Asking Questions to Manage Expectations



Faculty life is all about managing expectations. That’s the mantra for today’s post.

I’ve learned to manage my own expectations for myself, but more importantly-for others as well. Keeping this in mind, I also ask a lot of questions when expectations go falling off the back of the wagon. My favorite thing to ask a naughty student when I taught grades 6-12 was, “why are you behaving this way?”

I need to employ this technique for bigger kids I teach and do research with too.

I work with a lot of grad students. They’re invaluable in the research process and I respect them the way I respect my colleagues. No matter what they do when they graduate, I try to give them a holistic education that will prepare them for faculty, industry, private sector, etc…so they’ll have a skill set that’s marketable and adaptable. I have students who say to me, “I want to write/publish with you” since they might want to work in higher education or think a publication or two will help their marketability. I will work with almost any student who wishes to get writing/publishing experience.

Learning how the student likes to work is one of the most important things I work on first. Do they need deadlines? Do they do the work and let me know they’re finished until I read it? Do they need to sit and process together or out loud? How much experience do they have under their belt? What’s their course and work load look like? What do their writing skills look like? What are my expectations from them? How much time do they have? How much time do I want? When is the deadline? What else is leaning on this project/work to go to the next step?

Questions. Always questioning from my end.

The trouble can begin when the expectations aren’t met on one end or the other. Even after all of the questions, the follow through is the key. Holding students and myself accountable is still the hardest part of managing those expectations. I wouldn’t expect a two-year old to write a sonnet, so when I expect a grad student to write a whole manuscript, I’m letting everyone down.

This has happened. I did not expect the grad student to write the whole thing. I gave it to them about 75-80% done and they still couldn’t get the pieces done I asked. They were paid to write and they mustered up two sentences during the duration of the project.

About halfway through I asked the questions again, “do you want to do this?” I gave them the out. “Do you need help? How can I help? Would you like to partner write it?” I gave them options. “Do you need a deadline instead? What’s a measurable one we both can commit too?” I tried the deadline since they weren’t working well autonomously.

In the end, my expectations were not met and I was left underwhelmed if I’m being nice. Grad students are here to learn, not only about the content and process but about themselves too. I’m here to learn. Sitting down with the student and discussing objectives, asking lots of questions, and holding everyone accountable is my game.

Managing expectations through questioning is a technique I’ve employed successfully and unsuccessfully for years. In the end, it’s the relationship with the student in the end. The relationship with me but their relationship to finishing or contributing to a project that matters just as much. Whether it’s a manuscript or something else, their proximity to buying into the work can make or break their process.


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A Troubled State

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I had good intentions of writing- banging away on my manuscript about diversity and inclusion.

And then we kept blowing each other up over religion and sexual identity.

And then we shot each other again over implicit bias.

And then we shouted hate and spewed more vitriol at each other over…well nothing really, but because we apparently can.

And I have to say, it disturbed me. Threw me off my game to say the least. The stage has been set as one of polarized media, negative rhetoric, vitriolic writing, and worst of all, continued hatred with violence on all levels. What are we doing? What are we teaching our children? What are we doing to ourselves?

Maybe it’s because I’ve been sitting waist deep in literature about diversity this summer, the theories of how we can and should and need to be inclusive to help our own society grow, and the long term ramifications of what happens when we don’t do these things. And then I realized that the long term ramifications I read on the paper were happening before my eyes when I turn on any news, open any web page, and live my life.

Maybe it’s because I study implicit bias using facial recognition and non-verbal behavior analysis. I can see people’s discomfort-in their faces, in their body language. It’s a real thing, it clouds our judgment without meaning to do so, and we make hasty decisions in all parts of our lives.

I turned to bell hooks. She soothed my soul momentarily. But she cannot make it better all by herself, much like I cannot take a stand by myself without there being some casualties along the way. “Many folks found they had to confront the limitations of their training and knowledge, as well as possible loss of authority.” Through this, I grapple with my own limitations on the subject, which are many and varied, but my heart pulls me farther into it, asking questions, consuming information, and having more questions after.

Being brave. Asking for change. Not sitting idle. I’m not be the picketing type, but I’m also not the type to sit around and be treated or watch others be treated like crap because of things they have no power over. No control. No authority. Maybe it is “Me 2.0” or perhaps it’s simply “an informed, sick of being treated like shit when others find it convenient, not putting up with it anymore” me. “And learning does not take place when our firmly held beliefs are never challenged. This process can and should be difficult, messy, and certainly uncomfortable. In academic terms, it is when we are at the edge of discomfort that learning truly happens (Arao & Clemens, 2013).” I can recall THREE times last fall when an undergraduate said, “i’m really uncomfortable with this” in reference to the diversity research. I reassured them each time that they would be ok, they were going to be better when we were done, and they would survive. I did not lead them down a path of destruction, but rather one of self awareness. Am I a God? NO. But I know that true learning is an act that can be physically and emotionally uncomfortable. Cognitive dissonance might be the official term for this, but we can call it like we see it: being uncomfortable as hell. I admire and respect my student for acknowledging their discomfort, for sticking with it, and for coming out on the other side with me.

I follow a person I’ve never met because he writes beautiful words and his post resonated with me in so many ways. Dr. Flanagan, my hats off to you if I wore them.

“The biggest barrier to change is the potential reaction to our changes. We fear how people will react if we don’t give them what they’ve come to expect from us.

They like who I am, but will they like who I’m becoming?

People seem to be okay with Me 1.0, but how will they react to Me 2.0?”

I’m sick of soothing others ethos at the cost of my own. Not everyone will like Me 2.0 and I’ve grown to be ok with that. I grew that way after I got sick of being treated as less of a human for the color of my skin. For my gender. For my foreign born status. No one will come out and say they have a problem, so they’ll laugh and pretend it’s a joke but the laughter fades too quickly for it to be genuinely funny and their face and body language shrink away while their false laughter booms out too loudly. Outside of some mild teasing in the 8th grade, where a boy teased me about my eyes and I went to class after in tears, only then to see said boy ripped to shreds by my history teacher (thanks mr. ford), no one ever cared about my ethnicity. No one ever asked if I spoke English. I grew up without ever feeling bad of how I was born, who I was, or where I came from and in 2008, my world crashed. 600 miles south I moved.

I was asked multiple times in a week if I spoke “good English,” if I “had the right papers to be here,” and “do you have a name i’m going to be able to pronounce?”

My answer to all of these in my head contained a lot of four letter words, none nice. The answer that came out of my mouth was much more PC. I vividly remember talking to my parents and telling them they had apparently raised me all wrong because caring about something so trivial seemed so important to people where I’d moved but no one cared at home or in my profession there or in any of the circles I ran in. I know I was naive but I also know that I lived in a much more liberal part of the world. The racism continued and the effects of it for me have been hard to confront. And the kicker to this was in 2012 when I was actually denied service because “no one wanted to clean the yellow skinned ladies teeth.” I was in tears because I was ashamed and mad and terribly sad all at the same time. It was then that I turned, I became an ally, I become an advocate, I became sick and tired of the status quo of it all. I became tired of staying silent so someone else could remain comfortable.

The aggressions toward me continue. A few weeks ago I was minding my own business at the pharmacy and a woman asked me, “is your necklace like you, only in china?” Not even close on both accounts. I told her I wasn’t from China and neither was my necklace. The bias towards me for no reason, the assumptions because of the color of my skin, all based on what? The color of my skin?

Me 2.0 no longer cares about hurting your feelings. Me 2.0 is pretty damn tired of having people make jokes, be rude, unkind, or think that because they’re doing it with a smile that it’s “ok bc I was being funny.” It stopped being funny and I’m ready for the fat lady to sing. Hell, I’ll sing. Let me dispense some ear plugs first. The micro-aggressions, the fragility, the implicit bias, the defensiveness, and sometimes downright racism have all got to exit stage left. Immediately if not sooner. If you want to have a productive conversation, I’m happy to do that. If you want some literature to consume when you’re ready, I’m happy to provide that. If you’re ready to be uncomfortable, call me. If you want to expose your own bias and racist qualities, and then try to make yourself feel better about them without actually doing anything, don’t bother me, call your therapist.

The long and the short of this post is that I’m done with being afraid of how others will react to my change. I’ve been woke. I cannot change the national lens, but I can change the lens outside of my door where I live, work, and exist and hope it contributes to the broader public. Dr. Flanagan is correct in my head, Me 2.0 cares less with each passing birthday how to soothe your ethos at the expense of my feelings, and if you have issues with diversity and inclusion, deal with them yourself, take your jokes to a comedy club. The lights have gone off on this stage.


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We Don’t Want to be Your Token



On a lovely summer night not too long ago, in a land called ‘where I live,’ I attended a soiree with friends that turned into at best one of the more uncomfortable social situations I’ve been in with people I actually know in real life.

It started out bad for me and went to worse in less than thirty minutes, leaving me watching my phone for the most socially acceptable way to leave as soon as possible. We had gathered to celebrate a friend and one of the guests began going on about how they had that “token one black friend so when someone asked about them, the person knew immediately bc they had no other friends of any different ethnicity in their life.”

Ex-squeeze me?

Through her jaded laughter, I know I began to make ‘the face.’ You know, the one of disbelief, of trying to cover it up because you’re in public, and the one that says “holy hell, can i leave now?”

As she droned on about her immediate knowledge of her ‘token black friend’ laughing, I mostly became mortified.

Do I say something?

I opted not to, I was there to celebrate a friend, not make a huge scene, but I also reminded myself why I stopped investing in this racist individual over a year ago. I think what made it so uncomfortable for me was that I know all of these people in real life, they’re not random, ignorant strangers. They’re people who actually exist. This person has some clear issues about diversity and inclusion that were made clear to me some time ago. I had avoided everything about this person for a long time until this. In a small town, it’s hard not to run into people from time to time.

Issues like this end up being something we can easily become desensitized to because we don’t really know these people in the media. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of racist bigots in the world, several that I know, and more that I hope I never meet, but what makes this hard is that I can put a name with a face with a life that some of these people have. When we say and do racist things, we often don’t know anyone or dehumanize them, much like my acquaintance bragging on their ONE minoritized friend. We have lives. We are productive members of society.


You want a token, I’ll get you a subway card in NYC or DC or some from Chuck-E-Cheese. I’m not to be collected to clear your hateful conscience or so you can make some largely inappropriate jokes. As I’ve delved into a new body of literature for my own work on diversity and inclusion it’s becoming easier and more clear to spot these aggressions and micro-aggressions in people. Their defensiveness and white fragility is hard to ignore, and my fight or flight response kicks in much quicker. We’ve created a society where everything is sensationalized and if I do respond I get called “crazy,” “rude,” or a slew of other things, giving the person who is the racist the agency to become the “victim” because some Asian got ‘crazy’ on them. Yes, I did speak up because you and your ignorant behavior are intolerable.

I have learned that sometimes it’ best to walk away. Changing people is worse than herding a bunch of cats but it doesn’t teach anyone anything. It reinforces their negative behavior. While I can say “I hope their karma catches up with them” it often does not. I do hope it does. What I can do is continue doing work, being a productive member of society, and working hard. Like T. Swift says, “the haters gonna hate, hate, hate” and in my world, the racists are gonna keep on being racist so I’m gonna drop the mic, walk away, and appreciate the folks I have in my life who would pissed at me for being late, not for being Asian.

Cause nobody got time for that.


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Saying No to Sunday

just say no


Summer isn’t that long for us nerds. Once you get through with conference travel (yes, fun but also work), service for on-campus events, and the sheer amount of administrivia that comes with the end of the FY, summer is boiled down pretty quickly. Summer is a great time for us to read, write, think, and have the time to actuall do both things without constant interruption. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve also been taking full advantage of the time to take care of several life tasks to keep my adulting game going strong, but I keep pretty regular hours during the summer too.

One habit I try hard to NOT engage with is working on the weekends in the summer. We had a large grant due recently and my writing team wasn’t planning ahead, leaving much of it until the last minute. The Friday before it was due, the PI said to me, “want to work on this on Sunday?”

“No. I don’t work on Sunday’s in the summer.”

I caught the guy off guard. He replied, “Oh!” pretty surprised and his face widened out at my response.

“It’s the one rule I try and give myself in the summer. I’ll be on the grid first thing Monday morning to finish this up.”

“Well, alright, good for you,” he rebounded.

Why bother telling you about this? Because BOUNDARIES. It’s the only thing I try to NOT do during the summer and here I stood, being asked to do it. Dang it! New faculty me three years ago would have been all, “ok, but just for a couple hours” but New faculty me in the present gave it a “hell no, I won’t go” as quickly as I could. Yes, I considered it, but then realized we had several days to get this together, not mere hours.

I enjoyed my Sunday-went paddle boarding and enjoyed my day in general.I was pretty proud of myself and quite content with what I did instead of running to campus. My friends/family were also properly happy for me-saying no is hard for me. Whether it’s because I’m a female, a minority, a young faculty member, or I just have a hard time saying no, follow my example, follow Nancy Reagan, and “just say no.”

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Steamrolling Into Summer

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source: I took this, that’s Henry!

I feel like I’ve barrel rolled right into summer. In case you’re wondering, it was a very clean barrel roll with no big rocks on the path. I don’t know how it happened but I thought I just got back from overseas…. A quick trip home helped my mental state but it added up and the driving alone was a pain in my ass (really, my lower back was screaming). A quick trip to the chiropractor straightened me right out (pun totally intended)!

Alas, graduation and the pomp and circumstance (pun intended again) that goes with it is in full force. Taking advantage of the time to not be on campus, I started to pretend an adult lives at my house who cleans things. The the ritualistic nature of stripping the covers off of the couch cushions, the shame and pride of vacuuming a semesters worth of crumbs out of the couch, and the nice smell that the febreze has when I deodorize the couch and love seat is my internal trigger that the seasons have changed and so has the semester.

There’s other things that trigger the changing of my academic seasons. Move out will and has taken full force, summer happy hour emails have been sent for standing invites with friends, and conference season kicks off in just over 48 hours. Why enjoy that first week of summer when you can get on a plane and hit up your first conference? Relaxing is for quitters…..

We don’t realize what a frenetic rush we put on ourselves as young faculty members. I had not been sleeping well since coming back from overseas and while I could only use the excuse of jet lag for so long, there were so many things to take care of. This coupled with taking a month off to go abroad, on top of whatever else I’ve been up to made sound sleep this elusive thing I chased. I even hung some Tibetan prayer flags over the bed hoping it would catch some good prayers and they’d turn into good dreams or good sleep. It took the internal ‘click’ of the semester for me to sleep like a log for the first time in weeks for a solid 8.5 hours before I stirred and heard Henry moving in his crate to let me know it was time to get up and play.

USDA grant season has slowed, I’ve got a NSF due next week, a NIH in June, and another one (can’t remember the acronym) in early August. I feel like I have one more but honestly, I can’t remember…My pubs for the calendar year are published-looking shiny and real and I am already scheming of what to push out for 2017. I have plans to push out two more this summer for hopeful publication next year. Gotta keep the wheels turning right?

I have blocked out my summer calendar now that summer projects have been decided on and blocked out travel. Two conferences, a week in CO, and then home to the farm. In between, I have plans to read, write, evaluate, work on grants that are currently funded, work with undergrad and grad students that have been hired, and heck-NOT work weekends, evenings, or before a normal time of day (normal is defined as “when the sun gets out of bed”).

All the pre-planning is letting me do one very important thing: it’s giving me permission to slow down. Blocking out the time gives me space to think, write, and read. I ordered 14 books the other day so I better have some time to read (and yes, they’re all for work). Slowing down in summer doesn’t mean productivity lags, it means I actually have time and give myself permission to do the things I can’t afford to do when there’s a room full of students, a pile of things to read, and researchers all staring at me for answers. The grant work alone I’ve neglected is enough to fill several weeks.

August will be here soon enough, but today, May whatever it is, I’m going to slow down. Downshift my internal engine, sleep through the night without interruption, and work through the massive pile of books that will be delivered when I get back from my conference. Now that the couch is clean and my house looks like a living, breathing human who doesn’t hoard a pile of shoes somewhere near the door lives here, I can steam roll right into summer.


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I’d Like to Give You Feedback Too



It’s been a good semester. Now that it’s almost in the rear view mirror, I can spend a little time reflecting on the wins, the challenges, and map out the summer.

I love teaching and taught a one credit seminar this spring. I agreed to teach it approximately 48 hours before the semester began, so it wasn’t something I had a lot of time to plan out beforehand. Never one to back down from a challenge, I said yes and was honest with the students of the short time line. It’s the way the world works sometimes and a good lesson for them.

The seminar went fine and as a one credit seminar, the stakes were pretty low for everyone. Some good things to make note of if I want to turn it into a three credit course, some things to make note of to do again, some to not do again, but the biggest feedback for myself is to prepare the readings more thoughtfully throughout. Seminars are a great way to share ideas, have some great exchanges in a friendly environment, and produce a practical deliverable. I asked the students to take an existing program, critique it, infuse theory, and give policy recommendations for it. As the professor leading, it’s a great time to see if a “proof of concept” will work.


During the final presentations, one student grew very defensive when a colleague and I disagreed with their work, throwing their hands in the air and then saying they felt “attacked bc there were two faculty” in the room. That’s what grad school is. Exchanging ideas that aren’t always agreeing with you. This same student struggled with me all semester, being disrespectful and then noting that there is no faculty survey for the seminar (it’s one credit folks) and that they “had feedback i wanted to give” which reads to me like “i want to be a real jerk in a passive aggressive fashion in an anonymous environment so you won’t know it’s me.”

Here’s where my inner critique came in. I know it wasn’t perfect. Far from it. I do know that I presented good material and that my disagreement with students isn’t to pester them, but to have them “consider the other.” I said that phrase multiple times over the semester, sometimes multiple times during one class and instead of listening, this student would wave their hand in the air and stammer. Having not been disagreed with is perhaps something new or a coping mechanism. Part of graduate school is learning about how a wider gamut of people think, their experiences, and it’s a lot of hard work. If a student wants to come get that easy phd, our program is not the place for it. Like the military, students need to be broken down a bit in order to cognitively process all of the information, their experiences, and where it all goes next.

I’d like to give that student some anonymous, passive aggressive feedback too: to quit being such a condescending, rude, disrespectful human. But I can’t because there is no survey for how a student behaved, their classroom civility, or anything else. The system is designed to put the instructor completely at fault and never put any responsibility on the student for their actions, just the work they produce. I surmise the student wanted to tell me how little they thought I knew instead of answering the questions that are addressed on evaluations, which is often times what a faculty evaluation really is. We know content but does our personality jive with our students? Does our teaching style fit their style? Does our organization fit their preferred mode? With so many students, it’s impossible, thus making faculty evaluations a flawed instrument at best.

Yes, I made mistakes. I’m human. It’s my job to mess it up here and there. I’m in the business of teaching, researching, and doing scholarly things for a living while remaining respectful of my colleagues, mentoring our students, and forcing them cognitively to grow the gray matter in between their ears. I expect my students to be respectful in return but you get one every now and again who will force a new gray hair out of your head.


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How I Know it’s the End of the Semester…

I put face moisturizer in my hair one day and the hair product on my face and then walked around thinking, “why is my hair so damn greasy? why is the smell so strong near my nose?”

It’s the end of another semester folks…and I for one could not be more pleased. Or tired. Or burned out. I get this way every semester and everyone I know starts walking around like zombie’s with glazed eyes, stress eating their feeling to fill the void, and barely functioning.

A friend on fb posted:

“I just put deodorant on over my shirt.”

Hence, the replies followed….

“I once spit a mouthful of water into a towel rather than the sink.”

“I notice that my breath is minty, my teeth feel clean, and say to myself–aloud–“Oh. I must have brushed my teeth” without irony and with enormous satisfaction.”

“Stood in front of my office door for much, much longer than warranted while trying to unlock it with my truck key… the electronic, “press button to unlock” part.”

Cheers to the last push to the imaginary finish line or very obvious one: commencement.

May your grades be easy, your students follow directions, and you reclaim your inbox, your life, and your laundry pile!

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Delegating for the Win

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I’ve been gone for about two weeks now and I have to say, life has been good work-wise. Not because I’m not there, but because before I left, I worked like a dog and delegated.

It wasn’t easy letting go of all that perceived control. I like knowing what’s going on w my project work, grant work, and students, but I had no choice. With less than great Internet (ok, less than great electricity in general) for the majority of the trip, I knew I would have no choice but to adapt quickly and delegate everything I could. So I did.

I have to admit, it was pretty nice not having to worry about as many things. I would see emails when the electricity was on, but for the most part, my part was done or the people knew I was gone and they didn’t necessarily expect me to respond right away.

I have a great team behind me and I know how lucky I am to have them in my life. They’re all capable, bright, and more than intelligent enough to live for three weeks without me. There’s a few days left of this trip before I begin the journey home and while I’m glad to have come and done this work, I’m also very excited to go home. I cannot stress how important delegating was to the success of this trip in order for it to go smoothly. The list for what to do when I get home is getting longer every day, but I have taken a great deal of comfort knowing things were done while I was gone and it allowed me to enjoy this stretch of travel a little bit more. I worried less when there was no electricity and it enabled me to engage more with the world sitting right in front of me instead of what was happening some 7800 miles away.

It Takes a Village, Spring Break Edition



Greetings from Spring Break!

I’d like to say I was posting this from a beach, a couch, or an otherwise sunny location but here I am, in my favorite coffee shop where I got a big table since the students are all gone. Winning!

I’m grinding on my to-do list hard this week-why? Leaving for three weeks in a few days for work. This plan has not come together with a wave of a magic wand, nor was it an easy process. Traveling internationally to an under-developed country has been a process. Relying on others with more experience than I have and relinquishing control over the details was annoying at first, but is kind of nice now. A magic folder was FedEx’ed to me last week that contained everything I would need and more.

The logistics on a trip of this size and scope have been a team effort. From my department head, my colleagues, grad students on assistantship, to my current grant projects, to the students I’m teaching, to the ten undergrad researchers who look to me each week for guidance, to my friends taking care of my house and life, it’s not been an easy trip to put together. With so many moving parts, I have been forced to ask for lots of help from various people, groups, and the trickle down effect of my absence will affect more than I think.

Am I that important? NO. (check myself before i wreck myself moment)

It’s also USDA grant season and all of the due dates fall while I’m gone. Oops. Getting asked to collaborate on several grants has forced me to get organized and turn all of my materials in early.

There’s also the long list of supplies I was tasked with obtaining before I leave. Enough toiletries for three weeks,  surge protectors/converters, and one magical Amazon list after another have kept me in line. Borrowing a large suitcase and larger backpack for a 24 hour layover in Asia have had me on my toes.

I have to say: I’m lucky that I have a village willing to support me. From my mom sending me links, to my friends coming to water my plants, to my departments support, I would not have been able to do this without my team, my squad, my village. People forget what a gigantic effort this is and the 22 year olds I teach think it’s this glamorous thing we get to do. I have to remind them that it’s anything but glamorous at points and the work pace I’ve been keeping the last month has run me ragged. It’s one consequence I accepted when I said “yes” to the trip and I knew it would be hard to get it all together but I’m glad I’m doing it. I was so over tired the other night I put myself to bed early, turned down dinner plans most of the weekend, and kept myself in hiding knowing I would be terrible company. I couldn’t even muster the energy to hike a few miles, feeling sloppy due to lack of sleep, poor diet, and just general “blah” lately. I know, I know, “woe is me” but you have to know: getting on that plane to Hong Kong will be a sigh of relief because I’ll know that everything is done and if it’s not, it’s too late.

We cannot drop it all and get on the plane. As a young faculty member, we’ve got too many balls in the air to do that. I need to make sure my pubs are getting published while I’m gone, my grants are getting turned in, and my students and researchers are all on point. This takes a crap load of pre-planning, communicating, and a boat load of work on my end.  Yes, international travel is pretty awesome and I’m pretty fortunate for this opportunity, but this has not been one of those easy, breezy things to pull off. Hell, there’s still a few days until I leave and it could all come crashing down. I hope it won’t and it shouldn’t, but shit happens folks.

The number one thing I’ve had going for me: I’ve known about this for a few months and I’ve done nothing but COMMUNICATE that I was leaving. I’ve made no bones about it to anyone I’ve worked with. From our grant officer in the college to the students to the faculty I’m writing grants with, everyone knows I’m leaving and I won’t be available often while I’m gone. Not going to a first world country means I’m not going to have first world Internet access.

The sky will not fall chicken little, not at all. But my bat brain will be so much happier once I get the last few items checked off my list, shove a bunch of crap and three weeks of shampoo into a bag and settle in for the long leg of my flights: 16 hours…yeah, 16 hours. I’m pumped for that too!


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Revisiting Plan B



It’s been a while since I thought about plan b at all. Quite frankly, I haven’t had the time.

A conversation with a graduate student last week caused me to hit my own pause button.

The student had come in to see me about working up a manuscript. We chatted about the work and then I asked him how his job search was going. He had been very transparent with everyone about his job hunt; seeking advice, getting feedback, and asking good questions.

Upon asking, he slumped down a bit and said, “it’s not going so well.”

Like any good advisor(y) type person, I said, “what’s your plan b?”

“There is no plan b.”


The student had assumed too much because we had given him too much hope. I hate to say it, but it’s true. We assume that our students will all finish and there will be mountains of opportunity for them. While there should be, there’s not. At all. The numbers on tenure track positions decline and continue to do so and the number of other types of positions rise to save universities money. It’s happening where I work too. I’m not in a TT line either so I’m having the same struggle.

I have thought about all of my options though. Many, many times….and I’ve tested the waters too. Applying, interviewing, etc…

But this student had not done anything outside of academic job applications.

And I hope he does now.

As many of you get to take a pause for a deserved break, I hope that if you’re thinking about finishing anytime in the next six months, you’ve got your “unicorn” but you’ve also thought a little bit about plan b. I don’t want to rain on your parade, but someone has to let you know or remind you that there has to be a backup. There would be nothing worse than wrapping up and not having anything to move toward. Sometimes plan b pops up when we lease expect it, so don’t be afraid to go towards opportunities that you may not have considered.

Plan b’s often turn into plan a’s and that’s how the job market works at times. Don’t count out your plan b. Keep working toward plan a, but in the meantime, don’t forget there’s other letters in the alphabet too.

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