Tag Archives: stress

Syllabus Boot Camp

Syllabus Boot Camp {New Faculty}

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I signed up for a course design workshop this year. I’m teaching a new class in a few weeks and really wanted to give it the time it deserved to plan the darn thing. Yes, deserved. Instead of tossing things around in my brain and trying to spit things back out on paper, I gave myself 2.5 days of time. Our pedagogy shop sponsored the workshop and provided everything from coffee and snacks to lunch to meaningful and useful advice on instructional goals, assessment, and flipping the classroom if we were interested. It sure beat the half-ass approach I took in the fall.

On that note, my teaching survey’s came back. Not bad kids, not bad. Some of the feedback was very odd, some of it made NO sense, but some of it made PERFECT sense. I had been handed a stale class, pumped some life back into it and forgot to update the syllabus and organize things in a more coherent manner. lesson learned. Not all the feedback was bad and many of the comments were valid for positive and negative reasons. As hard as we try, we do take some of it personally. One of my colleagues tanked on the survey and was pretty upset about it. She also attended the course design workshop. Her ATTITUDE was: if I screwed up, I can get better. She spent her 2.5 days thinking about her class for next year already. I admire her tenacity to not let it get ahead of her.

It was an easy decision to go to this workshop. Even with the random pile of stuff that I had to plow through to get ready for the semester, I could not have brought the course to life without the time, space, and permission to do so. I encourage anyone reading this to also seek out those resources at your university. They have the knowledge. They have the time. They will offer suggestions. If you don’t have this luxury, call on your “team” to help you out. This has already made the semester less painful. Now, if all my grants would get funded and manuscripts accepted.

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Stressed Out & Grading

Stressed Out & Grading {New Faculty}

‘Tis the season to be grading, fa la la la la, la la la laaaaa. While consuming copious amounts of coffee and tea, I’ve also been grading through the caffeine jitters. (stop drinking caffeine and get it together).

Alas, the end of the semester is here. And by here, I mean in my calendar and in my course management system the final papers I assigned are staring back at me. Like that creeper in the grocery store that keeps ogling at you in the produce department.

There will be a flurry of ‘end-of-semester’ things to look after this year and my semester is going much the same way. On top of research, now there’s final grading, final grade submissions, final meetings with undergrads and graduate students, and faculty “things.” I’ve been in a new faculty professional development group now all fall and have been really pleased with it. It’s more time, but it’s time well spent. It’s already helping me plan my undergraduate research course for the spring and I’m so thankful for the time, space, and permission to plan. I’ll be attending a ‘syllabi bootcamp’ in January to get it tightened up and again, offer me the time, space, and permission to do nothing but think about teaching about research.

As we speed skate to our coveted winter break, it’s important to think about how our winter ‘break’ will ultimately shape up. Final grades will be dropped, December commencement will happen, and then there will be a deserved lull. Some of our universities now offer “winter-mester,” a full blown marathon over 2-3 weeks for students to pay for credit and someone (like you) to teach these fast paced courses. Those don’t offer a lot of flexibility in terms of down time, but for those of us who are not offering ‘winter-mester’ courses, what can we do to maximize our time to get ready for January?

  • Take time off. Nothing is as precious as giving ourselves permission to relax. Step away from your computer, turn off the dings and dongs your phone makes for a few weeks. You’ll stop panicking after about 24 hours and it will be heavenly.
  • Block off your personal/family schedule first. Making time for what’s truly important will be key. Whether married, partnered, with or without children, or whatever your situation may be, plan some time to yourself. Rotting on your couch binge watching Netflix is a perfectly good reason during that delightful week between Christmas and New Year’s and if anyone is wondering, that’s on my calendar.
  • Make a point to do something enjoyable and just for you. Massage? Long session at a coffee shop with a friend? Alone time with no other “humans” present? Whatever your cup of tea is, make sure you plan that time for yourself. It can be a luxurious privilege to do something we want, for an hour, for 12, for several days.
  • Ease back in. If you assign yourself an insurmountable task your first day back, you’ll likely fall off your own productivity wagon. Take care of ‘little things’ first. Mundane and mindless type things–deleting all emails before answering the ones you need to attend to, cleaning up your office space to make room for spring, or simply getting back on a regular schedule. Those with kids will find that is much easier when they go back to school.
  • Respect your circadian clock. If you’re on a roll, keep rolling. If you need a few minutes to take a walk to clear your head, head outside for a brisk stroll. It’s a few weeks where your calendar is hopefully not ruling your life so you can enjoy it. If you’re smart, you do this during the semester as well, but it doesn’t always work out so neatly.

Enjoy yourself. Whatever you do, however you do it, and wherever you place yourself, enjoy it. I wish you a festive and complete grading season.

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Grad Students: Über Confident Isn’t Winning

Grad Students: Über Confident Isn't Winning | New Faculty

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I’m always intrigued when I talk to grad students in general. I always like to hear about how their experience with grad school is going, what they like to do when they’re not doing grad school things, and then I like to run into the major advisors at meetings, workshops, and conferences.

Students in grad school tend to go one way or the other: uber confident to the point of arrogant OR the “zero” efficacy zone with so much humble pie, you would have thought they crawled out from one that very morning (also called bed).

I was out with a grad students who’s ABD and he gushed on and on about “how great things were going” and “i’m so far along” and “i’m killing it, i’m just killing it.”

Incidentally, I’d just seen his advisor about a week prior and they had something quite the opposite to say, “underproducer 100%,  a year or more behind.”

OUCH.

Where does this happen? Why does this happen? The Professor is In discussed grad student grandiosity and how it spills over into packets for jobs and it got me thinking about grad students I work with and pointed inward to the kind of grad student I was. This behavior begins long before a student begins putting together packets and the illusion that they’re somehow “doing great and killing it” is something that has always made me curious. I believe it’s a pretty fine line between doing great and doing terrible. It’s no secret that grad school is the destroyer of self-esteem in general so it never hurts to have a healthy ego, but at what point does that ego get the best of us and put us in the “a year behind” category without us even realizing it.

While it can be hard, open communication among the student/advisor is 100% necessary. Each party can only do so much to meet the other half way. What’s important to remember is this: your advisor already has his/her phd and you don’t. You can say that the advisor is awful or that they’re not helping you all you want, but they don’t need another degree and you do. If you think your advisor only has you to worry about, reframe your thinking: your advisor has more work that he/she will ever know what to do with and you’re about 1/48 of his/her plate of work on any given day.

Being self motivated is the only way you’re going to finish. You can have the best support group, most outstanding advisor, and amazing research, but the only thing that will get you to completion is YOU. Compensating with ego will only get you so far, the jig won’t last long when no words come out on the paper. I watched this happen several times during grad school and several more on faculty. You can only go so long without doing the readings, you can only last so long by not buckling down.

As you begin a new academic year, I implore the faculty and the students to communicate. Managing expectations will help everyone and being clear on those in advance can only turn this into a positive outcome. I’m not going to pretend that grad school is full of magic and unicorns, but you can get out with some slice of dignity left by pacing yourself through the marathon, being humble, and working through the process.

I bid you a productive and steadfast academic year.

 

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Summer Slow Down

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Summer Slow Down | New Faculty

In case you haven’t noticed, I haven’t been authoring much this summer. I wish I had a better reason and/or excuse, but I don’t. I’m just not. I’ve been working and am about to head out on vacation for a few weeks so don’t expect much out of this brain for a while. I’ve tried to reblog some of what I think is “good stuff” and I hope you think so too.

On that note, I’ve also done my usual social media shutdown too. I’ve quit posting things on my actual person (that’s me in real life) facebook account in general. I’ve removed the app from my iphone. I’ve noticed that when I get to the point where social media pisses me off, it’s time to take a break from it. Rather than deactivate, which I do several times a year, I am trying to break the habit of hitting the app on my phone when I’m bored, in between meetings, or something else that will grab my attention.

I share this with you not to brag, but to remind you (and me) that there’s more to life than work and social media. We may never find the balance, but we can enjoy what’s right in front of us. Hopefully it’s not a super giant pile of work. August will come and soon the syllabi will be flying. Until then, we’ve got a few weeks to slow down and enjoy life. I’m also slightly annoyed that facebook has been conducting research on me without my consent. The NERVE!

I’m practicing being more present. I’m reducing the distraction.

I’m enjoying my summer. I hope you are too!

 

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The Freedom to Think

OUTOFTHEBOX

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My sister was in town for work and we hooked up for dinner. Less than an hour from my place, it was no trouble at all. The food: amazing. The drinks: excellent. The company: WHINY!!!

It was great to see her, meet her colleagues, and enjoy some great food, drinks, and a whole lotta WHINE!!! I didn’t order near enough cheese to accompany the onslaught of negativity that I faced. For almost two hours: they complained. (yes, i realize we’re all whiny pants now and again, but i’m going somewhere w this, bear w me).

  • About work.
  • About people AT work.
  • About life AT work.
  • About everything work related.

Don’t get me wrong, it was great to see my sister and I’m glad we could get together, but as I sat there listening to each of them air their grievances FOR ALMOST TWO HOURS, I began to wane….it made me think about my job and my work and how I tell people about it.

 

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As academics we have the luxury of being able to think about what we want, research what interests us (most of the time), and discuss our platform with our students, and keep moving forward. Yes, there are guidelines and time frames. Yes, there’s a mountain of expectations, increased assessment, and a host of other parasitic like expectations, but it’s really nice to be able to go to work and do something that I find value in each and every day.

I’ll play my own devil’s advocate here and say maybe they just needed to air it out for a bit, but it got so daunting, I couldn’t wait for the meal to finish. My sister is in HR and there’s a mountain of rules and regulations to follow that I just don’t have to deal with. I grew so impatient that I flagged down the server to start the process of splitting the check just so speed up the process.

As summer comes upon us and we all trudge through the last of the grading, celebrate with our students at commencement, and wave goodbye to the students so we can enjoy some summer, it’s important that we take a moment to celebrate one of the most important aspects of our profession:

 The freedom to think.

As I sat there and listened to my sister and her colleagues I was very thankful for the ability to stretch my brain space each day. I continue to be thankful to have earned my education and have support from many areas of my life to pursue things that make me personally and professionally satisfied.

As you wade through the final weeks of your semester, hopefully you can find a moment to be thankful for the freedom to think.

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Stop Comparing Yourself to Everyone

Stop Comparing Yourself to Everyone | New Faculty

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I was chatting up a grad student last week, she had just passed her prelims and was moving forward with her prospectus presentation. She was lamenting that her “friends” in the program were all behind her. I know some of her cohort members and they’re behind in their programs for a reason: because they just are.

I reminded the grad student that she should stop comparing herself to others and worry about her own timeline. Her program has a typical three year trajectory and she’s on target to complete in the three years. Her ‘friends’ are not, which might be just fine. It can often be difficult to not compare ourself with others, it’s human nature but I urge you to try and stop. It’s not healthy.

This grad student is doing just fine and I tried to impart that on her. It was also good of her to note this and put it in her “back pocket” because being aware can be very healthy. One of her “trusted advisees” is someone who is taking much longer due to circumstances that I know little about, but I urged her to perhaps stop listening to her friends (and stop hanging out with them). Their comments are not coming from a genuine place and they’re simply jealous and showing their own insecurities because they’re going at a much slower pace.

Academia and a PhD is not a race. I have to remind myself of that as a young faculty member and it’s nice to hear it out loud when I say it to others. We compete with ourselves but that’s it most of the time.Whether a grad student or a young faculty, the guilt of always thinking we need to work and the constant hum of our computers and our brains is never ending. It’s hard to “turn it off” and sometimes, it can be even more difficult to “turn it on,” particularly in the writing department.

In the end, it’s important to remind ourselves to try not to compare our work with others. It can be healthy, but it can also go too far very quickly. Even if you have to put a post it in a visible place, it’s worth it for your mental health and sanity to stop playing to comparison game with such rigor that it turns into a negative force. If you feel like you’re behind (really behind), check in with your mentor, check in with yourself, and I’m sure you’ll soon realize that you’re not as badly off as you think you are.

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We’re Only Human

Finishing Strong | New Faculty

It’s about that time in the semester. The feeling of being more frazzled than fresh. You feeling that way too?

As I sat in meetings setting deadlines for ‘the end of the month,’ I realized that that will mean the end of yet another academic year. Whether you’re a grad student, young faculty, or seasoned veteran, the odds that you’re running on empty or burning fumes are pretty high. And if you’re not, please email me your secret.

I’ve been running like the best of them lately, finishing 2.5 years worth of data collection, not having whole thoughts due to my brain racing, drinking too much coffee, and wishing that beyond anything, food didn’t contain calories at the moment.

I threw my back out/strained my lower back and it gently (ok, searing pain) reminded me that I’m only human. I cannot keep up this pace all of the time and spent the first day laying on my back, laying on an ice pack, with my back brace sitting next to me so I could strap in upon finally managing to sit up. It was the pits. I moved about rigidly and tried to take a flat land walk to keep things loose. I’ve got scoliosis and that doesn’t help. I also have some flexibility issues that flare up every few years and while bending over to grab milk that morning for my coffee, I felt the muscles spasm, tighten up, and proceeded to try and loosen things up w a walk about the house to no avail.

I took matters into my own hands and 24 hours after the initial strain and made an appointment with my massage therapist. As a regular there, it helped because I explained what happened and they fit me in that afternoon. I visit the chiropractor every two weeks and I wanted to promote my own healing. I’ve discussed self care before and a year ago, I would have let myself suffer. I consider it a win that I did invest in my own self care this time around.

As the end of the semester charges ahead, this has helped me reflect, forced me to relax, and helped me slow down and take time to smell the roses, even if I was hobbling at a snails pace while doing it. It has forced me to ask for more help for a few days and reminded me that I’m not alone in all of this and neither are you. Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness. Well, unless you’re bent over in a back brace trying to climb the stairs.

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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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Who’s On Your CORE Team?

Who's on YOUR Core Team? | new faculty

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Not too long ago, I fell asleep on the couch around 9 p.m. The next night, around 9:30, the following night….well  you get where this is going. Binge watching on Netflix has been replaced by binge sleeping. I apparently couldn’t even muster the energy to put my own dishes in the dishwasher, empty said dishes into garbage, and get the coffee maker ready for the next day.

Houston, I think we’re tired.

It has been a stressful few weeks for reasons related to my professional life and reasons I’m not really interested in discussing on here just yet as they would require actual time to sit/stand and type them out.

Maybe over spring “break.” I use the term loosely as I will likely work most of it but at least I’ll get better parking on campus. Silver linings people.

Anywho….I digress.

As I’ve drifted off to sleep night after night, I would wake the next morning to texts and notifications that people (who are capable of staying awake later) had wanted my attention. Most of these people are what I’d like to call:

Team New Faculty

  • These are my people. They check in (even when I’m asleep (Santa??)).
  • They don’t care that I’m laying in a heap on my couch. They are either jealous of my 40 extra winks or likely doing something similar.
  • They fundamentally understand me. It’s an equal understanding.
  • They know what I need: some face time. I need an hour and then I’m good.
  • They don’t judge. I NEEDED those two cupcakes while we gossiped instead of eating a real lunch. (sugar isn’t lunch?) They will often indulge with me, whether it be cupcakes or wine.
  • They check in on the reg. E’rry day? Nah. Some do and that’s cool. But, they REPLY. No dead air up in here.

They’re available. No point in being on team New Faculty if you’re never going to be available. I don’t need your face in my face, but because I moved 600 miles from my main group of people, the ones that are still on my team still make the time for a regular phone call, group me, sarcastic jokes, or otherwise appropriate communication. The ones that I have now make time and likewise, I make time for them. It’s really hard to have a full blown friendship over text. I just don’t do well.

Play to my strengths. My strengths are as follows:

  • caffeine
  • sugar
  • carbs
  • just kidding…….

I need time–face time, phone time, time. I appreciate and value that in my life. People who are on my team give me time when they can.

It’s a two way street. I give the time, I do the check in’s, I am available too.

Team New Faculty has undergone some radical changes the past year. Good changes. In fact, EFFING AWESOME changes. In my core (much like the new Ben & Jerry’s Core–amazing looking) group, many have cycled out. I’ve learned to accept that some will cycle out. The folks that I appreciated and was so grateful for a year ago today may not be the same ones I’m grateful for now. I will always be grateful for the folks who’ve been on my team all these years. They were there exactly when I didn’t know I needed them. I accept their passing in my life (no one died in that sense) and I hope most of them come back around again. I also hope a few don’t and I can finally admit that.

As you figure out if the academy is or isn’t for you, I implore you to consider the question:

who’s on your CORE team?

You’re going to need a bang up team of real friends in your real life to help you trudge through this mess. Some might be academics as well. Some might not be. What do you require and need from them? How will you know when it’s time to thin the herd and take on some new team members?

As I slog to spring break and continually pass out on my couch from exhaustion with all the lights on and wake to the tv screen saying “are you still watching?” (hell no, i fell asleep during the opening creds) I’m grateful for the people who are Team New Faculty.

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Is There Such a Thing as Work Life Balance Anymore?

Call it quits, go home! | new faculty

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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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