Monthly Archives: February 2015

I’m All Ears: Listening in Academia

I'm All Ears: Listening in Academia {New Faculty}

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People in academia like to talk. A lot. We like to hear ourselves talk. A lot. But sometimes we need to take a step back and listen. We have two ears and one mouth for a reason. Sometimes, we need to be smart enough to let our evolution take over.

I was stricken with a delightful head cold last week. Due to the amount of nose blowing I was doing, I wasn’t much for conversation. Mostly because it led to coughing and other delightful cold symptoms. I’d like to write a book about the “8236 stages of a cold” that will be due out for publication next year. Nothing like a good cold. And so much hand washing….

Amidst my mouth breathing and sudafed haze, I still kept my schedule. It was just a cold after all. It was a good reason to speak less and listen more. I was reminded of this several times throughout the week.

Chatting with grad students. While it’s our job to advise them, I know I can get mired in the business at hand: making progress. Not feeling 100% helped me sit back and let them drive the bus of their own learning. In between my coughs and nose blowing, students were able to work through their dissertation issues. Because I didn’t have much for a voice, I mostly nodded in agreement and let them keep talking.

Not talking gives other people permission to keep talking. Not talking makes some people super uncomfortable so they keep talking. Not talking and being with someone who fears silence is an excellent tactic in getting all of their secrets out. Just so you know.

Our department also hosted preview days. Potential grad students come in for a series of meetings and interviews spread out over the course of a few days. It’s a great opportunity to meet with potential students, listen to them discuss their future plans, and if our department might be a good fit for that. Along with this comes a lot of listening. Trying to gauge their interest, their maturity level, and their true motive for a graduate degree is a lesson. Paying attention to their body language is equally important.

Sitting back and listening can be a powerful medium. It gives the person you’re with the freedom to converse and it gives you the freedom to listen. No one feels obligated.

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Be Willing to be Mentored

Being Mentored {New Faculty}

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Being a grad student isn’t always glamorous. Sure, you get to do research and think about science (or fill in that blank appropriately) but sometimes, you’ve gotta walk that line and tow that mark.

Grad school is a great place to make mistakes, to learn, and to grow cognitively. In so many ways, school is for making mistakes. BUT, it’s also about learning from those mistakes. It’s about growth. It’s about becoming a better researcher. It’s about learning to become a better researcher from making mistakes. Righting the proverbial ship is of the utmost importance. You’re bound to make mistakes but how you handle yourself can make a world of difference.

Some have a harder time than others. Many students who come to a PhD program have worked before and are returning to school after years in the work world. Learning to be a student can be tough and boundaries can be hard to reign in, particularly for “adults” who’ve been out in the working world. I’ve heard of two cases as of late who caught my attention, but unfortunately for the wrong reasons.

My piece of sage advice for this week: Be willing to be mentored. 

I don’t know how else to spell it out. Saying  you’re willing and actually allowing the process to work are two totally different things. Assuming responsibility for your mistakes and your wins are both equally important. The relationships you make or don’t make with your faculty can mean everything and nothing very quickly. I’m not here to make anyone feel bad or to say that I didn’t make mistakes, but I think it’s cause for pause at this point to recognize that being mentored isn’t just about sitting down and listening to a senior faculty discuss theory.

It’s about putting those things into action.

I urge you to check in with yourself this week. Whether a grad student or young faculty, take a moment of pregnant pause to say, “how am i doing?” and if you have great pause about any of it, perhaps it’s time to take some notes. Being perfect isn’t the goal, but being better is. Checking in with yourself can avert crisis later on and set you up to be more successful. As our department welcomes in potential graduate students this week for interviews, it’s the number ONE piece of advice I’ll be giving to anyone who asks. Be willing and we will meet you halfway there.

 

Being the “New Guy”

Being the "New Guy" {New Faculty}

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Being a new faculty member is hard. It’s tiring. It wears you out and wears on you. I know. I’m there. I come home some days and don’t move from my couch except for food, the bathroom, or to move to my bed and that feels like work. I feel you.

I’d like to make a case for getting out  and working after hours, weekends, or getting to know your fellow faculty at social functions that are outside of work hours. I know it’s hard. Many of you will have families and other commitments, but I’m going to encourage you to give it the “old college” try a few times. Hear me out.

I never like making a habit of working on the weekends. However, in this position, I find that if I give myself a few hours on Sunday’s to clear out my inbox, settle my calendar, and get myself organized, I have a much smoother Monday morning ready to jump into whatever I got myself into. Truth.

The awesome part about this is that many of my colleagues like working on the weekends as well. Sunday’s will find many of us in our offices working along quietly playing the never ending game of catch up. Before you get all “misery must love company” on me, the weekends are great for catching up with colleagues. There’s fewer students milling around, there’s no class to rush off too and generally there’s no formal meetings on weekends. Each Sunday I’ve logged has been useful to me in terms of productivity, but it’s also had the added benefit of getting time to converse with my colleagues. We don’t always discuss work, but we do talk. And, as the newest faculty member in the department, I think it’s important to have those conversations to set some context.

For me, it’s valuable time spent. As a self-identified introvert, I don’t do as well in large groups, faculty meetings are too busy with business for any chit chat, and walking into another faculty member’s office to strike up a conversation isn’t my forte. In fact, the last one makes me downright uncomfortable. The weekend is when the feeling is a little less formal, standing around for a few minutes chatting helps me get to know my peers and them get to know me. I’m “work new faculty” at work. I have things to do and tasks to check off. I’m guilty of not wanting to socialize much and I have a calendar full of things as well. Formal business hours are not the hours you want to get to know me in to get a good picture of who I am.

I’ve been told many times that I’m a hard person to know. I acknowledge that. I think many academics are. We choose academia for the solitude of research sometimes and it feeds our tendencies. Being aware that I’m not the most open, charming, naturally extroverted human helps me work within the boundaries that have been set by my personality.

Our faculty tries to go out to happy hour too. I don’t always want to hit the bar with my colleagues on Friday, but I’ve gone each time it was organized and I felt as though it was valuable time spent. I’ve been able to cultivate talking points as I get to know my colleagues. We rarely discuss work specifically, students and work do come up, but it’s more tangential in nature and non-specific. Again, my personality comes out in these settings since I can speak to people in a more social setting without the fear of students or other hindrances.

Can it be awkward? Of course. Entering an established group of peers is always a little unnerving, but maximizing your personality potential and being self-aware enough to understand how you’re situated in a group can be important. I don’t come out and say how much I love research, but the spouse of my colleague saw me design a course at faculty development this spring. He observed me working for days on it, had conversations with me about the topic, and learned how much I love research and undergraduate students. Because of that positive interaction, my name was brought up to plan a possible undergrad research certificate in our college. That’s pretty exciting to me. I learned this at the bar. I solidified my ability to do this during a hallway conversation on a Sunday. Over half of my interaction about this had nothing to do with M-F from 9-5.

Being the new kid on the block can be tough. It’s hard to know where you fit in the group. It’s kind of like being the last kid picked in gym class in middle school. It’s taken me nine months to order business cards. It’s also taken me nine months to get to know the people I call colleagues better too. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither have my relationships with my peers.

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