Tag Archives: first year faculty

Academic Self Care Isn’t Selfish

Self Care Isn't Selfish | New Faculty

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Summer slipped away in the blink of an eye and I’m currently battling the cognitive battle of “no, don’t you dare go into that office on sunday’s” and “but you have grading to do.”

As the academic year rears it’s glittery, sparkly, and slightly pretty head, all kinds of good and very bad things start to happen.

I begin to neglect. Everything. Including myself.

I stop cooking. Popcorn for dinner anyone?

I spend too much time at the desk.

I spend too little time doing all the things away from my desk that need to get done.

I know these things. I’m not proud. But, I started to employ a new system for myself that began in May. While we can’t go back in time, summer was a great transition time for me to get some things in life in order so when the academic year began, taking good care of myself would be easier, more normalized, and dare I say it, enjoyable?

1. I take care of a lot of appointments during August before classes begin. Dentist, annual physical, car inspection, etc….While it does take time, I still have some time in July/August. It was a few weeks of adult problems everywhere! It’s a rare gift to get your oil changed and have 30 minutes of unrequited time to read things online. I take care of these things so I don’t feel guilty for NOT doing them during the semester. I get any prescriptions filled and buy OTC things in bulk so I don’t run out in October and ask my doctor to do a 3-4 month prescription, if possible, so I don’t have to worry about the Target bot calling me 2048 times to let me know I’ve once again forgot to pick it up. I set up any auto pay accounts and revisit financial matters in the summer. The people usually have a little more time to talk to me and answer my questions. While it’s sometimes not the most optimal time to move my retirement accounts around, it’s necessary.

2. I make moving my body a priority. I stopped fooling myself a few years ago and embraced the fact that I have to move regularly. I have a standing desk, but there’s nothing like dropping 300 meters in the pool a few times a week. Going for a 2-3 mile walk or fitting in a good 75-90 min. yoga class are also excellent for me. Since I’m largely sedentary most of the day, I have to find a way. My old faculty appointment had me working very strange hours, but this new one is more normal and therefore, it’s been easier to get into a good routine. The pool is open for open swim from 5:30-7 p.m. each evening and I can often clear myself of responsibility easily for this, yoga, walks, or whatever else there is.

3. Working on the weekends. I’m on the struggle bus about this one. As deadlines loom for submissions and grad students send things at all hours of the day, I’ll keep plugging away. It’s a few weeks into the semester and I’m still happy to report I’ve not had to go in on the weekends. Home football games have also kept this “bad” habit at bay since the university sells every spot for tailgating and tows you away if you think you’re going to park your car anywhere near campus.

4. I prep food for the week on Sunday’s. Boiling eggs for quick breakfasts, making larger portions for leftovers, portioning out leftovers right away so I can grab one container and get out the door, and reviewing my calendar have all helped me eat better. I will usually spend 1-2 hours on the weekend prepping food. It’s not anything “extra” as I usually try to make a decent meal for myself on the weekends. Cutting up veggies so they’re ready to cook, boiling off a batch of rice and freezing it for quick meals, or defrosting meat to throw in the crock pot are all part of the routine for me now. During the days of weird faculty hours, food prep became essential when I was eating around 9 p.m. at night. The last thing I wanted to do was actually cook.

5. I continue to guard my time like a hawk. Writing group each week moves me off campus. Closing the door without fear leads to quiet time to work, and being strict with others and myself about when I can meet is key. I’ve set all my meetings with students this semester on Tuesday’s. If I have to go to one meeting, I might as well have three. I may not get a lot of work done on that day, but it’s not peppered throughout the week, losing an hour here or there. I schedule my weeks top heavy on M-W and have left Thursday’s open to get MY WORK done. I’ve also accepted that by Friday afternoon, I’m exhausted.

Self care isn’t selfish. There’s nothing wrong with voicing to yourself or those around you that you have to take a little time for yourself. There’s nothing wrong with making your calendar to be done by 5 p.m. so you can manage your personal life. There’s nothing to feel guilty about if you’re not a night owl or a morning person, as long as you get to work once you get to work. Academia is such a self-motivated industry, that you have to figure out what works for you. I have friends who work most of the night due to their own circadian clocks and the fact that that’s the time when the kids are asleep. I have friends who work regular days so they can spend time with their kids once they’re home and get them to school in the mornings. Optimizing what you’ve got to work with is key. Taking good care of yourself is not selfish and even if you want to hole up in a dark room with your apple tv, you shouldn’t feel guilty about doing so.

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Isolation in the Academy

Isolation in Academia | New Faculty

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As my colleagues and I surge to the end of another semester, the only thing I’ve been really good at lately is falling asleep on the couch. The days are full, the data is never ending (in a good way), but at several points over the last few weeks, I felt isolated in my own little corner of the campus. While there’s 20,000+ students milling around me, I consider academia to be an isolating and solitary job. While I usually don’t mind it, the introvert in me and all, every once in a while, I find myself a bit lonely. Eager for some conversation that swells beyond work and deadlines, I’ve made a point over the last few years to cultivate my network and cast a wide net to help my social life and my professional life.

My “friends” are both personal and professional, some are both, some are one or the other. I was having breakfast with a friend who falls into the “both” category and she was lamenting that she’d fallen off the face of the earth while writing her dissertation. She was starting as I was finishing and we got along very well. I respect the fact that she got busy with her own ‘life’ and we’d still see each other every couple months, write together, or have a meal. No big deal, no hard feelings. She has defended and resurfaced for air (as I like to put it) to rejoin society and sought out a breakfast date a few weeks ago.

It was really nice to see her again. Smiling, relaxed, a little less crazed looking. I’d been to her dissertation defense and was happy to support her through the process the best I could. She reminded me of how isolating academia can be. She even mentioned that she had disappeared without a trace for the last year and finally felt like she could do some things–reading books, back to working out, etc…and finding time to reconnect with friends who had gone to the wayside while she wrote.

As a young faculty and a reformed grad student, it can be very isolating. You sit with your research and your work day after day and while you’re often surrounded by colleagues, fellow grad students, or other researchers doing similar work, sometimes you need to head out of your usual peer group to find some interaction that DOESN’T relate to your work day. I’m proud to say I know very little of what my friend researches. I’m familiar with it in broad strokes, but it’s not anything I have interest in. I like my friend because she’s a cool lady, she’s intelligent, and very easy to chat with. While we share some similarities, we’re vastly different and that’s perfect for us.

It does take time and effort to have friends in academia because it is so isolating. Conferences are usually a few days long and cultivating professional relationships take a lot of time and usually a lot of technologically enhanced devices to foster the communication. I urge you as young faculty or grad students to:

go out and have some real interactions

Put the phone down. Turn off the device and leave the house or office for a few hours. I’ve found great people through my yoga studio, through face-to-face interactions with colleagues that have become friends, and through friends of friends who have all gotten together to form a super awesome ‘ladies group’ that gets together about once per month. We use GroupMe as our communication medium and coordinate real time, face to face, usually fun meet ups filled with good eats, good drinks, and lots of laughter. Rarely do we discuss work, research, or anything related as not all of us are on faculty, have phd’s, or work for the university.

Of course, on the flip side of the coin, it’s ok to let go of those people who just don’t jive with you. I have a colleague who was a good friend to me when I needed it but each time I’d suggest some ‘face time,’ there was always an excuse. I gave up. I wasn’t going to keep offering to foster a real friendship if nothing was being reciprocated. We cannot function on texting friendships all of the time.

Start small and within your means. Do it once a week. Even if it’s with people you work around, set the context by leaving work. Throw a potluck, hit a restaurant, open the invite at a coffee shop. By changing the environment, we often change our attitude and our mood, and it can lead to other conversations that don’t start and end with work.

Understand that this is not selfish. If you’re happy and fulfilled in one part of your life, you’re likely to feel the same with others. Practicing self-care isn’t selfish, it’s necessary. Being miserable is not the way your early faculty years have to be. Yes, it’s hard. I know, I’m in the middle of it, but it’s become more enjoyable by building a network and releasing myself from my own isolation.

 

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Death by Chocolate? How About Death by Meeting?

Managing Meetings | New Faculty

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As a new faculty, everyone wants you. They want to meet with you. They want your time, they want your ideas, they want you physically to be in their presence  they want you virtually, they want you……and all I wanted to do was crawl in a hole of survival to make it from Monday-Friday in one piece. Being new to faculty life can be the ultimate high and the ultimate low for the first year. There are countless opportunities for service, new research, teaching, advising, and social opportunities. If you’re like me, by Thursday night, you need a nap that lasts 12 hours, and another half day of couch/coffee to recover for the following week. Socializing has moved to the bottom of the list.  In fact, I’m the woman who says, “One drink” and I actually mean it.

Since returning to academia after being “out there,” I’ve grown to hate meetings. I have found a direct correlation to my feelings about meetings to the amount of coffee or sweets I consume.  I really hate them. They make me want to stab myself in the eye with a pencil. I even hate things that feel like meetings but have some random other nugget like “let’s get coffee and chat” attached to them.

I had started a post a long time ago about how much I hated meetings and incidentally, HBR ran a piece about why meetings suck and I jumped on board and combined some posts. HBR wanted their readers to know that meetings suck. I’m here to affirm that they suck in academia too. Some days, there’s nothing like a whole bunch of educated windbags all with egos the size of California to just rub your day the wrong way (CA, i love you). Other days, wonderful things happen in meetings, true collaboration takes place, and you walk out feeling like, “hell yeah, let’s rock this puppy!” Unfortunately, my ratio of “omg, i wantodie” is much larger than “hell yeah, let’s do it!” and it’s usually because the meetings lack leadership, focus, and goals.

I’ve stopped going to meetings unless I know it’s something I need to do. Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t jumped ship. I stil have my weekly set of meetings, but I’ve started to plan more diligently about them:

  • I plan them (or as many as I can) on the same day. I already feel like they’re a time suck, so why not just get them all out of the way. 
  • I set clear guidelines with the people I’m meeting with. “I have one hour to dedicate to this.” It might sound a little bitchy, but you know what? We’re all busy and unless it’s some barn burning research going on, I’ve got an hour for you and that’s it. If you can’t spit it out in an hour, then you need to get your shit together and communicate. 
  • I walk out. Yup–I do it. If it’s cutting into my time, it’s not productive, and I think it’s draining my day, I excuse myself. I usually leave half hr. gaps between meetings in order to travel or clear my head, but sometimes, I just leave a really unproductive one and move on. Even if I don’t have another appointment, I just leave.
  • I quit apologizing for turning someone down. If it’s something I want to do, I reschedule, but sometimes, I simply say, “thanks but no thanks” and move on.
  • I’ve started saying no. My mantra of being less generous with my time is going well, three months in, and I’ve gone to a few meetings and come out thinking, “well, what the hell did i just do that for?” If I can’t come up with a good reason, I don’t go back. I don’t care how good the snacks are. Odds are, I can make something better anyway. The projects I can think of that I walked away from aren’t really causing me to lose sleep, nor am I filled with regret about backing out. 
  • I’ve stopped taking most meetings later in the week. I’m pooped. The odds that I say or do something totally dumb increases. Is there still an occasional Friday afternoon meeting that can’t be avoided, sure. But for the most part, I’ve started to schedule my calendar to avoid those later afternoon, late week meetings. 

When I’m the one asking for a meeting, I do the following (grad students, listen/read up!!!)

  • I send an agenda–sometimes it’s detailed, sometimes it’s bullet points
  • I send any supporting documentation that needs to be discussed or reviewed.
  • I stipulate a time frame.
  • I’m on time, even if no one else is.
  • I end on time. (or early)
  • I don’t overdo the small talk. We’ve got shit to do.
  • I dominate to steer the conversation if I need too.
  • I’m not afraid to wrap things up and/or follow up via email if there are unresolved items. Sometimes, you are doing good work and you do run out of time, take it to technology to help you out, but don’t be annoying. 
  • I keep notes for later. If it is a good meeting and there’s a lot of good stuff going on, I need to revisit it. Others will also want a synopsis as well, this is a great way to help your brain recall it and others will appreciate it.
  • I stay off technology (unless it’s via skype) meaning, no emailing, facebooking, etc…I wanted an hour from you, I’m going to be respectful of it.

What would you add or delete to the list? How would you tell other new faculty or grad students to begin managing their meeting mantra now before it gets ahead of them like laundry? How do you deal with the time suck part of your professional life that can also be called “meetings?”

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