Tag Archives: academia

Billable Hours-Faculty Edition

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I was recently caught off guard in the very best way. I was on a Zoom call with some colleagues in both academia and in industry and the call was wrapping up. We were sharing ‘good-bye’s’ and ‘have a good day’ sign offs and I brought up a big conference that we would all likely go to. As I mentioned it, my colleague, who is in industry, brought up a good point that we in academia often forget about.

“I lose so many billable hours if I go to this conference.”

As I get entrenched in the grants and contracts portion of my position, I had never thought about my work the way my colleague in industry does, as a billable hour. We talk about our time in percentages and buying out our time means x number of hours per week, but I had NEVER considered how many billable hours I would be able to give to each of my projects and then figure out the value of those billable hours. If there’s 40 hours in a typical workweek, I’m spending 10-12 of them grading and class planning, which is more than 20%. When you think about it, it’s a skewed model, but what if my ONLY job was to work on grants and contracts?

What does it mean to be a younger faculty member? It means counting that, acting as your own boss in many ways, and hustling for the next collaboration, grant submission, and publication while teaching, advising, and participating in service for the university.

When we begin thinking of ourselves as entrepreneurs, what happens to the public science for the public good? It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. If I start thinking of my time in billable hours instead of science for the public good, will it change or alter the nature of my work? Will it devalue it or help it increase in value? I don’t know the answer, but it’s caused me a pregnant pause.

Back to the conference conversation: I can’t go due to a major event that I cannot miss, but when I think about it in billable hours, it makes even more sense to NOT go. Part of me really hates to miss it, another part of me is bummed that I think of it in billable hours or as a % of my time and value, but the travel, money, and trying to gauge how many meaningful connections I MIGHT have aren’t tangible enough.

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Easy Come, Easy Go

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Summer 2017 was by far, one of my most productive and fruitful professionally speaking. As I reviewed my weekly plan and then crossed things out, it was most satisfying on many levels.

To count up: seven grant submissions, one manuscript that I first authored, and prepped for one new course and one returning course in my roster.

The things I couldn’t control: manuscripts I wasn’t first author on, an extra NSF grant at the last minute that I said yes to, and the weather (bc we all know you can’t control that).

The other “wins” of summer 2017? SUP–so much paddling this summer, I’ve caught the bug! I was able to spend extra time at home with my family, hike some tall peaks before it got too hot, reroute some summer travel and take a ladies road trip to the deep south, and read 30 books! I save all of my “pleasure” reading until summer and my list had grown to be massive this summer! As soon as I start class planning, I stop reading for pleasure since I’m reading all day. It’s a habit that I love and hate. I wish I could read more during the academic year but I just don’t after I’ve read things all day.

Overall, I’m really pleased with how the summer unfolded and am already trying to formulate my fall plan. I’ve added a new course and am unsure how much time it will take so I’m hoping to get my plan done after the first week of the semester. I’ve also already blocked one day a week for “my work” and will religiously keep it blocked unless something comes up. Overall, I’m working on religiously guarding my time this year. It’s a constant goal and I usually fall off of the wagon at least twice, but with the accountability of a great women’s writing group, more responsibility, and even less “space” to screw things up, I’m going to try REALLY HARD!

May the odds be ever in your favor this fall! Welcome back to a new academic year!

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Summer Slam!

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Summer is moving whether we like it or not and my summer writing plan was nothing short of lofty. Six grants, two-four manuscripts (other authors collaborating), some work travel, my endless summer reading list, funded grant work that needs attention, and VACATION. I mapped it out by week and gave myself some measurable and very manageable goals in order to stay motivated. I made adjustments as needed and didn’t feel bad pushing one thing back and pulling another forward or vice versa.

So far, so good. Four/six grants submitted. One manuscript mostly drafted, another in editing mode w co-authors. Other two manuscripts are resulting from a post-doc project, we’ll see if the post-doc comes through on their writing responsibilities (hard to know sometimes).

I cut down the conference circuit in a big way this summer. I had planned for three, I ended up going to one. While I know there’s trade-off’s with this, there were several factors that helped make my decision to stay put. 1: money. Some of this is getting way too expensive. 2: time. I’ve got plans for my personal and professional life and they don’t involve traveling for conferences. 3: value. Value? As in, what value is this adding to my dossier?

I’ve got my eyes set on a big conference next year that’s abroad, so it will take some excellent scholarship and pooling of resources in order to get me there. It’s also a conference where my research can really take off and I can learn a ton, so I’m willing to sit back for a summer and do the legwork at home. Not slamming myself with conferences has given me the time, space, and permission to plow through more research and writing. It also opened up some more time to do my favorite thing: GO HOME. An extra week is like finding a billion dollars in your winter coat when you pull it out of the closet the first time it’s cold. PRICELESS.

I also love my college town in the summer. With fewer students in town, it’s really quite lovely and I forget to take advantage when I’m on the road all of the time. Between paddle boarding to happy hours with friends and hiking, it’s really quite lovely. I need to leave more DURING the semesters when the kids are all here 😉

Funded projects are getting the attention they deserve and my endless summer reading list has added up. I amass articles and books all year and once the summer hits, I download, print, check out, and read. I try to break my days up into halves or thirds, spending each chunk writing manuscripts or grant submissions (usually mornings when my brain is really fresh), and then reading and/or grant work in the latter part of the day. I do not work weekends in summer as a personal rule and shy away from evening work as well.

Have I found the magic formula yet? No. But I like how this summer has shaped up. While I’ve adapted to changes in travel and scheduling, it’s really been all for the better. It’s opened up more space and time to slow down a bit and really think about some things. It’s given me time to do some things I enjoy besides work in the town I call home. It’s given me the gift of permission. I will likely never have another summer like this, life has this funny way of doing what it wants, so I’m taking the gift of less travel and more space now instead of trying to arm wrestle it into submission.

I hope you’re having a great summer, no matter how much you’re reading, writing, or relaxing!

 

 

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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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