The noise of academia


The sounds of summer….crickets, peepers at night, bonfires, hearty laughter, and DRILLING. BEEPING. FIRE ALARMS. Fire alarms?  Yes, fire alarms. I love the summer schedule of academia and thanks to outstanding colleagues, I can work when I want, where I want, as long as it gets done.  I appreciate not being micro-managed and hopefully am still remaining productive.  The catch: the drilling, beeping, and what I’d like to call “low level explosions” that trigger the fire alarms…..It caught me off guard.  The campus folks had told our building they would be “making some repairs” this summer that were initially supposed to last four weeks.  Scratch that, now they’re scheduled until the students return in August.  Enter the ‘low level explosion’ and you’ll go back to the Monday one week after graduation.  I had come in to get some ‘good work’ done–the quiet, no students, no other faculty….nerd bliss….. Approximately 38 minutes into my zone of nerd came ****BOOOOOOOOMMMMMMMM****** followed by the delightful chirp/harsh shrill of the building fire alarm system.  Then I hear the phrase that made me laugh and worry, “I guess we should have evacuated the building before.”  Yes engineers, you should have.  As pieces of the plaster ceiling fell on and around me I decided to go home until further notice.

So, life is good. I’m working from home.  Thanks to modern technology life is good.  I get a lot done at home.  It also puts me in closer proximity to my refrigerator, which may or may not be a good thing.  I like working in the office. I like getting in the zone.  I’ve tried to sneak in a few times to the same consequences–loud drilling, beeping, but thankfully no more fire alarms.  It’s the pace of business.  My building needs a much needed face-lift and from what I understand, to fix some major leaking. It’s a nerds version of a stay-cation.  I get some work done, I do my thing, I go into the ‘danger zone’ of an office when I have meetings, but have tried to schedule off campus or other places as much as possible.  So far, no one is bothered by meeting at the local coffee shops or going to lunch.

There’s something to be said for the flexibility of the academic life.  As a new faculty, I’m learning that it is something to be appreciated but not taken advantage of.  I sometimes struggle with focus just like the best of them, but the ability to choose where I want to work is something that I’ve taken to heart.  I read a bit about it in Cain’s book, Quiet, and it got me thinking.  I am more productive when I choose where I work.  Why aren’t more companies doing this?  Why aren’t we embracing this in our students?  I realize there’s a boat load of politics and institutional constraints, but hey–why aren’t we stretching those boundaries?

When I teach a class, I might try out the model.  Let’s say the class is supposed to meet 3x/week. I’d knock it down to one and offer up the other two as ‘office hours’ or ‘think tank’ hours.  Insert your own witty phrase in there. The expectations of the students would remain just as high.  I would still be available during all of the allocated time, but instead of being constrained by a clock, why not work with the clocks and creative windows of your students?  Sound a bit too idealistic?  Maybe. But, that’s just my brain cooking up a thought. I work well in the mornings, most of my students do not.  I refuse to read their emails at midnight, they only check their email once a day anyway. So, why aren’t we working to find that balance in academia?  Call me crazy (no, not the song) but who says we HAVE to sit in lecture 3x/week?  Who says we HAVE to just conform to ALLLLL of the endless rules?  My dept. head?  Oh, I would run this by him/her first.  The self-motivators would continue to excel and the ones who lacked motivation would be given a good lesson in what the real world is truly like.  Our millennial students don’t want to be confined by clocks and walls, neither do I.  I don’t want miserable pouty pants students in my class, I want students who fulfill minimum expectations after choosing their attitude. Beyond teaching them lessons, we as faculty teach them other things as well.  As a middle/high school teacher and now as a new faculty, it’s just part of the process.

Ahhh….summer, the noise outside my window and the noise in my head.  Neither are getting a break and that’s ok.  I’m mostly happy to be able to think about these things for longer than 12 seconds….before some beeping, drilling, or low level blasting commences.

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