own my age, but thankfully, I don’t quite look like my age (*yet*). This point also goes into things like stereotypes and other thoughts that I don’t wish to expand on just yet.
  • I just finished my degree.  I’m still having a hard time with my own comfort in this new skin.
  • I’m around all sorts of folks all day: from undergrads, to grad students, to teachers, to other faculty, to support staff….I prefer my first name, but then realized that some, like the undergrads, may perceive this as too friendly or informal.
  • Society still has issues with formalities and it’s getting worse.  I also don’t want anyone to turn their nose at me just because I chose to pursue my education.  Does being perceived as ‘equal’ in some circles mean I’m going to have to sacrifice ‘showing my education?’ shucks!

So, I’m still left with the question…..What do other new faculty do?

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