Monthly Archives: August 2013

My Name is New Faculty & I’m an Introvert

introvert hangover | new faculty

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My birthday….I do love it so….really.

I made my own party this year. I had been celebrating my bad self for a while. I did spring and get a new car (thanks for the incentives toyota) and then planned a long weekend in FL to see some good friends from grad school. It’s been a great year of growth and overcoming personal challenges. I was ready for some eats and drinks!

It was also the first week of classes here at big box U so I really appreciated that everyone came out. I picked a nicer place due to the fact that I’m not interested in the $1 draft special on a night like my birthday and neither was my company (yet another difference when we leave grad school mentality, although $1 beer is a good thing at any income level). However, everything was very nice and delicious, and my giant bloody mary was divine.

So, the moral of the story is this: I did not think everyone would show. I invited 14 and 12 came. This is not a self deprecating post–in fact, quite the opposite. It’s not a “i can’t believe i have friends” thing, but I honestly thought that with the beginning of the turmoil semester, that more folks would bow out for 100 reasons. I sent a friendly email to invite folks w/ the details and even said, “I know you’re all busy and I understand” but thankfully, they did come!

The introvert in me pretty much panicked! I could not talk to everyone. I could not have a meaningful conversation. I felt like I was sitting in a fish bowl. I have great friends, they had no trouble talking to each other, but I struggled. As I observed myself, I realized a few things:

  • everyone was fine
  • so was i
  • it’s ok that i couldn’t talk to everyone, they were fine chatting w/ each other
  • 12 is too many for my personal taste, i’ll back it down to 6 next time, or maybe 4….

Last year, my former roommate and I stayed in on my birthday and we went out to a nice dinner later in the week as good friends. I will aim for something in between last night and last year.

Lesson learned. It’s the day after my birthday and I’m mentally pooped. I think I had some major overload yesterday from all of the socializing, the phone calls, and other forms of communication. I’m not ungrateful at ALL, but it was a good lesson for me that as an introvert, I need

  • smaller groups
  • more intimate settings
  • breaks between functions
  • and clearly….a day off after the fact.

As a new faculty and human being, it’s important for me to remind myself of what I need vs. what I want vs. what I think I should be doing. I did want to celebrate and boy, I sure did. While no one was totally drunk and falling down, it was a big day of socializing for me personally, which plain wore me out. This translates to all aspects of my life and as I finish this post, I’m locked in my office, door locked, lights low, pretending that no one is home.

My friend texted me this morning asking how my party was and told me that next year: VIP’s only!

She might be onto something.

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How About No?

How About No? | New Faculty

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I’ve done a lot of work this summer–on myself. Strange as it may sound, personal growth is the key to happiness, or sanity if we’re being brutally honest here. The fine undergrads that I had to work with this summer definitely noticed, as perceptive young minds usually do and one day at a research meeting, they approached me and said, “hey dr. new faculty, you’re like this bear.”

YES!!!!!  I’m saying no to people.

Apparently my undergrads got some of those “no’s” on a regular basis. I reminded myself of the mom in the Oscar Mayer hot dog commercial. The undergrads also said I reminded them of Christina Yang on Grey’s Anatomy for being brutally honest all of the time. While some may shrink away from this kind of feedback, I got real excited.

Why?

Because for the previous two years on faculty, I’d done nothing but say yes. All.of.the.time. I was saying yes so much, I was even annoying myself. I was saying yes, being too available, and generally serving as my own worst enemy. I’d say ‘yes’ to almost anything–even things I had no interest in doing.

**disclaimer, there are times in life when we have to say yes, i’m aware of this.

Prime example:

My friend loves fantasy football (FF). It’s great. I’m glad he likes it. But, guess how much I care about FF?

……….-84759

But, for reasons unbeknownst to me until this summer, when he asked if I wanted to join, I said, “sure” without giving it a thought.

Until a few weeks ago.

(Jibberish that ran through my mind):

  • “why do you want to play?” (you don’t, you were trying to be nice & agreeable like you thought a friend should be)
  • “do you REALLY give to s*^s about FF?” (no)
  • “why did you say yes then?” (b/c you’re a sucker)
  • “can you get out of this?” (yes)
  • “will anyone die a terrible death as a result?” (no)
  • “will your friend be truly upset?” (probably not)
  • “why are we still having this conversation? (just say no)

So I did. 

I’m sure you’re thinking, “uugghhh, FF, no brainer, really?” but it translates into the other parts of life and if you have these crazy thoughts that run around in your head like this, you know what I’m talking about. No one died, my friend was clearly not upset, in fact, he should have been pretty happy b/c I would have been the most terrible FF player in the world who never checked on the ‘league’ or did the whole player swap every week.

This translates to my professional life as well. My boss has done a great job mentoring me and vetting me for whatever might come next. He really has and I’m not just saying that because I’m in public. He has done great work and I continue to be grateful that we have not both killed each other with glares, sarcasm, and 1 million comments in MS Word when working on manuscripts. He’s a good guy. However, he has also been “Dr. Yang” to my doormat tendencies with me when I’ve needed it. And one area where I need it:

BEING TOO GOD DAMN NICE & AVAILABLE

I’ve blogged about it. It was pretty bad. But it took me a long time to finally “get it” and really have it sink in. I posted about that as my “new year’s goal” and for once, I’ve not let it slide. I’ve faltered here and there but after a good summer of soul searching, working through my burn out, and dealing with some old demons, I think I might finally get “it.”

The “it” that says to my brain:

stop what you’re doing & do what you want to do (and need to do to pay your bills but hey, that’s life right?)

I don’t care if the undergrads give me a hard time & find some bear meme’s and call me Dr. Yang. I consider it a term of endearment at this point because they’re great, they’re becoming good researchers, and we go get fro-yo almost every week. If the FF friend is upset, he can be. I can’t keep investing in things I didn’t want to really do and that was MY fault for saying yes in the first place.

These are two small and almost unimportant examples, but they do relate into professional settings.

I said yes a lot for over a year and I was a miserable mess of mania by the end. I had to stop. I had to embrace the burn out and accept that I couldn’t be everywhere at every time. I had to embrace that all my pubs would not go to journals w/ high index ratings and that the odds I’d piss off an undergrad at least once (a day, a week, a month, every second) were going to be pretty high. I also had to accept myself as I was. Gray hairs, adult acne, left brain dominant human being and start just going with it. That’s not to say I don’t know I have ‘work’ to do and will certainly continue doing it. But I quit ignoring it. I quit hiding out or behind it. And I owned it. Facing who I was as a faculty was pretty tough. It wasn’t the most glamorous look in the mirror I’d ever taken, but it was an honest one. It also mirrored who I was as a person in my personal life and let’s face it: we’ve all got some bad habits we’d like to work on.

I’m learning to let things go and go with the flow. I’ve learned this summer to be the “how about no” bear when it comes to negotiating my personal and professional happiness. By setting clear boundaries for myself and the people in my life, I’ve learned (slowly but surely) that the people who want to invest personally and professionally will be there, no matter how Dr. Yang I get on them. As the new semester begins and we’re surely all swamped, I hope you can take the time to work on your “how about no” bear attitude and take good care of yourself this semester.

I know you’ve got your syllabi prepped, your CMS loaded, and your TA is a grading fool, but do yourself a favor and take stock from time to time. Like Ferris Bueller says, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

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Using the “Other” Half of Your Brain

Using the Other Half of Your Brain | new faculty

As a new faculty, it is healthy to take some time for yourself and do some things you enjoy! YOU. It’s not SELFISH, in fact, if you’re not doing it-stop whatever you’re doing and go do something YOU want for at least an hour. Seriously. This is your LIFE now, so you might as well start “trying” to balance some things out in it. I know, it won’t always go perfectly, but before you say “yes” to another grad student, another meeting, or another useless ___________ (fill in the blank), go do something for yourself. If you can’t do it right now, plan it, mark up your calendar, block the time, schedule it, and FOLLOW THROUGH.

Last week was the last ‘grace’ week on my calendar. The last week where I could get away with not driving myself to exhaustion and worked on some writing deadlines, last minute things, and started planning for the upcoming weeks. I also set aside some time to make the other side of my brain happy. I spend a lot of time in one half but not the other and as a new faculty–you do too–

It was also a great week to take care of “life things” that we get the pleasure of doing as adults — I traded in my car because Toyota was offering amazing incentives. I won’t lie, I’m pretty excited about the touch panel in my new car–it’s pretty ‘fancy’ and by far, the nicest care I’ve ever driven! I’m so thankful to have been able to do this. The universe and Toyota aligned and I was fortunate to pick one up!

Using the Other Half of Your Brain | new faculty

I also had the pleasure of “life things” that included a dental appt., meetings for various adult type responsibilities, but I carved out some final time for MYSELF. Yes, MEEEEEE!!!

I actually have HOBBIES outside of work. They include but are not limited to:

  • walking/running *i try to run*
  • yoga
  • photography
  • playing guitar
  • sewing *a skill my mema taught me as a child & now i’m so thankful!*
  • crafts
  • cooking *i have a food blog*

I don’t know about you, but when I want to exercise the other half of my brain, I like small projects. Crafts, sewing, photos, etc…and this summer it included cleaning the thing I call “my office” because it was a complete disaster.  A year’s worth of stuff had piled up, along with dust bunnies the size of actual bunnies!

The Other Half of Your Brain | New Faculty

So, there you have it–use the other half of your brain. Engage it and work to at least balance that part–we both know that the rest will never be easy but allowing your creative side to come out CAN help the ‘working side’ perform better and generally put you in a better state of mind.

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Kicking Grad School Mentality

Kicking Grad School Mentality | New Faculty

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Some of you might be saying, “NOOOOOOOOOO” and giving this post the big middle finger, or maybe both. In this case, you keep hanging on to those middle fingers while you read this post. I can handle your grievance…..later 😉

Seriously, let’s talk about grad school mentality. There are some things that are hands down, abso-freakin-lutely wonderful about grad school and the lifestyle it gives you. I will not contest the expansion of your giant brain, intellectual conversations, grad student mixers, the 20 hr. a week GRA/GA/GTA, the creation of ones’ own schedule, constant company of other (suffering) grad students, and endless supplies of coffee.

But when we get down to the nitty gritty–grad school sort of sucked. We’re broke (as a joke), it’s the never ending cycle of “acceptance” and “rejection” like a roller coaster that everyone wants to get off but no one can get it to stop, and many grad students will openly admit how lonely, isolating, and desolate grad school can be.

I’ve observed several students successfully defend their dissertations now and…..STALL. Like a car that needs to have its’ carburetor checked. Even after that successful defense, the plethora of congratulations, and well wishes from friends, we sometimes….just get STUCK.

Why?

I found myself in a bit of a pit for a good nine months, unable to muster my own confidence to talk the talk I’d been learning about for the previous three years. Sometimes, it’s bigger than that.

  • We get comfortable being a ‘certain way.’ It’s easy sometimes to stay this way.
  • Our friends are in grad school. Our social circle is there. Getting to know new people is tough. Even when we join faculty, our age demographic is often grad students. Even if we move 3400 miles to join faculty, we gravitate towards them for reasons we cannot fathom (and some are truly awesome human beings).
  • The research wasn’t perfect. We forget that grad school is an exercise in becoming a better researcher, not a perfect researcher. And we beat ourselves up over it. Mentally. Forever.
  • We do lack confidence. <—#1 right here people–> We feel intimidated by the ‘seasoned veterans’ in our field, in our office, at our mtgs., etc…This is just going to take some courage to jump in feet first. You may fumble, but you will get your sea legs under you.

It’s an attitude we have. We have not made the cognitive leap towards equal and have stalled cognitively.

It’s all in our head. We are capable, even if we don’t feel like it.

As we get ready to usher in our new students, I urge you to think about your mentality as a former grad student, a fresh post-doc, or a new faculty member. You can kick that old mentality out of your head, it just takes some time and patience. It doesn’t mean that your undergrad and grad students aren’t wonderful, lots of fun, and amazing, but it does mean making the cognitive leap to equal in the faculty community, even if you don’t always feel like it. Some make the transition much more smoothly than others, but you will find that after a while, you’ll want to as well. Staying stuck in grad school mentality begins to be a big let down instead of an ego-booster. You’ll know this because your grad students may start to drive you a little bonkers–that’s the first clue you’re making the cognitive shift. Don’t fight it-just go w/ it!

  • Admit when you’re having a ‘grad school moment.’
  • Acknowledge that the thought is there.
  • Reframe your thinking to turn it into a faculty thought.
  • Find a faculty mentor, find several.
  • Meet with them and discuss the cognitive dissonance you might feel.
  • They will offer up suggestions (if they’re good) on how to make the leap.
  • Be patient, it doesn’t happen overnight but it does happen.
  • Be mindful about it. Yes, grad students are great, but NO, you are NOT a grad student anymore! It may sound harsh, but the old saying of “we become who we surround ourselves with” can be true. You want to feel like an equal, start cultivating relationships with those equals. Remember my writing group? The faculty in that are also newer faculty members. We’ve discussed this struggle openly and it’s a real ‘thing’ that does exist.

What other tips would you offer to help kick ‘grad school mentality’ as we start a fresh academic year?

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On Conference Travel

Conference Travel | New Faculty

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Conference travel for a new faculty can be a mix of 100 things: fun, energizing, exhausting, tiring, networking, casual, professional, busy, lonely, social, too much, not enough, awkward, and almost any other word you could put in a sentence short of becoming a run on at this point.

You get the idea though. Conference travel as a young (or new) academic can be fraught with things you didn’t expect.

  • How to deal with the dewy faced grad students who try and talk to you but have no idea how to form a sentence.
  • The feelings that come with hours of exhausting networking (if you’re an introvert like me).
  • Networking that can come in almost any form. You’re being scrutinized as a ‘fresh’ member of an area of research and always being watched. (picture Roz from monsters inc.)
  • Opportunities that are a surprise and welcome!
  • Enjoying some of the perks of being new faculty: no more cramming 4 people into a tiny room, you can enjoy the luxury of a room by yourself or with only one other roommate.
  • Being surrounded by people yet feeling alone because you’d rather be with one or two people who are actually your ‘people’ in life.

I’ve been on the road for work. It’s mostly been fulfilling and a valuable use of my time and the universities time. I could not be more content right now as I begin this post in the conference hotel, in the ‘fancy’ robe provided, watching Mad Men, and not talking to anyone. I did spring for a single room this time around because when I booked….well, you know what, I sprung for the room by myself because I deserve it sometimes. I also flew by myself instead of cramming myself into a 16 passenger fleet van with 12 grad students BECAUSE I CAN FOR ONCE.

I planned for some down time on this trip. Instead of filling my schedule the way I fill my fro-yo cup, I made sure my evenings were free and yes: a whole day was free to do what I WANTED. I flew in early for two full days of workshops so I gave myself the day before I presented time to do some fun things. I thankfully had a friend in this city who I went to grad school with and was ever-so-grateful in showing me around, taking me to fun places, delicious restaurants, and giving me the most precious gift of all: her time. I value that more than anything and after the Spring, I’ve come to realize that I do deserve peoples’ time, I am not a bother and if I am, people will let me know.

For perhaps the first time since joining faculty, I mixed business and pleasure, carving out some fun time in order to maintain my sanity. I hit the pavement and put in some miles, making sure I was getting my endorphins flowing and getting plenty of sleep instead of feeling like I had to be social with strangers. I selected sessions and times to attend things at my own pace, knowing that I would want to hit certain things, but not others.

Finally, I took the time professionally to network, chat with other researchers and get my foot in the proverbial door. As I finish this post, it’s more than a month post trip and as I reflect, I still have no regrets about the trip. I explored the host city, got a lot out of the sessions, and grew as a new faculty. I networked well, met new faces, connected with familiar ones, and was thankful for the opportunity.

How do you handle conference travel when you don’t already know everyone?

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