Tag Archives: higher ed

Revisiting Plan B

Plan-B-resized-600

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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.”

Uhhh…..

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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Manageable Summer Goals: A Summer Day

A Summer Day {New Faculty}

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A full week into summer and I’m still riding with my training wheels. My Monday Morning Motivator email was titled, “You Should Be Writing” and darn it, it was right. I’ve set myself up well. Given myself manageable and realistic expectations. Now, just the hard part: meeting them.

A colleague has organized a summer writing group and I gladly signed up. It begins next week. I’ve been trying to set myself up each day with 1-3 realistic goals. For example, I did some data analysis this morning to help a student get a poster done and sent to the printer. The data had been transcribed and coded and just needed to be more organized to help pull out the major themes. Time spent: ~1.5-2 hours.

I spent a good thirty minutes this morning doing some housekeeping. I still had not submitted receipts from a trip a few weeks ago and wanted to get those off my desk. I had also neglected answering email for a few days (it was the weekend) and took a few minutes to get that done. Time spent: ~30 minutes.

After a lunch swim (yay for summer swim time), I sat down and coded for another two hours. I cannot code for more than a few hours a day. It makes my brain fuzzy, it makes my eyes hurt, and it’s one of those “all consuming” research activities. Instead of setting myself up to fail, I’ve given myself one document (roughly 30 pages) to code at a time. I have to get up and take breaks while coding too. I just can’t sit there and power through like some can. I will say that not every page of every document is “codeable” as some are lists and graphics, but each one will take at least two hours. Time spent: ~2.5-3 hours.

What else did I get done today? Quite a few things. I organized another mess of data into readable, accessible, and easy to find for all the researchers folders in the google drive. I spent some time on that because we’ll reference that for the rest of the summer and spending time on it now means it will hopefully be easier for me (and everyone else) for the next few weeks. It made my organized brain very happy. Time spent: at least another hour.

Does that equal EIGHT? NO. No, it does not. I stopped before 4:30 p.m. since a grad student stuck her head in to say hello and I recall looking at the clock. I said I was at a natural “stop point” for the day and didn’t want to pick anything else up since I knew I had to leave soon. She then “busy contested” me and said how she’s got 60 hours of work every week. You go tender grad student, you go….right out of my office….I don’t play that game.

Why am I sharing my day with you? For a few reasons. It might strike you odd that I’m not counting each minute, that I’m swimming during lunch, and most importantly, I’m making the time I am working QUALITY WORK TIME. No distractions. Minimal “phone time” or “social media time” are involved during these periods. There are still days when I can’t put a sentence together, but these are days when I have a million meetings or I’m fatigued or distracted. I started closing my door as well this week. Why? For uninterrupted time to myself. I feel no shame. People know how to find me.

Summer time is quality time if you can figure out how you like to work. My colleagues are in and out during the summer and we each have our own style of work. Travel and vacation are scheduled in there as well, but each of us is figuring out how to get things done. I hope that all of my summer work days are this fruitful but I know some just won’t be and that’s ok.

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Spring Break Meltdown: The Snow, Not Me

Spring Break Meltdown {New Faculty}

yeah, i took this pic!

Spring break sprung and I was struggling the week before. I was more than ready for a change of scenery, a change of pace, and a change in location for a few days. I’m missing ‘family vacation’ later this month due to a work trip, so I decided I’d go home and see my parents for a few days in good old, freezing as hell, upstate New York. I was warned, there was three feet of snow on the ground still and cold weather gear was a must.

I packed all the warm things I could, including the very nice winter boots I rarely wear down here because to me, it’s never really ‘that cold’ for long. We get ‘cold’ weather for a week or two, but nothing like the north. Anywho…I packed it and I shipped myself to the farm to see my parents, my dog, my friends, and my cows.

Don’t worry, I did a little work. But, the day before I was set to travel my mom texted me, “I have pneumonia.” Well, hello spring break. Not only have I gone farther north, but now I’m soup-making my way through it. Truth be told, I love cooking. I’ve never had a problem making meals for people and still haven’t mastered the art of “cooking for one” so it was perfectly ok that putting meals out was one of my tasks last week.

The snow was deep. Too deep for snowshoeing. Too deep to walk (ok, try) to walk through, and generally, it was cold. The weather was set for a warm up on Monday to help pack the snow down. I was set to conduct observations at a school that I’m doing research with so no love lost there on the weather.

All-in-all, it was a good spring break. I didn’t get a lot done. I made lots of meals, snowshoed almost every day with the dogs, poked around the barns, and generally enjoyed myself. I needed the respite. Even the 9+ hour drive each way was more tolerable thanks to a backlog of podcasts and audio books.

I share this with you not to brag (trust me, the to-do list did not dissipate during those four days), but to tell you that I knew I needed a break and it was the only way to get one. When I stay here in college town USA, I take small breaks, a day here, a day there, but rarely several days in a row. I think my brain still associates “work” with “this town” because I moved here to “work” years ago. It’s not a bad thing, but there’s nothing like physically vacating a space to also vacate some space in your brain.

Hopefully you were able to take a day or two off during your break as well. Even if you spent it doing things like making that meal you like, getting the oil changed in your car, being home for supper time with everyone, or whatever it was, I hope you took a moment to step back, reflect, and enjoy it.

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On People Who Suck the Life Out of You

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Academia can sometimes be riddled with good folks and bad folks.  Good from the standpoint of outstanding colleagues who are excellent collaborators and go into projects with focus, their goals defined, and then help the rest of the team carry out the vision of the project.  The other side of the coin is often a colleague who is the polar opposite of that. Whether you have to work with them directly or not, they often drain you, hog your time, and you find yourself distancing yourself so as to not be subject to the ‘brain drain’ that can be felt in all areas of life, not just academia. Being mindful in an academic world can be difficult because we get so caught up in what we’re doing, that we often fail to see what others are doing.  Is it being self-important?  I’m not sure because when I do it, it’s not on purpose but it’s tough to find the balance when working with colleagues.  Students are my first responsibility and being charismatic with them is easy because the student is there for the education not the faculty.  Faculty charisma gets tough because it’s more like a dog-eat-dog world around academia. People are sometimes not self-aware when they interact or they just don’t care, making them even more toxic. Knowing the difference can be tough because sometimes human nature takes over and we think we’re ‘in the zone’ and others think we’re being a giant jerk. It’s a fine line to walk. Everyone has their own baggage, their own interests, and their own selfish whims.  I see it regularly and it’s becoming easier and easier to spot from farther away. People will interact with you because they’re pushing their own agenda or they’re just totally NOT aware of their actions. Working with people who aren’t your favorite per say isn’t that hard, just grin and bear it.  I can get around in life with that, no problem. Other people who you may be closer to you are tough because you don’t want to put them in a ‘toxic’ category, but sometimes you must.  As a new faculty (and a human being) it’s alright to walk away sometimes and create distance for your own personal good.

I have such a colleague.  A simple ‘how are you doing?’ turns into an hour long rant about how much they hate their job, hates  life, can’t wait to do something else, look at everyone around, exhausting diatribe on everyone else.  While I will never claim perfection and will probably claim insanity first, it’s tiring.  I dread interacting with this person now.  I have distanced myself on purpose and yet with each interaction, I find myself more frustrated than before.  I felt bad that I let it get in the way of my other friendships at one point and went to a lunch in a terrible mood and unloaded on another friend. I apologized for my bad behavior, but when I got back to the office after lunch, I started really thinking about why I let one person get in the way of what was usually a very pleasant lunch with another friend.

I don’t have a problem with their viewpoints, their life (it’s not for me to judge), or anything they do, but I do have a problem with the fact that every time I think of them, I immediately get annoyed. During our last interaction they were lamenting about how they would lose computer privileges of the university databases and wanted me to pull articles and their current project at work was exciting yet they immediately asked me how to run the stats on it. I’m busy with my own job, was this a joke?  I did push back and tell them there was no way I would be pulling articles, that was just a ludicrous request and that they should probably reference their own set of expertise and sources in order to do THEIR work at THEIR job.  I have yet to ask them to do my work for me.

I think the part that really set me over the edge was that they never took the time to ask how I was.  They never even brought anything up about ‘what’s new with you?’ or ‘how are you doing?’ I looked over the chat history just to make sure and it was really a one sided conversation. Elmore breaks up folks into a few categories and I think the article really resonated with me.  It also makes me aware when I’m the guilty party of these toxic relationship cues. Everyone is negative, sad, needy, and selfish every now and again but someone who is on a never ending spiral with no regard for others can be tough to deal with, work with, or have in your life.

As a new faculty, people will suck the life out of you for several reasons.  They feel like they need to impart how truly educated they are, they don’t realize they do it, or they just don’t care and do it anyway.  It’s like ‘only child syndrome’ but for academics.  I know this applies to other disciplines as well but dealing with folks with whom you may find yourself collaborating with down the road can be tough.

Separating yourself is an excellent place to start.  I had begun creating more distance with my colleague months ago when I received a frantic phone call over nothing.  I decided that I would no longer engage as much. I would not go out of my way to be communicative, and if they wanted me, they could certainly initiate the conversation.  Like touching the hot stove more than once, I made the mistake of simply saying, “howdy ho” and that was my mistake. Emails are answered professionally but with little ‘other information’ about personal life or other musings. I have learned my lesson and I gather that this person doesn’t notice any difference if they’re too wrapped up in their own world to forget simple pleasantries.

Closing the door.  I know I’ve discussed it before but valuing my time over others has become more important than anything.  I covet my time, create small pockets for a few minutes of solace and while I used to feel bad, I no longer feel bad about coming to the office, unlocking the door, letting myself in, and then promptly closing it for several hours.  I don’t tell anyone where I’ve been or where I’m going, unless it’s someone that needs to know or someone who I’m actually going to meet.  I finally understand it. In terms of my digital life, I’ve taken steps to get away from social media, separate my life and compartmentalize things in a more efficient way that works for me.  I’ve begun purging friends, blocking people who are too aggressive for me, and getting rid of connections that no longer exist.  Instead, I have great people sitting right in front of me, next to me, and around me.  I’ve begun investing in them.

Sometimes, getting the life sucked out of you in inevitable so it’s important to keep in mind that it will happen from time to time with no one to blame.  The lesson comes in when it happens over and over again and it’s up to you to collect your sanity, self-worth, and you personal self and disconnect when and where you can.  How do you deal with people who take too much but never give anything back?  How can you help other young faculty members flourish instead of suffer in this area?

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Reality vs. Perception in Academia

I put up this picture on facebook last week.  It made me laugh for a few reasons, hence putting up a photo.  It made me first think of elementary school and when you were bad, sometimes you had to sit in the hallway in a ‘naughty chair’ of just sit on the floor.  In truth, the office staff put it out because my office neighbor and I see a good number of students and sometimes we run late and they show up extra early, so she put out a chair so at least one could sit while waiting. I also realize that I have no nameplate as of yet and it’s my own fault.  I have not ordered one. Printing out my name on a piece of paper and taping it just seemed so much easier and cheaper.  I also just unpacked the last boxes about two weeks ago and considering I moved into this office in December of 2011, it was a long overdue task.  Again, my own fault for doing other things besides unpacking boxes, ordering a name plate or business cards (which I believe are antiquated but that’s for another day). Even my immediate boss noticed the unpacking had finished at our next meeting and he made a comment about it.  It takes me a while to get to this stuff.

Anyway, back to the chair.  So, I posted this photo.  A facebook friend commented on it and it got me thinking.  His comment was:

“I thought you worked at _____ not an online university. They should be able to get you a better waiting chair and at least a bigger piece of paper to put your name on.”

My comment back to him:

“While I don’t disagree w you, perhaps the publics perception of the state of academia is skewed.”

Perception of academics revolves around pipe smoking men in cardigan sweaters who wax on about philosophy while wearing loafers with tassels.  When I see one of these men, I will be sure to stop him and ask to take his photo.  I don’t know where this ideal began or who is still fostering it as reality but as I sit and stand to write this post I assure you I’m not male, I’m not wearing a cardigan sweater, and quite frankly: I can’t afford the loafers with the tassels. They’re probably not that comfortable anyway.

No folks, academia is NOT Ron Burgandy, we do not have many leather bound books and no office I’ve ever been in smells of rich mahogany and rarely do I see anyone laughing on the way out the door. It’s mostly of blood, sweat, and tears while on deadline and trying to make it home in time for a real meal with your family before bedtime. I would also argue that most online unversities (AKA: for profit) probably have nicer furniture than my university because they are in the business of turning a profit.  We could argue all day long and night about profit in R1’s like mine, but so far, I haven’t seen anyone ‘retire early’ or ‘hit the jackpot’ in academia.  Most of the faculty who I interact with all drive sensible cars, albeit the family ‘beater’ to get to campus and back. Their kids all go to public school because private school isn’t an option financially, and in most cases, consulting within the university rules is done to earn holiday money and vacation money and not to pad the 401K. I have yet to hear of any extravagant purchases, European holidays but instead I hear chatter of people who are saving to put a new roof on their house, pay off some tuition of their own from 20 years ago, and perhaps, throw a few bucks into a ‘just in case’ fund.  The undergraduate students are the ones who drive around campus in their BMW’s, Mercedes, and Land Rovers, and eat out regularly. The faculty can be spotted from a mile away with their lunch bags.

Public perception is skewed on what academia really is.  Some of it is our fault (academia). When your child visits our universities, we show them the best, we feed them the best, we give them shiny things along with the promise of a top notch education for a price.  We show them the nicest, newest dorms, let them eat all-you-can-eat buffet, and then show off our outstanding athletic facilities.  One could argue that good food and a great living space are important to an education.  I have yet to see a tour of students go through my office building, get marched through a dorm that is ‘older’ and is on slate to get remodeled, or anything of the sort.  The 70,000 seat football stadium and brand new, state of the art facilities trump academics.  They usually come third or fourth in the conversation.  So, what are we selling?  Lifestyle? Perceived wealth?  Convenience?  A meal plan where you can buy lobster?

The public thinks that academia has all of this ‘money.’ I put money in ” because it’s also smoke and mirrors.  The field of higher education (and education as a whole) took heart breaking cuts due to the poor recession.  Before you go screaming about politics, stop.  That’s not what this is turning into.  Whether you want to cry republican or democrat, it’s too late for that.  The damage is done.  It began a long time ago when standardized testing took off (mid 80’s) and then really catapulted into the spotlight with NCLB (mid 90’s) so all parties are to blame on this one.  Standardized tests drive education in the pre k-12 and now in higher education.  No one is left behind for sure when it comes to accountability. The public cries that academia has all of this money and let me be the first to tell you: no, it doesn’t.  Any time a faculty member is awarded a grant, the university takes anywhere from about 25%-65% of it and calls it ‘overhead.’ I have no idea where it goes, I can speculate, but I’m pretty sure my office furniture is particle board and the only thing made in the last decade is my computer.  The university distributes it to various outlets to cover costs that most faculty cannot even fathom.

So, let’s agree to disagree on any point that you didn’t like.  But, as a new faculty I would like it if you learned only one thing from this post:

Take the notion you have of academia in your head and erase it.  With the changing economy, changing population, and changing state of education, it will not look like the picture in your head ever again.  That’s not a bad thing either.  We are busy teaching your children for jobs we don’t know exist and we arm them with technical knowledge and foster them as human beings while they feel through their own identity.  It’s an exciting time to be in education, even if we don’t have nice furniture, name plates, or business cards.  I didn’t get into this field to get rich, be famous, or wear loafers.  I did get into this business to help students uncover their potential, help them become productive members of society, discover how students learn through research and scholarship, and make sure I can keep driving my trusty Toyota’s for a while. I may even pay off my student loans in the next 20 years but odds are I’ll still be paying them when my own kid(s) go to college.

As a new faculty, how do you handle questions or statements when people have a varied perception that your job is one thing, but is really another?

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