Monthly Archives: July 2012

The ‘haves’ & the ‘have not’s’ in academia

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There’s a term floating around that I use often: “first world problems” or “ivy kid problems” since I went to an ivy for two of my degrees.  Haters gonna hate, but that’s the bottom line.  I wasn’t adopted into a rich family with wealth and disposable income and learned how to work for everything in life.  I did grow up in a home with love and discipline and learning what it meant to live a moral life.  I was fortunate with my education and it has afforded me with opportunities I would not have otherwise had.  Today, I am proud to say that I work with intelligent, bright, and highly motivated students as well as figuring out how to pick other students up and teach them how to help themselves.  Working at a big R1 has exposed me more and more to the notion of the ‘haves’ and the ‘have not’s’ in life and it has me thinking.

During grad school, I had the good fortune of working with a great youth from Long Island and live with them for a month while they conducted intense research projects on campus.  They were wonderful students of diverse backgrounds including religion, ethnicity, economic statuses, and home lives.  I enjoyed this month immensely knowing that I learned as much as they did.  They all did not have supportive parents, thoughts and dreams of college, or monetary means to even buy anything extra in life.  That month really helped me change my shift from thinking about the ‘haves’ and the ‘have not’s’ in life.

Let me elaborate.  The ‘haves’ are the students or people who have means or the ability to think about things differently, go to college, and have the support of others to help bolster them.  The ‘haves’ may not have the most talent but they have the network around them to help them succeed at their own level.

The ‘have not’s’ are the students or people who don’t have the means to think about things differently, go to college, or have the support of others to bolster them and have faith in them.  The ‘have not’s’ often have the talent but lack the network around them to support their goals, dreams, and applaud their success.

It’s not so easy as black and white in these two categories but I firmly believe it boils down to one thing: faith.  Not faith in religion, but having faith in someone and their abilities.  I have faith in all of the students I worked with that summer.  I had faith in them when no one else would. Sadly, I didn’t have enough of the other things these students needed and at least one of them ended up dropping out of high school.  It broke my heart because I knew this student could have been successful in completing high school but he had too many of the ‘have not’s’ in life.  He did not have supportive family, he did not have anyone else around him to help him see he could be successful whether in college or in the world of work, he did not have anyone pushing him to finish high school and no one placing the importance on a high school education.

One of my students will be an incoming freshman here at my university in just a few weeks.  My heart was full of pride and happiness as he texted me in the spring to tell me he was accepted with about 90% scholarship funding.  I was so happy to give him a big hug recently as he and his mother traveled 10 hours for freshman orientation and meet his mom, a lady who has worked herself to the bone to get her two sons their education.  She came to the U.S. decades ago so her kids could be U.S. citizens and she raised them by herself while working as a full time nurse and later a home health aide. Her English is broken, her son did a lot of translating for us, but her smile and pride for her son needed no translation.  She had an older son at Harvard and will soon have another at a prestigious R1.

This woman embodies a mix of the ‘haves’ and ‘have not’s’ in life.  She does not have a lot of money, in fact they are virtually homeless right now, living in a room together of a friends house.  She pieced her education together over the years but didn’t have anyone pushing her, supporting her, guiding her.  She did have the fortitude to know that if she could have her kids in the U.S. she could help them open up doors she did not have. My student told me once what his mom told him, “I made it here to the U.S. so you and your brother could have the opportunities now it’s your turn not to waste them.” A smart lady with enough of a drive so her sons could HAVE the opportunities she did not.

This is a humbling thought that I had not spent a lot of time reflecting on until recently.  I would say that many of my so called problems are ‘first world problems’ and rarely are they serious.  As I continue to work with this student this fall, I have told him and promised his mother that I will be his advocate, I will help him when his mother cannot because she is too far away, and help him navigate when he needs it.  Whether a trip to a big box store for dorm supplies, a home cooked meal, or a faculty figure to help him choose classes and make educational decisions, I have invested myself in this young man.  He HAS support from me and PIC.  He now HAS a network so he never has to feel alone. He will make friends, settle into a schedule of courses, and with my help, he applied for and was accepted into a leadership living community to help him succeed. The only thing that will hold him back now is himself.  His mother, his teachers, his family, his older brother, and now PIC and I are on his list of “have’s” in life and he is very lucky to have had such a great foundation.

Outside of this student, I spent the spring working with students of a mix of the ‘haves’ and ‘have not’s’ and my heart broke when one student saved her snack because there would be no supper or meal at her house until she got to school the next day. I was immediately filled with guilt since I knew where my next meal was coming from and that I could not save her.

I see it in my first generation college students, much like the student above, their families have worked hard to make sure their child earns an education.  I saw parents moving their daughter into the dorms last summer and the father was giving a lecture to his daughter that went something like this, ” you’re the first one in this family to go to college, we saved every nickel we have so you can do this, and we know you can do it.” The little brother had come along to see the big campus, see his sisters new dorm room, and you could tell that the family had made every sacrifice to give their children more options in life. It brings tears to my eyes to think about it because I know that for every family like this one and my new students’, there are 100 more that are the opposite.

Thinking about the ‘haves’ and ‘have not’s’ and doing something about it are different.  I never assume much about students anymore, they all have such unique stories to tell, but I do know that I will support this new freshman because he deserves support and as long as I HAVE that to give, it’s the least I can do.

As a new faculty, how do you think we can help the ‘haves’ and ‘have not’s’ around us?

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why i use social media as a new faculty

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I dig social media.  Not just as a new faculty, but as a human in general.  How else can we keep up with jobs, marriages, bad life decisions that ended up on someone’s smart phone, sonograms, videos of puppies stuck in boxes, Halloween costumes that would have been better left from our memories, pictures of meals that are unrecognizable in dim light, your fungus in your big toe, the person who posts over 30 things a day on kittens, and 100 photos of your kid at the beach crying the whole time because they hate the water?

All jokes aside, social media is a fantastic tool that new faculty should learn to embrace.  And yes, I am guilty of posting a lot of stuff from time to time (or regularly depending on who is my social media friend/connection). Do you literally have to hug it every time you open Facebook?  No.  But the ability to keep up with friends, colleagues, and family members, not to mention students, current events, local events where you live, restaurant reviews, conferences, and other professional work is also important.  I consider myself an ‘early adopter’ so it’s easy for me to log on to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, my email(s), Pinterest, and WordPress all at the same time to keep up with what’s hip.  Is it always about work?  Another no. Does it consume me when I know that it shouldn’t. Yes.  I wholeheartedly admit it and juts like any technology, discipline is required.

Social media can be a valuable tool for a professional.  I like to see what my colleagues are doing, what they’re highlighting, what’s important to them.  I understand that once I put something on the Internet, it’s open to public scrutiny and while I try to keep things pretty light, I find a lot of things in this world pretty humorous that others may not.  Not everyone agrees with me and that’s usually ok because I take it with a grain of salt.  Some days, the grains are much larger or smaller than others, but nonetheless, it’s always meant in good fun. All in all, it’s a great way to learn what others interests are.  It’s a great way to open a conversation, prompt students in class, find talking points with colleagues, or just share things in general. Perhaps you need to do a little recon work on potential students–head to the Internet and find what you need.  Will it cast a shadow on someone?  I sure hope not, but as the information age matures and we move from Web 2.0 to 3.0, it’s important not to shun social media from your daily, weekly, or regular repertoire.  Some might think it’s the last thing a new faculty has time for but I argue that you SHOULD make time for it. Simply “liking” a Facebook status shows that you are paying attention, reading, consuming, and producing other content.

Taking the time to subscribe to some regular feeds via rss or email can be valuable.  As someone in STEM and education, I subscribe to a few daily emails that I actually take the time each day to read.  Gleaning teaching tips, facts or research are positive side effects of what social media has to offer.

As a new faculty, how do you handle social media?  What do you wish you could do with your social media that you don’t have the capability to do right now?  Maybe your idea is the ‘next big thing’ that will catapult us into Web 3.0. I can’t wait to see what’s next!

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For the Health of it!

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Academics and other professionals in the workforce work long hours, take few vacations, and if we’re just talking U.S. stats here, take the least amount of time off of most global cultures.  Something usually ‘gives’ as a result of this lifestyle and it is our health.  I am no stranger to this plight in life and recently had my annual physical (covered by insurance, thank you) and got some good news.

It’s no secret that grad school is an emotionally draining, exhausting, low self-effiicacy time in ones life.  If you’re in grad school, have completed or not, you know what I’m talking about.  If you’re thinking about grad school and reading this, please think long and hard about the decision you might be making.  Grad school is no picnic, at least no picnic I would want to be invited too for any longer than I stayed in grad school. So, the long and the short of my life prior to this date: STRESSFUL. I had and have many things to be thankful for, but I found myself struggling.  During my divorce, I would like to categorize myself in the “Hot Mess” category and that’s when my blood pressure went through the roof.  It was all stress, I was walking stress.  My primary care doctor put me on a low dose of blood pressure meds to help me out.  We both knew it was due in large part to the divorce and all of the unpleasantness around it.  Post divorce, I started to eat. A LOT. I replaced my life and loss with food.  I can admit this whole heartedly because it’s true.  I gained weight.  I gained lots of weight.  My doctor was concerned, I was concerned, but still I ate.

I came to grad school.  I dropped some weight.  I began to feel better.  I exercised regularly.  I fought the battle with carbs.  They still won from time to time. I stayed on BP meds b/c my new doctor still wanted me too.  But then….I began to sit. All day. Every day. For 8-12 hours. And then I gained weight back.  CRAP. The clothes in the ‘regular’ stores started to not fit.  HOLY S&%T. Houston, we’ve got a problem.

I finished writing my dissertation.  I joined weight watchers.  I returned to having some time to worry about my health and well being.  I started watching what I was shoving in my face instead of mindlessly eating while reading articles, writing, being sad/anxious/depressed, and being mindful of portions again.  Do I still lose it to the carb monster?  YUP.  Am I still heavy?  YUP.  But, I’m 20 lbs. less heavy than I was just a year ago.  Not bad.  Is my modeling contract coming through?  HELL NO.  But the clothes in the stores fit again, old clothes fit again.  I am no longer a slave to stretchy pants unless I choose to be. I stopped paying for weight watchers and joined an online program to track my calories and exercise.  I gained four pounds back.  I’ve lost one or two.  I’m teetering but thankfully haven’t gained it all back for a reason. Discipline. Mindful eating. Purpose.

Back to my annual physical.  As I sat there getting my annual evaluation, I was happy.  My BP: NORMAL, textbook.  My weight loss: so far, so good.  Never perfect–but what is?  My scale-put away.  I was obsessing so I quit obsessing over .5 lb. on a Tuesday and put the damn thing in the closet.  My doctor was so nice and commented that things looked good and that I must have finished grad school b/c I looked happy. No more BP meds. Just a Flintstone’s chewable and dairy products/calcium so I don’t shrivel up like a prune w/ osteoporosis.

Why did I spend a whole post talking about my weight?  Because as academics, it’s important.  We have to take care of our bodies so our brains (our moneymakers if you will–hahaha) can do the work. Will I become a vegan–another HELL NO–I love meat and dairy and eggs and all things mostly. But, it’s important in academia and in between the classes, student meetings, and edits to articles to take care of yourself.  Don’t end up like me.  It really wasn’t any fun.  I still lack discipline with food.  It’s my crutch, my addiction, but I am learning to come to terms with what I want to eat and what my body NEEDS for nutrition.  I don’t ever aim to be a size 4 or 6, but I do aim to keep my blood pressure in check, my clothes fitting (getting big would also be great), and being around to annoy the people I love for a good long time.

Summer is a good time to start new habits.  A new habit can take up to three months to adopt as a regular lifestyle so start small today.  Take a walk.  Take a friend for a walk.  Eat that piece of cake.  Don’t eat six pieces of cake.  Figure out the areas where you can achieve success so you don’t set yourself up to automatically fail.  These are not things we think of as over-educated professionals.  But starting small will keep our bodies happy, our brains producing, and our loved ones feeling loved.

What’s the take home message here?  Don’t be like me.  Learn how to cope, learn how to manage the ‘food beast’ as I’ve coined it in my head.  There is no simple solution, there is no easy fix, and while we may have advanced educational opportunities, we can still easily succumb to bad habits.

As a faculty member, how do you carve out time for yourself? If you can’t answer that question immediately, it’s time.  Join me and the millions of others who are working for the Health of it.

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the busy trap

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I saw an article from the New York Times last week and it caught my eye.  A lot of articles catch my eye, but this one got me thinking. I had become too busy.  I had forgot to appreciate a little idle time.  Once summer hit, I took time off and I’m happy to report, that I’ve taken several weeks of vacation.  I’m still struggling to unplug, but finding balance in an imbalanced world is worth working on for me.  I recently returned from a trip home to see my family and I’m happy to report that I checked email minimally, didn’t turn on my laptop for 24 hours, and generally had a delightful time away from the hustle and bustle.  I purposefully returned to my home after a 9 hour car ride and took the next two days off and pretty much the rest of the week.  Why the rush to return to work?  I announced to PIC that I would NOT be returning to work immediately and that I had good intentions of going to yoga, doing laundry and other mundane tasks, and being available to do whatever I wanted for several days. In a previous post, I waxed on about a 40-hour work week and today, I would say that it can happen.  It won’t happen all of the time, but the balance comes from knowing when to stop.

One portion of the article from NYT resonated: “Almost everyone I know is busy. They feel anxious and guilty when they aren’t either working or doing something to promote their work.”  I am guilty, guilty, guilty of this. Does being crazy busy mean ‘having it all?’  If so, I don’t want it then.  I’ve been taking a lot of time reflecting lately as a new opportunity works itself out and you know what?  I’m not so sure about all of it.  Not just regular “I don’t know” syndrome, but a solid understanding of what has become important. Tenure won’t make me breakfast (or go out and buy me breakfast), tenure won’t share in my happiness or sadness, and while I have no children, tenure won’t be very sympathetic to concerts, athletic events, or stuffy noses.  I don’t want to get so trapped that I can’t get out.  It makes me miserable and being miserable isn’t something anyone is a fan of.

As a female in academia, I’m also doubly screwed because I have ovaries. That’s for another post, but it’s worth thinking about.  While in the motherland, my mom and I spent considerable time conversing about this issue.  We get so busy as females trying to prove ourselves, that we often prove ourselves right out of the baby game.  I want to have a family, I want to be a good parent, but I’m not sure I can have it all, stay out of the busy trap, and find the balance I will need to be a good parent.  I will need a supportive and perhaps lesser employed partner for sure or amazing support from other places.  Many of the academics I know have had amazing spouses/partners who have stayed home, quit, or readjusted their lives for the TT partner or have simply chosen NOT to partner up or have a family.  I recently met with someone who chose a TT position over a family and she was miserable.  She is in her late 40’s now, has tenure, a successful publication and grant record, but goes home each night to no one.  She owns a beautiful home, has great friends, but no one to call her “person” in life.  She lamented that while she was in the TT game, she was so focused and decided to NOT pursue a personal life with the thought that she could ‘do it later.’  It’s later and as I listened to my friend, I realized I did not want that to be me. She can still get married or find her ‘person’ but her regret is self-inflicted and while she can’t go back in time, she can share this piece of knowledge with other young, female academics.

In academia, how we do NOT succumb to the busy trap?  How do we turn off, shut down, and engage in other ways?  How do we make sure that we have a family life without sacrificing our family?

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