Monthly Archives: September 2015

Exercising the Grey Matter: Spanish Class

Learning A New Language {New Faculty}


I challenged myself this fall to do something new. I enrolled in Spanish class. My university is gracious enough to offer free language courses to faculty one day per week in a variety of languages: Spanish, French, Chinese, German, etc… over lunch time. I wanted to beef up last year but missed the deadline so I was determined to make it work this year. I was lucky to enroll quickly, buy the book, and earn a spot.

These classes are surprisingly popular and filled very quickly. I have colleagues who were too late and will hopefully get in next year.

Why take a class when a schedule is already full? The grey matter between my ears matters! There are endless days of writing, grading, course prep, and service. But, there’s no time for “fun” stuff. My brain really hurts after 50 minutes of a foreign language and I love it. It’s pushing me to think differently, force my brain to process new verbs, words, and sentence structures. It turned itself into a headache after week one, but after week two I felt more confident, and week three was even better. I want to practice, I find myself opening up the book in between classes, and completing the assignments the instructor requests.

Learning a new language evens the playing field. The course has tenured faculty, administrators, and new faculty just like me who are all stumbling to learn. Admittedly, I know quite a few Spanish language phrases from my days working on the large dairy farms, but none of them are at all useful if I were to travel. I also took four years of French years ago and the two languages are similar. Since the nature of my work continues to globalize, I wanted to view this as a professional development opportunity and as one to keep myself fresh.

If you can and you have the time, space, and permission, I encourage you to seek whatever you can fit in. Free talks on campus, a pottery class at the local shop, good books that aren’t work related, or a splurge on that activity that you know you’ll love, find the way to fit it in. Diversifying my personal arsenal has kept me happy from the inside out. Living and working on a college campus affords us with a lot of great opportunities that are often to the public and free of charge. If you’re reading this and you don’t work for a university, get plugged in and on some email lists. You may find yourself questioning what you know and wanting to know more. I have been lucky to attend seminars on a variety of topics, free concerts and other arts related events, and a host of other free or affordable events.

They keep me thinking, they keep me on my toes, and they keep the “grey matter” growing (or staying grey at least). While we’re halfway through a semester and all feeling fatigued, why not take an hour and do something you want to do that interests your brain?

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An Hour a Day or Bust: Writing

Changing the Writing Game {New Faculty}


The semester is in full swing. I’m trapped. Mostly by grading, but I’ve become paralyzed by something else this fall: writing. My paralysis has been manageable thus far until I looked at my writing goals and realized: I’m three weeks behind. I know how this happened and I know how to fix it.

The semester has got me like **whoa** in a big way. Classes, students, new research projects, and new responsibilities have got me all over the place. In between packing in meetings, class time, prep time for class, and research, I have failed in a big way at WRITING. I have an R&R that needs to get RRRRrddd (revised) and another manuscript that’s been crying for some attention too. In my faculty life before, I could set aside large chunks of time to work on writing, but this semester has me rethinking my current strategy. Even if I have a block of time on my calendar, I can’t devote it to writing. There’s too many other things to do. Don’t get me in the busy contest, I know we’re all busy, but legit tasks to complete.

So, I started something new last week: 1 hour a day devoted to writing. Lo and behold: it worked! I could carve out 50-60 min. each day for some writing. I could allot that amount of time and it felt like it had a start and a finish. I beefed up the lit review on the R&R that has been sitting since August and then moved onto the feedback in the methods section.

I can do one hour a day.

Like exercise, cooking food at home, or any kind of practice, learning how to be a good and prolific writer is going to take some time. I had a lot of luxurious time over the summer but it quickly evaporated once August 24th hit. Since then, I’ve not gained anymore hours in the day either. I allowed myself proper time to wallow, panic, and then to figure out what my next move was.

I share this with you not to gloat, but to say: life is change. 

It can be changing up your writing strategy, switching up your schedule, or trying something new. Whatever it is, if you’re not changing, you’re standing still If I’ve learned nothing in this game it’s that you have to continually adapt. Call it problem solving theory (KAI anyone?), call it a simple life lesson but if you’re not changing, you’re not adapting, and you’re not moving forward. While I think “innovation” is an overused word, changing up my writing habit wasn’t innovative, I’m simply figuring out how to make this work for me. I may get to break and have to change it up again but we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.

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Letting Go of Perfection: Hitting Submit

Hitting Submit {New Faculty}


It’s taken me years now to start to erode away at the perfectionist, imposter, omigod feelings I have about hitting that “submit” button. Almost crippling to a point at some times in my short career.

Submitting a manuscript, a draft, or a conference proposal can be a fear filled, anxiety laden activity, but for some reason, I’ve let it go (cue FROZEN song).

I still read and edit carefully, I write like a good scholar should, but somewhere during my summer trips and my summer writing goals, the fear began to dissipate. I don’t know where it went. Maybe it’s confidence, maybe it’s in the form of “i don’t give a f*^&^” grumpy cat style meme, but somewhere my fear and trepidation began to be replaced by the attitude that I can’t get accepted, I can’t get feedback, and I can’t get published unless I begin by hitting submit. I think it also has to do with the fact that if I’m not pushing things in, I’m not gaining on my CV, my scholarship, or my life in general. Life isn’t measured by pubs, but it does matter in this game.

When I was in grad school, my stats study group and I would meet each week to complete our problem sets. Our university had a saying for football games that was, “push it in, push it in, push it in,” and while probably quite crass, I still say that phrase to myself when I get stuck.

Whatever the underlying reason, I have learned to let go of some of the fear this summer. Whether out of sheer desperation, necessity, or lack of sleep, documents have gone into the queue with less hesitation and less anxiety in general lately. I will say that the conference submission that was due last week also got written the day it was due, so I think it also has to do with the fact that I’m just swamped right now. No time to overthink, only time to work, swim, and sleep.


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Creating Teachable Moments

Teachable Moments {New Faculty}


Much like a lunar eclipse, teachable moments can feel like you’re searching for the needle in that haystack of undergrads. I have the pleasure of reporting on a teachable moment. Why take the time to say “woo-hoo!!!?” Because we need them to keep going. Article acceptances are great, grants are vital, but it truly does boil down to how we interact with our students sometimes. It’s not an every day occurrence for any of us who are scanning the classroom to see if anybody is truly “there” with us.

I have the good fortune of teaching a seminar course about my favorite thing: undergraduate research. So many of our students don’t understand how much research affects them and their every day lives. From the food choices they make, to the smart phones they snapchat on, research is driving their lives. They don’t know what it’s like to not sit in a car seat when they were young. And all of our lives are because of research.

I’m not blowing this out of proportion and the first few weeks of my research class, I encourage students to think about everything they do, the ways they function, and tie it back to research. There’s no better lesson for me than to have students try to come up with things that haven’t been touched by research.

We then move into misconceptions about research, which is where things get real for many of them.

As class was wrapping up, a student was packing their bag and said, “I was watching the news & bc of your class, I can’t watch it the same way anymore.” She picked up what I was putting down and applied it to her real, present life.


While some of you may go “ho-hum, whatever crazy lady,” it was a true win for me. I’m a reflective thinker so it did take me two full days to actually process that nugget and smile to myself (and share on FB), but I couldn’t help myself. I was so excited. My goal for this course is NOT to change their belief system, it’s to make them question it for themselves. It’s tough.

While discussing misconceptions we’ve unpacked the notion that “we aren’t here to change anyone’s mind, we’re here to first find out why they think the way they do.” From big topics like GMO’s and vaccines, to more individualized topics like morality, research has informed us for a long time. Teaching them to conduct ethical, moral, and transparent research is my game.

I may not create another impactful and reflective teachable moment for weeks. I hope I do, but I thought I’d take this Friday to celebrate a personal teaching win.

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