Monthly Archives: March 2013

What Are You Passionate About?

What Are You Passionate About? | New Faculty

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What are you passionate about? Why do you get up each day (besides that meaty paycheck) to go to work? It’s the middle to the end of a semester for all of us. No doubt, fatigue has set in and we’ve gone from ‘cruise mode’ to ‘survival mode.’ Please tell me it’s not just me…..Bueller? I thought it might be wise to spend a post sharing what I love because it can be really easy to get a bit down in the dumps at this point in the semester…..

I love watching people learn. Young or old, it’s still this magical, intoxicating drug to me. It’s my passion. I’m a teacher, a practitioner. It doesn’t matter if I’m teaching my mom how to use her iPad or watching a sixth grader discover they CAN figure out how to make a solar panel work with a small motor, the feeling that washes over me is the best drug. No amount of melted cheese or new shoes replaces the feeling I get.

I’ve spent a lot of time on this blog thinking about the problems in academia, the issues and stressors we place on ourselves as educational professionals, so this week, I want to spend a post thinking about what I just can’t get enough of about my job because not only am I grateful for it, I love my work. An Op-Ed piece in the Washington Post got me thinking about this after the author discusses his trials of being on faculty at UVA after the summer sparked such controversy at the university.

“So, to my university’s Board of Visitors, President Sullivan and Dean Everyone, I’d like to offer this reminder: The way my students learn has nothing to do with “strategic dynamism.” It has everything to do with being in a place that gives them the space, time and luxury to think. We should not forget the events of the summer, but neither should we forget, in the name of progress, all that has worked so well for so long.”

I highlight the sentences above because I think that universities have forgotten why students come each year. Not only is it the chance to gain experience, attend classes, swim in new pools, or attend other campus events, but it’s to stretch the mind, to drink some ‘grow up juice’ and offer them the time to think about their individualism and who they are and will become as they age. The first 18 years of their lives are scripted by parents, families, social-norms, and standardized tests. College should not be more of the same. I realize it’s a business, but the faculty that I have had the good fortune to encounter love the art of TEACHING, of stretching the minds of their young scholars, of engaging in weighty conversations, even if it does make some uncomfortable, and working along side their students to get them to form individual thoughts, begin to look at their own identity, and encourage them to keep reaching. It’s NOT to plug another laptop in, arm wrestle over expense reports, and get inundated with enough emails to drown a small child.

Why do I stick with it? I see it. I see those teachable moments. I have the courage to continue through reduced funding, poor budgets, and a low salary. I don’t teach for the money, I never have. I teach for the students, young and old. Each week, I have the good fortune of seeing students learn. It doesn’t look like much to the passerby, but to me, it looks like potential. It looks like the future. It looks like a step above poverty. I see the parents of my students once a semester. I hear them thank me, but it’s not me, it’s their child and their foresight to enroll their child in the after-school program I run. Yes, we collect lots of data, it’s federally funded, but we also teach. The students understand that one must happen in order for the money to keep coming. At their young age, they understand what an enormous opportunity they have because so many of their peers don’t have the same opportunity.

I love learning. I love teaching. I’m so fortunate today to have a job that allows me to do both. It makes me sick that funding for educational grants is being cut because our leaders in Washington can’t get out of their own way and do their jobs. My job won’t last forever, the funding will end and I will go elsewhere. But today, I cannot be grateful enough for my professional identity. I invested my career in education over a decade today and in a decade from now, I hope to be engaged with teaching and have the same passion.

What do you love about your professional career? What are you passionate about?

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Accountability in Academia, What We Can Learn From Yahoo

sourceAccountability in Academia | New Faculty

There’s been a lot of hype around Marissa Mayer’s decision to enforce that employees actually SHOW UP physically to work for Yahoo. Truth is: yahoo isn’t doing so hot. I don’t see what the big deal is outside of the one word we all love to hate: ACCOUNTABILITY.

If you’re not performing or producing and you say you’re ‘working from home’ all day, one sure fire solution is to get some face time with you. Maybe you need the forced ‘sit time’ (or stand time) to collaborate. Maybe you aren’t being as productive. Maybe you just need to be called out and have a ‘come to jesus’ meeting in order to get your priorities straight again. There are times when I have trouble prioritizing what NEEDS to be done vs. what SHOULD be done in terms of my work. Sometimes, I write things down and then organize them. Sometimes, I’m simply putting out fires and saying a little prayer that tomorrow won’t look like such a s&^%t storm.

As a young faculty member, it can be really difficult to stay motivated and find balance. The never-ending pile of work can seem daunting. While I won’t complain for too long, I had intended to actually take time off over spring break, but it never happened, there was just too much to do. I also learned a valuable lesson about myself: I don’t stay-cation very well. At all. While there is such a thing as being too motivated, young academics and grad students can get plagued with never ending requests, other things pulling our attention, and trouble prioritizing because it feels like we’re always putting out fires.

HBR ran a think tank piece about it (along with every other news outlet i see) and everyone has some strong opinions. Others say that Mayer needs to be on the side of working parents who lose valuable time when they have to physically commute, they lose soccer time, ballet time, and kid time. Where’s the line when your toddler is in your lap and you’re no longer doing the work you’re earning a salary for?

Other parents have said they worked out a schedule to balance home time and work time when their kids got to the stage where it was no longer work, but more ‘chasing’ them around. Some working parents they enjoyed office time simply for the fact that they could get their work done with no interruptions and worked out split childcare with a partner, day care or other family member. Each person is unique, just like their family situation.

I don’t believe that a ‘one size fits all’ approach is always a good thing, but perhaps it’s the best course of action right now. We may not know that employees may be eligible to go back to working remotely or the other details around the call, but we need to hold one another accountable. That’s the bottom line.

If the CEO of Yahoo was a man (<–best buy ceo just did the same thing), no one would blink at eye when he asked employees to return in person by June 1st. The media would probably applaud him, not scold him, so why is everyone breathing down Mayer’s neck? She’s doing her job. She’s making the same decision that any man would–not productive = get your ass to the office and EARN some telecommuting time. Get uncomfortable or get out. Shake up the schedule. Do something different, like work. She is having a nursery built next to her office, she may really like that or hate it in a few months.

Culture of a company does matter.  Academia is the same way. Staying intrinsically motivated can be really difficult. Outside of teaching and face time with students, there are meetings, but the continual voice saying “publish, research, scholarly work” is easy to squash on a beautiful spring day or when there is soccer or ballet.

How are you managing to stay motivated? How do you prioritize and compartmentalize? Who holds you accountable and how do you check in to make sure things are going well? What advice would you give to others?

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Intellectual Property-Who’s Protecting Your Ideas?

Intellectual Property | New Faculty

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I’m hoping to generate some good conversation on this–whether in comments, on social media, etc…because intellectual property (IP) is something that has become very elusive and tricky over the past decade, particularly in academia, but also in industry. Here we go!

I got burned once. Maybe twice if you count grad school. I learned my lesson. Much like the old “hot stove” mantra, I shared an idea, only to find it be commandeered by a superior as “their own” shortly thereafter. It happened in grad school but I was much too naive to think about it. Or even notice it. But I wised up real quick on faculty. It also took me some time to react, process, and reflect on the fact that someone had poached me like an egg. That’s for another post since I feel like grad school was a scary blur still. One of my colleagues did it to me once after we’d met one-on-one and were discussing research. I had some hair brained, left field idea about “next steps” and the next thing I know, I’m hearing the boss say it to a group of PI’s on a conference call with NO mention of the fact it was my idea. Good grief. Lesson learned. I spoke up on the call, adding something like, “i’m glad we discussed that and it will work” and only then did the colleague give in and give me an ounce of credit. While I’m certainly not crying “big baby” here since we’re all adults, the point is that IP has become really fickle in our sue happy culture.

What do I do now? I wait. I keep the juicy or novel ideas that I have to myself when we’re one-on-one and wait to share them with at least one or two other people. Why? So I at least get credit. I haven’t cured cancer, but I deserve some credit, even if just another human saying, “that’s a good idea, let’s talk about how we would map that out for the next iteration” instead of swallowing my pride and remaining mute.

Intellectual property is so fickle. I can understand why people go to court, get IP patents, sue each other, and other measures to protect their ideas. I can also see why people are nuts! I had patent protection through my university for a year while we evaluated if the idea was patent worthy. The university dropped it so we didn’t pursue it due to financial constraints (AKA: we didn’t have the money to front) but it was sort of nice to know that Texas Instruments was all over our talks at a conference….until they came out w/ a similar product. Their R&D has a lot more steam behind it than I did as a grad student.

The big question is: what do you do? How much do you share? What if it’s your best idea and you lay it all on the table for an interview but don’t land the job knowing that another faculty can just pick up with your idea and run? It’s tough to watch your best ideas or work go abandoned or worse yet: totally butchered.

Intellectual property has heated up over the past decade and so has the boom of patents and other protective services offered by the government and private agencies. Apple and some of the big players register dozens to hundreds of patents each week and are a well oiled machine with bottomless pockets to pay the fees, R&D that can bust a move, and all of their ducks are in a row in this case. How can someone like you (or me) make sure their voice is heard, their idea can grow, and if we’re using agriculture terms here: get fertilized, nurtured, and fed what it needs to go from an idea to a fully bloomed flower? (or tomato, or ear of corn….).

As a new faculty and grad student, it can be really intimidating to share and get burned. Learn from my mistakes readers: protect yourself. You don’t need thousands of dollars or the late Steve Jobs on your team, but sometimes, getting credit and giving credit where it’s due can often make someone feel empowered enough to keep going. Give credit to yourself, get a little pat on the back from people who are on “team _____” and if you need, go big, be bold with those ideas. Rarely has anyone ever spit something out of their mouth or thought from their brain that didn’t get at least another thought or a few minutes from colleagues.

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Death by Chocolate? How About Death by Meeting?

Managing Meetings | New Faculty

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As a new faculty, everyone wants you. They want to meet with you. They want your time, they want your ideas, they want you physically to be in their presence  they want you virtually, they want you……and all I wanted to do was crawl in a hole of survival to make it from Monday-Friday in one piece. Being new to faculty life can be the ultimate high and the ultimate low for the first year. There are countless opportunities for service, new research, teaching, advising, and social opportunities. If you’re like me, by Thursday night, you need a nap that lasts 12 hours, and another half day of couch/coffee to recover for the following week. Socializing has moved to the bottom of the list.  In fact, I’m the woman who says, “One drink” and I actually mean it.

Since returning to academia after being “out there,” I’ve grown to hate meetings. I have found a direct correlation to my feelings about meetings to the amount of coffee or sweets I consume.  I really hate them. They make me want to stab myself in the eye with a pencil. I even hate things that feel like meetings but have some random other nugget like “let’s get coffee and chat” attached to them.

I had started a post a long time ago about how much I hated meetings and incidentally, HBR ran a piece about why meetings suck and I jumped on board and combined some posts. HBR wanted their readers to know that meetings suck. I’m here to affirm that they suck in academia too. Some days, there’s nothing like a whole bunch of educated windbags all with egos the size of California to just rub your day the wrong way (CA, i love you). Other days, wonderful things happen in meetings, true collaboration takes place, and you walk out feeling like, “hell yeah, let’s rock this puppy!” Unfortunately, my ratio of “omg, i wantodie” is much larger than “hell yeah, let’s do it!” and it’s usually because the meetings lack leadership, focus, and goals.

I’ve stopped going to meetings unless I know it’s something I need to do. Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t jumped ship. I stil have my weekly set of meetings, but I’ve started to plan more diligently about them:

  • I plan them (or as many as I can) on the same day. I already feel like they’re a time suck, so why not just get them all out of the way. 
  • I set clear guidelines with the people I’m meeting with. “I have one hour to dedicate to this.” It might sound a little bitchy, but you know what? We’re all busy and unless it’s some barn burning research going on, I’ve got an hour for you and that’s it. If you can’t spit it out in an hour, then you need to get your shit together and communicate. 
  • I walk out. Yup–I do it. If it’s cutting into my time, it’s not productive, and I think it’s draining my day, I excuse myself. I usually leave half hr. gaps between meetings in order to travel or clear my head, but sometimes, I just leave a really unproductive one and move on. Even if I don’t have another appointment, I just leave.
  • I quit apologizing for turning someone down. If it’s something I want to do, I reschedule, but sometimes, I simply say, “thanks but no thanks” and move on.
  • I’ve started saying no. My mantra of being less generous with my time is going well, three months in, and I’ve gone to a few meetings and come out thinking, “well, what the hell did i just do that for?” If I can’t come up with a good reason, I don’t go back. I don’t care how good the snacks are. Odds are, I can make something better anyway. The projects I can think of that I walked away from aren’t really causing me to lose sleep, nor am I filled with regret about backing out. 
  • I’ve stopped taking most meetings later in the week. I’m pooped. The odds that I say or do something totally dumb increases. Is there still an occasional Friday afternoon meeting that can’t be avoided, sure. But for the most part, I’ve started to schedule my calendar to avoid those later afternoon, late week meetings. 

When I’m the one asking for a meeting, I do the following (grad students, listen/read up!!!)

  • I send an agenda–sometimes it’s detailed, sometimes it’s bullet points
  • I send any supporting documentation that needs to be discussed or reviewed.
  • I stipulate a time frame.
  • I’m on time, even if no one else is.
  • I end on time. (or early)
  • I don’t overdo the small talk. We’ve got shit to do.
  • I dominate to steer the conversation if I need too.
  • I’m not afraid to wrap things up and/or follow up via email if there are unresolved items. Sometimes, you are doing good work and you do run out of time, take it to technology to help you out, but don’t be annoying. 
  • I keep notes for later. If it is a good meeting and there’s a lot of good stuff going on, I need to revisit it. Others will also want a synopsis as well, this is a great way to help your brain recall it and others will appreciate it.
  • I stay off technology (unless it’s via skype) meaning, no emailing, facebooking, etc…I wanted an hour from you, I’m going to be respectful of it.

What would you add or delete to the list? How would you tell other new faculty or grad students to begin managing their meeting mantra now before it gets ahead of them like laundry? How do you deal with the time suck part of your professional life that can also be called “meetings?”

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