Monthly Archives: May 2012

Academia like Disney World: hurry up & wait


Academia reminds me of Disney World: hurry up and wait. Going to Disney World as a child, my mom had us up at the crack of dawn to get to the parks early to get in line for the ‘good rides’ so we could take advantage of them before the crowd hit. While my mom is an extreme vacationer, she wasn’t wrong–the parks have new programs that you can pay for to get line bumped and offer deals during the ‘off season’ to entice folks to populate the parks for revenue. It’s still about the hurry up and wait. “Hurry, book your trip now!” Wait six months to save the money to afford the flights to go. “Hurry, offer ends soon!” Wait, we shouldn’t pull the kids out of school. “Hurry, you’ll miss the rides that we’re shutting down to renovate.” Wait, my child isn’t even tall enough to ride those rides, he/she is still in a stroller.

Before I get too far, I have to confess: I freakin’ love Disney World. No, Disney isn’t compensating me to write this or there’s no endorsement deal. I don’t have kids either. Childless by choice. Society thanks me ūüôā

Back to the point. Academia=Disney World. Bear with me.

In academia, you go to grad school. You finish/quit/resign from whatever you’re doing. Grad school admissions are often slow, drawn out, and when you get notification: BAM! Pack it, quit it, re-route it, move it, and voila–you’re in grad school.

You get to grad school and hop on the merry go round or should I say, spin the wheel. Coursework moves along, assistantship work also moves, but oh wait–research. Hurry up and wait…….shucks. You read, synthesize, and form questions. Then, your advisor goes back through and butchers them appropriately. More waiting….I had the good fortune of a fantastic advisor and grad program, but there was still waiting involved. Mostly from my other committee members. Heck, I had to finish a semester late because I couldn’t corral my committee on the same day so I could defend. My border collie, Molly, couldn’t even round ’em up like she does at the farm. If a trained dog can’t, who can? Good grief!

Job hunting. Let’s say a few things about the ‘new’ economy. It totally sucks. It eats your soul. It makes you emotionally eat triggering more bad feelings. When you look at the file of ‘jobs you’ve applied for’ and the number tips over 50, you evaluate your life choices. Thanks ‘new’ economy. I hate you.

You land a job. Hurry up! Make a decision! Negotiate! Wait: you have lost all of your negotiating power thanks to the ‘new’ economy. It should be the ‘ewwww’ economy. You negotiate what you can and sign on the dotted line.

Deadlines, journal articles, collaborations, and grant proposals also fall into the dreadful category as well. You hurry up when RFP’s are released, you hurry up to write to send your piece of an article to your collaborators, and you scramble like an egg to submit to a conference by 11:59 p.m. EST and then WAIT.

Academia is just like Disney World. I’m still waiting for Mickey Mouse and Cinderella. Don’t burst my bubble and remind me they won’t be waiting for a photo op while I eat my Mickey Mouse shaped ice cream chipwich.

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The summer **sigh** of relief


The college town where I live let out a large ‘exhale’ the day after graduation. I could feel it….A week after, once all of the stragglers packed up their cars and u-hauls, the town let out a ***sigh**** the size of the football stadium. So have I. While at yoga this week, the instructor, who is also a full professor, was also observing the collective sigh that the town makes once the majority of students leave for the summer. ¬†Don’t get me wrong, there’s tons of summer classes, camps, and other events but for the most part, the place returns to a beautiful, idyllic, town….The faculty finally emerge from their offices to head out for a meal, take time to say hello to folks, and aren’t answering emails on their smart phones at a vapid pace. ¬†While at lunch with some other faculty, we all ran into at least a dozen faculty that we knew. ¬†Everyone waits for the students to leave so they can sit, eat, and chat at a more leisurely pace without interruption. The faculty smile again and it’s not a forced “Don’t make me listen to this student for longer than five minutes” smile, it’s a genuine grin of “I’ve emerged from under my pile of grading, let’s make it a long lunch” smile.

Something else has happened. I’ve started sleeping again. Truth time: I’m wound a little tight. ¬†This semester was nothing short of twists and turns with my work, my students, and my least favorite thing: grants. Having started this job before graduating, the transition was also immediate so it took me a while to get my brain caught up to my professional responsibilities. I’m happy to report that the two are in sync (no, not the boy band) and a harmonious balance has emerged. After submitting the last large report to the funding agency, hearing the reports from the external evaluation folks, and settling on the unresolved issues, I started sleeping again. I usually sleep ok, but during the semester, seven hours is the norm and I’m up with the sun, no matter the day. I call it “survival mode.” Good for watching bad Saturday tv, not good for much else. My boss is headed abroad for a fancy faculty trip that he was chosen for–lucky guy–and when asked what I should do for him while gone, his advice included the following statement, “take it easy, keep the fires going, answer anything you want or ignore it, you need a break.” ¬†THANK YOU BOSS…. ūüėÄ

I don’t know if it was the finality of finishing the reports and other business or hearing those words that clicked for me, but whatever it was, I slept on it. I’ve been sleeping like a champion–9-10 hours a night. Apparently, I was in a deficit. ¬†I know it won’t last, but while it does, I’m going to enjoy it. ¬†I will take care of business the next few weeks and maintain my life, but I won’t be in such a rush to get out of the door in the morning, I won’t be reading emails at 11 p.m., and I most certainly WILL be rolling back over and sleeping for an extra hour. The frenetic pace will be back, I can always count on that, but I will enjoy the luxurious gift of sleep and some extra time while it lasts…..

As a new faculty, I know I need the time, the space, the renewal and before I go all “yoga” on you, I’ll stop right there. ¬†You know you need it too! Go enjoy yourself! Take a day, take a week, take a break, and enjoy your week!

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Quality of life in academia


I have a good friend who is married with a child who is now middle school age. ¬†For years, his wife was trying to get hired full time as a ¬†teacher in the local county system. ¬†She started out as a substitute, moved up to part time, and last year, was hired full-time. ¬†A dream come true for her. ¬†Her husband, my friend, supported this–not just because he is a good man but he loved that his wife was so happy and doing what she was passionate about.

We were chatting the other day and as we wrapped up ‘business’ the conversation turned to family and life outside of work. ¬†He made some comments to me that really got me thinking for a few reasons. ¬†His main point was this,”I love that my wife is so happy and while it’s easier to pay some bills, I can’t say that our quality of life has improved.” ¬†I asked why-not just to be nosey, but because it’s usually been just me going through life. ¬†While I was married many years ago, I was very young and naive, two reasons that I’m not married anymore so I value and respect any wisdom I can get from someone who has worked very hard at his marriage in a true partnership. I also asked because in the event that I get married, it is always good to glean information from those you trust.

Back to asking why? His answer was simple: “we eat out more, we’re both exhausted, our son gets on our nerves even quicker and it’s not just his age, it is nice to pay bills faster but I don’t know if it’s been worth it for our family. It just feels like we’re existing and shuffling our son around without taking really good time to do things and enjoy life. ¬†Neither of us have any energy on weekends to do those things. I would NEVER ask my wife to stop, she loves it and I don’t mind bearing more responsibility, but I think we’re going to have to re-assess everyone’s work schedules once the academic year is over.” ¬†Truth and honesty. I really appreciated it and found a new respect for my friend at that moment. ¬†He was honest and vulnerable because he needed to say it out loud and knew I would never judge him or his life. He and his wife work really hard at their marriage and do the best they can for their child. It was eye opening to hear him say that more money didn’t mean more happiness, in fact it was leading to less happiness. I’ve read the research and seen the statistics, but to hear it was different. No, he doesn’t want his wife home baking cookies, he celebrates her success and dreams, supporting her, but his exhaustion was undeniable.

As a new faculty, I wonder about the quality of my own life. ¬†There are some luxuries that come with being a faculty. ¬†Better parking, no set office/work hours that you have to be there as long as the work gets done, benefits, decent salary, and flexibility are just a few. ¬†However, with those things come other expectations. ¬†Publishing and grant writing are the two that come to mind first–that is backwards to me as I type it because teaching and the students should be first, but they have been replaced by the almighty dollar.

I haven’t even mentioned home life. ¬†What home life? ¬†Work to live or live to work? ¬†I have spent a great deal of time and energy in learning how to ‘turn off’ once I get home. From the very literal sense of turning off my email push notifications on all electronic devices to ignoring work from after 7 p.m. ¬†Yes, I am guilty of not sending emails at midnight, due in part to the fact that I’m in bed, but also because there has to be balance for me. I can compartmentalize but like any good junkie, sometimes I fall off the wagon.

Living with someone helps immensely. ¬†There are things that we like to do, brain rotting TV we like to watch together, places we go as a pair, and sometimes that person serves as a gentle reminder that is might be time to stop working. ¬†It’s never harsh or mean in tone, but a look or a simple request goes a long way. It’s only at this point in my life that I’ve learned to recognize the reminder and it’s something I’m still working on.

As a new faculty, how would you rank your quality of life on a likert type scale of 1-5 with one being awful and five being amazing?  Why would you give it that rating? What would you tell other new faculty and what advice would you offer them to help improve their quality of life?

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The smell of academia


“Ooo,oo, that’s smell! That smell is all around you!”

Academia as a first year faculty smells.  Sometimes really good and sometimes really bad.

–a list by New Faculty

Things that smell rosey:

  • free food–i don’t care what any other new faculty says, the ‘free food’ gene lasts forever…..and you’re never ‘too good’ for it.
  • the smell of home when you finally get there and can stay for longer than 20 minutes and dare i add: sit/lay on your couch
  • Spring–when you can open your windows, or better yet, leave the office
  • new books–don’t deny, academics love books
  • old books–don’t deny, academics love old, stinky books too. you can smell the knowledge….or idiocy ;~)
  • coffee–fake energy smells great!
  • happy hour-let’s face it, you made it through another week, you deserve it. now, go pick your poison
  • publications–no explanation needed
  • syllabus’ hot off the copier–smell the work you put into a course, breathe deeply
  • students learning–while the actual smell might not be that great, the learning is sweet. ¬†your nose may disagree. i’ve had students who bathe in cologne of foreign, manufactured smells and students who fail to bathe and i can smell them walking down the hall as i say a small prayer they’re not heading to my office. ¬†then i hear the ‘knock, knock’ *d’oh!*
  • breaks/vacations/student move out–let’s not deny that there is something wildly hilarious about students and parents packing up mini-vans/suv’s/u-hauls–it’s like human jenga but with comforters and pillows to make the game more interesting…..i don’t know what this smells like, but if freedom smells, it sure smells good!

Things that don’t smell so great in academia:

  • rejection with a ‘do not resubmit’ attached. *ouch* get used to it and move on
  • missing happy hour–that might be ‘pout worthy’
  • failing to make a deadline that you ACTUALLY wanted to make. ¬†i am reminded of that quote, “i love the sound of deadlines, i like the sound they make as they go whooshing by.” this is not one of those situations.
  • undergrads who have eighth grade bathing habits
  • undergrads who wear enough cologne to make you eyes and nose water (like an eighth grader). ¬†fake smell rarely attracts a mate, i’m sure there’s scientific evidence on this one.
  • when you can smell coffee but there is no coffee left–also ‘pout worthy’ but a good excuse to take a break and go follow your nose for further investigation
  • blood, sweat, and tears–you can have all three simultaneously in academia. ¬†ask me about the 95 degree day i was running up the stairs and tripped, smashing my toe nails and my knees….it hurt. it hurt real bad….i have also experienced this smell while trying to complete a grant application. my toe nails didn’t hurt, but other parts of me sure did.
  • budget cuts–they smell worse than a hog farm
  • graduate students who can’t behave in the sandbox– while there is always something to worry about, every once in a while you get a grad student who makes your life holy living hell. ¬†you know you have at least one student in the back of your mind who fits this description and hopefully they made a quick departure or were advised by someone else.
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The other side of the desk

source (my desk has never been this clean)

I’ve been on one side of the desk for a while now. Going from teaching to student and now back to faculty–I switched roles a few times. While in grad school, i was also teaching, making the switch from one side of the desk several times. Even in this position, I’m on one side or the other depending on who it is.

It’s an odd shift though–moving ‘officially’ back to the ‘decision’ side of the desk. It became more apparent the last few weeks of the semester. While guarding my time, I did make a series of decisions that would affect others. Grading, hiring a GRA, submitting grant applications, and negotiating for fall programming were all done at a desk of some sort. Albeit for me to say that there was a formal desk or negotiating table involved, but there was the back and forth banter that needs to exist for effective communication to exist.

I had not been responsible for those kinds of decisions in quite a while. While I was certainly not ‘drunk with power’ it did cause me to reflect about my decisions and how they would affect others. Grades were easy–students earned those, I didn’t give them out. This is not Halloween. The rest of it was a bit trickier. Politics, negotiating, and considering what would go into a GRA and school sites was a bit trickier because I was very aware that my decision would positively or negatively affect someone elses’ life, even if for just a moment.

It’s hard to be diplomatic when politics and other outside forces are involved. ¬†As a new faculty, I’ve leaned heavily on my immediate peers and colleagues to help guide me with these decisions. ¬†How do you handle these things?

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Summer schedule


No more teachers, no more books…..or Alice Cooper singing “schools out for summer!”

The semester ends this week and everyone is chomping at the bit for some down time. I’ve noticed it the past few weeks in the parking lots on campus, in the feeling in the air, while the energy is high, it’s also that tired energy that feels frazzled and a little panicked in nature. ¬†Maybe it’s mostly the air around me!

What’s on my summer list of things to do?

  • Take some vacation time
  • Read for work/pleasure-some of my summer reading material arrived yesterday!
  • Work-it never stops–but get on a bit more of a relaxed schedule
  • Summer schedule with the blog: once per week, sometimes less than that if I’m on vacation
  • Drink iced coffee

What’s on your summer schedule? ¬†As a new faculty it’s important to carve out some family time, so how will you do it?

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