Monthly Archives: April 2014

Stop Comparing Yourself to Everyone

Stop Comparing Yourself to Everyone | New Faculty

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I was chatting up a grad student last week, she had just passed her prelims and was moving forward with her prospectus presentation. She was lamenting that her “friends” in the program were all behind her. I know some of her cohort members and they’re behind in their programs for a reason: because they just are.

I reminded the grad student that she should stop comparing herself to others and worry about her own timeline. Her program has a typical three year trajectory and she’s on target to complete in the three years. Her ‘friends’ are not, which might be just fine. It can often be difficult to not compare ourself with others, it’s human nature but I urge you to try and stop. It’s not healthy.

This grad student is doing just fine and I tried to impart that on her. It was also good of her to note this and put it in her “back pocket” because being aware can be very healthy. One of her “trusted advisees” is someone who is taking much longer due to circumstances that I know little about, but I urged her to perhaps stop listening to her friends (and stop hanging out with them). Their comments are not coming from a genuine place and they’re simply jealous and showing their own insecurities because they’re going at a much slower pace.

Academia and a PhD is not a race. I have to remind myself of that as a young faculty member and it’s nice to hear it out loud when I say it to others. We compete with ourselves but that’s it most of the time.Whether a grad student or a young faculty, the guilt of always thinking we need to work and the constant hum of our computers and our brains is never ending. It’s hard to “turn it off” and sometimes, it can be even more difficult to “turn it on,” particularly in the writing department.

In the end, it’s important to remind ourselves to try not to compare our work with others. It can be healthy, but it can also go too far very quickly. Even if you have to put a post it in a visible place, it’s worth it for your mental health and sanity to stop playing to comparison game with such rigor that it turns into a negative force. If you feel like you’re behind (really behind), check in with your mentor, check in with yourself, and I’m sure you’ll soon realize that you’re not as badly off as you think you are.

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We’re Only Human

Finishing Strong | New Faculty

It’s about that time in the semester. The feeling of being more frazzled than fresh. You feeling that way too?

As I sat in meetings setting deadlines for ‘the end of the month,’ I realized that that will mean the end of yet another academic year. Whether you’re a grad student, young faculty, or seasoned veteran, the odds that you’re running on empty or burning fumes are pretty high. And if you’re not, please email me your secret.

I’ve been running like the best of them lately, finishing 2.5 years worth of data collection, not having whole thoughts due to my brain racing, drinking too much coffee, and wishing that beyond anything, food didn’t contain calories at the moment.

I threw my back out/strained my lower back and it gently (ok, searing pain) reminded me that I’m only human. I cannot keep up this pace all of the time and spent the first day laying on my back, laying on an ice pack, with my back brace sitting next to me so I could strap in upon finally managing to sit up. It was the pits. I moved about rigidly and tried to take a flat land walk to keep things loose. I’ve got scoliosis and that doesn’t help. I also have some flexibility issues that flare up every few years and while bending over to grab milk that morning for my coffee, I felt the muscles spasm, tighten up, and proceeded to try and loosen things up w a walk about the house to no avail.

I took matters into my own hands and 24 hours after the initial strain and made an appointment with my massage therapist. As a regular there, it helped because I explained what happened and they fit me in that afternoon. I visit the chiropractor every two weeks and I wanted to promote my own healing. I’ve discussed self care before and a year ago, I would have let myself suffer. I consider it a win that I did invest in my own self care this time around.

As the end of the semester charges ahead, this has helped me reflect, forced me to relax, and helped me slow down and take time to smell the roses, even if I was hobbling at a snails pace while doing it. It has forced me to ask for more help for a few days and reminded me that I’m not alone in all of this and neither are you. Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness. Well, unless you’re bent over in a back brace trying to climb the stairs.

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Isolation in the Academy

Isolation in Academia | New Faculty

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As my colleagues and I surge to the end of another semester, the only thing I’ve been really good at lately is falling asleep on the couch. The days are full, the data is never ending (in a good way), but at several points over the last few weeks, I felt isolated in my own little corner of the campus. While there’s 20,000+ students milling around me, I consider academia to be an isolating and solitary job. While I usually don’t mind it, the introvert in me and all, every once in a while, I find myself a bit lonely. Eager for some conversation that swells beyond work and deadlines, I’ve made a point over the last few years to cultivate my network and cast a wide net to help my social life and my professional life.

My “friends” are both personal and professional, some are both, some are one or the other. I was having breakfast with a friend who falls into the “both” category and she was lamenting that she’d fallen off the face of the earth while writing her dissertation. She was starting as I was finishing and we got along very well. I respect the fact that she got busy with her own ‘life’ and we’d still see each other every couple months, write together, or have a meal. No big deal, no hard feelings. She has defended and resurfaced for air (as I like to put it) to rejoin society and sought out a breakfast date a few weeks ago.

It was really nice to see her again. Smiling, relaxed, a little less crazed looking. I’d been to her dissertation defense and was happy to support her through the process the best I could. She reminded me of how isolating academia can be. She even mentioned that she had disappeared without a trace for the last year and finally felt like she could do some things–reading books, back to working out, etc…and finding time to reconnect with friends who had gone to the wayside while she wrote.

As a young faculty and a reformed grad student, it can be very isolating. You sit with your research and your work day after day and while you’re often surrounded by colleagues, fellow grad students, or other researchers doing similar work, sometimes you need to head out of your usual peer group to find some interaction that DOESN’T relate to your work day. I’m proud to say I know very little of what my friend researches. I’m familiar with it in broad strokes, but it’s not anything I have interest in. I like my friend because she’s a cool lady, she’s intelligent, and very easy to chat with. While we share some similarities, we’re vastly different and that’s perfect for us.

It does take time and effort to have friends in academia because it is so isolating. Conferences are usually a few days long and cultivating professional relationships take a lot of time and usually a lot of technologically enhanced devices to foster the communication. I urge you as young faculty or grad students to:

go out and have some real interactions

Put the phone down. Turn off the device and leave the house or office for a few hours. I’ve found great people through my yoga studio, through face-to-face interactions with colleagues that have become friends, and through friends of friends who have all gotten together to form a super awesome ‘ladies group’ that gets together about once per month. We use GroupMe as our communication medium and coordinate real time, face to face, usually fun meet ups filled with good eats, good drinks, and lots of laughter. Rarely do we discuss work, research, or anything related as not all of us are on faculty, have phd’s, or work for the university.

Of course, on the flip side of the coin, it’s ok to let go of those people who just don’t jive with you. I have a colleague who was a good friend to me when I needed it but each time I’d suggest some ‘face time,’ there was always an excuse. I gave up. I wasn’t going to keep offering to foster a real friendship if nothing was being reciprocated. We cannot function on texting friendships all of the time.

Start small and within your means. Do it once a week. Even if it’s with people you work around, set the context by leaving work. Throw a potluck, hit a restaurant, open the invite at a coffee shop. By changing the environment, we often change our attitude and our mood, and it can lead to other conversations that don’t start and end with work.

Understand that this is not selfish. If you’re happy and fulfilled in one part of your life, you’re likely to feel the same with others. Practicing self-care isn’t selfish, it’s necessary. Being miserable is not the way your early faculty years have to be. Yes, it’s hard. I know, I’m in the middle of it, but it’s become more enjoyable by building a network and releasing myself from my own isolation.

 

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