Monthly Archives: November 2014

Thankful 2014

Thankful 2014 {New Faculty}


As I draft this post, I’m sitting in my quiet office on a dreary Sunday afternoon. I’ve recently moved and have an office to myself that has furniture in it that is only for me and not a shared space. Don’t get me wrong, I really haven’t had too many issues the past six months, renovations took longer than expected (duh) and I’m finally in a quiet space realizing how loud my voice is, how loudly I laugh, and just how thankful I am to be sitting in silence. My colleague is next door to me likely doing the same. You could call us the “singles club” since neither of us are married and doing the Sunday dance in our offices. And no, don’t get ahead of yourself, we’re not getting together because we’re the “last two single people” in the department faculty list. Get that thought out of your head before it pitches a tent and asks for a snack. 😛

I had avoided the office on Sunday’s until recently and I’m patting myself on the back for avoiding it for so long. I have made a concentrated effort to NOT just dawdle on the Internet at home, answering emails, looking at my online course, doing work, etc…. to try and keep home separate. Besides, the introduction of an apple tv into my life at my birthday has made home time much more pleasant (AKA: full of tv again). But, like everything, avoiding Sunday’s was only going to last for so long. The grading, research, and trying to cut the proverbial “to do” list was just too much after a point and here I am. I give myself a couple hours on Sunday and at least try and get myself in a better direction for Monday morning.

As the semester begins to wind down and the U.S. holiday of Thanksgiving is upon us, I’m continually thankful to be in a field that I love, in a beautiful place in the world, with unwavering support from a dozen or more places and people, and this year: an office to myself again.

I think about those less fortunate every day now and it’s sometimes a struggle to think about their lives on less than $1 a day and here I am, swigging a $3 coffee from starbucks. The past six months have been busy with a changing research focus and realigning my expectations for research and publishing. I’ve also taken on the task of teaching, advising students, and adding more service. All-in-all, it’s been a total 180 for me. I’m hard on myself more than anyone else would dream of being and one of the administrative assistants said to me this week, “tiffany, you’re so hard on yourself, it will be fine.”

While this post could be full of useful bits of information, I’ll leave it at this:

be thankful for what you have right now. 

It won’t ever be perfect. It won’t ever look like you thought it should. Being a young faculty is a huge struggle and unfortunately, not a very glamorous one. I’ll have a ‘year end’ type post and set myself some goals for 2015, but for today, amidst my Sunday schedule of writing and getting ahead for tomorrow, I just wanted to let each of you know that I’m thankful for my work, thankful to have the privilege to communicate it, and awfully thankful to have food in my kitchen, fuel in my car, and a roof over my head.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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I’m not taking career advice from old white dudes anymore.

Tenure, She Wrote

Recently, a senior emeritus professor called me out because he hadn’t seen me at a talk in a different department (let’s say it’s Astronomy). “I’ve never seen you at a single Astronomy talk,” he admonished. “You really need to go to those.” I patiently explained that I typically have a teaching conflict, which he brushed off, and repeated his imperative that I really needed “to go to those talks.” He was angry at my laziness in failing to attend these critical seminars in a tangentially related field, and didn’t respect my explanations that 1) I couldn’t, and 2) even if I could, I have to make hard choices and don’t always have the luxury of doing everything I’d like to.

Now, I’m an interdisciplinary scientist– in fact, my position is split between a departmental home and an interdisciplinary institute, which means I go to twice as many faculty meetings and probably four times as many…

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Mental Health in Academia

Tenure, She Wrote

The academic life is a never-ending stream of new challenges that can trigger or exacerbate anxiety and depression. We’ve talked about some of those stresses here at TSW, from dealing with toxic mentors, to the job hunt (which could trigger Job Market PTSD), to the timing of starting a family, to feeling like you are falling behind even once you have your dream job. Mental health issues seem to be rising in academia and can seriously affect academics’ productivity and success – an insidious negative feedback loop.

The only way to break a ‘hidden epidemic’ out into the open is to talk about our experiences and acknowledge the pervasiveness of the problem. We are starting to talk more openly about mental illness in academia – even if there is a culture of acceptance around those issues. I’m not a psychiatrist, psychologist, or any other kind…

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The Grading Grind

The Grading Grind {New Faculty}


How do you grade?

I had the best intentions in August when syllabi planning. I had my weeks laid out nicely, my readings selected (with the exception of three I added in the latter half of the semester), and gosh darn it, I had my due date calendar up to speed. Delivering an online course means I had to be super organized about things since I’d never actually “see” my students in person, but 100% online.

Inevitably, I made a few mistakes and **gasp** over assigned some work, taking away a few assignments and giving the points to everyone. No one seemed to mind.

As I head to the latter portion of my semester, I’ve accounted for all the things I’d hoped to engage with my students about and I worked hard to design a MANAGEABLE course for ME. Yes, ME. I’ve learned a few things and quickly tried to compensate. I’ve also changed how I do things in many cases to help streamline the process for my students and for me each week.

  • I front loaded assignments to ensure that all of us (students and instructor alike) would have time to complete the final paper for the course. It has long been a point of discussion to professors everywhere of how to load a course.
  • I took an “every other” route with this course. There was work due every week, but every other week was a bit lighter in the amount of writing expected and the assignment expectations. One week, a personal reflection would be due of about 500 words and a ‘group chat’ among teams in the course. There would also be a reading and/or another reading or a guest lecture in the form of video or audio. On the opposite week, there would often be an article critique due (1000 words) and sometimes nothing or sometimes a reflection on a documentary pertaining to their chosen industry. With such a broad course topic, my course attracts a wide variety for an audience and it’s important to me as the instructor to try and understand what is important to each student.
  • I stopped making comments in document (unless there were a LOT) and instead, started emailing students directly with my comments. If there were gross APA, syntax, and grammar errors, I simply said, “this document had more than three errors in the first few paragraphs, please check.”
  • I set aside one day a week (barring any schedule issues) to grade. In a set amount of time, blocked off my calendar, and didn’t come to campus until it was done.
  • I tried not to “over grade” or make so many comments/make the email so long, that the student wouldn’t care. Usually a short paragraph, less than three sentences to drive home a point or pose questions. Nothing too verbose. My students all work full time to, they don’t have time to read short novels.
  • Set clear expectations up front. I told my students what I expected early on. I let them know they’d struggle week one and two and then we’d get into a rhythm. Only a few panicked.
  • I sent out rubrics to help manage expectations.
  • I accepted drafts on the final paper during ONE WEEK of a set length for review. I reviewed each one I sent.
  • I sent a mid-semester survey to give students a voice if they had feedback for me. Only four answered.

What can I work on?

  • My online organization of the course materials. Some things didn’t get organized as well for every student. Their folders for assignments also got jumbled halfway through the semester and I had to make a folder in each folder. Arrggghhh!
  • Grading hiccups. Technology wasn’t always my friend in terms of the CMS our university uses.
  • I worked hard and sometimes struggled engaging all learners. I also am learning to accept that not all of my students care about authentic learning, some just want the bare minimum for the degree.
  • Time. I still think I can be more efficient with my time. I’m still figuring out how to do that.

What advice would you offer a new faculty member who’s teaching, researching, serving, and not sleeping? 🙂


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