Tag Archives: research

I’ve Met Mr. Magoo



I’ve been on the struggle bus with an undergrad researcher this fall. He’s been fighting me the whole way and needless to say, I hit my personal “full” line with him this week. Seven weeks of not taking instruction, fighting back with me every week, arguing with me about due dates and other trivial things, and finally….for the last three weeks, he’s refused to take any mentoring-all my words passed right through his head and exited as soon as they entered.

I’d been in touch with his academic advisor, who is a great advocate for all of his students and our dialogue had been productive.

  • I’m frustrated.
  • And I’m out of strategies.
  • So I admitted it to my student.

Part of being a mindful and self-aware faculty member is knowing when you’ve hit your limit. Your stomach tells you when it’s full. Your body tells you when it’s time for bed. My “stress bone” (wherever that is) was screaming pretty loudly at me and while I read the students latest attempt to convince me that I’m wrong and he’s right, I thought, “why am i fighting this so hard?”

There’s a few reasons: I am an educator, I love helping students, I believe anyone can be taught, and I’m aware of my imperfections so I try to remain unbiased.

But–in a society where we only want to blame one party but never look anywhere else, the students academic advisor shed some light on the whole situation for me that helped me finally pull the plug and have a ‘come to jesus’ with the student.

The advisor likened the student to mr. magoo. Not because he has poor vision, but because of his stubborn refusal to admit there’s a problem and that he is indeed part of it. College is a place to stretch, to practice, to self-regulate, and to be challenged. Learning how to fail is equally important and my message is clear: you’re failing but in order to correct it, you have to admit it to yourself first.

I’m stubborn, but I’m also exhausted and my stress bone was aching at the thought of trying to muddle through more of this students work with no real direction, no ownership of the problems behind it, and the continued notion that “it’s all of my fault” without accepting any responsibility.

I shared my concerns with the student, let him go for the week, and got an email “how can i be better?” In the meantime, I laid out a plan of achievable benchmarks, sent it to the advisor and student and said, “i need  break-i’m at a conference next week, see you in two weeks.” I can’t battle like that every week and I’m learning that I don’t have too. Instead of taking time to reflect, this student continues to miss the mark, insisting a meeting where he will defend himself to me because it must be my fault, will fix things.

I refused to meet with the student. I’m taking my two weeks and I told him why, “I’m taking a pregnant pause for both of us to regroup on this.” I want him to think through the benchmarks, I want him to meet with his advisor, and I want him to assume some responsibility over his education and his research. I need to do the same-think through my responsibilities to him and my other students, what I can offer, and what my upper limit is on the capacity for my time and resources. I’ve learned that the absence of anyone to fight with is a powerful tool.  On the outset, it sounds cold, but it’s for self-preservation at this point for me. I cannot reason with a student who will not take the reins of their life. Self-regulation, motivation, and self-awareness are all skills that should be kicking in and until this student assumes responsibility for those, I cannot help. I can coach, I can mentor, I can praise effort, but I cannot assume his share of the work.


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Steamrolling Into Summer

2016-05-13 13.20.49

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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Don’t Think, Just Write

Don't Think, Just Write | New Faculty


Academics are really good at being stuck in their heads. They’re really good at drilling sources for days on end, so much so that we get in our own way when it comes to productivity. Because writing is such a self-fulfilling prophecy, we often obsess, toil, and needle ourselves to death over words. On paper. Well, on fake paper in MS Word. So much so, that we just don’t keep at it. We quit writing. Grad students also do this–don’t get stuck in the trap!

I was discussing the ebb and flow of writing with one of my mentors and she said it loud and clear:


“Don’t edit while you write. Just write,” she said.

“Cite what you know, add in your own mark to remind you to go back and check,” she said.

“Stop worrying about using a word too much, you can go back and change it later,” she said.

“Seriously, just write.” Man she’s smart. I hate her/I love her.

I tried her technique this summer. I took about 10 days to pull articles, citations, and other background information I needed. I read/highlighted, and pulled citations into my EndNote. I outlined my article, knowing it would likely change based on the articles and data.

And then I wrote.

I gave myself permission to not nit pick myself to death for 5 days. I just wrote. I sat with articles in the morning, since that is my best ‘work time’ and began filling in my outline. I threw my own caution to the wind for 3 hours each day and wrote. I cited what I had, I made notes to myself for what I didn’t, and would put something obnoxious in for what I needed to fill in. They often looked like:

(smith, 2003 i think, check)

It took me six days to finally finish populating the document. I was happy with that. 20 pages.

And then I went on vacation. I know I won’t always have this luxury to put it down and walk away. But I was trying something new.

I came back from vacation, edited, cut, added, cited properly, and hit send. About six more hours of time.

How did it go? I felt good about the process.

How did I feel? I was pleased with the progress I made each day. Not each writing chunk was a total “winner.” Some were a bit slow. Other days the writing flowed like water.

Would I do it again? Absolutely! If given the time, space, and permission, this would be an awesome model to replicate.

My mentor’s words keep running through my head. As I **try** to get into a writing routine for the semester, I hope to channel her words through me each week, “don’t think, just write.”


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Time Management 101 From Dr. Tough Love

Time Management in Grad School | New Faculty


“I love the sound of a deadline, I love the sound it makes as it goes whooshing by….” Whoever said this and coined it should be shot.

A  student missed a deadline. And they knew it. An email arrived while I was sleeping informing me that they were going to miss it. Life is a moving target friend. You just got shot.

It’s not fatal, they extended it by a few days. Upon request to meet because they’d just been confused the last few weeks, I handed over some resources, we discussed a few things, and onward ho. Take a stab at it friend. It’s writing, not your last love note before you die. But again, they failed to produce. Time management friends. Time management.

I forget that grad students (students in general) think we’re only working on ‘their thing’ & was reminded of that when a student said, “oh, is this for our stuff?” after telling him that it wasn’t he said, “oh, you have more work than this?” yes sir…..gads of other work besides your (now late) work…..

Is it ok to miss a deadline? Absolutely, but don’t do it because you’re confused and then wait until the last moment. That’s not cool, in fact, it’s really un-classy. And we’re going for super classy folks. In all seriousness, don’t be that guy. Ever. Or at least try not to be. It’s better to take a stab at the writing and get it all back with a million comments in Word or bleeding than to turn nothing in at all. That’s even worse. Slow productivity is at least still productivity. Shutting down the machine is just a pain in the neck for everyone involved.

The fatal error for this student: Time management or lack thereof. A second year grad student should have a better handle on this. I misjudged them. My mistake. Excuse after excuse flooded my inbox, came to see me in my office, and generally interrupted my workflow for days. In fact, I’m still waiting. Instead of reading their work, I have had 15 minutest to blog today-score! Or, in the spirit of the world cup- GOALLLLL!!!!!!

Summer is a great and wonderous (albeit short) time to create some good habits, set manageable expectations, and get your act together. I can only assume 50% of the responsibility for the student missing their deadline (yet again) and if I asked for $1 every time I got a crap ass excuse, I would be able to go out for dinner. I cannot do the writing for the student, they were hired specifically for this task, they’ve had weeks and I can no longer stand for the excuses. Welcome to grad school.

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Is There Such a Thing as Work Life Balance Anymore?

Call it quits, go home! | new faculty


It’s tough going home. There’s the never ending ‘to-do’ list, the bings and beeps of whatever phone you have attached to you, and the continual demands we place on ourselves. The technology we love, we also loathe because it makes us always aware that there’s someone or something that is pulling our attention.

How do you compartmentalize when you come home?

For me (and likely many of you), easier said than done. I’ve talked to a lot of faculty and people in the human race, and I think it’s something we struggle with, no matter our profession. With or without kids, with or without a partner, with or without pets, and other responsibilities pull our time (in both negative and positive ways) when we walk out of the door in the evening (or whatever wonky work schedule you keep).

Turn off the sounds. Turn off ALL THE NOISES!!!! No more bings and beeps after a certain hour or altogether. I turn off my email notification and have it “push manually” because I know I can’t handle the noise.

No answering. Email, texts, whatever. If it’s not urgent and it’s work related–it can wait until morning. There’s also a growing body of research on not doing email related tasks constantly because it causes burn out. I’d get on board with that research. I quit answering email after about 7 p.m. and NEVER ON THE WEEKENDS….EVER!!!!!! Unless I need to do so for Monday morning, I quit answering email. It was difficult, but I made myself not answer. Sometimes, I fall off my own wagon, but generally, I keep a pretty busy life on the weekends. I read the emails, assess, and usually close them for Monday morning.

Set clear boundaries. With yourself. With your students. With your people. It’s ok to tell your people/students that you don’t answer anything after 9 p.m. It’s ok to tell students it will take you a full 24-36 hours to return emails. It’s ok to tell everyone you ignore them on the weekends.

IT’S OK NOT TO FEEL GUILTY. say it again….breathe….repeat it again….

If you need help, get an accountability buddy. I know it sounds totally ridiculous, but it might help. Someone to celebrate. Someone to remind you of your purpose, someone to take the challenge with you. We all know misery loves company 🙂

Do something in the evenings that is more interesting than your work. Seriously. Many with kids will say that until bedtime, the most interesting thing is the kids (as it should be), while others join clubs, workout, have hobbies, etc… for a few hours a few nights a week. Giving the other half of your brain is also a nice reward for a hard days work.

I told myself that when I finished grad school, I was going to stop working on the weekends. I always felt as though work was looming in grad school and while it’s still there now, I don’t feel like I have to hunker down at ‘ye old mac’ every weekend. In fact, it’s one thing I have done successfully. I fall off the email wagon occasionally, particularly before an event or a deadline shows up but usually have no trouble getting back on. In my own experience, the less work I do on the weekends or evenings, the more productive and refreshed I feel come Monday or the next morning.

The decision to change and acknowledging that you’re in too deep is the first step. In grad school, I took one day per week and didn’t work. I called it “life stuff Sunday.” The day was reserved for life tasks: laundry, yoga (yes it’s a life task in my life), groceries, errands, etc… It didn’t always happen on Sunday’s but for the most part, one day a week was set aside to accomplish things that needed attention. After all, the Target call bot can only call 29847 times before the pharmacist actually calls and asks if you’re ever going to come and get that prescription.

Finally, there’s no change that happens over night (except the weather, those people are wrong 98% of the time). Start small. Say to yourself, I’m not going to answer emails for 24 hours and work up from there. Turn off the noises. You’ll find yourself so much happier. I turn off my ringer for better parts of a day, especially when I’m trying to write. You’ll be surprised by how easy it is to begin to ignore things (and people).

Making yourself too available might make you miserable but it doesn’t have too.

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Accepting Our Limitations

Accepting Our Limitations | New Faculty


I was sweating it out at yoga on no particular Sunday and I was concentrating on increasing my flexibility when I turn left. It’s certainly a weak point. I cannot get my elbow around my knee, my balance is at a deficit on that side, and overall, I find myself struggling when I need to turn left. Blame it on the scoliosis or simply that I’m right dominant, so my inclination is to turn right more often and underuse my left side in general.

Whatever the reason, it gave me pause during my practice:

I need to accept this limitation.

The same is true in the academy. There will always be something. It will never be without limitations. Whether it’s our research (hey, there’s a reason there’s a ‘limitations’ section in our papers), red tape from administration, or limitations with our grand ideas for our teaching, limitations are something we have to adapt too.

I have been ‘fighting’ my left vertebrae and muscles for years. I only accepted my reduced range of motion in the last year or two and began to actually work on it. Through intense yoga practice, better home stretching, and that indulgence of a ‘once a month’ massage, I’m not feeling so tight down the left side of my spine. My range of motion isn’t noticeably better to anyone except me, but I may be able to wrap my right elbow over my left knee by the end of the calendar year. I imagine I will feel the same amount of gratification as the day I could do a headstand for longer than 10 seconds without toppling over too.

Academia has forced me to also accept my limitations: not writing enough or going too long in between bouts of writing. I’m lucky. I have lots of opportunities to collaborate and I’ve certainly capitalized on those. While it’s only February, I’ve already sent out two articles and my name on the by-line is moving up from third or fourth (or later) to a solid second on both of these pieces. I want to contribute more to my scholarly writing. I NEED too, but I’m also limited by time, but who isn’t?

By continuing to not only accept my limitations, but work on it actively, just like my yoga practice, my writing practice is and will hopefully continue to strengthen.

Limitations are also prevalent in our research too. In perfect world land, we’d all have unlimited budgets, students who already knew what they were doing, and unlimited time to dedicate to furthering the notion of science. In real world land, rarely do any of those exist. It is important to accept our limitations as researchers, particularly those we cannot always control and be transparent about reporting those in our findings. As a largely qualitative researcher, being transparent comes with the job as each population and participant is different, but it’s important to note those differences, even if a reviewer sends back a scathing report.

Limitations also remind us that we are in fact, human. There are only 24 hours in a day, 7 days in a week. and 52 weeks in each year. There’s not enough time for everything. Ever. And we need to accept that. As a young faculty member, we quickly realize that we’re not going to be able to do it all. In fact, we’re barely going to be able to do half on a good day. We need to accept and then forgive ourselves for this instead of constantly beating ourselves up over it, getting in a busy contest with ourselves and with others, and simply step away for the day.

In academia, we need to accept our limitations. In ourselves, we need to do the same. Keep working but also know when to call it a day and go home to the ones we love. Or in my case: lay in a heap on the couch and enjoy life for a few hours with no ‘sounds’ going off on any device 🙂

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Kicking Grad School Mentality

Kicking Grad School Mentality | New Faculty


Some of you might be saying, “NOOOOOOOOOO” and giving this post the big middle finger, or maybe both. In this case, you keep hanging on to those middle fingers while you read this post. I can handle your grievance…..later 😉

Seriously, let’s talk about grad school mentality. There are some things that are hands down, abso-freakin-lutely wonderful about grad school and the lifestyle it gives you. I will not contest the expansion of your giant brain, intellectual conversations, grad student mixers, the 20 hr. a week GRA/GA/GTA, the creation of ones’ own schedule, constant company of other (suffering) grad students, and endless supplies of coffee.

But when we get down to the nitty gritty–grad school sort of sucked. We’re broke (as a joke), it’s the never ending cycle of “acceptance” and “rejection” like a roller coaster that everyone wants to get off but no one can get it to stop, and many grad students will openly admit how lonely, isolating, and desolate grad school can be.

I’ve observed several students successfully defend their dissertations now and…..STALL. Like a car that needs to have its’ carburetor checked. Even after that successful defense, the plethora of congratulations, and well wishes from friends, we sometimes….just get STUCK.


I found myself in a bit of a pit for a good nine months, unable to muster my own confidence to talk the talk I’d been learning about for the previous three years. Sometimes, it’s bigger than that.

  • We get comfortable being a ‘certain way.’ It’s easy sometimes to stay this way.
  • Our friends are in grad school. Our social circle is there. Getting to know new people is tough. Even when we join faculty, our age demographic is often grad students. Even if we move 3400 miles to join faculty, we gravitate towards them for reasons we cannot fathom (and some are truly awesome human beings).
  • The research wasn’t perfect. We forget that grad school is an exercise in becoming a better researcher, not a perfect researcher. And we beat ourselves up over it. Mentally. Forever.
  • We do lack confidence. <—#1 right here people–> We feel intimidated by the ‘seasoned veterans’ in our field, in our office, at our mtgs., etc…This is just going to take some courage to jump in feet first. You may fumble, but you will get your sea legs under you.

It’s an attitude we have. We have not made the cognitive leap towards equal and have stalled cognitively.

It’s all in our head. We are capable, even if we don’t feel like it.

As we get ready to usher in our new students, I urge you to think about your mentality as a former grad student, a fresh post-doc, or a new faculty member. You can kick that old mentality out of your head, it just takes some time and patience. It doesn’t mean that your undergrad and grad students aren’t wonderful, lots of fun, and amazing, but it does mean making the cognitive leap to equal in the faculty community, even if you don’t always feel like it. Some make the transition much more smoothly than others, but you will find that after a while, you’ll want to as well. Staying stuck in grad school mentality begins to be a big let down instead of an ego-booster. You’ll know this because your grad students may start to drive you a little bonkers–that’s the first clue you’re making the cognitive shift. Don’t fight it-just go w/ it!

  • Admit when you’re having a ‘grad school moment.’
  • Acknowledge that the thought is there.
  • Reframe your thinking to turn it into a faculty thought.
  • Find a faculty mentor, find several.
  • Meet with them and discuss the cognitive dissonance you might feel.
  • They will offer up suggestions (if they’re good) on how to make the leap.
  • Be patient, it doesn’t happen overnight but it does happen.
  • Be mindful about it. Yes, grad students are great, but NO, you are NOT a grad student anymore! It may sound harsh, but the old saying of “we become who we surround ourselves with” can be true. You want to feel like an equal, start cultivating relationships with those equals. Remember my writing group? The faculty in that are also newer faculty members. We’ve discussed this struggle openly and it’s a real ‘thing’ that does exist.

What other tips would you offer to help kick ‘grad school mentality’ as we start a fresh academic year?

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Summer Writing Schedule

Summer Writing | New Faculty


Summer break is here and while I know most grad students WANT to be buried under the covers lying on the beach, the never ending cycle of reading/writing/research will ultimately call you back. I haven’t met a single grad student who “took the whole summer off” from anything and those that did had the pleasure of adding an extra year to their PHD programs. Yes, you can tell me that YOU didn’t have to work over the summer and I’ll congratulate you, but most of the grad students I’ve ever met, including myself, took some well deserved time off and were back into the books on a schedule or by Aug. 1 to maintain the pace needed to finish with sanity.

I mentor several students, informally and mostly in my spare time. It makes me feel good to work with graduate students and listen, mentor, nurture, and help them navigate grad school without getting too many (more) gray hairs. I will admit: I HAVE MY FIRST GRAY HAIRS. I pulled the first few, clearly living in denial, but I embraced a really long one I found today and let it stay in my head. Perhaps I’ll stop looking like a student soon with the addition of some gray’s in my mane of black, wavy hair…..perhaps I’ll just look silly 😀 I have received the SAME question from EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM this spring: what should I do about writing over the summer? what do you suggest?

Funny you should ask.

I met w/ each of them one-on-one to ‘celebrate’ surviving what I like to call “The Academic Hunger Games” fully knowing that the odds are never in our favor and Elizabeth Banks won’t be showing up to wish us good luck.

Below is a note that I’ve sent to several grad students I work with who have asked about summer writing/research schedule. It is hard to ‘fit it in’ when it’s not a habit and summer is often busy with other work, as well as taking some time off. In terms of writing and reading, here are my thoughts:

While there is no magic formula and everyone is different, it’s important to:

  1.  go w/ your circadian clock, write/read when you’re at your best time of day
  2. set aside time in your schedule, block it off as if you were going to be in a mtg & try not to deviate. whether in a 1 hr. block or a whole morning, try to be diligent.
  3. don’t make excuses. if you find yourself waning on actual writing & it’s not going well, switch to articles or updating your citation manager. make it productive time related to writing/research, even if it’s not necessarily putting 1,000 words down.
  4. it’s ok if every writing session isn’t your best. some days really are better than others.
  5. stay organized, whether you rely on web tools or binders, or whatever, try to keep things organized. as you progress, you’ll need to recall things you might have done in your first semester.
  6. work in chunks. the brain can only concentrate well for about 45 min. the same for writing. you don’t have to start w/ the introduction, break it into manageable chunks for you. you may write the conclusion first if it’s the last piece of data you analyzed & it’s fresh in your mind.
  7. talk it out. lots of academics get ‘stuck’ w/ the ‘blank page syndrome’ & just stare…try talking (& recording if you think it will help) to a colleague or friend about what you’re struggling, listening to your own conversation later may help get some things down and organized on the paper.
  8. great writers are far and few between. multiple iterations are common so don’t be discouraged.most articles you read in journals have flaws and when the author gets accepted, he/she may do 2-3 more rounds of edits & still not meet every request of the reviewers.
  9. it will be good enough. get it on paper b/c you’ve got to start somewhere.
  10. yes, go on vacation. take some time off. you’ll need it come mid-august.

I also received some requests for my personal favorite tech tools for staying organized w/ research and writing. I would suggest a citation manager such as Zotero or EndNote. EndNote is free here at my university and Zotero is free to everyone.

Evernote can be a really helpful app that integrates with all platforms and all devices to help you out. Whether it’s for academic use or to remember you need to get a bunch of groceries so you don’t have to keep eating ramen, Evernote can help you out if you let it. It’s free. What’s the worst that can happen? 

Finally, there are a couple of pieces that I enjoyed and wanted to share. Gradhacker discussed summer writing or as I like to also call, “dissertating.” PhD Talk blog ran a nice piece on getting into good writing habits and PhD student discussed getting on a writing schedule.

I’m not going to reinvent the wheel. It’s the last week of the semester and I want to stab my eyeballs out….Instead, I’ll leave it at that and say this: get writing grad students!!!!! Figure out what works, be disciplined, and get moving!

What advice would you give to grad students on summer writing/research?


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Boys vs. Girls


I am fortunate enough to have a great group of researchers under my wing this year. With the collaborative effort of my PI and I, we are herding like them jello on a hot day–it’s actually going a-ok for the moment and I’m pretty happy with how things are going. These researchers all happen to be females and so am I. The PI they work for is male. They get regular face time with me each week for several hours as we collect data, work in schools, and generally travel around. They get one hour a week with the PI for a weekly research meeting where it’s all business. As it should be.

The interesting part working with a group of females is that sometimes I feel like the male counterpart doesn’t quite know how to hang with us. It’s not weird or inappropriate, but minus the amount of facetime, he sticks to business. While I see the value in that, these undergraduates want to talk to someone. They want to be mentored. They want the human connection. Call it a generational thing if you want, but they thrive on interacting now that they’re comfortable. I stumbled across this article from HBR and it resonated and validated my thoughts. It’s not that the PI is a bad guy, he’s just not into the emotional stuff, he’s into research. And shouldn’t he be?

A few weeks ago during our weekly meeting, the PI was caught in another meeting that back logged his schedule. Instead of wasting the time or canceling, I sat down with the research team to check in, see how everyone was, and where the research was heading. After completing business, the students began to chat for a few minutes. I figured they would leave shortly as we were done, but they stayed with me for almost an hour. I was surprised by this initially, but once we started conversing, I was surprised by how fast the time went. Empathy and awareness of others is a quality that I don’t always associate myself with. I have learned to be better about empathizing with people as I’ve grown older, but it’s not my strong point. My PI is even less empathetic by nature, making me look like a sainted academic in some cases.

As we chatted, we started talking about future plans, careers, and other ‘girl talk’ which was pretty harmless. After the hour, one of my researchers looked at me and thanked me. I asked her why she was thanking me. Her reply was simple, “you took the time that no one else will right now. my family is overseas (military) and they’re not always available for these kinds of chats. you make me feel less crazy about graduating and not always knowing what I should do next.” I told her I was happy to listen and the team left.

The following week we were all crammed in a van heading out to collect data and one of my students said, “I have two questions, one related to research and one not related at all.”  I said, “ok, ask me the non-related one first.”  She asked me how I’d become such a good cook. She had made a couple recipes off of my other blog and said they were really good. Was she pandering? Brown nosing? Being genuine?  I was honest and said, “practice.” I then shared a bunch of stories about a temperamental oven I had once where I kept burning cakes. I took the time to share my failures before my accomplishments in the kitchen on purpose. By showing and telling these young ladies (and gentlemen in the van) that I had failed and burned things hundreds of times before I ever thought about blogging the very ‘best’ of my culinary work, I tried to tune into the fact that cooking could be like life or research. Not always perfect. By being authentic instead of flashing my bravado around about my latest kitchen creation, I hope that it displayed the fact that I am human. I then shared the fact that my ‘kitchen aid fund’ had been depleted because I needed some new tires on my car. Priorities people.

I enjoyed this paragraph quite a bit: “From an early age, men often overvalue their strengths, while women too frequently underrate theirs. In reality, we all struggle to feel a stable sense of value and self-worth. Men often defend against their doubts by moving to grandiosity and inflation, while women more frequently move to insecurity and deferral. Men seek more often to win, women to connect. So long as the path to power is connected to proving you’re bigger and badder, it’s no surprise that men have mostly prevailed.”

I see this time and time again. In myself, in my peers, and in my students in middle schools. They have the tools yet they undervalue their worth as an individual. When did this happen? Should I stop seeking to connect and move into the category where winning become paramount? As a new faculty, it can be extremely difficult to navigate power issues, politics, and stakeholders in your new professional circle.  Can it be as simple as boys vs. girls? Armed with this new knowledge, how do new faculty bridge the gap of gender and identity to create their own space in academia?  This is a tough set of questions for me and my brain.

How do you connect with students? Do you skip building relationships and move into productivity? How do you manage the expectations from all the parties who are invested in you?

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Teaching vs. Research Universities


The shiny names, the big teams, the fancy diploma.  Oh wait, you went where?  Measuring learning is something our society and higher education continue to struggle with.  We want our kids to go to ‘big name university’ so it looks good and some where along the way, we began to equate the ‘big name’ with a ‘big education’ only to sadly find out it merely included a ‘big price tag.’ I don’t have two legs to stand on in this case since my degrees are from those perceived ‘big names.’ I will tell you this: I spent two years at a state school or community college and I have to say, I received the best teaching and more education in those two years than I did during the rest of my BS educational experience.

Why are we scoffing, turning up our noses, and pitying those who want to earn their education, get specialized attention, and pay a reduced tuition?  I saved a TON of money going to state school for two years.  I was in classes with only about 30 students.  I got a lot of one-on-one attention from all of my teachers.  I didn’t  know what a TA was until I transferred to big box U and my GPA plummeted like dropped pie my first semester.

A teaching university or college is just that.  They specialize in teaching.  A research university says they combine both, but can they do it consistently and do it consistently well?  Me thinks not all of the time. Sure, you can hire a laundry load of TA’s, GRA’s, and GTA’s, but those folks are there to mostly do research, complete their advanced degree, and segue way into a post doc, or another advanced degree program.

To meet the rising numbers, decreased funding, and lack of space, we’ve gone virtual.  We’ve gone part time. We’ve hired over 100% more adjuncts and instructors here at my university in the last year.  I love a good teacher and I tip my hat to these folks because these are the people WHO LOVE TEACHING. There are those faculty on faculty lines who love teaching too, but the national trend is shifting and TT positions are disappearing like pizza in a dorm. Instructors and adjuncts do the heavy lifting of teaching much of the time with marginal salaries, no benefits, and little thanks.  Their jobs are always ‘up in the air’ depending on funding and that’s no way to live.  While I watched NBC’s education nation this fall, I became more inflamed while parents would bitch about their kids lunches, their kids gym, their kids everything, but never assume any kind of responsibility for their child but instead, leave it up to the school to raise their kids.  Compounded with the facebook posts I saw about parents complaining that they had to watch their children grow for 8 weeks of summer vacation **gasp** what a travesty to have to spend time with the child you had!

It does take a community to raise a child.  It takes great teachers, cooperative parents who do challenge but don’t undermine, and it takes a solid place for that to take place.  Parents send their kids off to college and hope they get a great education at these ‘big box’ universities, but what happens when they get spit out after four years with no other skills other than computer tests and office hours?  I have done a lot of mentoring with students on job skills, job searching, research interests, and even life things like comfortable and affordable heat/AC temps, where to go when you need a check up, and how do students handle work vs. roommates when they need to study.  I am happy to help any student, but I can’t help but wonder, where are the parents?  Do they think that big box U will do it all for their kids since they have relinquished their responsibilities the day they dropped them off?

I am a faculty at a big box U and I know plenty of other faculty who LOVE teaching like I do but once you look at a tenure packet and realize that teaching is NOT the priority, it really begins to shape your future and very quickly.  I would be so far fetched to say that students and faculty may be better off at a smaller institution where they can get the attention from great teachers and these teachers will be there because they love teaching, it’s their passion, their muse, and their craft.  Parker Palmer says, “Good teaching cannot be reduced to technique; good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher.” We should all strive for that as faculty and begin to rethink the proporitions of teaching vs. research. Let faculty hired as researchers conduct their research, and those faculty hired as teachers should teach predominately.

Where’s the balance?  How can we restore it?  How can we give students knowledge and job skills that will last a lifetime?  As a new faculty, I ponder this one quite a bit.  I meet with students each week with big ideas, but no skill set on how to carry them out. I try my best to help them, but then I stand there and wonder, how come at age 18-21, this is the first time they’ve heard this stuff?  Who is or isn’t doing their job along the way?  What will it take?

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