Tag Archives: academia

Faculty Interrupted

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Hi there! Long time no write….I wish I had a better set of excuses but sadly, I don’t. I guess the quote is true, “life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.” I made plans and then life happened.

Let’s see…since four months ago…..

  • another semester
  • a few more grants
  • promotion (yay!)
  • development trip to West Africa
  • holiday (that I spent in West Africa)
  • new semester
  • new class
  • new opportunities
  • adapt and change

Opportunity has been knocking and I’ve been answering. Probably more than I should but I’ve been answering nonetheless. Some great things have happened, the highlight is the promotion. After a semester of negotiating and working with my department head, it finally happened right before the end of the semester. I was and am elated. Being promoted from a contingent research faculty to a more permanent faculty member has been a goal for two years. The biggest difference to me is that I don’t worry every day about being a contingent faculty member. The stability alone was worth every ounce of effort the past few years. While it was always part of the ‘master plan,’ it was certainly not a guarantee and I find myself with more time to worry about doing my job instead of if I’ll have a job. Big difference.

I said “yes” to another development trip and left the day after Christmas for West Africa, returning the day the new semester began. Nothing like the last minute. The work was similar and very different to my trip to Nepal last year. I was teaching agribusiness curriculum and capacity building to college faculty to expand their programming to a masters level program. The country was painfully beautiful in so many ways and the work was hard and easy all at the same time. These are not vacations, these are hard work. The conditions alone sometimes seem impossible to many westerners and adapting to the situations is key. I have to hand it to my squad stateside and abroad for this one. I said “yes” on a shorter time frame, was asked to produce more curriculum before I left, and cut the holiday short with my family and friends at home. They always have my back and take good care of me. I even had a “why didn’t you pay us to live in your house?” moment while gone and a friend took the wheel and helped me manage my business after an online payment fail. It takes a village to keep me on the straight and narrow for sure.

Returning the day the semester began was really great and really terrible all at the same time. Besides exhaustion, I felt behind the game for almost two weeks. I did everything I could before I left and while in country, but if there’s no current, no internet, and no water-you don’t get much else done in a day in the US (maybe the water isn’t a big deal to class prep, but the other two are more important).

So, here we are. Halfway through the spring term. I’m teaching a new course, developing another, working on my scholarship, my pubs, and it’s grant season for me. As my position evolves, so does my place of work. A new funding model, new classifications of faculty, and other changes keep us all on our toes and adapting.

“It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory.”

I’ll ry not to go four more months between posts. But I make zero promises ;~)

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In Defense of “Free Time”

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Running, busy, over committed. Three words most adults use on a regular basis. The notion that we have to be in that perpetual busy contest is killing us and selfishly, it’s driving me crazy.

I’ve had a few days in the recent past where I am busy. I’ll pack a day in order to get a day free. Not free of work, but my time is free to me to write, to catch up, to reflect, to shove off early, to accidentally take a nap without .

Facebook is showing me 1,390 back to school posts and I love them. But what I hate hearing is “we had such a busy summer” because then I wonder, “when did they have time to actually enjoy the summer?” I don’t hold anything against people for that statement, but I wonder how people would respond if the post said, “we had tons of free time this summer.” I imagine a lot of people would guffaw and reply smartly, “must be nice” but I wonder if anyone would say, “my family did too, so we went out to catch lightning bugs almost every night.”

I’ve learned to guard my time but it does get away from me on occasion and then I have to have an internal chat with myself. Heck, I overcommitted this week, had to apologize, and then had a stern reflection while swimming laps. But, what would happen if you set aside free time? Would you even know what to do? Would you want to fill it with something? Or simply read a book? Would you feel the need to defend it to someone? Or would they celebrate it with you?

I understand that we’re busy, but busy doing what sometimes? This culture of busy isn’t working but what will it take to stop it? Idle time seems like a decadent dessert, a luxurious morning sleeping in, or simply freeing ourselves psychologically that we always have to be busy.

I noticed myself wanting to be un-busy on a recent trip to see my sister. She was a great hostess and we kayaked, went to the beach, and had some really yummy meals. One afternoon of my visit we ate lunch and she said, “what do you want to do?” I recommended we do nothing, watch a movie, take a little siesta, and simply enjoy some free time.

When my life gets too structured, it makes me nervous and I fight it. But too little and I’m frazzled. In defense of free time I’ll end with this–free time gives us the freedom to think, the play, to be curious. Carve out some free time for yourself so you can be free, be curious, and give your brain a little breathing room to do what it’s really good at, even if it’s simply to take a nap.

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What If We Quit Trying to Create Screensaver Moments?

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(that’s my desk, it’s not screen saver worthy)

The academy is fraught with misconceptions about old men with white hair who sit around all day smoking their pipe while wearing sweater vests and discussing philosophical questions in a cloud of smoke.

Sadly, about 90% of that is untrue. The sweater vests and the discussions are about the only two things in that statement that remain intact at all here in the academy. And maybe some old guys ;~)

Academia, like many professions, is built on notions and stereotypes that simply do not hold up anymore. As someone who sits in two worlds, I can say that these stereotypes are about as far from true as possible. I sit in the agriculture world too and trust me, it ain’t all stereotypes there either.

Instead of perpetuating these notions, it’s time to get real and quit trying to create screen saver moments for others.

  • We’re hustlers.
  • We’re entrepreneurs.
  • We’re teaching.
  • We’re advising.
  • We’re researching.
  • We’re publishing.
  • And we’re running.

Toward the next thing, toward the next grant, toward recruiting the next set of students, toward the next research project that’s unpaid but we hope will lead to something paid.

We are not sitting around chatting for long. The academy isn’t going to remain this stone thing in an ivory tower. It’s crumbling around us. Funding continues to be cut, pressure to increase enrollment is up, pressure to recruit, pressure to submit grants, pressure….Insert the song by Queen now.

Sometimes, it helps to have some real talk. I call it “come to jesus” talk and it means no disrespect to anyone but the tone is set. I had this talk with a grad student recently. He had failed. Failed miserably and instead of owning it, he tried to flee the scene of his ‘crime,’ doing no work. I let him think he was running for a week and then he had to face his own music.

And he got tears in his eyes.

I didn’t yell. I didn’t have to.

Continually creating a screen saver moment for him wasn’t going to work. He wasn’t going to learn. And if someone had taken a picture of our meeting, it would hardly be worthy of an instagram post.

But it was real.

Vivid, living, and in color. There were no rose colored glasses.

This semester, I encourage all of us to quit trying to create screen saver moments. For ourselves, for our students, for everyone. While there are accomplishments and victories to be celebrated, when we try and glamorize our hustle, we’re feeding into the stereotype I outlined in the first sentence of this post and academia is the polar opposite now.

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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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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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An Email-less Weekend

An Email-less Weekend {New Faculty}

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Something weird happened. Weird is a relative term, so let me rephrase. Something weird for me happened.

I didn’t receive a single student email this weekend.

Strange for me. Very strange….and then I remembered it was Halloween and that students had many other things to do besides email me. And I was very, very happy.

I was away on family vacation last week as well. Disney World and Universal Studio was AMAZING and a ton of fun, but it also didn’t leave much time for work, much less email. I knew I was going for months so I could set myself up well. I did read email during the waiting for rides and in lines, but really, there was very little work that took place. It was a cognitive break that was a nice change of pace and appreciated. I returned to work with lots of mental energy and graded 60 mid-terms to get the day started right. (Ok, I also finished the day grading too meaning I graded all day and my brain was in great shape, only my feet had averaged about 7-8 miles a day walking).

Email has turned us into these monsters that we cannot escape from. My love/hate relationship with email continues, along with my calendar, my writing habits, and my intake of carbs. I had not realized how UN-common weekend email was until I realized I had received ZERO from students this weekend. Murphy’s law states that as soon as I hit “publish” on this post, 12 will come in back-to-back, but it’s a good reminder that I don’t have to read them or respond to them immediately either.

As October is now a fleeting memory and the rush of the latter third of the semester falls with the rest of the leaves, it’s nice to remind myself that technology is great, but I need to engage less to get more done.

I wish you an email-less weekend too!

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Third Time Isn’t Always a Charm

The Third Time Wasn't the Charm {New Faculty}

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The third time did not yield anything but a rejection. I have had no success with a manuscript and finally said “enough” this week, throwing in the proverbial towel on it. The journal I sent it to was still not happy with the format and syntax on it, so I paid an editor to work on it. It got sent back again and you know what?

I’m over it.

Completely over it.

It was not an article I wanted to produce but was asked to and then told that they project had “changed direction” several times over. I’m taking this one as a ‘sign from above’ that I just need to drop it and walk away. I’m not making excuses, I could NOT FIND THE ERRORS. I hired an editor. They fixed everything they could find and it simply wasn’t up to par. I’m over it. *Let’s out a sigh of relief* I sent a note to the other authors on it, saying that it had been pushed back again and I would not pursue it again.

I share this not to not take blame or to just “let it go” but because as a young scholar, sometimes we need to be reminded that not every manuscript will be publishing gold. People don’t talk about their rejection rate, they only discuss their CV lines. I’m here to tell you: rejection is more popular than acceptance.

I was having coffee with one of my mentors and we were lamenting about publications and her response was given amidst laughter, “oh dear, if I put the rejects against the acceptances, I’ll never be at .500.” Ain’t that the truth?

This manuscript will remain in the folder in my dropbox account. Maybe I’ll use it one day for parts, like an old car, but for now, it will rest there. The money I spent getting it edited was not wasted, I don’t consider it a loss, but I do consider it closed as a viable publication for that journal. I’d love to shop it to another journal, but at this point in the semester, I don’t have the time to do that and my undergraduate researchers are all very green and this would take more teaching time than it would be worth. I’ll tackle that task on another day.

I’m not giving up or giving in. I’m accepting it for what it was. An exercise in writing, the opportunity to be a better writer, and learn that not every manuscript is a winner. Until next time…

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Exercising the Grey Matter: Spanish Class

Learning A New Language {New Faculty}

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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}

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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}

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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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