Monthly Archives: January 2015

Office Politics: Low Drama, High Output

As a new faculty member, it can be tricky to navigate the professional and personal relationships in your department or unit or lab. You fill in that blank with whatever you’ve got. I didn’t get a feel for what was happening until my office moved to the same floor as my colleagues and I have observed some very interesting things. I’m not saying it’s all bad or all good, but there’s certainly a culture in the department among the faculty that I was unaware of.

I first noticed that there’s a segment of the faculty who are night owls. They work best from about 8 p.m. until last call per say. I’m not in that camp. They do it for a variety of reasons: kid schedules, partner schedules (or lack thereof & they can do what they want), or it’s their preferred time based on their circadian clocks for maximum work time with minimal interruptions from anyone. The night owls tend to be closer and go to each other first. I know lots of conversations probably take place that go beyond work and dive into personal stuff. It’s kind of like the old saying that “the majority of business takes place after hours (at a bar over drinks).” I stay once in a while past normal hours. One evening, I got caught talking with two of the night owls about research until about 8 p.m. Another evening, I came back after listening to a good talk about international development to research some points the speaker made and was in the office until 10 p.m. I slept like crap and was all messed up. I learned quickly that I’m not a night owl by nature and I’m better off getting up early to work.

Outside activities influence the social context. The biggest “outside activity” I can think of is church and there’s a small group of folks that go to the same church and are very social about things with each other only. I don’t get it. I don’t want to, but I also see how a great social network and community can form. I’m not against it. They’re always very friendly and they always invite me to church.

The people who all went to the same university. There’s a large contingent of the faculty in my department who all went to the same university for at least one of their degrees. That also includes me. In this field of work, there’s a few universities that have outstanding programs and my alma mater is one of them. I’m proud. Again, never over the top stuff, but it’s kind of fun to have a rivalry once in a while.

The weekend crew. I’m on the weekend crew. I usually come in for a few hours on Sunday afternoon’s to get ready for the week, map out my calendar, and take care of anything I’ve left from Friday. I avoided weekend time for several years in my old appointment, but started last fall due to teaching load and new responsibilities. The weekend crew is sparse on Sunday’s and we always say hello and chat for a few minutes. I try not to be too chatty on Sunday’s as I consider that “my time” and am very protective of it. One Sunday, I caught what I would consider to be a “very personal” conversation between two other faculty who are close and I actually turned on music so I didn’t have to listen to it. Unfortunately, they were next door to me, so it was hard to avoid in many ways, but I’ll be honest: Sunday is not social time for me. Sunday is “get crap done” for Monday time. I usually treat myself to a coffee from somewhere other than my house and go in for a few hours. I set myself a time to be done by and usually leave by then in order to enjoy the rest of my dat.

Other social factors influence navigating office politics in a big way. There is a culture in my department that is very student centered, very “low drama, high output” centered and I like it that way. These folks are like good neighbors and I appreciate their intellect and “good human” characteristics. There are times when I walk into a room or down the hallway and see colleagues having a discussion and I get the feeling I wasn’t supposed to “walk in” right then but on the flip side, perhaps they should have closed the door or not had the conversation in a public arena.

Plain and simple: there’s office politics. I think it’s unavoidable but you get to decide how you interact with them. I will admit, I have asked about some issues and educated myself. I try to keep any gossip at a very low level and generally keep socializing to “light” topics. I make a point to visit the grad offices to say hello and see if my students need anything. I think it’s important to remain a human being in this job. I used to get so frustrated for professors when they were totally unavailable that it’s made me conscious enough to be available when I can be. Visiting with them in their domain can be helpful to hear what’s going on in their grad student heads.

It’s truly all about balance in any situation. I cannot say enough positive things about my department. I’m really enjoying it. Within any group of humans, politics and office chatter are bound to arise and it’s important to be aware of it. Having other friends to chat with about whatever is happening is the way to go. I’m not talking about slandering anyone, but an outside source (or several) who can listen is always key. An outside person may also have an objective, non-biased opinion and you can surely benefit from that.

Whatever the situation is, navigating the social aspect of any department is an exercise. Don’t overdo it. Nobody wants to be “that guy or girl.”

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Manuscript Meltdown: Submission Season

Manuscript Meltdown: New Faculty


The sound of the clattering keyboard is my favorite. Compared to the sound that I hear when my forehead hits the desk, it’s like music to my ears. Submission season is here! I love working up a manuscript, but only if I get enough time to do it.

Working with graduate students has rewards and challenges. Submission season has caused a small manuscript meltdown from one student this year due to time management. As someone who writes and submits regularly (like all of my colleagues), I cannot help but beg and plead with graduate students to manage their time in order to get timely feedback.

As a young faculty member who happens to love writing and research, I enjoy seeing my students make positive progress. No, you won’t get accepted 100% of the time, but if you’re improving, then you’re moving forward. As a faculty, I always remember to thank my students for their continual hard work. I know it’s a pain. I know it’s not always fun. AT ALL. But, I know why we’re all here. I’m here to help. I’m here to guide. I’m here to comment my face off in your word document in the spirit of improving. I often preface my first round of edits with, “I comment because I care” and I really do. Be worried if you don’t see any comments. Unless we’ve been working on this for a while, I’ve probably lost interest or didn’t give it the time it deserved.

  • Delegate your time in advance.
  • Send notes to your collaborators.
  • Know that it’s going to take much longer than you expected anyway.
  • Don’t hesitate to ask for help (in a timely fashion).
  • Follow the submission outline.
  • Find a submission to the same conference or journal that was accepted and model it.
  • Edit, edit, and edit it again.
  • Be explicit in your language in the body. There’s usually not space for flowery innuendo. Be literal. Say what you mean.
  • Don’t expect help. I hate to be negative nancy on the whole thing, but sometimes, people don’t follow through. Sometimes, people are on your author list but don’t do work. Sometimes, you’re going to have to man/lady up and rock it out.
  • Understand in advance you can use the writing for something else. If this is ongoing research, you will likely be able to use it for other submissions or articles. Most conferences are moving towards abstracts for acceptance, but there’s still some laggards who want 10+ pages for a 20 minute presentation. I call this a “valuable lesson in patience.”

Understand that growth is what’s most important. You may not get accepted but did you manuscript improve from the previous submission? Becoming a better researcher is a process, it’s something I remind myself of daily. There will be days of frustration and there will be days of sheer triumph. Celebrate whenever you can. It’s always worth a little dance party in your office.


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Syllabus Boot Camp

Syllabus Boot Camp {New Faculty}


I signed up for a course design workshop this year. I’m teaching a new class in a few weeks and really wanted to give it the time it deserved to plan the darn thing. Yes, deserved. Instead of tossing things around in my brain and trying to spit things back out on paper, I gave myself 2.5 days of time. Our pedagogy shop sponsored the workshop and provided everything from coffee and snacks to lunch to meaningful and useful advice on instructional goals, assessment, and flipping the classroom if we were interested. It sure beat the half-ass approach I took in the fall.

On that note, my teaching survey’s came back. Not bad kids, not bad. Some of the feedback was very odd, some of it made NO sense, but some of it made PERFECT sense. I had been handed a stale class, pumped some life back into it and forgot to update the syllabus and organize things in a more coherent manner. lesson learned. Not all the feedback was bad and many of the comments were valid for positive and negative reasons. As hard as we try, we do take some of it personally. One of my colleagues tanked on the survey and was pretty upset about it. She also attended the course design workshop. Her ATTITUDE was: if I screwed up, I can get better. She spent her 2.5 days thinking about her class for next year already. I admire her tenacity to not let it get ahead of her.

It was an easy decision to go to this workshop. Even with the random pile of stuff that I had to plow through to get ready for the semester, I could not have brought the course to life without the time, space, and permission to do so. I encourage anyone reading this to also seek out those resources at your university. They have the knowledge. They have the time. They will offer suggestions. If you don’t have this luxury, call on your “team” to help you out. This has already made the semester less painful. Now, if all my grants would get funded and manuscripts accepted.

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Academic Collegiality: Offering the Proverbial Cup of Sugar

A Lesson in Academic Collegiality {New Faculty}


It’s the most wonderful time of the year in the hallways of my office. It’s annual reporting time for all faculty. A grad student swung through, saw one of my computer screens and observed, “almost every faculty I’ve seen today has that on their screen.” Let me tell ya kid, we’re really all in this together.

It’s my first faculty reporting season on this job. It’s a totally different form/page/requirement list than my old job. I was thankful to get a tutorial from a more senior faculty member this week and a crash course provided the broad strokes that I’m going to need to finish mine. There’s one more relatively new faculty member in the department and she and I visited about it a few times as well, making sure that things like “objectives for 2014” were missing for both of us since we never put in objectives last January because we weren’t employed by said department/college. A sense of camaraderie has been nice in that respect. It’s more like, “you struggling?” “yup.” “Oh hey, me too.”

I began this job in May so it’s been about seven months on the job. Needless to say, there are times when it feels like I’ve spent a lot of time working but don’t have a lot to show for it. That’s my self-efficacy monster to wrestle with. Knowing I have a colleague who also feels that way softens the blow a little bit. Neither of us have gone up for any external funding yet. Hell, I just moved into an office around Thanksgiving. Can I report that?

The colleague who was nice enough to give me the tutorial-she also got a tutorial on hers from a tenured member of the department since she’s going up for tenure this year. See how this works? You never know when you’re going to need a good colleague to show you the ropes.

As I work through this first year of the process, I’m humbled by what I have done, by what I haven’t done yet, and by my colleagues. I cannot stress the importance of having good colleagues who are willing to take a few minutes of their day and help me out. Willing to admit they’re struggling or when they’ve figured something out and are willing to show me has been an invaluable asset to me. Small? Yes. Important? Absolutely.

I have continued to be overjoyed to be back in agriculture. I know I’ve discussed it here before but this would NOT have happened in my old appointment. It just wouldn’t have. As much as I know that my job is just my job, it’s also important to me to be happy, to be able to be social, and to feel like an equal member of the faculty. I do feel that way now. It’s not just getting help on my annual report, it’s small things like joining the other faculty for a happy hour, engaging with them over casual conversation, and not worrying that every little thing I might say is being put under a microscope-there’s room for error. HBR ran a piece about how your colleagues should be like good neighbors, willing to lend a hand, a proverbial cup of sugar, but also know you’d reciprocate if ever asked. It just so happens that I brought back some NY goods for one of my colleagues as a kindness. I didn’t have to, but I wanted too. Who doesn’t appreciate good maple syrup? Pancakes for everyone!

If my car broke down on the side of the road and I had to call one of these folks for a ride, I think they would answer the phone AND also come get me if I asked. I hadn’t had that feeling of collegial security since 2011. It feels pretty good.


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Graduate School, I Forgive You

As we all know, forgiveness is sometimes the only thing standing in our way. I forgave “grad school” and everything that came with it some time ago, but Anthony puts it so nicely.

Conditionally Accepted

Graduation, May 2013 Graduation, May 2013

Over the summer, I received a notification that my online university accounts at my graduate institution were terminated.  It had been a year since I officially graduated and began working at another school.  I knew that this moment would come eventually, but I was surprised that I felt the slightest bit of sadness about it.  This was it.  That chapter of my life was officially over, and my ties to the institution no longer existed (excluding friendships and professional relationships, of course).

I could not wait to get out of graduate school, but I have continued to struggle to recover from it over the past year and a half.  I had hoped that I would write a few posts to work through what I called “graduate school garbage,” and make available the experiences and resources that were not available to me as I attempted to forge

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